Do the 10 Commandments need to be updated—or upheld? How do the letter and the spirit of the ancient laws included in the 10 Commandments apply today?
Are the 10 Commandments still valid today?
Yes! Every one of the 10 Commandments is still valid today, and Jesus Christ Himself confirmed this.
You may have heard back in 2008 that Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti felt the Catholics’ seven deadly sins needed to be updated. According to the BBC report, he wanted to add things like environmental pollution, genetic manipulation, accumulating excessive wealth and drug trafficking and consumption to his new list. (The old list, including gluttony, greed and sloth, is traced back to Pope Gregory I in A.D. 590.)
Modern 10 Commandments?
What about the 10 Commandments? They are much older. They were given by God on Mount Sinai to the children of Israel about 3,500 years ago as recorded in Exodus 20. Actually, though, they are much older, considering that Abraham obeyed God’s commandments hundreds of years earlier (Genesis 26:5).
Some have taken it upon themselves to suggest updates to God’s timeless law. For example, in 2016 the New Statesman published “The Ten Commandments for the Modern Age.” Among them: “Take care of the rest of creation.” “Thou shalt tolerate other gods.” “Just be kind.” “Thou shalt not destroy.” Some were based on biblical principles. Others were irreverent with a touch of hubris.
But will any of the modern updated lists stand the test of time? Do any of them carry the weight of Scripture or the power of the divine?
To properly assess whether the 10 Commandments need to be updated, or just better understood, we must look at the original source.
What the Bible says about the 10 Commandments
The Old Testament mentions commandments 127 times, often in glowing terms, such as, “And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love” (Psalm 119:47). The benefits of obedience and the negative consequences of disobedience are clearly portrayed throughout the Law, the Prophets and the Writings that make up the Old Testament.
But many wonder if a change was made when we come to the New Testament. Does the New Testament support the 10 Commandments?
Jesus and the 10 Commandments
Did Jesus Christ replace or update the Decalogue? Does God’s moral law need an update today? Or do the 10 Commandments provide timeless, foundational principles that help us know and choose right actions—and thoughts—over wrong behaviors and mind-sets?
Do they help us see how to love our neighbors and how to love God—the way He wants to be loved?
Jesus said He didn’t come “to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” what we call the Old Testament today (Matthew 5:17-19). He didn’t annul the 10 Commandments. He taught their deeper, spiritual application.
When asked which commandment was the greatest, He summarized the 10 Commandments and the whole Bible this way: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Jesus showed the spiritual intent of the 10 Commandments. The first four show how to love God the way He wants to be loved. The last six show how to love our neighbors.Jesus showed the spiritual intent of the 10 Commandments. The first four show how to love God the way He wants to be loved. The last six show how to love our neighbors.
Jesus also said, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). When asked which commandments, He listed five of the 10 Commandments, the commands to not murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness, along with the command to honor father and mother. He also added the summary statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (verses 18-19).
The apostles and the 10 Commandments
The apostle Paul said, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. … For we know that the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:12, 14). How can the natural, fleshly man learn and obey this holy, spiritual law? Paul showed that this is made possible through Jesus Christ and by being led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:25; 8:7-9, 14).
Jesus Christ not only paid the death penalty for our sins (Romans 5:9; 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18-19), He showed the way and will provide us help to follow God’s good and beneficial way of life—the way of love. We must seek to change, to walk as He walks and to love as He loves (1 John 2:6; John 13:34). Paul shows that the law is designed to teach us how to love (Romans 13:9-10). Love is the spiritual intent of the law.
The problem is not the law, but our weak flesh. But through the Holy Spirit God helps us overcome that obstacle by writing the law in our hearts and minds as we diligently study and seek to obey His law (Hebrews 8:8-10). This is the heart of the New Covenant.
Spirit of the law
As Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount, James also expands on the spiritual intent of the 10 Commandments. He called God’s law the royal law (James 2:8). How is it a “royal law”? It is the law of the Kingdom of God, and Jesus Christ will return as King of Kings in that Kingdom (Revelation 19:16).
James also called it the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25; 2:12). James compares the law with a mirror (1:23-25). Just looking in the mirror—just knowing the perfect law of God—is not enough. We must use God’s help to make the changes in ourselves and show the love to others and God that the law shows us.
The 10 Commandments are not burdensome
Some have looked at God’s law as bondage—as a heavy burden they feel God eventually sent Jesus to remove from us. But the Bible clearly shows the perfect, eternal, spiritual law of God is a law of liberty. Consider these biblical passages:
- John said, “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
- The psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments” (Psalm 112:1).
- Paul wrote, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:19).
Were the Old Testament laws “done away with”?
No, although several laws (such as circumcision, sacrifices and temple rituals) were superseded by Christ’s sacrifice. Other laws, like the civil laws specifically designed for governing ancient Israel, generally were for that time. But even these give us principles and lessons we can apply today.
Which laws were superseded?
Physical circumcision is not part of the 10 Commandments and is clearly shown in the New Testament to have been superseded by spiritual circumcision—a change of heart (Romans 2:29). The book of Hebrews shows that the sacrifices and temple rituals have been superseded by Christ’s sacrifice. They and the civil law (specific regulations necessary to govern the nation of Israel) generally cannot and need not be practiced by Christians today. But even these give us principles and lessons we can apply today.
The eternal spiritual law remains as the framework for a moral, godly life. The laws and principles taught throughout the Bible are consistent and still guide the Christian today.
What was the real bondage?
Jesus Christ made clear what the real burden and bondage is: Slavery to sin. The truth makes us free from slavery to sin (John 8:31-36).
God’s truth is revealed throughout the Bible, which Paul explained was “given by inspiration”—literally, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Holy Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15).
So why does it seem Paul sometimes put down the law? Some of these passages take careful study, but most become clearer by considering some key arguments that Paul was making:
- Gentiles don’t have to become Jews (especially, be circumcised) to be Christians.
- No amount of law keeping now can remove past sin or pay our death penalty.
The apostle Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture, but acknowledged that Paul’s epistles include “some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). In examining difficult-to-understand scriptures, remember that Paul also called the law holy, just and good (Romans 7:12). And he said, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).
So, we can only be made right with God by the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Nothing we can do can “earn” forgiveness. But after seeing how horrible sin is—seeing how good and beneficial God’s laws are—seeing how much God hates sin and how much He loves us—the only correct response is to do what Christ told the woman caught in adultery: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
10 Commandments meaning today
Each of the 10 Commandments has a clear application that has never changed. We are still not to make idols, murder, steal or lie, for example.
The New Testament shines a brighter light on the deeper spiritual aspect of these laws. This spirit of the law has been there all along, but Jesus highlighted the need to understand the intent of the law and to go beyond the physical letter of the law. For example, He expanded on the Sixth and Seventh Commandments against murder and adultery in Matthew 5:21-30.
Jesus Christ’s sacrifice also made it possible for us to embrace the letter and the spirit of the Commandments by opening the path to repentance, forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Romans 13:9-10, 14). This, in turn, makes it possible for the law to be written on our hearts and minds:
“‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (Hebrews 10:16-17).
For a study of the letter and spirit of each of the 10 Commandments, see the articles in the section “The 10 Commandments and God’s Way of Life.”
The 10 Commandments in Revelation: “those who keep the commandments of God”
God’s commandments were important before Moses, and they remained important for Israel and for the New Testament Church. And they are mentioned three times in the prophetic last book of the Bible. The apostle John wrote about the blessings for those who obey God’s commandments in the end time and beyond.
Revelation 12 foretells the end-time persecution of the Church (pictured as a woman and her children) by the dragon, Satan:
“And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (verse 17).
Even under intense persecution by a system opposed to God’s laws, the remnant of the Church will continue to obey the commandments.
Revelation 14 also describes the saints—the people on God’s side who do not accept the mark of the beast:
“Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (verse 12).
God promises great blessings for those who obey God’s commandments and resist the evil beast even to death (verse 13).
Then, in the very last chapter of the Bible, another blessing is pronounced on commandment keepers:
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).
Eternal life and living with God in the incredible New Jerusalem is promised to those who do His commandments. This is the plan of God—to become like Him by internalizing His laws and then to live forever as His children!
Learn more about the 10 Commandments
The 10 Commandments are a wonderful gift from God, and each is worthy of study and meditation. Read the other articles in this section and download our free booklet God’s 10 Commandments: Still Relevant Today.
You’ll also want to see our helpful video series “The 10 Commandments: A Matter of the Heart.”