3Today we continue our interview with Dr. Jason DeRouchie, one of the editors of the new Festschrift to Daniel Bock, For Our Good Always: Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy in Honor of Daniel I. Block. If you missed part one you can catch it here.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
You contributed two chapters to this festschrift, both on the Decalogue. In the first you argue for a “modified Lutheran-Catholic” numbering of the ten words. This of course is an old question, but we were impressed to read your rather uncommon approach to establish a rather surprising conclusion! We suspect that future discussion of this question will need to take your work into account. You cannot re-state your entire argument here, of course, but can you describe for us briefly what is unique about your approach. Or, perhaps more simply, what contribution(s) to this discussion did you hope to make?
My first essay is titled, “Counting the Ten: An Investigation into the Numbering of the Decalogue.” I open the study with the following words (minus the footnotes):
The Bible is explicit that God revealed ten Words to his people at Mt. Sinai (Exod 34:28; Deut 4:13, 10:4), and it goes to reason that we should know how to count them, especially in light of the unique status these words bear in Scripture. But in the history of interpretation there have been three principal perspectives on how properly to enumerate these ten, and the distinct forms of the Decalogue in Exod 20:1–17 and Deut 5:5–21 only intensify the challenges.
Most recent studies of the Ten Words accept without discussion the traditional Reformed numbering. Throughout the centuries, however, interpreters have questioned their proper itemization, debating issues of form, style, semantic content, and cantillation, especially with reference to the boundaries of “Words” one, two, and ten.
Contemporary studies in discourse grammar (i.e., textlinguistics or discourse analysis) open new avenues for discerning literary structure and flow-of-thought in Hebrew texts. Utilizing a nuanced understanding of participant reference, connection, and other literary devices like inclusio and repetition, this study reevaluates the numbering of the Decalogue and argues that a modified form of the Catholic-Lutheran enumeration most closely aligns with the formal text-grammatical signals and finds strong support from the perspective of style, semantic content, and cantillation.
There are few texts in Scripture that have had as much influence on the church as the Ten Commandments, but the message of each individual word does alter somewhat based on where one divides the units. Building off my earlier study in discourse analysis (see A Call to Covenant Love: Literary Structure and Text Grammar in Deuteronomy 5–11 [Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2007]), I sought to approach the Ten Words with fresh questions in order to discern what could be gained.
Books At a Glance:
Can you give us an example of the interpretive and/or “practical” implications of your suggested numbering of the ten commandments?
I pick up this question in my second essay titled, “Making the Ten Count: Reflections on the Lasting Message of the Decalogue.” The modified Catholic-Lutheran numbering, which I believe best accounts for the data of the Ten Words, enumerates the Decalogue as follows:
- I am Yahweh. . . . Never other gods (Exodus 20:2–6 // Deuteronomy 5:6–10)
- Never bear Yahweh’s name in falsehood (Exodus 20:7 // Deuteronomy 5:11)
- Remember (/Observe) the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–11 // Deuteronomy 5:12–15)
- Honor your parents (Exodus 20:12 // Deuteronomy 5:16)
- Never murder (Exodus 20:13 // Deuteronomy 5:17)
- (And) Never commit adultery (Exodus 20:14 // Deuteronomy 5:18)
- (And) Never steal (Exodus 20:15 // Deuteronomy 5:19)
- (And) Never bear false witness (Exodus 20:16 // Deuteronomy 5:20)
- (And) Never covet your neighbor’s house (/wife) (Exodus 20:17a // Deuteronomy 5:21a)
- (And) Never covet (/desire) your neighbor’s wife, etc. (/house, field, etc.) (Exodus 20:17b // Deuteronomy 5:21b)
Within this framework, a number of groupings are evident. Word 1 alone includes portrays Yahweh in first person (“I/my”), whereas all others use third (“Yahweh/him”). Words 1–4 are distinct from Words 6–10 in that every one includes the phrase “Yahweh your God,” has either a ground (“because”) or purpose clause (“so that”), and is somewhat developed in length. In light of the chain of “and” conjunctions linking Words 6–10 in Deuteronomy, the result is a pattern of long and short command groupings, which places the Sabbath––Israel’s covenant sign––at the center:
- Long: No other gods
- Short: Never bear God’s name in vain
- Long: Keep the Sabbath
- Short: Honor one’s parents
- Long: Never murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, covet your neighbor’s wife, desire your neighbor’s house, etc.
As for an example of my numbering’s significance, the Orthodox-Reformed tradition has generally held that “There shall never be to you other gods” (Exodus 20:3 // Deuteronomy 5:7) and “You shall never make a carved image” (Exodus 20:4[–6] // Deuteronomy 5:8[–10]) are distinct Words, the first addressing worship’s object and the second its mode. In contrast, the Catholic-Lutheran numbering reads these two commands together, treating as the first Word all the first-person address that runs from the initial indicative “I am Yahweh your God” through the phrase “those who love me and keep my commandments.” The initial statement and three prohibitions together clarify one of Israel’s most fundamental worldview questions––how should we perceive and, by implication, approach the God who has saved us?
The initial indicative highlights Yahweh as Israel’s deliverer from physical slavery and thus characterizes in one sense all the commandments that follow as words of freedom. What follows is then the first main imperative: “There shall never be to you other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3 // Deuteronomy 5:7). In all likelihood, this charge relates not to Yahweh having highest priority or rank among many (though this is a justified implication of the meaning) but to his status as the only sovereign, the one who acts alone, not as the head of a pantheon of rival deities but as the sole and ultimate power in the universe. This view is suggested by the fact that whenever the preposition “besides” is used with a personal object, the meaning is elsewhere always spatial, thus implying that the stress in this text is that Yahweh has no peers in his presence. He does not share power, authority, or jurisdiction with anyone.
This initial charge then leads naturally into the explanatory statements regarding (1) the crafting of a sculptured image and (2) the worship and service of other gods (Exodus 20:4–6 // Deuteronomy 5:8–10). What is striking here is that the truth of Yahweh’s preeminence over all is not left as a theological abstraction; rather the implications for Israel’s every day life are made explicit by the two injunctions, which intentionally build upon the initial command.
First, Yahweh’s transcendence both in being and function requires that human-made idols hold no place in Israel’s existence. Graven images were believed to mediate the presence of the gods, and by them humans served the needs of the gods. Yahweh has no needs but indeed supplies everything as he governs heaven and earth (Deuteronomy 4:39; 32:39; cf. Acts 17:25). Furthermore, Yahweh encounters his creation through his Spirit-presence and not through idols (Deuteronomy 4:15–18).
Second, Yahweh’s supremacy over all necessitates that Israel never worship or serve anything other than him (Exodus 20:5 // Deuteronomy 5:9). The practical import here is vast. Powers and pleasures abound in this world that vie for attention and allegiance. Indeed, they can even be viewed as being controlled by demons (Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Corinthians 10:19–20)! Yet in this world where God alone hold absolute supremacy, honor and thanksgiving must ultimately be given to him alone (Romans 1:21).
The call to worship Yahweh alone is directly related to the manner by which he should be worshipped. The two cannot be separated, and the Ten Words suggest they go together, all because Yahweh is rightfully, necessarily, and lovingly jealous for his people’s affection (Exodus 20:5–6 // Deuteronomy 5:9–10).
Books At a Glance:
What is the connection you suggest between the Decalogue and the imago Dei?
In my essay I note that the Ten Words were the only Scripture placed in the ark of the covenant within the holy of holies, directly where a sculptured god would have rested in the temples of Israel’s neighbors (Exodus 40:20–21). For Yahweh, his image would not and could not be mediated through idols of wood or stone. Instead, he purposed that his image would be evident in his people’s living out the Decalogue. Thus the divine character would be embodied in human lives.
Significantly, the tablets remained enshrined within the ark, unable to be read. This provided a parable of the role of the law within the old covenant. Instead of being etched on the hearts of the people, sin was engraved on the tablets of their hearts (Jeremiah 17:1), and thus no one could read the character of God in their lives.
The new covenant promised something greater. The day would come when the ark of the covenant would no longer be remembered because God would make his own people his throne––Jew and Gentile alike gathered together under his supremacy (Jeremiah 3:16–18; cf. Isaiah 4:5–6). Here the people would replace the ark of the covenant, enjoying the presence of God and the law written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27). That is, they would be God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), and the character of God would now be read in their lives by all (2 Corinthians 3:2–3).
All this is made possible because of Christ, who stands as the fulfillment and end of the law partially by meetings the law’s legal demands (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4; cf. Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:13–15). Christ is the last Adam, the ultimate image bearer, the true Israel, and God’s royal-priest Son, whose perfect obedience of faith in his life and death completely fulfilled the law and thus secured eternal blessing and enablement for the elect (Rom 5:18–19; Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8). Before the Ten Commandments are ever about us, they are about Christ, for they portray for us a picture of the character of God that is magnified in his person and work.
Books At a Glance:
For our readers who may want to read more from Dr. Block, where would you suggest is a good place for them to begin? And for whom does he usually write?
Block normally writes for learned pastors and scholars, and as I already noted, his studies always exhibit an admirable balance of exegetical rigor, literary and theological awareness, and pastoral care. To get a good sense for Block’s exegetical rigor and heart for the church, I would pick up his soon-to-be-published For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship (Baker, 2014). I would also snag his excellent commentaries on Deuteronomy, Judges and Ruth, and volumes 1 and 2 of The Book of Ezekiel.
Books At a Glance: We would have also enjoyed speaking with the other contributors to this volume about their various subjects — exile (McConville and Gile), Israel as God’s Son (Osborne), Paul’s use of Deuteronomy in Galatians 3 and Romans 10 (Moo), the several chapters on the influence of Deuteronomy elsewhere in the canon, etc. For Your Good Always is a substantive contribution to studies in Deuteronomy. But thank you for your time. In a previous interview with us you mentioned your forthcoming work on Deuteronomy, which you said would still be a few years until completion. For any of our readers who would like to begin a study of Deuteronomy, what books – in addition to Deuteronomy itself! – would you suggest that would be most helpful?
Jason DeRouchie: My chapter on “Deuteronomy” in my What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible (Kregel, 2013) is a great place to begin for a synthesis of the book’s message (at least as I see it). Next I would check out the commentaries on Deuteronomy by Block, C. J. H. Wright, and J. G. McConville. A helpful recent introduction to the interpretive issues facing the book is D. G. Firth and Philip S. Johnston, eds., Interpreting Deuteronomy: Issues and Approaches (InterVarsity, 2012). Also, three helpful books on Deuteronomy’s theology are J. G. Millar, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy (NSBT 6; InterVarsity, 2000); Paul A. Barker, The Triumph of Grace in Deuteronomy: Faithless Israel, Faithful Yahweh in Deuteronomy (PBM; Wipf&Stock, 2007); and Kenneth J. Turner, The Death of Deaths in the Death of Israel: Deuteronomy’s Theology of Exile (Wipf & Stock, 2010). Finally, readers can keep their eye out for the fall 2014 edition of the The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, which will be fully devoted to Deuteronomy.
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