The Decalogue “Down Under”

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Feb 25, 2009 2 Comments ›› John Eidsmoe

The Decalogue “Down Under”

As further evidence that the Ten Commandments have been and continue to be the foundation of our moral law, two books on the Decalogue have recently been published, both by Australian scholars.

Rev. Dr. Adv. Francis Nigel Lee’s book, GOD’S TEN COMMANDMENTS YESTERDAY, TODAY, FOREVER (Nordskog Publishing, 2007), is a revision of an earlier book by Lee. Lee, who currently resides in Australia, is a theologian, pastor, attorney and historian, and is probably the world’s leading scholar today on the historical roots of the English common law. He notes that King Alfred the Great of England (890 AD) began his codification of the common law with a recitation of the Ten Commandments, and, citing Luther, Calvin, Kuyper and many other sources, establishes that the common law is based upon Biblical principles. The Ten Commandments, he says, are themselves a codification of the common law or natural law principles that God instilled in the hearts of Adam and Eve and that have been known throughout history. He quotes Luther: “The Law of Nature is the Ten Commandments. It is written on the heart of every human being by creation. It was clearly and comprehensively put on Mount Sinai… .”

The Ten Commandments, Lee says, were used in the early church, and he believes they reached the British Isles well before the end of the first century after Christ, and even the Druidic laws bore a resemblance to the Ten Commandments—evidence that they were drawn from the law of God that is written on men’s hearts (Romans 2:14-15).

Nigel Lee packs a lot into this brief 112-page book. GOD’S TEN COMMANDMENTS YESTERDAY, TODAY, FOREVER is definitely worth reading! The book can be ordered from our website here (https://co NULL.clickandpledge NULL.aspx?wid=25272).

Thorwald Lorenzen’s book, TOWARD A CULTURE OF FREEDOM: REFLECTIONS ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS TODAY (Cascade Books, 2008), takes a different approach to the Decalogue but illustrates their importance in a different way. He does not believe the Ten Commandments were written by Moses, although they may be based on some traditions that date back to Moses; rather, “[t]hey are the end-products of a long process of development,” a form of the documentary hypothesis that I believe has been thoroughly discredited. He tries, unsuccessfully in my opinion, to establish a difference between the Ten Commandments as stated in Exodus 20 and as restated in Deuteronomy 5. They are known as the “Ten Words,” not the “Ten Commandments,” and they are not restrictive rules but rather principles of freedom. By learning and practicing the Ten Commandments, we respect the right to life, liberty, and property that God has given to each of us. The Decalogue is a call to a new kind of living in which we respect each other as human beings created in the image of God. The Ten Commandments should foster a “new lifestyle inspired by an intentional faith in the God who wants all people to be free.” They are “guidelines to discipline our freedom so that our freedom may be a worthy reflection of the God who has given it to us.”

Rather than treating the specific applications of the Decalogue to the individual, Lorenzen discusses their broader implications for society and the world. The purpose of the graven image command is to “guard the mystery, the life, the personhood and transformative nature of God.” The prohibition on taking the Lord’s Name in vain is to prevent the misuse of God’s Name. The sabbath is to celebrate freedom, because “God and freedom belong together” and “we celebrate the presence of God in the flux of time.” The commandment against killing does not just include murder, Lorenzen says, but other unjustified killings as well (my own research into the Hebrew leads me to question his assertion), and its emphasis on the radical worth of the individual person creates a presumption against capital punishment. The command against stealing includes stealing people’s freedom by means of slavery and child exploitation. The command against bearing false witness “aims at protecting a basic right of Israelites, their reputation.”

As Lorenzen attempts to apply the Ten Commandments to the world situation, his left-wing bias is clear. He naively accepts the claims of those who believe man has caused global warming, and this, he says, violates inter-generational responsibility by creating environmental problems for future generations (but if I remember correctly, the command said “Honor thy father and mother,” not honor future generations.) He says General Colin Powell bore false witness when he said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, ignoring the fact that Powell’s claim was supported by the best evidence available at the time, that it was widely accepted by people across the political spectrum, and that WMD have in fact been found, though not in the quantity expected.

As a conservative Christian, I find much to disagree with in Lorenzen’s book. But above (or beneath) my ideological differences with Lorenzen, I believe he has said some things that need to be said: God is on the side of freedom, and His commandments call us to a lifestyle of freedom that is based upon mutual respect for others. In that light, and with those qualifications, I am glad to have read TOWARD A CULTURE OF FREEDOM (http://www, and I recommend that you read it as well.

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  1. our founding truth (http://www NULL.ourfoundingtruth NULL.blogspot says:

    John Eidsmoe: He notes that King Alfred the Great of England (890 AD) began his codification of the common law with a recitation of the Ten Commandments, and, citing Luther, Calvin, Kuyper and many other sources, establishes that the common law is based upon Biblical principles.

    I will definitely read Lee’s book. Has there been evidence of earlier English codification of the Divine Law? It would be interesting to see, and refute Thomas Jefferson with its earlier application. I wrote about Common Law in 2007 coming from the Bible. (http://ourfoundingtruth NULL.blogspot NULL.html)

    Do you have the source of Luther’s quote?

  2. Michael (http://womenandmarriage says:

    Hi, I’m from Australia and I came across this blog this morning. I love posts like this that show how the Decalogue is the foundation for Western society and its morality. I think I might have to check out that first book.

    I am beginning some research as to how the Decalogue related to the Australian legal system, so it was nice to read this article. As an aside I also have the History of the World Megaconference DVD set, which included the session on viking history—I never knew that how some juries were composed of witnesses, and how the convicted were treated as outlaws who had no protection under their law.

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