The Permanence of the Ten Commandments

There are many who have though it edifying to label those who believe in New Covenant Theology as Antinomians, Neo-Antinomian, or Neo-nomians.  Some have given the impression that we are intent on attacking the Decalogue, since they have felt it necessary to defend it from us.  The reality is, if we truly believed the Scriptures taught that law, as a covenant, continues, we would, by God’s grace, proclaim it and seek to obey it.

Regarding the issue of the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, I think it would first be beneficial to state some of what I believe are biblically based presuppositions on which I have based my conclusions.  They are as follows:

1.  The term “law” in Scriptures has many and varied meanings.  It may mean the Pentateuch or Torah, The Old Testament Scriptures, a principle, e.g. “I find then a law. . . .” (Rom. 7), so-called natural law, the law of Christ, God’s eternal, universal law and the Sinaitic or Mosaic Covenant.

2.  Related to number one, we must distinguish between the Mosaic Covenant or“The Old Covenant,” and the Old Testament Scriptures.  Though one has been fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant, the other continues to have abiding validity for the New Covenant believer.

3.  When the biblical writers speak of “Law” related to the Mosaic Covenant, they never make the theological distinction between Moral, Civil or Judicial, and Ceremonial Law.  In fact, the apostle Paul linked the rite of circumcision and submission to it to the responsiblity to keep the “whole law” Though the Mosaic code clearly contained some commandments that pertained to the governing of the civil society and others were ceremonial in nature and still others were more of a moral nature, there was an integrity between them that cannot be dissolved.  The Tables of Stone were the covenant and the other commandments describe either how to carry out the covenant or what was to be done if the covenant is broken.  In reality, all these commandments were “moral” since to break any of them demonstrated a total lack of love for God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul states that he is a minister of the New Covenant.  Then, he makes a clear contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant with the words “letter,” by which he refers to the Law, the Old Covenant, and “Spirit,” by which he refers to the gospel or the New Covenant.  He calls the law the “letter that kills,” “the ministry of death,” and
“the ministry of condemnation.”  He then identifies that covenant with that which was written and engraven on stone.  He tells us that, 1.  He is not a minister of that covenant but of the New Covenant (v.6),  2.  That covenant was eclipsed in glory by the brilliant light of the New Covenant (vv 8-10),   3.  That covenant was passing away (v.  11).

If we contend that the covenant continues, then we must acknowledge that all 613 commandments continue as well.  This was one of the issues between the Reformers and the Baptists.  The Reformers, perpetuating the error of Rome, continued to believe the Church and the State formed a monolithic society, as was the case with Israel.  The Baptist believed in the separation of church and state.

4.  The commandments written on tables of stone were the covenant God made with Israel (Exo 34:28), are not the eternal, moral law of God as such.  God’s eternal righteous standard never changes.  It existed prior to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai and continues after the coming of Christ.  God has expressed that law in many ways.  It was written on the human heart by virtue of the fact that, in Adam, God created us upright and in his own image.  It was written by God’s finger on tables of Stone at Mt. Sinai, it is now written on the fleshly tables of the believer’s heart in fulfillment of the New Covenant promise.  The Sabbath commandment served as a ceremonial sign of the Old Covenant (Exo. 31:17).  It continued as long as the covenant continued.  It was to be  observed for two reasons: 1.  Because God finished his creation activity and rested on the seventh day, and   2.  Because God delivered the children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage.  Both these reasons point forward to the redemptive activity of Christ.  He has become the believer’s “Sabbath rest.”  He was raised on the first day of the week, signaling the completion of the New Creation, and he has delivered us once and for all from the bondage of sin of which Egyptian bondage was a type or foreshadowing.  The communion cup is the sign of the New Covenant.  Every time we celebrate the Lord’s table, we are to  remember his establishment of the New Covenant of which we are a part by grace.

The only difference, in substance, between the decalogue and the law of Christ, both being expressions of God’s eternal law, is that the signs of the covenants are different.  The principal difference between the requirements of these two covenants, is that by God’s indwelling Spirit, New Covenant believers are enabled to obey what the Old Covenant could only demand.

5.  The Old Covenant was a covenant of promise.  In fact, all the covenants of the Old Testament Scriptures were only promissory in nature as far as the spiritual promises were concerned.  The law made nothing complete. Those promises along with the spiritual inheritance they were to grant would not become a reality until the seed should come with reference to whom the promises were made.

6.  The theme of union with Christ, is the central theme of the New Testament Scriptures.  In fact, Christ is the primary subject matter of both Testaments.  He said, “They are they that testify of me. . . .”  The theme of the book is not law, but Christ.

7.  We must understand the Scriptures from the perspective of the history of redemption, i.e., that which God has accomplished in Christ,  rather than from the perspective of the order of the application of redemption, that which God is doing in us.

I am sure there will be other presuppositions that we will discover as the discussion continues, but these should be sufficient to occupy us for some good time.  Based on these presuppositions,  there are just two questions I would like to propose to kick start our discussion.

1.  Assuming the Old Covenant was written on tables of stone and that those commandments written on tables of stone were what we know as the Ten Commandments, how can that covenant be said to be “passing away” if those 10 commandments are the eternal law of God?  How can Paul say, the Law was given until the Seed should come to whom the promises were made?

2.  If Paul states that there are those who have “sinned without law” (Romans 2:12), “do not have the law,” (Romans 2:14), and are “without law,” how can the law (in this case referring to the Decalogue) be considered universal?

He cannot be referring to the law written in every person’s heart, since no one is without that law.  It is impossible to sin without that law.   He cannot be referring merely to ceremonial or civil law since we are told they show “the works of the law written on their hearts.”  It seems highly unlikely that people worldwide understand that one must avoid shellfish or that if a woman sits on the bed while she is menstruating she will make the bed unclean.

If the Law, (Ten Commandments), is universal, how can anyone be “without it?”


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