SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (cf. Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:6-21)

I. Terms

A. Literally "The Ten Words" (cf. Exod. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4).

B. Clement of Alexandria called it "The Decalogue" (Deka Logous) and this was followed by the early church fathers.

C. In the Bible it is also called:

1. "Covenant" (i.e., Hebrew berith, cf. Exod. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 9:9; see Special Topic: Covenant)

 a. from Akkadian, barah – to eat (i.e., a common meal)

 b. from Akkadian, biritu – to bind or fetter (i.e., a bond between people)

 c. from Akkadian, birit – between (i.e., arrangement between two parties)

 d. baru – a taste (i.e., an obligation)

2. "Testimony" – Exod. 16:34; 25:16 (i.e., the two tablets)

II. Purpose

A. They reveal the character of God (see Special Topic: Characteristics of Israel's God [OT])

1. unique and authoritative (i.e., monotheistic; see Special  Topic: Monotheism)

2. ethical, both towards society and the individual

B. They are for

1. all people because they reveal God's will for mankind and all humans were created in God's image.

2. covenant believers only because it is impossible to understand and obey without God's help

3. C. S. Lewis – inner moral sense, even among primitive tribes (Rom. 1:19-20; 2:14-15), is reflected here.

C. As all ancient law codes they were

1. to regulate and control interpersonal relationships

2. maintain stability of the society

D. They bound the heterogeneous group of slave and Egyptian outcasts into a community of faith and law.  B. S. Childs, Old Testament Library, Exodus—"the eight negative aspects show the outer limits of the covenant boundary.  There are no misdemeanors but to break the very fibre of which the divine-human relation consists. The two positive aspects show definition to the life within the covenant. The Decalogue looks both outward and inward; it guards against the way of death and points to the way of life" (p. 398).

III. Parallels

A. Biblical

1. The Ten Words are recorded twice, in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  The slight difference in the 4th, 5th, and 10th commandments shows the adaptability of these general principles to different situations.

2. However, their uniformity points toward the precision with which they were transmitted.

3. They were probably read and reaffirmed periodically, as Joshua 24 shows.

B. Cultural

1. Other law codes from the Ancient Near East

a. Ur-Nammu (Sumerian, 2050 b.c.) from the city of Ur

 b. Lipit-Ishtar (Sumerian, 1900 b.c.) from the city of Isin

 c. Eshnunna (Akkadian, 1875 b.c.) from the city of Eshunna

 d. Code of Hammurabi (Babylonian, 1690 b.c.) from Babylon but Stela were found in Susa

2. The form of the laws in Exodus 20:18-23:37 has much in common with other Ancient Near Eastern law codes. However, the Ten Words are in a unique form which implies their authority (2nd person commands—apodictic).

3. The most obvious cultural connection is with the Hittite Suzerainty Treaties of 1450-1200 b.c.  Some good examples of this similarity can be seen in

 a. The Ten Words

 b. The book of Deuteronomy

 c. Joshua 24

The elements of these treaties are

 a.  Identification of the King

 b. Narration of his great acts

 c. Covenant obligations

 d. Instruction for depositing the treaty in the sanctuary for public reading

 e. Deities of parties invoked as witnesses

 f. Blessing for fidelity and curses for violations

4. Some good sources on this subject 

 a. George Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East

 b. Dewey Beegle, Moses, The Servant of Yahweh

 c. W. Bezalin, Origin and History

 d. D. J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant

IV. Internal Structure

A.  Alt, in his book, The Origins of Israelite Law, was the first to make the distinction between apodictic and casuistic.

1. Casuistic being that common form of ANE Law that contained a condition – "if" = "then"

2. Apodictic being that rare form that expresses a direct command, "Thou shall. . ." or "Thou shall not. . ."

3. Roland de Vaux in Ancient Israel: Social Institutions, vol. 1, p. 146, says that the casuistic is primarily used in the secular area and the apodictic in the sacred.

B. The Ten Words are primarily negative in their expression – 8 of 10.  The form is second person singular.  They are either meant to address the entire Covenant community, each individual member, or both!

C. The two tablets of stone (Exod. 24:12; 31:18) are often interpreted as relating to the vertical and horizontal aspects of the Ten Words. Man's relationship to YHWH is spelled out in four commands and man's relationship to other men in the other 6 commandments.  However, in light of Hittite Suzerain treaties, they may be two copies of the entire list of commands.

D. The historical numbering of the Ten Words

1. It is obvious that we have ten regulations.  However, the exact distinction is not given.

2. Modern Jews list Exod. 20:2 as the first commandment.  In order to keep the number at ten they make Exod. 24:3-6 the second commandment.

3. The Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, following Augustine, make Exod. 20:3-6 the first commandment and in order to keep the number at ten, divide verse 17 into two separate commands.

4. Reform churches, following Origen and the early Eastern and Western churches, assert that Exod. 20:3 is the first commandment. This was the ancient Jewish view represented by Philo and Josephus.

V.  How are Christians to Relate to the Ten Words?

A. Jesus' high views of Scripture are recorded in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and especially 5:17-48, which shows us the seriousness of the question. His sermon almost seems to be based on the Ten Words and their proper application.

B. Theories of relationship

1. For believers

 a. Roy Honeycutt, These Ten Words

 (1) "We never outgrow the Ten Commandments because we never outgrow God" (p. 7).

 (2) "Because the Commandments are witnesses to God, however, there is a sense in which their relevance and the relevance of God are so intertwined as to be almost inseparable. Consequently, if God is so relevant for your life, the Commandments will also be deeply relevant for they are written of God's character and demands" (p. 8). 

 b. Personally, we must see these directives as issuing from a faith relation already established. To divorce them from faith and commitment to God is to destroy them. Therefore, for me, they are universal only in the sense that God wants all men to know Him. They are also related to the inner witness of God to His entire human creation.  Paul expresses this in Romans 1:19-20; 2:14-15.  In this sense the Commandments reflect a guiding light that has an indwelling relevance to all mankind.

2. For all men, in all societies, for all times

 a. Elton Trueblood, Foundations for Reconstruction. "The thesis of this small book is that the recovery of the moral law, as represented by the Hebrew Decalogue, is one of the ways in which an antidote to potential decline can be found" (p. 6).

 b. George Rawlinson, Pulpit Commentary, "Exodus"

"They constitute for all time a condensed summary of human duty which bears divinity upon its face, which is suited for every form of human society, and which, so long as the world endures, cannot become antiquated.  The retention of the Decalogue as the best summary of the moral law by Christian communities is justified on these grounds, and itself furnishes emphatic testimony to the excellency of the compendium" (p. 130).

3. As a means of salvation they are not, nor ever have been, God's means for the spiritual redemption of fallen man.  Paul clearly states this in Gal. 2:15-4:31 and Rom. 3:21-6:23.  They do serve as guidelines for man in society.  They point to God and then to our fellow man. To miss the first element is to miss all! Moral rules, without changed, indwelt hearts, are a picture of man's hopeless fallenness! The Ten Words are valid, but only as a preparation to meet God in the midst of our inability.  Divorced from redemption they are guidelines without a guide!


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