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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Commandment

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In so far as primitive Christianity, in contrast to the OT, appeals to the conscience as the supreme tribunal of moral judgment (1 Corinthians 8:7 ff., Romans 14:5; Romans 14:14-23; cf. Romans 2:15), and calls upon Christians themselves to determine what is the will of God (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 5:10; Ephesians 5:17, 1 John 2:20; cf. Jeremiah 31:34), it may be said to proclaim the ethical autonomy of the individual Christian. This, of course, involves the assumption that the Christian apprehends the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ; and accordingly the ethical maxim of primitive Christianity is that the believer should have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5 ff.) and should follow Him (1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 Peter 2:21 ff., 1 John 2:8 etc.).

But, on the other hand, the apostles, including St. Paul, make reference to a tradition of authoritative Divine commandments, and indeed they themselves lay down a number of precepts designed to serve as guides for the moral judgment of Christians (ἐντολαί, δόγματα, παραγγελίαι, παραδόσεις, etc.). We note the following categories.

1. Commandments of the Mosaic Law.-We have in the first place those commandments of the Mosaic Law, or of the OT, which are regarded as of Divine authority not only by the Jewish-Christian apostles, but also by St. Paul; cf. James 2:8-11, Romans 7:8-13; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, Ephesians 6:2. Of the laws of Moses, the Decalogue, as we might expect, is assigned a position of peculiar importance; it forms the fundamental law of the Old Dispensation (2 Corinthians 3:3 : ‘tables of stone’), and is therefore always cited when the leading commandments are under consideration (Romans 13:9, James 2:11). It is worthy of remark, however, that here both St. Paul and St. James take into account only the commandments of the second table, asserting that the whole Law is summed up in the command to love one’s neighbour (Galatians 5:14, Romans 13:8 f.), ‘the royal law’ (James 2:8), though it is true that in Ephesians 6:2 St. Paul quotes a commandment from the first table (‘Honour thy father,’ etc.).* [Note: Just as, e.g., Matthew 19:19 and is this commandment is appended to those of the second table (nos. 6, 7, and 8). It is impossible to decide whether the Jewish, the Eastern and Reformed, or the Roman Catholic and Lutheran arrangement of the commandments is followed here.] The sequence of the laws quoted in Romans 13:9 and James 2:11 agrees with that of the Septuagint version of Exodus 20:13 in putting adultery before murder. So far as the Decalogue shares the statutory character of the Law as a whole, it also, according to St. Paul, is involved in the abrogation of ‘the law of commandments’ (Ephesians 2:15), as is evident from what is said regarding the law of the Sabbath, the obligatory character of which, according to Romans 14:5, Galatians 4:9 f., Colossians 2:16, is in principle surrendered. Hence Luther’s interpretation of this commandment is the right one; though, in view of 1 Corinthians 7:17, St. Paul probably maintained that it should remain binding upon Jewish Christians (see article Law).

Further, St. Paul (as also the other apostles) cites not only the Decalogue, but the rest of the Torah as well, in support of his own ethical precepts (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 5:18; cf. James 2:11; in all these passages, however, the reference is to commandments which justify themselves to the Christian consciousness). He avails himself of the principle laid down in 1 Corinthians 10:11, Romans 15:4, Colossians 2:17, i.e. he applies the OT commandments to the Messianic era in an allegorical or typological sonse; thus 1 Corinthians 9:9 (maintenance of Christian teachers) = Deuteronomy 25:4, 1 Corinthians 9:13=Numbers 18:8, 1 Corinthians 5:7 f.=Exodus 12:3 ff. (the putting away of leaven). He likewise reinforces his own admonitions by sayings from the Psalms and the Prophets, as, e.g., 2 Corinthians 9:9= Psalms 112:9, 1 Corinthians 1:31=Jeremiah 9:23, Romans 12:19= Deuteronomy 32:35; cf. James 4:6= Proverbs 3:34, Hebrews 3:7-11=Psalms 95:7-11. Finally, St. Paul and the rest frequently give their precepts in the form of OT exhortations; cf., e.g., Romans 12:20=Proverbs 25:21 f., 1 Peter 2:17=Proverbs 24:21, 1 Peter 3:10 ff.= Psalms 34:13 ff., Hebrews 12:5 f.=Proverbs 3:11 f.

2. Commandments of God and Jesus.-(1) The commandments of God frequently referred to in the Epistles of John and in Rev. (1 John 3:22; 1 John 4:21; 1 John 5:2 f., 2 John 1:6, Revelation 12:17; Revelation 14:12; cf. the Pauline usage, 1 Corinthians 7:19) should doubtless be regarded as the OT commandments in the NT acceptation (i.e. as applied by Jesus); cf. 1 John 2:7 f., where the commandment to love one’s brother is spoken of as at once old and new, and 1 John 4:21, where brotherly love in Christ’s sense is combined with love to God (cf. Matthew 22:37 ff. and parallels).

(2) Apart from this the apostolic Epistles refer but seldom to the commandments of Jesus. In James, 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation we meet with no utterance of the earthly Jesus, while 1 and 2 John allude to His commandments only in general terms (1 John 2:3 f, 1 John 3:23 [brotherly love]; cf. 2 John 1:9). Nor will it surprise us to find that the Pauline Epistles likewise contain but few references to the commandments of the Lord. Apart from Acts 20:35 (which, it is true, implies a more extensive use of the Lord’s words in the oral teaching of St. Paul; cf. the pl. [Note: plural.] λόγων), we find such references only in 1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 9:14; (1 Corinthians 11:23-25), Galatians 6:2, 1 Timothy 6:3. The first of these passages refers to the prohibition of divorce; the second to the apostles’ right to live by preaching the gospel (cf. 1 Timothy 5:18); Galatians 6:2 to ‘the law of Christ,’ i.e. mutual service; and 1 Timothy 6:3 to the words of Jesus in general (cf. 1 Timothy 4:6). But the explicit distinction which St. Paul draws between what the Lord did and did not command shows that he had an accurate knowledge of the Lord’s words-just as he also distinguishes between his own precepts and the Lord’s commandments. To trace this distinction to the difference between a greater and a less degree of certainty in the inward revelation (Baur) is the sheerest caprice; cf. the historic tense in 1 Corinthians 9:14. That St. Paul in general based his moral teachings on the authority of Jesus Himself appears from 1 Thessalonians 4:2, where he reminds his readers of the charges he delivered to them ‘through the Lord Jesus’; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17, where, as the context shows, his ‘ways which are in Christ’ ate the ethical precepts for which Christ was his authority. In using here the somewhat vague expression ‘in Christ,’ he simply indicates that his precepts are not mere repetitions of the words of Jesus, but that they are ‘Christian’ in the wider sense-like, let as say, the ‘Teachings of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles’ in the Didache. The commandments of Jesus are frequently cited also by the Apostolic Fathers; cf. 1 Clem. xiii. 3; 2 Clem. iii. 4, iv. 5ff., xvii. 3, 6; Ign. Eph. ix. 2; cf. Magn. xiii. 1 (δόγματα τοῦ Κυρίου καὶ τῶν ἀποστόλων); Did. xi. 3 (δόγμα τοῦ εὐαγγελίου).

3. Commandments of the apostles.-From the commandments of Jesus appealed to by the apostles it is an easy transition to those of the apostles themselves (cf. 2 Peter 3:2); it should be noted, however, that the term ἐντολαί is restricted to the commandments of God and Jesus, while the apostolic ‘commandments’ are denoted by other terms: δόγματα (Acts 16:4), παραγγελίαι (1 Thessalonians 4:2; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:10), παραδόσεις (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), and the like. But although St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, distinguishes between his own ‘judgment’ (1 Corinthians 7:25 γνώμη) and the commandment of the Lord, he nevertheless demands obedience to the former, inasmuch as he is possessed of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 7:40; cf. Acts 15:28), and, accordingly, he can even assert that what he writes is ‘the commandment of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 14:37). It is true that he sometimes appeals, as in 1 Corinthians 10:15, to the personal judgment of his readers, but it is clear, from 1 Corinthians 11:16 and 1 Corinthians 14:37 f., that he attached no decisive importance to such judgment. In any case, all opposition must give way before the consensus of apostolic usage (1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 14:36), and St. Paul always assumes that such a consensus really exists; cf. Romans 6:17 τύπος διδαχῆς (‘fixed form of moral teaching’), Romans 16:17 (where ‘the teaching’ = moral teaching).

This common ethical tradition would include, above all, the so-called Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:28 f., Acts 16:4). It must certainly have comprised the injunctions regarding things sacrificed to idols, and fornication, an echo of which is still heard in Revelation 2:20; Revelation 2:24 (cf. Revelation 2:24 the phrase ‘cast upon you none other burden’ with Acts 15:28), and which the Apostle, not only according to Acts 16:4, but also in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; 1 Corinthians 10:14-33, expressly urges upon Gentile Christians. Cf. further articles Law and Moses.

We must also take account of the lists of vices and virtues given in various forms by the apostles: Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9 f., 2 Corinthians 12:20 f., Romans 1:29-31; Romans 13:13, Colossians 3:5-8, Ephesians 4:31; Ephesians 5:8 f., 1 Timothy 1:9 f., 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15 (vices); Galatians 5:22, Colossians 3:12-15, Ephesians 4:2 f., Ephesians 3:2 to Ephesians 5:2, 2 Peter 1:5-8 (virtues). Similar lists are found in Did. ii. 1-v. 2, Barn. 18-20, Polycarp, ii. 2-iv. 3. Though such tables were in their origin dependent upon Jewish and Greek models (e.g. Wisdom of Solomon 12:3 ff; Wisdom of Solomon 14:22 ff.; cf. Matthew 15:19; Diog. Laert. vii. 110-114)-as St. Paul indeed indirectly recognizes in Romans 1:32, Philippians 4:8 (cf. the Stoic phrase τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα, Romans 1:28)-they nevertheless reveal, especially as regards the virtues, their distinctively Christian character.

Along with the lists of vices and virtues should be mentioned also the so-called ‘house-tables,’ i.e. the groups of precepts for the various domestic relationships-husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-33; Ephesians 6:1-9, Colossians 3:18-25; Colossians 4:1, 1 Peter 2:18 to 1 Peter 3:7). These, as will be seen, make their first appearance in the later Epistles, but they may well have attained an oral form at an earlier date. Finally, the Pastoral Epistles, in addition to the family precepts, give several series of directions for the various orders of Christians-bishops, deacons, widows, etc., thus furnishing in fact a kind of Church organization, the social duties of the various relationships being made more or less subordinate to the ecclesiastical point of view (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1 to 1 Timothy 6:2, Titus 1:5 to Titus 3:2).

The reduction of Christian morality to concrete details was a matter of historic necessity. Just as the spirit of Christianity was not, even at the outset, possessed by all believers in the same degree, but was found pre-eminently in the apostles and prophets, so it was not present so fully in the later period as in the earlier. Hence, when the apostles were nearing their end, they felt it necessary, for the sake of the succeeding generation, to commit to writing the more detailed ethical teaching which no doubt they had to some extent already brought into an oral form. Cf. further article Law.

Literature.-The NT Theologies of B. Weiss, P. Feine, and H. Weinel; G. B. Stevens, The Pauline Theology, 1892; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age, Eng. translation , i.2 [1897] 154; A. Seeberg, Der Katechismus der Urchristenheit, 1903, p. 1ff.; O. Moe, Paulus und die evangelische Geschichte, 1912, p. 56ff.; A. B. Bruce, St. Paul’s Conception of Christianity, 1894, p. 293ff.; E. v. Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church, Eng. translation , 1904, p. 399ff.

Olaf Moe.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Commandment'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/c/commandment.html. 1906-1918.

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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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