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‘Do no murder’

12 August 2016


Your answers


In St James the Great, Castle Acre, in Norfolk, there there are four large plaques, with the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Com­mandments. . . My attention was drawn to the Sixth Command­ment, “Thou shalt do no murder.” This is in keeping with Exodus 12.20 in the Hebrew, “Thou shalt not murder.” In the King James and subsequent versions it is “Thou shalt not kill.” Can anyone tell me when the wording was changed and why?


The replacing of images of saints with scriptural texts behind altars and on rood screens began in England perhaps in 1547 (as then described in the Chronicle of Grey Friars). As with many things, this process was reversed under Mary I before being resumed. Canon 82 of 1604 instructed that the Commandments be set on the east wall of churches with other texts placed where convenient. Those churches that have such texts have thus likely had them since the early 17th century, albeit repainted at times.

As for the wording of the Sixth Commandment, it is the text one can find in the communion Order and in the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer: “Thou shalt do no murder.” The Commandments were first used at communion in the 1552 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, where they replaced the introit and Kyries, but they appeared in the first Prayer Book (1549) in the Catechism. “Thou shalt do no murder” is the wording in all these places. This text is also found in the earlier primers (printed devotional books) and was the text directed to be taught to congregations. It follows Martin Luther’s catechism in this respect.

The King James Bible was pub­lished in 1611, but rests on earlier versions, especially that of the martyr William Tyndale. In all of these, “thou shalt not kill” is the translation. The Hebrew ”lo tirtsach” is not particularly specific, but rabbinic and patristic scholarship has interpreted it as a pro­hibition against murder while allow­ing for judicial and warfare killings.

Thus, one can ascribe the translation “thou shalt not kill” to the formal equivalence of English Bibles, while “thou shalt do no murder” is the dynamic equivalence of devotion, catechism, and liturgy found in primers, common prayer, and above God’s board.

(The Revd) Gareth Hughes

Hertford College, Oxford


Your questions


In Common Worship why is it that the words spoken over the bread and the wine in the Eucharistic Prayers are taken solely from St Matthew’s Gospel and not from Mark, Luke, or John?

A. H.


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