Ethics Spirituality

The ten commandments viewed with new covenant eyes

For some time now, I have been memorizing the New City Catechism and I am  finding it very beneficial. I’m taking my time at it, but I have now gotten a fair handle on the first 12 questions and answers, so I’m finished the questions on the ten commandments. I very much appreciate the way the meaning of these is unpacked for Christians. Each commandment is seen with the nuance brought to it by the teaching of the New Testament.

All of the commandments are concisely but luminously applied, but I have been particularly impressed with the last 5, dealing with the manner in which we love our neighbors as ourselves. In addition to the new covenant perspective, I like the way they are unpacked in both positive and negative terms. For those who are not familiar with this new catechism, here are the explanations of the requirements of the last five commandments (Q11 and 12), which I’ll provide after the summary statement of the commandment itself (from Q8).

You shall not murder

 Sixth, that we do not hurt, hate, or be hostile to our neighbor, but be patient and peaceful, pursuing even our enemies with love. 

You shall not commit adultery 

Seventh, that we abstain from sexual immorality and live purely and faithfully, whether in marriage or in single life, avoiding all impure actions, looks, words, thoughts, or desires, and whatever might lead to them. 

You shall not steal

 Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else, nor withhold any good from someone we might benefit. 

You shall not give false testimony

 Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive, but speak the truth in love.

 You shall not covet

 Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone or resenting what God has given them or us.

 My evening prayer time, using  Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime etc., includes confession:

Almighty God, my heavenly Father, I have sinned against you through my own fault, in thought and word and deed, in what I have done and what I have left undone.

I find that the spelling out of God’s most basic commandments in the New City Catechism provides a helpful way to review the ways in which I have sinned against God, by commission and by omission, negatively and positively. Having done so, what a relief it is then to request:

For the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive me all my offences and grant that I may serve you in newness of life.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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