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that is ever used in the Hebrew Scriptures; and we believe the cases above described include more than nine-tenths of all the cases of taking life mentioned therein.
Does all this look as though the word translated "kill" in the sixth commandment meant to take away life, in any way, and under any circumstances? If any have ascertained such to be its meaning, they certainly did not discover it from the usage of the Hebrew Bible.
We turn to the usage of the Septuagint translators. By them porevins is used as the translation of , sixteen times, and NEVER for any other word. Dovevo is used for twenty-nine or thirty times, and only nine or ten times for all other words put together.
On the other hand is ALWAYS translated in the Septuagint by gorevris or gorevo, with two exceptions. These exceptions are the cases of Ez. 21: 27 (22) and Ps. 42: 11 (10), which we promised to notice again. In the first passage the Seventy have put on for the Hebrew noun, and our translators have restored "slaughter," [qu. onslaught? sacking? butchery?]. In the second case they have translated the passage by a circumlocution, and our translators have put for the Hebrew noun "sword ;" evidently with the right tact, considering sword as a general term for any deadly or murderous weapon.
The argument from this general correspondence of usage between the Hebrew and the Greek words signifying "to murder," is strengthened by considering that, among other Greek words used in the Septuagint in the general sense of kill, anoxzɛivo alone is used more than 200 times.
Finally we turn to the authority of the New Testament. Here We ALWAYS find the sixth commandment translated by govɛúw. We NEVER find φονεύω or φονευτής employed in any other sense than that of "murder," while the word anoxzɛívo is employed some seventy times in the various senses and applications of which kill is susceptible. How would it sound for a universal command, μὴ ἀποκτάνῃς?
We cannot but think it demonstrated, therefore, as far as anything in the use of language can be demonstrated, that the sixth commandment, according to the inherent and proper force of the Hebrew verb, means neither more nor less than, 66 NE HOMICIDIUM COMMITTITE," "Thou shalt do no murder."
We are aware this whole tedious inquiry will be considered by
1 Except in some copies once.
The Natural Sense of this Commandment.
many as a work of supererogation; (and in that case we hope not entirely without merit ;) or perhaps as a foolish waste of time and pains. But if we have been fools, we have been so in answering far wiser men than ourselves according to their folly. We have seen and heard the assertion here controverted, so often reiterated by the assailants of capital punishment, until it has become, as it were, a stereotyped head of argument or rhetoric, that we thought it high time to have it thoroughly sifted. In attempting to accomplish that task, we have taken a great many more words than would be required for a very effective declamation on the other side. But let it be remembered, that as it is easy to make a true assertion which it might be very difficult to prove, so it is easy to make a false assertion which it may be very difficult to disprove.
But now, suppose our whole investigation in regard to the proper lexicographical meaning, or rather the true usus loquendi, of the term in question, resulted in just nothing at all. Suppose, which is manifestly false, suppose the word might of itself mean, as alleged, "to take life," in the most general and indifferent sense, in connection with any subject, object, or circumstances whatever; still it would not follow that there should be any reasonable doubt about its precise import in the sixth commandment. It seems we may "infer" something "from the general objects and manner of the communication;" and what inference more natural than that which has been made, apparently, by the Jewish doctors, the Septuagint translators, the New Testament writers, the Christian church, and almost all Christian critics in all ages, viz. that that commandment means simply, "Thou shalt do no murder.”
Surely God is his own best interpreter; and unless He, in the most solemn manner, commands (not permits) in one breath what He has just solemnly prohibited in another, the 21st chapter of Exodus (vid. verse 12) and the 35th chapter of Numbers furnish ample evidence that He nowhere forbids the civil magistrate to take the life of the murderer. Is there not just the same evidence that the laws contained in the 21st chapter of Exodus and in the 35th chapter of Numbers were uttered and enacted by the express voice of God, as there is that the Decalogue was so uttered and enacted? And will it do for "Christians" to shrug their shoulders at them, muttering contemptuously the name of Moses? The contents of Exodus 21st were uttered, according to the record, amidst the awful thunderings of Sinai, and immediately after the promulgation of the Ten Commandments, comprising the solemn injunction,
"He that smiteth a man so that he die, shall surely be put to death." The more explicit regulations contained in the 35th chapter of Numbers, are introduced with these words: "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel," etc.; and that Jehovah is the real legislator, throughout the chapter, is further evident from its close: "Defile not the land wherein I dwell; for I, the Lord, dwell among the children of Israel."
But when we appeal to God's statutory and judicial decisions, upon the meaning of his own fundamental law, this new school of interpreters enter one universal demurrer, in the words of our Saviour on the subject of divorcement: "For the hardness of your hearts, Moses wrote you this precept." But what right have they to apply this saying, the exact import and bearing of which is so uncertain, so as to nullify the meaning of Scriptures to which our Saviour never applied it, and which are perfectly clear and intelligible without it? It is too weak to bear the direct inferences they would make from it; much less ought they to suspend upon it such a huge mass of indirect conclusions. Granting that this oft-quoted saying means all which they assume in respect to the case then in hand, still its application to other cases can, at best, amount to nothing more than a may-be; and is this what is called proof? They seem to take for granted that there is not a word of the Mosaic law expressly confirmed in the New Testament except the Decalogue. But this is far from being the case. Thou shalt not avenge;" "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;" and, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," etc., are express commands of the law of Moses expressly confirmed by our Saviour. Suppose, now, we should argue from these premises, that, may-be, this or that other law, nay, all the rest of the Mosaic code, has also been thus implicitly confirmed? But our opponents have not even room for a may-be, in the present instance. Hear the words with which Jehovah concludes the enactment of the laws referred to:
31. Moreover, ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer which is guilty of death; but he shall be surely put to death.
32. And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the high-priest.
33. So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood it defileth the land; and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.
34. Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel.
The Right of Civil Government.
Now what sort of a cause must that be, which feels driven to the necessity of maintaining, that these laws were not enacted as being right and good and well pleasing to God, but merely as a temporary indulgence to the savage character of the Jewish people? Yet the assailants of capital punishment generally, and the highly respected author of the Manual of Peace among the rest, have agreed to say that those laws, for which God himself thus gave his own reason, were given to the Jews because of the "hardness of their hearts !"
We confess that we see such assertions, from such men, with unfeigned and unspeakable amazement. What, then, could God have said more than he did say to make his design and meaning clear? Is it uncharitable to ascribe it to their "hardness of heart," (taking the phrase in the sense which it has in Mark 16: 14,) that they fail to perceive that those words of the Almighty will bear no such interpretation as they feel compelled to put upon them?
But, say they, if civil governments have a right to break the sixth commandment, and commit murder upon the murderer, why have they not also a right to break the eighth, and steal the property of the thief? We answer, that if these gentlemen will define what they mean by "property," and by "stealing," they will leave us nothing to do in demolishing their objection. According to their present argumentation, it will clearly follow, that all compulsory restitution, all legal seizure of the property of the thief is "legalized stealing." It is so by their own showing, just as much as the legal execution of the murderer is "legalized murder." There is no avoiding this conclusion. They have offered their own issue,
1 Some seem to think they can evade the authority of the law of Moses by quoting Ezek. 20: 25: "Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live." But the same prophet had already described the law given at Sinai thus: (10th and 11th verses) "I brought them into the wilderness, and I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which, if a man do, he shall even live in them." To which class, now, is Exodus 21st to be chronologically referred, to that described in the 25th, or that described in the 11th verse? Besides, by comparing the 25th and 18th verses, it would seem that what God permitted, rather than what he positively ordained, is there referred to. Or, will any choose to say that God positively commanded the Israelites to offer their children to Moloch, (verse 26th) ? a question which may serve to disclose the impious absurdity of the whole supposition we are here controverting. What will these interpreters say to Malachi 4: 4: "Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, [with] THE STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS?" Such is the solemn admonition with which the Spirit of prophecy sealed up its revelations, until the coming of the Messiah and of Elias his forerunner.
VOL. IV. No. 14.
and let them abide by it. For a mere private citizen to take the life of a murderer, is doubtless murder; and so for a mere private citizen to take the property of a thief, though it be to make just restitution to himself, is doubtless theft. But these men apply the same principle to the case of the magistrate. Has the civil magistrate, has civil society, no more right or power than each private citizen? So they seem to argue. And yet this very objection is urged not only by recluse divines, but by practical lawyers and legislators! See the unanimous Report of a Committee of the New York legislature, drawn up by Mr. O'Sullivan, p. 23.
We have thus defended the right of inflicting capital punishment against all the arguments, so far as we know, adduced from the Scripture in opposition to it. We have shown that this right, proclaimed by the consent of nations and the common voice of humanity, is not contradicted by the voice of Christ, the spirit of Christianity, or the letter of the sixth commandment, but rather confirmed by them all. We wish it to be distinctly understood, that our argument, thus far, has been strictly defensive.
But we shall not leave this branch of the inquiry without referring to one positive argument from Scripture, which, if not irrefragable, certainly has never been refuted; we mean that founded upon the command addressed to Noah, and through him to all mankind: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man." The abolitionists generally affect to consider this text as quite unimportant. Yet they have turned it over and over, and wistfully examined it on all sides, if perchance they might detect some flaw in it. They have twisted, and wrenched, and tortured and tested it by all manner of critical and uncritical machinery and manipulation, in order to extort or extract from it some sense not absolutely contradictory to their notions. But, to this day, they have never agreed among themselves upon any other translation of it, than that which is given in the common English Bible, and which, for substance, has been given in almost all versions which have ever been made. But, say they, it is a solitary, antiquated, difficult text. As to its solitariness, is not a solitary command of God, authority enough? As to its antiquity, it answers our purpose the better for that. And as to its difficulty; wherein does it consist? We are bold to say that, grammatically and lexically considered, it contains as little difficulty as the average of Hebrew texts. If we cannot be reasonably sure of its meaning, we may give up the Hebrew Bible altogether, as little better than the Sphinx's riddle.