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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Kill, Killing

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 Sam 14:7, ; where three terms for killing are used ). The most common of these is harag [], a neutral term found over 160 times. It is used to convey the concept of the violent death of persons at the hands of other persons (individuals, Israelites, or foreigners), whether justified or unjustified; it also includes the idea of murder or judicial execution (the offender was to be killed in agreement with the command in Gen 9:6).

Killing Enemies in Battle. The Hebrew term harag [] can mean killing enemies in battle. In a holy war, the Israelites would undertake the ritual mass destruction of enemies in obedience to the command of God (Num 31:7, 17; Deut 2:34; 3:6; 7:22-26; 13:16; 20:10-14; Joshua 8:26-28; 1 Sam 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 Sam 16:2), and was successful in having the priests of Nob slain (1 Sam 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 Chron 24:21); Abimelech killed his seventy brothers (Judges 9:5); Athaliah killed her family and was herself killed (2 Kings 11:16; 2 Chron 23:15); and Jehu destroyed the line of Ahab (2 Chron 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, Exod 1:16; also see 1 Sam 17:50; 2 Sam 3:30). Harag [] is also used for the killing of personal enemies and rivals (by Lamech [Gen 4:23-24] for the intended killing of Joseph 37:20; mut was used in Gen 37:18; also see 1 Sam 19:1; 1 Kings 11:40] Jacob versus Esau [Gen 27:41] and Cain versus Abel [Gen 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 (Exod 21:13; Num 35:20-22) punishable by death (Num 35:31-33; Deut 19:13). Moses' killing of an Egyptian was considered a crime by Pharaoh (Exod 2:14-15), as was Joab's blood vengeance against Abner (2 Sam 3:30; cf. 1 Kings 2:5) and David's plotting the death of Uriah (2 Sam 12:9,14). Judicial murder was also condemned (Exod 23:7; Psalm 10:8; 94:5-6).

A distinction was made between homicide and premeditated murder (Exod 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 (Exod 21:13; Num 35:9-30; [Heb. naka, [] a mortal blow] Deut 19:1-10). Accidental manslaughter could result from a sudden shove or unintentional throwing of an object (Num 35:22), the dropping of a stone or random missile (Num 35:22-23), a fall from a roof with no rail (Deut 22:8), or assault by a killer who was not lying in wait (Exod 21:12-13). An ox who killed a man was stoned (Exod 21:28-32). A property owner was justified in killing a thief in the act of stealing (Exod 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 (Exod 21:12; Lev 24:17; Num 35:16-21), kidnapping (Exod 21:16; Deut 24:7), prostitution by the priest's daughter (Lev 21:9), persistent disobedience against parents (Lev 20:9; Deut 27:16), apostasy from the Lord (Num 25:5; Deut 13:10), killing the king (2 Sam 4:10-12), fratricide (Gen 4:14; Exod 21:14; Judges 9:56; 2 Sam 14:7), child sacrifice (Lev 20:4; Heb. mut ), and false prophecy (Deut 13:1-5). It was also enforced for sexual abuses such as adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), incest (Lev 20:11-17), sodomy (Lev 20:13), and bestiality (Exod 22:19; Lev 20:15-16), and for cultic abuses including idolatry (Lev 20:1-5; Num 25:1-5; Deut 13:6-18; 17:2-7), blasphemy (Lev 24:15-16), profanation of the Sabbath (Exod 31:14-15; Num 15:32-36), and sorcery (Exod 22:17; Lev 20:27). One aspect in criminal law was the idea of corporate personality; Achan's death penalty was extended to his entire family (Josh. 7).

Killing as Sacrifice. The term shahat [] was used for the slaughter of animals, either for sacrifice or for food (Exod 29:11, 16, 20; Lev 1:5), for child sacrifices (Ezek 16:21; 23:39), and for Jehu's mass killing (2 Kings 10:7,14). Other terms (e.g., zabah []) were used for butchering (Lev 17:3-9).

Yahweh as the Subject. Yahweh punished misdeeds, was a military hero (Yahweh of hosts), and killed personal opponents (Num 22:21-35). He killed Pharaoh's firstborn (Exod 4:23; 13:15), the Philistines (Isa 14:28-32), Babylonians (Isa 14:4-21), and even his own people (Jer 5:14; 23:29; Hosea 6:5; Amos 9:1-4). Yahweh was also described as killing his enemies in prophetic visions of judgment (Ezek 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 [], a term used nearly seventy-five times. The writers of the Septuagint employed this word on over 150 occasions (normally for the Hebrew term harag []). Its generic meaning appeared to signify the ending of someone else's life in a violent way, and could signify murder, execution, or killing. It was found most often in the Gospels and Revelation, while rarely in the Pauline Epistles. The objects of the term were most often those who speak for God (Matt 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 (Rev 6:11; 11:7). It could also be used figuratively (2 Col 3:6; Eph 2:16; sin forces one into a conflict that ends in death ), in parables (Matt 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 (Rev 6:8; 9:15-18; 19:21); hostility was behind the killing of Christ (Eph 2:15-16).

Other terms for killing are also used, but on a less frequent basis. Luke often uses a term (anaireo []) that means to do away with, usually in a violent way (Luke 22:2; Acts 9:24; 16:27; 23:15; 26:10). The New Testament term for committing murder (phoneuo []) is used by Matthew to signify the sixth commandment (5:21; 19:18), and by Paul in summarizing the law (Rom 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 Rom 7:4; 8:36; 2 Col 6:9; also, "put to death" Matt 27:1; Mark 13:12; 14:55; 1 Peter 3:18), "to slaughter" (sphazo Rom 5:6, 8, 12; 6:9; 1 John 3:12). The New Testament term for immolation (thuo []) has a ritual character (Luke 15:23,27,30). It could be used of oxen (Matt 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 Co 5:7), and by Paul in comparing pagan and Hebrew sacrifice (1 Col 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.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Kill, Killing'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<>. 1897.


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