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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

Kill, Killing

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The Old Testament . The Old Testament uses many terms to refer to the act of killing, some of which can be used interchangeably (see 2 Samuel 14:7 , ; where three terms for killing are used ). The most common of these is harag [ Genesis 9:6 ).

Killing Enemies in Battle . The Hebrew term harag [Numbers 31:7,17 ; Deuteronomy 2:34 ; 3:6 ; 7:22-26 ; 13:16 ; 20:10-14 ; Joshua 8:26-28 ; 1 Samuel 15:3 ). Even Pharaoh participated in the mass destruction of enemies (1 Kings 9:16 ).

Killing Opponents . The killing of political opponents occurred during periods of revolution, in disputes with prophets, or in the battle for succession to the throne. Gideon destroyed Peniel and its people when they refused his aid (Judges 8:17 ); Saul thought about killing Samuel (1 Samuel 16:2 ), and was successful in having the priests of Nob slain (1 Samuel 22:17 ); Jezebel killed the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:13 ; cf. 1 Kings 19:10 ); Zechariah was stoned during the reign of Joash (2 Chronicles 24:21 ); Abimelech killed his seventy brothers (Judges 9:5 ); Athaliah killed her family and was herself killed (2 Kings 11:16 ; 2 Chronicles 23:15 ); and Jehu destroyed the line of Ahab (2 Chronicles 22:8 ). The festival of Purim was associated with the slaying of political enemies (Esther 3:13 ; 7:4 ; 8:11 ; 9:2 ). Pharaoh intended to kill the Hebrew sons (Heb. causitive of mut, Exodus 1:16 ; also see 1 Samuel 17:50 ; 2 Samuel 3:30 ). Harag [Genesis 4:23-24 ] for the intended killing of Joseph 37:20; mut was used in Genesis 37:18 ; also see 1 Samuel 19:1 ; 1 Kings 11:40 ] Jacob versus Esau [ Genesis 27:41 ] and Cain versus Abel [ Genesis 4:1-6 ]).

Killing as a Crime . There were at least four types of criminal homicide: murder, accidental homicide, the goring ox, and justifiable homicide. Murder was a premeditated act (Exodus 21:13 ; Numbers 35:20-22 ) punishable by death (Numbers 35:31-33 ; Deuteronomy 19:13 ). Moses' killing of an Egyptian was considered a crime by Pharaoh (Exodus 2:14-15 ), as was Joab's blood vengeance against Abner (2 Samuel 3:30 ; cf. 1 Kings 2:5 ) and David's plotting the death of Uriah (2 Samuel 12:9,14 ). Judicial murder was also condemned (Exodus 23:7 ; Psalm 10:8 ; 94:5-6 ).

A distinction was made between homicide and premeditated murder (Exodus 21:13-14 ), although the blood avenger was required to act against both, primarily as a safeguard against the killing of relatives. The one who committed accidental manslaughter was able to receive asylum (Exodus 21:13 ; Numbers 35:9-30 ; [Heb. naka, [Deuteronomy 19:1-10 ). Accidental manslaughter could result from a sudden shove or unintentional throwing of an object (Numbers 35:22 ), the dropping of a stone or random missile (Numbers 35:22-23 ), a fall from a roof with no rail (Deuteronomy 22:8 ), or assault by a killer who was not lying in wait (Exodus 21:12-13 ). An ox who killed a man was stoned (Exodus 21:28-32 ). A property owner was justified in killing a thief in the act of stealing (Exodus 22:2 ; in daylight hours ).

Killing as Punishment for a Crime . Israel's death penalty showed moral sensitivity and placed a high value on human life. Punishment was often regarded as God's vengeance on the crime. Capital punishment was employed for the following criminal cases: intentional homicide (Exodus 21:12 ; Leviticus 24:17 ; Numbers 35:16-21 ), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16 ; Deuteronomy 24:7 ), prostitution by the priest's daughter (Leviticus 21:9 ), persistent disobedience against parents (Leviticus 20:9 ; Deuteronomy 27:16 ), apostasy from the Lord (Numbers 25:5 ; Deuteronomy 13:10 ), killing the king (2 Samuel 4:10-12 ), fratricide (Genesis 4:14 ; Exodus 21:14 ; Judges 9:56 ; 2 Samuel 14:7 ), child sacrifice (Leviticus 20:4 ; Heb. mut ), and false prophecy ( Deuteronomy 13:1-5 ). It was also enforced for sexual abuses such as adultery (Leviticus 20:10 ; Deuteronomy 22:22 ), incest (Leviticus 20:11-17 ), sodomy (Leviticus 20:13 ), and bestiality (Exodus 22:19 ; Leviticus 20:15-16 ), and for cultic abuses including idolatry (Leviticus 20:1-5 ; Numbers 25:1-5 ; Deuteronomy 13:6-18 ; 17:2-7 ), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:15-16 ), profanation of the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14-15 ; Numbers 15:32-36 ), and sorcery (Exodus 22:17 ; Leviticus 20:27 ). One aspect in criminal law was the idea of corporate personality; Achan's death penalty was extended to his entire family (Joshua 7 ).

Killing as Sacrifice . The term shahat [ Exodus 29:11,16 , 20 ; Leviticus 1:5 ), for child sacrifices (Ezekiel 16:21 ; 23:39 ), and for Jehu's mass killing (2 Kings 10:7,14 ). Other terms (e.g., zabah [ Leviticus 17:3-9 ).

Yahweh as the Subject . Yahweh punished misdeeds, was a military hero (Yahweh of hosts), and killed personal opponents (Numbers 22:21-35 ). He killed Pharaoh's firstborn (Exodus 4:23 ; 13:15 ), the Philistines (Isaiah 14:28-32 ), Babylonians (Isaiah 14:4-21 ), and even his own people (Jeremiah 5:14 ; 23:29 ; Hosea 6:5 ; Amos 9:1-4 ). Yahweh was also described as killing his enemies in prophetic visions of judgment (Ezekiel 23:9-10 ; Amos 4:10 ; 9:1 ).

The New Testament The New Testament also uses a variety of words for the concept of killing. The most common is apokteino [ Matthew 14:5 ; 23:30 ; Mark 6:19 ; John 16:2 ; for the killing of God's messengers ) and were condemned to death. The disciples were threatened with death (Acts 21:31 ; 23:12-14 ), as were martyrs (Revelation 6:11 ; 11:7 ). It could also be used figuratively (2Col 3:6; Ephesians 2:16 ; sin forces one into a conflict that ends in death ), in parables (Matthew 23:37 ; Mark 12:5-12 ), or in prophetic narratives (with reference to the disciples in Matthew's apocolypse [24:9]). It was used concerning Christ in the passion predictions (Mark 8:31 ; 9:31 ; 10:34 ). Killing was used to execute God's judgment (Revelation 6:8 ; 9:15-18 ; 19:21 ); hostility was behind the killing of Christ (Ephesians 2:15-16 ).

Other terms for killing are also used, but on a less frequent basis. Luke often uses a term (anaireo [ Luke 22:2 ; Acts 9:24 ; 16:27 ; 23:15 ; 26:10 ). The New Testament term for committing murder (phoneuo [ Romans 13:9 ; see James 2:11 ). Other terms include "handle violently" (in the extended sense to mean "kill": diacheirizo the killing of Jesus on the cross Acts 5:30 ; 26:21 ), "deliver up to death" (thanatoo Romans 7:4 ; 8:36 ; 2Col 6:9; also, "put to death" Matthew 27:1 ; Mark 13:12 ; 14:55 ; 1 Peter 3:18 ), "to slaughter" (sphazo Romans 5:6,8 , 12 ; 6:9 ; 1 John 3:12 ). The New Testament term for immolation (thuo [ Luke 15:23,27,30 ). It could be used of oxen (Matthew 22:4 ), flocks (John 10:10 ), by Peter in Acts (10:13; 11:7), for the Passover (Luke 22:7 ), of Christ as the Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7 ), and by Paul in comparing pagan and Hebrew sacrifice (1Col 8:4-13; 10:25-30).

Mark W. Chavalas

See also Murder ; War, Holy War

Bibliography L. Conene, NIDNTT, 1:429-30; M. Greenberg, JBL 78 (1959): 125-32; J. J. Finkelstein, TAPS 71 (1981): 1-89; H. Fuhs, TDOT, 3:447-57; H. McKeating, VT 25 (1975): 46-68; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel .


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Kill, Killing'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bed/k/kill-killing.html. 1996.

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