The Bible’s Viewpoint
Must You Obey the Ten Commandments?
IT WAS in the year 1513 B.C.E.* that God’s finger wrote on stone. Since then the Ten Commandments have been copied by men and spread around the world. Hundreds of millions of people have read them, and many know them by heart. There is probably no other set of laws that has received such widespread attention. The question is, on its 3,500th anniversary in 1988: Are the Ten Commandments still in force so that you must obey them?—Exodus 20:1-17; 31:18.
For Whom Were They Intended?
God gave the Ten Commandments to the people that were known as Israelites. In his opening words, he made clear that it was to this one nation he spoke: “I am Jehovah your God, who have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.” This indicates that the Ten Commandments were designed to be part of a national law code.—Exodus 20:2.
Passed On to the Christians?
However, were the Ten Commandments of such universal nature that they would always be in force and apply also to non-Israelites? No. Centuries later when the Christian congregation was formed, this Law code was not passed on to it. Why? Because the Bible says that “Christ is the end of the Law.” (Romans 10:4) What does that mean?
To illustrate, back in 1912 the outdoor high-jump world record was 6 feet 7 inches [2.01 m]. Seventy-five years later, in 1987, the record was 7 feet 11 1/2 inches [2.43 m]. There must, however, be an ultimate limit to how high a human can jump over a bar supported by two posts. The champion who reaches this limit will end all high-jump world records. He could also be said to be “the end” of them. Now, how might this apply to the Ten Commandments?
When God formed “the Law,” which embraced the Ten Commandments together with over 600 other laws and statutes, and gave it to the Israelites, he set the ultimate goal or standard of perfection. He put the bar at the highest level, so to speak. This divine Law was of such a high standard of morality that only a perfect human could reach it. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: “There is no man righteous in the earth that keeps doing good and does not sin.”
So the bar—God’s righteous standard—was put too high for the imperfect Israelites, or Jews. Why? The Christian apostle Paul explains: “It [the Law] was added to make transgressions manifest, until the seed [Messiah, or Christ] should arrive to whom the promise had been made.” (Galatians 3:19) By the Law, God showed the Jews that they were all imperfect transgressors, unable to reach the goal of being declared righteous because of their own works.
There was only one who could pass over that bar: the coming promised Messiah, or Christ. Therefore, that high standard was put before the Jews as something to aim at while looking forward to the final Champion, the Messiah, to pass over it once and for all.
“Leading to Christ”
In line with this, Paul continues in the third chapter of Galatians, verse Ga 3:24: “Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith [in him].” A tutor in Bible times accompanied the child to its teacher and could also instruct and discipline the child.
The Ten Commandments, as well as the rest of the Law, would thus prepare the Jews for the Messiah and guide them to him. When Jesus came, lived among them, and died perfectly obedient to the Law, he became “the end of the Law.” Then God removed that bar, as it were, and offered the Jews something better. Now they could “as a free gift” finally be “declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus.”—Romans 3:24.
What You Should Obey
Now, since Christians are not “under law,” are they then freed from all moral restraints? Not at all. As Paul showed, Christians are being led by God’s holy spirit, and it does not lead anyone into sin. It urges them to stay away also from sins dealt with in the Ten Commandments. For example, if you read 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, you will find several Christian laws that are similar to some of the Ten Commandments. They are the prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, stealing, and covetousness.
Christ also summed up the old Law code, which included the Ten Commandments, with these two dictums: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind” and, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) By striving to obey them, asking for forgiveness when falling short, and exercising faith in Christ’s ransom, you will get undeserved kindness from God and His approval for everlasting life.—2 Thessalonians 2:16.
See details in the Watch Tower Society’s publication Aid to Bible Understanding, page 333.