New Covenant Commandments
Part Two: Common Objections
Sabbath Instituted at Creation
Sabbath-keepers claim that the Sabbath was commanded to all mankind, pointing out that God sanctified the seventh day at creation. Consider what the record in Genesis says, however.
2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. [see NASB]
Notice, it says that He rested, and sanctified the day. But He doesn’t call it a Sabbath day, nor is there any command for anyone else to observe it. There is no mention of the Sabbath until God revealed it to the children of Israel in the wilderness in Exodus 16. At that time He presented it as something new. He told them to gather manna for six days but gather two days’ worth on the sixth day, and not to gather any on the seventh because it is the Lord’s Sabbath. There is no mention of reinstating something they had forgotten, or adapting something that others had observed in the past. There is no evidence that it was known or given to anyone else before that time. Also, there is no mention in Exodus 16 of creation or God’s resting on the seventh day.
It was when God gave the Law to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20 that He compared the Sabbath with His resting on the seventh day. He said, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Sabbath keepers interpret this verse as saying that God’s resting on the seventh day was the reason they were commanded to observe the Sabbath. But notice what the “therefore” is referring to. The fact that God had rested on the seventh day at creation is the reason He blessed the seventh day and made it His Sabbath. However, the reason God commanded Israel to observe it is given in Deuteronomy 5.
15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. [see NASB]
The reason they were commanded to observe the Sabbath was to remember how God brought them out of Egypt. That’s why it was specifically for Israel and no other nation (Psalm 147:19-20). Nehemiah, in reviewing God’s dealings with Israel in the wilderness, tells us that God made known the Sabbath to Israel when He gave them His laws, statutes, and commandments at Mt. Sinai.
11 And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.
12 Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go.
13 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:
14 And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:
15 And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them. [see NASB]
The pattern of six days of work followed by a day of rest was based on God’s creation, but observing it as the Sabbath was given only to Israel in the wilderness.
Law Existed Before Sinai
It is sometimes claimed that Genesis 26:5 proves, or at least strongly implies, that there was Law even before Sinai. It says, “Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” And this was many years before Moses delivered the Law to Israel. But Moses specifically says in Deuteronomy 5:2-3, “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.” If the Ten Commandments, and thus the Sabbath, were not given to anyone but Israel at Mt. Sinai, what commandments did Abraham obey?
In the years between Adam and Moses, certain basic laws were given. We read of sacrifices and burnt offerings (Genesis 4:1-7; 8:20; 46:1; Exodus 10:25; etc.) and of a priesthood and tithes (Genesis 14:17-20). We read of God’s covenant with Noah, which included the commands that man was not to eat meat with its lifeblood, and that whoever sheds man’s blood shall have his blood shed by man. We can infer that these commandments were among those which Abraham obeyed. But God also gave very specific commands to Abraham. God commanded him to leave his homeland (Genesis 12:1, 4), to change his name (Genesis 17:5), to accept circumcision (Genesis 17:10, 23-24), to change his wife’s name (Genesis 17:15), to offer up his son as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22:1-2, 10), and so on. These specific commandments to him, as well as the basic laws before that, would all be the commandments that Abraham obeyed.
But it’s important to remember that while God said he would bless Isaac because Abraham obeyed His commandments (Genesis 26:5), the original blessings promised to Abraham were not because he obeyed, but because he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). He obeyed God’s commands because he believed God, and those actions were indications of that faith and of his relationship with God. The Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, had the same function for the nation of Israel. And today the commandments of Christ have that same function for Christians. Faith in God results in obedience, but what specific commandments are to be obeyed depends on to whom the commandments were made.
Others Besides Israel
One argument that is made against the claim that the Law was only given to Israel is that there were others besides Israelites who escaped Egypt, wandered in the wilderness, and were present at Mt. Sinai when God first delivered The Ten Commandments. When the Passover was first given to the children of Israel (Exodus 12) it was decreed that a stranger could partake of the Passover only if he was circumcised first.
48 And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.
49 One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you. [see NASB]
When these strangers joined with Israel and were circumcised, they were treated just like Israelites, and required to keep the Sabbath.
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
12 Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. [see NASB]
It is sometimes thought that the strangers being included meant that other Gentile nations were given the Sabbath as well. But we saw from Psalm 147:19-20 and Nehemiah 9:13-14 that it was only given to Israel. A simple word search shows that all throughout the Old Testament the children of Israel were told that the laws they were given should be observed by the strangers (or aliens, as the same Hebrew word is sometimes translated) that dwelt among them, as well as the children of Israel themselves. (“Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15-16, 29). It is always referring to strangers that are sojourning among the Israelites, not to all Gentile or heathen nations. These strangers or “resident aliens” had many of the same rights and requirements as the children of Israel, as long as they dwelt among them.
In Deuteronomy 29 they are included along with the children of Israel in the covenant and oath that God made with them that day. That covenant was “in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God” (Deuteronomy 29:13). When God referred to “His People” it included the children of Israel, along with those other strangers among them who also entered the covenant with God. They were collectively God’s nation and were distinct from all other Nations, who were called Gentiles. God gave His Law to His People Israel, and not to any other nation.
More Than One Law
One common argument against the Church not being under the Law is that only the sacrificial or ceremonial law was done away with in Jesus, but the moral law is still intact. But the problem with that argument is that The Law was never divided that way. The Law was always considered one single whole. James said that whoever keeps the whole law but transgresses one small point, he is guilty of the whole Law.
10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. [see NASB]
Some might argue that this only refers to the Ten Commandments and not the entire Law of Moses, but Paul makes the same statement regarding circumcision (which is not part of the Ten Commandments).
2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. [see NASB]
In Matthew 5, Jesus said that not even the smallest detail of the Law would pass away until all of it was fulfilled. Some Sabbath keepers claim that the ceremonial Law (i.e., the sacrifices and offerings) has been fulfilled and therefore passed away, but not the moral Law. But the Law was never divided that way. It was always a complete whole, and if you keep one part, you have to keep it all.
Nevertheless many Sabbath keepers even insist that there were two separate laws given on Mt. Sinai: The Law of Moses which was a covenant with Israel and is no longer in effect, and The Law of God which is The Ten Commandments, which was addressed to all mankind and will never disappear.
The reasons for this belief are based on perceived differences between The Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. To begin with, they claim that since The Ten Commandments were written in stone by the finger of God, they represent a separate Law from the Book of the Covenant which Moses wrote. The two stone tablets with the commandments were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, but the Book of the Law of Moses was placed on the side of the ark. (Exodus 40:20; Deuteronomy 31:26). Those who hold this belief take this to mean that the stone tablets had a special place in the ark, but the Book of the Law that Moses wrote is in a “secondary” place, on the side of the ark, because it’s second in importance.
But the context of this passage (Deuteronomy 31:14-21) tells us the real reason why the Book was put on the side of the ark. God told Moses that the Israelites would turn to sin and idolatry after he died, so Moses told the Levites to put it on the side, i.e. on the outside of the ark, not because it was secondary in importance to the stone tablets, but so that it would be more visible, and be a witness against them when they fell into sin.
24 And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished,
25 That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying,
26 Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.
27 For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death?
28 Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them.
29 For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. [see NASB]
Another supposed distinction between the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic Law is that the Ten Commandments do not include a curse while the Mosaic Law does. The claim is that to be a law there must be punishment for breaking it included, and while such a curse is included in the Mosaic Law, there is no such curse in the Ten Commandments, because they are a moral code. However, the second commandment, forbidding the making or worshiping of graven images, includes the warning, “for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Deuteronomy 5:9) Besides, the Ten Commandments are part of the whole Law, so the curse for breaking the Law includes breaking any of the Ten Commandments.
Furthermore, some claim that a distinction is made between “The Law of Moses” which Moses gave to the Children of Israel, and “The Law of God,” which God spoke directly to them. But if you read the record carefully, you see that God gave the whole Law, including the Ten Commandments, and that Moses delivered it to Israel. God is said to have given the Law through Moses (Leviticus 26:46; Numbers 15:22; 19:1-2; etc.). Throughout the Old Testament it is called both “The Law of Moses” and “The Law of God.” In Nehemiah 8, for example, Ezra reads from “the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel” (verse 1), and that same book is also called “The Law of God” in verse 8, and “the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses” in verse 14.
When Moses had led the children of Israel through the wilderness to Mt. Sinai, God appeared to them atop the mountain, with thunder and lightning, a thick cloud of smoke, and the sound of a trumpet. He spoke the Ten Commandments audibly to them and they were afraid, and told Moses they could listen to him but couldn’t stand the voice of God. So they stood at a distance as Moses approached God and got further oral commandments from God (Exodus 20:1-22; Deuteronomy 5:1-28).
The argument is made that after God spoke the Ten Commandments, it says in the KJV that “He added no more” (Deuteronomy 5:22). This is taken to mean that no more was added to the Ten Commandments; they were a complete Law in and of themselves, and thus separate from what Moses wrote. But a better translation of verse 22 can be seen in the following versions.
BBE – These words the Lord said to all of you together on the mountain, out of the heart of the fire, out of the cloud and the dark, with a great voice: and he said no more; he put them in writing on the two stones of the law and gave them to me.
DOUAY – These words the Lord spoke to all the multitude of you in the mountain, out of the midst of the fire and the cloud, and the darkness, with a loud voice, adding nothing more: and he wrote them in two tables of stone, which he delivered unto me.
GWV – These are the commandments the LORD spoke to your whole assembly on the mountain. He spoke in a loud voice from the fire, the cloud, and the gloomy darkness. Then he stopped speaking. He wrote the commandments on two stone tablets and gave them to me.
JPS – These words the LORD spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice, and it went on no more. And He wrote them upon two tables of stone, and gave them unto me.
NLT – The LORD spoke these words to all of you assembled there at the foot of the mountain. He spoke with a loud voice from the heart of the fire, surrounded by clouds and deep darkness. This was all he said at that time, and he wrote his words on two stone tablets and gave them to me.
The Jewish Publication Society’s translation says that God spoke “with a great voice, and it went on no more.” The voice went on no more at that point; it doesn’t say that God never added any more words to His Law. And this was only in Deuteronomy. The record in Exodus doesn’t even mention that God spoke and then said no more. The subsequent chapters of Exodus and Deuteronomy show that He did in fact add more words. He spoke to Moses many ordinances that are given from Exodus 20:22 through chapter 24, and Deuteronomy chapters 12 through 26. There is no indication that they constitute a different covenant or a separate set of laws from the Ten Commandments.
Moses then wrote down all of the words God spoke to him, and afterward read them to the people in Exodus 24. He sprinkled the book with blood to ratify the covenant with the people. All of this happened before God called Moses up the mountain again to give him the stone tablets, which He called, “the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction” (Exodus 24:12). The terms “law” and “commandment” are interchangeable and both are used here to describe the stone tablets, which are also called “the words of the covenant.” (“And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” - Exodus 34:28)
God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, not because they were a separate covenant from the rest of the Mosaic Law, but as a “testimony,” according to Exodus 31:18. “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” There was no need for all of the Mosaic Law to be written on stone, which would have been unwieldy. But the Ten Commandments, as a summary of the Law, were written by God in stone, as a testimony that it was from God. As such a testimony, the tablets, being written by the finger of God, were given special treatment, including being placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. But all throughout the Bible, the Mosaic Law is never considered any less God’s words than the Ten Commandments, nor are the Ten Commandments ever presented as a separate covenant from the Mosaic Law.
After Moses broke the stone tablets (when he came down the mountain and found the Israelites worshiping the golden calf), God rewrote the Ten Commandments on another set of stone tablets (Exodus 34), the same commandments He had written on the first set. Although He says “Behold, I make a covenant” at this point (verse 10), it is not a “new” covenant, but a restating of the one He had made with them before, since they had already broken it with the golden calf. Exodus 34:32 – “And afterward all the sons of Israel came near, and he commanded them to do everything that the LORD had spoken to him on Mount Sinai.” There is no indication here, either, that the Ten Commandments were a separate covenant, a separate law, or that they were addressed to anyone but Israel (and the strangers that lived among them).
Deuteronomy clearly demonstrates that the Ten Commandments were part of the covenant God made specifically with Israel, and would be seen as unique by other nations.
5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? [see NASB]
The argument has been made that this is referring to the Mosaic Law which was the covenant made only with Israel, as opposed to the Ten Commandments which were for man in general. However, the following verses in the chapter say otherwise:
10 Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy
God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and
I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days
that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.
1 And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.
2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.
3 The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.
4 The Lord talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire,
5 (I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to shew you the word of the Lord: for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount;) saying,
6 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
7 Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
8 Thou shalt not make thee any graven image…. [see NASB]
And it goes on to list the Ten Commandments, in the context of “statutes and judgments” and the Covenant that God made with them. The terms are used interchangeably.
As further proof that the Ten Commandments are not a separate law from the Torah that Moses wrote, Jesus quotes from laws both in and out of the Ten Commandments in Matthew 19:18-19 and Mark 10:19, without giving any distinction. And while those who believe in two separate laws claim that the Ten Commandments were given by God and not Moses, Jesus credited Moses with the command to honor father and mother in Mark 7:10, and he specifically said in John 7:19, “Did not Moses give you the Law?” (See also John 7:23; Luke 10:25-28; Exodus 24:12; Numbers 15:40; Deuteronomy 28:1, 15; 11:22; 13:18; Joshua 22:5; II Chronicles 8:13; etc.)
While there was certainly special significance to the tablets that God Himself had written on, there is nothing to indicate that it was a separate law, especially since a transcript of the Ten Commandments is included twice in the books that Moses wrote. The Ten Commandments are the outline, or summary, of the Torah, which Moses received from God and delivered to Israel.
Those who believe in two separate laws often claim that the Mosaic Law contains ceremonial or ritual laws that are to be done when the moral laws of the Ten Commandments are broken. But the entire Mosaic Law contains more than that. There are many detailed laws regarding how the people were to interact with each other, as well as how they were to worship God. And Jesus said that not one minute detail of the Law would fail until all was fulfilled. If the moral law is still intact, then so is the ritual law. Therefore it is a false claim that the ceremonial rituals ended with Christ, but the moral law of the Ten Commandments stands forever.
But this does not mean that as Christians we are without law. Some accuse us of saying that we can do anything we want, and that no morals apply to us. And sadly, some Christians actually have taken that attitude. But Paul’s retort was, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid!” (Romans 6:15). Jesus taught us how we are to live, and raised the standard, as we shall see.
Jesus Kept the Law and Taught His Followers to Do So
Just as there were commandments given to Abraham long before Moses, so there are other sets of commandments in the Bible besides the Law given at Sinai. Jesus said to keep “my commandments” and there are a number of references in the New Testament to the commandments that he gave. In addition there are New Testament references to “commandments of God.” Does that phrase automatically mean The Ten Commandments, or the Law of Moses? The commandments given to Abraham, and the commandments of Jesus are as much commandments of God as the Law of Moses, since all originate from God ultimately. But context must determine to whom the commandments in question were made, and who is expected to obey them.
It’s easy to see why some Christians believe that we are expected to keep the Law. There are a number of examples in the Gospels of Jesus keeping the Sabbath and the feasts, and of telling people that they must follow the Law of Moses, especially the Ten Commandments (Matthew 19:16-19; Mark 10:17-19; Luke 10:25-28;18:18-20). In my former Dispensationalist mindset, this was explained by saying the Gospels were addressed to “a different administration.” However, as more people came to realize the flaw in that theology, perhaps in reaction to it, they began to consider that perhaps we should follow the Ten Commandments.
But what we must keep in mind is that Jesus kept the Law and taught others to do so because it was still in effect at the time. He had not yet shed his blood and ratified the New Covenant. But he did initiate several changes that began the transition from the Old to the New Covenant, and the fullness of what his sacrifice accomplished was laid out in the Epistles, as we saw in Part One.
The Law Cannot Be “Done Away With”
Quite frequently, I hear Sabbath-keepers say that they reject the notion that the Law can be done away with. They claim that we say the Law is just “scrapped” or “thrown out,” and the first century Church was accused of saying the same thing. But that isn’t how the New Testament describes it.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. [see NASB]
It almost seems like a contradiction when you compare this passage with ones that say the Old Covenant has been abolished (II Corinthians 3:13; Ephesians 2:15) or done away with (II Corinthians 3:7, 11, 14). But note that those verses don’t say the Law is abolished, only the Old Covenant. When Paul asked rhetorically, in Romans 3:31, “Do we then make void the law through faith?” his answer was, “God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
Legalists will frequently argue that Jesus said not even the smallest detail of the Law would pass away. But they often forget the next phrase, “till all be fulfilled.” Some Sabbath keepers say that the two phrases, “Till all be fulfilled” and “Till heaven and earth pass away” are both referring to the same thing, namely the end of the world. In other words the Law will not pass away as long as the world exists. But if that were the case then nothing of the Law has been fulfilled yet, neither the ceremonial nor the moral, since it says not the slightest detail would pass away.
Not only that, but it says “the Law or the Prophets.” This refers to the entire Old Testament system. If it has not yet been fulfilled, then the sacrificial elements are still in effect, as well as the moral law. But the sacrifices and offerings were to be done in the Temple by priests, neither of which exists anymore. This makes it impossible to keep those elements of the Law, yet we are told that even the most minute detail will not pass from the Law until all is fulfilled. Clearly the end of the world cannot be what it refers to.
A similar declaration appears in Luke’s Gospel. “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16:17). Here the word used is “fail.” Indeed the Law will never fail. But in Matthew 5 it had said the Law would not “pass” or “pass away,” and the stipulation is added, “until all be fulfilled.”
The reference to “The Law or the Prophets” tells us that all Scripture, i.e., the entire Old Testament, is referred to, not just its commandments. Since the Law and the Prophets all point to Jesus, he is their fulfillment. When he says, “Whosoever breaks one of the least of these commandments…” he is referring to the commandments of the Old Testament. However, he adds that except their righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees, they won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How would their righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees? By being genuine and from the heart, not hypocritical like them. He then goes on in chapter 5 to describe what that would look like.
He sums it all up by saying that all the Law hangs on two commandments – love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:35-40). The “Golden Rule” – treat others as you would have them treat you – is how we are to love our neighbor, and it is the heart of the Law as well (Matthew 7:12). Paul states it even more simply – “Love fulfills the Law” (Romans 13:8,10; Galatians 5:14).
The thing that is abolished or done away with is not the Law itself, but the ministry of the Old Covenant which required the letter of the Law to be followed. That covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant which is superior in that it deals with the spirit and is based on love, which fulfills the true heart of the Law.
Jesus Only Corrected the Pharisees’ Misuse of the Law
This is another common argument about keeping the Law. It is claimed that Jesus upheld the Law and only corrected the Pharisees’ misuse and misinterpretation of it.
In Matthew 5 he says that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” As we saw above, one’s righteousness would surpass the scribes and Pharisees by being genuine and not hypocritical, by being motivated by love rather than legalism. He goes on to define just what he meant in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.
His repeated formula is, “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” Some have suggested that the only thing he was changing was the misunderstanding and misuse of the Law, not the Law itself. But he includes the very words of the Law in most of his quotations.
21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. [see NASB]
Notice he refers to both the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 16:18) and the other parts of the Law (Deuteronomy 16:18; II Chronicles 19:5), with no distinction. He is not denouncing any misunderstanding of the Law here. What he quotes is directly from the Law. But he raises the stakes, teaching that if we even speak or think evil, we are as guilty as if we had committed murder.
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. [see NASB]
Again, he is not correcting any misuse or misinterpretation of the Law. He specifically quotes the command forbidding adultery. But he again raises the standard, saying that even looking with lust is as bad as committing adultery.
31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. [see NASB]
Here he does rebuke the understanding that had come up since the Law was given, but it’s not a matter of the religious leaders being overly strict in this case. The whole law about divorce was given because of the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12). This does not mean, however, that someone who was divorced before they learned of what God thinks of it can never be married again, as some denominations teach. There is no sin too great for God to forgive if a person truly repents.
The New Covenant teaches a new standard of living, based on love rather than law or obligation. It had been said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (although this was actually to prevent over-retaliation), but Jesus challenged us to resist not evil and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42). It was commonly said, as it still is, that we should love our neighbors and hate our enemies, but Jesus challenged us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Rather than only correcting the Pharisee’s misuse of the Law, he raised it to a new standard.
Jesus Reiterated the Law, Not Replaced It With a New One
As mentioned above, many Sabbath keepers believe the New Covenant is a covenant God will make with Israel in the future. They claim that Jesus didn’t replace the Old with the New, but simply reiterated the Old. But he said the Law and the Prophets were until John, and since then the Kingdom of God was preached (Matthew 11:13; Luke 16:16). Besides, we have seen that the law of Christ, which is a law of love, is superior to the Law of Moses. The writer of Hebrews specifically states that the New Covenant is better.
11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. [see NASB]
The entire priesthood was changed by Jesus. The Levitical priesthood was replaced by priests after the order of Melchisedec.
17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. [see NASB]
We also saw Paul’s many explanations of how the New Covenant is superior to the Old in Part One. It cannot be merely a reiteration of the Old Covenant, especially with the changes made by Jesus and described by Paul.
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath
Another frequently misunderstood statement is that Jesus is “lord of the Sabbath.” Does this mean that he commands everyone to keep the Sabbath?
1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.
2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.
3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;
4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?
5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?
6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. [see NASB]
Sabbath keepers tend to interpret verse 8 as saying that if we follow the Lord we should keep the Sabbath, for he is Lord of the Sabbath. But while he continued to observe the Law and teach others to do so (because it was still in effect then, see Objection #5), he nevertheless showed an example in which the practical needs outweighed the strict letter of the Law. Following that, he healed a man on the Sabbath (verse 9ff), which the Pharisees also considered breaking the Sabbath. But Jesus taught that it was better to do good on the Sabbath than evil.
The corresponding record in Mark 2 adds the phrase, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Some Sabbath keepers claim that this means the Sabbath was intended for all mankind. But we have seen that it was only given to Israel. This verse cannot, therefore, be referring to all mankind but to “man” within the established context of Israel. In that same chapter Jesus told the man that had been healed of the palsy to take up his bed and go home. This was also against the strictest Sabbath laws, but appropriate in the context of healing the man.
We see a similar record in John 5, in which Jesus had specifically told the man he healed to pick up his bed and walk. The Pharisees confronted the man, and he replied that the man who healed him had told him to carry his bed. This was not just a contradiction of the Pharisees’ traditions that hadn’t been in the Law. This was a direct contradiction of the Law (Jeremiah 17:21-23). But Jesus taught that he was “one greater than the Temple” and had greater authority. He said he was lord of the Sabbath, and that the Sabbath was made for man’s needs, and not the other way around.
Matthew 15 & Mark 7 Are Not About Ritually Clean Foods
Jesus taught a new understanding of dietary laws. The Pharisees criticized the disciples because they didn’t wash their hands before they ate, and he chastised them for going against the commandments of God with their traditions. Afterward he spoke to the people.
10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?
13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
15 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.
16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. [see NASB]
In the parallel record in Mark, a sentence is added in many English versions that is omitted in the KJV. The following is from the NASB.
18 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him,
19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) [see KJV]
This addition is supported by the majority of Greek manuscripts. Those who insist on keeping the dietary laws reject this interpretation, because they claim that the issue was never about ritually clean vs. unclean food, but about the disciples not washing their hands before they ate. But a careful reading of chapter 7 shows that the controversy over washing was dealt with in verses 1-13, and then the people were called together in verse 14, and after that the disciples asked him about it in private. So his remarks are not just in the context of the Pharisees’ complaint. Jesus was not saying that eating with unwashed hands was the only outward thing that did not defile a man. He was teaching a greater truth, that “whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him.” This is why Mark added the comment, “Thus He declared all foods clean.”
The Early Christians Observed The Law and the Sabbath
Sabbath keepers like to point to the instances of Jesus observing Torah and teaching his followers to do so. But as we saw, it was because he had not yet fulfilled the Law by his sacrificial work on the cross. As we read through Acts and the Epistles, we begin to see the New Covenant unfolded, and thus come to understand what is expected of us as Christians.
In the Book of Acts, after Pentecost, the believers met every day in the Temple area as well as from house to house (Acts 2:46; 5:12, 42). There is no indication that they were observing the Sabbath, nor is there any mention of the Law in those first chapters. In a few instances there is mention of believers entering the Temple or a synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14; 17:2; 18:4; etc.), but none of them say they were observing the Sabbath by doing so. One verse (Acts 16:13) even refers to going outside the city to a riverside on the Sabbath, where prayer was customarily made. There are a number of other references to apostles entering the synagogue in the town they were visiting, with no mention of it being the Sabbath, in order to preach the Gospel to the Jews. The Temple and synagogues were simply the best places to find groups of Jews in one place in order to speak the Word, and the Sabbath was the best time to find a large number of them gathered together.
A couple of references in Acts also mention keeping a feast. “I must by all means keep this feast in Jerusalem” (Acts 18:21). This sentence is omitted in modern Greek texts and English translations. But even if it does belong, there is no indication that he was doing so to keep the Law, which would contradict all his other statements about the Law. In Acts 20:6 we read, “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread…” This is simply referring to the time of year they sailed. Nothing in this passage says they were observing the feast according to the Law.
After the first Gentiles received the holy spirit, the other disciples marveled that Gentiles were also granted repentance that leads to eternal life (Acts 11). This was a major turning point in the growth of the Church, but it was not without its controversy. Many believers who had been Jews had a hard time accepting that Gentiles could be included. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas went into the Synagogue and when the rulers asked if anyone had any words of exhortation, Paul stood up and preached the Gospel to them. Afterward, the KJV reads as follows:
42 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.
43 Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. [see NASB]
These verses are taken by some to indicate that the Gentiles were observing the Sabbath. But in fact the word “Gentile” doesn’t even appear in the Greek until verse 46. In verse 42, there is only a pronoun, “they,” and the Greek literally reads, “Having departed, they begged on the next Sabbath to be spoken to them these words.” Most modern English versions interpret it as the Jews begging Paul and Barnabas to preach again to them.
The words for “next Sabbath” can also be translated as “between the Sabbaths,” and some marginal notes indicate that it referred to the intervening week, as it was customary for the Jews to gather on the second and fifth days of the week (our Monday and Thursday) to hear the Scriptures read. But whether or not this was the intended meaning, when the whole city gathered together the next Sabbath, it is safe to assume that it included Jews and Gentiles, and when the Jews were jealous and spoke against them, Paul and Barnabas said, “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Nothing in this record indicates that these gatherings were for the purpose of observing the Sabbath.
The Roman Catholic Church Changed the Sabbath
It is commonly thought that Christianity, specifically the Roman Catholic Church, changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Many Christians even call Sunday the Sabbath. But this was not the intention of the first century Church. They met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) and ate together, and Paul refers to gathering a collection for the saints on the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:2). But it was not called the Sabbath.
Several early Christian writers made reference to meeting on Sunday. Barnabas in his epistle (15:9) wrote “We keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which Jesus also rose from the dead, and having been manifested, ascended into the heavens.” Ignatius spoke of Christians no longer observing the Sabbath but “fashioning their lives after the Lord’s Day” (Letter to the Magnesians, sec. 9). Justin Martyr referred to Christians meeting on “the day called Sunday” to observe the Lord’s Supper (Apology 1, sec. 67). But none of these refer to it as a new Sabbath, or a mandatory observance. Socrates, in Historia Ecclesia (Vol. 5, 22) wrote the following:
The Savior and the Apostles did not make fixed rules as to the observance of days...nor do the Gospels and Apostles threaten us with any penalty, punishment or curse for the neglect of them [fixed days], as the Mosaic law does the Jews…The aim of the Apostles was not to appoint festival days, but to teach a righteous life and piety.
All of these writers were way before Constantine, who is incorrectly thought to have started Sunday worship. He made a Roman law out of it when he converted to Christianity, but Christians had been meeting on Sunday for over 200 years.
Peter’s Vision Was About Clean and Unclean People, Not Food
Not only is there nothing in Acts to indicate that the Apostles were keeping the Law, but there are key passages in which the issue of keeping the Law is dealt with. In chapter 10, Peter was given a vision in which a sheet was lowered from heaven with all kinds of animals, and a voice told him to kill and eat. Peter replied that he never ate anything that was unclean. The voice replied not to call anything unclean that God has made clean. This happened three times. After this Peter was summoned to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and Peter declares that God had shown him not to call anyone unclean.
Sabbath keepers make the observation that the vision was not about eating foods that were formerly unclean, but about accepting Gentiles. This is true. But consider this. If God intended to teach Peter not to call unclean that which He had made clean, would it have made sense to use as an illustration a collection of animals that were, in fact, still unclean? Taken along with Jesus’ declaration that all foods were clean in Mark 7, and Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 that nothing is unclean of itself, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the dietary rules in the Law had been changed.
Acts 15 Allowed for Gentiles to Learn the Law a Little At a Time
The jealousy of many Jews over the inclusion of the Gentiles continued to grow, to the point that in Acts 15 there were even Jewish believers who started teaching that for Gentiles to be saved they had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. There was such a dispute about this that Paul and Barnabas and certain others went up to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles and Elders.
1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. [see NASB]
One would think that this passage made it as clear as could be, but some Sabbath keepers and Torah observers get around it by citing James’ declaration.
19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. [see NASB]
The interpretation they give is that rather than load the Gentiles with the burden of keeping the whole Law, they would start them off with only those few basics, taking verse 21 to mean that the Gentiles will learn the rest of the Law gradually, since it is read in the synagogues every Sabbath. But such an interpretation is quite a stretch. The discussion in Acts 15 says nothing about the Law being too much to obey all at once without time to learn it. It specifically states that certain Judeans were saying “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (verse 1) and “it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (verse 5).
Verse 21 only says that there have long been those who preach Moses in every city, since the Law is read every Sabbath. To interpret that as an indication that the Gentiles would need to eventually learn and follow the Law would contradict Peter's clear statement in verses 6-11. Notice Peter had not said that the yoke of the Law was too much for them to bear without time to learn it all. He says that neither the fathers nor themselves were able to bear it, period. They'd had plenty of time to learn it. Peter pointed out that the hearts of both Jews and Gentiles are cleansed by faith. That being the case, why would they or anyone else suggest that the Gentiles would eventually need to learn and obey the Law?
That the guidelines given to the Gentiles had nothing to do with keeping the Law of Moses is established by James’ statement in the letter that was sent out. “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment…” (Acts 15:24). The idea that James or any of the elders in any way supported making the Gentiles keep the Law of Moses is disproven by the fact that the letter said such a commandment had troubled them and subverted their souls, and that the elders gave no such commandment. It is further established later in Acts 21:25 when James said, “As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing…” except for those guidelines given so as not to be offensive to the Jews.
Paul’s Deference to the Jews
The instructions to the Gentiles given in Acts 15:20-21 were not to give them “the basics” and allow them to learn the Law gradually, as seen in Objection #14, above. There are some who teach that those instructions for the Gentiles were taken from God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:3-6). But in fact the only thing the instructions in Acts have in common with Noah’s Covenant is forbidding the eating of blood.
The reason that those basic instructions were given was to avoid being a stumblingblock to their Jewish brethren.
14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
I Corinthians 8:
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
I Corinthians 9:
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. [See NASB]
That's the intent behind Acts 15:21 – there are Law-observing Jews in every city, so we’ll have the Gentiles observe these few things so they won’t be offensive to the Jewish brethren. If the elders were meaning to say that they should start by teaching the most basic laws and teach them more of the Law later, they would have said to have them circumcised first. That was how the legalistic Judeans were putting it in the beginning of the chapter (verses 1 & 5). But they did not do so. Furthermore, they didn't tell them to keep the Sabbath, which would also be a basic thing they would need to do in order to learn the rest of the Law. They only commanded them to observe a few things so as not to give offense to the Jews.
The next record of a major controversy over the Law comes in Acts 21. Paul and company went up to Jerusalem after much traveling, and they came in to see James.
17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. [see NASB]
First of all, the accusation was not true. Paul didn’t teach the Jews to forsake Moses or the Law, nor did he tell them not to circumcise their children or follow customs. What he taught them (as can be seen from his epistles) was that the Law was not to be viewed as their means of achieving righteousness. He also taught that the Gentiles, to whom the Law was not given, were not obligated to keep the Law. He taught that both Jews and Gentiles were under the higher Law of Christ, which made the letter of the Mosaic Law irrelevant. If the Jewish believers still wanted to circumcise their children or keep the Sabbath, it was their choice as long as they didn’t do it in order to be righteous or compel anyone else to do so. Paul even circumcised Timothy, whose father was a Greek, because of the Jews (Acts 16:1-3). He became as a Jew with the Jews, and as one under the Law with those under the Law, etc. He became all things to all men, that he might by all means save some (I Corinthians 9:19-23). James suggested, then, a way to reassure the Jewish believers.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. [see NASB]
James wanted Paul to prove that he kept the Law. Paul knew that it wasn’t to keep the Old Covenant, but to make peace with the Jewish Christians, so he followed James’ suggestion and went through the purifying ritual with the four men. When the Jews saw him in the Temple, they assumed he had brought Trophimus into the Temple with him, as they had seen the two together in the city. This caused an uproar which eventually led to Paul’s being arrested, and ultimately going to Rome to appear before Caesar.
I was taught at one time that James had deliberately set Paul up, being also zealous for the Law. But there is no evidence of that. That idea was based on the assumption that having anything to do with the Law was automatically sinful and evil. So if James talked Paul into performing that ritual he was guilty and caused major problems in Paul’s life. It was even said that Paul’s ministry suffered due to James’ influence and Paul’s own disobedience, to the degree that the closest he got to winning anyone after that was Agrippa saying, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28). However, this was all conjecture. The Bible doesn’t say that.
There is some disagreement about whether it was God’s will for Paul to go to Jerusalem at that time, but even if it wasn’t, God doesn’t forsake His children because they make mistakes. The record in Acts shows that even after Paul’s arrest and imprisonment he was still walking with God and that going to Rome was part of God’s plan (Acts 23:11; 27:21-25; 28:3-6, 23-24, 30-31). While in prison Paul was given some of the greatest revelation of the early Church as written in his later epistles, and in fact the gospel was further advanced by Paul’s imprisonment (Philippians 1:12-18).
In any case James’ suggestion was not sinful. He, like Paul, was only suggesting doing what would make for peace and show that Paul was not saying to “forsake Moses.” The Bible doesn’t say that keeping the Law is bad or evil. It says it is a non-issue (I Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6) and not to be used as a means to righteousness. This misunderstanding continues today. No matter how many times it’s been stated otherwise in discussions, people will still accuse us of saying that the Law is thrown out, or even “erased from stone.” For some reason some people find it hard to grasp the difference between saying something is not necessary and saying it is wrong to do.
On the other hand there are some who say that doing anything that’s in the Law is to go against Paul’s teaching about the grace in Jesus, and therefore sinful. But Paul doesn’t say that. He says the Law is irrelevant and circumcision is nothing. The only thing he says is bad is to try to keep the Law to establish your own righteousness, or to teach others that it is mandatory.
Today many babies are circumcised for health or hygienic reasons that have nothing to do with the Law of Moses. It is not wrong to circumcise your child as long as it’s not for the purpose of achieving righteousness through the Law. If it were the act of circumcision itself that was wrong, Paul would have been guilty of going against his own commands when he circumcised Timothy.
Some Christians who come from a Jewish background may like to observe the Sabbath or a feast day, simply out of tradition. Some other Christians may like to set aside one day a week to focus on God through prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, etc. Still others may like to celebrate Jewish feasts and customs such as Passover in order to learn more about the ceremonies which foreshadowed Christ, which can be an enlightening tool for learning. Such observations can be a blessing, as long as they are a matter of personal choice and not of obligation, and not an attempt to achieve righteousness through the Law. To properly understand the difference, it is necessary to closely examine Paul’s epistles (see Part One).
The Gentiles Don’t Have to Keep the Law But the Jews Still Do
While some legalists say that the Gentiles were expected to learn the law gradually, as in Objection #13 above, others allow that the Gentiles are not required to keep the Law, but say that the Jews still are. But that would mean there is one requirement for salvation for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. This flatly contradicts Paul, who speaks of One Body of Christ, with neither Jews nor Gentiles.
11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
I Corinthians 12:
13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. [see NASB]
Romans 14 Is Not About Dietary Laws or the Sabbath
Romans chapter 14 offers what should be a very clear explanation of how we are to handle questions on diet and observing feast days.
1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. [see NASB]
Those who hold to the Law claim that this has nothing to do with the dietary laws in the Torah, as it speaks of eating only herbs, which was not a requirement of the Law. But there was a warning in the Law about eating food sacrificed to idols (Exodus 34:15) as well as a number of stipulations for sins committed in ignorance (Leviticus 4:2-3; 5:15; Numbers 15:24, 27-29). In order to avoid unknowingly eating food sacrificed to idols, Jews would often choose to eat no meat at all, if there were a possibility that it had been sacrificed to idols. (Cp. Daniel 1:8-16, in which Daniel lived on pulse (vegetables) and water, rather than on the king’s meat and wine).
However, Paul dealt with this in I Corinthians 10:20-32, teaching that under the New Covenant one could eat whatever is served, no questions asked, unless it was specifically stated that it had been sacrificed to idols (see the discussion in Part One). But he also taught that we must be considerate of those who may be offended by our eating. This is the point of verses 1-3.
But if there is still a question about what food is lawful, he says in verse 14 that he is persuaded that “there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” This is certainly not the stance of the Mosaic Law. It was not up to individual opinions whether certain foods were unclean. God declared in the Law what foods were clean and what foods were not, and listed them. Yet just as Jesus declared all foods to be clean in Mark 7:19, Paul also declares that nothing is unclean of itself, but it’s only unclean to those who consider it so.
In the Old Testament, it was the Letter of the Law. These foods are forbidden. But why? Is there something inherently bad about them, as some people believe? Or was it part of God’s purpose to set the Israelites apart, as with the other factors of the Law? Murder, adultery, lying, stealing, coveting, etc., are wrong in and of themselves, and thus they are condemned under both the Old and New Covenants. But whether to eat certain foods is not a matter of good vs. evil, but simply of obedience to God’s commandments, which in that case were made to Israel. The commandments under the New Covenant focus on walking in love, and on being considerate of other people’s feelings, even though, as Paul said, “All things indeed are pure.”
He says the same about the observance of certain days above others.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. [see NASB]
Sabbath keepers like to point out that the context is about not being divided over “doubtful disputations” (verse 1), that is, matters which aren’t worth dividing over. Thus, they say, it rules out the possibility that these verses are referring to the Sabbath, because the Sabbath is not a “doubtful disputation” but a divine commandment written in stone. But this is circular logic. It starts with the assumption that the Sabbath has not been changed, and insists that therefore the Sabbath cannot be the subject. But in fact these verses are exactly the wording one would use to explain that the Sabbath and the other feast days, as well as dietary laws, are no longer required and no longer a major issue, and thus not to be disputed over.
These Sabbath keepers conclude that the days referred to in this passage are days of fasting, which the Church could not agree upon among themselves, although there is no indication of that. Even so, it may have been included in Paul’s thinking, but the wording he chose covers the regarding of any day above any other. “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike.” Is not that the definition of the Sabbath: one day is set aside as special? When Paul said, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,” if he wasn’t including the Sabbath it would have been important to make that distinction, but he did not. His wording refers to any day, which would include the Sabbath as well as the various feast days. (It would even include the observation of secular holidays such as Christmas, which some Christians say is Pagan and sinful to celebrate. See Is Christmas Pagan?) Again he says it’s up to every man to decide for himself, which is certainly not what the Mosaic Law had said. This is the freedom we now have in Christ.
But Paul declares that even more important than whether we observe certain days or not, and more important than whether a food is clean or unclean, is whether or not you offend a brother by your actions.
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. [see NASB]
Several Varying Explanations of Colossians 2:16-17
Colossians 2:16-17 calls the whole Sabbath system (including festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths) a shadow of things to come, concerning which we are not to be judged. We saw that the Sabbath was uniquely given to Israel (see Part One). Now that Christ has come we have no need for observance of special days, as Paul refers to in Romans 14:5 (“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.”)
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. [see NASB]
First of all, the reference to judging in meat or in drink is probably not a reference to dietary laws, since there was no law defining clean and unclean drinks, as there was for meats. The sacrifices, however, included drink offerings as well as burnt offerings, sin offerings, meal offerings, etc. So the reference is most likely to the sacrificial system, not the dietary laws.
Second, Paul is saying not to let anyone judge you regarding the sacrificial system and the Sabbath system. This is the clearest passage in the New Testament about not being required to keep the Sabbath. Sabbath keepers have made many attempts to explain away the words of this passage, but to no avail. Some have suggested that it only refers to being judged about how they observed the Sabbath, not whether to observe it. But the context does not support such an interpretation. It makes no reference to the way they observed it, but states plainly that the whole system is a shadow of things to come.
Some have suggested that the weekly Sabbath is not referred to in this passage, but that it is talking about the “ceremonial Sabbaths.” This is based on the idea discussed previously, that the Law could be divided into the Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law. But as we saw, the Law was never divided that way, it was a single whole. The entire Sabbath system – including the yearly festivals, the new moons, and the weekly Sabbaths (which are frequently mentioned together in the Old Covenant) – is called a single shadow in verse 17.
The Greek word for Sabbath is in the plural in verse 16, and some claim that this means it is referring to more than one kind of Sabbath (namely the yearly Sabbaths associated with the annual feasts – Passover, Feast of Weeks, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles, etc.). But it had already mentioned the feasts (‘holyday’ in KJV, ‘festival’ in NASB). If ‘Sabbaths’ here were referring again to the yearly feasts it would be redundant. Besides, there are a number of places where the word for Sabbath is in the plural but referring to a single weekly Sabbath (Matthew 28:1; Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14; 16:13).
Another attempt to explain the passage has been to define the “handwriting of ordinances” in verse 14 as the Ceremonial Law, because the ordinances were the debt for sin, to be paid with sacrifices, and the ordinances were handwritten by Moses (as distinct from the Moral Law – the Ten Commandments, which were written in stone by God). According to this explanation, the things listed in verse 16 are said to be all elements of the Ceremonial Law which is what the shadow was that is now unneeded, but the weekly Sabbath is part of the Moral Law (10 Commandments) which remains intact. This is all still based on the erroneous idea that there were two different Laws or two different parts of the Law.
Yet another attempt involves the shadow and the substance in verse 17. Since it says that the things in verse 16 are a shadow of things “to come,” it is interpreted by some to mean that they are shadows of something that was still future at the time of Paul’s writing (and still future today). Therefore, they say, the shadow is still in effect. There are a couple of problems with this view. First of all, if the shadow is still in effect and the substance hasn’t come yet, what would be the point of Paul saying not to let anyone judge them concerning the shadow? They would be right in observing the shadow.
Second, just because it says “the shadow of things to come” it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is speaking only of something yet future. The same language is used in Hebrews 10. It says in verse 1, “…the law having a shadow of good things to come…” but we can see from the context that it is not referring only to the future. Chapter 9 had just been talking about the sacrifice of Christ which was better than the old sacrifices which were not perfect and had to be repeated. Verse 28 said, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” The sacrifice of Christ was in the past at that time, being what the old symbolic sacrifices had pointed to, and its effects were in place. But there is also an element of looking forward to the ultimate completion at Christ’s appearing. Then we come to the first verse of chapter 10.
1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. [see NASB]
The entire meaning of the shadow and substance is changed, in another theory. This one maintains that the phrase “but the body is of Christ” in verse 17 should actually be translated simply “but the body of Christ.” This theory suggests that the phrase “which are a shadow of things to come” is a parenthesis, and that the passage is actually saying, “Let no man judge you [in all those things in v. 16]…but the body of Christ. In other words it is supposedly saying not to let anyone judge you but the Body of Christ, which is the Church.
There are a couple of problems with this theory as well. First of all, the Greek word for “but” in this verse is de. It is a simple conjunction that can be translated ‘but,’ ‘moreover,’ ‘now,’ ‘then,’ ‘yet,’ etc. It is never used for “but” in the sense of “except” (i.e. No one except the Body of Christ). “But” in the sense of “except” would be the Greek phrase ean me or ei me, neither of which is used here. Secondly, if it did say that only the Body of Christ should judge you on these things, it would flatly contradict Paul’s exhortation to believers not to judge one another about food or holding one day above another in Romans 14 (see previous objection).
In addition to these various interpretations of verses 16 and 17, there is also a theory that the entire context is not talking about the Law but about man’s worldly ordinances. They point out terms like “rudiments of the world” (in verses 8 and 20), “the tradition of men” (verse 8) and “the commandments and doctrines of men” (verse 22). They say that it is talking about man’s doctrines, not God’s, as the Law would never be called “commandments and doctrines of men.” They maintain that Paul was exhorting them not to go back to the Pagan practices they had come out of.
But the earlier verses are clearly talking about things related to the Law, including circumcision and the handwriting of ordinances. Reading in context, we see that Paul’s subject is the superiority of Christ to anything, either Jewish or Gentile. He extols the virtues of Christ, and then adds, “And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words” (verse 4) and, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (verse 8).
He then goes on to describe the kinds of things that they were being tempted with. In verses 9-15, he speaks of the circumcision made without hands, and that Christ blotted out the “handwriting of ordinances.” What does “handwriting of ordinances” mean? It refers to a certificate of debt, in this case the debt we had because of sin. In Romans he explained that it was the Law which identified sin, and that without the Law there was no transgression (Romans 4:15; 7:7-11). But the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
That debt we owed because of sin was taken away, and nailed to the cross of Christ. Verse 16 says “therefore” which refers back to what was just discussed. Because the debt of the Law was paid, we are “therefore” not to let anyone judge us with respect to those elements of the Law: sacrifices of meat or drink (Cp. Hebrews 9:10), or respect of holy days, new moons, and Sabbaths. This is all related to the Law of Moses.
Then in verse 18, Paul begins a new thought. In addition to not allowing anyone to judge them regarding things of the Law, they are also warned not to be beguiled “in voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18). But the fact that this is something else besides elements of the Law doesn’t negate the fact that elements of the Law were mentioned in verses 11-17. Paul is warning the Colossians not to be deceived by anything that isn’t holding the Head, Jesus Christ.
The whole passage warning of things the Colossians should beware of is bookended (in verses 8 and 20) with the phrase “rudiments of the world.” Sabbath keepers claim that this means only worldly things and so cannot be including God’s commandments. But the word for “rudiments” means elements or principles, and can refer to the principles of any instruction. It is used of the first principles of religion (Hebrews 5:1), and of the component parts of the physical world (II Peter 3:10,12). It is also used in Galatians 4:9-11, referring to returning to the “weak and beggarly elements” such as observing days, months, times, and years, to which the Galatians seemed to want to be in bondage. The ordinances of Colossians 2:20-21 that are called commandments and doctrines of men includes not only those things that verse 18 mentions, but also the ordinances of the Mosaic Law because Christ had taken those ordinances and fulfilled them, so any requirement to still observe them is not God’s commandment but man’s.
Sabbath keepers have made many attempts to explain away the words of Colossians 2:16-17, but to no avail. Many of the explanations even contradict each other, as well as those of other Sabbatarians. A former Sabbath-keeper, D.M. Canright, in his “Why I Gave Up the Seventh Day,” wrote the following:
When I was a firm believer in the seventh day, Colossians 2:14, 16, 17 always bothered me more or less. The plain simple reading of it seemed manifestly to teach the abolition of the Sabbath. I was impressed with the fact that it had to be explained away, and that it took a tremendous amount of fine hair-splitting distinctions to do it.
Canright also observed (as cited in M.S. Logan, Sabbath Theology, p. 269), “I have often wished that Colossians 2:16, 17 was not in the Bible, and it troubles my Seventh-day Adventist brethren as much as it did me, say what they will.”
The Law with its Sabbath system is a shadow of Christ and of the rest we have in him (Matthew11:28-29). We have no need of holy days and Sabbaths, which were for Israel to remember how God had led them out of Egypt. We now strive to enter into His rest every day, remembering what God has done for us in Christ.
References to the Law in Revelation
There are a few references to the Law in the Book of Revelation, and frequently legalists point to them and say that this proves we’re expected to abide by the Law now. In chapter 2 (verses 14 and 20), there is mention of food sacrificed to idols, whereas Paul had said to eat what’s given to you (I Corinthians 10:20-32). But if you read those verses carefully they are both making reference to people in the Old Testament who caused Israelites to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication (Balaam in verse 14, and Jezebel in verse 20).
In 11:19, John wrote that he saw the Temple of God opened in heaven, and the Ark of the Covenant was seen in the temple. One must remember that the Temple in Jerusalem was built after the pattern of the Temple of God in the heavens, so it’s no surprise that if John had a vision of the Temple in heaven, it would bear resemblance to the Temple in Jerusalem. But there are many symbols from the Old Testament in the book of Revelation, and this vision is about things to come, and so does not prove that the Law is in effect now.
Two verses (12:17 & 14:12) mention saints keeping the commandments of God as well as holding to their faith in Jesus. But as seen before, the phrase “commandments of God” does not automatically mean the 10 Commandments or the Law of Moses. The commandments that Jesus gave are as much commandments of God as the Law of Moses was.
Revelation 18:2 reads, “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” Some legalists have claimed that referring to an “unclean bird” has reference to the clean and unclean animals in the dietary rules of the Law. But the context has nothing to do with ritually clean and unclean animals. It is talking about devils (daimon, demons) and unclean spirits. Matthew Henry’s Commentary says that it was “a common notion that unclean spirits, as well as ominous and hateful birds, used to haunt a city or house that lay in its ruins.”
Legalists and Sabbatarians quoting these verses in Revelation reason that if the Law was in effect before and will be in the future, it must be in effect now as well. Besides the fact that the verses don’t say anything about the Law of Moses, even if they did it wouldn’t prove that it is still to be observed in this present time.
Return to Temple/Sacrifice/Laws in the New Kingdom
In the Old Testament there are a few references to the future Kingdom of God that seem to imply that the Law will be in effect at that time (either still or again). One such verse is Isaiah 2:3. It reads, “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” This verse is also repeated in Micah 4:2.
The word for ‘law’ in those verses is Torah, which is the word used for the Mosaic Law. However, it is not limited to that. The word literally means “instruction” or “direction.” In the new earth there will be “law” or “instruction” just as there is “law” now. But it is the law of Christ, not the Law of Moses.
Now there are some verses in the Old Testament that seem to imply that sacrifices, in some form at least, will be in place in the future Millennial Kingdom. These include Isaiah 19:21; 56:7; 60:7; 66:20-23; Jeremiah 33:18; Zechariah 14:16-21 among others. And of course the biggest implication is the detailed description of a Temple and sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48. Sabbath keepers reason that if the Law was in place in the Old Testament and will be in place in the future, how could it not be in place now?
Admittedly, Ezekiel’s Temple is one of the most difficult sections of Scripture to understand or interpret. Scholars have disagreed for centuries, and their interpretation (as well as their interpretation of most other end-time prophecies) is greatly determined by the theological views they hold to begin with. There are basically three ways of looking at it:
1. The symbolic, spiritual interpretation, in which the vision is said to symbolically represent The Christian Church, which is called the Temple of God (I Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; II Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21-22).
2. The literal interpretation, in which the Temple described is said to be a literal Temple, that will be built in the Millennial Kingdom.
3. A kind of hybrid interpretation that combines literal and figurative elements. It figuratively addresses the restoration of Israel to the land after the Babylonian exile, but only partially fulfilled by the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet it is a type of the Church of Christ’s Body, and its completion at the return of Christ.
The problem is, none of these interpretations is without serious difficulties. If it is symbolic, how does one explain the minute detail with which it is described? There are precise measurements of walls, doors, steps, courtyards, etc.; detailed descriptions of a priesthood, their vestments, and procedures for performing sacrifices; and calendar days on which the sacrifices are to be made. These are all shown to Ezekiel by the angel, who tells him to write it all down and pass it on to the people of Israel. What would be the point of such detail if it were merely symbolic?
On the other hand, if it represents a literal Temple to be built during the Millennium, we have the problem of why animal sacrifices would be reinstated after Christ’s perfect sacrifice put an end to them. Some have suggested that they are for a memorial of Christ’s atoning work, looking back as the Old Covenant sacrifices looked forward to it. But the Lord’s Supper (Communion) was instituted for that purpose. And the old sacrificial system was said to be a shadow of what was to come, but Jesus’ sacrifice was the substance to which the shadow pointed. If the substance has come, what need do we have for another shadow? In any case, it is only temporary during the Millennial Kingdom, because Revelation 21:22 tells us that in the final New Earth there will be no Temple, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”
There has not been any consensus on the meaning or significance of Ezekiel’s Temple, but it is clearly not a complete restoration of the Old Covenant. It has several elements in common, but there is no Ark of the Covenant, no gold lampstand or table of showbread, and no veil. The Passover and Feast of Tabernacles are referred to, but Pentecost is not. And most significantly, there is no mention of the Day of Atonement and the sprinkling of blood on the Mercy Seat of the Ark.
But regardless of whether it’s figurative or literal, neither interpretation proves that the Law is in effect now. If it’s figurative of the Body of Christ, then the sacrifices and ordinances are no longer binding, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly. If it’s literal, it must be future, as no such Temple has ever existed in Israel’s history. Therefore it is dealing with what commandments are for those people at that time, and in no way proves that the Law of Moses is to be observed now.
We must always keep in mind that while we are expected to obey God’s commandments, we must not confuse commandments given to other people or at other times with those commandments of Jesus Christ that are given to us, the Church.
This page last updated April 24, 2018