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Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
The memory verse for this week is Jesus’ famous call to obedience, taken from his Upper Room discourse:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Jesus knew that his disciples did not yet fully understand the significance of his teaching or ministry, and would face danger of falling into error after his departure. And so later that evening, Jesus promised to send them a helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide them according to the truth (John 16:13), and prayed that his Father would protect them by keeping them in the truth according to his Word (John 17:17).
In their writings, we can see that Jesus’ apostles viewed the fight against false doctrine and incorrect views of God as a vital component of their ministry:
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Why this emphasis? It is because they knew that the power of God unto salvation was the message of the gospel (John 8:32 Romans 1:16), and the accurate preaching of that message was essential to save and sanctify the recipients of the message (Romans 10:14-17, 2 Timothy 4:1-2). The apostles saw fit to not only exhort believers to turn away from their old sinful lives, but to also ground their minds and affections in glorious gospel truths—truths that shape ones understanding of God, oneself, and the whole of history (past, present…and future!) To say this in alternate terminology: our worldview—how our minds, hearts, and actions are oriented towards God and the world around us—is vitally important.
Unique to the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church is the Great Controversy worldview. A key component of the Great Controversy worldview is that God’s law (taken to be the Ten Commandments) is perpetually binding on all people at all times (also see Fundamental beliefs #8, 19):
“From the first the great controversy had been upon the law of God. Satan had sought to prove that God was unjust, that His law was faulty, and that the good of the universe required it to be changed. In attacking the law he aimed to overthrow the authority of its Author. In the controversy it was to be shown whether the divine statutes were defective and subject to change, or perfect and immutable.” (Patriarchs & Prophets, p 35)
We will see that, contrary to SDA doctrine (taken to be represented by the 28 Fundamentals Beliefs and the published writings of Ellen G. White [EGW]), a worldview shaped solely by God’s Word views the Ten Commandments as playing an important but temporary role in God’s dealings with humanity. Moreover, we will see examples where SDA teaching misrepresents biblical passages in support of its own presuppositions, distorting the gospel in the process.
For a summary of Great Controversy ideas compared against biblical teachings, please see the following article by Colleen Tinker:http://lifeassuranceministries.org/proclamation/2011/2/greatcontroversy.html
This lesson puts forth the proposition that many Israelite leaders around the time of Jesus misunderstood the purpose of the law. So: what was the purpose of the law? Before we can answer that question, we have to be very clear with our language (see Romans 7:21-23, and 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 for multiple uses and referents of the term “law” set closely next to each other!)
When New Testament [NT] writers spoke of the Law or the Law of Moses, especially in reference to the time before Christ, they most commonly had in mind the set of rules and principles recorded in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament [OT]). The Law was given to the nation of Israel during their desert wanderings through Moses. God gave both the Ten Commandments as well as many other rules to Israel, as part of the covenant he made with them at Mount Sinai (termed the “Old Covenant”).
What was the Purpose of the Law?
How does God view the Law as fitting into His plan for history? Reading Galatians 3:7-26, we see Paul arguing to support the proposition that anyone who has faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for their sins may be counted righteous on the basis of that faith. This “being counted righteous” is the blessing obtained through faith, and Paul argues that adding works of the Law to such a profession of faith would necessarily make that faith void. He frames his argument by reviewing the place of the Law in history. Reading through this section, we can take notice of the following facts:
Note that, despite Item #1, SDA doctrine teaches that a subset of the Law, the Ten Commandments, preceded Adam and Eve, and was later revealed to them in the Garden of Eden, a considerable time before Moses:
“The law of God existed before man was created. The angels were governed by it…After Adam and Eve were created, God made known to them his law.” (Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, p 261)
What does Item #2 mean? Consider the argument of the book of Romans. From the beginning, Adam sinned against God, and his offspring followed him in his rebellion (Romans 5:12-13). Fundamentally, mankind’s problem is not simply breaking specific laws God has given, but rather rejecting God himself as being worthy of our worship or obedience.
“For although [men] knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were deceived.” (Romans 1:21)
In terms of logical order, the Law was then given to magnify man’s sin, and make apparent his true, desperate condition before a holy God.
“Now the law came in to increase the trespass…” (Romans 5:20. See also Romans 7:8-11)
As an aside, SDA teaching commonly uses certain renderings of 1 John 3:4 to support the notion that sin specifically is breaking the Ten Commandments:
“Whosoever comitteth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4 KJV)
Modern translations such as the NIV and the ESV are more accurate:
“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4 ESV)
The Greek term identified with sin is anomia—having disregard towards any sort of law or an external standard of morality. From the beginning, Adam and Eve did not have the Torah or even the Ten Commandments, just a simple command to avoid eating fruit from one tree, but sin still found its foothold in the garden.
Look at Items #3 – #6: God knew that the Law could not make anyone righteous, and in fact worked to stir up and reveal sin. According to biblical logic, the Law was not given with the expectation that mankind would obey it—rather because mankind was fallen, God gave the Law to show man his true condition. Notice the disconnect between this idea and EGW’s writings:
“Satan represents God's law of love as a law of selfishness. He declares that it is impossible for us to obey its precepts.” (Desire of Ages, p 24)
“But God has given no commandments which cannot be obeyed by all. His laws sanction no unreasonable or selfish restrictions.” (Desire of Ages, p 204)
Righteousness Apart from the Law
If this idea—God giving impossibly high and holy standards in the Law and holding man accountable for falling short of them—brings frustration or despair, consider that God gave the Law to show us our guilt in the face of his justice:
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20)
It is to this end that God gave the Law – to bring us all face to face with our own guilt before him, and to set the stage for the work of his Son:
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Rom 3:21-25a)
That is the good news of the gospel—the righteousness of God offered through faith in Jesus Christ, because of the wrath God poured out on him on our behalf. Let the reader understand—a religious tradition that is built around emphasizing Christ as coming to exalt the Law and helping us obey it, rather than emphasizing that the Law anticipates Christ can only cloud the gospel of the glory of Christ’s work in bringing sinners to God.
Jesus Fulfills the Law
The Sunday lesson makes the bald assertion that “the context [of Matthew 5:17-19] seems to indicate that [Jesus] was referring primarily to the Ten Commandments.” This view can only be maintained by not actually reading the words of the gospel of Matthew.
In this sermon to his disciples, which spans the entirety of Matthew 5 through 7, Jesus includes an extended discourse on what he considers to be true righteousness—the kind of life that the Law and the Prophets pointed to. The term “Law and the Prophets” always points to the OT scriptures, and so Jesus declares that, far from setting aside the authority of the OT scriptures, he was their fulfillment (5:17). The Monday lesson takes this to mean that Jesus merely came to teach and give an example of perfect obedience. It is certainly true that Jesus was absolutely obedient to the Law, and had many confrontations with Jewish leaders who were using the Law to their own advantage, the word “fulfill” seems to have a much wider meaning within the context of Matthew. All but one or two uses of the term are used to describe Jesus fulfilling certain OT prophecies and types in a variety of ways. In fact, as Jesus saw it, the Law and the Prophets prophesied until the last prophet before him—John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13). The fulfillment in Matthew 5:17 appears to be the consummation of the OT writings in the person and work of Christ.
After declaring the fulfillment of the OT scriptures in him, Jesus then turns back to say that—far from setting the OT aside—the Law will stand, and its authority has not passed away (Matthew 5:18-19). It would appear that the term “Law” here must at least refer to the Torah, but more likely refers to the entire OT scripture:
1) The term “Law” was used in reference to the Torah one verse previously (Matthew 5:17).
2) It is common for the term “the Law” to refer to the entire OT scripture (John 10:34, John 15:25, 1 Corinthians 14:21examples from John & Paul). We can take note that the term “Law and Prophets” forms bookends of Matthew 5:17 – 7:12, which creates a literary device called an inclusio that frames this section as being focused on the Law and Prophets. Therefore, it seems reasonable that Jesus has the entire OT scripture in mind when he says “not an iota or a dot of the Law will pass away” (Matthew 5:18).
3) Could the “Law” in Matthew 5:18 be reduced to the Ten Commandments? The SS author asserts that this section is focused on the Ten Commandments, but how can that be, when most of the subsequent citations in 5:21-48 are not from the Ten Commandments, but from other parts of the Torah? Moreover, the organizing principle for this section draws on language from Leviticus 19:2 (compare with Matthew 5:48), and Jesus’ own summary of the Law and Prophets (love God and love others) cited in Matthew 7:12 as well as in Matthew 22:38-40, also are not found in the Ten Commandments. The SS author wishes to import his presupposition of a sharp distinction between the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law in order to make Jesus teach that the Ten Commandments would be perpetually binding on humanity.
For an excellent exegetical study of the Sermon on the Mount, I would direct the reader to Charles Quarles’ book, The Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church.
How Can We View the Law Today?
What does the Law do today? It is quite true that the Law still does stand authoritatively today (with the Ten Commandments as a subset) as a witness to our own sinfulness and need of a savior, as well as a witness to Jesus’ own obedience by which he purchased righteousness for anyone who would believe (Romans 5:19). That is what Paul meant, when after declaring the availability of righteousness by faith in the finished work of Christ, he wrote:
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31, see also 1 Timothy 1:8-11)
The Law as a covenant has passed away by being fulfilled in Christ through the inauguration of the New Covenant, anticipated by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:13). This New Covenant is more glorious than the Old, because it is based on a once-for-all sacrifice for sins and transforms believers by the Holy Spirit, rather than only making demands, with disobedience incurring death. The reader is invited to read the entire third chapter of 2 Corinthians and draw his or her own conclusions regarding the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old, as well as to Chris Lee’s inductive study on biblical covenants: http://lifeassuranceministries.org/studies/covenants/index.html
We can see how the Christian can view his or her relationship to the Law as a covenant:
“Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by the law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:1-4)
In short: a believer, upon coming to Christ, gets a divorce from the Law! Note the implications of trying to go back under the Law—to do so would be adultery. Compare this with similar language in Galatians 4:1-5:1. No longer being under the Law, we are joined to Christ, and we follow his lead.
Therefore, when asking questions such as “should I pay my taxes?” , “should I keep the Sabbath?”, or “should I get a divorce?” a Christian should most certainly study the OT as a source of wisdom, but look to the Law’s fulfillment in Christ, as recorded and expounded by his apostles in the NT, for what is binding on believers. Of course, there are many instances where there are shared principles and ethics. Of the Ten Commandments nine of the ten are reaffirmed by the apostles in multiple instances. In addition to looking to the many imperatives in the NT for instruction, the OT still stands as a source of history and wisdom for Christians. Paul himself provides multiple uses of the OT in this fashion: 1 Corinthians 9:9, 10:11, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (the nature of the Law as a witness to Christ is also implicit in this passage).
As a practical point in relation to the SDA doctrine of the Sabbath, which is tied up with the belief in the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, both Jesus and Paul downplay any priority given to Sabbath-keeping or any kind of day observance. Given that the Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant, one might expect that would be the case by only reading Hebrews 8:13, as the Sabbath was explicitly given as the sign of the Old Covenant (Exodus 31:12 – 18). Note that expressions applied to the Sabbath such as “perpetual sign”, and “throughout their generations, forever” are applied to many other covenantal features of the OT Law, such as various priesthood and purity regulations. In the NT writings, Paul flat out relativizes any kind of day-keeping or dietary choices on the basis of the believer’s position in Christ (Romans 14:5-7, Colossians 2:6-17). Furthermore, note Jesus’ logic and the literary irony in Matthew 11:25 – 12:8. After declaring that he gives rest to his disciples, Jesus then confronts the Pharisees, who were wringing their hands over what they viewed as the manifestly un-restful activity the disciples. Jesus’ argument assumes that he is greater than David, the Temple, and the priesthood, and therefore the disciples didn’t have to worry about resting on the Sabbath. Jesus is lord even of the Sabbath! A Christian, who is always indwelt by the Holy Spirit, rests in Jesus every day.
What about the Ten Commandments?
Did the Ten Commandments enjoy a special place within the Law? When examining specific biblical texts which clearly have the Ten Commandments in view, such as references to “tablets of stone” (Exodus 31:18, Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, Deuteronomy 9:9-11, 1 Kings 8:9, Hebrews 9:4), they are frequently identified with the Old Covenant (or the “testimony”) or mentioned as being the actual documents of the Old Covenant. The laws given to OT Israel formed an entire covenantal package, with the Ten Commandments being representative of the whole. The covenantal nature of the Law, is the key biblical perspective for NT believers to adopt when thinking about their relationship to the OT Law.
One interesting argument put forth is that Jesus himself gave the Ten Commandments at Sinai, and this should perhaps give us pause when considering the role of the Ten Commandments today. While it is a common and orthodox view to take most appearances of Yahweh in the OT as an appearance of a pre-incarnate Christ, note that this sort of argument is empty rhetoric:
1) Besides giving the Ten Commandments, God also gave the entire Law (see, for example, Exodus 21:1), and all scripture comes from God (2 Timothy 3:16). If one claims that Jesus gave the Ten Commandments, one must then say that he gave the entire OT Law. To imply that the Ten Commandments are somehow more inspired, enduring or exclusive than the rest of the Law because it was written by the finger of God as opposed to other means (a frequently recalled fact in SDA literature), is to engage in the type of “canon within a canon” error the SS author seems to disparage in the Teacher’s notes by recalling the example of Marcion, who threw out the OT entirely.
2) If one says that Jesus was the OT lawgiver, one must also realize that Jesus gave the Law with the understanding that this Law, as a covenant, would be replaced by the New Covenant.
3) In Thursday’s lesson, the author points to both the Ten Commandments, and then Jesus’ exhortation to “keep my commandments,” as to suggest that Jesus wanted his disciples to keep the Ten Commandments. This sounds nice in English, but it actually is a twisting of the verse on two levels:
a. Instead of focusing on John 14:15, read the entire Upper Room episode (John 13-17) and take note of Jesus’ used of “command” and “commandment.” In particular, Jesus refers to his new commandment of “loving one another just I have loved you” (John 13:34, 15:12).
b. The Greek term for commandments, entole, has a broad meaning and is used by John in multiple ways, sometimes to refer to specific statements and imperatives of Jesus and other times to refer to Jesus’ teachings as a whole, and is never used in reference to the OT Law (John uses another Greek term, nomos, in those cases).
It would be more accurate to say that, in John 14:15, Jesus is exhorting his disciples to observe all that he taught them, with perhaps priority given to loving each other as he had loved them. This recalls the Great Commission:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
To end this long discussion of Sunday lessons, let’s conclude by setting the following two verses from Matthew beside each other:
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
Much of what is written in the rest of this week’s lessons has been addressed previously.
“[Jesus’] teachings included the spirit behind the letter of the law. The spirit imparts meaning and life to what otherwise can only be pure formalism.”
While we have rejected the notion that Jesus is continuing to bind his disciples to the OT Law, it is certainly true that the kind of obedience God demands (both in terms of what the Law required, as well as the type of obedience Jesus requires of his disciples) is one that engages the entire person, down to their intentions and affections. The SS language here is confusing and excludes a huge dimension of being saved by grace, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the new birth and the “fruit of the Spirit”. It is not the Spirit’s job to merely show us how wonderfully excellent NT ethics are—he rather convicts us of our inability to obey by applying the awful standard of the law to our hearts (John 16:8), and shows us the glory of Christ and guides us in understanding the Bible (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, John 16:13, 1 Corinthians 2:12).
By applying the living and active Word of God to us, the Spirit creates new life where there was only spiritual death, and new, good affections towards God and others are wrought, leading to the expression of these affections in righteous behavior—the fruit of the Spirit. Instead of observing a set of rules, the life of the believer is focused on loving God and others, and turning away from sin. This is done with faith in the promise of continued transformation by the working of the Spirit in us and through fellowship in the church, leading ultimately to face-to-face fellowship with Jesus in the next life. I would commend both Romans 8 and Galatians 5:13 – 6:10 to the reader for further meditation on the subject of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
This lesson contains a good reminder to actively turn away from sin, and towards holy living. In the words of Paul, Christians are told to put off the old sinful man, and put on Christ. Realize, though, that the penalty of our sin is not to merely “forfeit eternity with Christ,” as the SS author writes, but in Jesus’ words “[have] your whole body thrown into hell.” The careful language of the SS author appropriates the words of Jesus to fit the SDA doctrine of conditional immortality, otherwise known as annihilationism. One of the constant themes of Jesus’ teaching (which may be unsettling for the reader who is used to being given an image of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”) is a terrifying, eternal judgment of unrepentant sinners (see passages such as Matthew 25:41-46, Matthew 3:12, Mark 9:42-49, Luke 16:22-24). On the other hand, EGW is quite blunt in her rejection of the doctrine of the eternality of the soul, and therefore the eternality of God’s final judgment on sinners:
“Through the two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will bring the people under his deceptions.” (The Great Controversy, p 588)
We see here in this lesson that the SS author presupposes Jesus is asserting the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments by pointing out the Pharisees’ disobedience and casuistry. In all of Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees, the emphasis of Jesus does not seems to be exalting a correct interpretation of the law over against the misplaced focus of the Pharisees, but rather to exalt the importance of himself and the love of God.
Where are the Ten Commandments mentioned in the passages the SS author quotes (Luke 11:42, Matthew 15:8-9)? The emphasis is on true righteousness—loving God himself and other people, not the Law.
Though the topic of Jesus and the Sabbath is for next week’s SS lessons, it would be a valuable exercise for the reader to look at some of Jesus’ Sabbath confrontations and reflect on how Jesus uses those opportunities to promote his own authority, and indeed deity, rather than simply debate what were good and proper Sabbath-day activities. See especially John 5:1-18 and Matthew 12:1-8.
Beginning this lesson, the SS author writes: “[Salvation] comes, rather, from the Lawgiver, the Savior,” but does not mention how. We have seen that righteousness does come apart from the Law, but by no activity of our own—just faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus makes the clear statement that the most important rules in the Law was love of God and love of others (both commands not appearing in the Ten Commandments, but rather in Deut 6:9 and Lev 19:18). Since the SS author presupposes the continuance of the Ten Commandments, the author takes this as meaning that observance of the Ten Commandments must involve love. However, the New Covenant does away with the Old Covenant law, and believers live lives not focused on a list of rules from the Law, but rather by these two principles of love, all the while turning away from sin.
If one chooses to live by the Law, it would be quite correct to say that the kind of observance God requires must necessarily involve love of God and love of others (as we have seen, that is explicitly commanded in the Torah). However, because we are sinners by nature, we can never live up to an external standard of rules, no matter how much we approve of them or profess our love for God. Even after receiving the Holy Spirit, we have sin; our flesh wars against our new nature, and to deny that weakness is to make God a liar (1 John 1:6-10). Truly, a believer’s obedience is an expression of love towards God, but our Father in heaven knows our weaknesses, and accepts us not on the basis of that obedience, but rather on the basis of the blood of Christ.
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)
Much of the error in the EGW quotes presented for further study has been addressed. It will suffice to comment on her use of Isaiah 42:21, which she takes to mean that Jesus came to exalt the Ten Commandments.
“The LORD was please, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” (Isaiah 42:21)
The surrounding context of this verse refers to the deafness and blindness of Israel, which the Lord gave up to the Babylonian empire for generations of unfaithfulness. Instead of being a specifically messianic prophecy, this appears to be primarily concerned with the disobedience and disinterest of OT Israel. Certainly, the same kind of correction was needed in Jesus’ time. But, as we have seen, rather than establishing the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, Jesus emphasized the righteousness which God demands and Israel’s inadequacy to achieve that righteousness according to the Law.
Discussion Question #2
The SS author assumes that Christians who do not keep the Sabbath and argue against the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments on the basis what they see as a biblical distinction between Old and New Covenants are primarily motivated by a desire to not keep the Sabbath. This is simply a misrepresentation—Christians who do not keep the Sabbath, this writer included, are rather trying to be faithful to the biblical text. If I author believed that Jesus wanted us to keep the Sabbath I would, by the grace of God! The NT writers, far from discouraging Sabbath-keeping in particular, teach that all believers are free to choose how to observe days as they see fit to glorify God (Romans 14:6). One should never discourage another believer’s personal practice. However, there is a huge danger when a teacher or a church begins to give rules that God has not given for New Covenant believers:
“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” (Galatians 4:9-11)
The choice to observe a day or not should be done freely by each Christian according to his or her own conscience. However, there is a serious danger in thinking that “if I do not observe this day in this particular way, God will disapprove of me, or not bless me.” To think that is to cast aside faith in Christ’s finished work on our behalf…it is spiritual adultery! It is through faith in him we have our rest, and as if that weren’t enough, we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places!
Discussion Question #3
This line of questions seems to be pointing towards the following train of thought: since we live in a “moral universe,” there must necessarily be a universal, unchanging law (which probably turns out to be the Ten Commandments). Nowhere in the Bible is any such argument, much less terminology such as “moral universe” used. Rather, we have statements focusing on God’s personal rule of the universe:
“[The Son of God] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3)
To interpret the Bible through a set of private presuppositions about the way the universe should be, or categories which are based on philosophical categories alien to the biblical writers, is to court error. After all, why did Jesus rebuke the Pharisees? They held to the traditions of men over against the Word of God.
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)
Assurance Because the Law Does Not Change?
The SS author would have Christians be encouraged by the unchanging nature of the Ten Commandments. This is a problem, however, because nowhere in the scripture is assurance or encouragement tied to the Law, and as we have seen, there are points of discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. We can trust that God is unchanging because He declares it to be so (James 1:17, 1 Samuel 15:29). For God’s people, there is great assurance in God’s declaration of his absolute honesty (Psalm 18:30, Hebrews 6:18) and his unchanging nature. Why? Because, despite our own sins and disobedience, he has purposed to save us and will bring his work to its completion. See the promise he gave to the unfaithful OT Israel:
“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)
And many, many times, the promise of God completing his saving work in Christians is reiterated:
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, also Romans 8:30, Jude 24-25)
More than these simply telling us these promises, we have the great love the Father for us demonstrated in the giving of his perfect Son.
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”(Romans 8:32)
A Whimsical, Law-Changing God?
The SS author presupposes that a God who would make changes in his laws would somehow be whimsical and not worthy of our trust or worship. If all we had in our Bibles was the account of the Law being given at Sinai, this may be a convincing argument. However, even if one assumes the Ten Commandments are perpetual, as the SDA church teaches, there are problems, since many people at many different times were given different requirements by God. Adam and Eve couldn’t eat from a tree. Abraham had to go sacrifice his son. Levitical priests had to perform a multitude of services. OT Israel had a variety of purity laws. If any of those people would not have done the things God demanded of them (which are not demanded of Christians), they would have sinned!
Was God being somehow capricious or whimsical when he gave the OT Law to the wandering Hebrew nation? He had plucked their patriarch out of idolatry, and set him and his descendants on a centuries-long course placing them in the desert; their lives all radically changed and dependent on Yahweh. When God showed up to make his covenant and give the Law at Sinai, the cosmos surrounding the mountain experienced great, dramatic upheaval (Exodus 20:18-21).
Was God somehow being whimsical when He sent Jesus to inaugurate the New Covenant, thereby replacing the Old Covenant? May it never be!
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-23)
A History of Antinomian Heresy?
The SS author presents a few examples of men who have, in his view, used their own theological systems to obscure what he thinks should be a proper view of the Ten Commandments. I cannot comment on Marcion’s attempt to identify what he thought should be the true “canon within the canon” or John Darby’s dispensationalism. However, the SS author should not be too quick to throw stones, as the SDA church has the problem of a canon outside the canon—the “continuing and authoritative source of truth” written by EGW! (See Fundamental Belief #18)
If this commentary has been on the longer side, it is because the question of the Christian’s relationship to the Ten Commandments, and especially the Sabbath commandment, is a deep and fundamental issue for anyone trying to reconcile SDA doctrine with what the Bible teaches. I would urge the reader to approach studying this subject with much prayer and patience, and to count the cost of diving into God’s Word in order to better follow Jesus (Luke 14:25-33). On the eve of His crucifixion, he earnestly prayed to his father to “sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth” (John 17:17). God will certainly not disappoint any of his children who humbly approach his Word.
For anyone who is currently teaching in the SDA church, I would further encourage you to approach the subject with a special care, knowing that teachers are held to a higher standard, and to remember Pauls’ admonition to those present in the Galatian church who wanted to return to OT Law:
“You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” (Galatians 4:10-11)
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
Below are various sources (some freely available online) which may also be helpful to any interested reader.
Third Quarter 2014 (July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS
Week 10: August 30–September 5
COMMENTARY ON THE LAW OF GOD
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.