Many Christian commenters today are expressing concern about antinomian tendencies in the church. We are especially seeing attempts to downplay the role of God’s law as a guide to Christian living (the so-called third use of the law). One question that comes into play is whether or not the Ten Commandments should be thought of as a uniquely and eternally binding statement of God’s moral law. Or, in contrast, are the Ten Commandments just part of the diverse “Mosaic corpus” intended only to govern the lives of a particular ancient Near Eastern people and thus “more or less inapplicable outside that world” (so David Dorsey).
I confess that the dismissing of the Ten Commandments as a guide to Christian living alarms me greatly, especially when this position is taken up by purportedly Reformed Christians. Moreover, the premises for this maneuver seem remarkably weak to me. In short, the Ten Commandments are first declared indistinguishable from the over various rules and precepts of the Mosaic corpus, such as the one regulating what to do when an axe head flies off, and then, second, the Ten Commandments are relegated to the governance of merely a single ancient cultural and religious setting with little or not significance for Christians today. It would be hard to find a shift with more profound implications not only for Christian doctrine but also for our approach to daily living as followers of Christ. In a time when the church is continually feeling pressure to conform to the world, it is hard to imagine a posture that would be more damaging to the faith and witness of believers today.
In addressing this concern, I would like to offer four arguments for why the Ten Commandments should be seen as separate and distinct from the other rules and regulations of the Mosaic economy, and why the Ten Commandments do set forth the universally binding moral law of God that is intended to serve as a guide for the lives of believers of all times, including today.
1. The way that Ten Commandments were given informs us of their special and eternal significance.
Unlike the various rules and regulations that fill the pages of Exodus through Deuteronomy, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses directly by God, having been written by the finger of God on tablets of stone (Ex. 24:12; 32:16). It is hard to imagine how God could have made a more suggestive statement regarding the timeless character of these ten priorities. The setting in which the Ten Commandments were given – atop Mount Sinai amidst clouds of storm and fire (Ex. 20:18) – also indicates the sacred status attached to this code of laws. To dismiss this significance of way God gave the Ten Commandments thus seems not only strange but also irreverent.
2. The way that the Ten Commandments were recorded in the Pentateuch shows their primary role in expressing God’s moral will.
In addition to how the Ten Commandments were given, we should consider how they were recorded within the Pentateuch. The book of Exodus sees Israel departing from Egypt, passing through the parted waters of the Red Sea, and then finally arriving at their destination at Mount Sinai. Exodus 20 then presents the Ten Commandments as a literary apex in the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. They go up to God’s mountain, they receive God’s law, and then Israel departs from the mountain of God. It is true that many other rules and laws are given, but none occupy the literary high ground given to the Ten Commandments. The same can be said about the priority of placement given to the Ten Commandments in the book of Deuteronomy, where it is given as the chief covenant demand set before Israel by the Lord.