CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Time To Give the 10 Commandments the Flick?

Jan 11, 2019

In answer to the question found in my title, sadly there are some Christian leaders who certainly seem to think so. They seem to have little time for the Ten Commandments, and think Christians today need to move beyond them. One famous American pastor has just come out saying basically this.

Andy Stanley has been saying some rather unhelpful things for a while now concerning the Old Testament and how Christians should relate to it. See for example this earlier article of mine on this matter: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/05/12/one-bible-two-testaments/

Now the pastor is telling us we need to basically give the Ten Commandments the flick, because they really have nothing to do with Christians. Thus both the OT and the 10 Cs have now come under attack by this American pastor. As he said – in part – in this recent column:

The Ten Commandments are from the old covenant. The Ten Commandments played a significant role in God’s creation of the nation of Israel. It gave them moral guidelines and helped separate this new nation from their neighbors. This was part of the formal agreement (or covenant) God created with his people, but Jesus’ death and resurrection signaled the end of that covenant and all the rules and regulations associated with it.

Jesus didn’t issue his new command as an additional commandment to the existing list of commands. He didn’t say, “Here’s the 614th law.” Jesus issued his new commandment as a replacement for everything in the existing list. Including the big ten. Just as his new covenant replaced the old covenant, Jesus’ new commandment replaced all the old commandments.

Participants in the new covenant (that’s Christians) are not required to obey any of the commandments found in the first part of their Bibles. Participants in the new covenant are expected to obey the single command Jesus issued as part of his new covenant: as I have loved you, so you must love one another.
relevantmagazine.com/god/why-do-christians-want-to-post-the-10-commandments-and-not-the-sermon-on-the-mount/

Hmm, how are we to assess all this? First it can be said that the New Testament makes very little sense without the Old Testament and a clear understanding of it. And in many ways the centrepiece of the Old Testament is the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments.

Second, it needs to be pointed out that there has indeed been a long-standing debate concerning how Christians are to understand the law in general, and which parts of the Old Testament continue into the New Testament and which do not. I have addressed some of those issues elsewhere, eg: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/10/08/the-law-and-the-christian/

It certainly can be a complex and nuanced debate requiring a lot of careful attention. See more on this here as well: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/01/30/leviticus-law-and-love/

Hardly any sensible Christian believes that absolutely everything from the OT carries over into the NT today. Few believers insist for example that we should be offering various sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. Of course a major reason for this is there is no such temple there today to bring offerings to. And Jesus is our full and final offering, something the OT sacrifices prefigured.

And hardly any sensible Christian believes that the OT has absolutely nothing to say to us, or is completely irrelevant to the life of the Christian. It appears that Stanley however may be moving in that direction unfortunately. Heretics in the past such as Marcion tried to convince us that nothing from the OT was of any use or relevance for NT believers. Thankfully he was roundly condemned for such aberrant views – both then and now.

But as Stanley and others keep moving in Marcionite directions, we need to interact with them, and call them out if need be. Consider this rather bizarre claim of Stanley’s that “church leaders essentially kidnapped the Jewish Scriptures and claimed them as their own” in the second century. Kidnapped the OT Scriptures?

That was all the Scriptures there were in Jesus’ day – and that of the very early church. Eventually the NT canon was established by inspired writings. But they were all built on and based upon what God had already written in the Hebrew Bible. The early church was not replacing what was found there, but building on it and supplementing it.

Thus Stanley is on dangerous grounds when he keeps telling us that the NT replaces the OT, the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant, and the ‘law of love’ (whatever exactly that means) replaces the 10 Commandments. At the very least, language of “replacement” is rather reckless and dangerous in this context.

Yes the New Covenant is a “better” covenant but it did not arrive in a vacuum. It is based on what had gone before. And when Jesus spoke of the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:35-40), it came from what we already have in the OT: loving God fully. Indeed, that is taken from the OT (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 to be exact). And the second great commandment that Jesus gave is also straight out of the OT (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Yet Stanley thinks the Sermon on the Mount is another replacement. But this is foolish in the extreme. Jesus for example did NOT deny the Sixth Commandment or claim it is somehow replaced or made irrelevant when he spoke about hatred. Yes internal hatred is what results in external acts like murder. But Jesus is NOT claiming that therefore killing someone is now just peachy.

He simply took the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 and showed us that outward actions spring from inward motivations. And not all the 10 Cs were only about external acts anyway, with the Tenth Commandment about inner sinful desires: covetousness.

Are we really to believe that Jesus does not give a rip about stealing or lying or murder? Yes, he condemns lustful desires in the Sermon on the Mount, but he does NOT therefore say there is nothing wrong with the outward act: adultery.

Stanley may be uncomfortable with this truth, but Jesus even says this in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). To try to pit the Sermon on the Mount against the Ten Commandments is not only unhelpful but theologically harmful.

The former flows out of the latter. You cannot have one without the other. Yes, in a sense Jesus gives us a higher and deeper and fuller take on all this. But recall that the words of promise concerning the New Covenant are already found in the Old Testament. Jeremiah 31 had laid it all out over a half millennia earlier.

So it is not as if Jesus and the NT are giving us some surprising and brand new stuff here. It was all found in the OT already, at least in embryonic form. Jesus simply ran with the Hebrew Scriptures and gave them their full and proper elaboration.

Jesus did NOT have a low view of the Ten Commandments or of the Old Testament, Again, the Hebrew Scriptures were the only Bible Jesus had. He quoted from them frequently, as did the apostles. They regarded those 39 books as Sacred Scripture. They knew it was the very Word of God.

Once again, there is continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments, and there are legitimate discussions to be had over all this. And these debates have been going on for centuries now. Moreover, there is indeed some room to move in this area. So this is not a new debate, nor am I just picking on Stanley here, as others have run with positions similar to his.

But great care must be taken with these matters. To wrap things up, it seems that we can rightly speak of the Sermon on the Mount supplementing and augmenting the Ten Commandments, and we can rightly speak of the New Testament supplementing and augmenting the Old Testament. But we are on rather shaky biblical and theological ground to speak merely in terms of replacement.

The Christian Bible contains 66 books, not just 27. Christians are not Marcionites. We know that our faith is built on and grows out of what preceded it in the Hebrew Scriptures. To downplay or minimise the OT and the 10 Cs is not all that helpful, and not all that Christian.

I would suggest that most Christians today are largely illiterate when it comes to the First Testament, and I think I can safely say that most have likely never read through all 39 books found there. We do NOT need pastors further contributing to this unhelpful deficiency by telling Christians we can basically ignore not just the Ten Commandments but the Old Testament as well.

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26 Responses to Time To Give the 10 Commandments the Flick?

  • Thanks, Bill. One has to wonder at the motivation of people such as Andy Stanley, especially in light of what Jesus said in Luke 16:17, ” But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”

  • Thanks Naomi. As I say, these can be complex issues, but Stanley seems to be too eager to give it all away when it comes to the Old Testament.

  • On the subject of the 66 books that make up the Christian Bible, may I take this opportunity, Bill, to thank you for the challenge you set your followers, at the beginning of last year, to read through the Bible in one year.

    You said this could be achieved by reading three-and-a-third chapters a day. (British preacher David Pawson offers a slight variation: three chapters a day and five on Sunday).

    Throughout last year you provided, through your website, a steady flow of well-timed commentaries on each book of the Bible, to match your followers’ progress.

    Thank you, Bill, for your CultureWatch ministry, which continues to be an indispensable resource for the committed Christian.

  • Many thanks indeed John. Bless you heaps.

  • Bill,
    Having not read up on Andy Stanley… I see no mention of the commandment in Acts (no idols, no blood and no sexual immorality) – what does he make of that bit?

  • Profound ignorance here. The ten commandments represented a profound moral transformation for civilisation. The PragerU videos are well worth a watch

  • Unhelpful is one way to put it, dangerous is another. John 13:34 (Love one another) is how Christians should conduct themselves in relation to each other. It does not guide us in our relations with others, nor does it provide any sort of framework for moral decisions. Is it permissible to commit murder if it is done out of love? What of adultery? Can a would be polygamist not claim the protection of that commandment? Oh it appears Stanley has spoken out against adultery, and I expect he also opposes murder – in fact I suspect he supports the entirety of the 10 Commandments, but without the full breadth of Scripture it is all too easy to justify human desires. A fuzzy approach to the Bible may sound great, and be popular, it is not however wise.

    While I have read through both testaments in at least 2 different versions, and am far from illiterate, my memory is sufficiently bad that I have to search when looking for specifics. How is someone who has never read Scripture supposed to even know that they can look for answers though?

  • Didn’t Francis McNab of Colins St UC say basically the same thing on billboards in the city a few years back Bill?

  • Gary DeMar shared with me this great 48 second video from Cecil B DeMille:

  • Dear Bill
    Thank you as this is something I would not have come across. I cannot help but wonder, any rebukes from Dad?
    Cheers Mark

  • Love is all that counts is the lie that assails us at every opportunity. It’s an underlying lying argument leading to rejecting the 10 commandments. It’s all positive stuff – leading straight to hell!
    It is absolutely true that God is love, perfect love. But perfect love requires justice, mercy, free will, righteousness, and righteous retribution. And that shows the need for the 10 commandments. As an aside, I think perfect love requires the Trinity to be love that does not discriminate by preferring one over another.

  • All the Ten Commandments are reiterated in various parts of the the New Testament anyway, by the Apostles and Jesus, so what he says could not be more absurd. You may need to look for them in the epistles but they are all there and Jesus made it very clear that moral people would instinctively know morality. The Apostles all showed us that lack of morality would lead to eternal damnation and all the Apostles’ writing contain mention of the Old Testament morality laws.

    Mat_5:19 Therefore whoever shall relax one of these commandments, the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven. But whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.

    Mat_15:9 But in vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

    Mat_19:17 And He said to him, Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.

    Mat 22:37 Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
    Mat 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
    Mat 22:39 And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
    Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

    Mat_4:4 But He answered and said, It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
    (MKJV)

    The morality laws “hang” on or are a result of the two great laws. The two great laws don’t replace them. Only an extraordinarily ignorant person would not understand that the Ten Commandments, and indeed all of the morality laws that God has given us, are based on love and truth. Lies and dysfunction simply are not love. The morality laws existed well and truly before the Mosaic law, even though they were included in it, and will exist eternally, because God does not change and morality does not change. The various nations that did evil prior to the Mosaic law were all condemned prior to Moses having been given the specific laws for the Jews and that simply would not be possible if the morality laws were not pre-existing. E.g. when Jesus spoke of marriage he spoke of it existing from the beginning. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed well and truly before Moses’ time. The Apostles knew these things well which is why it is all through their teaching. As I have said before, the Apostles made it easy for us so there is no excuse and there certainly is no excuse for saying the Ten Commands are no longer in effect because Jesus told us clearly that the commandments are based on love of God and love for one another. If we are not naturally obeying the commandments we are demonstrating that we do not have love and if we have faith we know that God’s words are true.

  • Thanks for your ministry Bill, I appreciate frequent reading and researching within your website. Simply put, I do not believe anyone can come close to understanding God’s character without deep and repetitive reading of the Old Testament. The New without the Old lacks context, amongst many other things. As my old friend George Napper used to say, The New in the Old contained, the Old in the New explained. Love your work.

    Glenn

  • Excellent article, Bill, with which I wholeheartedly agree. The current social environment we all have found ourselves in is certainly sorting the sheep from the goats on this issue. Marcion drew away more than half of those who called themselves ‘Christian’ in his day, despite being called the ‘firstborn of Satan’ by none other than the faithful martyr Polycarp, the disciple of John, and presumably the ‘Angel (messenger) of the Church of Smyrna’ referred to in Revelation 2:8-11, as he was their Bishop at that time. Jesus clearly said His doctrine was not His, but His Father’s that sent Him (with Whom there is ‘no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ (James 1:17). He also gave a dire warning to any who ‘break one of these least commandments and shall teach men so’ (woe betide the man that teaches the second least doesn’t apply as well!). Even the sermon on the mount is obviously a call to see how the commandments were originally intended to be seen when they were given – Jesus didn’t come to correct God!

  • The Great Commandment is repeated twice in the Old Testament and again another four times (by Jesus) in the New Testament. They can’t get away from the one.

  • Forgive me if I seem simplistic, but this is the same old “Situation Ethics” package of the mid-1960s. Joseph Fletcher and co. were saying this kind of thing at that time, using the same arguments as above, and marketing it as “The New Morality”. But they were recognised at the time as theological liberals: Billy Graham castigated the New Morality as merely “The old immorality brought up to date.” But as is so often the case, yesterday’s heresy became today’s orthodoxy. Sadly, one finds this kind of thing now in the mega-churches (usually charismatic), and to my observation they (or many of them) have no coherent moral stance or moral compass.

  • When I last heard, the Ten Commandments are NOT the the suggestions.

  • Stop obeying the 10 commandments? Since when did we mortal humans ever start obeying them? The commandments are good but we all fall far short of them and so the only way to avoid the death penalty for failing to obey the commandments is to have faith in Jesus, what He did and why He did it.

  • Perhaps ‘Pastor’ Stanley could be challenged to state exactly which of the Ten Commandments does not involve loving God and/or loving ones neighbour.

    When we see an admonition to “Drive safely this holiday season”, does that mean that the road rules get thrown out and we make up safe driving ourselves?

    If the great commandment is “to love the Lord your God … and your neighbour as yourself”, this must surely roll in anything to do with loving found in either testament.

  • Honour your Father and Mother! It does not say ‘step’. God knew the value of a Mother and Father, no extras are needed.

  • Sorry Andy Stanley, Jesus did not REPLACE laws with a single law, he gave a summary law of loving God and others. But if you want to dig into the 10 commandments, read your New Testament and you will find Jesus AMPLIFYING them. For example, with the sixth commandment – “Do not murder”, Jesus raised the bar to “Do not be angry with someone”. Then with the seventh commandment, “Do not commit adultery”, Jesus put this on steroids with “Looking at someone with lust is adultery”.
    So Andy, you are decidedly wrong saying he abolished the law. HE made it impossibly high so we are compelled to get on our knees and ask for mercy.

  • Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It bothers me somewhat, that people are promoting anarchism in Christian living. God has never condoned sin. Sin is condemned in the flesh, yes or no? Well my Bible tells me that to continue to live life for the devil you will die. Yes, our Saviour came to save. Our Lord Jesus Christ, has fulfilled what was written, but did not come to destroy the Law or the prophets. What was written of the Holy Scripture, concerning the Jewish people, has never changed, it was always for the Jew first, what it meant to them has president over what it means to us. Some believers blasphemy God, they spit in our Saviour’s face, by being disobedient unto the Holy Scripture. Do you want to fulfill the will of God or Lucifer? Lucifer also rebels against God, and so believers also rebel against God. Why is their hostilities against God? Because some do not conform to the image of His Son. I think that those who believe that obedience had no relevance better look at why they harbour sin in their hearts. The Old Testament refers to our Saviour, and is not out of date. Daniel 12 refers to people who lead people in righteousness, and how they will be rewarded. Those who are troubled by the law are rebellious, if their is no Law, then lawlessness will reign. That is why we have same sex marriage now. Those who promote lawlessness are anti righteous. Think about why you don’t murder someone then, if the law is irrelevant.

  • Ross I dare say almost everyone has committed murder by way of hate. Recall the sermon on the mount by Jesus? Murder begins in the heart not the hand. Same logic and reasoning with adultery
    Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfil it and be sacrificed to pay for our sins in return for His righteousness to all true believers, not by way of our works but by our faith in Him. Good work is then the result of true belief not the cause.

  • This deep insight from Andy Stanley? Gosh, what a surprise, huh? It’s a hop, skip, and a jump from this careless and low, lax view of Scripture to going full-blown Joel Osteen on us.

    One doesn’t have to understand every single facet of the OT in order to believe on Jesus and His sacrifice and resurrection on our behalf, but the full understanding of it all does not come until you read the OT covenant and the vital importance that, “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” Good grief, the covering of sin by the blood of an animal without spot or blemish, vs., the complete and forever removal of the stain of sin…covering vs, removal. And that, by the One and only one who never sinned. Who took my sin and material guilt before a holy God upon Himself. How my heart soared when I learned and understood that!

    I can not help but believe that to say the OT does not matter is to dance perilously close to trampling the blood of Christ underfoot. ???

  • Faith and Deeds
    14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

    18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

    Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

    20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

    25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

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