How Not To Be A Killer

How Not To Be A Killer

Calvin Lashway

July 2010

Jesus has much to teach us in the Sermon on the Mount, one being we can be a killer even if we don't physically kill someone. But, more importantly Jesus shows us how not to be a killer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus affirms the Old Testament command: "You shall not kill" (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17). When he says, "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment'" (Matthew 5:22 All scriptures quoted are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise stated). The Revised Standard Version provides a more accurate translation of this command in both the Old and New Testaments, then most modern translations. Which in these verses render the Hebrew word Rasah ([7523] "to kill, murder, slay," Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 128) and its Greek counterpart Phoneuo ([5407] "1) to kill, slay, murder, 2) to commit murder," Thayer and Smith,, as simply "murder." Which is too limiting a translation of both words, because they mean more then just murder, "the unlawful killing of one human by another, especially with premeditated malice" ("Murder," The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition).1

Jesus identifies a mind-set that can lead to killing another person: "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22 New King James Version). Jesus is telling us that if we have this attitude, in God's eyes, we are just as guilty of killing someone, as if we had actually taken their life. This is an anger which has contempt for another person, exemplified by the insulting derogatory expressions "Raca," and "You fool." The Greek word raca [4469] is "a transliteration of an Aramaic term implying 'empty-headed.' This term of contempt was a personal, public affront. Name-calling was highly insulting in Jewish culture because a person's identity was stripped away and an offensive identity substituted. The significance attached to one's real name is removed from the person."2 Also calling someone "you fool" moros [3474] "was highly insulting in Jewish culture, because moral connotations were attached to the term." It appears moros is "the origin of the English word 'moron,'" indicating someone who acts like an idiot. Treating someone with such contempt, strips "away his personal identity," making him into something he isn't.3 We kill this person in spirit by depersonalizing him with contemptuous anger.

This contemptuous killing anger is an anger we embrace, refusing to release. We see this idea expressed in the Twentieth Century New Testament as: "I, however, say to you that any one who cherishes anger against his brother shall be liable to answer for it to the Court; and whoever pours contempt upon his brother shall be liable to answer for it to the High Council, while whoever calls down curses upon him shall be liable to answer for it in the fiery Pit." The Complete Jewish Bible express a similar view: "But I tell you that anyone who nurses anger against his brother will be subject to judgment; that whoever calls his brother, 'You good-for-nothing!' will be brought before the Sanhedrin; that whoever says, 'Fool!' incurs the penalty of burning in the fire of Gei-Hinnom!"

Jesus tells us to deal with our killing anger by seeking reconciliation and friendship with those with whom we are angry: "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny" (Matthew 5:23-26).4

What is interesting in these verses is Jesus is pointing to us as the one who is the offender: "your brother has something against you," "make friends quickly with your accuser," and "lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison." We are responsible for taking the initiative of reconciliation, and making friends with those we have wronged. This is similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-35 where He tells us how to deal with those who offend us, and the importance of forgiving our offenders.

In Paul's letters to the Ephesians and Colossians he writes something similar to what Jesus said. He warns the brethren not to hang on to anger, and how to live in a way that produces peace with others (Ephesians 4:25-32; Colossians 3:8-10).


1.For greater details on this subject see: Wilma Ann Bailey's "You Shall Not Kill" or "You Shall Not Murder": The Assault on a Biblical Text. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005; Stanley Hauerwas, and William H. Willimon's, The Truth about God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999, p 80; and my article Loving Our Enemies: A Christian Response to War, pp. 9-13, 

2.The NIV Application Commentary Matthew, Michael J. Wilkens, page 242-243


4.Jesus is not saying we should never be angry with someone. The Bible shows there is a time and place for anger, but this anger shouldn't lead to sin (Ephesian 4:26-7). God is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6), but He does get angry (Psalm 106:40). Even Jesus occasionally got angry (Mark 3:5).

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