Perry Noble and the Ten Whatevers

There are two fundamental problems with Noble’s rewriting of the Ten Commandments.

The second fundamental problem with Noble’s rewriting is the direction he takes the commandments. In both Judaism and Christianity, the Ten Commandments have been understood as the foundation of moral law. In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus sums up the commandments (using the word “commandment,” by the way) as duty to love God and to love one’s neighbor. Thus, the commandments direct us outward, away from ourselves. But Noble’s rewriting (see the second link above) makes all of the commandments all about me.

 

Perry Noble, for those who don’t know, is the Senior Pastor of the multi-site megachurch Newspring Church in Anderson, SC. On Christmas Eve, he preached a sermon that, to put it mildly, did some funny things with the Ten Commandments. The blogosphere lit up. He addressed the fallout here and here. I had not intended to get into the mess because it’s not my circus, they’re not my monkeys. But a couple of folks I know who have connections to that church have asked me to comment.

There are two fundamental problems with Noble’s rewriting of the Ten Commandments. The first is his source of revelation, his Israeli friend. Noble reports the information he got from this man as follows:

“The word command implies words of force or power as a General commands his troops. The word mits’vah is better understood as a directive. To see the picture painted by this word it is helpful to look at a related word, tsiyon meaning a desert or a landmark. The Ancient Hebrews were a nomadic people who traveled the deserts in search of green pastures for their flocks. A nomad uses the various rivers, mountains, rock outcroppings, etc [sic] as landmarks to give them their direction. The verb form of mits’vah is tsavah meaning to direct one on a journey. The mits’vah of the Bible are not commands, or rules and regulations, they are directives or landmarks that we look for to guide us.”

There is almost nothing in this statement that is correct. The connection of “command” to force and power applies as much to “directive.” The etymological connection to tsiyon is almost certainly a false connection, so the implication drawn from it is false as well. His assertion about the verb tsavah meaning “direct on a journey” is completely without foundation.

In a standard Hebrew lexicon (dictionary) of biblical Hebrew, these are the definitions for tsavah: 1. To lay a charge upon; 2. To charge, command; 3. To charge, command (there are some subtle differences between 2 and 3 having to do with the object of the command); 4. To commission; 5. To appoint, ordain. There is nothing here about directing on a journey, and the verb is not so used anywhere in the Hebrew Bible. In short, the man’s information is fundamentally flawed, and Noble, as a pastor, had the responsibility to check the information. He didn’t do so.

The second fundamental problem with Noble’s rewriting is the direction he takes the commandments. In both Judaism and Christianity, the Ten Commandments have been understood as the foundation of moral law. In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus sums up the commandments (using the word “commandment,” by the way) as duty to love God and to love one’s neighbor. Thus, the commandments direct us outward, away from ourselves. But Noble’s rewriting (see the second link above) makes all of the commandments all about me. No wonder people liked it.

In the solipsistic universe of modern American evangelicalism, it is always all about me. It’s not all about God. It’s about what God can do for me. It’s not about my neighbor; it’s about what God can do for me. God has been dethroned, and I have become the center of the universe.

Benjamin Shaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.