The Decalogue and the New Testament

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Professor Flusser examines references to the Decalogue in ancient Jewish sources and the New Testament. In light of this comparison, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount does not merely present a utopian ideal, but rather an outline of practical behavior.

Professor David Flusser examines references to the Decalogue in ancient Jewish sources and the New Testament. In light of this comparison, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount does not merely present a utopian ideal, but rather an outline of practical behavior.

From the time of the earliest church fathers, Christians have assigned an even more exalted position to the Decalogue than have Jews. In order to draw a clear distinction between the two religions, early Christians reasoned that their teachings were superior to those of Judaism. Some went so far as to claim that the Torah had been superseded. However, the high value which Christians assigned to the Ten Commandments was at no time affected by these attitudes. Quite the contrary, it was exactly the broad general character of the Decalogue, by contrast to the detailed commandments of Judaism, that recommended it to Christians.

In spite of the emphasis which the church has placed on the Decalogue, the New Testament does not use the term “Ten Commandments” even once, and refers only to the last five—the socio-ethical commandments dealing with the relationship between one person and another.

Even these five are not mentioned as a unit except in one pericope found in Matthew 19:16-22 (cf. Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-22):

A “rich man” asks Jesus, “Master, what good shall I do that I may gain eternal life?” Jesus answers, “Why do you ask me what is good? There is only one good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments… ‘You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and mother.’”

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