COMMANDMENT, THE NEW [ISBE]
COMMANDMENT, THE NEW
- nu (entole kaine): The word "commandment" is used in the English versions of the Old Testament to translate several Hebrew words, more especially those meaning "word" (dabhar) as the ten words of God (Ex 34:28
) or king's "command" (Est 1:12
); "precept" (mitswah) of God (Dt 4:2
), of a king (2 Ki 18:36
); "mouth" or "speech" (peh) of God (Ex 17:1
), of Pharaoh (2 Ki 23:35
). They express theocratic idea of morality wherein the will or law of God is imposed upon men as their law of conduct (2 Ki 17:37
1. Christ and the Old Commandment:
This idea is not repudiated in the New Testament, but supplemented or modified from within by making love the essence of the command. Jesus Christ, as reported in the Synoptics, came not "to destroy the law or the prophets .... but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17). He taught that "whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:19). He condemned the Pharisees for rejecting the commandments of God as given by Moses (Mk 7:8-13). There is a sense in which it is true that Christ propounded no new commandment, but the new thing in His teaching was the emphasis laid on the old commandment of love, and the extent and intent of its application. The great commandment is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, .... (and) thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets" (Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-34; compare Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18).
2. Principle instead of Law:
Whey the law realizes itself as love for God and man in men's hearts, it ceases to bear the aspect of a command. The force of authority and the active resistance or inertia of the subject disappear; the law becomes a principle, a motive, a joyous harmony of man's will with the will of God; and in becoming internal, it becomes universal and transcends all distinctions of race or class. Even this was not an altogether new idea (compare Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51); nor did Christ's contemporaries and disciples think it was.
3. Christ's Love Fulfilled in Death Becomes the Law of the Church:
The revolutionary factor was the death of Christ wherein the love of God was exemplified and made manifest as the basis and principle of all spiritual life (Jn 13:34). Paul therefore generalizes all pre-Christian morality as a system of law and commandments, standing in antithesis to the grace and love which are through Jesus Christ (Rom 5 through 7). Believers in Christ felt their experience and inward life to be so changed and new, that it needed a new term (agape = "love") to express their ideal of conduct (see CHARITY). Another change that grew upon the Christian consciousness, following from the resurrection and ascension of Christ, was the idea that He was the permanent source of the principle of life. "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3). Hence, in the Johannine writings the principle described by the new term agape is associated with Christ's lordship and solemnly described as His "new commandment." "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (Jn 13:34). To the Christians of the end of the 1st century it was already an old commandment which they had from the beginning of the Christian teaching (1 Jn 2:7; 2 Jn 5); but it was also a new commandment which ever came with new force to men who were passing from the darkness of hatred to the light of love (1 Jn 2:8-11).
4. The New Revelation:
The term in the Gospel we may owe to the evangelist, but it brings into relief an element in the consciousness of Jesus which the author of the Fourth Gospel had appreciated more fully than the Synoptists. Jesus was aware that He was the bearer of a special message from the Father (Jn 12:49; Mt 11:27), that He fulfilled His mission in His death of love and self-sacrifice (Jn 10:18), and that the mission fulfilled gave Him authority over the lives of men, "even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." The full meaning of Christ's teaching was only realized when men had experienced and recognized the significance of His death as the cause and principle of right conduct. The Synoptists saw Christ's teaching as the development of the prophetic teaching of the Old Testament. Paul and John felt that the love of God in Christ was a new thing: (a) new as a revelation of God in Christ, (b) new as a principle of life in the church, and (c) new as a union of believers with Christ. While it is love, it is also a commandment of Christ, calling forth the joyous obedience of believers.
See also BROTHERLY LOVE.