The Ten Commandments of Jesus

and Resolving the Debate Over Gender Roles and Homosexuality

 

For most of its nearly 2,000 year history, Christianity has been taught almost exclusively by heterosexual males, in particular, men who were privileged enough to have the leisure time for an education and have access to rare handwritten copies of the Christian Bible that were available primarily ancient Greek and Latin. As most people throughout history have been illiterate, this has meant that only a tiny percentage of very privileged males have defined traditional Christianity. This remained true even through the twentieth century where church leadership and biblical scholarship was largely the labor of well-educated and more privileged males.

Nevertheless, male biblical scholars have been useful and during the twentieth century (along with a small percentage of females: the women scholars are the exceptions that prove the rule) these scholars have achieved two significant things. First, they have carefully evaluated and translated all of the known ancient manuscripts of the Bible so that we now have in the 21st century reliable modern English translations of the Old and New Testaments. And, secondly, these mostly male biblical scholars, particularly in the last fifty years, have discovered that interpretations of Christianity throughout history have always been very complex and diverse, just like today.

Thanks to modern scholarship, we know that Jesus grew up in a land ruled by Romans who worshipped a variety of gods and goddesses, that many religions had male and female priests, and that homosexuality was sometimes accepted in some places. Even if you don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God, he could have been smart enough to see that, at some point in the future, societies would inevitably struggle with issues such as gender roles and homosexuality. And if Jesus was actually the son of God, and he did his job competently, his teachings must have anticipated our struggles today over homosexuality and the appropriate role of women in church and in society. So he must have given us the way to clearly resolve these issues. Otherwise Jesus would be a very incompetent Messiah.

Indeed Jesus does provide the way to resolve the conflict over gender roles and homosexuality. But for us to see the answers, women and openly gay people have had to participate in studying the teachings of Jesus. After all, heterosexual men are less than 50% of the population. If God is love, and God is male and female in whose image we are created, we shouldn’t expect that heterosexual men alone could intelligently understand and establish responsible laws about sex and marriage if they excluded over half the population from the discussion. Over the last fifty years, in many colleges, universities, seminaries, and places of worship, open-minded heterosexual men have increasingly joined with significant numbers of women and openly gay people and together they have studied the Bible. This is radically changing how we read and understand the core teachings of Jesus found in the four Gospels.

What’s crucial to keep in mind is that, in the decades after the Gospels were written, a small group of males took over governing the churches and they just assumed that many of the 613 laws of Moses found in the Old Testament were still valid for Christians. For example, these men adopted for the church the notion of an all-male priesthood that Moses had previously established. Many other laws of Moses, including those that permitted slavery, required women to conform to specific roles, and condemned homosexuals, persisted in these male dominated churches over the centuries. Male leaders of Christian churches, beginning with the earliest male apostles, in effect became “Cafeteria Jews” who amongst themselves decided which of the 613 laws of Moses they would continue to enforce and which Old Testament laws they would ignore.

However, if you read the clear teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels, there is absolutely no reason for Christians to obey today any of the laws of Moses, including his top Ten Commandments, just because they are written in the Old Testament. This is simply because Jesus edited and taught his own version of the Ten Commandments, which traditional male Christians rarely examine carefully. To this day poorly educated Christians will often talk about the historical importance of the Ten Commandments of Moses, and some insist that they be displayed in city halls or courthouses or other public spaces. Here’s why these Christians are obviously mistaken.

In the Gospels written almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus provides his own corrected versions of the top Ten commandments. Jesus actually gives numbers to only the top two commands, but elsewhere he provides an additional eight which clearly show how Jesus adapted and revised the top Ten Commandments of Moses. As the Messiah, it was Jesus’ job to edit the writings of Moses and his male buddies. As we’ll see, Moses got many things right, at least among the top Ten Commands, but then the Jewish boys got carried away in their lawmaking, as Christian males are also prone to do. Moses and Aaron and the other men went on to add another 603 commands, which they imagined God would approve. I should add that there’s evidence of excessive wine drinking going on the Bible, so perhaps many of the 603 additional commandments in the Old Testament were composed under the influence. These men also used Urim and Thummim, which was some kind of object that, like throwing dice or flipping a coin, was evidently used to determine what was a sin and who was a sinner. However it happened, history is filled with examples of males who just love creating more and more rules and regulations. It is these male-led Christian churches that give us lengthy doctrines and dogmas, just as the males Jews wrote the Talmud: endless rules to follow. Jesus, however, provides us with just the essential core teachings that loving humans need, along with the freedom to love responsibly.

The corrected Top Two Commandments according to Jesus are found in Mark’s Gospel (12:28-34), with slight variations in Matthew and Luke:

And one of the scribes [male biblical scholars] came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is,

[1] Hear, O Israel:The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The second is this,

[2] You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Jesus provides the rest of his corrections of the Top Ten Commandments of Moses also in Mark’s Gospel (10:17-22), again with slight variations in Matthew and Luke:

And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments:

[3] Do not kill, 

[4] Do not commit adultery, 

[5] Do not steal, 

[6] Do not bear false witness, 

[7] Do not defraud, 

[8] Honor your father and mother.” 

And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.”

And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him,

[9] “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; 

[10] And come, follow me.” 

At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

Now that we have Jesus’ revision of the Top Ten Commandments, we can compare them side by side with the Top Ten Commandments of Moses.

Click on this image to enlarge:

How Jesus Corrected Moses

 

There are many reasons for preferring the Ten Commandments of Jesus to those of Moses. The Ten Commandments of Moses portray God as vengeful and willing to punish the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren for the sins of previous generations. Moses also claims that God demands observance of the sabbath which then requires hundreds of more commandments concerning temple worship with its all-male priesthood and animal slaughter. Eventually, all the additional commandments of Moses add up to 613, according to Jewish scholars such as Maimonides. Jesus not only ignores in his teachings the vast majority of those 613 commands, he specifically replaces the tenth commandment of Moses which treats a wife as a man’s possession, like an ox or an ass, and makes owning slaves perfectly acceptable.

Moses claims God’s Tenth Commandment allows for slavery. The sin in Moses’ Tenth commandment is about coveting the male or female slaves and other belongings owned by the wealthy. However, Jesus makes no accommodations for slavery in his Ten Commandments. Instead, Jesus transforms the do-not-covet command of Moses, which readily applies to the poor who have nothing, into a far more challenging command that the wealthy be generous, including giving up their slaves and other property. In effect, a slave owner who wants to follow Jesus is told to sell his belongings, which would include his slaves, and give them to the poor. Well, who would be poorer than a slave who owns nothing? Repeatedly built into the teachings of Jesus is the end of slavery along with the end of the sin of amassing of great wealth, which the laws of Moses wrongly claim God accommodated.

The way that Jesus totally changed Moses’ 10th commandment is very important for evaluating all the other laws of Moses found in the Old Testament. Because Moses failed to call excessive wealth a sin, Jesus is showing us that we can’t always trust that what Moses says is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We find another example of this in the 4th Commandment of Moses. As the Son of God, Jesus would have known that God did not create heaven and earth in six days and then rest on the seventh, as Moses claims in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. So Jesus omitted entirely this 4th Commandment of Moses about creation and observing the sabbath. We’ll examine later Jesus’ teachings and how they relate to the very interesting parables in the Old Testament about the creation of the universe and the sins of that first heterosexual couple, Adam and Eve. Meanwhile we can already begin to question the validity of Moses’ testimony when he claims over and over again in the Old Testament that “God spoke these words.”

Once we set aside the top Ten Commandments of Moses, because Jesus has intelligently revised them, a clear formula emerges for evaluating the validity of any of the 613 Old Testament laws: Put the commands and teachings of Jesus first and foremost, and then consider how that possibly changes or nullifies the laws of Moses. After all, why should Christians assume that a command from Moses is valid if Jesus did not think that command was even worth mentioning?

If we put the core Ten Commandments of Jesus first, resolving the conflict of gender equality and gay marriage soon becomes obvious. In the Gospels, Jesus treats women as spiritually equal to men and says nothing against homosexuality and in fact praises eunuchs, who were the transgender persons of his day. Of the core Ten Commandments of Jesus, the two laws that apply to opposite-sex couples can equally apply to same-sex couples:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself; and do not commit adultery.

The 2nd Commandment of Jesus is the basis for gender equality: if you love your neighbor as yourself and you are a man and your neighbor is a woman, then Jesus is saying to treat one another equally. Roles at home or at work can be based primarily on gifts and abilities, rather than gender. At this point in time (science might change this) only those woman who are physically able to have children can give birth, but beyond that the roles and responsibilities of men and women are readily interchangeable and negotiable. Jesus cooked. Like a mother bathing her dirty children, Jesus washed the feet of his male disciples, knowing full well the huge mess the boys were going to make. The Gospels go out of their way to make it clear that Jesus is not a typical heterosexual male. Supposedly he was not made with the sperm of a human father and therefore wouldn’t have the Y chromosome of a human male. Apparently, God asked Mary to be a surrogate mother and it’s a mystery as to whether her DNA was used in the making of God’s son Jesus. We’ll explore all this in more detail, but meanwhile it is clear that Jesus was not squeamish about discussing gender differences, including the transfiguration of gender and gender roles involving eunuchs.

It is true that Moses in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament clearly condemn certain homosexual practices. But no one in the Bible claims that Moses is the infallible Messiah or that Paul is the Son of God, the perfect savior of the world. We will look more closely at what Moses and Paul say about gender and homosexuality, but no careful reader of the Bible can deny the considerable evidence that Moses and Paul were merely human and fallible. And what’s crucial to understand is that, if you can believe that Jesus came to Earth as God’s Son from some alternate dimension or mega-universe called heaven, and that Jesus was the Messiah, the fully authorized representative and agent of God, then the only possibly infallible words in the Bible come from Jesus. There’s a good reason why many Bibles print in red letters only the words of Jesus.

The problem is that traditional Christian males, such as Paul, assumed that the laws of Moses concerning gender roles and sexuality were essentially correct. However, if you read Paul’s letters carefully, he evidently never met with any of the women who were close disciples of Jesus and whose stories are written about in the Gospels, such as Mary Magdalene, or Martha, or Jesus’ mother Mary. If he had talked with the women who were close to Jesus, Paul probably wouldn’t have gotten so upset over women who didn’t keep their hair covered during public worship, as was the custom among conservative Jews, and still is today. If he had consulted with the women who knew Jesus, Paul would have discovered that Jesus loved it when women let their hair down and worshipped at his feet!

The bottom line is that traditional, heterosexual male leaders of Christianity inconsistently pick and choose which laws and traditions of Moses they claim are valid to suit their own sensibilities and agendas. Only very recently have women and gay people learned enough about the Bible to challenge the old boys club. Privileged heterosexual male church leaders have typically ignored or were blind to the Top Ten Commandments of Jesus and instead favored Moses’ Top Ten Commands, which made it easy for them to keep some of the other laws of Moses as well. Interestingly, many privileged heterosexual men often use controversies over homosexuality and gender as a distraction to keep Christians who haven’t carefully read the Gospels from focusing on the teaching of social and economic justice that Jesus places solidly in his Top Ten Commandments.

If we want to end this senseless bickering over issues such as traditional male authority, equal opportunity for women, homosexuality, and economic injustice, the way to move forward in the 21st century is to take seriously, for the first time in history, the core Ten Commandments of Jesus. And we need to recognize the Old Testament for what it is: occasionally correct when Jesus affirms its teachings, and an extremely valuable collection of the mistakes that human males have made when they mistakingly claim to be speaking on God’s behalf.