The Decalogue and the New Testament


Editor's Note: The following is a review of Craig Evans' paper presented at the Reading the Decalogue Through the Centuries Conference held at Wheaton College this past October.

The Decalogue played an important if not always highlighted role in the New Testament. Much of the New Testament teaching can be seen as refracted through the Deuteronomic text. All of the law was important and if one takes seriously the Matthew Five passage, in which Christ taught that “I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

The debate over the place of the Decalogue within the New Testament as such figured as the primary discussion of Craig Evan’s lecture at Wheaton College’s Reading the Decalogue Through the Decades Conference. In opening up the lecture Evans preceded to place each of the commandments within the writing of the New. He argued that only the First Commandment was not explicitly or implicitly quoted. The Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Commandments are quoted explicitly which leaves the Third, Fourth, and Seventh figuring into the discussion in implicit terms.

Furthermore both Jesus and Paul appealed to the standard form of summation of the commandments in their discussion of the greatest law. All the law, he said, can be summed up as this: one must love God with all their being; and love their neighbor as themselves. There have been many which have followed suit by announcing that in the understanding of these two laws one understood and fulfilled all of the Law.

Of a similar nature to this discussion are the occasional passages when the Law figured into the discussion of an event or occurrence within the narratives of the New Testament. In the encounter between John the Baptist and Herod Antipas, there is a frank understanding of the sixth and tenth commands against adultery and coveting one’s neighbor’s wife. Likewise in the encounter between the Christ and the Pharisees over the Sabbath behavior of the disciples, one finds an argument over the fifth commandment.

All of this leads to an interesting question, why in all of this is the first commandment not mentioned. Evans argued that within the Jewish context of the New Testament era only the First Commandment was completely and totally agreed upon. No one within the discussion felt that the question of God was in fact a question. All were committed to loving God above all else; however, what to do with the all else represented the crux of the argument between Pharisee, Sadduccee, Christ, and all comers. In this both Evans and the previous lecturer Daniel Block affirmed during the following QA session that the Decalogue could be seen as “revealed law,” and a “guide for the redeemed” or those who have been set free from Egypt by the Redeemer God affirmed within the Decalogue’s Prologue.

It was here that one wished that Evans had pressed his speech further, and not in the way in which one QA interlocutor wanted. The question was not about the faithfulness of the Jews to the Law, a close reading of Deuteronomy reveals that God never expected the Jews to be perfectly faithful. The question stands as the place of the Law within the Gospel. Would a faithful follower of Christ see the law as important to his current life? What do the previously quoted words of Christ mean? Has the law been fulfilled and become null and void, or are they still to be followed? A lecture which sought to answer these questions would have been a less literal and a less specific lecture, but it may have been a more interesting and influential lecture.

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