Question: Does the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (KJV) include situations where someone is being robbed, raped or targeted for murder? And, if self-defense at the cost of someone else’s life is permissible in God’s eyes, does killing someone in that situation still require forgiveness?
The question comes from Exodus 20:13, the sixth commandment. The Hebrew word translated “kill” in the KJV is “ratsakh” (or “rasah”), and refers to taking the life of another human being as a premeditated act. It does not apply to war or to self-defense, including rape and other situations where protection of ones’ self or others is involved. For this reason, nearly every modern translation translates “ratsakh” as “murder,” instead of the more general term “kill.” The commandment, therefore, is “You shall not murder.”
The evidence from Scripture confirms this translation. For example, Genesis 9:3 grants humanity permission to take the life of animals for food:
“Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”
Also, if a person breaking into someone’s home is killed by the homeowner, the homeowner is not considered guilty of murder:
Ex. 22:2 “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed…”
Even an accidental killing is not considered an act of murder according to Scripture:
Deut. 19:5 For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life.
The application of the death penalty for the crime of murder by the state is likewise not considered murder, but a responsibility of the government for the benefit of the society:
Rom. 13:3-4 “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
On the other hand, anyone who is an accomplice to murder is also guilty of murder:
2 Sam. 12:9 Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
Human life is precious to God. Consequently, the repercussions of willfully taking someone’s life are very high:
Gen. 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”
While the use of lethal force, if necessary, is justifiable and not a sin, it should still be cause for grief. Death exists as a constant reminder of how broken and sin-sick our world is. So while it is not necessary to seek forgiveness where no sin has been committed, it is entirely appropriate to ask God’s forgiveness for the person who committed the crime that resulted in his or her death.