The Sixth Commandment – A Christian Science Perspective, Part One

The Sixth Commandment – “Thou shalt not kill”

[NOTE:  For those unfamiliar with the religion of Christian Science (which is NOT the same as Scientology!) you can check out the Questions and Answers Page on this site.]


Christ Jesus did not seem to spend a lot of his time preaching “Thou shalt not kill.” Instead, he went right to the root of the problem and pulled it out of the soil of material thinking. We read in his Sermon on the Mount:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
(Matthew 5:21-22) 

Self-righteousness, self-will, self-love, anger, and prejudice are what Jesus condemned. These loveless, nonspiritual attitudes toward God’s children – our brothers and sisters – are the killers. An outward murder is the result of an inner motive, as our courts of law recognize. It is the inner motive, the heart of man, that breaks the Sixth Commandment. Murder is the un-restrained physical expression of qualities such as hate, fear, envy, jealousy, lust, or greed.
In the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the author, Mary Baker Eddy, writes:

“Our courts recognize evidence to prove the motive as well as the commission of a crime. Is it not clear that the human mind must move the body to a wicked act? Is not mortal mind the murderer? The hands, without mortal mind to direct them, could not commit a murder.

“Courts and juries judge and sentence mortals in order to restrain crime, to prevent deeds of violence or to punish them. To say that these tribunals have no jurisdiction over the carnal or mortal mind, would be to contradict precedent and to admit that the power of human law is restricted to matter, while mortal mind, evil, which is the real outlaw, defies justice and is recommended to mercy. Can matter commit a crime?  Can matter be punished? Can you separate the mentality from the body over which courts hold jurisdiction? Mortal mind, not matter, is the criminal in every case; and human law rightly estimates crime, and courts reasonably pass sentence, according to the motive.” (S&H 105:3-15)

The term “mortal mind” is meant to convey what the Apostle Paul called the “carnal mind.” In Christian Science, it is the term for the beliefs of material sense as opposed to the spiritual sense of man bestowed by his Creator. Mortal mind is not part of God’s creation – His spiritual ideas – but is a false negative sense of what is divinely real and positive. It is the source of evil motives as opposed to the natural graces of love that spring from man’s spiritual identity. Mrs. Eddy writes:

“As of old, evil still charges the spiritual idea with error’s own nature and methods. This malicious animal instinct, of which the dragon is the type, incites mortals to kill morally and physically even their fellow-mortals, and worse still, to charge the innocent with the crime. This last infirmity of sin will sink its perpetrator into a night without a star.”  (S&H 563:3-9)

Biblical Background:

The Commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” has evolved in its meaning over the centuries. As civilized society has developed morally and spiritually, it has gained new perspectives of this Law that were not necessarily shared by the nation of Israel at the time of Moses. One Bible commentary describes what the Sixth Commandment meant to the early Hebrews:

“The commandment is concerned with the protection of human life within the community of Israel, against destruction by fellow Israelites. The verb is not limited to murder in the criminal sense and may be used of unpremeditated killing (Deut. 4:42). It forbids all killing not explicitly authorized. This means that in Israelite society it did not forbid the slaying of animals, capital punishment, or the killing of enemies in war. It had no direct bearing, either, on suicide.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1, pg 986)

For a commentary on the Sixth Commandment that includes information on how the Jewish nation applied it to their system of justice, you might wish to read William Barclay’s book on “The Ten Commandments,” originally published in 1973, and republished in 1998 by Westminster John Knox Press. Here are a few citations from his 31 page essay on the Sixth Commandment:

“The Hebrew verb implies . . . ‘violent and unauthorized killing,’ not killing in general.” (page 52)

“. . . the real reason for the commandment, as the Bible sees it, is the story of the words of God to Noah after the flood: ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.’ (Gen. 9:6) Since man is made in the image of God, then the taking of a single life is the destruction of the most precious and the most holy thing in the world.” (pg. 52)

“Within the Jewish legal system it was never even suggested that this commandment forbade what may be called judicial killing.” (pg. 53)

“Jewish law made special provisions for what might be called non-deliberate killing, killing which happened by accident, or as the result of a blow or an attack which was not meant to kill. For men involved in this, six cities of refuge were set apart to which they might flee if they killed ‘without intent,’ but, if the killer was not inside one of these cities of refuge, the avenger of blood might take his life. (Numbers 35:9-28)” (pg. 53)

Barclay’s essay describes the various ways of carrying out judicial death sentences, such as stoning, burning, beheading, and strangling, but then notes:

“We must go on to see how the mercy of Jewish law in fact made it next to impossible to carry out the death penalty at all.’ (pg. 55)

“The all-important thing was the motive. If it was deliberate killing, coming from acknowledged hatred, then the killer’s life was forfeit.” (pg. 56)

“No man could be condemned on any evidence less than that of two eye-witnesses. Circumstantial evidence was not valid in a Jewish court.” (pg. 56)

The rest of Barclay’s essay offers information, history, and opinion on such subjects as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide, and “just wars,” all of which he personally renounces as anti-Christian.

The Old Testament offers a number of stories and lessons on the consequences of breaking the Sixth Commandment. A good one to study is the life of David. Here is a man who killed for both “just” reasons and very wrong reasons, yet at times showed great mercy when others might have taken revenge. You can read about David in the books of I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, and I and II Chronicles. Other suggestions for Bible stories to study relating to “Thou shalt not kill,” will be found in the section on “Teaching the Sixth Commandment to Children,” (coming up in a later post).

Jesus and the Sixth Commandment:

Jesus brought fresh inspiration and spiritual insight to the all of the Ten Commandments, which, over the centuries since Moses, had become weighed down with burdensome and endless rules. Harsh punishments were meted out by hypocritical Pharisees and others authorized to administer the Jewish law. As we read at the opening of this essay, Jesus warned his followers not of killing, but of anger and self-righteousness. But that did not mean Jesus was going to let people ignore the original intent of the Commandments. Jesus said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matt. 5:17)

As with all his teachings, Jesus demonstrated these laws of God for his followers. With gentle exhortations, as well as strong rebukes, he set forth the requirements for those who would be called Christians. These included the qualities and actions that would prevent killing.

In the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to be merciful and to be peacemakers, promising the rewards of mercy for ourselves, and the honor of being called God’s child. He also said in the Sermon:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”  (Matthew 5:43-45)

In the Lord’s Prayer, he urged us to pray daily to forgive those who may owe us something, and to pray to be delivered from the temptations of evil. By forgiving others, rather than seeking so-called justice for “debts” not paid, and by turning away from the temptations of human will, we can help put out the fires of anger, greed, or fear that would burst into acts of murder – physical or mental.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  (John 10:10)

Could not the “thief” be the carnal, or mortal, mind that Paul spoke of, which seems to be the avenue for evil thoughts and motives? Jesus is here telling us he has brought the good news that it is not God’s will that anyone should have their life destroyed or depleted.

In spite of his divine source, Jesus had a human side which also struggled briefly with a personal will. Self-will is often the engine that drives us to murder, and it needs to be challenged and subdued. In the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus had his greatest war to wage with self-will on the night of his arrest, Jesus asked God to “remove this cup.” Mrs. Eddy comments on his victory over self:

“When the human element in him struggled with the divine, our great Teacher said: ‘Not my will, but Thine, be done!’ — that is, Let not the flesh, but the Spirit, be represented in me. This is the new understanding of spiritual Love. It gives all for Christ, or Truth. It blesses its enemies, heals the sick, casts out error, raises the dead from trespasses and sins, and preaches the gospel to the poor, the meek in heart.” (S&H 18)

This “new understanding of spiritual Love” is what will eventually dissolve all desire to murder, to hate, to be angry, and to be unforgiving. Love will destroy the fear that others might harm us. Mrs. Eddy writes: “Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you.” (S&H 571:18-19)

Following our Master, Christ Jesus, we will see that Truth, God, is all we need, whether to defend ourselves from others, or to prevent ourselves from acting aggressively or violently:

“Judas had the world’s weapons. Jesus had not one of them, and chose not the world’s means of defence. ‘He opened not his mouth.’ The great demonstrator of Truth and Love was silent before envy and hate. Peter would have smitten the enemies of his Master, but Jesus forbade him, thus rebuking resentment or animal courage. He said: ‘Put up thy sword.'” (S&H 48:17)

What gave Jesus such courage? Why did he not take revenge on those who would harm him? Jesus knew that life is eternal, that it can never be destroyed, no matter what the material senses, or mortal mind, would claim.

“‘This is life eternal,’ says Jesus, — is, not shall be; and then he defines everlasting life as a present knowledge of his Father and of himself, — the knowledge of Love, Truth, and Life. ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.’ The Scriptures say, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,’ showing that Truth is the actual life of man; but mankind objects to making this teaching practical.”
(S&H 410:4-13)

As mentioned earlier, Jesus provided a new and improved version of the Commandments. His life provided a model for how to live them. Mrs. Eddy describes it this way, especially as it relates to so-called justified killing:

“Rabbi and priest taught the Mosaic law, which said: ‘An eye for an eye,’ and ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’ Not so did Jesus, the new executor for God, present the divine law of Love, which blesses even those that curse it.

“As the individual ideal of Truth, Christ Jesus came to rebuke rabbinical error and all sin, sickness, and death, — to point out the way of Truth and Life. This ideal was demonstrated throughout the whole earthly career of Jesus, showing the difference between the offspring of Soul and of material sense, of Truth and of error.” (S&H 14-25)

At the end of this earthly career, Jesus demonstrated how his refusal to call down “legions of angels” to assist him escape his ordeal of crucifixion, and his forgiveness of all who played a role in this crime, would lead to his resurrection. This is what it means to be a follower of Christ: complete self-abnegation in the service of God and mankind. We are to bless and help reform those who fall prey to the sin of hate, anger, greed, and murder. We are to also help those who may be suffering from depression or mental illness that would prevent them from thinking rationally about suicide or murder. If we are not in a position to offer practical help, we must at least show mercy for their struggles. We are to champion Love, not war or revenge.

This is not to say that kind of universal brotherly love is easy. It takes self-sacrifice and commitment to discipline those animal instincts which mortals wrestle with, that would cause us to react in fear and anger. In spite of his teachings and examples of mercy, Jesus had to rebuke his own disciples when they thoughtlessly forgot about the law of the Sixth Commandment. For instance, we read this episode in Luke:

“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:51-56)

Jesus also had to rebuke Peter when he slashed off the ear of the high priest’s servant who had come with the soldiers to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter had already been given the lesson he needed to use in this moment, as we read in Matthew:

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21-22)

It is said that the number seven in the Bible symbolizes “completeness,” in which case Jesus is telling Peter, and us, that we must always forgive. We must always restrain ourselves from using violence to get even or harm another.

End of Part One

Go to Part Two – [Part Two contains sections on Christian Science and the Sixth Commandment; What does Christian Science Bring to the Understanding of the Sixth Commandment that is Unique?; Does God Cause Death?; What is Death according to the Teachings of Christian Science?  Part three includes:  What does Christian Science Teach about the Faulty Mortal Thinking or Sinful Qualities of Thought, that Tempt Men to Kill?; What are Mary Baker Eddy’s Teachings on Suicide?; What are Mary Baker Eddy’s Teachings on War, Peace, and National Defense?]

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