"How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments" by Edmund Clowney; edited by Rebecca Clowney Jones

William J. Nielsen
Friday, August 31st 2007
Sep/Oct 2007

This posthumous work is everything you would expect from Ed Clowney, the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary. The book is pastoral, theological, and of course very concerned with redemptive history.

The purpose of the book, expressed in the preface, fits clearly under the rubric of redemptive history: "What role does the law play in the history of redemption?" (viii). In answering this question, Clowney opens up to the reader his interpretive approach to the Bible: "Christ not only obeyed the law, but also displayed its true meaning and depth" (2).

In the initial chapter, the case is made generally as to how Jesus, the covenant Lord, fulfills the law, which was "given to be a reflection of the divine character" (2). The Ten Commandments come to us in the context of a common ancient Near Eastern literary form in which the vassal king must be exclusively committed to the supreme suzerain ruler, who promised curse for disobedience and blessing for obedience (3). In light of the repeated failure of God's people, the Lord brought exile and judgment. Yet, out of this slough of despond, the old things are made new in Christ (7). In insisting on the persistence of the Old Testament covenant, Jesus "fulfills the law by obeying it, but also by revealing its promise" (7, 8).

In chapters 2 through 11, the focus is on Jesus' fulfillment of each of the Ten Commandments specifically. Following Deuteronomy 6, Clowney makes the case that all subsequent commandments are predicated upon the first commandment, in which God establishes his identity and right to speak commandments for us to obey (12). In placing the Ten Commandments in the paradigm of the Exodus, Clowney underscores that the law Giver is also the Redeemer, whose "redemption is not done by proxy" (14). In becoming our Savior, God demonstrates himself to be our bridegroom and king in the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, "incarnation is insufficient to redeem" and so in Jesus, our Redeemer is also the Suffering Servant and Conquering Savior. Consequently, the first commandment stresses that there shall be no other name than that of Jesus (20).

Chapter 3 presents an array of issues revolving around the prohibition of idol worship. After establishing a person as one created in the image of God, Clowney briefly chases perspectives which have sought to either overstate or understate the dignity of humanity. Resolving this tension is Jesus Christ, who is "God's gracious gift of an anointed image, which we are not only permitted but commanded to worship" (27). The only way to avoid idolatry, spiritual or otherwise, is union with Christ.

The name of the Lord is not to be used in vain because "God himself is present in his name, and all his works reveal that name" (40). In fact the manifold names of God point us forward to fulfillment in Christ, who gives us that triune family name that we receive at baptism, our name-giving ceremony that we might honor that name (44, 45).

The Sabbath, a creation ordinance repeated in the law, expresses God's covenant with his people and is a sign not only of creation but of redemption (55). Thus when Jesus declares that he is Lord of the Sabbath, he proclaims himself as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sabbath rest (59). Consequently, "first-day worship is part of our calling to do more, not less" (62) and finding our joy and rest in laboring for God must extend to every day of the week (151).

Chapter 6 extends to the reader a practical handling of the fifth commandment, concerning Jesus' family values (67), imploring parents to nurture their children as those who have received the family name of God in baptism as they have (72). Thus, together we honor our family name-"Christian" (77).

The gospel approach to honoring human life avoids esteeming it more than the Creator and devaluing human life of its uniqueness in the created order (80). It is Jesus alone who "provides the very Life that can rescue us from our murderous selves" (84).

Marriage and its antithesis, adultery, are figures that describe God's covenant love for his unfaithful people. The command not to commit adultery ultimately looks forward to the union believers have with Christ that "lasts longer than marriage" (96). This chapter also examines, in cursory form, gender relations and Christian marriage and sexuality.

In directing our hearts to himself, the true treasure, Jesus fulfills the eighth commandment (107). This wealth is in fact the inheritance believers have in Christ. It is more than getting stuff or honor. Jesus gives himself to us, that we may be one with him (114). In abiding in Christ the believer learns not only to refrain from theft, but more importantly "to multiply our treasure by clinging to Christ alone" (120).

God has sworn by himself and his word that this witness is true. He has sent his Son Jesus, "the faithful witness." Jesus bore witness to the Father. The Spirit now bears witness through his people throughout history. Even to his people, Jesus continues to bear witness in inscripturating the apostolic witness of the New Testament and in giving to the church the Eucharist and baptism in which he is spiritually present. Christ has sent his church out, as individuals and corporately, to bear witness to himself-not by means of personal experience-but by joining "our own witness to that of the apostles and prophets" (136).

Jesus stated the tenth commandment positively when he said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). This commandment now compels believers away from anything "that would draw us away from contentedly serving God wherever in his good providence he has placed us" (145). It proclaims a singularity of love to God alone (149) with all our heart, our soul, and exceedingly all of us.

My criticisms of this book are two. First, Clowney seems to vacillate between the claim that "Jesus fulfills the law" and that "Jesus transforms the law." The latter statement (also the title of the book) seems problematic since Clowney claims the law was "given to be a reflection of the divine character" (2) and divine character is immutable. Conceptually, Clowney clearly argues for the idea of fulfillment of the law; however, suggesting that Jesus transforms the law might introduce unnecessary confusion. Here perhaps Clowney would have done well to clarify that the idea of transformation is not "of the law" but of our understanding of the law in light of Christ. Second, while Clowney was able to address many weighty and controversial matters in the course of this book, the cursory handling of topics like submission, gender relations, and sexuality may leave readers disappointed and wanting more substantial discussion.

Clowney's book, including its study questions, comes highly recommended as a helpful introduction to the role of the law in the history of redemption.

Friday, August 31st 2007

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