This post serves the purpose of clearing up a common misconception about the so-called Ten Commandments as they relate to American law. This was all precipitated by a lengthy article from ABC news, ACLU: God & First Amendment, somewhat slanted towards the odd Christian-Pharisee viewpoint though it was. It reminded me of the fact that at every moment there is someone scheming to transform every form of spirituality into legalistic religion a la The Pharisees – I consider this nothing less than an evil plot to destroy Christianity from within!
For some reason, certain radical religionists have an almost perverted drive to paste the Old Testament’s so-called TEN COMMANDMENTS all over American society. They make unsupported claims that these writings are the basis our laws – and I guess I can understand why they believe that, especially when you are talking about people who can’t actually recite the Ten Commandments. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Anyway, the latest version involves using a painting of Jesus holding the ten commandments, and on the wall below are professional sign letters: TO KNOW PEACE, OBEY THESE LAWS.
I tried very hard not to laugh out loud, because I know how thin-skinned these people are. It was Moses who held up the Ten Commandments in the story, not Jesus. Actually Jesus never even taught the ten commandments and many Christian denominations specifically teach that the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament were abolished.
Yes, I am a theologian and a Bible scholar, but I don’t want to spend this blog explaining the arguments on both sides, I’m just pointing out that millions of Christians would consider someone telling you that you must obey the Ten Commandments to be very un-Christian.
Start with a simple point of logic: Too many of the founding fathers of America were neither Christian nor Jewish, so they wouldn’t be likely to turn to the Old Testament for guidance in this matter. In fact, basic laws against murder, rape, theft and lying predate the Bible by at least one thousand years. The only things the Ten Commandments added to laws that already existed at the time, were the religious regulations. NOTE: The first half of the Decalogue consists of religious regulations NOT moral laws. And some of these religious regulations are abhorrent to many Christians, as I will explain.
The first thing that you need to know is that there is no unified “Ten Commandments” and in fact the verses cited as the source of these “commandments” are part of a much broader Law that was given to the Jews. Before I get into the specific problematic “commandments,” check out this table, which shows how different groups have their own ideas about even the numbering…
|I am the Lord thy God||1||1||1||–|
|Thou shalt have no other gods before me||2||1|
|Thou shalt not make for thyself an idol||2||2|
|Thou shalt not make wrongful use of the name of thy God||3||3||2||3|
|Remember the Sabbath, changed to “Lord’s Day” in the Catholic version||4||4||3||4|
|Honor thy Mother and Father||5||5||4||5|
|Thou shalt not murder||6||6||5||6|
|Thou shalt not commit adultery||7||7||6||7|
|Thou shalt not steal||8||8||7||8|
|Thou shalt not bear false witness||9||9||8||9|
|Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife||10||10||9||10|
|Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…||10|
Now, it is a well known fact that the vast majority of Christians don’t know JACK about the Ten Commandments – but I certainly learned about them in Bible College! So here’s a crash course in the basics:
There are two versions of the Ten commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6.21). They don’t exactly agree with each other and to make matters worse, Catholics and protestants EACH have their own reworded versions. And to add to that, Dispensationalist Christians don’t even accept the authority of the Ten Commandments and they have several proof texts to back them up.
Now, here are the first four so-called Ten Commandments, and if you are paying the slightest bit of attention, you will INSTANTLY see why they are not can NEVER be the basis of American Law:
The First: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
Comment: Dispensationalist Christians would point out that the commandments here are clearly given to the Jews, not all of mankind. Then I have to point out that the first command is, “you shall have no gods before me”….eh, where is THAT law in America, hmm? When was that EVER part of American law? Where is that in the US Constitution? And how is that a moral law?
It isn’t, of course, it is a religious law.
Note To radical Religionists: Religious law CANNOT be imposed on others according to the US Constitution. These are religious laws, not moral laws. Case closed, you lose.
But we will continue for the benefit of the terminally dense and for the majority of Christians who don’t really know what the Ten Commandments ARE anyway…
The Second: You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Comment: Again, a religious regulation, not a moral law. Radical Religionists lose again. And you guys better not have any paintings or statues of Jesus or angels because if you do we’d have to point out that religionists refuse to follow the very thing they want to push on the rest of us.
The Third: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Comment: Yet again, this is a religious law, not a moral law. Strike three, radical religionist Pharisees – you’re OUT! …but we continue….
The Fourth: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
Comment: If you needed a fourth strike to prove that our modern-day Pharisees are just plain wrong, this is it. This is yet another religious regulation, not a moral one. AND – this is the really funny part – almost nobody who calls themselves a Christian actually follows this one…
The only followers of the fourth commandment are Seventh-Day Adventists and Seventh-Day Baptists because the Biblical sabbath day as anyone who has studied the Bible knows, is Saturday. If you are going to church on Sunday, you are not observing the Old Testament Sabbath as ordered by the ten commandments.
Just to make matters stickier, most evangelical leaders would call the denominations that DO observe the Biblical sabbath “CULTS” and in some cases even non-Christian.
This verse is SO problematic that it is actually omitted or changed to “The Lord’s Day” in the Catholic version of the printed Ten Commandments, something which has no basis in the manuscripts whatsoever. It’s just a case of covering your ass.. .
I could go on, but you get the point: Religious regulations, not moral law. The moral laws that occur in the second half of the Decalogue all appeared in much older lists of laws such as the Code of Hammurabi.
Once you know what the so-called Ten Commandments REALLY are, you can understand why these religious regulations cannot be imposed on any free people in the United States of America, and why no real Christian should ever submit to being put under such regulations.Tags: Bible, Philosophy, Religion