Friday, June 12, 2009

Ten Commandments, and Then Some

Ah, the Ten Commandments. They decorate several court houses throughout United States, and stand as a beacon and rallying point for Christians to show the infinite wisdom of God. What's funny is that most Christians couldn't list all of the Ten Commandments if you asked them. It's also funny that only a much more limited subset could name the often barbaric and intolerant punishments associated with the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the funniest thing of all is that the Ten Commandments aren't really the Ten Commandments, but that's another study.

The Israelites had been meandering around on their Exodus for three months. Immediately preceding the giving of these Commandments in Exodus 19, we see that God has them perform a purification ceremony in preparation. Moses and Aaron went up on Mt. Sinai to chat with God, while all of the other Israelites waited below.

In this study we'll take a closer look at just what God has commanded with the popular version of the Ten Commandments, and maybe get you thinking a little about why these aren't the true Ten Commandments.

Ten Commandments, and Then Some
Exodus 20 contains some of the most often quoted verses from the Old Testament; the popular version of the Ten Commandments. Even so, most Christians are hard-pressed to remember all of them, remember their associated punishments, or the exact circumstances in which they were given. So let's review:

Commandment Punishment
1 Worship only God (Exodus 20:2-3) Death (Exodus 22:20)
2 Don't worship idols (Exodus 20:4-6) Death (Exodus 22:20) up to four generations worth of some other punishment (Exodus 20:5)
3 Don't blaspheme (Exodus 20:7) Death (Leviticus 24:16)
...this sin will never be absolved (Exodus 20:7)
4 Don't work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) Death (Numbers 15:32-36)
5 Honor your parents (Exodus 20:12) Death (Exodus 21:15, 21:17) a shorter time in the Promised Land (Exodus 20:12)
6 Don't murder (Exodus 20:13) Death (Exodus 21:12, 21:23)
7 Don't commit adultery (Exodus 20:14) Death for both the man and the woman (Leviticus 20:10)
8 Don't steal (Exodus 20:15) It varied widely depending on the circumstances.
9 Don't give false testimony (Exodus 20:16) Punished according to the crime (Deuteronomy 19:18-19)
10 Don't covet what doesn't belong to you (Exodus 20:17) No punishment given.

For those of you keeping track at home, you noticed that the death penalty gets applied to seven of the ten commandments. Ironically, the modern church's self-proclaimed “culture of life” is fighting what they call a “culture of death” in our times, and part of their battle is waged in trying to abolish the death penalty. How far they have fallen from the Truth...

Now here's what most Christians seem to miss: Exodus 20:18-21. The Israelites were seriously frightened by the all of the thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, and smoke from the mountain which occurred when God was giving them these commandments. They were so frightened that they thought they would die if God continued to talk to them. They begged Moses to speak to God privately and relay the information back to them. Moses obliges, and going on from Exodus 20:22-26 to Exodus 23 is an uninterrupted and continuing list of God-given commandments. The matter is concluded in Exodus 24 with the acceptance of all of these commandments by the Israelites.

You see, it's not that God gave these ten commandments as special commandments. God didn't say “I will tell My top ten commandments to all of you, and then relay the rest to Moses.” God probably would have kept right on going with commandments if it wasn't for the fact that He terrified the Israelites with His voice. The actual words of “Ten Commandments” don't show up in the Biblical text until Exodus 34, and the phrase is accompanied by (coincidentally enough) another set of Ten Commandments.

(I find it somewhat amusing that God's volume control seems to only have two levels. He can either speak at a normal volume for speaking to one man or He can speak so loudly that it sounds like thunder and trumpets to the extent that it scares everyone. There is no in-between.)


  1. Question? Does the new testament override the punishments of the ten commandments? If thats the case, then the culture of life that these christians fight for will actually be relevant.

  2. Hello Anonymous. That is a difficult question to answer. Why? Well, for one, it is a matter of interpretation. For example, do you believe God can change, as in change the way in which He administers perfect justice? Or perhaps, maybe more relevant to what you are asking, do you believe what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18 and Luke 16:17? You have to consider all of the angles in assessing relevance.