a New Christianity

The Commandments and The Law

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets;
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. ”

(Matthew 5:17)

On the street where I live, there are families who have chosen to display the Ten Commandments on signs, in their front yards. This strikes me as being funny. As I drive by these signs, they seem to closely resemble “For Sale” signs, (or home construction, or other advertising signs); but this is not what I find funny. In fact, taking the whole issue of the Ten Commandments on the larger national scale, and in the heart of the public debate over where we should display them, it seems like everyone is selling these commandments short, and this is what I do find funny.

As we look throughout out Judeo-Christian history and traditions, we can easily find the number twelve. It is no coincidence that we find this number prevalent in our secular culture as well. In the number twelve, we find the number of tribes in Israel, the number of the disciples that Yeshua called, and the number of commandments, given by God.

WHAT? TWELVE COMMANDMENTS?

Yes! Although it took God more than 1200 years to complete the set, He did finally do so; giving us ten commandments through Moses at first, and completing the set with the two additional commandments, given by Yeshua. That brings the total number of commandments to twelve.

  1. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
    -- given through Yeshua (Matthew 22:37b - NRSV).
  2. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
  3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother...
    -- given through Moses (Exodus 20: 2, 7, 8, 12 - NRSV)
  6. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
    -- given through Yeshua (Matthew 22:39b - NRSV).
  7. You shall not murder.
  8. You shall not commit adultery.
  9. You shall not steal.
  10. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  11. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  12. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
    -- given through Moses (Exodus 20: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17a, 17b - NRSV)

There may be some disagreement as to where the two commandments from Yeshua should be placed within the set, whether in chronological order, or otherwise. I have chosen to place them according to the relationships which they deal with, as a whole. The first commandment, given through Yeshua, deals with our relationship to the Father. Thus, it is fitting that it comes first. The second commandment from Yeshua, I have placed in the sixth place, because it opens the section of commandments which deal with our relationship to our neighbors. There are those who suggest that these first two commandments should be separate; that perhaps they are a summary of the other ten, or possibly somehow a replacement, or maybe not related at all, but obviously, I disagree.

But let’s put the commandments aside for a moment (we’ll come back to them) and look at another statement which Yeshua made. When he was beginning the sermon on the mount Yeshua said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”. (Matthew 5:17).

Now many people think that this statement explains that Christ will be involved in the judgement day. That on that day, we will be judged as sinful and guilty and therefore deserving of death. Then they go on to say that only, when we acknowledge that we are by nature, sinful and unclean, can we then look to the risen Christ for salvation.

The standards of New Christianity however, require us to re-examine these dogmatic interpretations. Yeshua said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” There is something more to the word ‘law’ here, than meets the english eye; meaning we should look more closely at how Yeshua was using the word, ‘law’. We find the Greek word for law is nomos. Two distinct phrases jump out of this definition; both of which become important in determining what Yeshua was saying. The ‘law’ is defined both as being “of the mosaic law,…the context…and the contents”, and as “the moral instruction given by Christ, especially the precept concerning love”.

In His one statement, Yeshua is using the word ‘law’ under both of these definitions. In His reference to the law, and the prophets, He is claiming the Messiahship which they prophesied, and is stating that they were prophesying about Him. At the same time, He was saying that He would fulfill “it” or ‘the law’. By this second occurance of the word law, (implied when He said “…but to fulfill” ) He was talking about Christ’s precept regarding love. He alone, was uniquely qualified to give us this precept, and He demonstrated it, by His sacrifice on the cross. Thus, with His statement, Yeshua was conveying his message, using both of the definitions of nomos.

It’s true, that two paragraphs before this, I wrote that we need to move beyond the dogmatic interpretations of sinfulness and forgiveness. By talking about His sacrifice, you might think that I am contradicting myself, but I am not.

I think the traditional teaching of the church can be summed up like this: We have sinned, and are unclean. Yeshua died for our sins on the cross and thus, we are forgiven, if we believe in Him. Doing so, we earn our place in heaven.

One of the keys of New Christianity is to take our focus off of the afterlife, and place it on the here and now. Therefore, we would say that the teaching of the church (if I have summed it up correctly) falls short. The standards of New Christianity would sum up the same facts like this: We have sinned and are unclean, but we’re doing the best we can, so skip the guilt trip and get back to trying to be a better person. Yeshua died for our sins on the cross, and thus we are forgiven, if and when (and at that exact moment, that) we confess these sins. Therefore, we are NOW worthy to move forward on behalf of, and in service to God. Sure, you are welcome to imagine what heaven might be like, but more imporatntly, you should take action, here and now to demonstrate God’s love to those around you. You aren’t ‘bound’ to do this action because you are sinful; but instead, you are made worthy (and “cleansed from all unrighteousness”) to undertake this action of service in righteousness, before God.

This leads us back to the original law itself, the Commandments. The ten Commandments were surely handed down by God through Moses. But if taken only in this group of ten, they act merely as a series of hollow behavioural guidelines with no meaning or explanation with which to make sense of them. It is only when we add in the additional two commandments given through the Messiah, and complete the set, that there comes a clarity and continuity of thought and reason throughout the set. In fact, when taken altogether, and with no need for further explanation, each of what were once hollow behavioural guidelines now clearly becomes a meaningful expression of God’s love and compassion.

This is exactly what Christ meant when He said that: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40). Instead of being just good habits to have, or rules to live by, or something that looks good hanging in the courthouse, the Twelve Commandments become a meaningful and compassionate pattern of behaviour, so that as we work to love our neighbors as ourselves, we will know how to back up our worthiness with actions.

Grace and peace to you all,
Paul