Does the 6th Commandment Prohibit All Killing?
The 6th Commandment has been translated as both “thou shall not kill” (King James Version) and “thou shall not murder, in newer versions, such as the New American Standard. Skeptics delight in such apparent contradictions, contending that Christians are either hypocritical, for not following the command to not “kill,” or are engaging in “special pleading,” if they insist that “murder” is the correct interpretation. Either way, the skeptic is likely to cry foul.
But is the skeptic’s view correct? Are we forced to concede that the Bible’s command is nonsensical, if it prohibits all killing, or that we are forcing our interpretation on it?
According to scholars, the Hebrew term that was originally used – ratsach – can be translated to include a broad range of killing or slaying, encompassing intentional murder, such as predatory “lying in wait” as well as less culpable forms of killing. Looking only at the phrase or sentence which contained the term, one would be left with an undecipherable message as to what the author meant.
This is true, of course, of any use of language. Words have multiple meanings and nuances that allow us to reduce our thoughts to a medium that allows for expression and, more importantly, communication. Unfortunately, it also allows for confusion. The only solution to this confusion is context. A word that does not fit into the broader meaning of the passage is probably poorly chosen. A word that contradicts large portions of the surrounding text is probably mistakenly translated. This is not an example of special pleading, but of sound interpretation.
Special pleading, by contrast, is the logical fallacy that occurs when a person seeks to apply an exception to a general rule without justifying the exception. For example, let’s suppose I claim that the deliberate taking of innocent human life is always wrong. However, I wish to make an exception for abortion, but I don’t attempt to justify why such an exception would apply. I don’t bother showing that the fetus is not human, or that it is not innocent. I would be guilty of fallacious reasoning…
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