Do the Ten Commandments Need a Modern Update?

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Do we need to update the Ten Commandments (not the famous movie with Charlton Heston—the ones found in Exodus) for a more modern audience? A video on Seeker.com certainly thinks so. (Because of a few brief seconds of crude content in this video, viewer discretion is advised). Under their video they write,

The decline in belief in the Biblical 10 commandments doesn’t mean that all rules of conduct are necessarily superfluous. Here is our attempt to reimagine a set of rules for how to behave around others.

The Biblical Commandments

This “reimagined set of rules” is a supposedly updated version of the biblical commandments that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. For those unfamiliar with the Ten Commandments, here’s a quick look at them (you can find them in Exodus 20:1–17):

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me [the Lord].
  2. Do not make, bow down to, or serve an idol.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  4. Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

Man-Made Responses or Divine Commandments?

The makers of this video see the Ten Commandments as nothing more than “responses to the specific needs of a small nomadic community wandering the Sinai Peninsula with goats and sheep around 1200 BC.” This implies that people invented the commandments. However, the Ten Commandments are commandments from the Creator God on how the Israelites were to treat both others and Him. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in the law, He said all the law and the prophets could be summed up with this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40)

So the commandments are to be followed out of love for God and others.

Changing Needs=Changing Commandments?

The video states,

Our needs have predictably changed a bit since then, but a place for rules remains because we’re still horribly prone to violence, cruelty, and self-righteousness and need regularly to be reminded of how to live peacefully and well with ourselves and our neighbors. What would it be like to try to update the commandments for our own times?

This video doesn’t merely “update” the commandments—it completely rewrites them in a way that bears zero resemblance to the actual Ten Commandments. Each one—written on a modern tablet rather than tablets of stone—starts with “the good person,” implying this is what good people do. But who defines “good”? This presumably secular video has no basis on which to define good or evil other than the opinion of the director or narrator. But who’s to say that their definition of “good” is the right one?

And how can these be commands—why should we listen and obey the “commands” of a random Internet video? Based merely on the opinion of those who made the video, they are just 10 suggestions of how to live “peacefully and well with ourselves and our neighbors.” But again, who defines “peacefully” or “well” without the ultimate standard of our Creator’s Word?

The Ten Commandments Rewritten

Here is their version of the Ten Commandments:

Commandment 1:

The good person is at all times highly aware of their flaws and committed to becoming a better version of themselves.

Again, who defines what is a “better version” of someone? The person himself, society, family—who? And who defines what is a “flaw”? For example, to the Huns under Attila, or the Mongols under Genghis Khan, the better version of a person was the one who killed the most enemies or conquered the most cities. Without an ultimate standard for morality, it’s merely one person’s opinion. When we start with the Bible, we have a definition of flaw—it’s called sin nature!—and a definition of better that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can work toward.

Commandment 2:

The good person knows that everyone is deeply damaged and a little mad, starting with, of course, themselves. . . . They understand that part of their duty is to have a ready answer to the legitimate question “and how are you crazy?”

This one is even more arbitrary than the first “commandment.” But ironically the narrator doesn’t realize that Scripture has addressed this issue:

This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. (Ecclesiastes 9:3)

But the Bible also gives the remedy to this situation: knowledge, wisdom and hope.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Additionally, Scripture gives us a basis for having empathy for others and for living in peace with our neighbors. (Romans 12:15–18)

Commandment 3:

The good person is loyal in relationships.

Loyalty is a good quality. In a biblical view, “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). But why should we be loyal in a secular view? The secular view is based on evolutionary ideas about the past, such as “survival of the fittest.” Sometimes loyalty may increase your “survival” chances, but often it won’t. And loyalty in relationships is borrowed from the biblical concept of marriage. In an evolutionary perspective, those who are able to reproduce with the most and spread their genes the farthest are the most successful. Additionally, in a secular view, if it isn’t best for me, why should I do it? Although all secular people don’t think this way, ultimately looking out for others is counter to an evolutionary worldview.

Commandment 4:

The good person knows that it’s impossible to be wholly understood by anyone, and accepts that things are going well if one’s very lonely in only around half of the key areas of one’s life.

The Christian is aware that God fully knows the thoughts and the heart of each man.

The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile. (Psalms 94:11)
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

But the Christian is also comforted that God, even knowing our limitations, loves and pities us (Psalm 103:13–14) and does not desert us.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”(Hebrews 13:5)

Commandment 5:

The good person tries hard never to assume that other people should know what they’re thinking of or want without their having told them very clearly and kindly. They try to resist sulking.

Though the creators of this video think the Bible is outdated, they may be surprised to know that Scripture would agree with the sentiments here. In fact we are told in several places that a true friend does not assume or presume but rather loves his friend as himself.

A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
Ointment and perfume delight the heart, and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14)

Commandment 6:

The good person looks at people who are behaving badly as if they might be small children; that is with patience, charity, and an active search for mitigating circumstances.

Again, this same attitude is taught in the Bible.

And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)
To speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. (Titus 3:2)
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)
He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates friends. (Proverbs 17:9)
Above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

Commandment 7:

Confronted with a piece of stupidity or evil, which they would never be guilty of, the good person doesn’t fall into self-righteousness.

In a biblical worldview there is no room for self-righteousness. Believers have been forgiven of all our sins purely by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us (Ephesians 2:8–9). We are no better than anyone else (1 Corinthians 4:7); we are simply forgiven. But in a secular worldview, why is self-righteousness wrong? Again, there is no ultimate standard for saying this attitude is wrong without the foundation of God’s Word.

Commandment 8:

The good person is committed to searching for the funny side of people who might appear merely desperately irritating.

Giving someone the “benefit of the doubt” is not something that comes naturally, nor is explainable from an evolutionary perspective. It is actually a God-given command: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4). God even tells us not to get irritated quickly, and to really listen to people (James 1:19).

Commandment 9:

The good person is a firm believer in restraint and in not immediately saying certain things that are on their minds.

This, too, is a biblical teaching: “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). But in a secular view, why should we care about exercising restraint or holding our tongues? This might be someone’s opinion of what we should do, but ultimately why should we waste the energy trying to hold our tongues?

Commandment 10:

The good person knows that the best protection against impatience and paranoia is a little gently worn pessimism. . . . They don’t cry constantly, only because they’ve understood that the whole of existence is, in many ways, worthy of tears. Their constant awareness of the possibility of death and catastrophe makes them especially appreciative of small things that happen to go well.

Solomon stated that this sort of introspection is good for mankind.

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

However, this “commandment” is very interesting. Indeed, from a human perspective, our existence is “worthy of tears.” When we die there is no ultimate hope, meaning, or purpose to our short lives. We can try to fabricate some kind of purpose or meaning, but it’s merely an illusion in a secular view. Yes, we do live in a fallen world, where death and sorrow are ever-present realities; however, we must remember that Christ Himself was described as a man of sorrows. Christians are also commanded to take up our cross and follow Him, meaning that we don’t have a naïve and unrealistic expectation of a carefree existence. But Scripture tells us time and again that we have hope of eternal life and peace with God through the sacrificial work of Christ and through the power of His Resurrection (Romans 8:18 and Hebrews 12:2). The fatalistic secular worldview is very different from a biblical view which offers real hope, meaning, and purpose through the good news of the gospel!

A Biblical Foundation

Did you notice how arbitrary it is to try to create commandments for behavior without the starting point of God’s Word? These revised “commandments” simply become suggestions based on the opinions of a few people—they have no foundation to stand on (or they unknowingly borrow concepts and precepts from Scripture). This is a huge problem for the secular worldview.

What makes the Ten Commandments—and other biblical commands—different? They have an ultimate foundation—the Word and character of our Creator God. Since God is the Creator and Judge of the universe, only He has the right to set the rules and tell us what to do.

Of course, we can never fully live up to God’s law. Take a quick look at the list of the Ten Commandments again. How many have you broken? Probably quite a few of them (and keep in mind that Jesus equates anger with murder [Matthew 5:21–22] and lust with adultery [verses 27–28])! Scripture tells us that no one can perfectly obey God’s law: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But the good news is that Jesus stepped into history and perfectly obeyed God’s law (2 Corinthians 5:21). He then took the penalty that we deserve for our sin—death (Romans 6:23)—upon Himself when He died on the Cross. But He didn’t stay dead; He rose from the grave, conquered death, and now offers new and eternal life to all who will put their faith and trust in Him (Romans 10:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

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