Second of Mike Samson's guest posts, should be some good points to discuss in this and the next one.
The 10 Commandments. Heb. " 'aseret hadevarim," literally the "Ten Words." (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13, 10:4). "Decalogue," from the Latin for "Ten Words" is a more literal rendition of the original Hebrew than "Ten Commandments." What is their signifigance for us today? How should we understand them? How ought they to be interpreted and applied? Most important, can they be mishandled and abused?
The Decalogue shold never be removed from it's proper context. Historically, that context is the Exodus of the nation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. This is the great liberating event of the 1st Covenant and the Hebrew Bible. The Decalogue is handed down to us in the 20th chapter of Exodus and the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy. In both cases they open with the words,
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Exodus 20:1 ( RSV CE)
The Decalogue points out the conditions of an existence free from sin, and a path to life. (Deuteronomy 30:16). One of the keys to understanding the signifigance of the Ten Words is the manner and time in which this gift was given.
In terms of timing, the revelation of the Law takes place between the proposal of the Covenant by God in Exodus 19:1 - 9, and it's conclusion when the people commited themselves "to do" all that the LORD had said, and to "obey" Him. (Exodus 24:7). The Decalogue takes on it's full meaning then within the context of the Covenant. As always is the way in sacred Scripture and in the economy of salvation, it is God who has initiated this Covenant relationship with His people. His love and mercy are clearly revealed here. The Commandments are secondary to this. The Ten Words spell out the implications of belonging to the People of God and the community of faith through the Covenant. Living out the Commandments then is our response to God and His love. This is key!!! They are a response to an already existing relationship. They are not, THEY ARE NOT!!!, a measuring rod to gage the worthyness of people to enter into the Covenant.
Secondly, the Decalogue is revealed by God through a "Theophany," an appearance of God. (Exodus 19:16 - 20:21). It must have been an absolutely unimaginable sight and experience. In revealing Himself in this way to Israel, and revealing the Law in such a fashion and under such circumstances, it should become clear that the Ten Commandments belong to the revelation of God Himself and His Glory. They are the gift of God, the gift of Himself and His Holy Will revealed plainly to His people. So much so in fact that it is God Himself who writes the Commandments on two stone tablets and gives them to Moses. (Deuteronomy 5:22). Understood in this way, we can say with confidence that our morality, lived out in obedience to the Decalogue is a response to the loving initiative of God and a response to an established relationship with Him. They are not, NOT a means of establishing a relationship with Him.
From all this is is obvious that the Ten Commandments can never be abolished. Indeed Our Lord said specifically that He had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but rahter to fulfill them. ( St. Matthew 5:17). As Christians, we are invited to rediscover the Law in the Person of Jesus Christ who is it's perfect fulfillment. It is in the New Covenant that the full meaning of the Law is made known. (See St. Matthew 5 - 7). When asked which Commandment in the Law was the greatest, ( St. Matthew 22:34-36), ASTONISHINGLY, Our Lord does not, DOES NOT quote the Ten Commandments. Equally ASTONISHING though is that He does quote the Law! ( St. Matthew 22:37 - 40). Our Lord cites Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leveticus 19:18 respectively. This is a fatal blow to the Ray Comfort "Way of the Master" approach with all their emphasis on the Decalogue. Our Lord tells us that on these two Commands, to love God, and to love our neighbor depend all the Law and the Prophets. These two Commands are actually one in essance though two in form. They are identical in spirit although two in letter. If we love God, we will love our neighbor made in His image and likeness. It is impossible, IMPOSIBLE for it to be otherwise. ( 1 John 4:7 - 21) Love of God and love of neighbor are one in the same. The Will of God is manifested therefore to Christians above all in the Commandment to love. We are to love as God loves. Hear the words of St. Paul to the Romans,
"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (St. Paul to the Romans 13:8 - 10 (RSV CE).
Our Lord stated clearly that if we love Him, we would obey His commandments, ( St. John 14:15), and that we ought to love one another as He loved us. (St. John 15:12). St. John was consummed with the teaching of his Divine Master as is evidenced in the passage cited earlier. ( 1 John 4:7 - 21). Our Lord and His apostles summon us to love, to Love God and our neighbor in response, IN RESPONSE to the God who first loved us ( 1 John 4:10, 4:19) Again in the New Covenant, as with the first, our obedience to God and His commandments is the response of children to the initiative of our God who is love. The law is not abolioshed, but the Holy Spirit makes it interior. Our obedience is one of love freely chosen, IN RESPONSE to His love freely given.
Now compare this to some of the street "evangelism" methods being employed today. I am refering in case and point to Ray Comfort and the "Way of the Master" approach. The Ten Commandments are wrenched right out of their Judeo-Christian context and used to measure the morality of perfect strangers on street corners through something called the "good person test" discussed in part 1. If the Decalogue belongs to the Covenant of God and His people, what sense is there in showing people whom you assume, whom you ASSUME... are Godless that they have in fact failed to live up to their relationship with God? Paintbrushing people on street corners with the Law like this accomplishes little or nothing. Using the Ten Commandments in this way is disgraceful. It is an abuse of Holy Scripture and an abuse of people. (More on this in part 4). It is the cart before the horse in the worst way. It is shameful...and ridiculous...
Up next, Part 3: Was Christ Punished? If He was, that is bad news for you and I...
To Be Continued...