This is the 7th post in a series, for the previous post please click HERE.
The first thing that people ask me when I explain the New Covenant to them is:
“Wait…. does that mean its okay to lie, steal, and commit adultery?”.
I think it’s funny that everyone seems to wonder right off the bat if its okay to commit adultery. They will usually mix a few others in there for good measure but that seems to be the common denominator. The answer to that question is no, but I intend to justify this Biblically.
Right now I am going to take a moment to define some of the terms I am using with regards to the Law. I am not personally comfortable using these words as they are the same terms utilized by SDA. Understand though that when SDA use these words they define them differently.
Ceremonial: These are the laws and precepts of the Old Covenant that pointed to Christ, they had a specific function and were fulfilled on the cross. It should be noted that the term “ceremonial” is not actually found in the Bible. It is simply a man made word with which one can identify a category of laws seen in the Bible. One can discern which laws are ceremonial by cross referencing those taught in the old covenant with the new. If the law IS NOT taught prescriptively in the New Covenant it is a ceremonial law.
Moral: Moral laws are used to govern society, convict us of sin, and guide us in Christian living. They have no ceremonial function, they simply teach between right and wrong. One can discern which laws moral by cross referencing those taught int he old covenant with the new. If the law IS taught prescriptively in the New Covenant it is a moral law. Though, as with Ceremonial the Bible does not refer to the Moral law, it can certainly be seen taught as a separate entity from other “ceremonial” laws. I would argue that the Moral law is what Paul refers to as the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2)(1 Cor 9:20-22).
Before we can even establish these distinctions though we have to start from the ground up and prove how we even get there. It is not enough to just assert such classifications on the law without demonstrating a sound hermenuetic by which one arrives at them. So before I move on I am going to support the presuppositional thesis I am utilizing.
The Bible doesn’t distinguish between the law of Moses and the Ten Commandments.
It actually refers to both interchangeably, this is key in understanding not only the falsehoods in SDA teaching but in formulating one’s hermenuetic on the law. The Ten Commandments are so foundational to Christian tradition that it is easy for us laity to get confused. Tradition is important but it doesn’t trump scripture. The fact of the matter is, the Ten Commandments received by Moses were a part of a whole at the time of receipt.
I make the case for this HERE. But the verses that I used to support the fact that the two are referred to interchangeably can be found in the following: (Luke 2:23-24) (1 Chr 16:40) (2 Chr 31:3) (Mrk 7:10) (Matt 15:4).
The Bible includes the Ten Commandments as part of the Old Covenant.
This is another one that is disconcerting to learn as an SDA but is none the less true. The laws of the Torah were not only a single unit but they were connected and along with the Old Covenant.
“And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.” Deut 4:13 ESV
“9 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt…. 21 And there I have provided a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord that he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.” 1 Kings 8:9, 21
“1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness… 4 having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.” Heb 9:1,4 ESV
A New Covenant was Prophecied
“31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jer 31:31-33 ESV
SDA that I share this with will be quick to point out that the Law is written on our hearts in this “New Covenant”. And they are correct, the verse does say that. What an SDA will ignore completely is that it also says that the Old Covenant is “not like” the new. This would seem to be teaching us that the two covenants, law included as proven above, are not like each other. To assert that this verse instead says “same as” would be eisegesis.
We are in the New Covenant era today
We know that this isn’t something we have to wait for now, this is because Jesus Christ initiated the New Covenant at the Last Supper. Most would take this thesis as a no brainer but I intend to prove everything from scripture.
“20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20 ESV
The New Covenant made the Old Obsolete
“13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Heb 8:13 ESV
Here is the kicker, the old covenant, and associated laws are obsolete. The Bible makes this very clear, lest there be any confusion keep reading after Heb 8:13. Go all the way into the next chapter. You will see in Heb 9:1 the writer again clarifies that he is speaking of the old covenant and then in verse 4 he mentions the ten commandments as being a part of the old covenant. There is no escaping this as an SDA. In all the time I have spent chatting with SDA, Hebrew Roots, and other Sabbatarians not a single one has even been able to address this. They all kinda scatter or change the subject when you bring it up.
We still have Law today even though the Old Covenant, which included laws, is obsolete
This is obvious in many verses in the Bible, but the one that I want to focus on is 1 Cor 9:20-22.
“20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” 1 Cor 9:20-22 ESV
Notice that Paul juxtaposes the “Law” associated with the Jews up and against the “Law of Christ” which he asserts that he is under. If there were no law he would have instead identified with those without the law, but he did not. If we were under the Torah he would have identified with those under the Torah. Instead he says that he becomes all things for the sake of the Gospel. I take it he is trying to reach everyone, and I praise the Lord that he did. But in the same breath the Law that he does identify with is the Law of Christ. If not the Torah, where do we find the law of Christ? What passage to we turn to so that we can see what is right and wrong?
The Law of Christ is found in the prescriptive teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles
As with most things I would emphasize the Pauline writings as they are the most systematic works found in the New Testament. That being the case Christ is certainly teaching Law in the gospels, especially in Matt 5, 6, and 7. How do we tell the difference between references to the Torah in the New Testament and the Law of Christ? Sometimes this is not always easy, you usually have to look at the context. But one of the nice things is that John is very consistent, when he uses the Greek word “Entole” to refer to the Law it is always in reference to the Law of Christ. When he uses “Nomos” to refer to the law it is to identify the Torah. This can be used to juxtapose the teachings regarding either against each other for clarification.
Sadly I do not recall who to credit this breakdown of “Nomos” and “Entole” in the writings of John. But for the sake of any of my readers I am posting it here. I found this from a pastor online and added it to my notes. I wish I could credit him properly.
“ἐντολή (“entole”)– the New Covenant precepts, teachings and instructions of Jesus.
Of the nine occurrences of the noun ἐντολή (“entole”) in John’s Gospel, four refer to a “command” (John 10:18; 12:49–50) or “commands” (John 15:10b) given to Jesus by God the Father (cf. the use of the verb entellomai in 14:31). Five occurrences refer to a “command” (John 13:34; 15:12) or “commands” (John 14:15, 21; 15:10a) given by Jesus to his disciples (cf. the use of the verb in 15:14, 17). One occurrence refers to “orders” given by the Pharisees to inform them of Jesus’ whereabouts (John 11:57). Nowhere in John is “entole” used to refer to the “commandments” of the Hebrew Scriptures. The term commandments in this sense is always called νόμος (“nomos”)
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge (“entole”) I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18 ESV)
“Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders (“entole”) that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.”(John 11:57 ESV).
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment (“entole”) —what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49 ESV)
“And I know that his commandment (“entole”) is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:50 ESV)
“A new commandment (“entole”) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments (“entole”).” (John 14:15 ESV)
“Whoever has my commandments (“entole”) and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21 ESV)
“If you keep my commandments (“entole”), you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments (“entole”) and abide in his love.” (John 15:10 ESV)
“This is my commandment (“entole”), that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command (“entole”) you.” (John 15:12-14 ESV)
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments (“entole”). Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments (“entole”) is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” (1 John 2:3-5 ESV)
“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment (“entole”), but an old commandment (“entole”) that you had from the beginning. The old commandment (“entole”) is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment (“entole”) that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” (1 John 2:7-8 ESV)
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments (“entole”) and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, (“entole”) that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded (“entole”) us. Whoever keeps his commandments (“entole”) abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” (1 John 3:21-24 ESV)
“And this commandment (“entole”) we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21 ESV)
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments (“entole”). For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments (“entole”). And his commandments (“entole”) are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3 ESV)
“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded (“entole”) by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment (“entole”), but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments (“entole”); this is the commandment (“entole”), just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.” (2 John 1:4-6 ESV).
“Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments (“entole”) of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.” (Revelation 12:17 ESV)
“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments (“entole”) of God and their faith in Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12 ESV)”
Νόμους (“nomos”) – the Old Covenant law.
John makes a clear distinction between the two words. For example, “For the law (“nomos”) was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17 ESV). “Has not Moses given you the law (“nomos”)? Yet none of you keeps the law (“nomos”). Why do you seek to kill me?” (John 7:19 ESV). When John writes of the New Testament laws he uses “entole”. For example, “A new commandment (“entole”) I give you, that you love one another, even as I loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34) “A new commandment (“entole”) I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV). So when John says, “commandments” he never means the Ten Commandments, but always means the teachings of Jesus especially faith (John 14:1 & 1 John 3:23a) or love (John 13:34; 14:15; 15:12-17 & 1 John 3:23b). Further John underlines this by writing that we are to obey “his commandments” not just “the commandments” which shows that John was not referring to the Ten Commandments, but to the New Covenant teachings of Jesus, “his commandments”.
John also records for us that we will be judged not by laws written on stone, but by the words of Jesus. “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:47-48 ESV). Jesus never commanded Christians to keep the Sabbath and for good reason. He is our Sabbath rest. “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
“For the law (“nomos”) was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17 ESV)
“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law (“nomos”) and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’” (John 1:45 ESV)
“Has not Moses given you the law (“nomos”)? Yet none of you keeps the law (“nomos”). Why do you seek to kill me?” (John 7:19 ESV)
“But this crowd that does not know the law (“nomos”) is accursed.” (John 7:49 ESV)
“Does our law (“nomos”) judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:51 ESV)
Now in the Law (“nomos”) Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:5 ESV)
“In your Law (“nomos”) it is written that the testimony of two people is true.” (John 8:17 ESV)
“Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law (“nomos”), ‘I said, you are gods’?” (John 10:34 ESV)
“So the crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the Law (“nomos”) that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’” (John 12:34 ESV)
“But the word that is written in their Law (“nomos”) must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’” (John 15:25 ESV)
“Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law (“nomos”).’ The Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.’” (John 18:31 ESV)
“The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law(“nomos”), and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’” (John 19:7 ESV)
Neither I John, II John, III John or the Book of Revelation use the term “nomos.”
There is an obvious problem with what I have argued so far, and that is the implications one can take with it. Here is the thing, if the Law of Christ is a brand new set of laws hot off the shelf then that would imply that Christ fulfilled one law and gave us another.
While the New Covenant is different than the Old, the fact that cannot be ignored is that the laws that come associated with the New Covenant can also be found in the laws associated with the Old Covenant. Nine of the ten Commandments are actually an excellent example of this.
III. Colossians 3:8
So how do we pull everything together so that this makes sense? Were there two sets of laws or just one?
The answer I believe, is that there has only ever been one set of Moral Laws. They have always been the Law of Christ. God simply issued them to us through an intermediary (Gal 3:19) along with Ceremonial Laws which pointed to Gospel.
In the Torah you have Law and Gospel in the make up of its 613 Laws. The gospel can be glimpsed at in types and shadows of animal sacrifices, Sabbath days, and other various laws that set apart the Nation of Israel as the people that would bring the Messiah to the world in their very lineage.
So in truth, we have the Torah even now. Yet the ceremonial functions are received in the person of Christ. Where as the Moral Law of Christ serves the same functions that it always has. Most notably, among other Biblical uses it stops the mouth of sinners to bring them to repentance.
“19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” Romans 3:19 ESV
A Seventh-Day Adventist will usually assert that all of the Ten Commandments found as listed in Exodus 20 are the Moral Law of Christ. The problem with this is that if you subject the Ten Commandments to the same Moral vs Ceremonial test that you do all other laws found in the Torah you find this is not the case. Instead you find that 9 of the 10 Commandments are re-taught prescriptively by the Apostles after the Cross.
Examine the diagram above carefully. First notice that the Sabbath Day commandment is not found in the new testament. Some might reference places where the Sabbath is mentioned in conversation or in a descriptive fashion but it is never taught prescriptively. All of the other commandments of the Decalogue are taught prescriptively in the New Covenant.
Notice that some laws are taught prescriptively in the New Covenant, like those on sexual immorality, but the punishments that go along with them are not. I would advise you to do a read through of the Torah. You will find that the laws that are Ceremonial by this definition either set apart Israel from other nations or clearly pointed to Christ. An obvious example is the animal sacrificial system that was a type and shadow of its anti-type fulfillment, the one time sacrifice of Christ our true Passover Lamb.
All Sabbaths were ceremonial and pointed to Christ as well, not just the weekly Sabbath. For a full breakdown walk through focused on the Sabbath please click HERE.
All Moral Laws are defined in the Bible by Christ:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 22:37-40 ESV
In this next verse we can see that Paul actually defines the moral law more specifically. Paul chimes in on the same theme and calls it the “Law of Christ”.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal 6:2 ESV
The point that cannot be made clear enough though is that the Sabbath day is simply a ceremonial law, it is not binding to New Covenant Christians. I realize Christian tradition on the Ten Commandments, especially in American Evangelical Christianity, makes it really hard to accept that one of the ten is obsolete. This is why it is important to rely on the word over and above the traditions of men (Mark 7:7).
If you are new to these theological concepts and would like a good pure teaching on what the Ten Commandments mean to a new covenant Christian I recommend reading Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. They are cheap on amazon, but if you want to simply read it online you can find it free HERE. Keep in mind, he uses a different numbering of the 10 Commandments than you might be used to. The principals however are the same.