Assessing the Death Penalty

As I listen to the ‘intelligent’ arguments of our society, it becomes increasingly clear that we have simply lost our grasp on some basic principles. Therefore, rather than get head-on into the issue of the death penalty (or war, for that matter), I will address one of the major misconceptions that fuel the debate.

In discussing the death penalty, and witnessing the issue debated in the media as well as our day-to-day conversations, the one most frequent basis for opposition deals with the issue of killing as it relates to the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill…” Many times, the very people who quote the Bible in this way to support their anti-war/anti-death penalty views are the same people who do not actually accept the Bible as God’s inerrant word. To them, the Bible seems to line up with their own adopted world view in this particular instance, so they will use it for this argument. If you really want to test their loyalty to Scripture as a moral authority, ask them what the Bible says about homosexuality or pre-marital sex, and you will see how quickly the Bible becomes “a book of stories – old, outdated, etc.”

But I digress – the issue here is that they are citing the Bible, so at least they recognize it has some authority. It’s a start. So let’s see what is really behind the Sixth Commandment…

The old King James Version was written over 400 years ago has been updated, as the English language has been updated. The old King James version used the general word “kill” to reflect all types of killing, which can be confusing to its readers. To read that David sought to ‘kill’ Goliath after reading ‘Thou shalt not kill’ seems contradictory. However, we know that all killing is not the same.

Killing in a war is not murder. Killing while protecting loved ones is not murder. These things can become murder if abused or perverted, but in general, they are actually holy. True love protects others from evil.

Hebrew is similar to English in that it has different words for various types of killing. The actual Hebrew translation for the word used as “kill” in the Sixth Commandment is “ratsach.” The definition of this word is, “to kill without just cause.” The correct English term for this word is “murder.” Therefore, the updated translation of the Sixth Commandment is, “You shall not murder.”

As we review the more modern translations of the Bible, this is exactly how the Sixth Commandment reads:

New International Version – “You shall not murder.”
New American Standard – “You shall not murder.”
The Message – “No murder.”
The Amplified Bible – “You shall not commit murder.”
New Living Translation – “You must not murder.”
English Standard Version – “You shall not murder.”
Contemporary English Version – “Do not murder.”
New King James Version – “You shall not murder.”
Young’s Literal Translation – “Thou dost not murder.”
Holman Christian Standard Bible – “Do not murder.”
New International Reader’s Version – “Do not commit murder.”
New International Version, UK – “You shall not murder.”
Today’s New International Version – “You shall not murder.”

Only five translations, including the King James Version, utilize the word ‘kill’:

King James Version – “Thou shalt not kill.”
21st Century King James Version – “Thou shalt not kill.”
American Standard Version – “Thou shalt not kill.”
Darby Translation – “Thou shalt not kill.”
New Life Version – “Do not kill other people.”

In the 19 versions of the Bible available in the English language, the only ones to use the general term of “kill” are the King James Version and its derivatives. In the overwhelming majority, the Sixth Commandment is read as, “You shall not murder,” and these are the most updated and accurate.

One important note: This is not to say that the old King James version is inaccurate; simply that the newer translations are more accurate and easier to understand. It is a question of communicating specifically. If I was asked to recite the Sixth Commandment, I could say, “Thou shalt not kill,” and I would be correct. However, I would be more accurately communicating the idea God was conveying to us to say, “Thou shalt not murder.”

As with most communication, to get it right, we need to focus our understanding on the intended idea, not what we had hoped to hear. Consider this the next time you encounter someone who clings to this argument of, “Thou shalt not kill,” to defend their anti-war/anti-death penalty position. You might let them know they need to update their English, unless they use “The King’s English” in their daily vernacular (Thee, thou, thine, etc…).

Unfortunately, once you have clearly shed light on the more accurate Biblical translation, it should not surprise you to hear your adversary revert to the old argument of the Bible being simply a “book of stories, and not really true…”

These people are not actually conducting an earnest search for the truth. They are simply seeking any source they can find to support their position, even if it is a source they do not accept in reality as a true moral authority (even if it is). Once the debate is lost on Biblical grounds, they may likely abandon that defense and search for something else to back up their position. Don’t get too frustrated-God extended tremendous Grace to get His message across to those of us who got it. We must do likewise.