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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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Command, Commandment

The term "commandment" in the Bible (mainly Heb. miswa [מִצְוָה]; Gk. entole [ἐντολή]) refers to orders or adjurations given by authorities. The plural predominantly refers to Mosaic laws.

The commandments were for Israel's good (Deut 10:13) since God's covenant love was lasting for those who kept them (Exod 20:6; Deut 7:9). Obedience would result in prosperity, security, God's presence, longevity, the occupation of the land, a long dynasty, and blessings of all sorts (Lev 26:3-13; Deut 5:29-6:2, 17-18; 17:18-20; 28:1-14). Disobedience would result in terror, illness, oppression, infertility, exile, curses, and rebuke (Lev 26:14-20; Deut 28:15-68; Psalm 119:21). Because Israel disobeyed, these threats came to pass historically. Purification (sin) offerings were required to atone for "inadvertent" violations of commandments (Lev. 4 Num 15:22-31).

God's commandments can be kept (Deut 30:11-14). Abraham in essence kept God's "commands, decrees, and laws" (Gen 26:5) even before these had been revealed through Moses, presumably via living by faith. The godly love, learn, and believe in God's commandments, for they contain precious, enlightening truth that makes one wise (Psalm 19:8; 119:47-48, 66, 73, 98, 151). The wise follow godly commands as a guiding light (Prov 6:23), and keep God's commandments in view of impending judgment.

The observant wore as a reminder tassels symbolic of keeping God's commandments (Nu 15:38-40). Prosperity can cause one to forget them (Deut 8:11-14), and adversity tests willingness to obey them (Deut 8:2; Judges 3:4; cf. Job's suffering, Job 23:12). One must not allow even a miracle-working prophet to lead one away from them (Deut 13:4).

Those who hope in salvation keep God's commandments (Psalm 119:166), for keeping the commandments is essential for "righteousness, " that is, a right personal relationship with God.

Jesus taught that all the commands could be reduced to two based on the single principle of love (Matt 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31). Jesus kept the Sabbath command (Luke 23:56), affirmed the keeping of others (Matt 5:19; 19:17; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20), and corrected misapplication of them based on rabbinic traditions (Matt 15:3, 6; Mark 7:8-9; 10:5). All that Jesus did, including his death and resurrection, were at the Father's commandment and served to further eternal life (John 10:18; 12:49-50).

Old Testament commandments are not directly binding for Christians. Nonetheless, keeping the commandments remains imperative. Christian teaching viewed ethically can sometimes be described as "the sacred commandments" or "the command given by our Lord" (2 Peter 2:21; 3:2) and Christians are "those who obey God's commandments" (Rev 12:17; 14:12), especially the command of faith in Christ and love of brother (John 13:34; 1 John 2:7-8; 3:23; 4:21; 2 John 4-6 ). Conversely, whoever does not keep God's commandments has not come to know God (1 Jo 2:3-4). Love of God is expressed by keeping his commandments (1 Jo 5:2-3). Those who keep them abide in God and he in them (1 Jo 3:24), and receive answers to prayer (1 Jo 3:22).

The commandments, although just and holy, are used by the sin nature to bring about spiritual death (Rom 7:8-13). But through Jesus' atonement, humans are pardoned and the enmity between Jews and Gentiles created by the Old Testament commandments is removed (Eph 2:15), perhaps by abrogating the ceremonial aspects of the law and by empowering Gentile Christians to obey the law of Christ.

Joe M. Sprinkle

See also Decrees; Law; Requirement; Statute; Ten Commandments

Bibliography. C. E. Armerding, ISBE, 1:736; R. J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter; D. A. Carson, Matthew; C. P. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy.


Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Command, Commandment'". "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology".
<>. 1897.


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