The Law is the Law Ė Or Is It?

The Big Ten, 1 - 3

#1: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." #2: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." #3: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."
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Moses, by Michelangelo.  Photo by JŲrg Bittner Unna.  Wikimedia Commons.  Moses is holding rectangular tablets, in accordance with ancient rabbinic tradition.
Moses, by Michelangelo.
Moses is holding rectangular tablets,
in accordance with ancient rabbinic tradition.
Photo by JŲrg Bittner Unna. Wikimedia Commons.
Exodus 20:1-3; Leviticus 19:1-2; Deuteronomy 5:1-7, #1: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (7/2/18)

Whenever I hear that someone is complaining about "all the Ďthou shalt notsí" in the Bible, I want to ask, "What part of ĎThou shalt not murderí do you have a problem with?" Even though the definition varies somewhat, virtually every human society has a law against murder. In the same way, theft (variously defined) and lying under oath are almost always against the law. Thereís actually a surprising consistency between societies and faiths in basic laws.

In our final comparison of the Law of Moses with the commandments of the New Testament, weíre looking at the Big Ten, the Ten Commandments. Now, you may hear some Christians who say that the New Testament doesnít teach the Ten Commandments. You will hear others say that the New Testament teaches all of the Ten Commandments. Weíre going to read the scripture for ourselves and make up our own minds. The Ten Commandments are first recorded in Exodus, largely repeated in Leviticus, and completely repeated (with minor variations) in Deuteronomy.

The first commandment is "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." When God first gave the Law to the children of Israel, they were familiar with dozens of gods, some of whom were awesome (like storm gods) and most of whom had big followings. Sadly, they hardly remembered the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After God demonstrated his power in Egypt, he gave them a commandment about whom they were to worship. Itís interesting to me that he did not Ė at that time Ė instruct his people that there are no other gods, only that they were not to worship other gods. Fortunately for us, God works with us where we are.


Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:5-8, #1: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (7/3/18)

If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago whether the first commandment is repeated in the New Testament, I probably would have said yes. After a thorough search, I have to say no. As I said yesterday, during the time of Moses the Jews believed in the existence and power of many gods, and Godís commandment was to not worship any but their own personal God.

By the time the Exile was over, the Jews were totally and completely monotheistic. They not only didnít worship other gods, they didnít even believe in the existence of other gods, except of course as lumps of wood or stone that other people were foolish enough to think amounted to something.

So the New Testament doesnít say not to worship other gods, it just assumes that no sensible person would do such a thing. During his temptation by Satan, Jesus replies with a version of the first commandment. He does not quote verbatim any of the three scriptures we read yesterday (it comes closest to Deuteronomy 6:13); he just gives their meaning. It seems clear to me that he isnít giving a New Testament form of the commandment, heís just pointing out the foolishness of Satanís action in asking Jesus to worship him.


1 Corinthians 8:1-13, #1: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (7/4/18)

Now, the earliest Christians were all Jews, so they knew perfectly well that all the so-called "gods" worshiped by the pagans were just pieces of rock or wood, idols with no life or power. As Gentiles began coming to Christ, early church leaders, here Paul, warned the knowledgeable Jewish and Gentile Christians against leading less knowledgeable Gentile Christians astray. Donít give them even the remotest hint that the idols might be worth something, Paul says in vs. 10.

Notice, however, that he doesnít command the worship of only one God, he just says that there is only one God. Why would I need a commandment not to worship something that doesnít exist?


John 5:44, 17:3; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:1-6, #1: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (7/5/18)

God is the one and only God. No point in worshipping any so-called gods, either before or after.


1 Timothy 1:17, 2:1-7; Hebrews 6:13-18; James 2:19; Jude 1:24-25, #1: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (7/6/18)

Today we hear from four New Testament writers Ė Paul, the writer of Hebrews, James, and Jude Ė that there is only one God. None of them present as a commandment that we are to worship only God, they just say there is only one God. Iím especially interested that demons also believe there is only one God. Demons would certainly be in a position to know about other gods, donít you think?


Exodus 20:4-6, 23:13; Deuteronomy 5:8-10, 16:21-22; Leviticus 18:21, 19:4, 26:1, #2: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (7/9/18)

The first of the Ten Commandments, as we saw last week, is, "Donít worship any gods other than me."

The second commandment is, to paraphrase slightly, "What part of ĎDonít worship gods other than meí are you having trouble understanding???" Or, to put it more formally, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

Godís people had a lot of trouble understanding this one, which is why Moses repeated it in one form or another six times. They still didnít get it, and we see idols in, on, around the Temple, Jerusalem, and Judea, even late in the time of the kings (2 Kings 23). The prophets were outraged, sarcastic, or brokenhearted about idol worship right up to the day of the Exile. Maimonides, the great rabbinical scholar of the Middle Ages, listed about 40 commandments prohibiting idols and various idolatrous practices, out of his total of 613 commandments.

Do we get it yet? How much time do we spend reading an electronic screen instead of our Bibles? How much time do we spend doing something on Sunday morning other than going to church? Iím just asking; Iím among the guilty.


1 Corinthians 10:14-29, #2: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (7/10/18)

In the Old Testament, God usually gave commandments without explanation, although sometimes God would add, "Be holy, because I am holy." In the New Testament, the same commandment, in this case "Give no worship to false gods," is often explained, as we see here in Paulís letter to the church at Corinth.

I especially like Paulís instruction that if a Gentile invites you to dinner, just go and donít ask any questions about the food, because it always reminds me of my Greek teacher. He traveled and taught widely in Asia, often to people who had to walk for days to attend his classes. He ate whatever they put in front of him, because he knew that, whatever it was, it was the best they had.

I suspect Paul was trying to guard the Faith against accusations that its followers felt that they were better than everybody else, especially since he and his mature students knew that what they ate didnít matter Ė just as long as they thoroughly understood that idol worship is forbidden, but meat is just meat. Nevertheless, the weaker brother or sister does matter, so if one of them says to you, "This was sacrificed to an idol," donít eat it. We must never let our knowledge get in the way of someone elseís faith.


Acts 15:13-29, #2: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (7/11/18)

The second of the Ten Commandments forbids any kind of idol worship whatsoever. When Gentiles Ė who mostly did worship idols Ė started converting in droves to the Christian faith, some people thought they ought to keep the whole Law. The Jewish Christian leadership talked it over and decided that it was not necessary for Gentile converts to keep the entire Law of Moses. The Gentiles still had to keep the very central tenets of the Law, however: No idols! No sexual impurity! No blood! And by the way, anything else that Jesus commanded, e.g., love God, love your neighbor, although that isnít specifically addressed in the letter to the Gentiles that James dictated. Vss. 16-18 are from Amos 9:11-12.


Acts 17:15-34, #2: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (7/12/18)

Now, Paul was trained in the Law by one of the all-time best rabbinical teachers, Gamaliel. (Fellow-reader Daryl compared this to a physics student being trained by Einstein.) And Paul was smart and a quick debater. When he got to Athens, he was "troubled in spirit," that is, appalled and upset, by all the idols. How could he reach these people? Aha! He saw an altar with no idol, dedicated to an "Unknown God." The Athenians had so many gods they figured they might be missing one, and they sure didnít want to give offense! Paul said, "Let me tell you about that God!" And of course, part of what he told them was that thereís only one real creator God, who doesnít live in an idol.

By the way, whatís that business in vs. 18 about being " a preacher of strange gods"? The Greek word for resurrection is "anastasia," and some Athenians thought that "Jesus" and "Anastasia" were some more gods they had never heard of before.


2 Corinthians 6:15-18; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 2:14-17, 2:20; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:3, #2: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (7/13/18)

Paulís letters to the Corinthians and Galatians distinguish sharply between the kingdom and people of God and the worship of images, that is, idols. John is gentler but more to the point in his first letter. Johnís Revelation reprimands the people of Pergamum for (among other things) taking food offered to false gods, but in apocalyptic writing, that could be a symbol of something else. Peter says that the "unclean worship of images" is behind us now, and letís hope that itís true!


Exodus 20:7, 22:28; Leviticus 19:12, 22:31-33; Deuteronomy 5:11, 10:20, 18:20-22, #3: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." (7/16/18)

Have I mentioned lately that you need to read at least two unrelated translations of the Bible? If you read only one translation, you have no way of knowing that some words in Hebrew or Greek may have more than one meaning (just as in English [and most other languages]). These variations in meaning might be important in deciding what to do or not to do in your daily life.

The third of the Ten Commandments is "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain." But what does that mean, really? A very brief check of about 15 translations shows three big sets of meaning for the Hebrew word shav /in vain in the third commandment: John Wesley said there are at least five ways to take the name of the Lord in vain: Use Godís name reverently and keep your promises, and you should be fine.


Matthew 5:33-37; 1 Timothy 6:1-2, #3: "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." (7/17/18)

A lot of us grew up thinking that using Godís name "in vain" meant using it as a curse word. Maybe, but thatís probably closer to blasphemy or profanity (also forbidden, just not in the Ten Commandments). It seems more likely that using the name "in vain" means to swear falsely using the name or to use it casually.

The Jews became (and still are) so careful about the use of Godís name that they would not say it for any reason. Instead of the sacred name, they would say "Adonai," which is Hebrew for Lord. Although some English translations have "Lord" or "Jehovah" in place of the name, most of them have LORD. By the time of Jesus, a commandment not to use Godís name in vain wasnít necessary, because they wouldnít even say it for serious reasons. Instead, they would substitute "heaven" or some construction like, "the rain is made to fall," that is, God makes it rain.

Nevertheless, Jesus and Paul go well beyond not using Godís name in vain. Jesus says, not only shouldnít you use Godís name to support your oath (especially a false oath), you shouldnít make any oath at all. Just tell the truth. Paul says, forget oaths and what you say. All of your behavior should be so honorable that no one who sees you has any reason to speak evil against the LORD your God.


More on the Law
Jesus on the Law, Nazirites, Dietary Law
Signs & Symbols, Civil Law, and Mixtures
Times and Seasons
Sacrifices and Offerings, Priests, and Firstborn
The Ten Commandments, 1 - 3
The Ten Commandments, 4 - 10
The Greatest Commandments

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