Sunday, February 22, 2015

Which commandments in the Bible apply to us today?

            A major misunderstanding arises when we attempt to take every single commandment in the Bible and apply them to each of us personally, as people living in the 21st century.  Some commandments, such as the 613 commandments found in the Law (Torah), were never meant to apply to anyone other than the Jewish people (Exodus 19:3-6, 31:16, 34:27; Deuteronomy 5:1-3).  Even among those commandments, some of them were never meant to apply outside the land of Israel, or in the absence of the Temple (Deuteronomy 12:8-14).  Some commandments found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) were given to specific people, for a specific time period (Genesis 6:9-22; Exodus 7:1-6; Joshua 4; Judges 4:6, 13:13-14). 
            So how can we know which commandments apply to us today?  There are a few guidelines to observe when reading and studying the Bible:

1. Context.  When you see a commandment in the Bible, make sure to study the surrounding verse, chapter and book.  Is this a time-specific commandment?  Was it given to a specific person or nation?  Is this a commandment that was only given to the nation of Israel?

2. Historical background.  Many of the commandments in the Bible were given during the time period and culture of the Ancient Near East.  We must take the historical and cultural background of the text into consideration when reading.

3. Repeated commandments.  Some commandments in the Bible are given multiple times.  Some are given to all mankind, not just to a specific person, group of people or nation.  The following commandments are repeatedly given to all people:

- To fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Zechariah 2:13; Malachi 1:14)

-To worship God (1 Chronicles 16:28-31; Psalm 22:27-28; Isaiah 66:23; Jeremiah 3:17; Zephaniah 2:11; Zechariah 14:16; Malachi 1:11; John 4:21-24; Revelation 14:7, 15:4, 19:10, 22:9)

- Not to murder (Genesis 9:6; Deuteronomy 18:9-12; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Matthew 19:16-19)

-Not to worship idols or engage in occult practices (Deuteronomy 18:9-12; 1 Kings 14:23-24; Revelation 9:20)

-Not to have sex outside of marriage (marriage being defined as a lifelong commitment between two unrelated adults consisting of one man and one woman; see Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6) (Leviticus 18, 20; 1 Kings 14:24; Matthew 19:16-19)

- Not to blaspheme (Leviticus 24:15; Isaiah 37:23; Luke 12:10; Romans 2:24)

- Not to steal or be dishonest (Genesis 2:16-17; Matthew 19:16-19)

-Not to treat animals with cruelty (Genesis 9:4; Proverbs 12:10; Matthew 12:11-12)

4. If there is a statement in the Bible that describes an act as something that God views as "evil", "disgusting", an "abomination" or "detestable", it stands to reason that it is something to clearly avoid (Leviticus 18:22; Judges 10:6; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 14:9; Proverbs 6:16-19; Ezekiel 14:6).

5. Finally, consider the teaching of Jesus, who emphasized that there are two commandments which all the other commandments hang upon:

"One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'

Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5)  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18)  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:35-40, NIV)