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Before we look next week at the first commandment, we need to clarify something pretty important: Are we bound by the Ten Commandments? Is this Law still in force for us today?

Most of us say “yes.” But didn’t Jesus come to fulfill the Law? Didn’t He accomplish the Law for us in our place? So doesn’t that make the Law no longer in effect for believers?

What about the other commands in Exodus?
 Exodus 21:15 – Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.
 Exodus 22:25 – If you lend money, you shall not exact interest.
 Leviticus 11:7 – The pig is unclean. You shall not eat it.
About mixing two types of clothing? About stoning an adulteress? All the Laws about temple worship? Are those laws still in effect?

How do you distinguish between the laws of the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments? Why are the Ten Commandments still valid?

We need to make a distinction between the three types of laws in the Old Testament. The first type is ceremonial. These are the laws governing the temple worship and the way we are to approach God. They have to do with the layout of the temple, the ways a person must be purified, the sacrificial system. We don’t sacrifice animals today because Jesus has come, the perfect sacrifice. He, in his death on the cross, fulfilled the ceremonial law.

The second type is civil law. These laws covered the specific laws for the nation of Israel. They are about taxes, charging interest, punishing sin. The civil law has been fulfilled by Christ in that God’s Kingdom has been extended to all nations, transcending national identity. We are no longer bound by the laws of Israel.

The third type is moral law. The Ten Commandments fall into this category. These are laws that transcend the civil and ceremonial laws. Yes, Jesus fulfilled the moral law, just as he did the other two, but we are now free to follow this Law. They are still in effect, because they are a reflection of God’s moral character, and that does not change.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

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16 thoughts on “Are We Still Bound by the Ten Commandments?”

  1. Would Jews have made a distinction between different aspects of the Torah? It isn’t apparent to me from Scripture that they did. Jews obeyed the entire Torah to be considered good Jews (i.e. faithful members of the covenant). Even after Jesus’ resurrection Christian Jews still obeyed the (whole) Torah. Whether Gentiles needed to do so was (is) a huge issue of debate. The conclusion was that Gentiles didn’t not need to observe Torah (which I believe includes the Ten Commandments). Rather, they were under a new “law,” that is the “law of Christ” or “law of love.” This new, Christ-centered law was of course what the Torah always envisaged (see the flow of thought in Galatians 3:15-29).

    However, saying that we are no longer bound by the Torah (including the Ten Commandments) does not mean that the principles of the Ten Commandments are worthless. I agree that they are a reflection of God’s character, but we now have that reflection even more clearly in Jesus. Following Jesus includes a ban on murder, idolatry, adultery, etc. not necessarily because they violate Torah, but because they violate Jesus’ own teaching (that came in consummation and fulfillment of Torah).

    The entire discussion of Torah surrounding this post is rather large. I would love to hear you give it a more in depth treatment.

    What are your thoughts?

  2. Brannon says:

    If Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial, civil, and moral law, why is it that we don’t have to follow the first two but do have to follow the moral law? Does Scripture make this differentiation? I was excited to see this post because this is something that I have been wondering recently. I am eager to see to you go into more detail about Scriptural proof that we are to follow the moral laws but not the ceremonial and civil laws.

  3. Sylvia says:

    Thanks, Trevin, for this post!
    I had never thought about how the moral law is still in effect because it reflects God’s character.

    So Christ has fulfilled all three Laws. But the moral law, he intensified through his teaching. Instead of just “don’t commit adultery.” Jesus says, I say to you that any man that looks at a woman with lustful intent in his heart has committed adultery with her already.” We can see that the moral law has been intensified in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus intensified his own original teachings throughout his ministry also. For instance: You ought to love one another. Then later he commands his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” He calls us to his own standard. He continues to challenge us.

    Thanks again, Trevin.

  4. trevinwax says:

    Hebrews makes clear that Jesus has fulfilled the ceremonial Law. The sacrificial system is fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice. The civil aspects of Torah are transcended by the multi-national Kingdom that Christ inaugurated. People become part of God’s People by believing in Christ, not by ethnic attachment to Israel. Regarding the moral law, the New Testament shows an intensification of the commandments, even as Jesus is the one who fulfills it in our place.

  5. Trevin,

    I am continuing to chew on this, but I must admit that I continue to be dubious about the Scriptural proof (or lack thereof) for the bifurcation of the Torah that you advocate.

    The aspects that you mention (ceremonial, sacrificial, civil, moral) are so intertwined I wonder at what level their separation might have made sense to a Jew of Jesus’ day (either before or after His death). As far as I know, a violation of either what you call the moral or civil aspect of Torah would require a sacrifice as dictated by the what you call the sacrificial aspect of Torah. However, the practical details of the “sacrificial” aspect of Torah are fleshed out in the “ceremonial” aspect.

    Breaking the Torah up into categories makes it easier to discuss, but it seems to me that the actual practice and conception of Torah was an all or nothing affair.

    Also, it must be true that, at least in some sense, the Torah as a whole (not just the moral aspect which you have separated) reflects the character of God. He was, after all, the author of the entire Torah. Paul makes it clear that the Torah is holy and good, and I think he has the whole Torah in mind as he never gives us an indication that he has separated the Torah into particular categories.

    Again, this doesn’t mean the principles of the Ten Commandments are not valuable to us as followers of Jesus, but I think we must consider them valuable to us in and through Jesus, not directly via Torah. As you have pointed out, Jesus has intensified those commandments and taught us about the true fulfillment of the Torah (i.e. love). Should we not point to Jesus with all our might, even in lieu of Torah? As His followers we are we not “bound” to him and nothing else?

    I find Galatians 3:15-29 (among other passages) very compelling in this regard. Essentially I understand Paul to be saying that the Torah was a stop-gap (a pedagogue) between Moses and Jesus. However, now that Jesus has come we no longer need Torah (including the Ten Commandments).

    I recently heard a wonderful analogy explaining New Covenant believer’s relationship to Torah. It goes like this…

    Consider a group of people on a sea-faring ship. The people are Old Covenant believers, the ship is Torah. The people voyage to their destination port where they disembark and continue their journey on foot. Their arrival at the port is analogous to Jesus arrival on earth and his ushering in the New Covenant. The people who voyage on foot are New Covenant believers. They no longer need the boat (Torah) because they are now on land. They will always remember the boat as an essential part of their voyage, but they neither try to sail on land nor turn around and go back to the boat for that would be to abandon their original voyage.

    I found that helpful as I think it embodies the essentials of what I believe Scripture teaches.

    I would love to hear your thoughts. My opinions on this matter are not closed.

  6. EPIMENOS says:

    What an interesting topic, on which there is much to be said. I have an opposing view, Trevin, I hope you will tolerate that here.

    Four points:

    1) The Mosaic Law (Torah) is one indivisible unit according to scripture; like a long chain, made up of 613 chain-links (i.e., if one link is broken, the whole ‘chain’ is broken). The Law itself bears this out:

    Deuteronomy 27:26 – “Cursed is the one who does not confirm ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LAW.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!

    Deuteronomy 28:15-20 – But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, TO OBSERVE TO DO ALL HIS COMMANDMENTS AND HIS STATUTES WITH WHICH I CHARGE YOU TODAY, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: “Cursed {shall} you {be} in the city, and cursed {shall} you {be} in the country. “Cursed {shall be} your basket and your kneading bowl. “Cursed {shall be} the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. “Cursed {shall} you {be} when you come in, and cursed {shall} you {be} when you go out. “The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.

    Deuteronomy 28:58-59 – If you are not careful to observe ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LAW which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses.”

    The epistles bear this out as well:

    Galatians 3:10 – For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.’

    James 2:8-11 (REALLY drives the point home) – If, however, you are fulfilling 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 and yet stumbles in one {point,} he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,’ also said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

    2) Paul tells us that the glory of Christ’s ministry FAR SURPASSES the Ten Commandments (not just ‘the Law,’ but the 10 commandments, specifically).

    We read in Deuteronomy 4:13, “So 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.” Then, after listing the 10 Commandments at the beginning of the next chapter (5), Moses concludes in verse 22, “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, {of} the cloud and {of} the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. He wrote them on TWO TABLETS OF STONE and gave them to me.”

    What does Paul have to say to us concerning these “stone tablets” in the New Testament scriptures? “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for 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 if the ministry of death, in LETTERS ENGRAVED ON STONES, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading {as} it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses {it}” (2Corinthians 3:2-3, 7-10).

    Jesus Christ, in ratifying the New Covenant – and more so, bringing about the great mysteries of grace (Ephesians 3:2), “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men” (Ephesians 3:5a) – surpassed the glory of the Old Covenant of the Law. There is no need to cling to that which “is becoming obsolete and growing old and is ready to disappear” (according to Hebrews 8:13).

    3) The “Ten Commandments” aren’t even the pinnacle of the Law according to the LORD JESUS CHRIST!

    If the 10 Commandments are to receive such great preeminence within the Law, why didn’t Jesus (who was born under the Law according to Galatians 4:4) give them preeminence? In Matthew 22, we have an account of Jesus being tested by some Sadducees and Pharisees. One Pharisee (a lawyer) recorded in verse 36, asks, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Now, if only our Lord were as wise as many popular Christian teachers today, He would have known to simply answer, “Why, the 10 Commandments, of course!” Unfortunately for many, that was not the case. Instead, the Lord answers thusly, “And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL 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.”

    Now, why is this answer so significant?

    First, and most obviously – the Lord was given the perfect opportunity to promote the 10 Commandments as His Father’s eternal, unchanging, preeminent law code, surpassing all other commands. But He didn’t.

    Second, yet of greatest importance, was how the Lord did answer. When asked for the greatest commandment of the Law, Jesus indeed sited two commandments… and neither one come from the 10 Commandments. You’ll find the Decalogue in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, but the greatest commandments according to the Lord Jesus Christ, are nowhere to be found within those chapters. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” is a quote from Deuteronomy 6:5, while “love your neighbor as yourself” is quoted from Leviticus 19:18.

    We have God in the flesh, telling us the two greatest points of the law given to Moses (but 2,000 years later, we’re still debating over the 10 Commandments). ;-)

    4) If the 10 Commandments are so necessary for our spirituality: what did believers do before the 10 Commandments were ever given??

    God didn’t hand Adam the 10 Commandments in the Garden of Eden. They were delivered unto Moses at a specific time in history. We would guess that God met Moses at Sinai sometime between 1600 and 1200 BC. Even if you were one of those whacky, young-earth creationist weirdos – like me – and believed that the earth was only 6,000 to 10,000 years old, that means that mankind was living without the 10 Commandments for at least 2,400 years (probably more). Was no one spiritual during this time? Was Noah not a good and righteous man? Was father Abraham not spiritual? How about Enoch, (a gentile, by the way) whom the Lord loved so much, He took him to heaven; making him one out of only two people in the history of mankind to be translated to the glories of heaven without dying. How did these believers please the Lord without the 10 Commandments? Hebrews 11 tells us: by faith. These believers walked by faith, according to what was revealed of the Lord in their day. What we do now – apart from the 10 Commandments – isn’t all that different.

    God bless.

  7. Clint says:

    2 Corinthians 3, Christ fulfilled the entire Law, including the Ten Commandments. 2 Corinthians 3:5-18, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,
    8how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 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.”

    Just a few side notes on this chapter which I’m pulling from the Ryrie Study Bible which may help you to further understand: The ministry of death refers to the Law, more particularly the Ten Commandments, which were “engraved on stones” (Deuteronomy 9:10), and this Law “fades away,” as shown in verse 11. When Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the Law, his face shone so that the people were afraid to approach him. Moses stood before God with unveiled face (compare Exodus 34:29-35 with 2 Corinthians 3:10-18). Christ fulfilled the entire Law.

    Being born again is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, of God working in and through you. If you are born again, and the Holy Spirit is in you, then by your new nature, you won’t live a life full of carnality, therefore, the Law is no longer your slave master, which it once was, that was intended to bring you to Christ.

  8. Greg says:

    you are on point! Jesus challeges us to come up to his standard. That was deep.

  9. Greg says:

    my comment was to Sylvia’s comment.

  10. Rey says:

    The law was given not for us to keep (to be righteous)but to show us up – its like mirror showing us our true self .. So we will despair and will need a saviour .. The law shows man’s heart and show’s us the way to the life !! The law has been fulfilled – (once you have fulfilled your obligation to the bank (mortgate) stop paying- its already fulfilled) then how can we life in holiness? Gods Grace came to teach to deny ungodliness.. If you want more Radical Grace – i recommend Joseph Prince -

  11. ryan case says:

    dead on, brother. couldn’t agree w/ you more strongly. not sure why we have such a penchant to neatly define & categorize things (or laws), when the Bible simply doesn’t do so. not sure why we read “10 commandments” into every use of torah or nomos. in Christ, and for His supreme glory, ryan case

  12. ryan case says:

    my reply is for justin bertrom. i also am in full agreement w/ epimenos.

  13. jim says:

    if God had wanted us to still follow the 10 commandments, he would have said, “christ is the end of the ceremonial and civil law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” but he didn’t… he said the whole law. don’t bind people where Christ sets them free.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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