About 30 years ago media mogul Ted Turner held a press conference in which he declared it was time to come up with a new list of Ten Commandments. “The ones we’ve had since the Old Testament times are too old and nobody obeys them anyways.” Turner then proposed Ten Voluntary Initiatives; benevolent activities we are free to pursue if we feel so led.
Scripture texts like Exodus 20, however, tell the account of Moses receiving two etched stone tablets on Mt. Sinai where God was not proposing ten “helpful guidelines.” Nor is God presenting Himself as some heavenly therapist who is here for us.
In the paraphrased words of historian Thomas Cahill, the Ten Commandments require no justification, nor can they be argued away. They are not dependent upon or negotiable due to circumstances. They are not propositions for debate or ten personal challenges we may want to work on in our spare time.
Seven of the commandments are so straightforward they are presented with no explanations. Eugene Peterson notes the 2nd commandment is hard to follow and therefore comes with a warning: don’t make idols to represent God because God is serious about not being cut down to size. The 5th commandment is particularly fatiguing, so it comes with encouragement: respect your parents and enjoy a long life. The 4th commandment seems illogical: God’s explanation is since He chose to rest after making the universe, we should choose to slow down after six days of running our lives.
The commandments are amazingly simple and comprehensive. They get right to the point: 10 provisions for loving God and each other. In a preliterate culture, that was one for each finger.
No one has been able to come up with an 11th commandment that just has to be on the list. Nor a compelling reason any of the existing 10 should be deleted. But aren’t we facing moral and ethical situations Moses couldn’t have possibly imagined? The essential principles required to discuss genetic engineering, racism, ecology and nuclear war are all embedded within the Ten commandments.
There have been debates over displaying the Ten Commandments in public places, but they do not have to be hung on walls or carved in stone, because they should be displayed in the words we speak and choices we make.
Rev Dr William Lewis