Questions on the Law

In our trek through the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith we have reached those chapters dealing with the Law and then the Sabbath. Numerous questions have been asked, some have been answered more easily than others. With respect to the Sabbath, the question which isn’t quite so easy to answer deals with the change of day from Saturday to Sunday. Since God didn’t declare in Holy Writ “worship on this day instead of that and for these reasons”, it’s not possible to defend the change using your handy Bible-proof-text-six-shooter. We must instead rely on other evidence to justify our present practice of worship on Sunday.

Below in outline form is my feeble attempt to build a biblically-based logical flow of reasoning to answer the question of how the 10 Words can be perpetually binding and yet “change” without violating the concept of God’s immutability or the rightful weight given to things “engraved in stone”.

The Decalogue

1) Basic principles

a) Represent a formal record of preexisting laws

i) God’s moral law existed from creation

(1) For the Fourth Commandment: Gen 2:3; Exo 16; 7-day week: Gen 7:4; 8:10,12.

(2) For the Fifth Commandment: Gen 37:10.

(3) For the Sixth Commandment: Gen 4:3-15.

(4) For the Seventh Commandment: Gen 12:17.

(5) For the Eighth Commandment: Gen 31:30; 44:8.

(6) For the Ninth Commandment: Gen 27:12.

(7) For the Tenth Commandment: Gen 6:2; 13:10-11

(8) The first three were a “given”

ii) encoded in hard copy for the benefit of the Israelites

(1) encoded in hearts under the New Covenant

(a) see Jer 31:31-33

(2) uniform legal code transmitted/encoded in different media

b) Moral law reflects morality of the Lawgiver

i) unless Lawgiver changes, his law remains – perpetual and unchanging

(1) see Mal 3:1; Jam 1:17

2) What are the laws? What was written in stone?

a) Exodus and Deuteronomy texts contain same basic body of law (Exo 20:3-17; Deu 5:7-21)

i) same principles

ii) same order

iii) same number

iv) unique parallel in all of Scripture

b) Exodus and Deuteronomy texts include more than bare laws

i) differences in the fourth command

(1) details of Sabbath regulation are included with the command

(a) Deuteronomy adds “your ox or your donkey” (Deu 5:14; cp. Exo 20:10)

(b) Deuteronomy adds reason for including servants – “so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.” (Deu 5:14; cp. Exo 20:10)

(c) additional details are specific to non-mechanized agrarian economy

(2) justification for the Sabbath law is included with the command

(a) Exodus – creation (Exo 20:11)

(b) Deuteronomy – deliverance from Egypt (Deu 5:15)

(3) explicit wording of the imperative (command)

(a) Exodus – Remember (za?kar) the Sabbath (Exo 20:8)

(b) Deuteronomy – Observe (sha?mar) the Sabbath (Deu 5:12)

ii) a promise is attached to the fifth command

(1) see Eph 6:2

(2) more elaborate promise in Deuteronomy (Deu 5:16; cp. Exo 20:12)

iii) an application is attached to the tenth command

(1) compare Rom 7:7 with Exo 20:17 and Deu 5:21

(2) application differs in Deuteronomy

(a) adds prohibition of “his field” (Deu 5:21; cp. Exo 20:17)

c) Unique aspects of the fourth command

i) a sign between God and Israel forever

(1) for the duration of the covenant with Israel

(2) see Exo 31:13-17

ii) during the New Covenant period, Old Covenant Israel’s Sabbaths are abrogated

(1) See Hos 2:11; Col 2:16

iii) during the New Covenant period, the Sabbath will continue

(1) See Isa 56:1-8; Jer 31:33; also Isa 58:13-14

3) So what exactly was on the two tablets?

a) Scripture doesn’t state explicitly

i) Exo 20:1 God spoke all these words

ii) Exo 34:28 He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant

b) Probably in the form:

i) Jesus used

(1) ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ Luk 18:18

ii) Paul used

(1) “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” Rom 13:9

iii) Actual text of the fourth command?

(1) Keep the Sabbath holy (parallel form to commands 6 through 9, and New Testament re-stating)

4) So what’s the deal with #4?

a) Sabbath (rest) was instituted at creation

i) see Gen 2:2-3

(1) as a creation ordinance its essence is perpetual

ii) Gained a significance at Sinai not previously present

(1) deliverance – see Exo 20:2; Deu 5:6, 15

(2) old covenant sign – see Exo 31:13-17

iii) Perpetual, yet not, yet it is

(1) abrogated with the end of the Old Covenant

(2) “re-instituted” with the superseding of the Old Covenant by the New Covenant

(3) serves the same purpose

(a) rest

(i) see Exo 20:9-10 and Isa 58:13

(b) remembrance

(i) see Exo 20:11 and Deu 5:15

(4) but with different objects of remembrance

(a) see Heb 4:9-11

(b) also Act 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2; Rev 1:10


Those essential elements of the Decalogue that transcend application to a specific people under the terms of a particular covenant are perpetually binding. The aspects which had significance in the context of the Old Covenant must find or be given significance relative to the New Covenant. Since the New is a “better covenant” than the Old (Heb 8), superior to the previous one, that which it signifies or remembers must be superior as well. Following apostolic and 1st century church example, observing the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week) signifies the entrance of Christ into his rest (Heb 4:10) from his work of new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:10) and delivering us from bondage to sin (Col 1:13-14; Heb 8:9-10).



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