1. At Sinai God gave 2 laws. The primary was the Decalogue, moral in essence, written on stone tablets and placed inside the golden ark. The secondary, the ‘book of the law’, ceremonial in essence, written by Moses and placed beside the ark (Deut. 31.26) is what is referred to in the New Testament as the ‘first/old covenant’.
2. At Calvary it was the ‘book of the law’ only that was abolished.
1. The context for the ‘cutting of the covenant’ or the giving of the law, at Sinai is in Ex. 19.5ff, where the people promise to obey the covenant directives from God (v.8).
2. God begins speaking, 20.1, the ‘words’ (Heb[i]. Debarim; LXX[ii], logous) of the Decalogue, 20.1-17, and continues to speak, 20.22, and in 21.1-23.19, he tells Moses the ‘laws’ (Heb. Mishpatim; LXX, dikaiomata) to set before the Israelites.
3. Then comes the summary comment in 24.3 that Moses told the people “…all the Lord’s words [Heb. dibrey YHWH; LXX, rhemata tou theou] and laws [Heb. Mishpatim; LXX, dikaiomata]…”
4. After hearing the people’s pledge to do all that the Lord had said, in 24.4, “Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said [Heb. col dibrey YHWH; LXX, panta ta rhemata kuriou].” So he wrote down the ‘words’ (the Decalogue) plus the ‘laws’!
5. In 24.7, “…he took the book of the covenant [Heb. sepher haberith; LXX, to biblion tes diathekes]…” read it to the people and again the people responded with a pledge to obey.
6. As far as the text and context are concerned the ‘book of the covenant’ contained the ‘words’ (the decalogue) plus the ‘laws’. Note as well that Moses wrote down ‘everything God said’ before the text mentions anything written on tablets of stone.
7. Concerning the content of the ‘book of the law’, presumed by some Sabbatarians to exclude the Decalogue, see the following text.
- Joshua 8.31 quotes Ex. 20.25 as in the book of the law
8. The Decalogue is repeatedly called, or linked with, the covenant at Sinai (see Ex. 34.4, 28; Deut. 4.13, 23; 5.2-22; 9.9, 11; I Kings 8.9, 21). Notice as well that breaking any of the 10 commandments was called breaking the covenant (Deut. 29.25; 31.16; Judges 2.19-20; Joshua 23.16; 1 Kings 11.9-11; Jer. 11.10). Note as well that the ‘book of the law’ placed beside the ark (Deut. 31.26) contained Exodus plus other books (Josh. 8.31 with Ex. 20.25; 2 Kings 14.6 with Deut. 24.16; 2 Chron. 35.12 with Lev. 3.3; Ezra 6.18 with Num. 3.6). No biblical distinction can be made between ‘the law’ ‘the law of God/the Lord’ and ‘the law of Moses’ (see Lk. 2. 22-27 and Neh. 8.1-3, 7-8, 14, 18).
- If the moral law resides only in the Decalogue, then one would have a very limited guide re sexual sins. The Decalogue speaks only of adultery, which was, in Old Testament times, literally and only, an offender having sexual intercourse with a married woman. An offender having sexual intercourse with a single woman was not adultery and therefore not a sin if the Decalogue is the supreme and only source of sexual sin! Lev. 18 though, supposedly ceremonial (by SDA reckoning), being part of the book of the law, deals with a variety of sexual sins not broached by the Decalogue.
10.When asked in Mt. 22-36-40, to identify the great[est] commandment in ‘the law’, Jesus answered by giving the top two commandments in ‘the law’ and both are found in the ‘book of the law’ at Deut.6.5 and Lev.19.18. As H.M. Riggle said, “So the greatest commandments are in the book of the law, not on the tables of stone. This utterly demolishes the Adventist two-law theory. The Ten Commandments on tables of stone, then, were not superior, but inferior, to commandments that were given through Moses in the book of the law.” (The Sabbath and The Lord’s Day, p.58).
11.Commenting on the SDA distinction between ‘moral law’ and ‘ceremonial law’ Riggle makes a devastating comment “Adventists use these two terms as freely as though the Bible were full of them; yet, strange to say, the Scriptures make no such distinctions, and never once do we read of ‘moral’ law and ‘ceremonial’ law in the Bible. The place to find these terms is in Adventist literature. In the Bible the Old Testament is simply called ‘the law’. Had the primitive Christians stood on the Adventist platform, when Paul and Christ were preaching concerning ‘the law’, they would have been frequently interrupted with ‘What law?’ ‘What law?’ ‘The ceremonial or the moral?’ But such questions were never asked, for all knew of but one law—the Pentateuch…If there were two distinct laws given to Israel, so different in their nature, it is strange that there is no record of it, no reference to it in the Bible.”[iii]
It should be noted that, philosophically, any command that God gives concerning behaviour (whether to do or to avoid doing) is by that token, moral, but it could also apply to a ceremony or to societal organization and operation.
©Rev. Clinton Chisholm, May, 2007
[i] This is the Hebrew text of the Old Testament
[ii] This is the Septuagint or Greek version of the Old Testament.
[iii] Riggle, op cit., 55.