9-2-1 Ceremonial And Moral Law

Opening Statement By Mr. Philip Bartlett

The position I have been called to defend is that Christians are bound by the law of God to observe the Sabbath on Sunday. I will attempt to prove this through an appeal to the whole counsel of God, not simply to scattered verses that appear to say something on their own. The way heresies have historically been formed in the church of God is to appeal to one scripture and deny what the whole and entire counsel of God has to say upon a certain matter. One of us is sinning in presenting his position. If my brother is right, then I am sinning by binding you to a yoke greater than Christ has given to us. If I am right, then my opponent is sinning by telling you it is alright to disobey a command that God has instituted for us.

In order to present clearly the issue of whether it is fit and proper to observe the Sabbath, we must first determine precisely what God has stated concerning His law and how we are to apply it to ourselves today. It is my firm opinion, and the firm opinion of many Reformed Christians (Calvinists), that the reason why the church has such little impact on the broader society today is because we have moved away from obedience to God’s commandments as they must be properly instituted in our lives. God promises not only spiritual blessing, but material blessing and earthly dominion if we are faithful to obey the commandments of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28, and yes this applies to the church today since Christ informs us that the kingdom of Israel has been passed to the church in Matthew 21:43, and Paul tells us that the Gentiles have been grafted onto single vine while the Jews have been torn off in Romans 11; Psalm 2 also commands all governments to submit to the law of the Bible). If we are not faithful to obey the commandments of the covenant, God promises judgments as 1 Peter 4:17 states, judgment begins with the house of God. Most Protestants and Christian groups today have essentially committed that old heresy where the Old Testament law is thrown out and all we pay attention to are the sayings of Jesus Christ in the gospels. The scripture vehemently rejects this position. For this reason God has made the Protestant church weak and the heresy of Romanism powerful, and it is presently now swallowing up many of the liberal and even those that are seen as evangelical protestant denominations. Gone are the days of Protestant influence on the earth due to these Arminian influences.

If we are to understand the New Testament properly we must first understand what the Bible says about the application of the law of God. The Bible tells us that there are two kinds of law: that law that is binding upon all people of the earth, and that there is also law that is only binding upon ethnic Jewry. Most who hold to my opponent’s position contend that every law in the Old Testament given by Moses is only binding upon ethnic Jewry. But is this the case? Not according to the scriptures!

The scriptures tell us that all are under judgment due to sin, and that we know what sin is by the Mosaic Law. Paul states: “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their heats, their consciences also bearing witness” (Romans 2:14-15). So Paul clearly states here that the requirements of the law of God, as revealed in the Old Testament, are written upon the hearts of every single man. This is no law meant only for the Jews! Paul states early in verse 13 “it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:13). Paul is saying here that even though the Jews “have the law” and will be judged by the law, even the Gentiles have that law written on their hearts, and therefore all who obey this one law will be declared righteous. Paul is clearly advocating here one law for Jew and Gentile that is to be obeyed and by which all men are judged.

The Old Testament also binds the Gentiles to the law of God when it states in Deuteronomy 9:5 “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you…” So we see here that God is judging these nations for their wickedness and sin. The Bible clearly tells us that sin is defined as a violation of the law of God in 1 John 3:4 “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (or as the KJV renders it ‘sin is the transgression of the law’). These Canaanite Gentiles were wicked because they were breaking God’s law, the same law that Israel was bound to obey. God is saying in this verse: I am not bringing Israel into the land because it is lawkeeping, but I am kicking the Canaanites out because they are lawbreaking. The same law for both is implied here. This is even more abundantly proven in the fact that Jew and Gentile could both be executed by the civil law of Israel for breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Both the Jew and the stranger (Gentile) were not allowed to commit adultery, murder, kidnapping, Sabbath-breaking, and if either did both were to be put to death. After God lists the death penalties for violating the ten commandments in Leviticus 24, He states in Leviticus 24:22 “You are to have the same law for the alien and the nativeborn, I am the LORD your God”. God is not talking about the entire law of the Torah here, but just the laws of death penalty for violating the Ten Commandments, which He has just listed (this also proves by the way that when a Gentile nation covenants with King Jesus the nation should pass the civil law of God as expressed in the Bible, because all are bound to the same justice).

In Deuteronomy 18, God lists a whole bunch of moral laws concerning witchcraft and idolatry in the first verses (tied to the first two commandments of the Decalogue) and then states in verse 12 “ANYONE who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.” As we can see, God is punishing the Gentiles for breaking the moral law of God as summarized by the Ten Commandments.

So what we have established here is that all men are bound to obey the law, and will be judged according to their obedience to the law. What is this “law” that Paul speaks of in Romans 1 and God refers to as binding on the Gentiles in the Old Testament? It is the moral law of God as expressed in the Ten Commandments. The Jewish rabbis themselves understood this distinction, and they divided the law into that law which was binding upon both stranger and Jew, and that law which was only binding upon the Jew (namely the ceremonial and sacrificial systems and circumcision). Not only have many rabbis made this distinction throughout their history, but the Bible itself makes this distinction, and even clearly relates that one law is superior to the other law. Brian Schwertley writes

“A number of passages indicate that both God and Israel clearly recognized the distinction between moral laws and those which were ceremonial. In fact, several passages would be incomprehensible without such a distinction. “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” (1 Sam 15:22) “To obey is better than sacrifice,” because obedience to God is a moral duty, constantly and indispensably necessary; but sacrifice is but a ceremonial institution, sometimes unnecessary, as it was in the wilderness; and sometimes sinful, when it is offered by a polluted hand, or in an irregular manner; therefore their gross disobedience to God’s express command is not to be compensated with sacrifice.”

The ceremonial rituals apart from faith and repentance accomplished nothing except arousing the anger of a holy God.

“A category distinction is unmistakable in God’s declaration, ‘I desire faithful love, not sacrifice’ (Hos. 6:6). That statement would have made no sense whatsoever if Israel could not have told the difference between the laws demanding sacrifice (which we call ceremonial) and the laws demanding faithful love (which we call moral and civil). Are we to believe that the ancient Israelites lacked the mental acumen to catch the contrast between laws which bound Jews and Gentiles alike (e.g., the death penalty for murder, Lev. 24:21-22) and those which bound Jews but not Gentiles (e.g., the prohibition of eating animals that died of themselves, Deut. 14:21)? Whether they used the verbal labels of ‘moral’ (civil) and ‘ceremonial’ (as we do) is beside the point.”7

The New Testament also recognizes the ceremonial distinction. In fact, the book of Hebrews is incomprehensible without such a distinction (cf. Heb. 7:11-12, 18-19). Although violating a ceremonial law under the Old covenant would be immoral (i.e., a sin), because any violation of God’s revealed will is sinful, nevertheless the distinction between moral and ceremonial is biblical and must be maintained.”[1]

Paul refers to the ceremonial law as the “weak and beggarly elements” and the “commandments contained in ordinances” that no longer need to be obeyed since the death of Christ on the cross to provide the more perfect sacrifice and end the ceremonies. This is what the apostles were fighting against when in Acts 15 the apostles had to fight against certain Pharisees who wanted to circumcise everyone and command them to keep the ceremonial laws. What does the New Testament say about the law of God and how we are to approach it today? Christ’s words are clear in Matthew 5:17-19 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

We see from this verse that Christ wishes to make it ABUNDANTLY CLEAR that His law remains in FULL FORCE. In fact, we have the opportunity to obey it better than ancient Israel ever did, because we now no longer have to use the ceremonial sacrificial laws, since we can cling to Christ and acknowledge the sacrificial law in that way! In this way, we still obey the entire law. There are many who will attempt to pull statements of Paul of context that appear to state that we no longer have to obey the Old Testament law, or as Paul expresses it, “we are no longer under the law”. This does not mean that we are no longer to strive to obey the law, it simply means that the law no longer has the power to condemn us if we disobey it, because we have been justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Brian Schwertley writes concerning this “believers are not under the curse of the law. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith’ (Gal. 3:13-14). Paul says that by Christ’s death on the cross, believers are set free from the curse or penalty of the law.

Anyone who commits sin is under a curse. God said, ‘The soul who sins shall die’ (Ezek. 18:4). John the Baptist declared that ‘he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him’ (Jn. 3:36). Paul said that the ‘law brings about wrath’ (Rom. 4:15). ‘Having shown the absolute demand of God upon a man’s life, having defined what sin is, having convicted man of sin and shown him the nature of sinful rebellion, the law pronounces the just condemnation of God upon the sinner. The law shuts up all men under sin and seals off any escape to life for them in their own strength (Gal. 3:22). The sinner finds himself lost and sold under sin; the magnitude of his dilemma is revealed in the words, ‘It stands written that accursed is everyone who does not continue in all things having been written in the law-book to do them’ (Gal. 3:10).’ Jesus Christ bore the guilt and the penalty for the sins of His people on the cross at Calvary.

The wrath of God that we deserved for our sins was placed upon Christ.

But the fact that Christ bore the judgment that we deserved does not mean that believers are no longer under law as a guide for daily living and sanctification. Such a view ‘is antinomianism, and alien to St. Paul. St. Paul attacked man-made laws, and man-made interpretations of the law, as the way of justification; the law can never justify; it does sanctify, and there is no sanctification by lawlessness.’”

Clearly then, the WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD must be considered if we wish for Israel, or the church of Jesus Christ to be strong again. The ethnic Jews in Palestine are no longer the Israel of God. We must put on ourselves the entire word of God and obey the entire law of God as revealed in the Old and New Testament. Bestiality is an example of a clear moral law that is only mentioned in the Old Testament, but must still be obeyed today. Tithing is another example where the church has gone wrong. Because we no longer consider tithing to be a requirement of God’s moral law of giving related to the eighth commandment, giving in churches is at an all time low.

So how does this all relate to the fourth commandment? Well it is clear, as Jesus states in Matthew 5, that the fourth commandment continues for today. First of all, the fourth commandment was originally binding not only on just the Jews, but also the Gentile strangers as the verse states in Exodus 20:10 “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, NOR THE ALIEN WITHIN YOUR GATES”. As we can see, the Gentiles were bound to obey this law under penalty of death since, as is stated elsewhere, Sabbath violators were to be executed. This is far different from the Passover for example, were an alien stranger was not bound to observe it unless he became circumcised and expressed an interest in becoming a full Jew. We see here that this Sabbath commandment is binding upon Jews and Gentiles, and not only this, but we see that God sanctifies the Sabbath day ALL THE WAY BACK IN GENESIS when God rested.

The Sabbath was not sanctified when God covenanted with the Jews, but when God created the heavens and the earth. The Sabbath is a creation ordinance, and an eternally binding principle that is a reflection of God’s essential nature of work and rest. Does Jesus ever repudiate the Sabbath? Absolutely not! In fact, what we find is Jesus giving us specific information on exactly what we are to do on the Sabbath day! Jesus worships in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Jesus specifically tells us it is proper to perform works of mercy and healing on the Sabbath day. Jesus specifically tells us it is right to nourish ourselves on the Sabbath day like David did and like He did when he was picking grain with His disciples. Why would Jesus go into all this detail on the Sabbath in the gospels if He was only going to abolish it a few years later?

Hebrews also tells us in 4:9 “there remains then a Sabbath-rest for the people of God”. Some will argue that this is referring back to the earlier verses that refer to the rest we have in Christ. However, this is the ONLY instance where the word Sabbatismos is used in the Greek. All of the other times the author mentions rest another word is being used. This should clue us in that the author in this verse is talking about a different kind of Sabbath. The only other time this word is used, which is in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament, is when it is being used in reference to the earthly Sabbath day. This then tells us that Hebrews is here commanding a Sabbath rest for us in the New Testament. John in Revelation 1:10 states that there is such a thing as a “Lord’s Day”. This is an echo of Isaiah 58, which also refers to a “Lord’s Day” or a day that is the Lord’s possession, and God refers to it as the Sabbath day. If John were using the term to describe the very final day of judgment as some contend, then we would not be sitting here arguing this because the judgment would have already come!

Isaiah 58 (KJV) states “ If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” So we see here the word “Sabbath” and “Lord’s day” (or “My holy day”) are synonyms. This is further accentuated by the fact that many of the visions of Revelation deal with the worship of God by the elders, as well as the elements of Old Testament temple worship like the temple and alter and incense. Worship is of course especially to be done on the Sabbath day.

Finally, we know that the day has been changed from the seventh day of the calendar week, to the first day of the calendar week through apostolic example as well as the information that Christ rested from His work of salvation the first day. Brian Schwertley writes concerning apostolic example: “The universal practice of the apostolic church was to observe the first day of the week. The apostles met together on the first two Sundays after the resurrection (Jn. 20:19-26). The disciples also met together for public worship on Pentecost Sunday: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Ac. 2:1). “Just as the disciples had been ‘gathered together’ (probably in the upper room) on the first Resurrection Sunday, the next or second Sunday (John 20:26), and very probably every following Sunday as well, so too were they ‘with one accord in one place’—probably also in the same ‘place,’ the upper room—on the eighth Sunday of Pentecost...that eighth Sunday, the Lord’s day, when the Lord’s Spirit suddenly came to His temple (His church in the upper room) and burned like an oven with tongues of fire—that too was the new Day which God would create, the Day of the Lord, the Day of the Lord God the Holy Spirit.” It is clear that the apostles and the very first churches founded by them sanctified the first day of the week.

The abiding nature of the new covenant first-day observance is demonstrated by Acts 20:7: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” Note that several years after the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the practice of the New Testament church was still public worship on the first day of the week, the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10). The disciples came together to hear the preaching of the Apostle Paul and to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, which in the early church was taken together with a meal. They broke bread as a memorial to Christ’s death on the cross, and they met on the first day of the week to study, celebrate and remember Christ’s work of redemption and His glorious resurrection victory. “It should be observed that the disciples did not come together on the first day of the week simply so that Paul could preach to them before his departure, as some claim. If the sole purpose of the gathering was to hear the Apostle preach his farewell sermon to the congregation, this was something that could have been done at any time during his previous week’s sojourn there. From the Seventh-day Adventist point of view, one would expect such a sermon to have been preached to the congregation on the previous day, Saturday, and for the hastening Paul to have sailed from Troas at sunset on Saturday or dawn on Sunday. Yet there is no trace of this, nor indeed of any Saturday meeting whatsoever. Rather does the whole context teach that Paul simply and incidentally availed himself of the opportunity to preach to the congregation ‘upon the first day of the week when the disciples (as usual) came together to break bread’—and not specially to hear Paul.”

[1] Schwertley, Brian “God’s Law for Modern Man” located at www.reformed.com/pub/law.htm

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