Christians and the Ten Commandments

Relevant Magazine recently posted an article by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Atlanta.  North Point is the second largest church in the country, averaging 38,000 people in attendance on six campuses.  The headline was: “Why Do Christians Want to Post the 10 Commandments and Not the Sermon on the Mount?”

Stanley begins by referring to controversies in several jurisdictions in recent years concerning monuments of the Ten Commandments in public places.  His central claim is that the controversies are all for nothing because the Ten Commandments don’t apply to us.  “If we’re going to create a monument to stand as a testament to our faith,” he writes, “shouldn’t it at least be a monument of something that actually applies to us?”  As possible alternatives, he suggests the Sermon on the Mount or John 13:34,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 

It’s all well and good, in my opinion, if people wish to post monuments of these passages of Scripture.  More power to them, I say.  But Stanley’s piece is problematic because of his outright dismissal of the Ten Commandments as applicable to us today.  You can read his entire piece here.  Here are a few excerpts.

Jesus’ death and resurrection signaled the end of the that [the old] covenant and all the rules and regulations associated with it [italics added].

Jesus didn’t issue his new command as an additional commandment to the existing lists of commands… [he] issued his new commandment as a replacement for everything in the existing list.  Including the big ten.  Just as his new covenant replaced the old covenant, Jesus’ new commandment replaced all the old commandments.

Participants in the new covenant (that’s Christians) are not required to obey any of the commandments found in the first part of their Bibles.

It’s more than a bit odd that Stanley suggests posting the Sermon on the Mount instead of the Ten Commandment because (as he says) the commandments don’t apply to us today, when in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this:

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.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus then goes on – in the Sermon on the Mount, mind you – to expound and apply several legal passages of the Old Testament, including the sixth and seventh commandments. 

The Golden Rule, found in – you guessed it, the Sermon on the Mount –presupposes the ongoing applicability of the entire moral code of the Old Testament.  “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). 

Stanley says that John 13:34 is the only command that applies to Christians, that it replaces all other commands.  However, love is never presented as a replacement of the law but as the sum and substance of all that the moral code of the Old Testament requires.  Jesus himself tells us this (Matt. 22:37-40).  So does Paul (Rom. 13:8-10). 

The moral code of the Old Testament, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, is so obviously the basis for the ethical teaching of the New Testament it’s astonishing anyone conversant with the Bible could deny it. 

Here is a brief look at the Ten Commandments in the New Testament.  Keep in mind that the commandments don’t have to be specifically quoted in order to be recognized as the basis of its ethical instruction.  Some of the passages below are direct quotations; others are allusions to the commandments or examples of conduct prohibited by the commandments in which the commandments are assumed to be normative. 

“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Matt. 4:10; 6:24; 22:37-38; Mk. 12:29-31; Lk. 4:8; Acts 14:15; Rom. 3:20; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:5

“You shall not make for yourself an idol,” etc.
Acts 15:20; 17:16, 29-30; 1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 10:7, 14; 2 Cor. 6:16; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Pet. 4:3; 1 Jn. 5:21; Rev. 2:14; 9:20

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” etc.
Matt. 5:33-34; Rom. 2:24; 1 Tim. 6:1; Jas. 2:7; 2 Pet. 2:2

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep in holy,” etc.
Mk. 2:27; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Heb. 10:24-25; Rev. 1:10

“Honor your father and your mother,” etc.
Matt. 15:4; 19:19; Mk. 7:10; 10:19; Lk. 18:20; Rom. 1:29; 13:9; Eph. 6:1-2; Col. 3:20; 2 Tim. 3:2

“You shall not murder.”
Matthew 5:21-22; 19:18; Mark 7:21; 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 1:29; 13:9; Gal. 5:21; 1 Tim. 1:9; Jas. 2:11; 1 Pet. 4:15; 1 Jn. 3:15; Rev. 9:21; 21:8; 22:15

“You shall not commit adultery.”
Matt. 5:27-32; 15:19; 19:9, 18; Mk. 7:21; 10:11-12, 19; Lk. 16:18; 18:20; Rom. 13:9; 1 Thess. 4:2-6; Jas. 2:11; 2 Pet. 2:14

“You shall not steal.”
Matt. 19:18; Mk. 10:19; Lk. 18:20; Rom. 2:21; 13:9; Eph. 4:28; 1 Pet. 4:15

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Matt. 15:19; 19:18; 26:60; Mk. 10:19; 14:56-57; Lk. 18:20; Acts 6:13; Rom. 1:30; 13:9; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 2 Tim. 3:3

“You shall not covet,” etc.
Mk. 7:22; Lk. 12:15; Acts 20:33; Rom. 1:29; Rom. 7:7-8; 13:9; Eph. 5:3, 5; Col. 3:5; Jas. 4:2

This is just a brief sampling of passages that could be cited.  In addition, we could cite passages that teach us to practice the opposite of what the commandments forbid.  When Paul tells us to speak the truth (Eph. 4:25) for instance, we should understand this as reinforcing the ninth commandment prohibiting false witness.  The admonition to be generous and ready to share (1 Tim. 6:18) reinforces the tenth commandment against covetousness, etc.

Just how fully Paul’s ethical teaching is informed by the law of the Old Testament can be seen in how he applies what many would regard as obscure passages like, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” (1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18; cf. Deut. 25:4) and, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14; cf. Deut. 22:10).

Stanley’s dismissal of the Ten Commandments is extraordinary, too, considering Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians:

Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.  
– 1 Corinthians 7:19

His position is also irreconcilable with the teaching of John.

By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.
– 1 John 2:3

God’s law is a reflection of his own righteous character; whoever loves him will necessarily love his law and wish to keep it. 

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day (Ps. 119:97)

I hate the double-minded,
but I love your law (Ps. 119:113)

I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law (Ps. 119:163)

Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble (Ps. 119:165)


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