The Ten Commandments form the core of God’s Law. We will begin our study of this subject by reviewing some of the main reasons professing Christianity gives in an attempt to justify disobedience to the Ten Commandments.
Mainstream Christianity believes that God’s Law “has been done away and nailed to the cross” by Jesus Christ. They insist that the Old Covenant was based upon “the strict, merciless Ten Commandments imposed by that harsh God of the Old Testament.” They believe that the New Covenant, introduced by Jesus Christ, rescinded those laws and replaced them with “grace” and “love.” They stress that people now have “liberty”—license to do whatever they please—under grace.
Other erroneous teachings include the belief that the Ten Commandments did not exist before Moses and were only in effect until Christ. These purport that the Ten Commandments were part of the ritualistic laws of Moses and were annulled by Christ’s sacrifice. In opposition to God’s laws, these same people refuse to obey the Ten Commandments, instead using human reasoning to defend their religious traditions.
Notice what Christ says to such people: “Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…And He said unto them, Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:7-9). Although these verses record Christ’s words in rebuking the scribes and Pharisees of His day, they also apply to all people today. Yet, many who could profit from this correction apply it only to the scribes and Pharisees, never suspecting they themselves could be at fault.
Consider the following question presented to Christ: “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Notice His answer: “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16-17). How do we know that Jesus really meant the Ten Commandments?
The following verses answer this issue: “He said unto Him, Which [commandments]? Jesus said, You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and your mother: and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 18-19). Christ began by citing the fifth through the ninth commandments, which He then summarized by stating, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Christ summarized several commandments as representative of all of them. The rich young ruler knew exactly what was meant and responded immediately by saying that he had kept them since childhood.
Modern theologians ignore this direct statement from Christ that to receive eternal life, one must keep all the Ten Commandments. They choose instead to accept humanly devised reasons that the commandments are “done away.”
The Ten Commandments reflect spiritual laws, which, if obeyed, would insure peace, harmony and fulfillment among humanity. But God has allowed mankind to exercise free moral agency. Man has chosen to go the way that seems right to him, rather than submitting to God. Man will ultimately be forced to realize and appreciate that God’s ways infinitely exceed his own. Six thousand years of agony stand in stark testimony to man’s track record of living contrary to God’s laws.
Believing that the concept of love was generally unknown until Christ introduced it, followers of modern Christianity wrongly assume that the Old Testament makes little or no mention of it. This assumption is wrong. The God of the Old Testament was the very One who later became Jesus Christ (I John 1:2-4; John 8:56-58; I Cor. 10:4).
The Books of the Law—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—are built on the principle of love: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). This is the original “great commandment” (Matt. 22:37). The first step is love toward God, summarizing the first four commandments:
Forbidding false gods before the True God (Ex. 20:1-3)
Forbidding idolatry (Ex. 20:4-6)
Forbidding taking the name of God in vain (Ex. 20:7)
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8-11)
Love toward neighbor is the second step. Leviticus 19:18 states, “You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” This admonition—the original golden rule—came from Leviticus 19. It was not an innovation in the New Testament, as many wrongly believe. The last six commandments, expressing love toward neighbor, are these:
Honor your father and your mother (Ex. 20:12)
You shall not kill (Ex. 20:13)
You shall not commit adultery (Ex. 20:14)
You shall not steal (Ex. 20:15)
You shall not bear false witness (Ex. 20:16)
You shall not covet (Ex. 20:17)
In studying the subject of the Ten Commandments, remember that these lessons are intended to direct you to the Bible, and that the same verse or verses will sometimes be used more than once to answer different questions. This is not an oversight, but is used when certain verses apply to multiple issues. In such cases, it is helpful to rewrite the verses.
(1) What is the biblical definition of sin? I John 3:4.
(2) Since sin is defined as the transgression of the law, to what law does this refer? Matthew 22:36-40.
Comment: We have just seen that “love toward God” is expounded by the first four of the Ten Commandments and “love toward neighbor” is expounded by the last six. That is why Matthew 22:40 states, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The Ten Commandments are truly the centerpiece of not only the overall Law of God, but also the Old Testament (known as “the law and the prophets”). Neither of these is repealed or repudiated in the New Testament.
Comment: Remember, the Ten Commandments are the core upon which the rest of God’s laws, statutes, judgments, ordinances and precepts are based. The Old Covenant also was based upon Israel’s obedience to the Ten Commandments, as well as the other laws of God. Certain scriptures refer to the law of Moses. This involved many detailed laws pertaining to the sanctuary, the Levitical priesthood or the laws pertaining to sacrifices. It also covered the laws and judgments pertaining to the treatment of servants, acts of violence, the responsibility of owners, the laws of restitution, the statutes concerning the Holy Days and a wide array of issues.
(4) What is the ultimate outcome of sin—breaking the Ten Commandments? Romans 6:23.
Comment: The outcome of sin during one’s physical life is misery for having violated these laws—which are as real as the physical law of gravity. If you break them, they break you! Unless repented of, the spiritual outcome of sin is eternal death.
(5) What is the purpose of the Law of God? Romans 3:20.
Comment: The purpose of the Law is to tell us what sin is. The Law identifies sin so that we can turn from it.
(1) Many people believe the Ten Commandments are the very antithesis of love. Is love directly tied to obedience to the Ten Commandments? I John 5:2-3.
(2) Does carnal man have the natural capacity to obey God’s laws? Romans 8:7.
(3) Then how does man become able to obey the laws of God? Romans 5:5.
Comment: The Holy Spirit enables one to obey God’s laws, yet obedience is required to receive the Holy Spirit. This is not a contradiction. One must repent and turn away from sin—disobedience to God’s laws—and strive to obey them. Then, upon baptism, one becomes empowered by that Spirit to obey God.
(5) How does love help one to fulfill the Law? Romans 13:10.
(6) Was the Old Testament based upon the “golden rule”? Matthew 7:12.
Comment: We repeatedly see that the law and the prophets was based upon love toward God and love toward neighbor—summary principles from the Ten Commandments. Often, we will find the principle of love toward neighbor repeated in the New Testament, pointing directly to the Ten Commandments.
Comment: In a parallel account of Matthew 22:36-40, we find an interesting summary statement in Mark 12:31. At the end of this verse, summarizing love toward God and love toward neighbor, we find this statement: “There is none other commandment greater than these.”
Professing Christianity promotes the idea that Christ did away with the Ten Commandments. One scripture they cite is Galatians 3:19. It begins by asking, “Wherefore then serves the law?” The answer includes the comment “till the seed should come to whom the promise was made…” They try to use this to “prove” that the Law was done away at the time of Christ.
The true context of Galatians 3 points to the “works of the law” in contrast to the faith of Christ. This is established in Galatians 2:16 and in Galatians 3:2, 5 and 10. The word translated “works” is derived from the Greek term ergon, meaning the law of works or sacrificial rituals, while “law” is derived from nomos, which can mean the Law of Moses or a principle of law. This term for “law” is established by the context. The apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed the matter of false Jewish converts trying to impose physical rituals upon the Gentile converts in Galatia. The context of “law” in Galatians 3:19 and 3:24 points to the “law of works” (“nomos ergon”). The Ten Commandments were never part of the law of rituals.
The next part of verse 19 shows that “It [the law of works] was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made…” The sacrificial law was not added until over a year after the Ten Commandments had been given.
Notice Jeremiah 7:22-24: “For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people: and walk you in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.”
Then, in verse 24: “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.”
This verse shows that the law of works—the “schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24)—was added because of transgressions. These sacrifices impressed upon Israel the consequences of sin. Sacrifices taught the habit of obedience and pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ.
(1) Did Paul have a high regard for God’s Law? Romans 7:12.
Comment: The context shows (Rom. 7:7) that Paul was referring to the Ten Commandments.
(4) Is the world attracted to that light, as of yet? John 3:19.
(1) Did Christ “do away” with the Law or did He obey and observe it? Matthew 5:17-19.
Comment: The word “destroy” in verse 17 comes from the Greek word kataluo, which can also mean to “demolish, dissolve or overthrow.” Christ specifically said that He came not to do any of these things to the Law, or the prophets. The word “fulfill” at the end of verse 17 comes from the Greek word pleroo and can mean to “satisfy, accomplish or complete.” Note closely that to satisfy, accomplish or complete the Law means to comply with and keep it. It does not mean to do away with it or to keep it in our stead so that we have license to disobey as we please.
In these verses, Christ was countering, in advance, what He knew Satan’s counterfeit religion would proclaim: That Christ had come to repeal the Old Testament and everything it stood for, including the Ten Commandments.
(2) What does it mean that Christ was to magnify the Law? Isaiah 42:21.
Comment: In contrast to what the majority of professing Christianity declares, Christ actually made the Law more binding. He magnified the intent of the Law as found in a number of places in Matthew chapter 5. In verse 21, He explains that “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not kill…” In verse 22, He continues, “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” Later in this same chapter, Christ magnified and made more binding the laws pertaining to adultery (vs. 27-28), divorce (vs. 31-32), oaths (vs. 33-37) and even love of enemies (vs. 38-48). In this chapter and throughout His teachings, Christ magnified the Law according to its overall intent and made it even more binding.
Comment: The purpose of the Law is to define what sin is, so that we will avoid it. A person’s faith in the sacrifice of Christ is what justifies him. Such a one would be in a repentant state and would strive to turn away from sin as a way of life, in order to be under grace (unmerited pardon) and become justified (made right with God). That is why God gives the Holy Spirit to those who strive to, in the human sense, obey Him (Acts 5:32). Now, if one were theoretically capable of perfect obedience to the Law, that person would not be justified without faith in the sacrifice of Christ. With this understanding, we can see why Romans 2:13 (“the doers of the law are justified”) does not contradict Romans 3:28 (“a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law”). Even Romans 3:31, “we establish the law,” is rendered by the Moffatt translation as “we uphold the Law.” Faith does not preempt obedience—it complements it.
(5) Does being “under the Law” mean to strive to obey the Law? Romans 6:14.
Comment: The term “under the law,” in this case, and as a general principle, means “under the penalty of the Law.” That is why it is contrasted with being under grace (unmerited pardon).
(6) Are there principles behind the Law that are not perceived by most? Matthew 23:23.
Comment: The first lesson from this verse is that the scribes and Pharisees were correct in paying tithes on detailed matters. We know this by Christ’s statement, “these [things] ought you to have done.”
The second lesson is that in their obsession with details, the scribes and Pharisees ignored the most important matters of the Law—judgment, mercy and faith. Just as the Ten Commandments point to love toward God and love toward neighbor, there exist overarching principles and lessons behind all aspects of God’s Law. Remember that Galatians 3:24 shows that even the sacrificial rituals were the “schoolmaster” to teach obedience and ultimately point to Christ’s sacrifice.
Had the scribes and Pharisees been able to perceive the intent of God’s laws, which they supposedly practiced, they would have seen beyond mere physical regulations. Their observance became an end in itself, featuring self-righteous compliance—but not beyond this level. (Also note Proverbs 21:3 and Psalm 51:16-17.)
To fully grasp and appreciate the many issues pertaining to this crucial subject, please study our booklet The Ten Commandments – “Nailed to the Cross” or Required for Salvation? Next, to better understand that these laws were in force at the creation of man, read our article “Did the Ten Commandments Precede Moses?” Then, you will need to read our important article “Does the New Testament Teach All Ten Commandments?”