Any time I want people to look at me like I’ve grown a third eye, I bring this topic up. I’m kidding… sort of. I bring it up because I believe it’s very important to understand and has a significant impact in how we study the Bible.
According to scripture, the 10 Commandments do not apply to you. And if you aren’t Jewish, they never did.
Typically, the first response to this statement is: “How can you say that? So you think it’s OK to murder people?” But in reality, this shouldn’t be an odd concept to us. If I told you that I wasn’t bound by Mexican law, would you gasp in shock and claim that I think I can do anything I want? Of course you wouldn’t – because you’d understand the concept that laws apply only to the people to whom they are given. Each nation has its own set of laws, and as it happens, a lot of them are similar, and in many cases they overlap. I don’t have to obey Mexico’s laws concerning theft – because U.S. law forbids it, and that’s the law that I’m required to obey.
But some say, “This is different. This is the 10 Commandments! Delivered from on high, written by the finger of God.” The problem is, it’s not different. And the scriptures never state that it’s different. There are two things we need to consider:
First, the 10 Commandments are not a separate law from the Law of Moses. That doesn’t mean that the 10 weren’t ever singled out or referenced specifically. (See Deuteronomy 5, for example.) But does that mean that the Israelites received two distinct laws? No – these 10 served as almost an “executive summary” of the rest of the law. If an Israelite truly honored and kept those 10 commandments, he would necessarily keep everything else that God would later reveal. It’s not unlike Jesus picking the “greatest commandment” – he was simply arguing that “on these hang all the laws and the prophets.”
The 10 commandments and the rest of the law were delivered at the same time, from the same God, through the same messenger to the same people. Notice what God says to Moses in Deuteronomy 5 after the 10 commandments are read:
“Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’ You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess (Deut. 5:30-33 ESVST)”
In other words, the 10 Commandments were not the “whole commandment.” But Exodus says something else that’s revealing:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 34:27-28 27 ESVST)
What are “these words”? They are the 10 Commandments, which are part of the covenant with Israel. Specifically, it was an agreement whereby God would give Israel possession of the land of Canaan, and Israel would in turn honor God and forsake idols. (v. 11-26) Based on the rest of the book, that covenant also included the instructions for the tabernacle and other ritual observances. We also know that the “Book of the Covenant” was in reference to all that God had told Moses – not just the 10 Commandments. (Ex. 24:3-4) In fact, the phrase “covenant” seems to be used interchangeably with the tablets (the 10 Commandments) and other elements of the Law of Moses.
Was this covenant between God and any other nation that chose to adopt it? No – it was specifically for a single nation. (Ex. 6:6-7, 19:5-6, 31:17, Deut. 5:2-3, Deut. 7:6-8) And it was a covenant that was violated when an Israelite disobeyed one of the 10 Commandments or any of the more specific laws written in the Book of the Covenant, which we know as the first five books in the Bible. This is why Christians do not observe the Sabbath – because the Sabbath was a day designated as a symbol of the covenant between God and Israel. (Ex. 31:13-17) We can’t select nine commandments and apply them to all people, but have one which does not. It’s one law – and if you violate one commandment, you violate the entire law. (James 2:10, Gal. 5:3) There are no examples in scripture (that I know of, anyway!) of anyone being bound by the 10 Commandments and not the remainder of the Law of Moses as well. ( See II Kings 17:36-37)
I am very happy to say that as a Christian, I know that I am freed from the law. (Col. 2:14-17, Eph. 2:15, Rom. 7:4) As Paul warned the Christians in Galatia and Rome, we shouldn’t be looking for ways to go back! If I want to understand the requirements of my covenant with God, I can go to the teachings of the inspired apostles, and also to the words of the “author and finisher of our faith,” Jesus Christ.