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Question: Do the scriptures endorse murder?
Question: Do the scriptures endorse murder?
The scriptures contain explicit references against murder
It is claimed that murder is endorsed by the scriptures. There are indeed many, many scriptures that depict violence of some sort in the scriptures. More than 600 passages of human violence and 1000 of divine violence may be found in the Bible alone. A comprehensive treatment of each scripture to determine if it constitutes an endorsement of "murder" is outside the scope of this article. However we can suggest general things to keep in mind while reading the scriptures so that reconciliation can happen quickly and easily.
Considerations for any Case
The scriptures condemn the innocent taking of life
There is explicit mention against innocent killing in the scriptures. A small sampling includes:
- Exodus 20:13
- Deuteronomy 5:17
- Matthew 5:21
- Mark 10:19
- Mosiah 13:21
- D&C 59:6
A Moral/Philosophical Note for Consideration from the Latter-day Saint Soteriological Point of View
Many people are-- very understandably-- troubled with the portrayal of many people losing their lives in the scriptures and other pericopes that appear to condone some form of murder. When taken from their mortal sojourn, it may be that God is showing mercy to people by allowing them not to make any more bad choices. That may allow us to see the scriptures in a new light. God is the creator of the universe including our spirits and bodies (2 Nephi 2:13) and it is his right to act upon us according to his will since he is the author of our life. When he causes destruction, he is acting in mercy by not allowing a person to sin more. Consider what Christ spoke to the Nephites before his appearance to them at Bountiful (3 Nephi 9:5-11):
5 And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come any more unto me against them.
6 And behold, the city of Gilgal have I caused to be sunk, and the inhabitants thereof to be buried up in the depths of the earth;
7 Yea, and the city of Onihah and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Mocum and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come up any more unto me against them.
8 And behold, the city of Gadiandi, and the city of Gadiomnah, and the city of Jacob, and the city of Gimgimno, all these have I caused to be sunk, and made hills and valleys in the places thereof; and the inhabitants thereof have I buried up in the depths of the earth, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them.
9 And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.
10 And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations.11 And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them.
This ethic is much, much more palatable from a Latter-day Saint’s soteriological point of view where no one is damned to hell (or in the case of Latter-day Saints: "outer darkness") unless under very, very harsh and unique circumstances and instead given differing degrees of glory based on works, the desires of our hearts, and potential (or future potential) to accept the Gospel.
Of course, in the case of Old Testament violence (and that of the Book of Mormon, the knowledge of the Three Kingdoms would have been anachronistic to the ancient Israelites. That wouldn't come (even in seed) until New Testament times.They would have been under the understanding of Sheol, which is similar to the Restored Gospel's concept of the Spirit World. However, the concept of three degrees of glory would obviously not be unknown to God who, in theory, would not have revelaed the entire Plan of Salvation—including knowledge of the three degrees of glory—in its fullness to the Israelites.
Scripture Should be Read Contextually and Holistically
No matter what text of the scriptures is claimed to support murder, it is important to remember three things:
- A good hermeneutic for reconciling the scriptures. See here for our suggested tools.
- Read scripture in context. Grab a thorough, scholarly commentary on the book in question and dive into it to see what you can know about it.
- Read scripture holistically. If scripture talks about anything, we should read everything that scripture has to say about that person, place, or thing. It helps us gain a composite understanding of how the prophets understood God’s word in a particular context and how we can understand it today through the lense of more modern revelation.
This is the pattern that we have followed for the other responses we have written for moral questions about the scriptures.
Several Challenging Texts
We have responded to several accusations of endorsement of violence which can be found in the following articles:
Serpents and the Children of Israel
Abraham and Jesus
Nephi and Laban
Doctrine and Covenants 98:31
- Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, "Violence" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 1358.
- Though it can be found in seed. See Book of Mormon Central, "Why Does the Book of Mormon Warn that a Lake of Fire and Brimstone Awaits Sinners in the Afterlife?" KnoWhy #446 <https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/why-does-the-book-of-mormon-warn-that-a-lake-of-fire-and-brimstone-awaits-sinners-in-the> (accessed 21 September 2019). Latter-day Saints consider Jesus’ statement, “in my Father’s house are many mansions” to refer to varying degrees of reward. It is interesting to note that similar language recurs in the Book of Mormon in Enos 1:27 and Ether 12:32-37
- Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, "Heaven" in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible ed., David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 564. "In the NT...Heaven, the seat of redemption and reconciliation, is beyond time; it may appear as a series (three or seven); and is foundational for this world where one experiences happiness, praise, and service."