The SpindleWorks Digital Christian Library
Sharing Reformed Christian Resources Around The World
A Summary of Prof. Douma's well known book

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: Manual for the Christian Life

Rev. William DeJong
Original Publishers Information.
The First Comandment
The Second Comandment
The Third Comandment
The Fourth Comandment The Fifth Comandment The Sixth Comandment
The Seventh Comandment
The Eighth Comandment
The Nineth Comandment
The Tenth Comandment
Please note: The Appendix: "The Use of Scripture In Ethics", and also the "Fifth Comandment" have been summarised by Rev. R.E. Pot

The SpindleWorks Digital Christian LibraryE-mail SpindleWorksShopping GuideSearch SpindleWorks SpindleWorks Home Page

The Fifth Commandment

< Return to the top >
5. Honor your father and your mother. Then you will have a long life in the land Yahweh your God is giving you. (Ex 20:12).

5. Honor your father and your mother, as Yahweh your God commanded you. Then you will have a long life and it will go well with you in the land Yahweh your God is giving you. (Deut 5:16).

Both father and mother

Although this commandment includes the matter of honoring all in authority, we must begin by discussing the honor due to father and mother. The OT Hebrew specifically doesn't mention a general phrase "parents", but "father and mother". The more general term "parents" is used in NT Greek, and is not really any different than the more specific phrase "father and mother". Mentioning the mother is no afterthought, for she deserves the same respect as the father. Often children misuse the fact that the mother is physically the weaker parent, yet even so they must honour her. Although the husband must lead the wife, children must show equal honor to both mother and father.

The role of parents

Why do we have the fifth commandment? One theory is that children had to respect their parents in order to win in their struggle for survival, especially since children followed the occupational choices of their parents. According to this theory, the need that inexperienced children, who don't know yet what is good for their own future, gave rise to the command that children honor their parents. In this view, since in modern times children depend less on parents for instruction, occupational preparation, etc, it is no wonder that they no longer respect their parents.

However, the fifth commandment wasn't invented by people and the result of a necessary, evolutionary process, but given by God. Yet there is some truth in this theory: Scripture also indicates that parents are called to provide teaching (Deut 6:6-7).

Thus in Scripture the instruction-provider and instruction-receiver relationship is often described as the father and son relation (eg Proverbs). The NT also indicates that fatherhood involves instruction (eg Paul says to Corinthians he is their father, and calls Timothy et al his children). Christ also said that the genuine family relationship is characterized by listening to God's Word, and so such are His mother, brothers, and sisters. In Israel, then, parenthood functioned properly when parents preserved God's word in their own hearts and handed it on to their children.

With this perspective, parents do more than transmit knowledge/skills that render an inexperienced child competent to function in the world. It also involves passing on knowledge that is decisively important for the quality of life, ie living with God.

Instruction was not exclusively the task of the parents - there were also guardians, and other forms of education. Yet even so, it is ultimately the parents who are responsible for their children's instruction. The early years of a child's life are very important, when it is exclusively the parents who nurture their children - by Bible stories, songs, prayers, and deciding which school will be used.

Parenthood and freedom

The fifth commandment involves freedom. First parents had to tell the story of Israel's bondage and freedom from Egypt. Then they would say that God commanded observance of His commands so that He might preserve His people alive. Israel's well-being was thus connected with listening to and obeying God's commandments. Israel retained her freedom in the Promised Land when her sons and daughters obeyed their parent-teachers.

The commandment with a promise

The promise of a long life in the Promised Land must be seen in this light, and should neither be absolutized nor downplayed.

1. Not absolutized. In some cases an early death can be a blessing by sparing people of misery (Jeroboam's son Abijah), and similarly a long life is not a blessing (Ps 90:10). Sometimes the godless continue to live, and the oppressed righteous suffer. We are citizens of a commonwealth in heaven, and so the promise does remain valid.

2. Not downplayed. The exception doesn't become the rule. The rule is still valid: anyone who honors his parents will receive benefits from doing so, both in the future as well as now in the present. For example, children are accident-prone, and parents can protect them by warning them about fires, cars, etc. Similarly, wise parents warn against a sinful and dangerous life (Proverbs). Foolishness, laziness etc lead to destruction, whereas righteousness leads to blessing and life. Wisdom thus has physical as well as spiritual benefits.

Parenthood and discipline

Discipline is thus important, not to let off steam, but applied in wisdom as effective medicine. Proverbs indicates that discipline is life-saving! Commands that aren't supported by discipline become empty and ineffective (eg Eli!). Punishment is painful, but brings fruits later.

It is naive to allow children to make important life choices on their own. During childhood years, very significant decisions with lifelong consequences are being made for the children and not by the children (eg by taking the family to church, reading the Bible). We should thus not give plenty of freedom, for one is truly free only when he loves God and keeps His commandments. Parents commit themselves to this kind of child-rearing at baptism.

Even so, things can go differently, that children follow evil in spite of their good upbringing. Faith is a gift of grace, and children must believe for themselves. Further, in our modern world there are limits: a rebellious son can't be stoned as he would be in Israel. Yet the underlying principle remains: He who despises the freedom God gives by disobeying parents is foolish, committing a serious sin, and is playing with his life.

Honoring parents

Someone who must be honored is someone of weight ("honor" = "heavy"). God places parents above children, and so they share some of the glory/honor belonging to God. The opposite of respect is disrespect, where something weighty is treated as if it were light. This is a serious wickedness, since we must always continue to honor our parents, even if they become old and useless.

Honoring parents involves several things:

1. Taking to heart their instruction.

2. Show deference toward them, by language and forms of address.

3. Loving them.

4. Being faithful, also providing for them (financially, spiritually) in their old age.

Honoring parents and choosing a spouse

Older commentaries speak about the parents' task with respect to their children's courtship and choice of marriage partner. Often there is conflict between parents and children regarding dating and marriage. In the past, the influence of parents in this choice was far greater. Although we don't have arranged marriages today, parents do have a say about such a serious decision in their child's life. Children must not see it as strictly private matters beyond parental control. Parents do have a right to be involved in the choice, especially when they see their child take a wrong spiritual turn in dating. Children honor their parents by accepting correction when their parents warn against making wrong choices (eg mixed courtships). Even if the parents are wrong by not accepting a proper partner, one must respect them by discussing openly and honestly with them, and by being as patient as possible.

The limits and style of obedience

There are limits to the obedience that children must give. God stands over the parents, and sometimes children must choose for Him and against their parents. For example, when parents don't teach their children about God and His service, children are not obligated to follow the instruction of their parents. We must love Jesus more than father and mother, says Christ. Obviously one should not too quickly deny obedience to one's parents.

This can happen when someone from a secular home comes to faith in Christ as an adult. Paul said it was possible for an unbeliever and believer to stay in a marriage (1Cor 7:12-16), and so also a spiritual rift need not entail cutting all natural ties. Wisdom is needed in honestly expressing one's faith convictions while seeking at the same time to maintain family relationships.

Sometimes children are abused. Generally speaking, however, problems between parents and children are rarely of the kind where a choice "for or against Christ" is required. Parents have weaknesses and inadequacies, with which children must be patient. When they get older, children must realize that all parents are sinners, and so within the families children must learn patience and accept the fact that also parents have faults.

The limit of obedience thus is that children must obey their parents "in the Lord", ie as long as it is not against the Lord. The style of obedience is also "in the Lord", accepting parents with their weaknesses, just as Christ did. Honouring our parents means we must thus be willing to endure a lot.

Other forms of authority

Can we exegetically defend including "all in authority over me" (eg government, elder, teacher)? The Biblical concept of "father" allows this, for the term "father" could apply also to elders, the king, etc. In these relationships of authority, the concept of fatherhood indicates the possession of wisdom and insight. The honor due to father and mother must therefore be given to all those other "fathers" and "mothers". The elderly, the king, etc are all to be shown deference and honour.

The honor due to parents, the elderly, judges, princes, and teachers includes the duty to obey. For example, after mentioning this commandment, Paul speaks about the obedience that slaves must give to their masters, wives to husbands, children to parents, etc. Although authority today is less patriarchal, honor and obedience must still be given to those who exercise authority.

Different forms, different words

The husband wife relation has now changed, and wives no longer call their husbands "lord" as Sarah did. Although "obey" is no longer in the Dutch form for marriage, the term "follow" contains the notion of a certain rank and authority relationship. Although the fundamental structure remains, cultural changes can necessitate choosing other words.

We see similar changes in the master-servant relationship, and although the texture of the relationship has changed, the concept of authority in the employer-employee relationship remains.

Although authority relationships in the political sphere have changed with democracy, yet a government still rules the people, and an authority relationship remains.

We must take the changes that have taken place into account in our usage. Although we can use terms like "subjection" in the context of parent-child relations, we don't use it anymore in the context of husband-wife relations. Similar remarks can be made about the employer-employee relationship.

Authority and power

The concepts of authority and power aren't identical: one can possess authority without having the power needed for carrying out his authority (Dutch queen during war). The reverse is also possible.

Power is in itself not bad, but good and necessary. Although it can be abused, in itself it is not brutal or demonic, eg we speak about the power of the word, of love, of numbers. Power is necessary and wholesome for the proper development of society. Defined, it is "the ability to do something."

Authority, defined, is "the authorization for the (appropriate) use of power."

1. It must be "appropriate", ie have a serving character. Those in authority must use their authority appropriately, that is, it must be functional. Is it still authority if it is not used appropriately? Yes. Authority is thus misused, but the authorization for using power is still there. Parents don't become ex-parents by raising their children inappropriately. Of course, no earthly power is absolute, and can be stripped. There are means in which the authority of parents, office-bearers and governments can have their power taken away.

2. Authority must also be limited by its purpose. eg an employee is only under the authority of his employer during working hours. In this sense, authority is always a limited authority. Even though all authority comes from God, it is not thus untouchable - it has either a wide and narrow scope, of long or short duration.

As such, those who possess authority should be respected, even if they are unable to use their power appropriately.

Max Weber (1864-1920) distinguished between authority:

a) Charismatic authority characterizes the prophet, hero or leader who speaks to the heart of the people. This authority is easy.

b) Traditional authority rests upon "sacred" traditions, such as caste or office. Often this authority is untouchable, though it can also be oppressive.

c) Legal authority has no face, and is characterized by laws and bureaucratic institutions.

Although Weber is helpful, he does not take a normative approach. The real basis for respecting authority flows neither from emotions, traditions, or rationality, but from God. People are clothed with authority by God. Although the forms of authority have changed, we are under other people, and this means they have been appointed by God to be over us, and so we must respect them. Regardless of the form of authority, or whether it functions well or badly, one must submit to legitimate authority.

Crisis of authority and handling suffering

The influence of and respect for authority has declined in recent times. There is a cry for change, and for greater freedom. The contemporary emphasis describes authority as functional, to the extent that where the appropriate use of power is absent, the authority is also rejected. The result of this view is that authority depends on the person who exercises power, and the God-given origin is forgotten. Consequently, those under authority are the people who determine whether authority functions, and thus whether it can be legitimated. In the case of a negative judgment, then authority no longer exists. Consistently applied, this would mean that children could dismiss their parents, pupils their teachers, etc.

The error here is that one can't conclude from a misuse of authority that the right to exercise authority no longer exists. There may be legitimate means to terminate badly functioning authority. But while in authority, they must be respected, no matter how difficult that might become for us.

How can we explain the drastic lowering of respect for authority?

1. The matter of respect for authority has always been a problem.

2. People often fail to see why defective authority is always better for society than unbridled freedom. In the climate of secularism with its distaste for authority, the entire "capitalist" system with its authority structures is endangered.

3. People are preoccupied with their own individual rights, but forget about their responsibilities. Authority is seen to restrict a person, and hinder individualism.

4. There is less willingness to endure pain. Pain used to be seen as coming from God's hand, but today even smaller amounts of pain and suffering are endured with much protest.

The authority of the state

Scripture clearly teaches that there must be civil government, contra Anabaptists. Yet the government itself doesn't have absolute power, but is subject to divine justice and to the laws of the land. The state also has the power to bear the sword. Although ministers and church members can't defend Christian teaching with physical force, the government may employ force in defending or restoring public order.

This understanding accords with Scripture in Romans 13. Christians in the past have generally operated with a favorable view of government. Politics need not be dirty and ugly, and political power is not a suspicious matter in itself. Although there can be abuses of power, we should not see politics as so thoroughly stained that one can't avoid getting his hands dirty.

Must we read Romans 13 differently?

Some say that the church has misunderstood Rom 13, and that a submissive attitude towards the state can't be deduced from this chapter as is traditionally done.

One evangelical writer says that a person must submit (hupotasso, Rom 13:1) to the powers above him, which is different from obeying (hupakouo). Powers that exist have been ordained "under" (not "by") God. The government is thus a human ordinance, which God did not create, install, or appoint, but ordered and put under Himself. Although the state bears the sword, Romans does not say that this is good - Paul is merely observing a fact. This is part of an order that is passing away. The "good" that Christians must do relates not to obedience to the law, but to the "good" actions of Romans 12.

With this contemporary interpretation, one wonders how much loyalty toward the state was actually left. In fact, this view is incorrect. The word "submit" presupposes an attitude of obedience, as is clear from the use of the word elsewhere in the NT. "Submitting" thus includes "being obedient to".

This obedience must be rendered because governments are ordained by God. This is clear from the fact that the government exists in the service of God (v4). The theme of Romans 13:1-7 is that since governments are ordained by God, we must live under them. Resisting the government is thus resisting the ordinance of God. Consequently, we can simply continue to say that the government has been instituted by God. Although the state bears characteristics of the provisional and the passing (eg the sword), it is a present characteristic instituted by God, and so the use of the sword and the use of force is legitimate. Moreover, the context makes clear that the "good" refers to showing loyalty towards the state, such as by honoring its tax laws.

So where does this new interpretation comes from? It has its origin in Anabaptism, in which Christ is excluded from worldly politics. They have a theology of a suffering God, whose power consists in a capacity to tolerate everything. This ends up with a theology of revolution, for although they swear off using the sword, they need it to usher in the new and more just order!

In contrast, we maintain Romans 13, which sees the state as instituted by God in order to reward good and punish evil. Although governments do abuse their power (eg Paul imprisoned), the state must be honored.

The right of revolution

Although the 5th commandment requires us to respect political authority, resistance is permissible in emergency situations. Sometimes we must obey God rather than man (eg Egyptian midwives), although such actions don't represent revolution against the government. Religious persecution can be the basis for justifying revolution, but even then freedom of religion is just one of the rights being defended and sought. Other instances can be if a government continually and brutally violates the elementary rights of citizens.

It is necessary that a revolution against the state be conducted by people with political authority. Lesser governments, or leaders recognized by the people, should lead it. In summary, there are three conditions that must be met in order for the right of revolution to exist:

1. Elementary rights belonging to citizens are brutally and continually violated by the government.

2. Persons who may be considered to represent the people are the ones leading the revolution.

3. The probability of success for such a revolution must be high, so that possible bloodshed remains limited.

Civil disobedience

Civil disobedience refers to "publicly visible conduct that consciously violates the law in order to change a law or government regulation by means of what is intended to be nonviolent compulsion." It bears a public character, in the form of sit-ins, blockades, etc.

Objections against civil disobedience:

- In practice, it rarely succeeds in remaining nonviolent.

- It undermines parliamentary democracy.

Christians should avoid civil disobedience. We should use every legal means at our disposal, but not take the law into our own hands by walking outside the fence of the law and try to force our will upon others.

Disobedience to the government can be necessary; but civil disobedience, in terms of both its definition and its well-known practice, looks entirely different from the disobedience commanded for Christians in extreme situations.


The Sixth Commandment

< Return to the top >
6. You shall not kill.

Respect for Living Things. The commandment here envisions the lives of other people, but it may be worthwhile to consider first its implications for the life of animals and plants. Plants and animals are also creatures of God, but man was given the right to eat them (plants in Gen.1: 29-30, animals in Gen.9: 3). Nevertheless, God cares for such living things (Jon.4: 11): He gives them food and drink (Ps.104: 11-30), accepts them as sacrifices, etc. We cannot use plants and animals simply for our purposes because they exist for God’s glory both in this life and in the world to come (Isa.11: 6-8; Rev.22: 2)! We may abuse neither animals nor plants (see Exod.23: 5), although they may be used to serve our needs. Vegetarianism, therefore, has no biblical basis. Neither does opposition to animal experimentation.

Respect for Human Life. Apart from animals and plants, human beings have been created uniquely in God’s image. Human life, especially therefore, must be received with respect (Gen.9: 6; Jas.3: 9). Whether a person functions as the image of God is meaningless in this ethical question; the very fact that he can, and is called to, bear God’s image, gives people the right to live.

Freedom, Life and Praise. The sixth commandment, like the others, follows the preamble about deliverance and liberation. King Pharaoh wanted to destroy Israel by killing. God delivered his people from death, thereby making life a sign of grace for His people. To destroy life would be an attack this grace. Life originated from God, through creation and redemption (even from Egypt), and exists for the purpose of God’s praise (Ps.118: 17). Every human being is someone, either actually or potentially, who declares God’s praise. To kill a human being in this sense is to rob God.

Reverence for Human Life. Life exists for a purpose — that implies a limitation. Human life is not a goal in and of itself, but it is designed for service to God and neighbor. Plants and animal life do not have absolute value — they may be killed for human purposes; but neither does human life. Killing is justified at times. Immortality is innate in humans — it is in God, but it is bestowed on humans (1 Cor.15: 53-54). The expression ‘reverence for life’ gives the impression that life was sacred. This was Albert Schweitzer’s view — to pluck a leaf or kill a flower was sinful. We must have reverence for God over reverence for life. God gave us animals to eat and God entrusts the state with the sword. The maxim, ‘reverence for life’ is too broad, too high and thus too dangerous.

No Unlawful Killing. The commandment is concerned with unlawful killing, the kind of killing that violated justice. But it includes far more than "murder." Murder involves premeditation and intention. If someone kills intentionally, but without premeditation, it is voluntary manslaughter. When someone kills out of recklessness (e.g. reckless driving), it is called involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide). A nurse who administers the wrong medicine to a patient who dies because of it is also guilty of involuntary manslaughter. A death for which there is no culpability is one in which, for example, an axe head flies off the handle and kills someone (see Deut.19: 5). The fifth commandment applies to all of these suggesting to us that what is forbidden is more than mere ‘murder.’ Accidental deaths in the Bible required special provisions, either involving a flight to the altar of Yahweh (Ex.21: 3) or to a city of refuge (Num.35). Even when there was no culpability, special provisions were in order.

Abortion. Until quite recently, both Catholic and Protestant believers were convinced that abortion was morally wrong. The need to defend human life and personhood from conception (Ps.129; Job.10: 8-12) is becoming great, even within Christendom. Several arguments have been advanced in support of abortion, the first of which we accept: (1) the medical argument — when the mother’s life is threatened; (2) the psychological argument — the woman’s psychological heath is threatened by continuing pregnancy; (3) eugenic argument — the likelihood of disabled children; (4) ethical argument — pregnancies resulting from criminal acts such as rape or incest. Shouldn’t that unborn child receive the right to live? (5) social argument — woman’s social standing is threatened by continuing pregnancy (e.g. studies, income, etc.). We must always maintain the possibility of adoption.

Euthanasia. We must distinguish between different forms of euthanasia. Within what is often called active euthanasia, there exists, first of all, involuntary euthanasia by which a person’s life is terminated without his or her consent. Such euthanasia is often administered to newborns with severe handicaps or to older folk who suffer from senility. This form of euthanasia is outright wrong. We are to value life, not from our own measly estimations, but in terms of God and the glory he receives, even from seemingly meaningless life. Christ provided a place in his kingdom for lunatics and paralytics, the blind and the deaf.

Also within active euthanasia we can speak of voluntary euthanasia by which a person requests the termination of his or her life. Although such death is self-determined, the self does not always know best. Besides, we do not have self-determination over our lives! God commands us not to kill — and that includes ourselves. People will argue that in view of all the medications and treatments life no longer ends naturally. But here a distinction between culture and nature is warranted. Humanly planted trees, we say, are grown naturally. So we recognize that life, even plant life, is not a human product but has an existence quite apart from humanity. It matters greatly, therefore, whether someone dies from euthanasia or cancer — the first being a fatal human act, the latter being a fatal illness. The first is an unnatural death; the second is natural, even if medications were involved. But since we do not believe in the absolute reverence for life because ‘absolutes’ belong properly and only to God, we will concede that life can be prolonged, but need not be stretched. To postpone life by a day or a week seems unnecessary.

The second category is passive euthanasia. Such terminology carries a number of problems so we prefer termination of treatment. There is a grand distinction between termination of life and termination of treatment. Death may follow a termination of treatment, but not necessarily so. A person no longer receiving medical treatment will still be fed and loved and cared for. Hence the term ‘passive euthanasia’ is unfitting.

Suicide. Suicide involves a person taking his own life without the help of others (e.g. euthanasia). The Bible records a number of suicides (e.g. Samson and Saul), but nowhere gives a moral commentary. Our starting point, therefore, must be the sixth commandment. Because we have been created in God’s image, killing ourselves, like killing others, is wrong. We must also be careful in our religious judgment of people who have taken their own lives — suicide often results from pathological, rather than reasoned behavior. But suicide can never be justified ethically. In Jesus Christ there is refuge and hope for the desperate. He is sovereign, not we. He makes of our lives what He wants; we do not decide that.

Negligent Homicide. Israel was to protect the life and safety of her neighbors by building railings around her roofs. This principle extends also to us, at both small (slippery sidewalks) and great (Chernobyl) levels. The sphere of sports and entertainment is also relevant here. If certain sports put human lives at risk, than they cannot be considered healthy sports. The same applies to addictions to drugs and excessive uses of alcohol or tobacco. Much good can be said about alcohol — it makes the heart glad (Psalm 104:15) and the fruit of the vine will be enjoyed in the kingdom of God (Matt.26: 29). But alcohol abuse is a reality — something the Scripture also warns against. Wine can bite like a snake and sting like a viper (Prov.23: 32). Christians must take preventive measures to ensuring healthy lives (diets, etc.).

Getting to the Heart of the Matter. To get at the root of the matter dealt with in this commandment involves turning to envy, hatred, anger and vindictiveness. Yet the heart of the matter involves loving God and neighbor and acting in a way that is patient, peace loving, gentle, merciful and friendly. Hatred for others put one "danger of hell fire" (Matt.5: 22). Dishonor need not include only physical pummeling. Mere words and language can serve as deadly venom (1 Sam.25: 10; 2 Sam.16: 7-8; Prov.12: 18, NIV). Anger is more of a momentary explosion of rage involving a more direct display of disgust. Words kill and so do looks. Envy involves a desire to steal a good piece of fortune that we do not have. It attacks another and destroys oneself (Prov.14: 30). A vindictive person wants to enforce a punishment against another without the right to do so. We must let God be judge (Rom.12: 19). Yet these four ‘emotions’ can be expressed legitimately. "Do I not hate them that hate you," we read in Psalm 139. Marital infidelity often invokes righteous jealousy. Saying "no" to death also means saying "yes" to life. We must be willing to go the extra mile with our neighbor (Matt.5: 41).

The Commandment’s Long Reach:"Your Neighbor." If we are to love our enemies, then no one is excluded from that love. But not everyone is our neighbor in the same sense. We are not called first to love those farthest away, but those nearest to us, those who cross our path. The priest and the Levite saw the half-dead man, but the Samaritan saw and did something.

Self-Defense. Killing in self-defense is biblically permissible, but not always so. We discover in Exodus 22:2-3, that if an intruder was killed in the dark there was no culpability on the part of the killer; there was culpability, however, if the intruder was killed in the daytime.

Capital Punishment. We must defend capital punishment as a consequence of our respect for life and God’s law (Gen.9:6). A person may not be killed with impunity. The government has the right to bear the sword for the protection of life. The catechism confesses that the sword is used to prevent murder. The sword functions in the service of life, not death. But notice how the sword is entrusted to the government and no to individual persons. Romans 12 says, "Take no revenge, but let God be judge." In Romans 13, we read that the government may exercise vengeance on God’s behalf. Karl Barth has argued that the death of Christ has satisfied the judicial basis for the death penalty. But then what about other criminal punishments — wouldn’t they be satisfied too? Capital punishment for murder is different than other OT punishments — e.g. homosexuality, adultery. With murder, the context is avenging wrongdoing: life for life, eye for eye (Ex.21: 23-25).

War. The government may also use the sword for outside invaders. This refers to ‘just war.’ Generally state, a just war must be waged (1) by a legitimate government, (2) for a legitimate cause, (3) with a legitimate purpose, (4) with consideration of benefits and costs, (5) with means proportionate to the offense and (6) recognizing the difference between civilians and soldiers. War and bloodshed in the Bible was never accepted as normal phenomena (Josh.1: 13; Isa.2: 2-4). Nuclear weapons should not be banned because there will always be one side storing them up. Thus such weapons can function as a deterrent.

The Seventh Commandment

< Return to the top >
7. You shall not commit adultery.

A Crime Against Property? The Hebrew word for "to commit adultery" indicates that a man, either married or unmarried, has sexual intercourse with a married (or betrothed) woman. He takes into possession what does not belong to him (Deut.22: 24). Having sex with an unmarried woman, at least in Israel, would not constitute adultery. The decisive factor was the woman’s status: was she or wasn’t she married? In the case of Judah and Tamar (Gen.38) Tamar was charged with adultery and not Judah because Judah though she was unmarried.

We might conclude therefore that adultery was a crime against property, but wrongly so. A man’s wife was worth more than a piece of property. Having sex with a slave girl was a violation of property, but not adultery, and a special fine was assessed (Lev.19: 20-21). In the case of adultery, the death penalty was required, either by means of fire (Gen.38: 24) or stoning (Deut.22: 23-24). If this was purely a matter of property, it could have been treated under the eighth commandment (You shall not steal). This commandment involves not merely a violation of property, but a violation of honor. The honor of a husband, illustrated by the Lord’s jealousy, can hardly be restored (Prov.6: 34-35; Jer.3: 8-9; 5:7; Hosea. 2 and 3). Adultery is a violation of a unique relationship — marriage.

A Still Wider Field of Vision. Yet the seventh commandment cannot be restricted to the act of adultery. Jesus teaches us that in Matt.5: 17,28. Not property, but sexuality is the subject of this commandment — principles for sexual relationships. The boundaries of these relationships are given in part in Lev.18 and 20. Prostitution is involved in this discussion for adultery and prostitution are often closely linked in the Bible. But that’s because of the distinction between a married or unmarried woman. Visiting the latter constituted adultery and was punishable by death. But all other forms of prostitution are condemned by the Bible (Lev.19: 29; Deut.23: 17-18). For a woman to lose her virginity outside of marriage was a shameful thing (Deut.22: 13-21). The body is not for prostitution, but for the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.6: 13-14).

Man and Woman. Marriage is an institution of God. The participants of marriage are man and woman. Some, such as Plato, have argued that humanity originated with an androgen and that we should understand the duality of man and woman as brokenness. Modern feminists want to ‘restore’ the brokenness by downplaying differences — hence homosexuality and bisexuality are encouraged. Male or female is a result of nurture, not nature. God is also a He/She. Yet, we must submit to Scripture and to God who said "It is good" about Adam and Eve. The harmonious relationship between man and woman was broken because of the fall. Men and women were to rule the world together but with an order of rank: the man functions as head.

The Goal of Marriage. The goal of marriage is twofold: to propagate and to assist one another. Both are clear in Gen.2: 24: A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and become one flesh. Cleaving refers to a loving relationship or friendship. Become one flesh refers to sexual relations, but not exclusively so. In Eph.5, flesh refers to the entire person (see vv.29, 31). Polygamy, therefore, is illegitimate. It does not conform to the marriage instituted at creation. Though God tolerated it, it did bring many problems (Gen.16: 4-6; 29:16-24).

Responsible Family Planning. Having children is a purpose of marriage, but being childless does not necessarily indicate a failed marriage. Yet we must not disconnect the goal of marriage from having children. Arguments for remaining childless on the basis of Gen.1 are not valid. New generations will always be needed as the world turns. Yet children appear in the world not automatically, but as a matter of reflection. This distinguishes human reproduction from animal reproduction. Restricting children may at times be necessary, either by natural or artificial birth control.

Artificial Insemination. What about artificially intervening to enable conception and birth? When it comes to artificial insemination we must distinguish between sperm donated by a husband (AIH where H = Husband) and that by a non-husband (AID - where D = Donor). In cases of AID, contraception occurs beyond the limits of marriage and a third party is introduced in the marriage. This transgresses the exclusive marriage relationship. This is a case of artificial adultery. This cannot be compared to adoption, where both parents stand in the same relationship to the child. The biological aspect is immense, both for the child and his parents. Artificial insemination by a husband need not be rejected.

In Vitro Fertilization. This form of conception occurs in the laboratory where a sperm cell fertilizes an egg in a ‘test-tube.’ The conceived embryo is then transferred into the uterus. Fertilization therefore occurs outside the woman’s body. This has opened the possibility of surrogate motherhood. This is an option for women whose uteruses are not functioning, but who can produce healthy eggs. Here, using IVF an embryo is transferred to the uterus of another woman. Four conditions must be met for this to be approved: 1. The embryo must originate from the woman and her husband; 2. The embryo must be implanted in its own mother (we reject surrogate motherhood). The womb is not a guestroom for a child, but a place where mothers care for their children. 3. All embryos must be implanted. Embryos are human life and we cannot go about selecting the best ones. 4. The embryos must be implanted as soon as possible. Freezing them increases the chance they will be used for other purposes.

Because of Sexual Immorality. The third purpose for marriage is sexual immorality (1 Cor.7: 1). Paul speaks soberly about marriage in this passage in 1 Corinthians. This must be read in light of what he writes in Ephesians 5 about the beauty of marriage. Unmarried status deserves preference in Corinth because of the existing crisis (1 Cor.7: 26, 32-40). This is not a regulation for all time. Paul recognizes the strength of sexual urges and so as to prevent immorality, marriage is recommended.

Sexual Pleasure. The above argument can lead to a mistaken conclusion. Those who marry are weak and less spiritual, less devote Christians. People of high spiritual position, like the office-bearers, should not get married. Celibacy is more exalted than marriage. Yet marriage is a holy institution, a divinely ordained institution which originated before man’s fall into sin. There are other reasons, than sexual immorality. Besides when God called his creative work, "very good," he was also speaking of marriage. Sexual enjoyment, also, is exalted in the Scriptures (Prov.5: 18-19 and the Song of Songs). Voluntary singleness can be good, but we should not impose celibacy. The priests were married, as were the apostles of the New covenant (1 Cor.9: 5). While sexual enjoyment is exalted, it should not become gluttonous. Not every form of sexual expression is permitted.

En Route to Adulthood. Grapes ripen only in autumn. A child must mature before he is introduced to the world of sexuality. For that reason pedophilia is extremely harmful. Even worse is incest. Regulations against incest were codified in the Mosaic Law (Lev.18 and 20). Masturbation should also be discussed here. The Bible says very little about masturbation. The sin of Onan (Gen.38:9-10) has nothing to do with Onanism. Onan engaged not in self-pleasure, but in pregnancy prevention to fulfill his levirate duty. We do learn from Lev.15: 16-17 and Deut.13: 10-11 that nocturnal emissions render a man ceremonially unclean, as do female menstruations. And nocturnal emissions, although effected ‘subconsciously’ do include impure desires. Prayers for forgiveness should include the sins of sleep. We must desire to present our bodies as holy and acceptable sacrifices to God (Rom.12: 1).

Choosing a Partner and Preparing for Marriage. The decision to marry has become a personal choice rather than a business one. This is an improvement. In Bible times, many marriages were entered out of love (Michal loved David — 1 Sam.18: 18,20), but many were also arranged apart from love (Isaac’s wife whom he received with love — Gen.24: 67). The basis of a good marriage is the faithfulness that husband and wife pledge to one another. A mutual fondness can grow out of faithfulness. Arranged marriages, therefore, can be successful. And parents should give their input and advice, although they should not compel their children to follow their advice.

Some restrictions must apply to whom we may marry. We may not marry unbelievers because marriage is designed to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church. How then can a believer be yoked to an unbeliever (2 Cor.6: 14-16)? We are called to marry in the Lord (1 Cor.6: 13-20). Marriages require a shared religious foundation so that spiritual unity may be experienced in marriage too.

Cohabiting Without Marrying? Society today does not see the need to marry. Marriage brings with it lifelong commitments which tend to complicate breaking up. This cannot be defended on the basis of Scripture where man and woman are to share life in body and soul with one another. Here are the arguments against it:

(1) In the Mosaic legislation, sexual intercourse was proper only within the context of marriage. If it became evident on her wedding night that a woman was not a virgin, she was stoned to death (Deut.22: 13-21). If a man had sex with an unbetrothed girl, he could be compelled to marry her (Exod.22: 16-17). Sex may not occur outside of marriage (1 Cor.6: 12-20 and 7:9);

(2) Living together as man and woman affected the broader community. The village community witnessed the marriage of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:7-13). The community can be summoned to serve as witness when promises and obligations are not fulfilled;

(3) The Bible teaches us that living together as husband and wife is a lifelong bond. Just as living together does not require a marriage license, so leaving each other does not require a divorce. By their very nature, the components of love and total life communion between a man and woman require a promise of lifelong faithfulness. Just as government officials are required to make public pledges that hold them accountable, so should husbands and wives.

Homosexuality. Scripture condemns homosexuality in Lev.18: 22-23 and 20:13 along with Rom.1: 26-27. The argument that Leviticus is forbidding cultic homosexuality holds no water. Why is there no forbidding of cultic heterosexuality? Secondly, it is the homosexual act, which is forbidden, quite apart from its context. Romans 1 teaches us that it is ‘against nature.’ What nature means here, as opposed to 1 Cor.11: 14, is determined by the context — creation. The punishments for homosexual behavior have changed, but the moral culpability has not. A person with homosexual desires is not by definition a homosexual. So long as he or she fights against them, they are with all others fighting the good fight of faith.

Adultery and Divorce. A marriage is not a contract which may be dissolved, but a covenant witnessed by God and other people (Prov.2: 17; Mal.2: 14). Adultery and divorce do not mean the same thing. Destroying a marriage by adultery was punishable by death. Divorce was permitted in cases where the husband discovered "something indecent" in his wife (Deut.24: 1). These words likely refer to the shameful behavior of a serious nature. But divorce was never to be routine — Jesus reminds us of that (Matt.5: 31-32). Jesus permitted divorce permissible in cases of sexual immorality since capital punishment was no longer administered for adultery.

The Jews had turned the permission of divorce into a virtue. Divorcing for the most obscure reasons prevented them from committing adultery. Jesus blew the dust of that by saying that divorce and adultery are cut from the same cloth. In fact, divorce opens the door for adultery. Two things are necessary for adultery: a marriage is dissolved which shouldn’t have been and one of the divorced partners marries someone else. When a third party enters the picture and has sex with one of the partners, then adultery occurs. One translation has of Matt.5: 32, "If a man divorces his wife and she has not been unfaithful, then he is guilty of making her commit adultery if she marries again." Compare with 1 Cor.7: 10-11. Divorce turns into adultery if a divorced party marries another. Two possibilities exist: either the divorced parties remain unmarried or they become reconciled.

Permissible Divorces. Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 argue that divorce certificates were not forbidden on the grounds of sexual immorality. There’s an exceptive clause like this: Anyone who assaults another person, except in a situation of war, and kills him, commits murder. Adultery does constitute grounds for a divorce, but does not necessitate a divorce. A second ground for divorce is willful desertion, based on 1 Cor.7: 15-16. If the unbeliever chooses to leave the believer, the latter is not obligated to remain with the unbeliever at all costs. If the unbeliever is willing to remain married, the couple should remain married. The faith of one has a powerful and sanctifying influence, such that the child is considered holy (1 Cor.7: 14).

It is disputed what is meant by saying the believer is no longer ‘bound’ to remain married to the unbeliever. Is he or she free to marry a second time? If the first marriage is dissolved, a second marriage should be permissible. Paul says to believers who have divorced: Don’t marry again or else be reconciled to your spouse (1 Cor.7: 10-11). He does not say this for this situation.

How do you reconcile Jesus with Paul? They were dealing with different situations. The difference is formulated clearly by William Ames: There’s a ground for effecting divorce (Matthew) and there’s a ground for acquiescing in divorce (1 Corinthians). Willful desertion, as introduced in 1 Cor.7. may have broader applications by analogy. Each case must be evaluated individually. The question of culpability is especially difficult to establish. The lovelessness of one can drive the other into the arms of a third. The first is the innocent one, yet the source of the trouble.

Divorce Without Subsequent Marriage. If there are legitimate grounds for divorce, these can also be legitimate reasons for marrying again. A divorce is a break in the marriage, but before God husband and wife are not separated. They are not free to enter a new marriage.

Abstaining in Freedom. In this whole area of being unable to remarry, a Christian can be severely tested in his or her obedience to the seventh commandment. For many, a subsequent marriage or sexual intercourse must be given up. The remedy can only be the gospel which shows us that we are on the way to a place where people neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matt.22: 30). Freedom consists in crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal.5: 24).

The Eighth Commandment

< Return to the top >
 8. You shall not steal.

Kidnapping. In certain New Testament lists of sins which parallel the 10 commandments in some respect we discover ‘kidnapping’ as a violation of the eighth commandment (See 1 Tim.1: 10). A better translation of this reads, "man stealers." We read about this kind of stealing in Exod.21: 16 and Deut.24: 7. This has led some to argue that the eighth commandment is about stealing people, not property. This is incorrect. And yet stealing people is part and parcel of what is forbidden.

But who steals people today? Voetius spoke of children taken by the Roman church and brought to a monastery, for example. But Voetius also condemned slavery under stealing. This robs them of legitimate freedom. Yahweh guaranteed freedom by liberating his people from Egyptian bondage. No Israelite was to rob his brother by degrading him to the status of slave. There were slaves in Israel, with God’s permission, but they were included in the spoils of war. Such slaves were entitled to a respectable life however (see Exod.21: 16 and Deut.23: 15-16). Modern commentaries speak of terrorism as a form of ‘man-stealing.’ In some ways, discrimination and manipulation are forms of slavery — robbing people of their dignity, etc.

Stealing the Heart. Manipulation is known in the Bible as ‘stealing another’s heart.’ Jacob stole Laban’s heart by not telling him he wanted to flee (Gen.31: 20) and then fleeing (v.26). Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel, just like political candidates dupe their audiences. The same can be said of Adolf Hitler. We could consider advertising here. But we must remember that occasionally people let their freedom be taken from them. A society sometimes wants to be fooled — it then is partly to blame.

Social Injustice. Older commentaries often spoke of land thievery. In these commentaries, those in power were reminded of this commandment. Those stealing private property are criminals; those who steal public property are kings (Bullinger). Both are wrong and both Luther and Calvin lamented it (cf. Isa.5.8; Jer.22: 13-17; Amos 8:4-6). These attitudes conflict with the Bible’s teaching about our obligations to the poor. They were to share in the harvest (Ex.23: 11; Lev.19: 10; 23:22). In a land blessed by Yahweh, where all His commands are carefully observed, there did not need to be nor should there have been any poor (Deut.15: 4-5).

Weights, Measures, Merchandise and Money. The catechism mentions stealing by force, but also secret theft (see Prov.9: 17 NIV). This secrecy often has the appearance of righteousness and includes false weights, measures, merchandizing and money (Lev.19: 35-36; Deut.25: 23-26; Prov.11: 1). You could mix flour with sugar or water with wine, etc. Today such deception is more difficult. Yet we can still make our product to seem better than it is.

What about usury? Initially the church objected to loaning money at interest (see Ex.22: 25 and Lev.25: 35-38 and Deut.23: 19-20). Yet, as Calvin argued, it is incorrect to identify every form of interest with usury. Usury is exorbitant profit taking. But if certain goods are loaned which themselves yield a profit, then interest is not usury. But in any case, interest was forbidden in Scripture because it always envisioned loaning money to a poor brother. Aside from all this we must recognize that Israel was a unique theocracy in which every poor citizen who feared Yahweh would be cared for. By rejecting usury, the catechism means all means used to obtain another’s possessions wrongly. Here we could deal with monopolies and the borrowing and squandering of large sums of money, etc.

The catechism mentions lastly greed and the abuse of our possessions. For the greedy person, money becomes a goal rather than a means. Saving must have a goal, like a collection for the needy (1 Cor.16: 1-2). But laying up treasures on earth, so that money becomes god Mammon (Matt.6: 19-24) is a form of stealing. What about squandering? Doesn’t this rob another person? Yes, because man is a steward before God.

Being a Steward. People cannot be made slaves or they become dependent on us and their freedom is lost. But something else is at stake here. Nobody is an owner in an absolute sense, with absolute sovereignty. Only God is. God is the Creator and the earth and its fullness belong to him (Ex.19: 5; Pss.24: 1; 50:10). This has been given to men (Ps.115: 16). The Lord gives and takes away (Job 1:21). The land Israel took as an inheritance was the Lord’s (Hos.9: 3) — they were but pilgrims and sojourners.

In Israel, a impoverished man could have to surrender his land to his creditor. But in reality, he was surrendering not his land, but the harvests off his land — until the Year of Jubilee, when his land was returned (Lev.25: 11-16). One could never amass huge areas of land under Yahweh. Moreover, because of the right of redemption, a next of kin could buy back what someone was forced to sell (Lev.25: 25). When Ahab wanted to buy Naboth’s vineyard, he was not permitted because the land was the property of Yahweh and was loaned to a particular family and to nobody else (1 Kings 21:3).

Some have argued that the penalty for stealing, as opposed to adultery, was lenient in Israel. Yes, but adequate restitution had to made and the Israelites’ right to property was relative. He did not have absolute right to his property.

In terms of his relationship to God, man does not own property, but simply has things in his possession. Ownership involves legal right. Having something in one’s possession gives a person actual control, as if it belonged to him. Man is a steward. He manages goods that belong to Another. Every person will have to give an account of what we have done with the possession entrusted to us (see Luke 16; Matt.12: 36; Rom.14: 12). This is underscored in the catechism, which states that we may not be wasteful. We are not free to use our things as we please. As a steward, I manage my possessions as God’s property.

Private Property. We are stewards before God and yet in some sense we do own property. Abraham bought a burial plot (Gen.23: 3-18), Naboth refused to sell his land to Ahab, etc. There was private property in the New Testament as well. There are many indications that Christians owned their own homes, including Mary, mother of John, Lydia, the seller of purple and Philip the evangelist (Acts 12:12; 16:24-15; 21:8). The communal sharing in Acts 2 and 4 describes the style in which church members managed their possessions. This management (by individuals) kept in view the benefit of neighbor in such a way that togetherness and the well being of the group governed their attitudes.

Private property need not be condemned as long as it is managed within the parameters of Christian stewardship. Nor is it proper to consider poverty to be better than wealth (Prov.30: 8). It is also true that we need not become ‘inwardly detached’ from our possessions (Mk.10: 29-30). But we must be ready to lose our property for the sake of Christ’s kingdom (Matt.19: 16-29). We must also not be preoccupied with storing up treasures on earth (Matt.6: 19-20). We have brought nothing into the world; we shall take nothing out (1 Tim.6: 7).

Work. The Scripture connects laziness and stealing. The sluggard comes to poverty (Prov.6: 6-11) and poverty tempts a person to steal (Prov.30: 9; cf. Eph.4: 28). The one who refuses to work shall not eat (2 Thess.3:10). From another perspective Scripture views work as hard and troublesome, the result of our fall into sin (Gen.3:17-19; Ps.90:10). But we must not forget that work was first mandated in Paradise, before the fall into sin (Gen.1:28; 2:15). Even the wealthy, who don’t need to work, must work. They too are stewards and should not leave their talents buried in the ground (Matt.25:24-30). The Hebrew word for ‘work’ means ‘to serve.’ We are not slaves to work, but servants both to God and to neighbor.

Stewardship and Generosity. Older commentaries spoke of sacrilegium (sacrilege) — church robbery or church thievery. Here we could consider Achan, who stole devoted things and those who withheld the tithe. Money or possessions intended for God or the poor of the church may not be stolen. The church should never become wealthy while the poor remain poor. When church buildings were golden, charity became wooden. A German confession in 1562 listed among the sins of church robbery, those preachers who failed to preach rightly and piously and walked off with a salary they did not deserve.

It is difficult to determine whether the tithe is still in place. It was tied, on the one hand, to the Levitical priesthood, which has passed away. It came, secondly, in a completely different context — where there were no other taxes. Thirdly, Jesus and the apostles nowhere indicate what percentage we should be giving. Yet we must give generously, not only to those in the household of faith, but to all (Gal.6:10).

Enjoying Without an Aftertaste. Is it possible to be too generous with our money so that we always refuse a glass of wine or a nice vacation. Yes, we may enjoy God’s wealth without a bitter aftertaste. Israel was commanded to feast with the tithes that were brought before the Lord (Deut.12:6-7, 17-19; 14:22-23). Job was very generous, but took no offense at his children enjoying feasts (Job 1). Jesus knew of the poor, but enjoyed a wedding feast (John 2). He did not scold a woman for pouring expensive perfume on his feet (Mk.14:7). There is a time to be shocked by pictures of starving children and to re-examine the budget. But there is also a time to go on vacation. But there is also an economic argument. If everyone stopped purchasing luxuries and stopped going on vacation, thousands would lose their jobs here! Therefore a portion of prosperity must be for us to enjoy.

Forced to Steal. Is there ever a time, when we are forced to steal? When Israel left Egypt, the Israelite women took things from the Egyptians, but they had asked for these things (Ex.3:22; 12:35-36). We can be sympathetic to one who steals while hungry (Prov.6:30-31), but that does not remove culpability. Yet, where life is at stake, the scales of justice were tipped in favor of communal use of vital necessities. But if someone steals from you, you may not steal from them — the Lord is the avenger. If taxes are too high, we may not withhold. The blessing of the Lord makes one rich and toil adds nothing to it (Prov.10:22 RSV note). Can a Christian be a businessman? The profit motive is not the same as greed. Evil does not lie in our occupations, but in our hearts. Being as businessman is an honest calling, as long as the merchant ship has a "spiritual" rudder.

The Ninth Commandment

< Return to the top >
 9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

In a Court of Law. The ninth commandment involves, first of all, judicial or courtroom matters. That is not its only sphere, but it is its primary one. The elders of a particular locale exercised jurisprudence in Israel. And the system was uncomplicated — there were no lawyers or fingerprints. What established truth was the testimony of witnesses (see, e.g., 1 Kings 21:13). Witnesses, therefore, could be responsible for life or death (Deut.17:6; 19:15; cf. Prov.25:18). In view of the seriousness of this matter, we see how the Lord seeks to safeguard the exercise of justice. One testimony is not enough, and the witnesses must throw the first stone (Deut.17:7). To stone someone with your own hands requires more courage than a few lying words! Someone unmasked for false witnessing had to receive to punishment the accused would have received (Deut.19:16-19).

All of these regulations serve to protect two things: (1) the accused from false witnesses and (2) the administration of ‘just’ justice.

God ordained the justice system for human welfare. To safeguard life (6th ), marriage (7th) and property (8th) you need legal institutions. The ninth commandment involves a crucial issue — the safeguarding of honor, life, marriage and property. Freedom vanishes and fear reigns with faulty justice systems. Where justice reigns, peace also reigns (Ps.72:1-3).

Forms of Untruthfulness. Obviously, the ninth commandment has in mind a much wider sphere than simply the judicial system. It forbids all forms of untruthfulness, all forms of lying (Eph.4:25). As such the ninth commandment aims at preserving the reputation, the good name, of the Israelite. That reputation is at risk both within and outside of the courtroom. A good name can be destroyed through:

(1) backbiting and gossip. Gossip need not include lying, but it does involve being untruthful. To say things that are true, but in the context of slander is deceitful. Here someone’s faults are described in minute detail, painting a false picture. It is a universal phenomena that we would rather here something bad, than good about our neighbor. Gossip can even come under the disguise of piety, either by giving the appearance of reluctance or by starting/ending the story with a trumpet of praise for the person. There is a big difference, Luther said, between knowing about sin and talking about sin;

(2) judging rashly. The disciples passed a blind man and asked Jesus who had sinned — the blind man or his parents (John 9:2). The media is great at making rash judgments — tearing apart a politician before the full story is known. Therefore Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’ Now judgments are necessary in various situations. Judges, church leaders and all of us must evaluate matters as part of our God-given task. But too often we judge rashly. Who made you judge over us? We are not called to render a judgment in every situation.

(3) libel. Libel is lying openly and intentionally, lying when we know better. The Jews committed libel when they accused Jesus of saying something he didn’t really say. They changed the words he had said to the them: "I (Jesus said, ‘You’) will destroy this temple and I will raise it up." Libel often occurs by twisting someone’s ones words. Truth is in precision. This is a challenge in scientific research — the portrait is so easily tinted according to our tastes.

Who Is My Neighbor? The previous commandments involved neighbor, but here for the first time is he expressly mentioned. Is everyone our neighbor? In Israel, it was especially one’s fellow Israelite. In the New Testament, the neighbor is to be found first of all within the new people of God, the church (Rom.15:2; Jas.4:12; Eph.4:25). But we must include others. Recall the parable of the good Samaritan (Luk.10:25-37; cf. Rom.13:8-9; Tit.3:4). Our promises and pledges for protection must be kept for heretics and terrorists. "It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it (Eccl.5:5, NIV). Official who promise terrorists that they can leave unharmed, must keep their word. Joshua was supposed to kill the Gibeonites, residents of the pagan land of Canaan, but their envoys tricked him into believing they had come from a distant country to make a treaty with Israel. So Joshua made a treaty of friendship with them. When later Joshua discovered their deceit, he let them live otherwise God would have punished Israel for not keeping their sworn oath (Josh.9:1-27).

Lying Lives Deep. Lying comes very easily to us. As a result the verbal inflation rate is high: everything needs to be documented with invoices and receipts. We are not inherently trustworthy. One theologian (W. Aalders) thinks we do not take life seriously enough and make it into a game or a stage performance. Abraham Kuyper said that the world of fantasy is bigger and more interesting than the real world. Everyday life bores us. Gossip and deceit spices it up.

Why do we all fall for this game?We all stumble because of a little organ — the tongue. A bit in the horse’s mouth steers its whole body. A rudder directs a huge vessel. We can tame animals, but we cannot tame the tongue. Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing (Jas.3:2-10). The tongue is set afire by hell itself, James says, by the father of lies (John 8:44). Jesus said this to the Jews who were boasting that Abraham was their father. Through the fall into sin, man has not simply been defiled with the lie, but dominated by the lie. The truth of God is exchanged for the lie (Rom.1:25). The lie grips pagan nations. In one such nation, a girl was not to be told that she had pretty eyes or else the spirits would become jealous and hurt her. We try to preserve ourselves through lying.

No cure exists but radical conversion. That requires off to put off the old nature, under which the apostle Paul includes lying (Eph.4:22-25). For this we need the grace of God’s liberation from the bondage to lying — Christ is the way, the truth and life (John 14:6). Life with Christ removes the need to lie, the bondage to lying. Self-denial replaces self-preservation. But difficulties remain. Changes in behaviour are one thing. Changes in attitude are much different. You can speak the truth and still walk the lie.

Knowing how the lie lives deep in the human heart, the Bible understandably fulminates against false prophets. These prophets lead people back into idolatry and slavery, seducing them to surrender their freedom (Deut.13:1-18). There is always a constant struggle in the church to preserve truth.

Three Kinds of Lies. There are three classes of lies — the malicious, the jocular and the necessary.

(1) The malicious lie is the lie that has been discussed above — it is always a violation of the command.

(2) The jocular lie is the untruths we spout to amuse one another. This is not necessary lying because there is no intention to deceive. But sometimes elements of truth are mixed with untruth so that these elements cannot be distinguished (Prov.26:18-19). Here an intention to deceive and deride neighbor is disguised as humor. Then the joke becomes the lie.

(3) The lie of necessity. The Latin phrase is: lying (not against, but) for my neighbor’s benefit. Hiding the Jew in World War II is the classic example.

Should We Reject the Lie of Necessity? The church has throughout her history rejected the lie of necessity almost universally. Augustine argued that you may die bodily, but at least you won’t die in the soul. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is not achieved when we sacrifice our own eternal salvation to save the temporal life of our neighbor.

But the Bible contains some surprising examples of the lie of necessity. The midwives Shiphrah and Puah let the baby boys of Israel live after birth, contrary to Pharoah’s command. And yet they are spoken of as fearing God and as being blessed by God because of their attitude (see Exod.1:15-21). Rahab spoke falsehood in saying to the king of Jericho that she did not know where the spies were (Josh.2:4-6) and she is praised for her faith (Heb.11:31). Her faith was made complete by these works (Jas.2:25). These women performed a service to their neighbors by means of the lie of necessity.

But this lie must be distinguished from all lies for personal survival. Abraham and Isaac pretended their wives were their sisters in Egypt — this could have resulted in other men committing adultery with their wives (Gen.12:11-20; 20:2-18; 26:7-11). How about military deception? The Lord recommended such tactics in Joshua’s battle against Ai and in David’s fight against the Philistines (Josh.8:1-26; 2 Sam.5:22-25). Some argue that this is not lying, merely deception. We must speak the truth, they say, even if we deceive. Athanasius was asked by his pursuers, "Where is Athanasius?" He answered, "Athanasius is not far away; with a little effort you can find him." But one form of misleading is not better than the other. What is decisive is whether in particular circumstances we are permitted to mislead.

Dire Circumstances. But agreeing that the lying is sometimes permissible is dangerous. But it can also be dangerous to be silent when the Germans knock on the door locking for Jews. So the argument that we should remain silent rather than lie is weak. We must not condemn the lie of necessity — it’s a borderline situation, something we find in other commandments. Children are to obey their parents, except when their parents compel disobedience to the Lord. We are not to kill, except in self-defense. A lie of necessity, like these, is permitted, but only in dire circumstances — when life is at stake, either our neighbor’s or ours.

What is Courtesy, What is Pretense? There is also a fourth class of lies: the polite lie. This refers to signing off a letter, ‘sincerely yours’ or saying ‘Thank you’ to the question, "Have you had enough to eat" when really you would like more. But here we are not dealing with lying, but with customs of politeness. A lie intends to deceive, but we are not deceiving when we show respect to whom it is due or follow rules of etiquette. Politeness is something other than refined insincerity. But even etiquette can be corrupted. Politeness can become a lie. Pretense occurs in a common form when a Christian’s talk clashes with his walk, like the Pharisees who resemble whitewashed tombs (Matt.23;4,27).

Secrecy and Concealment. The ninth commandment forbids lying and thus requires us to love the truth and to speak and confess the truth uprightly. Sometimes this requires silence. Many jobs have a professional code of conduct, which require concealing truths: physicians, ministers, social workers, etc. A doctor may be confidential with certain diseases, but with others must divulge the information. In 1605, a plot was discovered in which some men were going to assassinate James I. Two Jesuit priests who had known of the plot because of their work in the confessional were executed for remaining silent. There’s a limit to the obligation of confidentiality. Tattle telling is necessary sometimes. Keeping silent is different from concealing the truth. We are true witnesses when we help our neighbor with our words, even when we have to oppose him.

The Tenth Commandment

< Return to the top >
10. You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's.

Not Two Commandments. We mentioned before that there are different ways of numbering the commandments. The Jews, Greek Orthodox and Reformed have one commandment where the Romans and Lutherans have two. The argument for dividing the commandment rests on the repetition of "You shall not..." but is faulty because the content is the same and the New Testament quotes the command not to covet as one (see Rom.7:7, Rom.13:9).

Only Our Inward Desire? The tenth commandment obviously has to do with desires — desiring the property or wife of one’s neighbor. But haven’t the previous commandments on adultery, stealing and killing, etc. also focused on wrong desires?

Calvin and others distinguished between plan and desire. It one thing to have desires, quite another thing to consolidate them into a plan. In cases of adultery or murder, the will concurs self consciously with the desire. The desire evolves into plan to possess. Some desires however never come to outward expression. A man can desire another woman without making any moves to acquire her. Desire does not always lead to plan. There are stages of desire: a desire is nursed, the will is surrendered to the desire; a plan is developed to satisfy the desire and the plan translates the desire into a deed. According to Calvin, the commandment focuses on the first two stages of desire. We would argue instead, however, that the tenth commandment has to do, just as with the other commandments, with outward behaviour also. And outward behaviour always evolves from inward thinking.

You Shall Not Set Your Desire On...The verb ‘to covet’ can better be translated: "You shall not set your desire on..." If we set our desire on something, we are out to get it. Desire, therefore, already includes a plan (contra Calvin) which simply awaits the occasion. Achan coveted — set his desire on — a magnificent Babylonian robe, on pieces of gold and silver and he took all of it (Josh.7:21). Here ‘covet’ means that he could not keep his hands off all that stuff.

The primary meaning of the tenth commandment is this: Anyone who sets his desire on his neighbor’s house wife, employees or animals will not be able to keep his hands off. With premeditation, he intends to strike. Coveting, therefore, lies somewhere between the disposition and the deed. The deed is condemned by the previous commandments, but the tenth looks behind those deeds to the passionate heart and to the steps people take to implement the plans.

Desire as a Spreading Flame. Some have said that the church cannot punish sins against the tenth commandment because those sins belong to an inner disposition, which cannot be seen. The heart can be compared to the boardroom. All kinds of decisions are made in the boardroom behind closed doors. But these decisions leak out so eventually outsiders get a pretty good idea of what went on inside. The same is true of the heart. We often judge superficially by outward appearance, but God judges the heart (1 Sam.16:7). In many cases, we can judge what is in the inside — because desire does not just burn internally — the fire spreads. What’s in your heart never stays hidden.

You are not to covet your neighbor’s wife. Coveting, although not necessarily resulting in adultery, can wreck marriages. The wife may not know everything brooding in the boardroom of his heart, but she knows enough to realize that there is another woman. The same holds true for coveting ‘land.’ Wars for land begin with desire and plans before attack. Coveting land often results in murders.

Passions may rage somewhere between inclination and deed without ever reaching their goal. A conspiracy to overthrow a government is hatched, but never carried out. There is a severe sentence if the conspirators are collared. Even though they did not kill (sixth commandment), they had wrongly coveted (tenth commandment). What lies in the heart becomes manifest. A person’s entire body reflects what is living in him. Love of money radiates from the eyes. The eyes have been called the mirror of the heart — you can read someone’s heart by looking at their eyes — bright, downcast, etc. ?

A Sprawling Territory. Both king and commoner fall prey to covetousness. When a pirate had to confess his piracy to Alexander the Great and why he made the seas unsafe, the prisoner responded: I was merely doing the same as you, when you make the world unsafe. But since I work with a small ship, I am called a pirate; you are called a king, because you work with a whole fleet. The history of the human race has been a history of coveting what belonged to another. Think of envy — the first sin, how Cain’s envy lead to the death of Abel. God told Cain to master that desire (Gen.4:7), but desire masters us. Envy blinds a person to everything he has and allows him to see the one thing he does not have. The territory covered by the tenth commandment is sprawling — a desire for other things. Not possessing, but craving to possess is what is wrong. Not wealth, but wanting to be wealthy (1 Tim.6:9). Covetousness easily becomes idolatry.

Do Not Forfeit Your Freedom. Do not chase after your desires, or you become enslaved to them. It is not wrong to strive for a better position, but there is an unchristian chasing after affluence. The starting point of the tenth commandment is this: Your own house is the best one for you — your wife is the most pretty one for you — your job is the most fruitful development of your abilities. Your house may be smaller than others, your wife may be less attractive than other women and your job may rank lower on the scale of values than those of your friends.

Advertising and Gambling. Advertisements reflect what lives within man. The questionable side of advertising reflects the kind of people we are. When it comes to advertising, the customer is king and the advertiser is but his court jester. The court jester lives only by leave of the king himself. A Christian lifestyle repels against questionable forms of advertising — YOU shall not covet. Life is more than buying and consuming. Gambling is entirely questionable, however. Because gambling appeals only to greed. Even those promoted as ‘contests’ are forms of gambling because the accomplishment bears no relationship to the prize. Possessing is not condemned — but desiring to possess is.

The Good Desire and Autarchy. Yet, God does not condemn every possible desire. That’s Buddhism — freedom from everything earthly and the complete suppression of all desires. The state of nirvana is where there is complete oblivion to external stimuli and internal passions. If worrying about food and drink — proper desires — makes seeking the kingdom second, then there is coveting. But natural desires are good. Jesus was hungry, thirsty, sleepy, etc. Some things we should desire — God (Psalm 42:1-2), to be with Christ (Phil.2:23). Good desire lies embedded in living with Christ and is satisfied with what He gives — this is autarchy from the Greek, autarkeia, "sufficiency." God is able to give us sufficiency in all things (2 Cor.9:8). Christian autarchy or sufficiency has nothing to do with self-sufficiency, where someone saves himself. In 2 Cor.9:8 autarchy means that a believer has received enough. This sufficiency must be experienced as contentment. Godliness brings great profit if accompanied by contentment. Paul knew poverty and wealth and he learned to be "autarch" in every situation (Phil.4:11).

Penetrating More Deeply. The tenth commandment is concerned with those desires that a set a person in motion, leading him to reach for the things of his neighbor. This is a discernable desire. But some desires do not set a person in motion — they are called, by the court of human opinion, innocent thoughts or daydreams. But, "cleanse me from secret faults" (Ps.19:12). Sin arouses all kinds of desires within us. Are responsible for all desires or only the ones we nurture. Roman Catholic ethicists distinguish between spontaneous desires, nurtured desires and fulfilled desires and argue that we are responsible only for the latter two. Reformed ethicists say no — all three, evil desires arise out of an evil heart.

Our love for God must be radical — with heart, soul, strength and mind. All evil desires at any given stage must be enlisted in the service of Christ. We must put evil desires to death and replace them with good desires. Love’s radical claim is satisfied with nothing less — Lord’s Day 44. In the light of love’s radical demand, we discover our radical depravity. O wretched man that I am — I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom.7:24-25). We must always go back to the house of slavery known as sin and to the deliverer — the God of Israel who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

< Return to the top >