VII. The Sixth Commandment: Q & A 67-69
Q. 67 Which is the sixth commandment?
A. 67 The sixth commandment is, “You shall not murder.”
Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 do not differ here.
Q. 68 What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requires all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life, and the life of others.
The catechism routinely looks at both sides of the commandments – what is forbidden, and what is required. The prohibition is clear – murder is forbidden. Note, this is murder and not killing. Many are opposed to capital punishment because they argue that they support life, and why they may also be against abortion. However, the punishment for premediated murder was captital, not because of some humanistic life principle, but because it is the only just punishment for taking the life of another image bearer of God (Gen. 9:6). Therefore, the ultimate goal is, as the catechism states it, the preservation of life. Having taken the life of another, the guilty are also prevented from doing so again, and a message is sent to all that the life of God’s image bearers must be preserved.
Q. 69 What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. 69 The sixth commandment forbids the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour unjustly, or whatsoever tends thereunto.
This command also states that we are to preserve our own lives for the same reason, so suicide is also forbidden, but not in sacrificing one’s life in the defence of another (Acts 16:28). One will be judged for turning a blind eye to the murder of the innocent (Pr. 24:11-12). The example of Cain is a clear instance of where we also are to understand that there can be no place for vigilante justice, for even the actions of the kinsmen redeemer was governed by law (Gen. 4:15; Num. 35:9-34). Paul reiterated this point when he stated that the state, as God’s servant, is given the sword to enforce his law (Rom. 13:1-7). Not to punish murderers would be the breaking of this command by the state, and a failure to protect the innocent. The law was also clear that one could not be judged guilty on the basis of one witness only (Dt. 17:6; 19:15).
We do well to also remember that the LORD has given us an inerrant commentary on how this command is to be applied, which holds for all the commandments. Williamson makes this point with the following. “This can be clearly seen from the fact that when God gave Moses these ten commandments, He also gave him an inspired interpretation of these ten commandments in the books of the law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). In this divinely inspired interpretation we clearly see that there are times when it may be necessary to kill a human being in order to keep this commandment.” (‘The Westminster Shorter Catechism For Study Classes’ (248).
This law also prohibits one being engaged in activities which would endanger oneself or others, simply for sport – like fighting, such as the MMA, including bull fighting. It is also true that when we communicate and bear witness to the gospel we are also helping to preserve life (Js. 5:20).