Hacksaw Ridge and Thou Shall Not Kill

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This post is prompted by “Hacksaw Ridge“, but it’s not a review of the film, which is a fine movie. Although I differ from the main character Desmond Doss’ understanding of the sixth commandment “You shall not kill”, I admire his courage in singlehandedly saving the lives of 75 soldiers during WWII’s bloodiest Battle of Okinawa, for which he received the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty.

Doss was a conscientious objector (“CO”), a person who refuses to bear arms in a military conflict on religious or moral grounds. However, he wanted to serve his country in the armed forces, and joined as a medic to save lives, not to kill. He was also a Seventh Day Adventist, and refused to work on the Sabbath. Both convictions were misunderstood by fellow soldiers in his battalion, who viewed him as a coward and can’t be counted on to help when they needed him. So they persecuted him, both physically and verbally to try to get him to quit the army. But he stood firm, which nowadays many are not prepared to do, and for that he earned my respect.

My disagreement with COs and pacifists is with their interpretation of the 6th commandment, which appears 5 times in the Bible:
Ex 20:13 You shall not murder.
• Deut 5:17 You shall not murder.
• Mt 5:21 … ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
• Mt 19:18 … “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; …
• Rom 13:9 … YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, …

“Murder” translates the Hebrew word ratsach and Greek phoneuo.
Ratsach means to murder, slay, kill:
• premeditated,
• accidental,
• as avenger,
• slayer (intentional),
• assassinate.
Phoneuo also means to kill, slay, murder.

Although the older KJV and ASV chose “kill”, nearly all newer versions (e.g. ESV, HCSB, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV etc.) chose “murder” as the more accurate rendering. This is because while God gave this commandment, He also ordered capital punishment and allowed going to a “just war” to defend one’s own country:
Ex 21:12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
• Num 35:16, 17, 18, 31 the murderer shall surely be put to death
• Num 35:19, 21 The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him.
• Num 35:30 ‘If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses,
• Lev 24:17 If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death.
• Deut 19:21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
• Num 10:9 When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you,
• Prov 20:18 Prepare plans by consultation, And make war by wise guidance.

If the 6th commandment prohibits killing, then God would be contradicting Himself, which He would never do. So by “you shall not kill” He must have meant the premeditated and intentional taking of a human life i.e. murder. That being the case, the CO’s refusal to bear arms to defend his country is not God’s requirement but his own preference. It’s his choice, and using the 6th commandment as justification is not warranted. Still, we commend Doss’ courage. We need more people with conviction like him.

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