Do the Ten Commandments Have Authority Over New Testament Christians?

As a Presbyterian pastor—but more so, as a Christian—I consider it one of my most obvious responsibilities that I teach my kids the joyful responsibility of knowing and obeying the Ten Commandments.

Andy Stanley insists, “The Ten Commandments have no authority over you. None. To be clear: Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments.” Mike Kruger argues forcefully (and charitably) against this bold thesis. It will surprise no one to learn—especially given my new book—that when it comes to the role of the Ten Commandments specifically, and the Old Testament more broadly, I agree wholeheartedly with Kruger and disagree strongly with Stanley.

 

One of the first and most recurring things my kids have learned—at Sunday school, in Christian school, and around the dinner table—has been the Ten Commandments. In fact, my middle three children love to sing (incessantly!) the Ten Commandments song they learned for last year’s choir concert. As a Presbyterian pastor—but more so, as a Christian—I consider it one of my most obvious responsibilities that I teach my kids the joyful responsibility of knowing and obeying the Ten Commandments.

Could it be that I, along with countless other Christian parents and pastors, am making a mistake?

In his new book, Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World, Andy Stanley insists, “The Ten Commandments have no authority over you. None. To be clear: Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments” (136). Mike Kruger argues forcefully (and charitably) against this bold thesis. It will surprise no one to learn—especially given my new book—that when it comes to the role of the Ten Commandments specifically, and the Old Testament more broadly, I agree wholeheartedly with Kruger and disagree strongly with Stanley.

Against the Entire History of the Church

The church has historically put the Ten Commandments at the center of its teaching ministry, especially for children and new believers. For centuries, catechetical instruction was based on three things: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. In other words, for virtually all of church history, when people asked, “How do we do discipleship? How do we teach our kids about the Bible? What do new Christians need to know about Christianity?” their answers always included an emphasis on the Ten Commandments.

In the Heidelberg Catechism, for example, 11 of the 52 Lord’s Days focus on the Ten Commandments. The same is true in 42 of the 107 questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, in more than half of the Lutheran Larger Catechism, and in 120 out of 750 pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Across various traditions, there has been a historic emphasis on the Ten Commandments.

Unique Place in the Old Testament

The Ten Commandments are not simply a part of the Mosaic covenant; they occupy a unique and central role in the law handed down on Sinai. We see this right from the prologue in Exodus 20. The Lord is no longer telling Moses to go down and relay a message to the people. That’s how the Lord operated in chapter 19, but now in chapter 20 God is speaking “all these words” (v. 1) directly to the Israelites. That’s why, at the end of the Ten Commandments, the people cry out to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). They were too terrified to have God speak to them without a mediator, which says something about the stunning display of God’s power in chapters 19 and 20 and underlines the importance of the Decalogue.

Read More