The Bible pretty clearly says not to murder (Exodus 20:13).

But if we examine Numbers 25 or 1Kings 18:40, we see God (or more accurately, his prophets) telling us to kill people. Indeed, entire groups of people were murdered because of their mistaken beliefs.

So, is it alright to murder if God or one of his prophets tells you to?

I would think that this concept against murdering would be against all Christian doctrine. However, how does the mainstream Protestant groups (Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) reconcile these two concepts?

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    This is a duplicate of christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/49/… Aug 23, 2011 at 21:27
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    I think this is definitely similar, but not the same. If God came to me and said to murder someone, that's different than if I join the army and another human says to kill someone.
    – Richard
    Aug 23, 2011 at 21:32
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    God wouldn't order someone to slay any other human. The days of the Law and the Covenant are gone and we live in the days of the new commandment and Mercy (sorry if I didn't get the terms right). Take a look at Ephesians 6:12.
    – Shathur
    Aug 24, 2011 at 8:19
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    @Shathur minor point, but God very much does order many people to slay other humans. And God is (biblically speaking) unchanging. Nov 29, 2011 at 9:35
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    @MarcGravell I think what Shathur is saying is that God's command to kill people was an old testament covenant, and does not apply today. God had a purpose for these commands in the OT, mostly to purge evil out of Israel (since this was the nation God chose to reveal himself through to the world), but always to show his glory and majesty as God. Feb 7, 2012 at 22:40

4 Answers 4


Murder and killing are not necessarily the same thing. The King James Bible adds confusion to this debate by translating Exodus 20:13 as:

Thou shalt not kill.

Which historically has been interpreted to mean a commandment against all forms of killing, including capital punishment, war, and in some cases, even against killing animals. In the context of the rest of the Law, this is clearly not what was meant. (See especially Leviticus 20).

The same holds for your examples--they are examples of killing, but that does not mean they are examples of God-ordained murder.


In response to Richard's comment below:

According to dictionary.com, the relevant definition of murder is:

Law. the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first-degree murder), and murder by intent but without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder).

So here, legal killing is differentiated from illegal killing, and it is only illegal killing that is "murder."

In ancient Israel, since God was the giver of all laws, then any God-ordained killing (whether in the form of the Law, as I mentioned previously in Leviticus, for example), or by way of his prophets, would be "legal", and therefore not murder.

It may sound a bit like a cop-out, but in a nut shell, "If God says to do it, it's not murder." It can probably be boiled down to a question of "Where does morality come from?" But that's obviously not the specific intent of this question. :)

Numbers 35:16, 35:18, and 35:21 also provide Biblical examples or definitions of a "murderer".

  • +1 This is fascinating. I totally agree (which is beside the point). But, you say "Murder and killing are not necessarily the same thing". Could you point how they are different? In other words, why can't I replace the word "murder" in the question with the word "kill"?
    – Richard
    Aug 23, 2011 at 21:46
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    It wasn't really a disservice. The word "kill" did mean murder in King James's day; it's the language that has shifted since then. The KJV is pretty consistent about this. "Kill" is murder; to kill without murderous intent is to "slay" instead.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Aug 24, 2011 at 0:38
  • @Mason Wheeler: Point well taken, and answer updated. Thank you.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 24, 2011 at 1:34
  • @Richard Murder is slaying with an ill intent, out of your own reasons. The slaying committed in the Old Testament is not murder, they are divine punishment ordered by God and carried out by his own people. Carrying out the punishment of death is not the same thing as murdering.
    – Shathur
    Aug 24, 2011 at 8:16
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    Only God does the killing now. (Acts 5:1-11, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 1 Timothy 1:20) We are to sit back and watch his majesty do his thing. For the law must be fulfilled, and he has decided to fulfill it himself. (Isaiah 59:16, Isaiah 63:5, Matthew 5:17, John 8:7) Like he did back in the day. (2 Chronicles 20:1-30)
    – Decrypted
    Apr 27, 2014 at 21:55

If you know for sure it's God's will, then killing (not murder; others have addressed the difference) is OK. But how can you be sure that it's God's will (this is not aiming at anyone specifically, just oratory questions)? Did you hear voices ordering you so? Then it's not Him (see answers for this question). Your pastor/priests tells you so? He probably gone mad. Have you interpreted something in Bible as an order to kill someone? You can ask here and we will tell you WHY you're wrong. There are situation when killing someone is not a sin (executing a criminal, probably a righteous war too, and few other ocasions), but this is not the God's will (God doesn't want the sinner to die in his sins, but to live and do penance), it's a tolerated (not wanted) exception for the law of universal love.

In Old Testament times the situation was different. The Law given to Moses was issued for the people of Izrael (and those living among them) only and valued orthodoxy more than a life of an enemy (love for enemies was introduced as a rule by Jesus, and the culture of Izrael was definitelly not ready for such an idea in times of Joshua). In this context God didn't contradict Himself when he ordered what appears as a genocide from today's perspective.


God is executing His judgment through His people instead of through the floods or any other means like during Noah's time. So it is allowed in a sense that we should accept it as His just judgment, because God judges them, commands it and allows it to happen.

This is different from using the Bible to justify an act of killing a group of people, because none of us are capable of judging others and to have equal authority with God.

In Joshua 5:13-15:

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord[e] have for his servant?”

15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

It is clear that the supreme commander making the command is not Joshua, but that it is the Lord who is the commander of the army. So it's Joshua for God, and not God for Joshua.


The difference as to do with God's commandments for individuals and God's commandments for the governing of His covenant people. God commands individuals not to murder, but the penalty for murder, prescribed for God's covenant people while that covenant was in effect, was capital punishment.

So, "murder" is distinguished from "capital punishment" by God Himself. Do both result in a person's death? Yes, yet one is sin and one is mandated by God as the punishment in this life for that crime, again for God's covenant people while the covenant was in effect.

Capital punishment actually preceded the Law of Moses, as it was first instituted in the time of Noah.

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9:6 ESV

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