The darkness of the events soon to take place surely pressed about the upper room, where Jesus was eating with His disciples. In those few quiet hours, Jesus could share a few more words of counsel and comfort to His disciples. His burden, as made evident in the gospel of John, was for the disciples to understand the need for them to abide in His Words, in His commandments. “If ye love Me,” Jesus said, “keep my commandments.” Most Christians today would have no problem consenting to follow most of the Ten Commandments. But the fourth commandment seems to be insignificant to most of Christendom today; the graveness of disregarding the law of God–specifically, the Sabbath commandment– is not realized as it should be.
A prestigious Roman Catholic, Cardinal James Gibbons, who was the first cardinal to be appointed in the United States, says this in his book The Faith of Our Fathers:
“You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day we never sanctify.” (Pg. 72,73)
How is it that someone claiming to be a follower of God can so shamelessly admit that they disobey direct instruction from the Bible? The language of the Sabbath commandment is this:
‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it, you shall do no work–you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.‘ Exodus 20:8-11
Some believe that the Sabbath was not instituted until God spoke them at Mt. Sinai and that it was abolished at the cross, implying that the Sabbath is just something to be tossed around. This is proposed by Theodore H. Epp, founder of the organization, Back to the Bible.
He also says, “What day, then, should Christians set aside? There is no commandment given to Christians in this area.” (backtothebible.org)
Epp argues that Jesus kept the Sabbath because Jesus was a Jew, and the Sabbath was a sign for Israelites, according to Exodus 31:13-17. This cannot be correct thinking because Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for man in Mark 2:27–not Sabbath was made for the Israelites only. The Sabbath is included amongst other commandments that everyone is subject to, and there is no basis for separating it from the Decalogue as applicable only to the Jews.
The fourth commandment begins with the word ‘remember’. The children of Israel, having received this formal declaration of God’s law soon after their liberation from Egypt, most likely had forgotten the sacredness of this day because of their occupation as slaves. They were probably forced to work on the Sabbath, and so it is understandable that God would say to ‘remember’, considering that the duration of their slavery was conducive to forgetfulness in regard to this special day.
Spiritual Israel today has ‘forgotten’ the one command where God has called for remembrance. The first day, Sunday is observed as the Sabbath by much of the Christian world today. Why is this so?
History records that the change from the seventh day Sabbath to Sunday was put into motion beginning with Constantine, who was the emperor of Rome several years after Jesus lived on earth. He decreed that work was to cease on Sunday, which reminds one of the languages of the commandment of God. Prior to this, the Christians were heavily persecuted in the Roman Empire. Yet, amidst this hostility towards the followers of Christ, the Romans witnessed a change in their emperor when Constantine professed conversion to the Christian faith.
In that time, much of Roman religion revolved around sun worship. Pagan Rome was entrenched in their own religion. To be asked to give up ceremonies and practices in order to embrace Christianity would create chaotic reverberations within the empire. Constantine used compromise was utilized. The ‘Venerable Day of the Sun’, from which ‘Sunday’ arises, was proclaimed by Constantine in 321 A.D. to be the day set aside for rest and worship.
This change was instituted by man. However, divine law does not change on the say so of a human being. This swapping of Sabbath days has no sanction from the Bible. It was only to make the Christian religion appeal to Roman paganism that the holy day was changed.
The conversion of Emperor Constantine marked the beginning of the rise of Roman Catholicism. For more than a thousand years after that event, this system of church mixed with state grew and became a dictatorial power in Europe. Along with the change of the Sabbath, there were other practices and teachings–such as indulgences, worship of images, confession to a human priest– that evolved within the Catholic church, these things being contradictory to Biblical concepts. The religion of Rome, though officially termed “Christian” by the emperor, was simply paganism made to look like Christianity.
Persecution again arose against true Christians, only this time from a religious power. Groups like the Waldenses stood against the Catholic church, claiming the authority of Scripture over that of men. They kept the commandments of God, including the Sabbath ordained by God.
Eventually came the period of the Protestant Reformation in Europe, with Martin Luther and others. Those who had access to the Bible and knew of the errors that pervaded the Catholic church decided to go against this religious system in favor of pure Christianity. Though persecuted for holding on to the truths found in the Word of God, they understood the sacredness of God’s law and knew that obedience to His commandments needed to be a priority in their faith. Many of the errors and practices of the Catholic church were abandoned by the Protestants.
It is necessary to look at this history–a history of people who were persecuted and opposed because of a desire to obey the commands of Jesus– and realize the significance of the great problem in the fact that most of the Christian world today, both Protestant and Catholic, still observe Sunday as Sabbath, still violate a commandment. There have been many martyrs, many trials faced by Christians throughout the centuries. This continued allegiance to the day of rest designated by man mocks the sacrifices of God’s people in the past as if to say that the law of God is not so important after all.
More appalling than that is the blow to God Himself. Look back at the way that God begins when He delivered the Ten Commandments directly to the people of Israel. He begins by reminding them that He is the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt from the house of bondage (Exodus 20:2). Every commandment that follows should be remembered in that context. The Lord provided their freedom– as their Liberator, He has given them His law, a law described as follows:
‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover, by them, your servant is warned, and in keeping them, there is great reward.’ Psalm 19:7-10
In living by the precepts of the law, people are changed. Wisdom may be obtained, and joy is experienced. The understanding is broadened, and there is no guilt in abiding reverently before God. In this world where sin has been a curse, the conversion experience gained by keeping God’s commandments is the need of every human being. As a God who liberates, it would make sense that any law given by Him would be for the continued freedom and welfare of the ones He has freed.
‘Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins–let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.’ Verses 11-13
In His Word, God lets His people know the danger of not abiding by His law. The psalmist implores the Lord to keep him from the chains of sin. Sin is transgression of the law, and the wages of sin is death (1 John 3:4; Romans 6:23). Slaves do not expect any good recompense for their labor, and the same is true spiritually. Being a slave to sin will produce death, and again, being the God of love and life that He has demonstrated Himself to be, He implores us to keep that law which will lead to triumphant results, not only in this life but for eternity.
Yet there is the contention that the Ten Commandments were abolished at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, thus freeing Christians from obedience to this law. A blogger by the name of Paul Ellis wrote an article, making the case that the Ten Commandments are not part of the law written on our hearts, as it says will occur in Hebrews 10:16. Another verse that this idea stems from is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” Ephesians 2:14-16
Consider another statement by Paul from Colossians:
“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13, 14
Paul’s reference to “the law of commandments” and the “handwriting of requirements” refers to one of two laws that are noted in Scripture: the Book of the Law written by Moses, and the other set of laws being the Ten Commandments, which were written by God.
The case against the nullification of the Ten Commandments can be made by looking at the context of these two passages. Paul, in both letters, follows the line of thought that humans, having been spiritually dead in sin, have been brought to life by the mercy and grace of God, through the death of Jesus Christ. Because He died, a man may live in Him. And so Paul continues to the point that “if you were raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1), and your life is hidden in Him, “put off the old man and put on the new” (verses 9, 10).
And what are the characteristics of this “old man” that Paul exhorts the Colossians to put off? He speaks of “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry…anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy” (verses 5, 8). These are things that God exhorts His people to put away in the Ten Commandments. Further, in his discussion, Paul references the fifth commandment (Ephesians 6:2; Colossians 3:20). If Paul had indeed been referring to the Decalogue as the law which was abolished at the death of Jesus, and considering that in the death of Jesus, Christians are told to put off the “old man”, what sense does Paul make then in saying that to put off the old man is to follow the principles of the Ten Commandments?
Refer also to the historical context of the two laws to decide which set of requirements has been “wiped out”. Throughout the years before Israel and Judah were carried into captivity, there were repeated scenes of apostasy, especially in regard to the first and second commandment, which forbids the worship of other gods and graven images. In reviewing the story of King Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34, it is seen that the Mosaic law, having been found and read again, led to obedience to the moral law of God (seen in the reformation that took place in the removal of idols).
Look to how Jesus Himself regards the commandments of God, in Matthew 5. He mentions the command to not murder (verse 21) and to refrain from committing adultery (verse 27) and expands the meanings of both to include not just the visible and tangible aspects, but the motives and thoughts of a human heart. This reveals that, in the eyes of Jesus Himself, the moral law was not to be diminished but to be studied in such a way that the underlying principles might be understood in a clearer manner. If the death of Jesus was meant to abolish the Ten Commandments, there was no reason for Him to take the time to teach more concerning the moral law.
Now consider the sanctuary services practiced by the Israelites from the wilderness to the time before the crucifixion. The offerings, the ministrations of the priests, the atoning for sins–all pointed forward to the plan of salvation (refer to Hebrews 9 as well as the book of Exodus), and specifically, to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Refer again to Paul’s statement, that “the handwriting of requirements that was against us…has been nailed to the cross.” The mind of a Jew, in reading this, would have recalled the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 31:26, which says, “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you.” He was referring to the laws of sacrificial ordinances, not the Ten Commandments, which were placed, not with Moses’ Book of the Law, but inside the ark of the covenant (Exodus 40:20).
When the Bible says that sin is the transgression of the law, this is describing a scenario in which two things exist, but which such intense friction that one must be done away with. The law that cannot exist in harmony with sin, and if the death of Jesus took away sin, then the law, the moral law, has been left to remain. The law of ordinances was abolished because Jesus was nailed to the cross, has become sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This had been pointed forward to by the sacrificial system all throughout Israel’s history, and when Jesus died, the need for these ordinances became non-existent. May it be understood, then, that if these men, along with the Son of God, believed in and referenced the moral law of God with no allusion to its invalidity, a modern follower of Christ will adhere to this law, in its entirety.
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said ‘Do not commit adultery’ also said ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” James 2:10, 11
James makes it clear that no commandment is considered less important than another. All are necessary, and most, understandably so. Recall how Jesus summed up the law in two commandments:
“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40
In looking at the Decalogue, it is seen that the first four commandments refer to loving God; the last six, loving other people. Honoring parents, life, marriage, ownership, reputation, and property are considered by any rational human to be logical in relating to others. But note that, excepting the fifth commandment, there is no reason given in the last five for the commandment. They are simply straightforward and are accepted without question as good and necessary.
When reading the commandments pertaining to God, notice how God gives a reason to the command:
1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me
Reason: ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’
2nd Commandment: You shall not make for yourself a carved image
Reason: ‘For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.’
3rd Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
Reason: ‘For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain’
4th Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Reason: ‘For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.’
The very concept in having a god is that one’s god gets the supreme regard in the life of the worshiper. Adoration, attention, service, homage, obedience–a god should expect this. Theoretically, Christians know this. Yet hear the sentiments of God expressed in Malachi:
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor, and if I am a Master, where is My reverence?” Malachi 1:6
The context of this passage speaks to the fact that God’s people, especially and specifically the priests, are dishonoring their God by the laziness and carelessness of their worship. The defects of their offerings testify that they had reached a point where they did not regard their God as worthy of highest honor.
“You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind, and the lame and sick as a sacrifice, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you?” Verses 7, 8
The bewildering tone of God’s dialogue in Malachi is understandable as one feels the shrug-off attitude in the responses of these people who, by their actions, clearly have an indifference to the fact that God deserves at least the respect that they would have rendered to earthly authority. A probable third-party assessment of the situation would be one of indignation if God, in this situation, were passive about the haphazard way in which His people serve Him.
But when God sees that His people are in this state, He cannot keep from speaking up and addressing the problem:
“‘And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not give glory to My name,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not take it [the commandment and giving glory to God’s name] to heart.'” Verses 1, 2
“‘Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the Lord of hosts. “My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that he might fear Me; so he feared me, and was reverent before My name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity and turned many away from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth, for he is a messenger for the Lord of hosts.’ “ Verses 4-7
God never keeps silent when His people have turned away from His covenant, because He “has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11). People, both Christian and non-Christian, do not realize that this “law of truth” gives life, peace, and a sinless existence to those who abide by it. And since humans, as sinners, cannot abide in this law on their own, God sent His Son to make it possible.
Now, it does lie on the individual to decide for himself whether or not he will follow God’s commandments. But at the same time, those who stand in religious positions of authority have not been doing their job in upholding God’s law. Just as the priests of Israel showed contempt in regard to His commands, so also church authority has forgotten it’s responsibility to know and follow God’s requirements, encouraging the people to do the same.
Howard Peth, the author of 7 Mysteries Solved, says, “Religious leaders have misled millions so that nearly all of the people are fooled as to the Biblical day of worship.” (Pg. 749)
In the Roman Catholic catechism, in response to whether or not the Church has the power to institute festivals of precept, it states:
“Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her–she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday the seventh day of the week, a change for which there is no scriptural authority.” (Pg. 174)
Former President of Redemptorist College, Father Enright states:
“The Bible says, ‘Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.’ The Catholic Church says, ‘No! By my divine power, I abolish the Sabbath day, and command you to keep holy the first day of the week.’ And lo! The entire civilized world bows down in reverent obedience to the command of the holy Catholic Church.”
These boastful, audacious statements indicate how much pride and arrogance can result in the breaking of just one command of God. Ellen White, in Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, comments on Matthew 5:19: “He who willfully breaks one commandment, does not, in spirit and truth, keep any of them (James 2:10). It is not the greatness of the act of disobedience that constitutes sin, but the fact of variance from God’s expressed will in the least particular, for this shows that there is yet communion between the soul and sin.” (Pg. 52)
People may say, “Why does it matter what day I worship on?” or “That was only for the Jews–I don’t have to keep Saturday as the Sabbath,” and it seems a small thing in their eyes. But it reveals that there is a reluctance to follow what God has said to do. And if there is an unwillingness to do something as “small” as worshiping on the day that He has commanded His people to worship on, there will be hesitancy or outright obstinacy in regards to other commandments.
She continues, “The heart is divided in its service. There is a virtual denial of God, a rebellion against the laws of His government.” The wording of the fourth commandment gives reason for worshiping God. As the Lord and Creator of heaven and earth, He has a right to ask His people to worship Him in remembrance that He created them. Keeping the seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible acknowledges His authority.
“Were men free to depart from the Lord’s requirements and to set up a standard of duty for themselves…the government would be taken out of the Lord’s hands.” This is exactly what has happened with the changing of the Sabbath. When Adam and Eve sinned, it was because they departed from a singular command of God. They gave their allegiance to the devil in eating the fruit. Today, in keeping Sunday, millions give their allegiance to another god, when the Creator is the only one who deserves it.
“Not by one word, not by many words, but by every word that God has spoken shall man live.” The Word of God in its entirety is what God has spoken to man through men. But God personally spoke the Ten Commandments, and He personally wrote them on tables of stone (Exodus 31:18). Even when the second pair of tablets came, cut out of stone by Moses, God wrote His law with His own finger (Exodus 34:1). This should testify to how important the commandments are in God’s eyes.
“We cannot disregard one word, however trifling it may seem to us, and be safe. There is not a commandment of the law that is not for the good and happiness of man, both in this life and in the life to come. In obedience to God’s law, man is surrounded as with a hedge and kept from the evil. He who breaks down this divinely directed barrier at one point has destroyed its power to protect him, for he has opened a way by which the enemy can enter to waste and ruin.” (Pg. 52)
One sin led to separation from God in Eden. One command broken makes it easier for the next one to be laid down as unimportant. “For whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” And if he is guilty, he needs a Saviour. But if he does not think he is guilty in breaking one commandment, he does not really feel his need of a Saviour. Since he does not feel the need, he cannot receive the sacrifice of God on behalf of him, because his faith in Jesus is not complete. Whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life; he who does not will perish.
The danger of audaciously putting down God’s law is that sin has become excusable. And when sin has become excusable in the eyes of a man, God Himself cannot do anything more for his salvation.
Written By Julianna Dunn
-Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing by E.G. White: Chapter 3: The Spirituality of the Law
-The Great Controversy by E.G. White:
– “Constantine I” by Donald M. Nicol and J.F. Matthews, 2016, Encyclopedia Britannica article
This is where I read up on the history of Emperor Constantine, and the involvement of Rome in the Christian church
-“What does God’s Word say about the Christian keeping the Sabbath?” by Theodore H. Epp:
–7 Mysteries Solved by Howard Peth, published in 1988.