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§ 2. Division of the Contents of the Decalogue.
As the law given on Sinai and written on two tables of stone, is repeatedly called in the Scriptures “The Ten Words,” or, as it is in the English version of Exodus xxxiv. 28, “The Ten Commandments,” there is no doubt that the contents of that law are to be divided into ten distinct precepts. (See Deut. iv. 13, and x. 4.) This summary of moral duties is also called in Scripture “The Covenant,” as containing the fundamental principles of the solemn contract between God and his chosen people. Still more frequently it is called “The Testimony,” as the attestation of the will of God concerning human character and conduct.
The decalogue appears in two forms which differ slightly from each other. The original form is found in Exodus the twentieth chapter; the other in Deuteronomy v. 6-21. The principal differences between them are, first, that the command respecting the Sabbath is in Exodus enforced by a reference to God’s resting on the seventh day, after the work of creation; whereas in Deuteronomy it is enforced by a reference to God’s delivering his people out of Egypt. Secondly, in the command respecting coveting, in Exodus, it is said, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’ s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,” etc. In both clauses the word is חָמַד. In Deuteronomy it is, “Neither shalt thou desire (חָמַד) thy neighbour’s wife; neither shalt thou covet (אָוָה) thy neighbour’s house,” etc. This latter difference has been magnified into a matter of importance.
The Scriptures themselves determine the number of the commandments, but not in all cases what they are. They are not 273numbered off as first, second, third, etc. The consequence is that different modes of division have been adopted. The Jews from an early period adopted the arrangement which is still recognized by them. They regard the words in Exodus xx. 2, as constituting the first commandment, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The command is that the people should recognize Jehovah as their God; and the special ground of this recognition is made to be, that He delivered them from the tyranny of the Egyptians. These words, however, are not in the form of a command. They constitute the preface or introduction to the solemn injunctions which follow. In making the preface one of the commandments it became necessary to preserve the number ten, by uniting the first and second, as they are commonly arranged. The command, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” being regarded as substantially the same; the latter being merely an amplification of the former. An idol was a false god; worshipping idols was therefore having other gods than Jehovah.
Augustine, and after him the Latin and Lutheran churches, agreed with the Jews in uniting the first and second commandments; but differed from them in dividing the tenth. There is, however, a difference as to the mode of division. Augustine followed the text as given in Deuteronomy, and made the words, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife;” the ninth, and the words, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house,” etc., the tenth commandment. This division was necessitated by the union of the first and second, and justified by Augustine on the ground that the “cupido impuræ voluptatis” is a distinct offence from the “cupido impuri lucri.” The Romish Church, however, adheres to the text as given in Exodus, and makes the clause, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house,” the ninth, and what follows, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant,” etc., the tenth commandment.
The third method of arrangement is that adopted by Josephus, Philo, and Origen, and accepted by the Greek Church, and also by the Latin until the time of Augustine. At the Reformation it was adopted by the Reformed, and has the sanction of almost all modern theologians. According to this arrangement, the first commandment forbids the worship of false 274gods; the second, the use of idols in divine worship. The command, “Thou shalt not covet,” is taken as one commandment.
It is universally admitted that there are two tables of the decalogue; the one containing the precepts concerning our duties to God, and the other those which concern our duties to our fellowmen. Philo referred five commands to each table, as he regarded reverence to parents, enjoined in the fifth, as a religious rather than a moral duty. Those who unite the first and second, and divide the tenth, refer three commandments to the first table and seven to the second. According to the third arrangement mentioned above, there are four in the first, and six in the second. The only objection urged against this is founded on the symbolism of numbers. Three and seven among the Jews are sacred end significant; four and six are not.
Arguments for the Arrangement adopted by the Reformed.
There are two questions to be determined. First, should the commandments concerning idolatry be united or separated? In favour of considering them two distinct commandments, it may be urged, (1.) That all the way through the decalogue, a new command is introduced by a positive injunction or prohibition “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;” “Thou shalt not steal;” “Thou shalt not kill,” etc. This is the way in which new commands are introduced. The fact, therefore, that the command, “Thou shalt have no other gods,” is distinguished by the repetition of the injunction, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,” is an indication that they were intended as different commands. The tenth commandment is indeed an exception to this rule, but the principle holds good in every other case. (2.) The things forbidden are in their nature distinct. Worshipping false gods is one thing; using images in divine worship is another. They therefore called for separate prohibitions. (3.) These offences are not only different in their own nature, but they differed also in the apprehension of the Jews. The Jews regarded worshipping false gods, and using images in the worship of the true God, as very different things. They were severely punished for both offences. Both external and internal considerations, therefore, are in favour of retaining the division which has been so long and so extensively adopted in the Church.
The second question concerns the division of the tenth commandment. It is admitted that there are ten commandments. 275If, therefore, the two commands, “Thou shalt have no other gods,” and “Thou shalt not make any graven image,” are distinct, there is no room for the question whether the command against coveting should he divided. There is, moreover, no pretext for such division, unless we follow the order given in Deuteronomy, which puts the words, “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife,” before the words, “Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field,” etc., etc. As coveting a man’s wife is a different offence, or at least a different form of a general offence, from coveting his house or land, if the order given in Deuteronomy be considered authoritative, there might be some reason for the separation. But if the order given in Exodus be adhered to, no such reason exists. The thing forbidden is cupidity, whatever be its object. That the order given in Exodus is authoritative may be argued, (1.) Because the law as there given was not only the first chronologically, but also was solemnly announced from Mount Sinai. (2.) The recension given in Deuteronomy differs from the other in many unimportant particulars. If the order in which the objects of cupidity are mentioned be a matter of indifference, then the diversity is a matter of no consequence. But if it be made a matter of importance, controlling the order and interpretation of the commandments, then it is hard to account for it. There is, therefore, every reason for regarding it as one of those diversities which were not intended to be significant. (3.) The distinction is nowhere else recognized in Scripture. On the contrary, the command, “Thou shalt not covet,” is elsewhere given as one command. Paul, in Romans vii. 7, says: “I had not known sin but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” And in Romans xiii. 9, in enumerating the laws forbidding sins against our neighbour, Paul gives as one command, “Thou shalt not covet.” (4.) Our Lord refers the sin of “coveting a man’s wife” to the seventh commandment. If included under that, it would be incongruous and out of harmony with the context, to make it a distinct commandment by itself.
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