As I have been reviewing both translations over the past seven months, I have found many good things about the translations. Interestingly, where I tend to disagree with one, the other does an admirable job. But reviewing Exodus 20 the past few weeks, I find that both HCSB and GW disappoint, specifically in how the verbs are translated. Here are some thoughts about that.
I will not include the entire text of 20:2-17, but the specific wording of the verbs (and I am not paying attention to how they are numbered, because the text doesn’t tell us). The Hebrew verbs in each case are Imperfect, except 20:8 which uses the Infinitive Absolute, and 20:12, which uses the Imperative.
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.
3 “Never have any other god.
4 Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water.
5 Never worship them or serve them,
7 “Never use the name of the Lord your God carelessly.
8 “Remember the day of worship by observing it as a holy day.
12 “Honor your father and your mother
13 “Never murder.
14 “Never commit adultery.
15 “Never steal.
16 “Never lie when you testify about your neighbor.
17 “Never desire to take your neighbor’s household away from him.
“Never desire to take your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that belongs to him.”
2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
3 Do not have other gods besides Me.
4 Do not make an idol for yourself,
5 You must not bow down to them or worship them;
7 Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God
8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy:
12 Honor your father and your mother
13 Do not murder.
14 Do not commit adultery.
15 Do not steal.
16 Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 Do not covet your neighbor’s house.
Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor
Both translations give only a negative view of the commandments. Why is that critical?
1) Notice that I included 20:2 in both translations. That is a statement of Gospel: What God does for the saving of His people. What follows is a description of how “delivered people” live. Thus, it is a positive description of how they live.
2) These are not technically the ten “commandments” according to the usual understanding, but rather the “ten words.”
Exodus 24:28 And he wrote on the tablets the words ( הַדְּבָרִֽים) of the covenant, the Ten Words ( הַדְּבָרִֽים).
3) Notice that these are translated as straight imperatives, and rather strongly at that.
4) The Imperfect can be translated as an imperative, which it is in this case (see below).
Thus, both GW and HCSB give only one side of the ten “words”—negatively. And I think that does not do justice to the text, the use of the Imperfect, and the context of 20:2.
How should they be translated in light of each of these considerations? I suggest that the older form English future translates the Hebrew Imperfect rather well, and retains an element of command behind it: “You shall not…” (still evident in NAS, NKJV, NIV 2011, ESV, etc.). This appears to be the best option for translating this section of Exodus 20. Here is the translation from NAS 95.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol,
5 “You shall not worship them or serve them;
7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,
8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house;
you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Extending the “words”
Thus, the question really becomes “How do the words/commandments function? Notice that when someone sins, that person no longer is living as a “delivered person.” Thus, the positive impact of the “word” (commandment) of Exodus 20 changes, and the word functions in a condemning way. Often this is designated the 2nd use of the Law. So as a person is convicted under that 2nd use of the Law, the person is led to repentance (1 John 1:8-9). The solution to that predicament under the Law is forgiveness in Christ. Now the question for the person becomes:
“Now that in Christ I am free from sin, guilt I never want to be under that condemning Law again. But how can I please you, Lord? Not to earn Your favor, because I already have your favor.”
Now, the original intent of the Ten Words becomes significant. They describe how a forgiven person in Christ lives. And so, the Law functions as a description of life in Christ, much as the Ten Words/Commandments function in Exodus 20.