The Ten Commandments Examined
With Seventh-Day Adventists the decalogue is the one supreme moral and spiritual law of God, than which there is none higher. It is the law which governs the angels in heaven. It governs all men in all ages, and in the world to come. These ten commandments cover the whole duty of man, so that there is no sin which can be committed that is not a violation of this law, while at the same time it enjoins every virtue.
But these claims are extravagant and unfounded. A desire to sustain the seventh-day Sabbath has led to this false position on the decalogue. Twenty-five hundred years, nearly half the entire history of the world, passed away before the decalogue was given at all, as the Bible clearly says. This is strange if the decalogue is so all important.
Let us examine it. Moses says distinctly that all the words which the Lord spoke were written on the tables of stone:
“And the Lord delivered unto me two tables of stone, written with the finger of God: and on them was written according to all the words which the Lord spake with you in the Mount, out of the midst of the fire.” Deut. 9:10.
This text is too decisive to be evaded. All that God spoke was written on the tables and was a part of the decalogue. Here are the first of those words:
“And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” etc. Ex. 20:1-3.
These words are as much a part of the decalogue as any of the rest of it. They were spoken by God from heaven, written by his finger, were engraven on the stone, and put in the ark. Now look at the law chart which Seventh-Day Adventists hang up as the “law of God.” Are these words on there? No, indeed. Why are they left off ?
Because, if put on, they would spoil their whole theory of that law. They claim that this law is binding upon the angels. But how would this sound to the angels: “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”? Were the angels in bondage in Egypt? Would not that sound a little queer to Gabriel and the seraphs, to be told that they had been in bondage in Egypt? Read it to Adam. That would have been news to him to learn that he had been in bondage in Egypt! Read it to a free-born American; read it to all the redeemed hosts in heaven. To whom are the words applicable? Just to the Jewish nation and to no others. For them the decalogue was framed and to them it was given. For years I searched to find one text stating that THIS law was ever given to any people but the Jews. I never found it. These first words show plainly that it was addressed only to them.
Seventh-Day Adventists assert that the Sabbath precept is the only thing in the decalogue that tells who gave it. Thus: “Aside from this precept [the Sabbath] there is nothing in the decalogue to show by whose authority the law is given.” Mrs. White, in Great Controversy, page 284
This is not true. The introductory words tell plainly who gave it. It was the God who brought them out of Egypt. Here are the name, signature and seal of that law in the first words of it. Here God stands before them as their *Deliverer*, rather than as their *Creator*. Their obedience to these commands is based upon this fact. See how plain it is. I am the Lord thy God that brought thee out of Egypt, therefore thou shalt do thus and so. Egypt, not Eden, is pointed to. In the copy of the decalogue as given in Deut. 5:6-21, there is no reference whatever to creation, while deliverance from Egypt is made prominent. “To extend it further than its own preface is to violate the rules of criticism.”
What an unnatural and unheard of thing it would be, in giving an important document, to sign the, name of the author in the middle of it, as Sabbatarians say the Lord did in giving the decalogue! In our time the name is signed at the close of a document; but anciently, specially among the Jews, the name of the author was, always given first, in the first sentence of the document.
- “Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra,” etc. Ezra 7:12.
- The vision of Isaiah,” etc. Isa. 1:1.
- “The words of Jeremiah,” etc. Jer. 1:1.
- “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,” etc. Rom. 1:1.
- “James, a servant of God,” etc. Jas. 1:1.
- “Peter, an apostle,” etc. 1 Pet. 1:1.
So it is all through the Bible, the name and authority are given first, then follows the body of the document. Just so the Lord, according to this ancient custom then in use and familiar to all, in giving the decalogue first announces his name, “the Lord thy God,” and his power, “that brought thee out of Egypt.”
This he does in the opening words of that law. Here, then, in the very first words of the decalogue, and not in the Sabbath precept in the middle of the law, is the name of the law-giver. Jehovah, who brought them out of Egypt. This settles it that this law was not given till then, was given only to the Jews and was designed for no others.
To illustrate: Opening to a law passed by the legislature of Michigan, February 16, 1882, I read: “Be it enacted by the senate and house of representatives of the state of Michigan,” etc. Now suppose that some one should claim that this law was passed one thousand years ago and was designed for the whole world. Would not these opening words show that this law was not enacted till Michigan became a state and that it was designed only for the people of Michigan? Assuredly.
Just so the opening words of the decalogue show that this law was not given till God brought Israel out of Egypt, that it was given to them and to no others worded in that manner. If any one will find a copy of the decalogue before this time, we will give up the case. All the way through it there are evidences that it was worded to fit only the Jewish nation in their peculiar circumstances.
Take the Sabbath commandment: “Thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” Ex. 20:10.
Think of that commandment being given to angels in Heaven! “Sons,” “daughters,” and “thy neighbor’s wife,” (verse 17), when they neither marry nor are given in marriage!
Again: “Cattle,” “ox,” “ass,” etc. Do the angels own cattle and work oxen and asses in heaven? So “man servants and maid servants.” This means bond servants or slaves, such as the Hebrews owned in those days. This is shown also by the tenth commandment, verse 17. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his ass.”
These were his property, servants or slaves, oxen, asses, etc. But do the angels own slaves? Did Adam have servants in Eden? Will the redeemed own them hereafter? What nonsense to apply this law to the angels and to Eden and to heaven! This wording was specially adapted to the social condition of the Jews as a nation in the land of Canaan, and to no others.
Once more: “Thy stranger that is within thy gates.” Verse 10. As everybody knows, “the stranger” was the Gentile. “Within thy gates” was a common expression meaning within your cities or dwelling in your land. All the Gentiles dwelling in their cities among them must be made to keep the Sabbath. Where does it say it was binding on the stranger without their gates? None. All this shows the Sabbath was not of universal application; if it had been, there would have been no “strangers.” This shows it to be a national law, worded in all its parts to fit the circumstances of the Jews at the time.
This command, then, could not apply to any but the Jews there.
Again, the fifth commandment: “The land which the Lord giveth them,” verse 12, plainly refers to Canaan, which God gave them.
The ninth precept: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbors“.This does not relate to lying in general, but only to a false oath against a neighbor in court. See Deut. 19:15-19. A man could tell a hundred lies which would not be false witness against a neighbor. The command against lying is found in Lev. 19:11: “Neither lie one to another.” This is a moral precept much broader than the ninth commandment.
Every principle contained in the decalogue is also found time and again laid down in the law of Moses, either in the same or similar words. Thus, for example: Lev. 19 reiterates every principle found in the ten commandments, with many more besides. How erroneous, then, to call one (ten commandments) the moral law and the other the ceremonial law, when both are of the same nature, the decalogue simply being representative precepts from the law of Moses.
But the chief argument used to prove the superior nature of the ten commandments is that they were spoken by God’s voice, written by His finger on stone, and placed in the ark, while all the rest of the law was written by the hand of Moses in a book.
Why were these commandments thus selected out and given in such a manner if not to exalt them above all others?
The answer is easy: According to the custom of those times, any solemn contract or covenant was commemorated by selecting some object as a witness or testimony of it. Thus:
- Jacob erected a pillar as a witness of his vow to God. Gen. 28:18.
- Jacob and Laban made a heap of stones as witness of their covenant. Gen. 31:48.
- Abraham set apart seven lambs as “a witness” of his covenant with Abimelech. Gen. 21:27-30.
Just so when the solemn covenant was made between God and Israel at Sinai, the Lord gave them the tables of stone to be always kept as a witness or “testimony” of that agreement. Hence they are called “the tables of testimony,” that is, witness. Ex. 31:18.
So the tabernacle was “the tabernacle of testimony,” Num. 1:53; or, “the tabernacle of witness,” Num. 17:7. These tables of stone, then, containing some of the chief items of the law, were always to be kept as “witness” of the covenant which Israel had made to keep that law. Evidently this is the reason why the decalogue was given as it was, and not because it was a perfect and eternal law in and of itself.
Manifestly it would have been impossible to carry around the whole law if written on stones; hence only a few samples out of that law could have been selected and put on stones to be kept as a witness of that covenant. So the reason why God spoke these words was not because it was a perfect law, but to impress their minds so that they never would forget it. This is just what God says himself: “I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live.” Deut. 4:10. How much more simple and manifest these reasons are than the imaginary ones invented by Sabbatarians.
That the decalogue was merely the national law for the Jews and temporal in its obligation, is proved by the fact that stoning to death was the penalty for its violation. When death was thus inflicted upon a man, he had paid the penalty of that law, and all the penalty there was. But is stoning to death the penalty for God’s moral law? No, that is eternal death at the judgment. A man who is hung for murder has paid the penalty of the law of our land, the same as the Jew who was stoned paid the penalty of the law of his land. Will God judge a man the second time at the judgment by the law of our land after he has once paid its penalty by hanging? No, but he will be judged by another and a higher law, the great spiritual law of God. And so it will be with the Jews. They will never be judged the second time by the decalogue, for that was only national, but by the higher law, the one that requires supreme love to God, and love to man as to himself. A law without a penalty is a nullity; but stoning, the penalty attached to the decalogue, was abolished at the cross; hence the law also ceased there too.
Seventh-Day Adventists claim that the ten commandments are a perfect law, condemning every possible sin and requiring every possible virtue. But this is all assumption and contrary to the manifest truth. Which one of the ten commandments condemns pride, boasting, drunkenness, unthankfulness, love of pleasure, anger, filthy talk, impatience, variance, selfishness, and the like?
Which one of the ten commandments requires us to feed the poor, to visit the fatherless and the widow, to suffer long and be kind, to be gentle, meek, temperate, to pray, to repent, to go to meeting, to forgive, and the like, and many more?
No, the, decalogue does no such thing, because it was made for no such purpose. It was merely prohibitory in its nature. The man who merely did nothing, who simply avoided crime, kept that law. But the law of God, by which a Christian must live, requires him to do, and to do much. He must love God, love his neighbor, love his enemies, visit the widow and the needy, suffer wrong, be patient, entertain strangers, and be active in every good work.
It requires unceasing activity and the consecration of all our energies to good works; but the decalogue requires nothing but to avoid open crime. The decalogue alone is never called the law of God, nor the law of the Lord, nor a perfect law, nor is it said that any one will be judged by it, or that it is binding on Christians.
Eminent Authors On The Decalogue
Many of the most eminent, devout and learned men of the church have held that the decalogue was abolished, though they were far from being Antinomians.
Among these were the apostolical fathers, Luther, Calvin, Milton, Baxter, Bunyan, Doddridge, Whately, Grotius, Locke, Sherlock, Watts, Hessey, Judson, George Dana Boardman, and a host of such men.
Justin Martyr, A. D. 140, says: “The law promulgated on Horeb is now old and belongs to yourselves (Jews) alone: but this is for all universally. Now law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it.” Dialogue with Trypho, Chap. 11. On this Elder Andrew says: “That Justin held to the abrogation of the ten commandments is also manifested.” Testimony of the Fathers, page 43.
Tertullian, A. D. 200, says: “The abolition of the ancient law we fully admit.” Against Marcian, Book 5. Chap. 2. On the law he quotes Col. 2:16, and says: “The apostle here teaches clearly how it has been abolished.” Ibid. Chap. 19.
Martin Luther says: “The ten commandments do not apply to us Gentiles and Christians, but only to the Jews. If a preacher wishes to force you back to Moses, ask him whether you were brought by Moses out of Egypt. If he says no, then say: ‘How, then, does Moses concern me, since he speaks (in the ten words) to the people that have been brought out of Egypt.’ In the New Testament Moses comes to an end and his laws lose their force.”(Kitto’s Cyclopedia, Article Law).
Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, says: “In its individual, or what is usually called its ‘moral’ aspect, the Law bore equally the stamp of transitoriness. It seems clear enough that its formal, coercive authority as a whole, ended with the close of the Jewish dispensation.”
Dr. Dobbs, Baptist says this was the teaching of the protestant reformers : “Nor is this ‘new and dangerous teaching.’ It was the doctrine of the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century’.
Rev. George Dana Boardman, D. D., the eminent Baptist minister, in his book on “The Ten Commandments,” says: “Although the decalogue, in its spirit, is for all lands and ages, yet, in its letter, it was evidently for the Jews. The very preamble proves the assertion: ‘God spake all these words, saying: I am Jehovah, thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’ Then follow the ten commandments, based on the unique fact that Jehovah was the covenant God of Israel.” Pages 127-130.
John Milton says: “With regard to the doctrine of those who consider the decalogue as a code of universal morality, I am at a loss to understand how such an opinion should ever have prevailed; these commandments being evidently nothing more than a summary of the whole Mosaic law as the fourth is of the whole ceremonial law; which therefore can contain nothing applicable to the gospel worship.” Treatise on Christian Doctrine, Vol. 1, Book 2, Chap. 7.
The Bible, mainstream Jews, early Christians, and many Reformers, all explain that the Sabbath was a ritual ceremonial law that is not binding on Christians.
Martin Luther taught the validity of the moral law of the old covenant but saw Sabbath as ceremonial. “Scripture has abrogated the Sabbath day; for it teaches that since the gospel has been revealed, all the ceremonies of the old law can be omitted” (Article 28, The Augsburg Confession(1530)).
John Calvin wrote “First, with the seventh day of rest the Lord wished to give to the people of Israel an image of spiritual rest…there is no doubt that it ceased in Christ (Col. 2:17), Hence, though the sabbath is abrogated, it so happens among us that we still convene on certain days in order to hear the word of God” ([From Instruction in Faith, Calvin’s own 1537 digest of the Institutes, sec. 8, “The Law of the Lord”].
Mainstream Judaism: “Shabbath is the most important RITUAL observance in Judaism. It is the only ritual observance instituted in the Ten Commandments” (Source: Judaism 101: Shabbat (jewfaq.org)).
Roman Catholic’s understood the same. “The sabbath command is the only one of the Ten Commandments which can be altered in any way, because only it is a part of the ceremonial law. This is taught by the Roman Catechism issued after the Council of Trent” (Source: https://www.catholic.com/qa/did-jesus-alter-the-commandment-about-observing-the-sabbath
If the Ten Commandments have been abolished, then a person could worship false gods, kill, steal, bear false witness, etc.?
The above statement that some raise is flawed — both from a logical and a Scriptural vantage point.
- First, it is not the case that when one is freed from the restraints of one legal system, that such disengagement automatically implies that he now is at liberty to pursue any conduct that was prohibited under the former regime. Consider these cases.
- When the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in the 18th century, that did not suggest that the inhabitants of this new country were free to live recklessly as outlaws in a land of terror. Common sense and maturity demands that the previous legal system would have to be superseded by a new framework of lawthat embodied similar moral ordinances.
- If one is driving at 70 m.p.h. on an Arizona interstate, and he crosses the state line into California, does he assume that he is now free to accelerate to 90 m.p.h.? Of course not. And why is that the case? Because he is aware that there is another law — a California law — that limits the speed at which he may drive.
- If one acknowledges the logic in the simple illustrations cited above, why should he have difficulty in recognizing that the same principle is applicable in the realm of religious law? The fact that the law of Moses, with its Ten Commandments, was abolished at the cross, does not suggest that man is bereft of moral or religious regulation under the Christian system.There is a “law of Christ” to which men are amenable (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Sin is condemned under the law of Christ, as it was under the Law of Moses, but the two systems are not parallel, in many respects (cf. Jn. 1:17).
- When a USA citizen visits Canada, they are now not free to murder simply because US law has no authority in Canada. Obviously, Canada has the same law against murder! Likewise, when the New Covenant (Law of Christ) replaced the Old Covenant (Law of Moses including the ten commandments), both contained many of the same moral laws. Even though Christians are not under the Old Covenant law, the new Law of Christ is in force to enforce 9 moral laws of the 10 commandments, and many other moral laws. Laws such as circumcision, annual festivals, monthly new moons, weekly ritual Sabbath among many other rituals of the Old Covenant were not restated into the new covenant! (Col 2:14-16). As SDA prophet Ellen White says, Sabbatarians can only assume such laws exist under the new covenant.
Adapted: Decalogue Examined by Dudley Marvin (Retrieved from: https://www.nonegw.org/canright/sdar18.htm)