Did Early Christians Teach the Ten Commandments Were Done Away?



While many Protestants and Baptists act like the ten commandments were done away or somehow nailed to the cross, this is a relatively recent understanding and most certainly was not the understanding of real Christians in the second century (the time immediately after the death of the original apostles).

Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, and was a disciple of the Apostle John, the last of the original apostles as well as the last of the writers of the New Testament to die.

What did he and other second century Christian leaders teach about the ten commandments?

Polycarp, around 120 A.D., wrote:

But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, falsewitness; “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter II. from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

“But the love of money is the root of all evils.” Knowing, therefore, that “as we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out,” let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness; and let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord. Next, [teach] your wives [to walk] in the faith given to them, and in love and purity tenderly loving their own husbands in all truth, and loving all [others] equally in all chastity; and to train up their children in the knowledge and fear of God. Teach the widows to be discreet as respects the faith of the Lord, praying continually for all, being far from all slandering, evil-speaking, false-witnessing, love of money, and every kind of evil (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter IV. from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Knowing, then, that “God is not mocked,” we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory …For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since “every lust warreth against the spirit; ” and “neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,” nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter V. from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

I exhort you, therefore, that ye abstain from covetousness, and that ye be chaste and truthful. “Abstain from every form of evil.” For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others ? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord ? (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter XI. from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

In the above, Polycarp referred to at least six commandments (numbers 1,3,5,7,9,10). And probably nine (2,6,8), since stealing (and he wrote against the “love of money” which leads to stealing) and murder (plus Polycarp said not to repay “blow for blow”) do not reflect love and idolatry is a form of “false-witnessing”.

Furthermore, since in Polycarp’s area, when reporting his martyrdom, the Smyrnaeans referred to Friday as the “day of preparation” and mentioned “the great Sabbath”, it is obvious that the fourth commandment about the Sabbath was also kept.

Melito of Sardis, around 170 A.D., endorsed the commandments as well and specifically referred to breaking the first two as sin:

If, therefore, a man forsake the light, and say that there is another God, it is plain from what he himself says that it is some created thing which he calls God. For, if a man call fire God, it is not God, because it is fire; and, if a man call water God, it is not God, because it is water; and, if he so call this earth on which we tread, or these heavens which are seen by us, or the sun, or the moon, or some one of these stars which run their course without ceasing by Divine command, and do not speed along by their own will, neither are these gods; and, if a man call gold and silver gods, are not these objects things which we use as we please? and, if he so call those pieces of wood which we burn, or those stones which we break, how can these things be gods? For, 1o! they are for the use of man. How can `they’ escape the commission of great sin, who in their speech change the great God into those things which, so long as they continue, continue by Divine command? (A Discourse Which Was in the Presence of Antoninus Caesar).

In his Discourse Which Was in the Presence of Antoninus Caesar, Melito also objected to violating the second, seventh, and tenth commandments, specifically idolatry, adultery, and lusting for another’s wife.

Melito was claimed to be one who observed the annual Sabbaths (like the first day of unleavened bread), hence would have kept the fourth commandment. In verse 49 of his Homily on the Passover, he refers to parental honor and dishonor (suggestive of endorsing the fifth commandment). In fragment V he complains about the wickedness of murder (commandment 6) and “false witness” (commandment 9).

While that is only eight of the ten commandments, I would suggest that Melito did not approve of taking God’s name in vain (third commandment) nor stealing (eighth commandment)–and he may have specifically wrote against those as well, because in many of his writings we only have fragments that remain today.

Even the Roman supporting Irenaeus around 180 wrote that Christ taught and did not do away with the Ten Commandments, but he taught that that is what the heretic Marcion taught:

1. And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law, but that He extended and fulfilled them, is shown from His words. “For,” He remarks, “it has been said to them of old time, Do not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That every one who hath looked upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” And again: “It has been said, Thou shalt not kill. But I say unto you, Every one who is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment.” And, “It hath been said, Thou shalt not forswear thyself. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; but let your conversation be, Yea, yea, and Nay, nay.” And other statements of a like nature. For all these do not contain or imply an opposition to and an overturning of the [precepts] of the past, as Marcion’s followers do strenuously maintain; but [they exhibit] a fulfilling and an extension of them (Book IV, Chapter 13, Verse 1).

Preparing man for this life, the Lord Himself did speak in His own person to all alike the words of the Decalogue; and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently with us, receiving by means of His advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book IV, Chapter 16, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

The term Decalogue refers to the ten commandments. Notice that Irenaeus states that they are to be permanently retained.

Irenaeus, even though he wrote heretical and contradictory things, also wrote the following:

Now, that we may not suffer ought of this kind, we must needs hold the rule of the faith without deviation, and do the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him as Lord and loving Him as Father. (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Chapter 3. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920)

Theophilus was a leader of the church in Antioch in the latter part of the second century. The Orthodox Church considers him to have been a successor to the Apostle Peter.

Theophilus, around 180 A.D., wrote:

And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create…Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the “Sabbath,” is translated into Greek the “Seventh” (ebdomas), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation…God having thus completed the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and all that are in them, on the sixth day, rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapters XI, XII, XIX. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Now we also confess that God exists, but that He is one, the creator, and maker, and fashioner of this universe; and we know that all things are arranged by His providence, but by Him alone. And we have learned a holy law; but we have as lawgiver Him who is really God, who teaches us to act righteously, and to be pious, and to do good. And concerning piety He says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I am the LORD thy God.” And of doing good He said: “Honour thy father and thy mother; that it may be well with thee, and that thy days may be long in the land which I the LORD God give thee.” Again, concerning righteousness: “Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, nor his land, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his beast of burden, nor any of his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s…Of this divine law, then, Moses, who also was God’s servant, was made the minister both to all the world, and chiefly to the Hebrews…Of this great and wonderful law, which tends to all righteousness, the ten heads are such as we have already rehearsed (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book III, Chapter IX. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Thus, it is clear that Polycarp and others endorsed all ten of the commandments in the second century.

In the early third century, Clement of Alexandria listed most of the ten commandments (note, he left out two commandments– 3. cursing and 9. false witness):

The first commandment of the Decalogue shows that there is one only Sovereign God…

The second word intimated that men ought not to take and confer the august power of God (which is the name, for this alone were many even yet capable of learning), and transfer His title to things created and vain, which human artificers have made…

And the fourth word is that which intimitates that the world was created by God, and that He gave us the seventh day as a rest, on account of the trouble that there is in life. For God is incapable of weariness, and suffering, and want. But we who bear flesh need rest. The seventh day, therefore, is proclaimed a rest…

Now the fifth in order is the command on the honour of father and mother…

Then follows the command about murder…

This is followed by the command respecting adultery…

And after this is the command respecting theft…

And the tenth is the command respecting all lusts (Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, Book VI, Chapter 16).

It should be noted that Clement did not mention coveting your neighbor’s wife within the tenth or did he give any indication that that could be a separate commandment from other lusts. Hence Clement endorsed the same order of the ten commandments that the Church of God still endorses–this is different from the order of the Roman Church which came up with its order in the fifth century (more information on that is in the article Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Church of God?) as well as a different order that the Lutherans accept (see The Similarities and Dissimilarities between Martin Luther and Herbert Armstrong).

In the third century, even the Roman theologian Hippolytus understood, not only that the commandments needed to be kept, but that baptism alone was not enough as he wrote:

Ye obtained my baptism, but ye observed not my commandments…For not every, one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall be saved, but he that doeth my will. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment (Hippolytus. On the End of the World, Chapter XLVIII. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

The so-called Apostolic Constituitions, written in Syria around 250 A.D. states:

XXXVI. Have before thine eyes the fear of God, and always remember the ten commandments of God,–to love the one and only Lord God with all thy strength; to give no heed to idols, or any other beings, as being lifeless gods, or irrational beings or daemons. Consider the manifold workmanship of God, which received its beginning through Christ. Thou shalt observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from His work of creation, but ceased not from His work of providence: it is a rest for meditation of the law, not for idleness of the hands (Apostolic Constitutions – Didascalia Apostolorum Book II, Section IV).

Certainly leaders who professed Christ taught the observance of the ten commandments during and after the time of Jesus and Paul.

Related articles of interest may be:

Were the Ten Commandments in Effect Before Mount Sinai? Some have said not. This article provides biblical quotes to answer this important question.
Job and the Ten Commandments Was Job written prior to Mount Sinai? Did Job know about the ten commandments? This article provides biblical answers to those questions.
Were the Ten Commandments Nailed to the Cross? Some have said so. This article provides some biblical quotes to answer this important question.
Were the Pharisees Condemned for Keeping the Law? Many believe that, but what does your Bible say? If they were not condemned for that, what were they condemned for?
The Ten Commandments Reflect Love, Breaking them is Evil Some feel that the ten commandments are a burden. Is that what Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John taught?
Was the Commandment to Love the Only Command? Some have stated that John’s writings teach this, but is that what the Bible really says?

Perhaps it should be added that it was only the disciples of Simon Magus (warned against in Acts 8) and those that tended to follow the heretic Marcion in the second century that did not teach adherence to the ten commandments.

Certain Protestants, certain Baptists, and others who believe that Christians felt that the ten commandments were somehow done away, simply are proven wrong by the fact that faithful Christians as well as most others who professed Christ in the second century did not teach that. Instead, nearly all understood from the Bible and the teachings and the the practices of the apostles that the ten commandments were to be kept by Christians.

I would issue a challenge to all who profess Christ who believe that the ten commandments were done away by the cross, the writings of the Apostle Paul, or something else in the New Testament to ask themselves why that those who truly understood first and second century Greek did not come to the same conclusion?

Since the Church of Jesus was always to endure, how could it have gone for centuries teaching that Christians were supposed to keep the ten commandments to the teaching that seemed not to appear in many quarters until the seventeenth century or later that the ten commandments were done away?

This is totally illogical and should serve as a wake-up call to those who are misinterpreting scripture as well as ignoring the facts of history.

Some articles related to church history include the following:

What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
Do You Practice Mithraism? Many practices and doctrines that mainstream so-called Christian groups have are the same or similar to those of the sun-god Mithras. Do you follow Mithraism combined with the Bible or original Christianity?
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view? Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches? Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Churches of God Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?

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