The Distinction of and the Abiding Importance of the 10 Commandments

Summarizing Turretin, Witsius etc., the moral law (or 10 commandments) is distinctly found in scripture as follows:

1) They are written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18 & Deuteronomy 9:10) to establish their permanence (as opposed to the law of the heart which was effaced by the fall).
2) The stone tablets upon which they are written are placed in the ark (Exodus 25:21, Deuteronomy 10:2,5), the place of God’s presence.
3) They are rewritten after the rebellion indicating their continued importance place as a moral guide (Exodus 34:1ff).
4) They are republished or reiterated by Moses for another generation (Deuteronomy 5:6) and applied anew (vs. 15) in light of God’s redemptive acts.
5) Like circumcision etc., they are identified as the covenant of God (Exodus 34:28) because these are central to our relationship with him.
6) They are numbered so that these are distinguished from all others (Exodus 34:28). Jesus summarized them as two for “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
7) These are promised to be written in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10).
8) The moral law is upheld while, in the same breath, the ceremonial is abolished (Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:4-10).
9) They are cited and upheld by Jesus in critical times of his ministry and teaching.

  • First commandment: “For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only thou shalt thou serve.” Luke 4:8
  • Second commandment: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Mark 7:7
  • Third commandment: “he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” Mark 3:29
  • Fourth commandment: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” Mark 2:27
  • Fifth commandment: “For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother” Matthew 15:4
  • Sixth commandment: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders…” Matthew 15:19
  • Seventh commandment: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery” Luke 16:18
  • Eighth commandment: “Thou knowest the commandments… Do not steal” Luke 18:20
  • Ninth commandment: “Ye are of your father the devil… he is a liar, and the father of it.:” John 8:44
  • Tenth commandment: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Luke 12:15

10) They are upheld by the apostles by way of summary (Romans 13:8:-10, James 2:8-12) and in various places cite it as authoritative (Ephesians 6:1:ff, 1 John 5:21). Paul even tells us that the Gentiles know this law in their heart (Romans 2:14-15) as is evident from biblical examples (Genesis 20:1ff.) and the history of man (pagan moralists).

As to the relationship between the 10 commandments and Adam’s knowledge of righteousness in the garden we should consider:

1) That marriage is a creation ordinance (Matthew 19:4-5).
2) As is the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28).
3) Adam knew God and served him uprightly (Genesis 1&2 – 1st, 2nd and 3rd commandments).
4) There was no death and Adam was expected to uphold life (Genesis 2:16ff. – 6th commandment).
5) Adam knew his wife and was not ashamed (Genesis 2:25 – 7th commandment).
6) He was expected to keep himself from that which was not his (Genesis 2:17 – 8th commandment).
7) Adam was expected to believe God’s word (Genesis 2:16ff. – the eighth commandment).
8) The whole law was violated by the breaking of the tenth commandment (Genesis 3:6 cf. Romans 7:7).

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