Are the Ten Commandments for Christians?
Because the Ten Commandments were written on two stone tablets by the finger of God some hold that they are eternally binding upon God’s servants. What does God’s Word say?
PROTESTANTS and Catholics in general agree with the modern Jewish viewpoint that the Ten Commandments are a gift of God for all mankind. Thus a Protestant Home Bible Study League publishes a pamphlet entitled “God’s Eternal Ten Words.” While an advertisement by the Catholic Knights of Columbus of the booklet Let’s Stick to Moses says: “Few Christians will deny that the Ten Commandments are God’s design for human conduct.” Even the modernist Interpreter’s Bible, while casting doubt upon the Exodus record of the giving of the Ten Commandments, holds that they are binding upon Christians.
However, it is of interest to note that none other than Martin Luther once said: “The Ten Commandments do not apply to us Gentiles and Christians, but only to the Jews. If a preacher wishes to force you back to Moses, ask him if you were brought by Moses out of Egypt.” The reformer John Calvin felt the same way about the Decalogue or Ten Commandments.—Abbott’s Bible Dictionary.
What does the Bible teach on this subject? Are the Ten Commandments God’s “Eternal Ten Words,” his “design for human conduct” today? Or does he have different laws for different people living at different times? If the Decalogue does not apply to Christians, then what force do Christians have to keep them in the paths of righteousness?
First of all, let it be noted that we have no record of the Decalogue’s being given to Adam and Eve, to Noah or to Abraham. Yet these did receive specific commands as to what God required of them, and in each case his will for them was different. Only to the nation of Israel, assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai, did God give his Ten Commandments, together with hundreds of other related laws. As Moses reminded them: “It was not with our forefathers that Jehovah concluded this covenant, but with us, all those of us alive here today.”—Deut. 5:3, NW.
MOSES’ LAW TEMPORARY
That the Israelites might appreciate that this law came indeed from him, Jehovah accompanied its giving with awesome sights and sounds. And when Moses came down to the people after receiving the law at the hands of angels his face shone so brightly that the Israelites could not look upon him. Since that law was given through Moses, it is properly termed the law of Moses.—Ex. 19:16, 18; 34:29, 30.
However awesome and glorious as that occasion was, its law and glory proved to be but temporary. It was superseded by a greater and a permanent glory, as the apostle Paul shows: “If that which was to be done away with was brought in with glory, much more would that which remains be with glory.”—2 Cor. 3:11, NW.
Does God give a law to a people and then do away with it, abrogate it? Yes, as the Supreme Lawgiver he can make whatever laws he wishes for his creatures and cancel them when they have served his purpose, replacing them with other laws or rules of conduct. For example, polygamy was permitted under the Mosaic law and Levirate marriage was compulsory, but neither of these applies to Christians. That is why Paul also says: “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that this faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.”—Gal. 3:24, 25, NW.
And what temporary purposes did the Mosaic law serve? That law kept the nation of Israel apart from pagan nations so that the Son of God could come through it and to its people as their Messiah. That law also showed them their sinfulness and their need of a better sacrifice to take away sins. It foreshadowed that sacrifice as well as many other “good things.” Having served these purposes it was no longer needed. So from then on “let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a feast day or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath, for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.”—Heb. 10:1; Col. 2:16, 17, NW.
In fact, time and time again Paul stresses the truth that the Mosaic law does not apply to Christians. Thus he likens it to a “legal curtain” or wall separating the Israelites from other peoples, which the sacrifice of Christ took out of the way; it “destroyed the wall in between that fenced them off. By means of his flesh he abolished the hatred, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees.”—Eph. 2:14, 15, NW.
But perhaps at this point someone will object, saying, Did not God state that the Israelites were to “observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant,” and that it was to be “a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever”? True, but he also stated that their Aaronic priesthood was to be an “everlasting priesthood” and very obviously that priesthood long ago came to an end.—Ex. 31:16, 17; 40:12-16.
Then does the Bible not mean what it says? It does, but here the difficulty lies in the translation. The original Hebrew word here translated “for ever” and “perpetual” comes from a root that means to hide, to conceal, and therefore simply means to an indefinite or uncertain future time. That indefinite time may be forever, as at Ecclesiastes 1:4, where the transitoriness of human generations is contrasted with the permanence of the earth, or it can merely be to an indefinite future time, as obviously was the case with the Aaronic priesthood. That is why the New World Translation repeatedly renders ohláhm, the Hebrew word usually translated “ever,” as “time indefinite.” The law of Moses did last to an indefinite time and then came to an end.
Further objection to the Mosaic law’s coming to an end is based on Jesus’ words: “Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill; for truly I say to you that sooner would heaven and earth pass away than for the smallest letter or one particle of a letter to pass away from the Law by any means and not all things take place.” But note that Jesus did not say that the Law would never pass away or would always be binding, but that it would not pass away until it was all fulfilled. With the fulfillment of its prophetic patterns or shadows it did come to an end. And so we read regarding the law of Moses that God “has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.” It therefore follows that Jesus’ subsequent words of censure to those breaking the Law and teaching others to do the same would apply only while that Law was in force.—Matt. 5:17, 18; Col. 2:14, NW.
Nor will the objection hold that only the ceremonial law came to an end and that the moral law still applies. Why not? Because nowhere in the Scriptures do we find such a distinction made between a supposedly moral and a ceremonial law. Thus Jesus, in his “sermon on the mount,” indiscriminately quoted from both the Decalogue and other features of the Law. (See Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43.) Nowhere is the moral law contrasted with the ceremonial law, but rather the Law is contrasted with faith and undeserved kindness: “Did you receive the spirit due to works of law or due to obedient hearing by faith?” “You are not under law but under undeserved kindness.”—Gal. 3:2; Rom. 6:14, NW.
GREATER FORCES FOR GOOD
Many fear the consequences were Christians freed from the Ten Commandments. However, these commandments did not prevent the nation of Israel from becoming apostate and neither have they prevented Christendom, which claims to recognize them, from becoming ever more delinquent. Those commandments merely indicated God’s will but did not of themselves provide the power to keep them.
There are greater and more powerful forces for good, namely, love and God’s holy spirit. If we love Jehovah with our whole heart, mind, soul and vital force we shall not think of worshiping other gods or idols or of taking his name in vain. And if we love our neighbor as ourselves we shall not be in danger of killing, stealing, committing adultery, bearing false witness or coveting. “Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.” Love furnishes the inducement and God’s holy spirit furnishes the force, as we read: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith Jehovah.” The fruitage of that spirit “is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Rom. 13:10, NW; Zech. 4:6, AS; Gal. 5:22, 23, NW.
But is not the Second Commandment often used to support the position taken against bowing down to any image? True. In view of the many commands in the Christian Greek Scriptures against idolatry, that commandment can be quoted as corroborative proof as well as to show what would be included in idolatry.
That the love of God and his holy spirit are indeed powerful forces for righteousness can be seen by the record in the Christian Greek Scriptures, as well as in modern times. Back there outsiders were puzzled and went on speaking abusively because Christians had so changed their course of life. Likewise today, those on the outside marvel at the orderliness, the love and joy manifested at the assemblies of the witnesses of Jehovah. They exclaim, “These people practice what they preach!” As with Daniel of old, all they can find fault with is their worship of Jehovah. And all this without any Ten Commandments!—1 Pet. 4:3, 4, NW.
Truly, the Scriptures clearly show that the Ten Commandments do not apply to Christians, and the facts show that sincere, dedicated Christians have far greater forces for righteousness, the love of God and his holy spirit.
I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.—Psalm 40:8.