Christians and non-Christians tend to think of Christianity as being based on the New Testament. This would seem reasonable, given the sacrifice and expenditure made by Christians to translate and to disseminate it, and given that editions of it line the backs of church pews by the myriads. However, when one actually “cracks the book,” the chasm between what Christianity’s disparate forms are and what the New Testament teaches yawns wide.
In the twelfth century, the Jewish sage, Moshe ben Maimon, compiled a list of 613 specific instructions from the Torah. He was not alone in this endeavor. What would happen if one did likewise with the New Testament?
Such a list would distill the basic instructions from the narrative, prophecies, allusions and other material, giving them sharp clarity and reinforcing their impact. Why? Because, often, the richness of its narratives or the complexity of its dissertations can be distracting or confusing. Much of the cultural content is foreign. Some of the material is emotionally charged. Paul’s writings can be downright cumbersome. The prophetic and allegorical sections can be completely bewildering. We can then find our minds swimming with ideas as we read or numbed into a practical stupor, unreceptive to the basic instructions imbedded in the content.
Some might argue that distilling the do’s and don’t’s of the New Testament is an affront to scripture and to the importance of faith. However, the New Testament itself instructs us emphatically that living faith is evidenced by what we do. It is not merely commentary on the cerebral, the academic, the hypothetical and the abstract. The New Testament instructs us how to behave–and it does so in considerable detail.
If you think your faith is based on the New Testament and that its instructions govern your personal life and that of your congregation, think again. It is highly likely the resemblance is more remote than you imagine.
In the New Testament Database, each row represents a command as it occurs in scripture. Each column represents an aspect of that command.
The first column is the number of the command in the order encountered, reading from Matityahu to Revelation. The second column is the command, as literally rendered practicable, but often paraphrased for coherence. The third column is the general subject so the commands can be sorted into categories. The fourth column is the messenger. The fifth column indicates whether the instruction is explicit or implicit. The sixth column indicates whether the instruction is a positive injunction, a negative prohibition or simply a neutral statement of fact. The seventh column indicates to whom the instruction relates. In other words, while they all apply to each of us, we implement some individually and some collectively. We also direct them toward different parties–to God, to man, to self, to community, to the satan, etc. The remaining columns indicate the location of the instruction.
There is obviously some subjectivity in this exercise. Implicit commands are often subtle and/or subjective, so others would, no doubt, come to other conclusions in the same exercise. Some of the New Testament’s repetition of commands is preserved in this database while some is not.
This repetition issue is true both of the New Testament’s repetition of its own commands and its restatement of the Tanakh’s (Old Testament’s) commands. This is why adultery, for example, does not appear often in this database, despite being represented abundantly in the New Testament. This is an instance where the goal of enumerating how many different commands are present in the New Testament creates a trade-off which masks which instructions receive more attention. If one enters every repetition of every command, very definite emphases become strikingly apparent, which they do not here.
While we find the exercise of isolating the commands of considerable value, detaching them from their context can also lead to incorrect and even dangerous conclusions. Sometimes that context is within the passage in which a particular instruction is located. In other cases, the context is the larger Hebrew culture. Examples of this would be the instructions to pluck out one’s eye or to hate ones parents, unintelligible by themselves.
The counterpart to this last caveat is the persistent tendency to rationalize our way out compliance based on convenience rather than on context. For example, there was a point at which the disciples were instructed not to go to the gentiles. At another point, they did go among them. The contexts show that these particular instructions were provisional. If we are careless, we can make any instruction provisional simply to suit our own sensibilities, thereby completely emasculating all of scripture. Or we can misapply an instruction in the wrong context.
The first function of the database is to call our attention to each command. If we meditate on each command and its implications, then make an honest review the passages in which they occur, we have a better chance of appropriate application.
While this exercise will have obvious implications for the individual (the stubborn aside), the implications for the community are hardly less significant.
Each of us is moved in various ways by each instruction. Different ones come as a surprise to different people. We each find affinities with or aversions to different ones. Until groups of people undergo this exercise, they cannot hope to achieve unity in conformity to the New Testament.
This database is presented to provoke both thought and action. While we encourage the reader to review it thoroughly, we also highly recommend you compile your own list.
Sorted by Verse Sorted by Subject Direct & Indirect
(To enlarge the text size when viewing the database, press CTRL +)
P.S. A Word About Implied Commands
It seems that, in the gentile world, there is a tendency to heed God only if given an explicit “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.” Indeed, such commands are well represented in scripture. However, if you want to more thoroughly evaluate your receptivity to God’s ways, your stance on the implied commands will be very informative. The following example of an implied command is presented to demonstrate how such instructions are drawn from scripture. The same process needs to be applied in the New Testament as well:
You may have heard of the seven “Noachide” laws. These are seven laws, generally considered to be binding on all humanity because they were enjoined on Noah. The third of these is the instruction to “establish courts of justice.” If you review the Biblical account of Noah, you will find no mention of such courts or of a judicial system. So is the view that this really was an instruction to Noah accurate? Yes it is.
In Bereshit (Genesis) 9:7, we find, “Whoever sheds man's blood, his blood shall be shed by man.” In other words, the execution of a murderer is man’s responsibility. This responsibility cannot be performed without due process, which requires a competent, formal and fair judiciary.
The command to establish courts of justice is not explicit, but it is inescapable. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Paul enjoined the maintenance of a competent judiciary on the congregation (though prosecution of capital offenses remained the purview of civil authorities).
P.S.S. A Word About Translations
If you do undertake to create your own database of instructions, don’t let your efforts be hamstrung by a sloppy translation such as the Living Bible or the New International Version (NIV). Even the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is unfit for this purpose. We recommend the Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, by Jay P. Green, Sr., or Young’s Literal Translation. Though often awkward, these are consistently more faithful to the meaning of the Greek text.