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Q. Questions About the Old Testament Law

First Question: About the Translation of Deuteronomy 6:1

NAU Deuteronomy 6:1 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it (Deuteronomy 6:1, NAU).

In the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:1, the term mitsvâh is singular (“commandment”). The KJV, NIV, NLT, and NET renders the word as a plural (“commandments”), while the ESV, NASB, HCSB, ASV and YLT renders it as a singular (“commandment” or “command”). Why is there a difference in these translations? Logically, it would make more sense to use the plural (commandments) as there are many of them.

Answer: I think it may prove helpful to note all the texts in Deuteronomy where the same singular form for commandment is used (just as it is found in Deuteronomy 6:1):

CSB17 Deuteronomy 5:31 But you stand here with me, and I will tell you every command-- the statutes and ordinances-- you are to teach them, so that they may follow them in the land I am giving them to possess.’

NAU Deuteronomy 6:25 “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.

NRS Deuteronomy 7:11 Therefore, observe diligently the commandment -- the statutes, and the ordinances -- that I am commanding you today.

NRS Deuteronomy 8:1 This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. (Deut. 8:1 NRS)

NRS Deuteronomy 11:8 Keep, then, this entire commandment that I am commanding you today, so that you may have strength to go in and occupy the land that you are crossing over to occupy, (Deut. 11:8 NRS)

NAU Deuteronomy 11:22 “For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him,

ESV Deuteronomy 15:5 if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. (Deut. 15:5 ESV)

CSB17 Deuteronomy 17:20 Then his heart will not be exalted above his countrymen, he will not turn from this command to the right or the left, and he and his sons will continue reigning many years in Israel.

NAU Deuteronomy 19:9 if you carefully observe all this commandment which I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in His ways always-- then you shall add three more cities for yourself, besides these three. (Deuteronomy 19:9, NAU)

ESV Deuteronomy 27:1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today (Deuteronomy 27:1, ESV)

NET Deuteronomy 30:11-16 “This commandment I am giving19 you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it too remote. 12 It is not in heaven, as though one must say, “Who will go up to heaven to get it for us and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 And it is not across the sea, as though one must say, “Who will cross over to the other side of the sea and get it for us and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 For the thing is very near you – it is in your mouth and in your mind20 so that you can do it. 15 “Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. 16 What21 I am commanding you today is to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are about to possess.22

NET Deuteronomy 31:5 The LORD will deliver them over to you and you will do to them according to the whole commandment I have given you.

I find it interesting that the various translations are not completely consistent in the way they translate mitzvah, which is singular in all these passages.

I am inclined to read Deuteronomy 6:1 and the rest in the light of Deuteronomy 5:31-33:

31 “But you stand here with me, and I will tell you every command --the statutes and ordinances-- you are to teach them, so that they may follow them in the land I am giving them to possess.’ 32 “Be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you are not to turn aside to the right or the left. 33 Follow the whole instruction the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live, prosper, and have a long life in the land you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:31-33, CSB17)

I believe that the singular mitzvah is used to sum up the whole of the law, as that which God has commanded and which we are to obey. I think that the CSB handles this quite well, showing “statutes” and “ordinances” are a subset of the whole law.

Jesus sums up the whole law in terms of one primary and one secondary command:

35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40 NAU)

Paul sums the law up in one command as well:

8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10, NAU).

“The commandment” is thus the whole law, while at the same time it has various components.

Second Question: About the various terms employed in reference to the Law: I am trying to understand the relationship between mitsvâh, chôq & mishpât. These three words are used throughout Deuteronomy (e.g. Deuteronomy 6:1). Could you point me to any online resource or article in Bible.org that would help me understand the relationship between these words.

Answer: Note the different terms employed for God’s “law” found in the first 8 verses of Psalm 119:

  • Law
  • Testimonies
  • God’s “ways”
  • Precepts
  • Statutes
  • Commandments
  • Righteous judgments

I have not done any serious work on this, and at present no particular work on it comes to mind. But “the law” has many facets, just like a parent’s teaching of their child (Proverbs will bear this out). There are some commands that are really illustrations of certain guiding principles. Thus not sowing two kinds of seed, or wearing a garment made up of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19) teaches one about separation. To restrict the application to just cattle, seeds to plant, or clothes to wear misses the point, in my opinion.

The command to put a parapet on one’s roof (Deuteronomy 22:8) is not just about roof railings, it is about thinking about the safety of others (seat belts?).

Thus, various terms are needed to capture the thrust of the Old Testament instructions, each with its own shading of meaning.

I hope this helps,

Bob

Related Topics: Law

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