MAXIMS OF RELIGION
It is simplistic and naive to imagine that all of the rules for righteous living could be completely comprehended in the Ten Commandments of the Hebrew legal system. No set of statutes of a specific number can be accounted as final or entire, since it is always possible to postulate other provisions that might have been included. The ancient Egyptian Negative Confession had thirty precepts, and Hammurabi’s Code extended to two hundred eighty-two laws. The central shrine of ancient Greece, the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, also had many admirable precepts inscribed on the temple walls. Some of these were as follows:
Nothing too much.
Curb thy spirit.
Observe the limit.
Hate hubris (impiety).
Keep a reverent tongue.
Bow before the divine.
Glory not in strength.
Keep woman under rule.
A unique set of rules governs the lives of adherents of Buddhism; these maxims constitute the so-called Noble Eightfold Path:
1. Right Views.
2. Right Resolve.
3. Right Speech.
4. Right Conduct.
5. Right Livelihood.
6. Right Effort.
7. Right Mindfulness.
8. Right Concentration.
Isalm’s faith is upheld by the Five Pillars:
1. Belief in God
(There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet).
2. Prayer (Five times daily toward Mecca).
3. Almsgiving (A tenth of grain, a fortieth of merchandise/money).
4. Fasting (During the Holy Month of Ramadan).
5. Pilgrimage (Once in a lifetime to Mecca).
The Hindu equivalent of the Law of Moses is the Manu Smriti: the “Memorized Tradition of Manu.” The demigod Manu was identified as the Primordial Man, the hero of the Flood, and the receiver of laws from the god Brahman. Hence, he is a combination of Adam, Noah, and Moses. (Actually, the set of laws attributed to Manu was written no earlier than 200 B.C.) The statutes are divided as follows:
1. On Transmigration.
2. Rules for a Householder.
3. Rules for the Ascetic.
4. Duties of Women.
5. The King and Punishment.
6. Spiritual Merit.
7. The Creation Story.
Under the first heading a catalog of sins is given. It might be likened to a Hindu Decalogue.
9. Killing (Ahimsa: sanctity of all life).
In like manner, King David of the Hebrews laid down his own decalogue in the fifteenth Psalm:
3. No Slander.
4. No Gossip.
6. Hate for Sinners.
7. Honor for the Pious.
9. No Usury.
10. No Bribes.
The prophet Isaiah reduced the requirements for righteous living down to six maxims:
3. No Fraudulent Gain.
4. No Bribes.
5. No Murder Plots.
6. No Evil Plots. (Isaiah 33:15)
For Micah, there were just three avenues for living the good life. These were:
3. Meekness (Humility). (Micah 6:8)
The prophet Habakkuk, with an insight beyond his time and age, set forth a double requirement for obtaining God’s favor:
2. Faith (Habakkuk 2:4)
Jesus cut to the heart of the matter by His careful selection of just two rules for living, the first from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18. They were:
1. Love your God.
2. Love your Neighbor.
It is significant that Jesus presented these two rules for loving ahead of and in the place of the Ten Commandments:
And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him: “Rabbi, which is the greatest Commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the Great and First Commandment. And a Second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these Two Commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
The reference above to “the Law and the Prophets” means “the entire Hebrew Scriptures.” (Note: In the parallel passage given in Luke 10:27-28, the two maxims on loving your God and your neighbor are actually spoken by the inquisitive lawyer and then approved by Jesus.)
In another passage, Jesus added yet another Commandment, “Do not defraud.”
You know the commandments: “Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” Mark 10:19
It follows from all of the above that the Decalogue of Moses, as fine as it is, is not the utlimate word in righteous living. In fact, one might without undue effort supply several more valuable and comprehensive precepts that are not contained in the Mosaic listing. For example, after the Tenth Commandment, one might add:
11. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. (Mark 12:30)
12. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Mark 12:31)
13. Thou shalt not defraud. (Mark 10:19)
14. Thou shalt do unto others as thou wouldst have them do unto thee. (Matthew 7:12)
15. Thou shalt not seek a good outcome by shameful means.
16. Thou shalt not return evil for evil.
17. Thou shalt not neglect assembling for worship and instruction.
18. Thou shalt not afflict thy body as a means to righteousness.
19. Thou shalt not judge a man’s faith by outward forms and rites.
20. Thou shalt not forcibly enjoin worship or belief.
21. Thou shalt not traffic in magic or divination.
22. Thou shalt not wager upon chance happenings.
23. Thou shalt not practice respect of one person before another.
24. Thou shalt not engage in torture or cruelty.
25. Thou shalt not engage in rabble violence.
26. Thou shalt not sacrifice a man or eat his flesh.
27. Thou shalt not engage in slavery.
28. Thou shalt not befoul the river upstream of thy neighbor.
29. Thou shalt not neglect the giving of alms and aid.
30. Thou shalt not oppress the poor and the needy.
31. Thou shalt not demean womankind.
32. Thou shalt not mistreat animals.
33. Thou shalt not speak slander.
34. Thou shalt not betray a trust.
35. Thou shalt not accept a bribe.
36. Thou shalt not be slothful at hired labor.
37. Thou shalt not withhold the appointed taxes and tithes.
38. Thou shalt not use strong drink or overpowering herbs.
39. Thou shalt not commit the shameful acts of Sodom.
40. Thou shalt not kill the unborn child, unless it came from rape or incest, or has monstrous malformation, or would result in the death of the mother.
41. Thou shalt not neglect the instruction of thy children, or any ignorant soul, in the ways of truth, wisdom, and righteousness.
42. Thou shalt not dishonor the ruler, the priest, the judge, or the scholar.
Obviously, there are religious and moral issues that are not covered by any rule or commandment in the Bible, and it becomes hard to justify some ethical decisions without a specific text as authority. But it is asking too much of any religious code that it should include every possible expression of evil in present or future times. The Christian is left with the helpful assurance that “the Spirit will lead you into all truth.” Also, applying the principle, “What would Jesus do?” remains the best way to arrive at a Christocentric ruling for any difficulty or dilemma of life.
People prefer to cling to simplistic answers to the complex issues of life, and legalists make the mistake that by keeping just ten rules, they can satisfy all of God’s demands. Certainly, compliance with the Decalogue really will make for righteousness, but it can also lead to a dangerous complacency that leaves the individual on a moral plateau all oblivious to the mountain peaks yet to be scaled. Such an inferior concept of the essence of religion amounts, in the long run, to a negation of the Gospel and the Cross.
Richard L. Atkins