Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 12. I. The Double Form Of The Decalogue, And The Questions To Which It Has Given Rise.

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Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 12. I. The Double Form Of The Decalogue, And The Questions To Which It Has Given Rise.


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I. The Double Form Of The Decalogue, And The Questions To Which It Has Given Rise.

IT is to the Decalogue, as recorded in Exo_20:1-17, that respect is usually had in discussions on the law; and in the lecture directly bearing upon the subject (Lect. IV.), it has been deemed unnecessary to notice the slightly diversified form in which the ten words appear in a subsequent part of the Pentateuch (Deu_5:6-21). It were improper, however, in so full an investigation as the present, to leave the subject without adverting to this other form, and noticing the few variations from the earlier which occur in it variations which, however unimportant in themselves, have given rise to grave enough inferences and conclusions, which we hold to be erroneous. The differences are the following:—The fourth command begins with ‘keep (ùÑÈëåÉø) the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God commanded thee,’ instead of simply, as in Exodus, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it;’ also, in the body of the precept, we have, ‘nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates, that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou,’ instead of ‘nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates;’ then, at the close, instead of the reference to God’s work at creation in Exodus, ‘For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth,’ etc., as the primary ground and reason of the command, there is merely an enforcement, from the people’s own history, of the merciful regard already enjoined toward the servile class, ‘And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence, through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.’ In the fifth command there is, precisely as in the fourth, a formal recognition of the previous announcement of the command, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God commanded thee;’ and in the annexed promise, after ‘that thy days may be long (or prolonged),’ it is added, ‘and that it may go well with thee’ in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee—both of the additions existing only in Deuteronomy. In the last four commands, there is used at the commencement the connecting particle and (vau), which is wanting in Exodus (for which, in the English Bible, there is used the disjunctive neither). Finally, the last precept, which in Exodus runs, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s,’ stands thus in Deuteronomy, ‘Thou shalt not covet (úÇçÀîÉã) thy neighbour’s wife, and thou shalt not desire (The renderings of the two verbs are unfortunately inverted in the authorized version.) úÄçÀàÇåÌÆä thy neighbour’s house, his field, nor his man servant, nor his maid-servant, his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.’

1. Now, it is clear, first of all, in respect to the whole of these alterations in the form of the Decalogue, that in no case do they affect the substance of the things enjoined: the commands are the same throughout, and stand in the same order in both the records. So that, viewed simply in the light of law, there is properly no difference between the earlier and the later form. For we must distinguish between what is commanded in God’s moral law, and the considerations by which, in whole or in part, it may be enforced: the one, having its ground in the nature of God, must remain essentially the same; the other, depending to a large extent on the circumstances of the people, and God’s methods of dealing with them, may readily admit of variety. It is chiefly in regard to the law of the Sabbath that, even in this respect, any notable change has been introduced—the more general reason derived from the Divine procedure at creation being altogether unnoticed in Deuteronomy, and stress laid only on what had been done for Israel by the redemption from bondage, and what in turn they were bound to do for those among themselves whose condition somewhat resembled theirs in Egypt. Why there should have been, in this later record, so entire an ignoring of the one kind of motive, and so prominent an exhibition of the other, no definite information has been given us, and we are perhaps but imperfectly able to understand. The one, however, is no way incompatible with the other, and no more in this case than in many others are we entitled to regard the special consideration adduced as virtually cancelling the general, and narrowing the sphere of the obligation imposed. It is always dutiful, and is only a specific branch of the great law of brotherly love, to deal justly toward the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and beware of defrauding them of their rights: yet such duties are expressly charged upon the Israelites in the book of Deuteronomy, on the ground that they had been redeemed from the condition of bondmen in Egypt (Deu_24:17-18). In other cases, the general duties of compassion to the poor and help to the needy are in like manner enforced, and are said, on this special account, to have been commanded (Deu_15:15; Deu_16:12; Deu_24:19-22). Yet surely no one would think of asserting that duties of such a description had been imposed upon the Israelites merely because they had been so redeemed, and had not both a prior and a more general ground of obligation. All that is meant is, that from what God had done for them as a people, and the relation in which they stood to Him, they were in a very peculiar manner bound to the observance of such things—that, if they failed to do them, they would disregard the special lessons of their history, and defeat the ends of their corporate existence. And nothing more, nothing else, than this is the legitimate interpretation to be put on the similar reference to Israelitish history in the case before us. The primary ground of the Sabbath law lay still, as before, in the primeval sanctifying and blessing of the day at the close of creation, as indicative of man’s calling to enter into God’s rest, as well as to do His work, and to make ‘the pulsation of the Divine life in a certain sense his own.’ But now that Israel had become not only a free and independent people, but, as such, were already occupying a prominent place, having laid several powerful tribes at their feet, and were presently to rise to a still higher position, it was of the greatest importance for them to feel that the power and the opportunities thus given them were to be used in subservience to the great ends of their calling, and not for any carnal interests and purposes of their own. As masters, with many helpless captives and needy dependants subject to their control, it behoved them to remember that they had themselves escaped from servitude through God’s merciful interposition, that as such they stood under law to Him, and so were specially bound, alike for His glory and for the common wellbeing of themselves and their dependants, to keep that ever-recurring day of sacred rest, which, when observed as it was designed, brings all into living fellowship with the mercy and goodness of Heaven. By this there was no narrowing of the obligation, but only, in respect to a particular aspect of it, a special ground of obedience pressed upon Israel—the same, indeed, which prefaced the entire Decalogue.

It is scarcely necessary, perhaps, to refer to the slight addition made to the reason employed in enforcing the observance of the fifth precept; for nothing new is introduced by it, but only an amplification of what had been originally presented. That their days might be prolonged in the land which the Lord had given them is the promise connected, in Exodus, with the honouring of parents; and this was evidently all one with having a continued enjoyment of the Lord’s favour, or of being prospered in their national affairs. It was virtually to say, that a well-trained youth, growing up in reverent obedience to the constituted authorities in the family and the state, would be the best, and, in the long run, the only effective preparation for a well-ordered and thriving community. And this is just a little more distinctly expressed by the additional clause in Deuteronomy, that it may go well with thee: thus and thus only expect successive generations of a God-fearing and blessed people.

2. But allowing the fitness of such explanations, why, it may be asked, should they have been necessary? Why, when professing to rehearse the words which were spoken by God from Sinai, and which formed the basis of the whole legal economy, should certain of those words have been omitted, and certain others inserted? Do not such alterations, even though not introducing any change of meaning, seem to betray some tampering with the original sources, or at least militate against the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures? So it has been argued by some modern critics; but with no solid ground, if the matter is contemplated from the true Scriptural point of view. For it is clear that Moses, in the rehearsal he made on the plains of Moab of what had been said and done nearly forty years before at Sinai, intended only to give the substance of the past, but not the exact reproduction, not the identical words with the same fulness, and in precisely the same order. A rhetorical element pervades the book, mingling with and to some extent qualifying the use made of historical data. The expression, twice repeated in the rehearsal of the Decalogue, ‘As the Lord thy God commanded thee,’ was alone sufficient to shew, that while Moses was giving afresh the solemn utterances of God, he was doing so with a certain measure of freedom—intent rather upon the object of reviving wholesome impressions upon the minds of a comparatively untutored people, than of presenting to critical ears an exact and literal uniformity. The same freedom also appears in other rehearsals given by him of what passed in his inter views with God. (Compare, for example, Deu_10:1-2, with Exo_34:1-2; Deu_10:11, with Exo_33:1.) And if the general principle be still pressed, that, on the theory of plenary inspiration, every word of God is precious, and any addition to it or detraction from it must tend to mar its completeness or purity, we reply that this is applicable to the case in hand only when there is an interference with the contents of Scripture by an unauthorized instrument, or beyond certain definite limits. Slight verbal deviations, while the sense remains unaffected, or such incidental changes as serve the purpose of throwing some explanation on the word, while substantially repeating it, and so as to give it a closer adaptation to existing circumstances, are of frequent occurrence in Scripture, and perfectly accord with its character and design. (See, as specimens, the manner of quoting Old Testament Scripture in such passages as Mat_2:6; Mat_11:10; Rom_11:26-27; Heb_8:8-10, etc.) For this also is of God. In the cases supposed, it is He who employs the second instrumentality as well as the first, and thereby teaches the church, while holding fast by the very word of God as revealed in Scripture, to use it with a reasonable freedom, and with a fitting regard to circumstances of time and place. It should also be remembered, that such slight alterations as those now under consideration have an exegetical value of some importance: they strongly corroborate the Mosaic authorship of the Look of Deuteronomy. For, is it conceivable, as Hävernick justly asks, (‘Introd. to Pent.,’ c. 25.) ‘that a later author would have permitted himself in such an alteration of what he himself most expressly attributes to Moses, and with the sacredness and inviolability of which he is deeply impressed, and not rather have observed the most conscientious exactness in the repetition of the Mosaic form?’ Nothing, he adds, would be gained by the supposition of some simple forms of the commands traditionally preserved; for as soon as any form was committed to writing, we may be certain that, in the case especially of so very peculiar and fundamental a piece of legislation, that form would become identified in the popular mind with the thing itself. So that the alterations in question, which could not but be regarded as improper if coming from any one except the Mediator Himself of the Old Covenant, lend important confirmation to the Mosaic authorship of the book in which they occur.

3. The most important alteration, however, in the later form of the Decalogue, has yet to be noticed—one, also, which, has given rise to considerable discussion respecting the structure of the Decalogue itself. It occurs at the commencement of what, in the Protestant church, is usually designated the tenth command. The insertion, somewhat later, of the field of one’s neighbour, immediately after his house, as among the things not to be coveted, calls for no special remark; as it is in the same line with a similar addition in the fifth command already noticed—being only a further specification, for the sake of greater explicitness. But the change at the commencement is of a different sort; for here the two first clauses are placed in the inverse order to that adopted in Exodus. There it is: ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife;’ but in Deuteronomy, ‘thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s house’—there being, along with a different order, a different verb, expressive of the same general import, but of a less intensive meaning, in regard to house and other possessions, than that employed in regard to wife. And occasion has been taken, partly at least from this, to advocate a division of the Decalogue, which makes here two separate commands—one, the ninth, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife,’ and another, the tenth, ‘Thou shalt not desire (so as to covet) thy neighbour’s house, his field,’ etc. The view in question can only be partly ascribed to this source; for Augustine, who is the earliest representative of it known to us (though he speaks of it as held by others in his day), and from whom it has descended to the Roman Catholic, as also to the Lutheran church, was evidently influenced in its favour fully as much by doctrinal as by exegetical considerations. By splitting the command against coveting into two, and throwing the prohibitions against the introduction of false gods and the worship of the true God by means of idols into one, a division was got of the Decalogue into three and seven—both sacred numbers, and the first deemed of special importance, because significant of the great mystery of ‘the Trinity.’ ‘To me, therefore,’ says Augustine, (‘Quæst. in Exodium,’ 71.) ‘it appears more fitting that the division into three and seven should be accepted, because in those things which pertain to God there appears to more considerate minds (diligentius intuentibus) an indication of the Trinity.’ It was quite in accordance with his usual style of interpretation, which found intimations of the Trinity, as of other Divine mysteries, in the most casual notices; in the mention, for example, of the three water-pots at Cana, the three loaves which the person in the parable is represented as going to ask from his friend, etc. Stress, however, is also laid by Augustine, as by those who follow him, on the twofold prohibition, ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ in both forms of the Decalogue, though coupled in the one with the house first, and in the other with the wife—as apparently implying that the coveting in the one case belonged to a different category from that in the other; and he thinks there is even a greater difference between the two kinds of covetous desire, as directed towards a neighbour’s wife and a neighbour’s property, than between the setting up of other gods beside Jehovah, and the worshipping of Jehovah by idols.

But this view, though it has recently been vindicated by some writers of note (in particular, by Sonntag and Kurtz), is liable to several, and in our judgment quite fatal objections. In the first place, it is without any support from Jewish authority, which, in such a matter, is entitled to considerable weight. A measure of support in its behalf, has, indeed, been sought in the Parashoth, or sectional arrangement of the Heb. MSS. In the larger proportion of these MSS. (460 out of 694 mentioned by Kennicott) the Decalogue is divided into ten Parashoth, with spaces between them commonly marked by a Sethuma (ñ); and one of these does stand, in the MSS. referred to, between the two commands against coveting, while it is wanting between the prohibition against having any other gods, and that against worshipping God by idols. But the principle of these Parashoth is unknown, and has yet found no satisfactory explanation. For it is at variance with the only two divisions of the Decalogue, which are certainly known to have prevailed among the Jewish authorities—an older one, which is found alike in Philo (‘Quis rerum div. haer.,’ sec. 35.) and Josephus, (‘Ant.,’ iii. c. 6, sec. 5.) the only one, indeed, mentioned by them, making the division into two fives, the first closing with the command to honour father and mother; and a later one, adopted by the Talmudical Jews, according to which there still remain the two fives, and in the second only one command against coveting, but in the earlier part the command against images is combined with that against false gods, and the first command is simply the declaration, ‘I am Jehovah thy God.’ This last classification is certainly erroneous; for in that declaration, as Origen long ago objected, (‘Hom. in Ex.’ 8.) [3] there is nothing that can be called a command, but an announcement merely as to who it is that does command (quis sit, qui mandat, ostendit.) Without, however, going further into Jewish sentiment or belief upon the subject, it may justly be held as an argument of some weight against the Augustinian division of the command about coveting into two separate parts, and still more against the division as a whole into three and seven, that it appears to have been ignored by both earlier and later Jews, that it has also no representative among the Greek Fathers, nor even among the Latins till Augustine.

Another reason against the view is, that it would oblige us to take the form of the tenth command in Deuteronomy—that which forbids the coveting of a neighbour’s wife first, and his house afterwards—as the only correct form of the command; consequently, to suppose the different order presented in Exodus to be the result of an error in the text. For, were both texts held to be equally correct, then, on the supposition of the command against coveting being really twofold, there would be an absolute contrariety: according to the one text, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house,’ would be the ninth in order, while, according to the other, it would be, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.’ If, however, all the objects of covetous desire were embraced in one command, it becomes a matter of no moment in what precise order they are placed: standing first, as it does in Exodus, the house is a general name for all that belongs to a man in his domestic relationship, and wife, man-servant, maid-servant, which follow, are the more prominent particulars included in it; while in Deuteronomy, the second place only being assigned to house, and wife standing first, the latter has an independent position of her own, and house must be understood as comprising whatever else of a domestic nature is dear and precious to a man. So under stood, there is only a slight diversity in the mode of representation, but no contrariety; and such a view is, therefore, greatly to be preferred to the other, which requires, without any support from the evidence of MSS., that there is a textual error in one of the accounts, and that in this respect that which professes to be the later and is obviously the freer account of the matter, is to be held as the more exact representation of the original utterance:—both of them extremely improbable and entirely hypothetical.

Besides, while there undoubtedly is a specific difference between evil concupiscence as directed toward the wife of another man, and the same as directed toward his goods and possessions—sufficient to entitle the one to a formal repetition after the other—there still is no essential diversity; nothing like a difference in kind. The radical affection in each case alike is an inordinate desire to possess what is another’s—only, in the one case with more of a regard to sensual gratification, in the other to purposes of gain. Hence, also in the more distinct references made to it in the New Testament, it is evidently presented as a unity.(Rom_7:7; Jas_1:15; Jas_4:5.) It is quite otherwise, however, with the commands to have no God but Jehovah, and to make no use of images in His worship; for here there is a real and an easily recognised distinction—the one having respect to the proper object of worship, and the other to its proper mode of celebration. True, no doubt, from the very intimate connection which in ancient times subsisted between the use of idols in worship, and the doing homage to distinct deities, the two are not unfrequently identified in Old Testament Scripture—being indeed but different stages in one course of degeneracy; (Exo_32:32; 2Co_13:8.) [1] still, when formal respect is had to the two phases of evil, a very marked distinction is drawn between them, as when the sin of Jeroboam is spoken of as a light thing compared with that of Ahab, in avowedly setting up the worship of Baal, and thereby supplanting the worship of Jehovah. (1Ki_16:31.) [2] The one was a corrupting of the idea of God’s character and service, the other was an ignoring of His very existence.

On every account, therefore, the use which has been made of the concluding portion of the Decalogue, as given in the book of Deuteronomy, in the interest of a particular division of its contents, is to be rejected as untenable. A more obvious and palpable ground of distinction between the commands must have existed to lay the basis of a proper division. And if this may be said of the distinction attempted to be drawn between one part and another of the command against coveting, still more may it be said of the supposed reference in the Decalogue at large to the sacred numbers of three and seven, which has from the first chiefly swayed the minds of those who favour the division introduced by Augustine. It is of too inward and refined a nature to have occurred to any one but a contemplative, semi-mystic student of Scripture; while in things pertaining to the form and structure of a popular religion, it is rather what may commend itself to the intelligence of men of ordinary shrewdness and discernment, than what may strike the fancy of a profound thinker in his closet, which is entitled to consideration. Contemplated from this point of view, no distribution of the commands of the Decalogue can be compared, for naturalness and convenience, to that which comes down to us, on the testimony of Philo and Josephus, as the one generally accepted by the ancient Jews, which has also received the suffrage, in modern times, of the great body of the Reformed theologians; nor does any appropriation for the two tables so readily present itself, or appear so simple, as that of the two fives—though probable reasons can also be alleged for the division into four and six. But the difference in the latter respect is of no practical moment.