The whole killing vs. murder ‘contradiction’…

I was doing some lexical writing today and figured I’d share a lexical refutation to the whole “God commands not to kill and then commands killing” stupid ‘contradiction’ in the Bible that many skeptics bring up.  The passage in question is Exodus 20:13, and this apparently contradicts other passages like Exodus 32:27 or 1 Samuel 15:2-8.

This whole contradiction boils down to a silly and incompetent lexicographical and exegetical ability in the skeptic.  Hebrew, like every language, uses synonyms.  Synonyms don’t mean exactly the same thing, but often carry similar meanings with differences in semantic range or nuance.  Like all words in all languages, the words for “killing” and “murder” derive their meaning and nuance from the context in which they are found.  This seems to be a concept that simply escapes the understanding of many skeptics (whether consciously or not is a question though).

The word in Exodus 20:13 is רצח (ratsach), and it can mean kill, slay, murder, etc. depending on context and stem (Qal, Niphal, Piel, Pual).  Hebrew doesn’t have 1 word for killing and 1 word for murder; it has multiple words that can be rendered either one.

In Hebrew, “murder” can be rendered from רצח (ratsach) or הרג (harag).  Okay, that’s two words…not really a large multiple of words.  Either way,  Harag is a much more common term, occurring 167 times in the Old Testament verses the 47 occurrences of ratsach.

Ratsach has a semantic range  in the verbal form of “to murder, slay, kill” and carries a connotation of taking a life, or one who takes life.  It occurs, by far the most, in the nominal form as opposed to the verbal form, and this nominal form is almost always translated along the lines of “slain” (as in a person[s] who is killed) or “murderer” (one who has killed another person[s]).  This is the verb appearing in Exodus 20:13.

Harag has a semantic range  in the verbal form of “to kill, slay, murder, destroy” and carries a stronger connotation than ratsach, one of violent death (due to sword, attack from wild beast, etc.), often in the context of battle.  The verbal form is more frequent than the nominal form, and this is the verb appearing in Exodus 32:27.  in a nutshell, ratsach carries more of the nuance of “murder/manslaughter” where as harag carries more of the nuance of “murder/kill in anger/kill in battle”, and ratsach usually describes the person committing harag.

Lots can be said, but essentially 2 different words in 2 different context is not a clear and obvious bible contradiction, especially given their semantic ranges.

Also, in Hebrew “kill” can be rendered from:

רצח (ratsach)
הרג (harag)
זבח (zabach) – mostly carries connotation of “sacrifice/offer sacrifice”
חלל (chalal) – mostly carries connotation of “slay/fatally wound” (generic term)
טבח (tabach) – mostly carries connotation of “slaughter/butcher/kill ruthlessly”
מות (mot[h]) – mostly carries connotation of “die/kill/put to death”
נכה (nakah) – mostly carries connotation of “hit/beat/strike/attack”
קטל (gatal) – only appears 3 times in the OT, but mostly carries connotation of “slay”
שחט (shachat) – mostly carries connotation of “kill (a sacrifice)”

Hebrew has no shortage of words that could be translated “kill”, though the nuances of the words varies and depends on context, but likely because death was no stranger to Ancient Near Eastern life.  What this boils down to is that God didn’t outlaw all killing in the OT in Exodus 20:13.  There was still wars, still temple sacrifices, etc.  What God outlawed was the unjust taking of one person’s life by another person.

We understand this difference in modern times.  Nobody would confuse the difference between the taking of life by the man who beats his wife to death and the taking of life of the police officer who arrives on scene, is attacked himself and shoots the assailant, fatally wounding him.

The assailant committed tabach (or nakah), but the policemen committed harag.

The assailant is a ratsach, but the policeman is not.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “The Armchair Theologian” Unger

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8 thoughts on “The whole killing vs. murder ‘contradiction’…

  1. However you spin it, you still have a god who, in the old testament, commands genocide. Then in the new testament, you have a supposed god commanding you to love your neighbors and care for the samaritans.

    Even without the contrast you are still left with an OT god that condones and commands genocide. Any god that commands you to kill someone is an evil god. Heck, any god that kills people who lie about how much they gave to the poor is also an evil god.

    But I’m sure you have some way to spin and excuse god from those crimes.

    Kinda reminds me of VP Cheney in some ways. Of course he didn’t really authorize torture (because waterboarding isn’t torture!)

    At least with Zeus you knew that he wasn’t perfect and didn’t expect him to be perfect.

  2. Oh sheesh. Never heard that one before.

    Uh, the whole “love your neighbors” passage is in the Old Testament and is quoted in the New. Look up Leviticus 19:18. Just so you know.

    Also, the New Testament is much bloodier than the Old Testament. In the new, Jesus wipes out the entire world in an anthropocidal military conquest (homicide = killing a person, genocide = killing a group of person, anthropocide = killing every group of people). Look up Revelation 19:21. Just so you know.

    I don’t have to excuse God from those crimes. Those alleged crimes are misunderstandings of morality coming from some imagined god that exists only in your mind and is not the god of scripture. Your entire argument is a straw man; you knock down a straw god. You say “If God is like X, then Y is a problem for him”. God is not like X.

    Yahweh, God who has revealed himself in nature and the 66 books of the Bible, does not perform “good” actions and “bad” actions. He simply performs actions, flowing out of his uncoerced will, holy in it’s righteousness, wisdom, knowledge, love, etc. God’s actions are the resultant overflow of his holy moral character and his actions, along with his own explanations of his actions, are the standards by which mankind gains articulate understanding of morality.

    Mankind has innate inarticulate understanding of morality by God’s moral law being placed within all men’s hearts. Man understands the abstract concepts of “right”, “wrong”, “ought”, etc. but does not know exactly how they work in conjunction with reality and experience, needing some divine guidance in how morality is supposed to be oriented and applied. Morality is supposed to be oriented towards God, then others. Morality is supposed to be applied to oneself, then others. You have these two quite askew; you orient morality towards yourself and apply it to God.

    Also, man’s sinful heart seeks to harness that abstract morality, via sinful rational sophistry, to attack itself and attempt to justify sinful behavior by asphyxiating the conscience in it’s efforts to inform the heart (via guilt) and deceiving the heart into ignoring the proclamations of the conscience. Your conscience attempts to tell your heart “don’t do that” but you keep punching it in the face and yelling at your heart “look over there at THAT! That’s horrible! That’s way worse than me!”

    That’s what’s happening in your argument.

    You have the general understanding of “right” and “wrong” in your heart, hence you grasp those abstract concepts without any actual physical or empirical referent. That’s the grace of God and you should be thanking him for it. But you don’t thank God for any of his innumerable graces in your life.

    Instead, in an attempt to justify sin, you inconsistently apply your general standard of morality to God, oriented by the standard of your own conduct and reason (effectively making yourself into a god from whom the measure of morality flows), in an effort to suppress the truth of God’s existence and his moral rule in your life. Your mind says to itself that “if God is bad, then I am justified in being bad too!”

    That’s what is going on, but I’m not claiming that you’re conscious of it. Just explaining your predicament to you, so when you get all mad at me, at least you’ll know why.

    You misunderstand both morality and God (in orientation and application) and attack a god who does not exist, and you do it because you desire to suppress the truth that God exists and he’s not you.

    You need to stop trying to sit on God’s throne and judge both himself and everyone else. Ironically, you likely hate it when other’s ‘judge’ you; in your head that’s your job, not theirs. You need to recognize that the same Old Testament that you read, searching for contradictions, says of sinful men, “in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” (Psalm 36:2), “The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful” (Psalm 36:3) and “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

    You operate on the supposition that you can trust yourself to be the one who can make sense of life, morality and reality. You operate on the supposition that you can judge what is reasonable and right. The Bible says that such is the one thing that is NEVER happening.

    Jeremiah 17:10 says “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind…” and in Jeremiah 11:20, the prophet Jeremiah describes God as “you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind”. Likewise, Solomon writes in Proverbs 17:3 “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart.”

    Like it or not, God is the one who judges you. On the good side, he judges righteously. On the bad side, he tests your heart (your inner motivations and desires). You likely have a serious problem. What are you going to do? It seems like the best you’ve got is to pretend that it’s not going to happen.

  3. So let me summarize:
    * god defines morality
    * only way to understand morality is study example of her morality
    * only examples of her morality are captured in the christian bible
    * christian bible was written by god

    Does that sound about right?

    Further:
    * anything that god does is morally good
    * fortunately god’s actions are described in the bible that she wrote
    * god can command genocide (joshua), commit murder (ananias and sapphira) or ultimately commit xenocide/anthrocide (hyper evangelical reading of revelation) because those actions are done by god they are therefore morally good (see first point)
    * if these same actions were performed by a human, they would be morally bad actions.
    * humans are not morally good -> god said so in the bible she wrote
    * god is good -> god said so in the bible she wrote

    do I really need to editorialize your argument, because I think it sounds preposterous all on its own.

    Do you know what I think? [And this is really off topic] I think you have spent tens of thousands of dollars (maybe even hundreds of thousands?) in an education about this god, this bible and this brand of christianity that now you have to justify all this investment. And so, you defend with tooth and nail your extreme position of your christian god. so lets face it, you have everything to lose and not much to gain in these arguments. so the odds of you conceding any point is next to zero – not because of the merit to any arguments or points but because you have invested two decades and virtually your entire career into your position.

    It’s a shame really, that you aren’t more open minded in these conversations. But I do enjoy antagonizing you thusly.

    • Charles, I’m not versed in theology or anything like it, so I am very much a layman and I’m not sure I understand much of your reasoning. I come on here every once in a while to see some good debates but this one wasn’t really a debate…it was ‘Mennoknight’ stating his position and you writing something to the effect of “I disagree”. I was waiting to read your argument but it never came but I’d still be interested in hearing your position.

      Realistically the only thing that you mentioned that seemed to be your own idea was that Mennoknight spent lots of money on his schooling and needed to justify his position. I’m not sure that’s an theological or even a philosophical argument, but like I said I’m a layman.

      In addition, I’m sure you understand that open/closed mindedness goes both ways: I’m wondering how open minded you are? People believe things for a reason and sometimes perhaps they see things that other miss or that others don’t see or that others don’t care to see. I just hear too many people claiming one person isn’t open minded while they’re somewhat closed minded themselves, which is also a shame.

  4. * god defines morality –

    kinda, but I’m guessing you’d mean something different by that than myself.

    * only way to understand morality is study example of her morality –

    Nope.

    * only examples of her morality are captured in the christian bible –

    Nope.

    * christian bible was written by god –

    kinda, but I’m guessing you’d mean something different by that than myself.

    Just what are you summarizing? Did I write any of that as an argument?

    Further:

    * anything that god does is morally good –

    Yes…God cannot act outside of his own character.

    * fortunately god’s actions are described in the bible that she wrote…

    kinda, but I’m guessing you’d mean something different by that than myself.

    * god can command genocide (joshua), commit murder (ananias and sapphira) or ultimately commit xenocide/anthrocide (hyper evangelical reading of revelation) because those actions are done by god they are therefore morally good (see first point).

    Nope. Nope on several counts. What exactly is a “hyper evangelical reading of revelation”? Are you from North America?

    * if these same actions were performed by a human, they would be morally bad actions.

    Well, I’m going to say ‘no’ based upon your examples.

    * humans are not morally good -> god said so in the bible she wrote

    kinda, but I’m guessing you’d mean something different by that than myself.

    * god is good -> god said so in the bible she wrote

    God is good. God refers to himself as ‘good’ in the bible.

    **do I really need to editorialize your argument, because I think it sounds preposterous all on its own?**

    I don’t think I said any of that as an argument, but you’re right. That all does sound perposterous. Strangley, none of that was anything remotely close to what I said in my comment.

    As for your second rant…uh, sure. It’s possible that I’m brainwashed and I’m defending the scripture and God because I’m motivated by fear and seeking to justify my investment.

    Okay…It’s also possible, in some way, that you’re Frank Oz and in your head you’re getting back at Jim Henson for his constant evangelism of you on The Muppet Show.

    So what?

    What am I supposed to be open minded to?

    Your confused rants and accusations that some imagined god, concocted in your imagination, doesn’t act like she is supposed to?

    I’m wondering where the argument was that you presented?

    How about you give me an argument.

    I’m open to anything you have to throw at me.

    Anything.

    Let’s see what exactly you have to offer.

    Let’s rock.

  5. Boy, the Good Lord sure is lucky he has a bright Menno-scholar like you to justify his actions and to explain to the non-believers the rebellious, judgmental, and self-delusional psychology behind their heathen thoughts. ‘Cause no truly rational human could ever find Biblical stories repugnant unless they’re allowing their sinful nature to take over.

  6. Explaining lexicography is equal to justification of actions how?

    Why in the world would anyone with biblically informed theology expect one without the Holy Spirit to understand the scripture?

    How do you judge what is rational and what is not? By what objective and universal standard?

    How would one “allow their sinful nature to take over”?
    Does a rock “allow” its nature to take over when it is released from a height, and then choose to follow the compulsion of gravity, though it would also be able to override it’s nature if it chose?

  7. “Okay…It’s also possible, in some way, that you’re Frank Oz and in your head you’re getting back at Jim Henson for his constant evangelism of you on The Muppet Show.”

    LOL! You know it’s been a great retort when eschatology, fallenness, and the muppets are used cohesively! 4 stars. 2 enthusiastic thumbs up.

    [audio src="http://mp3upload.ca/download/19822/brian_regan__4_stars.mp3" /]

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