Exodus 20:13—How could God command people not to kill, and then, in Exodus 21:12, command that murderers be put to death?

Problem: In the Ten Commandments, God prohibits killing when He says, “Thou shalt not kill” (kjv). However, in Exodus 21:12 God commands that the man who strikes another man so that he dies should be put to death. Isn’t it a contradiction for God to command that we not kill and then command that we do kill?

Solution: A great amount of confusion has arisen because of the misleading translation of the sixth commandment. The Hebrew word used in the prohibition of this commandment is not the normal word for killing (harag). Rather it is the specific term for murder (ratsach). A more proper translation of the command is provided by the nkjv and niv: “You shall not murder.” Exodus 21:12 is not a command to murder, but a command to carry out capital punishment for capital crime. There is no contradiction between the command for men not to commit murder, and the command that the proper authorities should execute capital punishment for capital crimes.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.