Q: Dear Pastor,
I’ve never been able to make sense of numbers nine and 10 of the Ten Commandments. Would you explain them to me?
A: Sure! And I’m thankful for questions like this because it forces all of us to go back to the drawing-board and revisit the basics. In Christendom, it doesn’t get more basic than the Ten Commandments. Here are those last two in the King James Version: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Exodus 20:16, 17, KJV).
The first thing I do when I’m puzzled by the Bible’s wording on things is to check the same group of scriptures against other biblical translations. God has inspired brilliant people to compile various translations of the Bible for one main reason, to make the reading of God’s Word more wide-spread. The beloved King James Bible is a translation from the 1600s. Corseted women in starched, ruffled collars and yards upon layers of fabric roamed the earth. Men with pointed beards, woolen tights, velvet waistcoats and heavy capes assisted those women out of their horse-drawn carriages. It is safe to say that like fashion and transportation, the way of literature and language may also have made a few changes since then. If the goal of every pastor, Bible-teacher and Christian parent is to get folks reading the Bible, the King James will surely confuse more than it will fulfill that hope. Translations like The Message, The Passion Translation, The Living Bible, The Contemporary English Version or even an old favorite, the New International Version, will shed some light on difficult biblical topics.
“Do not tell lies about others,” says the Contemporary English Version, followed by, “Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.” It’s helpful, isn’t it? God is simply addressing the issues of lies and envy in commandments nine and 10; two prevalent problems in our modern-day world, unfortunately.
The Message translation adds a whole new spin and depth of understanding that I believe we need: “No lies about your neighbor,” it scolds, and “No lusting after your neighbor’s house - or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.” Straightforward lust enters the picture when we allow envy to fester and it runs off the rails. One could spot a revelation there about how lust actually operates in our lives when the Devil is busy encouraging us to be jealous of others, and it isn’t necessary limited to sex.
“You must not lie” is found as Commandment Nine in The Living Bible. Then, “You must not be envious of your neighbor’s house, or want to sleep with his wife, or want to own his slaves, oxen, donkeys, or anything else he has.” Here we find the word “envy” listed in the translation, so we can know by comparison in just a handful of options, that envy is indeed the root of commandment 10.
The wonderful thing about God’s Ten Commandments is that they are uncomplicated, easy to relate to and apply. I find it profound that these ten parameters for living well on the earth have applied to the lifestyles of the human race for thousands of years. Human beings may have colonized, mechanized and digitized the earth, but we still suffer the same problems, temptations and challenges since Eve had a baby. It’s a strange sort of comfort to know that we have so much in common with the great forefathers (and mothers) of Scripture. God knew we would need each other, so he gave us the Ten Commandments to live well with him and with our fellow man.
Adrienne Greene pastors two Christian churches in southeastern Indiana. Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Please send your inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030.