The prohibition against killing in the Old Testament

The literal translation of this commandment from the original Hebrew text is: "You shall not murder!" In its original meaning, the Fifth Commandment forbade the unauthorised, unlawful shedding of innocent blood which was damaging to the community. It did not refer to military service or the death penalty.

In terms of penalties, the Mosaic Law distinguished between inadvertent, negligent, and deliberate homicide (Exodus 21: 12-14).

Generally, killing was punishable by death in Israel. In the case of the first two kinds of homicide referenced above, however, the perpetrator had the option of avoiding this punishment: if he succeeded in reaching one of the "cities of refuge", he was safe from the avenger of blood (Numbers 35: 6-34). In the case of deliberate murder, however, the death penalty was unavoidable.

The Old Testament mentions killing on several occasions, for example in connection with the conquest of the land of Canaan or the battles of the people of Israel against the Philistines. Warfare was also considered a legitimate means of protecting Israel from idolatry.

See also