How does the sixth commandment speak to our culture?

November 29, 2018

“You shall not murder.” That’s the entire sixth commandment. In Hebrew, it’s actually even shorter—just two words, in fact: lo, the negation (“not”), and ratsach, “murder.” It seems like an obvious, uncontroversial commandment. If any command could go unstated, any that we as human beings and good neighbors would simply assume, perhaps it would be this one. Surely people from all times and places could agree that we shouldn’t murder.

Let me highlight three related areas that are particularly relevant (and sometimes controversial).

The sixth commandment prohibits suicide

There is almost no topic more painful than suicide for those who have experienced it with family or friends. Suicide is a sin—not the unforgivable sin, but a sin. Of course, that’s not what I would lead with as a pastor going to visit a family who just lost a loved one to suicide. I’m not talking about my pastoral care strategy at the moment, but giving you the doctrinal foundation.

There may be extreme cases where a suicidal person has clearly lost control over his or her faculties, such as certifiable dementia or closed head injuries. Such a person doesn’t have any sort of capacity for rational decision making. But in the majority of cases, we are right to see suicide, as tragic as it is, as a morally culpable and blameworthy choice. For centuries the church has consistently viewed suicide as a violation of the sixth commandment, since self-murder is still murder.

There are five instances of suicide in Scripture: Judges 9:50– 57; 1 Samuel 31:1–7; 2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:15–19; and Matthew 27:3–10. All these suicides are in the context of shame and defeat. Likewise, when more noble characters ask God to take their lives (such as Jonah or Job), God clearly views their self- destructive requests unfavorably.

We hear far too often of famous movie stars, athletes, or entertainers who have committed suicide. Many people were understandably upset and saddened by Robin Williams’s death. There was much conversation and punditry, and people said things in perhaps an unhelpful way or with unhelpful timing. But one of the recurring themes was a lack of moral responsibility: “We all have our demons. We all have to face this. We shouldn’t put any sort of ethical blame on one who commits suicide.”

Initially that sounds compassionate—but it isn’t. Listen to a woman named Julie Gossack, who wrote for the Journal of Biblical Counseling ten years ago. She’s a wife and a mother who has suffered through the suicides of five family members. I can scarcely imagine that. She said this:

Suicide is not a genetic trait nor is it a family curse. Suicide is a sinful choice made by an individual. This statement is neither unloving nor disrespectful. It is the truth. I dearly loved my family members that committed suicide, but their choices were sinful and not righteous.[1]

She adds that she intends her words to be loving, so that other people in a dark place who might be considering taking their lives would, if there are no other restraints, perhaps be restrained by the law of God. Suicide might feel like the only way out, but Scripture tells us that God will never lead us into a situation where violating his commandments is the only option.

We do not help struggling saints by refusing to tell them that suicide is displeasing to God. Lovingly spoken, in the right time, that may be one way in which God jolts the suicidal soul back to better, saner, more righteous thinking. Your life is precious to God, even when you have concluded that it’s pointless.

The sixth commandment prohibits abortion

“For you formed my inward parts; / you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psa. 139:13). The psalmist is speaking here of the nascent life (which is truly life) within the mother. I already mentioned. If you read the context [of a law from Exodus 21: “Eye for eye” (v. 24)], it has to do with injuring a woman’s baby while still in the womb. There were punishments for doing so, because that life was considered life.

Until very recently the church has universally opposed abortion. The Didache says, “Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant”—two practices that were common in the ancient world. It was chiefly in [the worldview] in the early church that children were valued and considered to need protection. Commenting on Exodus 21:22–25, John Calvin writes:

For the fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.[2]

Life begins at conception. That’s a scientific fact. Any embryology book will tell you that the life of each one of us traces back to the zygote—to the moment of conception. We didn’t become something different. We’ve all been formed from that original life, which is still us.

The only way to think that ending life in the womb is appropriate is to think that personhood begins at some time other than the beginning of biological life. And yet the Bible assumes—and, until very recently, everyone in the Western world agreed—that there is a profound and organic unity between body and soul, such that personhood exists wherever biological life exists.

The ancient heresy Gnosticism posited a dualism whereby the physical body and the soul did not exist in organic unity. One was trapped inside the other and needed to be set free. But we understand from a biblical anthropology that, though they are two things, the body and the soul have an organic union. When your biological life begins, you also exist as a person made in the image of God, created to honor God, and with a life that deserves to be protected.

The sixth commandment prohibits euthanasia

Assisted suicide laws continue to make headway in America and in the rest of the Western world. Legal and medical experts point to a number of problems with the laws themselves. Some of these laws don’t require notification of family members. They don’t specify which kind of doctor must diagnose you. They also allow you to pick up your suicide drugs at your local pharmacy and administer them on your own. And that’s to say nothing about doctors getting their terminal diagnoses wrong.

Just as important are the ethical problems with these laws. How can we try to prevent suicide among teenagers and young people and encourage it among the sick and elderly? I often see signs in high schools that read, “Say No to Suicide,” or, “Thinking about Suicide? There is help.” How can we promote that message to students and then put forward a very different message to the elderly? We are to do what we can to preserve and protect all innocent life.

We must not let foggy definitions of compassion cloud our thinking. This is the key distinction: we are not talking about the termination of treatment, but the termination of life. Sometimes people hear that spiel about suicide and say, “Look, I don’t want to be put on a respirator. I don’t want to have a machine do my life for me.” That’s not what euthanasia laws are about.

My grandfather passed away a couple of years ago at ninety-one years old. He went downhill very quickly. When he was in hospice care, he was told, “There are some things we can do. We can force you to get up and move around and give you some further treatments, and it might preserve your life for another four or five months. Or we can keep you comfortable, give you palliative care, and you can rest in your bed. You may not live more than a week or two.” He said, “I’m ninety-one. I’ve lived my life. I want to rest. I don’t need to do all that to preserve my life for four or five more months.” Many of us face those decisions, and we know loved ones who’ve had to face them. Those decisions are not wrong. He was choosing to end treatment, not to end his life.

Assisted-suicide laws have consequences most people don’t think about on the front end. The Netherlands was the first nation to allow legal assisted suicide, and over time they’ve seen the voluntary become involuntary. When it becomes an option for you to end your life, insurance companies say, “Well, we aren’t going to pay for that treatment to extend your life another six months or a year. You can just take these pills and end your life.” You become a burden to insurance providers, to the state, and to your family.

More and more requests for assisted suicide in the Netherlands are coming from family members, not from the patients them- selves. During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Dutch physicians refused to obey orders by Nazi troops to let the elderly and the terminally ill die. In 2001 Holland became the first country to give legal status to doctor-assisted suicide. As Malcolm Muggeridge noted, it took only one generation to transform a war crime into an act of compassion.[3] Blessed are those who have regard for the weak (Psa. 41:1).

Every human life is precious. Unborn life is precious. Children with special needs are precious. Aging parents are precious—even when they don’t remember because they’re suffering dementia, they’re still made in the image of God. Nonverbal children or parents, those in a wheelchair, and those who are completely dependent upon others or doctors are precious. All of life matters to God. If we have our eyes open, we can see this in even the most surprising places in the Bible, like in the lex talionis of the Mosaic law. You see it in imago Dei. You see it in the incarnation, when God entered the world as a helpless babe.

Defend, honor, and give thanks for life—yours, your children’s, and your parents’. The sixth commandment means to protect it.

*Content taken from The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them by Kevin DeYoung, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

From the tiniest unborn life to the elderly at the end of life, from immigrants and refugees to those trafficked against their will, all life matters to God. Join the ERLC in Washington, D.C. on January 17-18, 2019, for Evangelicals for Life, one of the largest gatherings of pro-life Christians in the country. Speakers include Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Steven Curtis Chapman, Keith and Kristyn Getty, and more. Register now to join us!


  1. ^ Julie Gossack, “Life after the Suicide of a Loved One,” January 2, 2006; Journal of Biblical Counseling, vol. 24, no. 1 (Glenside, PA: Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation), n.p.
  2. ^ Calvin’s Commentary, vol. 3, Harmony of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (repr. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), n.p.
  3. ^ Edmund P. Clowney, How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 79.

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung (M.Div., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He serves as a council member at the Gospel Coalition, blogs at DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, and is assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). He is the author of several … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24