Hierarchy of the Ten Commandments

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by bookslover, Jul 14, 2019.

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  1. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Can someone recommend a book or part of a book that discusses the hierarchy or ordering of the Ten Commandments?

    What I mean is: I've heard recently that some believe there is an ordering (a logical or theological progression) in the Ten Commandments. For example, you can't obey the Second Commandment unless you're obeying the First Commandment, and you can't obey the Third Commandment unless you're obeying the First and Second Commandments, and so on all the way down to the Tenth.

    I don't think I've heard this before. I've just assumed that all ten are of equal importance (which they are) and that they aren't "connected" in the particular way I've described above.

    Has anyone written about this? Have I described it correctly?
  2. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    The order of the commandments does reflect how central to the character of God each commandment is, I believe. Whether you worship the true God is more central (not necessarily more important!) than how one worships the true God. I don't know if that would work, though, with the third commandment. It does make sense to put the fourth commandment where it is, since the right God, the right way for worshipping the right God, and the right reverence for God are a bit more central than the when. The fifth would then be a bridge commandment, since the neighbor who represents God's authority the most would be the parents, both biological and otherwise. There is a progression with the last five, since life is more central than marriage, which is more central than property, which is more central than one's good name, etc.

    That being said, one other caveat to what I will say below is important, namely, that each commandment does have a purview of its own, which is governed by the ways of interpretation: each commandment is a category, of which the explicit commandment itself is the most extreme form of the obedience or disobedience, as the case may be. Each commandment includes all the lesser sins of the same category. Each commandment includes the corresponding opposite positive command or prohibition (don't murder, but protect life), and therefore all the lesser commands of the same category. The same goes for the threats and the promises. What is true of the outer man in the prohibition and commands is also true for the inner man. In other words, WLC 99.

    But one final point has to be made, and that is that if God's law is a reflection of God's own character, then the law is an indivisible whole, however much each commandment might have a purview of its own. This means that each commandment inplies all the others, and to break one of them means breaking all the others at some level (though not to the same extent). worshipping a false god, for instance, is a form of adultery, theft, telling a falsehood, and dishonoring our heavenly father. Like picking up a carpet at one point, the rest of the carpet comes too, even if not to the same height.
  3. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks, Lane. A very thoughtful post. So, basically, each commandment is discrete, and yet all the commandments are connected. Makes sense.
  4. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    I don't think this is entirely related to the OP, but it does help us a little with the progression.

    J. Edwards said of the commandments, "The first command fixes the object, the second the means, the third the manner, the fourth the time."

    And Heidelberg 113: "Q. What does the tenth commandment require? A. That not even the least inclination or thought against any commandment of God ever enter our heart, but that with our whole heart we continually hate all sin and take pleasure in all righteousness."

    The first table sets in front of us the object of our worship and the basics involved with worshipping Him. The first five of the second table all present something physically measurable, and the tenth addresses the condition of the sinful heart that is at the root of breaking any of the commandments.
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2019
  5. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    There's also the thought that the first Word is redemption -- what the WCF calls the preface to the 10 commandments.
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