Keith Hunt - The Sabbath under Crossfire - Page Nine   Restitution of All Things

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The Sabbath under Crossfire #9

The Old and New Covenants

                        THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE

Continued from previous page:

The Sabbath and the New Covenant

Law Versus Love. 

     Ratzlaff s fundamental thesis is that there is a radical
distinction between the Old and New Covenants because the former
is based on laws while the latter is based on love. Though he
acknowledges that an important aspect of the Old Covenant was
"the redemptive deliverance of Israel from Egypt," 18  he
concludes his study of the Old Covenant with these words: "We
found that the Ten Commandments were the covenant. They were
called the 'tablets of the testimony' (Ex 31:18), the 'words of
the covenant,' the 'Ten Commandments' (Ex 34:28), the 'testimony'
(Ex 40:20), the 'covenant of the Lord' (1 Ki 8:8, 9,21)." 19
"We also found that the other Laws in the books of Exodus through
Deuteronomy were called the 'book of the covenant' (Ex 24:7) or
'the book of the Law' (Deut 31:26). We saw that these Laws served
as an interpretation or expansion of the Ten Commandments." 20
Again Ratzlaff says that "The Ten Commandments were the words of
the covenant. There was also an expanded version of the covenant:
the Laws of Exodus through Deuteronomy." 21
     By contrast, for Ratzlaff the essence of the New Covenant is
the commandment to love as Jesus loved. He writes: "Part of this
'new commandment' was not new. The Old Covenant had instructed
them to love one another. The part that was new was 'as I have
loved you' . . . In the Old Covenant what made others know that
the Israelites were the chosen people? Not the way they loved,
but what they ate and what they did not eat; where they
worshipped, when they worshipped, the clothes they wore, etc.
However, in the New Covenant, Christ's true disciples will be
known by the way they love!" 22

     Ratzlaff develops further the contrast between the two
covenants by arguing that as the Old Covenant expands the Ten
Commandments in "the book of the Law, so the New Covenant
contains more than just the simple command to love one another as
Christ loved us. We have the Gospel records which demonstrate how
Jesus loved.... Then, in the epistles we have interpretations of
the love and work of Christ.... So the core, or heart, of the New
Covenant is to love one another as Christ loved us. This is
expanded and interpreted in the rest of the New Testament, and
also becomes part of the New Covenant." 21
     According to Ratzlaff, the distinction between "Law" and
"Love" is reflected in the covenant signs. "The entrance sign to
the old Covenant was circumcision, and the continuing, repeatable
sign Israel was to 'remember' was the Sabbath.... The entrance
sign of the New Covenant is baptism [and] the remembrance sign
[is] the Lord's Supper." 22  The distinction between the two sets
of signs is clarified by the following simple chart:

"The Old Covenant:  
Entrance sign Circumcision
Remembrance sign Sabbath 

The New Covenant: 
Entrance sign Baptism 
Remembrance sign The Lord's Supper. 25

     The above contrast attempts to reduce the Old and New
Covenants to two different sets of laws with their own
distinctive signs, the latter being simpler and better than the
former. The contrast assumes that the Old Covenant was based on
the obligation to obey countless specific laws, while the New
Covenant rests on the simpler love commandment of Christ. Simply
stated, the Old Covenant moral principles of the Ten Commandments
are replaced in the New Covenant by a better and simpler love
principle given by Christ.

     Ratzlaff affirms this view unequivocally: "In Old Covenant
life, morality was often seen as an obligation to numerous
specific Laws. In the New Covenant, morality springs from a
response to the living Christ." 26 " The new Law [given by
Christ] is better that the old Law [given by Moses]." 27  "In the
New Covenant, Christ's true disciples will be known by the way
they love! This commandment to love is repeated a number of times
in the New Testament, just as the Ten Commandments were repeated
a number of times in the Old." 28

Evaluation of Ratzlaff s Covenants Construct. 

     The attempt by Ratzlaff to reduce the Old and New Covenants
to two different sets of laws with their own distinctive signs,
the latter being simpler and better than the former, is designed
to support his contention that the Ten Commandments, in general,
and the Sabbath, in particular, were the essence of the Old
Covenant that terminated at the Cross. The problem with this
imaginative interpretation is that it is devoid of biblical
support besides incriminating the moral consistency of God's

     Nowhere does the Bible suggest that with the New Covenant
God instituted "better commandments" than those of the Old
Covenant. Why would Christ need to alter the moral demands that
He has revealed in His Law? Why would Christ feel the need to
change His perfect and holy requirements for our conduct and
attitudes? Paul declares that "the [Old Testament] Law is holy,
and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12). He
took the validity of God's moral Law for granted when he stated
unequivocally: "We know that the Law is good, if one uses it
Lawfully" (1 Tim 1:8). Christ came not to change the moral
requirements of God's Law, but to atone for our transgression
against those moral requirements (Rom 4:25; 5:8-9; 8:1-3).
     It is evident that by being sacrificed as the Lamb who takes
away the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7), Christ
fulfilled all the sacrificial services and Laws that served in
Old Testament times to strengthen the faith and nourish the hope
of the Messianic redemption to come. But the New Testament, as we
shall see, makes a clear distinction between the sacrificial laws
that Christ by His coming "set aside" (Heb 7:18), made "obsolete"
(Heb 8:13), "abolished" (Heb 10:9), and Sabbathkeeping, for
example, which "has been left behind for the people of God" (Heb
     Why should God first call the Israelites to respond to His
redemptive deliverance from Egypt by living according to the
moral principles of the Ten Commandments, and later summon
Christians to accept His redemption from sin by obeying simpler
and better commandments? Did God discover that the moral
principles He promulgated at Sinai were not sufficiently moral
and, consequently, needed to be improved and replaced with
simpler and better commandments?
     Such an assumption is preposterous because it negates the
immutability of God's moral character reflected in His moral
laws. The Old Testament teaches that the New Covenant that God
will make with the house of Israel consists not in the
replacement of the Ten Commandments with simpler and better laws,
but in the internalization of God's Law. "This is the covenant
which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says
the, Lord: I will put my Law within them, and I will write it
upon their hearts; and I will be their God" (Jer 31:33).
     This passage teaches us that the difference between the Old
and New Covenants is not a difference between "Law" and "love."
Rather, it is a difference between failure to internalize God's
Law, which results in disobedience, and successful
internalization of God's Law, which results in obedience. The New
Covenant believer who internalizes God's Law by the enabling
power of the Holy Spirit will find it hard to break the Law
because, as Paul puts it, "Christ has set him free from the Law
of sin and death" (Rom 8:2).

Internalization of God's Law. 

     The internalization of God's Law in the human heart applies
to Israel and the Church. In fact, Hebrews applies to the Church
the very same promise God made to Israel (Heb 8:10; 10:16). In
the New Covenant, the Law is not simplified or replaced but
internalized by the Spirit. The Spirit opens up people to the
Law, enabling them to live in accordance with its higher ethics.
Ratzlaff's argument that under the New Covenant "the Law no
longer applies to one who has died with Christ" 29  is mistaken
and misleading. Believers are no longer under the condemnation of
the Law when they experience God's forgiving grace and, by the
enabling power of the Holy Spirit, they live according to its
precepts. But this does not means that the Law no longer applies
to them. They are still accountable before God's Law because all
"shall stand before the judgment seat of God" (Rom 14:10) to give
an account of themselves.

The Spirit does not operate in a vacuum. 

     His function of the Spirit is not to bypass or replace the
Law, but to help the believer to live in obedience to the Law of
God (Gal 5:18, 22-23). Eldon Ladd notes that "more than once he
[Paul] asserts that it is the new life of the Spirit that enables
the Christian truly to fulfil the Law (Rom 8:3,4; 13:10; Gal
5:14)." 30
     Any change in relation to the Law that occurs in the New
Covenant is not in the moral Law itself but in the believer who
is energized and enlightened by the Spirit "in order that the
just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk
not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom
8:4). Guidance by the Spirit without respect for the Law of God
can be dangerous to Christian growth. This is a fundamental
problem of "New Covenant" theology espoused by the WCG, Ratzlaff,
and countless Evangelicals today: it is a theology that
ultimately makes each person a Law unto himself. This easily
degenerates into irresponsible behavior. It is not surprising
that America leads the world not only in the number of
evangelical Christians (estimated at almost 100 million) but also
in crime, violence, murders, divorces, etc. By relaxing the
obligation to observe God's Law in the New Covenant, people find
an excuse do what is right in their own eyes.

     Perhaps as a reaction to the popular "abrogation of the Law"
perception, there is a hunger today for someone to help the
Christian community to understand how to apply the principles of
God's Law to their lives. To a large extent, this is what the
Basic Youth Conflict seminars have endeavored to accomplish since
1968, drawing thousands of people to its sessions in every major
city in North America. Referring to this phenomenon, Walter
Kaiser writes: "This is an indictment on the church and its
reticence to preach the moral Law of God and apply it to all
aspects of life as indicated in Scripture." 31

No Dichotomy Between Law and Love. 

     No dichotomy exists in the Bible between Law and Love in the
covenantal relationship between God and His people because a
covenant cannot exist without the Law. A covenant denotes an
orderly relationship that the Lord graciously establishes and
maintains with His people. The Law guarantees the order required
for such a relationship to be meaningful.
     In God's relationship with believers, the moral Law reveals
His will and character, the observance of which makes it possible
to maintain an orderly and meaningful relationship. Law is not
the product of sin, but the product of love. God gave the Ten
Commandments to the Israelites after showing them His redeeming
love (Ex 20:2). Through God's Law the godly come to know how to
reflect God's love, compassion, fidelity, and other perfections.
     The Decalogue is not merely a list of ten laws, but
primarily ten principles of love. There is no dichotomy between
Law and love, because one cannot exist without the other. The
Decalogue details how human beings must express their love for
their Lord and for their fellow beings. Christ's new commandment
to love God and fellow beings is nothing else than the embodiment
of the spirit of the Ten Commandments already found in the Old
Testament (Lev 19:18; Deut 6:5). Christ spent much of His
ministry clarifying how the love principles are embodied in the
Ten Commandments. He explained, for example, that the sixth
commandment can be transgressed not only by murdering a person
but also by being angry and insulting a fellow being (Matt
5:22-23). The seventh commandment can be violated not only by
committing adultery but also by looking lustfully at a woman
(Matt 5:28).

     Christ spent even more time clarifying how the principle of
love is embodied in the Fourth Commandment. The Gospels report no
less than seven Sabbath-healing episodes used by Jesus to clarify
that the essence of Sabbathkeeping is people to love and not
rules to obey. Jesus explained that the Sabbath is a day "to do
good" (Matt 12:12), a day "to save life" (Mark 3:4), a day to
liberate men and women from physical and spiritual bonds (Luke
13:12), a day to show mercy rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7).
     In Chapter 4, "The Savior and the Sabbath," we take a closer
look at how Jesus clarified the meaning and function of the
     Ratzlaff's attempt to divorce the Law of the Old Covenant
from the Love of the New Covenant ignores the simple truth that
in both covenants love is manifested in obedience to God's Law.
Christ stated this truth clearly and repeatedly: "If you love me,
you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). "He who has my
commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (John 14:21).
"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love" (John
15:10). Christ's commandments are not an improved and simplified
set of moral principles, but the same moral principles He
promulgated from Mt.Sinai.
     Under both covenants, the Lord has one moral standard for
human behavior, namely, holiness and wholeness of life. Wholeness
of life is that integration of love for God and human beings
manifested in those who grow in reflecting the perfect character
of God (His love, faithfulness, righteousness, justice,
forgiveness). Under both covenants, God wants His people to love
Him and their fellow beings by living in harmony with the moral
principles expressed in the Ten Commandments. These serve as a
guide in imitating God's character. The Spirit does not replace
these moral principles in the New Covenant. He makes the letter
become alive and powerful within the hearts of the godly.
Jesus and the New Covenant Law. The contention that Christ
replaced the Ten Commandments with the simpler and better
commandment of love is clearly negated by the decisive witness of
our Lord Himself as found in Matthew 5:17-19: "Do not think that
I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come
to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until
heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the
least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law
until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the
least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (NIV).

     In this pronouncement, Christ teaches three important
truths: (1) Twice He denies that His coming had the purpose of
abrogating "the law and the prophets"; (2) all of the Law of God,
including its minute details, has an abiding validity until the
termination of the present age; and (3) anyone who teaches that
even the least of God's commandments can be broken stands under
divine condemnation. This indictment should cause "New Covenant"
Christians to do some soul-searching.

     There is no exegetical stalemate here. Christ gave no hint
that with His coming the Old Testament moral Law was replaced by
a simpler and better Law. It is biblically irrational to assume
that the mission of Christ was to make it morally acceptable to
worship idols, blaspheme, break the Sabbath, dishonor parents,
murder, steal, commit adultery, gossip, or envy. Such actions are
a transgression of the moral principles that God has revealed for
both Jews and Gentiles.

     It is unfortunate that Ratzlaff, the WCG, and Dispen-
sationalists try to build their case for a replacement of the Old
Testament Law with a simpler and better New Testament Law by
selecting a few problem oriented texts (2 Cor 3:6-11; Heb 8-9;
Gal 3-4), rather than by starting with Christ's own testimony.
The Savior's testimony should serve as the touchstone to explain
apparent contradictory texts which speak negatively of the Law.
In Chapter 5, "Paul and the Law," I examine Paul's apparently
contradictory statements about the Law. This study suggests that
the resolution to this apparent contradiction is to be found in
the different contexts in which Paul speaks of the Law. When he
speaks of the Law in the context of salvation (justification
--right standing before God), especially in his polemic with
Judaizers, he clearly affirms that Law-keeping is of no avail
(Rom 3:20). On the other hand, when Paul speaks of the Law in the
context of Christian conduct (sanctification --right living
before God), especially in dealing with antinomians, he upholds
the value and validity of God's Law (Rom 7:12; 13:8-10; 1 Cor

Ratzlaff s Interpretation of Matthew 5:17-19. 

     Ratzlaff examines at some length Matthew 5:17-19 in chapter
14 of his book entitled "Jesus: The Law's Fulfilment." He bases
his interpretation of the passage on two key terms: "Law" and
"fulfil." A survey of the use of the term "Law" in Matthew leads
him to "conclude that the 'Law' Jesus makes reference to is the
entire Old Covenant Law, which included the Ten Commandments." 32
     This conclusion per se is accurate, because Jesus upheld the
moral principles of the Old Testament, in general. For example,
the "golden rule" in Matthew 7:12 is presented as being, in
essence, "the Law and the prophets." In Matthew 22:40, the two
great commandments are viewed as the basis upon which "depend all
the Law and the prophets."

     The problem with Ratzlaff's rationale is that he uses the
broad meaning of Law to argue that Christ abrogated the Mosaic
Law, in general, and the Ten Commandments, in particular. He does
this by giving a narrow interpretation to the verb "to fulfil."
He argues that "in the book of Matthew every time the word
'fulfil' is used, it is employed in connection with the life of
Christ, or the events connected with it. In every instance it was
one event which 'fulfilled' the prophecy. In every instance
Christians are not to participate in any ongoing fulfilment." 33
     On the basis of these considerations, Ratzlaff concludes
that the word "fulfil" in Matthew 5:17-19 refers not to the
continuing nature of the Law and the prophets but to the
fulfilment of "prophecies regarding the life and death of
Messiah." 34
     To support this conclusion, Ratzlaff appeals to the phrase
"You have heard ... but I say unto you," which Jesus uses six
times in Matthew 5:21-43. For him, the phrase indicates that the
Lord was asserting His authority to "completely do away with the
binding nature of the Old Covenant. This He will do, but not
before He completely fulfils the prophecies, types and shadows
which pointed forward to His work as the Messiah and Savior of
the world which are recorded in the Law. Therefore, the Law must
continue until he has accomplished everything. This happened,
according to John, at the death of Jesus." 35  The conclusion is
clear. For Ratzlaff, the Cross marks the termination of the Law.

The Continuity of the Law. 

     Ratzlaff's conclusion has several serious problems which
largely derive from his failure to closely examine a text in its
immediate context. The immediate context of Matthew 5:17-19
clearly indicates that the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets
ultimately takes place, not at Christ's death as Ratzlaff claims,
but at the close of the present age: "I tell you the truth, until
heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the
least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law
until everything is accomplished" (Matt 5:18). Since, at Christ's
death, heaven and earth did not disappear, it is evident that,
according to Jesus, the function of the Law will continue until
the end of the present age.
     Ratzlaff's claim that the six antitheses, "You have heard
... but I say unto you," indicate that Jesus intended to do away
completely "with the binding nature of the Old Covenant" is
untenable because in each instance Christ did not release His
followers from the obligation to observe the six commandments
mentioned. Instead, He called for a more radical observance of
each of them. As John Gerstner points out, "Christ's affirmation
of the moral Law was complete. Rather than setting the disciples
free from the Law, He tied them more tightly to it. He abrogated
not one commandment but instead intensified all." 36
     Christ did not modify or replace the Law. Instead, He
revealed its divine intent which affects not only the outward
conduct but also the inner motives. The Law condemned murder;
Jesus condemned anger as sin (Matt 5:21-26). The Law condemned
adultery; Jesus condemned lustful appetites (Matt 5:27-28). This
is not a replacement of the Law, but a clarification and
intensification of its divine intent. Anger and lust cannot be
controlled by Law, because legislation has to do with outward
conduct that can be controlled. Jesus is concerned with showing
that obedience to the spirit of God's commandments involves inner
motives as well as outer actions.

The Continuation of the Law. 

     Ratzlaff is correct in saying that "to fulfil" in Matthew
generally refers to the prophetic realization of the Law and
prophets in the life and ministry of Christ. This implies that
certain aspects of the Law and the prophets, such as the
Levitical services and messianic prophecies, came to an end in
the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But this
interpretation cannot be applied to the moral aspects of God's
Law mentioned by Jesus, because verse 18 explicitly affirms that
the Law would be valid "till heaven and earth pass away." In the
light of the antitheses of verses 21-48, "to fulfil" means
especially "to explain" the fuller meaning of the Law and the
prophets. Repeatedly, in Matthew, Jesus acts as the supreme
interpreter of the Law who attacks external obedience and some of
the rabbinical (Halakic) traditions (Matt 15:3-6; 9:13; 12:7;
     In Matthew, Christ's teachings are presented not as a
replacement of God's moral Law but as the continuation and
confirmation of the Old Testament. Matthew sees in Christ not the
termination of the Law and the prophets but their realization and
continuation. The "golden rule" in Matthew 7:12 is presented as
being the essence of "the Law and the prophets." In Matthew
19:16-19, the rich young man wanted to know what he should do to
have eternal life. Jesus told him to "keep the commandments," and
then He listed five of them.
     In Matthew 22:40, the two great commandments are viewed as
the basis upon which "depend all the Law and the prophets."
Ratzlaff should note that a summary does not abrogate or discount
what it summarizes. It makes no sense to say that we must follow
the summary command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:19;
Matt 22:39) while ignoring or violating the second part of the
Decalogue which tells us what loving our neighbor entails. We
must not forget that when the Lord called upon people to
recognize "the more important matters of the Law" (Matt 23:23),
He immediately added that the lesser matters--should not be

     We might say that, in Matthew, the Law and the prophets live
on in Christ who realizes, clarifies, and, in some cases,
intensifies their teachings (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28). The
Christological realization and continuation of the Old Testament
Law has significant implications for the New Testament
understanding of the Sabbath in the light of the redemptive
ministry of Jesus. This important subject is investigated in
Chapter 4 of this study, "The Savior and the Sabbath."



     Considerable importance is attached to the book of Hebrews
in defining the relationship between the Sabbath and the
covenants. Why? First, because Hebrews deals more with the
relationship between the Old and New Covenants than any other
book of the New Testament; and second, because Hebrews 4:9
clearly speaks of a "'Sabbathkeeping that remains for the people
of God." If the reference is to a literal Sabbathkeeping, this
text would provide a compelling evidence of the observance of the
Sabbath in the New Testament church.

The WCG Interpretation of the Sabbath in Hebrews 4:9. 

The Worldwide Church of God acknowwledges the importance of this
text, saying: "If this passage [Heb 4:9] requires Christians to
keep the seventh day Sabbath, it would be the only direct
post-resurrection Scriptural command to do so. If it doesn't,
then we have no existing proof-text command specifically written
to the New Testament church mandating the keeping of the Sabbath.
In view of this, it is extremely important that we understand
clearly what the verses in question are telling us." 37

     There is no question that "it is extremely important" to
understand the meaning of Hebrews 4:9 in the context of the
author's discussion of the Old and New Covenants.


To be continued


Any Bible Commentary worth its salt will uphold the moral Ten
Commandment law in the New Testament. The Old Bible Commentaries
like that of Albert Barnes never come close to making the "law of
the Lord" - the Ten Commandments - VOID under the New Testament.
It is true that Albert Barnes believed Sunday had replaced the
7th day Sabbath, but ministers like him back one, two, and three
hundred years, taught Sunday was a holy day, to be observed as
the Sabbath of the Lord. They had no thoughts that the Ten
Commandments were abolished under the New Covenant. Such ideas
have come about in popularity through dispensational teaching
over the last 100 years in particular where it is popular to
teach "Law verses Grace." The truth of the matter is that it is
"Law AND grace" as fully expounded in my study "Saved by Grace"
and the Appendixes of note from various sound commentators who
know it is "law and grace" and NOT "law verses grace."

The Lord does NOT have to repeat in detail all the Ten
Commandments in the New Testament to still make them valid. There
is NOT ONE verse in the New Testament to abolish the Ten
Commandments or any ONE of them. There is not one word in the New
Testament to state the fourth commandment has been abolished or
changed from the 7th day to the 1st day of the week. There was no
"ministerial conference" (as like that for "the circumcision
question" in Acts 15) to argue over the Sabbath question, if, or
if not, it was still valid. All arguments to "do away with" God's
law of the Ten Commandments is usually, if not always, because
people do not want to observe the FOURTH commandment. They will
not tell you they argue so no fourth commandment needs to be
observed, so they try to argue that the whole law is abolished
under the New Testament and some vague (set your own standards)
law of love has taken its place.

Such is the foolishness and twisted mind-set of the human heart,
that can be deceitful and desperately wicked, dressing up sin and
coming to you as an angel of light.

Keith Hunt

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