Thursday, November 06, 2008

The 10 Words in the New Testament

In our examination of the Decalogue through the centuries, Dr Evans moves us from the Old Testament into the New Testament and gives us a review and analysis of the use of the 10 Words in the world and writings of the New Testament. He outlined where in the NT the 10 Words appear, being alluded too, presupposed, or directly quoted. A few major texts include Jesus' conversations in places like Matthew 5, Mark 10, Luke 16, and John 9; Paul's rhetoric in Romans 7 and 13, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians 4 and 6, Colossians 3, and 2 Timothy; and James’ discussion in James 2 and 4.

He then reviewed how the Decalogue appeared implicitly and explicitly in the teachings of various people: John the Baptist, Jesus and his half-brother James, and Paul. In summary, the first 3 of the 10 Words are never subject to a controversy in the conversations of the New Testament. Rather Yahweh's existence, monotheism, and an anti-idolatry sentiment were accepted and assumed in Jewish culture and writing of the day. It was commands 4-7 that became subjects of major controversies among the Jewish religious leaders and with Jesus, especially Sabbath observance, adultery, and honoring parents.

The divorce controversy appears in Matt 10:2-9, where Jesus’ interpretation of Deut 24:1-4 differs strongly from the Pharisees’. He ties his interpretation to Gen 1:27 and 2:24. The Sabbath controversy (healing and plucking heads of grain) is one in which Jesus argues that the Sabbath is meant “to benefit, not burden, humanity.”

Evans makes an interesting connection from James 4:3, 8 to Matthew 7. He argues that James seems to root his statement that “you do not have because you do not ask” in Jesus’ teaching to “ask and you will receive.” This, it seems, is Jesus’ answer to the sin of coveting. Thus Jesus is saying, “Instead of coveting, ask in prayer for what you desire.” This certainly hit home for me.

This covetousness, Evans goes on, is in some views the root of all sins: the desire, or lust, for the illicit. Philo and The Life of Adam and Eve have this sort of outlook.

Evans then posed for us a seeming contradiction between Jesus and Paul. In Mark 10:17-22, Jesus seems to say obey the Law and you will live. But Paul says in Romans 7, the Law brings death and that men can agree with the law but cannot comply by their own strength. But, Evans points out, the rich young ruler goes away sad after his conversation with Jesus, and his real sin is only implied but never addressed: covetousness. Thus, this story actually affirms Paul’s argument: The rich young ruler could not follow the Law under his own power, and was still guilty of coveting.

In the Q&A time, a few more interesting bits came out. There was a discussion of the references to the Decalogue in Mark, where “defrauding” is placed beside “adultery, false witness, theft” and the like, even though it does not appear with them in the Decalogue. Dr Block noted that “defrauding” is a major theme in Deuteronomy so that Mark seems to be interpreting Deuteronomy by adding “defrauding” to his own list. This was an area for further study.

Dr Block argued that the Decalogue is separate from the Natural Law specifically because of its “vertical elements.” That is, the first three commands are revealed to men, not apprehended through reason, to enable men to relate vertically to God. This, he argued, is the distinguishing mark of the Decalogue from other ancient Near East suzerain-vassal treaties, which have stipulations similar to the Decalogue’s latter 7 commandments.

Both Dr Block and Dr Evans agreed that the Gospels seem to rely primarily on the Decalogue in Deuteronomy instead of the one in Exodus, given the distinctives between them and how they are reflected in the Gospels.

Finally, in considering the function of the Law according to the New Testament, James 2:10 was considered, and the question was asked, “What does it mean to ‘obey the Law’?” The answer: The Law reveals man’s imperfection and inability to follow the Law. Dr Block stated then, “The Law is made for the righteous man.” That is, “it is not a way out of Egypt. It is a way after Egypt.”

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