Answers to Common Bible Questions
Answers to Common Bible Questions
People often have questions about the biblical teachings and doctrines held by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This page provides answers to some of the most common inquiries about Adventist beliefs, based on Scripture. Below you’ll find a growing list of questions with corresponding biblical explanations of Adventist perspectives on these topics. Check back often as more FAQs are added.
What is the basis for Seventh-day Adventist beliefs?
Seventh-day Adventists believe that every belief we hold must have its foundation in a careful study of the Word of God. The 28 Fundamental Beliefs endorsed by Adventist churches worldwide encapsulate our current understanding of biblical teachings. However, we continue to prayerfully study Scripture to deepen our comprehension of God’s Word.
The Holy Scriptures, comprised of the Old and New Testaments, are the inspired written Word of God. The Bible writers were divinely guided by the Holy Spirit as they penned God’s message for humanity. This Word contains the knowledge essential for salvation and is the supreme authority and trustworthy record of God’s will and actions in history. Through Scripture, we have been given the standard for character, the means to test experience, and the definitive revelation of biblical doctrine.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16
To read the 28 Fundamental Beliefs summarizing Seventh-day Adventist biblical understandings, visit: https://www.adventist.org/beliefs/
There seems to be a lot of quotes from the Old Testament. Shouldn’t Christians find their guidance and doctrines in the New Testament?
We do quote much from the Old Testament. We also quote much from the New. Because we are Christians and believe that all Scripture is inspired, we make no distinction in authority between the Old and the New Testament. We believe that the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is inspired by God and thus rightly the guide for our lives.
Some people, when they discuss the law and the Sabbath, seek to set up a contrast or even conflict between the Old and the New Testament, as though the former were of little or no value and superseded by the latter. This false contrast lies at the root of much of the erroneous reasoning of those who contend that the Sabbath was abolished at the cross.
The “Bible” of the apostles was what we know as the Old Testament. What is now known as the New Testament did not exist during the life of Christ, and did not even begin to be written until years after His ascension. Nor were there printing presses and overnight mail to distribute these writings. Only slowly did they gain circulation. During most of the first century of the Christian Era, the term “the Scriptures,” often mentioned by the New Testament writers, referred to what we call the Old Testament. To sum up, the Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus, His disciples, the Apostles, and the other gospel and New Testament writers, such as John and Luke.
Moreover, the Old Testament is about the Messiah, his atoning death, his resurrection, and much else about him. The reason the disciples did not understand the events of crucifixion week was that they did not rightly understand the Old Testament.
Christ admonished the Jews to “search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” John 5:39. And then He added, “Had you believed Moses, you would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe my words?” Verses 46, 47.
On His resurrection day, on the Road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Luke 24:27. Then, back in Jerusalem, He appeared to the disciples, saying,
“‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Luke 24:44-45.
Again, for Christ, the Scriptures were the Old Testament; He knew nothing of any notion of discounting, deprecating, or running down the Old Testament.
Nor did the apostles give any hint that they discounted the Old Testament in favor of the writings they were then producing, and would later produce. Paul wrote to Timothy:
“From a child thou has known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Tim. 3:15-17.
Could the New Testament accomplish more than this! Both Christ and the apostles repeatedly cited the Old Testament in confirmation of their teachings. To Satan, Christ said, “It is written,” and thrice quoted the Old Testament. (See Matt. 4:4-10) He chided the scribes and Pharisees by quoting the fifth commandment, from the book of Exodus, and by quoting the words of Isaiah. (See Matt. 15:1-9) See also Christ’s conversation with the rich young ruler and with the lawyer. (Matt. 19: 16-19; Luke 10:25-28) Prominent in these references to the Old Testament are the quotations from the Ten Commandments.
How did Paul prove that all men, Jews and Gentiles, were guilty before God and thus in need of the salvation offered through Christ? By quoting from the Old Testament. (See Rom. 3:9-18)
How did Paul know that he himself was a sinner before God and in need of the gospel? By calling to mind what was written in the Old Testament, specifically what was written in the Ten Commandments. (See Rom. 7:7) To the church at Rome Paul commanded: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loves another hath fulfilled the law.” Rom. 13:8.
Did Paul profess to be setting forth a new code, which was the result of a new revelation then given to him? No, he quotes the Old Testament, and specifically the Ten Commandments. (See verses 9, 10) And how did Paul support his appeal to children to obey their parents? By quoting from the Old Testament, specifically the Ten Commandments. (See Eph. 6:1-3.)
As James develops his argument against having “respect to persons,” does he set forth new laws? No, he quotes the Old Testament, focusing on citations from the Ten Commandments. (See James 2:8-12)
And what proof did Peter offer in support of his declaration that we should be “holy”? “Because it is written, Be you holy; for 1 am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16. His proof is a quotation from Leviticus 11:44.
The Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, are one whole. The source of the Old and the New Testament is the same: the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Their objective is the same: to unfold the plan of God, to reveal Christ, to warn against sin, and to present God’s holy standard of right.
Someone long ago well observed: The New Testament is concealed in the Old, the Old Testament is revealed in the New. We can best understand the promise in the last book of the Bible, of a re-created, a new, earth and a verdant tree of life, when we turn to the first book of the Bible that describes. The good earth, with its original tree of life, that came forth from God’s hand when He first created this world. We best grasp the meaning of the cross, and Christ’s words, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me,” when we read the Genesis account of man’s fall.
We should never forget that the very titles “Old Testament” and “New Testament” are man-made titles. Bible writers do not thus divide the Scriptures. Both Testaments deal with the drama of sin and salvation. The Old Testament presents the promise of a new earth and a new covenant, as well as picturing man’s iniquities from earliest days. The New Testament discusses at length the “old man” of sin and the ancient problem of man’s rebellion, as well as describing the “new man” in Christ Jesus and the glories of a world to come.
The interrelationship of Old Testament to New, the dependence of one on the other, has ever been understood by our adversary the devil. That is why he long ago began his attacks on the Bible by seeking to undermine the historicity and authenticity of the Old Testament.
It was at this point that higher criticism of the Bible began. And with the Old destroyed, the New soon collapses for lack of historical foundation and meaning. It is understandable that Modernists [liberals] should be found minimizing the spiritual authority and significance of the Old Testament.
But what is inexplicable is the attitude toward the Old Testament of some who consider themselves Fundamentalists. Why would they seek to tear in two the seamless garment of Scripture? Why should they set forth the doctrine that a holy command of God in the Old Testament must wait for restatement in the New before it has authority in the Christian Era?
It is beyond clear that the New Testament writers quoted from the Old, not to inform their readers that a particular passage from the Old was still binding, but rather to corroborate, and lend the Old Testament’s authority to, their own new writings. In other words, the apostles, who reminded their readers that the “holy men of God” in “old time” “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” wished their readers to see that they were speaking by the same Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21) Hence they repeatedly cited, in support of their own teachings, the words of those “holy men” who wrote the Old Testament.
It is true that the ceremonial ritual described in the Old Testament expired at the cross, because it had been fulfilled—shadow had met reality, type had met anti-type. And of course the New Testament writers clearly state that those rites had come to an end. (Gal. 5:1-6; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14-17; Rom. 14:1-15:7) But that fact in no way makes the Old Testament inferior to the New, or justifies the contention that the New supplants the Old.
The 10 commandments couldn't have always existed, as they weren't given till Sinai.
The quick answer would be: we live after the time of Moses, the law applies to us, and we could leave the matter there.
But of course the question, if followed through to it’s logical conclusion, is trying to build a chain of reasoning that goes something like this:
There was no Ten Commandment Law until Moses.
If the world moved along safely for many centuries without the Ten Commandments, then,
Doesn’t it make perfect sense that the Ten Commandment law was abolished at the cross?
Surely, if godly men like Enoch and Abraham needed not the Ten Commandments, why should Christians?
Therefore, because of the subtle reasoning built upon it, we must give some attention to this claim that the Ten Commandments did not exist before Moses.
Right on the face of it this is an unbelievable claim. The Ten Commandments commands men not to make idols, for example, not to take God’s name in vain, not to kill, steal, or commit adultery. Could we possibly bring ourselves to believe that such a code of laws was not in force before Moses? There are some things too incredible to warrant belief, and this is one of them.
Nor, indeed, do any of the leading denominations thus believe. There is no point on which the great branches of the Christian church agree more cordially than that the Ten Commandments were in force from the beginning of the world. (See page 493 for quotations from church creeds on the law of God.)
The plausible core of the objection before us is the assumption that those who sinned before Moses’ day could not possibly have been transgressors of the Ten Commandments, because it had not yet been given. Here is the argument:
“‘Angels sinned’ (2 Peter 2:4), but they did not violate the law of Sinai, for it was not given until thousands of years after they fell and they were not under it anyway. Adam ‘sinned’ long before that law was given (see Romans 5:12-14); Cain sinned (Gen. 4:7); the Sodomites were ‘sinners’ (Gen. 13:13), and vexed Lot with their ‘unlawful deeds’ (2 Peter 2:8). Surely none of these violated ‘the law,’ which was not given till Moses.”
But the conclusion does not necessarily follow that because the ten precepts of the Ten Commandments were not audibly proclaimed before Sinai, or written down before that date, therefore those precepts were not in existence before that time. Analogy to human laws reveals how unwarranted such a conclusion is.
For long centuries England has had what is known as “the common law,” which law is an integral part of the whole system of English, and later, American, jurisprudence. Judges decided cases on principles that were understood to apply to the facts, even though those principles appeared in no statute book, but only in the minds of the English-speaking peoples. But even unschooled yeomen had had passed on to them enough of the common law to make them often times embarrassingly well acquainted with their primary rights under that law (embarrassing, that is, to tyrants who would deny them their rights) .
There was no particular moment in English history when the common law was all set out in a statute-book and proclaimed by the king as the law of the land. And even if there had been such a moment, what would we think of the person, who, looking back on the event, declared that the law had not existed prior to that great proclamation? How had judges decided cases for all those decades and centuries if the common law did not exist?
No, history teaches us that there is such a thing as “natural law,” law not needing to be written in a statute book in order to be enforced. Even so with the moral laws of God for man. When Adam and Eve were created, they were perfect, did not sin, and served God with a whole heart; we properly conclude that they had the law of God written in their hearts. God also talked to them. For a lifetime of nearly a thousand years they were permitted to pass on the divine instruction they had received. Neither they nor their children needed a code written on parchment or stone.
Paul well says that “the law is not made for a righteous man,” (1 Tim. 1:9) that is, the law as it is ordinarily understood, a formally announced code duly written down. The righteous man doesn’t need a statute book because the law is written on his heart.
After Adam’s sin men soon began a rapid descent into the pit of corruption, as Paul describes it. (See Romans 1) Could they excuse their evil deeds on the ground that they were not aware of any law that they had violated? No. Paul emphatically declares that they were “without excuse.” (Verse 20) But how could they be without excuse unless they still retained some knowledge of God’s holy requirements and laws? Our accountability for our sins is in terms of our knowledge. (See John 15:22)
Paul enlarges on the matter by explaining that when the “Gentiles, which have not the law [that is, have no written law, no Holy Scriptures containing the moral code], do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” Rom. 2:14, 15.
We believe there is only one reasonable conclusion from these facts: Though men early fell away from God, the knowledge of Him did not immediately or completely fade from their minds, nor was the divine code, originally written on the hearts of their first parents, Adam and Eve, suddenly erased. The troublesome light of conscience, even though the rays grew dim, ever and anon illumined the dim but heavenly outlines upon the heart.
As the Revised Standard Version translates the passage: “They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
Unless we hold that the world before Moses knew sufficiently of the law of God to understand the moral import of their acts, we shall be charging God with injustice in destroying them for their evil deeds. The only possible way for the objector to avoid the embarrassing force of this fact is to contend that though men who lived before Moses knew nothing of the Ten Commandments, they did have a knowledge of certain eternal moral principles of heaven. If this reasoning has any validity, it must reside in the assumption that these eternal moral principles—left undefined by the objector—were different from the Ten Commandments. Only thus call it be held that the Ten Commandments are not eternal.
But what principles are more eternally moral than those of the Ten Commandments? And how could God be just in condemning the ancients for deeds that we can describe as sinful only by their nonconformity to the Ten Commandments, if indeed these commandments were not yet in force? Furthermore, if all the sinful deeds of devils and ancient men call be judged and condemned in terms of the Ten Commandments, what need is there to invoke some wholly undefined, unrevealed, moral principles in order to deal with the moral rebellion of those who lived long ago?
And can their deeds be condemned as sinful in terms of the Ten Commandments? Yes. The Bible says that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning,” and also “a liar, and the father of lies.” John 8:44. He also sought to set himself up in the place of God, a violation of the first commandment. Adam and Eve most certainly coveted the forbidden fruit, else they would not have reached for it when God had expressly forbidden it. Cain killed his brother. The Sodomites were distinguished by their lustfulness, and Christ tells us that the seventh commandment covers both the impure thought and the impure act. All of these sins were transgressions of the Ten Commandments.
But we are not left to deduction in order to reach the conclusion that the Ten Commandments were in force before Sinai. The Bible writers have much to say on the topic. How do they define sin? “Sin is the transgression of the law,” says John. (1 John 3:4) And Paul observes, “Where no law is, there is no transgression,” “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Rom. 4:15; 3:20. We are left in no possible doubt as to what law is intended, for Paul adds, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shall not covet.” Rom. 7:7.
What law says, “Thou shall not ovet”? Obviously the Ten Commandment law.
When James spoke of those who “commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors,” he also left no doubt as to which law he meant. It is the law that says, “Do not commit adultery,” and, “Do not kill.” James 2:9-11.
There are those who say, and we quote their words, that “sin is a disregard for some law, but not necessarily the so-called ‘moral law,’ or the Ten Commandments.” But that is not what Paul and James say. We do not see how they could more clearly have stated that the breaking of a certain law is sin and that that law is the ten-commandment law.
Furthermore, the objectors forget to tell us what law John means – 1 John 3:4 – if he does not mean the Ten Commandments. They do not know, for the Bible throws no light on “some law morally binding on men other than the Ten Commandments. And the objectors as well as we are dependent on the revelations of Scripture. The same was true of those who lived in John’s day.
Hence, how incredible that he should define sin—that awful thing that keeps men out of heaven—as the “transgression of the law,” without defining what law he meant, if indeed he meant some other law than Paul and James meant when they wrote of sin! The very fact that John offered no explanatory comment as to what law he meant, is the strongest proof possible that he meant the law which his readers, who by now had read Paul and James, understood as “the law’, the Ten Commandments.
A favorite text of those who seek to prove that the Ten Commandments was unknown before Sinai is Moses’ statement: “The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.” Deut. 5:3. The argument runs thus: God declares that the. Ten Commandments are His covenant. Moses is here speaking of this covenant and declares it was not made with the fathers before Sinai, therefore the Ten Commandments were not given, in fact were unknown, before that time.
What strange beliefs we would have to hold if we came to this conclusion! In the immediately preceding chapter Moses refers to this covenant and warns Israel: “Take heed unto yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee.” Deut. 4:23. Are we to conclude that none of God’s children before Sinai knew that it was wrong to make graven images? We can hardly believe anyone will answer yes. But the prohibition of images is the second command of the ten. Hence those who lived before Sinai must have known of the Ten Commandments. That is the only conclusion we can reach.
Then what does Moses mean in Deuteronomy 5:3? We think that the simplest explanation is that he viewed the gathered hosts at Sinai as the birth of the chosen nation that God had promised Abraham would spring from him. Through Moses, God told Israel that if they would be obedient to His covenant, “you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” Ex. 19:6. Not until Sinai was it thus possible literally to make a covenant with the “nation” or “kingdom” of the Jews. It is also true that not until Sinai was there any formal proclamation of the Ten Commandments. The fathers before Sinai had never heard God speak His law to them as Israel had. And it was the law thus proclaimed that was the basis of the covenant. Hence in a very real sense the covenant made with Israel at Sinai had never been made before.
Commentators differ in their endeavor to clarify this text. Adam Clarke seeks to do so with the addition of parenthetical words, thus: “The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers (only) but with us (also).” Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown observe: “The meaning is, ‘not with our fathers’ only, ‘but with us’ also, assuming it to be ‘a covenant’ of grace; or ‘not with our fathers’ at all, if the reference is to the peculiar establishment of the covenant of Sinai; a law was not given to them as to us, nor was the covenant ratified in the same public manner, and by the same solemn sanctions. Or, finally, ‘not with our fathers’ who died in the wilderness, in consequence of their rebellion, and to whom God did not give the rewards promised only to the faithful; but ‘with us,’ who alone, strictly speaking, shall enjoy the benefits of this covenant by entering on the possession of the promised land.”(For comment on the claim that because there is a new covenant, therefore the Ten Commandments is abolished, see objection 5.)
But says the objector finally: “If the Decalogue was in existence before Moses, how is it that it was first proclaimed and first written down at Sinai?” Such a question reveals a forgetfulness of history. We might as appropriately question whether any of the moral instruction of the Holy Bible is really binding on us, seeing that none of it was written before Moses.
The simple facts are that by the time of Moses and the children of Israel the knowledge of God and His laws had become so blurred in men’s minds that it became necessary that a written revelation be given to the world. Coming directly out of Egyptian darkness, the Israelites were in special need of clear-cut declarations on the great moral precepts. For this reason God with His own finger carved in the everlasting stone the Ten Commandments. No one need then be in doubt. The changing moral conceptions of those Israelites could ever be corrected by the unchanging words graven in the stone.
Doesn't the very wording of the Sinaitic law proves that it was designed only for the Jews? God introduced the Ten Commandments by stating: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee . . . out of the house of bondage” (Ex. 20:2). To whom is that applicable? Isn’t this only to the Israelite nation? Don’t Deuteronomy 4:8, Romans 9:4, and similar passages state specifically that the law was given only to the Israelites?
We would ask: To whom else could the Lord have given the ‘Ten Commandments? To the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, or any other of the many pagan peoples that cursed the earth with their unholy presence? No, you say. God could not make a revelation of Himself to any people until that people were of a mind and heart to hear Him.
God found in Abraham and his descendants such a people. Accordingly He gave to them a revelation of His will and ways. Yes, He spoke exclusively that great day at Sinai to a literal people called Israelites, who had been delivered from a literal bondage in Egypt. But, we inquire again: To whom else could He have spoken?
We would further inquire: To whom was God speaking when He gave His great messages through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and all the mighty prophets of Old Testament times? The answer is: To the Israelites. The inspired messages that constitute the Old Testament were addressed almost wholly to the Jews, and the prophets who delivered the messages were Jews.
But does any lover of the Bible wish to suggest that therefore the beautiful messages of salvation in Isaiah, for example, which are so often addressed directly to Jerusalem, are not also addressed to us? Many a Christian minister has taken for his text these words from Isaiah: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift tip thy voice like a trumpet, and show thy people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” Isa. 58:1. But no listener in the pew is troubled or confused or informs the preacher that the text is addressed to Jews, not Gentiles.
And who are the writers of the New Testament? With one possible exception they are all Jews. To whom did Christ address virtually all that He said while on earth? To the Jews. To whom is the Epistle to the Hebrews addressed? Obviously, to Jews. To whom is the Epistle of James addressed? “To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” James 1:1. But does any Christian have difficulty with these facts, or feel that any portions of the New Testament are not really for him? No.
In the objection before us, Romans 9:4 is cited. It reads as follows: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” Evidently it is offered as proof because it says that “the giving of the law” was to them.
But it says more than that. The “covenants” also were given to them. Note the plural. Both the old and the new covenant! The new covenant is made with the “house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” (Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8.) But does any Christian believe that the new covenant is confined to the believing Jew? No. We all claim a part in it and believe that the new covenant promise is intended for us as well, even though the announcement of it is addressed directly, and apparently exclusively, to the Jews.
The words of Moses in Deuteronomy 4:8 are also cited. They read as follows: “And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” This statement is a good commentary on Romans 9:4, which we have already shown proves more than the objector wants to prove.
Another inspired comment on Deuteronomy 4:8 is the statement of Christ: “Salvation is of the Jews.” John 4:22. But has any Christian despised salvation because of this fact?
We must never forget that the revelations and admonitions of the Scriptures are not given in a vacuum. Almost always they are placed in the context of historical events and flesh-and-blood people. The sermon on the mount has as literally a rocky platform as the address from Sinai. And the multitudes addressed in that sermon were as definitely Jewish as the hosts gathered before Sinai.
Often God took occasion in giving a revelation, or invoking a certain course of conduct, to refer to some actual experience through which the listeners had passed. That is a hallmark of the Bible’s teachings. But that fact never troubles any of us, nor prevents us from believing that the teachings of God’s word also apply to us as well.
Now, inasmuch as God worked mighty miracles to draw out of the turbulent sea of paganism a people for Himself, how appropriate that He should place His revelation to them in the context of the immediate experience that they had miraculously come through. Thus they might be prompted to give that revelation maximum weight in their minds and be most diligent in obeying it. Furthermore, that historical context provides a setting that we today, who are also flesh and blood, can understand, and, understanding, be likewise prompted to greater obedience to God.
A Bible commentator observes on Exodus 20:2:
“This [deliverance out of Egypt] in the manner of Scripture and of Providence is the earnest and the guarantee of their deliverance from all other and greater kinds of bondage. The present is the type of a grander future. We must descend the stream of revelation to the New Testament before we fathom the depths of this greatest deliverance.” – James G. Murphy, Commentary on the Book of Exodus.
Any display of God’s mercy and deliverance to His children at any moment in earth’s history is a reason why those living at that time and those who read of the account in all subsequent ages should serve Him with their whole heart and obey His holy will.
We cannot forget Paul’s extended lesson in Romans, to wit: We are sinners because the law points out our sin. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Rom. 3:19.
So are we gentiles not actually sinners, not guilty before God, because the moral law was not given to us? Are Jews the only sinners because the moral law was given only to the Jews? No, the text clearly states that, “all the world” are guilty before God. It is obvious that the Ten Commandment law was given to the whole world, because it points out the sin of “all the world.”
And there is no way to avoid this by claiming that the law Paul is referring to is not the moral law. Look at his examples: “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Rom. 2:21-22
So we are obviously discussing the moral law, the Ten Commandment law, and just as obviously, it condemns the whole world, Jews and gentiles. Although the Ten Commandment law was given to Moses on stone tablets at Mt. Sinai amid thunder and lightening, and God’s audible speaking, it was not only for the Jews. It clearly applies to all of us, Jew and gentile alike, and it points out the sins of everyone, Jew and gentile alike. And, as we demonstrated in our answer to objection 3, it was in the world long before Sinai.
Yes, the law’s condemnation is not limited to Israel, but makes us all sinners, “all the world.” Paul is quick to add, however, that just as one law—the Ten Commandment law—condemns all of us, one gift of salvation in Jesus Christ is provided to all of us:
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. Rom. 3:20-25
Attempts to confine the Ten Commandment law to the Jews do not make sense biblically. They also illustrate an unseemly desire to be free of moral strictures that God clearly intends to be universal. (Of course, few are so bold as to argue that Christians are now free to worship idols, murder, steal, perjure themselves, or sleep with their neighbor’s wife. Per usual, this objection is really directed only at the Fourth Commandment.)
Some believe that the Bible identifies the Ten Commandments as representing the old covenant God made with Israel at Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:13). Since the old covenant has been abolished, shouldn’t Christians today have nothing to do with the Ten Commandments?
The logic of the questions is this: There is but one law; the Bible speaks clearly of a law abolished; therefore, the Ten Commandments were abolished, including, necessarily, the fourth, on which Adventists build their case for the Sabbath. So much false reasoning has been reared on this “one-law” doctrine that it must be considered at length.
The word “law” is used in the Bible in a number of ways. For example, in the phrase, “the law and the prophets,” the word “law” means the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, because in these books the laws are set forth.
It is obviously true that the word “law” is often used in Scripture without reference to any particular code or set of laws, as a collective term to describe any and all laws, but this does not mean that only one law exists.
To contend that every time the Bible uses the word “law” it means the same code would be as reasonable as to contend that every time the Bible uses the word “day” it means the same period of time. “Day” may mean (1) the light part of the twenty-four-hour cycle, that is, day in contrast to night, or (2) the whole twenty-four-hour period, as seven days in a week, or (3) an indefinite period of time, as “now is the day of salvation.” What would we think of a man who reasoned that because there is a text that speaks of the ending of the day, therefore the “day of salvation” has ended?
Why Does Paul Say “the Law was Abolished” and also “We Establish the Law”?
The Bible does say that “the law-was-abolished-by Christ.” (See Eph. 2:15) But Paul, who wrote that statement, also declares: “Do we, then, make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Rom. 3:31. The contrast between the statements is sharpened when attention is called to the fact that Paul used the same Greek root for the words here translated “abolished” and “make void.” That root, kataigeo, means “to make inoperative,” “to cause to cease,” “to do away with,” “annul,” “abolish.”
But did the inspired writer say to one church that the law is abolished, and then to another church exclaim, “God forbid,” at the very thought that the law-is abolished, and refer to the same law ill each instance? Paul must obviously be speaking of two different laws. The contrast between these two texts is alone sufficient to expose the fallacy of the argument that the Bible speaks only of one law.
How the Ten Commandment Law Was Very Distinct from Other Law
The first formal recording of all codes of divine laws was at the time of the Exodus. Then it was that God who had chosen a people for His name, set them on their way to the Promised Land. The former centuries possessed no Scriptures, for none of the sixty-six books of the Bible had been written. Through Moses God began to give to men a written revelation to guide them, and from his day onward (with one striking exception) the words of God for man have been penned by human agents, the prophets.
That one exception was a code of laws that God spoke to men with His own voice. Sacred history records no other sermon ever preached by God to man amid the supernatural, flaming glory that surrounds the eternal God. Referring to this lone majestic instance, Moses declared to Israel:
“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such tiling as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou has heard, and live?” Deut. 4:32, 33.
And when God had spoken the code, the ten commandments, the record declares, “He added no more.” (See Deut. 5:22) The sermon was finished, it was a complete whole, there was nothing more that God desired to add. Then He wrote down the sermon with His own hand on two tables of stone. (Deut. 5:22)
On no other document in the history of mankind has the hand of God ever been inscribed. “The tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.” Ex. 32:16. And what God wrote on those tables of stone He described as a law. (See Ex. 24:12)
Then follows another dramatic moment, a sequel to the giving and the writing of this law. Moses started down from the mount with the two tables in his hands. He was bringing to Israel the permanent record of that awesome sermon by the God of heaven. His indignation at the sight of Israelites worshiping the golden calf caused him to dash the stones to earth and break them, a symbol of their breaking of the divine code
Did the Lord then command Moses to write a copy of the code to take the place of the broken tables? No. The Lord wrote the Ten Commandments a second time on new tables of stone. A most distinctive code, indeed, that God Himself should twice write it on stone. He entrusted to His prophets many vital messages for men, but the Ten Commandments He wrote Himself.
The focal point, the most holy object of the religious service instituted by God for the Israelites, was the ark of the covenant, above which hovered the holy light of the presence of God. When, in the journeying of the Israelites, the ark was to be moved, none were to touch it lest they die. And in that most sacred of all the sacred objects of the sanctuary Moses was instructed to place the tables of stone. (Deut. 10:5) Nor was any other code of laws placed within that sacred ark. “There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb.” 1 Kings 8:9.
Let us summarize these historical facts concerning the giving of the ten-commandment law:
1. God spoke the law with His own voice in the hearing of all Israel-He gave no other law in that way.
2. God wrote the ten-commandment law with His is own ﬁnger-the only law that He ever wrote out for man.
3. God wrote the law on stone, and Himself prepared the stone-the only law of Bible record that was ever thus written.
4. God sent Moses down from the mount in the sight of all Israel, bearing the two tables of stone that contained only the Ten Commandments.
5. God Himself rewrote the law after Moses had broken the ﬁrst tables.
6. God instructed Moses to place the tables within the ark of the covenant. The only law thus honored.
Many objectors profess to be unable to ﬁnd in the Bible any grounds for believing that the ten commandment law is a distinct code of laws, not to be confused with any other code. We would ask: If they could have dictated the manner of the giving of this law, and had wished to provide convincing proof that it was a law set apart, what procedure could they possibly have followed that would have set it apart more fully?
The Other “Law”
But the ten-commandment law was not the only one formally set forth by God at Sinai. There was a code of laws, known as ceremonial laws, that gave the rules for the religious ritual that the Jews should follow; for example, their sacriﬁces and offerings, their annual feast-days, the duties of the priesthood. Leviticus is ﬁlled with these laws. There were also civil laws to govern the Jews as a nation, such as laws on marriage, divorce, slave holding, property. (See Exodus 21)
To the extent that the spiritual understanding and willingness of the Israelites permitted, the Lord caused these civil statutes to reﬂect the high ideals of the ten-commandment law. But often God lowered the standard to meet the people where they were. The provisions governing slave-holding are one illustration of such an accommodation of the low spiritual state of a people. Divorce is another; of the divorce statute Christ declared: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” Matt. 19:8; Mark 10:4-6.
But these ceremonial and civil laws were not given by God directly to Israel. As to how God made these laws known, who wrote them, and where they were deposited, the Scriptures are clear:
1. After stating that the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments “upon two tables of stone,” Moses adds immediately: “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments.” Deut. 4:13,14. A later Bible writer sets forth the same distinction: “Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers: only if they will observe to do according to all I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them.” 2 Kings 21:8.
2. In telling the events of Sinai, Nehemiah, in addressing the Lord, also speaks of the fact that certain laws were spoken by God and others were given to Israel through Moses writing them out: “Thou came down also upon mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: and made known unto them thy holy Sabbath, and commanded them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant.” Neh. 9:13, 14. 2. “Moses wrote this law.” Deut. 31:9.
3. “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, that Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, 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.” Deut. 31:24-26. The words: “Put it in the side of the ark,” might seem to suggest that this book was placed within the ark. But that would make it contradict the already quoted words of Scripture, that the Ten Commandments was the only law placed therein. The Revised Version reads: “Put it by the side of the ark.” Most commentators agree with this RSV translation.
Because of the fact that the ceremonial law, and also the civil statutes, were written out by Moses, and by him given to the people, they are generally described in the Bible as “the law of Moses.” See, for example:
2 Chron. 23:18. Priests to offer burnt offerings, “as it is written in the law of Moses.”
2 Chron. 30:16. Priests conducting Passover “according to the law of Moses.”
Ezra 3:2. Building of an altar for burnt offerings “as it is written in the law of Moses.”
Dan. 9:13. The destruction of Jerusalem had come “as it is written in the law of Moses.”
Malachi 4:4. “Remember you the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb [Sinai] for all Israel.”
The New Testament also reveals, in many of its references to law, the same distinction between the ten-commandment law and the code of laws given through Moses. Note the following references to the law of rites and ceremonies, sometimes described as the “law of Moses” and sometimes simply as “the law”:
1. “If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken.” John 7:23.
2. “But there rose up certain of the sect of tile Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:5. Later in the chapter, when the claim of these Pharisees is restated, it is abbreviated thus: “You must be circumcised, and keep the law.” Verse 24. This well illustrates how a New Testament writer may use the non-specific phrase, “the law,” and yet mean a speciﬁc law, in this instance, “the law of Moses.” The context is generally sufﬁcient to make clear what law is intended. Certainly if circumcision is under discussion in the New Testament—and it is often the bone of contention—it is sufﬁcient to refer to the code of laws enjoining circumcision, simply as “the law”; that is, the law of rites and ceremonies given by Moses.
3. “The law of commandments contained in ordinances.” Eph. 2:15.
4. “The sons of Levi, who receive the ofﬁce of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law.” Heb. 7:5.
5. “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” Verse 12.
6. “For the law makes men high priests which have inﬁrmity.” Verse 28.
7. “There are priests that offer gifts according to the law.” Heb. 8:4.
8. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood.” Heb. 9:22.
9. “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.” Heb. 10:1.
The ten-commandment law gives no instruction or information on burnt offerings, the Passover, the building of an altar, the judgments that would come on Jerusalem because of disobedience, circumcision, the order of the priesthood. But the Bible repeatedly reveals that there is a law that does give such instruction. That law is the ceremonial law, described in tile Bible as “the law of Moses.”
It is true that “the law of Moses was also the law of God, because God was the author of all that Moses wrote. Hence it is not strange that a Bible writer should, at least occasionally, describe this law of Moses as “the law of the Lord,” though such instances are few. See, for example, Luke 2:22,23, where both phrases are used to describe the same law. However, nowhere in the Bible is the Ten Commandment law called the law of Moses.
Below are some representative New Testament references to another law, which does not deal with rites and ceremonies, but with moral questions, the ten-commandment law, which is also referred to, at times, as simply the commandments:
1. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matt. 19:17. Then Christ immediately names several of the ten commands.
2. “And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment.” Luke .23:56.
3. “I had not known sin, but by the law: For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shall not covet.” Rom. 7:7.
4. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 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. So speak you, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” James 2:10-12.
5. “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4.
What law? Certainly no one in the Christian Era believes the law regarding rites and ceremonies is still in effect. Yet John warns us that transgressing the law is sin. He did not feel it necessary to explain what law he meant. How eloquently that argues that there was a certain law, known to all John’s readers, that was the moral rule of life. What confusion and consternation his words would have created among the ﬁrst century Christians if they had been laboring under the impression that there was but one law, a law that was a mixture of ceremonial and moral precepts, and transgression of that law in the Christian Era is sin!
We grant that there are certain references to “the law,” particularly in Paul’s writings, where the context fails to make wholly clear which law is intended. In some instances, it seems evident that neither law is singled out, but only the principle of law, in contrast to grace, is under consideration. But these facts provide no proof that there is only one law. Because there are obscure or difficult texts in the Bible does not mean that we cannot he sure of the meaning of the clear and the simple texts. And those easily understood texts should protect us from drawing
false conclusions from the difficult ones.
Reference to the two laws in terms of the centuries before Moses will also aid us in maintaining a clear distinction between them. Though we may rightly focus on the Exodus as the great time of the giving of the law, both moral and ceremonial, we should not conclude that the time before Moses was a period of no law, at least of no Ten Commandments. This point we shall examine more fully under objection 3. We need only remark here that the Ten Commandments existed in Eden. Also the ﬁrst tender shoots of the ceremonial vine, which was to grow large at the Exodus,
made their appearance in the form of the simple sacrificial services of our ﬁrst parents after sin entered.
Who has not had the experience of looking at a towering tree and marveling at its heavy and varied foliage, only to discover on closer scrutiny that a vine is entwined around the tree and that what appeared to be one is really two. Though a far look at a high branch, especially if it is swaying in the breeze, may fail to reveal this fact, an examination of the trunk near the roots, where the vine ﬁrst makes contact with the tree, leaves no doubt that there are two.
Now the Ten Commandments might be likened to a stately tree, with ten stalwart branches, that our ﬁrst parents found ﬂourishing in the Garden of Eden. After their fall a vine of ceremonial law was planted close by, watered by the blood of animal sacrifices. For centuries the vine grew little if any. Then at the time of the Exodus it suddenly assumed a deﬁnite form and grew large. The tree did not need the vine, but the vine was wholly dependent on the tree. In later centuries men inclined always toward cultivating the vine rather than the tree, until the foliage of the vine well-nigh hid the tree and threatened to choke it.
It is therefore easy to understand why some Christians today, looking at the Biblical word picture of that tree, with its clinging vine, should fail to see that the two are not one. Particularly is this true if the winds of theological discussion are swaying the branches. But as with a literal tree, there need be no uncertainty in the matter if attention is focused, not on the topmost limbs, but on the trunk and roots. An examination of the origins of the two laws, and the formal giving of them at the Exodus, leaves no possible doubt that there were two.
Nor can Adventists claim any special Biblical vision in discerning that there is not just one law. From the days of the Protestant Reformation onward, the great church bodies have clearly seen this and recorded the fact in their creeds and confessions of faith. The claim that there is but one law has recently gained currency among a certain segment of Christians in an attempt to rebut the Sabbath evidence now so vigorously and widely presented by Adventists. In the following pages we shall examine several arguments against the law that build on this one-law theory.
Did God intend for the new covenant to completely abolish the Ten Commandments, given that the Bible identifies the Ten Commandments as representing the old covenant God made with Israel?
The text reads thus: “And he [the Lord] declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.” Deut. 4:13.
The key word here is “covenant,” translated from the Hebrew word berith, which may be translated “compact, league, covenant.” The gist of a “covenant” is an agreement between two or more parties. Webster’s Dictionary thus defines covenant: “An agreement between two or more persons or parties.”
We find various references to God’s covenant with the Israelites of the Exodus, couched in covenant language. For example, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.” Deut. 5:2. “The tables of the covenant which the Lord made with you.” Deut. 9:9.
Why did Moses describe the Ten Commandments themselves as the covenant? For the same reason that Moses said to the Israelites, “And I took your sin, the calf which you had made, and burnt it.” Deut. 9:21. Strictly speaking, the sin was not the calf itself; the sin was idolatry, false religion, breaking the first and second commandments, the rebellious will demonstrated in so doing. But the golden calf was a symbol of the sin committed, so Moses calls it the sin.
Likewise, the covenant was an agreement made by the Israelites to follow God’s laws, all of them, including the civil and ceremonial laws (Ex. 19:5-8). But the Ten Commandments, being the core of the law, were the symbol of the covenant.
Webster calls a covenant, “a solemn compact between members of a church to maintain its faith, discipline, etc.; also, the document recording such a compact.” The important thing about the Mayflower Compact was not the document that memorialized it, but the actual agreement of the Pilgrims; the paper might be important as an historical document, but the important thing at the time was the solemn agreement.
This is always the case agreements or covenants; the important thing about any contract is not the writing on paper that memorializes it, but the mental agreement itself and the attitude of lawfulness accompanying it, that is, the will to be bound by an agreement one has entered into, the will to be bound by one’s word.
When the Israelites came to Sinai, the Lord said to them through Moses: “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shall speak unto the children of Israel.” Ex. 19:5, 6.
The response of the Israelites was agreement: “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord bath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.” Verse 8.
Then follows in the next chapter the proclaiming of the Ten Commandments by the voice of God. This is followed, in the next three chapters, by a summary of civil statutes, which show the application of the Ten Commandment’s principles, and by an even briefer summary of certain ceremonial requirements that the Lord gave to the people through Moses.
Then in chapter 24 we read that Moses “told the people all the words of the Lord,” and again the people responded, “All the words which the Lord bath said will we do.” Verse 3. “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord…. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord, hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Verses 4-7. Then Moses took the blood of certain sacrificial animals and “sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.” Verse 8.
Here the record explicitly states, not that the words of the proclaimed statutes and judgments and laws were the covenant, but that the covenant was made ‘“concerning all these words.”
Refer back for a moment to objection 2, on the two laws. Here two comments may properly be interjected:
- The fact that Moses wrote a copy of the Ten Commandments in this “book of the covenant” does not minimize the force of the distinguishing fact that God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own hand on tables of stone. A copy implies an original. Endless copies of the Ten Commandments have been made. The Israelites had simply heard the Ten Commandments as God spoke it. They promised to be obedient. Moses, in giving them a copy to see in a book, made doubly certain that they fully realized what they were covenanting to do. God Himself had not yet transferred the words of the Decalogue to stone. The distinction between the earthy touch of Moses hand and the divine hand of God and the sharp distinction between the varied laws in the book and the one supreme moral law are sharply emphasized a few verses further on: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and he there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou may teach them.” Ex. 24:12
- The fact that statutes and judgments and certain ceremonial precepts in addition to the Ten Commandments were included in the covenant does not make them all one law or confuse their distinctive features one whit. The essence of the covenant, the agreement, between God and the Israelites was that they would obey Him. This meant that they would faithfully keep not only the Ten Commandments but also the civil statutes, which were to govern them as a nation, and the ceremonial precepts, which dictated the religious ritual by which they expressed their desire for forgiveness for transgressions of the moral laws.
However, the very fact that the civil statutes were simply an extension of the Ten Commandments’ principles, and the ceremonial precepts simply set forth the means by which the Israelites were to express their sincere desire for freedom from sins committed against the moral code, fully justified the Biblical description of the Ten Commandments as that concerning which the covenant was made. The civil statutes and ceremonial laws were accessory to the Ten Commandments; they owed their existence and meaning to it, but it was not dependent on them.
With these facts in mind we are able to understand a whole series of statements concerning the “covenant” that is found in the Bible record following the Exodus experience. Five facts stand out sharply as we trace the record of this covenant through the Old Testament:
- The frequent references to it by one after another of the prophets.
- The sorry fact that Israel so repeatedly broke it.
- The repeated combining of the statement that the people broke the covenant, with the statement that they had violated various commands of the Ten Commandments, the latter fact explaining the former.
- The reminding of Israel that sacrifices were not a substitute for obedience, and the essentially minor status that the Lord gave to the ceremonial ritual.
- The promise of a new covenant. Anyone who reads the Bible attentively will surely agree with these five statements.
Moses warned Israel against transgressing the covenant by serving “other gods.” (Deut: 17:2, 3) The Lord revealed to Moses that after his death Israel would “go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land. … and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.” Deut. 31:16. When Joshua was dying he warned of the day when Israel would transgress the covenant by serving “other gods.” (Joshua 23:16) A judgment was pronounced upon Solomon because he had gone after “other gods” and had not kept “my covenant.” (1 Kings 11:11.) In the last years of the kings of Israel the inspired writer recounted their long years of turning repeatedly to heathen gods and rejecting God’s covenant. (See 2 Kings 17:7-23)
Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to tell the “men of Judah” in their dark hour of national disaster that they had failed to keep the covenant He had made with their fathers at Sinai, “saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall you be my people, and I will be your God.” But “they went after other gods to serve them.” Jer. 11:4, 10. Hosea declares: “The Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood touches blood.” Hosea 4:1, 2. And he goes on to add a little later in his description: “They have transgressed my covenant.” Hosea 8:1.
Despite their almost constant turning away from God’s moral precepts, they did not always turn from the ceremonial laws of sacrifices, burnt offerings, feast days, and the like. They evidently at times observed these ceremonies while transgressing the Ten Commandments, as though the religious ritual could substitute for obedience to the moral law. It is this fact that explains some striking passages in the Old Testament and reveals still further the sharp contrast between the ceremonial laws and the moral laws.
Through Hosea the Lord said to the morally corrupt “inhabitants of the land”: “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant.” Hosea 6:6-7. It is true that the Israelites sometimes forgot even the ritual of their religious services. But that, evidently, was not at the heart of their apostasy.
Long after they had “transgressed the covenant” of moral law, they were still observing the sacrifices, rituals, and feasts in obedience to the ceremonial law, as if the outward forms were a proper substitute for heart obedience to God’s moral requirements. That is why the Lord, through Hosea, pronounced this judgment: “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her Sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.” Hosea 2:11. A reference to the ceremonial law reveals that all the special days here listed are found in that code. In similar language the Lord inquires through Isaiah, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?” Isa. 1:11. He describes their offerings as “vain oblations.” “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.” Isa. 1:13 NIV
And why was this whole ceremonial service of offerings and special holy days so abhorrent to God? Because their observance of the ceremonial law was hypocritical! The sacrifices, the Passover Sabbath, Day of Atonement Sabbath, and essentially all the ceremonial rituals and remembrances were intended to express their repentance for violations of the moral code and a desire for cleansing from sin. But the Israelites were set in evil ways and had no heart desire to reform. “Your hands are full of blood.” Verse 15. After pleading with them to turn from their corrupt ways, the Lord declares, “If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” Verse 19. Here is the echo of the covenant agreement made at Sinai.
Jeremiah presents a similar description of the violation of God’s moral code by rebellious Israel:
“Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom you know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?” Jer. 7:9,10. Then follows this declaration that shows perhaps more sharply than any other in this series of passages the clear distinction between moral and ceremonial laws: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I spoke not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people: and walk you in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” Verses 21-23.
But did not the Lord give commandments at Sinai concerning offerings? Bible commentators believe that the only way to resolve the apparent contradiction is by interpreting this passage in Jeremiah to mean that by comparison with the glory and primacy of the moral code given at Sinai, the ceremonial statutes pale into insignificance. To borrow the words of the learned commentator, Lange, on this passage:
“Thus those commentators are right who find here this meaning, that the whole of the enactments relating to sacrifices do not enter into consideration in comparison with the importance of the moral law.”
It is doubtless in this same sense that we may understand those scriptures that equate the covenant with the Ten Commandments (Deut. 4:13), even though certain ceremonial laws and civil statutes were also involved (Ex. 24:3-8). As earlier stated, the civil statutes were only an extension of, and the ceremonial laws only all accessory to, the Ten Commandment law.
Now, in this long, dismal record of Israel’s backsliding, where lay the trouble? Were the terms of the covenant at fault? Nowhere do the prophets suggest that the Ten Commandments were either inequitable or deficient. Had God failed in His part of the agreement? No. The trouble was with the Israelites, who failed to live up to their promises.
They were stiff necked, hard of heart, rebellious. Christ could say to His Father, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8. But not so with the children of Israel. “Their heart went after their idols.” Eze. 20:16. “The sin of Judah … is graven upon the table of their heart.” Jer. 17:1. The children of Israel had promised at Sinai, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” Ex. 19:8. But they knew not how deceitful were their hearts, how weak their will and their spirit.
Only after reviewing this sad history are we are able to appreciate the promise of the new covenant as foretold through Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, says the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, says the Lord. I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jer. 31:31-33.
The promise of the new covenant is not a forecast of an era when grace would supplant law, but of a time when the law of God would be written in men’s hearts by the grace of God acting upon those hearts. So far from God’s law being abolished, it is enshrined within those who have received a new heart.
Now, if there is only one law, as some contend, then the new covenant, under which all of us declare we may live today, calls for the writing upon our hearts, not only of God’s moral precepts, but of all the ceremonial statutes also! The logic is inexorable—if there is only one law. Could better proof be offered that there must be more than one law?
The writer of Hebrews, in referring to this passage in Jeremiah, makes clear that the trouble with the old covenant lay, not with the law, but with the people. The Lord found “fault with them.” (Heb. 8:8.) In the same connection we read concerning the new covenant, that Christ “is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” Verse 6.
The first covenant broke down on the faulty promises of the Israelites. The second covenant is built upon the divine promise of God to change our hearts.
The first covenant was ratified at Sinai by the shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals. (Ex. 24:5-8) The second covenant was ratified at Calvary by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ. (Heb. 9:12, 23) The mediator of the first covenant was Moses. (Ex. 19:3-8; 24:3-8) The mediator of the second covenant is Christ. (Heb. 8:6)
Under the first covenant the worshiper brought his offering to all earthly priest, who ministered at an earthly sanctuary, which ministry could not of itself “make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience.” Heb. 9:9. Why? Because this earthly sanctuary service “stood only ill meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them, until tile time of reformation.” Verse 10. Only as the worshiper looked by faith beyond the animal sacrifices to the sacrifice of Christ, the promised Messiah, could he receive genuine spiritual blessing and forgiveness of sins. And because it was possible for a child of God in the days preceding Christ’s first advent to exercise true faith and to look beyond, the new covenant experience could be his.
Under the new covenant we appropriate by faith the offering made by the Lamb of God, coming boldly to the throne of grace and into the presence of our great High Priest. We look back to Calvary and upward to heaven. (Heb. 9:11-15, 24-26; 10: 19-22) It was foretold of Christ that He would “cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” Dan. 9:27.
No longer was there any occasion for the slaying of animals; hence the laws regarding such offerings became unnecessary. There were no longer to be earthly priests drawn from a certain tribe and according to a certain law of the ceremonial code. Hence we read, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” Heb. 7:12. The Levitical priesthood was changed, abolished, and so was the law that governed the selection and the ministry of that priesthood.
Yet under the new covenant God promises, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” Jer. 31:33. Far from doing away with or changing this law, He is going to write His law on our hearts. So it is very clear that the law He is writing on our hearts is wholly different law from that dealt with in Hebrews 7:12.
The New Covenant entails not a change in the Ten Commandments, but rather a change in the location of these commandments: this is the essence of the difference between the two covenants. And the effecting of this change requires Christ and His divine sacrifice. In other words, to live under the new covenant is to live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Faith and obedience to God’s commandments go hand in hand. How significant in this connection is the description of those who will finally be awaiting the return of Christ: “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Rev. 14:12.
Yes, and how significant is Paul’s statement that the “carnal mind,” which distinguished rebellious Israel, is “not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Rom. 8:7. Also his statement of what has taken place for them which are in Christ Jesus: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom. 8:3,4.
The weakness is not in God’s holy law but in us who are too weak of ourselves to give obedience. When we are changed by the gospel from carnal to spiritual, then the law can be written in our hearts. The person who says that he has nothing to do with the law because he lives under the new covenant, reveals instead that he has nothing to do with the new covenant, for the new covenant believer has the law engraved on his heart.
Doesn’t Paul's statement that the "ministration of death, written and engraved on stones" was "done away" mean the ten commandments written on stone tablets are no longer applicable?
What exactly did Paul say? The introduction to this passage finds Paul declaring to the Corinthian brethren: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: for inasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” 2 Cor. 3:2-3.
Here is the key to interpret the words that follow. His figure of speech is patently borrowed from the Scriptural contrast between the old and the new covenant, tables of stone contrasted with “tables of the heart,” “ink” contrasted with “the Spirit of the living God.” These Corinthians, he said, were “ministered by us.”
By an easy transition Paul moves into a discussion of the two covenants, by adding immediately that Christ “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament [covenant]; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (The word ‘testament’ in this and almost all other instances in the New Testament does not have the meaning of a “will” as made by a testator in anticipation of death, but of covenant, and is so translated in the Revised Version.)
We might close the discussion right here, for our examination of the two covenants revealed clearly that the ratifying of the new covenant did not mean the abolishing of the, Ten Commandments. However, let us proceed.
“But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a vale over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” Verses 7-13.
Here is a series of contrasts, intended not so much to belittle the old dispensation as to glorify the new. It was ever Paul’s studied endeavor to prove that Christ and His ministry are the blazing glory beside which the spiritual glory of the former times seems pale. This argument particularly marks the book of Hebrews, which was written for the Jewish believers, who had thought that the glory of Sinai and the ministration of the divine law under the Jewish priests and rulers were the last word in heavenly glory.
The contrasts that Paul seeks to make are essentially the same as the contrasts between the old and new covenants:
1. “The ministration of “death” versus “the ministration of the spirit.”
2. “Ministration of condemnation” versus “ministration of righteousness.”
3. “Letter kills” versus-spirit gives life.”
4. “Was glorious-versus-exceed in glory.”
5. “Done away” versus “remains.”
Numbers one and two are simply variant expressions. The questions are therefore:
1. What are these two ministrations?
2. What is meant by letter and spirit?
3. What is this relative “glory”?
4. What was “done away” and what “remains”?
The objector quickly answers: The “ministration of death” was that which was “written and engraved in stones,” and is Plainly the Ten Commandments. Not so fast.
Is it correct to speak of the “administration” and the “law” as synonymous? No. The administering of the law is not the same thing as the law itself. The “ministration of death,” or “the ministration of condemnation,” refers to the administering of the law that was “written and engraved in stones.”
By a figure of speech the law is called death and condemnation. On a certain occasion in Elisha’s day the sons of the prophets gathered with him around a “great pot” in which had been cooked certain “wild gourds.” Evidently the gourds were poisonous, for one of those eating cried out: “There is death in the pot.” (See 2 Kings 4:38-41) He meant, of course, that there was something in the pot that would cause death.
Paul had earlier said to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law.” 1 Cor. 15:56. That is, if it were not for the law of God, which condemns those who violate it, there would be no sin, and hence no death in penalty for sin, “for where no law is, there is no transgression.” Rom. 4:15. Thinking on this fact and the contrasting fact that “the law is holy … and just, and good,” caused Paul to inquire: “Was then that which is good made death unto me?”
Here he speaks of the law as “death.” Now, how does Paul say that we escape from this “ministration of death,” this “ministration of condemnation”? By abolishing the law of God? No. Heed his words:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom. 8:1-4.
We do not escape condemnation and death by trying to abolish the law [which cannot be done anyway]. Rather we escape condemnation and death through Jesus Christ, who pardons our sins and changes our hearts so that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us. Paul describes this changed state as walking after the Spirit, and adds that “to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Verses 5, 6.
Here is a state of condemnation and death changed to one of no condemnation but rather life. In other words, the administration of condemnation and death exchanged for an administration of the spirit and life. How evident that we are here discussing the two covenants. And how evident also that Paul’s words in Romans 8 parallel his words in 2 Corinthians 3.
The cold letter of the law as it appeared on the stone tables had no life-giving power. It could only point accusingly at every man, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. An administration of the law based on its letter alone results only in death for violators. But an administration of it based on the forgiveness possible through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and the work of His Holy Spirit upon the heart results in life.
The contrast between “letter” and “spirit” does not mean a contrast between an age of law and an age of freedom from all law. As we have already noted, when God’s Spirit is in control, the law’s requirements are carried out in our hearts.
What, now, of the “glory” mentioned by Paul? He plainly speaks of the relative glory of two ministrations. The justice and righteousness of God shone forth in awesome, even terrifying glory on Mount Sinai as He proclaimed His law. He stood there as a consuming fire. But how much greater the glory of God that bathed the earth with its life-giving rays where Christ came down to “save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21.
Here was the glory of justice and mercy combined, for in dying for our sins, our transgression of the law, Christ revealed how God at one and the same time could “be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.” Rom. 3:26.
This brings us to the last question: What was done away and what remains? The question is really already answered. The glory attendant upon the giving of the law is so greatly excelled by the glory attendant upon the saving of men from its violation that Paul could appropriately speak of the first as “glorious” and the second as “the glory that excels.”
But right here Paul weaves in an incident in connection with the giving of the law at Sinai to illustrate a point that he wishes to make in the verses that immediately follow this disputed passage. When Moses came down from the mount with the tables of stone in his hands, “the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.” So Moses “put a veil on his face-while he spoke to the Israelites.” (See Ex. 34:29-35)
Paul refers to this: “The children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away.” 2 Cor. 3:7. He refers to this again in verse 11, saying it was “done away,” and then again in verse 13 in these words: “And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.”
It was the glory of the former administration, now ended, and not the law that was being administered, that was “done away” or “abolished,” just as, by historical analogy, Paul reminds us that it was the glory on Moses’ face that was “done away” by the veil on his face. The record declares that the veil was on Moses’ face, not on the tables of stone, that it was his face that shone, not the tables of stone, and that it was the glory on his face that faded, not the luster that ever surrounds the divinely written Ten Commandments.
Well do Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, in their Bible commentary, make this general observation in their comments on 2 Corinthians 3:
“Still the moral law of the ten commandments, being written by the finger of God, is as obligatory now as ever; but put more on the Gospel spirit of love, than on the letter of a servile obedience, and in a deeper and fuller spirituality (Matthew 5:17-48; Romans 13:9).”
Does Paul's allegory on the two covenants in Galatians 4 prove that we have nothing to do with law in the Christian dispensation?
In the fourth chapter of Galatians, Paul recounts that Abraham had two sons. After relating the incidents of the birth of Ishmael to the bondwoman Hagar and the birth of Isaac to the free woman Sarah, the first “born after the flesh,” the second “by promise,” Paul declares:
“Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. Gal. 4:24-26.
God had promised Abraham a son. He believed the promise, and the Lord “counted it to him for righteousness.” Gen. 15:6. This promise was of vast significance to Abraham, for God had also promised him: “In thy seed [Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Gen. 26:4. (See Gen. 12:3)
But his faith and that of his long-childless wife, Sarah, evidently waned. She encouraged him to take Hagar to wife and thus raise up seed. But the Lord told him that Ishmael, who was born of that union, was not the fulfillment of the divine promise of a son and that that promise would yet be fulfilled.
Adapting this historical incident to the current experience of the Galatian Christians, who were trying to secure Heaven’s promised salvation by observation of the ceremonial law—you you observe days, and months, and times, and years” Gal. 4:10 he declares that here is an “allegory,” or a figurative description of “the two covenants.”
In the allegory Hagar stands for Sinai. She was a bondwoman, and her children would therefore be in the same state of slavery. She also stands for “Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with, her children.” From Mount Sinai came the old covenant. How can it be said that the old covenant “genders to bondage”? All Bible commentators, along with the apostle Peter, agree that our brother Paul wrote some things hard to be understood, and the book of Galatians illustrates that fact. But we believe that in two ways the old covenant might be regarded as leading into bondage.
1. The ceremonial ritual of numerous sacrifices, feast days, and the like, by which the Israelites were to express their desire for freedom from sin, the transgression of the moral law, tended to become more and more an intolerable burden upon them as the rabbis constantly refined and multiplied the ritual.
At the Jerusalem council the early Christian leaders first considered in a formal way the contention of certain Jews who declared “that it was needful to circumcise them [the Gentile converts], and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Acts 15:5. To this contention Peter replied, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” Acts 15:10.
This question seems to parallel the one that Paul asks the Galatians: “But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” Gal. 4:9-10.
Obviously, here is a “bondage” that suffices to provide a reasonable interpretation of Paul’s words about the Sinaitic covenant genders to bondage. The Pulpit Commentary well observes on Galatians 4:25:
“The religious life of Judaism consisted of a servile obedience to a letter Law of ceremonialism, interpreted by the rabbis with an infinity of hair-splitting rules, the exact observance of which was bound upon the conscience of its votaries as of the essence of true piety.”
2. The moral law, central to the old as well as the new covenant, can also be considered as bringing a man into bondage—if that man seeks to keep the law in his own strength, and by the keeping of the law be his own Savior. “The law works wrath,” says Paul. Rom. 4:15. Why? Paul explains: “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Rom. 7:9. In other words, knowledge of the moral law equates to consciousness of sin and guilt, or “wrath.”
But here is another real sense in the law brings bondage: “Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants, you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Rom. 6:16. If, after having accepted the grace and pardon of Jesus Christ, you refuse His transforming righteousness in your life, you are once again a slave of sin and death.
Now, how could those of whom Paul was speaking—“Jerusalem which now is, with her children”—hope to escape from their bondage? By moving from the old covenant to the new covenant: “Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”
In Hebrews, Paul uses the same figurative language:
“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel..” Heb. 12:18-24.
Without going into a detailed examination of figures of speech, which would carry us beyond the range of the particular question at issue—the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments—we may say that Paul is describing the state of those who are under “the new covenant.”
Isaac was the child of promise, the answer Abraham’s act of faith and obedience. Because we come under the new covenant by our act of faith in accepting the Lord Jesus Christ, and His promise to write His law in our hearts, we are no longer “by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3), but the children of promise. We become children of promise by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by accepting through faith God’s promise of a new covenant relationship.
Blending the two ideas, Paul really comes to the climax of his allegory with these words: “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” Abraham’s act of faith in believing God’s promise was counted unto him for righteousness. Our act of faith in believing God’s fulfillment of His promise in Christ Jesus is counted unto us for righteousness. That is how we acquire true righteousness, new covenant righteousness.
And why did the Lord make His promise to Abraham? “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Gen. 26:5.
And how are those described who are literally waiting to be taken to “Jerusalem which is above”? “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Rev. 14:12.
No, Paul’s words in Galatians do not teach freedom from the law of God. They teach freedom from bondage to sin through Jesus Christ and the new covenant relationship.
Paul declares that we are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14) The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17) Paul also declares that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” (Rom. 10:4) Don't these texts prove that the law was abolished by Jesus Christ?
There is no conflict between law and grace, or between law and gospel. A simple definition of the two will show this. By law we mean God’s standard of right and wrong, the yardstick by which we can tell whether we have fallen short of God’s requirements. The word “gospel” means good news, the good news that God has provided salvation from sin, and the Bible defines sin as violation of the divine law. (1 John 3:4) So, then, the gospel is the good news of God’s plan to pardon us from having broken the law, and to empower us to keep it going forward.
Thus, law and gospel are not in opposition, but in close fellowship. The very existence of the gospel proves that the law is still in force, for what would be the point in preaching the good news that God has provided salvation from breaking the law if the law were no longer in force? A man cannot break a law that does not exist, and cannot be punished for breaking a law that has been repealed. Hence the very idea of the gospel presupposes that the law exists and is in full force.
Let us now read the key text in this discussion: “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Rom. 6:14-15. Whatever else Paul wishes us to understand, he does not want us to think that the reign of grace frees us from obedience to the law, “What then?” says he, “shall we sin,” break the law, “because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”
The next verses make clear that Paul uses the phrase “under the law” to mean “under its condemnation,” and “under grace” to mean “living under God’s plan of salvation that offers pardon from condemnation, and power to achieve freedom from the bondage of sin”:
“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” Rom. 6:16-18.
The contrast is between servants of sin and servants of obedience unto righteousness. What is it that gives strength to sin? It is the law, says Paul. (1 Cor. 15:56) The fact that the law exists and pronounces a death penalty for evildoing and evil living is what gives sin its power over those who indulge in unlawful acts. The law does not lay its strong hand on the man who does not violate it. Its strength is felt only by the lawbreaker.
Paul says sin is no longer to hold us in its grip, because we are living under, we have accepted, God’s plan of grace, which gives us a power that breaks the grip of sin. Thus instead of being servants of sin, we become servants of “obedience unto righteousness.”
And what is righteousness? It is right doing, right living, having the law written on our hearts, which is the very opposite of sinfulness or lawlessness. Paul in a later chapter tells how the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ brings righteousness to us, and how this righteousness is directly related to the law. We read:
“What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom. 8:3-4.
Paul deals with the same problem in Galatians 3:24-25: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
The law can show us our sinfulness and bring to us such conviction of sin that we shall be driven to Christ, who can free us from our sins. When we receive Christ we are no longer under the domination—the condemnation—of the law. But we are not freed from obedience to God’s law, for in accepting Christ we receive divine power for obedience to that law, as is explained in the passage just quoted from Romans 8. Thus Galatians 3:24-25 gives no support to the claim that the law is abolished.
How plain and simple it is, then, that when we accept God’s Son and the grace He offers, we do not turn our back on the law, Rather, we find that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us. Instead of being sinners, breakers of God’s law, we find that we are obedient to it.
In the light of these facts there is no difficulty in the text: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) While Moses served a very great purpose in the plan of God, for through him God gave to the world the written form of the moral code, yet through Christ came divine grace, without which the law cannot truly be kept.
The man who accepts Christ no longer strives to obtain righteousness by keeping the law. Upon his acceptance of Christ, the Savior’s righteousness is imputed to him. Says Paul: “Now the righteousness of God without [or, apart from] the law is manifested being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” Rom. 3:21-22. Because the righteousness of God can be obtained apart from the law, Paul can well declare: “Christ is the end of the law of righteousness to every one that believes.” Rom. 10:4. To everyone who believes on Him, Christ brings to an absolute end the use of the law as a means of obtaining righteousness.
Or, again, we may understand that word end as meaning the objective or purpose [or “culmination” as in the NIV]. Christ was the objective the law had in view, for the purpose of the law is to cause men so to realize their sinfulness, their unrighteousness, so that they will go to Christ for His righteousness, which not only is imputed in justification but is actually imparted in daily living, as is clearly taught in Galatians 2:20. This use of the word “end” is found in James 5:11 and 1 Timothy 1:5.
Both law and grace came from heaven. How happy are we as Christians that we are not called upon to reject one in order to have the other. By the power of God’s grace we no longer dwell under the condemnation of the law, but are in Him raised up to the lofty plane of complete obedience to this divine code.
Well do Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, in their Bible commentary, make this observation in a note at the close of their comments on Romans 6:
The fundamental principle of Gospel obedience is as original as it is divinely rational; that “we are set free from the law in order to keep it, and are brought graciously under servitude to the law in order to be free” (v. 14, 15, 18). So long as we know no principle of obedience but the terrors of the law, which condemns all the breakers of it, and knows nothing whatever of grace, either to pardon the guilty or to purify the stained, we are shut up under a moral impossibility of genuine and acceptable obedience. Whereas when Grace lifts us out of this state, and through union to a righteous Surety, brings us into a state of conscious reconciliation, and loving surrender of heart to a God of salvation, we immediately feel the glorious liberty to be holy, and the assurance that “Sin shall not have dominion over us” is as sweet to our renewed tastes and aspirations as the ground of it is felt to be firm, “because we are not under the Law, but under Grace.”
Francis David Nichol (1897 –1966) was born in Australia, but his family moved to Loma Linda, California, in 1905, when he was 8 years old. Nichol was graduated from Pacific Union College in 1920 and joined the staff of Signs of the Times the next year. In 1927, he became an associate editor of Adventist Review; in 1945, upon the retirement of Francis Wilcox, Nichol became the editor of the Review, a post which he held until his death in 1966.
In addition to editing the Review, Nichol was chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate, and supervising editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. He was widely considered the leading twentieth-century apologist for the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White. Walter Martin described Nichol as “the most able Adventist apologist.”
His greatest work of apologetics was, “Answers to Objections,” a defense of Seventh-day Adventist beliefs first published in 1932 and updated in 1952. In it, Nichols answers what, in the Internet age, have become known as FAQs or “frequently asked questions.” They are frequently-voiced criticisms of, or objections to, the doctrines or practices of Seventh-day Adventism.