For the past year, Signs of the Times monthly magazines in Australia and the United States have been running articlcs on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and the Beatitudes, the “blessings” with which Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). My task has been to write very short analyses of exactly how each Commandment or Beatitude fits into the patterns of biblical thought.
There is no need to post these series of articles on this website, since with the help of Google my name and Signs can be accessed readily. However, below is my short meditation on the Sixth Commandment, one example of the many that try to indicate exactly what the Bible says.
That is the Adventist task: to focus on what the Bible said in the there and then before we make any attempt to ask what the Bible means in the here and now. In other words exegesis precedes interpretation, always.
To exegete a passage of Scripture is to lead out its meaning. It help to give attention to the original languages in which the text was written (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), to closely examine the syntax, the context and the history that surrounds the text and its interpretation. Then we do well to explore what the rest of the Bible says on this same theme. Such processes get us ready to construct an understanding of what God wants to say to us in our time and place. The enormous challenge is for us to do that, seriously, for every verse from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
So here is one short attempt, but remember that you can easily find many others.
“Thou shalt not kill,” the four words many Christians learned as Exodus 20:13 from the King James Version of the Bible are better translated in such versions as the New International: “You shall not murder.” Even a modern dictionary aids our understanding; for instance The Macquarie Dictionary offers a legal definition of murder as “the unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought.”
The Old Testament regarded human life as so sacred that, in instances where it was ruthlessly taken, capital punishment was appropriate. In fact, God demands of each of us “an accounting for the life” of other persons. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:5,6).
However, in the teachings of Jesus, the Sixth Commandment is vastly extended. In his best-known discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared: “You have heard that is was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21).
The tragic consequences of anger and “malicious forethought” are writ large in the Scriptures, beginning with the story of Cain, the first murderer (Genesis 4:2-12). But God wants us to do more than cherish the physical lives of other persons; he wants us to foster effective relationships. If we love even our enemies (see Matthew 5:44), there will never be a reason for violence.
Christianity cherishes “the word of God” that “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Such an exacting standard must ever be interpreted in the light of the Good News that Jesus Christ offers the only remedy for human frailty: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Arthur Patrick, 4 November 2012