(1/2/2015: Updated with NewSpring’s response. See at the end of the post.)
On Christmas Eve, Perry Noble gifted the world a rewritten Ten Commandments. In so doing, he contradicted Scripture, celebrated his ignorance of the Bible, and ultimately rejected the gospel.
NewSpring had repeated its Christmas service during the week before Christmas day, yet before the final pre-Christmas service, word went out over the NewSpring social media grapevine that Noble had a new sermon, so everybody should come back to hear it.
Noble raised the stakes at the outset, saying that God had told him the previous day that he needed to deliver this sermon. After some of Noble’s staff confirmed for him that he had heard God speak, Noble wrote the sermon in ten minutes. It showed, but it also provided a disquieting glimpse into Noble’s biblical illiteracy. More than illiteracy, it was biblical rebellion.
Noble denies the Commandments
Noble’s premise was that what we erroneously know as the Ten Commandments aren’t really commandments. They’re just God’s promises.
He knows this because a Jewish friend who was driving him around Israel told him that there’s no Hebrew word for command. Noble acknowledges that he knows no Hebrew (as if that’s an acceptable thing for a preacher to remain ignorant of), so he takes his driver’s word as fact. Noble describes his friend as being to him as Mr. Miyagi is to the Karate Kid. “I just love this man,” Noble says. “He is full of wisdom. He loves Jesus. …He’s just an amazing man of God, and he’s teaching me the Bible. I’m trying to spend as much time with him as possible and he’s teaching me the Bible.” His friend is a poor teacher, and Noble is an even worse student.
Noble’s tutor tells him that the Ten Commandments are a mirage. Initially, Noble is surprised.
This is weird, because I’ve been around the Ten Commandments all my life. But in the original Hebrew language, there’s no word for command, so it couldn’t have been the Ten Commandments. He said it’s best translated as the Ten Sayings. Then he said this: ‘You could also interpret it as the Ten Promises of God.’ Instead of Ten Commandments that you have to keep if you’re going to be a follower of Jesus, they’re actually ten promises that you can receive when you say yes to Jesus.
Noble then announces that he is going to persuade his audience to say yes to Jesus because they no longer have to worry about obeying the commandments. Before we get to his rewritten commandments, let’s quickly debunk his erroneous premise.
The entire Old Testament is full of references to God’s commands and to the Ten Commandments in particular. In fact, in Deuteronomy 5, the second presentation of the Ten Commandments, God follows the list by repeatedly referring to his law as commands.
Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.”
But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’
You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.
You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.
Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them. (Deut 5:29-6:1)
Obviously, the Hebrew word for command is an essential part of the Old Testament. What Noble’s Bible teacher may have been referring to was that the Torah didn’t formally label the list as the Ten Commandments, instead presenting them as ten sayings. Even so, a saying can be a commandment without having to be labeled as such. And we see in Deut 5 that God Himself called them commandments. Noble and his teacher are both very wrong.
(For a man who has assumed the responsibility of pastoring around 40,000 people, why couldn’t he have spent just a few minutes consulting a concordance, calling someone who does know Hebrew, or even Googling it? Even Google knows Noble’s claim is incorrect.)
From the New Testament, we see that Jesus understood them as commandments in his response to the rich young man in Matthew 19.
“If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
For Jesus, commandments referred to the list we know as the Ten Commandments (even though he abbreviated the list here).
Right away, we have a problem with Jesus’ advice if we are to take Noble’s teaching seriously. Noble says that being a Christian doesn’t require obedience, yet Jesus insists on it. The point of Jesus’ exchange with the rich young man was that it was impossible for anyone to actually keep the commandments. The disciples see the problem, to their horror.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
To be saved we must obey the Ten Commandments, but we can’t, so it’s impossible for us to be saved by anything we do. The only way to salvation is though the Mediator that God graciously provides for us and whose perfect obedience he credits to us. This is the gospel of grace and the wonder of Christ.
If the commandments don’t even need to be obeyed, there’s nothing to be saved from and no need for the Mediator. All we need to do, in Noble’s formulation, is to say yes to Jesus, something that even this rich young man couldn’t do.
Noble is denying the gospel, not preaching it.
Noble rewrites the Commandments
Noble compounds his error by arbitrarily rewriting what’s left of the commandments to make them palatable for nonbelievers, even though he’s told us that they’re legally irrelevant. Noble presents his version by starting with the original biblical commandment, then wiping it off the screen and replacing it with his own version. God’s commands appeared on Noble’s big screen for 4 minutes and 12 seconds, but Noble’s commandments got 20:41 of screen time. Here’s what Noble wishes the commandments could be:
1) You shall have no other gods before me becomes You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore.
Noble intimates that the command is selfish and unreasonable. (Check his body language at 35:36 on the video as he wags his finger, as if angry and demanding.) This sets the tone for the rest of Noble’s revision in which commandments that are focused on God and others become favors focused on us. God exists to make us happy.
2) You shall not make an image becomes You can be free from rituals and religion and trust in a relationship.
Noble talks about people who think incorrectly that their good religious works like church attendance and Bible reading will save them. That point is correct, but by rejecting the concept of the law in the first place, Noble has created a system where good works aren’t even necessary. If there’s no offense against God through breaking his law, there’s no need for reconciliation and no need for the Savior. In Noble’s universe, there’d be no Jesus for anyone to say yes to.
3) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain becomes You can trust in a name that’s above every name.
Noble complains that Christians have butchered the commandment by prohibiting people from saying darn, a point illustrated with a story about being freaked out by a witch mannequin at a party store. Such is biblical exposition at NewSpring.
4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy becomes You can rest.
This is another one that Noble claims that Christians have butchered, thinking that God would kill them for doing yard work on Sunday. Given that Noble had already cancelled church for the following Sunday, it was important for him to ignore the clear meaning of this one. Sabbath breakers prefer not to preach too much about this commandment. Moving on…
5) Honor your father and mother becomes Your family does not have to fall apart.
He complains that parents use this as a “spiritual grenade” by teaching their children that the Bible tells them to honor and obey their children. This is improper, says Noble, because there’s no Hebrew word for command.
Like the Sabbath commandment, this is another awkward one for NewSpring, which often encourages its youth to reject parental authority in favor of NewSpring’s programs and teachings. Common in these parts are stories of families being torn apart by children and young adults who break from their Christian parents in favor of NewSpring, or leave college against their parents’ wishes to attend NewSpring College. NewSpring leaders know that big family events like Christmas often precipitate family conflict over NewSpring, so they prepare young people with articles like this one published in early December entitled My Family Thinks I Belong To A Cult. If young people don’t have to honor their parents, they can’t be talked out of their cults.
6) You shall not murder becomes You do not have to live in a constant state of anger because you will be motivated by love and not hate.
Noble uses this as yet another opportunity to beat up on other Christians.
I think one of the things that bothers me most about Christians is how hateful we seem to come across sometimes. I mean, we’re just mean. And we tend to be mean at people that are very different from us. Theologically, if you don’t agree just like me, I’m going to be mean to you. Moralistically, if you don’t agree with me then I’m going to be mean to you. But then, as we read about the person of Jesus, he just wasn’t mean to very many people (except the Pharisees–called then sons of hell), but to other people, he’s just this loving guy.
Yet again, Noble ignores the sin problem that requires the gospel. God hates sin, and because we were sinners, God hated us. (Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.) Because God’s hate is righteous, it’s holy and good, unlike ours. As we saw earlier, Jesus proclaimed the need to obey God’s law, which is impossible to do perfectly, making us lawbreakers and enemies of God. The good news is that, for those God gave to him, Jesus mediates between us and God with his perfect obedience, meaning that we meet God as our adoptive father rather than as an avenging judge.
Without an understanding of God’s terrifying hate, his love is meaningless.
7) You shall not commit adultery becomes You do not have to live a life dominated by the guilt, pain and shame associated with sexual sin.
Perhaps Noble could tell us what now constitutes sexual sin if there are no commandments regulating sexual behavior. From whence comes the guilt and shame if there is no law forbidding anything? By Noble’s logic, you’re free to commit adultery (whatever that is now) so that you can experience the blessing of having your shame removed.
Noble proudly claims that, unlike most other preachers, he likes to talk about sex and thinks that it’s good so long as it’s in the context of a heterosexual marriage. The problem is that by removing the law against sex outside of marriage, there’s nothing morally commendable or God pleasing about marital sex. Noble promises God’s forgiveness for sexual sin, but there’s no need for forgiveness if there have been no laws broken. By revoking the law, Noble erases the blessing.
8) You shall not steal becomes I will provide.
Noble prefaces this by saying that he actually thinks this is a good command (God must be relieved), but it makes a better promise. Noble assures us that God provides for his children, though his examples limit God’s provision to material benefits. His interpretation of God’s paternal care being linked to American commercialism would surprise believers in other parts of the world and other eras.
9) You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor becomes You do not have to pretend.
Contrary to what you understand from a plain reading of Scripture, this is not intended to benefit your neighbor; it’s really designed for your emotional self indulgence. It’s hermeneutical solipsism; the Bible’s all about me.
Cue another anti-Christian rant:
Church people are famous for pretending. Seriously. Every week in church it’s Halloween. People dress up in costumes, pretending to be someone that they’re really not. It’s a shackle that religion has held on people for far too long….When you know Jesus, you don’t have to pretend for a bunch of people who don’t know him anyway.
All those other non-NewSpring churches, in other words, are full of liars who aren’t actually Christians. (If NewSpringers ever wonder why parents worry that their kids have joined a cult, preaching like this is a clue.)
Noble doesn’t truly believe in removing his own masks and being fully transparent, however. As Chris Rosebrough was first to document, earlier in the sermon Noble accidentally used the N-word while recounting a conversation he’d had with a single friend about whether he should just buy himself a dog over his wife’s objections. Noble said, “I was like, ‘N*****, ca…'” at which point he stopped being honest and changed the topic. In the context of the moment, the word could be nothing else but what it sounded like, and it suggests that he regularly addresses someone in his life by that awful term.
Contrary to Noble’s hypocritical call to full transparency, some things ought to remain opaque. This side of heaven, we’re sinners with thoughts and desires that all-too-frequently violate all ten commandments. With the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying help, we work to make our fallen hearts fully subject to God’s moral law, but it is good for us and all of our neighbors that we keep most our internal ugliness just between ourselves and the Holy Spirit. The ability to do that is part of God’s common grace that holds societies together.
10) You shall not covet becomes I will be enough.
Noble starts by saying that the command against coveting donkeys, oxen or servants seems irrelevant, so he has to wrestle with this one. Now that he’s discovered that it’s not actually a command, he doesn’t have to worry about coveting donkeys any more.
If the true meaning of this command was that God was enough, God had already stated this in the preface to the Commandments when he reminded his people, “I am the Lord you God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” This is not the same as the command that we must not covet.
Noble finishes the sermon by telling his audience that he has given them ten reasons to say yes to Christ, then leads them in a prayer that starts, “Jesus Christ, I know that I’m a sinner and I need your forgiveness. I believe you died on the cross and you rose from the grave to pay for my sin. I receive your payment.”
There was nothing in the sermon that supported any of the points in the prayer. How would Noble’s audience know they were sinners? Noble erased the law, so nobody in his audience ought to think of themselves as sinners. What laws have they broken that require forgiveness?
There’s nothing in the sermon to explain the need for Christ (besides him being someone that for some reason pleads for us to say yes to him), nor why he would need to die on a cross. Why was the resurrection important, especially when the cross seems unnecessary? What is Jesus paying for, and why is it me that’s receiving the payment? It’s backwards. God receives the payment because I cannot possibly pay. Jesus was sacrificed for me, not to me.
After the prayer, Noble tells those who prayed to sign a name tag to show that they have “nailed it down” with God. Hearing the gospel is a prerequisite to faith and repentance (Rom 10:14), yet nobody at NewSpring that night heard the gospel preached. Nevertheless, Noble confidently assured scores of people that they had just become right with God.
If it still actually mattered, to many of his hearers such a claim would have seriously violated the Ninth Commandment.
NewSpring’s public relations director sent the following reply to a series of questions I had sent asking if Noble stood by his claim that there is no Hebrew word for command, if he still thinks God told him to deliver the message, if he had said the N-word in the sermon, and if he ever used it with other people.
We do stand by the message Perry gave to our church on December 24, 2015, and we do believe the Lord prompted Perry to deliver it as he did.
In regards to your question about the ‘N’ word, Perry doesn’t use that word and doesn’t address anyone in his life by such a word. He did not use that word in his message and what you perceived as him doing so was [a] matter of words getting jumbled as can happen with anyone who is speaking.