World Scripture


Murder is condemned by all faiths, as by reason itself. Nevertheless, there is often a line between murder and sanctioned violence, and this line is drawn in various ways. In Jainism, and among some Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists, the concept of absolute nonviolence (ahimsa) encompasses all animals and living beings. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, on the other hand, the scriptural prohibitions against murder are restricted to the killing of human beings.

Some passages in the Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, and Jewish scriptures may be interpreted as teaching that killing a human being is a sin under any and all circumstances. Hence, some in these traditions regard it as wrong to use violent means to defend against harm--cf. Turn the Other Cheek, pp. 708-10. Pacifism and objections to capital punishment likewise derive from this scriptural foundation. Other passages, a selection of which are given here, may be interpreted as restricting the definition of murder to an individual killing for selfish purposes. They permit killing in self-defense, permit killing to prevent greater crimes, sanction state enforcement of the death penalty, and support the waging of war for just cause. Nevertheless, killing in such circumstances should still be viewed as evil, albeit the lesser evil. The inferior morality of killing in self-defense or in retaliation is highlighted in the two versions of the story of Cain and Abel from the Bible and the Qur'an. In the biblical story God grants Cain a mark to protect him from retaliation, and in the Qur'anic version Abel shows his righteousness by refusing to defend himself from Cain's aggression.

Related crimes which are treated in the latter part of this section include infanticide, abortion, and suicide. Abortion is a topic of much current controversy in the West--many religious people regard it as a crime analogous to infanticide--yet there is no mention in the Bible. Abortion is often condemned in the scriptures of Eastern religions. We have also selected a few representative scriptural condemnations of suicide. However, certain religions, notably Jainism, approve of religious suicide as an extremely effective means of penance.

You shall not kill.

1. Judaism and Christianity. Exodus 20.13

The essence of right conduct is not to injure anyone; one should know only this, that non-injury is religion.

2. Jainism. Naladiyar 14-15

He who commits murder must be considered as the worst offender, more wicked than a defamer, than a thief, and than he who injures with a staff.

3. Hinduism. Laws of Manu 8.345

Anyone who kills a believer intentionally will have his reward in hell, to remain there. God will be angry with him and curse him, and prepare awful torment for him.

4. Islam. Qur'an 4.92

Only one single man [Adam] was created in the world, to teach that, if any man has caused a single soul to perish, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had caused the whole world to perish, and if any man saves alive a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had saved the whole world.

5. Judaism. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.5

1Cf. Acarangasutra 7, p. 344. Naladiyar 14-15: 'Non-injury,' that is, ahimsa. Cf. Acarangasutra 5.101-2, p. 173. Sanhedrin 4.5: This scripture is quoted in Qur'an 5.32, below.

All tremble at the rod. All fear death. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither strike nor cause to strike.

All tremble at the rod. Life is dear to all. Comparing others with oneself, one should neither strike nor cause to strike.

Whoever, seeking his own happiness, harms with the rod other pleasure-loving beings, experiences no happiness hereafter.

Whoever, seeking his own happiness, harms not with the rod other pleasure-loving beings, experiences happiness hereafter.

6. Buddhism. Dhammapada 129-32

In wars to gain land, the dead fill the plains; in wars to gain cities, the dead fill the cities. This is known as showing the land the way to devour human flesh. Death is too light a punishment for such men [who wage war]. Hence those skilled in war should suffer the most severe punishments.

7. Confucianism. Mencius IV.A.14

Victory breeds hatred, for the defeated live in pain. Happily live the peaceful, giving up victory and defeat.

8. Buddhism. Dhammapada 201

A man once came before Raba and said to him, "The ruler of my city has ordered me to kill a certain person, and if I refuse he will kill me." Raba told him, "Be killed and do not kill; do you think that your blood is redder than his? Perhaps his is redder than yours."

9. Judaism. Talmud, Pesahim 25b

We could surmise that murdering an enemy whom all people, as well as yourself, dislike cannot be a crime. But even the hated man has the same cosmic value as you. Murdering is a crime, because by murdering a person you infringe upon a cosmic law.

10. Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 9-30-79

Then they came up and laid hands upon Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

11. Christianity. Matthew 26.51-52

Fine weapons are instruments of evil.
They are hated by men.
Therefore those who possess Tao turn away from them....
Weapons are instruments of evil, not the instruments of a good ruler.
When he uses them unavoidably, he regards calm restraint as the best principle.

Even when he is victorious, he does not regard it as praiseworthy,
For to praise victory is to delight in the slaughter of men.
He who delights in the slaughter of men will not succeed in the empire....
For the slaughter of the multitude, let us weep with sorrow and grief.
For a victory, let us observe the occasion with funeral ceremonies.

12. Taoism. Tao Te Ching 31

Dhammapada 129-32: Cf. Dhammapada 201, p. 1004; Sutta Nipata 705, p. 173; Acarangasutra 5.101-2, p. 173; Samyutta Nikaya v.353, p. 173. Matthew 26.51-52: Cf. Treatise on Response and Retribution 5, p. 185.

If a man comes to kill you, forestall it by killing him.

13. Judaism. Talmud, Sanhedrin 72a

Do not take life--which God has made sacred--except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority to demand retribution; but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life, for he is helped by the law.

14. Islam. Qur'an 17.33

O sons of Abdul Muttalib, let there be no retaliation for the act of murder. Do not roam about with a drawn sword... and do not start a massacre of my opponents and enemies. See that only one man, that is my murderer, is killed in punishment for the crime of murder, and that nobody else is molested or harmed or harassed. The punishment to the man who attempted the murder shall take place only when I die of the wound delivered by him, and this punishment shall be only one stroke of the sword to end [his] life. He should not be tortured before his death; his hands and feet should not be cut off, because I have heard the Holy Prophet saying, "Do not cut off the hands and feet of anybody, be it a biting dog."

15. Islam (Shiite). Nahjul Balagha, Letter 47

Suppose a bodhisattva sees that a vicious robber intends to kill many people for the sake of wealth; or intends to harm virtuous shravakas, pratyekabuddhas, or bodhisattvas; or intends to do other things that will cause him to fall into the Uninterrupted hell. When seeing this, the bodhisattva will think, "If I kill that person, I will fall into the hells; if I do not kill him, he will commit crimes which will lead him to the Uninterrupted hell, where he will suffer greatly. I would rather kill him and fall to the hells myself than let him undergo great suffering in the Uninterrupted hell."

Then, deeply regretting the necessity for this action, and with a heart full of compassion, he will kill that person. In doing this, he does not violate the bodhisattva precepts; instead, he generates many merits.

16. Buddhism. Yogacarya Bhumi Shastra

Nahjul Balagha: `Ali spoke these words as he lay dying of a wound delivered by an assassin. He urged that there be no acts of vengeance outside of the rule of law. Yogacarya Bhumi Shastra: 'Uninterrupted' (Avici) hell is the lowest Buddhist hell.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain... and again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of the flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."

Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go out into the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He replied, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the Lord said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth." Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me this day away from the ground; and from your face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me." Then the Lord said to him, "Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

17. Judaism and Christianity. Genesis 4.1-16

And recite for them the story of the two sons of Adam truthfully, when they offered a sacrifice, and it was accepted of one of them, and not accepted of the other. "I will surely slay you," said one. "God accepts only of the god-fearing," said the other.

"Yet if you stretch out your hand against me, to slay me, I will not stretch out my hand against you, to slay you; I fear God, the Lord of all Beings. I desire that you should be laden with my sin and your sin, and so become an inhabitant of the Fire; that is the recompense of the evildoers."

Then his soul prompted him to slay his brother, and he slew him, and became one of the losers.

Then God sent forth a raven, scratching into the earth, to show him how he might conceal the vile body of his brother. He said, "Woe is me! Am I unable to be as this raven, and so conceal my brother's vile body?" And he became one of the remorseful.

Therefore We prescribed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a human being, except to retaliate for manslaughter or for corruption done in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all of humankind; and whoso saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the lives of all humankind.

18. Islam. Qur'an 5.27-32

Qur'an 5.27-32: The Qur'an cites the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.5, above.

[Evil-doers] kill the baby and cause abortion of the unborn.

19. Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution

Slay not your children, fearing a fall to poverty. We shall provide for them and for you. Lo! the slaying of them is great sin.

20. Islam. Qur'an 17.31

It is a capital crime to destroy an embryo in the womb.

21. Judaism. Talmud, Sanhedrin 57b

If a woman is in hard travail, one cuts up the child in her womb and brings it forth member by member, because her life comes before the child.

22. Judaism. Mishnah, Ohalot 7.6

A bhikkhu who intentionally kills a human being, down to procuring abortion, is no ascetic and no follower of the Fraternity of the Buddha.

23. Buddhism. Vinaya, Mahavagga i.78.4

Those versed in the sacred law state that there are three acts only which make women outcastes: the murder of the husband, slaying a learned brahmin, and the destruction of the fruit of their womb.

24. Hinduism. Vasishtha Dharma Sutra 28.7

He who takes his own or another's life becomes an outcaste.

25. Hinduism. Apastamba Dharma Sutra

Let him [the ascetic] not desire to die... let him wait for his appointed time, as a servant waits for the payment of his wages.

26. Hinduism. Laws of Manu 6.45

Qur'an 17.31: The motives for female infanticide in pre-Islamic Arabia, where the practice was common, were mainly economic. They are little different from some of the more questionable contemporary rationales for abortion.

"Surely your blood of your lives will I require." [Genesis 9.5]. This includes suicide, except in a case like that of Saul.

27. Judaism. Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 34.13

He who killed himself with steel would be the eternal denizen of the Fire of hell, and he would have that weapon in his hand and would be thrusting that into his stomach for ever and ever; he who killed himself by drinking poison would sip that in the Fire of hell where he is doomed for ever and ever; and he who killed himself by falling from a mountain would constantly be falling in the Fire of hell.

28. Islam. Hadith of Muslim

A monk who intentionally deprives a human being of his life, or provides the means for suicide, or praises death, or incites one to commit suicide, saying, "Of what use to you is this evil, difficult life? Death is better for you than life," thus having his mind set on the other's death and with the idea that he should die, praises death in various ways or incites him to commit suicide, commits an offense entailing loss of monkhood.

29. Buddhism. Vinaya Pitaka

Genesis Rabbah 34.13: King Saul killed himself on the battlefield rather than allow himself to be captured by the enemy and become a taunt to Israel; see 1 Samuel 31.1-6. For a noble suicide, see Gittin 57b, p. 886.