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.
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).