Bible Lecture Three

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Much of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) is devoted to law, especially in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy (which actually means "second law"). Many people, even those that do read the Bible frequently, skip over many of the chapters there as they can be considered "boring" - much like a legal textbook. This is understandable, but students of the Bible must also understand that these books are crucial to understanding the Bible as a whole, and they impact our laws to this day! Many secular governments try to steer away from Bible-based laws, but certain ones cannot be avoided (e.g. "do not murder"). The scope and coverage of the Biblical laws is immense, and they cover topics that are being actively discussed in modern times (for example, homosexuality).

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (also referred to from a literary standpoint as the "decalogue") are considered to be the most important laws given by God in the Bible. They were initially given to Moses atop Mount Sinai, written on stone tablets. They are important enough to be repeated twice in the Torah - specifically in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Please read the full text as it appears in the Bible, if you had not done so already. Note that the ten commandments you often see on posters (if you're lucky enough not to have attended a public school, where they are forbidden) often have abbreviated versions of the complete text. Jesus himself refers to the commandments, even stating some of them directly (in Matthew 19). The commandments cover a number of basic crimes, and despite having been devised thousands of years ago, they obviously still very much apply today. In fact, legal systems from ancient times to this day have at least some basis in the commandments. For instance, it is illegal to commit murder, adultery, steal, or commit perjury. Of course, secular justice systems don't use the religious-themed commandments, but any pious and moral society respects them nevertheless (for example, people would shun anyone who would swear falsely in the name of the Lord). I encourage you to read a few chapter before and after Exodus 20 to get a full sense of the context in which the commandments were given. There are many other important Biblical laws mentioned in these chapter as well (one example is the famous "eye-for-an-eye law"). In the United States and many other countries, the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places (such as schools, courthouses, public buildings etc.) is prohibited. This, ironically, despite the fact that the commandments form the basis for even secular laws, not to mention the moral and ethical basis for civilized society. The prohibition also violates the freedom of speech. Supporters of the ban, such as the liberal organization ACLU, argue that posting the commandments violates the establishment clause (the prohibition against government for promoting a religion), but this argument makes no sense, especially considering the fact that the commandments aren't specific to one religion (obviously both Jews and Christians apply the commandments, and believe it or not, even Islam has laws based on them).