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The Inordinate Prominence Given to the Ten Commandments in Christian Society

Brian Hyde BSc SW January 2012


It is interesting to read how certain individuals interpret everything (even antediluvian and early Christian history) through what has been called the lens of the Old Testament Mosaic Law, and then impose their narrow views on others in an attempt to bind them to a law which St Paul took great pains to point out was given solely to the nation Israel and was not intended for Christians. But strangely enough, many Christians, who do in fact recognise that the Law is was uniquely Jewish and temporary in nature, nevertheless have adopted the Ten Commandments in its Old Covenant format, as their primary ethical code for moral behaviour. But what they fail to understand, however, is that the Law of Moses was instituted as an indivisible unit and that the ten words" (due, not least, to their summative and thus representative nature as the covenant") (1) cannot be lifted out and upheld in isolation from context of the Mosaic Law. Yet these commandments have long featured strongly in Christianity and its societies, for a very long time. And, firmly etched as they are in the Christians mindset, they are now regarded as epitomising the highest standards of moral living. No one would deny that the TC will have served a very useful purpose in keeping in check the unbridled passions of the ungodly but to give prominence to the Ten Commandments (TC) as the sole guide for Christian morality as many have done, is inordinate, tantamount to establishing a canon within a canon. And this action has not come without a price. One of the most serious is of course the diminution of the Gospel of divine grace. Under the New Covenant it is grace not law which is the divine instrument of righteousness and which produces a righteousness in the heart that satisfies the demands of Gods timeless universal laws. But more about that another time. The proponents of the TC have arbitrarily classified the nature of each one of these statutes as a moral law, despite having no textual support for this categorisation and despite the fact that the content of certain commandments clearly have both moral and/or ceremonial aspects. (2) TC adherents fail to understand that the Decalogue is only a mere ten laws out of a considerable number of laws that could equally be deemed moral, and which along

with sacrificial, criminal, civil and cultic laws, constituted the complete Mosaic Code. There are, quite literally dozens of laws of no less value and importance for moral living than any one of the Ten Commandments. (3) And, of course, there are the two Old Testament laws that Christ declared to be the greatest commandments of all. (4) Yet, significantly, there is no mention of them in the Decalogue or its prologue. Yet Christians, eclipsed as they are by the popular acclaim for the Ten, usually ignore for the most part these other statutes! Moreover, the adoption of the TC into Christian society has led some to claim that the Jewish Sabbath is a holy day for Christians. After all, does not the Fourth Commandment clearly demand adherents to keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy (Exodus 20:8ff)? Yet, when it is explained to these dear folk that their basis for upholding the seventh-day Sabbath is flawed because not only is the Ten Commandments not for Christians but the Fourth Commandment is largely a ceremonial law that pre-shadowed Christ (Colossians 2:17), their Ten Commandment mindset immediately kicks in and, recoiling in horror at what they perceive to be as a monstrous attack on the law of God, they will resort to slanderous denunciations of their opposers and label them as lawless. The evidence from Scripture is that believers in the present church age are in a new covenant relation with Christ thus rendering the Old Covenant obsolete (Hebrews 8:14). Paul explains that we are not under law to Moses but under law to Christ (). So it seems to me that it is incumbent upon Bible scholars, church leaders and Christian writers to set the record straight and restore the Decalogue back to its rightful place within the context of the Old Covenant Law of Moses. Meanwhile, we Christians do well to devote our attention to the spiritual principles expounded by the New Testament writers. There we find interestingly enough, nine of the Ten Commandments cast by the Spirit into a new higher and broader spiritual framework (5) and set among New Covenant gems of equal worth and importance.
Notes: (1). Exodus 34:27-28: "Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." (Emphasis mine) (2). For example, the sabbath of the Fourth Commandment held a prominent place in Israels worship services. Legitimate Sabbath observance required adherence to multiple prohibitions and abstinence from specific everyday tasks, the performance of multiple rituals and sacrifices and offerings, viz. two blood sacrifices along with bread and wine. These instructions are written in the Book of the Covenant. (3). Consider for instance: Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (Lev 18:22) Thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. (Lev. 18:23)

Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning. (Lev 19:13) Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD." (Lev 19:14) Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the LORD. (Lev 19:16) Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. (Lev 19:17) Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:18). Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:32) Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deut 4:2) And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deut. 6:5) Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah. (Deut 6:16) Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:19) (4). Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35) (5). 1Timothy 2:5; 1Corinthians 10; James 5:12; Ephesians 6:2; 1John 3:15; Hebrews 13:4; Ephesians 4:28; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 5:3 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Way Ministry January 2012 www.wayministry.org Copyright All rights reserved