"The Ten Commandments Twice Removed"
A Review of the Book Written by Danny Shelton & Shelley Quinn
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS TWICE REMOVED [TCTR],
Danny Shelton/Shelley Quinn, Remnant Pub., 2005, 125pp.
(By “twice removed,” the authors have in mind the removal of the TC “not only from our government, but from most of our churches as well” [p.18].)
A Review Article by Jon Zens
Dear Danny & Shelley [This review was sent to the authors Priority Mail/Signature Required, Friday, June 16, 2006]
A friend of mine in Wisconsin passed your book on to me. He asked that I read it and write a response. When I read books I try hard to hear what the author is saying, and let myself be persuaded by solid biblical points that are made. At the end of your book you ask for biblical evidence from your readers that would show your views to be in error (p.125). I would like to set before you some selected perspectives that I see in God’s Word. I’ve been challenged with issues related to living in Christ under the New Covenant since 1977. What follows is my analysis of the key points made in your book.
Why Are So Many Verses Omitted?
The claim is made that TCTR is a “well-organized Bible study” (p.iv). I must question that assertion. As I read through the book, it hardly scratches the surface of dealing with crucial passages that unfold an accurate view of the Old and New Covenants. Many New Testament passages that challenge its assumptions are never even mentioned in TCTR. It rightly notes that “sound biblical doctrines are developed from an in-depth study of all Scriptures related to a certain topic – examined in their recorded context” (p.73). But this is not done in TCTR. Instead, only certain selected passages are touched upon – and even many of those are out of context, which I will demonstrate shortly. Others are faulted for hatching “unsound doctrines when they take the haphazard approach of using only a few Scriptures – taken out of context” (p.73). Yet, this is exactly what TCTR does. First, it utterly fails to examine all the important texts related to the topic of Law and Grace – Scriptures like Luke 9:28-34, Acts 15, 1 Cor.9:19-23, 2 Cor.3:1ff., Gal.5:18, 6:2, John 13:34, Rom.3:21, 6:14-15, Eph.4:21, 1 Tim.1:9, 6:3, Titus 2:11-13, Heb.7:11-12, 8:6, 13, to mention a few. Secondly, it brings only a few Scriptures to the table, and most of them are out of context, like Rom.3:31.
How Can Truth Be Advanced?
TCTR will mislead people who are not well-grounded in the Lord and his Word. The authors admit that most professing Christians “spend little effort in serious Bible study” (p.31), and then assert that TCTR “will help make the truth plain and simple” for such “time-starved” people (p.32). Since it does not cover all the vital passages related to this subject, in the final analysis how can TCTR help make the truth plain and simple? It will more likely foster confusion, and make the readers susceptible to the authors’ lop-sided conclusions.
The Major Problem of TCTR
The most fundamental problem of TCTR – and for that matter, the bulk of visible Christianity -- is that it is insensitive to the fact that Jesus accomplished a New Exodus on behalf of his people. It focuses on the old exodus that separated Israel to the Lord. It skips over the fact that the Ten Commandments [TC] are founded upon a specific historical event: the Red Sea exodus – “I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt” (Ex.20:1). This act of redemption was a type and shadow of a future exodus that the Messiah would accomplish for his people. It was never intended to be an end in itself. Just as the exodus out of Egypt brought with it 613 commands (the Old Covenant law), so the exodus Jesus completed at Golgotha brought with it a New Covenant way of life for the church, flowing out of one command – to love one another. We can diagram this truth like this:
The Old Pointed Toward the New:
|Name of Covenant
God's Acts of
Separated to God
|What Is In Force?
|The OC was put into
effect as binding (Heb.
7:11), then removed
by Jesus at
The NC was put into
effect as binding
based on better
With a change of
must be a change of
the law (Heb.7:12).
God’s Acts of Put Into Covenant People How
“Legally in Force” (Nomotheteo)
The Greek verb, “nomotheteo,” is used in Heb.7:11 and 8:6. It means to “put into effect as legally in force.” This verb clearly shows in Heb.7:11 that the old covenant at a certain point in history was “in force.” But this earthly economy came to an end when the Temple veil was “torn in half” and Christ’s work was “finished” (Mt.27:51; Jn.19:30; Heb.8:13). In 70AD old covenant was fully ended when the Temple and Jerusalem were leveled, and the Jewish economy and all it genealogical records were destroyed.
In Heb.8:6, the verb “nomotheteo” indicates that the New Covenant was put into effect as that which is legally in force, and will continue on as the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb.13:20). By its language, TCTR completely misses the point that the New Covenant is now in force, not the old.
The New Exodus
In Luke 9:28-36 we find Moses and Elijah speaking with the glorified Christ. What are they talking about? They “spoke of his exodus [or, departure] that he would accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk.9:31). The New Exodus is the springboard for Christian obedience, as the old exodus was the foundation for Israel’s obedience.
Just as Israel in the Old Testament was constantly called to think back to the Red Sea exodus that liberated them from Egypt, so the church in the New Testament is repeatedly referred to the New Exodus at Golgotha. Especially in the Lord’s Supper believers “remember” -- not the Sabbath – but what Christ did on the cross.
Israel’s covenant obedience was to be in response to God’s gracious act of mercy to them as they went through the Red Sea on dry ground. The church’s obedience is to flow out of what Christ has done in sealing the New Covenant with his blood. The New Exodus/New Covenant, not the old exodus/old covenant, has been put into place by the Lord as the starting point for the body of Christ (Heb.8:6).
“Listen to the Son”
Therefore, to ask, “have we been released from keeping all the Ten Commandments?” (p.18) is to speak as if moral duty can only be found in connection with Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. But the Christian responds to the moral imperatives flowing of out the New Exodus. Jesus, not an exodus out of Egypt, is now the starting point. As C.K. Barrett points out:
Mt. Sinai is not the only creative moment in history. “I received,” says Paul, “of the Lord” (1 Cor.11:23)….The New Testament tradition is not a mere shadow of the written tradition of the Old Testament, but a new creation….[T]he Old Testament is never the primary factor in the New, which constantly looks back to, and points towards, Jesus Christ….Christian ethical teaching is governed not by general ethical theory but by the command of Jesus Christ (“The Bible in the NT Period,” The Church’s Use of the Bible: Past and Present, D.E. Nineham, ed., SPCK, 1963, pp.7,1123-24).
Eph.4:21 notes, “if it is true that you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.” Under the New Covenant we must always ask ourselves regarding any issue – “What is the truth as it is in Jesus?”
Going back to the Transfiguration in Luke 9, we see that the Shekinah glory enveloped them, Moses and Elijah disappeared, the Father’s voice speaks from the cloud – “This is my beloved Son, Hear him” – and the disciples look up and see Jesus only. In Deut.18 Moses had told of a person like him who would come as the final Prophet with words which must be heeded. In Heb.1:1-2 we are told that God spoke in the past in various ways, but in these last days has spoken definitively in the Son.
The Son and the Sabbath
Thus, the real question is – since the New Covenant alone is in force – what does the Son teach us in the New Testament Scriptures about the TC? The answer is that all are dealt with forthrightly. Nine appear as duties, and the Sabbath is seen as a ceremonial law – a type and shadow – with Christ as the fulfilling reality (Col.2:16-17).
TCTR devotes less than one page to dealing with the crucial passage of Col.2:16-17 (pp.77-78). It submits that what is alluded to in v.16 does not include the weekly Sabbath embedded in the fourth commandment, but only refers to “special annual Sabbath days” which were ceremonial (p.78) This opinion reflects the book’s assumptions, for it is inconceivable that the Jewish mind would make such distinctions. The following OT Scriptures speak of festival days, new moons and Sabbaths (plural). There can be no doubt that in most of these examples the weekly Sabbath is included in the word “Sabbaths”: Ex.31:13; Lev.26:2,34-35; 2 Ki.4:23; 2 Chron.36:21; Isa.1:13, 56:4, 66:23; Lam.2:6; Ezek.20:12,13,16,20,21,24; 22:8; 44:24; 46:1; Amos 8:5. Hosea 2:11 is representative – “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, her Sabbaths and all her solemn feasts.” There is every reason to believe that in Col.2:16-17 Paul is teaching the Christian community that the Jewish Sabbath is ceremonial and is no longer a norm for judgment.
Further, in Col.2:16, when Paul says, ‘do not let anybody judge you…with reference to a feast or a new moon or Sabbaths,” there is a specific chronological progression from yearly to monthly to weekly. The festivals were yearly, the new moons were monthly, and the Sabbaths were weekly. To suggest, as TCTR does, that “Sabbaths” refer only to “annual Sabbath days” would break up Paul’s clear Jewish division of time.
The ceremonial nature of the fourth commandment is further demonstrated in Mark 2:23-28 and Matthew 12:1-9. TCTR alludes several times to Mark 2:27-28 (pp.74,85,93), but never deals with the two incidents Jesus cited when the Pharisees murmured about their picking of grain on the Sabbath. The first example was David and his friends who technically “sinned” by eating the consecrated bread, which was only to be eaten by the priests (Mt.12:3-4; Mk.2:25-26). The second case is very revealing. Jesus said, “or have you not read in the law how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the Temple desecrated the Sabbath and yet were without guilt?” According to Moses the priests broke the Sabbath every week by doing their “work,” yet they were without sin in this matter. Now, if the Sabbath is a moral command like stealing or adultery, how could it be violated without punishment? Can one think of any circumstances where any of the other nine commandments could be transgressed without sin being committed? Doesn’t Matthew 12:5 show conclusively that the Sabbath is “different” from the other nine? The priests worked on every Sabbath and did so without sinning.
To Whom Was the Sabbath Given?
TCTR suggests that Abraham and other Gentiles who lived long before the Law was given kept the Sabbath (pp.63, 67, 90, 93). That is a huge assumption. In terms of explicit statements of Scripture, it is never said that anyone kept the Sabbath before the Red Sea exodus. There are, however, several Scriptures that affirm that the Sabbath was indeed given to Israel alone. Deut.5:15 – “and remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt…keep the Sabbath day.” Neh.9:13 – “You came down also upon Mt. Sinai…and made known to them the holy Sabbath.” Ezek.20:12 – “Moreover, also I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them.”
The New Covenant Scriptures teach that the Sabbath was a shadow, and that Christ is the reality (Col.2:17). If a type and shadow is fulfilled in a person, why would you continue to focus on the shadow? Lambs were slaughtered under the old covenant. Once the fulfillment, Jesus, came and offered himself, why would we keep on killing animals? Once the reality comes, the type/shadow is discontinued. Why don’t we apply this reasoning to the seventh-day Sabbath?
When Paul deals with the Jewish and Gentile believers functioning together in harmony, he makes an amazing statement – “one person esteems one day above others; another person regards every day the same” (Rom.14:5). If it is required by God of all believers to observe some particular day, especially Saturday or Sunday, then how could Paul give the option for believers to not observe any day? Or, to put it another way, if sin is incurred by not observing a certain day, how can Paul allow for the non-observance of any days? I suggest that under the New Covenant there are no holy days or holy places (Jn.4:20-24) – only holy people. The authors of TCTR never tell us how they handle this Pauline perspective.
2 Cor.3:1-13 – The Stone Tablets
There are a number of NT Scriptures that TCTR never touches because they would call into question their key teachings. 2 Cor.3:1-13 is one such pivotal passage. The major assumption of this book is that the TC have always been a moral code that floats along throughout history. The authors emphatically state, for example, “Paul never dismissed the TC Law that God wrote with His own finger on stone tablets….God has never used another set of laws by which He judged His people” (pp.34,66).
The truth is, however, that in 2 Cor.3 Paul specifically affirms three times that the old covenant form of the Ten Commandments were “abolished.” (vv.7,11,13). You cannot get around the fact that Paul has the TC in view for he mentions the “tablets of stone” and that which “was engraved in letters on stones” (vv.3,7). Paul states that the TC “killed,” “brought death,” and were a “ministry that condemned people” (vv.6,7,9). Shelton and Quinn say that the TC are “ten wonderful promises” (p.51). By saying this they flatly contradict the apostle Paul. He teaches that “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor.15:56), and that the TC only bring death and condemnation.
The Greek verb in 2 Cor.3:7,11,13 is “katargeo.” This verb means “to render inoperative, cause to cease, to abolish, to pass away” (W.J. Hickie, Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament, Baker, 1977, p.99). “Katargeo” is #2673 in Strong’s Concordance, and the definition given by him is, “abolish, cease, destroy, do away, become of no effect, make void.” Paul is contrasting the New Covenant which is in place with the old covenant which has become inoperative; he is contrasting the New Covenant which brings life and enduring glory with the old covenant that brought death and condemnation.
TCTR knows that “sometimes it is necessary to consult the original language in which the texts were written to understand fully the application of the writer’s choice of words” (p.34). This I have done in 2 Cor.3:1-13. We have seen that the Greek verb Paul uses in 3:7,11,13, “katargeo,” means to “abolish, make void.” The authors mistakenly maintain that “Paul never dismissed the TC Law” (p.34). How could they read 2 Cor.3:1-13 and hold to that opinion with any integrity? Of course, the reader will not find these verses dealt with in TCTR because they destroy their false teaching. Paul taught three times in 2 Cor.3:1-13 that something was done away with. The only “something” that can be found in this context is what “was engraved in letters on stone” – the Ten Commandments. (The NIV renders “katargeo” as “fading away” in vv.7,11,13, and this is a serious watering down of the verb’s meaning, “cause to cease, abolish”).
2 Cor.3:14 Out of Context
But there is a further serious problem that must be pointed out. TCTR does cite 2 Cor.3:14, “at the reading of the old covenant [literal Greek translation] the same veil remains unlifted,” and suggests that “the old covenant was contained in the writings of Moses – the Book of the Law – not the Ten Commandment Law of God alone” (pp.43-44). The authors make a big distinction between what Moses wrote and the TC, although they must admit that the TC were the center point of the old covenant (p.44). So TCTR asks its readers to believe that in 2 Cor.3:14 Paul has something else in view other than the TC. To lead people down this path, however, is to take this Scripture totally out of its context. Paul specifically mentioned the TC in verses 3 and 7. When the apostle says, “that which is abolished” in v.13, he clearly has the TC in mind. Thus, to posit that in the very next verse he has something else in view is absurd. This shows the lengths people will go to defend the indefensible.
2 Cor.3 disproves the main teaching of TCTR. We can diagram this fact like this:
TCTR: “Paul never dismissed the TC Law” (p.34)
Paul: “that which was written on tablets of stone was abolished” (2 Cor.3:1-13)
TCTR: Paul did not have the TC in mind when he said “old covenant” in 2 Cor.3:14 (pp.43-44).
Paul: The TC are clearly in Paul’s thought in vv.1-13, so the context would demand that the TC be included in the reading of the “old covenant”
Again, we note that the authors of TCTR chide those who avoid an “in-depth study of all Scriptures related to certain topics,” and who only use a few Scriptures taken out of context (p.73). Sadly, Shelton and Quinn are guilty on both counts – they have omitted any treatment of 2 Cor.3:1-13, and they have badly misinterpreted 2 Cor.3:14 by lifting it out of its context.
Romans – Ten Commandments or Old Testament?
TCTR states that “in…Romans …he [Paul] referred to the Ten Commandment Law of God” (p.33; cf. p.82). This is a blatant example of reading one’s agenda into a text. There is nothing in what comes before or after that mentions the TC. Paul asks and answers a question – “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather we uphold the law” (Rom.3:31). What does the apostle mean by “the law”? He means the Old Testament Scriptures. In Rom.3:10-18 he cited Isaiah and the Psalms, and then said, “now we know that whatever the law says…” In v.21 he notes, “but now a righteousness of God apart from law has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” Again, the OT is in view here. In v.31, then, Paul is affirming that the gospel does not nullify the teaching of the OT. Instead, the OT foretold the gospel, and Paul goes on in Romans 4 to confirm that the gospel establishes the OT writings, using Abraham and David as examples of justification by faith.
One of the most common meanings of “the law” in the NT is “the Old Testament writings.” The authors of TCTR never point this out. They often wrongly assume that “law” means the TC. They have done this in their use of Rom.3:31. But Paul is contending that God’s gospel is validated by the teaching of the OT in regard to the universal sinfulness of the human race and in regard to the justification of Jews and Gentiles by faith in Christ. The TC are nowhere mentioned in the immediate context before or after Rom.3:31.
What Was Nailed to the Cross?
TCTR admits that the TC are central in the old covenant (p.44), but they also know that it would be fatal to their position if the TC were part of what was abolished in his flesh, “the law with its commandments and regulations” (Eph.2:14-15; Col.2:14). Thus, they posit that only “the law of ceremonies” was nailed to the cross, and the TC were not included (p.48).
But this is an interpretation driven by an agenda, not by listening to the texts. Paul says that whatever was nailed to the cross “was against us” and “contrary to us” (Col.2:14). Wouldn’t Paul’s remarks indicate that he has something in mind that would justly accuse and condemn us? Wouldn’t that imply something of a moral nature? What sense does it make to say that the ceremonial things like the mildew laws are against us and contrary to us? The old covenant law was a unit of some 613 commands (cf. Gal.5:3). The natural reading of Eph.2:14-15 and Col.2:14 would see that the entire old covenant written code was nailed to the cross, including the TC which were the center point of the old covenant (cf. Ex.34:29-34).
The Law As A Dividing Wall Removed
Eph.2:14-18 teaches that the old covenant law stood as a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Obviously, one important functions of this law was to keep the Israelites separate from the other nations. In order for Christ to make a “one new person” out of the two widely separated groups, the “law of commandments” had to be removed. As long as the Law stood, Jew and Gentile had to be kept apart. In God’s wisdom Christ fully honored the Law by obeying it, fulfilling it, and thereby “abolishing” it, so that he could create “one new person,” the body of Christ.
If the entire old covenant law was nailed to the cross, does this leave us with no moral direction? Absolutely not. We have already shown that he abolished the old covenant in order to “put legally into place” (“nomotheteo,” Heb.8:6) the New Covenant. The life of discipleship flows out of the New Exodus, which brings with it a New Command, to love one another as he loved us on the cross, which Paul calls the “law of Christ” (Gal.6:2). Out of this singular command comes many other commands; hence, Jesus says, “if you love me, keep my commands” (plural). TCTR teaches that when Jesus said, “keep my commands,” he had the TC in view (pp.22-23,55,70-71). That is a biased interpretation of Scripture. Jesus meant his teachings. He is the Prophet Moses wrote about in Deut.18, “him you must hear, or be cut off from the people” (cf. Mt.7:24,26). Just as Israel’s obligations to the Lord arose from his mighty arm in the Red Sea exodus, so the church’s New Covenant life flows out of Christ’s exodus accomplished at Jerusalem. “My commands” means all that Jesus teaches us in the New Covenant, including the things that came through the pens of those who wrote the New Covenant documents.
Christians Not Under Law, But Under Grace
Paul anticipated the concerns some would have when he asked in Rom.6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Let it never be!” Again, the authors of TCTR never address the passages that describe the Christian’s status in Christ as under grace, not law (cf. 1 Cor.9:19-23; Gal.5:18). Some might reason, “if we are not under law, won’t the floodgates of sin be opened?” Paul’s answer is clear: the gospel that saves us also breaks the dominion of sin in our lives, and the Spirit enables us to walk in the gospel lifestyle described in Romans 12-16.
Grace Teaches Us Not to Sin
The event that saves us – the cross – also commands us how to live. The grace of God that appeared in Christ’s incarnation not only brings salvation to people all over the world, it also teaches believers to live a life of godliness while they wait for the Lord’s coming (Titus 2:11-13). “Grace,” says the apostle, is our sufficient teacher. Just as Israel’s covenant life was rooted in the exodus out of Egypt (“the law came by Moses,” Jn.1:17a), so the body of Christ’s obedience flows out of the New Exodus at Golgotha (“grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” Jn.1:17b). The Scriptures of the New Covenant restate nine of the ten commandments as part of righteous living, but the Sabbath is viewed as a type and shadow that has seen its day, the reality having come in the person of Christ (Col.2:17).
Revelation 14:12, “keeping the commands of God”
Whenever TCTR sees the word “commandments,” it assumes that the TC are in view. In doing this they utterly fail to recognize that a New Covenant is in effect and that out of it comes Messiah’s commands. TCTR sees the saints “keeping the commands of God” (Rev.14:12) and reads into this phrase “the Ten Commandments” (p.56). But this statement in Revelation, and many others like it in the NT, simply mean the numerous commands of Jesus that flow out of the singular command to love one another as he loved us on the cross (Jn.13:34; 15:12-13). The old covenant had around 613 commands, and it has been fulfilled and taken away. A New Covenant has been put into effect based on better promises, and its commands are in force. Indeed, the saints keep the commands of their Savior because they love him.
What Defines “Sin” in the New Covenant?
TCTR makes some very bold, but also very erroneous statements about defining sin after Christ’s incarnation. The book dogmatically asserts that “God gave us a clear definition of sin in His Ten Commandments. Without this, people can’t recognize their pitiful condition and their need for a Savior….God’s moral law – the Ten Commandments – is eternal and the only definition of sin in the Bible” (pp.15,22-23,27,36). These remarks are vastly overstated and ultimately false.
Immediately after saying that the TC are “the only definition of sin in the Bible,” TCTR cites 1 John 3:4, “whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” Later they say, “sin is the transgression, or breaking of, God’s law (1 John 3:4)” [p.69]. Such an interpretation, however, is dubious on three counts.
First, John never cites “the law” in this epistle. The “commandments” mentioned repeatedly in this letter, as we have previously shown, refer to Christ’s commandments embedded in the New Covenant. This is clearly illustrated, for example, in 1 John 3:22-24, “We obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command, to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him and he in them.” “As he commanded us” refers to John 13:34 where the New Command was announced. In the context of 1 John, the author gives no evidence at all that the TC are in view; what is specifically mentioned relates to “the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn.3:11,16). “The beginning” in several passages in 1 John refers to the New Creation Jesus inaugurated at his incarnation. As F.F. Bruce notes, ‘the beginning’ “was an expression which, as in the opening clause of the epistle, denotes the beginning of the gospel” (The Gospel & Epistles of John, Eerdmans, 2004, p.53).
TCTR also cites 1 John 5:3, “his commands are not burdensome,” as a reference to the TC (p.60). This is another occasion where the authors just read their conclusions into the text without any justification. “Commands” in 1 John have in view the New Covenant obligations issued by the Messiah.
Secondly, the Greek word for lawlessness in 1 John 3:4 is “anomia,” Again, TCTR assumes that this word can only mean “actions which violate the TC.” But this is patently false. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus describes people who proclaimed that they had prophesied, cast out demons and performed many wonderful works in Jesus’ name. Jesus says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who are working “anomia” (wickedness). These religious people were guilty of “anomia,” lawlessness, but as you can see it would make no sense to try and define their sin simply as violations of the TC. As W. Gutbrod notes, “[There is not in the use of ‘anomia’ in 1 Jn.3:4] a reference to the Old Testament law inherent in the word” (“Law,” Bible Key Words from TDNT, 1962, p.138).
Jesus’ Use of “Sin” in John’s Gospel
Thirdly, Jesus defines sin in John’s gospel without reference to the TC. The Lord states that he received his teachings directly from the Father and gave them to his disciples. Listen to these excerpts from the Gospel of John.
As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him on the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say (-50)….Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father living in me who is doing his work….If you love me, you will do what I command (14:10,15)….Jesus replied, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me (-24)….My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command (-14)….They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their law, “They hated me without reason.” (-25)….but you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning ()….Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you see me no more; concerning judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (16:7-11)….I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (17:6-8)….You have no power over me that was not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin ().
I have quoted extensively from this Gospel in order for you to get the full impact of the truth from Jesus’ lips. From these texts the following key points are obvious:
**Jesus’ coming to earth is called “the beginning” (as it is in 1 John)
**The Father said out of the cloud, “This is my Beloved Son, Hear him” (Luke )
**The Lord Jesus received his words (commands) directly from the Father
**The words from the Father were passed on to the disciples
**The words of the Father to Jesus will judge people on the last day
**Christ’s followers will obey the commandments he received from the Father
**Christ’s New Command is for his people to love one another as he loved them in the agony of the New Exodus in Jerusalem.
**In John 15:21-25 “sin” is not defined with reference to the TC, but with reference to the presence of the Messiah among people and their rejection of him
**”The law” mentioned in is not the TC but refers specifically to Psalm 69:4
**”Sin is not believing in Christ.” This is the “sin” the Spirit will bring worldly people to acknowledge. There is nothing in this crucial text on the Spirit’s work about conviction by the TC as a prerequisite for people recognizing “their pitiful condition or their need for a Savior” (p.15). As F.T. Gench points out, “the Fourth Gospel more typically links sin and ‘unbelief,’ with sin as the refusal to recognize Jesus as the revelation of God” (Back to the Well: Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels, Westminster/John Knox, 2004, p.142).
**When Jesus says “My commands,” he means the very words that came to him from the Father. These texts show that it is a serious error to suggest that by “keep my commands” Jesus has in view the TC.
Remember, TCTR claims that the TC are “the only definition of sin in the Bible” (p.36). This is false teaching. Under the New Covenant, Paul says, “whatever is not done in faith is sin” (Rom.14:23). For people “in Christ” sin takes on a much broader and deeper significance than just the violation of a moral code. Paul taught that in Jesus no food is inherently unclean (Rom.14:14). We are free to eat anything and we can give thanks for any food (1 Tim.4:3-5), But if our eating of something draws a weaker brother or sister to eat a food that they cannot eat in good conscience, we grievously sin against that person and against Christ (1 Cor.8:9-13). The TC are not sufficient to define “sin” under Christ’s leadership of the body of Christ.
Marriage As A Type of Christ and His Bride
Let’s consider “sin” in relationship to marriage. If the TC “are the only definition of sin in the Bible,” then we would find the adultery command as our benchmark for marriage. Is it sufficient to think of “sin” with reference to marriage only in terms of this command? Of course not. Years ago, I read an article on the seventh command in a Reformed magazine. The author said many good things, but something was missing. There was nothing in the piece about how marriage was intended by the Lord to be a picture and reflection of Christ the groom and the church as his bride. It did not portray “unfaithfulness” as a contradiction of Christ’s unfailing commitment to his bride. The article was command-centered, not Christ-centered. The supreme reference point for the Christian husband is the New Exodus – “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph.5:25). “Sin” under the New Covenant goes far beyond anything that was written on stone tablets.
Acts 15 – Where are the Ten Commandments?
The tradition arose of dividing the old covenant law into three categories: moral, ceremonial and civil. While there is some truth in this three-fold division, overall it creates more confusion than clarity. For one thing the Jewish mind viewed the Law as an undivided unit. The three-fold division to them would be superficial and misleading. Paul brings this out in Gal.5:3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised, that he is obligated to do the whole law.” In other words, because the old covenant was a totality, if you put yourself under one part you became a debtor to do every part of it. You just can’t pick and choose parts of the Law. Paul’s position is that you are either under all of it or none of it. There is no middle ground. (This would provide further evidence that the entire law – “moral, ceremonial, civil” – was nailed to the cross).
Acts 15 is another passage TCTR never touches. Here we find that false teachers had come from Jerusalem to Antioch and taught that “the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses” (v.5). After much discussion, the brethren recognized that the Gentile believers were not required to bear the yoke of the Law, “which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear” (v.10). It was concluded that the Gentiles in Christ should avoid four things: food offered to idols, sexual immorality, meat from strangled animals and blood (vv.20,29).
Now if the perspective of TCTR was correct, then the resolution of the problem in Acts 15 would have been a no-brainer. If the civil and ceremonial laws were nailed to the cross, but the TC were not, then a simple answer for the dilemma would have been at hand. The council would have reasoned, “Brethren, the ceremonial and civil laws are no longer binding, but the TC remain. Therefore, the Gentile believers are to keep the TC, but are not obligated to keep things like circumcision.” But this is precisely the answer that is not given! This reveals that those who divide the Law into parts are not akin in their thinking to the first century brethren. These people knew that the Lord must lead them to a New Covenant perspective in which Jew and Gentile could function together as “one new person” (Eph.2:15).
The Benchmark: Saturday Sabbath-Keeping
In the final analysis, TCTR is seeking to bring its readers to embrace a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) agenda. Most of the book ends up advocating the importance of Saturday Sabbath-keeping. At least half of TCTR is focused on the Fourth Commandment. The book draws the reader to consider Sabbath-keeping by calling attention to the contemporary controversy in America regarding whether or not the TC should be displayed in public buildings. Noting that many Bible-believers are “springing into action” to protest the governmental removal of the TC, the authors ask, “If the TC are so important to society, why do you keep only nine?” (p.16).
The authors issue the standard SDA party-line about how central Sabbath-keeping is. They say that the Saturday Sabbath is a sign of our allegiance to God (p.83), that it must be kept from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday (p.79), that “Satan wants to make Sunday the mark of his authority” (p.103), that the Saturday Sabbath “is not a minor issue” (p.106), that it is “about loyalty to God” (p.109), that Sabbath-breaking “is an apostasy” (p.109), and that not keeping the seventh-day “could separate you from a loving Savior” (p.23).
If a new Christian was to read the NT from Matthew to Revelation, would the conclusions listed above jump out at him? I don’t think so. Jesus said that the sign by which the world would know we are his people was our visible love for each other, not by observing a day (Jn.13:35). There is no emphasis in the NT on “remembering” the Sabbath; “remembering” is focused on the Lord Jesus in the context of the meal shared among the disciples (1 Cor.11:24-25). Even in the OT Scriptures, the Sabbath is never mentioned in places like the Psalms or Proverbs.
Pick and Choose: Why No Selling, But No Stoning?
TCTR cites three OT verses as warrant to teach that on Saturday secular work and buying and selling should cease, and delighting in the Lord should be encouraged (p.105). However, if TCTR is going to enforce these elements, on what basis does it omit the death penalty attached to Sabbath-breaking in the OT? A man picked up sticks on the Sabbath and the Lord ordered that he be stoned by the congregation of Israel (Numbers -36). This event echoes what the Lord commanded in Exodus 31:14-15. To suggest that some elements of OT Sabbath-keeping are binding, but others are not, reveals the serious problem of picking and choosing parts of the old covenant law. The old covenant connected working on the Sabbath and execution by stoning. TCTR wants to enforce the strictness of no Sabbath labor, but without the stoning of those who violate the law. Why?
The Sabbath and Assembly Meetings
“The seventh-day Sabbath is the day God set aside for church services” (p.78). If one examines the OT teaching about the Sabbath, this statement is shown to be mistaken. In Israel there was no congregational worship on the Sabbath. Everything would shut down and each family met privately in their homes. It could be noted that under Roman rule the Jews in Jesus’ day gathered together in synagogues. However, the synagogue was an adjustment to the times, not something the Lord had ever specified in the Law.
Jesus Was “Under Law”
TCTR points out that Jesus kept the Sabbath. This is certainly true, but this fact does not inherently lead to the conclusion that we also must do the same. Jesus was born “under law” (Gal.4:4). The believer’s status is “not under law” (Rom.6:14-15; Gal.5:18; 1 Cor.9:20). Jesus was required to do a number of things as a Jew for which we have no obligation. For example, Jesus kept Israel’s dietary laws, but under the New Covenant the clean/unclean distinction regarding foods has passed away. Even Jesus foretold this in the Gospel: “nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean….When Jesus said this he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat” (Mark 7:18-19).
“On what day did Paul worship?” asks TCTR. They reply with Acts 18:4, “and he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded them both Jews and Greeks” (p.67). The authors left out the crucial phrase, “persuaded them to believe in Jesus.” This is another example of TCTR using a passage totally out of its context. Paul’s primary thrust in passages like this was evangelistic. Paul was not going among a group of believers who were enjoying the Lord’s Supper together and mutually edifying one another. The synagogue was filled with unbelieving Jews who needed to hear about Christ (not the TC) from the OT Scriptures. It was Paul’s custom to enter synagogues first, as he wished for his people to be saved (Rom.10:1). Acts 18:4 has nothing to do with a Christian gathering, such as the one mentioned in Acts 20:7
Matthew 24:20 and 70AD
TCTR cites Jesus’ words to his disciples, “pray that your exit from Jerusalem is not during the winter or on the Sabbath” – which refers to the tribulation of 70AD – as evidence that the Sabbath was still around after his resurrection (p.24). But this perspective fails to take into consideration that the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70AD by the Roman armies was the definitive termination of the old covenant economy. Obviously, the Lamb of God had come and sacrificed himself, but Judaism kept on killing sheep after his death. Jews continued the types and shadows after Christ finished his redemptive work. One major component of Judaism was their genealogical records. These were all destroyed in 70AD. So it makes perfect sense that Jesus would say, “pray that your departure from Jerusalem does not happen on a Sabbath.” In 70AD the Sabbath (which was a type/shadow of Christ, Col.2:17) and all the other Jewish institutions were terminated. “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear,” which refers to the events of 70AD (Heb.8:13). The Temple veil was torn in two when Christ died, but the Temple services did not cease to function until 70AD.
The New Covenant View of Days
The NT revelation about the keeping of days is found primarily in Rom.14 and Col.2. Of course, there will always be nuances, but there are four main positions that Bible students have set forth.
1. The weekly Saturday Sabbath is required for believers as a fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment. It is sinful to meet on any other day. This is the position of TCTR, SDA’s and other Sabbatarian groups.
2. The weekly Sunday Sabbath is required for Christians as a fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment. This views posits that the Sabbath principle – one day in seven – was transferred to Sunday, primarily because of Christ’s resurrection on that day. It is sinful to meet on other days than Sunday in most circumstances. This view was held in the past by Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, and by those who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). TCTR rightly points out that there is no biblical evidence for this view.
3. The church should meet on Sunday as the Lord’s Day, but not because it has anything to do with the Fourth Commandment. This position would appeal to certain patterns in the NT – (1) Christ was raised on the first day (which in the Greek is literally, “the first [day] after the Sabbath”); (2) some of Christ’s appearances to his disciples after his resurrection were on the first day; (3) some Christian gatherings took place on the first day (Acts 20:7). This view admits that there is no command to meet on Sunday, but submit that it is most in keeping with apostolic tradition to do so. To claim that Sunday is the “Lord’s Day” mentioned in Rev.1:10 is certainly tenuous. John was alone on an Island at the time he was “in the Spirit,” so to use Rev.1:10 as evidence for Sunday (or Saturday) has little force as an interpretation. Paul K. Jewett held to this view in his book, The Lord’s Day, as do many others.
4. Under the New Covenant there are no holy places or holy days – only holy people, who are the Temple of God (Eph.2:21-22; John 4:19-24; 1 Pet.2:5,9). Paul teaches in Rom.14:17 that days and food are not an issue in Messiah’s kingdom. Brothers and sisters are free to observe or not observe days as unto the Lord. One option “in Christ” is “to judge every day the same” (Rom.14:5). Each person is to be persuaded in his/her own mind in such matters. (Interestingly, TCTR never deals with Rom.14:1-21). Now, if there is a day that must be observed or sin is committed, then how could Paul allow for some brethren to “regard every day the same”? TCTR makes the astounding judgment, “no one can keep every day holy in the eyes of the Lord!” (p.105). But we must give heed to the apostle Paul who by inspiration of the Spirit said that believers can regard every day the same before the Lord. Under the New Covenant there is no reason to believe that the body of Christ can incur sin by meeting on the “wrong” day. The brethren must gather together, but they are free to work out the details in light of their New Covenant privileges and responsibilities as priests. The NT puts no emphasis on keeping a day of worship. Rather, we are encouraged to be our brother’s keeper seven days a week.
Friday Sundown to Saturday Sundown Forever?
The utter Sabbath-centeredness of TCTR’s theology is revealed in it’s conviction that even in the New Heaven/New Earth, “for all eternity, God’s redeemed people will gather every seventh-day Sabbath to have a time of special worship and fellowship with our Creator God” (p.25; cf.pp.84,92,125). But the Book of Revelation makes it clear that in the NH/NE the elements necessary for a “weekly” gathering will be non-existent. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of the Lord gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp….There will be no night there….There will be no more night, they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light” (Rev. 21:23, 25; 22:5). The fundamental essence of the age to come is that “history” is finished (in which the sun and moon appear in cycles) and “time” simply is no more. TCTR makes the ultimate error of carrying over a type and shadow literally into an age in which a seventh-day Sabbath is ludicrous. Further, by focusing on the shadow it misses the glory of the Lamb who is the Sabbath-reality and supplies the light of the NH/NE.
TCTR cites Isa.66:22-23 as proof for their ideas of a weekly Sabbath for eternity. In light of Heb.4, it would make more sense to realize that there is indeed a Sabbath rest awaiting the people of God in the NH/NE. The gospel way to keep the Sabbath is to cease from your own works and find rest in the Lord Jesus (Mt.11:28-29). “Rest” in Christ has a “firstfruits” fulfillment in this age, and looks for the full harvest of rest in the New Heaven/New Earth, where there will be no more tears and no more curse.
Persecution by Sunday Worshippers
It is traditional SDA belief that in the “last days” those who are “faithful” to God in observing the seventh-day will be persecuted by those who worship on Sunday. TCTR seems to make a veiled reference to this doctrine:
I’m speaking of God’s seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath. This may seem an insignificant matter to you right now, but it looms large on the horizon of the immediate future. Bible writers prophesied a power would establish its own agenda and “think” to change the immutable Law of God (the Ten Commandments). We’re living in the fulfillment of that prophecy now (p.18).
The authors never provide the Biblical references for the “prophesies” they have in mind. But one would have to assume that TCTR interprets some verses (which they leave unidentified for the reader) to mean that Sunday worshippers will soon come down hard on those who keep the “sign of our allegiance” to God (p.83). SDA’s historically see seventh-day Sabbath observance as the key test of obedience, and Ellen G. White suggested that those who did not keep the Sabbath in the last days would not be saved. TCTR holds that “Satan wants to make Sunday the mark of his authority,” which fits in with the SDA teaching that Sunday worship is the mark of the beast (p.103). A book that has made the rounds, National Sunday Law, by A. Jan Marcussen, articulates the impending harassment Saturday worshippers see in the future.
The Glory of Christ in the New Covenant
It is a shame that the authors of TCTR are so fixated on the Sabbath. They are enamored with a law-based exodus out of Egypt (Ex.20). They exclaim:
It was an awe-inspiring event when the Lord spoke His perfect Ten Commandment Law to the assembly of Israel! You might want to review Exodus, chapters 19 and 20, to contemplate what the people experienced (p.70).
In 2 Cor.3, however, Paul openly states that this event was a ministry of death, and indeed was attended with glory, but this glory was “abolished” in order for the superior and lasting glory of the Spirit’s ministry to be established. “For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was abolished came with glory, how much greater is the glory which lasts.”
In truth, the really awe-inspiring event was the Transfiguration, and even this occurrence was a pre-figuring of the full glory that would happen in Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension (Lk.9:28-36). Moses and Elijah spoke with the glorified Christ about the “exodus” he would soon accomplish at Jerusalem. The Shekinah glory cloud came over the disciples, Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The Father speaks out of the cloud, “This is my Son whom I have chosen; listen to him.” As these words came forth, the Lord removed Moses and Elijah, and the disciples “found that Jesus was alone.” We must fix our eyes on the exodus of Christ that brought a New Covenant and a New Commandment. That is where the glory of God in the face of Jesus is found. TCTR focuses on the wrong exodus. They give more attention to Exodus 19 and 20 than they do to the many NT passages that exalt Jesus and the Sabbath rest to be found in him.
TCTR is excited that “thousands of Christians are now displaying Ten Commandment replicas on their lawn” (p.13). What a tragedy! They glory in an exodus that was just a shadow. What would happen if believers displayed more openly that they were the fragrance of Christ, a letter from Christ written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor.3:3). The command that should be displayed – the New Command to love one another – is the one that is offensive because it is Christ-centered. Nobody would tolerate that word of Jesus to be hung in public buildings! The irony is that the New Command is what is in force; the old covenant form which was on stone tablets, Paul says, was abolished.
TCTR claims to be a “well organized Bible study.” We have found that it is a very selective study of those Scripture portions the authors find useful to promote their Sabbath-centered agenda. They have not come close to meeting the criteria they set forth as necessary for the development of sound teaching – “an in-depth study of all the Scriptures related to a certain topic” (p.73). They only looked at certain parts of the Bible. They omitted any discussion of numerous NT passages that call their viewpoint into question. They did meet the criteria they give that produces unsound doctrine – “the haphazard approach of using only a few Scriptures – taken out of context” (p.73). Judged by the standards of Bible interpretation they appeal to, the truth is, they have succeeded in presenting to the public a book full of teaching that will lead people far astray from the simplicity of Christ.
As TCTR briefly surveys the downward moral spiral of our country, they ask, “Isn’t it time to restore moral values in America?” (p.15). “Contempt for God’s Commandments is flagrant in the entertainment industry. Gone are the days of ‘I Love Lucy’….” (p.14). Yet the truth is, Lucy and Desi had a very difficult marriage, and were divorced 1960. Desi had serious substance abuse and drinking problems (cf. “Lucy: The Life Behind the Laughter,” Susan Schindehette, et al., People Magazine, 8/14/89; on-line, The Lucypedia). The good ol’ days aren’t as good as people would like to think. In terms of God’s righteousness in the gospel is “I Love Lucy” any closer to the Kingdom than “Married with Children”?
A Great Need
George Barna has pointed out in his writings that Evangelicalism is five miles wide and an inch deep. He also notes that his research reveals the fact that even Evangelicals do not read their Bibles much. TCTR notes that “the majority of today’s time-starved Christians spend little time in serious Bible study” (p.31). Thus, as the authors note, “you owe it to yourself to examine this important topic in light of God’s Scriptures to find the answer” (p.26). Everybody claims that they want to compare Scripture with Scripture, but at the end of the day (sundown), “there are so many conflicting convictions within the Christian community” (p.31).
We all need a big dose of humility as we search the Scriptures and share with one another what the Lord is showing us. As Thomas Dubay points out, “Finding the solution to a mathematical problem is possible without humility, but finding God’s will is impossible without this virtue” (“Communication in Community,” ST, 14:4, 1985, p.11).
Danny and Shelley, you requested feedback. “If you find any biblical evidence contrary to what I’ve written, please let me know” (p.77). I have provided many perspectives from the Word that seriously call into question your position on the Law and Sabbath.. I have tried to speak the truth in love. I appeal to you to re-visit these matters in light of the Lord’s Word. I look forward to you reactions. I shared my review with about 14 people who have given me constructive suggestions and comments. They all indicated that my words to you have substance, and are not just beating the air. May we all continue to search the Scriptures to see what is so, in humble dependence of the Holy Spirit’s illumination.
-- Your friend, Jon Zens
Searching Together, Box 377, Taylors Falls, MN 55084
Further Suggested Reading
Tom Atkinson, “An Exegesis of James -25,” Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dec., 1989, 11pp.
Robert Brinsmead, “Sabbatarianism Re-examined,” Verdict, 4:4, 1981, 70pp.
F.F.Bruce, “The Exodus Pattern,” NT Development of OT Themes, Eerdmans, 1973, pp.32-36.
D.M. Canright (1840-1919), “’The Law’ & ‘What Law Are Christians Under?,’” ST, 9:1, 1980.
C.H. Dodd, The Gospel & the Law of Christ, Longmans/Green, 1946, 22pp.
Michael Eaton, “’When We Were in the Flesh’: A Fresh Look at Romans 7,” ST, 31:4, 17pp.
John Leland (1754-1841), “The Sabbath Examined & Sabbatical Laws,” ST, 9:4, 1980, pp.32-39.
Robert Morey, Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath?, ST, 8:1, 1979, 9pp.
Albertus Pieters, “The Seed of Abraham & the Old Covenant” , ST, 8:1, 1979, 12pp.
D. Vincent Price, “Searching for the Imperative: Interaction with Lord’s Day Argumentation,” ST: 9:4, 1980, pp.12-31.
John Reisinger, The Believer’s Sabbath, New Covenant Media, 2002, 25pp.
Harold Sahlin, “Christ Our ‘Exodus’: The Fulfillment of An OT Theme,” ST, 14:2, 1985, pp.3-6,34.
Hamish Swanson, “The Exodus in the NT,” The Community Witness, Sheed & Ward, 1967, pp.49-83.
Jon Zens, “A Review Article of ‘Judged by the Gospel: A Review of Adventism,’” ST, 10:1, 1981, pp.3-12.
Jon Zens, “’This Is My Beloved Son, Hear Him’: The Foundation for New Covenant Ethics & Ecclesiology,” ST, 25:1-3, 1997, 97pp.