Are the 10 Commandments Inferior?

The other day I was listening to a talk radio program where a person being interviewed claimed in a heated exchange that the 10 commandments were inadequate because they did not address slavery, nor did they address child abuse. The implication was that they were defective and should not be heeded.

The speaker had a motive for finding fault with the 10 commandments because he was running a service that facilitated the breaking of the commandment forbidding adultery. His service for a price would facilitate an affair if you happened to be bored in your marriage.

But was his criticism true? The commandments are indeed concise. It is true that the commandments do not specifically address per se the issues of slavery and child abuse, but they are more comprehensive in scope than first meets the eye.

Several of them are cast in a negative form, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, You shall not covet . . .” But within every explicit prohibition there is an implied positive injunction. For instance, the prohibition against destroying life has as its flip side the virtue of promoting life. This not only has to do with preserving life itself in another person, but enhancing the quality of life. This not only extends to acts but motives. Jesus, in clarifying the commandment, You shall not murder, noted that logically that prohibited the motive that gave rise to the act—that of unrestrained anger without just cause and verbal abuse (Matthew 5:21-24).

So then, the commandments do cover the issue of child abuse. A child is a human being who qualifies for being treated with dignity and respect. When that is done the quality of life of the child is protected. This does not mean that the child has no accountability when disobedient. The child may be chastened by any number of means short of exasperating or injuring him or her (Eph. 6:4). The attitude Jesus, master teacher of the law, manifested towards children was one of kindness and He warned the abusive that they would be held accountable (Matt. 18:2-6).

With regards to slavery, that is a little more complicated to answer though it comes under the umbrella of the same commandment that promotes life. A short answer would be that under the Old Testament slavery existed, but was regulated and not widespread. Certain rights were extended to slaves who often qualified for eventual manumission, but that requires a more thorough treatment beyond the space permitted here. In the New Testament mutual obligations were enjoined upon believing slaves and masters whose legal status had been defined by the Roman Empire. These made the institution more humane and an example that is still applicable to employer and employee relationships today (Ephesians 6:5-9). In no case was slavery looked upon as something desirable and freedom was to be preferred over slavery (I Cor. 7:20-24). The teachings of Scripture undermined the institution of slavery that was often dehumanizing in its practice under Rome and other pagan nations. It is no quirk of history that the movement to abolish slavery in the early 19th century in Britain was led by a Christian named William Wilberforce and those who supported him such as former slave-trader, Pastor John Newton who wrote the song, Amazing Grace.

The lesson is clear. Before we criticize the 10 commandments as not casting a wide enough net to cover the essential ethics of life, we need to take a closer look and we need to ask why we are criticizing them to begin with.

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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