By David Dann
We read in Exodus 20 that as God was in the process of delivering his law to Israel through Moses, he gave his people ten basic commandments that they were to obey. Among other ordinances, these commandments include the instructions, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy . . . Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal” (Exod. 20:8, 13-15).
Many religious people today who claim to be Christians often stress the importance of keeping the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are held in high esteem as a code of religious and moral value. Even the youngest children are taught to memorize them and obey them.
As we notice the great importance placed on the Ten Commandments by so many religious groups, we must ask whether or not we are obligated to keep this set of laws today. According to the Bible:
- The Ten Commandments were only given to the nation of Israel. It is clear that the instructions given in Exodus 20 were given by God to Israel. In fact, in reviewing the Ten Commandments with Israel, Moses said, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day” (Deut. 5:2-3). Obviously, the Ten Commandments were given to the nation of Israel and not to all the nations throughout history.
- The Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant. In Exodus 34 we read, “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.’ And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Exod. 34:27-28). The Hebrew writer refers to the tablets of stone that contained the Ten Commandments as “tables of the covenant” (Heb. 9:4). These Scriptures teach that the Ten Commandments were included in the covenant that God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. (See also Deut. 4:12-14; 9:8-11; 1 Kings 8:9, 21).
- The Old Covenant has been done away with. While explaining the prophecy of Jeremiah regarding the plan of God in replacing the Old Covenant with the New Covenant, the Hebrew writer says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah’” (Heb. 8:7-8). He then concludes the thought in the following manner: “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” (Heb. 8:13). Since the Old Covenant has been removed, and the Ten Commandments were included in the Old Covenant, we must conclude that the Ten Commandments have been removed as well. As Paul put it, Christ “took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:14).
- We are now obligated to keep the commandments of the New Covenant. The “New Covenant,” or “New Testament” was brought into force by the death of Christ (Heb. 9:16-17). Jesus referred to his blood which was shed at the cross as the “blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Since we are no longer under the Old Covenant and the Ten Commandments, does this mean we are free to murder, steal, and commit adultery? Certainly not. Nearly all of the principles contained in the Ten Commandments (with the exception of the command to keep the Sabbath) are repeated in the New Covenant, as revealed in such passages as Colossians 3:5, 1 John 3:15, Ephesians 4:28, and Matthew 5:34, as well as others. We should not murder, steal, or commit adultery, not because the Ten Commandments say so, but because the gospel of Jesus Christ says so. The gospel of Christ contains the standard by which all nations will be judged (John 12:48; 2 Cor. 5:10).
The Old Covenant Law, including the Ten Commandments, has served its purpose. Paul explains this by using the following illustration: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24-25).
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