Archive for the ‘Ten Commandments’ Category

Irony of Idolatry in Francis of Rome’s Remarks and the Split Tenth Commandment

June 13, 2013

Francis of Rome recently was reported as saying (VIS, 9 June 2013): “We shouldn’t see the Ten Commandments as restriction upon our freedom; no, not that way. We should see them as signs for our freedom. … They teach us how to avoid the slavery to which the many idols that we ourselves build reduce us.” (ellipsis was in VIS report)

Francis is right that the commandments ought not to be viewed positively and not exclusively negatively.  They are, of course, both restrictions and duties.  Thus, we really ought to ask both “what is commanded” and “what is forbidden” by each of the commandments, as the Westminster standards helpfully analyze them.

The irony of Francis’ statement is that Rome is full of idols (representations of God).  Rome actually misnumbers the commandments to avoid having to get rid of her idols. Specifically, she bundles the second into the first, as though we were only forbidden to make idols of false gods and not also of the true God. To maintain the number ten, she splits the tenth into two commandments.

This misnumbering can easily be seen to be wrong. The first giving of the commandments does phrase the tenth this way:

Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

לֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֑ךָ לֹֽא־תַחְמֹ֞ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֗ךָ וְעַבְדֹּ֤ו וַאֲמָתֹו֙ וְשֹׁורֹ֣ו וַחֲמֹרֹ֔ו וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ׃ פ

Thus, there are two “thou shalt not” phrases, but they are both on the same topic of coveting. Moreover, it is strange that the house should get special separate treatment, while the wife should get bundled in with the slaves, cattle and miscellaneous other possessions.

In the second giving, the wording is slightly different:

Deuteronomy 5:21 Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

וְלֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֑ךָ סוְלֹ֨א תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֗ךָ שָׂדֵ֜הוּ וְעַבְדֹּ֤ו וַאֲמָתֹו֙ שֹׁורֹ֣ו וַחֲמֹרֹ֔ו וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ׃

Here the wife (rather than the house) gets special treatment, while the house gets mixed in with the slaves, cattle, fields, and other possessions.

Moreover, that the 7th commandment already prohibits lust can be seen from Jesus admonition:

Matthew 5:28But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Likewise, speaking of coveting, the class of coveted things is generally undifferentiated.  Most tellingly, when Paul refers to the commandments he does not differentiate two types of covetousness:

Romans 13:9For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Some may object that the division between the first and the second is artificial and the two should be joined. First, the division between the first and the second is quite clear.  In the first giving, it is written (combining them, to give every benefit to our objectors):

Exodus 20:3-6
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

In the second giving, it is written (again, combining them):

Deuteronomy 5:7-10Thou shalt have none other gods before me. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

While it is understandable how someone might think these are connected, the making and bowing down clearly refer to images.  By contrast, the having can refer not to images but to gods.  Thus, this situation is unlike the bizarre parsing of the 10th, where the same command is expressed of differing lists of possessions in different givings.  Rather, there are different commands regarding different objects.

That the prohibition against idols is a prohibition against images of the true God can be seen from the explanation provided in Deuteronomy 4:

Deuteronomy 4:11-19
And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.
And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.
Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

The reference to not seeing a likeness is specifically relevant to the true God.  Indeed, the thick darkness blotted out even the sun, moon, and stars.  Thus, we ought to worship the unseen God without images of any kind.

That remained true even though God did sometimes reveal himself visually (such as when he came to Abraham, when he wrestled with Jacob, when he spoke to Moses face to face, or when he greeted Joshua, among other examples).  Thus, we should not make the error of some of the ancients who tried to justify making images of males and identifying them as Jesus on the ground that Jesus had indeed come as a man and walked among us.

-TurretinFan

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