Importance Within Judaism and Christianity
Herbert Huffmon considers the Ten Commandments to concern matters of fundamental importance: the greatest obligation (to worship only God), the greatest injury to a person (murder), the greatest injury to family bonds (adultery), the greatest injury to commerce and law (bearing false witness), the greatest inter-generational obligation (honor to parents), the greatest obligation to community (truthfulness), the greatest injury to moveable property (theft).
Huffmon writes that the Ten Commandments were written with room for varying interpretation because they are fundamental. They are not as explicit or detailed as rules and regulations or many other biblical laws and commandments, because they provide guiding principles that apply universally, across changing circumstances. They do not specify punishments for their violation. Their precise import must be worked out in each separate situation.
Various aspects of the Bible have been considered indications of a special status of the Ten Commandments among all other Old Testament laws. They have a uniquely terse style. Of all the biblical laws and commandments, the Ten Commandments alone were "written with the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18). And lastly, the stone tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:21).
In Judaism, the Ten Commandments provide God's universal and timeless standard of right and wrong, unlike about 200 of the other 603 commandments in the Torah, which describe various duties and ceremonies such as the kashrut dietary laws and now unobservable rituals to be performed by priests in the Holy Temple.They form the basis of Jewish law.
In some traditions, worshipers rise for the reading of the Ten Commandments to highlight their special significance even though many rabbis, including Maimonides, have come out against this custom since one may come to think that the Ten Commandments are more important than the rest of the Mitzvot. (See below: Use In Jewish Ritual.)
The Eastern Orthodox Church holds its moral truths to be chiefly contained in the Ten Commandments. A confession begins with the Confessor reciting the Ten Commandments and asking the penitent which of them he has broken.
In Roman Catholicism, Jesus freed Christians from the Jewish obligation to keep the 613 mitzvot, but not from their obligation to keep the Ten Commandments. They are to the moral order what the creation story is to the natural order.
Even after rejecting the Roman Catholic moral theology, giving less importance to biblical law in order to better hear and be moved by the gospel, early Protestant theologians still took the Ten Commandments to be the starting point of Christian moral life. Different versions of Christianity have varied in how they have translated the bare principles into the specifics that make up a full Christian ethic. Where Catholicism emphasizes taking action to fulfill the Ten Commandments, Protestantism uses the Ten Commandments for two purposes: to outline the Christian life to each person, and to make each person realize, through their failure to live that life, that they lack the ability to do it on their own. Thus for Protestant Christianity, the Ten Commandments primarily serve to lead each Christian to the grace of God.
Read more about this topic: Ten Commandments Rulings
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