Published May 11, 2012
When a U.S. District Judge suggested that reducing the Ten Commandments to six would help solve a dispute between the ACLU and The Giles County, Virginia School District, he was wading into deep theological territory...perhaps unknowingly.
To reduce the Decalogue to the last six is ignoring its comprehensive structure. In research for the book I'm working on, "The Lighthouse: God as a Living Reality," I look at the world through the prism of the First Commandment. It's a pretty easy claim to make that all the law, in fact the world, basically hinges on the first edict.
You see the Ten Commandments, the laws that the Bible says Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, are broken up into two categories, the first four commandments are about mankind's relationship to God.
1. I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself any 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; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.
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.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
The next six are about mankind's relationship to creation, other people, things, etc.
5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet
In the New Testament, Jesus summed up the commandments with just two. First was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind,... and the second was what we now refer to as the Golden Rule, to love others as yourself. That Golden rule would be the last six commandments.
To his credit U.S. District Court Judge Michael F. Urbanski thought keeping the last six commandments would work, after all stealing and murder are already punishable crimes.
The problem is, once the first commandment goes, the whole ten are nothing more than suggestions. The reason those six come second is because the Bible is saying that only when God is revered can mankind avoid the pitfalls of committing adultery, murder, stealing, etc.
It's by putting God first that we can put all other loves in perspective.
The First Commandment: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me," is not only a commandment but a statement of fact. There are no other gods, but God.
But we human beings are prone to make idols out of anything: romance, money, sex, beauty-- not all bad things. Some of them can be quite good, like family. But when good things are turned into ultimate things, they become idols, small 'g' gods.
Theologians like Dr. Tim Keller, author of "The Reason For God" and "Counterfeit Gods" makes the point that we cannot violate commandments two through ten without first violating number one. For if we murder, steal, covet or any of the other deadly sins, we are in fact putting a need for something above our need for God. That is why the first four, and particularly the first one, are there in the order that they are.
Joy Davidman, a Jewish convert to Christianity and wife of author C.S. Lewis, wrote in her book "Smoke on the Mountain," that "In the last analysis, there are only two things to worship -- the true power and the false power; God or the devil; God or self."
Separating the Ten Commandments as if they were mere suggestions negates the whole of the law. As Dostoyevsky said in "The Brothers Karamazov," "If there is no God, then everything is permissible."
If we could really live out those six commandments on our own, as the judge suggests, then it would seem likely that we wouldn't have need for the judicial system in the first place. But the very fact that the court systems are clogged with murderers, thieves and con artists, is a testament to another reality.