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The Ten Commandments and the New Testament

April 18, 2018

If a stark statement on the old covenant exists, surely one finds it in Hebrews 8:13. The author states, “When he said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” 

 

Hebrews argues against any sort of continuation of the old covenant sacrificial system, and it does so on the basis of the old covenant’s demise. God’s people no longer observe the old sacrificial system because Christ made it obsolete in his own sacrifice. In the implementation of the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah, the old covenant saddled its horse and rode off into the sunset. Jesus did not fulfill some of the Law and leave some of it to remain. He fulfilled the whole thing. Since Jesus the Messiah fulfilled the Law in its entirety, it bowed to the new covenant in the Son. As scholar F. F. Bruce wrote, “The age of the law and the prophets is past; the age of the Son is here, and here to stay.”[1] 

 

The Law pointed to Jesus and his work. The Apostle Philip spoke perhaps better than he knew in telling Nathanael of Jesus as the one indicated by the Old Testament. Jesus teaches the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of himself. The Apostle Paul explains the Law served the purpose of educating God’s people on the coming of Christ; he refers to the Law as a tutor. However, with the coming of Christ, the tutor no longer holds sway over the people of God. Paul writes in Galatians 3:23-25:

 

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 

 

The Law indicated Christ, but times changed when God revealed Christ to his people in the Advent. The old covenant, the Law, no longer holds the place it did. 

 

So what does such a thing mean for the Ten Commandments? We readily pull them right out of Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 and apply them pretty easily. Should we not do such a thing? Do they hold some special place? In both Exodus and Deuteronomy, Moses speaks of them prior to the rest of the covenant law, but nothing in the text indicates a categorical difference. The history of the faith shows God’s people often treat the Ten Commandments as a unique set of eternal universal laws, and the measure of true righteousness.[2] Have we been wrong this whole time?

 

If our basis for keeping these commandments proves to rest only upon the thesis of its existence in the Law alone, we have a problem. Thankfully, we need not do such a thing! 

 

In various places, the New Testament restates each of the Ten Commandments in one way or another. 

 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Colossians 3:5-11; and Revelation 21:8 list various vices. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul speaks of former sins committed by the Corinthian Christians before their trust in Christ. Colossians 3 commands the readers to shed the disobedience of their pre-Christ lives. The list of Revelation 21 reveals those excluded from the blessing God’s everlasting reign. These various texts condemn idolatry, murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting. In these three places, Commandments 2 and 6-10 receive treatment. 

 

I would argue in eschewing idols, one finds himself well on the way to keeping the command prohibiting other gods (Commandment 1). Should one desire something more, think of the book of Acts. The missionary endeavors of the early church (and the contemporary church) stands on the idea of no other god offering salvation. In Acts 17:16-34, Paul speaks of God as one God rather than one among many, and Paul preaches him with exclusivity. Thus, he restates the same things commanded in Commandments 1 and 2. Moreover, Jesus speaks of his equality with the Father and the singular road of salvation in him alone in John 14:6-15. John also closes his first letter with a prohibition of idolatry

 

Interestingly, the word against empty speech concerning God does not receive much attention in the New Testament. However, Matthew 6:9 teaches the disciples of Jesus to recognize God’s name as holy rather than common. If one should “hallow” the name of God, he should not make it into a vain thing. 

 

Ephesians 6:1-3 restates the command to honor one’s parents, and Paul makes reference to the Fifth Commandment (specifically its restatement in Deuteronomy 5:16). 

 

The Sabbath command represents the most difficult to find in the New Testament, perhaps because we often understand rest as nothing more than cessation of activity. However, in keeping the Sabbath, the Jews assembled themselves together for worship, teaching of Scripture, and prayer. In order to commemorate the day on which Jesus resurrected, Christians began to gather for the same activities on the first day of the week, Sunday. John refers to Sunday as “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10, and he appears to have set aside the time to worship though in exile on Patmos. Luke records a meeting of the church in Acts 20:7 on the first day as well. Hebrews commands its readers not to stop gathering themselves together. In its sense of time set aside for God’s people to gather to worship, Christians have a corresponding New Testament obligation to intentionally assemble as a family of faith in worship. 

 

While our context looks much different than those who first heard God’s thunderous voice in the wilderness at Sinai, God’s commands transfer into contemporary Western life fairly easily. We maintain obedience to these commands not out of obligation to the pre-Christ, old covenant. Instead, we joyfully abide by them to express our love for our saving God, revealed in Christ Jesus.[3]

 

 

[1]F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 195.

 

[2]Jay W. Marshall, “Decalogue,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, eds. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 180.

 

[3]Ibid, 181.

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