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Murder is the willful taking of an innocent human life. It is to be distinguished from accidental homicide, and from the time of Noah onward was forbidden by God in principle founded on the fact of man's having been made in the likeness of God.[1] Under the law in the Pentateuch the punishment for murder was death[2] with no compensation for murder or the reprieve of the murderer.[3]

In any case with the death penalty, at least two witnesses were required[4]. If the murderer could not be found, the city nearest the scene of the crime was responsible to offer a sin offering to the priests to absolve the government of the town from any fault[5]. This sin was forbidden in the Ten Commandments[6]


The sin of murder, as forbidden in the sixth commandment, is a translation of the Hebrew word רצח (ratsach) is a primitive root indicating violence against a living being resulting in death. It is translated "slay", "kill" and "murder" but is distinguished from accidental killing ("manslaughter") and execution ("putting to death"). Though several other words are used to indicatethe act of killing, context must be used to assign the sin of murder to a particular incident.

The equivalent Greek word is φονεύω (phoneuo) which is used to translate allusions to the sixth commandment.[7]

Cities of Refuge[]

Since mankind was created in the "image and likeness" of God, killing a person was serious matter. However, when the death was unintended, Hebrew Law provided for cities where the killer would be protected from relatives that could avenge the death[8]. The cities were to be spread out to make them relatively close to the scene of the altercation. If an avenger killed the "manslayer" before he got to the city of refuge, the avenger was not charged.

Originally, the Law designated three cities to be run by the priesthood in the land west of the Jordan River based on the intended boundaries of the land. Prior to entering, however, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh were granted land conquered on the east side of the river. As for them not to be cut off from the justice system, Moses directed that three cities be chosen as cities of refuge for them as well.[9]


  1. Genesis 9:5-6; John 8:44; 1 John 3:12,15 (Link)
  2. Numbers 35:16,18,21,31; Leviticus 24:17 (Link)
  3. Exodus 21:12,14; Deuteronomy 19:11,13; 2 Samuel 17:25, 20:10 (Link)
  4. Numbers 35:19-30; Deuteronomy 17:6-12 (Link)
  5. Deuteronomy 211-9 (Link)
  6. Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17 (Link)
  7. Matthew 19:18 (Link)
  8. Num. 35:6-15 (Link)
  9. Num. 35:14 (Link)
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