What About The Ten Commandments? (OT Interpretation #4)

How Many Old Covenant Laws Are There?

How should we understand the Law of Moses? Is it broken up into various parts (e.g. moral, ceremonial and civil) as some traditions teach, or is it one unified whole? When we read the Scriptures we will find many commandments. Since 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 shows us that there are at least two different collections of laws in the Bible (e.g. Law of Moses and Law of Christ), it is important to know which commands belong to which law. This way we know which commands apply to Christians, and which do not.

In Exodus 19 God instructed the people of Israel to gather around Mount Sinai to receive God’s commandments. In Chapter 20:1-17 we read that God began to address the people directly. This first string of commandments in Exodus 20 are what we know as the 10 Commandments. He spoke these directly to the people from the mountain.

18 Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19 Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” 20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” 21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 20:18-21

In verses 18-21 of chapter 20 we read that when God spoke these words to the people they became terrified from God’s voice and the accompanying displays of power (i.e. thunder, lightning, etc.). They were afraid to hear from God directly, so asked Moses to be an intermediary between the people and God. Moses agreed to this and apparently God accepted this arrangement. Moses went to Him into the thick cloud and God gave Moses more commands to communicate to the people.

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23 You shall not make anything to be with Me—gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves. 24 An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. 25 And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. 26 Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.’

Exodus 20:22-26

In 20:22-26 God reiterates the second commandment forbidding idolatry and then goes on to introduce instructions about how to make an altar that God does not consider idolatrous. He explains that they should offer their animal sacrifices on such an altar and that they should do it in a modest manner.

14 “But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die. 15 “And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death…. 33 “And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to their owner, but the dead animal shall be his.

Exodus 21:14-15, 33-34

In chapter 21 God continues to give the commandments that Moses should carry to the people of Israel. In verse 14 He forbids murder and describes the punishment He requires for it. Then in verse 15 God condemns to death those who hit their parents, an act of dishonoring their father and mother. Towards the end of the chapter in verses 33-34 God describes what payment is due when a person accidently causes the death of their neighbor’s livestock.

29 “You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30 Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. 31 “And you shall be holy men to Me: you shall not eat meat torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.

Exodus 22:29-31

6 “You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute. 7 Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked. 8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous. 9 “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 10 “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12 Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.

Exodus 23:6-12

As we continue to follow these chapters in which God is relating the commands that He expects Moses to give to the people, we read about some rules regarding produce and livestock offerings, and also a prohibition on eating animals that are killed by other animals (22:29-31). In chapter 23 we read about commandments relating to just behavior towards others (vs 6-9) and rules regarding sabbath rest for both people and the land (vs 10-12). 

3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has said we will do.”

Exodus 24:3

Moses had received many commandments from the Lord and delivered them to the people. The people agreed to obey these commands. 

What was the nature of these commands? We see some commands that seem to be related to civil society (i.e. accidently causing the death of an animal). Others seem to be moral by nature, things that people in every country and time period could reasonably be expected to know from their conscience (i.e. murder, injustice). Other commandments are related to religious worship (i.e. livestock offerings, days of rest to remember creation week and the Creator).

What does all of this tell us? By looking at these passages we see that there is no distinction made between the various commands. They are all given to the people of Israel from God. And they are all to be obeyed by the people. Though the commandments touch on different areas of human life (e.g. religious, moral, societal) they are all equally part of the law that God gave to Israel. The Old Covenant law is not divided into parts, but is one holistic law.

Are the 10 Commandments Distinct from the Rest of Moses’ Law?

Some say that the 10 Commandments are distinct from the Old Covenant. They teach that since they were written on stone, they are not a part of the Law of Moses but are the eternal moral Law of God. There are many different versions of this teaching, but all conclude that there is something unique and distinct about this part of the Law in the Old Testament. Some people go even further and say that these commands are so unique that they were always taught to people from the days of Adam and only written down during the events of Exodus chapter 20.

11 “Then you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. 12 And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice. 13 So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. 14 And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess.

Deuteronomy 4:11-14

In this passage Moses reminds the people of Israel about their interaction with God at Mount Sinai. He reviews the fact that God spoke directly to them and that they saw frightening signs of power as He spoke. In verse 13 He communicates something related to our topic. He says that the 10 Commandments are “the covenant” which He made with the House of Israel. Then in verse 14 Moses goes on to remind them of the commands God gave to Israel through Moses after the people asked for God to stop speaking directly to them.

As far as I know, no one denies that the commands shared through Moses are part of the Old Covenant. People only have doubts as to whether or not the 10 Commandments are part of that covenant. But the doubts can be put to bed with this passage. The covenant God made with Israel is what we know as the “Old Covenant,” and here the 10 Commandments are explicitly named as that covenant. Whatever is said about the Old Covenant in the New Testament by definition is speaking not only about the many commands given indirectly to Israel through Moses, but also about what we know as the 10 Commandments.

Were the 10 Commandments Taught to People Before Exodus 20?

We noted above that some Christian traditions teach that the 10 Commandments are in a different category than the rest of the Old Covenant law. But some people go even further than that and claim that the 10 Commandments are distinct. They claim that these commands are so unique that they were always taught to people from the days of Adam, but only written down during the events of Exodus chapter 20. Is this true?

1 And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. 4 The Lord talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. 5 I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said: 6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage…. (the passage continues to quote the other 9 of the 10 Commandments)

Deuteronomy 5:1-6

Here Moses gathers the people of Israel together to remind them of more of their history. He once again brings up the covenant God made with them at Horeb (e.g. Mount Sinai). In verse 4 he once again connects the 10 Commandments with the covenant made with Israel. In fact in verses 6-21 (not fully quoted above) Moses reiterates the 10 Commandments that God spoke to Israel at the mountain, so that we have no doubt that the Old Covenant includes the 10 Commandments, though it is not limited to them.

The second belief that is held by some Christian traditions is that not only are the 10 Commandments unique and distinct from the Old Covenant, but that these 10 Commandments were commanded by God to all generations from the time of Adam. For this reason they believe that these specific commandments must be followed even by Christians. But verse 3 clarifies the issue for us. Moses says unequivocally that these specific commandments, this covenant with Israel, was not given to former generations. The Law of Moses, both the 10 Commandments and the commands related through Moses to the people in the wilderness, were not given as a law to previous generations of godly men and women before the Exodus. In that sense, what we now call the Old Covenant, was at one time, a new covenant.

The “Christian Sabbath”?

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. 

– Exodus 20:8-11 NKJV

Covenant Theology (i.e. a particular theology held primarily by Calvinists) teaches that the Ten Commandments are the “moral law” of God; His eternal law which is distinct from the rest of the Old Covenant. The fact that they are written on stone, and the rest of the commands are not, is one evidence they use to support this belief. In light of this they believe that the Ten Commandments are still applicable to the New Covenant people, all of the commands, including the fourth commandment. They hold that the command to rest on the Sabbath is still required practice for Christians. 

Besides the fact that they have failed to understand that the Ten Commandments are an integral part of the Old Covenant, and not distinct from it, as we noted above, they also fail to be consistent in their application of the Sabbath command. They argue that the Ten Commandments cannot be changed because it was written on stone by the finger of God, but then proceed to change the day on which the “Chrisitan Sabbath” is to be kept even though the day it is to be kept was also written on stone by the finger of God. Those that hold to Covenant Theology believe that in the New Covenant God changed the Sabbath day from the 7th day to the 1st day of the week, from Saturday to Sunday.

But as we have seen, this logical inconsistency is not the reason we must reject the idea that Christians are obligated to keep the “Christian Sabbath.” We must reject this belief because, because we are not under the Old Covenant Law of which the Ten Commandments are a part.

The Seventh Day Sabbath is for Christians?

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. 

– Exodus 20:8-11 NKJV

16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ

– Colossians 2:16-17 NKJV

There are other groups that believe Christians are still obligated to keep the Sabbath. The Hebraic Roots Movement, Seventh Day Adventists and others hold to this doctrine. These groups are more logically consistent than the proponents of Covenant Theology, but they are just as unbiblical. 

These groups imagine that the Sabbath was instituted for people to keep from the time God blessed the seventh day of creation. They reason that since God rested on the seventh day of creation and blessed that day, then the seventh day of each week is blessed, and Christians are obligated to “remember” (i.e. keep) that day. They fail to recognize that the day blessed by God was the 7th day of creation, not the 14th, 21st, 28th and so on. God created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day and blessed it because His creation was then completed.

This command was not given to be kept (i.e. remembered) as a memorial until Exodus chapter 20. Deuteronomy 5:1-6 tells us plainly that the Ten Commandments were not commanded to the patriarchs and others until the Exodus. The Sabbath was part of the Ten Commandments, which was an integral part of the Law of Moses. This Law was not given to the generations before Israel was redeemed out of Egypt.

The Sabbath Day was part of God’s way of causing the Israelites, His covenant people, to remember that He was the Creator. Every week they were commanded to re-enact the creation week as a reminder that their God was the Creator of heaven and earth. Those that still insist that Christians must practice the seventh day Sabbath fail to understand that in the New Covenant we celebrate God as the One Who has made a new creation in Jesus Christ. We do not focus on the old creation, but the new redeemed creation that began the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This is why Christians from the very beginning celebrated “the Lord’s Day” on the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. And they did not practice it as a day to cease from work, but a day of worship to celebrate Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of the fallen creation.

Don’t Forget What “Remember” Means

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 

– 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NKJV

13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

– Deuteronomy 5:13-15 NKJV

12 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 13 “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. 14 ‘You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 ‘Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 ‘Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ” 18 And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.

– Exodus 31:12-18 NKJV

One more point of clarification. In the Old Testament there were days set apart as holy days for Israel. On these days Israel was called to “remember,” which means to re-enact, a part of their history. On Passover, they re-enacted (i.e. remembered) the Exodus. On the Feast of Weeks, they lived in tents to remember their time in the wilderness. And on the seventh day of every week, they re-enacted the creation week, resting from labor, as God did at the beginning of the world. But the seventh-day sabbath was also given so they could “remember” that God had led them, as a nation, out of slavery in Egypt. Their weekly re-enactment of the sabbath was a reminder to them of their national history (Deut. 5:15) These “holy days” were a way that God helped His people connect with their history, and remember everything God had done for them. This is why God called the seventh-day sabbath a “sign” between the nation of Israel and Himself (Ex. 31:13).

This practice is similar in the New Covenant, but we have different things to remember. Instead of remembering an exodus out of Egypt, we remember (i.e. re-enact) our deliverance from sin and death by the sacrificial death of Christ. We do this by re-enacting the Last Supper which Jesus shared with His disciples on the night He was betrayed. We also re-enact the death and resurrection of Christ when we give ourselves to baptism at our conversion. And as already mentioned, though it is not a command, Christians from the beginning until today have the practice of re-enacting the resurrection day, not on Easter once a year, but weekly by a day of celebration and worship on the first day of the week, Sunday.

4 thoughts on “What About The Ten Commandments? (OT Interpretation #4)

  1. I just noticed your point about sabbath rest points to the coming kingdom. I don’t think you understood my point, or the New Testament paradigm, that the kingdom of Christ has come. Through the resurrection of Christ the new creation has already began, though not yet in it’s fullness. We now taste of the powers of the age to come, having passed from the present evil age into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
    Thanks again for your input. To be clear, if one holds to basic orthodoxy (Trinity, etc) & doesn’t insist that all Christians are lost who are not Torah observant, I have no problem with their perspective. I think they fail to recognize the distinction between the Law of Christ & the Law of Moses, but they usually have a better grasp on the fact that Law & Grace are not mutually exclusive. Many denominations make it sound like Christians have no law to live by.
    So, though we disagree, if you submit to Christ’s commands, believe in basic orthodoxy & accept brothers from various groups that live according to the words of Christ, I can walk in brotherly fellowship with you. So don’t take my perspective wrong. As you know the Hebraic roots stream has many tribes, sometimes I have the most extreme in my mind when writing so my tone might be stronger than I intend. Pls be patient with that, knowing I do not intend to condemn my true brethren in that movement.
    Gbu!

    1. Thank you for clarifying. I by no means am attempting to be argumentative, therefore I didn’t read that into your tone. I was raised in a small Missionary Baptist Church and currently attend a Baptist Church. The teachings that I have been raised on don’t give reasons or deep teaching (in my opinion) on scripture. The pastor preaches and often uses scripture to back his sermon, but digging into scripture and asking questions is something that I have to do on my own. I appreciate those who are willing to engage in discussion. I am no bible scholar, and depend on the scriptures, the Spirit, and reading commentary to determine deeper meaning. I have some misunderstandings from my upbringing, therefore, I do not want to just believe what I have been taught simply because I have been raised in the Baptist Church. I want to study, pray, dig, discuss, and allow God to show me His truth. My question to you came from my struggle with the word “forever” in Exodus 30:17. I did a word search on the word forever, and couldn’t locate any place in the bible where it meant anything other than “for all time”. In my mind, it made sense that we work while the earth is in existence, and at the end of time, we have our eternal rest with the Lord. So, in working 6 and resting on the 7th, we were declaring the coming of the Lord until the end when he comes back for us. This is not a belief that is taught at my attending church, although I couldn’t find someone who could give me an answer that satisfied my questions. I understand your logic of the Lord’s supper, communion, or eucharist is now our re-enactment as well as weekly worship and baptism. I still don’t understand why the New Testament specifically addresses circumcision emphatically but doesn’t really talk about changing the day of worship. Your description has been the best information to date on my quest for truth. Thank you.

  2. What about Matthew 24:20 where Jesus tells of a future event saying, “pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath”? Why would he say to pray for the day not to fall on a Sabbath if people were to cease observing them? Also, aren’t we also freed from slavery of the evil ruler of this world by Christ who brought us out and will bring us into His promised land? All of the Old Testament is a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality and still holds true. Jesus didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. In working 6 days and resting on the final day of the week we are actually proclaiming the upcoming kingdom each week of our lives. Because we continually work until our final rest at the end of time.

    1. The same reason they should pray that they don’t flee on winter. It is hard to travel when it is winter for obvious reasons. & On sabbath because hard to buy supplies for journey when everything is shut down.
      Some who hold to Torah observance think this means that they could not travel on sabbath because on sabbath they only allowed to go a certain distance before it is considered “work”. But that is a Jewish tradition which is not in the Torah. Jesus did not expect his followers to follow pharisaical traditions.
      As for the other points, the Torah(a type of God’s law) has been fulfilled in the Law of Christ (the fulfillment).
      My other posts on Old Testament interpretation should be helpful to explain what I mean by that.
      But, ROM 7:1-6 says it pretty clearly. A dead man is not under obligation to the law, & I am dead to the Law through Christ, so I might be joined to a new Master, the risen Christ. We follow the Spirit of Christ, not the letter. Christians fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law of Moses, though they do not submit to it in it’s old form of Israel’s Law.
      Thanks for the input!
      Gbu!

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