The Sabbath Issue

Chapter 4: The Unity of the Law of Moses.

Now some say, even in the face of all this evidence, that the Law of Moses, including the Sabbath, is still operative for believers today. They have to admit that most of the Law (of 613 Commands) is no longer applicable, and that much of it (such as the animal sacrifices) have passed away through Christ. However, they still want to keep the Law as an operational Law-System. In order to do this, they must divide the Law into two or three parts, so that some parts have passed away while other parts remain. Some divide the Law into (1) the 10 Commandments which remain, and (2) the rest (the other 603 Commandments) which have passed away. A more sophisticated division is between (1) the Moral Laws (that remain) and (2) the Ceremonial and Civil Laws (that have passed away. Based on this division they assert that only the Ceremonial (and Civil) aspects of the Law have now passed away.

In particular, this allows them to claim that the 10 Commandments (which they assume define and summarise the unchanging Moral Law of God) are still fully operative, since God wrote them with His own fingers in stone, and Himself said that they are to stand forever. If the 10 Commandments apply, then surely the 4th Commandment about keeping the Sabbath must also apply today!

Now these certainly seem persuasive points worthy of a response.

*There are 3 main kinds of ‘Sabbath-keepers’ who would say ‘Amen’ to this line of argument.

1. Covenant Theologians represent a traditional understanding that has developed in Church history, that says: “yes, the Sabbath Law still applies, but now Sunday is the Sabbath, not Saturday. We are commanded to keep Sunday as a day of rest and Public Worship.” But the Sabbath by very definition is the 7th (last) Day of the week, not the first day. They have to do exegetical gymnastics to redefine the Sabbath (from how God originally defined it), to avoid keeping it in the way that the 10 Commandments actually require. This view is based on Church tradition rather than the Bible and can be dismissed quickly, as it is clearly without Biblical foundation.

2. 7th Day Adventists are more consistent at this point. They say the Law of 10 Commandments still applies today, including the Saturday Sabbath, as originally defined by God, and therefore it is a serious sin to break the Sabbath, even being a salvation-issue. 

3. Some Messianic Jews, in their zeal to get back to Jewish roots, say that the Sabbath Law still applies, at least for Jews. While it is understandable believing Jews may choose to identify with their people by upholding the Law, it would clearly be wrong to say 

there should be one law for Gentiles and another for Jews in the Church-Age, for Christ has destroyed the Middle-Wall of Partition. 

All these groups want to keep the Law, but they have to agree that the vast majority of it does not apply today. They cannot deny the scriptures that say it has passed away, so that we are no longer under it (see the last Chapter). However, since they want to keep parts of the Law, they divide it up, saying that only part of it has passed away. This approach has no basis in Scripture, as we will see.

The fundamental flaw in all these approaches is the unjustified assumption that the Law can be divided into 2 or 3 parts, so that one part continues to operate and the others do not. Their whole argument is built on the basis of this unscriptural assumption, and so it falls like a house of cards once it is disproved, as we shall endeavour to do in this Chapter. 

The 613 Commandments have been categorised in different ways: *The positive v the negative commandments (Rabbinic).

*The 10 Commandments (Moral Law) v the rest (the other 603). This has been a common Christian way of thinking that has come down to us through Church history. Some use this division to say that we are under the 10 Commandments, but not under the others. 

*Moral Law v Ceremonial and Legal (Civil) Law. Some use this division to say that we are under the Law, except that the Ceremonial and Civil Law has passed away. Then by making the further (wrong) assumption that the 10 Commandments are entirely Moral Law, it follows that we are still under the 4th Commandment (the Sabbath Law). The argument is faulty at two points: 

(1) It is not scriptural to use this division of the Law, to say that one part of the Law continues and another part discontinues, and 
(2) The 10 Commandments are not entirely Moral Law by nature. In this Chapter we will address the first assumption: that the Law divides into parts, so one part continues to operate, and others don’t.

*The Law of Moses (Torah) never divides itself into these categories, but it always views itself as a single UNIT (thus there is never absolute agreement as to how to apply these divisions). The Hebrew word for the Law: ‘Torah’ is singular, which reflects this truth. Likewise, the Greek word for Law: ‘Nomos.’ There is but one indivisible Law of Moses. Throughout the Bible, the Law is always seen as a UNIT. It is a single indivisible System of Law. To view the Torah as a Law-System that you can cut up into pieces is incorrect, unscriptural and confused thinking.

James 2:10: “For whoever keeps THE WHOLE LAW, and
yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

The Law certainly contains legislation related to Israel’s moral, religious and civil life, but there is no basis for dividing them in such a way to say some have passed away and some have not. Neither the prophets nor the rabbis thought that way; this thinking was something that has developed in fairly recent Church-history. 

The Law of Moses has to be seen as a single unified system of Law. Either the whole Law-System is operative or none of it is. This was Paul’s point in Galatians 5:3: “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised (under the Law of Moses), that he is obligated to obey the WHOLE LAW.” You can’t pick and choose what bits of the Law you want to keep. You are either under the Law or not, and if you are then you are obliged to keep it all, including circumcision, and to bear its curse if you fail! 

The Law of Moses is essentially a single UNIT of 613 commandments, therefore all of it has been rendered inoperative by the Cross of Christ. It certainly includes both moral and ceremonial law, along with civil, criminal, dietary, sanitary, and governmental law. But these divisions are not absolute Biblical divisions. While they might be usefully imposed on the Law for the purposes of study, they are not inherent in the way the Law is written or structured, and so they can’t be used as a basis for cutting the Law into pieces, so that one part continues and another part discontinues. 

Moreover there is certainly no basis in the way the New Testament handles the Law, to say that it has only partially passed away in Christ. It always treats the Law as a totality, and consistently claims that the whole Law has been rendered inoperative by the Cross. All the passages in the last chapter confirm the WHOLE LAW (as a unified Law-System) has been brought to an end through the Cross. There is no sign in the language of Scripture that this is just partial. 

The New Testament never uses the distinction between Moral and Ceremonial Law to say that only part of the Law has passed away. Rather it claims that the whole Old-Covenant and its Law-System has passed away, having been rendered inoperative by the Cross of Christ, and has been replaced by a new and better Covenant with a new and higher Law - the Law of Christ (as codified in the New Testament). Therefore, it is wrong to claim that the Law is even partially still in place. The assumption that you can divide it into one part that has ceased and another that continues today is not to be found in the Bible, but is a fairly recent theological construct, that does not arise naturally from the language of Scripture (by exegesis), but has to be artificially imposed upon it (eisegesis). 

The Bible considers the Torah as a UNIT, a single system of law, which therefore has either all passed away or not at all. Since all have to admit that a large part of the Law has passed away in Christ, it follows that it must have passed away in totality as a Law-System with authority over us (including the 10 Commandments).



About Us



Bible Commentary






OBC Office

363 Banbury Road
Oxford - England - UK
Telephone: +44 (0)1865 515086
Fax: +44 (0) 8721 107068
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Sunday Services

Sundays at 11am and 6pm
Cheney School Hall
Cheney Lane - Headington
Oxford - England - UK