God’s eternal law?
Are the Ten Commandants in reality the eternal law of God, or are they something else? Let us see what the Bible has to say about it. The expression, “the Ten Commandments” - in Hebrew, literally, “the ten words” (‘ăseret haddĕvárím) – only occurs three times in the Bible.
“Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant – the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34: 28).
“Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets.” (Deuteronomy 4: 12-13).
“The LORD wrote on these tablets what he had written before, the Ten Commandments he had proclaimed to you on the mountain, out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. And the LORD gave them to me. Then I came back down the mountain and put the tablets in the ark I had made, as the LORD commanded me, and they are there now.” (Deut. 10: 4-5).
In these three verses, we see that God wrote the covenant, which is the Ten Commandments, on the stone tablets, and Moses placed these in the ark of the covenant. The following verses are also relevant: “When I went up on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD had made with you, I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water. The LORD gave me two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. On them were all the commandments the LORD proclaimed to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the day of the assembly. At the end of the forty days and forty nights, the LORD gave me the two stone tablets, the tablets of the covenant” (Deut. 9: 9-12).
“So I turned and went down from the mountain while it was ablaze with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my hands.” (Deut. 9: 15).
“There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 8: 9).
“I have provided a place there for the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD that he made with our fathers when he brought them out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 8: 21).
“This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant.” (Hebrews 9: 4).
The above can be summarised in the following way: the stone tablets = the covenant = the Ten Commandments. The question then arises: who did God make this covenant with? Was it with all his creatures?
Referring to the Ten Commandments, Ellen G. White says, “The law of God existed before man was created. The angels were governed by it. After Adam and Eve were created, God made known to them his law.” 1
Riddle claims that, “The Seventh‑day Adventists point the people to the Decalogue as God’s eternal law, superior to all else, that which governs angels in heaven, governed Adam in Eden, and will govern the teeming millions of redeemed ones to all eternity.” 2
Mrs. White certainly writes of the seventh day, “I saw that the Sabbath would never be done away, but the redeemed saints, and all the angelic host, will observe it in honour of the great Creator to all eternity.” 3 These things are not written in the Bible. What does Moses say?
“The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.” (Deut. 5: 2-3).
Nehemiah speaks to the LORD in prayer: “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.” (Neh. 9: 13-14).
Furthermore, in the book of Ezekiel: “Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so that they would know that I the LORD made them holy.” (Ezekiel 20: 10-12).
After Moses says that God made the covenant just with them and at that time, he lists the Ten Commandments. Let us examine these as written in the book of Deuteronomy, 5: 5-22. According to verse 22, the LORD wrote all these things on the stone tablets.
1. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
(This only speaks to the Jewish people. The angels, Adam, and gentile believers were not in slavery in Egypt.)
2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
(This only speaks to people who live on the earth, as they will have descendants. Are angels, as spiritual beings, capable of making idols?)
3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
(I believe this could speak to anyone.)
4. Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 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 ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
(In a similar way to the first, this only speaks to the Jews who had been liberated from captivity in Egypt. Furthermore, angels do not have children. Adam did not have servants in the garden of Eden. It is also problematic that the Adventists claim that everyone in the universe must keep the Sabbath at the same time, from sunset to sunset. This is possible in the small land of Israel. In Australia, however, the sun does not set at the same time as in America. And in northern Scandinavia, in summer the sun does not set for months, and in winter it does not rise for months. Not to speak of other planets. The question of the creation will be dealt with in the following article.)
5. Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
(Neither the angels, nor Adam and Eve have parents. In eternity, not everyone will live in the land of Israel.)
6. You shall not murder.
(Are angels capable of killing each other?)
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
(Do spiritual beings own belongings?)
9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
(In eternity, will we be taking each other to court?)
10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbour’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
(Neither the angels, not the redeemed host in eternity will marry, and it is unlikely they will have belongings which can be coveted.)
It is clear therefore, that the Decalogue is a fine and wonderful national law for the Jews living in the land of Israel, but if it is claimed that it is God’s eternal law which governs the angels and the resurrected redeemed, it just makes it ridiculous.
The law was written by the finger of God
According to Canright, a writer from an Adventist background who was active in the early 20th century, “But the chief argument used to prove the superior nature of the ten commandments is that they were spoken by God’s voice, written by His finger on stone, and placed in the ark, while all the rest of the law was written by the hand of Moses in a book. Why were these commandments thus selected out and given in such a manner if not to exalt them above all others? The answer is easy: According to the custom of those times, any solemn contract or covenant was commemorated by selecting some object as witness or testimony of it. Thus: Jacob erected a pillar as a witness of his vow to God (Gen. 28: 18.) Jacob and Laban made a heap of stones as witness of their covenant (Gen. 31: 48.)
Just so when the solemn covenant was made between God and Israel at Sinai, the Lord gave them the tables of stone to be always kept as a witness or “testimony” of that agreement. These tables of stone, then, containing some of the chief items of the law, were always to be kept as ‘witness’ of the covenant which Israel had made to keep that law. Evidently this is the reason why the Decalogue was given as it was, and not because it was a perfect and eternal law in and of itself.” 4
Therefore, the ark is sometimes called the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10: 8), sometime the ark of the testimony (Ex. 25: 22), or even the ark of the LORD or God, but not the ark of the law.
Canright also says, “It requires unceasing activity and the consecration of all our energies to do good works; but the decalogue requires nothing but to avoid open crime. The decalogue alone is never called the law of God, nor the law of the Lord, nor a perfect law, nor is it said that any one will be judged by it, or that it is binding on Christians.” 4
Once, when I was talking to a Jew from Székesfehérvár, he told me of an event from the childhood of a famous Jewish lady philosopher. The little girl said to her teacher, “Sir, I do not believe in God,” to which the teacher replied, “Never mind, little girl, just keep the law.” The Ten Commandments could be kept in this way, but this would not result in salvation.
The following quotations are also taken from Canright: 4 Martin Luther, the 16th century German Reformer, writes, “The Ten Commandments do not apply to us Gentiles and Christians, but only to the Jews. If a preacher wishes to force you back to Moses, ask him whether you were brought by Moses out of Egypt. If he says no, then say: ‘How, then, does Moses concern me, since he speaks (in the ten words) to the people that have been brought out of Egypt.’ In the New Testament Moses comes to an end and his laws lose their force.” 5, 6
According to John Milton, the 17th century English poet, “With regard to the doctrine of those who consider the Decalogue as a code of universal morality, I am at a loss to understand how such an opinion should ever have prevailed; these commandments being evidently nothing more than a summary of the whole Mosaic law as the fourth is of the whole ceremonial law; which therefore can contain nothing applicable to the gospel worship.” 7
Does it apply to Christians?
We have seen that the Ten Words were the Sinaitic covenant, which God made with the Jews, and the stone tablets were the testimony to this. I think it is important to note, that if keeping the Ten Commandments were obligatory for Christians or for Gentile converts, this would be written, at least once, in the New Testament. There were many opportunities for this to be said.
A few examples:
· When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he gave two which do not belong to the Decalogue. We read this in Matthew 22: 34-40. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (from Deut. 6: 5), and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (from Leviticus 19: 18). 8 He had an opportunity to mention that the Ten Words were God’s perfect law, but he did not.
· When the apostles discussed whether the Gentile believers need to keep the Mosaic law (Acts 15: 5), the answer was no. They did not say, “except the Ten Commandments.” One exception – sexual immorality - is in there, but the others are not (v. 20, 29).
· When Paul writes that we have been released from the law (Romans 7: 6), and that Christ abolished the law (Ephesians 2: 15) 9, he does not add that the Ten Commandments are still in force.
Paul tells us why the law was given. “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the seed to whom the promise referred had come.” (Galatians 3: 19). The whole law, including the Ten Commandments, was only in force from Moses until Jesus.
In 2 Corinthians 3: 3-18, Paul compares the ministry engraved on the stone tablets with the ministry of the Spirit. He claims that, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” and “if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts.”
The stone tablets, the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments are what are fading away. Let us cling instead to that which lasts, which is Christ, the New Covenant, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
1. E. G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. I, p. 261.
2. H. M. Riddle, The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, 1928.
3. E. G. White, Spiritual Gifts, Vol. I, p. 113.
4. D. M. Canright, Seventh Day Adventism Renounced, 1914
5. Kitto's Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, Art. Law.
6. According to Canright again, “The law,” “the law of the LORD,” and “the law of Moses” are one and the same and include circumcision and sacrifices. See: Luke 2: 22-27; 2 Chron. 31: 1. Also, “the law,” “the law of Moses,” and “the book of the law” are all the same. See: Neh. 8: 2-3, 8, 14, 18.
7. J. Milton, Treatise on Christian Doctrine, Vol. 1, book 2., chapter 7. Mrs. White amply “borrows” material from the poem “Paradise Lost” by this author, published in 1667, to describe the parts of the “Great Controversy” which are not found in the Bible.
8. It is interesting, that in Leviticus 19, moral law (Do not hate your brother in your heart – v. 17), ceremonial precepts (Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material – v. 19) and civil regulations (Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight – v. 13) are all to be found – and these are all “the law.”
9. It is written in Romans 3: 31, “Do we then nullify law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold law.” Here, the definite article is missing in the Greek, as Paul simple wants to stress that believers will not live lawless lives. This is of course the case, and agrees with the rest of his teaching, but it does not refer directly to the Mosaic law, nor to the Ten Commandments contained in it.