The Sabbath and the Old Covenant, part 1

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This will be a 3-part series, dealing with the following issues:

Part 1
The status of the Sabbath in Christianity can be determined as follows:
1. The Sabbath commandment is one of the 10 Commandments.
2. The 10 Commandments are the words of the Old Covenant
3. The Sabbath was the sign of the Old Covenant

Part 2
4. What is the New Covenant’s legal code?
The Old Covenant has been set aside and replaced – the 10 Commandments are no longer a binding legal code for Christians.
5. St Paul says the 10 Commandments are a “ministration of death

Part 3
6. Legal analogy
7. The biblical evidence does not support Sabbath observance by Christians

Supplementary: The 10 Commandments and the New Law in Catholic teaching


Introduction

10 Commandments

10 Commandments

If you ask the average Christian, “Should we obey the 10 Commandments?” they will likely say “Yes.”  Enter the Adventist, who then asks why the average Christian doesn’t keep the 4th commandment, which states that we should keep the Sabbath.  And so, as the Adventist hoped, the average Christian is often left wondering.  Or appealing to the other biblical evidence against Christian Sabbath keeping.  Or suggesting things like “We only need to keep one day in seven” or “We only need to keep the moral law, not the ceremonial law of the Old Testament.

None of those answers is fully satisfactory.  It is true that there is a tremendous base of evidence in the Bible that Christians do not need to keep the 7th day Sabbath.  It is true that the ceremonial law of the Old Testament is no longer relevant to Christians, and it is true that the timing of the Sabbath is part of that ceremonial aspect.  It is true that we should obey the moral laws given in the Bible.  It is not entirely true that we should keep one day in seven, but I will not be arguing against that view here.

The Adventist question is left largely unanswered.  If we are meant to obey the 10 Commandments, as they were written by the finger of God on stone tablets and given to Moses, then surely we need to keep the Sabbath the way it was intended in that set of laws?  If the 10 Commandments are binding on Christians, then the Adventists argument is a problematic one.  Considering that it is clear from the Bible and from history that we do not need to keep the 7th day Sabbath, their argument must be flawed.  There are several very good attempts to answer it that I’ve come across, so it’s not as if the Adventist argument cannot be refuted.  I will present what I believe is the most logical.

Adventists and other Sabbatarians constitute a very small portion of Christianity.  Most of the time someone hears “Must we keep the 10 Commandments?” it’s in the context of “Do we have to follow any sort of moral code?”  In that context, the answer is clearly YES.  And without a doubt, the 10 Commandments are the best known moral code in existence.

Nearly all Christian denominations share a belief in the importance of the 10 Commandments as a code to guide our morals.  Certainly the Catholic Church does (emphasis mine throughout this post):

Since they express man’s fundamental duties towards God and towards his neighbor, the Ten Commandments reveal, in their primordial content, grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable, and they oblige always and everywhere. No one can dispense from them. The Ten Commandments are engraved by God in the human heart.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2072

However, we also all acknowledge that the Decalogue was the actual set of words making up the Old Covenant (Deut 4:13, Exod 34:28).  We all acknowledge that the Old Covenant was replaced with the New.  Even Paul (2 Cor 3:7) acknowledges that the law written on stone (what other law was written on stone?) has been replaced.

In a world where 99% of the time we are concerned with what is and isn’t moral, statements, like CCC 2072 above, from all Christian denominations make perfect sense.  And they are right – the 10 Commandments are VERY applicable to Christians.

But there is a catch.  A technicality often missed today.


The status of the Sabbath in Christianity can be determined as follows:

1. The Sabbath commandment is one of the 10 Commandments.

Of this nobody is in doubt.  See Exodus 20:8 and Deuteronomy 5:12.


2. The 10 Commandments are the words of the Old Covenant

10 Commandments, 10th century Byzantine Paris Psalter

10 Commandments, 10th century Byzantine Paris Psalter

Most Christians believe that we are not under the Old Covenant, but rather under the New Covenant.  While many individual Christians may not realise it, most Christian traditions acknowledge that the 10 Commandments are part of the Old Covenant.

What is the biblical evidence for this idea?

Deut 4:13 (KJV): And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.

Deut 5:1-3 (KJV): And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.  The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.  The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.  (The 10 Commandments are then spoken by Moses)

Deut 9:9 (KJV): When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water

Exod 20:1 (KJV): And God spake all these words, saying (This is Moses speaking; the 10 Commandments are then spoken by Moses after being given them by God)

Exod 34:28 (KJV): And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

The 10 Commandments – the words of the Old Covenant.  His covenant … ten commandments.  If the Old Covenant has been abolished, then its legal code went with it.  If we are under a New Covenant, the New Covenant has its own legal code.

For those who think that the 10 Commandments being written in stone makes them permanent, see what Moses did in Exodus 32:19:

Exodus 32:19 (KJV): And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.

If that is not symbolic of the eventual abolishing of the 10 Commandments, it’s at least a sign that being written in stone doesn’t mean something is permanent.

1 Kings 8:9 (KJV): There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt

1 Kings 8:21 (KJV): And I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant of the LORD, which he made with our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt.

2 Chronicles 6:11 (KJV): And in it have I put the ark, wherein is the covenant of the LORD, that he made with the children of Israel.

What was in the ark?  Nothing except the tablets of stone (1 Kings 8:9).  What was in the Ark?  The Old Covenant (1 Kings 8:21, 2 Chronicles 6:11)

Hebrews 9:4 (KJV): Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant.

The tables of the covenant were certainly inside, but there is debate amongst scholars as to the discrepancy regarding the manna and Aaron’s rod.  This is not the issue here, and the reader is referred to John Gill’s Expositor for a good explanation of this.


3. The Sabbath was the sign of the Old Covenant

See my post To whom was the Sabbath given, as a sign of what?

Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt

Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt – Source

In short:

Exod 31:12-13 (KJV): And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.

Exod 31:16-18 (KJV): Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant*. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever*: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.
*See the full post for discussion of the covenant being “perpetual”.

Deut 5:1-3 (KJV): And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.

Neh 9:13-14 (KJV): Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them [Israel] from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant

Ezek 20:12 (KJV): Moreover also I gave them [Israel] my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.

The Sabbath was given as part of the Old Covenant to Israel.  Not before.  The Sabbath was part of the Old Covenant, not the New Covenant.


Further reading:

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