What does the Sixth Commandment Mean for us?

Continued from “Is God a Pacifist?
I’m looking at one of the sermons that came out of Mars Hill Church a couple of months agoIs God A Pacifist? People, even popular pastors, speak only their opinion: not the words of God.

Mr. Driscoll starts the article/sermon quite simply: “Some have tried to use the Sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13) to promote pacifism…” Now I hate to use Wikipedia as a source for any of my posts, but in this case it’s justified: Mark starts his sermon using a type of “weasel words” (Wikipedia, retrieved 2014) called “unsupported attribution” (Wikipedia, retrieved 2014): “…some people say, many scholars state, it is believed/regarded, many are of the opinion… words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated”. I’m fairly familiar with the logic of Biblical pacifism, and I know of few who rely solely on the Sixth commandment to justify their stand. Mark’s statement, in fact, makes us look a bit silly. Most of us have been through the exact same word-study that that Mr. Driscoll illustrates, and come to the same conclusions. Like most doctrines, there are a lot of influences throughout the Bible. Especially for a Christian, the OT commandment to “not kill” (or “not murder”) has relatively little effect.

So when I first saw the question that is the title of this post (the second bolded subheading in his post), I wanted to say, “Nothing”. The Sixth commandment means very little to me. I know, I know: I’m the New Testament guy. My ex-wife was the Old Testament scholar (her major was Jewish and Modern Israel studies) and I frequently have to remember that the Old Testament laws are still foundational and illustrative, even if “we are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14-15). The Old Testament laws have no more power over us today; though they still point to Christ (Gal 3:24-25; Gal 5:18). Trying to keep the Law, because it is the Law, is not only virtually impossible, it’s counter-productive. Trying to keep the Law interferes with our relationship with God. As Paul says: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal 5:5). As with circumcision, if we try to “not murder” because it’s a commandment, then we’re “under obligation to keep the whole Law” (Gal 5:3). We don’t “murder” our neighbours, not because the Law says we shouldn’t; we don’t “murder” them because we love them as ourselves (Gal 5:14).

But the argument goes further. What does Jesus say? He certainly has enormous respect for the Law; he was from the Hebrew tradition of two thousand years ago, deeply entrenched in its teaching. In Matt 5:17 he specifically says: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill”. Yet in spite of this (or in complement to it?), he also has a new perspective on the Law. Consider the Fourth commandment, to honour the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11). According to Mark 2:24 – 27, Jesus said when his disciples were accused of “doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath” (harvesting grain to eat when they were hungry), “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” What if this was the intended perspective on all the Laws?

So in following the Sixth commandment, as with the Fourth, it is not a matter of trying to figure out exactly what the words mean in their original context so that they can be rigidly applied in different situations: this would be rather like how the Pharisees tried to figure out exactly what constituted “work” on the Sabbath. The Law that forbids murder was done “for us”; it’s not that we were made to follow the Law. And this loops us right back where we were. We don’t “murder” our neighbours, not because the Law says we shouldn’t; we don’t “murder” them because we love them as ourselves (Gal 5:14).

And that is why I’m a pacifist. I’m not a perfect pacifist: I will acknowledge that there are times when violence might be necessary, and even times when another’s death can be argued to be unavoidable. The second world war is one example that I’d have a hard time maintaining could have been solved peacefully, but it is one of the few large-scale conflicts that could be considered “justified”. I have no list of situations, as Mr. Driscoll has (“self-defense, capital punishment, and just war” are examples from the text), which which would be considered “okay” (even righteous) killing. And to me, that is one of the indicators that one is looking at the Law too legalistically. It sounds like something the Pharisees would do. They knew exactly what constituted work on the Sabbath; I’ll bet they also knew what would constitute the difference between “killing” and “murder”.

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One Response to What does the Sixth Commandment Mean for us?

  1. Pingback: What does the Sixth Commandment Mean for Jesus | The Geographer's Corner

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