The Ten Commandments Are Everywhere image

The Ten Commandments Are Everywhere

The Ten Commandments are everywhere. Presumably I'm seeing them more because I'm working through the Heidelberg Catechism on Sundays, and they are helping me not just understand them and apply them but also notice them when they appear in Scripture, but I really hadn't noticed how many parts of the Bible are shaped by the Decalogue.

Some are more obvious than others. The Sermon on the Mount is a well-known example, for instance. When Paul lists vices in 1 Timothy 1:8-11, the order matches the second half of the Ten Commandments exactly: “those who strike their fathers or mothers (#5), murderers (#6), the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality (both #7), enslavers (#8), liars, perjurers (both #9), and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (#10).” Similar vice lists elsewhere mix them up a bit, but retain most of the specifics: “neither the sexually immoral (#7), nor idolaters (#1 and #2), nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality (both #7), nor thieves (#8), nor the greedy (#10), nor drunkards, nor revilers (#9), nor swindlers (#8) will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10). Others include the Ten Commandments as part of a wider discourse on morality; Romans 1:18-32 covers #1, #2, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9 and #10, but not in that order. (It is fascinating that none of Paul’s lists include the Sabbath. Make of that what you will.)

Ezekiel 18 is a less well-known example, but one I recently encountered in my devotions. Ezekiel is making the point that children won’t die for the sins of their parents, and in three slightly varying lists, he draws from the Ten Commandments repeatedly. The paradigmatic sinner is one who “is violent, a shedder of blood” (#6), one who “eats upon the mountains and lifts up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel” (#1 and #2), “defiles his neighbour’s wife” (#7), “oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery” (#8), and “commits abomination” (all of the above). It is not that Ezekiel is particularly trying to make the point that the Ten Commandments sum up the call to godliness that has been placed upon Israel. It is more that he simply assumes that they do, and develops his prophetic preaching accordingly.

In an intriguing article in the Grace Theological Journal, John Walton goes further, and argues that the Ten Words even provide the structure of Deuteronomy. (Bear with me.) After the summary of Israel’s story and the Ten Commandments are recapitulated in Deuteronomy 1-5, and before the blessings and curses begin, Walton argues that the rest of the book follows the same basic shape as the Decalogue, and is intended to “elucidate the broader morality behind each of the Ten Commandments.” He sketches it like this:

#1: Authority - Love God Alone (6:1-11:32)
#2: Dignity - Avoid Idolatry (12:1-32)
#3: Commitment - Take God Seriously (13:1-14:21)
#4: Rights and Privileges - Observe Sabbaths and Festivals (14:22-16:17)
#5: Authority - Honour Judges, Kings and Prophets (16:18-18:22)
#6: Dignity - Manslaughter, War and Murder (19:1-21:23)
#7: Dignity - Sexual Relationships and Purity (22:1-23:14)
#8: Dignity - Property and Possessions (23:15-24:7)
#9: Commitment - Pledges and Trust (24:8-16 [or 25:4])
#10: Rights and Privileges - The Rights of Others (24:17 [or 25:5]-26:19)

See? The Ten Commandments are everywhere.

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