The Sixth Commandment and Compassionate Ending of Life
The Sixth Commandment
This commandment does not include the killing of animals, because only humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Therefore humans and animals should be treated differently. The fact that euthanasia is legal and common practice for animals doesn’t mean it should be legal for humans also.
Only Three Exceptions to ‘Do Not Kill’
Some people argue that the sixth commandment is not valid or absolute, because exceptions were allowed. It is true that exceptions were allowed, but humans do not have the authority to add exceptions to God’s law.
Only God has the authority to take human life. Humans may do so only under God’s delegated authority – according to the exceptions He allowed:
1. Self-defense at night
2 If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall beno guilt for his bloodshed. 3 If the sun has risen on him, there shall beguilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. Exodus 22:2-3
2. Capital Punishment / Death Penalty (with specific guidelines)
5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
6“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man.” Genesis 9:5-6
3. War authorised by God, against the enemies of God or His people (Israel)
Death is always the consequence of sin
In each of these situations death was the consequence of sin (disobedience to God and His law) – the people who died were not “innocent”.
Even when people were killed on a large scale, it was in response to their sin and evil. The Egyptians received the ten plagues, including the killing of their firstborns, because Pharoah refused to let the Israelites go.
Much killing in the Old Testament was also an attempt to destroy the Nephilim (giants with human and fallen angel ancestry), especially with Noah’s flood. The Cannaanite nations against whom Israel made war were also contaminated with Nephilim blood.
With our 21st century individualism we may judge it unfair that God would kill whole cities and nations. God deals with people as families, cities and nations. The sin of one person pullutes the whole community.
God was merciful towards individuals who were God-fearing. There were only eight righteous people on the earth before Noah’s flood (Genesis 6:1-8), so the numbers among the Cannaanite nations may also have been small.
People had the opportunity to join themselves to Israel and then share in Israel’s commandments and blessings. When Israel left Egypt, there were a “mixed multitude” with them (Exodus 12:38).
The Shedding of Innocent Blood
Any intentional killing outside the above three exceptions is considered “the shedding of innocent blood”, which God hates and which pollutes the land.
There is no provision for ending the life of a suffering or dying person out of compassion.
16 These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood… Proverbs 6:16-17
Cursed is the one who takes a bribe to slay an innocent person. Deuteronomy 27:25
Thus says the Lord: “Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. Jeremiah 22:3
29 ‘And these things shall be a statute of judgment to you throughout your generations in all your dwellings. 30 Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. 31 Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32 And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. 33 So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34 Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.’ Numbers 35:29-34
Jesus confirmed the Validity of the Sixth Commandment
Jesus confirmed that it is still valid. He even added to its meaning by urging people to not even be angry with others.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a]and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21-22
Paul confirmed the Validity of the Sixth Commandment
The apostle Paul also refers to the Ten Commandments. Clearly they are still valid after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He implies that breaking the commandments would be harmful to others and not loving. Therefore, there’s no such thing as ending someone’s life out of love and compassion. It is harmful to the person to end their life.
8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10
Loving God and others includes obeying His commands, sometimes translated as ‘commandments’.
2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:2-4)
Jesus never promoted death over life
Jesus never ended the life of a suffering person and He never taught His followers to do so.
Killing is not part of His definition of love.
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10
We need to meet other people’s needs, as far as we can. Note the part about how we should treat sick people: we need to ‘look after them’, not end their lives. What we do for people, we are really doing for Jesus. Surely it would not be OK to kill Him?
34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-40
There is no provision in the Bible for ‘mercy killing’ – ending someone’s life out of compassion.