And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.Exodus 20:1-2 RSV
The Divisions of the Decalogue
God’s division of the Decalogue was on two tables of stone, a division honored by Christ himself who marked the divisions as “Duties to God,” and “Duties to Man” (Mark 12:28-31).
The Jewish division of the Decalogue places Commandments I-V on Table I, and Commandments VI-X on Table II, thus including duty to parents on a parity with duty to God.
The usual Protestant division places Commandment V on Table II among duties to men, giving the divisions as I-IV and V-X.
The Catholic division omits II altogether, splits X in two to retain the total number, and thus divides them: I, III, IV, V on Table 1, and VI, VII, VIII, IX, Xa, Xb on Table II.
The insignia for chaplains in the Armed Services of the United States follows the Jewish mode, and that of Jewish chaplains is the Star of David.
Jesus Christ and the Decalogue
He unequivocally named “God” as the Author (Matthew 15:4).
He taught that duties to God are higher than duties and obligations to people (Mark 12:28-31).
Christ specifically mentioned Commandments VI,VII, and IX (Matthew 5:21-37), making his own words superior in authority to all three!
However, it should be noted that he in no sense softened or abrogated any of these.
As a matter of fact, he expanded the prohibitions to include antecedent motives and attitudes of sin, making evil thoughts to bear the same load of guilt as outright violations.
Christ made the keeping of the Decalogue (at least in the instance of V, VI, VII, and IX which he named specifically) as a vital precondition of attaining eternal life (Matthew 19:16-20)!
Christ came not to destroy but to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), and yet, “He took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:14).
How, then is the Decalogue related to the attainment of eternal life?
Christ kept it.
He achieved the total and perfect righteousness that no other was ever able to achieve.
Yet Christ demanded of all who ever hope to enter heaven absolute and total perfection (Matthew 5:48), a perfection attainable for people in only one way, “IN Christ” (Colossians 1:28,29).
Were These Commandments New?
With the exception of IV, the answer is no; some of them had been known for ages.
No. II, the prohibition of sacred images, was known to Jacob who commanded his family to bury such things “under the oak by Shechem” (Genesis 35:4).
No. VI, “Thou shalt not kill” had been a capital offense ever since God’s commandment to Noah (Genesis 9:6).
No. V, on honoring father and mother, was known upon the occasion of Noah’s cursing of Canaan (Genesis 9:20-25).
No. VII, regarding adultery, was known and accepted as God’s law even as early as Judah’s order for Tamar to be burnt (Genesis 38:24).
Thus, the heart of the Decalogue was already accepted as the Law of God for centuries prior to this chapter.
Note, however, that no such priority pertains to the Sabbath commandment (No. IV). The first mention of the sabbath is in Exodus 16:23; and those who violated it were not even rebuked.
This contrasts sharply with the severe penalties enforced for violation of those commandments which were already known.
In this light, it should not be thought strange that such codes of laws as that of Hammurabi should also have included some of these prohibitions, which, at least partially had been known from the beginning of Adam’s race.
The Code of Hammurabi
It was discovered in 1901 by Jacques de Morgan at Susa, Iran, precipitating one of those intellectual somersaults so typical of Biblical critics.
Prior to that time, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was denied on the allegation that “codes of laws in such detail as that of Moses did not exist at so early an era.”
Well, Hammurabi’s code, extensively detailed, was promptly dated at a time centuries before the Decalogue, between 2067,2025 B.C.
It was then alleged by the critics that Moses copied his code from Hammurabi! We know, of course, that such allegations are merely the knee-jerk response of unbelievers to Divine truth.
The differences are decided and numerous enough to argue the independence and originality of the Law of Moses.
Also, Hammurabi ascribes his laws to the Sun God; and he whom he ignorantly worshipped under that symbol may in reality have been `The true light that lighteth every man coming into the world.’
The Code of Hammurabi is unworthy of comparison with the Decalogue.
It speaks endlessly of “slaves” and “gentlemen.” It has no prohibition against lust.
It is preoccupied with spells cast by witches. And it has no trace whatever of religious thought.
The Importance of the Decalogue
Even today, this is the most influential legislation on earth.
The constitutions of forty-seven of the forty-eight contiguous states of the U.S.A. specifically recognize this code as the basic law of the land.
For centuries it has been inscribed upon decorative panels for cathedrals and churches, and it is today indelibly stamped upon the conscience of every believer in God.