Are The Ten Commandments Still Binding?

Now, as to whether "the ten Commandments are still as true today as nearly two thousand years ago," if you mean they are still as "binding" today as they were then, it depends on whether they were also incorporated into the New Covenant law, or law of Christ. It is freely conceded that all of them have been thus incorporated, except for the Sabbath command. But in Colossians 2:16-17, cited above, we see it specifically included in the category of things by which we are not to be judged – that is, not to be condemned for not observing them – meaning, therefore, that they are not binding under Christ.

 NOTE: That is basic, and means there has been a change of law by God himself, so that under Christ the sabbath command is no longer binding – a conclusion I think is beyond successful contradiction. And, logically, I could stop with that alone.

 But I promised to "endeavor to be comprehensive enough to provide a sufficiently detailed overview for a clear and proper perspective of what I believe to be the teaching of scripture on the subject under consideration" -- an enhancement, and further confirmation of divine rational, if you please. And that I now attempt from both Old and New Covenant scriptures, though it means a much, much longer treatment.

1. Status of the Sabbath Under New covenant Law.

 In Galatians 4:10-11, the apostle Paul, when writing to Gentile Christians who were being influenced by Judaizing teachers to be circumcised and keep the Old Covenant law of Moses in order to be saved (see Acts 15:1-5), said: "Ye observe days [which would include sabbath days], and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain." And, in regard to circumcision, which had been required under the Old Covenant, he said: "…if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. Yes, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law. Ye are fallen from grace. … For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love" (Galatians 5:2-6).

 The principle seen in the foregoing is this: Under Christ "circumcision" is not commanded, neither is it forbidden if not done to obey Old Covenant law to be saved. But if it is done because required under Old covenant law, and to be justified or saved, that obligates us to keep all that law, yet severs us from Christ and therefore from the grace of God through Christ, without which we cannot be saved. That principle. Applying to any command of the Old covenant not incorporated into New Covenant law, INCLUDES THE "SABBATH" COMMAND, ALREADY NOTED IN Colossians 2:16-17.

And, since in that passage the "sabbath" is listed among items that "are a shadow of things to come" – "the law having a shadow of the good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1) – that is, to come through Christ, who is mediator of the New Covenant – that makes it important to examine the sabbath more fully under both Old and New Covenants, for a still broader perspective and clearer perception of it.

 2. The Sabbath in the Old Covenant scriptures: Genesis to Malachi.

  a. First Mentioned (Genesis 2:1-3): "And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them [in the six days of Genesis 1]. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and hollowed it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God had created and made."

The Hebrew verb here translated "rest" is shabath, meaning to cease, or rest. And the seventh day, which marked the cessation of God’s work of creation, came to be referred to as the "sabbath" (shabbath) or "sabbath day." It marked the end of the first week of the earth’s existence, and the beginning of a weekly succession of seventh-days, later spoken of by God as "my sabbaths" (Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 19:3,30; 26:2).

b. Second Mention (Exodus 16): Israel, recently delivered from Egyptian bondage and was in the early stages of its long trek to the promised land of Canaan, had been led into the wilderness of Sin, not far distance from Mt. Sinai, where they would be encamped for a year and receive the Old Covenant law, with its famous Ten Commandments, which included the sabbath legislation with which we are now concerned.

Food had given out in the wilderness of Sin, and the people murmured. "then said Jehovah unto Moses, Behold I will rain bread down from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not. And it shall come to pass on the sixth day, that they shall prepare that which they shall bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily" (16:4-5).

And on the first sixth day, Moses explained to the people as follows: "This is that which Jehovah hath spoken, Tomorrow is a solemn rest, a holy sabbath unto Jehovah: Bake [today] that which ye will bake, and boil that which ye shall boil; and all that remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning" (16:23). And when morning came Moses further said: "Eat that today; for today is a sabbath unto Jehovah: today ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day is the sabbath, in it there shall be none" (vs.25-26).

Some of the people went out anyhow on the sabbath day to gather, but found none. "And Jehovah said unto Moses [to be delivered to the people], How long refuse ye to keep my commandments an my laws? For that Jehovah hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you the sixth day the bread for two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day" (vs.28-39).

That was a prelude to, and a conditioning for, the sabbath command as an especially significant part of the covenant between God and Israel, soon to be made at Sinai.

c. Third Mentioned (Exodus 20); On the third day after Israel had arrived in the wilderness of Sinai, God awesomely spoke from the summit of Mount Sinai the Ten Commandments that he later wrote on two tables of stone an delivered to Moses. He began by saying, "I am Jehovah thy God. who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of bondage" (v.2). The first command was to have no other gods before (or besides) him. And the fourth was: "

remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, and hallowed it" (vs.8-11).

  d. Further Explanatory Scriptures – that emphasize the tremendous significance and importance of the seventh-day sabbath for Israel:

Exodus 31:12-17: "Verily ye shall keep my sabbaths: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am Jehovah who sanctified you. …Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel throughout their generations for ever: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

NOTE: The plural, "sabbaths," refers simply to the seventh-day sabbath in its weekly recurrences (each week having a sabbath ) – hence, "Verily ye shall keep my sabbaths: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations."

Deuteronomy 4:7-8: "For what great nation is there, that hath a god so nigh unto them, as Jehovah our God is whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?" This Moses said in his farewell address to Israel forty years after giving of the law initially at Sinai, which he was now repeating just before his death and their then entering Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15: When Moses had repeated the sabbath commandment of Exodus 20:8-11, requiring rest from labor on the sabbath day even for their "man-servant" and "maid-servant," he added: "And thou shalt remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand and outstretched arm: therefore Jehovah thy God commandeth thee to keep the sabbath day" (v.15).

Ezekiel 20: Centuries later, when elders of Israel had come to the prophet Ezekiel to enquire of Jehovah through him, Jehovah had him to remind them twice of the fact stated above in Exodus 31:12-17, as follows: (a) "Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Jehovah that sanctifieth them" (v.12); and (b) "my sabbaths … shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God" (v.20).

Nehemiah 9:12-15: About another century and half later, after the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity, when in a general assembly in Jerusalem a lone prayer of thanksgiving was addressed to God in which general history of his dealings with Israel were recounted from the call of their ancestor Abraham to the then present time, among other things it was said:

"Thou camest down also upon Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments, and madest known to them thy holy sabbath, them commandments, and statutes, and a law, by Moses thy servant, and gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and commandest them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadest sworn to give them."

Isaiah 66:23-24, now mentioned lastly though chronologically about a century earlier than the text from Ezekiel, is different from all the foregoing, being a prophetic promise to Israel of a time when "all flesh" (all nations) will worship Israel’s God "from sabbath to sabbath," as follows:

"For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith Jehovah, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh [Gentiles as well as Israelites] come to worship before me, saith Jehovah."

By way of summary of the foregoing we have the following:

(1) God gave his sabbaths to fleshly Israel as a sign between him and them of the covenant made with them at Sinai as his specially chosen people (Exodus 31: 12-17; Ezekiel 2012,20), setting them apart from all others. There is no record of human observance of the seventh day of the week as a day of solemn rest unto Jehovah prior to its being given to Israel as such – a period of no less than 2500 years of human history – not before the flood, by Adam, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, or any other – and not after the flood, by Abraham. Isaac Jacob, or any other person or people.

 However, the word "week" (Heb. shabua, a seven) occurs in Genesis 29:27-28, reporting languages used by Laban in conversation with Jacob more than 250 years before the giving of Jehovah’s "sabbath" to Israel at Sinai. So, no doubt the seven-day cycle was derived from the six days of creation plus the day of God’s rest from creation on the seventh day – yet without any record of the seventh’s day being enjoined upon man as a rest unto Jehovah, until given to Israel as a sign of the covenant between him and them as his then special chosen people, as stated above.

  (2) No other great nation had such a god or covenant as Israel’s God and covenant, and, by implication, no sabbath to keep (Deuteronomy 4:7-8;5:12-15). By way of analogy, it was as when a husband gives his wife a wedding ring as a sign of the covenant of marriage between him and her, and them alone, setting her apart from all others. And God himself likened it unto such a covenant, saying: "which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them" (Jeremiah 31:32).

Moreover, the seventh-day sabbath was especially appropriate as such a sign between God and Israel of the covenant they entered into at Sinai. For his sabbath signified the end of all the work he had done during the six days of creation, and memorialized it (Genesis 2:1-3). And giving his sabbaths to Israel likewise symbolized and memorialized his ending their servitude in Egypt, per Deuteronomy 5:15. This symbolized the fact that the God of creation was now Israel’s God, and they were to have no other – just as no other nation shared such in history, or the sabbath to keep as a solemn rest to Jehovah.

(3) Making known to Israel his "holy sabbath" was one of the events clustering around and upon God’s coming down "upon mount Sinai" and speaking to them from heaven (Nehemiah 9:13-15). And their previous ignorance of it is evidenced by the conduct of some of them when its observance was preliminarily enjoined in the wilderness of Sin in connection with god’s beginning to feed them with manna (Exodus 16).

  (4) The reference in (2) above to Israel’s breaking the marriage covenant between Jehovah and them, included also their "profaning" the sabbath day, the sign of the covenant between them and him, by not keeping it holy, as a day of rest unto Jehovah. The first mention of such profaning is found in Numbers 15:32-36. But further references are too numerous to recite here.

  (5) Lastly, the prophetic promise in Isaiah 66:22-23 to Israel involving sabbatism on the new earth he would make, does not refer to sabbath keeping on this present earth under the New

covenant of which Christ is the mediator, superseding the Old Covenant of which Moses was mediator, but to the ultimate sabbatism for the redeemed of all nations in the world yet to come. While said promise was couched in language of the then present sabbatism under the Old Covenant (as coming to worship him "from one sabbath to another," and "from one new moon to another"), it had to be figuratively used though nonetheless expressive of the perpetual sabbatism.

For, as the apostle John saw in his vision on Patmos, of the "new earth," with its "holy city, new Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:1 -22:5), "the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, And the light thereof is the Lamb" (21:23); "and the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day (for there shall be no night there)" (v.25); "and there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light" (22:5).

Moreover, the foregoing three verses are followed by a final verse reading as follows, which, being simultaneous in time, likewise has to be figurative: "And they shall go forth, and look upon the dead bodies of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh" (Isaiah 66:24).

The underscored phrases [for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched] were later employed by Jesus, as recorded in the New Covenant scripture of Mark 9:43-48, as applying to the "worm" and "fire" of "hell" (Gehenna). The latter was literally the Valley of Hinnom, which had come to be used as the city dump on the outskirts of earthly Jerusalem, not only of garbage but also for unburied carcasses, "where worms gnawed and fires burned" (as expressed in A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament). But it was employed by our Lord figuratively of "the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angel’s" (Matthew 25:41), -- called "the lake of fire" in Revelation20:14-15 – where the unrighteous "shall go away unto eternal punishment" (v.26), from the universal judgment when Jesus comes again (Matthew 25:31-46), which is to follow the universal resurrection of the dead and the fleeing away of the present earth and heaven (evidently its atmospheric heaven and possibly the siderial heavens, but not the abode of God) (Revelation 20:11-15). Surely, however, the lake of eternal fire will not be on the outskirts of, or accessible to the sights of the redeemed inhabitants of, the "holy city. New Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:1 - 22:5).

For such reasons, the passage of Isaiah 66:23-24 regarding the sabbath in the "new earth" which Jehovah would yet "make." Seems to be appropriately characterized in Elliott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, as follows:

"It lies in the nature of the case that the words never have received, and never can receive, a literal fulfillment. The true realization is found in the new Jerusalem of Rev.21:22-27. of the perpetual sabbatism of Heb.4:9, and even that glorious vision is but a symbol of spiritual realities."

It has been aptly said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New is the Old revealed. So we now return primarily to the New for the things foreshadowed by the Old.Cecil N. Wright

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