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Surprised by the commandments

By Graham Beynon
July 2017 | Review by Matthew Cox
  • Publisher: IVP
  • ISBN: 978-1-78359-440-5
  • Pages: 160
  • Price: 8.99
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Book Review

Graham Beynon confesses that he once considered the Ten Commandments ‘predictable, negative and irrelevant’ (p.xi). After preaching through them, however, he was surprised to discover an unexpected ‘depth and richness’ (p.xii).

He dedicates one short chapter to each commandment, writing in a simple and conversational style. He offers valuable insights and his practical applications are up-to-date, even if they can get slightly waylaid with ethical ‘grey areas’, rather than the more straightforward directives.

Beynon generally follows conventional evangelical lines, so it’s hard to share the title’s sense of ‘surprise’. He brings out the distinctiveness of the second commandment (the prohibition of images), avoiding the pitfall of blurring it with the first. On the third commandment, he focuses on the meaning of Yahweh’s name, signifying his role as Israel’s deliverer. He links the Sabbath command not only to God’s rest after creation, but also to Israel’s rest in the promised land. He encourages church congregations to support the marriages of their members, in keeping with the seventh commandment.

The book’s greatest strength is bringing the gospel to bear at the end of each chapter. It does not leave the reader to despair over their disobedience and try to ‘pull their socks up’. Rather, it recalls Christ’s obedience to each commandment, encouraging us to appropriate his righteousness through continual repentance and faith. This approach is refreshing and Christ-honouring.

There is, however, some confusion about the place of the law in the life of the believer. In his introduction, Beynon argues that, ‘the law does apply to Christians today, but does so differently from under the old covenant’ (p.11). This is an immense simplification of a complex issue and leads to some questionable conclusions.

For example, with little explanation, the author claims that remembering the Sabbath is no longer binding law, but ‘remains wisdom today’ (p.69). He dismisses any biblical basis for keeping Sunday for public worship, envisaging Christians keeping this commandment through breaks from work, holidays and recreational activities.

There is a clumsy suggestion that Genesis 9:6 — ‘whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed’ — was part of the law given to Israel as a nation state (p.96), despite it pre-dating Sinai by thousands of years. The chapter on the second commandment stops short of forbidding artistic representations of Christ unless they become an object of worship.

Derek Tidball’s commendation says, ‘Even if you don’t agree with all [Beynon’s] conclusions … you will be made to think, as you are faced with their transparent wisdom and the challenge of implementing them in our complex 21st-century world’.

Matthew Cox

Chorlton, Manchester

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