Wednesday, March 01, 2017

You Liberals and your Ten Commandments

I often find myself in a minority in my support for New Covenant Theology (NCT). Regarding the Law, the NCT position is that the saints in the Old Covenant era were under the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments. The law in the New Covenant era, according to NCT, is the law of Christ, which includes the commands of Christ (especially in the Sermon on the Mount) and the commands of the apostles.

The writer of Hebrews appears to be making precisely this point:
11 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 Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. (Heb 7:11-12)
This is usually countered by the argument (which is not plainly stated anywhere in scripture) the all the laws of the Mosaic covenant are indeed null and void, except for the Decalogue, which is purported to be God’s immutable moral law. 

But the bible never calls the Ten Commandments anything resembling “God’s immutable moral law.” In fact, rather clearly, it seems to limit them:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Ex 34:27-28) 
This is highly suggestive that the laws are not a timeless and fully realized expression of God’s absolute moral law. Instead we see that they are closely linked to the Mosaic covenant. The are, as stated, the words of the covenant.

Of course if you say “the Ten Commandments are not the absolute moral law of God” you open yourself to charges of liberalism and/or cats-and-dogs-living-together antinomianism. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem with the Ten Commandments is not that they are too harsh, but they are too liberal. They represent laws that in principle could be obeyed. By contrast the New Testament Law, the law given to us by Jesus, is impossible to obey.

They really can’t be God’s absolute moral law. 

How are you supposed to treat your neighbor, according to the Decalogue? Easy enough: You don’t murder him. You don’t steal from him. And you don’t covet his property.

Seriously? That is, relatively speaking, a piece O’ cake. There is nothing in there comparable to Jesus’ Law: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Now who can do that?) Is loving your neighbor as yourself moral? Of course it is. But it is neither commanded by nor derivable (in any satisfactory way) from the Decalogue.

Also, consider the Rich Young Ruler 1 with whom Jesus had this exchange:
19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:19-22)
Think about this. We can debate about whether the young man actually kept the commandments, but Jesus gives him the benefit of the doubt. He did not say: “Bzzt, sorry that is wrong. On June 17 of last year you coveted your neighbors female servant. I know all, including what you did last summer.” Instead, Jesus gave the man an entirely unprecedented commandment: to sell all that he had and give to the poor. This is not something derivable from the Mosaic Law. Furthermore, Jesus is neither a liar (i.e., if Jesus said so, then this really is required of the man, there is no '"chilax dude, I'm just kidding" to follow) nor is there a special set of commandments for this particular man. He is not singled out for application of a unique set of rules. If it is required of this man to sell all that he had and give to the poor, then it is required of all of us. Jesus’ moral law is much broader and way tougher. If the difficulty of obeying Mosaic Law pointed to the need of a savior—so much more does the infinitely more difficult law of Jesus.

For every major theological concept I can list:  the covenant, the priesthood, the sacrifice, the temple, the chosen people, the sign of the covenant, the church… there is general agreement that in the Old Testament we were provided with a lesser version, a shadow, while in the New Testament we have a better version, a more fully revealed version.  Everything that is but the Law. There we find the majority position is that the fullest revelation of God’s moral law was the Ten Commandments, despite their being explicitly described  as words of the (old) covenant.

Not to mention Jesus explicitly upgrades the commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, in his series of “You have heard it said…” statements. He is not correcting the Pharisees, that view is (in my opinion) unsupportable. When Jesus corrects the Pharisees  he rakes them over the coals. (“Woe to you…you brood of vipers!) There is none of that tone here. To me it is as plain as day that Jesus is replacing the commandments (with something harder.) For example Jesus teaches:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you…

He quotes, exactly, the (accomplishable) Mosaic commandment, and then replaces it with an impossible new commandment regarding lust. He is not “correcting” a wrong teaching of the commandment. ("Um, yes, quite right, God did write 'Do not commit adultery' on the tablets of stone, but he meant to write 'Thou shall not lust.' Our bad.") Jesus tacitly acknowledges that it was being taught correctly. He is saying: yes, that is the way is given to you, but here is the upgrade.

I am surrounded by liberals who insist on the Kindergarten version of God's moral law. It's OK, I still love them. I have to! Not because of the Mosaic Law, but because of the new and better law of Jesus.

1 Who, by the way, was saved in my opinion. Because we are told Jesus loved him. People Jesus love are not lost, in my view. But that's another discussion.

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