AN EXAMINATION AND REFUTATION OF 16 PROPOSITIONS AGAINST SABBATH KEEPING, PART 8.
RESPONSE TO CHAPTER 8 OF “THE SABBATH: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.”
by Edwin M. Cotto
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a response to chapter 8 of the antisabbatarian book, “The Sabbath: What you need to know: 16 Propositions Against Mandatory and Salvational Sabbath-Keeping.” Please keep in mind that as we publish responses to chapters, changes may take place without notice to anyone. Please revisit this page often for updates as the goal is to reply to all 16 propositions. Responses to each chapter will continue to be published as time goes by. Visit chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.
Response to Chapter 8:
The abolishment of the Old Covenant does NOT abolish the sign of the Sabbath
In the Introduction to “The Sabbath: What You Need to Know,” Elce complains about Adventists by claiming they spin people into a “web of masterful prooftexts” with their “doctorate degree in the art of Sabbatarian prooftexting.” In this chapter, Elce does the very thing he accuses Adventists of… prooftexting. In order to back up the claim that when the Old Covenant ended the Sabbath ended with it, Elce quotes, albeit completely out of context, Romans 6:14, Romans 7:1-6, Hebrews 7:12, 2 Cor. 3, and so many others. You will find, however, that when those texts are read and understood in each of their respective contexts, they reveal a different story than that which Elce is trying to portray. So, although his chapter is short, the prooftext methodology Elce used requires that I take some time evaluating and explaining each of those texts in context in order to get a true understanding of each one. So let’s do that now. Here are the texts:
- Point 1: Rom. 6:14: Christians are not under the Law.
- Point 2: Rom. 7:1-6: Christians have been released from the Law.
- Point 3: Heb. 7:12: The Law was changed because the priesthood changed.
- Point 4: 2 Cor. 3: The Ten Commandments, the ministration of death, has faded away.
- Point 5: Gal. 2:19: Christians are dead to the Law.
- Point 6: Gal. 3:19-25: Christians are under the supervision of Christ, not the Law.
- Point 7: Gal. 4:21-31: Believers are not under the Old Covenant, but under the New.
- Point 8: Heb. 8:13-9:1-5: The Old Covenant has vanished away.
- Point 9: Eph. 2:14-15: Christ abolished the commandments which caused separation
- Point 10: Col. 2:14: The Law with it’s legal demands has been nailed to the cross.
RESPONSE TO POINT 1: Rom. 6:14: Christians are not under the Law.
The phrase “under the law” in Romans 6:14 and elsewhere has generally been understood to mean one of two things; either that a person is no longer required to obey God’s law, or that a person is no longer under the penalty for violating God’s law. But this very phrase proves that when Paul wrote it there were people who were still “under the law.” For example, Paul’s question to the Galatians, “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Gal. 4:21) would make no sense if it were not because people could still choose to be “under the law.” In other words, one cannot be under a law that was abolished years prior. Therefore, there was still a law when Paul wrote this, and if the law was still in force, then “under the law” did not then, and does not now mean, that believers aren’t required to obey it.
We find that this logic reflects this thought. Verses 15-23 explain that such a person would, contrary to modern antinomian opinion, obey the laws of their master. It begins in verse 15 with the question of whether a person can now sin while no longer under the law. The answer is no, and, analogizing the slave/master relationship so popular during his time, Paul demonstrates why those not “under the law” aren’t lawless. We read:
“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” (Rom. 6:16-17).
That “form of doctrine” rejects lawlessness, as we read in the very next verse which says that “just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” (verse 19). And righteousness is obedience to God’s commandments and having Christ in us (Psa. 119:172, 1 Cor. 1:30), while sin is, by definition, “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). How then does not being “under the law” mean Christians do not have God’s Law?
To prove this further, it is helpful to locate where else Paul used this phrase “under the law.” Notice in his first letter to the Corinthians how he separates those “under the law” from those “without law,” an unnecessary distinction to make if those under the law were not subject to obey it:
“And to the Jews I became a Jew, that I might win the Jews’ to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law towards God, but under the law towards Christ), that I might win those who are without law.” (1 Cor. 9:20-21).
Paul’s method was to relate to the individuals he was witnessing to in such a way as to open the opportunity for him to win them to Christ. He does this to those under the law as well as to those without law, two classes of people, the former evidently having law while the later does not. Therefore, not being under the law does not mean that one does not have God’s Law or that he is a breaker of God’s Law. On the contrary, the believer who is not under the law establishes the Law (see Rom. 3:31).
PAUL HIMSELF WAS NOT UNDER THE LAW
It is quite evident that if Paul warns others against being under the law, he also was not under the law. For this reason he includes himself when he uses the pronoun “we” (see Rom. 6:15, Gal. 3:23). Nevertheless, Paul says that he “delights in the law of God” ( ), speaks of it as “holy, just and good” ( ), his faith establishes, rather than voids (abolish) the law (Rom. 3:31) and he exalts the Law as the standard by which he and everyone else will be judged (Rom. 2:12-13, 14:10). How, then, could not being “under the law” mean that one does not need to obey it, while he himself obeyed it?
Specifically, Paul is speaking about the Ten Commandments. In chapters 1 and 2 he explains that all are without excuse, but more so the Jew who has received the Law by revelation, and by Law he means the Decalogue (Rom. 2). In chapter 7, while writing about his battle between his old nature which is against God’s Law ( ) and his new life in Christ which is spiritual (the only means by which a spiritual law can be kept, see 7:14, 8:1), he tells you directly which Law exposes his sins by quoting the tenth of the Ten Commandments (7:8). And in chapter 13, within the context of our dealings with our fellow man, he uses the last six of the Ten Commandment as a means by which we can avoid getting into trouble with secular authorities.
NOT UNDER THE LAW, BUT UNDER GRACE
Returning to Romans 6:14, the text plainly says that whoever is not “under the law” is now “under grace.” So, we should now ask, what is grace? A few texts written by the same author should suffice to answer this question:
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)
Note here that grace is defined not merely as a concept, but as power to save and to cause obedience, “that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Grace teaches people to deny all things worldly, and to “live soberly, righteous, and godly,” when? “In this present world.” Let’s compare it to this next text:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10)
Critics often stop short of this text without carefully considering verse 10, which reveals where exactly those zealous good works come from. We are created “in Christ Jesus unto good works” which God previously prepared so that we should “walk in them.” In other words, the man saved by grace will practically live out that faith in good works, and those good works originate, not with him, but with God! Phi. 2:13 says that it is God which works in man both the desire to do right and also the actual doing of that which is right, and in Isaiah 26:12 we read, “LORD, You will establish peace for us, Since You have also performed for us all our works.” (NASB). Speaking of the New Covenant, notice how Ezekiel put it:
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them].” (Eze. 36:26-27)(1)
Here the prophet tells us that the giving of the Spirit and the cleansing of the heart will be done free of charge, and even the obeying will be done by God, “and cause you…” This explains why Paul can write on the one hand that “to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt” (Rom. 4:4), while on the other hand write that grace through faith establishes the law (Rom. 3:31). God handles both the saving and the obeying, and Paul could not give any greater examples of this than the lives of Abraham and David who were also saved by grace and yet obeyed God’s commandments (Rom. 4, cf. Gen. 26:5, Ps. 119). Evidently, we cannot obey of our own selves. So God has to do it for us.
To explain it another way, whoever is saved by grace, free of charge, is at the same time empowered by that grace to obey God’s commandments. Thus, I am no longer “under the law,” to obey it of my own strength, and to be under its penalty when I fail. I am “under grace,” a power that forgives me, justifies me, and strengthens me to live “soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” True Christians who are under grace will be seen obeying God’s commandments, not attacking them.
GRACE IS NOT AN EXCUSE TO SIN, AND SIN IS “TRANSGRESSING THE LAW”
To add force to what was just explained about grace, note how the very next verse says that grace is not an excuse for breaking God’s Law: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:15). According to the very next chapter, the main definition of sin is violating the Law. Romans 7:7 says:
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.”
How do we know sin? By the Law, because the Law tells us what sin is. And again, the apostle here speaks specifically of the Decalogue by quoting the tenth one. The apostle John confirms this by saying that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 5:7), and lawlessness (Greek: ἀνομία), according to the Greek lexicon, means “the condition of being without law.” Therefore, “shall we sin” or, transgress the law, “because we are not under the law but under grace?” Paul’s answer to this questions should be the answer of every critic who takes issue with Adventists who insist on the obedience to God’s Law, “God forbid!”
“UNDER THE LAW” AFTER THE CROSS
We noted earlier that being “under the law” demonstrates that the Law was not abolished a few years prior at the cross, or else people could not be under it when Paul wrote Romans. We can also see this in Romans 3:19, where Paul speaks of the law with an active, present tense.
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith (λέγει – active present), it saith (λαλεῖ – active present) to them who are under (ἐν – preposition) the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
A few things to notice here. First, the law was still metaphorically speaking when Paul wrote this, indicating that it did not cease at the cross a few years prior. Further, the Greek word for “under” in other cases such as Rom. 6:14 means “to be below or under.” We use this word often, even in the medical field when we say a patient has hypotension, which means low blood pressure. But in Rom. 3:19, Paul uses the Greek word ἐν which generally means “in.” Young’s Literal Translation translates it this way, “And we have known that as many things as the law saith, to those in the law it doth speak…” Thus, even during Paul’s time, there were still people both under and “in” the Law.(2) Finally, the context indicates the continuity of the Law of God. Verse 21 says that although God’s righteousness is revealed apart from the law, yet the law is still around to witness to that very fact. In essence the Law can see Christ’s righteousness in the believer and say, “yes, he is righteous through faith in Christ, since he is not violating my demands.”
SO, WHAT DOES “UNDER THE LAW” MEAN?
The rest of the times the phrase is found is in Gal. 3:23, 4:4-5, 21 and 5:18, and each instance comes with a negative connotation. No one wants to be “under the law,” and in fact, those led by God’s Spirit aren’t under it. Though, if not being “under the law” doesn’t mean one is “without law” as we noted earlier, what does it mean? Within the context of Galatians 3, Paul argues that the Spirit is received by faith, and not works, as with Abraham (verses 1-9). Recall, however, that Abraham, though saved by grace without any works, was obedient to God’s commandments (Gen. 26:5). Evidently, his obedience was not for the purpose of gaining this grace; rather it was a result of it. As Paul argues in the next few verses, anyone attempting to obey the Law of their own strength will fail and incur the curse of death (Gal. 3:10-14, cf. Rom. 8:7). In verse 10, Paul quotes Deut. 27:26, which in context pronounces curses upon those who do not obey God (see Deut. 28). In other words, death comes from disobedience, not obedience, so the Spirit is needed to fulfill the law, especially because the Law is spiritual and we are not (cf. Rom. 7:14, 8:14, Gal. 5:18).
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:16-18, cf. Rom. 8:13-14, where the Spirit causes you to overcome the deeds of the flesh).
Then follows a description of various sins that violate, in one way or the other, God’s Ten Commandments (ibid, verses 19-21). Paul is not speaking of whether the Law should be obeyed or not, but of how it needs to be obeyed. If it’s not through the strengthening power of the Spirit of God, you will fail, and thus place yourself “under the law” (cf. 3:23). This is made crystal clear by Paul in his letter to the Romans:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:19-20).
When we are under the law, we are “guilty before God.” Therefore, to be under the law is to be under its penalty for violating it. When we are led by the Spirit, He causes us to obey, and in this way we avoid incurring the curse of death for breaking it. In other words, to be under the law is to be a breaker of the Law. The commandment keeper, in fact, is not “under the law.” The commandment breaker is.
BUT WASN’T JESUS UNDER THE LAW?
Paul says that those under the law are “guilty before God,” but then says Jesus was born “under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Does this mean that Jesus was guilty of breaking God’s commandments? Of course not. The very next verse reads, “to redeem those who were under the law…” In other words, he became us to save us. It is similar to when Paul said he became like those that were under the law in order to reach them (1 Cor. 9:20-21). Like Jesus, Paul became whatever was necessary to reach people and lead them to salvation. But does this mean that Paul participated in the evil acts of the people? No, because he clearly also wrote in verse 21 that he was not “without law toward God, but under the law toward Christ.” Yet, in an even more perfect way, Jesus was “made… sin for us,” and yet “knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). In a divinely, mysterious way, Jesus, “in all things” became “like unto his brethren (Heb. 2:17), took on “the form of a bondservant” and “likeness of men” (Phi. 2:7), guilty of sin, yet without actually ever sinning. He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). No wonder the text also mentions that He was “made of a woman.” He was victorious in the same nature that we are in, and offers us His victory in place of our weakness. Therefore, His being born “under the law” was the best way for Him to meet us at our level and save us. His nature was like ours, “under the law,” yet in that very same nature He had the victory over sin. Amen.
RESPONSE TO POINT 2: Rom. 7:1-6: Christians have been released from the Law.
There is a very significant portion of Romans 8, often missed by our critics, where Paul contrasts the carnal mind from the spiritual mind in verse 7. There, Paul infers that the man who is spiritually minded actually is subject to the law of God. What’s interesting is that this chapter follows chapter 7, where Elce says that Paul is releasing Christians from the law. But it cannot be that Christians are released from the Law in chapter 7, but spiritually subject to it in chapter 8. So, we have to study carefully the allegory that Paul uses in chapter 7 in order to find harmony between the two chapters. When one portion of scripture is not in harmony with another portion, we can be sure that our interpretation is incorrect.
Let’s first note the four elements in Paul’s allegory between verses 1 and 3:
|THE LAW THAT UNITES||THE FIRST HUSBAND||THE WIFE||THE SECOND HUSBAND|
In Romans 7:4 Paul explains his allegory and says that we are dead to the law, not that the law is dead. That’s an important difference. The story of the couple and their marriage actually establishes that the law remains because when the woman remarries, that same law exists to bind her to her new husband. As E. J. Waggoner once put it,
“While the law will not allow the woman to be united to two husbands at the same time, it will allow her to be united to two in succession. It is the law that allows her, and it is the law that allows her. The same law that unites her to the first husband, also allows her to be united to the second, after that the first is dead. This is easy to be understood, and there is no need to consider it further.(3)
Mark this point very well. The law was not abolished when the husband died. It simply did not unite her to anyone until his passing! Take a look:
|THE LAW THAT UNITES||(empty)||THE WIFE||THE SECOND HUSBAND|
Do you see that the Law is still there? Note the diagram:
I once knew a young man who made the unfortunate decision of getting married to a woman he did not love. Everyone warned him not to do it, but he did it anyway. As the years went by his relationship with his wife grew dim. Yet he stuck around, believing that it was God’s will to make his marriage work, until his wife’s act of committing adultery ended their marriage in a bitter divorce.
Previously however the law bound them together, but now that they are divorced, what happens to the law? Does the judge now abolish the law of marriage? Or does it simply not apply to him at this point in his life? Well, let’s find out. About seven years later he met another young lady and remarried.
Now what does the law do? That’s right, it does the only natural thing it can do, bind two people together! You see the law was not abolished during those seven years, it simply did not apply to him. He was “released from the law” or “dead to the law” so to speak. But when he remarried, the law returned to bind him to his new wife! To say that the law of marriage was abolished during those seven years is nonsense. But this is how critics interpret these texts.
Now that we understand the illustration, let’s move on to the application. Who do the two husbands represent? The second husband is the “another… Him that was raised from the dead” (verse 4), that is, Christ. And the first husband? Paul’s analogy was meant to further explain what he was talking about in the previous chapter, and there we find who the first husband was:
“For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in the likeness] of [his] resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:5-7)
The first husband, the one that was crucified, and died in chapter 7, was the “old man, the body of sin.” In Rom. 7:5 Paul also calls it the “flesh.” This husband was “crucified” paving the way for the second husband, Christ, to now be united with the woman. Therefore, the old man was our own, carnal, sinful self, who died when we came to Christ, and whose vacancy was taken up by Christ. This is simple, and therefore it’s obvious that the “woman” represents people married either to the sinful flesh or to Christ.
Let us now determine what the law of marriage represents, which united the first couple, and now unites the second couple. According to verse 7, it is representative of the Decalogue, because there Paul quotes the tenth one. When you are crucified with Christ, your “old man, body of sin, or flesh” dies. The Law is no longer condemning you as a violator of it, because now you have been resurrected with Christ, the one who kept it perfectly, after which you no longer “serve sin.” Simply put, the woman is released from the law when death occurs, not when resurrection occurs. Note Paul’s conclusion:
“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.” (Rom 7:6)
Many people get stumped where it says “oldness of the letter.” But this is actually quite simple. Believers who are married to Christ now have the Law written, not the old way, with letters on tablets of stone, but the new way, having it written in the heart by the “Spirit” (Jer. 31:33, Eze. 36:27, 2 Cor. 3:3). Thus they serve “not in oldness of the letter” but in Spirit. This is the only way to be in harmony with God’s Law, since the law is spiritual (Rom. 7:14), and whoever walks in the Spirit is subject to the Law of God, in contrast to walking in the flesh (Rom. 8:7). In all of this the law of marriage, representing the Decalogue, was still around. What changed was the manner in which we serve. We have gone from serving our old sinful flesh to now serving Christ.
The lesson here is akin to saying that we cannot serve two masters. Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), so we cannot serve the old sinful flesh and Christ at the same time. The Law reveals sin (Rom. 3:20, 7:7), and thus struggles constantly against the sinful flesh which loves sin. It is a marriage bound to fail. Therefore, the old man must go… the flesh must be crucified, and we must marry Christ. The discussion in Romans 7 is not whether the law is abolished or not. Obviously if the tenth commandment convicts him of covetousness (see verse 7), then it was still around to do that conviction and not abolished at the cross a few years prior. Paul calls it “holy, just and good” (verse 12), and he says that in the present tense. Critics often confuse the first husband with the Law. But how can the Law be dead while at the same time be alive to unite her to her second husband? How can the Law be dead while it was still convicting Paul of his sins?(4) The plain teaching of the story is that we must be united to Christ, and the law bears witness to that unity so long as sin has been put away from our lives. Therefore, yes, Christians are released from the law when the first husband (the old, sinful flesh) was crucified, because it no longer has the power to hold them together, now that he is dead. But the Law has not been abolished. It simply did not do its job of uniting a couple until Christ the second husband comes into the picture! Now it is functioning, not as a Law that binds you to a bad husband that hates the Law, but as a Law that binds you to a husband that loves it and obeys it through you.
RESPONSE TO POINT 3: Heb. 7:12: The Law was changed because the priesthood changed.
Elce’s brief comment on this text does no justice to the context. Often we Sabbatarians get accused of proof-texting. While I have no problem with briefly quoting a verse, my reason for quoting it should match the context of the verse. A look at what the author of Hebrews is addressing here reveals that it is not the moral precepts of the Decalogue that were changed, but the laws pertaining to the priesthood. Whereas the law said that the priesthood was to be of the line of Aaron, now it says that it must be of Melchizedek. So of course the law was changed, and there are important reasons for this. Since Aaron died, all priests that came from his line must also die. By contrast Melchizedek lives forever and is of divine origin (verses 3, 16-17). Since Jesus is of the line of Judah “of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (verse 14), the law must go from saying that the priesthood is of Aaron to now saying that the priesthood is of Melchizedek.
The change does not end there. In chapter 8 a shift also takes place from the earthly sanctuary, where imperfect priests officiated, to the heavenly sanctuary, where our divine and perfect High Priest officiates. Incidentally, the heavenly Sanctuary contains the antitypical version of the ark which contained the Decalogue (Rev. 11:19). Evidently this “change in the law” did not in any way abolish or change the moral law of Ten Commandments, but rather shifted the focus from the earthly to the heavenly, where we find the Law! Of course, Elce’s problem is with the fourth commandment. But if the ark and the tablets of stone on earth were a type of the ark in heaven, it follows that in heaven we also have a record of the fourth commandment.
RESPONSE TO POINT 4: 2 Cor. 3: The Law is fading away.
2 Corinthians 3 is the critic’s go-to when they want to claim that the Ten Commandments have been abolished, but a closer examination of each text in question reveals a different story.(6) Before speaking of what has been abolished, Paul actually establishes the Ten Commandments by revealing that the Corinthians are living examples of what the New Covenant looks like in living form. They are the epistle because, as the New Covenant promised, the Ten Commandments have been written in their hearts (cf. verses 1-3, Jer. 31:33). In other words, far from being abolished, they are reestablished in a better location, from tables of stone to “fleshy table of the heart” (verse 3). Keep in mind that we are literally talking about the Ten Commandments here, because that is the allusion when the text speaks about “tables of stone.”
What does the text mean by the heart? Not the literal organ of course. The heart represents the mind, the seat of all thoughts, intellect, passions, desires, affections and endeavors. The mind is what makes who we are in person and character, and dictates our actions in the physical realm. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). So then, if the Law was written in their hearts, it has become a natural part of their very being. One need not tell them to avoid stealing, killing or lying. They no longer need it written down the old way, on tables of stone, which strives against the flesh. Their very impulse is to do right so long as they continue submitted to the Spirit which wrote the Law in their heart. Their lives demonstrate it’s precepts to the whole world as if they were living, walking, and talking epistles. People can read the Law in their lives and character. They are “known and read by all men.” How then, pray tell, has the Ten Commandments been abolished? And if this is the condition of the man who is living under the New Covenant, what is the condition of the man who attacks God’s Law?
With this in mind we know for sure that what follows in this chapter cannot now say that the Ten Commandments have been abolished. How can it be abolished while written in their hearts? Therefore, a critical look at each reference to something being abolished reveals exactly what those things were. Let us do that now:
“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. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away [was] glorious, much more that which remaineth [is] glorious.” (verses 7-11).
Two things are mentioned as done away with here, the ministration of that which was engraved on stone, along with the glory that was shining on the face of Moses. The latter was replaced by Christ’s more glorious face, according to verses 13-18. But what does Paul mean by “ministration?” Note that it was not the Decalogue itself, but the ministration of it, or the then instituted manner of teaching and enforcing it, that was abolished, to be succeeded by the ministration of the same Law by the apostles and the Spirit (see 3:3, 4:1)! It is like taking a man from point A to point B on a bike versus taking him on a car. The car is the better, faster way. But changing the mode of transportation does not change the man being transported. Whereas before of their own strength the people sought to reach the standard of the moral precepts of the Decalogue,(8) now God takes His people there by using His Spirit to write the Ten Commandments in their hearts. That ministration is abolished. Everything is now new. Everything has gone from the earthly ministration, which had the tablets of stone, to the heavenly ministration, which has the Law written in the heart.
Recall the New Covenant promise, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.” “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them].” (Jer. 31:33, Eze. 36:26-27). Clearly what was removed was the manner in which that law is given. The ministration changed, not the Law.
The ultimate proof that the Ten Commandment are not here spoken of as abolished is verse 12:
“Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.”
In Exodus 34 we read the story to which Paul is referring to. It says in verse 29 that “when Moses came down from Mount Sinai” the “two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand…” Thus they could look at the Decalogue. What, then, was it that they could not look at? “And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face… 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” (verses 33-25). What the Israelites could “not stedfastly look” at was the face of Moses when he covered it. That was what was abolished, to be replaced by the face of Christ. It helps to read the original story to which an author is referring to to get a broader understanding.
Unfortunately, this veil still prevented their hearts from seeing the glory of Christ when they read the scriptures. But when that heart is turned to the Lord, “the vail shall be taken away” and they shall behold “the glory of the Lord” (verses 14-18).
One more thing remains to be addressed. Why did Paul address the Ten Commandments as the ministration of death and condemnation? When one tries to keep the letter of the law, without the spiritual principles, you will fail, and thus be condemned to death by it. Moreover, when you are not aware of the Law, it will condemn you once you do become aware of it, because you will see that you are in violation. This is why the Law is called the ministration of death and condemnation, because it kills you and condemns you when you break it, not when you keep it!
Paul does not go deep into explaining what he means by death and condemnation here, but he does in Romans. Notice:
“What shall we say then? [Is] the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all [manner of evil] desire. For apart from the law sin [was] dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which [was] to [bring] life, I found to [bring] death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed [me].” (Rom. 7:7-11)
It was the moment he became aware that he was in violation of the tenth commandment that the Law condemned him to death. You see the problem was not in keeping the commandment, but in not keeping the commandment! Note the next three verses:
“Therefore the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.” (Rom 7:12-14).
Three important details I want to highlight here:
- The fact that the Law points out his sin places no fault on the law, but on him. Thus the Law is “holy, just and good.”
- It was sin that produced death in him. The commandment pointed out his fault, and in this way brings death only when you are in violation of it!
- Did the fact that the commandment pointed out his sin mean that he no longer had to keep it? Of course not! He clearly said that that which is good, the Law, has not become death to him.
It would not be the first time that the Law is spoken of in this manner. Notice how David speaks of the Law in the same way but uses that as motivation to actually keep it!
“ All Your commandments [are] faithful; They persecute me wrongfully; Help me! They almost made an end of me on earth, But I did not forsake Your precepts. Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, So that I may keep the testimony of Your mouth.” (Psa. 119:86-88).
The critics view their inability of keeping the Law as a reason to avoid it or believe it must have been abolished. But the Bible views our inability to keep it as a reason to cry out to God for strength to obey!
Now, how can the Law be both death/condemnation and also “holy, just and good?” As explained above, it is death when breaking it, but life when keeping it. The old “ministration” of the Ten Commandments under Moses came with punishments and death when broken. Since the people could not keep the Law (Heb. 8:8), God now has a new ministration, the ministration of righteousness. God is now placing the Law in the heart of the individual who desires it, causing him to obey it, and thus avoiding the penalty that comes with breaking it. It is too bad that the critics interpret 2 Cor. 3 to mean that the Law has been abolished. Not only is that contrary to the context, but it leads the believer to go on breaking a Law he thinks is abolished!
The very next chapter says that the life of Christ is made “manifest” through the believer (2 Cor. 4:10-11). This is the very essence of the New Covenant. Christ lives His life, a life of obedience, through the acts of the believer, essentially causing him to live the moral precepts of the Law that has been written in his heart. Thus the prophesy is fulfilled, “I will put my Spirit within you, and CAUSE you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” and “the Lord is that Spirit” (Exe. 36:12, cf. 2 Cor. 3:17).
RESPONSE TO POINT 5: Gal. 2:19: Christians are dead to the Law
Elce reads this text as if the Law itself is dead, but that is not what it says. It says that believers are dead to the Law, but that does not affect the Law! Rather, the Law was still in force at this time in order to do the killing! Does this fault the Law? Of course not. The Law is perfect (Rom. 7:12) but we are not, and it is for this very reason that when we look into it we see our sins and are condemned as violators deserving of death. It is thus that we are “dead to the Law.” See this for yourself by reading carefully Romans 7:7-14.
Space will not allow me the opportunity to go through the entire letter of Galatians in detail, but Elce has brought up Galatians a few times so I will be responding when those moments arrive. Nonetheless, the issue Paul is addressing in Galatians is not if the Law is to be kept, but how. Is it by human efforts? Or is it by faith in Christ? If we do it ourselves we will constantly fail, and thus constantly be dead. But what happens when rather we look to Christ, who is the very righteousness of that Law in living form? The answer is given in the next two verses:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness [comes] through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal 2:20-21).
We are dead because we contain what Paul dubbed “the body of the sins of the flesh (Col. 2:11) and the “old man” who was what was to be crucified (Rom. 6:6, cf. Eph. 4:22, Col. 3:9). That is our former self. Now that he is dead, “Christ lives in me.” Christ brings the righteousness that is contained in the Law (see Rom. 8:3-4, cf. Rom. 9:31, Psa. 119:172), because He is righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30, 1 John 2:1), and through our faith in His ability to do this, He places that righteousness in us by living in us (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10-11). This is the good news that causes “the righteousness of God” to be “revealed from faith to faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17), and all by just believing!
Note again that Romans 1:17 says that God’s righteousness is now “revealed from faith to faith.” Thus, the life of Christ and His righteousness is to be “manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:10-11). Although the righteousness of the Law does not come through the Law, yet it is now God who works in us the Law’s righteousness, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:13), and the Law, rather than being abolished, becomes a witness to this fact (Rom. 3:21). The Galatians fell into the trap of doing it themselves. But the truth was that salvation was free through God’s grace, and that through His grace believers are empowered to live holy lives in accordance with God’s commandments (see Titus 2:11-14, Eph 6:1-2, Rom. 13:8-10, 1 John 5:3).(11) The Law hasn’t died. That is not what the text says. It’s still there doing its job of showing people their need for a saviour. But once they arrive at Christ, obedience to it has to be done by the transformative power and motivator of Christ’s presence and His ability to write it in the hearts (2 Cor. 3:2-2, Heb. 10:16-17), not by any works of our own. In other words, He causes us to obey, not us. That was the promise of the New Covenant:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do [them].” (Eze 36:26-27)
Let us now respond Elce’s next point which again he draws from Galatians.
RESPONSE TO POINT 6: Gal. 3:19-25: Christians are under the supervision of Christ, not the Law.
Elce’s comment zeroes in on verses 24-25, which read, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (KJV). But let us do a brief examination of these texts:
- The Greek “paidagogos” translated in verse 24 as “schoolmaster” signifies a sort of tutor responsible for monitoring a youth until maturity.(12) Not much can be done without this tutor’s presence and instructions until the tutor is no longer needed.
- The word “added” in verse 19 is thought by critics to mean that the Law did not exist before it was added. But this no more proves that the Law didn’t exist prior, anymore then when 3000 souls were “added” to the church means those souls did not exist prior (see Acts 2:41). That same word is translated “spoken” in a parallel passage, Hebrews 12:19. To be sure, transgression already existed prior to the Law, which is why it was added “because of transgression” (verse 19). Why then was it added or spoken from the mount? That “the offence may abound” (Rom. 5:20), to make sin more apparently sinful (cf. Rom. 7:13). Thus the Law pointed out the faults, failures and sins of the child and proved he was in need of maturity/salvation.
- Verse 24 says that the Law “was our” tutor… our, as in, God’s people, and was, in the past tense. But the wicked, who are not God’s people, are still in need of the schoolmaster to tell them they are in violation of God’s Law! Thus the Law is still useful for conversion. See 1 Tim. 1:8-11.
- The words “till the seed should come” in verse 19 is often misinterpreted to mean the first coming of the seed (Christ) so that the Law can end at the cross. But there are a few reasons why this is not a sound argument. First, when Jesus came the first time, the Law did not end. Even critics acknowledge that the Law was still in force at least up until the Cross. Second, the text says that when the seed comes, a promise is fulfilled for him. What was that promise? Contextually, it was a joint-promise between Christ and Abraham with Abraham’s believing children (vs. 9, 16), and it is the promise of the “inheritance” (verse 18). What was that inheritance? The inheritance was that Abraham and his descendants would inherit THE WHOLE WORLD (see Rom. 4:13). Although God’s people have the inheritance “in Christ,” (Eph. 1:11), yet it has not been given to us. Abraham died without seeing this fulfilled, and the world is still bogged down with evil. Right now we live with the Holy Spirit as the “guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (ibid, verse 13-14). Therefore, it is evident that the promise is yet future and thus, “till the seed should come” means till the SECOND coming of Christ, which is when God’s people inherit the promise… the world made new!
- Had the Law been abolished at the cross. It could not have been a schoolmaster many years later to bring the Galatians to Christ.
It is as if I wrote a list of rules and stuck it on the fridge for my child to see. These rules are his schoolmaster. Every time he is in violation (or sinning, if you will), the rules are there to show him where he has gone wrong. He is the one at fault though. There is nothing wrong with my rules.(13) But once my child grows up used to the rules, it will be natural for him to live in accordance with my wishes. The rules have now been transferred from that piece of paper to the heart, if you please, and there is no longer any need for the list of rules to continue on the fridge. This simple analogy, though not perfect, provides for us an idea of how we now relate to the Law. In Christ we are granted the righteousness of the Law for free, and thus we are accounted as justified as if we never sinned against His Law. His life of obedience now manifests itself through us (see Gal. 2:20), and we are found living according to His will. Like the child now grown and mature, the rules have been transferred from tables of stone to “fleshy tables of the heart” (see 2 Cor. 3:3, Jer. 31:33, Heb. 10:16). Thus no true believer would be going around saying that the Law is abolished, because being under the supervision of Christ means Christ is the one now changing the heart to become obedient.
FUNCTIONS OF THE LAW
Someone may ask, what happens now that it is written in my heart and I no longer need it to act as the schoolmaster? What purpose does the Law now serve? It is evident that if it is written in the heart it has not been abolished. So we can lay that argument aside now. But it is a good question to ask what its purpose is in my life as a believer now that it no longer functions as a schoolmaster. Readers must keep in mind that the Law actually has several functions. One of them is to point out sin. Paul makes this clear when he says that he would not have known lust unless the Law had said “thou shalt not covet” (see Rom. 7:7). This is a very natural thing for the Law to do being that it is perfect (Psalm 19:7-8).
Another function is to act as a schoolmaster, “to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24). As the tutor guides a youth, so the Law, functioning as a tutor, leads people to Christ. These two functions are related, but they are not the same, just as my list of rules hanging from the fridge is just that, a list of rules. Unless I am there to use it to guide my son to right doing, he doesn’t really have to obey them and in fact, in his depraved sinful nature he most likely won’t.
According to verse 25 of Galatians 3, once the Law leads me to Christ for justification, it’s function as a schoolmaster in my life is no longer applicable. However, the Law will still naturally serve its first function of pointing out sin no matter what, because it continues to be perfect and we continue, unfortunately, to fail. To prove this, note how Paul used the Law to point out sin in himself (Rom. 7:13), even though he was no longer under it as a schoolmaster. He also used the Law towards the believers in Rome as a means by which they can avoid issues with the government and themselves (ibid, 13:1-10), and in Eph. 6:1-2, he used it to command the believing Ephesians to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1-3). The apostle James used it towards believers as well (Jam. 2:10-11). Notice that all the people to which the apostles were writing were believers. They were actually using the Law, not to point to believers as condemned (for they are not condemned), but as a corrective means to motivate them to continue in the right path. After all, as believers under the New Covenant, the Law should have already been written in their hearts. This is why Paul tells the Galatians that they are no longer under the Law as a schoolmaster, because that function of the Law had already done its job.
Now when it comes to unbelievers, the function of the Law as a schoolmaster leading sinners to Christ still takes place. This is what we read in 1 Tim. 1:8-10. The Law must be used lawfully, to convict “the lawless” that by it they too may see their true condition and come to the Lord for forgiveness. This of course necessitates that the Law still be in force since there are sinners who still need to be led to Christ.
The texts interpreted harmoniously in the light of reason and the rest of scripture, we are ready to move to the next argument.
RESPONSE TO POINT 7: Gal. 4:21-31: Believers are not under the Old Covenant, but under the New.
To get a clearer picture of these texts, one needs to have an understanding of what the Old Covenant was and what the New Covenant is.
The covenant made at Mt. Sinai with the people was twofold. Like any contract, it consisted both of the promise to obey (Exodus 24:3) and the contents of that which they agreed to obey, the Ten Commandments (Deut. 4:13). The bible is clear that there was no fault in the contents. The Ten Commandments are “holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12). The word “just” may be used to mean righteous, innocent, faultless and guiltless.(14)They are so righteous and perfect they may be used properly to show sinners their wicked ways (1 Tim. 1:8-10). Nevertheless, by way of its connection with faulty promises, this covenant had fault (see Heb. 8:7-8). If I sign a contract to purchase a house, but default on my end of the deal, there was nothing wrong with the contents of the contract. But because they contracted with an irresponsible person, the contract failed.
When this covenant was made, the people rashly agreed, “all that the Lord hath said we will do.” Note that they said “we” will do it, but not many days later they demonstrated their utter inability to obey when they broke it by worshipping a golden calf. Truly, the carnal mind “is not subject to the Law of God, nor indeed can be” as Paul wrote in Rom. 8:7. But this very text proves the real way in which the Law was to be kept. The inference in that text is that the spiritual mind is subject to the Law of God! Commandment keeping is a spiritual matter, since the Law is spiritual (ibid, 7:14). Here we have the very essence of the New Covenant. The Jews went about seeking to establish their own righteousness by their stringent obedience to the Law (see Rom. 10:3) but evidently, as seen especially by their treatment of their fellow man and of Christ, they continued to fail at it. So God had to make a New Covenant, based on a better promise than that which they made at Mt. Sinai. Whereas previously they promised to obey, now the better promise is that God will cause them to obey. Note the parallel:
Israel makes the promise
God makes the promise
“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.” (Exo. 24:7)
“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.” (Jer. 31:33).(15)
And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Eze. 36:27).(16)
Of course the New Covenant includes justification as well, but note that in both cases it is the same Law. If the Law was the Ten Commandments in the previous covenant, as seen in Deut. 4:13, and if the Law is being transferred from the tables of stone to tables of the heart in the New Covenant, then evidently it is the same Ten Commandments in the New Covenant! God forgives violators of His Law, then He empowers them to obey! Therefore, when Elce says that, “Believers are not under the Old Covenant, but under the New,” the New Covenant is the Law of Ten Commandments written in the heart!(17)
This will help us better appreciate the verses in Gal. 4:21-31. God promises Abraham that by Sarah he will have children as numerous as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:4-5). But he ends up having two sons by two women; one son was born of a slave woman, the other was born of a free woman. Instead of waiting on the Lord, Abraham, by his own works, attempted to fulfill God’s promise by sleeping with his servant Hagar (see Genesis 16:1-4). Thus the resulting child rightly represents man’s attempt at trying to obey God’s requirements by their own strength. This is akin to Israel’s attempts at obedience by their own works, “All that the Lord hath said we will do.”
On the other hand, Sarah was not a slave woman, and God must have a people who will gain righteousness by faith. And so, after some years Abraham believes and God fulfills His promise.
“And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” (Rom. 4:19).
Finally believing, Abraham’s faith is “accounted to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). This time it was God’s works that did the job, not Abraham’s! Now note the end result:
“Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Gen. 26:5).
Abraham’s faith established the law (cf. Rom. 3:31), and the resulting child represents Jerusalem from above which is, by the way, where there is a heavenly “ark of the covenant” (Gal. 4:26, Rev. 19:11)!(18)We see better now why Ishmael, the son of Hagar, represents the covenant made at Mount Sinai “all that the Lord has said we will do.” We see also why Isaac, the son of Sarah, represents the New Covenant with the heavenly city (cf. Heb. 12:22-24). In the former, the people do the work and fail, but in the later, God does the work and wins! In the former the Law was written on stone, away from the heart, while in the later the Law is written in the heart, and in the heavenly Sanctuary. Recall that it is the same Law in both covenants, only that it’s being transferred from the tables of stone to the tables of the heart. By faith we are justified without the works of the Law, but that faith causes God’s people to also “establish the law” (see again Rom. 3:31). Conclusively, by the promises of God, He will both justify us, save us, and cause us to live out the righteousness He freely placed to our account just as He did with Abraham our father.
RESPONSE TO POINT 8: Heb. 8:13-9:1-5: The Old Covenant has vanished away.
Of course the old covenant would now vanish away, it contained the promise of the people to obey God by their own strength. As these verses demonstrate, the Old Covenant “had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary” (Heb. 9:1, KJV), which contained “the tablets of the covenant” (verse 4). Since the contents of the Law has been transferred from those tablets to the tables of the heart under the New Covenant, and since those stone tablets were intimately connected to the earthly sanctuary, then evidently the entire system of types and shadows, including the tablets of stone, vanished with the Old Covenant to make way for the New Covenant with its own service. If Elce had read a little further, he would have noticed that a reformation took place (Heb. 9:10) and everything is now heavenly, where we now have a heavenly sanctuary, a heavenly priest (ibid, verse 11), and a heavenly Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments (Rev. 11:19). God’s people are heavenly also, since in a spiritual sense they are there with Christ (Eph. 2:6, Col 3:1-3). So it is true that the Old Covenant, with its failed human promises and shadowy types “vanished away” but the moral law was placed in a better location based on better promises and a better, heavenly ministry in Christ.
RESPONSE TO POINT 9: Eph. 2:14-15: Christ abolished the
commandments which caused separation.
So far we have seen that it is quite easy to merely quote verses out of their context to try and prove a point. This verse has received no less of a treatment. Contextually, the entire letter of Ephesians is pro-commandments, whether implicitly or directly. The clearest and most direct one is chapter 6 verse 2, where Paul quotes directly from the 5th commandment and tells them to obey it:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’” (Eph. 6:1-3)
We have other examples, like not lying (4:25), not stealing (4:28), not coveting (5:3), and avoiding idolatry which would also cover the first commandment (5:5). These are more direct, but we have allusions to the other commandments as well. No corrupt words, evil speaking or foolish talking would fall under the third commandment (4:29, 31, 5:4). Lust and fornication are also mentioned (4:19-22, 5:3) which is connected to the seventh commandment (cf. Matt. 5:27-28). Anger is also forbidden (4:26, 31), which Jesus connected to the sixth commandment (cf. Matt. 5:22). All sin is, in one way or the other, connected to one or more of the Ten Commandments.(19)If Elce is correct that “commandments” means the Ten Commandments, then we have a serious contradiction taking place in the letter of Ephesians. Evidently, commandments may refer to other laws not connected with the decalogue.
Additionally, Paul’s emphasis is the changed heart. These Ephesians had put off their “former conduct, the old man…” and had put on the “new man” (4:22-23). Since their former conduct included violations of God’s Law (cf. 2:1-3), the new conduct must include obedience to God’s Law! This is simple. They were to “put away” lying, stealing, covetousness, dishonoring of their parents, etc. The life of a Christian under the new man (which is Christ in you, see 3:16-17) is a life of obedience to God’s commandments!
Look closely at the immediate context. These “commandments” are referred to as “the enmity” that causes a “middle wall of separation” between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). But this letter is written primarily to Gentile believers. If it is the Ten Commandments that cause enmity and separation between them and the Jews, why would Paul tell them to keep them?
Moreover, one can’t even imagine how Elce believes that “thou shalt not kill” would cause separation. In fact the commandment right in the middle, the fourth one, invites even the “stranger who is within your gates…” not to separate, but to participate (Exo. 20:10)! In Isaiah 56, during the times of Isaiah, God invited non-Israelites, even Eunuchs, to observe the Sabbath with the Israelites. Note that in verses 10-12, the Israelite leaders expressed selfishness in this matter. Separation therefore was a thing of the rebellious Jews. God’s Law was never intended to separate, but to unite.
Eph. 2:15 says that these are “commandments contained in ordinances.” Since the context does not allow it to be the commandments contained in the Decalogue, then dogma (δόγμα) translated “ordinances” must be referring to something else. In most cases in the New Testament and also as seen in the LXX, this term is used for various types of decrees or ordinances both religious and secular in nature. For example, it is used in religious contexts referring to the Apostle’s decrees (Acts 16:4), and in a secular sense referring to Caesar’s decree (see Luke 2:1, Acts 17:7).(20) Look at the immediate context; verse 15 is the result of the breaking down of a “middle wall of separation” mentioned in verse 14. Believe it or not, Herold’s Temple literally had such a wall which was purposely set up to separate the Gentiles from the inner court which only Jews could enter. The Jewish historian Josephus describes that wall in this manner:
“There was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that ‘no foreigner should go within that sanctuary’ for that second [court of the] temple was called ‘the Sanctuary,’ and was ascended to by fourteen steps from the first court.”(21)
Note the dogma or decree on that wall that “no foreigner should go within that sanctuary.” On one occasion Paul was nearly killed by the Jews when they supposed that he brought a gentile presumably past this wall (see Acts 21:27-36). It is no coincidence that the Gentile was an Ephesian (ibid, verse 29) and that Paul is now writing this to the Ephesians. Evidently, the Ephesians were very familiar with this separating wall, along with the Jewish intent of excluding or limiting them in their participation with the Jews in the worship of YAHWEH. The Jews had a massive system of ceremonial laws given to them by God but which they often added laws to.(22) Due to this separation, Gentiles were excluded from participating in the ceremonial laws of the Temple. The same word “ordinances” is used in Col. 2:14, and as we will soon see, the context there is speaking about ceremonial laws which represented a debt, and not moral laws like the Ten Commandments. Therefore, Paul is speaking about everything ceremonial, from the wall, to the Temple, to its ceremonies and so on, which the Gentiles were not allowed to participate in and which ultimately seperated them from the Jewish people.
Of course, no critic would let this pass by without pointing out the fact that the fourth commandment was not mentioned in Ephesians. But a few points should suffice to lay that argument to rest. 1) Paul commands them to “walk in love” (5:2) and according to Romans 13:8-10, love is the summary of all the Ten Commandments.(23) 2) James 2:10-11 treats all the commandments in the decalogue as one unit, for when you break one of them you have broken them all, including the fourth one. 3) In context, Paul is calling the Ephesians to unity. Note the frequency of unifying terms such as we, us and all in chapters 1 and 2. Note also the emphasis on unity under love and the various spiritual gifts given to the church in chapter 4, and the making of “one new man” between Jews and Gentiles “thus making peace” (2:15). Assembly promotes further unity, and we logically expect that assembly to take place on one common day because if it happened on any day one chose, that would defeat the purpose of unity.(24)In fact, Heb. 10:25 implies a negative connotation with dire consequences when the church does not assemble! Keeping the Sabbath was never called into question. During the time of Christ, the controversy was on how it ought to be kept, not if (see Matt. 12:12). The fact that Gentile converts were frequently assembling on the Sabbath alongside their Jewish brethren (Acts 13:42, 44, 18:4) proves Paul did not even need to mention it. Finally, though not mentioned in Ephesians, it is mentioned elsewhere such as in Hebrews 4, which we will delve into when we reach that argument in Elce’s book.
RESPONSE TO POINT 10: Col. 2:14: The Law with it’s legal demands has been nailed to the cross.
This next argument is very common among antisabbatarian critics and represents yet another blatant disregard for the context of verse 14. Because Elce spends a considerable amount of time on this text in chapter 15, I will save most of my remarks on this verse for now. Suffice it to say only that verse 14’s “handwriting of ordinances” speaks in the Greek of a collection of debt paid for by Christ on the cross, a debt which was collected via the ceremonial laws mentioned in verse 16.
- VERSE 14: The greek word “cheirographon” translated “handwriting” signifies in the greek of a collection of debt paid for by Christ on the cross, a debt which was collected via the ceremonial laws mentioned in verse 16. In contrast to the Law of God, which was “holy, just and good” (Rom. 7:12), and the Sabbath which is “for man” (Mark 2:27), this note was “against” man and “contrary” to man. There are also ordinances described in verses 20-22, such as “touch not, taste not, handle not” which seems reminiscent of traditions incorporated by the Jews via ancient traditions and commandments of men (cf. Matt. 15:2, 3-10, Titus 1:14). The warning against “self-imposed religion, false humility and neglect of the body” (verse 23) seems to point to asceticism. There was afterall a syncretistic mingling of Gnostic and Jewish rites as described in this letter (cf. vv. 16 and 18). Nonetheless, cheirographon seems connected specifically to the Jewish ordinances mentioned in verse 16 as we will see when we speak on that verse below.
- VERSE 15: Nailing this cheirographon also disarmed “principalities and powers.” This phrase is used elsewhere by Paul to denote earthly and heavenly agencies created by the Lord (Eph. 3:10, Col. 1:16). It is used in Titus 3:1 to denote earthly magistrates which were to be obeyed. Since Col. 2:15 is in the negative, these could not be what he has in view. In Ephesians 6:12 however it is also used in the negative and there it is used to denote evil spiritual forces. As a result of nailing the certificate of debt to the cross, these evil forces have been “disarmed.” The Devil is the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10) but he really has nothing to accuse us of now that we are both forgiven and debt free in the Lord. Incidentally, claiming that the Ten Commandments is that certificate of debt has the opposite effect of arming the Devil with something to accuse the brethren, as they will feel no need to observe the Law and will ultimately break it.
- VERSE 16: As a result of nailing that cheirographon to the cross, no one is to be judged any longer regarding Jewish rites. These laws are a part of the wider system of ceremonial laws which was used, together with the sacrificial system, to provide a remedy for the violation of the moral Law. They represented the constant need for believers to sacrifice animals, and observe these rites, in order to be forgiven of sins. But according to Hebrews 10:4, 11, those sacrifices did not really put away sins (although they were really removed from the heart, cf. Psa. 51) but lived on in the form of a certificate of debt. They could not make the sinner perfect in regards to the conscience (Heb. 7:19, 9:9, 10:4, 11), so at the death of Christ both sins and its certificate of debt were “nailed to the cross” (vv. 13-14). This effectively removed the need for all Israelite ceremonial laws since their only purpose was to be a “shadow” of the ultimate removal and forgiveness of sins (verse 17).
Of course, the critic fires back by including the Sabbath within these ceremonial laws to claim that the Sabbath too was ceremonial. To them, the term “sabbath” in verse 16 refers specifically to the seventh-day Sabbath, and not annual sabbaths, primarily because of how it is used throughout the rest of the New Testament. Such are the weak arguments promulgated by critics like Elce which does not consider the context nor the various definitions of the word in the Greek. We will examine Colossians 2:14-16 closely in chapter 15 where I will endeavor to provide a clear, exegetical breakdown of Colossians as a whole which will cause any reasonable person to see the truth on this matter. I will also be refuting every one of Elce’s arguments point by point. Stay tuned.
The reason why Elce brought up all these texts was to prove that the Sabbath, as a sign, was abolished because the covenant to which it was a sign was abolished. To him, the removal of the covenant meant the removal of it’s Sabbath sign. Apart from the fact that these verses do not prove what critics intend for them to prove, several problems exist with the idea that the Sabbath ended when the Old Covenant ended. First, the Sabbath’s existence is not dependent on the covenant because it existed before the covenant. For example, we find the Sabbath in Exodus 16 before the covenant was made a month later in Exodus 20, and before it was declared to be a sign between God and the nation of Israel in Exodus 31:13-17. Elce himself admits the Sabbath existed before the covenant when he wrote, “It is first mentioned by name, practice and observance in Exodus 16. In Exodus 16, we see where God had led Israel to test them just before He made a covenant with them (vs. 5).” (see page 1 of his book). Moreover, Elce’s argument is built on the presupposition that the Sabbath was a sign “of the covenant.” But as we have seen in chapter 1, that is not really what the scriptures indicate. Exodus 31:13-17 says that the Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel, not a sign “of the covenant.”
Second, while the Old Covenant was the Ten Commandments written on stone tablets (see Deut. 4:13) with the promise of the people to obey (Exo 24:3), the New Covenant is the same commandments written on flesh tablets (Jer. 31:31-33) with the promise that God will cause His people to obey (Jer. 31:33, Eze. 36:27, Phi. 2:13)(25) We know this for sure because when Paul speaks of the New Covenant in 2 Cor. 3 he alludes to the commandments written on stone, which were, of course, the Ten Commandments (see verse 3). Therefore the Ten Commandments continue to exist under the New Covenant, only the believers’ relationship with them is different. The Sabbath, of course, is one of them. Additionally, when the religion of YHWH experienced the great “reformation” of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:10), all of the earthly ministerial work of the priests in the sanctuary were transferred to the heavenly work of our great High Priest. Thus we now have a heavenly sanctuary with a heavenly priest and a heavenly Ark of the Covenant (Heb. 8:1-5, Rev. 11:19). That Ark is the reality of the type and contains that which the type contained, the Ten Commandments, including the fourth.(26)
Third, the Sabbath is intrinsically itself a sign. The old but very relevant Adventist explanation of the Sabbath as a sign applies here. Since “Sabbath,” even before the fourth commandment was uttered from the mount, is reminiscent of the creator, it is appropriate for the commandment itself to contain a description of His name, title, and territory, three necessary things that constitute what a seal or sign is. Thus, wherever the Sabbath may be found, there it will be a sign that God is the creator and we are His creations.
CHAPTER 8 FOOTNOTES
1) Critics typically like to reply here by placing emphasis on the words “statutes” and “judgments,” assuming these always refer to “ceremonial laws.” But the meaning of the term “statutes” can range from laws in general to specific laws, while “judgments” are laws that direct the people on what to do when a statute is violated or on what the consequences will be. “Judgments” are often explained with the “if” conjunction, “IF this is done, do this, IF that is done, this will happen.” Exodus 21-23 contains a good list of these. However, since Ezekiel’s prophecy pertains to the future when the New Covenant would be established, it must be referring to laws pertaining to morality because we know that ceremonial laws such as the Passover came to an end at that time. Jeremiah 31:33 clarifies that the covenant (the Decalogue, Deut.4:13) is what will be placed in the heart under the New Covenant. We will discuss the New Covenant more soon.
2) Furthermore, when I read the phrase “under the law” what broadens my understanding of it is to read the context surrounding each occurrence. For brevity I cannot go into every detail, but a careful analysis of the context of each occurrence reveals that Paul’s “under the law” statements are actually pro-law. For example, Rom. 3:19 comes right before Rom. 3:20, which says that believers “establish the law.” Rom. 6:15 comes right before saying that “under the law” does not mean we can sin (break the law -1 John 3:4), on the contrary, it means we obey (verses 15-19). This text also comes before the most pro-law text in Romans, Romans 8:7, where Paul implies that the spiritual mind is subject to the law! The phrase is also found in 1 Cor. 9:20, where “under the law” is placed in contrast to “without law.” This text is clear that Paul does not mean to say that He was “without law towards God.” To him, being “under law toward Christ” did not eliminate God’s law in his life. Finally, Galatians mentions the phrase five times, but any reasonable person can see that if Paul’s previous statements were pro-law, then it must continue to be pro-law here. In order to understand Galatians however we will take our time when the moment comes to reply to those Galatians texts that Elce brought forth.
3) Waggoner, General Conference Daily Bulletin, March 19, 1891, Vol.4, No.12, pp.170-174. Emphasis original. I recommend reading this entire chapter by Waggoner. He did a better job than I did in elucidating Romans 7.
4) Additionally, why would Paul mean in any way that we don’t have to keep a law that will ultimately serve as the standard of judgment in the last days, as he mentioned in chapter 2 verse 12? That is another point that is often not considered because critics do not do a holistic interpretation of the entire letter of Romans.
5) See my response to Elce’s point number 4 for more on the “letter of the law.”
6) Elce has this chapter referenced twice, both pretty much saying the same thing. So I am going to respond to both here.
7) As explained in the introduction of this book, the standards of the law are met in Christ. He is righteousness in living form.
8) The people themselves said, “all that the Lord hath spoken WE will do.” See Exodus 19:8, 24:7.
9) We will continue to examine closely what exactly the New Covenant is as I progress through these responses.
10) Matthew 5:27-28. I briefly touched on this in chapter 6 as well.
11) A brief response to the claim that “commandments” in 1 John 5:3 is not the moral law is in order here, as this is a common argument of the critics. Contextually we read in 3:23 that the commandment is to believe in the Lord and also to “love one another.” But love is the summary of the Ten Commandments (see Rom. 13:8-10). John encapsulates all ten in his command to “love.” Moreover, in 3:4, the apostle warns that sin is the transgression of God’s Law. Obviously, loving one another is not the replacement of the Law, but rather the result of living in obedience to commandments which prohibit hurting other people.
12) According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.
13) Many critics point to the fact that the Law is quite harsh in that it ministers death to those who disobey it, and because of this they fault the Law. But when my little boy breaks my rules there are consequences such as grounding or taking away his toys. That does not mean something is wrong with my rules. Typically critics will point to Heb. 8:7-8 which says “for finding fault with them.” But contextually the “them” is the people who consistently broke God’s Law. For finding fault with “them,” God makes a new covenant with “them,” the “house of Israel” and “the house of Judah” (verse 8b). The people said that THEY would obey, and in this sense the old covenant had fault because their human promises were weak. God’s Law has to be faultless or else Paul would not have said that it was holy, good and “just” (Gk. dikaios, “righteous, innocent, guiltless and faultless”). Cf. Psalm 19:7.
14) Used thus of our Lord. See Matt. 27:19, 24, Luke 23:47. Contextually Paul is, in Romans 7, saying this because the Law is so perfect it totally condemns him as an absolute sinner in need of Christ.
15) Because verse 32 says “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…” some critics say that the New Covenant will not include the laws of the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments. But verse 33 specifically mentioned the Law. To be absolutely sure, Paul alludes to the Ten Commandments when he speaks about the New Covenant in 2 Cor. 3:3, 7. For more in 2 Cor. 3, see my response to point #4 in this chapter. Therefore, that section of the verse is referring to the second aspect of the covenant, the agreement to obey. What’s different now is that God promises to do the work of writing it in their hearts. That is how it is “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers.”
16) In the old testament, the statutes and judgments were extensions of the Ten Commandments. Another way of putting it is that they are the precepts of the Ten Commandments amplified. See Psalm 119:96. Jesus also did this to the Law prior to ratifying the New Covenant with His blood when he, for example, said that the seventh commandment extends further then mere sexual relations (Matt. 5:27-28). Prophetically He was to “magnify the law” (Isa. 42:21). Therefore, as Eze. 36:27 shows, the New Covenant also contains statutes and judgments, in one form or another.
17) Space will not allow a deeper study of the Covenants here, but it is my conviction that the New Covenant is a matter of condition, not time. It is “new” in a sense because the people, for the most part, did not experience it, and also because the blood of this new covenant was not yet poured from the sacrifice until the cross. Nonetheless, since the New Covenant is the planting of the Law in the heart by God on the basis of the works of the Son of God, this is a hope that even the patriarchs had, when Adam was covered with the skin of the sacrifice, when Abraham saw Jesus in the event of the near-sacrifice of his son (John 8:56) and so on. God always wanted His laws in the hearts of His people (Deut. 5:29, 6:5-6, 30:10, 32:48, Psalm 40:8), and the gospel of Christ already existed (Heb. 4:2, 1 Pet. 1:11). It was not a New Testament idea. This gospel, the free gift of righteousness, was what was experienced especially by Abraham, the father of faith (Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:6, James 2:23).
18) Some critics fancy the idea that this heavenly ark is empty and does not contain the Ten Commandments. However, the earthly ark was made according to the pattern of the one in heaven (Heb. 8:5). Besides, would Jesus minister in front of an empty ark when the earthly priests ministered in front of an ark containing tablets? It must contain the contents of the covenant because, after all, it is called the ark of the “covenant.”
19) The bible specifically tells us that “thy commandment is exceeding broad” (Psa. 119:96), or “boundless (NIV), “have no limit” (NLT), “without limit” (CSB). Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon explains it this way: “Ps. 119.96, ‘thy commandment is exceeding broad,’ i.e. the law is copious and infinite.” A few biblical examples should make this clearer. Rebellion is a sin, but it is not mentioned in the Decalogue, and yet, Samuel connects it to witchcraft, which would be a violation of the first and second commandments (1 Samuel 15:23). Favoritism is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments, and yet James tells us that if you show favoritism you are breaking the Ten Commandments (James 2:9-11). Similarly, the commandments within the decalogue are often seen as one unit. Paul says that coveting is the same as idolatry (Eph. 5:5, Col. 3:5), and James 2:10-11 says that when one is broken, they are all broken. Whether we understand it or not, every sin will in one way or the other violate one or more of God Ten Commandments.
20) In the following locations this term is used to mean decrees: In the LXX, see Ezra 6:8, Eze. 20:26, Dan. 2:13, 3:10, 3:12, 29, 4:6, 6:8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 26. In the Greek NT, Luke 2:1, Acts 16:2, 17:7. It is also used in Col. 2:14, but here it is a part of the χειρόγραφον (handwriting of ordinances) which signifies a receipt of debt previously collected, which ultimately led to the concluding of various Israelite ceremonial rituals used to collect that debt (verse 16). We will discuss Col. 2:14-17 in detail soon.
21) Flavius Josephus, Wars, chap. 5. Link: https://www.ccel.org/ccel/josephus/complete.iii.vi.v.html.
22) Mark 7:5-13 outlines a few of the various examples of man-made laws they added to their system of worship.
23) Some critics will argue that Rom. 13:8-10 also does not mention the fourth commandment, but actually it does not mention the third, second or first either. In context, Paul is addressing the requirement to obey secular authorities because God uses them to punish those who mistreat others. That is the reason why he mentioned only those commandments which pertain to our relationship towards our fellow man. But this does not mean Paul would not have his readers disobey those commandments which pertain to our relationship with the creator of man.
24) This would make Elce’s “optional Sabbath” interpretation of Romans 14 erroneous, since it would cause further division and not promote the unity Paul sought to cause within the Roman church as well. We will discuss this further in my response to chapter 15.
25) I once encountered a critic claim that the New Covenant does not contain the same Ten Commandments of the Old Covenant because Jer. 31:32 says, “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…” But these words pertain to the aspect of the covenant where the people agreed to obey (see Exo. 24:3). The “law” in Jer. 31:33 must be the Decalogue since, as we saw, Paul alludes to it in 2 Cor. 3:3.
26) The Ark of the Covenant in heaven must contain the Law of Ten Commandments 1) because an empty Ark would due violence to the rules of type vs. antitype, 2) because it seems unreasonable to believe Jesus ministers in front of an empty Ark, 3) it specifically says Ark “of the covenant.” That covenant, now being the New Covenant, is the same law of Ten Commandments, except that on earth it is now written in the heart of believers, and 4) no sooner than we read a description of Christ in the heavenly Temple in front of the Ark do we read of the “commandments of God” in Rev. 12:17.