In more than two decades of sermon composition, I have discovered that I have never written a lesson specifically on the subject of murder. It just seemed a little too obvious, I guess, but what if people think I’m pro-murder because I do not preach on it? The New Testament deals with it as sin, of course, so to be clear, we had better take a firm anti-murder stand today.
I. Murder Is Sin
A. Cain and Abel
1. when we think of murder, we should probably think about history’s first recorded crime, the murder of righteous Abel by his envious brother, Cain (Genesis 4:1-11)
2. it seems inconceivable right now that you would ever resort to killing another person, certainly for the weak reasons of Cain, but there are many otherwise righteous people everyday who are confronted with a crisis or with duty and might be faced with the choice of ending someone else’s life or forfeiting their own
3. not all killing is necessarily murder, but the result is the same in that someone is dead and someone else is responsible for it, legally or not
4. the inspired commentator says that, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous” (First John 3:12).
5. murder is seldom simple; it usually has complicated reasoning or legality behind it, and that was even true in the Old Testament, because taking someone else’s life is not a decision you can take back
B. Ten Commandments
1. God did not specify capital punishment for Cain, allowing him to live out his life, even under certain protections along with his curse, and yet a few chapters later, God sends a flood upon the earth that wipes out thousands of Cains all at once – not necessarily murderers, but sinners
2. it is after this flood recedes that God adds capital punishment to human law (Genesis 9:5-6)
3. and when the definitive written law, the Ten Commandments, were inscribed for Israel, a prohibition of murder occupied the sixth slot: “You shall not murder,” Exodus 20:13 reads in newer translations, using a Hebrew word that “also covers causing human death through carelessness or negligence,” but apparently did not apply to all cases of killing
4. for instance, the punishment for a murder conviction was still capital: “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 24:17).
C. Eternal Punishment
1. after the covenantal transition to the New Testament, murder remained a matter of transgression, no longer immediately punishable by the kingdom of God, but left to civil authorities to punish ahead of a more serious divine assessment
2. we learn that our governing authority “does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).
a. governments sometimes punish the innocent and punish the guilty insufficiently, so God has promised to sort it all out on Judgment Day (First Timothy 1:5-11)
b. “Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).
3. God, probably unlike most governments, however, gives even the murderer the chance to repent of his transgression and to be spared the much sorer punishment, the second death
a. “For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (James 2:11).
b. God does not want even the murderer to be lost forever if it can be helped, but those who refuse to confess and repent must suffer (Revelation 21:8, 22:14-15; see also Revelation 9:20-21)
II. Tantamount to Murder
1. few of us these days find ourselves seriously contemplating murder; a few will be confronted with the choice to kill in the armed forces or police work, and fewer still will find a choice of deadly force because of a self-defense situation
2. there are, however, many situations that could be tantamount to murder, depending upon a moral or biblical perspective upon them
3. tantamount is from an Anglo-French word, tant amunter, and means “equivalent in value, significance, or effect”
a. we might try to make all kinds of distinctions and rationalizations, but it turns out that one action is as bad as another or indistinguishable from the sin that we do not want to admit
b. are there certain behaviors that are tantamount to murder?
1. the New Testament of Jesus Christ goes to great lengths to prove that hatred is the one common act of man that is tantamount to murder; in fact, that is why John brought up the case of Cain (First John 3:11-15)
2. he had heard Jesus talk about hatred – not just the emotion, but the language and behavior that stops short of taking a life, but does everything possible to make that life miserable (Matthew 5:21-26)
3. hatred is tantamount to murder and is not a sin that can somehow be separated from who we are; “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20).
4. even in regard to an unlovable neighbor, Christians are challenged to respond with love rather than self-damning hate (Romans 13:8-10)
5. hatred is a sin that religious people sometimes indulge because they feel morally or personally justified, especially if the object of hatred is a villain or someone who has wronged them intentionally
a. the trouble with that is that it makes the hateful person guilty as well in the eyes of God, more like the adversary than the redeemer (John 8:43-47)
b. think of Saul of Tarsus, before his conversion as he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1)
c. hatred is tantamount to murder because it often hopes to see the soul of another destroyed
C. Legalized Killing
1. but what of legalized forms of killing – are they also tantamount to murder and deserving of the same fate?
2. some Eastern belief systems and those who favor animal rights suggest that it is wrong to kill animals, at least the delicious ones, for their meat or fur, but the Bible reveals no such limitation in either testament (see Romans 14:1-6)
3. capital punishment was a prerogative of the nation in the Old Testament and remains in the hands of governments today, so that is not a form of killing that God would prohibit (see Romans 13:1-7)
4. police officers acting in the line of duty, then, are acting as agents of God, even when they draw their weapons and fire upon criminals (see Romans 13:1-7)
5. the early church had among its number military personnel and when John was asked by the soldiers what was required of them in the kingdom, they were not told to go AWOL (see Acts 10:1-2, Luke 3:14); as complicated as it can get, soldiers are not murderers when they are prosecuting a battle
6. moreover, the New Testament prohibits the individual Christian from seeking his own vengeance, but not necessarily from defending himself or other innocent people against bodily harm (see Matthew 5:38-42)
7. the abortion of an unborn person is even more controversial, with people divided over whether life begins at the point of conception
a. the trouble is that we do not know a baby has been conceived at that point; it is only later and by the time there is such evidence, the contents of the womb are undeniably human and personal
b. aborting such a person’s birth is tantamount to murder (see Exodus 21:22-24)
The Bible is decidedly opposed to murder, even though not every case of killing is a homicide.
Questions For Review
- Why did Cain kill his brother, Abel?
- When did capital punishment enter the Bible?
- Is all killing necessarily defined as murder? Explain.
- What is the second death?
- What is tantamount to murder in the New Testament?
- What distinguishes self-defense from vengeance?
- Why do many reject the idea that abortion is murder?