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Cover Image: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments:
Ethics for the Twenty-first Century

Mark Rooker (Broadman & Holman, 2010)

Blurb Review by Rev. Ted Manby

Review by Rev. Ted Manby

The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century by Mark F. Rooker. New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010.

With careful exegesis and detailed scholarship, this work makes a significant contribution to the study of the Ten Commandments from a conservative, evangelical perspective. It is written in such a way that it will be beneficial to interested laypeople, Sunday School teachers, pastors, theologians, and scholars. The introduction thoughtfully considers the issues relating to the conflict over the numbering of the commandments among Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars. Likewise, the conclusion offers significant help to the Bible student seeking to apply these moral laws to contemporary life and form an ethical framework that is pleasing to God. The chapters between the introduction and conclusion deal with each of the Ten Commandments in numerical order, one chapter at a time. The separate Hebrew terminology used for each commandment in both the Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 passages is carefully exegeted, compared and contrasted. Thus, this work has an advantage over most commentaries on either Exodus or Deuteronomy since the majority of scholars give very little space to the difference in wording in these two texts.  This makes this volume extremely useful in studying this subject.

Biblical Theology

Rooker's format for each chapter on the Ten Commandments is extremely helpful to the student of Biblical Theology. Following each chapter's introduction, Rooker then addresses the meaning of the commandment at hand. In this section he places each commandment within its Ancient Near Eastern context and carefully defines the important Hebrew terms in each commandment from Exodus and Deuteronomy. The next section deals with the commandment being studied as it appears in the Old Testament, followed by a section on its occurrences in the New Testament. Each chapter's conclusion gives further explanation and summarizes the chronological study already offered and then adds practical applications and suggestions for modern life.

Handling the Controversial Fourth Commandment

Because of the wide range of opinions on the fourth commandment, it is impossible for an evangelical Christian to take a position that is accepted by all Bible students. Dr. Rooker does not shy away from this commandment nor refuse to take a position. Even though it differs at its onset from this reviewer's published view, after careful study of this chapter, this reviewer believes Rooker's position is the most defensible one. Along with many evangelicals, Rooker states that the fourth commandment is not repeated in the New Testament in the sense that it is binding upon New Covenant believers. No one would argue that it is not mentioned in the Sabbath debates between the Pharisees and Jesus. But the other nine commandments that appear in teaching passages for Jewish and Gentile Christians are directly binding upon believers because they reveal God's character (e.g. Rom 7:7, 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19, 10:14; Eph 6:1-2; 1 Thes 4:2-3; 1 John 5:21). Thus, even though this reviewer has argued that the first nine commandments are repeated in 1 Tim 1:8-11 and applied to new covenant believers, there is a weakness in this view that is not present in Dr. Rooker's analysis of this issue. In particular, his viewpoint best supports the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. This doctrine has recently come under attack from some within the Emerging Church, even though it is directly taught in passages like Psa 19:8 ("The command [mitzvah] of the LORD [Yahweh] is radiant [BDB =pure, clear], making the eyes light up"). The Ten Commandments are most assuredly included in the moral commands (mitzvah) that the Bible declares are "clear." Without significant outside help, most believers studying 1 Tim 1:8-11 would not see that the adjectives in v. 9 all apply to the first nine commandments in order starting with the third adjective. Thus, Dr. Rooker's view that the fourth commandment is not repeated in the New Testament is what most readers would also see in their reading of it and thus his stance supports the doctrine of the clarity of the Scriptures better than the viewpoint of this reviewer.

Likewise, Rooker also denies that there is sufficient biblical evidence that Sunday replaced Saturday in the Messiah's administration of the New Covenant as the Christian Sabbath. Reformed Baptists and conservative Presbyterians will not agree with this view, whereas most Dispensationalists will make this argument. Rooker's view is also the easiest one to defend from the biblical text itself without appealing to complicated typology and continuity issues. However, Rooker's application of the moral principles behind the fourth commandment is identical to this reviewer's view and will be accepted with joy by those who appreciate the ethical demands of Scripture.

Significant Insights

In chapter ten of this work, the explanation on coveting may be one of the best in print in English. It is very insightful to make the distinction that what is forbidden in this commandment is longing for an actual possession that belongs to a specific person or a person legally attached to him/her rather than desiring a possession similar to one owned by a friend. A balance between the positions of the legalists and the libertines is found in each chapter of this work, but this is clearly evident in chapter ten.

Possible Improvements

Because of the subtitle, this reviewer would recommend the addition of a footnote on abortion in chapter five. The point at which a fetus should be considered a person should have been addressed in his analysis because the answer to this question could potentially protect that fetus from the act of murder. Simply citing a work on the Old Testament that defends human life and personhood beginning at conception would greatly improve this chapter. Even though, euthanasia is not mentioned in this chapter either, the clarity of the meaning of murder in this chapter makes its application to euthanasia extremely clear.

Conclusion

Like the other works in the NAC Studies in Bible and Theology, this work by Mark Rooker should be included in the library of every student of the Bible who teaches biblical truth. Laypeople will not need to spend much time in the footnotes, but they will definitely benefit from each chapter of this very helpful work. 

Rev. Manby is the Associate Pastor at Adamsville Baptist Church (NC) and holds a MDiv and ThM from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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