[K:NWTS 23/1 (May 2008) 61-63]

Book Review

Edmund P. Clowney with Rebecca Clowney Jones, How Jesus Transforms The Ten Commandments. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007. 162 pp. Paper. ISBN: 978-1-59638-036-3. $12.99.

Prof. Clowney passed away March 20, 20005 at the age of 87. At age 82, he was still serving a full-time position as Associate Pastor of Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas. During this pastorate, he taught an adult Sunday School class on the law. This book is the result of those lessons put into writing. He asked his daughter, Rebecca, to edit the book because his “write tight” style had gotten too tight. He asked her “to aerate this text, to smooth out transitions and to add some illustrations” (v). She did her work well, with his full approval before he died.

In the Preface of the book, he asks the question: “What role does the law play in the history of redemption?” (xiii). In chapter one, he attempts to answer this question.  He begins by showing that the Ten Commandments are unlike any other moral code or legal document.  Rather it is a treaty document which God made with his people and sealed by an oath. In the course of the history of Israel, the promises found in this treaty document were realized. However, at the same time there was continuous rebellion, disobedience, repentance, reform, and again falling into sin. Finally, there was exile and return. Beyond this there was expressed in the later prophets a change. There would be a resurrection to new life of dead bones; there would be a writing on the heart of the law. Thus finally, this law’s promises are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Jesus sees the law, therefore, as something to be fulfilled. It is fulfilled by him in his life, death, and resurrection. But more than that, Clowney says, “the law takes on a different meaning and function. Its role of prophecy ends, for Jesus is the end (the telos, the goal) of the law. For this reason, once Jesus has come, God’s people will never think of the law in quite the same way” (8).

He goes on to say, “Jesus fulfilled the law, then, not simply by obeying it, but by transforming it. Matthew’s gospel shows us how Jesus transformed the law in his teaching” (ibid.). He then illustrates what he means by ‘transforming’ through using the summary of the law. He states that Jesus not only taught us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves (both of which are found in the Old Testament law), but also to love our enemy. This transformation is also illustrated in Christ’s love when he was willing to die for sinners.

It is here that I have a problem with what he is saying when he uses the word “transformed”. Surely, the Old Testament told us to love our enemy. This is not a new teaching with Jesus. “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it” (Ex. 23:4, 5). Likewise, the love of God for his people is fully anticipated when Psalm 103 speaks of that love and it is prophesied of Jesus’ death when Isaiah penned, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by he wounds we are healed” (53:5).

I find the word “transformed”, therefore, too strong. Rather, the word “fulfilled”, with its background in Matthew 5:17, is just right. Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law by his work on earth and entrance into heaven. But he also fulfilled it by interpreting the law correctly as opposed to the errors of the scribes and Pharisees. And furthermore, he fulfilled it by the sending of the Holy Spirit into his church so that by his power the hearts of men, women, and children are transformed to live according to the law.

As Francis Turretin states in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, “It is one thing to correct the law itself; another to clear it of the false interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees. One thing to introduce an entirely new sense in the law; another to introduce only a new light by unfolding what lay concealed in the law and was not attended to by teachers. Christ does the latter and not the former” (II: 21).

The rest of the book is an exposition of the Ten Commandments in the light of the fullness of the New Testament revelation; one chapter for each commandment. Rather than telling you what is in each chapter, I am going to suggest that you buy the book (it is not expensive) and read it for yourself. You will find it very suggestive, encouraging, and uplifting.

—J. Peter Vosteen