Quick – can you name the sixth of the ten commandments? That was the question in a quiz I went to last night. We got it wrong, but I have to to tell you, so did the quiz-master. If you Google ‘the Ten Commandments’ – which I can assure you we didn’t during the quiz – what you get is the list of injunctions from Exodus 20. You know the ones: thou shalt not kill, steal, commit adultery or covet thy neighbour’s ass. Read them all here if you feel inclined.
When, in a fit of pique, Moses destroyed the stone slabs on which these ‘commandments’ were written, God generously offered to provide him with a replacement set. The Almighty even made a point of saying, in Exodus 34.1, that the two sets would be identical. But they’re not. Here’s the lot from Exodus 34:
1. You shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
2. Do not make any molten gods (idols).
3. Keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
4. The first born of every creature shall belong to me.
5. Work for six days and rest on the seventh.
6. Observe the Feast of Weeks.
7. Present all your male children to the Lord God three times a year.
8. Do not offer the blood of sacrifices to God with leaven and don’t leave the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover until the morning.
9. Give the first of the first-fruits of the land to the house of the Lord thy God.
10. Do not boil a kid in his mother’s milk.
Far from being identical, only three commandments are the same in the two sets; missing from the Exodus 34 group are those about adultery, theft and killing, replaced with stipulations about ancient Jewish festivals and boiling baby goats (of great eternal significance, that one.) Just to complicate matters, this second lot is the only one referred to in the Bible as ‘The Ten Commandments’ (Exodus 34.28). The more familiar injunctions from Exodus 20 – the ones Google brings up – are not.
What is going on here? It’s as if ‘The Ten Commandments’ are not as immutable as Christians claim. What are they to do? Should they pick and mix between the two sets? Should they reject one and use only the other? Obey both lots – The Seventeen Commandments? It’s far from clear and yet, according to Jesus, their eternal existence depends on getting it right (Matthew 19:17).
All of which makes me think how a single seamless garment has been created out of a ragbag of scraps and patches. The church and believers in general have told us that the shambolic writings stitched together as the Bible tell a consistent story. This deceit is a major accomplishment of the Christian faith because the seamless garment is an illusion, created by pretending there are no discrepancies or inconsistencies and by glossing over all the significant differences within God’s Word™.
This is why we never hear of the second set of commandments – they’re put away like a mad woman in the attic. The church doesn’t want people seeing them or hearing about them. Best to shut them away and make out they don’t exist. Same with the second account of creation in Genesis 2. It’s different from that in Genesis 1, though both are embarrassingly wrong about the means and order of creation. When Christians do acknowledge that there are two accounts (as Ken Ham does) they insist, that, of course, there are no real differences and they can all be explained (away). If there are no differences, why then do they need explaining?
Then there are the disparate accounts of Jesus’ life. Even where they share the same material each gospel presents it differently or gives it a spin that frequently contradicts the other gospels’ versions of the same events. Every one of the stories about the resurrection, for example, is radically different in both detail and significance from all the others.
There are even greater problems for Christians in explaining how Jesus’ supposed sacrifice on the cross brings about salvation. The writers of the New Testament aren’t clear themselves, suggesting at least a dozen largely incompatible ways between them. The four gospels alone have conflicting ideas about how it works (more on this next time), all of which differ from Paul’s salvation formula.
I suppose if Christians want to deceive themselves about their faith and their magic book, it’s up to them. But, please, righteous ones, don’t try and tell the rest of us it has a clear consistent message when it doesn’t. Don’t tell us it’s a seamless garment when it has tangles of loose threads and you’ve had to throw away all the material that doesn’t fit the pattern you pretend you can see.
Oh, and that sixth commandment? ‘Observe the Feast of Weeks’. But of course you knew that.