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Reform Magazine | May 21, 2024

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Chapter & verse: Exodus 20:1-21 and Matthew 5:1-12 - Reform Magazine

Chapter & verse: Exodus 20:1-21 and Matthew 5:1-12

susan-durberSusan Durber hears how texts talk to each other

The church where I worship has two sets of texts in niches the shape of tablets (the Moses kind of tablet, not iPads!) on the front wall of the sanctuary. The texts are written in a rather tricky to read 18th-century script, but, after two and half years of sitting looking at them, I can decipher them well. (I know, I should have been listening better to the notices….)

On the left-hand side are the Ten Commandments from Exodus and on the right are the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer, from Matthew’s Gospel. These texts always make me think of the Lollards of pre-Reformation England, some of whom were put in prison simply for memorising some of these verses in their own mother tongue. The least I can do is give these texts my attention, properly.

In most church services we hold together a fragment of the Hebrew scriptures with a fragment (or fragments) of the New Testament and we see what happens as they speak to each other, usually for our illumination. But I have come to realise, slowly over months, that holding these two tablets alongside each other does something interesting, dangerous even, to the way we read.

Reading the Beatitudes alongside the Ten Commandments invites you to read the Beatitudes as laws – as though God is commanding us to be meek, pure or to make peace. And this works until you ask: how God can command us to mourn or to be persecuted or to be poor in spirit? At this point, you see that the Beatitudes are not laws at all, but promises of grace to people who are empty. They are not difficult laws that we should struggle to keep, and Jesus is not a new Moses bringing a different top ten laws. When we see the Beatitudes as laws, we miss the point. These are not law, but Gospel. Reading from left to right, reading from the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes, is very misleading…

Susan Durber is theology adviser for Christian Aid

Small group discussion questions to accompany this article are available from


This is an extract from the February 2016 edition of Reform.

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