The Ten Commandments

Are the Ten Commandments still relevant today?

John 14:15
“If you love me, keep my
Hebrews 10:26-29

“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

What does Paul say about the Law?

We’ve seen what Jesus said about His Father’s Law. We know how He feels about it. Nothing Jesus ever said or did, worked to weaken man’s obligation to the Law of God. He took issue with the human additions to His Father’s Law, and He always sought to clear away the rubbish that surrounded it, but He was ever faithful to honor it. “Have ye not read in the law?” “Is it not lawful for Me?” “Thou knowest the commandments...” “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” If He could have changed the Law that man had transgressed, He would not have needed to sacrifice His life for the sins we had committed. A quick abrogation of the Law would have removed all of our stain and guilt. But it was because the great King, the Ancient of Days, could never change the foundation of His divine Government, that Christ’s sacrifice was deemed the only remedy. The Law could not be changed. In light of the plan of salvation, the Lamb of God must take our place under the condemnation of an unchangeable, yet transgressed Law of the eternal God.

Bearing that in mind, let’s explore just what it was Paul was saying about our relationship to the Law of God. It does sound like Paul was for abrogation. We will cover what Paul said concerning the Law in all of his epistles, with exception of one. His letter to the Galatians I will treat by itself in a section of this essay dedicated only to that epistle.

“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” (Romans 6:14-15). “Not under the law” is what Paul just said—that does sound pretty clear—not under the law’s condemnation or even damnation. But then later Paul writes, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12). “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31). Here is an apparent turnabout in reasoning. Actually, its not a turnabout at all; Paul never meant to demolish God’s Ten Commandment Law. If the Law of God is holy, why should it ever be abolished? If the commandments are just and good, we should want them, shouldn’t we? If we don’t want a righteous Law, does the fault lay in the commandments or in our own rebellious heart? But how can we “establish the law” and not “make void the law through faith,” yet not be “under the law?”

Here’s a clue into what the inspired Paul was thinking. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19). Here Paul has grouped the whole world into being in the same status—under the Law. And the point driven home is that we are all guilty before the great Judge. So the first definition of being under the Law, given by Paul to the Roman Christians, is being under its condemnation. Another clue comes from the following statement, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh…” Romans 8:3. In other words, the Law and us have a history in bad working relations. When we go to obey it, we find we can’t. The problem is not with the Law, but with us. Should we then void out the Law, so that we will have an easier time trying to sleep at night? Should we lower the standard in order to please a weakened race of sinners? And how can we “establish the law” if we are “weak through the flesh?” The clues listed in this paragraph deal with two major issues in Paul’s writings: our Justification and our Sanctification. These questions will be looked at later, but, at this point, we can’t say Paul believed in abolishing the Law.

In one more place, Paul says this: “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Timothy 1:8). In other words, the Law can be bad if misused, or good if properly used for its intended purpose. But at another place: “The strength of sin is the law.” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Is Paul wishy-washy on the subject of obedience to God? He seems to go back and forth, for and against the Law. This has confused many people. So far, Paul’s relationship to the Law almost seems inconclusive.

Let’s look at his letter to the Ephesians. “For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” (Ephesians 2:14-17).

A slightly different repetition comes from the epistle to the Colossians. “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come.” (Colossians 2:12-16).

The two statements, “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” and “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us,” speak to the same item. Together they say, “the handwriting,” “the law of commandments contained in ordinances.” These handwritten laws in ordinances pertained to the 613 laws God gave Israel through Moses. They were written by a man’s hand (Moses’), as opposed to the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God. (Deuteronomy 10:4). It wasn’t the Ten Commandments Paul referred to in his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. Those Ten represent eternal principles for the human race, precepts beginning at our creation. That which was abolished was the 613 ceremonial laws written by Moses. They looked forward, representing “a shadow of things to come.” (Colossians 2:16).

This voiding of Mosaic laws becomes even clearer when looking at Daniel’s prophecy of the Messiah. Daniel wrote, “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself…. And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” (Daniel 9:26-27). The sacrificial system, which at first began in Eden (Genesis 3:21; 4:4) and later was developed for Israel in the wilderness of Sinai, all pointed to Christ, the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” “The precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19, 20). All that which pointed forward to the Messiah, ended at His death on Calvary.

Not only the sacrificial system ended, but the whole Jewish economy was finished, since it all looked forward to the Messiah. It had also become corrupted by selfishness and greed and ambition. The beautiful religion which God had handed down to Israel was bankrupt of the original spirit imbuing it in its beginning. As Paul writes, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people… In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:10-13). The Mosaic laws had also been adulterated with human philosophies. “Wherefore the Lord said, … this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men.” (Isaiah 29:13).

The decayed religion and depravity in Israel, worthy of rejection by God, came at the end, just as Christ had promised in Daniel’s prophecy. “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24). The Lord God knows, far in advance, exactly when He will have to reject a nation. Should they continue to rebel against God and be noxious to man, their whole nation would be swept away, as the angel Gabriel prophesied to Daniel. “And the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” “Even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” (Daniel 9:26-27). Because they refused to obey the principles of God’s law, He would do to them as He forewarned them 1,500 years previous. “The land is defiled [by the Canaanites]: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (for all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) that the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.” (Leviticus 18:25-28). Not the rough, ancient Baal worship, but a sophisticated, philosophical paganism took root in Judaism. The religion they defiled came to an end at the cross. But Christ gave them another 3 ½ year probation, which ended Daniel’s prophetic timeline (Daniel 9:24). Afterward, when the nation wasn’t remedied, the Lord cut them off, and the new dispensation went to the Gentiles at the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Paul. The exclusive, proud, and prejudiced religion that created an impasse between the recalcitrant Jews and Gentiles was removed by Christ. By His principles of self-sacrifice, He had “broken down the middle wall of partition” between the believing Jews and the rest of the world, “that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”

One statement is interesting. “If that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.” (Hebrews 8:7). This fault lay not in the Ten Commandments, but in the stipulations of the first covenant, which we will cover in the epistle to the Galatians.

There is yet another statement that needs to be addressed. Paul sounds to be against more than just the ceremonial law written on scrolls. He speaks against the law written in stone. “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” (2Corinthians 3:2-9). Here, Paul describes the Ten Commandments, “written and engraved in stones,” as “the ministration of death,” and “the ministration of condemnation.”

Does this mean that the Ten Commandments were superseded by the ministration of the Spirit? Was the written word to be ignored for the euphoria of spiritual exercises? For this answer we need to look at the bigger picture. First, Paul speaks of a ministration, a covenanted system of ministry. He compares the old covenant of a theocracy, to the new covenant without a theocracy. In the original theocratic government of Israel existed civil laws, religious laws, a culture, and later, exclusive man-made rules and taboos borrowed from heathen nations—quite a mixture of original and altered, divine laws and human-made substitutions. This conglomeration of God-given and human-invented laws Christ experienced not only when He came in the flesh but even when speaking to the Jews back in Isaiah’s day. “Well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9). Again, we see that the corruption of the true religion, being “taught by the precept of men,” was key in God’s decision to reject the Jews as His honored people.

The original theocracy was strict and harsh, but it was just what the ignorant Israelites needed when they came out of Egyptian slavery. Those civil laws acted as a barrier against crime and corruption, just as modern civil laws do today. The ceremonial laws acted as a barrier against sin, since they explained the exceeding sinfulness of sin and provided an antidote through faith in God. (Hebrews 3:18, 19; 4:2). Above and behind it all stood the great Judge, the Ten Commandments. This religious government worked well for centuries. But there were times that enforcement of laws would lapse and chaos would ensue. Prior to the reign of David, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25). Later, in Isaiah’s day, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!” (Isaiah 5:20-23). Even later, “For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the Lord; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.” (Jeremiah 1:15, 16). Later yet, “In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.” (Nehemiah 13:15). Down to the end of the Old Testament, just before the Spirit of God ceased His voice to Israel, He spoke one last time through Malachi, “But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts. Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept My ways, but have been partial in the law.” (Malachi 2:8, 9).

Upon ascending the throne, David immediately established a strong central monarchy and resolved the nation’s lackadaisical attitude toward law and order. Corporal and capital punishment was used in a righteous way, blending mercy and justice. “And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to stretch forth thine hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed? And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died. And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the Lord’s anointed.” (2 Samuel 1:14-16). He also said, “I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.” (Psalms 120:7). David’s reign was the glory of the world, an example on Earth of the kingdom of heaven. Had Solomon remained faithful, his reign would have outshined his father’s. But the seeds of idolatry and the influence of the heathen nations, begun during Solomon’s backsliding reign, supplanted the beauty of holiness given to Israel. After Solomon’s passing, the kingly line was up and down in faithfulness and blessing. Death was all too often experienced—by kings under pagan-influenced law-enforcement trying to subjugate the people, and also by God, in working to inhibit the spread of pagan corruption among His chosen people. After the passing of His last prophet, Malachi, the Lord God of Israel was forced to distance Himself from them. The life which Israel had chosen made it impossible for Him to reach them, their rebellion had become incurable. Thus, the prophetic silence during the final 400 years, B.C.E. In the end, with His Spirit removed far from them, the religious leadership became extreme and abusive in their control of the people.

What glory still resided in the Jewish “ministration of death” was decaying and readying itself to vanish away. To retain that old, worn, and dead system was to retain a useless, good-for-nothing corpse. In one generation following the clearest presentation of love and righteousness Israel had ever witnessed, in her Messiah, the nation would be dismantled and the survivors led away in chains. The Jewish Christians who had remembered Christ’s warning of the destruction of Jerusalem and escaped the terrible siege, were left behind, together with many Christian Jews who lived outside Palestine, and also the Gentile believers. Thus began the new children of Israel, a “holy nation” (1Peter 2:9), children of faith (Deuteronomy 32:20), the true, spiritual Circumcision (Philippians 3:3). Stripped of its service of dead routines, God’s chosen group was circumcised of pretentious, formal religion and left with the sensitive and cleansed service of love that God had desired of His people since bringing Israel out of Egypt. The ministration of the Spirit now shone with a glory and purpose never known except by but few Israelites, during the existence of the nation. Yet, the Ten Commandments were not discounted by the early church. Justification with God allowed them to trust and love Him, while they feared Him and kept His commandments. As we saw in previous sections of this essay, those commandments show up again and again in the New Testament.

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