The war over the Ten Commandments

Why all the fuss over a 3500-year-old moral code?

VANCOUVER, Wash., June 9, 2012 — The Ten Commandments have been a standard of moral conduct for Jews, Christians, and many non-Christians for centuries. In the past few decades the ACLU, atheists, and others have gone to great lengths to eliminate the Ten Commandments from any public display.  

In May 2012, U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski tried to halt litigation between parties over the removal of the Ten Commandments from the walls of a Giles County, Virginia high school. The judge’s absurd solution was to suggest eliminating of the first four commandments that reference God. That was unacceptable to either side.

The conflict has been ongoing for 30 years, since the high court ruled that posting the Ten Commandments in public schools violates the First Amendment that guarantees the separation of church and state. 

Why such a fuss over a code that promotes a high standard of morality? Many rejecting the Commandments simply do not want to be accountable for violations of the standards of conduct the code promotes. The Bible for many is simply not an option for guiding their moral conduct. Although some non-believers often quote unusual or extraordinary passages (that are often misunderstood) for their own purposes, rarely do they quote Psalm 14:1 “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’” 

The book of Exodus details the Jewish Passover, the release of the Jews from Egyptian captivity, their wondering in the wilderness, and finally their occupation of the land promised to them. The Ten Commandments and the complete law system were given to a group who had been slaves for 400 years. Their primarily source for spiritual formation came from the Egyptian worship of multiple gods. 

The law, including the Ten Commandments, was given to show the newly released slaves God’s holiness and His demands on them. It was to unite them together as a distinct and morally accountable people as they were about to enter a hostile environment. Jesus claims to have fulfilled the law, including the Ten Commandments. The law was not given as a way to permanently cover the forgiveness of sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for sin once for all. 

Does this mean the Ten Commandments are no longer a standard of morality for Christians? No, St. Paul has restated nine of the principles of the Ten Commandments in the Book of Romans, omitting only the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy.   

The Ten Commandments were never intended to be a means of salvation. St Paul writes, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (Galatians 2:16) “He [Jesus] did this by ending the system of law with its commandments [includes the sacrificial system] and regulations.” (Ephesians 2:15) 

The Ten Commandments are a good catalog of principles to guide us in a sound moral life, much like the saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus summed up the Commandments in a response to an inquirer:  “‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’ The man answered, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And, love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘Right!’ Jesus told him.” (Luke 26-28)

While the posting of the Ten Commandments is an expression of the demands of God, it is not the Gospel message of the New Testament. The commandments should be viewed by all mankind as an acceptable guide for a society that desires a moral standard above the norms of pagan societies.  

And, it is not a bad idea to remind citizens they should honor their parents, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to bear false witness, not to covet, and that it is also good to acknowledge the Creator of the universe. 

 


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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.

www.credocommunications.net/kjv

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