DOES THE LAW OF MOSES APPLY TO CHRISTIANS?
IS SATURDAY THE CHRISTIANS’ SABBATH?
By Dr. Henderson Ward.
"…the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day" (John12:48).
One of the most amazing facts of church history is that certain theological arguments never seem to go away; even when they appear to have been exhaustively discussed, researched by all and sundry to the nth degree, ventilated to the point of ad nauseam, claimed to have been settled decisively by one side or the other and still they just refuse to go away. This is true of Gnosticism that Paul and the early church fathers fought mightily against as well as observance of the Law of Moses which became the subject of the Jerusalem Council and again the church ruled against its observance.
As a youngster growing up in a religious household in a religious neighbourhood in a religious country the arguments for and against the applicability of the Law of Moses to Christians and whether Saturday or Sunday is the Christians’ Sabbath were discussed at great length with no discernable shift of position from either side. People often discuss this issue more in terms of affirmation of their beliefs rather than seeking to know the substance of the matter and letting God guide them in arriving at a conscientious conclusion.
One very important thing I have observed is that when people comprehend their cherished beliefs are being challenged, they straight away close their eyes and ears and mind as they reject what is being said – even if the challenge is coming, not from a human source but from the word of God. Two thousand years and more of discussing this subject, from the time it raised its head just after the Day of Pentecost, has still not laid this issue to rest.
It is my view that this argument will never be settled until Christ’s Second Advent for some compelling reasons:
1. People approach the subject with a closed mind.
2. People are disinclined to let the Bible speak for itself preferring to speak for the Bible as if their slew of words and semantics are the epitome of biblical interpretation.
3. People make hasty judgments based on anecdotal or superficial information and then defend their judgments to the death.
4. Tradition among families, at times, takes precedence above all else.
5. Edifices (spiritual and temporal) have been erected in pursuance of conclusions wrongly drawn.
6. Ultimately, as is the case of so much human activity, the arguments are less about the facts but more about impressions, perceptions and interpretations of the facts which speaks to dogma and ideology.
None the less I feel it is prudent, having been asked questions relative to this topic, to let those new to the arguments and especially our young people see for themselves the essence of the arguments and come to their own conclusion. I think the evidence is quite compelling when viewed with an open mind and a desire to know the truth.
BE AWARE ISRAEL IS NOT THE CHURCH.
This is a fact and I shall verify it shortly but it is one of the fundamental flaws contained in some peoples’ theology. There are many parallels between Israel and The Church and in hermeneutics, symbols of one can at times be referring to the other but the two are distinct and separate.
Israel in the biblical sense is a Semitic nation of Jews who can trace their beginning to a man called Abraham. Abraham came from a family of atheist but he was God-fearing and God asked him to leave his own country (Haran) and kindred and travel to a far off land (Canaan) that God would show him. Abraham obeyed and fathered offspring, among them Isaac who in turn fathered Jacob whom God renamed Israel and who in turn fathered 12 sons who became the 12 tribes of Israel (See the Bible: Genesis Chapters 12 – 35). God made a covenant with Abram (the Abramic Covenant); Abram was later renamed by God Abraham, who conferred on his descendants (the Israelites) special blessings and ownership of land (Canaan) in perpetuity. This in summation is what we mean when we refer to Israel.
The Church, sometimes referred to by other names such as ‘the people of God” and “the Elect”, is a body of believers in Jesus Christ who have experienced the new birth and become the children of God under the New Covenant. Jesus Christ said to Peter in Matthew Chapter 16 v 18 “…that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” showing clearly that the church was to be subsequent to that statement. To be a member of The Church one has to be baptized by the Holy Spirit as shown in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 v 13. In Acts Chapter 1 v 5 the Baptism by the Holy Spirit was spoken of in the past tense meaning it had already taken place. The interval between these two scriptures was when The Church was created by Jesus Christ and Christians generally regard its commencement or birthday as falling on the day of Pentecost (see Acts chapter 2).
It is generally accepted theologically and hermeneutically that the Jews (Israel) were the covenant people of the Old Testament and Christians are the covenant people of the New Testament.
THE MOSAIC LAW EXAMINED
Israel (Jacob) and his twelve sons were now living in Egypt and were treated well until a new King Pharaoh (Thutmose III, 1482-1450 BC) arose who treated them abominably and they cried out for help to God who sent Moses to lead them out. The Israelites went to reside in Egypt originally to escape famine in their own land. Moses pleaded with King Pharaoh (Amenhoteop II, 1450-1425 BC) – according to Masoretic chronology – who eventually let the Israelites go. Israel traveled forty years from Egypt to their promised inheritance of Canaan and during that journey at a place called Mount Sinai God gave Moses laws to give to Israel. These laws are known as the Law of Moses or the Mosaic Law and to these we now turn.
The Law of Moses or the Mosaic Law was always referenced as singular. This as we shall see is vitally important to our understanding because it codifies everything given to Moses at Sinai as a unified code. The Law of Moses or the Mosaic Law consists of three components as follows:
1. The Moral Law or Ten Commandments
2. The Civil (or Judicial) Law and
3. The Ceremonial Law
The Moral Law was the major law among the Israelites and took precedence above all others. This was the only law written by the hand of God himself (Exodus Chapter 31 v 18) and Israel welcomed it gladly and henceforth used it as the foundation for her theocratic government. It was these Ten Commandments that were placed in the Ark (Deuteronomy Chapter 10 v 5) where their symbolic nature represented the Covenant promises between God and Israel (1 Kings Chapter 8 v 9).
The Civil Law as part of the legal code expanded, explained and gave concrete examples of the application and use of the moral law as it affected peoples’ day to day lives. It dealt with such things as how to treat servants, physical violence and injury, penalty and compensation for theft, protection of property, the treatment of pre-marital sex, sorcery, false reporting, people in authority, abuse of power, repayment of loans, penalties for a range of offences and similar concerns (Exodus Chapters 21 – 22)
The Ceremonial Law differed remarkably from the others since this component of the legal code dealt with procedures and ceremonies for festivals, offerings and sacrifices, the type and design of priests’ garments, consecration of priests, the burning of incense, clean and unclean foods, fat and blood of animals, purification after childbirth, dealing with infectious diseases, unforbidden sexual relations and a range of ecclesiastical procedures dealing with worship and the tabernacle.
WHERE ARE WE NOW IN THIS YEAR 2011 AD?
To answer this question satisfactorily it is necessary to go back to the beginning of humanity, Adam’s creation (forget this nonsense about evolution which is puerile scientific conjecture by atheists with an agenda), and examine the phases of human development and the specific way God interacted in those time periods. God’s way of dealing with humanity is analogous to managing a household. When you are single you deal with your household one way; when you get married your household dealings change; when the first offspring arrives you change your household dealings again and with the arrival of other offspring further changes are made. As the children reach school age other changes are incorporated and as they reach young adult status further changes become necessary and so it continues through time. This is precisely how God has dealt with humanity through time and these time periods, even though it is difficult to pin down exactly in years are referred to as dispensations and to these we now turn.
There are two eras or overarching dispensations recognized in bibliology, the dispensation of Law and the dispensation of Grace. These are roughly correlated with and paralleled by the divisions in the Bible into the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Dispensations are periods of time when God dealt with the world in a certain way. God does not change (Behold I am God I change not - Malachi Chapter 3v 6) but His way of dealing with the world changes through time. Here are some examples1:
• When Cain killed Abel God put a mark on Cain so that anyone finding him would not slay him (Genesis Chapter 4 v 15) but after the flood God instituted capital punishment...”Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed” Genesis Chapter 9 v 6.
• The writer of Psalms 137:8-9 calls down severe judgment on Babylon…”O daughter of Babylon…happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rocks” but later Jesus taught His people…“Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” Matthew Chapter 5 v 44
• In Leviticus Chapter 11 certain foods were designated as unclean but in Mark Chapter 7 v 18-19 Jesus declared all foods to be clean. See also Acts Chapter 10 v 15.
• In Ezra Chapter 10 v 3 the Jews were told to put away their foreign wives and children. In the New Testament believers are instructed not to put them away
1 Corinthians Chapter 7 v 12 – 16.
• Under the law only the high priest could enter the presence of God, Hebrews Chapter 9 v 7 but under grace all believers have access into the Most Holy Place, Hebrews Chapter 10 v 19-22
These changes are irrefutable evidence that there have been changes of dispensations. Most Bible scholars accept (some do not accept this concept) that from the beginning of humanity until now there have been 7 dispensations as follows:
1. Innocence (Genesis Chapter 1 v 28). From Adam’s creation up to his fall
2. Conscience or Moral Responsibility (Genesis Chapter 3 v 7). From the fall to the end of the flood.
3. Human Government (Genesis Chapter 8 v 15). From the end of the flood to the call of Abraham.
4. Promise (Genesis Chapter 12 v 1). From the call of Abraham to the giving of the law
5. Law (Exodus Chapter 19 v 1). From the giving of the law to the Day of Pentecost
6. Church (Acts Chapter 2 v 1). From the Day of Pentecost to the Rapture
7. Kingdom (Revelation Chapter 20 v 4). The thousand-year reign of Christ.
Now to go back to the question that was asked, i.e. where are we now in this year 2011 AD? The answer is now clear we are in the 6th dispensation, the dispensation of the Church which started from the Day of Pentecost and will last until Christ comes again for the Church (1 Thessalonians Chapter 4 v 16-17). We are no longer under the dispensation of Law but under the dispensation of Grace and The Church. The Law of Moses or the Old Testament Law is in no way applicable to Christians and is fulfilled and subsumed in Jesus Christ who gave two new laws for the Church Age, namely “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew Chapter 22 v 37 -40).” Jesus Christ as Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew Chapter 12 v 8) put an end to the law in no uncertain terms “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans Chapter 10 v 4)
IS SATURDAY THE CHRISTIANS’ SABBATH?
It is proper and right in keeping with Divine Law written in men’s heart and codified for Israel in the Ten Commandments that a day be set aside each week for rest and worship and for Israel under the Mosaic Law this day was Saturday the Jewish Sabbath.
The Apostle Paul took some people to task for emphasizing the Day rather than the Day’s Objective in these words…“one man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his
own mind. He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord” (Romans Chapter 14 v 5-6). It is clear then that the Jewish Sabbath Saturday is prescribed for the Jews and flows from the Mosaic Law as part of that covenant relationship.
Earlier in this article I pointed out that Israel is not The Church so it would be a fallacious argument to say that since God prescribed Saturday for the Jews then it must also be Saturday for The Church as well. Note the specificity of the Mosaic Law to the Jews:
• I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt (Exodus Chapter 20 v 2)
• Then the Lord said to Moses “Tell the Israelites this: You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven...” (Exodus Chapter 20 v 22)
• When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws…He got up early…and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus Chapter 24 v 4)
• Then the Lord said to Moses “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come…’ Observe the Sabbath because it is holy to you”(Exodus Chapter 31 v 12 -14)
It is clear as can be that no matter how you look at it the Jewish Sabbath Saturday is not prescribed for Christians and therefore Christians are under no obligation to observe its strictures.
ARE CHRISTIANS THEN WITHOUT LAW?
This is a question that nearly all Saturday worshippers ask when it is pointed out to them that the Mosaic Law (with its obligation to observe the Jewish Sabbath Saturday) is not prescribed for Christians. This question is asked implying that since you do not observe the Mosaic Law then you have no moral compass and therefore you are either lawless (a theology describes as Antinomianism) or you adhere to man-made laws. Neither of these implications is correct. Let us examine some truths some people seem not too keen to examine.
There were moral laws in existence before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. This is evident because the Bible states… “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.” (Romans Chapter 7 v 7)
1. I would not have known what sin was except through the law. Adam sinned.
To Adam he said “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘you should not eat from it’ Cursed is the ground because of you…” (Genesis Chapter 3 v 17). The sin of covetousness and moral disobedience.
2. I would not have known what sin was except through the law. Cain sinned. “And while they were in the field Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him…the Lord said…you are under a curse and driven from the ground…” (Genesis Chapter 4 v 8b & 11a). The sin of murder.
3. I would not have known what sin was except through the law. The Amorites sinned. “In the fourth generation your descendents will come back here for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (Genesis
Chapter 15 v 16). The sin of general iniquities.
4. I would not have known what sin was except through the law. Noah’s generation sinned. “God saw how corrupt the earth had become. For all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.” (Genesis Chapter 6 v 12). The sin of adultery and sexual decadence.
5. I would not have known what sin was except through the law. Abraham sinned. “So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say ‘she is my sister?’ (Genesis Chapter 12 v 18). The sin of lies and deceit
6. I would not have known what sin was except through the law. “Sodom and Gomorrah sinned. Then the Lord said. “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin is so grievous…” (Genesis Chapter 18 v 20) The sin of perverted sexuality and Homosexuality
7. I would not have known what sin was except through the law. Rachel, Jacob’s wife sinned. Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods. (Genesis Chapter 31 v 31c). The sin of theft
All of the above (and much more besides) happened before the Mosaic Law was given on Mount Sinai proving beyond any doubt that there was law in existence (prior to the Mosaic Law) to which God held humanity accountable.
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