The Sabbath and the Old Covenant, part 2

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In the first part of this series, we saw that the Sabbath commandment is one of the 10 Commandments, that the 10 Commandments are the words of the Old Covenant, and that the Sabbath was the sign of the Old Covenant.  Now we’ll look at what the New Covenant’s legal code is, and what the 10 Commandments are under the New Covenant.

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


4. What is the New Covenant’s legal code?

The Resurrection of Christ

The Resurrection of Christ

Jeremiah 31:31-33 (KJV): Behold, the days come, saith 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 my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith 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.

Hebrews 8:6-10 (KJV): But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.  For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when 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 when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people

Hebrews 8:13 (KJV): In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 12:24 (KJV): And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (KJV): God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,  2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds

Luke 22:20 (KJV): Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Note the following contrasts:

  • Old Covenant vs New Covenant – the Old under Moses, the New under Christ
  • An imperfect covenant vs a better covenant – not that the Old Covenant was in error, but it was never meant to be the final covenant, but rather a precursor.
  • Law written on stone vs Law written on hearts – what St Thomas Aquinas calls the Old Law and the New Law
The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount

In the New Testament, Jesus takes the Old Covenant law and expands on it.  The greatest commandments are not the 10 Commandments – they are that we should, first, love God and, second, love our neighbour.  These summarise the 10 Commandments, as they do the other moral laws in the Old Testament.  In the Sermon in the Mount, Jesus goes beyond the 10 Commandments.  Example (emphasis mine throughout this post):

Matt 5:27-28 (KJV): Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:  But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Jesus is quoting the 10 Commandments.  Yet he refers to the commandment against adultery as something the Jews had heard “said by them of old time“.  Not God.  Not Moses.  Yes, God said it, and Moses told it to the Israelites.  But Jesus is contrasting a precursor law with a greater law.  The precursor law being the 10 Commandments, and the greater law being Jesus’ own words.


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”

Throughout his epistles, St Paul speaks about how we are saved without the works of the law.

Romans 3:28 (KJV): Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

In Romans 7:7, St Paul includes the moral law “Thou shalt not covet” in this law.

Romans 7:5-7 (KJV): For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.  But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.  What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

St Paul also speaks of a law written on stone.  What law other than the 10 Commandments was ever written on stone in the Bible?

2 Corinthians 3:3-11 (KJV):  Forasmuch as ye 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.  … Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.  But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly 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 doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

The “ministration of death” was “written and engraved in stones“.  The “ministration of death” was glorious; that glory faded; the ministration of the Holy Spirit has an even greater glory.  Clearly the “ministration of death” was the 10 Commandments, as the cornerstone of the Law of God revealed to Moses.  No other law in the Bible was written on stone.

James 2:8,12 (KJV): If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well. … So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Here James tells us about a royal law – and first quotes a law not found in the 10 Commandments, but one Jesus emphasised.  James then cites the 10 Commandments, and says we do well to keep these, but goes on to say that we are judged by the law of liberty.  The royal law is not limited to the 10 Commandments, but clearly includes other moral laws of the Old Testament.  However, the law by which we are judged is the New Covenant law, and we are freed from the Old Covenant law.  James needs to be understood in the context of Paul.

10 CommandmentsFurther evidence that 2 Corinthians 3 indeed refers to the 10 Commandments is the fact that “the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance” refers to Exodus 34:35, immediately after God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.

Exodus 34:29-30,35 (KJV): And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.  And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. … And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Even the Adventist paraphrased version of the Bible, the Clear Word, acknowledges plainly that this text refers to the 10 Commandments.

Clear Word, 2 Cor 3:7-8: At Sinai God wrote the law on tables of stone.  The giving of the commandments was accompanied by such glory that when Moses came down from the mountain, the Israelites couldn’t even look at him.  But that glory had to pass away.  When you think of the Holy Spirit writing the law on people’s hearts, isn’t that more glorious than God writing His law on tables of stone?

Does this mean that the 10 Commandments are no longer relevant for Christians?  Certainly not.  No Christian in their right mind claims such a thing.  So what, then, does this mean for Christians and their relationship with the 10 Commandments?


Further reading:

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