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.


Daniel Hill said...

`In the first one, it looks like God demands that kind of loyalty simply because he exists'
But this is basically right, isn't it? We should obey God because in his very nature he is worthy of such obedience, he doesn't have to do anything to earn our obedience. In other words, the simple fact that he exists suffices to imply that we should obey him; our obedience is not conditioned on what he has done for us, and even Satan ought to obey him.

John said...

Yes, but it's not what the 10 Commandments are about.

Daniel Hill said...

Surely the 10 commandments (with the possible exception of the 4th!) are binding on everyone, aren't they, whether or not they have been saved by God? I mean, Satan still ought not to disobey the 10 commandments.

John said...

But it's not what they're revealed for, and those aren't the grounds on which God tells people to obey.

Note also the promise attached to the 5th. Does that apply to people other than God's redeemed covenant people?

John said...

Oh, it turns out that the 10 Commandments were introduced in the liturgy, with 20:2 omitted, in the 1552 Prayer Book. They weren't in the 1549 one and aren't in the Catholic one, so it's not their fault...

Daniel Hill said...

Why do you think that "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" is quoted by God as the sole ground for obedience? God punished Cain for breaking the 6th commandment before the Exodus, and punished Adam and Eve for breaking the 1st commandment right at the start of things.

I don't think the promise of the 5th commandment applies literally to us now, though the commandment itself is still binding. But maybe the promise applies spiritually to everyone?

John said...

I'm inclined towards saying that the people of Israel at the time of the 10 Commandments are in some senses analagous to the whole of humanity today. Just as the Exodus brought (potential) deliverance for the nation of Israel, though in many cases this was not fulfilled because of disobedience, so Jesus brought (potential) deliverance for the whole of humanity, though in many cases this will not be fulfilled due to disobedience (inasmuch as it is evidence of lack of faith). But that's a random tentative opinion - I haven't read it anywhere; I haven't thought through all the ramifications. So I agree that it doesn't apply literally to us now (same as I don't think we should assume a priori that the 10Cs apply to us today, though I think they do) and that it might well apply spiritually to everyone, when understood in the relevant context.

I'll change the question round. Do you think Ex 20:2 should be included in the liturgy (given that Ex 20:1 and 3ff are)? If so, why?
Why do you think Ex 20:2 was included in Ex 20 (or, for that matter, why was Ex 19 immediately preceding Ex 20)?

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks, Custard, for your helpful comments. Yes, I agree that Ex. 20:2 should be included in the liturgy (given that Ex. 20:1 and 3ff are) -- for the same reasons as those on account of which I agree with you that it was wrong for the Baptist church to replace `this is my body' with `this is a symbol of my body' -- one shouldn't tamper with the words of Scripture.

I agree that gratitude should be an extra motive for obedience for God's redeemed people, and maybe you are right that that is why Ex. 20:2 and Ex. 19 are where they are. All I was saying is that that isn't the only or even the main reason for obedience.

John said...

I don't think Ex 19 and 20:2 are primarily about gratitude (though it's in there). I think the motivation they provide is primarily covenant participation.

Agreed - both / and approaches are often right...

Susan A said...

i'm interested in your conversation, and i'd like to shove my oar in, for what it's worth.

custardy, about your comparison of Christ to the exodus, i have read / heard quite a lot about that (can't think exactly where, but reformed / puritan stuff is a good place to look). but if you're going to talk about Christ's death / the exodus being potentially salvific for everyone, you are getting into amyraldianism, as best shown in richard baxter, who is definitely worth reading more.

in terms of the question of ex 2.2, i agree that it should be in the liturgy, but i wouldn't say that its chief role in its context is to be a reason, sole or otherwise, for obedience, but rather to be a reminder that God's grace always comes before our obedience. i see it as a pre-figuring of Christ's redemption act, and in that sense the obedience demanded in the decalogue can be seen as a pre-figuring of an appropriate lifestyle for Christians as his redeemed people.

as such, and because i don't know the real explanation of what happened to that in 1552, that might be a reason why they left ex 2.2 out: it is a verse chiefly about God's relationship to his people and ongoing covenant with them, and this part of the communion liturgical narrative is focused more on our own disobedience.

whether or not they decalogue is binding to Christians or anyone else is another question, but i would say it is certainly not binding in the sense that disobeying it does not lose anyone their salvation, and that God's grace always comes before our reponse to it, or indeed our ability to relate to him properly.

that's probably just muddied the waters even more. sorry.

John said...

Great to have you commenting again, saa.

I'll admit I'm thinking through the extend to which the exodus, etc is analagous to the New Covenant. Does Israel at the Exodus have a direct correspondance to any group after Jesus? "Mr Hebrews" seems to see the correspondance as the (visible) Church - is that the only true correspondance, and if so, where does that leave limited atonement?

I rather suspect the actual truth is somewhere between 4 and 5 point Calvinism (bearing in mind that Calvin didn't seem to state L as strongly as did some of his successors.

I largely agree with you about Ex 20:2 - as I've said before, it's clarifying the fact that the recipients are God's redeemed people. That does have the effect of motivation, but the purpose is, as you comment, wider than that.

Also agreed about the decalogue modelling the response for God's covenant people to the covenant.

Furthermore, I also agree that the 10Cs are used in the liturgy to provide conviction of guilt rather than be about modelling a response to God's salvation in Christ (else they'd have been after communion). Which kind of raises the question why Cranmer put them there. Was he deliberately taking them out of context to provide conviction, and removing v2 to hide the fact that they were being taken out of context?