Please forgive the wording of the subject line; my question is much deeper than that short blurb.
The Ten Commandments are only named three times in the Bible: once in Exodus and twice in Deuteronomy. After that, they aren’t giving much attention as a category. Yes, they were practiced and taught by the Israelites and Jews, but not mentioned in their scriptures beyond those three. The Law of Moses included 603 other commands. Obviously, there was something special about those ten since there were carved in stone. Some argue that the 10 Commandments represent God’s moral law (that is eternal), but there are commands in the other 603 Laws of Moses that one could argue also represent some aspect of God’s moral law, not just ceremonial or judicial laws (which ended on the cross).
In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches that the spirit of the law reflects God’s moral law more than the letter of the law–“You have heard it said ‘Do not commit murder,’ but I say to you do not hate” (paraphrase). Further, in John 13, Jesus gives a new command to love others as he loved us (unconditionally, sacrificially, forgivingly), and when he said “new” he wasn’t referring to a 614th command or changing the Ten Commandments to the Eleven Commandments. He was referring to a law that replaced, completed, fulfilled all laws.
Why do some Christians put so much emphasis on the Ten Commandments? Shouldn’t we be exclusively focused on Jesus’ one new commandment? I tend to think it is because it is a lot easier to follow a checklist (I didn’t kill anybody today, I didn’t commit adultery, etc.) than it is to love each other the way Jesus loved us. Therefore, rules keep creeping back into Christianity instead of more love. By the way, I’m not proposing we get rid of rules–rules are good: they keep us safe, they provide healthy boundaries, etc. It just sometimes seems like a lot of misplaced attention is given to the Big 10 instead of the Eternal 1.
So, with that as the background to my question, when/how/why did the Ten Commandments become such a big deal in Christianity?
@ggibson That is a great question. I think the Ten Commandments are a big deal because of the extraordinary self-revelation of God that occurred in their giving. Moses saw God and lived and God hand delivered these commandments to His chosen people. I do not think we can possibly overestimate the magnitude of such an event in human history.
Moreover, if we look at what Jesus said He was clear that He did not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it. Jesus’ Great Commandments - love God and love neighbor - are not a replacement for the law. They are the heart of the law - they are the motivation God had when He gave Israel the law.
Matthew 5:17 - Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
There 3 types of law in the OT - ceremonial (laws for the priests and purification of the people), judicial/civil (for the earthly kingdom of Israel) and moral (laws based upon God’s nature and eternally binding). When Jesus’ died on the cross, He put an end to the ceremonial and judicial law - He is our High Priest and King - we live a new life by the Spirit and not by the letter of the law. The moral law is still binding and upheld in the two greatest commandments - love God and love neighbor.
The Ten Commandments, except for the 4th (Sabbath), are all inherently moral laws. Jesus clarifies that God gave the Sabbath for a specific purpose - the Sabbath was made for man. Paul further clarifies that those who hold to one special day and those who do not should do so unto the Lord.
Mark 2:27-28 - Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Romans 14:5 - One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
So the Ten Commandments are important to the Christian because they are part of God’s revelation to Moses and both Paul and Jesus honored them. While the Sabbath may not directly apply to us as morally binding (Jesus is our Sabbath - Hebrews 4), the principle behind the Sabbath remains - we are to find our rest and confidence in God.
Certainly our focus should be on Jesus rather than the law - because the law cannot save us. Only Jesus, who fulfilled the law and cleanses us by His blood shed upon the cross, can save us and is worthy of worship. But the law is still a significant part of God’s revelation and worthy of memorization / study.
Gospel Coalition Article
The following article argues that the Ten Commandments were of paramount importance to Paul, to Jesus and should be to us. It also reviews how the Ten Commandments have been central to many Christian catechisms of the past.
The Ten Commandments are not simply a part of the Mosaic covenant; they occupy a unique and central role in the law handed down on Sinai. We see this right from the prologue in Exodus 20. The Lord is no longer telling Moses to go down and relay a message to the people. That’s how the Lord operated in chapter 19, but now in chapter 20 God is speaking “all these words” (v. 1) directly to the Israelites. That’s why, at the end of the Ten Commandments, the people cry out to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). They were too terrified to have God speak to them without a mediator, which says something about the stunning display of God’s power in chapters 19 and 20 and underlines the importance of the Decalogue.
Paul says, much like Jesus did, that the Ten Commandments are the way for God’s people to love one another. When we love, we fulfill the commandments, and when we obey the commandments, we are fulfilling the law of love.
We are currently reviewing the book by Andy Stanley that Deyoung critiques, so I expect that Stanley’s comment makes more sense in context than when taken completely out of context. You could join us as we do so to find out more.
Hope those thoughts are helpful Christ grant you wisdom.
@ggibson This is great topic and I too am fascinated and look for deeper meaning when it comes to the 10 Commandments in the Bible. There are a number of places where these laws were referenced in Bible a few to mention:
If you look at the historical chronology GOD: 1, Moses: 10, Torah 613 and Jesus with only 2 laws or commandments, interesting dynamic isn’t it. Now they all make perfect sense to me and their application reflects the time and place of the human history.
GOD: Genesis 2: 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” GOD wanted ONE thing only the right relationship with his own creation Adam and Eve. In my view GOD is our moral law, and so it was for Adam and Eve.
Moses: When GOD chose Moses to take Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he took them away in wilderness for 40 years to purify them of their slavishness. However there was a problem in the making, free at last they are unbridled. When Moses comes down from the mountain, after a long absence, bearing the tablets inscribed with 10 Commandments, he finds children of Israel in revelry. They have lost all control as they dance wildly and worship an idol, a golden calf, displaying all manner of corporeal corruption.
Now why are they a big deal for Christians? Without rules or commandments we are quick to aim low and worship qualities that are beneath us. The story of the golden calves reminds us that without these rules we quickly become slaves to our passion - and there’s is nothing freeing about that.
Jesus: In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." and than later Matthew 22:37 "Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments". In my view here, Jesus emphasized the ONE law and setting the stage for his disciples in their mission after his Resurrection. Without the second law there is no GOOD NEWS.
It occurs to me, possibly because I have been awoke since 3:30 am. But we have a problem with obedience and compliance when we must simply believe. We seem to do better with numerous details, perhaps because we feel in working the details of righteous living; we are somehow responsible for making good happen.
We failed miserably when there was only one law. Don’t eat from that there knowledge of good and evil tree, over there. Genesis 2:17. So the next time the people heard from Heaven there were ten main laws, from which hundreds ‘how to’ laws were born.
JESUS came and restored cohesiveness to all those laws. But we cling to the concept of details. Busy work for mind and body. I think it is just fine for the nature of the world we occupy. But often unnecessary if we will just follow on to know the Lord. Humans seem to flourish in the details. GOD gets our redundancy.