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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Different Versions of the Ten Commandments??

For the past two weeks, I have been teaching a Bible class on the Ten Commandments at my congregation. And naturally, one of the first things I wanted to do was address the fact that different groups enumerate the commandments differently. Did you know that Roman Catholics and Lutherans number them one way, the Protestants another, and the Jews yet another? So when people debate whether the Decalogue should be inscribed on civic monuments or displayed in government buildings, they will have to make a decision as to which enumeration to follow. One argument could reasonably be made, I suppose, that by choosing one listing over the others, an endorsement is being made of a specific church or religion.

In my digging, I uncovered an old Washington Post article about this topic. You should give it a look because it shows the three different ways of numbering the commandments. Does this mean there is some kind of discrepancy in God's Word? No. Reading the Biblical accounts in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, one finds that Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Protestants and Jews all have the same commandments. But since the scriptures themselves do not delineate how they should be numbered, there may naturally arise differing listings.

It appears to me that the main difference between the Roman Catholic/Lutheran numbering and the Protestant numbering is that the Calvinists and the more radical reformers wanted to place emphasis on the whole graven image part, presumably to condemn Rome's proclivity for statues. But since the Lutherans, while not praying to the saints, found no objection in 3-dimensional church art, they understood the graven image prohibition as simply part of having no other gods.

I'm most intrigued by the fact that in the Jewish tradition, the first commandment is not a commandment at all, but a statement of gospel: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." As a Lutheran Christian, I can appreciate that very well. The commands then become less imperative and more indicative. A Christian might understand it this way: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of slavery to sin and the grave by the death and resurrection of my Son, your Lord, Jesus Christ." In that case, the commands become descriptive of how God's children live, not just how they should live or must live. It's a statement of who we are in Christ Jesus. Or as our Lord Himself put it: "You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth."

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