Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.
As I’ve written previously in this season of Lent, Anglican Christianity reads the Ten Commandments as they are described in the Book of Exodus (as opposed to the way they are listed in the Book of Deuteronomy). In his biblical commentary Exodus 20-40, William Johnstone, an emeritus professor of Hebrew & Semitic Languages at the University of Aberdeen and ordained minister in the Church of Scotland, provides this helpful introduction to thinking about these words in their context in Exodus:
The “Ten Commandments” (better: the “Ten Words or “Decalogue”) are probably the best-known part of the book of Exodus, if not of the whole Bible. Their affirmation of the values of family and community life — the care of the elderly, the sanctity of marriage, and the right of the neighbor to security of person and property and to justice at law — gives them universal appeal. For the faith community, the affirmation of the first four “Words,” that the prior action of God and the continuing acknowledgment of that action laid the foundation of individual and corporate human life, gives the Decalogue supreme authority. The New Testament too endorses the Ten Words in the summary, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
For reading and understanding the book of Exodus as a whole, these Words also provide a good starting point. They stand in Exodus 20 in virtually central place in the book and divide it into two roughly equal parts. Their “Prologue” looks back at the story of the first nineteen chapters, God’s great act of deliverance of Israel from crushing slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 1-19). The remaining chapters state the response that God expects from Israel as the redeemed community (the topic of Exodus 20-40).
— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector