The Israelite Household And The Decalogue: The Social Background And Significance Of Some Commandments -- By: Christopher J. H. Wright

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 30:1 (NA 1979)
Article: The Israelite Household And The Decalogue: The Social Background And Significance Of Some Commandments
Author: Christopher J. H. Wright


The Israelite Household And The Decalogue: The Social Background And Significance Of Some Commandments*

Christopher J. H. Wright

* A paper read at the Tyndale Fellowship Old Testament Study Group in Cambridge, July 1977.

Decalogue study is still in a state of some confusion, with little apparent consensus in any of the critical disciplines.1 Nevertheless, most scholars, whatever their views on authorship, date, original form, history, etc., agree in recognizing the position of unique importance accorded to the Decalogue in Israel’s understanding of her relationship with God.

The evidence that it was assigned a unique place of importance by the Old Testament itself, and not just by subsequent Jewish and Christian interpreters, is manifold. The commandments have a special name, the “ten words” . . . (cf. also Ex. 31:8; Deut. 4:13; 9:9, etc.). Again, they are repeated in Deuteronomy as providing the foundation for the new promulgation of the covenant. The narrative framework of Exodus, but particularly of Deuteronomy, stressed the finality of the commandments: “These words Yahweh spoke . . . and added no more” (Deut. 5:22). Finally, the reflection of the commandments in the prophets (Hos. 4:lff; Jer. 7:9ff), and in the Psalms (50 and 81) testify to their influence upon Israel’s faith.2

The strength of this influence is reflected in the association of the Decalogue with Sinai, which indicates that it was felt to be essential as the revelation of what in practice was required of those who there became God’s people.

Whatever one thinks about the authorship, the fact that the Decalogue early held a central position in Israelite life remains as the most important result of recent research. . . . It stood in association with the review of the Sinai events as the binding charter expressing the will of the divine Lord of the Covenant.3

However, having acknowledged this, the paradox emerges that the last six commandments - the ‘ethical’ ones - are in themselves not at all unique. The moral and legal requirements they express are neither unique to Israel among her contemporary nations, nor unknow...

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