Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Typical Objections to the Ten Commandments and Christians

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on September 7, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Jeremiah prophesies that Christians have the law that God wrote on stone tablets, the Ten Commandments, written on their hearts by the Spirit of God sent by the Son of God (Jer. 31:33; 2 Cor. 3:3). The Spirit of God also causes us to delight in God’s law and obey it (Ezek. 36:27, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”). The New Testament gives us the way in which the Ten Commandments are to be applied by Christians. Though this seems clear and is, by far, the majority view of the Christian church throughout her history, some disagree. To be fair to those who may disagree, we must admit that some statements of the New Testament make this issue difficult to understand (Rom. 6:14, for example). In light of this, let us consider four typical objections and interact with them.

1.      The Mosaic law in the Old and New Testaments always refers to the entirety of that law, the whole thing, the whole law of the Old Covenant, the law for ancient Israel.

“Since Christians are not under the Mosaic law as a whole, then they cannot be under it in any of its parts,” so goes this objection. “So the law in Jeremiah’s prophecy cannot have anything to do with the Old Covenant and its law.” At first glance, this appears to be a very strong objection, but let us interact with it.

We are not arguing that the law in Jeremiah’s prophecy has anything to do with Christians in their present relationship to the Old Covenant or being under any law in order to obtain either the temporal blessings promised to God’s ancient people in the Land of Promise or worse salvation and eternal life. This is a prophecy of the New Covenant, of a new day for God’s people. What I am arguing is that Jeremiah’s prophecy refers to the basic fundamental law of the New Covenant, which is the same for the Old or Mosaic Covenant. We are not under Moses’ law like the ancient Jews were, but we are creatures created in the image of God, just as they were, with the law re-written on our hearts. We do have duties as Christians that are very much the same as Israel did under the Old Covenant. We are to love God and neighbor, which Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 in Matthew 22:37 and 39. One thing we learn from this is that some laws of the Mosaic Covenant transcend that covenant and can function outside of it. For example, we are to worship the one and only true God of the Bible. This has always been the case. We are to worship the one and only true God of the Bible the way He says to. This has always been the case. We are not to take God’s name in vain. This has always been the case. We must rest for the purpose of public worship and we must work or labor. This has always been the case. We owe respect and obedience to parents and all authority figures in our lives. This has always been the case. We must respect life and not murder others either by taking their lives unlawfully or even by hating them. This has always been the case. We must keep ourselves sexually pure, neither committing adultery in our acts, words, or thoughts. This has always been the case. We must respect the property of others and not steal. This has always been the case. We must tell the truth and not lie. This has always been the case. And we must be content with what we have and not commit idolatry by coveting things and people. This has always been the case. These are the Ten Commandments. As a matter of fact, the Ten Commandments did not become holy and good at Sinai. These things are always right or wrong in light of who we are as creatures made in God’s image. These simply reflect the ethical absolutes woven into the fabric of our being.

Maybe looking at it this way will help. Just as God incorporated the law written on man’s heart at creation (Rom. 2:14-15) into the Old Covenant (Exod. 20:1ff.), He does the same in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33; 2 Cor. 3:3). This natural law became what it was not at Sinai; it was formally published by God Himself on stone tablets. That same law is incorporated into the New Covenant. This law, then, is not only trans-cultural but trans-covenantal. Since it is coextensive with our status as image bearers, this should not surprise us at all.

2.      If the law in Jeremiah refers to the Ten Commandments, why didn’t God repeat them word-for-word in the New Testament exactly as they come to us in the Old Testament?

“If repeated then binding; if not repeated, not binding,” so goes the argument. Again, this appears to be a sound objection, but is it really? God already revealed the Ten Commandments twice in the Old Testament (Exod. 20 and Deut. 5). He prophesied their presence in the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:33. He confirmed their presence under the New Covenant in 2 Corinthians 3:3 (and elsewhere). The Ten Commandments are either quoted or assumed to be good and right by the New Testament writers in many places. Remember, it is the essence of the Ten Commandments that are binding, not any particular form in which they have been revealed in Scripture.

For example, Paul references the fifth commandment as that which is right for children to obey (Eph. 6:1-3). Do you really need God to repeat, for example, the sixth commandment–“You shall not murder”–in order to believe that murder is sinful? By the way, it is interesting to note that murder was wrong and sinful prior to Sinai–Cain killed his brother Abel, which is recorded in Genesis 4, and John tells us in 1 John 3:11-12 that Cain was of the evil one and an example of someone who did not love. There is no command to love or any prohibition of murder recorded in Scripture prior to Genesis 4. Do you want to argue that love was not expected and murder was not prohibited until we read of an explicit command to love or an explicit prohibition concerning murder? I hope not.

How about the tenth commandment–“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor”? That command, as given here, is not repeated in the New Testament (i.e., word-for-word). It is, however, reduced to its essence–“You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7; 13:9). God does not have to repeat the Ten Commandments word-for-word for them to be relevant for Christians.

Did you know that the first four commandments are not repeated in the New Testament word-for-word and neither are the ninth and tenth? In light of this, no one in their right mind argues that only the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments carry over into the New Testament and, therefore, are the only ones applicable to Christians. The essence of all ten of the Ten Commandments carries over into the New Testament. This is what we expect from Jeremiah’s prophecy (and elsewhere).

3.      The New Testament says that we are not under law but under grace. We do not have to obey the law of God; we just need to bathe our souls in the grace of God.

This objection is often based on Romans 6:14, which says, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” At first glance, this verse may appear to undo much of what has been said above. How should we respond? It is one thing to be under law as a sinner as a means to life (which is impossible to attain since the fall), as a means whereby one obeys to get salvation and eternal life, as a means to get right with God or earn an inheritance; but it is quite another thing to obey because we have received eternal life, because someone else made us right with God, because someone else has earned an inheritance for us. We are bound to obey God’s law, not that we may live, not that we may gain salvation and inherit eternal life, not that we may be right with God, but because we live, because we have received eternal life, because we are heirs of life. We do not obey to life; we obey from life. Being a Christian does not mean we do the right things to get to heaven. It means that we believe the gospel. Christians believe that Christ has done everything necessary to earn heaven and the eternal state of glory for them. Our obedience does not get us to glory; Christ’s does. The basis of our justification and entitlement to glory is what Christ did for us. What we do for Christ is a result of His work. The efficient cause of what we do for Him is that which He does to or in us by His Spirit, a promised blessing for all in the New Covenant. What we do is a reflection of our love for Christ in light of what He has done for us and it is impelled by His Spirit in us forming us into Christ’s image in conjunction with the written word of God. Obeying God as a believer is a result of grace in our lives; it is an effect of God’s grace in us (Eph. 2:8-10). But, it is also a response to the grace of God in us (1 Cor. 15:10). We obey God’s law by grace. Because our souls are soaked by God’s grace, we want to obey God’s law.

4.      This would mean that the fourth commandment carries over into the New Covenant.

Well, my short answer is, “Yes, that is certainly true.” The essential principles of all ten of the Ten Commandments carry over. Time to work and time to stop work for the purpose of special worship are both necessary if we are to please God. But, someone says, “The fourth commandment is not repeated in the New Testament.” Neither is the first commandment (at least not word-for-word) but that does not make having other gods before the true God virtuous or only for Old Covenant Israel. And the second commandment is not repeated (at least not word-for-word) but that does not mean you can make idols and expect that (or any other humanly devised forms of worship) to be acceptable worship to God. And neither is the third commandment (at least not word-for-word) but that does not mean you can take the name of the Lord in vain.

But, someone says again, “In order for the fourth commandment to carry over we would expect the New Testament Christians to meet for worship on the seventh day of the week. In fact, they did not; they met on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day.” Yes, they did. But they met on the first day of the week because of the resurrection of Christ in celebration of redemption won and the inauguration of a new creation. Let’s think through this a bit.

This objection assumes that the application of the Ten Commandments must look the same as it did in the Old Testament era if they are to be obeyed under the New Testament era. Is this, in fact, the case? Must the application of one of the Ten Commandments look the same as it did under the Old Covenant if it is to be applicable under the New Covenant? I think not. For example, the second commandment is still in force but the laws for what constitutes acceptable worship have changed (Heb. 9:1-10). This change is due to the coming of Christ and His work which is the fulfillment to which the ancient elements of worship pointed. We worship the way we do in light of the coming and resurrection of Christ and the revelation explaining the implications of those events recorded in the New Testament. However, idolatry is still a sin (1 Cor. 10:14; Col.3:5; 1 John 5:21). We do not offer animal sacrifices at a physical temple through a Levitical priest, though all believers are priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ (1 Pet. 2:5) in the new house of God, the new temple, the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Tim. 3:15). Things have changed due to fulfillment in Christ, but fulfillment does not cancel the moral principle of the law, though it may change its application. In other words, the application of the second commandment looks different than it used to in light of the coming of the Son of Man and His entrance into glory. We worship how we do in light of the coming and resurrection of Christ. It is the same for the application of the fourth commandment. We worship when we do in light of the coming and resurrection of Christ (Heb. 4:9-10; Rev. 1:10[1]) but Sabbath-keeping is still our privilege (Heb. 4:9) and we do not meet on the seventh day of the week, looking back to the original creation and redemption from Egypt or forward to the first coming of Christ. Just as the historical basis for the application of the fourth commandment under the Old Covenant is two-fold–creation (Exod. 20:8-11) and redemption (Deut. 5:12-15), so the historical basis for the application of the fourth commandment under the New Covenant is also two-fold–the resurrection is both the formal inauguration of a new creation and the guarantee of our redemption.

A similar case can be made with the fifth commandment on two levels. The fifth commandment is ours to obey irrespective of our age. However, honoring parents when you are two years old looks different than when you are 50. Also, in Eph. 6:2-3, Paul references the fifth commandment, applying it to children in first-century Asia Minor. However, in its first revelation to us in the Bible, obeying the fifth commandment promised longer life in the Promised Land (cf. Exod. 20:12, “that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you”). The application may change due to various factors, like the inauguration of the New Covenant due to the sufferings and glory of Christ, without cancelling the essence of the commandment.

Just as the application of the second commandment looks different under the New Covenant due to the sufferings and glory of Christ (i.e., the elements of public worship have changed), so the application of the fourth commandment (i.e., the day for public worship has changed). The application of the fourth commandment takes its shape based on redemptive-historical realities connected to Christ’s death and resurrection. The Christian’s Sabbath does not look backward to the original creation or to redemption from Egyptian bondage, and neither does it look forward to the first coming of Christ. It looks back to the inauguration of the New Covenant (i.e., the new creation and much better redemption) and is a foretaste of His second coming and the eternal rest that will be brought to eschatological fulfillment at that time and forever afterward. The Lord’s Day or Christian Sabbath is a present symbol of a better creation and a better redemption which we enjoy in part now, but in full in the state of consummation.

Richard C. Barcellos
Pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

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[1] The word translated “Lord’s” is found two times in the New Testament, here in Rev. 1:10 and in 1 Cor. 11:20. Both times it refers to something (i.e., a day [Rev. 1:10] and a covenantal meal [1 Cor.11:20]) that peculiarly belongs to the Lord Jesus after His resurrection. Just as the Old Covenant had a sacred day (i.e., the seventh-day Sabbath) and a sacred meal (i.e., Passover), so the New Covenant has its own sacred day and sacred meal. Both the sacred day (Rev. 1:10; “the Lord’s Day”) and the sacred meal (1 Cor. 11:20; “the Lord’s Supper) get their official titles after the resurrection. Though it is true that all days and all meals come from the Lord, all days and all meals are not identified as “the Lord’s,” in the sense that this word is used in Rev. 1:10 and 1 Cor. 11:20.

  1. Thanks much for putting this together. Some very helpful explanations on a very important topic.

  2. In Jeremiah 31, the primary audience that the prophet spoke about as the recipient of the new covenant is the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah”. Gentile is brought into that covenantal relationship by the redemptive blood of Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach – Jesus the Messiah) – Eph 2:13. Yeshua said “not a single yud (the smallest Hebrew letter) or a stroke will pass from the Law (Torah)”. He did not come to abolish the Law but to uphold it (Mat 5:17-20). To think anything otherwise misses the main teaching of the Scripture. What is there to object?

  3. [...] Typical Objections to the Ten Commandments and Christians « Reformed Baptist Fellowship [...]

  4. [...] Barcellos offers some responses to typical objections to the Ten Commandments. Rate this:Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  5. [...] Typical Objections to the 10 Commandments And that’s only the Christian objections. [...]

  6. I don’t get why any Christian wouldn’t love the Law. Isn’t it lovely (Ps. 119)? Doesn’t it flow from the character of the One Whom we love? Why would any Christian love Jesus but not love a whole day to worship Him? Nobody has to exhort me to love a sunset or meteor shower or my children’s smiles, because they are lovely in themselves and worthy of appreciation. I appreciate this article, but sad that it is necessary.

  7. Gerald, re: your reference to “not a single yud (the smallest Hebrew letter) or a stroke will pass from the Law (Torah).”

    A swathe of laws became defunct when the temple sacrifices ceased at its destruction. We would need to find out more about the context of Jesus’ words.

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