A Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments – Dr John Dickson

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Dr John Dickson

“The Ten Commandments are about how to live as someone who already knows God’s love. Who already knows the kindness of God.”

“The Ten Commandments are not a road map to winning God’s favour. They are the way you live if you know you have God’s favour already.”

‘Do you know our purpose is to know God, to be in a relationship with Him, to be in a relationship with others, and to be in a relationship with the physical creation itself?”

Dr John Dickson’s talking about his book, ‘A Doubters Guide to the Ten Commandments.’

‘Ten Commandments’

Is it a fun book? Possibly, possibly not.Image result

What John did do was to spend the best part of an hour with Neil Johnson on Vision Radio’s 20Twenty program, unpacking one of the best known passages and most important concepts from the entire Bible.

John Dickson has authored a good dozen books. And by all accounts they’re all good.

Maybe John has a fun job? He’s a senior research fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, and he’s co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity.

Sound like fun? Again possibly, possibly not.

‘History’s most famous moral code’

But it was a slightly mischievous Neil Johnson who suggested itImage result for Ten Commandments moral code images must have been a pleasure for John to immerse himself in the Ten Commandments. John, smarter than the average bear, didn’t take the bait and was not about to let Neil off the hook.

“Yes, but what kind of fool tries to get his head around the 10 Commandments and publish a book on it, right?” (laughter erupts from both host and guest).

“There’s no doubt the 10 Commandments are the most famous moral code in the history of the world probably,” John responded, saying it’s astonishing considering there are so few words in this ten-part ‘Thou shalt not.’

‘Unparalleled influence’

“But they’ve influenced the world in such an incredible way,” John stated.

He said his intention was to try and explain what the commandments mean, and their influence, especially for those who are at all doubtful about the Bible and Christianity.

“There’s a chapter in the beginning of the book that describes the concept of ethical laws and how the Old Testament’s influence can be seen across the world and a couple of ways of reading the Old Testament,” said John, giving potential readers an author’s ‘welcome mat’ so to speak for the book.

‘Deep misunderstandings’

“There are some deep misunderstandings about Old Testament law and then we dive in, and I give a chapter to each of the Ten Commandments,” John revealed, saying he attempts to explain each one in its own right.

“Also how it’s influenced our world and what it might mean for today and all the while trying to consider the doubts and questions for anyone who’s a little skeptical,” John said before explaining why he connects the Ten Commandments with what he refers to as the Good Life.

“The Good Life is just a way of talking about what it is to be a truly good human being.”

‘The Bible’s Good Life’

“It’s a question that ancient people used to ponder a lot. Obviously the philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle used to talk about the Good Life as the life a human being is meant to live in the world.”

“I reckon the Bible has its own account of the Good Life,” John said, admitting the Bible’s idea of the Good Life is a little different but it’s the same concept.

John makes a comparison by imagining a boat on a beach.

“You’ve never seen a boat before and you don’t know what the boat is for. You don’t know its purpose. You don’t know how to judge whether it’s a good boat you’ve found or not.”

‘Purpose with fulfillment’

In other words, unless you know what this object is for, there’s no way of determining whether it’s a good one of those things or not a good one.Image result for small boats images

“But as soon as you know what a boat is for, i.e. traveling on the water, you’re able to determine whether it’s a good boat or not, depending on how it fulfills what its purpose is.’

John explained more about the Good Life that extends back to pagan philosophers and the effort to determine what a human being is for, to work out what it means to be a good human being and the way you live to fulfill that purpose.

‘Are you living the real life?’

John stressed how the Scriptures have this same concept.Image result for Man God relationship images

“It says, ‘Do you know our purpose is to know God, to be in a relationship with Him, to be in a relationship with others, and to be a relationship with the physical creation itself?”

“Therefore, to be a good human being, to be genuinely living what we’re made for, you’ve got to take into account all these things and live the life that corresponds to what is real,” John outlined.

Now here’s where the Ten Commandments enter the conversation.

‘Rescue first, Commandments second’

“These commands come after God has rescued the people of Israel.”Related image

“In fact the opening line of the Ten Commandments, before you actually hear anything about ‘thou shalt, thou shalt not’ is, ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt out of the land of slavery,” John quotes, emphasizing the opening line.

“In other words the Ten Commandments are about how to live as someone who already knows God’s love, who already knows the kindness of God in their lives,” John highlighted, saying that’s the lesson he’s tried to make clear in his book.

‘God’s Salvation first’

“The Ten Commandments are not a road map to winning God’s favour. They are the way you live if you know you have God’s favour already.”Image result for God salvation baptism people images

John Dickson equated Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt to the Salvation many of us have experienced today.

“The Salvation comes first as it did for the children of Israel and then comes the Commandments.”

“Of course for the Christian this same logic applies. God’s grace is ours because of Jesus Christ and out of that we live the life of following the Commandments,” John explained saying the transposition of the Commandments that Jesus taught.

‘Jesus Commandments’

“I try to make a distinction in the book between the simple Ten Commandments that Moses taught and the version of the Ten Commandments, or the intensification and fulfillment of the Ten Commandments that Jesus brought into the world,” John detailed.

He made it clear that it’s Jesus version of the Ten Commandments, the transposition of the Ten Commandments in the teaching of Jesus, that has had the greatest impact upon mankind.

“That really has influenced the world in which we live.”

As for the Ten Commandments, the subject matter of John Dickson’s book ‘A Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments’, they might appear logical, but John said that’s not the reality.

‘Logic verses God’s reality’

“The reality is the logic we detect is already simply a reflection of the universe God has made. It’s already a reflection of God’s own character.”

“So what we have in the Ten Commandments are not simply human logical guesses about reality. They are, according to the Scriptures, the Commandments given by the actual voice of God.”

John said the Bible makes it very clear these words were actually heard by Moses and the people and that only these ten lines were heard.


Dr John Dickson works as a writer, speaker, historian of religion (focusing on early Christianity and Judaism), media presenter, Anglican minister, and director of a multi-media think tank.

With an honours degree in theology from Moore Theological College Sydney, and a PhD in history from Macquarie University, John is also an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History (Macquarie), and teaches a course on the Historical Jesus at the University of Sydney (Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies). He is committed to delivering creative, engaging content grounded in careful thought.

John is a founding director of the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX), an independent research and media company promoting informed discussion about social, ethical and religious issues in modern life.Image result

John’s first book appeared in 1993, and he has since produced over a dozen titles, including the award-winning Simply Christianity: Beyond Religion, and A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions, as well as various academic books and articles.
His book The Christ Files: How Historians Know what they Know about Jesus was made into a four-part documentary which aired nationally on Channel 7 in 2008. Now a best-selling DVD, it also won the 2008 Pilgrim Media award (see www.thechristfiles.com.au). His more recent Life of Jesus also aired on Channel 7 in 2009 (see www.lifeofjesus.tv)


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