First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 7, No. 1 September 2006
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
What’s Wrong with the Ten Commandments on the Courthouse Lawn?
by Dr. Bruce Prescott
The monument at
Stigler endorses a Reformed Protestant interpretation of the Ten Commandments.
The division and numbering of the commandments on the monument follows a scheme
that has been accepted by most Protestants, other than Lutherans, since the
"I the LORD am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage."
The second command, for Jews, combines the prohibition against "other gods" and the prohibition against "graven images."
Since the first
Jewish command literally applies exclusively to Jews, Christians have
interpreted the passage as a mere preamble. The divergence between these
interpretations is fraught with substantial theological and historical
consequences for the communal identities of the differing faith traditions.
"The pictures or statues that they dedicate to saints -- what are they but examples of the most abandoned lust and obscenity? If anyone wished to model himself after them, he would be fit for the lash. Indeed, brothels show harlots clad more virtuously and modestly than the churches show those objects which they wished to be thought images of virgins. For martyrs they fashion a habit not a whit more decent. Therefore let them compose their idols at least to a moderate decency, that they may with a little more modesty falsely claim that these are books of some holiness!"
images led John Calvin, the foremost leader of the Reformed tradition, to
contend that "Any use of images leads to idolatry." His interpretation of the
Ten Commandments singled out the prohibition against "graven images" for
emphasis and set it aside from the prohibition against "other gods.”
When Lutherans and Catholics number the Ten Commandments, they merely advanced the second Jewish command to the first place.. Whereas Judaism viewed the combined prohibitions against "other gods" and against "graven images” as the second commandment, Catholics and Lutherans viewed it as the first commandment.
Historically, the divergence between the Catholic/Lutheran and Calvinist interpretations of the Ten Commandments has, at times, contributed to conflict and strife between Christians.
For example, in 1520-21, at a crucial moment during the reformation in Germany, Luther was excommunicated and forced into hiding in the Wartburg. During his absence, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt filled Luther's pulpit at Wittenberg. In January 1522 the town of Wittenberg passed an ordinance calling for the removal of images from the churches and Karlstadt published his On the Putting Away of Pictures arguing that the worship of images was idolatrous. An iconoclastic riot ensued. Luther had to risk leaving his hideaway to restore order. Karlstadt was dispatched and Luther eventually wrote a refutation of Karlstadt's opinions under the title, Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments (1525)].
sects still teach their adherents to avoid social contact with Roman Catholics
as much as possible because they consider the images associated with their
worship to be idols.
Roman Catholics and Lutherans who compare the numbering and divisions on Stigler's Ten Commandments monument with the numbering and divisions of the Decalogue that are published in the books and catechisms of their own faith traditions will note the discrepancy.
In the eyes of some, the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the courthouse at Stigler sends an unmistakable signal that the Reformed Protestant interpretation of the Bible is being endorsed and that millennia of Roman Catholic and Lutheran scholarship -- reflecting centuries of theological nuances and divisions of the Decalogue within those faith traditions -- has officially been rejected.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
Copyright © 2003 Americans United -- Oklahoma Chapter P.O. Box 892747 Oklahoma City, OK 73189. Phone and Fax: 405-632-0037 Send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Send mail to email@example.com with questions or comments about this web site.