The Ten Commandments, as I said last time, are more of the nature of treaty obligations than law code. They are also of the form of treaty where the Great King has shown signal kindness to the prospective vassal and puts the treaty obligations more in the light of something the vassal should do in response to the kindness shown rather than fear of punishment. Having said this of course for vassal kings, performing their treaty obligations out of love was the “easy option”. If that did not work human overlords would not be slow to resort to force!
So this tells us something about God. It's very personal. God has a relationship with say ancient Israel as his chosen agent. He has a very personal relationship with the 'Kingdom of Heaven' inaugurated by Jesus. He has a personal relationship with the individual people who are members of it. The terms of the treaty (as I am describing the Ten Commandments) set out our obligations towards him, and how he requires us to act towards each other. So if a person wants to be in a 'treaty relationship' with God, they must subscribe to and obey the Ten Commandments. What if a society – even a 'multi-faith' one where not all members are in relationship with the real God – wants to enjoy the general benefits of God's overlord-ship. Going back to the vassal kingdom analogy, the prohibition against one king going to war against another and so forth meant that they all enjoyed peace and stability. Similarly for societies: if they adopt even just the treaty obligations of how people act towards each other, they will be better off.
My first conclusion is that even in a pluralistic society we should adopt the Commandments which deal with person-to-person interactions.
There is a second thing about the Commandments as treaty obligations rather than law code. Law codes are continually becoming outdated. As situations change old laws become obsolete, and new laws have to be drawn up. If the Bible presented us with a law code, it would have been obsolete millennia ago! (Coveting our neighbour's ox or ass is not much of a problem in the modern world … but coveting his or her car … that can be). But since the Commandments show the basis of a relationship with God and how people need to relate to each other for the common good, they are now timeless principles. Situations can change, technology can change, the world can change but the principles of this treaty obligation can still be carried out.
My second conclusion is that the Commandments have no 'use by' date. The flip-side of this is however that the principles have to be understood well enough that one can flesh them out into law code to meet these new situations and social conditions.
Next Post I will begin to work through how to understand the principle and then how to flesh it out, using the “No Murdering” Commandment and modern situations. That should be fun!