The old covenant at a certain point in history was “in force.” (Heb.7:11). But this first covenant came to an end when the Temple veil was “torn in half” and Christ’s work was “finished” (Mt.27:51; Jn.19:30; Heb.8:13). Heb.8:6 indicates that the New Covenant was put into effect as that which is legally in force, and will continue on as the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb.13:20).
The New Exodus
In Luke 9:28-36 we find Moses and Elijah speaking with the glorified Christ. What are they talking about? They “spoke of His exodus [or, departure] that he would accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). The New Exodus is the springboard for Christian obedience, as the old exodus was the foundation for Israel’s obedience.
Just as Israel in the Old Testament was constantly called to think back to the Red Sea exodus that liberated them from Egypt, so the church in the New Testament is repeatedly referred to the New Exodus at Golgotha. Especially in the Lord’s Supper believers “remember” — not the Sabbath – but what Christ did on the cross.
Israel’s covenant obedience was to be in response to God’s gracious act of mercy to them as they went through the Red Sea on dry ground. The church’s obedience is to flow out of what Christ has done in sealing the New Covenant with his blood. The New Exodus/New Covenant, not the old exodus/old covenant, has been put into place by the Lord as the starting point for the body of Christ (Heb.8:6).
“Listen to the Son”
Therefore, to ask, “have we been released from keeping the Ten Commandments?” is to speak as if moral duty can only be found in connection with Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. But the Christian responds to the moral imperatives flowing of out the New Exodus. Jesus, not an exodus out of Egypt, is now the starting point.
Remember, Adventist claims that the Ten Commandments are “the only definition of sin in the Bible” (Refer to their literature and official writings). This is false teaching. Under the New Covenant, Paul says, “whatever is not done in faith is sin” (Rom.14:23). For people “in Christ” sin takes on a much broader and deeper significance than just the violation of a moral code. Paul taught that if our eating of something draws a weaker brother or sister to eat a food that they cannot eat in good conscience, we grievously sin against that person and against Christ (1 Cor.8:9-13). The Ten Commandments are not sufficient to define “sin” under Christ’s leadership of the body of Christ.
Marriage As A Type of Christ and His Bride
Let’s consider “sin” in relationship to marriage. If the Ten Commandments “are the only definition of sin in the Bible,” then we would find the adultery command as our benchmark for marriage. Is it sufficient to think of “sin” with reference to marriage only in terms of this command? Of course not. Years ago, I read an article on the seventh command in an Adventist Magazine. The author said many good things, but something was missing. There was nothing in the piece about how marriage was intended by the Lord to be a picture and reflection of Christ the groom and the church as his bride. It did not portray “unfaithfulness” as a contradiction of Christ’s unfailing commitment to his bride. The article was command-centered, not Christ-centered. The supreme reference point for the Christian husband is the New Exodus – “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph.5:25). “Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you“ (Eph 4:32). “Sin” under the New Covenant goes far beyond anything that was written on stone tablets.
Under the New Covenant we must always ask ourselves regarding any issue – “What is the truth as it is in Jesus?”
Going back to the Transfiguration in Luke 9, we see that the Shekinah glory enveloped them, Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) disappeared, the Father’s voice speaks from the cloud – “This is my beloved Son, Hear him” – and the disciples look up and see Jesus only. In Deut.18 Moses had told of a person like him who would come as the final Prophet with words which must be heeded. In Heb.1:1-2 we are told that God spoke in the past in various ways, but in these last days has spoken definitively in the Son.
Love your neighbor vs. Love one another as Jesus love you
The Mosaic command from Leviticus required “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18). There was room for hating your enemy. Jesus went on to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I [Jesus] say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-45). Jesus’ new commandment is based, not on a mere demand to love, but now on a love for one another that was first demonstrated by Jesus’ love for us. The old says love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18); the new says to love one another. The old says love your neighbor as yourself; the new says to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34).
The Son and the Sabbath
Thus, the real question is – since the New Covenant alone is in force – what does the Son teach us in the New Testament Scriptures about the Ten Commandments? The answer is that all are dealt with forthrightly. Nine appear as moral duties, and the Sabbath is seen as a ceremonial law – a type and shadow – with Christ as the fulfilling reality (Col. 2:16-17).
The ceremonial nature of the fourth commandment is demonstrated in Mark 2:23-28 and Matthew 12:1-9. Sabbatarians alludes to Mark 2:27-28, but never deals with the two incidents Jesus cited when the Pharisees murmured about their picking of grain on the Sabbath. The first example Jesus cited was David and his friends who technically “sinned” by eating the consecrated bread, which was only to be eaten by the priests (Mt.12:3-4; Mk.2:25-26). The second case is very revealing. Jesus said, “or have you not read in the law how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the Temple broke the Sabbath and yet were without guilt?” According to Moses the priests broke the Sabbath every week by doing their “work,” yet they were without sin in this matter. Now, if the Sabbath is a moral command like stealing or adultery, how could it be violated without guilt and condemnation associated? Can one think of any circumstances where any of the other nine commandments and the numerous moral commandments in the Old Covenant could be transgressed without sin being committed? Doesn’t Matthew 12:5 show conclusively that the Sabbath is “different” from the other nine? The priests worked on every Sabbath and did so without sinning. Interestingly, in the new covenant, Christians are the priests of God (1 Peter 2:9), and how would Jesus respond to those who accuse the new covenant priesthood for breaking the Sabbath assuming the Sabbath law is in force in the new covenant? Not guilty!
Martin Luther, the great reformer taught the validity of the moral law of the old covenant but saw the 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).
Mark 2:27, 28
Christ’s statement, “the Sabbath was made for man and not man [made] for the Sabbath,” plainly reveals the ceremonial nature of the Sabbath. Adventists only read, “the Sabbath was made for man”. They need to digest the rest of the verse. Sabbath was made to serve man, and man was not made to serve the Sabbath. Therefore man is above the Sabbath law. When, or under what circumstances, can man lawfully commit adultery or steal? Obviously, never! Man’s life is not above God’s holy and moral laws. Yet even a sheep’s life is more important than the enforcement of the sabbath (Matthew 12:10-12). Yet even circumcision is more important than observing the Sabbath. John 7:21-23 “Jesus said to them, …Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?”. “The Sabbath was made for man and not man [made] for the Sabbath”. Moral law was not made for man, but it was eternal. Man was made to serve the eternal moral law. We are “servant of righteousness” (Romans 6:15-23), but we were not made to serve the Sabbath or circumcision or other rituals. It’s in light of these texts that Adventists teach a cultic Mark of the Beast for Sunday worship.
Adventists assume that the Sabbath was made for all mankind, but the text in Mark 2:27 doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say, “The Sabbath was made for “mankind”, it says, “the Sabbath was made for man”. When the Scripture is meant to be inclusive of all mankind it is clear. See Matthew 28:19; John 3:16; Acts 2:17; I Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11. These verses clearly indicate that when God offers something to all mankind He clearly offers it to all. Numbers 9:10 reads, “If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD”. Did God give the Passover to all mankind because the text says “man“?
Regarding Col.2:16-17, Adventists assume that it does not include the weekly Sabbath embedded in the fourth commandment, but only refers to “special annual Sabbath days” which were ceremonial. This opinion reflects the Sabbatarian assumptions, for it is inconceivable that the Jewish mind would make such distinctions. The following Old Testament Scriptures speak of festival days, new moons and Sabbaths. There can be no doubt that in these examples the weekly Sabbath is included in the word “Sabbaths”: Ex.31:13; Lev.26:2,34-35; 2 Ki.4:23; 2 Chron.36:21; Isa.1:13, 56:4, 66:23; Lam.2:6; Ezek.20:12,13,16,20,21,24; 22:8; 44:24; 46:1; Amos 8:5. Hosea 2:11 says “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, her Sabbaths.” There is every reason to believe that in Col.2:16-17 Paul is teaching the Christian community that the Jewish weekly Sabbath is ceremonial and is no longer a norm for judgment. This is supported by Leviticus 23 which identifies the weekly Sabbath with one of God’s feasts.
Further, in Col.2:16, when Paul says, ‘do not let anybody judge you…with reference to a feast or a new moon or Sabbaths,” there is a specific chronological progression from yearly to monthly to weekly. The festivals were yearly, the new moons were monthly, and the Sabbaths were weekly. To suggest that “Sabbaths” refer only to “annual Sabbath days” would break up Paul’s clear Jewish division of time. That’s why the SDA scholar Samuel Bacchiochi had to eventually agree that Col 2 does refer to the weekly Sabbath.
To Whom Was the Sabbath Given?
Sabbatarians suggests that Abraham and other Gentiles who lived long before the Law was given kept the Sabbath. That is a huge assumption. In terms of explicit statements of Scripture, it is never said that anyone kept the Sabbath before the Red Sea exodus. There are, however, several Scriptures that affirm that the Sabbath was indeed given to Israel alone. Deut.5:15 – “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.Therefore keep the Sabbath day.” Neh.9:13 – “You came down also upon Mt. Sinai…and made known to them the holy Sabbath.” Ezek.20:12 – “Moreover, also I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them.” How can a sign that distinguished the Jews from the the rest of the world be also a sign that identifies with all nations?
The New Covenant Scriptures teach that the Sabbath was a shadow, and that Christ is the reality (Col.2:17). If a type and shadow is fulfilled in a person, why would you continue to focus on the shadow? Lambs were slaughtered under the old covenant. Once the fulfillment, Jesus, came and offered himself, why would we keep on killing animals? Once the reality comes, the type/shadow is discontinued.
God’s rest is not the weekly Sabbath day rest in Genesis
Adventists assume that God ordained a weekly Sabbath day in Genesis, but there is absolutely no “thus saith the Lord” command for man to observe a weekly rest day. Neither is there any restrictions on how to observe a day in Genesis and neither is there a condemnation for not observing a day, and neither is there an example of man observing a Sabbath day. Adventists are free to observe any day, but why enforce a law that God doesn’t command mankind to observe or condemn man for non-observance? Yes, God rested on the seventh day. But what type of rest does this seventh day offer? The first six days had “work” that was demarcated by an “evening and morning”, but the seventh day “rest” did not have a demarcation of “evening and morning”. The rest was open for the people of God to enter from the seventh day onward, and even today “a promise remains of entering His rest” (Hebrews 4:1). What is the requirement to enter God’s rest? “For we who have believed enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3). The Jewish weekly Sabbath day was entered not through belief but through ceasing from labor, but God’s rest is entered through belief! Even Jews did not enter God’s rest even when they had the weekly Sabbath. “For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY [Israel] SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (Hebrews 4-5).
When God rested is not on day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—each one of those days ends with, “There was morning and there was evening.” But on the seventh day, when God rested, you don’t read those words because the rest of God was not a day of the week. It was not one day of the week. It was a state. God had now completed the work; it was a state of rest. How do we know? Because God did not restart a “work for six days and rest on the seventh” cycle. He rested from His creative work on the seventh day. He rested from His creative work on the 8th day, the 9th day, the 100th day, and He is still resting from His creative work today, so we can enter His rest today. We are not commanded to enter a labor and rest cycle in Genesis. We enter His rest today! Hebrews says, “He [God] again fixes a certain day, (what day? Seventh day? No) “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” For if Joshua had given them [God’s] rest, He (God) would not have spoken of another day [which is today] after that” (Hebrews 4:7-8)
Early Christian fathers some of whom learned from the mouth of the apostles clearly saw what God’s Word said about a Sabbath day in Genesis.
Justin Martyr, who wrote only 44 years after the death of St. John, and who was well acquainted with the doctrine of the apostles, denied that the Sabbath originated at creation. Thus after name Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot and Melchizedek, he says: “Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned, though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God.”Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 19.
Eusebius, A.D. 324, the father of church history, says: “They (the patriarchs) did not, therefore, regard circumcision, nor observe the Sabbath, nor do we.” Eccl. Hist., book 1, chapter 4.
Later Christians came to the same conclusion:
John Bunyan says: “Now as to the imposing of the seventh day Sabbath upon men from Adam to Moses, of that we find nothing in holy writ, either from precept or example.” Complete Works, page 892.
Abraham kept the Sabbath?
Adventists assume that Abraham kept the Sabbath, for God said: “Abraham kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:5). But Adventists could just as well assume that Abraham was baptized and observed the Lord’s supper, for both of these are commandments of God. Adventists assumes that “my commandments”, “my law” always means the Ten Commandments. In Ex 16, “my laws” includes the law about manna. “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not”. Lev 23:28-31 shows “my commandments” includes sacrificial laws: “And whether it be cow or ewe, ye shall not kill it and her young both in one day. On the same day it shall be eaten up; ye shall leave none of it until the morrow: I am the LORD. Therefore shall ye keep my commandments, and do them: I am the LORD”
My laws, My commandments do not mean it includes the Ten or the Sabbath. Abraham was commended for obeying particular commands God gave him, not Ten Commandments. He obeyed God when he was asked to go to a foreign country (Genesis 12). He was instructed on certain things that Israel was not. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, but God condemned child sacrifices in the law of Moses. God ordained one woman for man in Genesis and the Law of Moses, however, Abraham disobeyed that instruction. Gen 25:1 “Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah”. Hence God commended Abraham for keeping certain specific instructions. Abraham did not keep the Sabbath law, for Moses, while speaking of the covenant that contained the Sabbath commandment, said: “The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob], but with us [Israel], even who are all of us here alive this day” (Deut. 5:3). Think about this. The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel (Exodus 31), but Abraham was given a different sign. If the Sabbath marked the people of God from all nations as distinctively God’s, couldn’t it just as easily mark Abraham as distinctively belonging to God? Besides, even if Abraham observed the Sabbath or circumcision, none of these rituals apply to Christians under new covenant (Col. 2:16,17).
When Paul deals with the Jewish and Gentile believers functioning together in harmony, he makes an amazing statement – “one person esteems one day above others; another person regards every day the same” (Rom.14:5). If it is required by God of all believers to observe some particular day, especially Saturday or Sunday, then how could Paul give the option for believers to regard every day the same? Or, to put it another way, if sin is incurred by not observing a certain day, how can Paul allow for the non-observance of any days?
These were the days enjoined in the law (Torah) for it is of the law that Paul treats all through the book of Romans. He makes no exception of the Sabbath day, but says plainly “every day.” It does not avail to say that Paul means only the annual Sabbaths or fast days because he mentions eating meat and herbs as these are classed with the weekly Sabbath. In Lev. 24:1-8 the Weekly Sabbath is classed with the offerings of oil, bread, frankincense. In Num. 28:9-10 it is classed with the offerings of lambs, meat and drink offerings, burnt offerings, etc. In 1 Chron. 23:29-31, the weekly Sabbath is classed with meat offering, sacrifices, new moons, feasts, etc. Paul confirms that in Col. 2, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days”. I suggest that under the New Covenant there are no holy days or holy places (Jn.4:20-24) – only holy people.
Adventist point to Mathew 5:17-18 and says, Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments. Adventist think the Law and the Prophets is a reference to Ten Commandments, but the Law and the Prophets is a reference to the entire Old Testament.
If what Adventists are saying was true, then, according to Matthew 5:17-18, every jot and tittle of the Law and the Prophets (entire Old Testament) is still in force…very little of which is observed by Adventist followers. They do not offer animal sacrifices (far more than a mere “jot” or a “tittle” of the Law!). They do not make pilgrimages to the temple thrice a year (as the Law and the Prophets commands). They do not observe the 613 commands in the Torah (and probably could not even name them)!
If Jesus has not fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets, then every one of the 613 commandments remains in force, since not the least of them were to pass away until they were all fulfilled. Either they have now all been fulfilled (as the New Testament writers believed) or every jot and tittle remains—and cannot be followed without a Levitical priesthood, a bronze altar, animal sacrifices, levirate marriage, and capital punishment for rebellious children, witches, adulterers, homosexuals, kidnappers, blasphemers and Sabbath-breakers. Do the Adventist people advocate enforcement of all these duties?
2 Cor.3:1-13 – The Stone Tablets
The major assumption Adventists make is that the Ten Commandments have always been a moral code that floats along throughout history. They emphatically state, “Paul never dismissed the Ten Commandment Law that God wrote with His own finger on stone tablets….God has never used another set of laws by which He judged His people”.
The truth is, however, that in 2 Cor.3 Paul specifically affirms three times that the old covenant form of the Ten Commandments were “abolished.” (v. 7,11,13). You cannot get around the fact that Paul has the Ten Commandments in view for he mentions the “tablets of stone” and that which “was engraved in letters on stones” (v.3,7). In Hebrews 9:1, the first covenant that is now obsolete include the ten commandments (Hebrews 9:1-4).
Romans 3:31 – Ten Commandments or Old Testament?
Adventists states that “in…Romans 3:31…he [Paul] referred to the Ten Commandment Law of God”. This is a blatant example of reading one’s agenda into a text. There is nothing in what comes before or after 3:31 that mentions the Ten Commandments. Paul asks and answers a question – “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather we uphold the law” (Rom.3:31). What does the apostle mean by “the law”? He means the Old Testament Scriptures. In Rom.3:10-18 he cited Isaiah and the Psalms, and then said, “now we know that whatever the law says…” In verse 21 he notes, “but now a righteousness of God apart from law has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” Again, the Old Testament is in view here. In verse 31, then, Paul is affirming that the gospel does not nullify the teaching of the Old Testament. Instead, the Old Testament foretold the gospel, and Paul goes on in Romans 4 to confirm that the gospel establishes the Old Testament writings, using Abraham and David as examples of justification by faith.
One of the most common meanings of “the law” in the NT is “the Old Testament writings.” Adventists never point this out because they don’t know. They often wrongly assume that “law” means the Ten Commandments. But Paul is contending that God’s gospel is validated by the teaching of the OT in regard to the universal sinfulness of the human race and in regard to the justification of Jews and Gentiles by faith in Christ. The Ten Commandments are nowhere mentioned in the immediate context before or after Rom.3:31.
What Was Nailed to the Cross?
Adventist admits that the Ten Commandments are central in the old covenant, but they also know that it would be fatal to their position if the Ten Commandments were part of what was abolished in his flesh, “the law with its commandments and regulations” (Eph.2:14-15; Col.2:14). Thus, they posit that only “the law of ceremonies” was nailed to the cross, and the Ten Commandments were not included.
But this is an interpretation driven by an agenda, not by listening to the texts. Paul says that whatever was nailed to the cross “was against us” and “contrary to us” (Col.2:14). Wouldn’t Paul’s remarks indicate that he has something in mind that would justly accuse and condemn us? Wouldn’t that imply something of a moral nature? What sense does it make to say that the ceremonial things like the mildew laws are against us and contrary to us? The old covenant law was a unit of some 613 commands (cf. Gal.5:3). The natural reading of Eph.2:14-15 and Col.2:14 would see that the entire old covenant written code was nailed to the cross, including the Ten Commandments which were the center point of the old covenant (cf. Ex.34:29-34). Hebrews 9:1-4 confirms the first covenant that is now obsolete had the tablets of the covenant.
The Law As A Dividing Wall Removed
Eph.2:14-18 teaches that the old covenant law stood as a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Obviously, one important functions of this law was to keep the Israelites separate from the other nations. In order for Christ to make a “one new person” out of the two widely separated groups, the “law of commandments” had to be removed. As long as the Law stood, Jew and Gentile had to be kept apart. In God’s wisdom Christ fully honored the Law by obeying it, fulfilling it, and thereby “abolishing” it, and replacing it with a new covenant, so that he could create “one new person,” the body of Christ.
If the entire old covenant law was nailed to the cross, does this leave us with no moral direction? Absolutely not. We have already shown that he abolished the old covenant in order to “put legally into place” (“nomotheteo,” Heb.8:6) the New Covenant. The life of discipleship flows out of the New Exodus, which brings with it commandments and New Command to love one another as he loved us on the cross, which Paul calls the “law of Christ” (Gal.6:2). Hence, Jesus says, “if you love me, keep my commands” (plural). Adventist think that that when Jesus said, “keep my commands,” he had the Ten Commandments in view. That is a biased interpretation of Scripture. Jesus meant his teachings. He is the Prophet Moses wrote about in Deut.18, “him you must hear, or be cut off from the people” (cf. Mt.7:24,26). Just as Israel’s obligations to the Lord arose from his mighty arm in the Red Sea exodus, so the church’s New Covenant life flows out of Christ’s exodus accomplished at Jerusalem. “My commands” means all that Jesus teaches us in the New Covenant, including the things Jesus gave through the pens of those who wrote the New Covenant documents to the church.
Grace Teaches Us Not to Sin
Paul anticipated the concerns some would have when he asked in Rom.6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Let it never be!” Some might reason, “if we are not under law, won’t the floodgates of sin be opened?” Paul’s answer is clear: the gospel that saves us also breaks the dominion of sin in our lives, and the Spirit enables us to walk in the gospel lifestyle described in Romans 12-16.
The event that saves us – the cross – also commands us how to live. The grace of God that appeared in Christ’s incarnation not only brings salvation to people all over the world, it also teaches believers to live a life of godliness while they wait for the Lord’s coming (Titus 2:11-13). “Grace,” says the apostle, is our sufficient teacher. Just as Israel’s covenant life was rooted in the exodus out of Egypt (“the law came by Moses,” Jn.1:17a), so the body of Christ’s obedience flows out of the New Exodus at Golgotha (“grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” Jn.1:17b). The Scriptures of the New Covenant restates many moral commands out of the 613, and the nine of the ten commandments as part of righteous living, but the Sabbath, with many other rituals are viewed as a type and shadow that has seen its day, the reality having come in the person of Christ (Col.2:17).
Revelation 14:12, “keeping the commands of God”
Whenever Adventists see the word “commandments,” it assumes that the Ten Commandments are in view. In doing this they utterly fail to recognize that a New Covenant is in effect and that out of it comes Messiah’s commands. Adventists see the saints “keeping the commands of God” (Rev.14:12) and reads into this phrase “the Ten Commandments”. But this statement in Revelation, and many others like it in the New Testament, simply mean the numerous commands of Jesus that flow out of the singular command to love one another as he loved us on the cross (Jn.13:34; 15:12-13). The old covenant had around 613 commands, and it has been fulfilled and taken away. A New Covenant has been put into effect based on better promises, and its commands are in force. Indeed, the saints keep the commands of their Savior because they love him.
Jesus gave many commands in Scripture. Some of them were for Jews. When Jesus cleansed a leper He commanded him: “Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded” (Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14). Why don’t Adventist obey this commandment from Jesus? Some verses were directed at the apostles specifically but can also apply to us today such as “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41). Here are the some of the commands of Jesus. Repent (Matthew 4:17), Follow Me (Matthew 4:19), Let Your Light Shine (Matthew 5:16), Be Reconciled (Matthew 5:23–25), Do Not Lust (Matthew 5:28–30), Keep Your Word (Matthew 5:37), Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5:44–46), Judge Not (Matthew 7:1–3), Do Unto Others (Matthew 7:12), Take My Yoke (Matthew 11:28–30), Honor Your Parents (Matthew 15:4), Deny Yourself(Luke 9:23–25), Despise Not Little Ones (Matthew 18:10), Forgive Offenders (Matthew 18:21–22), Be a Servant (Matthew 20:26–28), Bring In the Poor (Luke 14:12–14). Be Born Again (John 3:5–7), Make Disciples (Matthew 28:19–20). Jesus quotes some of the commandments from the Law of Moses, but it doesn’t mean all of it applies. What is applicable to us has been commanded. He never commanded us to “Remember the Sabbath day” or condemn anyone for breaking it.
What Defines “Sin” in the New Covenant?
Adventists dogmatically asserts that “God gave us a clear definition of sin in His Ten Commandments. Without this, people can’t recognize their pitiful condition and their need for a Savior….God’s moral law – the Ten Commandments – is eternal and the only definition of sin in the Bible”. These remarks are vastly overstated and ultimately false.
Official SDA writings teach that the Ten Commandments are “the only definition of sin in the Bible,” citing 1 John 3:4, “whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” Later SDA’s say, “sin is the transgression, or breaking of, God’s law (1 John 3:4)”. Such an interpretation, however, is dubious on three counts.
First, John never cites “the law” in this epistle. The “commandments” mentioned repeatedly in this letter, as we have previously shown, refer to Christ’s commandments embedded in the New Covenant. This is clearly illustrated, for example, in 1 John 3:22-24, “We obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command, to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him and he in them.” “As he commanded us” refers to John 13:34 where the New Command was announced. In the context of 1 John, the author gives no evidence at all that the Ten Commandments are in view; what is specifically mentioned relates to “the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn.3:11,16). “The beginning” in several passages in 1 John refers to the New Creation Jesus inaugurated at his incarnation.
Adventists also cites 1 John 5:3, “his commands are not burdensome,” as a reference to the Ten Commandments. This is another occasion where the authors just read their conclusions into the text without any justification. “Commands” in 1 John have in view the New Covenant obligations issued by the Messiah.
Secondly, the Greek word for lawlessness in 1 John 3:4 is “anomia,” Again, SDA’s assume that this word can only mean “actions which violate the Ten Commandments.” But this is patently false. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus describes people who proclaimed that they had prophesied, cast out demons and performed many wonderful works in Jesus’ name. Jesus says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who are working “anomia” (wickedness). These religious people were guilty of “anomia,” lawlessness, but as you can see it would make no sense to try and define their sin simply as violations of the Ten Commandments.
Jesus’ Use of “Sin” in John’s Gospel
Thirdly, Jesus defines sin in John’s gospel without reference to the Ten Commandments. The Lord states that he received his teachings directly from the Father and gave them to his disciples. Listen to these excerpts from the Gospel of John.
“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him on the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say (12:47-50)….Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father living in me who is doing his work….If you love me, you will do what I command (14:10,15)….Jesus replied, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me (14:23-24)….My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command (15:12-14)….They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their law, “They hated me without reason.” (15:21-25)….but you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning (15:27)….Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you see me no more; concerning judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (16:7-11)….I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (17:6-8)….You have no power over me that was not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin (19:11).
I have quoted extensively from this Gospel in order for you to get the full impact of the truth from Jesus’ lips. From these texts the following key points are obvious:
- The Father said out of the cloud, “This is my Beloved Son, Hear him” (Luke 9:35)
- The Lord Jesus received his words (commands) directly from the Father
- The words from the Father were passed on to the disciples
- The words of the Father to Jesus will judge people on the last day
- Christ’s followers will obey the commandments he received from the Father
- Christ’s New Command is for his people to love one another as he loved them in the agony of the New Exodus in Jerusalem.
- In John 15:21-25 “sin” is not defined with reference to the Ten Commandments, but with reference to the presence of the Messiah among people and their rejection of him
- The law” mentioned in 15:25 is not the Ten Commandments but refers specifically to Psalm 69:4
- Sin is not believing in Christ.” This is the “sin” the Spirit will bring worldly people to acknowledge. There is nothing in this crucial text on the Spirit’s work about conviction by the Ten Commandments as a prerequisite for people recognizing “their pitiful condition or their need for a Savior. The Fourth Gospel more typically links sin and ‘unbelief,’ with sin as the refusal to recognize Jesus as the revelation of God.
- When Jesus says “My commands,” he means the very words that came to him from the Father.
- These texts show that it is a serious error to suggest that by “keep my commands” Jesus has in view the Ten Commandments.
Acts 15 – Where are the Ten Commandments?
The tradition arose of dividing the old covenant law into three categories: moral, ceremonial and civil. While there is some truth in this three-fold division, overall it creates more confusion than clarity. For one thing the Jewish mind viewed the Law as an undivided unit. The three-fold division to them would be superficial and misleading. Paul brings this out in Gal.5:3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised, that he is obligated to do the whole law.” In other words, because the old covenant was a totality, if you put yourself under one part you became a debtor to do every part of it. You just can’t pick and choose parts of the Law. Paul’s position is that you are either under all of it or none of it. There is no middle ground. (This would provide further evidence that the entire old covenant law in the first covenant – “moral, ceremonial, civil” – was nailed to the cross).
Acts 15 is another passage Adventists fail to understand. Here we find that false teachers had come from Jerusalem to Antioch and taught that “the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses” (v.5). After much discussion, the brethren recognized that the Gentile believers were not required to bear the yoke of the Law, “which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear” (v.10). It was concluded that the Gentiles in Christ should avoid four things: food offered to idols, sexual immorality, meat from strangled animals and blood (vv.20,29).
Now if the perspective of the Adventists was correct, then the resolution of the problem in Acts 15 would have been a no-brainer. If the civil and ceremonial laws were nailed to the cross, but the Ten Commandments were not, then a simple answer for the dilemma would have been at hand. The council would have reasoned, “Brethren, the ceremonial and civil laws are no longer binding, but the Ten Commandments remain. Therefore, the Gentile believers are to keep the Ten Commandments, but are not obligated to keep things like circumcision.” But this is precisely the answer that is not given! This reveals that those who divide the Law into parts are not akin in their thinking to the first century brethren. These people knew that the Lord must lead them to a New Covenant perspective in which Jew and Gentile could function together as “one new person” (Eph.2:15).
The Benchmark: Saturday Sabbath-Keeping
In the final analysis, Adventist are seeking to bring people to embrace a Seventh-Day Adventist agenda. They say that the Saturday Sabbath is a sign of our allegiance to God, that it must be kept from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, that “Satan wants to make Sunday the mark of his authority”, that the Saturday Sabbath “is not a minor issue”, that it is “about loyalty to God”, that Sabbath-breaking “is an apostasy”, and that not keeping the seventh-day “could separate you from a loving Savior”.
If a new Christian was to read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation, would the conclusions listed above jump out at him? I don’t think so. Jesus said that the sign by which the world would know we are his people was our visible love for each other, not by observing a day (Jn.13:35). There is no emphasis in the teachings of Jesus or apostles or Genesis on “remembering” the Sabbath; “remembering” is focused on the Lord Jesus in the context of the meal shared among the disciples (1 Cor.11:24-25).
Pick and Choose Sabbath Law: Why No Selling, But No Stoning?
Adventists cherry picks a few Sabbath law verses from the Old Testament as warrant to teach that on Saturday secular work and buying and selling should cease, and delighting in the Lord should be encouraged. However, if Adventists are going to enforce these elements, on what basis does it omit the rest of the Sabbath laws: “stay where you are” on the Sabbath, “no cooking on the sabbath (Ex. 16:29), no kindling of a fire (Ex. 35:3), and the death penalty attached to Sabbath-breaking in the OT? A man picked up sticks on the Sabbath and the Lord ordered that he be stoned by the congregation of Israel (Numbers 15:32-36). This event echoes what the Lord commanded in Exodus 31:14-15. To suggest that some elements of Old Testament Sabbath-keeping are binding, but others are not, reveals the serious problem of picking and choosing parts of the old covenant law. The old covenant connected working on the Sabbath and execution by stoning. Adventist’s want to enforce the strictness of no Sabbath labor, but without the punishment associated with that law. Why? Do Adventist realize that they are under a curse for not observe every requirement in the book of the law?
The Sabbath and Assembly Meetings
“The seventh-day Sabbath is the day God set aside for church services”, says Adventists. If one examines the Old Testament teaching about the Sabbath, this statement is shown to be mistaken. In Israel there was no congregational worship on the Sabbath. Everything would shut down and each family met privately in their homes. It could be noted that under Roman rule the Jews in Jesus’ day gathered together in synagogues. However, the synagogue was an adjustment to the times, not something the Lord had ever specified in the Law.
Jesus Was “Under Law”
Adventists points out that Jesus kept the Sabbath. This is certainly true, but this fact does not inherently lead to the conclusion that we also must do the same. Jesus was born “under law” (Gal.4:4). The believer’s status is “not under law” (Rom.6:14-15; Gal.5:18; 1 Cor.9:20). Jesus was required to do a number of things as a Jew for which we have no obligation. For example, Jesus kept Israel’s dietary laws, but under the New Covenant the clean/unclean distinction regarding foods has passed away. Even Jesus foretold this in the Gospel: “nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean….When Jesus said this he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat” (Mark 7:18-19).
“On what day did Paul worship?” asks Adventists. They reply with Acts 18:4, “and he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded them both Jews and Greeks”. Adventists left out the crucial phrase, “persuaded them to believe in Jesus.” This is another example of Adventists using a passage totally out of its context. Paul’s primary thrust in passages like this was evangelistic. Paul was not going among a group of believers who were enjoying the Lord’s Supper together and mutually edifying one another. The synagogue was filled with unbelieving Jews who needed to hear about Christ (not the Ten Commandments) from the Old Testament Scriptures. It was Paul’s custom to enter synagogues first, as he wished for his people to be saved (Rom.10:1). Acts 18:4 has nothing to do with a Christian gathering, such as the one mentioned in Acts 20:7.
Matthew 24:20 and 70AD
SDA’s think the Sabbath was a holy day in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed–long after the crucifixion of Jesus–cause Jesus told his disciples to “pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on Sabbath day” (Matt. 24:20). But if this passage proves the Sabbath was a holy day in A. D. 70, it also proves “the winter” was a “holy season,” for he told them may that their flight be not in the winter. It was not the sacredness of the day or the season that Jesus had in mind, but the safety of his disciples. Flight in the winter time would be difficult. Also the Jews, who had not accepted Christianity, would still be keeping the Sabbath would have the gates of Jerusalem closed on that day. Therefore, escape on that day would also be difficult; so they were to pray that they not have to flee on the sabbath or in the winter.
Did the Roman Catholic Church change the day of the Sabbath at the Council of Laodicea?
Adventists are confused with the “Catholic Church” and “Roman Catholic” just as they confused with the law and other things. It is amazing how common and widespread this complete mis-information is among sabbatarians! In fact, the Council of Laodicea sat 363-365AD and The Roman Catholic Church did not even exist until several centuries after that! The early “catholic” church, as described in church histories, is the Church which Jesus founded! The word ‘catholic’ simply meant ‘universal’ and the term was often used to separate biblical churches from heretical groups.
When Catholics talk about Sabbath being changed to Sunday, they are talking about a practice that started from the apostles in the first century, who they claim are the founders of their Church. Hence, Adventists are naive to claim that a change happened many centuries later through the little horn they identify as the Roman Catholic Church. When all evidence fail them, Adventists have also tried to promote the idea that Sunday practice started with paganism, however, Adventist scholars have refuted this non-sense as well. C. Mervyn Maxwell, Ph.D., professor of church history at Andrews University Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan writes: “There is little evidence that the sun occupied the unique position attributed to it by some modern authors. When the Emperor Caracalla tried to impose sun worship in the early years of the third century, the Romans laughed at him. Although sun worship has always played a role in pagan religions, it wasn’t until the end of that century (3rd century) that the sun enjoyed real prominence among the Roman gods—and by that time many Christians, at least, had been observing Sunday for 150 years. In his Apology addressed to the Roman Government, the great Christian writer Tertullian specifically refuted the charge that Christians worshiped on Sunday in honor of the sun” (Source: Ministry Magazine, 1977).
The New Covenant View of Days
There are four main positions that Bible students have set forth.
1. The weekly Saturday Sabbath is required for believers as a fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment. It is sinful to meet on any other day. This is the position of SDA’s and other Sabbatarian groups.
2. The weekly Sunday Sabbath is required for Christians as a fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment. This views posits that the Sabbath principle – one day in seven – was transferred to Sunday, primarily because of Christ’s resurrection on that day. It is sinful to meet on other days than Sunday in most circumstances. This view was held in the past by Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, and by those who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Adventists rightly points out that there is no biblical evidence for this view.
3. The church should meet on Sunday as the Lord’s Day, but not because it has anything to do with the Fourth Commandment. This position would appeal to certain patterns in the New Testament – (1) Christ was raised on the first day (which in the Greek is literally, “the first [day] after the Sabbath”); (2) some of Christ’s appearances to his disciples after his resurrection were on the first day where there was small service of worship, and Jesus preached an expositional sermon; (3) some Christian gatherings took place on the first day (Acts 20:7). This view admits that there is no command to meet on Sunday, but submit that it is most in keeping with apostolic example to do so.
4. Under the New Covenant there are no holy places or holy days – only holy people, who are the Temple of God (Eph.2:21-22; John 4:19-24; 1 Pet.2:5,9). Paul teaches in Rom.14:17 that days and food are not an issue in Messiah’s kingdom. Brothers and sisters are free to observe or not observe days as unto the Lord. One option “in Christ” is “to judge every day the same” (Rom.14:5). Each person is to be persuaded in his/her own mind in such matters. Now, if there is a day that must be observed or sin is committed, then how could Paul allow for some brethren to “regard every day the same”? Adventists makes the astounding judgment, “no one can keep every day holy in the eyes of the Lord!”. But we must give heed to the apostle Paul who by inspiration of the Spirit said that believers can regard every day the same before the Lord. Under the New Covenant there is no reason to believe that the body of Christ can incur sin by meeting on the “wrong” day. The brethren must gather together, but they are free to work out the details in light of their New Covenant privileges and responsibilities as priests. The New Covenant or testament puts no emphasis on keeping a day of worship – neither Genesis. Rather, we are encouraged to be our brother’s keeper seven days a week.
Friday Sundown to Saturday Sundown Forever?
The utter Sabbath-centeredness of SDA theology is revealed in it’s conviction that even in the New Heaven/New Earth, “for all eternity, God’s redeemed people will gather every seventh-day Sabbath to have a time of special worship and fellowship with our Creator God”. But the Book of Revelation makes it clear that in the the new earth the elements necessary for a “weekly” gathering will be non-existent. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of the Lord gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp….There will be no night there….There will be no more night, they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light” (Rev. 21:23, 25; 22:5). The fundamental essence of the age to come is that “history” is finished (in which the sun and moon appear in cycles) and “time” simply is no more. SDA’s make the ultimate error of carrying over a type and shadow literally into an age in which a seventh-day Sabbath is ludicrous. Further, by focusing on the shadow it misses the glory of the Lamb who is the Sabbath-reality and supplies the light of the New Heavens and New Earth.
In light of Heb.4, it would make more sense to realize that there is indeed a Sabbath rest awaiting the people of God in the New heavens. The gospel way to keep the Sabbath is to cease from your own works and find rest in the Lord Jesus (Mt.11:28-29). “Rest” in Christ has a “firstfruits” fulfillment in this age, and looks for the full harvest of rest in the New Heaven/New Earth, where there will be no more tears and no more curse.
The Glory of Christ in the New Covenant
It is a shame that Adventism are so fixated on the Sabbath and Sunday laws. They are enamored with a law-based exodus out of Egypt (Ex.20). They exclaim: It was an awe-inspiring event when the Lord spoke His perfect Ten Commandment Law to the assembly of Israel! You might want to review Exodus, chapters 19 and 20, to contemplate what the people experienced.
In Heb. 12:18-24, Paul distinctly says that Christians do not go to Sinai and the thunders of the law, but they come to Jesus and the new covenant. “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest. And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake: But ye are come unto Mount Sion. And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” (Heb. 12:18-24) Adventists are always dwelling upon the terrible scenes at Sinai at the giving of the law and pointing others there; but Paul says, No, do not go there; but to Mount Sion, to Jesus and the new covenant, to its teachings. Isa. 2:3; “Out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” There is where we now go for the law, not to the ark or to Sinai.
In truth, the really awe-inspiring event was the Transfiguration, and even this occurrence was a pre-figuring of the full glory that would happen in Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension (Lk.9:28-36). Moses and Elijah spoke with the glorified Christ about the “exodus” he would soon accomplish at Jerusalem. The Shekinah glory cloud came over the disciples, Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The Father speaks out of the cloud, “This is my Son whom I have chosen; listen to him.” As these words came forth, the Lord removed Moses and Elijah, and the disciples “found that Jesus was alone.” We must fix our eyes on the exodus of Christ that brought a New Covenant and a New Commandment. That is where the glory of God in the face of Jesus is found. Adventists focuses on the wrong exodus. They give more attention to Exodus 19 and 20 than they do to the many New Testament passages that exalt Jesus and the Sabbath rest to be found in him.
Adventists are excited that “thousands of Christians are now displaying Ten Commandment replicas on their lawn”. What a tragedy! They glory in an exodus that was just a shadow. What would happen if believers displayed more openly that they were the fragrance of Christ, a letter from Christ written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor.3:3). The command that should be displayed – the New Command to love one another as He loved – is the one that is offensive because it is Christ-centered. Nobody would tolerate that word of Jesus to be hung in public buildings! The irony is that the New Command is what is in force; the old covenant form which was on stone tablets, Paul says, was abolished.
Adventism claims to be a bible based movement that follows “well organized Bible study.” Unfortunately, Adventism follows a very selective study of Scripture portions that they find useful to promote their Sabbath-centered agenda. Judged by the standards of Bible interpretation they appeal to, the truth is, they have succeeded in presenting to the public a teaching that will lead people far astray from the simplicity of Christ.
We all need a big dose of humility as we search the Scriptures and share with one another what the Lord is showing us. As Thomas Dubay points out, “Finding the solution to a mathematical problem is possible without humility, but finding God’s will is impossible without this virtue” (“Communication in Community,” ST, 14:4, 1985, p.11).