It’s said that the 10 commandments are the corner stone of the American Judicial system.  They have been displayed in front of City Halls and hung in court rooms across the country but are the Ten Commandments really that important?  What do they actually say? Are there different versions?  I will explore this and more in today’s C-Webb’s Sunday school.

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The Ten commandants are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship.  They play a fundamental role in Judaism, Islam and some forms of Christianity.  Not only do they include worship guidelines, they also prohibit such things as idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft and adultery.  If these commandments are the holy laws of the one true God, there should be no discrepancies.  You would think the creator of the heavens and earth would make sure that His holy laws were transcribed without error but as you’ll see, this is not the case

We are first introduced to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and these are probably the most familiar and they are:

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  1. And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee
  6. Thou shall not kill
  7. Thou shall not commit adultery
  8. Thou shall not steal
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s

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Let us take a closer look at these commandments by first looking at the commandments that actually have anything to do with criminal law.

Thou shall not kill:

Some version change this to Thou shall not murder but that’s an incorrect translation.  The commandment is Thou shall not kill.  Kill what?  Plants?  Animals?  Humans?  It doesn’t specify.  In the American Judicial system, we have different degrees of murder and different punishments for these degrees of murder.  First Degree murder is any murder that is willful and premeditated.  Second Degree murder is murder that is not premeditated or planned in advanced.  Voluntary Manslaughter is murder under circumstances that would cause “a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.”  Involuntary Manslaughter is unintentional murder but stems from criminal negligence.  A good example of this one is a drunk-driving related death [3].  This is not implied in the commandment, we had to determine the various degrees of taking a human life, not to mention those for plants and animals.  This commandment is not as simple as some people would have you believe.

Thou shall not steal:

On the surface, seems to be a very simple commandment but like most things in the bible, the context matters.  It is said the original intent of the Thou Shall not Steal commandment had to do with kidnapping of slaves, women and children, which would make it a capital crime.  Is intellectual and creative property included? Laws depend on cultural, societal and political context.  There is not a commandment forbidding slavery but we have determined that slavery is wrong.

Thou shall not bear false witness:

This is sometimes interpreted as lying, any type of lying but this was not the original intent.  It had to do with bearing false witness in the court of law.  What you do not see is the right to question ones accuser, this was a modern invention that somehow the God of the universe failed to mention.

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Commandments one through four deal with the worshipping of God so therefore; they have no basis in actual law and can be disregarded as such.

Commandment five, honor your mother and father can be used to maintain harmony in the household and in the context of ancient cultures, this commandment is important but what if your father beats your mother, should you still honor your him?   What if your mother is a drug addict and constantly abused you?  Does she deserve honor?

Commandment seven deals with adultery, while I can take an emotional toll, it is hardly criminal to cheat on your spouse.  Adultery in ancient times was a very real concern when it came to heirs.  They did not have paternity test or Maury Povich to determine who the father was.  In a patriarchal society, a man’s wife was his property and her job was to supply him with an heir, if there was any doubt to her fidelity, then a man had every right to question the legitimacy of his children.

The tenth commandment is a thought crime.  Coveting our neighbor’s goods is the foundation of our society, which is how capitalism works.  I want what my neighbor has.  So as you can see, these commandments may have made sense to Bronze Age sheep herders but hardly relevant to the 21st century.  Now let’s look at where the Ten Commandments came from.

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Moses was called to the top of Mount Sinai by God so he could transcribe the Ten Commandments.  While he was away, the Hebrew people grew restless for something to worship, so they made a golden calf and started worshiping it, despite the wonderful miracles they just witnessed in their escape from Egypt.  Before Moses could show the Hebrews these commandments, he smashed them on the ground because of their worship of a Golden Calf.  In Exodus 34:1 God said to Moses

“Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”

The Hebrew people still needed these commandments, so God told Moses to get two more stone tablets and to meet him on top of Mount Sinai once again and according to the text, God was going to tell Moses the same exact commandments the ones he told him prior to smashing the originals.  Apologist will claim that the following commandments do not contradict the first set of commandments because God was trying to reconcile with the Hebrews for worshiping the Golden Calf but this is not indicated in the text.  If we are to take the text at face value, it appears that God is writing on the new stone tablets the same commandments he wrote on the first, the ones that Moses smashed.  Apologist will point to Deuteronomy 10:1-5 to strengthen their argument.  Deuteronomy 10:1-2 states the following

“At that time the LORD said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden ark.  I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the ark.”

Again, if we take the text at face value, it supports the claim that God is writing the same commandments from the first tablets onto these new ones [2].  Now, onto Exodus 34 and the “new” commandments:

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  1. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
  2. Do not make any idols
  3. Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt
  4. The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.  No one is to appear before me empty-handed
  5. Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest
  6. Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.  Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel.  I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God
  7. Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast,
  8. Do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning
  9. Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God
  10. Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk

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Clearly, these commandments are not the same as the first but maybe these are a separate set of commandments like the apologist suggest?  Maybe the first tablet was for the first set and the second tablet was for the new set?  The most damning argument against those assumptions is Exodus 34:28:

  • ”Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.”

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So unless the creator of all of heaven and earth got confused, there is a clear contradiction in the two accounts of the Ten Commandments.  Even from a historical perspective, it appears that these two separate sets of commandments were pieced together from different sources by the biblical writers.  Which ones should we to follow?  The choice is easy, neither and here is why.  We cannot base 21st century morality and Bronze Age morality.  Taken in context, the Ten (or Twenty) Commandments make sense, it’s when we try to apply the morals of Bronze Age sheep herders to 21st Century culture problems arise.  If you really want to put the fear of God into people, let’s post the Ten Punishments instead, at least they are more true to the type of God depicted in the Bible:

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  1. Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed [Exodus 22:20]
  2. Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death [Leviticus 24:16]
  3. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death [Exodus 31:15]
  4. Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death [Exodus 21:15]
  5. Anyone who dishonors father or mother must be put to death [Exodus 21:17]
  6. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death [Exodus 22:19]
  7. ‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads [Leviticus 20:13]
  8. If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death [Leviticus 20:10]
  9. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned [Mark 16:16]
  10. When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations…and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy [Deuteronomy 7:1-2]