I frequently hear Christians make comments about, or refer to, the Ten Commandments as still being applicable to our lives today. It usually comes in one of two lines of thought. One says that we are obliged to obey all of the Ten Commandments except for the Sabbath Day commandment. The other says that we are obliged to obey all of them, including the Sabbath Day commandment. I don’t believe we are under obligation to any of them. This post is a brief explanation.
Three Important Principles
There are three things, in my opinion, that need to be understood when dealing with this issue.
First is that the Mosaic covenant—the Mosaic Law—must be taken as a unit and cannot be divided up into parts. I know that many have divided the Law into several categories for the sake of studying it—moral laws, ceremonial laws, dietary laws, etc.—and that’s helpful for the sake of studying the law, but the Bible itself does not divide the law like that. In fact, the Bible says that if you violate any single part of the law (any single law), then you are guilty of the entire law. Never was there an option of being declared innocent in this part or that part of the law; a person was either a law breaker or he was not a law breaker. As it turned out, everyone was a law breaker. (Gal 3:10; Gal 5:3; James 2:10-11; also look at 2Cor 3:6-13 which specifically talks about the Ten Commandments fading away.)
The second thing that we need to know is that God’s moral law is not the same as the Mosaic Law. God’s moral law was included in the Mosaic Law, but the Mosaic Law also included civil laws, criminal laws, sanitary laws, etc. God’s moral law existed before Moses went up onto Mt. Sinai and still exists today. The Ten Commandments are part of the Mosaic Law, not God’s moral law, even though there are similarities. We know it was part of the Mosaic Law because it was given to Moses along with the rest of the Mosaic Law. The Ten Commandments did not exist prior to the Mosaic Law and, I’m suggesting, it doesn’t exist after the Mosaic Law was replaced by the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-33).
The third thing is that the law is tied to a priesthood. The Mosaic Law was tied to the Levitical priesthood that the Law describes. It was a priesthood with a very exclusive membership. There was another priesthood that the Bible describes, however, and we’ll look at that next. I think it’s important to remember that a particular Law and its priesthood cannot be separated from one another.
Three Important Passages
Now let’s take a look at three passages about a guy named Melchizedek.
Genesis 14 is about a war that takes place between 9 kings, 4 kings against 5 (Melchizedek was not one of those 9 kings). During the war, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and a bunch of people get taken captive along with their possessions. Abraham gathers together 318 of his trained men and he was able to retrieve all of the people and property that had been taken captive. Then…
“After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet Abram in the Valley of Shaveh (known as the King’s Valley). Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) He blessed Abram, saying,
“‘Blessed be Abram by the Most High God,
Creator of heaven and earth.
Worthy of praise is the Most High God,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.’
Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.”
Look also at Psalm 110, a messianic psalm, a prophetic psalm about Jesus. I’ve highlighted verse 4.
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.
Besides what we see in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, we know nothing about Melchizedek. This is the only thing in any historical document, biblical or otherwise, about this person. Keep in mind also, that the only recognized priesthood in Judaism was the Levitical priesthood. If you remember, Levi was one of the sons of Jacob (the grandson of Abraham), and one of the tribes of Israel. The tribe of Levi did not get an inheritance in the promised land, because they were to be the priests of God for the people; Aaron was the first priest. No one else could be a priest besides a Levite, and no one else could perform any of the priestly duties. The priests were the keepers of the law.
Now, let’s touch on Hebrews 7. The author of Hebrews has been spending the previous 6 chapters trying to convince his readers (primarily Jews) that Jesus is better than the old way of Judaism. Chapters 4 and 5 talk about Jesus being our high priest. This presented a problem for some people because Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, but from the tribe of Judah—he was not eligible to be a priest. The author of Hebrews is reminding the readers that there is another priestly order that is not of Levi: the order of Melchizedek.
The priests in Israel held the office of priest only temporarily because they eventually died. Since nothing is known about Melchizedek besides what we’ve read in Genesis 14 and the 110th psalm, the author of Hebrews says that he was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, he has neither beginning of days nor end of life but is like the son of God, and he remains a priest for all time.” He then goes on to show more of how much better the priestly order of Melchizedek is than the order of Levi by saying that Levi was below Abraham, but Melchizedek was superior to Abraham.
Then we come to Hebrews 7:11-12.
“So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood – for on that basis the people received the law – what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? For when the priesthood changes, a change in the law must come as well.”
Please note that last phrase: Since Jesus is part of a different priesthood, a change in the law must come as well.
We can see from this passage (and the rest of the chapter) that the Mosaic Law was imperfect, weak, and useless. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
The Mosaic Law accomplished its purpose of demonstrating that no one was ever able to keep it and live up to the perfect standards of God. Therefore, it brought sin and death.
On the flip side of that coin, the new covenant in Christ is infinitely better as we saw in Hebrews 7. Why would we ever want to cling to the old law? In Romans 8:2-4, Paul says that we have been set free from what he calls “the law of sin and death.”
The Christian should never be put back under this old law. Take a look at Acts 15; Rom 5:10; 6:14; 7:1-2; 2Cor 3:6-18; and the entire book of Galatians.
A Couple of Objections Answered
You may say, “but Jono, there are several positive remarks that Paul makes about the Mosaic Law.” That’s true, and I’m certainly not saying that we aren’t to study or learn from the Law, but Paul was not saying that the Mosaic Law is to be in operation for those under the new Law of Christ. If necessary, I’d bring another apologetic to deal with that in another post.
You may also ask, “Jono, are you saying that it’s OK to murder and to steal and to commit adultery?” I would hope it’s obvious that I’m not saying that it’s OK for us to commit these, or any other, sins. We have in the New Covenant commands against such activity. We do not murder, steal, or commit adultery, but not because they are prohibited by the Old Covenant (the Mosaic Law), but because they are prohibited by the New Covenant. More than that, we refrain from doing these things because of our love for Christ.
I know that there are a lot of very godly people who still feel that the Ten Commandments are required today, but I have to ask “why?” Based on Scripture, why would anyone want to live under a law that no one was ever able to keep, especially since we have something so much better now? The Mosaic Law is like a doctor that only gives a diagnosis, but no cure. We see the perfect standard of God and we see that we don’t measure up. The diagnosis is that we are cursed. Only Christ has the cure. Christ has set us free from the old law. There’s no need to remain under it any longer.