God in the Ten Commandments

Why is God in the Commandments?

VANCOUVER, Wa., June 20, 2012 — When U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski’s suggested that eliminating God from the Ten Commandments would solve the objectionable nature of the Commandments, he missed the point: God is indispensable to them. 

The first commandment reads: “You shall have no other gods before me.” It is followed by “You shall not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”

The dictionary defines God as “the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.” An idol is “an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.” 

In Saint John’s Gospel 4:24 Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” God is not “a” spirit but spirit itself. In another place Christ said “and no one knows the father except the Son …” (Matthew 11:27) Complete knowledge of God eludes the finite mind and it can only know what God has chosen to reveal. 

What can be understood includes what is revealed in nature, in the Scriptures, and through Christ. However, many things are beyond the finite mind. Limitation of knowledge includes an understanding of God’s independence of the limitations of time and his eternal mode of consciousness without succession. Or how can he be at every point of the universe at the same time? He alone is immortal. (1Timothy 6:16)

Most people around the globe believe in a god of some kind. It might be the god of science, the god of a world religion (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Animists, Shintoism, etc.), the god of one’s own conscience, or the God of the Bible (Christianity, Judaism). One can make a god of materialism, of power, knowledge and education, of the elite of a society, etc. The Bible is clear: only “the God” is to be worshipped and the worship of any other “gods” is idolatry. 

The universe and order in creation are evidence that there is a higher power, and it is usually called “God.” In the 21st century the great advancement of scientific knowledge has led some scientists to deny the existence of a personal God; but they fail to convince that they have an acceptable theory of origins apart from an adequate cause. The difficulty for many lies in the fact “No one has ever seen God …” Why does he not show himself? Perhaps that is answered in the revelation of the Bible. 

The God of the Bible and the central figure of the Ten Commandments is the One who demands acknowledgement of His Deity and faithful worship to Him. The Psalmist expresses it this way, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God …” (Psalm 98:6-7) and “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.” (Psalm 99:5) The New Testament concurs, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8)

St. Paul attributes the qualities of deity to Jesus, but nevertheless emphasizes the attributes of the Creator and sustainer. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

The Ten Commandments simply speak of the God who is to be worshipped instead of the multitude of gods worshipped by Israel’s captors, the Egyptians. The Israelites were about to enter their promised land after serving as slaves for 400 years. They were a new nation and needed to know God’s demands on them, how to worship “one God,” and how to exercise their responsibility to others in their newly found freedom.

The Ten Commandments provides the basis for worship and the treatment of others in a shared society. The specifics of their worship and demands of God came in the complete law code recorded in the first five book of the law (Pentateuch, Torah) of the Bible. While the New Testament frames worship in a different form, it continues to demand worship of God from those seeking God’s will. 

To suggest the removal of God from the Ten Commandments is to misunderstand the very nature of the Commandments. For Christians the message is unambiguous: The God of the universe, who created it and sustains it, is worthy of unshared worship.


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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.


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