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. In Part 2 we looked at the New Covenant’s legal code, and saw that the 10 Commandments are no longer binding as a legal code under the New Covenant. Now we’ll look at how the 10 Commandments still apply to Christians.
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
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“
6. Legal analogy
Legal analogies and Adventist confusion
So, technically, the 10 Commandments are not the legal code by which Christians live. This hardly gets mentioned today because it’s really not necessary to mention it in most discussions of morality and the law. It’s very seldom necessary to say “Live moral lives, but by the way, the legal status of the Decalogue is revoked, but the precepts are still relevant.” Ask the average Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox if we must obey the 10 Commandments, and they will say “Yes.” The technicalities, to most Christians with the partial exception of more biblically literate Evangelicals, are hidden in history, and ultimately irrelevant … except in discussions where Adventists bring up the argument I mentioned at the beginning of this series.
Somewhere Adventism went wrong, and missed out on what Catholicism and Orthodoxy have taught for 2000 years, and what Protestantism has taught for 500 years – that there is a difference between the legal code having current validity, and the precepts of that code retaining usefulness under another code. Adventism is not even 200 years old. The error probably crept in due to the already-discussed problem of people missing out on the technical details when these technical details are not important to the practical living of a moral life.
Adventists often suggest that if the 10 Commandments have been abolished, then we may steal and murder. That doesn’t work for Christian theology, and I suspect most Adventists realise that – because the “logic” never works. The simple truth is that all the moral principles in the 10 Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic law still exist in the New Covenant law. So no, we may not steal and murder.
An analogy: in Canada, the US laws that outlaw murder do not apply. Canada, however, has its own laws against murder. But anyone in either country knows it’s illegal. So it is with the Old vs New Covenants. The Old Covenant had the Decalogue; we have the Sermon on the Mount as well as a host of other biblical admonitions. In accusing other Christians of abolishing all morality by not granting the Decalogue’s legal statement re the Sabbath a legal status under the New Covenant, Adventists are making a huge error. The technical explanation is that in America and Canada there are two different legal codes, neither of which applies in the other country. What the average Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox is doing is the equivalent of an American arriving in Canada and saying “I may not kill people here.” What the average Adventist is doing is the equivalent of accusing the American of arriving in Canada and saying “The American law against murder doesn’t apply here, so we can murder freely.”
Absurd. Similarly, the time during which the 10 Commandments were the legal code lasted from Moses until Christ. Today we are under the New Covenant moral law. In neither case may we steal and murder.
7. The biblical evidence does not support Sabbath observance by Christians
For a full list of articles dealing with the biblical evidence, see my pages The Sabbath vs Sunday debate, The Old Testament Sabbath and Christians, and The Sabbath and the First Day in the New Testament.
We have seen from the Bible that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant Law, and that the 10 Commandments are part of the Old Covenant Law, which has been abolished. St Paul explicitly includes the 10 Commandments, written on tables of stone, in his thesis. Adventists, for some reason, have failed to comprehend that the 10 Commandments are part of a law no longer legally in force, and they fail to understand how we can be under a better law.
The Old Law, as a whole, was binding on Israel, but never anyone else, not even the Gentiles they lived alongside. The moral components of that law, however, were binding on all, even before the 10 Commandments were given, because they were part of the natural law anyone could grasp.
What I have explained here, I hope will help them, and others who may need to defend their faith against them. Some, like Arik over at Tesa Beem’s blog, will argue that the Catholic Church denies this. My supplementary post will deal with that.
Christians are under the New Covenant, and therefore the legal code in effect is the New Covenant law. The Old Covenant and the words of the Old Covenant (the 10 Commandments) are not the legal code in effect today. There is therefore no legal basis for the observance of the Sabbath by Christians.
In my supplementary post, I will give plenty of evidence that the Catholic Church does not deny this, and in fact it is easy to support from Catholic statements on other matters. The more common Catholic statements promoting the 10 Commandments are part of a fight against moral relativism rather than a technical appraisal of the status of a legal code. In discussions about the technical aspects of the Old Covenant, it becomes clear that the 10 Commandments, in their fundamental content, are binding on Christians, even though the 10 Commandments as a legal code are not the law in force today for Christians.
The New Law has been written on our hearts, and there is no evidence that the 7th day Sabbath was included in what was written there.
The Old Law can still inform us because the moral component exists in the New Law. We can glean moral principles from the civil component of the Old Law. The ceremonial component has informed our worship. What doesn’t exist in the new law: circumcision (Acts 15:24), unclean food (Mark 7:19, Acts 10:11-15, Romans 14:2-6 ,1 Corinthians 10:25, 1 Timothy 4:1-5), the 7th day sabbath, etc. They are just not there. With the legal code they belonged to replaced, they are no more.
Thanks to Nick for advice on 2 Cor 3 and how to keep this important topic to a readable length :-)
- Why We Are Not Bound by Everything in the Old Law … Catholic Answers
- 7 Reasons to reject Sabbatarianism (Seventh Day Sabbath Keeping) … by Nick
- The New Covenant: A Theology of Covenant in the New Testament … Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Communio, Winter 1995 [Internet Archive here]
- The Sabbath vs Sunday debate (a look at all the biblical texts relating to Sabbath and Sunday observance)
- Sabbath and the First Day – Why do Catholics worship on Sunday instead of Saturday? … By John Hellman
- Dies Domini: Is Saturday the True Sabbath? … by Jacob Michael
- Sabbath or Sunday? – The Church Fathers … Catholic Answers
- The Covenant With Israel … by Avery Cardinal Dulles
- On the Spirit and the Letter … by St Augustine of Hippo
- Paul and the Law … by Jimmy Akin