Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: The Ten Commandments

Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: The Christian Ethic – Part 3: The Law of Moses – Section 1: The Ten Commandments

When one thinks of the Law and Mount Sinai, the first thing one thinks of is the Ten Commandments. While most Christians today couldn’t actually quote them all to you, unfortunately, the concept of them is so familiar that most people just think they know exactly what they are. Even many theologians make many assumptions about them when addressing them in their writing. Today, I’m going to take a look at the sections of Scripture in which they are found and show where they fit (and don’t fit) into our conceptions of the Law, the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant. 

Background Information

There are two places we find these commandments, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. While there are some slightly interesting differences between the two passages, there isn’t anything of great importance for what we are discussing today. 

These commandments get their name actually from Deuteronomy 4:13, where they are literally called the “ten words”. Interestingly, many Jews actually divide them up differently than Christians, considering the statement, or “word” at the beginning, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery,” to be the first statement of the ten, with the next two being combined, so that having no other god before Yahweh and making no graven images are considered a single command.

While much discussion exists about these ten commands, Scripture isn’t perfectly clear on why these ten things are grouped together separate from the rest of the Law. They are certainly the first commands found in the Law of Moses, and they were etched on stone by the finger of Yahweh Himself, so they hold a prominent place, but no later teaching sets these statements apart as things to be obeyed in any special way, different from the rest of the Law. Breaking some brought the death penalty, while breaking others brought only monetary restitution. Breaking some are said to be an “abomination” in later texts, while this is not true of others. So they are prominent, but not of a different kind than other commandments.

For this reason, there is no Scriptural support that the “moral law” is just what is found here in the Ten Commandments. 

Individual Commandments Considered

Briefly, I’ll point out some things about individual commands. Of necessity, this will be somewhat cursory, but will point some things out that will find relevance for this series.

1-2: No other Gods before Me/No images of divine or earthly thing

I do believe these commands are connected. It is an unfortunate thing that many today attempt to take each command as completely separate from the others, and because they see the command to have no other Gods to be separate from the one against graven images, they incorrectly speculate on what could possibly be meant by images. 

This has caused many to feel that all art is a sin, that sculptures and pictures are breaking the second commandment. Most scholars and theologians have correctly seen the context that the command about no other Gods is connected with the command against images. When an image becomes an idol, something created by human hands that is then bowed down to, the first command has been broken.

Speaking of the first command, an understanding of the Hebrew here reinforces this idea. Where God says “you shall have no other gods before me”, that phrase, “before me”, literally means, “before my face”. So it is not, primarily a command about not putting anything above God in importance, or “before”, as in, earlier in line of priority. Rather, it is speaking, as the next statement says, of idols. And, as such, this command is actually stronger than many think. God doesn’t even want other gods to occupy lesser places. He wants them eradicated. It’s saying, in effect, “Don’t even let me see other gods in your midst.”

3: Do not take Yahweh’s Name in vain

Another often misunderstood verse, the taking of Yahweh’s name in vain would never have been understood the way we do, as in just using it as a curse word. Understanding it in it’s right context helps us see that this is often a right application, but not what the text itself is getting at.

In Deuteronomy 5, some translations say “You shall not take up the name of Yahweh your God for a worthless purpose”. “Worthless” is a common scriptural word for sinful, deceitful things. Worthless men are the kind that are brought together to give false accusations. What is essentially being said here is not to engage in sinful behavior and pretend it is righteous by saying you do it in the name of God. If your speech is sinful, attaching God’s name to it will not make it holy. If your deeds are sin, you increase their sinfulness by claiming to do them in God’s name, because you are now breaking this commandment as well, not just what you were breaking before.

4: The Sabbath Day

One of the most important commandments to the Hebrew Roots movement, this one is often one of the reasons people are attracted to it. They ask why we are worshipping on Sunday instead of the Sabbath, and the answers provided often make it sound, to the ignorant, as if the Hebrew Roots position is the correct one. The Sabbath really deserves its own treatment, so I won’t attempt to do so here, but I just point out one major thing that really takes the wind out of the sails of the Hebrew Roots position.

The Hebrew Roots position, almost universally, is that the Church has forgotten to keep the Sabbath, the only one we are commanded to “remember” (Ex. 20:8). The Church has done this by making Sunday its day of worship, and there is even a statement made by the Roman Catholic Church at the council of Laodicea that, by its own authority, it has transferred the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.

A careful reading of the commandment itself, however, presents a problem that is almost universally overlooked or ignored by those attempting to argue against Sunday worship. Here is the commandment itself:

Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the day of the Sabbath, to consecrate it. Six days you will work, and you will do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath for Yahweh your God; you will not do any work—you or your son or your daughter, your male slave or your female slave, or your animal, or your alien who is in your gates— 11 because in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day he rested. Therefore Yahweh blessed the seventh day and consecrated it.

There are technically three commands here, remember the Sabbath, consecrate the Sabbath, or make it holy, and do not work on the seventh day. However, the first two commands are really subsumed in the third because it is the actual way God commands to remember and keep the Sabbath holy. The first commands lack content. In what way are you to remember it? In what way are you to keep it holy? The answer is that the work you do on the other six days you shall not do on the seventh day.

Why is this a problem for the Hebrew Roots crowd? Do you see any mention here of worship? What does it say about gathering for corporate worship? The fact is that the command simply doesn’t speak to this. Whether you worship on the seventh day or the first day of the week, your worship is not “according to the Sabbath”, for there is no command regarding which day to worship. So, whenever a Hebrew Roots person condemns Sunday worship, he is showing his ignorance of the 4th commandment.

A common rhetorical device used in the Hebrew Roots movement regarding this command is that it says “Remember the Sabbath”. They say, “This is the only command God said to remember, and it’s the one Christianity has forgotten”. While this may play well with the crowd, it’s actually false. This is not the only thing Israel was commanded to remember.

Exodus 20:24

You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.

Exodus 32:13

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”

Numbers 15:39-40

39 It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40 so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God.

So, regarding the 4th commandment, we have the actual command to rest from work that has changed, because of human tradition, into the question of what day we worship. Also, we see that remembrance is not unique to the Sabbath.

5. Honor Your Father and Mother

The fifth commandment reads, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which Yahweh your God gives you”. Jesus rightly points out that this is the first command with a promise. The promise to prolong the days in the land is a foreshadowing, really, of the blessings and curses connected with the whole law in Deuteronomy 28, which speaks of being driven from the land for disobedience.

Honoring father and mothers is a powerful thing to keep a society on the right path. It is often children disrespecting what their parents have done and seeking a new way that leads to error. In the case of Israel, this error would be falling into idolatry. 

6. Do Not Murder

A pretty simple command, and one that we have seen to be in effect long before the decalogue. Some try to argue this is a command against all killing, but since the penalty for some sins was to stone the guilty party to death, we can be certain that this is a command against killing someone outside of the parameters laid out elsewhere.

7. Do Not Commit Adultery

If you are married, you must not have sexual relations with anyone else. Interestingly, while this is certainly a valid moral command, it should be noted that this, like the other commands, is a legal requirement as well. Legal ramifications existed for those who broke this command.

8. Do Not Steal

This command establishes private property rights. A person was not expected to give another person what he earned, except in the case of the sacrifices and tithes. What you owned, you owned, and it was a sin to take from another.

9. Do Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor

This command is often shortened in people’s minds to “Don’t lie”, but it actually is about only a certain kind of lie. This is in the context of accusing someone of wrongdoing. The command is specifically about falsely accusing someone. Sadly, in my interactions with Hebrew Roots folks, I have been falsely accused of many things. I have been accused of slander, which is just another name for false accusation, and other things. 

It is human nature to want to defend oneself, and when encountering information that challenges their worldview, it is not unusual for the person being challenged to lash out in any way they can think of, often accusing me or other challengers of all manner of wrongdoing. What is ironic is that, for the Hebrew Roots crowd, this still happens, even though the ninth commandment expressly forbids it.

10. Do Not Covet Your Neighbor’s House, Wife, Servant, Animals, or Anything

To round out the list, it is interesting to note that this final commandment is really one of the heart. While covetousness certainly does lead to actions later on that may be sinful, such as theft or adultery, it is important to note that the tenth commandment is really about the inner heart of a person. No one can tell, if you don’t make it known, that you are coveting. If a person could prevent this sin, he has gone a very long way toward preventing all the others.

Indeed, much of Jesus’ preaching on the Sermon on the Mount that links sin to the heart could be recast as avoiding covetousness.

Conclusions

For the purposes of this series, it is important to note that the main issue most in the Hebrew Roots movement are going to harp on is the Sabbath. It was not my purpose to give a detailed account of the New Covenant sabbath in this article, but rather to simply examine the commands as they existed at the time.

It is important to see that, typically, the arguments surrounding the Sabbath that are made by the Hebrew Roots folks actually bear little connection to the actual command itself.

Series Navigation<< Answering Hebrew Roots Book 1: Changes in God’s Commands Before SinaiAnswering Hebrew Roots Book 1: How to Recognize Distinctions in the Law >>