Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

5.1 The First Commandment

I am the LORD your God, who brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. 

5.1.1 Introduction: The Absoluteness of God and the Relativity of the World

In both the synagogue and the church, there has been a longstanding debate whether the first commandment is perhaps just an expression of God’s self-understanding and not a commandment. Since the great Jewish scholar Maimonides (1135-1204), this has been the predominant opinion. However, it is probably both: first the self-understanding (Ex 20:2) and then a commandment forbidding idolatry (Ex 20:3). 

Refer back to your Bible Course: the double pointed construction of the Pentatuch

The sole claim of God to people’s worship does not represent religious intolerance. Rather, it frees humans from all other worldly forces and compulsions. 

Luther’s Large Catechism: “What you hang your heart on is your true God.” 

Matthias Claudius: “Do not hang your heart on any transient thing.” 

Only God is “absolute,” everything else is “relative.” 

Similar is Bonhoeffer’s differentiation between the last and the second to last and Tillich’s differentiation between unconditional and the conditional. Noteworthy is also Tillich’s definition of the demonic: something conditional that claims unconditionality. As a parallel example he took the rising national socialism of his time. This led to him being the first non-jewish university professor to be fired after the Nazis took power. 


5.1.2 Source:

Exodus 20

Luther’s Small Catechism

Daniel Neumann: Two Tablets, one Torah ***



Exercise: Pay close attention to your own use of language. How often do you, or others, use the terms “absolute” or “unconditional” when something relative or conditional is meant? Where do I call conditional things unconditional?