April 11, 2009

Christ and the Ten Commandments

I friend of mine recently acknowledged that he’d read parts of my blog and considered some of the content objectionable. Specifically, he thought my assertion that there were higher and lesser laws to be incorrect, because in his words, “Christ didn’t do away with the Ten Commandments.”

We agreed that he was referring to Christ’s statement found in Matthew 5:17.

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
As I’ve stated in a previous blog, Christ made the declaration just before introducing His gospel as a requirement of higher standing than the prevailing Mosaic Law. That should be obvious from reading the remainder of the chapter, but what’s not as clear is that Jesus established the Ten Commandments as a necessary, but insufficient, standard of moral behavior. I say that, because obedience to the gospel—as the higher standard—results in obedience to the Ten Commandments, too. (In case the rationale isn’t obvious: If my personal standard of safety is to never drive over 45 MPH, then I will naturally obey the highway speed limit of 65 MPH, as well). In this way the Law of Moses was never destroyed, but that’s not to say it represents a sufficient standard in defining Christian living.

So what does Christ’s declaration that he’d come to fulfill the law and prophets mean? To my way of thinking, He was: 1) pointing to Himself as the culmination of Old Testament prophecy and 2) establishing His gospel as the logical progression for those who'd mastered the Mosaic Law. The latter I can say with confidence based upon another instance in which Jesus uses the same words “law” and “prophets” in the same sentence. The statement I’m thinking of is found in Matthew 22:37-40, which is Christ’s reply to the question: Which is the great commandment?

His answer, as you will likely recall, is:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they 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.

The implication of this statement is that the Mosaic Law (the law and the prophets) was always designed to point people toward the gospel—a gospel that is (and this is going to sound schmaltzy, but I’ll say it anyway) all about love. Conversely, by adhering to the requirements of loving God and neighbor, we fulfill what the lesser law could only aspire to achieve. For this reason, we should be more preoccupied with how we practice the two great laws, rather than the ten.

This, however, raises a question: Why didn’t God just give the requirements of the gospel to Moses? Anyone care to answer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The law served its purpose, and this was not to provide moral guidance. The law showed us that we couldn't live up to even the most minimal moral standards. It, thus, convicted us as subjects in need of redemption.

Those who see the Ten Commandments as the complete expression of God's moral concern miss the boat entirely. Sam Harris pointed out that he, a devout athiest, could think of obvious improvements to the set of rules. "Do not allow Children to be abused or exploited" is a perfect example of a rule that would have to have be included in any comprehensive list of God's commandments.

That such a rule is lacking in the Ten Commandments is not an indictment of God failure to provide moral guidance. It is an indication that the Ten commandments are simply lowball standards that reveal our fallen natures. The sermon on the mount makes that clear.

Joe H.