Law,  Old Testament

The Law and the Sanctity of Life

When thinking about the issue of the sanctity of life, the Law is a welcome teacher. When one explores the Ten Commandments, one quickly realizes that there is a depth and profundity to them that extends beyond mere prohibitions. After all the laws themselves embody principles which reflect God’s character and His design for creation. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the command “You shall not murder” is a guideline for acting in light of the sanctity of human life.

The sixth commandment teaches us the sanctity of life

The Sanctity of Human Life in Matthew 5

An illustration of the depth of the sixth commandment, and its relationship to the sanctity of human life is found in Matthew 5:21-26. Some people think that Jesus is changing the Law in this passage and raising the standard. However, Jesus is simply redirecting people from a narrow view of the Law to the true purpose of the Law. This certainly coincides with the earlier context of Matthew 5:17 where Jesus said He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.

Perhaps surprisingly, in Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus says the sixth commandment forbids being angry with your brother! But, if you have been following along with the series on the Ten Commandments, you know that this would make sense. For these commandments are not the end in and of themselves. The Ten Commandments are specific applications that point Israel back to creation and help them reflect creation principles in their everyday living. As such, the sixth commandment reflects the creation principle that God is a life-giving God and we are to value the sanctity of life He has given humans.

Because God is the Creator and life comes directly from Him, the principle of valuing life and appreciating the sanctity of life never changes. This application was apparent even before Israel was a nation. Genesis 9:5-6 details judgment for those who unlawfully take a human life. The sanctity of human life is one of the most important creation concepts to uphold.

The Sanctity of Human Life and Abortion

Today one of the most common issues we face is the legitimacy of abortion. The most common phrase given in support of abortion is that a woman has the right to choose. However, this argument often bypasses the necessity of recognizing the sanctity of life in the womb. One author wrote this short illustration of how ridiculous it is to think abortion should be allowed. Christians should stand against abortion because we value life and the sanctity of life is important to us.

This is not a new battle. All throughout history God’s people have been involved in the battle to stand up for the value of life. You can read about abortions in the ancient Near East as well as during the Roman empire. It will always be a battle. No Christian who is obedient to the Creator can support any form of murder, which includes any form of abortion. This is because God has instilled in creation a recognition of the sanctity of human life.

The Sanctity of Human Life and Kindness

However, as Jesus noted, this commandment reflects a principle that is far deeper than murder. It is about valuing life. And the sanctity of life goes beyond simply not murdering. That is why Matthew 5:21-22 forbids being angry with your brother. Anger against a brother is essentially a form of displacing them from value and distaining them. Not killing someone is one way to reflect the sanctity of life, but one must also positively value life. This is reflected in how you treat others, whether with kindness or enmity.

The sixth commandment is a good illustration of why Jesus stated that the whole Law is bound up in loving God and your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-40). When we are loving God and our neighbors we are fulfilling the creation principles which were behind the Law to begin with. The Law was never intended to be a means of salvation or to burden people with an impossible standard. Rather, it was a guide. It was intended to point people toward godly thinking and living.

photo credit: World of Good via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.