Does a Christian have to keep all of the 10 Commandments? Some believe the answer is no—that if Jesus didn’t reinforce a commandment, it’s no longer binding. Is this true?
In last month’s column, we asked, “Did Jesus’ Commandments Replace the 10 Commandments?” We looked at the idea that the 10 Commandments were replaced by the simpler new commandment of Jesus to love others. We showed that the new commandment didn’t abolish the 10 Commandments, but was Jesus’ example of how to show love to others. Love has always been the intent of the 10 Commandments.
But there is another common misunderstanding we need to examine: the idea that only the specific commandments Jesus reaffirmed are required for us today.
Let’s take a deeper look at this premise and see if it aligns with what Jesus taught.
Did Jesus need to reaffirm each commandment?
First, consider this: Did Jesus say that only the commandments He specifically mentioned are binding on Christians? That is easy to answer: No. If you read the Gospel accounts, you will find no such statement.
Did Jesus say that all of the Commandments would remain intact and relevant? In fact, He did. Shortly after giving the Beatitudes, Jesus addressed “the Law” and “the Prophets” and whether or not He came to abolish all or parts of them.
Let’s dissect what He said in Matthew 5:17-19:
- “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (verse 17).
Jesus plainly said He did not come to “destroy” the law. The Greek word translated destroy (Greek, katalyo) can also be translated “dissolve,” “demolish,” “abrogate” or “deprive of force.” Instead of abolishing the law, He came to fulfill (pleroo) it—which means to “make full,” “fill up” or “accomplish.” Not only did He come to fulfill Old Testament prophecies, He also came to perfectly obey the 10 Commandments and, by doing so, fill them with greater meaning and relevance—just as the Messiah was prophesied to do (Isaiah 42:21).
- “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
Jesus used this graphic figure of speech to reinforce His previous statement. As long as heaven and earth exist, not the smallest detail (a jot was the smallest letter in the alphabet and a tittle was a small stroke used in writing) would pass away from God’s law. This reinforces every detail of the 10 Commandments. (See also our online article “Did Jesus Fulfill the Law?”)
- “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (verse 19).
Jesus made it personal by saying that anyone who knows better yet teaches against any of God’s commandments will not be in God’s Kingdom (compare Matthew 5:20 and 19:17). The Greek word translated “break” means to loose, destroy or dissolve. Sadly, this strongly worded warning applies to many professing Christian leaders who teach their followers that all or parts of the 10 Commandments were abolished.
In these three simple yet powerful verses, Jesus affirmed that the 10 Commandments—every single one of them—were carrying forward into New Covenant times.In these three simple yet powerful verses, Jesus affirmed that the 10 Commandments—every single one of them—were carrying forward into New Covenant times. They would continue to be binding as long as the heaven and earth still existed.
Later in the Sermon on the Mount He singled out two specific commandments (the prohibitions against murder and adultery) to teach about the spiritual intent behind those laws (Matthew 5:21-30). Of course the other eight have deep spiritual meanings as well, but He covered only those two at that time.
Jesus reciting the Commandments
But despite Jesus’ clear words, some still argue that if He didn’t specifically mention a commandment, its relevance to Christians is questionable. But consider Jesus’ discussion with a man identified as “a certain ruler.”
This man asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). Jesus answered that the basic starting point was keeping the Commandments, and then He listed five of them: “‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother’” (Luke 18:20).
Jesus only listed five commandments, so does that mean the other five are irrelevant and nonbinding? That reasoning would mean:
- We are free to place any other god before the true God (Exodus 20:3).
- We are free to make and worship idols of anything we wish (verses 4-5).
- We are free to revile and misuse God’s name as much as we want (verse 7).
- We are free to do work on the seventh-day Sabbath (verses 8-11).
- We are free to covet (verse 17).
Sadly, this is taught by some—but in reality, it’s usually only used to zero in on one of the above commandments (the seventh-day Sabbath).
Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5 proves this isn’t true. But still, by listing only five, did Jesus ignore some of the 10 Commandments? Not at all!
Next time we will take a closer look and discover that the New Testament actually does specifically reinforce every single one of God’s 10 Commandments.
Sidebar: Why Did Jesus List Only Those Five Commandments?
When speaking to the rich ruler, Jesus said that obedience to the Commandments was necessary and then listed five of the 10 Commandments (Luke 18:18-20). Why would He do this? Here are some possibilities.
We don’t know exactly what this man was a “ruler” of, but he could possibly have been a member of the Pharisees (who ruled the synagogues). The Pharisees had developed their own commandments, which were very burdensome and in some cases actually led people to disobey God. Jesus had little regard for their law, which He called “the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7).
By listing a few of the 10 Commandments, He was clarifying exactly which commandments were necessary for eternal life: God’s 10 Commandments, not the cumbersome laws of the Pharisees.
But why would He have chosen the five examples He did—adultery, murder, stealing, lying and honoring parents (Luke 18:20)?
One of the major problems with the Pharisees’ laws was that they often led to the abuse and mistreatment of other people. For example, in Matthew 23 Jesus Christ strongly rebuked them for putting unnecessary burdens on people (verse 4), abusing widows (verse 14), neglecting justice and mercy (verse 23) and even being complicit in the murder of righteous men (verse 34-35). In another place, He scolded them for inventing a loophole that allowed them to avoid caring for their elderly parents (Mark 7:11-13).
The main flaw was neglecting to show love to their fellow man.
If the rich ruler was a Pharisee, it would make sense that when Jesus mentioned a few commandments as examples, He chose ones about loving other people (Matthew 22:39). These were five commandments the Pharisees needed to hear. But, of course, that didn’t mean the other commandments dealing with loving God and not coveting were any less important.
In fact, after the man answered that he had obeyed these commandments from childhood, Jesus challenged him to sell his possessions and follow Him—which, it appears, the man was unwilling to do. This demonstrated his unwillingness to fully obey the other commandments to love God and to not covet.