Roland Dürre
Friday July 8th, 2011

The Ten Commandments

Detlev gave me ten commandments (Schreibgebote) for writing. In doing so, he reminded me of the Ten Commandments after many decades of forgetfulness. When I was a child, I learned them, but I did not understand them at the time. Consequently, I dismissed and forgot them in my early adolescence.

But now, Detlev made me curious. So now, after 50 years, I take a closer look at the Ten Commandments. My source is the “Ten Commandments” as published by the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD). After all, I believe the Evangelical EKD is more enlightened and modern than their competition. I found the Ten Commandments on the EKD website. I assume that is the current and official version?

As I understand them, commandments should always clearly tell you what to do. I will now cite the commandments and then write as a comment what comes to mind at each of them in cursive letters.

#Beginning of origial EKD text with personal comments

The Ten Commandments

(after Martin Luther’s Small Catechism)

Jewish and Christian churches have different traditions for the numeric order. The following version will stick by the Lutherean and Roman-Catholic tradition. Another counting mechanism will be arrived at where the prohibition of images – “You shall not make any image“ – is cited as the second Commandment, like in the Anglican, Reformed and Orthodox traditions. In these traditions, the “ninth“ and “tenth“ Commandments are merged into one.

  1. The First Commandment
    I am your master and God. You shall have no other Gods before me!The First Commandment is an outrage. There is a higher authority above me, demanding subordination without compromise. This is the end of autonomy and free decision. The second sentence, however, is not a commandment. Instead, it is a forbiddance: we will not tolerate  competition.
  2. The Second Commandment
    You shall not take the name of the lord your God in vain!Again: not a commandment, but a forbiddance. I must not abuse the name of the authority I have to subordinate myself to. That sounds a little imprecise to me. How would you define abusing a name?
  3. The Third Commandment
    Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy!At least, this is a commandment. But what exactly does it mean to keep a festive day holy? Enjoy life consciously? Live well? Incidentally, they might mean something totally different.
  4. The Fourth Commandment
    Honour your father and your mother!Here we have another commandment. But the formula is far too restricted. You should also honour your children. The “honour” might then bounce right back to the parents. But perhaps you should also honour your fellow humans? Or even the entire creation?
  5. The Fifth Commandment
    You shall not murder.Another forbiddance – including the typical weakness when trying to define it. Whom not to murder? Humans? Or just my friends? Or are animals included, too? Is there a balance of values? Can I let others do it for me?
  6. The Sixth Commandment
    You shall not commit adultery. 

    And again a forbiddance!

    I had expected commandments that tell me what to do, not prohibitions that basically leave everything open.

  7. The Seventh Commandment
    You shall not steal. 

    Another forbiddance!

  8. The Eighth Commandment
    You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
    Forbiddance!
  9. The Ninth Commandment
    You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. 

    Forbiddance!

  10. The Tenth Commandment
    You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.

Prohibition of desires! But desire is part of our being. Can you forbid something that is part of our identity? Well, I guess you can prohibit anything. The question is: does it make sense?

#End of EKD citation with personal comments

To sum it up, all I can say is that I fail to understand the Ten Commandments today, just like I failed to understand them when I was young. In fact, they are not Ten Commandments, but 9 prohibitions and 2 commandments. The wording sounds very imprecise to me.

Now I hear you couintering that I must not take it all literally. After all, it is just a collection of metaphors that need to be interpreted. But the Ten Commandments are the basis for a powerful religion. A religion that expects total subordination under their lord and God from its members (see First Commandment). And it takes its very legitimation from exactly those metaphors that need interpretation, again see First Commandment. Basically, that is not something that should be allowed.

I can still very well remember when, as a pious Roman-Catholic child, I returned home from confession at St-Antony’s Church in Augsburg and how I was then led towards First Holy Communion. And to this day, I am glad that I overcame that phase when I was still a teenager and that I found my “God“ with the big trees in the beautiful Wittelsbacher Park of Augsburg.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
Detlev did a lot better than the EKD with his Commandments . After nine irrelevant prohibitions, he said everything that needed to be said in the Tenth Commandment! But Detlev would also make quite a good Pope.

4 Kommentare zu “The Ten Commandments”

  1. Chris Wood (Friday July 8th, 2011)

    Can somebody give a reference where to find the 10 commandments in the Bible? It is not as easy as I thought. They must be in one of the five books of Moses. The first reference that I have found is in Exodus 34, where Moses wrote them. But they are not listed. The first commandment then mentioned (Exodus 35) is not to work, or light a fire on each seventh day, (under penalty of death). (I read that some early refugees from England wanted to impose this death penalty in USA; they were fleeing religious tolerance)! There are lots of other commandments in the Bible, for instance regarding animal sacrifices. So “do not kill” must be understood in this context. I have read that the most often repeated commandment is that one should not cook a kid in its mother’s milk, (“kid” meaning young goat).
    Dawkins wrote that the Old Testament God is the most unpleasant of all fictional characters.

    Philosophically there is hardly a difference between telling people what to do or what not to do. For instance, one could say “avoid killing” or “try not to kill”. So “Gebote” is OK, but the English “Commandments” is perhaps better.

    Two or three mighty religions are based on the Ten Commandments; the two are Judaism and Islam. Christ distanced himself from them, but made things even harder. One should love God, and also love one’s neighbours as much as oneself.

  2. rd (Friday July 8th, 2011)

    @Chris zu “Philosophically there is hardly a difference between telling people what to do or what not to do“.

    Der Unterschied ist ganz einfach. Ich mache Dir ein Beispiel:

    Denke an einen schönen englischen Rasen in einem Park in Deutschland. Da steht dann wahrscheinlich ein Schild mit einem typisch deutschem Verbot: “Rasen betreten verboten!

    Dem folgend kannst Du mit und auf dem Rasen einiges Unerwünschtes machen (z.B. Dich am Wegrand hinsetzen und auf den Rasen sch…..!). Du darfst ihn ja nur nicht betreten.

    Ein Gebotsschild “Bitte den Rasen pfleglich behandeln!” würde natürlich vieles an Missbrauch ausschließen, aber auch ein vorsichtiges und den Wetterverhältnissen angepasstes Betreten erlauben.

    Ich gebe gerne zu, dass ein konstruktives Gebot an Stelle eines präzisen Verbotes besser funktioniert, wenn die Nutzer des Verbotes/Gebotes willens und in der Lage sind, sozial zusammen zu leben. Das allerdings habe ich ja bei Christen, die freiwillig den Zehn Geboten folgen, implizit vorausgesetzt.

    Will aber mit dem Beispiel nur zeigen, dass in der Tat ein wesentlicher (philosophischer) Unterschied zwischen einem Verbot und einem Gebot gibt. Um aus einem Verbot ein Gebot (oder andersherum) zu entwickeln, genügt es eben nicht nur ein \neg (Negation, not) vor die Aussage zu setzen. Mach das mal im Beispiel: Du darfst den Rasen \neg nicht betreten 🙂 .

  3. Enno (Saturday July 9th, 2011)

    Roland, das war keine Glanzleistung. Du schreibst, dass du die zehn Gebote nicht verstehst, lässt es dir aber trotzdem nicht nehmen, eine vernichtende Meinung zu ihnen zu haben.

    @Chris: “Durchgezählt” finden sich die Gebote gar nicht in der Bibel, und sie stehen zumindest in den Büchern Moses nicht so exponiert, dass man sie als abgeschlossene Liste verstehen müsste.
    Finden kannst du sie in 2 Mose 20 und 5 Mose 21.
    http://www.bibleserver.com

    Das Verständnis wird tatsächlich nur im Zusammenhang möglich (wie Chris auch schreibt, ist teilweise sehr detailliert genannt, WIE der Sabbat zu heiligen ist), am besten noch mit dem Römerbrief zusammen… Dort versucht Paulus mit “Liebe deinen nächsten wie dich selbst” als Essenz der Zehn Gebote diese mit Jesus Forderung in Einklang zu bringen.

    Keine Religion leitet ihre Existenzberechtigung aus den 10 Geboten her.

  4. six (Monday July 11th, 2011)

    @Enno: Die Existenzberechtigung einer Religion leitet sich ganz sicher nicht von den 10 Geboten ab – das wäre kein machtvoller Gründungsmythos, mit einer Verbotsliste daherzukommen. Aber die Wirkung auf unser heutiges Rechtssystem geht weit über eine rein theologische Ethik hinaus. Beispiel: Selbstmord. Im Tanach (der hebräischen Bibel) lautet das Gebot “Du sollst nicht morden”, das später in die römisch-katholischen 10 Gebote übersetzt wurde, in “Du sollst nicht töten”. Luther hat dann die ursprüngliche Bedeutung “morden” bei seiner Verdammung des “Selbstmordes” wieder eingeführt – und so hat sie (die ursprüngliche Bedeutung) Eingang in die Rechtssprechung gefunden. Wenn sich heute also jemand selbst tötet, heißt es nicht Selbsttötung, sondern Selbstmord und hat das Stigma von Verbrechen. Es kann nicht sein, im christlichen Glauben, dass jemand sein Schicksal selbst in die Hand nimmt und nicht Gott entscheiden läßt. Wenn es darum geht, an religiösen Grundlagen der modernen Rechtssprechung festzuhalten, dann sagt das auch etwas über die Existenzberechtigung von Religionen aus. Die Scharia ist nicht ganz so exotisch, wie wir immer tun.

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