The Lord Alone 1

For a variety of reasons, not least a dispensational upbringing, some Lutheran law vs. gospel theology, and then a radical New Testament theology that the Torah was in use only until the era of the Holy Spirit, the Ten Commandments have not figured prominently in my own ethical thinking. I memorized them as a kid in Sunday School class, and they are #3 in memorized portions behind the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23.

This is not to say they don’t appear, for it would be nearly impossible to avoid the Ten Commandments. When I did the Jesus Creed project I became convinced that Jesus’ love God-love others applies to the Ten Commandments in that there is a section about loving God and another section about loving others.

What role do the Ten Commandments play in your life? Have them memorized? Recite them often? What about the role they play in your catechism or your church’s liturgy?

But I have not done enough work on the Ten Commandments, and so when I saw Patrick Miller’s new book, The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church, I decided to purchase it and work through it — and I want to do this for my Introduction to Bible classes. It’s a big, complete, theologically rich book about the Ten Commandments and it is helpful to the Church and to the Christian.

So, we begin a new series, and I hope I can flank RJS’s posts each Tues and Thurs with reflections on the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are given twice in the Old Testament (Exod 20; Deut 5); God speaks them “face to face” (Deut 5:4) and they are inscribed by the “finger of God” (Exod 31:18); they are the first face we see of the Old Testament ethic; they were placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Deut 10:5). Miller: “here is the foundational word for your life as God’s people. All you need to know is given to you in these Ten Words” (4). They are a sufficient guide for one’s life with God and with your neighbor.Miller proposes six ways to think about the Ten Commandments:

1. There is tension between a universality (second table) and particularity (first table): the only way to understand the Ten Commandments is part of Israel’s Story (4).
2. They need to be interpreted, and that is what happens in both Exodus 22:1-15 (e.g.) or Deut 12-26. They are the enduring principles behind laws.

3. They are the beginning of a rich tradition of meaning and effects. “They open up a moral and theological arc… they are dyamic, open in meaning and effect …” (6). They are a kind of Constitution for the covenanted community.
4. Each commandment has both a negative (do not) and positive (do) dimension.
5. There are different ways to numbering them (he considers the first ‘two’ two separate commands, as in the Reformed tradition, and there is only one covet commandment).
6. There is some overlap in the Commandments.

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  • Re. #5: If he considers the first two, one, and there is only one “covet”, which does he split to arrive at 10? Or does he simply ignore the tradition that calls them “Ten Words”?

  • Scot McKnight

    Wolf, I got that slightly wrong, and I’ll correct it:

    First: No other gods
    Second: No images

  • Taylor G

    Looking forward to this series. I’ve found the 10 commandments to be an apologetic in my life. I see in them a beauty and an ethic or code of living that I would not have found outside the church.

  • Terry Tiessen

    I look forward to this series. I haven’t read Miller’s book but I have structured the “moral standard” portion of my ethics lectures according to the ten commandments, for years. It is not difficult to subsume all other moral commands in Scripture under these ten words. John Frame has done a nice job on this in The Doctrine of the Christian Life , and I like his demonstration that the ten commandments themselves are basically a reaffirmation of the creation ordinances. As Walter Kaiser demonstrated years ago, all of the ten commandments are evident in Genesis, either explicitly or implicitly.

  • DRT

    I have heard a lot of the atheist allegations around the incompleteness of the commandments and they make sense to me. I have not researched nor attempted to research them so that is not to say I don’t think explanations exist, but that I don’t know them.

    The allegations I am referring to are those that say that things like child abuse are not included.

  • I’m looking forward to this as well. I’m especially interested to find out how Miller discusses Jesus’ role as the fulfillment of the commandments and His teaching about them.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    The ten commandemnts have been memorized since I was about 10 years old. I consider them a cornerstone of my faith and they form a complete set of ethical rules to live by.

    The one I violate the most is the First Cmmandment: there are so many other “gods” taht I can be drzawn into worship: Work, money, Political parties, TV. The list is nearly endless.

  • Dale A. Brueggemann

    Where in the OT or NT do we see any evidence that the Ten Commandments were actually used as a moral code?

  • scotmcknight

    James 2 uses two of them, right?

  • Terry Tiessen

    Re# 8:

    Paul’s statement that love for one another fulfills the law (Rom 13:8-10) clearly has the decalogue in view, in its reference to “the commandments,” with specific citation of four of them.

    Isn’t it clear that the decalogue is very much in mind in Jesus’ sermon on the mount?

  • Terry Tiessen

    P.S. re # 8

    Mt 19:16-19 is significant for Jesus’ attitude too. When he tells the rich man that if he wishes to enter into life, he should “keep the commandments.” When the rich man asks: “Which ones?”, Jesus cited 5 from the Decalogue.

  • Scot,
    I actually paid little attention to them for many years. I had memorized them when I was growing up and gave them little thought after that.

    In the mid-1980’s, I heard sermons on the Ten Commandments which were preached by one of my professors. He preached a different commandment each week. I recall learning much about the character of God because of that series. Also, I learned that these commandments were actually very relevant to life today.

    Since then, I have had a special appreciation for these commandments.

  • Tim Franklin

    If all the law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments, and love is the fulfillment of the law, then do the ten commandments become of lesser importance because they are subsumed in the new commandment that Jesus gave to his followers?

  • i very much appreciated your intro, and look forward to all the blog-entries in this series.

  • Josh Carroll

    There is a great lecture series on the Ten Commandments on iTunes called “Reading the Decalogue” with a variety of scholars like Goldengay and Evans. Daniel Block’s lecture “Reading the Decalogue Right to Left” is hands down one of the best lectures I have heard on the subject.

  • One of the most insightful commentaries I heard on III was on a History Channel documentary. Taking “the name of God in vain” has seemed to be so tritely understood in our contemporary culture. Understanding the Hebraic perception of all that is wrapped up in “the name of God” has informed my walk, seeking to live consciously as a Christ-follower empowered by the Spirit to honor God’s name. I look forward to hearing your reflections on the book & the book’s insights, Scot.

  • Jon G

    Scot –
    I’m really looking forward to this series. Like you, the Big 10 for me were an afterthought. Recently I heard two things that changed my thinking:

    1) Jeff Manion (a pastor out of Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids) preached about thinking of them as marraige vows. The idea that “I will be your God and you will be my people” that is so prevalent throughout the OT dovetails in nicely with this idea and dramatically emphasizes, for me, the relational aspect of the commandments.

    2) The 10 are NOT arbitrary and should not be seen as oppressive (read: limiting). Rather, they free us up to our full image-bearing potential and ultimate joy. One verse that really draws this out for me is Deut. 5:29 “…to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it MIGHT GO WELL with them and with their descendants forever!” (Emphasis added) – God is NOT saying “Do this BECAUSE I SAY SO!” Rather, “Do this, because I know what’s best for you and I want you to enjoy fulfilling your purpose in my world!” This distinction can have drastically different consequences on one’s theology.

    Finally, I wonder if you will be diving into Luther’s idea that you can’t break any of #s 2-9 without first breaking #1?