11 (November 2017)

The Decalogue

The Decalogue
Mark Johnston
Mark Johnston Mark Johnston has ministered in Ireland, Camberwell and Philadelphia, USA, and is currently Minister of Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cardiff. He is also a trustee of the Banner of Truth Trust.
01 November, 2017 2 min read

There are few sections of Holy Scripture that have received more attention than the Ten Commandments. What else could be written to add to the available resources? But, having read this volume, I humbly suggest it is a valuable addition to the existing corpus.

Both the title and subtitle (‘Living as the people of God’) provide immediate clues to its value. The word ‘Decalogue’ picks up on language used to introduce God’s law (Exodus 20:1) as the ‘words’ God spoke.

The focus of these words for the people of God, as a guide for living, picks up on the covenant language of Exodus 20:2. This aspect is often overlooked in popular treatments of this chapter. The author develops these details by pointing out how the Ten Commandments have largely fallen out of favour in the West, offering explanations as to why this is so.

The book falls into four sections: what the Decalogue is; loving God; loving our neighbour; and the Decalogue today. The first looks at questions surrounding the form of the Decalogue in its canonical setting in the Bible. It also looks at forms in which it appears in two extra-biblical documents.

Dr Baker examines the different layouts of the Decalogue and how it has been understood in Jewish and Christian traditions. He surveys other ancient near eastern law codes that pre-dated or were contemporaneous with Mount Sinai.

Two chapters follow on the origin and purpose of the Law. We are helpfully encouraged to reflect on what lies behind it and for whom it is primarily intended. It is viewed not just in its original Israelite setting, but also against the wider horizons of redemptive history.

Exposition of the ‘Ten Words’ themselves follows. Unusually, the fifth commandment is included in the ‘loving God’ section, as opposed to the ‘loving neighbour’ half of the Decalogue. It is well worth reading the author’s rationale for doing so.

The book’s pattern is to consider a commandment in the context of other ancient near eastern laws, before offering reflections on how that law impinges on God’s people today. Every chapter is helpful and thought-provoking, especially the one dealing with the Sabbath (and its continuance in the New Covenant epoch).

The final section is surprisingly brief; although understandably so, given the extent to which the author has covered issues of contemporary application under the ‘reflection’ sections of individual chapters.

This is an academic but accessible work. It interacts with the entire range of scholarship, from ancient near eastern studies to liberal higher criticism, right through to conservative and Reformed evangelicalism. Readers may disagree with some details of the author’s analysis, but this should not overshadow the enormous benefit this work has to offer.

Mark G. Johnston

Cardiff

Mark Johnston
Mark Johnston has ministered in Ireland, Camberwell and Philadelphia, USA, and is currently Minister of Bethel Presbyterian Church, Cardiff. He is also a trustee of the Banner of Truth Trust.
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