Sunday, March 11, 2012

Revisioning the Ten Commandments

One of the tell tale signs of a revisionist preacher is how they handle negativity. By negativity, I mean all those places where the Bible appears to go negative. The revisionist sees these as opportunities to put a positive spin on things.  In preparing a sermon, the revisionist must first take out their editing pencil and strike through whatever parts they have discerned to be foolishness. The terrible thing about this process as St. Paul warns us today in the Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 is,
"For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength." -v.25
Today's Old Testament reading proved to be good material for Biblical revisionism. We initially hear,
Then God spoke all these words:
 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.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. Exodus 20:1-17
There are way too many Thou shalt nots" in there. The revisionist preacher may fear that all those negatives will put off the Sunday morning crowd if those words found their way into the sermon. The options for the revisionist preacher as to best deal with this text are,

1) Ignore it.
2) Explain it as historically appropriate in the context of the ancient Hebrews and minimize its relevance to modern Christians.
3) Ridicule people who try to put up marble plaques or statues of the commandments in front courthouses or in schools.
4) Just re-write the whole thing.

I got option 4.

The folloing is what it looks like with the blue pencil strike-throughs (just get the picture and then skip ahead to the finished product):
Then God spoke all these words:
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 are free to worship only me,
You shall not make for yourself an idol, in perfect freedom. whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name are free to use my name in worship.
Remember You are free on the sabbath day, and to keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or and female slave, your livestock, and the alien resident in your towns are all free. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
You are free to Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not are free from murder.
You shall not commit are free from adultery.
You shall not are free from stealing.
You shall not are free from bearing false witness against your neighbour.
You shall not are free from coveting your neighbour’s house; you shall not are free from coveting your neighbour’s wife,  or male or female slave, or and ox, or and donkey, or and anything that belongs to your neighbour. Exodus 20:1-17

Okay, that wasn't so hard, now let's see how the finished product looks.
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you are free to worship only me, in perfect freedom.
You are free to use my name in worship.
You are free on the sabbath day, to keep it holy; you, your son or your daughter, your livestock, and the alien resident in your towns are all free.
You are free to Honour your father and your mother
You are free from murder.
You are free from adultery.
You are free from stealing.
You are free from bearing false witness against your neighbour.
You are free from coveting your neighbour’s house; you are free from coveting your neighbour’s wife, and ox,  and donkey, and anything that belongs to your neighbour. Revised Exodus 20:1-17
Oh yeah, that'll work...

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard something close to it.

The fact is it sounds pleasing to the ear. It is the perfect thing to sneak into a sermon, and may it contain an element of truth in that as we are being saved (as St. Paul put it in today's readings) and we live a new life in Christ, we can be free from all those negative things. But, we become slaves to Christ and to His Word.

Unfortunately for the revisionist preacher, Jesus himself reiterates the old "shalt nots" a time or two Himself. So what are you going to do when you get to verses like these?
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Matthew 5:27-28
"And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 19:17-19.
Of course Jesus points out to the young man that keeping the commandments is not enough,
"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." Matthew 19:21
Try re-writing that! Taking out the "shalt nots" takes away the punch. Or better yet try the following when you are brought into court:

Judge: You are accused of stealing your neighbor's wife. How do you plead?
Accused: Not guilty Your Honor.
Judge: The evidence is clearly against you. The law is very specific on this as well, do you remember the commandments, Thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not  covet thy neighbor's wife?
Accused: Uh, that's not what I was taught.
Judge: What?
Accused: Yeah, I was taught that I was free from stealing and covetness, there was none of that shalt not stuff. The commandments I was taught never said I shouldn't do it
Judge: You must be an Episcopalian
Accused: How did you guess?
Judge: There would be no point in explaining it to you. I pronounce you guilty as charged.
Accused: And I thought I was free...
Judge: I ought to throw the book at you.
Accused: Who reads books anymore?
Judge to Bailiff: Take him away, and lock him in cell 815 with the rest of em. That'll be a fate worse than death.

You see, the argument just doesn't work.

I think we should love God's commandments, and love and respect the one who gave them to us, enough to not to try to "re-vision" them.

"Conforming more to Christ is essential so that we can be truly free. This way true certainty and the deep essence of the law can grow in us, which is the love of God and our fellow man.” Benedict XVI 2008

Please spare me the old jokes about the four commandments and six suggestions...

And be thankful I am sparing you from reading about how to revise the story of Jesus and the money changers (groan).

5 comments:

  1. Seriously?
    This morning's sermon?

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  2. I added a few commandments that got left out.

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  3. (Private to Anon 2:02 am)
    Thanks you for the questions I am holding the first part back because it has me thinking about this Wednesday's post that is still bouncing around in my head. I will answer the second part of your question today. I think one of the themes of the sermon was freedom. You may remember that the problem of the relationship of the law to the people of the new covenant has been one that has challenged the greatest of the saints. Revisionists responses to this question are, shall we say, challenges to the least of us.

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  4. The Exodus (Passover in particular) does carry a wonderful theme of freedom - but the giving of the Law is about the responsibility with which the gift must be handled. Not "strings attached" (wouldn't be a gift then), but the reality that a gift can be squandered or abused. Give me a nice plant and, untended, it will die. Give me a car and, used irresponsibly, it will be the means of my demise.

    For all their yammering about "social justice", the revisionists are more libertarian than the libertarians when it comes to moral teaching. What makes me, myself and I feel good seems to be their standard.

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  5. Tim+,

    Don't forget that it becomes a sacred duty to impose their standard on others so that it becomes "thee, thine, and thyself."

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