Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Further Reflections: The order of the commandments in Romans 13:9
Here are some further reflections on Paul’s listing of commandments in Romans 13:9, drawn from study for last Sunday’s sermon. Of note is the question of the order of the commandments. The traditional text of Romans 13:9 lists five commandments, with the prohibition against adultery ahead of that of murder: “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
The traditional order of the commandments in the second table of the law drawn from the Hebrew texts of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are as follows:
(5). Honor thy father and mother.
(6). Thou shalt not kill.
(7). Thou shalt not commit adultery.
(8). Thou shalt not steal.
(9). Thou shalt not bear false witness.
(10). Thou shalt not covet.
We can use this order as our basis for comparison with the LXX which alters it.
So, the LXX of Exodus 20 has the following order: 5, 7, 8, 6, 9, 10.
While the LXX of Deuteronomy 5 has this order: 5, 7, 6, 8, 9, 10.
Was Paul following the LXX order of Deuteronomy 5 in his list of commandments in Romans 13:9 as “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Rom 11:13)? Was it simply an ad hoc listing (cf. Rom 2:21-23)?
It is also interesting to compare other listings of the commandments in the NT:
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7), Jesus begins his interpretation and expansion of the commandments with the sixth, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill….” (Matt 5:21) and proceeds to the seventh, “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Matth 5:27). This follows the traditional Hebrew order.
Matthew 19/Mark 10/Luke 18:
In Matthew 19, Jesus is asked by the “young man” who came to him about which commandments he needed to keep to have “eternal life” (vv. 16-22). Jesus responds, “Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (vv. 18-19). The order is 6, 7, 8, 9, 5, plus the citation of Leviticus 19:8.
In the apparent parallel in Mark 10, Jesus responds, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother” (v. 19). Here the order is 7, 6, 8, 9, the additional prohibition against defrauding [apostereo, rather epithumeo, “to covet,” but perhaps a reference to the 10th commandment?], 5.
In Luke 18 in his conversation with the “certain ruler,” Jesus says, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother” (v. 20). Here the order is 7, 6, 8, 9, 5.
For now I will bypass questions about the “synoptic problem,” inerrancy, and the ipsissima verba of Christ in favor of queries about the order of the commandments. It might be observed that the more Jewish Matthew follows the Hebrew order (as also in Matt 5) with murder before adultery, whereas Mark and Luke follow the LXX order with adultery before murder. All agree in placing the 5th commandment last. In comparison to Paul in Romans 13:9 this might indicate that the fifth was associated with the first table rather than the second.
In James 2:11 we read, “For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also Do not kill.” Here adultery is cited before murder, but this might not indicate anything about James' understanding of the order of the commandments.