Thursday, July 19, 2012

Decalogue: Three Prefatory Issues


Rather than interject unrelated questions into the body of my exposition of the Decalogue, I thought it better to treat these few issues now beforehand so as to handle them better, and to keep them from having an overbearing presence in the following articles. There are three issues related to the Decalogue that I wish to handle here separately so that they do not need to be discussed in the exposition of the actual Ten Words. The three issues are: my wording, the numbering of the Decalogue (especially as regards the 1st and 2nd Commands), and the change of the Sabbath.

Related Decalogue Issues

A. My wording.

Throughout this series of posts, even the casual reader will note that I do not use the word “Commandment.” I opt for “Command” instead. My reason is that I deem the word “commandment” to be an archaic word, virtually obsolete. It is never used by anyone in any other context outside of discussions regarding the Decalogue. “Command” is the current English equivalent. It has the advantage, also of sounding less esoteric. Conformity to God’s revealed will is not an esoteric enterprise, but something highly practical. If this bothers anyone, or seems like a silly semantic issue, fell free to substitute the word “commandment” for “command” whenever you encounter the latter in the course of these posts.

B. The Numbering of the Decalogue

Many of my readers may be aware that there is a difference in the division of the Ten Commands between how they are enumerated by the Reformed (which is the traditional numbering most of us are familiar with) and the Roman Catholic numbering, which is also followed by Luther. The difference in numbering occurs in what the Reformed take to be the 1st and 2nd Commands. Luther, and Rome, takes this to be one. 

The Reformed have always considered the command against image usage to be a separate command from the “no others gods before Me” command. The numbering of the Decalogue which Rome uses conflates the first two Commands into one and then forces an artificial division into the Tenth Command. I say artificial because Paul, in Romans 7:7, treats it as one.

The division of the Decalogue followed by Rome and by Luther has its origin in Augustine (Quaest, in Exodus 71, and Ep. 119 to Januarius). In these passages, Augustine omits the Second Command in order to make the “first table” consist of three Commands so as to make an allusion to the Trinity. Augustine contradicts himself elsewhere, however (cf. Quaest. Vet. et Novi Test., lib. 1:7). But it seems that Peter Lombard (Sentences, Book 3.37,40) picked up this numbering, divided the prohibition of “coveting” into two commands, and, as they say, the rest is history. Augustine had no intention of downplaying the prominent prohibition against images. Nevertheless, his, what shall we call it – over-zealousness, left an opening which later writers would exploit to their advantage. It may also be worth noting that the Reformed numbering follows both the Jewish and Patristic numberings (Jospehus, Ant. 3.5.5).

There are clearly two issues in view here anyway. One is the issue of idolatry, i.e., the worship of anything else besides God. This is covered in the First Command. But separate from this is the issue of a proper perception of God. And that is what is in view in the Second Command. Both Jewish and Patristic writers correctly understood the visual as a threat to a proper perception of God. Rome, on the other hand excels in such a representation of God. Hence they love Lombard’s innovative numbering of the Decalogue. By subsuming the ban on images under the ban on idolatry, the door is left open to the use of images in the worship of God. This is exactly what was defended in 787 AD at Nicaea II. That was a perverse assembly if ever there was one. John, one of the delegates from the east, went so far as to say that it would be better to fill every city on earth with brothels than to do away with icons! Their assertion that icons are valid because of the Incarnation is idiotic, charitably put. In other words, God represented Himself under a visible form in the Incarnation, therefore it is lawful to make visible representations of Christ. On the strength of this wonder of logic they go on to assert that rejection of icons is tantamount to Docetism. This is a statement, the stupidity of which is unmatched in the annals of Church history.

This is not to say that there is nothing ‘visible’ in the Christian religion. The sacraments are, after all, visible representations. But they are not visible representations of God! They are visible signs and seals of God’s covenant with us.  Baptism signifies and seals to us the Spirit’s application of the mediatorial work of Christ signified and sealed to us in the Lord’s Supper. But neither are an image of God, for this is explicitly forbidden (Deut. 4:12, 15-18).

I might also interject that perhaps too much time has been spent on discussing which commands belong to which table. The two “tables” of the Law, if I understand anything about covenant making in Scripture, would have been two identical copies of the same exact document: one for both parties. The tablets were written on both sides however; hence it may still be a fair question which commands were on which side (which is the same as asking what was on which table). In other words, God wrote two tables, which were identical copies of all Ten Commands. One was for Him, and one was for Israel. A covenant is not exactly like a contract, but there is a point of similarity here. Both parties have a copy of the stipulations and conditions as a witness to both for or against their respective fidelity.

C. The Change of the Sabbath.  

The question of the change of the Sabbath seems better handled here as well rather than cumbering up a discussion about the Lord’s Day.

What do we say about the change of the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to Sunday, the first day of the week? How did this occur? On what grounds is the change of day based? And on whose authority was it done?

The Puritan Thomas Shepherd has an excellent treatise on the change of the Sabbath. He notes that first and foremost, the primary cause of the change of the Sabbath is the resurrection of Christ. I doubt that are many Christians who are not aware of this fact. The Sabbath under the old administration was a commemoration of the first Creation. The Christian Sabbath commemorates the new Creation which has its origin in Christ’s resurrection. If you recall, earlier I noted that the first full day of Adam’s life was the first Sabbath. Likewise, the first day of Christ’s resurrected life, as the Second Adam, was the Christian Sabbath.

I think it would be helpful at this point to cut to the chase and eliminate all the erroneous views about the change of the Sabbath by stating as directly as possible the basis of the change. The basis for the change is none other than the teaching of Christ Himself. Accept any other theory and you are forced to make it a man-made innovation to the worship of God. We know that the early Christians met on the Lord’s Day, which Paul tells us is the “first day of the week.” If this habit came from any other source than Christ’s own command, we must ask where the Apostles’ got the gall to tamper with God’s Word.

Jesus commanded the apostles to “teach all nations that which I command you.” We must either hold that Christ commanded the Apostles in regard to the Sabbath, or we must maintain that the Apostles went beyond their authority and commission by teaching that which Christ never commanded. We know that the Apostles’ doctrine and practice was only correct so far as it conformed to the teaching of Christ. Hence we see Peter in Antioch, acting in a way which did not accord with Christ’s teaching. The spat between Paul and Barnabas can hardly be said to be Christ-like. Let me hasten to say, however, that when the Apostles acted in the public function as messengers of Christ, they were extraordinarily guided by God’s Spirit so that their practice may and must be considered the pattern for all successive ages.

Along these lines, Shepherd writes, “[I]f, therefore, the primitive churches thus honoured the first day of the week above any other day for Sabbath services, then certainly they were instituted and taught thus to do by the apostles approving of them herein; and what the apostles taught the churches, that the Lord Jesus commanded to the apostles. So that the approved practice of the churches herein shows what was the doctrine of the apostles; and the doctrine of the apostles shows what was the command of Christ; so that the sanctification of this first day of the week is no human tradition, but a divine institution from Christ himself.”

I am very tempted (a poor word choice, perhaps, in a theological discussion) to launch in a full-scale defense of the change of the Sabbath, but I fear that would carry us to far afield. To quote Shepherd again, “To know when and where the Lord Christ instructed his disciples concerning this change, is needless to inquire. It is sufficient to believe this: that what the primitive churches exemplary practised, that was taught them by the apostles who planted them; and that whatsoever the apostles preached, the Lord Christ commanded, as has been shown. Yet if the change of the Sabbath be a matter appertaining to the kingdom of God, why should we doubt but that, within the space of his forty days' abode with them after his resurrection, he then taught it them? for it is expressly said, that he then taught them such things. (Acts 1:3)”

Establishing the Christian observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day throughout the earliest ages of the Church is a cakewalk. Ignatius writes to the Magnesians (Ch. 9), “If they who were concerned in old things, arrived at a newness of hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living according to the Lord’s day, by which our life sprung from him and by his death (whom certain persons deny)…we have been made his disciples, let us live according to Christianity."

The Epistle of Barnabas says, "Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day, also, on which Jesus rose again from the dead"

Justin Martyr writes, "Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior, on the same day rose from the dead."

And the anonymous Didache, written perhaps as early as 80 or 90 AD, affirms, "And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s Day meet more diligently."

The Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation follow the same beat. The Heidelberg Catechism affirms that on the Christian Sabbath we are to, “diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor. Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by his Holy Spirit in me: and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asserts, “From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.”

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