Is the Sabbath commandment still a part of the Decalogue? Or is it the only one of the Ten Commandments that is now obsolete?
Nowhere in the New Testament are the Ten Commandments listed in order from one to ten. Nowhere in the New Testament is the Sabbath command repeated verbatim. Without the Old Testament we would not know the exact construction of God’s basis law. Without the Old Testament we would not even know that the exact number of commandments is ten. These are startling facts that many may not have stopped to consider.
What about it? Is there any logical biblical reason why we should keep the Sabbath today? Should we now keep all ten of the Ten Commandments – or only those points that pertain to our neighbor? Should we love God only in a very general manner?
By way of a brief background the first Sabbath day followed the six working days of creation (Gen. 2:1-3). A command to remember this first Sabbath day was later inculcated into ancient Israel’s basic constitutional law listed in Ex. 20 and Deut. 5. These fundamental decrees were the only ones spoken and written by the Creator Himself. All other codified laws, statutes, judgments and ordinances were relayed to Moses through angelic mediation.
Moses later summarized God’s personal role as Lawyer in the book of Deuteronomy: “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Hew two tables of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and hewed two tables of stone like the first and went up the mountain with the two tables in my hand. And he (God) wrote on the tables, as at the first writing, the ten commandments which the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the Lord gave them to me” (Deut. 10:1-4).
Another summary account is also well worth quoting. It shows the vital significance that God attributes to His basic moral law: “The Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words (personally and directly – not through either Moses or angelic mediation), so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain. Then the Lord spoke to you. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments” (Deut. 4:10-13).
James, leading apostle of the Jerusalem Church of God, referred to the whole Decalogue in his general epistle to the twelve tribes of Israel. He wrote: “If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ You do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors (sin is the transgression of the law -- I John 3:4). For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has becomes guilty of all of it. For he (remember this is God) who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ said also, ‘Do not kill.’ If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” (James 2:8-12).
James, here, establishes several significant facts:
The royal law is summarized by the Old Testament command to love your neighbor as yourself (see Lev. 19:18).
The royal law has distinct points.
Two of those points include the 6th and 7th commandments as listed in the Decalogue.
Transgression of any of these points is sin.
Failure to keep one point is considered, spiritually, as breaking them all.
The royal law is also termed the royal law of liberty.
Christians are to be judged by this royal law of liberty.
A few questions should be asked at this juncture. Do the points James mentions exclude the first four commandments defining man’s relationship with his God? Or do they refer to all ten as duly delineated in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5? Are Christians only required to specifically keep the last six commandments defining man’s proper association with his neighbor, while observing the first four only in some sort of an ethereal sense?
Let us withhold judgment until we have examined a few more of the New Testament documents.
A young rich ruler once came to Jesus and asked Him a vitally important question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16.) Christ answered: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (v. 17). But the young man wanted to know which commandments Jesus was specifically referring to. “And Jesus said, “you shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 18).
Here Christ specifically enumerated five of the last six commandments and capped them off with the summary commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
Later, a lawyer asked Jesus Christ a very similar question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). This time, because of the motive of the questioner, Jesus answered in a different manner: “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read?” And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with your entire mind; and your neighbor as yourself’” (vs. 26-27). The lawyer replied by first loosely quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, and secondly Leviticus 19:18, in the Old Testament. Love of God was emphasized first and then love of neighbor. Jesus did not disagree with this lawyer: “And he said to him, ‘you have answered right; do this, and you will live’” (v. 28).
Another account in Matthew phrases virtually the same answer in Jesus’ own words (read any red letter Bible). Jesus was asked:” ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”’ And he (Christ) said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22: 36-40).
Are we to believe that the second overall commandment to love your neighbor has distinct points, but the first and great commandment has none? Are we to believe that the God of the New Testament does not tell us how we are to love Him in distinct, practical ways?
Nonetheless, whenever a substantial portion of the Decalogue is quoted in the New Testament, the emphasis is nearly always on “love your neighbor.” Why? James gives us just a hint. He wrote: “With it (the tongue) we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).
Apparently, at the time when the events were happening that occasioned the later writing of the New Testament documents, the main, outward problem revolved around the violation of the last six commandments specifically pertaining to one’s neighbor. For instance, the Pharisees made a fetish out of the 4th commandment. They used it as an excuse not to love their neighbors. They severely criticized Jesus for healing a man blind from birth on the Sabbath day (John 9). They, in reality, did not love the poor man. Instead, they wound up threatening to ostracize both him and his parents from the religious community. But the point is: They used the Sabbath commandment to camouflage their disobedience to the great principle of loving one’s neighbor.
They even excused themselves from economic support of their aged parents for “religious reasons.” You can read what Jesus said to these hypocrites in Mark 7:9-13. There is no way to dishonor one’s parent and simultaneously love God. It simply can’t be done!
The apostle John deeply understood this inextricable interrelationship between loving God and loving neighbor and the irony of claiming to do one while omitting the other. “If one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also” (I John 4:20-21).
It also works the other way. Notice in the next chapter: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” (I John 5:2).Love and obedience to God go hand in hand: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (v. 3).
As we stated earlier, nowhere is the Sabbath command repeated verbatim in the New Testament. However, neither are the first three commandments (showing us how to love God) repeated verbatim. One really has to hunt in the New Testament for even veiled references to these three commandments. In actual fact, there is more quantitative New Testament information and instruction concerning the Sabbath commandment than any one of these other three.
So the emphasis in the New Testament is on the last six commandments and also on the interrelationship between the broad principles bridging the last six and the first four. In Ephesians 5:5, the apostle Paul related that covetousness (number ten) is idolatry (number one).
However, the Ten Commandments, as magnified in the New Testament, still represent one whole, complete law with ten points. Jesus tells us that to love God is the first and great commandment: James tells us that there are points to God’s royal law; John tells us that we cannot hate our fellowman and love God simultaneously. The Ten Commandments are a “complete package” one commandment cannot be arbitrarily ripped out of God’s ten point law. If one is broken all are broken in principle.
The Sabbath law is still one of the Ten Commandments! It has, however, been greatly magnified by Jesus’ own personal example and instruction, typified by His famous statement that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Keeping God’s seventh-day Sabbath does not involve an endless list of burdensome dos and don’ts. The Sabbath was intended to be a great blessing for mankind, not a terrible yoke of bondage. Do you observe the Sabbath?