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Fourth Quarter 2015 October–December)
COMMENTARY ON JEREMIAH
Week 11: December 5–11
COMMENTARY ON THE COVENANT
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.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This lesson begins dangerously by stating that the Bible means something different than what it specifically says:
“Although the Bible speaks of “covenants” in the plural (Rom. 9:4, Gal. 4:24), there is only one basic covenant, the covenant of grace, in which God bestows salvation upon fallen beings who claim it by faith.”
The difference between a singular and plural can be a very big deal in Scripture. Paul bases his entire claim that Christ is the promise to Abraham, and that all who have faith are heirs to that promise, on the basis of the word “seed” being singular rather than plural. Think about it, the salvation of the Gentiles through Christ hangs on the difference between a singular and a plural.
Gal 3:15-16—To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.·Now the promises were made·to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one,·“And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
Because Scripture makes such a big deal out of the difference between singular and plural nouns, we should be very cautious about simply changing, or explaining away, what Scripture plainly states. Seeing this causes alarm bells to go off immediately for me, and I start looking for the reason why this change of Scripture is being made.
I don’t have to look far. It is very important to SDA doctrine to remove, or at least blur, any distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. And what is immediately apparent is that this lesson is following that very tact. “But whether it’s the Adamic covenant (Gen. 3:15), the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:1–3, Gal. 3:6–9), the Sinaitic covenant (Exod. 20:2), the Davidic covenant (Ezek. 37:24–27), or the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–33), the idea is the same.”
The authors would have us believe that the covenant with Moses is the same idea as the one with Abraham, is the same idea as the New Covenant. And let’s examine together what that common idea is, according to these authors—“The salvation God provides is a gift, unmerited and undeserved,”.
Wow, this sounds really good. Seventh-day Adventists understand the Gospel just like everyone else. EXCEPT, the statement doesn’t end there. The lesson, and the SDA understanding of grace, has a big, dare I say giant, addition. There is a comma after undeserved, instead of a period. And this little punctuation makes all the difference.
“and the human response to that gift—in a sense, humanity’s holding up its side of the deal—is faithfulness and obedience.”.
This is historic Seventh-day Adventism doctrine sugar-coated in Evangelical-sounding language. Grace, the Covenants, and ultimately our salvation is based on God’s gift plus man’s work. Salvation by faithfulness replaces salvation by faith. That might not seem like a big deal, since both words have faith at their root. But faithfulness is a work, it is about what we do. Definitions of faithful, include “strict or thorough in the performance of a duty.” This is very different from the faith of Scripture that is a gift (Eph 2:8), that is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”(Heb 11:1).
But we don’t have to base our understanding of this addition to the Gospel on a discussion of a single word. The lesson has made clear that the common theme to all the covenants is that humanity has to hold up its side of the deal through obedience.
A key reason the Adventism is filled with so many changes and additions to Scripture is that continued reliance on Ellen White as a source of truth. The lesson quotes Ellen White to start the day. “God had given men His commandments as a rule of life, but His law was transgressed, and every conceivable sin was the result. The wickedness of men was open and daring, justice was trampled in the dust, and the cries of the oppressed reached unto heaven.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 91.
Scripture never states that the commandments, particularly the Ten Commandments, were given to man prior to the flood.
Scripture never says that the flood was the result of God’s Law being transgressed.
Scripture never discuss whether justice was being trampled, nor does it describe the cries of the oppressed reaching to heaven—or any cries being made by the oppressed---or event that oppression was one of the evils of Noah’s time.
What Scripture tells us is that
Each little change in Scripture that Ellen White makes adds up to a big change in the message of Scripture.
In discussing the covenant with Noah, the lesson states that “this was a one-sided arrangement: the Lord didn’t impose any requirements or stipulations upon those with whom He was establishing the covenant.” That part of the statement is true. But the conclusion of the paragraph introduces an error, “unlike other covenants, nothing was conditional about it.” There is only one covenant that contained conditions, the Old Covenant/Mosaic Covenant.
Monday’s lesson discusses the Covenant made with Abraham.
The teachers’ supplement includes these statements “the Abrahamic Covenant is more explicit in laying out the covenant conditions. And not surprisingly, it is as much grace and righteousness by faith as it is in the New Testament: “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (15:6, NKJV). This affirmation is followed by a covenant ritual (vss. 7–21), in which (again) God takes the initiative.”
These statements are true, but they don’t go far enough. Not only does God take the initiative in the ritual, God does everything in the covenant ritual. There are no “conditions” placed on Abraham, nor any participation on his part in forming the covenant.” Abraham was in a deep sleep (v12) and the fire pot and flaming torch passed through the halves of the animals (v17), God did all the work of the ritual. God also declared a covenant that had no conditions attached, ·“On that day the·Lord·made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give·this land, from·the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,·the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,· the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
Yet the lesson later states that “Abraham fulfilled his end of the covenant promise.” Please find the conditions that were placed on Abraham in God’s covenant to Him. Take the time to list each one that you find.
My list has zero items. But the lesson wants you to believe that Abraham fulfilled his end of the covenant through obedience that demonstrated his faith. And the lesson cites Rom 4:1-3 as being the Bible passage that explains this (but interestingly doesn’t quote it or suggest that the student read it). Let’s look at Romans 4 and go a little beyond verse 3:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham,·our forefather according to the flesh?·For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.·For what does the Scripture say?·“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”·Now·to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.·And to the one who does not work but·believes in·him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works
There isn’t anything about these verses that discusses how “works showed that he was already justified” as the lesson claims. This is another case of twisting the teaching of Scripture and throwing a citation next to the claim to make the false teachings appear to have a biblical basis, because most people don’t actually compare the claims to the passages cited.
The lesson rightly connects the covenant made with Abraham to the salvation extended to Gentiles, really to everyone, through faith in Christ. But even here, the lesson does a little more obscuring of Scripture. The readers are asked to study “Galatians 3:6–9, 15–18”. When you see that verses have been skipped, does it make you wonder what is in those verses? It should! In this case, those verses contain the phrases that dismantle the entire premise of this lesson:
“Cursed be everyone who does not·abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
“no one is justified before God by the law”
“the law is not of faith”
“Christ·redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”
Please, read verses 10 – 14. I tried to highlight the phrases that Adventism needs you to skip over, but I want you to read it all. Beware the teachers who surgically remove Scripture when it doesn’t support their doctrine.
Paul makes clear, throughout this chapter, that in the New Covenant believers are not under the law, nor saved by the law. Nothing in the law, which came 430 years after the promise to Abraham, can negate what is in the promise to Abraham. And it is through this promise to Abraham that salvation comes to the Jew and the Gentile. The New Covenant is based on this promise, not on the Sinai Covenant of Law, which came 430 years later.
Seventh-day Adventists conveniently ignore all that Deuteronomy teaches about the Old Covenant. By limiting the discussion to a few verses in Exodus, SDAs can manipulate the biblical teaching about this covenant. But let’s expand our reading of Scripture to learn all that we can about the Old Covenant.
Deut 4:12-14—Then·the·Lord·spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words,·but saw no form; there was only a voice.·And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.·And·the·Lord·commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.
The covenant that God made at Sinai involved God commanding the people to do His commandments, specifically the 10 Commandments. The lesson would have you believe that the “obedience” aspect of the Old Covenant was the peoples’ response to God’s promises (as they have tried to convince you that Abraham had to uphold his part of the covenant through obedience as a response demonstrating his faith). But that is not the whole story of the Old Covenant.
The Old Covenant is also the 10 Commandments and the statutes and rules that Moses recorded.
Deut 5:2-3—The·Lord·our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the·Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.
This tells us that the Covenant of the 10 Commandments was given at Sinai, it was not a covenant given to earlier generations. This is consistent with what Paul says in Gal 3:17, the covenant of the Law (the 10 Commandments) came 430 years after the promise to Abraham.
Deut 5:22-31—“These words the·Lord·spoke to all your assembly·at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And·he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.··And·as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders.· And you said, ‘Behold, the·Lord·our God has shown us his glory and·greatness, and·we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man·still live.·Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us.·If we hear the voice of the·Lord·our God any more, we shall die. ·For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?·Go near and hear all that the·Lord·our God will say, and·speak to us all that the·Lord·our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ “And the·Lord·heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the·Lord·said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you.·They are right in all that they have spoken.·Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments,·that it might go well with them and with their descendant·forever!·Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” ·But you, stand here by me, and·I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’
The Ten Commandments are not separate from the rest of the commandments that God gave through Moses. This entire package of commands is the Old Covenant.
Deut 11:26-28—“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse:·the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the·Lord·your God, which I command you today,·and·the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the·Lord·your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today,·to go after other gods that you have not known.
The Old Covenant was conditional. There were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The covenant with Abraham didn’t include any conditions.
The leader’s guide presents the Sinai Covenant (the Old Covenant) as another renewal of the same covenant that was made with Adam, Noah and Abraham. But reading from Deuteronomy makes clear that this isn’t the case.
The false gospel, the twisted gospel, of SDAism is laid bare in today’s lesson:
“Only by faith and by grasping the promises that come by faith can we be obedient, an obedience that is expressed by loyalty to God’s law. Obedience to the law was no more contrary to the everlasting covenant in Moses’ time than it is in ours. The common misperception about the law and the covenants, which usually arises from reading Paul, stems from a failure to take into account the context in which Paul was writing, that of dealing with his Judaizing opponents. They wanted to make the law and obedience to it central to the faith; Paul, in contrast, wanted to make Christ and His righteousness the central component.”
Righteousness by faith in Adventism is about using the power of faith to be obedient to the 10 Commandments. Righteousness by faith in Scripture is about being declared righteous by God, despite your lack of obedience, because of faith. These are opposing concepts.
It is interesting that having an understanding different from SDAs “usually arises from reading Paul.” So why don’t these SDA Bible scholars follow Paul’s teaching? Because they have dismissed Paul’s statements as not being universally true, but rather applying only to the context of dealing with Judaizing opponents. Again, the truth of Scripture is carefully excised by skipping over teachings that would lead to a different conclusion than Ellen White and the SDA church.
But even then, if you step back and look as objectively as you can, which is more central to SDA teaching and church services: Christ or obedience to the Law? How many prayers of thanks at church are thankfulness for the Sabbath law and how many are for Christ and the cross? How many prayers are made about people coming to the truth of the Sabbath?
Even if what the lesson claimed were true about the context of battling Judaiziers in Paul’s writings being critical to understanding what he really meant, are you able to distinguish the characteristics of his opponents from what occurs at the SDA church?
Today’s lesson is filled with little additions to Scripture that add up to an opposite conclusion from what Scripture actually teaches. The full statement in question is:
“Just as the breaking of the covenant made at Sinai (Jer. 31:32) brought them into exile, so the remaking of this covenant would preserve them and their hope for the future. Like the Sinai covenant, the new covenant would be relational, and it would include the same law, the Ten Commandments, but now written not just on tablets of stone but in their minds and on their hearts, where it should have been all along.”
I will pull out the little additions and comment on them:
“so the remaking of this covenant would preserve them”
It sounds like a nice symmetry, that breaking the covenant led the exile and remaking that same covenant provides the hope for their future. But this simply isn’t what the passage says. The New Covenant is “not like the covenant that <God> made with their fathers.” Obviously, one can debate the ways in which this covenant is different from the Old Covenant. On the basis of this passage, I suggest that a big difference is that this New Covenant is, like the covenants with Noah and Abraham, based solely on what God does without conditions regarding humanity’s response.
“Like the Sinai covenant”
We have already seen that Scripture says it is not like the Sinai covenant.
“the new covenant would be relational”
I’m not entirely sure what the author means by “relational”. I think (based on earlier comments in the lesson) that the concept may be referring to the idea that, like the Sinai covenant, there are two parts to the covenant, God’s actions and humanity’s response. I don’t find any basis for that concept in the passage.
“it would include the same law”
This passage doesn’t say anything about whether it is the same law or a different law. But the same law would have to include the same promises and curses attached to the law, and Gal 3:10-14 makes clear that Christ has redeemed us from the curse. Therefore, it would not be the same covenant and the same law/promises/curses. Hebrews 7:12 supports this when it declares that there is a change in the law.
“the Ten Commandments”
As indicated just above, there is no indication that the Old and New Covenant are the same law. And while Deuteronomy confirmed that the 10 Commandments were the covenant at Sinai, but it also taught us that everything that God commanded through Moses was part of the Old Covenant. In order to declare that the New Covenant is a renewal of the Old Covenant, it would result in all of the Old Covenant being included in the New.
It is clear that the claims in today’s lesson aren’t drawn from the passage. Fortunately, the lesson shows us exactly where the teachings come from:
“The same law that was engraved upon the tables of stone is written by the Holy Spirit upon the tables of the heart. Instead of going about to establish our own righteousness, we accept the righteousness of Christ. His blood atones for our sins. His obedience is accepted for us. Then the heart renewed by the Holy Spirit will bring forth ‘the fruits of the Spirit.’ Through the grace of Christ we shall live in obedience to the law of God written upon our hearts. Having the Spirit of Christ, we shall walk even as He walked.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 372.
“The prophecy of Jeremiah about the new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34) contains a double application: first, it refers to Israel’s return to God and His bringing them home; second, it refers to the work of Jesus the Messiah, whose death ratified the covenant and would change the relationship between humans and God.”
I’m not sure why SDAs would seek a double application involving the return from exile EXCEPT that SDAs need for the New Covenant to begin before the time of Christ. If the New Covenant starts hundreds of years before Christ, then the argument for it being merely the renewal of the Sinai Covenant makes sense. But there is nothing about this passage that hints at an earlier application. Certainly it was not the case that “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the·Lord,’·for they shall all know me,·from the least of them to the greatest, declares the·Lord.” The only “double application” that I can see is Christ’s first and second comings.
Interestingly, the Leader’s Guide says that “<The New Covenant> offers a different way to salvation since the old way had become distorted by human unfaithfulness.” This suggests that the path to salvation outlined in the Sinai Covenant (including the curses for disobedience that are part of that covenant) continue to apply today in the New Covenant. This statement claims that it isn’t that the Old Covenant couldn’t save because of human unfaithfulness, but only that humans had distorted the Old Covenant and it needed to be re-established.
Gal 2:21—I do not nullify the grace of God, for·if righteousness·were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
If the New Covenant is no different than the Old Covenant, then there was no reason for Christ to die on the cross.
Concluding the week talking about rainbows show just how disconnected Seventh-day Adventism is from the Gospel. The New Covenant is all about Christ and the cross. Yet the lesson ends on rainbows. That may say more about the misguided nature of SDAism than all of the analysis of the rest of the week’s lessons.