Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Twenty Commandments

Thanks to Marg Epp of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut for contributing these photos of autumn in the Arctic

The August 11, 2009 edition of Christian Century (page 9) includes a listing of “New Ten Commandments.” Credit is given to Peter K. Stevenson & Stephen I. Wright in Preaching for the Atonement (Westminster, John Knox). The ultimate source is said to be a poll by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, not a revelation on Mt. Sinai! There’s no indication regarding who was polled, or the question to which they were responding, but I imagine it was something like, “If God were to hand down Ten Commandments for our day, what would they be?”

I found the list fascinating enough to reproduce here:

1) Treat others as you would have them treat you.
2) Take responsibility for your actions.
3) Do not kill.
4) Be honest.
5) Do not steal.
6) Protect and nurture children.
7) Protect the environment.
8) Look after the vulnerable.
9) Never be violent.
10) Protect your family.

Graven images, covetousness, adultery, Sabbath observance don’t appear in this list, and neither does the honouring of father and mother; here father and mother are urged to protect and nourish their children. Interesting flip, what?

I’m not certain why there are 10 commandments Biblically, and not 7 or 12. The thought comes to mind, though, that those commandments attributed to Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai might be the 10 most important of all the many commandments we find in the Pentateuch.

Notably missing in the Christian Century list is any reference to God, whereas at the top of the original 10 is the recognition that there is but one God and that we are to worship none other than Yahweh. It may be a sign of the times that ethics today begin and end with a description of what constitutes morality in social interaction, and not what constitutes obedience to God.

On the other hand, when we were children, our behaviour was checked by the rules laid down for us and enforced by parents and teachers, but as we matured, it wasn’t those rules that guided us anymore, but rather our individual commitment to the principles to which those rules pointed.

If the law really is a schoolmaster, I would happily see the CC list renumbered 11 – 20 and added to the Moses list. What about you?


  1. Though the time is late, I felt that a quick response would be ok. My initial take on the commands and the order in which they are listed is that the commands are not consistent with each other. They appear to be a list of ideas that by themselves are good while together they do not paint a cohesive picture to me. I see a list of do's and don'ts but no rational, no moral centre.

    Again, the time is late, enough for now. I hope to give a more reasoned response at a later time.

  2. JimS; Are you referring to The Ten Commandments or the list from Christian Century?