By Dr. James J. North, Jr.*
This study is an effort to establish what kind of killing is and is not included under the 6th commandment. Based on views passed on from generation to generation, many Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) have considered the Commandment to prohibit murder, killing in war, suicide, killing in self- and family-protection, etc . . . We have used the commandment to frown on, if not to prohibit, the bearing of arms, guns, as instruments of war, of law enforcement, and of hunting. Many would not have a weapon/gun in their homes as an instrument of self and family protection for fear of a home intrusion that might cause them to kill the intruder.
The commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” is translated into English from the original Hebrew in two texts in the OT, Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. They are both statements of the 6th Commandment, given initially by God from Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17) and repeated by Moses (Deuteronomy 5:1-21).
The principal translation that brought the Bible and the Commandments in English to us is the King James Version, the translation authorized by King James I. of England, completed in the year 1611. The phrase, “Thou shalt not kill” is the 1611 (KJV) English translation of the original Hebrew language of the 6th Commandment.
So we start with a gentle reminder that the Word of God in English was preceded by and sprung from the Word of God in Hebrew. Thus the meaning of the English must be first and foremost interpreted by the meaning of the Hebrew.
A second reminder and beginning point in this study is that our understanding of Scripture is not static. A number of factors have caused and will cause us to adjust our understanding of the Bible—archeological discoveries, studies of the ancient languages, historical research, and systematic Bible study. “The path of the just is as a shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18). (see JPST—“The path of the righteous is like radiant sunlight, ever brightening until noon.”). Difficult as it may be, we must be willing to adjust our understanding of Scripture when exegetical, historical, and contextual study corrects our views, even when these views have been handed down to us by revered leaders and writers. This was the experience of our SDA pioneers, who grew as they studied and restudied Scripture. They learned and changed. This has been our history and it will be our future.