Pearce Pablum #68: “Thou Shalt Not Kill” [Murder]

Pearce Pablum #68: “Thou Shalt Not Kill” [Murder] March 2, 2022

Atheist anti-theist and “philosopher” Jonathan M. S. Pearce runs the blog, A Tippling Philosopher. He has encouraged me to visit his site and offer critiques, and wrote under a post dated 12-14-21: “I even need to thank the naysayers. Some of them have put up with a lot of robust pushback and still they come. Bravery or stupidity – it’s a fine line. But they are committed, and there is something to be said for taking that commitment into the lion’s den. Dave, you are welcome at my new place. Come challenge me. . . . thanks for your critiques of my pieces. Sorry I couldn’t get to more of them.” This echoes his words about me in a post dated 7-20-17, where he said, “well done . . . for coming here and suffering the slings and arrows of atheists’ wrath. . . . I commend him for getting involved and defending himself. Goodonya, mate.” 

Under a post dated 1-27-22, he stated: “I do welcome disagreements because I don’t want [my blog] to [be] just an echo chamber. . . . [S]omeone like Armstrong does give me ammunition for some of my pieces!” Likewise, on 3-18-14 he proclaimed: “Dissenting views are utterly vital to being sure that you are warranted in your own beliefs and views.” And on 7-20-17“I put my ideas and theories about the world out there for people to criticise. . . . I want to make damned sure that they are warranted. I can’t stand the idea that I could . . . believe something that is properly unwarranted. . . . What’s the point in self-delusion? . . . I put something out there, people attack it, and if it still stands, it’s pretty robust and I am happy to hold it. If not, I adapt and change my views accordingly.”

I’m delighted to oblige his wish to receive critiques and dissenting views! The rarity of his counter-replies, however, is an oddity and curiosity in light of this desire. He wrote, for example, on 11-22-19: “[I can’t be] someone who genuinely is not interested in finding out the truth about philosophy, God and everything. If I come up against any point that is even remotely problematic to my worldview, I feel the absolute necessity to bottom it out. I need to reconcile at least something; I have work to do. I cannot simply leave it as it is. . . . I would simply have to counter the arguments, or change my position.” Whatever; this hasn’t been my experience with him; only in short and infrequent spurts. I continue to offer them in any event, because they aren’t just for his sake.

Here’s what he thinks (by the way) of Jesus: “The Jesus as reported in the Gospels is so far removed from the real and historical figure of Jesus, overlaid with myth, story-telling, propaganda and evangelist agenda, that the end result is synonymous with myth. . . . I’d take mythicism over Christianity any day. And they call mythicists fringe as if the position is absurd? Now that’s crazy.” (8-2-14)

Jonathan’s words will be in blue.


This is a reply to Jonathan’s article, “Very simple Johno. Thou shalt not kill.” – Er, not so simple. (8-23-16). He wrote there:

[T]he Ten Commandments are absolutist. This causes problems. Since Christians hate consequentialism as it does not require a god, there can be problems in making sense of their ethical proclamations. I will list some simple potential issues with a deontological claim that “thou shalt not kill”.

He proceeded to outline instances in which this famous command, — which he assumes is about all killing whatsoever –, is problematic:

1) “Good intentions, but with unforeseen collateral”,

2) “Just war”,

3) “All the deaths enacted in the Bible by and for God – millions of dead hypocritically carried out directly by, or ordered by, God.”: what Christians regard as perfectly justified judgments by God,

4) “deaths [as] . . . a result of cutting back on universal healthcare”,

5) “Death penalty”,

6) “Not spending more money on, say, overseas aid, tackling malaria, poverty and any other issue that would thusly allow the death of many – all this inaction, and lack of funding, kills people.”,

7) “What about Jesus? Was he not killed to achieve an end?”,

8) “Self-defense”.

etc etc.

You get the picture. What does “kill” mean here, in this soundbite of a divine order? Such simplistic “comebacks” in argument are thoroughly naive.

Yes, I do get the picture (just not his picture). The command, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13) — once we examine the Hebrew word for “kill” — literally means “You shall not murder.” All murder is a species of killing, but (clearly) not all killing is murder.

The Hebrew for “kill” (KJV) in Exodus 20:13 is ratsach (Strong’s word # 7523). Rendering it “kill” is an unfortunate translation in the King James Bible and some of the translations that basically follow its tradition of translation. Strong’s Concordance (we learn at the same link) defines it as “to murder, slay.” So does the standard Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon.

We see in the Englishman’s Concordance entry for this word that the overwhelming translation of it in 47 occurrences in the Old Testament (in both the KJV and more modern NASB) is “murder” / “murderer” or suchlike: that is, one specific, gravely sinful form of malicious killing (homicide).

In fact, even in the KJV, according to Young’s Concordance, out of 47 times, “kill” is used only six times and “be put to death” once. The other 40 instances have “slayer” (18), “murderer” (14), “murder” (3), “be slain” (3), or “manslayer” (2). The terms with the much broader application, then, are used only 15% of the time.

One page lists 54 biblical translations of Exodus 20:13. “Murder” appears in 40 of them (74%). So, either by the criterion of how most Bibles translate ratsach for this passage, or by seeing how it is translated in the 46 other passages besides Exodus 20:13, or by consulting Hebrew Lexicons, it’s crystal clear what the intended meaning is.

The confusion comes from the fact that the word “kill” or “killer” can (in everyday usage) include the meaning of “murder” or “murderer” (in English, and it looks like also in Hebrew). For example, we refer to a “killer on the run” or “Hitler killed six million Jews”: meaning “murderer” and “murdered”. But the better word in this Bible passage, to make it clear what is meant, is “murder.”

That being the case, Jonathan’s entire reply here is null and void.


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Photo credit: Moses and the Ten Commandments, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce makes an elementary category mistake, in thinking that “thou shalt not kill” in the Ten Commandments doesn’t refer specifically to murder.

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