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Are the Ten Commandments the Moral Law of God?

Covenant Theology holds to a specific view of the Ten Commandments, expressed
by Richard Barcellos in his book, In Defense of the Decalogue, The Decalogue is the
basic, fundamental law of the New Covenant and the basic, fundamental law for all
men, the moral law.
We shall now prove that there is neither the historical nor
biblical evidence to arrive at this conclusion.

Firstly, what were the Ten Commandments and what did they mean to Israel?

Ancient Near-Eastern Covenants
In his excellent article on the subject, Ren Lopez shows that the nations which
surrounded and pre-existed ancient Israel had an identical system of covenant
between them and their ruler. Lopez concludes that there are striking parallels
between ancient Near Eastern and Israelite covenants, with the only obvious
differences being, for example, Monotheism. Lopez shows that there remains a near
consensus about the [six] essential elements of standard Hittite treaty texts
analogous to Israelite treaty forms. This is confirmed by, among others, the ESV
Study Bible commentary on Deuteronomy 5:22, which states that the two tablets of
stone were following ancient Near Eastern practice.

This type of covenant is sometimes referred to as a Suzerainty Treaty. Typically, they
had a list of stipulations at their centre which were a list of commands to do or
refrain from doing something. Interestingly, these stipulations are also worded in
exactly the same style as the ten commandments of the covenant or treaty God made
for national Israel. Furthermore, a duplicate of the stipulations would always be
made, the tablets of which would be kept in a shrine, exactly the same as the ark of
the old covenant. Typically, the servant in the agreement would take away his
duplicate tablet and store it in the shrine of his god. This is why it is so significant
that both tablets were stored in the ark, as this made the Lord both God and King of

This of course entirely debunks the theory which Covenant Theology presents most
clearly in the Westminster Confession of Faith: This lawwas delivered by God upon
Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four
commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to
The assumption being that one tablet contained commandments pertaining
to our relationship with God and the other to our relationship with our fellow man.

Lopez explains why God chose to follow this pattern: Finally, it is clear that God
sought to clarify the meaning and relevance of the Israelite covenants by modelling
them after ancient Near Eastern covenants. By using a well-known ancient model,
God successfully communicated His meaning and intention. Furthermore, God

Barcellos, R. (2001) In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology, Founders Press, p.57
see Westminster Confession Faith, chapter 19, cl.2

enabled the modern world [to] discover the correct meaning of Gods covenants with
Israel by studying these ancient texts.

Therefore, the argument that the Decalogue must be the Moral Law because it is
written in stone directly by God and contained under the mercy seat is fanciful. The
Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, illustrates this argument for us: The moral law is
unalterable; it remains still in force. It was written in tables of stone, to show its
This interpretation was a direct result of a lack of knowledge of ancient
Near-Eastern practices; these events involving stone tablets and shrines etc. seemed
unique and mysterious and therefore extra significance was applied to the two tablets
of stone. However, the fact that God Himself wrote His stipulations for national
Israel at the centre of its constitution was because the master or suzerain would
always do this in national treaties Israel would have been familiar with. The fact that
it was on stone and contained in a shrine was the norm; these were the tablets of the
covenant in the ark of the covenant (Hebrews 9:4) and nothing more. The
stipulations God gave were not the Moral Law but rather an expression of the Moral
Law in a familiar fashion for Israel, which would be central to their constitution and
covenant-obedience to God. If anything, the most interesting thing about these
commands is that, whereas the Pagan treaties were made with a human king, this
covenant was made with the living God. This makes the rejection of Gods Theocratic
system of government to install the human king Saul all the more significant.

The significance of these facts is summed up by Douglas Moo: The point here is
simply that the Mosaic Law fits squarely into the framework of this kind of covenant
document, and that we should therefore expect the duration of that law to be
bound up with the duration of the covenant of which it is a part.
In other words, the
Ten Commandments ceased to be in force when the Mosaic Covenant ended.

The arguments from Scripture
Despite the historical evidence to the contrary, Covenant Theology insists that the
Mosaic Covenant must be divided up into three portions Moral, Civil and
Ceremonial laws. They insist that, whilst Jesus fulfilled all three, the New Covenant
only abrogates the latter two. Then, with no scriptural warrant whatsoever,
Covenant Theology then asserts that whenever the apostles use the words the Law,
they are often referring to the Moral subdivision of the Law. This is how the Ten
Commandments are applied to Christians under the New Covenant.

Let us therefore refute the following arguments both historically and biblically:
1. The Law is divided into three parts;
2. That the Ten Commandments are a universal moral law written on the hearts
of all people since Adam; and
3. The apostles taught that the Ten Commandments were the rule of life for

Lopez, R. (2004) Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants (Part 2 of 2), CTS Journal
(Spring 2004), pp.72 -106 - (15/03/14)
Watson, T (2010 ed.) The Ten Commandments, Kindle Edition, p. 10
Moo, D.J. (1993) The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View, Five
Views on Law and Gospel, Zondervan, p344

1. The most obvious problem with this position is that the Bible doesnt make
this proposed division of the Law into three parts, one of which being the Decalogue
as the Moral Law. The words the Law have two distinct definitions in the Bible:
i) The whole revelation of God in the Old Testament, e.g. Paul refers to the book of
Isaiah as the Law in 1Corinthians 14:21; or
ii) The covenant rule of perfect obedience, i.e. Do this, and live. (Leviticus 18:5 &
Luke 10:28).
The Origin of Covenant Theology
Truly, the assertion that the Law can refer only to the Ten Commandments cannot be
found in the Bible, it is merely a presupposition. Even if we do entertain the idea of
dividing the Law into civil, ceremonial and moral categories, it is an irrefutable fact
that the theory of applying the Ten Commandments as the universal moral law
originated, not with the teaching of the apostles, but with the Roman Catholic
philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, in the 13
century. D.A. Carson confirms this point:
Although this tripartite distinction is old, its use as a basis for explaining the
relationship between the testaments is not demonstrably derived from the NT and
probably does not antedate Aquinas.

Historical divisions of the Law of Moses
Historically, as Douglas Moo notes, Jews in Jesus and Pauls day certainly did not
divide up the law into categories; on the contrary, there was a strong insistence that
the law was a unity and could not be obeyed in parts.
It should therefore be of great
interest to note how the Lord Jesus responded when he was questioned on this very

YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the great and foremost commandment.
The second is like it, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two
commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (NASB)
Rather than dividing the Law, the Lord Jesus directs us to the foundation upon
which it was devised by God for Israel. Truly, it is these two great commands which
the early church of the 1
century and following understood to be the universal moral
law which acts in the conscience of all people, as we shall soon see. To confirm the
point that the apostles did not teach that the Ten Commandments were this moral
law, Thomas Schreiner writes:

The distinction between the moral, ceremonial, and civil lawdoes not
sufficiently capture Pauls stance toward the law Paul argues that the entirety
of the law has been set aside now that Christ has come.
[I]t is overly simplistic to say that the ceremonial and civil law have passed
away, while the moral law still retains validity. Furtherthe [suggested]
divisions are not clearly articulated in the New Testament, and the distinction

Carson, D.A. (1984) Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, Vol. 8, Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
Moo, D.J. (1993) The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View, Five
Views on Law and Gospel, Zondervan, p337

between what is moral, civil, or ceremonial is not always clear
Indeed, it is quite difficult to distinguish between what is moral and
ceremonial in the law. For instance, the law forbidding the taking of interest is
clearly a moral mandate (Exod. 22:25), but this law was addressed to Israel as
an agricultural society in the ancient Near East. As with the rest of the laws in
the Mosaic covenant, it is obsolete (Heb 8:13) now that Christ has come.

There is the further example of the weekly Sabbath, one of the Ten Commandments,
which Paul irrefutably declares to be ceremonial, not moral, in Colossians 2:16-17.
There are other examples, but it is self-evident that there is no definite way to divide
the Law of Moses into these rigid manmade constructs. The truth is that if God
commands anything, it would be immoral to disobey it and so to label only some
commands as moral is misleading.
To conclude on this matter, I find that John Reisinger summed the matter up

We insist that the Law IS the Mosaic Covenant and the Decalogue, or tables
of the covenantended when the Old Covenant ended. The Old Covenant and
the tables of the covenant stand or fall together. There is no such thing as the
Law of the Old Covenant. That is linguistic sleight of hand The tables of the
covenant, or Ten Commandments, are a vital part of the actual covenant
document that established Israels nationhood at Sinaithe terms of the
covenant, were the basic foundation document of the Old Covenant. You cannot
do away with the Old, or Mosaic, Covenant without also doing away with the
tablets of the covenant; the Decalogue.

2. Are the Ten Commandments a universal moral law written on the hearts of all

Again, the Westminster Confession of Faith expresses Covenant Theologys argument
God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and
all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised
life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued
him with power and ability to keep it This law, after his fall, continued to be a
perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount
Sinai, in ten commandments
Nowhere does Scripture state that God made a covenant with Adam and that this
covenant involved the Ten Commandments. The Biblical and historical evidence
clearly indicates that the Ten Commandments only applied to the nation of Israel
and are not written on the hearts of all people, i.e. inherent in the conscience of all

Schreiner, T. (2010) 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, Kregel Publications, pp.89 & 93
Reisinger, J. (2003) Review of In Defense of the Decalogue, Part Four - (15/03/14)

The Old Testament couldnt be clearer; God made a covenant with Israel only, not
with any other nation and not with anyone prior to Moses:

Deuteronomy 5:2-3 The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The
LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of
us alive here today. (NASB)
Nehemiah 9:13-14 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from
heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and
commandments, and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and
commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your

Did the Ten Commandments predate Moses?
As the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 31:13), let us use it as
an illustration. Historically, if a seven day week and/or worship on one of those
days had been issued to Adam at the creation, then we would see evidence of this in
ancient cultures, as we do for other events in the books of Moses, but we do not. The
Babylonians, were able to establish that, according to the patterns of the moon, a
seven day week is the most obvious division of a month; at the end of each week, they
would make offerings to their idols and rest on the final seventh day of the month;
they also had another day of rest they called a sabbatu on the day of the mid-
monthly full moon.
But, this was unique to those cultures in the ancient Near-East;
the rest of the ancient world had all manner of ancient weekly systems with as much
as 20 days in various cultures. Whereas the breach of marriage can be seen to affect
the conscience of natural man in all cultures and throughout all history, resting on
one day in seven only does so when applied as a ceremonial law within a culture.

Scientifically, there is nothing in nature to indicate that man should rest for a 24-
hour period as a matter of health. Certainly, the argument presented that there is
some sort of biological clock in man or animals which requires one days rest out
of seven is bogus. In fact it is physically impossible to keep the Sabbath in certain
locations on this planet and therefore it cannot be universally applied.

Therefore, this cannot be and is not the plain teaching of Scripture. John Bunyan,
author of The Pilgrims Progress, eloquently makes the point: Now as to the
imposing of the seventh day Sabbath upon men from Adam to Moses, of that we find
nothing in holy writ, either from precept or example. The seventh day Sabbath,
therefore, was not from paradise, nor from nature, nor from the fathers, but from the
wilderness and from Sinai.

There can be no other explanation as to why the Israelites did not know what a
weekly Sabbath command was and required an induction for keeping it in Exodus 16.
As Nehemiah said (above), God revealed His Sabbath to Israel.

10 (14/05/14)
Bunyan, J., Complete Works, pp. 892 & 895


According to Scripture, the Decalogue is the essence of the national covenant and
therefore is synonymous with the covenant:

Deuteronomy 4:13 And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded
you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two
tablets of stone.
2Chronicles 6:11 And there I have set the ark, in which is the covenant of the
Lord that he made with the people of Israel.

And this fits perfectly with the historical evidence which teaches us that the
stipulations (here, the Ten Commandments) were the centre of national treaties in
the ancient Near-East. Therefore, when we consider Deuteronomy 5:3 (above) and
the explicit teaching of the New Testament, there is absolutely no reason to assume
that the Decalogue preceded Moses. Paul says that the Law came 430 years after
Abraham (Galatians 3:17), and Moses said that it did not apply to their ancestors.
This was the unanimous interpretation of the pre-Nicene church.

The conclusion is inescapable - God first introduced the Law, including the Ten
Commandments, to Moses and these were only binding on those within the treaty He
made to establish the ancient nation of Israel.

Did the Ten Commandments apply to Gentile nations?
The Jews have historically held to the view that the Law of Moses, including the
Decalogue, was never intended for the Gentiles but only for the nation of Israel and
so it cannot be the Moral Law which applies to all. Though Gill taught that the
Decalogue was the rule of life for Christians, he nevertheless had to be truthful about
the facts when he noted in his commentary on Colossians 2:16 that the ancient
Rabbinical writings specifically apply the Decalogue to the Jews and that if the
Gentiles were under a covenantal obligation of obedience, it could only be that made
with Noah and his sons. The Jewish Encyclopaedia confirms this with reference to
the Book of Jubilees (100-200 B.C.) and the Talmudic writings etc.

For example:

Book of Jubilees 2:31 (160-100B.C.) [God] allowed no other people or peoples
to keep the Sabbath on this day, except Israel only; to it alone he granted to eat
and drink and keep the Sabbath on it.

Therefore, 1
century Jews did not believe that the Law of Moses applied to Gentiles
and neither did their ancestors and, as we have seen, the New Testament is in
agreement on this point and, again, this was the unanimous teaching of the pre-

The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), s.v. Covenant -

Nicene church.
So there is no biblical or historical evidence that Jesus or His
apostles taught otherwise.

What does the Bible teach to be the universal moral commandments which are
binding on all people?
The historical Jewish understanding was that the two great commandments were the
moral root of all commandments. Gill quotes Ibn Ezra to confirm this point: the
Jews themselves cannot denythe root of all the commandments is, when a man
loves God with all his soul, and cleaves unto him. Even Akiba ben Joseph (1

century), who strongly opposed the Gospel, said that to love your neighbour as
yourself is the chief and greatest principle of Judaism.
Notice how similar this is
to Jesus calling these commandments the greatest and foremost, upon which all
others are rooted.

When the Messiah came, both He and His apostles confirmed this belief to those
Jews who were familiar with these teachings:

Luke 10:25-28 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying,
Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, What is
written in the Law? How do you read it? And he answered, You shall love the
Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And he said to
him, You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.
The then famous Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus, expressed this same belief
when describing Judaism to a Gentile who wanted to convert: That which is
despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah [or Law], and the
rest is commentary.
Hillels grandson, Gamaliel, was an equally famous Rabbi who
features in Acts 5:34ff. and was the ex-teacher of the apostle Paul. Undoubtedly,
Paul reiterated these great commandments as they had been confirmed by Christ:
Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your
neighbor as yourself.
And this understanding has always been so deeply ingrained in Jewish thought that,
from the time of Christ until today, the Jews recite what is called the Shema Yisrael
twice every day:
Deuteronomy 6:4-6 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your

See my treatise on this subject:
The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), s.v. Akiba ben Joseph -
ben-joseph (10/04/2014)
Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a - (10/04/14)

And the central importance of these commandments continued in the infant church
too; the Didache (1
century) quotes both the Shema and the second
commandment of love to our neighbours.
In fact, all orthodox pre-Nicene writers saw the Decalogue simply as an extension of
the commandments of love towards God and neighbour. Later, Chrysostom (4

century), when commenting on Jesus teaching, referred to these as the the first
principle of virtue from which any other commandment extended.
Historian, Robert James Bast, notes that even though Augustine (4
uniquely preached on the Commandments regularly [h]ere too, however, the
ideological need to preserve the superiority of Christian revelation was maintained,
for Augustine was careful to read the Decalogue as the practical exposition of Jesus
commands to love the Lord your God with all your heartand your neighbor as
After all, Augustine explicitly taught that the Sabbath commandment was
not applicable to Christians, as did all of the early church for the first several
centuries, with the exception of the heterodox Origen.

The evidence overwhelmingly shows us that the early church, founded by the
apostles upon Christ, also held that these two commands were the work of the Law
written in the hearts of all men, i.e. that they are inherent in our consciences.
The apostles clearly taught that our conscience dictated the moral principles of Gods
Romans 2:15 & 5:13 [The Gentiles] show the work of the Law written in their
hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing
or else defending them (NASB)
for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given
We see this understanding had not changed from the Old Testament:
Job 27:6 I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not
reproach me for any of my days.
Proverbs 20:27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his
innermost parts.
Paul describes us all as having the natural revelation of God around us in creation
and the faculties in our mind to recognise God (Romans 1). Likewise, we have a
conscience which exercises the same work as the Law of Moses, that is, to condemn
us by the application of the two great commands:
Hebrews 10:22 [L]et us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed
with pure water.

Bast, R.J. (1997) Honor Your Fathers: Catechisms and the Emergence of a Patriarchal Ideology in Germany, C.
1400-1600, BRILL, p.33
See my treatise on this subject:

1John 3:19-23 & 4:20-21 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and
how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we
know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear
friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and
receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what
pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus
Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does
not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love
his brother.
And the writings of the early church reveal that this was the teaching carried forward,
as it had been handed down by the apostles. They believed that our conscience
taught the two great commands to us. Justin Martyr (~150 A.D.):
[E]very race knows that adultery, and fornication, and homicide, and such like,
are sinful; and though they all commit such practices, yet they do not escape
from the knowledge that they act unrighteously whenever they so do And
hence I think that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ spoke well when He
summed up all righteousness and piety in two commandments.

Lactantius (~300 A.D.) referred to the two commandments as the divine law of the

Since the Reformation, we have seen glimpses of Christians grasping this truth once
more, referring to it as either a law of nature or the light of our conscience, as in the
London Baptist Confession of 1646. The first Systematic Theology written by a
Baptist in the U.S. was that of J.L. Dagg who wrote this of Christs moral commands:
The Decalogue is this law expanded the great law of love... [with which] the moral
tendencies of our nature accord.

Concerning these two points, Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, eloquently

This is the first and great commandment. It is the first commandmentthe
first for antiquity, for this is older than even the ten commandments of the
written law It was binding upon Adam in the garden; even before the creation
of Eve, his wife, God had commanded this; before there was a necessity for any
other command this was written upon the very tablets of his heartThou shalt
love the Lord thy God. This is the king of commandments; this is the
emperor of the law; it must take precedence of all those princely commands

Schaff, P. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Chapter XCIII -The same kind of
righteousness is bestowed on all. Christ comprehends it in two precepts
Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, book 2, ch.4, p.45
Dagg, J.L. (1990 ed.) Manual of Theology, Gano Books, p.45

that God afterwards gave to men.

It is disobeying this command which makes our nature sinful, because we are all,
according to the Scriptures, haters and not lovers of God. Thus, Spurgeon concludes:
men do break it wilfully and grievously; for they hate God. This must be the moral
law in the conscience of men because it deals with the root of our sinful nature in
contrast to the perfect love and righteousness of Christ.

Therefore, to conclude this point, the Ten Commandments cannot be called the
universal Moral Law as this is contrary to all biblical and historical evidence. If such
a thing is to be derived from Scripture, it can only be the two greatest
commandments expounded by Jesus. These are the ultimate requirement of the Law
and the principles which affect our consciences; they once formed the basis for
national Israels laws under the old Mosaic covenant but that has now passed away.
Today, they form the basis for the Law of Christ under the New Covenant which all
Christians are compelled, by the love of Christ, to obey.

3. Is there any evidence that the Decalogue continued as the Christians rule of
life in the New Testament?

And, again, this claim is made in chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be
thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great useas a rule of life informing
them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk

If that sounds at all contradictory, there is nothing wrong with your hearing.
Basically, this is teaching that when Paul said we are not under the Law, what he
really meant to say was, Youre not under the Law but its still binding on you. This
is obviously self-contradictory. Let us, therefore, examine what the Scriptures have
to say regarding the Law of the New Covenant and reveal the errors in this theory.

Isaiah 2:3 many nations shall come, and say: Come, let us go up to the
mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us
his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth
the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (emphasis mine)
(See also the identical prophecy in Malachi 4:2)

The consensus from expositors and commentators is that the context allows for only
one interpretation this is referring to the commands of the New Covenant. As
Barnes put it, The law or will of God, under the reign of the Messiah, would proceed
from Zion.

Spurgeon, C. (1857) Sermon No. 162 - (15/03/14)

After all, Zion is representative of the church which is being built upon the
foundation of Christ and His apostles. The Scriptures also describe us as a heavenly
city, the New Jerusalem upon this symbolic mount Zion.

Galatians 4:21-26 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not
listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave
woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to
the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this
may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is
from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is
Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in
slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our
Hebrews 12:18-24 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing
fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a
voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to
them. For they could not endure the order that was given, If even a beast
touches the mountain, it shall be stoned. Indeed, so terrifying was the sight
that Moses said, I tremble with fear. But you have come to Mount Zion and to
the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in
festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in
heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made
perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (emphases mine)
Clearly, the apostles taught that this new Law which came out of Mount Zion was to
be utterly distinguished from the Law of Moses which came from Sinai, where the
Ten Commandments were given to Moses! Both the prophecies of the Old
Testament and the apostles interpretation of those prophecies could not be clearer:
Hebrews 8:8-9 & 13 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will
establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took
them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt In speaking of a new
covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and
growing old is ready to vanish away.
All things are new under the Covenant in Christ. We have a new, spiritual Jerusalem,
a new priesthood and, therefore, a new law:
Hebrews 7:12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily
a change in the law as well.
This Law is not a renewal of the old but is as different as Melchizedek is from Levi.
This new Law, which proceeds from the spiritual Zion of Christs body, is what Paul
refers to as the Law of Christ:

Galatians 6:2 Bear one anothers burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
(See also 1Corinthians 9:21)

The Law of Christ from Zion is clearly distinguished from the Law of Moses from
Sinai by Paul in his concluding passages of Galatians:

Galatians 5:14,18 & 22 and 6:2 & 15-16 For the whole law is fulfilled in one
word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you are led by the
Spirit, you are not under the law the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such
things there is no law For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor
uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace
and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

The rule taught by the apostles is that, when one has been regenerated by the Spirit
of God, we are not under the Law of Moses but are, instead, compelled by the Spirit
of God and the love of Christ to bear good fruit. We follow the doctrine of Christ and
of the apostles and have a faith which works through love (Galatians 5:6).

How then does this interpretation explain the fact that the Ten Commandments are
listed twice by the apostles? Let us examine the immediate context and the historical
context and see whether those texts imply that the Decalogue is the rule by which
Christians must live.

Proof texts?

James 2:8-12 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show
partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become
accountable for all of it. For he who said, Do not commit adultery, also said,
Do not murder. If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have
become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be
judged under the law of liberty. (emphases mine)

If you simply look at verses 10 and 11 without the context, it appears that we have one
place in the New Testament where the Decalogue is being applied as a distinct rule of
life; not merely as subordinate examples of the two great commandments given by
Christ, as Paul uses them in Romans 13:9.
But, we must account for James discussion of this royal law of liberty. In short, the
context reveals James is addressing those Christians who were showing partiality
and favouritism in the congregation and thus were not fulfilling Christs command
for us to love one another (John 15:12), meaning everyone and not just some. James
is using the OT requirement to keep every jot and tittle of the Law in totality as an
example for how we are to obey Jesus commandment by loving the congregation in
totality, not in part, just as the Law of Moses required absolute and not partial

It is important therefore to view this passage in both the immediate and broader
context of chapters 1 and 2:

James 1:22-25 & 2:8 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving
yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man
who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and
goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the

perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a
doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, You shall love your
neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.

So we can see that the perfect Law of Liberty is the Royal Law of love. We have
further scriptural confirmation of this as Paul takes up the same illustration of the
mirror when describing the Spirit at work in our hearts who, as we have seen, teaches
us Christs commandment of love:

2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the
glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to
glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

The Lord of course confirms this Himself and this is the consistent teaching of the

John 15:12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have
loved you.
Philippians 1:8-9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and
more, with knowledge and all discernment
2Peter 1:5-8 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith
with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and
self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness
with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these
qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective
or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Quite simply, as we know Jesus more and more, we are transformed from glory to
glory to become more like Him by loving more and more. So, truly, this confirms
that the Royal Law is the Law of Christ which commands us to love God and one

Douglas Moos excellent commentary on James clears this matter up entirely:

What is this royal law? Since law in verses 10-11 includes commandments
from the Decalogue, the phrase may refer to the Old Testament law as a whole
The difficulty with this identification is that this same law is described as the
law of liberty in verse 12, a phrase that in 1:25 has reference to the commands
of the gospel and, particularly, to the teaching of Jesus. That a distinctively
Christian concept is intended is suggested also be the designation royal
(basilikos), which seems to pick up the reference to the kingdom (basileia) in
verse 5. Since James quotes the love commandment from Leviticus 19:18 later
in verse 8, we should perhaps identify this specific commandment, singled out
by Christ as the sum of the law (Mt. 22:34-30), as the royal law.
HoweverJames use of according to (kata) to introduce the quotation suggest
that the commandment is not identical with the royal law If James says that
the royal law is to be fulfilled according to the commandment of love, he
probably intends to describe not the manner in which the law is to be keptbut
the nature of that law itself it is a law that has at its heart the demand that the
Christian love his neighbour In the light of these considerations, it is best to

understand the royal law as another characterization of the entire will of God
for Christians.

Many scholars, in fact, would suggest that James identifies law and gospel;
that, in a manner similar to some of the early fathers (see Barnabus 2:6), he
views Jesus teaching as a new law As Wessel says, law of freedom is a
Palestinian Jews way of describing the standard of Christian conduct found in
the didache. This teaching is still law because it expresses the authoritative
will of God for our conduct; but it is a law of liberty inasmuch as it is the
teaching of one whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light (Mt. 11:30).

Barnabus 2:6 (70-132 A.D.) the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, being free
from the yoke of constraint

Therefore, the earliest Christians had the doctrine of a new law for the New Covenant
deeply ingrained into their Theology (Hebrews 7:12). Moo concludes that, for the
apostolic church, [Pauls] law of Christ [did] not differ from James royal law of

Another verse which is referenced in Covenant Theology as a proof text is also found
in 2Corinthians 3:

2Corinthians 3:1-3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we
need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You
yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be
known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered
by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of
stone but on tablets of human hearts.

But there is no evidence that this is stating that the Decalogue is the Law written on
the hearts of believers. As we have seen, the tablets were stipulations at the centre of
a national treaty. This is teaching that the kingdom of Christ is a spiritual one and
we do not need a national constitution because our King dwells in our very hearts,
commanding us directly:

Ephesians 3:17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faiththat
you, being rooted and grounded in love
Romans 5:5 Gods love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy
Spirit who has been given to us.
1Thessalonians 4:9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone
to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one
1John 2:27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and
you have no need that anyone should teach you.

Moo, D.J. (1985) The Letter of James: an introduction and commentary The Tyndale New Testament
Commentaries, Eerdmans, pp.93-4
Moo, D.J. (1985) The Letter of James: an introduction and commentary The Tyndale New Testament
Commentaries, Eerdmans, p.50

John 6:45 It is written in the Prophets, And they will all be taught by God.
Jeremiah 31:33-34 I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their
hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall
each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for
they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest

Christ Himself dwells in our hearts and He commands and teaches us love, as indeed
it is His love that compels us. We are not taught here or anywhere else in the New
Testament that the Law of Christ, written on our hearts, is the Decalogue.

Does Psalm 19 teach that the perect Law of liberty is the Decalogue?
Was the Law of Moses perfect? Here is one particular verse that is frequently taken
out of context to make this assertion:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of
the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (NASB)

Only the first half of the verse will typically be quoted and then it will asserted (with
no evidence) that the Ten Commandments are being described. Thomas Watson is a
typical example of this: the moral law, which is usually styled the decalogue, or ten
commandments is perfect. The law of the Lord is perfect. Psa 19: 7. It is an exact
model and platform of religion; it is the standard of truth, the judge of controversies,
the pole-star to direct us to heaven.

However, it seems that all orthodox commentators recognise that the context of
Psalm 19:7 obviously points to the Torah as a whole, i.e. the five books of Moses. The
testimony of the Lord is intended; the ancient Hebrew of the Bible frequently uses
these parallels to give the fuller sense of the previous statement by stating it again in
a different way. But, in any case, the word perfect has the meaning of
blamelessness, not that this Old Covenant cannot be bettered by the New.
We see in the New Testament that the Law was certainly not perfect in a number of
ways. Jesus says that the Law of Moses was not perfectly representative of Gods
moral standard but that it was nevertheless good and sanctifying for the barbaric
people of ancient Israel and its broader purpose:

Matthew 19:8 He said to them, Because of your hardness of heart Moses
allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

The Spirit of God further indicates that the old covenant, which as we have seen is
synonymous with the Ten Commandments, was not perfect:

Hebrews 7:11 & 22 and 8:6-7 & 13: Now if perfection had been attainable
through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what
further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of

Watson, T (2010 ed.) The Ten Commandments, Kindle Edition, pp. 9-10

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as
the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if
that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion
to look for a second.
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is
becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

What was the broader purpose of the Law of Moses?
Simply because the Ten Commandments were not given to Adam and are not the rule
of life for Christians, this does not mean that the Law of Moses served no purpose at
all. The apostle Paul deals with this exact same question in Galatians 3. Paul
discusses how the promise of the Messiah came to Abraham 430 years before the
Law was given to Moses and how the same salvation through faith still applies now,
since the Law has been fulfilled and the old covenant passed away. He then
rhetorically asks why the Law was given to Moses at all if it was only intended to
apply temporarily to a nation in the ancient Near-East:

Galatians 3:19, 21-22 Why then the law? It was added because of
transgressions, until the offspring [Christ] should come
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! ...But the
Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus
Christ might be given to those who believe.

In Romans 7, Paul explains further that the Law is not at all contrary to the will of
God. Whilst sin existed before the Law was given (Romans 5:13) and we knew our
sinfulness in our conscience (Romans 2:15), nevertheless, the Law had a necessary
and specific purpose. It was given to show that mankind, rather than being more
holy and good when God creates His own nation and covenant with a people and
gives them righteous and suitable laws, they are not humbled at their inability to
obey, but sin all the more! In this way, the Law is actually good and righteous
because any and every nation of the world are shown to be the exact opposite:

Romans 7:12-13 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and
righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no
means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that
sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become
sinful beyond measure.

The effect of this Law was to show the whole world that no man can be saved by it;
that not one person was good so that the whole world would be held guilty. What a
testimony it is to the deceitfulness of our hearts that not only do we harden our
consciences from convicting us but, when God sent a written law into the world to do
the same thing, we imagined and still dream of our own righteousness. That Law
should have the effect of exposing sinfulness all the more and teaching all nations
that no individual could be saved by his own good works:


Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those
who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole
world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being
will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The ESV Study Bible comments excellently on this point:

The law here, as is typically the case in Romans, refers to the Mosaic law. Those
under the law are the Jews. But why is every mouth left without excuse and
condemned before God if the law is addressed only to the Jews? Pauls logic is
that if the Jews, who are Gods special covenant people, cannot keep the law,
then it follows that Gentiles, who are taught much of the law by their
consciences, will not avoid Gods condemnation either.

And so, as we return to Galatians 3, we understand more fully what Paul meant by
the imprisonment of the law:

Galatians 3:23-26 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law,
imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our
guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now
that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you
are all sons of God, through faith.

But Paul not only describes the purpose of the law as utterly exposing the sinfulness
and depravity of our nature; it was also designed to oversee Israel as a nation until
the coming of the Messiah. Douglas Moo says this of the guardian/tutor role of the

The ancient pedagogue was not a teacher but a babysitter. Galatians 3:24,
then, is asserting that the Mosaic law functioned among the people of Israel to
direct their behaviour until the time of their maturity, when the promised
Messiah would be revealed.

As we have already seen, God accommodated divorce amongst the Israelites because
they were too hard-hearted to remain married otherwise and so we can determine
that God fully intended to keep the Israelites together as a nation in order for the
Gospel to go out into the world as it did. Paul explains that the Covenant with Israel
was integral for this, acting as a babysitter for Israel.

Dont Christians uphold the Law?

Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the
contrary, we uphold the law.

Moo, D.J. (1993) The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View, Five
Views on Law and Gospel, Zondervan, p338

In light of all that we have seen Paul and the other apostles had taught regarding the
Law, we must initially conclude that Romans 3:31 is not referring solely to the Ten
Commandments, as the Law is never a reference to those stipulations alone but the
whole Law of Moses. And yet, this cannot be referring to the entirety of that Law
either; after all, many of the precepts of the Law have been abrogated. So what was
Paul referring to? Thomas Schreiners outstanding commentary on Romans gives
the answer:

The moral norms of the law still function as the authoritative will of God for the
believer He wants to guard against a common misunderstanding here: some
may have objected that if righteousness is not through the law, then the law is
abolished Righteousness apart from the laws commands does not mean that
believers can dispense with the moral norms of the law.

Paul simply cannot be referring to anything else but the essence of the Law, the two
great commands which the Spirit of God causes us to obey. As we are called to
remember Christ, we are compelled by His great love to love God and His people.
The context of Romans couldnt be clearer that this was Pauls intended meaning:

Romans 8:4 & 13:8 [S]o that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in
us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (NASB)

Final Conclusion
Therefore, our ultimate conclusion on the Ten Commandments is that they are not
the universal Moral Law which applies to all people. They did not precede Moses and
they never applied to the Gentiles but were rather a typical set of stipulations which
were central to ancient Near-Eastern national constitutions. They were based on the
two great commands affirmed by the Lord Jesus. The New Testament teaches that
these are the universal Moral Law and are at work in our consciences.

Schreiner, T.R. (2006 ed.) Romans Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament, Baker Academic,