Ep 20 – Ten Commandments Revisited

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In this episode I am going to revisit my very first episode and take a closer look at the Ten Commandments.  I have been told that I have made some mistakes in episode one but not what specifics mistakes so it is up to me to scrutinize my own work.

Fundamentalist Christians claim that the Ten Commandments are the corner stone of the American Judicial system and that they are the only laws people need to follow.  In the first episode, I looked at the discrepancies between the two set of commandants found in the Old Testament.  In this episode, I want to look at what Jesus had to say about the Ten Commandments.  It seems strange that Fundamentalist Christians place so much emphasis on these commandments.  What’s the connection?  What did their savior have to say?  How can they make these commandments fit the world of the 21st century? Why am I asking some many whys?  This is what we are going to look at in this episode of C-Webb’s Sunday School!

Here is a brief recap of the Ten Commandments.  They are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship.  They play a fundamental role in Judaism and some forms of Christianity.  Not only do they include worship guidelines, they also prohibit such things as idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft and adultery.  We are first introduced to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and these are probably the most familiar and they are as follows: (these are the abbreviated Protestant version without that horrible reverb from the first episode, I get it, you didn’t like but does that really warrant a two star review?  Give me a break; it was my first episode, geez!  And why I am on the subject, how are you going to say I got things wrong and not tell me what they are?  Really?  How helpful is that?):

  1. You shall have no other gods but me
  2. You shall not make unto you any graven images
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
  4. You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
  5. Honor your mother and father
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness
  10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

We can look at these in the context of the ancient Israelites and how they impacted their day to day lives.  Some of these laws make sense given the proper historical context.  We run into problems when we rip them out of their context and try to cram them into our worldview here in the 21st century.  I’ve been to enough Christian churches to know that pastors try their damndest to relate Bronze Age thinking with the modern world.  Since Jesus brought on a new covenant, let’s see what he had to say about the Ten Commandments.

“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to eternal life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 19: 16-19

This is a conversation that Jesus had with a wealthy man, He then goes on to say that this man needs to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor.  It says nothing about believing in Jesus as being the only way to salvation that comes later in John.  He says to keep the commandments but only lists 5 of the 10.  This is repeated in Mark 10:17-19 but the part about loving your neighbor is absent as well as in Luke 18:18-19.  Mark is said to be the source of Matthew and Luke and it is really not clear why Matthew added the ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ bit. It could be that he was trying to truncate all the commandments into one nice catchphrase as is evident in the following passage.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31

Here Jesus boils down the commandments to just two all-encompassing commandments.  Put God first and love thy neighbor.  He mentions this again in Luke 10:25-28 when asked how to inherit eternal life.  Taking these two incidents, we see a pattern emerge.  Jesus is talking to the Jews so they would be well versed in the Law of Moses.  In the first account, Jesus mentions the commandments that could cause harm to others and then at the end says ‘Love Thy Neighbor.’  He basically summarizes those commandments into one phrase ‘Love Thy Neighbor.’  Thomas Aquinas says love in this context means “to love someone is to will what is good for them.”  To love one’s neighbor is to do no harm but to respect their life, their freedom, their reputation, their marriage and their property [link].

Looking at the Mark verse, Jesus summarizes the first four commandments by saying God is one and love God with all your heart.  He has streamed lined the commandments into two simple phrases.  It can safely be asserted that Jesus said to fulfill the commandments, do these two things.  Does that mean that salvation only comes through obeying these commandments?  One could make that argument.  Does it also mean that Christians must keep these commandments?  If we stopped there, then the answer would be yes but as we know Christian theology is complicated and there are more facets we have to consider.  With that being said, I cannot see why Christians have to keep the Ten Commandments.







It is my opinion that Jesus was saying these things to the Jews that knew the Torah and if He wanted to be taken seriously as a prophet, he had to know the law.  His opposition tried to corner him but Jesus escapes by giving a vague but accurate answer.  If I am a Jew and I heard this, it would sound like Jesus said to keep to the Law of Moses but if I am a non-Jew and I heard this, it sounds like a new revelation.  If I had no understanding of the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments, hearing what Jesus said, I would think that these are the teachings of a prophet of God.  He says just enough to appease both sides.  Now we are making huge assumptions on several key factors, one being the existence of Jesus, two, if Jesus actually said these things and three, we are reading Jesus propaganda.  But, given this context, I feel confident in my explanation.


What is most interesting about the New Testament, each book is tailored to a specific audience to a degree.  When preaching to Jews, the New Testament relies heavily on Old Testament thinking, such as the Mosaic laws but when preaching to non-Jews, the New Testament is silent on Old Testament teachings.  I don’t fault the writers for doing this.  You want to use the best method to reach your targeted audience.  I don’t have a problem with the Ten Commandments when used to reinforce your theology, where we run into problems is when that theology gets forced onto others against their will such as trying to claim the Ten Commandments are the only laws we need and that the American judicial system is based on these commandments.  Let’s compare the two and let’s see if there as any truth to this.  Remember, I am comparing these to judicial laws not moral laws.

  1. You shall have no other gods but me

Last time I checked, it is not illegal to worship more than one god or goddess or no gods at all.  We have references to the Christian God in some of our mottos but there is no law prohibiting worshipping of any gods.

  1. You shall not make unto you any graven images

We run into the same problem as the first one.  Having a law like this on the books would violate religious liberties including some Christian denominations like Catholics.

  1. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain

At one point in time blasphemy laws were on the books but those have long sensed been removed because it violated religious liberties.  If you take a look around the world at countries that have these blasphemy laws, you can see the harm that they cause.

  1. You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

Once upon a time in America, shops were required to close on the Christian Sabbath which was Sunday.  This was done so people could attend church.  These provisions latter fell off and there are no laws requiring the Sabbath to be holy or any mandated rest.  Here in my state a North Carolina, I still can’t buy alcohol before noon on Sunday, what the fuck is up with that?

  1. Honor your mother and father

I am not sure how this could be enforced and how it could be applied.  What if your mother and father abused or molested you?  Should you still honor them?  What if you cursed your mom out, should you be punished under the law?  Again, I don’t see only laws that could enforce this commandment.  In principle it makes sense but in practical application, not so much.

  1. You shall not murder

Ok, now we have something.  Murder is wrong and is illegal.  So far God is 1 for 6.  Too bad murder is illegal in pretty much every society on Earth so I think God was really just hedging his bets here.

  1. You shall not commit adultery

Adultery was once a crime and punishable by the state but those laws have long since been abolished.  How many pastors would be in prison if this were a law?  At least one!

  1. You shall not steal

Alright, the second commandment that actually has a law based on it, God is now 2 for 8.  Stealing is pretty much forbidden in every society around the world, again, this is not some new revelation by God and the Jews.  Laws against stealing actually predate the Ten Commandments.  Is God responsible for these laws or are they just societal norms humans figured out on their own?

  1. You shall not bear false witness

This could be used to say lying is bad, in any context but what the Biblical writers had in mind was lying or giving false testimony in court, which is illegal in American law but what science has shown us is that eye witness accounts are extremely unreliable and that maybe our judicial system should forbid eye witness statements based on this.  I’m feeling generous, I will give God credit for this one, 3 for 9.

  1. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor

Marketing and advertising uses coveting as a tool to get us to buy more crap.  It’s the very foundation of our economy.  I want what my neighbor has but is it illegal?  Hardly and it would be terribly difficult to enforce.  There could be said something about it morally but again, I am looking at the legal enforcement in American law and once again we are lacking any [link].

God was 3 for 10 and the three that were right are pretty much universal so I’m being generous in giving him any at all.

To Jews living in the time of Jesus, this would make sense but what does it mean for 21st century Christians?  Are Christians required to follow these commandments?  Did Jesus do away with the old laws or create new ones?  We’ll save that for another episode.

So we have two different viewpoints.  Theologically we have Jesus referencing and endorsing the Ten Commandments albeit in a truncated fashion and we have the American Judicial system and the complete lack of support for the Ten Commandments being its basis.  Keep the commandments if your God tells you to, I don’t really give a shit but keep them in your churches, mosques and synagogues.  We, in the secular community, do not care nor do we want your commandments, we are doing just fine without them.