These days the Ten Commandments may seem a bit . . . old. After all, they were delivered over three thousand years ago. Could a set of laws given in such archaic, semi-barbaric times still be relevant today?
The Ten Commandments are not unique. Variations of them have existed from ancient times in almost every culture on earth. These laws are the ancient Israelite version of a common thread that runs through all of the world’s religions.
If these laws are so obvious that everyone around the world knows them, why did God make such a big fuss about giving them from Mount Sinai with great miracles, lighting and thunder, and a huge, booming voice?
Here is the answer: God did it that way not only to get us to pay attention, but also to show that these are not merely human laws, but divine ones.
And since they are divine laws, there is more to them than meets the eye. According to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), within their plain meaning they have deeper meanings that touch on our inner, spiritual life.
- As a code of behavior, the laws contained in the Ten Commandments are essential for the stability of any society.
- At a deeper level, they cover every aspect of our ethical, moral, and spiritual life.
We can think of them as our spiritual inventory list.
From time to time it is good to take an inventory of ourselves to see if anything is missing or misplaced in our spiritual life.
When store managers take inventory, they have an inventory list showing what they should have in stock.
Where can we find a spiritual inventory list?
Different kinds of stores have different inventory lists. Hardware stores have one list, office supply stores have another, grocery stores another, and so on. In the same way, there are many different religions, each with a different list of laws for its adherents to live by. Each of these spiritual inventory lists is especially suited to the people for whom God gave that particular religion. (See: “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?”)
However, there are some basic laws that are common to all of the religions.
The international community has adopted various universal standards, such as the twenty-four hour clock and the global system of time zones. Gold has value everywhere, in a de facto gold standard. Some behaviors, such as theft and murder, are illegal everywhere. These cultural universals reflect the fact that behind all of the religious diversity around the world there are some spiritual universals as well.
In Christianity, those universal standards are expressed in its sacred book: the Bible. In one sense the entire Bible is our spiritual inventory list. But that would take much too long to cover! On the other end of the scale, the two Great Commandments given by Jesus offer a very compact list:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37–40)
This two-item list gives us the general categories. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a spiritual inventory list that’s a little longer and more specific?
The Ten Commandments
Fortunately, we do have a very nice, specific ten-item list. That list is the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments are the divine standard for our lives—a standard that we can always look to when we want to take our own spiritual inventory.
The Bible gives two versions of the Ten Commandments, one in Exodus 20:1–20 and the other in Deuteronomy 5:1–22. Though they both contain the same commandments overall, the wording is different in some places—especially in the commandment to keep the Sabbath and the commandment not to covet.
As mentioned earlier, the laws in the Ten Commandments exist in various forms all around the world. Emanuel Swedenborg explains, though, that they were given by God in a miraculous way in order to show that they are not merely human laws, but divine ones:
Every nation on the face of the earth knows that it is evil to murder, to commit adultery, to steal, and to bear false witness, and knows that any country, state, or civilized society that did not forbid these evil actions would be doomed. No one thinks the Israelite nation was stupider than other nations and did not know these things were evil. Anyone might be amazed, then, that these laws, universally recognized on earth as they are, were delivered on Mount Sinai in such a miraculous way by Jehovah himself.
I have been told, though, that they were delivered in this miraculous way so that people would know that these laws are not only civil and moral laws but divine laws as well. Therefore to act against them would be not only doing something evil to our neighbor (meaning our fellow citizen and our community) but also sinning against God. When they were delivered by Jehovah on Mount Sinai, therefore, these laws became laws of religion as well. It should be obvious that whatever Jehovah commands, he commands as an aspect of religion; therefore his commands are something we need to follow for the sake of our salvation. (True Christianity #282)
In short, following the Ten Commandments is not only a matter of getting along with one another here on earth, but also a matter of our relationship with God and our eternal salvation.
Many people have a general idea of what’s in the Ten Commandments. And many people do live more or less by its standard, whether or not they believe these are divine laws. In Christianity and Judaism, the Ten Commandments are the key statement of the universal laws of behavior that run like a golden thread through all religions and cultures. Because they are so pervasive in human society, we can hardly help internalizing them and measuring our lives against them.
What most people don’t know is that these commandments also have deeper meanings beyond their literal and behavioral surface. To fill out our spiritual inventory list, let’s take a quick survey of the Ten Commandments, including some of the spiritual meanings in them, so that we can follow the divine standard more fully not only with our hands, but in our minds and hearts as well.
These meanings are drawn from several explanations of the Ten Commandments provided by Emanuel Swedenborg in his theological writings (Secrets of Heaven #8858–8912; True Christianity #282–331; Revelation Explained #932–1028, in the last part of each section; and Doctrine of Life #53–91, which covers four of the ten commandments). Here we can give only a very brief sampling of Swedenborg’s extensive commentary on the Ten Commandments.
What’s in a number?
But first, a nitpicky point to avoid unnecessary confusion.
The Bible does not number the Ten Commandments. And just to confuse things, different theologians and churches have adopted different numbering systems. That’s why, for example, the commandment against adultery is sometimes called the seventh commandment, and sometimes the sixth commandment.
Swedenborg followed the numbering system devised by Augustine (354–430), which is used in the Catholic and Lutheran churches (Swedenborg grew up Lutheran), but not in the other (non-Lutheran) Protestant churches or in Eastern Orthodox churches. In the Augustinian system:
- Having no other gods and not making idols together are the first commandment.
- Not coveting your neighbor’s wife (which comes first in the Deuteronomy version, but not in the Exodus version) is the ninth commandment.
- Not coveting your neighbor’s house and possessions is the tenth commandment.
This causes the rest of the commandments to be one number lower than what most Protestants are used to. However, Swedenborg explains the ninth and tenth commandments (in this numbering system) together.
Of course, the important thing is not how we number them, but the substance of the commandments.
Here, then, is a spiritual inventory list for our own regular self-assessment.
1: You shall have no other gods before me; you shall not make an idol
On the literal level, this commandment means that we are not to worship other gods besides the one God of heaven and earth. Much of the world has left polytheism and idol worship far behind, so most people in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures don’t have much trouble with this.
However, on a deeper level this commandment is about what we consider to be most important in life. In order to follow this commandment spiritually, we must put God at the center of our lives—above money and possessions; above personal desires and ambitions; above popularity and social status; above even the love of family and friends. All of these can become false gods and idols if we value them more than we value our relationship with God.
At the deepest, heavenly level of meaning, this all-important first commandment urges Christians to see the Lord God Jesus Christ as the infinite and eternal source of everything. Until we accept and experience the living reality of this universal, all-powerful, divinely human love and wisdom flowing into us and through us day by day, we still have work to do on this commandment.
2: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God
On the literal level, this means respecting God by not using any of God’s names in a disrespectful way. Simple version: if you’re going to swear, don’t do it using any name of God. But also, if you seal a promise using the Lord’s name, don’t break your promise! Of course, breaking promises isn’t a good idea in any case. Further, Jesus advises us not to swear at all, but simply to do what we say we’re going to do (see Matthew 5:33–37).
Looking deeper, this commandment refers to respecting everything that God’s name stands for, which includes everything God teaches us in the Bible, or in the other sacred literature of humanity. Keeping this commandment spiritually means respecting God by following all of God’s commandments, both in our hearts and minds and in our outward actions.
That should keep us busy for a while!
3: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
To follow this commandment on a literal level, we must set aside regular time in our life to focus our thoughts on God and on living in a spiritual way. The easiest way to do this is to attend weekly worship services. But even people who don’t attend services can set aside a certain time each week, or even each day, to think and learn about God, and to pray for God’s help and guidance in becoming a better person.
Spiritually, this commandment is about going through six days of inner labor as we struggle to reform ourselves according to our spiritual beliefs and ideas. Through this spiritual labor, we can arrive at the Sabbath day of inner rest that we experience when we get our life into the flow of God’s love and wisdom, and live at peace within ourselves and with the people around us.
4: Honor your father and your mother
According to this commandment, as children and teenagers we must respect our parents or guardians by listening to what they tell us. This will help us avoid a lot of needless trouble and pain, and form good habits for our adult life. As adults, we must respect our leaders. And if we can’t respect the people who are in leadership roles, we must at least respect the role or position itself, and abide by the laws that our leaders are supposed to represent.
Looking deeper, our true father is God, who created us all and watches over us like a parent. Our true mother is our church or spiritual community, which raises us spiritually and tends to our deeper needs.
And at the highest level, God is both our father and our mother. This commandment tells us that we are to listen to God’s love and God’s wisdom, which are our divine Father and Mother, and to consider these aspects of God the highest standard that we are to live by. For more on this, see: “The Mother of All the Living.”
The two tables of the Ten Commandments
The first three or four commandments focus mostly on the Jesus’ first Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). We can think of them as being written on the first table of the Ten Commandments. This table is about our relationship with God.
The rest of the commandments, which we can think of as being written on second table, focus on the other Great Commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). This table of the Ten Commandments is about our relationship with our fellow human beings.
The commandment to honor our father and mother covers both our relationship with our human fathers and mothers and our relationship with our divine Father and Mother. So it bridges the first and second tables, and links them together.
With one table for God and one table for human beings, the two tables of the Ten Commandments embody in their very structure a relationship between God and humanity.
For most of the commandments in the second table, the literal meaning is clear enough that we will let it speak for itself, and move right into the deeper meanings.
5: You shall not commit murder
Jesus points us to the spiritual meaning of this commandment when he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder,’ but I say to you that if you are angry with your brother, you will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21–22).
Literal, physical murder comes from anger and hatred in our hearts, or from greed and a desire for power. To obey this commandment spiritually, we must not only avoid hurting and killing others physically, but also reject the self-centered thoughts and desires that prompt us to do such things. In religious terms, we must avoid attacking and destroying other people’s faith, which is a form of spiritual murder. By the same token, we should not attack and destroy other people’s faith in themselves by insulting them and tearing down their self-esteem.
At the deepest level, this commandment tells us that we must not murder God within our own soul by rejecting God from our heart, mind, and life.
6: You shall not commit adultery
As Jesus points out in Matthew 5:27–28, this commandment speaks not only of literal adultery and promiscuity, but also of having obscene and lustful desires. There are many people who have kept this commandment literally; yet there are probably very few adults who have never indulged in inner adultery. On a deeper level, this commandment is about working to purify our thoughts and desires, and to focus our mind and heart on loving one person in a faithful, committed marriage relationship.
At an even deeper level, we commit adultery when we abuse God’s teachings and God’s love, and use them for our own selfish purposes. For example, if we act all pious in order to gain people’s trust, and then abuse their trust for our own personal pleasure or financial gain, we have corrupted and adulterated our religion. The Bible commonly calls the people “adulterous” when they have collectively violated their relationship with God. See, for example, Ezekiel 16; Matthew 12:38–42; Mark 8:34–38.
7: You shall not steal
Spiritual stealing is similar to spiritual murder. It involves stealing other people’s faith and beliefs from them—especially if we don’t offer them something more. If we are sure we are right and they are wrong, and we set about to show people just how wrong and stupid they are, we are probably being spiritual thieves.
But the deepest level of stealing happens entirely within ourselves: if we claim for ourselves what is really God’s—qualities such as love, understanding, truth, and justice—then we are stealing from God. To avoid breaking this commandment, we must recognize that everything good and true in us comes from God. None of it comes from us. None of it is ours. It all belongs to God and is a continual gift to us from God.
8: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
We bear false witness spiritually when we intentionally persuade other people of things that we know are wrong in order to serve our own purposes. For example, if we have some personal vice that we like to indulge in, we may encourage others to adopt the same bad habit so that we will have company and support. This is bearing false witness to what we know is the truth: that instead of roping others into our own vice, to their detriment, we should break the bad habit ourselves and set a good example for others.
At a deeper level, if we cling to false teachings that are not in the Bible because they make life easier for us, absolve us of responsibility for our own spiritual life, and allow us to continue sinning and behaving badly, and if we teach these false doctrines to other people as well, then we are bearing false witness against our neighbor. See: “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach.”
9 and 10: You shall not covet
This commandment puts its spiritual meaning right on the literal level—and it applies to all the rest of the commandments. It teaches us that we are not even to desire any of the things that God tells us are wrong. Some of us may take pride in scrupulously keeping the commandments in our outward behavior. This commandment keeps us mindful of the reality that it is only when we have learned to keep all of the commandments in our hearts and minds that we have obeyed God’s commandments fully.
Accomplishing this will take us a lifetime—at least!
The Divine Standard
None of us will ever reach the complete perfection of full obedience to the Ten Commandments on all levels. There will always more items on the spiritual inventory list for us to work on. God doesn’t let us rest on our laurels, but continually calls us forward in our quest for greater spiritual growth and development.
The divine standard that God puts in front of us is simple: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This standard is enough to keep us busy taking our spiritual inventory for a very long time!
This article is © 2016 by Lee Woofenden
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I am sorry, but…with all the shootings in this country and absolute horrific behavior in so many ways, how can the 10 Commandments be relevant? And they are too simplified.
“Thou Shalt Not Kill”?
OK…does that mean if someone is about to plug a hole through a friend or family member, and you also have a gun, do not shoot the person about to kill that special someone because God said, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’? You allowed a special someone to die because of this commandment…isn’t that killing in itself?
These commandments, and so many other passages from the Bible do not seem relevant in today’s world.
I find that when I use my own commonsense, am kind to people and animals, and do not quote or read the Bible my head stays much clearer and calmer. It is impossible to deal with Irrationality on the one hand and living life as it is on the other.
Just Do the Best You Can should be a commandment…
And Watch Your Back at the Same Time
Hi A Well0Wisher,
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
However, I have to ask: Did you actually read the article before commenting?
But more specifically to your questions:
Of course we have to use our brains in reading and interpreting the Ten Commandments just as in reading and interpreting the rest of the Bible—and everything else, for that matter. In the Bible story, God commanded the Israelites to do a lot of killing, so obviously the commandment not to kill isn’t a blanket prohibition. The meaning is probably more along the lines of, “You shall not murder,” which involves evil intent.
As for the Bible generally, these articles may provide some fresh perspectives for you:
The second one deals specifically with the story of the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Of course, what you read and what you believe is your own choice.
Thank you for this article. It is so simple, and yet infinitely hard to keep all the commandments in word and deed! I will keep this one bookmarked and return to it again and again for reminders!
You’re very welcome! I’m glad you find the article helpful.
I asked before I about Sabbath (though I can not recall where) and you commended my words. But it was only now, at the time of writing, that I truly understood the meaning of it. I read about King Solomon and I admired his wisdom. And yet, his wisdom did not save him from sin. This shows us that knowledge and wisdom, are not the final guard against evil.
This situation reminded me strongly of myself and I saw my current plight in the mistakes of Solomon. I read commentaries about the Scripture regularly, but despite my knowledge I still sin. So I asked the Lord, what I am to do to guard my heart against evil, and I was moved to read the Scripture. After I finished, I felt renewed, and I understood.
Just as our bodies require food, our spirit requires the Lord. Just as we eat, we need to take in the love and wisdom of the Lord. How are we to resist sin if we feed our bodies but do not feed our souls? If our bodies are strong and our spirits are weak, how can we guard against the world?
I said similar words before, but before I spoke only with knowledge, now I speak with understanding. I write this as an appreciation to the Lord for giving me understanding and as an appreciation to you, for your article introduced this particular subject to me.
You’re very welcome. Good thoughts. We do follow that path from mere knowledge to understanding, and in due course on to wisdom as we apply and live out what we understand, and it becomes embedded in our heart and our hands. That’s one way of describing our spiritual journey.
I was revisiting this article, and while I think it does a great job exploring the significance of the Ten Commandments, I’m somewhat bothered by the fact that they don’t include prohibitions of rape or slavery. While one could probably make a case that they do forbid them on a spiritual level, why would God allow the ancient Israelites to continue to indulge in those specific kinds of evil while prohibiting murder, adultery, and other sins? I understand that it was probably because of the particular culture he was dealing with, but doesn’t God play a role in shaping that culture to an extent? I don’t mean to criticize the Lord in writing this, of course, only to seek answers to questions that have been troubling me.
Thanks for your kind words, and for your good question. Here is a principle Swedenborg articulates that I find very helpful in considering why God has allowed, and continues to allow, the people of many cultures to engage in practices that, looked at from a more spiritual and ethical perspective, are not good practices:
With regard to slavery, it was so ingrained in ancient cultures that it would not have been possible for God to forbid it at that time in history. So instead of “breaking” that principle, God “bent” it and gave various rules about how slaves may and may not be treated by their masters.
It is also good to understand that in the ancient world slavery was not ordinarily the horribly oppressive institution that it became, for example, in the antebellum American South, where slaves were often horribly mistreated by their masters. In ancient times it was common for slaves to have a certain amount of dignity, and to be considered members of the extended household rather than chattel to be used and abused at will. This is why many translations of the Bible commonly use the softer word “servant” rather than the harsher word “slave” when translating the original Hebrew and Greek words for “slave.”
Having said that, ultimately slavery is still wrong. It’s just that it took many centuries for God to bend humanity away from that wrong principle and practice, and to bring us to a recognition that it is not good or right for one human being to own another.
About rape, there are indeed strictures against it in the Bible, even if we today would consider the reasons for those strictures to be less than fully sound and valid. Basically, a virgin was considered to be an extension (not exactly the property) of her father, and a married woman was considered to be an extension (also not exactly property) of her husband. To rape a virgin or a married woman, then, was to rob her father or her husband of something that was properly his.
In the case of raping a married or betrothed woman, the penalty for the man was death. If it was consensual, both the man and the woman incurred the death penalty. In both cases, the death penalty was due to its violating the commandment against adultery. In the case of raping an unmarried woman, the penalty was that the man must marry the woman and pay her father the bride price, and he forfeited in perpetuity his right to divorce her. For some of the Bible references on this subject, see the section titled “The Bible takes a pragmatic approach to premarital sex” in the article “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?”
As for a general principle that rape is intrinsically wrong, regardless of a woman’s marital status or the interests of her father or husband, this is another area where God had to gradually bend human society toward a more just and spiritual view. In the ancient world, women were seen as having significantly lower status than men, such that injuring a woman sexually or otherwise was not considered to be as serious as injuring a man. Even today many people and cultures consider women to be of lower status than men, and therefore do not treat rape as the very serious crime that it is. That’s how deeply ingrained this wrong attitude has been in human culture ever since Genesis 3, when the equality in which man and woman were originally created by God was decisively broken, and man became dominant over woman. For more on this, see:
Man, Woman, and the Two Creation Stories of Genesis
You’ve given me a lot of useful things to think about here. I think these sorts of issues are important for Christians to think about not only for the sake of our own understanding of God but for responding to the reductionist arguments some atheists like to make.
Speaking of the reductionist arguments some atheists like to make, I came across an interesting article today in which an atheist, no less, critiques the New Atheists led by such figures as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens:
Why science can’t replace religion: John Gray on the myths the “New Atheists” tell themselves.
Gray points out that while New Atheists like to think of themselves as supremely rational while critiquing the myths of religionists, they themselves are guided by myths that they are unable to recognize or critique in themselves.
Interesting article. I’ve had many interesting conversations with atheist friends of mine on the subject of religion, but those kinds of discussions are only possible when everyone involved is actually willing to seriously consider other viewpoints and engage with them respectfully.
Are we really required in the natural sense of the Word to work 6 days a week, or are we to accomplish our work within 6 weeks? Working 6 days a week in the modern world isn’t exactly healthy…
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.
In the days when the Ten Commandments were given, it was common for people to work every day, seven days a week. The meaning of the commandment is not that people must work six days, but rather that people must not work on the seventh, or sabbath day. It was not breaking the sabbath if a person didn’t work on any of the six days; only if they worked on the seventh day.
So no, the commandment does not mean that we are required to work six days a week.
Swedenborg interpreted “honor thy father and thy mother” as obeying one’s parents and government. But he didn’t mean unquestioning obedience — or obeying parents like a child as an adult — did he?
Offhand, I can’t think of any place where Swedenborg gets into the finer points and deals with the questions, “What if our parents aren’t good?” “What if our government is not good?”
However, the general rule is that we are to love and follow God above all, and humans second to God. So a solid case can be made that if a parent or guardian, or our government, or any human in a position of authority over us, is asking or telling us to do something that is contrary to God’s commandments, that is not something we are morally or spiritually required to do—although we should be prepared to face some unpleasant consequences if we refuse. It is a common military rule that if a superior issues a command that is against the law, that is an illegal order and need not be followed.
Of course, once we become adults we are no longer under the authority of our parents. Or at least, we shouldn’t be, assuming we are of sound mind. I’m not sure Swedenborg says this explicitly. But he doesn’t have to, because it’s a no-brainer in present-day Western culture, at least. He does say that in heaven we come to no longer remember biological relationships from earth, but think of all other angels as our brothers and sisters, and of God as our common Father. In other words, our parent-child relationships here on earth are temporary.
For a related article, see:
Can I be Saved if I Hate my Mother?
So civil disobedience or breaking unjust rules or laws — with the understanding of doing so — wouldn’t be immoral according to Swedenborg?
Otherwise the Founding Fathers would have sinned according to Swedenborg when they declared independence from Britain in 1776, as just one example.
Once again, I can’t offhand think of a place where Swedenborg discusses what we today would call civil disobedience. That wasn’t a “thing” then in the way it has become today. I think it’s more implied than explicit in his writings.
A related passage in Swedenborg’s writings comes to mind: The New Jerusalem #321–324.
The general thesis of this final chapter of The New Jerusalem, on ecclesiastical and civil government, is that ministers and monarchs are to justly administer the laws to keep order in the the church an the nation, respectively, and that the people are to obey them due to their position. The particular sections I’ve referred to are about how kings (this was in monarchical times—the same would apply to any head of state and government today) are not to think that they themselves wield the power, but only that they do so by virtue of their role as kings, and that they are to rule for the good of the nation. It wraps up by saying:
So although I’m not aware of Swedenborg speaking of the propriety of civil disobedience in the case of bad government, here he does say that a king who makes slaves of his subjects is not a king but a tyrant. In saying this, he rejects the legitimacy of tyrannical rule.
Thanks for the reply. Personally I figure if a rule or law is unreasonable (like “happiness is forbidden” or “no practicing religion” as extreme examples), then it’s not a sin per se to disobey it when believing it’s unreasonable. Unquestioning obedience doesn’t allow the power of tyrants to be challenged.
I also figure that back in Swedenborg’s day, laws and morality typically agreed, like making adultery illegal. I don’t know if Swedenborg could’ve foreseen the tyranny like the oppressive laws in Nazi Germany, for example.
I agree with you about unquestioning obedience. However, in Swedenborg’s day, even though despotism was a known phenomenon, it was mostly assumed that you just had to obey the monarch anyway, even if what he or she decreed was wrong. This was still the end of the old Christian era, before the human mind had been set free from the old tyranny of dogma. The French and American revolutions were just on the point of happening. The whole concept of challenging and overthrowing corrupt monarchies as something a populace would actually do was in its infancy. Yes, there were a few early experiments in democracy, such as the Roman republic. But these were few and far between, and generally didn’t last long before a king or emperor took over again.
Since the Ten Commandments are not to be broken, wouldn’t all/most atheists/followers of Other religions go to hell for breaking mostly the first three commandments? For example, most followers of Asian Religions don’t remember the Sabbath day or keep God at the center of their lives, especially not above their families and loved ones because in Asia, there is filial piety, which means to basically keep your family above everything else. Does this mean that all non-believers are going to hell, contrary to your other article?
And also, for the second commandment, isn’t swearing with God’s name, like saying “Jesus Christ!” or anything like that breaking the second commandment?
Not all religions have the Ten Commandments. But usually they have some other code of behavior that is something like the Ten Commandments, especially the commandments of the second table, about how to act toward other people. And most religions also teach the necessity of being faithful to God as that religion understands God. The important thing is that the people of each religion honor God and live a good life according to what their religion teaches them.
Also, as covered in the above article, the Commandments have deeper, more universal meanings that are also more cross-cultural than the literal meaning, which is adapted to ancient Israelite culture.
And . . . I think it’s a good idea to get out of the habit of swearing using God’s names, such as Jesus Christ. There are other curse words to use if you really have to swear! Still, as covered in the above article, the deeper meaning of that commandment is to respect and honor God by respecting and living according to what God commands us to do. Doing this is more important than not literally using any of God’s names as a swear word. But, once again, that’s a bad habit, too, and really should be broken.
Great article, i really enjoyed it!
Altough i have some questions i hope you’ll be willing to answer.
Could you please explain idol worship a bit more? As it is something i’ve struggled to understand for a while now. I’ve read a few articles on it and got even more confused. They say that comfort, family and even health can be an idol.
What counts as idol worship? When do you start to stop simply liking something and start worshiping it?
To me and idol is something that sways you away from doing Gods will in your life, something that hurts or can hurt you or other people. (Popularity or alcohol for example, while fun and in my opinion ok in controlled amounts can be bad for you or other people when you take things too far) Am i on the right train of thought?
I love God and i know he loves me, but i feel ashamed to admit i might not love him with my whole heart. I follow his commandments and am kind to other people (altought that has been in my nature since i was young) i love the world and creations around me, yet i don’t think about God all the time as some people say you should.
These are good questions.
Yes, if something draws you away from doing God’s will, it could be considered an idol. But more basic is that if you love and prioritize something over and above God, then it becomes a god in your life. That’s what an idol is: a false god.
For us, God (or god) is whatever we love the most, consider most important, and give the highest priority in our life. That functions for us as our god, because it is what our life revolves around. If money or power is what we consider most important, then those become the idols that we worship instead of God. If fun or pleasure or sex or alcohol become the center around which our life revolves, then those are the idols we worship.
The correct priority of loves is:
As long as these are in the right order of love and priority in our mind and life, then worldly things and personal pleasures and even positions of power are not idols. They are a means to accomplish God’s purposes, and they are recreation and relaxation for our mind and body to keep us psychologically and physically fit for doing God’s work.
It is only when we put worldly possessions and pleasures, and personal reputation and power, before our love for God and the neighbor that they become idols.
I hope this helps.
About loving God with your whole heart, it is not necessary to constantly be thinking about God every moment of every day. Rather, it is necessary to have God’s will at the back of our mind as we go about our daily work and recreation. Here’s an article that might help:
How do I Love God with my Whole Heart?
Thank you for the article, it was very helpful, but do you have any suggestions on how to start changing from worshiping fake idols to worshiping God more? As it is the transition from one to the other/ loving God more then the idol that I find the hardest.
But if I am going to be honest for just one minute here, I am ashamed to admit that, I find it quite scary to put God first in my life, as I am scared i”ll loose my individuality or sense of self, as I have read that even identity can be a fake idol.
Sounds quite silly doesn’t it?
You’re welcome. It’s not silly. These are good questions. Besides, you have to start somewhere. It’s not going to happen all at once. The most important thing is that you get started on the path, and then keep on going.
About losing your identity and individuality, that’s not going to happen. God created you to be an individual, and to have a specific place and role within the human community. Every good part of your character is from God, and is protected by God.
What you will lose if you do the work of following God’s will is any evil, negative, and destructive parts of your character. But even that won’t happen all at once. As we put aside wrong thoughts, desires, and actions, God replaces them with good thoughts, loves, and actions. All the while, you remain your own person with a distinct character and identity. And you keep that character and identity in heaven, to eternity.
The best way to move away from the worship of false idols is to devote your life to some sort of job or career that is of benefit to other people, and to continually work at doing your best to serve people in that job. As it says in the article I linked for you about loving God with our whole heart, when we are loving and caring for God’s people in good and practical ways, that is also loving God. Focusing your life on some specific way of serving other people, especially if it is something you are good at and enjoy doing, means that you will be loving and caring for God’s people every day. Love is not saying “I love you.” It’s doing good and helpful things for people.
If you have that kind of focus on doing good for people in your regular work, then you don’t have to worry about how you spend your free time, as long as it is not stupid and destructive stuff like getting drunk all the time or sleeping around with multiple partners. Biblically, there are six days to labor, and a seventh day of rest. It doesn’t have to be those exact proportions. The point is that we aren’t supposed to work all of the time. We need time to rest and recuperate, and to recharge ourselves for our work. That means taking time to enjoy yourself with friends and family, taking a vacation from time to time, doing recreational things that you enjoy, and so on.
For some pointers on what our life is about and how to stop doing wrong things and start doing right things, here are two more articles to read:
Hello Lee, I’m very sorry for the late replay!
I *might* have forgotten I wrote a second part to my question.
What I mean when i say i’ll loose my identity, is that i’ll become like some of the christians I have seen. Many of the christians i know, or have seen are very hateful and use the bible to support their hateful behavior, such as hating LGBTQ+ people or thinking that women should merry young and that their only purpose in life is to have children and surve their husband.
Many, if not all of all the christians i’ve seen say we should be “One in God” or “One in Christ”, but to me that has always meant adopting the teachings of Jesus. (love, acceptance and so on)
Not becoming sheep and blindly following everything we are told, not even thinking how it might effect you or other people, such as abusing your wife, because that’s how they did it in the old days or repressing… um… “natural urges”, because some people think that is just as bad as jumping into bed with a new partner every night.
I really do like the teachings of Jesus and the bible, love, acceptance, understanding and not judging people..it’s what I strive to do, but i don’t want to become a blind follower, another sheep in the herd if you know what i mean.
I don’t really want to be a ”christian”, because I don’t want to be around people who use the name of God for selfish or hurtful reasons or seem to have no free will at all..
I’m afraid that what i’m feeling is wrong or maybe that I am the selfish one. Please tell me, Do you think God is angry at me for thinking this?
Also, I would like to apologies for making this reply so long, I hope that’s alright.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but today’s “Christianity” is not Christian. It has long since abandoned the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Despite all the Bible-thumping, none of its key doctrines are stated anywhere in the Bible. And as you have noticed, the judgmental, condemnatory attitude of many of today’s “Christians” is far, far from the attitude and example of Christ.
The only people Jesus had harsh words for were the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. I have no doubt that if he were to come in person today, he would direct the very same words at the self-righteous bigots who loudly proclaim themselves to be “Christians.” They are the scribes and Pharisees of our day. In fact, if you read Jesus’ lambasting of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, but substitute “Evangelical Christians” for “scribes and Pharisees,” it paints a remarkably accurate picture.
So . . . I certainly hope you don’t become anything like them! And there will be no danger of that if you live as a real Christian, following the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.
For more on today’s faux Christianity, please see this article, and the articles linked at the end of it:
Christianity is Dead. Long Live Christianity!
Thank you for the replies and yes, I can assure you I will try and not go down thier path.
Hey Lee this may have been answered before in all of your wonderful blog post.
With the 10 Commandments Jesus said he came to fulfill them. Does that mean that he’s done away with alot of them because I do remember seeing him bringing some of the commandments up but not all of them in his time. The one not included that comes to mind is the Sabbath.
So I guess this question has multiple layers.
Did he fulfill the Ten Commandments in that we don’t have to follow all of them just the ones he brought back up like do not murder and whatnot?
And if that doesn’t mean that
Then when it comes to the Sabbath are we supposed to rest on Saturday or does the day not matter. As long as we choose a day to rest?
I do remember verses that went along the lines of “The Son of Man is Lord even over the Sabbath” but I also remember that the “Sabbath was made for man”
So just really confused with the entirety of fulfillment and the Sabbaths role in our lives currently.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words and good questions. So far, I have not written a post specifically about the Sabbath. Except for some comments here and there, what I said in the above article is pretty much it.
Here are some key points about the Sabbath:
First, it doesn’t matter all that much which day of the week is celebrated as the Sabbath. Originally, among the Jews, it was (and still is) celebrated on Saturday–though technically, it is from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. In ancient Hebrew culture, days were counted from sunset to sunset, not from midnight to midnight. Hence the refrain at the end of each day of creation in Genesis 1, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (and so on).
However, Christians switched it to Sunday because that was the day Christ rose from the dead. They celebrated Sunday as “the Lord’s day.” Celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday still keeps the spirit of the commandment, which is to set aside one day of each week for the Lord.
Next, Jesus himself made a distinct change in observing the Sabbath. Instead of it being a day of strictly refraining from anything defined as “labor,” he made it a day to “do good.” This is in line with the deeper meaning of the Sabbath as a day devoted to the Lord.
The Lord, as the Bible tells us, is good. Therefore when we do good on the Sabbath, we are also honoring the Lord. In general, the Sabbath is a day to set aside from our normal work and activities of the week, and devote ourselves to the Lord in one way or another, whether it is to worship the Lord, to study and learn about God and spirit, or to engage in good and charitable works of service to our fellow human beings.
Finally, as covered briefly in the above article, spiritually the Sabbath symbolizes a state of inner rest and peace that we experience when we have engaged in the inner battle against our own selfishness and greed, and have accepted the Lord’s love and understanding in its place, so that we no longer have to engage in internal battle between our better and worse self.
This happens especially for older people who have gone through the battles of life and now no longer have that inner conflict and battle. But we also get tastes of it all along the way, as we fight against some particular temptation or bad habit, and achieve a victory over it, and then feel the happiness and peace that follows from our victory. This strengthens us to face our next battle.
Come to think of it, though I don’t have a post here on the Sabbath, I did preach a sermon about the Sabbath many years ago. Here is a link to it on my old sermon and lecture site (which is no longer maintained, and is broken in various ways). Perhaps you will find it helpful:
Resting in the Lord
If you do find it helpful, please let me know. I could re-post it here, without the opening paragraphs about the Sunday School and Church Year in the church where I was Pastor at the time.
About Jesus fulfilling the law:
That is a huge topic, which deserves an article of its own.
In Protestantism, there is the idea you mentioned that Jesus’ fulfilling of the law means that we don’t have to obey the law anymore. This is false and unbiblical, but it would take too long to explain exactly why and how here. If you’re curious, I could refer you to some articles that touch on this subject.
What happened when Christ came and fulfilled the law was not that we no longer had to obey any laws, but that we no longer had to follow the ritual law of Moses that Jews are required to obey as part of their practice of Judaism. In Paul’s letters, this is referred to as “circumcision” vs. “uncircumcision,” and as “Jew” vs. “Gentile.”
As you say, Jesus reaffirmed the Ten Commandments. However, he did make some changes, notably to the commandment about not laboring on the Sabbath. Even the Ten Commandments are no longer 100% in force literally, though they certainly are spiritually.
In particular, the commandments in the first table of the Ten Commandments, which details our duties toward the Lord, are somewhat modified in Christianity because Christianity has an internal, faith-based approach to the Lord rather than an external, obedience- and law-based approach to the Lord. However, the commandments in the second table of the Ten Commandments, which detail our duties toward the neighbor, are still fully in force.
The idea that the Lord “fulfilled the law” in the sense of scrupulously obeying it on every point does not hold water, as his debate with the Pharisees about work on the Sabbath shows. Jesus was not pharisaical in his observance of the law, but saw the law as something given to elevate humans toward God. Once some parts of the Jewish Law ceased to do that, Jesus left those parts of the Law behind. In fact, if you continue on from the passage in Matthew 5 about the Law and the Prophets, Jesus gives a whole series of what might be called “revisions of the Law.” See Matthew 5:17–48.
The real meaning of Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets is that the entire Bible, at its deepest level of meaning, tells the story of Jesus’ internal life and battles against the Devil—which is a personification of hell and all human evil—and his victory over the power of evil, by which he redeemed us from the power of death and hell.
To “fulfill” literally, is to “fill full,” or fill to the brim. (This is the root meaning of the original Greek word in the New Testament.) By his life and his teachings, Jesus filled the Law and the Prophets (which means the entire Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament) full of deeper spiritual and divine meaning.
Some of this meaning was available to the early Christians through Jesus’ teaching in parables, and his explanation of the deeper significance of those parables. Now, in the New Jerusalem era, we have access to the spiritual and divine meanings within the Bible at a level of depth and detail that we never have before. This fills the Bible full of deeper meaning about our spiritual life and our relationship with God. For more on this, please see:
Can We Really Believe the Bible?
These is a huge topic. I can only scratch the surface here. I hope this much gives you some sense of the real meaning of Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.
Hi Lee. Are these Ten Commandments required for Heaven and if we break one, we’ll desire Hell before Heaven?
It’s the other way around. If we desire hell before heaven, we will break the commandments.
The first table of the Ten Commandments, which is our duty toward God, is complicated. How we worship God has changed since the Ten Commandments were given over 3,000 years ago. These commandments have to be interpreted spiritually at least in part.
Let’s focus on the second table of the Ten Commandments, which is our duty toward our fellow human beings.
If we desire hell before heaven, which means if we think only of ourselves and our own power, possessions, and pleasure, and of other people only as they serve these selfish and greedy goals, then we will think nothing of killing, committing adultery, stealing, deceiving, and being jealous of what other people have. If it will serve our purposes, and we think we can get away with it, we will do any or all of these things in pursuit of our goals and desires.
On the other hand, if we desire heaven before hell, which means if we think about the well-being of other people just as much as we think of our own well-being, and give it at least equal weight, and if we put God’s will before everything else, then we will recoil at the very idea of killing, committing adultery, stealing, deceiving, and being jealous of what other people have. When we are tempted to do some of these things, we will say to ourselves, “Even though I want to do this, I will not do it because it is wrong.”
The catch is that we start out in life wrapped up in ourselves and putting ourselves first, and we must do the hard work of changing our motives and character so that we instead put God first, and want good for other people just as much as we want good for ourselves. We spend much of our earthly lifetime in a battle to change our motives and our actions.
If, along the way, we do break one or another of the commandments, the critical issue is how we respond to it afterwards.
Do we justify what we’ve done, and make arguments as to why it’s not so bad, and maybe it’s even good? If so, then we are on the pathway to hell unless we think better of it.
Are we sorry for what we’ve done, criticizing ourselves for it and resolving not to do it again because it is wrong and against God’s commandments? If so, then we are on the pathway to heaven—assuming that we follow through and stop ourselves from doing that wrong thing the next time we feel the urge to do it.
This is an ongoing war that lasts much of our life. Sometimes we will lose a battle against our own wrong desires, and we will backslide. But then we must get up again and re-engage in the battle, until, with God’s help, we achieve victory. This process will continue throughout our entire lifetime on earth.
For more on how to engage in that battle, please see:
What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
Okay I finally get it! It all make sense now, and pretty much puts the whole ending up in Heaven and Hell concept. Would it be accurate then to say that out conscience prevents us from going to Hell?
And yes, if we follow our conscience, this prevents us from going to hell. Swedenborg says that conscience is the Lord’s presence in us (Arcana Coelestia #4299.2).
And if our conscience condemn us. Does that mean we are also saved from Hell because we care enough to feel bad or remorse. I like the idea of our conscious being the Lord’s presence in us, and it makes sense.
It all depends upon whether or not we follow our conscience. If our conscience condemns something we are doing and we feel bad about it, but we keep right on doing it, then we are on the pathway to hell. But if our conscience causes us to feel remorse for something we have done or are considering doing, and as a result we stop ourselves from doing it, or from doing it anymore, then we are on the pathway to heaven.
I see. I assume we end up in a milder Hell then, but is any love or compassion stripped from us in the spirit world or is that when people can truly change and understand their conscious more clearly and maybe then feel regret or remorse for not listening to it when they were alive.
I should have added that all of this is assuming that the thing we are conscience-stricken about is actually wrong. Many people have a hyperactive conscience that condemns them for every little thing they do that is not perfect. This isn’t helped by churches and preachers that “lay heavy burdens, hard to bear” on their congregations. Such people will be released from these false religions after death. They will be judged based on whether they cared about other people and did good things for them, or whether they cared only about themselves, and did nothing for anyone else unless they had to or they had ulterior motives.
This is also why I pointed to the Ten Commandments, especially its second table, as a benchmark for what is evil and a sin. Churches have made many things that aren’t listed in the Ten Commandments into serious sins. For example, gluttony. There is no big commandment in the Bible against overeating. It’s not a good idea, mind you, but that’s because it’s bad for our physical health, not because it will cause us to go to hell. Making gluttony into a major sin alongside other real sins is itself a sin on the part of a corrupt church.
To have a sound conscience, it is necessary to learn God’s will and God’s commandments. When human beings and organizations substitute human will and human commandments for God’s will and God’s commandments, people develop a false conscience that bedevils them instead of bringing them closer to God.
And once again, it will not be our actions, but the motives behind our actions that determine whether we go to heaven or hell. People who do bad things from good motives may be confused, and they may be a bull in a china shop, but they are not heading to hell. But people who do good things from bad motives, such as to build up a reputation for themselves from which they can profit, will go to hell even though outwardly they look like good and even saintly people.
I don’t know if I’m answering your question. But I sense that you are feeling that you can’t measure up to your own conscience. If so, then I suspect this is because you’ve been taught that many things are evil and sinful when they really aren’t. It’s important to learn what is actually evil and against God’s will, and not allow human institutions to create sins out of everything they happen not to like and think is bad. Many of the churches are just way behind the times. They have never accepted that we’re no longer living in the Middle Ages, when their Christian Church reigned supreme in the Western world.
And honestly, I’m bracing myself for the spirit world because things in my Country just went from bad to worse. Truckers started protesting the vaccine mandates with their big rigs and now the prime minister had given banks the authority to freeze funds if we help the truckers in anyway, and the police can assault and arrest protesters in our capital city as well as arrest anyone that showed them an ounce of kindess.
To give you some context, I wasn’t raised with religion. I didn’t learn about God and Jesus until they were on my spelling test in Grade 2. I had always thought they were swear words cause my dad used them. Surprisingly when i said that, my dad and uncle both explained they weren’t swear words.
I went to ask my grandfather, who believed in God and Jesus, and he confirmed it. I basically believed everything my grandfather told me as a young child, and it’s how I learned about the Second Coming and Heaven. My grandfather didn’t believe in Hell though. His church taught that you get a second chance to live God’s way and if you don’t, then he destroys you in the lake of fire.
I ended up getting put in the Catholic school system from Grade 6 onwards, and so I learned about the rosary and Catholic traditions although they didn’t really talk about Hell. I would ask my grandfather questions in the presence of my grandmother.
In my senior year of high school, my grandmother was dying of brain cancer. I was in for the shock of my life when my grandmother told me she didn’t believe in life after death when her husband (my grandfather) did.
After, she passed, i started worrying about her and scoured the net for answers and as you can imagine, most answers were she was burning in Hell cause she didn’t believe in God.
I was literally tormented by this notion. I tried to force myself to pray for her and for myself. I read how people who were gay and loved each other were condemned, and didn’t think that was fair. I prayed for them. I started to have a pessimistic view of the world. I read the passage of the bible where it said that only a few would be saved. People were fine with that which disturbed me even more.
Then I found tentmaker.org and came to believe in Universal Salvation, but then i stopped praying believing it didn’t matter. Because i wasn’t raised around it, it’s something that i don’t think to naturally do. I did it in school but it was just a choir; something that was expected of us. I kept going back and forth on Hell and US, but then at the height of the pandemic, I found your site.
And i read your articles and about Swebenborg. I read your article about Hell. I think a lot about what i have read and try to reconcile it with what I believe. In my heart, I’ve always felt that most people would he abhorred at the idea of someone torturing their own child, but it is okay with them that God does it. They always talk about how we can’t question God as our creator. How his ways are right and hai cruelty is justified because he is God.
Swedenborg’s views on a lot of things make sense to me. It’s like the missing pieces of a puzzle. The story of Adam and Eve makes sense to me because the literal interpretation implies incest, yet we condemn it. Even those that take the story of Adam and Eve as literal condemn it.
Wow that was a lot and my fingers are tired lol, but yeah that’s my story.
Our prime minister is going full fascist on us. This is why it feels like the vaccine passport is the mark of the beast. I’m seeing all these signs of people being shut out of society all across the world for not doing what the establishment wants which is what a literal interpretation of revelations tell us that we won’t be able to buy or sell without it. That’s where the doubts come into play.
Yes, we get the news from Canada. The Canadian government is going crazy. The acid test is what the people do in the next election. If they don’t boot their overreaching, power-hungry politicians, then they deserve everything they get.
About the mark of the beast, you have to understand that the Bible uses themes from human life here on earth to tell a spiritual message. There were despotic governments in the world then just as there are now. The Jews were under the thumb of the Roman Empire. By the time Revelation was written (probably around 95 AD), Rome had long since destroyed Jerusalem, precipitating a new Jewish diaspora from the Holy Land. At the time it was written, Christians were under heavy persecution by the Roman authorities.
In other words, there was plenty of government despotism for the author of Revelation to draw on for the imagery used in that book. In Greek the word “apocalypse” means “the revealing of hidden things.” It is clearly a prophetic book, which means not so much predicting the future as delivering a message from God that contains hidden meanings. See:
Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?
People see parallels with current events in the book of Revelation because despotic, overreaching governments are the same in every age. The same themes of oppressive government that John, the traditional author of Revelation, used in composing his symbolic narrative still exist in the world today.
This doesn’t mean that the things in Revelation are going to happen literally. It means that what is happening under Big Government today follows the same patterns that John drew on in writing a symbolic story that is really about spiritual cataclysms.
Well, we’re trying. I mean i new Trudeau would be a disaster. My grandfather spoke about his father and i learned about his father. But, he got three terms even though i never voted for him. The NDP’s support him though so he may as well have a majority since they do. People are trying to peacefully protest cause they know violence will just give Trudeau more excuses for the way he is behaving. People need to wake up and that includes my family. I’m the only one in my family that knows what’s really going on.
Now, about Revelations, I may have been confused at first. Was Swedenborg a preterist?
Swedenborg’s interpretation of the book of Revelation doesn’t fit neatly into any of the traditional categories of interpretation of that book. Still, there are parallels in his thought to various views historically held about Revelation.
However, if we’re going to talk about that, let’s go over to my main post on the subject, to keep things from getting too far off-topic here:
Is the World Coming to an End? What about the Second Coming?
Haha! Thanks for telling your story. And . . . going to Catholic school would be enough to give any thinking, feeling person a touch of craziness about God and the afterlife. 😛
These crazy ideas are also floating around in the culture, infecting everything and everyone. My kids were never brought up with traditional Christian beliefs in Sunday School. They were never taught any of those religious ideas you mention that have bothered you. Yet every once in a while they come out with something about “Christianity” that makes me wonder where they got it from. Certainly not from me! And they went to public schools. Somehow they just picked up this “Christian” sewage along the way.
Now I hope you know and understand that your grandmother is not burning in hell. Most likely she just couldn’t accept the same horrific beliefs that you can’t accept, so she rejected the whole notion of God and an afterlife. That’s not her fault. It’s the fault of the corrupt “Christian” Church. See:
I’m glad you found Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, and that it is giving you a more sensible and compassionate view of God and the afterlife. Genuine truth is healing, like the leaves of the tree of life in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1–2).
Well they are of two minds regarding my grandma. One she is in Hell right now, and two she will be resurrected from her sleep just to be thrown into Hell along with everyone else that isn’t in the book of life. I don’t even want to get into Calvinism and how that messed me up even more emotionally 😆
You had a bout with Calvinism? My condolences. It’s horrendous, blasphemous stuff. Calvinism is the absolute worst.
Fortunately, all of these things are unbiblical and false.
Yeha I came across carm.org the site owned by Matt Slick
Ugh. Awful stuff. I had a bout with CARM some years ago. I tried to get the webmaster to correct the misinformation he had posted about Swedenborg. I succeeded in getting him to correct some of his obviously false statements, only to have him add other false things to replace them. At that point, I realized I was just beating my head against a brick wall. People who have fallen into the ditch of unbiblical and literalistic falsity are too blind to see their way out. As Jesus said, let the dead bury their own dead.
I take it that the 10 aren’t invariable, but are rather a more lengthy way of explaining the Golden Rule or the “Greatest Commandment”.
For example, lying to Nazis about Jews hiding in one’s house during the Holocaust shouldn’t be immoral, but lying about used car that doesn’t work to sell it should be.
About that commandment in particular, though it is often read as, “You shall not lie,” that is not what the commandment says. It says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The two are not the same. The commandment is carefully crafted. Even though it takes up only five words in the original Hebrew, each word is significant. None can be left out without losing the intended meaning.
To focus just on the often glossed over second part of the commandment, “against your neighbor” is an important qualification.
First, there is “against,” suggesting that the “false witness” that the commandment is prohibiting is false witness in relation to another person, which implies false witness that would do damage to another person.
Then there is “neighbor,” which has the sense of “companion, friend.” Yes, it can be taken broadly to mean “everyone.” But the word in Hebrew is derived from a word that means “to graze, pasture,” suggesting that this is about people who are generally well-disposed and supportive of others in their character, such that they would “feed” other people. Swedenborg takes the word to mean the good in the neighbor.
A Nazi soldier looking to imprison and kill Jews is not a “neighbor.” To tell the truth to such a person would, in fact, be to bear false witness against your neighbor, who is the Jew that you are hiding, by saying to the Nazi, who is not a neighbor but an enemy, “In this house there is a person that you should take away, imprison, torture, and kill.” That is false.
In general, the commandment means that we should not say deceptive things that will bring harm on other people, and especially, on the good in them. Their liberty and life certainly qualifies as something good in them.
Lying about a used car that doesn’t work in order to sell it to someone is obviously engaging in deception that will bring harm on another person.
But in general, the Ten Commandments are to be interpreted and applied in a way that is expressive of love and concern toward other people. Hence Paul’s statement:
James says something similar in James 2:8–13, though that passage has been twisted into something it never meant in order to support Catholic and especially Protestant satisfaction theory.
The general message in the New Testament about the Law is that it is not meant to be slavishly obeyed behaviorally, but to be kept as a way of showing love to the neighbor. If keeping a particular law would actually do harm to the neighbor, or would even fail to do good for the neighbor, that law is not valid under those circumstances. Jesus encapsulated this memorably when he said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12).
So a kid disobeying an unjust rule made by abusive parents could be a situation where the honoring parents commandment isn’t really broken?
(Hopefully adultery in Heaven is always wrong though. Although I imagine it’s impossible for angels to commit it because the only sex they know is expressing married love.)
Yes. Many children must rebel against their parents as they enter their teenage and adult years precisely because their parents have failed to be parents to them. See:
Can I be Saved if I Hate my Mother?
And yes, according to Swedenborg, no one in heaven commits adultery. The very thought of sleeping with anyone but their own partner in marriage chills them to the bone.