Was the Decalogue considered part of "The Law'


Quick question -
Were the “10 commandments” seen by the Jews as being part of “The Law” or were they seen as something separate from it?

The reason I ask is because we see St Paul writing negatively about “the Law” in various spots…and even says at least once that the Christian is not “under the Law”…and I am wondering how his audience would have understood this. Would the audience have read “the law” as including the 10 commandments or not?




My understanding is that the Ten Commandments form the backbone of the moral “Law” and were written by God into the stone tablets symbolizing the “stone hearts” of human kind. The Law, as spelled out in Deuteronomy and other books of the Torah was known as the Mosaic Law or “second” law (from deuteros: “second” and nomos: “law”) This “second law” was spelled out by Moses as the practical application of the Ten Commandments in daily life or how the commandments were to be lived. There were three aspects to the second law: the moral law, the ritual or liturgical laws and regulatory or practical (civil) laws that formed a kind of civil code. The category of laws that formed the “moral” aspects were and remain unchangeable, whereas the liturgical and regulatory laws could be altered because times and situations change.

An example of regulatory laws could be how certain forms of servitude were allowed under the Mosaic law because there were prescriptions on how the lower classes of society needed to be treated at a time when social welfare programs were non-existent and governments did not have the wherewithal to look after individuals in dire situations. At least by allowing servitude with specific guidelines the welfare of the desperate could be assured. As the resources of civil authorities improved, servitude became less a viable option.


They were indeed part of the Mosaic Law, though nine out of the ten are also parts of natural moral law, and the other about keeping the Sabbath holy, has a Christian parallel.


Most certainly.


So when Paul says…
But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. - (Galatians 5:18)
But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. - (Romans 7:6)
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. - (Romans 6:14)
His readers would understand the Decalogue as being a part of the law he was speaking of?



I would argue three points.

  1. Paul is distinguishing between a Christian’s motive for doing what is right and good. That motive would no longer be because it was an expected or legal requirement but because the Spirit would provide the internal impetus and power to live rightly. Thus, the Law would no longer be a constraining force but a power to be free.

  2. Galatians and Romans were written to audiences not primarily composed of Jewish converts but former pagans. The Law would not have been as clearly defined for these individuals as it might have been for Jewish Christians.

  3. By Jesus’ time, the Pharisaic view of keeping the Law would have equated keeping the external precepts with how the Decalogue was to be lived day to day. Perhaps the moral sense was lost in the legal details in the common Jewish understanding which is why it had to be clarified and distinguished by the Council of Jerusalem before the Church could move forward.


The Catechism:

**1962 The Old Law is the first stage of revealed Law. Its moral prescriptions are summed up in the Ten Commandments. The precepts of the Decalogue lay the foundations for the vocation of man fashioned in the image of God; they prohibit what is contrary to the love of God and neighbor and prescribe what is essential to it. The Decalogue is a light offered to the conscience of every man to make God’s call and ways known to him and to protect him against evil:

God wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts.13

1963 According to Christian tradition, the Law is holy, spiritual, and good,14 yet still imperfect. Like a tutor15 it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it. Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage. According to St. Paul, its special function is to denounce and disclose sin, which constitutes a “law of concupiscence” in the human heart.16 However, the Law remains the first stage on the way to the kingdom. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior God. It provides a teaching which endures for ever, like the Word of God.**


St. Paul’s use of “the law” may refer to the Torah (Pentateuch), the first five books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) or the many laws within those first five books. The word Torah more specifically translates into to guide/teach. The Torah does have many laws which the Jewish people had to follow. In addition to the Torah, Judaism had the Oral Laws which St. Paul may have also been referencing. He may have been trying to explain to the gentiles that the laws in the Old Testament and the oral laws should be used more as guidelines, but it’s the teachings of Jesus Christ that now must be followed. For instance, stoning someone for committing adultery should not be done unless the one stoning is without sin; or boiling a kid (young goat) in it’s mother’s milk is no longer prohibited. The 10 commandments, however, are laws given to Moses by God and should continued to be followed. In fact, if one loves God and loves his/her neighbor as Jesus instructed us to do, following the 10 commandments should come easy.


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Thanks for the answers.

It seems that indeed the Decalogue was considered as being part of (and certainly foundational to) “the Law”…

This seems confirmed in Mt 22:36 where the lawyer asks…“What is the greatest commandment of the law” (emphasis mine).
Also the fact that the command Jesus selects as the second greatest commandment is not even a part of the Decalogue seems to imply a seamless integration of the Decalogue with the rest of the law.

The reason that I asked this question was basically two-fold.
First - I was wondering if, when Jesus says in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you…” was this an 11 commandment or was it separate…A new command to build from since the old covenant was about to be fulfilled and pass away.
Second - There are certain non-Catholics who are happy to point out that we are no longer under the law…but then will get on Catholics for having statues…:shrug:

Of course none of this takes away from the value of the 10 commandments…


closed #12

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