Thou Shalt Not Kill or You Shall Not Murder?
Exodus 20:13 (Deuteronomy 5:17 also)
KJV: Thou shalt not kill
NIV: You shall not murder
NASV: You shall not murder
NKJV: You shall not murder
Hebrew-verb spelling specifies what is called the qal stem that signifies to kill by any kind of motivation, including a fit of anger or even competitive zeal (as in boxing). But murder is a specific premeditated type of willful killing that would require what is called the piel stem, so murder is a mistranslation. It’s possible to vary from Heb- rew grammar if context justifies this, but that doesn’t apply here, as discussed below.
Now kill can seem improper, as in the case of a prison executioner whose duty is to kill, or the case of a soldier in war who must follow orders and kill enemies, or let them kill him & his fellow soldiers. Are such men condemned by the commandment in the KJV for doing their duty? And what of the case of a man that, in self-defense, kills a household intruder who aims a gun at him & his family? Should kill be chan- ged to murder to eliminate condemnation of these persons by the commandment since what they do isn't murder? Further, is it proper to change "archaic" Thou to the modern You? (Thou is singular in sense while You can be singular or plural).
Is murder correct? No it's not. We must realize what Thou shalt not kill really means. The crucial first word Thou is a singular pronoun referring to the individual (the Hebrew is singular). Thus the commandment is to the individual, and it tells him he can’t decide to kill, or end life. He didn't give life, and has no right to decide when it ends, for God alone gives and has the right to take life. In other words, individuals have no right to make personal decisions about ending life.
Now a soldier in war or a prison executioner doing only his duty isn't condemned by the commandment in the KJV since he makes no personal decision about ending life. He has no options, but does his duty, obeying the government, and the government bears the responsibility. Further, God empowers government to defend the land and innocent people, and to enforce the law and punish evil-doers. Indeed, Rom.13:4 says the government is the agent of God’s wrath against evil-doers. Thus soldiers & executioners doing only their duty don't violate the commandment in the KJV.* Further, a man who, in trying to stop the murder of his family & himself, kills an intruder, doesn’t violate the commandment in the KJV, for he makes no personal decision to kill, being forced to defend his family & himself (like the case of the soldier in war). Thus the government can recognize the legality of self-defense.
*There is a problem of rogue governments controlled by an evil individual or group of evil individuals, and waging war in such cases is not just, and the individuals in control are guilty of breaking the law as it appears in the KJV. The status of soldiers in such a government is difficult to assess, but likely they’re required to resist the government's evil actions, and those who don't may receive God's judgment (deserting such armies is an alternative).
Clearly, making no personal decisions about killing includes not committing murder, so there was no need at all for the change in modern versions. Does this change affect our understanding of Exo.20:13? We must realize that murder is one specific type of crime, and there are other types of killing by means of a personal decision that are condemned by the commandment in the KJV, like abortion or euthanasia. Abortion is called terminating a pregnancy, which is just a modern euphemism for making a personal decision to end life. Supposedly, euthanasia is an act of mercy, but it involves a physician’s personal decision about a person's chance of survival. Abortion & euthanasia are equivalent to murder, judging by the KJV. Abortion isn’t con- demned in modern versions since it isn't considered murder by our society, and euthanasia is often considered a felony, a crime far less serious than murder, Euthanasia is increasingly advocated by those who view lives of people in general as insignificant, and it may soon be in the same category as abortion.
Now if abortion were considered murder, those who practice it would go to prison, and be executed for their crimes, but they don’t even get a scolding, let alone prison or execution. Society doesn’t even consider abortion a misdemeanor, so modern versions offer no condemnation of abortion here, and pro-abortionists can use these versions against pro-life people. They can never use the KJV that way, for it covers any kind of unlawful ending of life by a personal decision. Indeed, the KJV equates abortion & euthanasia with murder, marking all such acts as unlawful ending of life by a personal decision, but modern versions totally miss this sense of the command.
Regarding consequences for changing God’s Word, what about a modern unsaved couple that commits abortion, but never reads the KJV? They may attend a church for the sake of fellowship, and due to modern trends in churches, they use only a popular modern version, and get no sense of violating God’s command since abortion isn't in society’s category of murder. From their modern version & society’s attitudes, they get no sense of unlawful killing. In accord with attitudes of society today on “rights,” they may easily think abortion is a right in dealing with an inconvenient pregnancy. But few acts are as hideous as killing an innocent helpless child for personal convenience or expedience, a life that God ordained. They can be forgiven if they realize they have sinned, but their modern version & modern church never give them a clue. What of the final end of those who commit such crimes and never understand the unlawful nature of their acts? They may never see their acts as crimes, and may die in their sin as unrepentant unforgiven sinners. Only at God’s judgment throne would they learn they are unforgiven killers of innocent helpless life, as guilty as any murderer, and what a bad time that would be to find this out!
The KJV kill covers all manner of unlawful ending of life by personal decision, but modern versions limit the matter to one type of killing. Do such versions pose a pro- blem for superficial readers who aren't knowledgeable enough of scripture to sense an inadequate rendering? Let the reader decide for himself, and let him realize that God’s Word is arranged to say exactly what He wishes. If men change wording in the historic scripture, all they can do is corrupt it, no matter how good their intent.
Now some references to Old Testament commandments in the New Testament give some points of the law in partial summations. In a partial summation, it is valid to say the law teaches us not to murder or not to kill, either word referring to a primary principle of law.* However, in Exodus and Deuteronomy, kill has no contextual limit on its all-inclusive sense, and changing it there can have highly adverse effects.
*In a partial summation of the law, the Lord says to a young ruler in Mat.19:18, thou shalt do no murder, and in Rom.13:9, Paul says thou shalt not kill. Either term can apply in its full contextual sense here since the speakers simply illustrate the type of act that is condemned.
Regarding use of older English, we examine the RSV that correctly retains kill in this verse, but commits error by preferring You over Thou to “update” older English
KJV: Thou shalt not kill.
RSV: You shall not kill.
By use of the pronoun You, that is plural or singular in application, the command no longer applies just to the individual. This makes application of the law corporate, as well as individual, making it impossible for government to obey "scripture," and wage war to defend the nation, or execute criminals for capital crimes.