Through the past week, several members of my church approached me and wanted me to respond to the message Perry Noble preached at New Spring on Christmas Eve. For most the three concerns they expressed revolved around 1) changing the word commandment to promise, 2) rewriting the commandments as promises, and 3) Noble’s attitude concerning those who see these as commandments. So let me answer these one at a time after a few opening comments.
By his own admission Noble says that he believes that Scripture is “infallible and inerrant, that all Scripture is God breathed” and later he states that Scripture is true. He also believes that “God’s Word is living and active” presumably referring to how God the Holy Spirit illumines specific Scriptures at the right times for them to impact our living. I bring this up, because even if God’s Word is living and active as Noble says, illumination does not change interpretation. The reason that Noble’s view of commandments as promises matters has everything to do with interpreting the Bible.
Each Bible text only has one right INTERPRETATION, inspired by the Holy Spirit and affirmed by those whom the Spirit converts. A text may have several IMPLICATIONS, or statements that must be true if the text is true. For instance when Noble talks about God’s Word being living and active, an implication would be that God wants to use words to communicate with his creatures. Finally illumination really speaks to the concept of APPLICATION. For some of us at certain times, a Bible text can in Noble’s words “slam us to the ground” because it applies so directly to us. The same text, with the same interpretation may not “slam others to the ground” because it does not apply in the same way to their lives. Think of a parenting passage like Ephesians 6:4. It will apply most powerfully to a father who knows he has provoked his children to wrath.
So to our congregation’s concerns,
- In the message Noble gave an explanation for why he thinks we should understand the 10 Commandments as the 10 Promises. You can read his own summary of the message by clicking The 10 Commandments, Sayings or Promises.
This Sunday I mentioned the controversy in my sermon. There I confirmed that the phrase we translate as Ten Commandments is literally 10 Sayings or Words. In the context, very few English words communicate the full force of what it means for God to verbally make a covenant with his people.
Since Noble bases his teaching seemingly on Exodus 34:28, let’s interpret the last parts of that verse. We can read that Moses writes words of the covenant. But, what is a covenant? With a little study we can INTERPRET a covenant as an agreement between two parties. By IMPLICATION we can say that God must want to formalize the relationship he has with Israel. He dictates the terms of the covenant, describing expectations of the people, and his response as their God. Thus believers call them the TEN COMMANDMENTS. We can make an APPLICATION of the phrase in question as TEN WORDS OF COVENANT. We can make APPLICATION that believers make these 10 PROMISES to the Lord. THEY DO NOT STAND AS GOD’S PROMISE TO US. THEY DO STAND AS GOD’S WORD FOR MAN TO OBEY.
- I do not have a problem with Perry Noble calling them 10 PROMISES so long as he does not rewrite the commandments. In order to accommodate his understanding that these are promises, he rewrites them taking out every “You shall not”. These promises to God of what we will not do serve as a guard rail to maintain a relationship with the Lord. On the one hand, the commandments tell us how not to offend God. On the other hand, knowing what displeases God allows us to be free to do all that pleases God.
So, in rewriting the commandments, I believe Noble REINTERPRETs what God inspired. He makes a mystery of what will displease God and break our relationship with him. That makes Noble a false teacher. He could have made each of his statements an APPLICATION of the commandment, explaining how God wants a relationship with us. I myself have applied the commandments by saying that when we know we have broken a commandment we know that we should go and ask God to restore our relationship with him. By rewriting the commandments he makes it impossible to know if we have displeased God. It removes the expectation for a believer to maintain a covenant relationship with God through obedience or repentance and trust in Christ.
- Again, if Noble had preached each commandment as written and made his statements the APPLICATION of the commandments, then I would agree with all he says. Instead Noble asserts that commandments are a fundamentally wrong interpretation. He states that there is no Hebrew word for command. Hebrew does in fact have a word for command, צוה. Deut. 4:13 uses this word to describe God’s purpose in declaring a covenant stating that God commanded the people to do the TEN COMMANDMENTS.
Noble rightly says, that our relationship with God depends on us realizing that we cannot fully obey these commandments. Even so, by making it plain that commandment is a wrong interpretation, he negates the concept that we should seek to obey the commands, or make right our relationship with Christ.
Noble cites Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17 but he leaves out the whole thought which continues until verse 5:20. There Jesus says that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The thrust of the commandments should wake us up to our need for repentance and faith in Christ who promises to wash away every sin.
So, in summary it does matter if Perry Noble believes they are 10 Promises. Noble confuses the issues stating “learning that the ten commandments are not just commands, but rather way finding arrows that point us to all the promises of God that are ‘Yes’ for us in Christ.” If the commandments are not commandments, then we have no broken relationship with God. Without a broken relationship between us and God we do not need someone to mediate and restore that relationship. In order to make trusting Christ more appealing, Noble’s teaching on the 10 PROMISES has removed the need to trust Christ at all.