What is murder? Off the top of my head, I would probably say something like, "murder is straight-up killing someone with no good reason" (Spoiler alert: my theology tends not to be terribly reverent or articulate).
But--classic humanity--it's kind of more complicated than that in the real world. What do we believe about capital punishment? If someone killed someone else, should the killer be put to death? And abortion, too--the definition of a human life and the point at which a fetus as has personhood directly affects whether we think abortion counts as murder. And war? People in the Bible killed each other in battle all the time, and according to the New York Times, over the past 3,400 years, in only 8% of it (268 years) has there not been a war going on.
So, in the middle of all this mess, how does the Bible handle it? How can Christians navigate all this complexity and still honor God? It's a bit of an involved answer, so buckle up. A recap, if you will:
The Bible is a collection of 66 books of holy scripture. It's divided into the Old and New Testaments (AKA the Pre-Jesus Books and Post-Jesus Books). At the start of the New Testament, Jesus is born (Merry Christmas!) and revolutionizes the world. Christians believe that this Jesus was God the Son, and also fully man. He lived just as humans do, but didn't sin (violate God's holy rules) once. Not once. Many Jews in the Roman empire at the time (this was about 30ish BC) didn't appreciate his revolution and killed him by crucifixion: death on a cross. This sacrifice means everything. The punishment for sin is death, but Jesus' death was unjust, because He didn't. In His sacrifice, He died (took on our punishment) to give us His reward (eternal life with Him). Three days later, Jesus rose again and was alive on Earth, and then ascended into heaven. All this to say-- Jesus' sacrifice was given with free grace for all who will believe, surrender, and accept Him into our lives.
AKA, the Bible is a meta-narrative. Literature majors are used to this idea, but not the rest of us. A metanarrative is a collection of stories that make up this huge, greater, overarching story with much greater significance. Think of how each Marvel movie is it's own thing, but the metanarrative is how Tony Stark started as a selfish buttface and ended as the superhero Iron Man who saved the world. All this connects to talking about murder--I promise. We just have to do some foundational groundwork here. This idea of the Biblical metanarrative is important because it shows how God is patient with us: we as the human race keep growing in knowledge and understanding of God's character, and He keeps revealing more of it to us, right up until the last book of the Bible.
The first part of this metanarrative on murder takes place in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. A man named Cain killed his brother, and was the first murderer. Fact: God was mad. He cursed Cain to work the fields for the rest of His life, away from His family and civilization.
The next part happens in Exodus, the second book of the Bible. God gives His people a master list of what to do and how to live. The Ten Commandments are as follows: 1) Worship God and only God. 2) Do not worship anything else (like idols). 3) Do not misuse the name of God. 4) Honor the Sabbath (rest). 5) Honor your parents. 6) Do not murder. 7) Do not cheat on your spouse. 8) Do not steal. 9) Do not lie. 10) Do not be jealous of what isn't yours.
Here's the real verse about murder: Exodus 20:13 "You shall not murder." (Backstory, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek). The Hebrew word for murder is תִּֿרְצָֽ֖ח, (truh-SAH) which means "to dash in pieces, kill, to murder." There were later clarifications (like the difference between "straight-up" murder and accidental killing), but this was the clean-cut law from the Lord.
By the time we get to Matthew (the first book of the New Testament), Jesus has some things to say. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, He says, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus clears up the significance of a human life here. Because, to be honest, merely not killing someone else is literally the bare minimum of treating them with love. No dip. Jesus uses some specific Greek words here that are important. The word for "fool" is Ῥακά. (Pronounced RAH-kuh) and means "worthless one." It means that you are calling them less than human.
Catch this, people. This is big.
Whenever we take away humanity from a person, it's murder. So, yes, killing someone is murder. But not treating someone according to the worth proportioned to them by God is also taking away life, too. Dwell on that for a moment.
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- Cain and Abel - Wikipedia ›
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- Murder in the Bible – Evil Bible .com ›