In Exodus 20, Moses began to write what the Lord revealed to him on Mount Sinai. In Psalm 119, the psalmist wrote of his love for the books Moses wrote, including the commands recorded in Exodus 20-23. Though the commands Moses wrote in Exodus-Deuteronomy might seem variegated, themes can be identified in many portions of these books. It is thus best to avoid imposing an external structure upon the text. Attempting to organize the individual commands of the law based upon topical categories (e.g., moral, ceremonial, and civil) proves too superficial. Many of Moses’ commands overlap these kinds of classifications. For instance, the command to keep the Sabbath had moral, ceremonial, and civil implications.
The Ten Commandments provided a framework that explained God’s demands for His covenant-partner, Israel. The first commandment, “Do not have other gods besides Me” (Exod 20:3), provided an organizing principle for some of the material in Exodus 20-23 In Exod 20:22-23, this command (closely associated with the command against idolatry) was repeated and qualified: Israel should have no image gods. God had spoken to Israel from Mount Sinai in such a dramatic fashion, what image could do Him justice? The Lord’s absolute holiness was the foundation of the command. The supremacy of God— displayed in His frightening presence on Mount Sinai—was to cause Israel to fear Him and turn from sin (Exod 20:20). The command to worship God alone and avoid idolatry was the organizing principle of all that Moses wrote.
The Ten Commandments stated in Exod 20:1-17 were written again in Deut 5:6-21. Jesus and the authors of the New Testament interpreted the Ten Commandments as part of God’s progressive revelation of Himself in Scripture.
(1) Paul and John warned their audiences of the danger of idolatry, reflecting Exod 20:4-6 and Deut 5:8-10. When Paul was speaking in Athens during his second missionary journey, he confronted the people of the city because they worshipped even unknown gods (Acts 17:23). He explained God’s revelation of Himself in Christ and urged all to repent before the day when the resurrected Jesus would judge humanity (Acts 17:30-31). Later during Paul’s third journey, he preached in Ephesus and so many people turned from their idolatry that a leading silversmith raised a riot against him (Acts 19:8-41). In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul challenged the Corinthians to avoid idols’ temples lest they cause a less mature believer to stumble in their commitment to Christ. So potent was the command against idolatry that after several chapters of Christian teaching, John ended his epistle by warning his readers to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21).
(2) Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews interpreted the Sabbath command (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15) as a marker pointing forward to the day of salvation in Christ. The Jewish leadership opposed Jesus when He allowed His disciples to pick grain in the fields and eat it on the Sabbath, but He countered with the claim that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8//Mark 2:23-28//Luke 6:1-5). When on the Sabbath Jesus healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, he told the Jews that His Father was working, and He was working also (John 5:1-17). Paul urged his readers to see their salvation as a daily reality rather than the observance of specific days (Rom 14:1-12; Col 2:16). The author of Hebrews argued that God’s intention in the Sabbath command could only be experienced by faithful commitment to salvation in Christ (Hebrews 3-4).
(3) Paul reinforced the command that children honor their parents (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16). Addressing households in Ephesus and Colossae, Paul wrote that the Lord is pleased when children obey their parents (Eph 6:1-3; Col 3:20).
(4) Jesus and Paul coordinated the commands against murder (Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17), adultery (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18), theft (Exod 20:15; Deut 5:19), deception (Exod 20:16; Deut 5:20), and covetousness (Exod 20:17; Deut 5:21) to expose human depravity and exhort their audiences to walk in accord with their salvation from God. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He cited the commands against murder (Matt 5:21-26) and adultery (Matt 5:27-30) to expose hatred and lust in men’s hearts. He confronted the Jewish leadership because their lax view of marriage led to rampant adultery (Matt 19:3-12//Mark 10:2-12). Paul in his lists of ethical exhortations echoed various statements in the Ten Commandments, urging his readers to walk in moral uprightness in light of their salvation in Christ and the Spirit (Rom 13:8-14; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 4:25-32; Col 3:5-10).