There are many points that the atheist can attack religious doctrine from. Of course, it tends to matter very little in the grand scheme of things, because arguments like those mostly stem from emotion, and thus everyone tends to get lost and no real argument is held.
So one can say all you can about the genocidal barbarity of Old Testament Yahweh, or mention the deeply immoral justice system that hell is, or point to contradictions all day long- that really fazes no well grounded Christian.
So browsing the heathen sites I regularly do, I came across something that seems like a fresh perspective to bring to this entire debate. Not fresh as in nobody has ever thought of it (obviously)- but that it is something people do not really consider in this whole ten commandments debate, and which hopefully might prove useful to one or two theists I know.
The Ten Commandments is one other strange part of the tapestry that is Christian theology. Often, the way most of the aforementioned barbarity is rationalised is by saying the Old Testament does not really apply to Christians, being a part of the Old Covenant and all.
Yet despite telling outsiders ad nauseam that Old Testament law need not apply, the Ten Commandments continue to come up in practically every Christian discourse. We are told they are the greatest set of ethical edicts ever given, and that without them mankind would not really be good.
However, the Ten Commandments as have been laid out for centuries are not really the Ten Commandments, truth be told. The phrase ‘The Ten Commandments’ was used in the Pentateuch to describe a set of edicts, yes- but it neither was in Exodus 20 nor in Deuteronomy 5.
So how did those commandments then enter the pantheon as the Ten Commandments? Ten is a nice, rounded figure, isn’t it? And if a God gave rules he would probably go for that figure. However, the commandments in Exodus 20 are interpreted differently by different Christian demoninations, with some inventive chipping and chopping to arrive at the ten each requires. If you ever needed confirmation this was the work of man, that is it- just as the process of assembling ‘The Bible’ as we currently know it points irrevocably towards its manly origins- but if you’re not convinced by that, the goal of this piece is entirely different, which is to get Christians to recognise the ‘real’ Ten Commandments.
To do that, one would have to chart the story as told in the Bible, to arrive at why what you have been taught since childhood are not the real Ten Commandments. Firstly, God did not stop at any number when giving those initial commandments. He wrote and wrote and wrote, between Exodus 20 and Exodus 31. It was only after he had written everything down that in 31:18, he gave Moses the two stone tablets which had been ‘written with the finger of God’. So if anything, the ‘Ten Commandments’ were not the only things on that tablet Moses brought.
And that process up Mt Sinai took weeks to complete. During the period, the Israelites got bored, and told Aaron to build them a god to worship- hence the infamous Golden Calf story.
God then alerted Moses to get down quick, since the Israelites were fornicating with foreign gods. After returning and seeing this terrible sin on the part of his people, Moses in his anger ‘broke the tablets’ he had just returned with from the top of the mountain (Exodus 32:19).
After both he and God had dealt with the people (spoiler: contains some gory deaths), Moses returned atop Sinai for a second time, in Exodus 34. It is at this point that God gives Moses the set of new rules for his people, which he afterwards clearly labeled ‘The Ten Commandments’. (Exodus 34:28)
This is the first time in Moses’ writings that this exact phraseology was used, ‘The Ten Commandments’. There is nothing about a ten commandments after Exodus 20-31, when the first list was given- but there is an unambiguous use of the phrase after the second. Thus, every reasonable person can conclude with me that these are the real Ten Commandments…
I am using the breakdown of the commandments as shown in the article that inspired this piece…(like the original, one can break them down however they want, since God does not take the trouble to be too specific)
1 Make no covenant with the Canaanite tribes
2 Destroy their altars
3 Make no idols (“molten gods”)
4 Observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread
5 “The first offspring from every womb belongs to me”
6 Rest on the seventh day
7 Celebrate the Feast of Weeks
8 No leavened bread during Passover
9 Bring the first fruits of the soil to the Lord
10 “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk”
So there you have them, the real Ten Commandments. There are many several explanations and theories to explain how these all came about, wonderful discipline that Christian apologetics is- but this article just seeks, like the original, to argue that if anyone insists on any ten commandments, then these are the real ones. If you want to hew them into stone and place them in public, this one with not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk would be the right list to paste up.
TL:DR- God did not give any label to his first list of commandments to Moses, which ran for eleven chapters and can in no conceivable way be described as ten commandments. After Moses broke the tablets in anger, God gave him another list, which might or might not be slightly more than ten; but then clearly labelled them as the ‘Ten Commandments’. So if we are conceding to anyone that there ever was any ten commandments, this is it. The list you have grown up with is not described in the bible as the ten commandments, and it is just the beginning of a long list of commandments that run into hundreds. Calling them ‘Ten’ is disingenuous at best, and downright dishonest and manipulative at worst.