Did Jesus abolish the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath?

Thu, 1 Jan 2015 Source: Annor, Joseph

(Part 1)

In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus stated that he had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets … but to fulfil them. And until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Despite Jesus clearly indicating that the Law is perpetual, many still postulate that Jesus abolished the Law. For instance, Mr Michael Houdmann argues that if Jesus meant that the Law is perpetual that contradicts everything learnt from the balance of the New Testament that:

? before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law… So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:23-25);

? by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations (Ephesians 2:15);

? Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4);

? Jesus fulfilled the prophecy about the about himself when he stated in Luke 24:44 "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me …", and

? if Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial system then he also fulfilled other aspects of the law.

One law or two different sets of laws

Firstly, Mr Houdmann argument is based on wrong premises because it assumes that there is no difference between:

(1) the Ten Commandments (also known as the Moral Law/the Decalogue) and

(2) the Law of Moses (also known as the ceremonial laws, the Mosaic Law or the Ordinances)–which include circumcision, sacrifices, offerings, purifications, holy days and other rites associated with the Hebrew sanctuary service.

The three examples below clearly distinguish between the two laws.

Authorship and mode of delivery

Deuteronomy 31:9-11 states unequivocally that Moses wrote the Mosaic laws and instructed the priests to read them to the Israelites.

Contrary, the Lord himself wrote the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone, and when Moses destroyed the original tablets, the Lord personally rewrote them (Exodus 24:12, 31:18, Deuteronomy 4:12-13). Also, it was the Lord who read the Ten Commandments in his own voice to the Israelites (Exodus 20:1-17). It is noteworthy that this is the only known scripture that the Lord himself was both the writer and author. In any other case, someone else was the writer, e.g. the Lord is the author of the Book of Revelation but John the writer (Rev 1:1)

The distinction in Deuteronomy 4

Deuteronomy 4, particularly, verses 13-14 provide a clear distinction between the two sets of laws as follows:

? 13, ‘He [the Lord] declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets’

? 14, ‘And the Lord directed me [Moses]’ at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess’ (the Mosaic law).

The Pulpit commentary provides that God declared the Ten Commandments at Sinai, but … there were other statutes and ordinances which Moses was commanded to teach the people.

A similar distinction is also provided in:

? 2 Kings 21:8, "And I will not make the feet of Israel wander anymore … if only they will observe to do [1] according to all that I [the Lord) have commanded them [the Ten Commandments], and [2] according to all the law that My servant Moses commanded them [the Mosaic law]."

? Luke 1:6, “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. According to Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, one [the commandments] expresses their moral–the other [ordinances] their ceremonial–obedience [Calvin and Bengel]. And “It has been denied that any such distinction was known to the Jews and New Testament writers. Mr 12:33, and other passages, put this beyond all reasonable doubt.”

The separate location of the two laws

The Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law were physically kept separately from each other. In Exodus 25:16, the Lord directed Moses that ‘When the Ark is finished, place inside it the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you.’ 1 Kings 8:9 also states “There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets Moses put there at Horeb.” According to the Pulpit commentary, the main purpose of the ark was to serve as a repository for the two tablts containing the Ten Commandments.

In Contrast, Deuteronomy 31:24-26 indicate that when Moses finished the writing of his laws, he commanded the Levites to put it beside the ark.

In summary, the two laws:

1. Had different authors (the Lord and Moses respectively).

2. Were spoken by the different law-givers;

3. Were originally written on different materials, one on stone tablets of stones–symbolising a permanent duration, the other on soft material–symbolising transitory in nature;

4. Were placed in different locations in the ark; and

5. Had completely different contents.

Accordingly, the context determines which of the laws is being discussed.

The meaning of the word ‘fulfil’ used in Matthew 5:17

According to the Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, the Greek word “pleroo” from which the word “fulfil” in Matthew 5:17 is translated can denote one of these two meanings:

(1) to make full, to fill to the full; or

(2) to complete (to end, accomplish).

Therefore, it is important to examine which of the two meanings that Jesus used in Matthew 5:17. Different words have been used to translate “pleroo” in John 15:11 as underlined below: “These things have I spoken unto you … that your joy may be fulfilled, complete, full, perfect or overflow (see also 1 John 1:4). Clearly, the first meaning (to make full) was used here since it would not make sense that John would wish the joy of his addressees to come to an end. Contrary, the word “pleroo” denotes end in time in Mark 1:15. The New International Version and the New American Standard Bible translate Mark 1:15 as ‘The time has come’ and ‘The time is fulfilled’ respectively. Clearly, “pleroo” here refers to the passage or arrival of time.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus used the word ‘fulfil’ to oppose the word ‘abolish’ (or end), accordingly, the two words could not mean the same, and must therefore mean “to make full”. Further, a prophecy by Isaiah provides a clear explanation of what Jesus meant by fulfilling the law. Isaiah prophesied (42:21) that “The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” In other words, Jesus would expand the law (the Ten Commandments) and make it great and not to abolish it. Jesus elaborated our understanding of God's law by demonstrating that we have to obey both the spirit and the letter of the law. The two examples from Matthew chapter 5 clearly illustrate the point:

? Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus explained that being angry may carry the same consequence as committing a murder as both will be subject to judgment.

? Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus explained that looking at a woman lustfully is tantamount to committing adultery.

Accordingly, if Jesus magnified the Ten Commandments that he wrote himself and gave to Moses, then the argument that he abrogated them seems invalid.

Further, in Matthew 5:19, Jesus stated that anyone who sets aside the least of the commandments and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. This is similar to a passage in Revelation 22:19 which states “And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.” Jesus (the author) indicated the completeness and permanency of both messages.

Also, Matthew 5:18 is similar to Luke 16:17 (“it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail”), which alludes to the destruction of the heaven and earth to demonstrate the perpetuity of the Law. According to the Meyer NT commentary, Luke 16:17 implies that “onwards to the destruction of the world the law will not lose its validity in the slightest point ... and the duration of the law after the final catastrophe of the world is neither taught nor excluded.” This view is similar to an analogy in Job 14:12 illustrating that the dead will not resurrect from death until the heavens and earth pass away.

Moreover, David described the everlasting nature of the law as follows:

? Psalm 119:152, “Long ago I learned from your statutes [commandments/laws] that you established them to last forever.”

? Psalm 111:7-8, “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established for ever and ever, enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.”

According to the Pulpit commentary, Psalm 119:8 means that “All his [God’s] commandments are sure; i.e. firm, unchangeable–being based on truth and right.” For, “They stand fast forever and ever … not one jot or tittle of God's commandments ever passes away (Matthew 5:18)…”

Further, the passages listed below also indicate that the Law will be binding forever

? Romans 3:31, Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

? Romans 7:7, What shall we say then? [Is] the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

? 1 John 3:4, Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

? Romans 7: 12, Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

? 1 Timothy 1:8, We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

? Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

? James 1:25, But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

? Psalm 19:7-12 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul.

? James 2:10, For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all. This passage is similar to Matthew 5:19. John 14:15, If you love me, keep my commands.

? 1 John 5:3, For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

Jesus also stated in Mark 13:31, Matthew 24:35 and Luke 21:33 that the heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away; because the Lord’s words are eternal and endures forever (Psalm 119:89, Isaiah 40:8 and 1 Peter 1:25).

Lastly, the table below indicates how God shares some of his most important attributes with the Ten Commandments.

God The Law

Romans 16:26: God is Eternal Psalms 111:7-8: The law is Eternal

John 4:24: God is Spiritual Romans 7:14: The law is Spiritual

Psalms 145:17: God is Righteous Psalms 119:172: The law is Righteous

Matthew 5:48: God is Perfect Psalms 19:7 & James 1:25: The law is Perfect

1 John 1:5: God is Light Proverbs 6:23: The law is Light

Deuteronomy 32:4: God is Truth Psalms 119:142: The law is Truth

Deuteronomy 32:4: God is Just Romans 7:12: The law is Just

Luke 18:19: God is Good Romans 7:12 & 1 Tim 1:8: The law is Good

1 John 3:3: God is Pure Psalms 19:8: The law is Pure

1 John 4:8: God is Love Romans 13:10: The law is Love

Psalms 48:1: God is Great Hosea 8:12: The law is Great

Isaiah 5:16: God is Holy Romans 7:12: The law is Holy

Luke 24:44

Also, Luke 24:44 does not support the view that the Law was fulfilled after the death of Jesus because in verses 45-46, Jesus opened the mind of his addresses to understand that he was talking about his death and resurrection (and not the Law) (see also Luke 18:13-33).

Galatians 3:23-25, Ephesians 2:15 and Romans 10:4,

Also, Galatians 3:23-25, Ephesians 2:15 and Romans 10:4 cannot be used as a basis to support the view that the law is abrogated.

Galatians 3:23-25

Firstly, while many assume that Paul discussed the Ten Commandments in Galatians 3:23-25, the context clearly indicates that Paul discussed the ceremonial laws and not the Ten Commandments. The key to understanding Galatians 3:23-25 is verse 10 (Gal 3:10) which states: “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."

It is significant to mention that Paul quoted the passage in Gal 3:10 from Deut. 27:26. And Deut. 27:9-26 indicate that Moses directed the Levites to teach the Israelites to recite some ten specified laws prohibiting some behaviours and each of the law started with a curse coming on a person who would engage in those behaviours. It was these laws and curses associated with them that Paul referred to in Galatians 3:23-25 as the context determines in Gal 3:10. The fact that Gal 3:10 refers to the Book of the Law is also another testimony that Paul discussed the Mosaic law because the Ten Commandments were written on stone tablets and not in a book.

Significantly, only three of the ten laws contained in Deut. 27:9-26 directly related to the Ten Commandments (the prohibition from idol worship, dishonouring parents and killing a neighbour secretly). The rest were: moving one’s neighbour’s landmark, misleading a blind man on the road, perverting justice, lying with one’s father's wife, an animal, a sister and mother-in-law. Accordingly, Galatians 3:23-25 does not indicate that the Ten Commandments have been abrogated since seven of the laws Paul referred to are not directly related to the Ten Commandments. In any case, such argument implies that it is okay to (1) kill and (2) lie with an animal because they were two of the commandments described in Deut. 27:9-26 that Paul referred to in Gal 3. It is therefore clear that Paul was more concerned about how the laws were administered, i.e. the curses that were associated with them and not the laws themselves since engaging in any of the laws listed above is still sin.

Romans 10:4

Also, many incorrectly assume that Paul’s statement in Romans 10:4 has rendered the Ten Commandments redundant. However, there are at least three reasons why this assumption is incorrect.

Firstly, Paul himself categorically rejected such a view in Romans 3:31 (Do we then nullify the law through faith? Absolutely not! Instead we uphold the law).

Secondly, Jesus stated categorically that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it, and until the heaven and earth passes away not one jot will be cancelled (Matthew 5:17-19, Luke 16:17).

Thirdly, Romans 9:31-32 provides the context to understand Romans 10:4. In Romans 9:31-32, Paul postulated that the Israelites pursued a law that would lead to righteousness but could not reach the law because they did not pursue it by faith but based on their works. In other words, Paul did not condemn them for pursuing the law to attain righteousness but the manner that they pursue it, i.e. by relying solely on their works and neglecting the faith, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Against this background, Paul stated further that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Putting it in another context, ‘Christ is not the ‘end’ of the law in the sense of terminating the law, but in the sense of being the “goal” of the law, the One to whom the law points. The law leads a person to Christ as the repentant sinner looks to Him for salvation.’

Lastly, while the Greek word ’telos’ in Romans 10:4 has been mainly translated as ’end’, the Greek word can mean either end or purpose (the Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985). This variation in meaning is further supported by the Wikipedia which states: ‘A telos … is an end or purpose … It is the root of the term "teleology," roughly the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions.’’ Accordingly, while the King James Bible translates “telos’’ as “end” in 1 Timothy 1:5 (Now the end of the commandment is charity–KJB), others preferred a goal, aim or purpose (e.g. The goal of this command is love–NIV). Clearly, the King James did not mean ’end’ as in ‘termination’ but as ‘end result’ or ‘purpose’.

Furthermore, the Pulpit Commentary stipulates that ‘The word "end" [or teleo]) might itself mean: (1) termination, (2) fulfilment or (3) aim or purpose–as translated in 1 Timothy 1:5 and 1 Peter 1:9). However, the last meaning best suits the line of thought here. The Jews showed ignorance of the real meaning and purpose of Law, by resting on it for justification. But Paul constantly indicated that the Law could not and was never meant to justify, but rather to convince of sin; to establish the need of, and excite a craving for, redemption; and so prepare men to appreciate and accept the righteousness of God in Christ which was its ????? [purpose], and this is clearly demonstrated in Romans 3:21 and Romans chapter 7.

Ephesians 2:15

Similar to Galatians 3:23-25 and Romans 10:4, Ephesians 2:15 does not mean that the Ten Commandments have been abrogated. The Pulpit Commentary on Ephesians 2:15 summarises this as follows: ‘the law that was abolished or superseded by Christ was … the ceremonial law of the Jews … not the moral law (see Romans 3:31).’


From the foregoing, it is clear that neither Jesus nor Paul taught that the Ten Commandments would be abrogated after the death of Jesus; therefore, the perpetual nature of the Law is not in doubt.


? http://www.ucg.org/booklet/new-covenant-does-it-abolish-gods-law/apostles-old-testament-and-gods-law/what-did-paul-mean/

? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telos_

? http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/different_laws.html

? http://www.ceremoniallaw.com/

? http://biblehub.com/genesis/2-3.htm

? The New Bible Commentary 21st Century Edition (Edited by Carson, D. A., France, R . T., Motyer J. A., and Wenham G. J).

? Christ and His Law: SDA Adult Sabbath School Lesson for 2014 Q2: http://ssnet.org/study-guides/lesson-archives/2010-2019/christ-and-his-law-2014-q2/

Author: Joseph Annor – B.A. (Hons) Majoring in Study of Religions, University of Ghana

CPA, Master of Accounting (UTS)

Columnist: Annor, Joseph