Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Exodus 20:2

One of the things that annoyed me about St Mary's (and the Book of Common Prayer) was how the Bible is misused in the Communion Service. I haven't yet checked with Catholics to see whether this was an abuse carried over from them at the time of the Reformation, or whether it is an abuse invented by Cranmer or someone.

One of the big emphases in the Communion Service (and rightly so) is on the fact that we don't deserve what Jesus did for us in dying for us, and we don't deserve what he is doing for us and in us as we participate in Communion. As part of that, the 10 Commandments are read out near the start of the service, to remind us of some of God's standards. This is what is said:

God spake these words and said:
I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have none other gods but me...

It's a quote from some old translation of Exodus 20. Except it isn't. It's a corruption. Exodus 20 reads:

And God spoke all these words, saying,
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me...."
Exodus 20:1-3, ESV

The difference is significant. In the first one, it looks like God demands that kind of loyalty simply because he exists, and therefore that obeying God might somehow get us right with him.

But in the real Bible passage, God makes it clear that he has already saved the people and brought them out of slavery. The 10 Commandments are then telling Israel how they should respond to that rescue. It makes it clear that obeying the 10 Commandments isn't about trying to be saved - it's about responding to being saved and responding to God's revelation of himself.

It's a difference between two views of what living as a Christian is about. The first view says:

Be good -> God will be nice to you

That's not what the 10 Commandments are saying. They're much more like this:

God has saved you -> Follow Him -> God will keep on blessing you

That's why there are links in the 10 Commandments to future blessing, and they are all blessings in terms of what God has already done for his people.

It's the same kind of idea in the New Testament. God has done the decisive action to save us - sending Jesus to die in our place so that we can be united with him. Our response is then to follow Jesus, to live as people who are in him. And if we do that, it shows that we really are in him and he will keep on blessing us by bringing us into closer and closer union with Christ that will one day be perfected in heaven.

But that's not what we say if we misuse the 10 Commandments by missing out Ex 20:2. It's not just in the Prayer Book either - churches that have the 10 Commandments on the walls often miss it off too. I'm glad to see that the newer version of that service includes v2, even if it is in brackets. It makes it look as if they've realised it was a mistake to miss it out, but they're kind of scared to mess about with it. But it really doesn't explain why we still missed Ex 20:2 out when using the modern langauge service at St Mary's....

For what it's worth, I've taken this up publically and privately with the leadership at St Mary's. They agree with me, but haven't changed anything.

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