This week’s commandment is #5: “You shall not murder.”
Easy enough to understand, except when it comes to defense against an intruder — or when a person is in the military — or when a person is a judge who makes decisions about the death penalty — or when it comes to what we call “involuntary manslaughter” — like driving too fast and accidentally hitting another car and someone dying as a result.
And what about euthanasia? Or what about a medical doctor who consults with a family and takes a person off life support?
So, what is murder? Some would say it is unauthorized taking of someone’s life, as one finds in Exodus 21:12, Leviticus 24:17 or Deuteronomy 27:24. Also important is Numbers 35:20-21 where the sense of “murder” makes the meaning clear.
At the bottom of this commandment is a double consideration: humans are made in God’s image or are Eikons of God and in a human is “blood” — the life (Gen 9:6). [“Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God’s image God has made humankind.”]
But what about Jesus? What does he say?
The fundamental relationship of humans to God and to others is love according to Jesus: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This fundamental relationship anchors the command not to murder.
It is not that Jesus values the sanctity of life — which I find to be an abstraction — but that he values the sanctity of persons, persons made as God’s Eikons who are loved by God and therefore to be loved by his followers.
This forces the question of whether or not Jesus thereby moves beyond the Old Testament command to prohibit all killing, including death penalty and war killings, or whether he affirmed those traditions. Clearly Christians have not always agreed on this one. While most of the Reformers were in favor of the permissibility of killing in both war and the legal system, the Anabaptists believed — and still do — and I’m one of them — that killing through the death penalty and in war are contrary to the way of Jesus and therefore contrary to what followers of Jesus are called to do. I believe this is the plain teaching of Matthew 5:38-48.