The Ten Commandments Then & Now – Robert M. West

Posted on March 20, 2013

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A book written for us, by us, is not a bad thing.  Just ask Daymond John.  In The Ten Commandments Then & Now, Robert M. West may not be looking to garner the attention of fringe believers or deliver skeptics of the faith to the rapture and joys of Christianity, but he clearly and measuredly lays out and unwraps the most prevalent set of directives humanity has ever known.

10 Commandments circa 1446 BC, http://bibletimeline.info/

10 Commandments circa 1446 BC, http://bibletimeline.info/

10 Commandments circa 1446 BC + 10 minutes

10 Commandments circa 1446 BC + 10 minutes

I try to be as critical as possible when reading religious commentary as it is so easy to skew the intent and the spirit of the words.  This becomes even more difficult when trying to evaluate the ancient Jewish culture and traditions and trying to overlap them onto today’s global society.  It’s almost easier to find a passage in the Bible to bolster a person’s own personal agenda than it is to simply let the words speak for themselves and attempt to follow their lead accordingly.  In this light, I did my due diligence to ensure that scripture wasn’t forcibly taken out of context or twisted into a tortile Trojan horse of reason.  After reading The Ten Commandments Then & Now, I found only one glaring misquote.  West primarily uses the New King James Version for his scripture quotes.  I went to Biblegateway.com (excellent site and highly recommended; not sure there are any other sites available where you can reference virtually any version of the Bible) and double-checked his Exodus 21:22-25 reference.

West writes,

Killing the unborn (Exodus 21:22-25). If a pregnant woman was harmed as a bystander to a fight, and her unborn baby died, the attacker would pay with his life.  The unborn baby was viewed as a real person with a right to life and the same legal protection as the mother. – p.85

Compare this to what Biblegateway.com says the New King James Version writes,

“If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.23 But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

[A quick aside here, there is some argument about mistranslation mischief between referencing the fetus as an “unborn baby” that “died” and one that is born “prematurely”.  Please see the patheos.com blog, Slacktivist, for an interesting discussion of the “evolution” of this phrasing (patheos.com/slacktivist).]

The point here being that there is no mention of someone who may accidentally cause a miscarriage/premature birth being under the penalty of death on account of their actions.

Outside of that, I thought the book did quite a good job of accurately representing the scripture and presenting a very useful and insightful analysis of the application of the Ten Commandments to current day life.

West applies a very useful framework when discussing each commandment.  First, he spells out the commandment as dictated to Moses and backs up its history in the lives of the ancient Jews through Biblical references.  He goes a little ways down the road of “why”, and applies some general light theology in defense of the benefits of the commandment.

Second, he uses scenarios and examples in the Bible to demonstrate the width and breadth of the commandment.  For example, the second commandment states “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” – Exodus 20:4 NKJV.  West points out that in Numbers 21:8-9, God instructs Moses to create a bronze serpent.  Does this go against the second commandment?  No.  This scenario is a useful example of the limitations of the scope of the commandment as it was never God’s intention to create a set of rules that instruct His followers down absurd extremes and polarities.  Look at the way Jesus handled the Pharisees.  West shows that common sense and reason are gifts from God and that God lays out stakes to set boundaries to prevent His followers from forming their own moral code contrary to His, being that His is the highest and best path for His followers.

Third, West highlights the way that the commandment is applicable today.  On the one hand, there may be a significant change, such as in the case of honoring the Sabbath day.  We’ve gone from complete abstinence of any kind of work and being held on Saturday, to a more general appreciation of rest, meditation on God and His word, reserving a day of the week to gather for worship with other believers and being held on a Sunday.  But in the case of “thou shalt not murder”, the commandment is virtually the same with very little ambiguity over a vast majority of Christians.  Taken together, we get history, theology, practicality, and applicability; exactly what West set out for, and precisely what anyone concerned with morals could take the very brief time, as the book is only 151 scant pages, and invest in reading.

Thanks for reading!  And please let me know what you think.

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