The Necessity of Using Biblical Terminology
What does the Word of God itself say about the Ten Commandments (TC), in other words what terminology is used by the Holy Spirit?
Where do the words the "TC"
first appear in the Bible? Exodus 34:28
when the TC were written on the tablets of stone and given to the nation of
the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these
words: for after the tenor of
these words I have made a covenant
with thee and with
Notice what are we told the first time we are introduced to the words "TC.”
1. Who actually wrote the TC on the Tablets of Stone? God Himself. What other passages verify this? Ex.31:18 “inscribed by the finger of God”; 32:16 “the writing was the writing of God”; 34:1; Dt.9:10
whom did God enter a special and unique covenant relationship at Mt Sinai
(Ex.34:10)? Moses and the nation of
3. What were the specific terms or "words of the covenant" that were written on the Tables of Stone? The TC.
TC” are “the words of the covenant," and this
covenant is always associated with the Tables of Stone given to
Besides Ex.34:28, where else are the words "Ten Commandments" used in the Bible?
And he declared [made known in explicit and formal terms] unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even the Ten Commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. Dt.4:13
And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly... Dt.10:4
(even more emphatic than Ex.34 concerning the nature of the TC) tells us “God declared” that the covenant He made with
What terms or phrases does the Bible use synonymously and interchangeably with the words "the Ten Commandments?" 2 Cor.3:3; Ex.31:18; Ex.25:16; Heb.8:7; Heb.8:13; Ex.34:28; Dt.9:9-11
There are at least five other words or phrases that are used to refer to the TC. [They are listed below with a sample of the references. The first and last reference for each phrase is usually the first and last reference in Scripture where the phrase is found.] Realizing that we can substitute any of the following terms in place of the words "TC" will greatly help us to understand the nature, purpose, and function of the TC. All seven phrases mean the same thing when used in the Bible.
1. The Tables (Tablets) of Stone (Dt.4:13; 9:9-11) is the most common way that the Bible refers to the TC.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. Ex.24:12
was nothing in the ark save the two tables
of stone, which Moses
put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant
with the children of
Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. 2 Cor.3:3
2. The Tables (Tablets) of Testimony is only used twice and refer to Sinai when the TC were given as a written record of the covenant conditions that would be used as the legal "testimony" against Israel if they broke the covenant.
And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God. Ex.31:18
When Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tablets of Testimony in his hand, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. Ex.34:29
3. The Testimony is used in two verses to describe the TC - the first when God gave Moses instructions concerning building the Ark of the Covenant to house the "Testimony" or the TC; the other when the Ark was finished and the TC were put into the Ark.
The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you. Ex.25:15-16.
He took the Testimony and placed it in the ark ... Ex.40:20
What does the form of the noun “Testimony” used in the above 4
passages show? It is singular. Even though there were TC
written on the tablets showing that the TC are considered to be one single
document that is the covenant between God and
4. The First Covenant (Heb.8:7) is used in the Bible only twice, but it is implied in other places where the New Covenant (NC) is contrasted to the Old Covenant (OC) that it replaced. The covenant described in the words "the covenant I made with their fathers" in passages like Jer.31:33 and Heb.8-10 is clearly the "first" covenant or the TC that was given at Sinai on the tables of stone.
Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.1 Heb.9:1
5. The Old Covenant (“first covenant” Heb.9:15) is implied in Heb.8:6. What distinct contrasts are made in Heb.8:6?
1. the ministries of Aaron and
2. the two covenants upon which the two ministries are based; and
3. the “promises" upon which the covenants are established.
The OC said "do and live, disobey and die" but the New says "it is finished, believe." Notice how these three comparisons are set forth in the argument developed by the writer of Hebrews:
But  the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as  the covenant of which he is mediator is to the old one, and it is founded on  better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would been sought for another [covenant]. Heb.8:6-7
It is the obvious result of these comparisons that demonstrates why the OC written on the Tablets of Stone had to be replaced by the "new and better" covenant.
In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first [covenant] old [obsolete]. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. Heb.8:13
But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the Old Covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day whenever Moses [the Law] is read… 2 Cor.3:14-15
Explain how 2 Cor.3:14-15 is to be understood.
As in all of the previous instances, the term "the OC" is
always a reference to the TC written on the two Tablets of Stone and given to
6. The Words of the Covenant (Ex.34:28; “his covenant” Dt.4:13) establish beyond question that the TC are the covenant document that established Israel as a nation or body politic at Mt Sinai.
7. The Tables (Tablets) of the Covenant was the phrase Moses used
at the second giving of the law in Dt. Moses seems to
want to impress the word "covenant" on
When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you…And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly. And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant. Dt.9:9-11
...which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the [NIV “stone” not in Gk.] tablets of the covenant. Heb.9:4
Where were the stone tablets kept and why?
word "covenant" is again the recurring theme in the ninth chapter of
Hebrews which contrasts the ministry of Aaron in the earthly Tabernacle in the
Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the
For the law having a shadow of good things to come…can never with those sacrifices, which they offered year by year continually, make the comers thereunto perfect…But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. Heb.10:1-3
inability of all the ministries connected with the OC to "cleanse the conscience"
is always, as in this verse, connected with "the way into the
For this reason [to effect what the OC could not] Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died [under the curse of the covenant in the Ark] as a ransom to set them free [Gal.4:4-6] from the sins committed under the first covenant. Heb.9:15
of the sins against the OC were truly atoned for until the actual death of
List some of the verses in the Bible that speak of `the moral law' when referring to the TC.
There are none - the Bible does not use the phrase "moral law" or equate such an expression with the TC.
"Moral law" is a theological term developed in the Middle Ages. To be correct and useful the term would first have to be established with texts of Scripture that clearly prove the doctrine carried by the term. We have never seen this attempted with the term "moral law." How does God Himself want us to think and speak about the words "the TC?" If we follow the Holy Spirit's example in the Bible and use the terminology that He has inspired, we will always think "covenant."
Summarize what the Bible itself says about the TC by taking all the above texts of Scripture that use the different terms as synonyms. In other words, put together a compendium using Bible texts making one definitive statement of the way the Bible treats the Tablets of Stone:
God entered into a special and unique covenant relationship with
the nation of
1. These terms distinguish the actual covenant (the Tablets of Stone) from the laws, regulations, accouterments, and ceremonies that administered the covenant [“The Law”]. It is clear from both the OT Scriptures and Heb.9:1-5 that the "First Covenant" was the Tables of the Covenant or the TC and everything else was part of the requirements, services, and rituals that revealed God’s holiness in their administration of the covenant [Heb.9:1-10; 10:1-4]. While the TC considered as a covenant document has been replaced by the NC, the individual commands, statutes, and regulations stand, fall, or are changed according to their own nature and merit. Nine of them are clearly repeated, with some changes, in the New Testament.
Some theologians do not understand that “the OC" refers to the covenant
that God made with
This [Adamic] administration has often been denoted the Covenant of Works...It is not designated a covenant in Scripture. Hos.6:7 may be interpreted otherwise and does not provide the basis for such a construction of the Adamic economy...It should never be confused with what the Scripture calls the OC or first covenant (cf.Jer.31:31-34; 2 Cor.3:14; Heb.8:7, 13). The first or OC is the Sinaitic. And not only must this confusion in denotation be avoided, but also any attempt to interpret the Mosaic covenant in terms of the Adamic institution. The latter could only apply to the state of innocency, and to Adam alone as a representative head. The view that in the Mosaic covenant there is a repetition of the so-called covenant of works, current among covenant theologians, is a grave misconception and involves an erroneous conception of the Mosaic covenant... Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. 4, p.49-50
The Problem of "Two Versions"
What was written on the Tablets of Stone? The Bible gives two different "versions" of the TC that were written on the Tables of Stone. The first through third and the sixth through ninth commandments are almost identical. The greatest differences are in the fourth and fifth. Make a chart comparing the 4th commandment in Ex.20 with that in Dt.5.
8. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
12. Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it,
as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.
9. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work;
13. Six days thou shalt labor, and do all thy work:
10. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant,
14. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, not thy manservant, nor thy maidservant,
nor thine ox, nor thine ass,
nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates;
that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.
11. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
15. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.
clearly gave two different reasons for keeping the Sabbath holy [associating the same command with different events].
The first reason was to follow God's example in Genesis [commemorate God’s finished work] and the second was to remember
the recent deliverance from
We are not talking about two versions of a parable or miracle, but about very special and unique commandments of great significance that were written in stone by the finger of God. Is it possible that God wrote on the Tablets of Stone everything found in the both the Ex.20 version and the Dt.5 version of the TC? No - believing that the TC as given in both versions are the "eternal unchanging moral law of God" only adds to the problem. The two different versions must be reconciled to each other before it is possible to know for sure what was actually written on the Tablets of Stone.
Evaluate the three possible approaches to the problem of the two different versions of the TC below.
1. The Bible contradicts itself. Rejected as contrary to the verbal inspiration of the Scripture
2. Moses, in Dt.5,
"forgot" what God actually wrote on the Tablets of Stone in Ex.20 and
therefore left out the part about creation. He also "added" in Dt.5
the part about deliverance from
3. All that was actually written on the Tablets of Stone was the bare commandments. In the case of the fourth commandment, all that was written on the tables was the words "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." All of the rest of the words relating to the actual observance of the Sabbath in texts are commentary added by Moses and not part of the commandment itself as written on the Tablets of Stone. The only position consistent with verbal inspiration
The seventh day Sabbath was the specific "sign" of the
Mosaic covenant that established the nation of
Does Ex.20:11 prove that the seventh day Sabbath was a so-called "Creation Ordinance” (Dt.5:22)? No, one must "add" that to the version given in Dt.5 before he can make it part of the actual commandment. However, Dt.5:22 forbids any such additions.3 Explain.
1. "these words" refers to the
what was just spoken in Dt.5:1-21.
2. There is no mention of Creation in Dt.5 just as there is no mention of deliverance from
3. Moses is emphatic that God "added no more" to the words just written in Dt.5:1-21.
If anyone chooses to believe that the Sabbath commandment existed before Sinai, he must get his evidence from a source other than Ex.20 and Dt.5. [see Keeping the Sabbath in Christ http://pop.eradman.com] A mind-set is required that thinks and speaks in Biblical terms (ie., TC) instead of theological terms (ie., unchanging moral law of God). Whenever we hear the words "the TC" or one of the other synonyms our first thought should automatically be "the words of the OC written on the Tables of Stone at Mt Sinai." It is not that there are no laws addressing moral behavior. The TC contain mostly moral law. However, that is totally different than saying "the TC as written on the Tablets of Stone are "THE eternal unchanging moral law."
The Bible always treats the "TC" as a single unit - a codified list that constitutes a covenant document, the Decalogue or "Ten Words." When that covenant ended, everything it represented and supported also ended. However, the specific moral duties commanded in the individual commandments written on those tables are another thing altogether. Nine of the ten individual commandments are clearly repeated by both our Lord in his role as the new lawgiver in the Gospels and by the Apostles in the Epistles. [see NC Theology: Description; Definition; Defense, 02 by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel]
Everything that God commands is "moral law" to the individual commanded. To pick up sticks on the Sabbath was one of the most immoral things that a man could do under the OC - not because there is anything inherently wrong with picking up sticks. The man was stoned to death because the Fourth Commandment, which was the covenant sign, specifically forbade any physical labor on the seventh day. A commandment that was ceremonial in nature became a moral duty when God made it the sign of the covenant.
Was it immoral for a man to take a second wife under the same OC that had the man stoned to death for gathering sticks? No - the same "Book of The Covenant" that commanded "keep the Sabbath holy" also commanded a man to sleep with both wives when he took the second wife (Ex.21:10).
The exact opposite is true of the above two examples under the NC. The ceremonial sign or Sabbath of the OC ceased when the covenant of which it was a sign was done away in Christ. The Seventh Commandment was changed by Christ, the new Lawgiver, and polygamy is now considered adultery. Polygamy was not a sin against the so called "moral law of God" according to the covenant under which David lived, but it is a sin according to the NC under which a Christian lives today. The Bible defines moral duty according to the laws of the specific covenant under which an individual lives.
Patrick Fairbairn on p.325 of The Revelation of
God in Scripture is the only writer that made any kind of a serious attempt
to resolve the problem, though he did not mention the further problem created
by Dt.5:22. He used the "dynamic equivalent" theory to
reconcile the two versions. This means that a writer may use a different word
or phrase in two different accounts of the same thing but the basic meaning of the two are the same. Even if this method is
accepted as legitimate, it cannot be stretched to reconcile the radical
differences in Ex.20 and Dt.5. How can God delivering
The Ten Commandments Are a "Covenant"
The Scriptures consistently call the TC a "covenant" and treat them as a distinct and separate covenant. However, some still hold the basic presupposition that there is only "one covenant with two administrations." This is not exegetically correct. In that system, the "Mosaic arrangement or administration" is considered an "administration of the one covenant of grace." However the Word of God is quite clear that the TC were the specific terms of a distinct and separate covenant.
So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. Dt.4:13
When I went up into the mountains to receive the tablets of stone, even the tablets of the covenant which the Lord had made with you...and the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God...the Lord gave me the two tablets of stone, even the tablets of the covenant. Dt.9:9-11
Theology built on non-biblical terms that are both peculiar and essential to that particular system should be viewed with skepticism. What have we seen the emphasis in the Word of God to be? The Tablets of Stone contain the terms of a covenant. The Bible treats the "TC," the "Tablets of the Covenant," the "OC" and the "words of the covenant" as equivalent and interchangeable terms.
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them in pieces... Ex.32:18
Lord said to Moses, "Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets
which you broke..." Then the Lord said, "I am making a COVENANT with you..." Then the
Lord said to Moses, "Write down
these words, for in accordance with them I have made a COVENANT with you
The Ten Commandments Comprise a "Legal" Covenant
The OC upon the Tablets of
Stone was not only a distinct covenant, it was the
specific legal covenant that established
importance that Scripture attaches to the TC is always connected with
The function and goal of the OC
(TC) was a ministry of death by convicting the conscience of guilt. Do not
confuse the gracious purpose of God in giving the covenant at Sinai with
the nature of the covenant itself. There was not an ounce of grace in the
covenant itself but it was very gracious of God to give it to
John Owen, the greatest theologian among the English Puritans saw clearly that the TC constituted a legal covenant that was totally devoid of grace. He (like John Bunyan) was one of the few writers that knew how to separate law and grace. The following quotation is Owen's explanation of the meaning of the word "law." It is taken from a sermon on Rom.6:14 entitled "You are not under the law, but under grace:"
The law is taken two ways:--1. For the whole revelation of God in the Old Testament. In this sense it had grace in it, and so did give both life, and light, and strength against sin, as the Psalmist declares, Ps. 19:7-9. In this sense it contained not only the law of precepts, but the promise also and strength unto the church. In this sense it is not spoken of here, nor is anywhere opposed to grace. 2. For the covenant rule of perfect obedience: "Do this, and live." In this sense men are said to be "under it," in opposition unto being "under grace." They are under its power, rule, conditions, and authority, as a covenant.4
Owen believed that while grace
can be found in the Old Testament Scriptures, there was no grace in the
OC because it was a legal/works covenant. The Tablets of the Covenant said,
"Do and live, disobey and die without mercy" (Heb.10:28).
Owen boldly states that there
was no grace in the law when it is viewed as the legal covenant given to the
“Christ is not in the Law; he is not proposed in it, not communicated by it - we are not made partakers of him thereby. This is the work of grace - of the gospel. In it is Christ revealed; by it he is proposed and exhibited unto us..."5
The gracious act of God was in physically
have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings,
and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, IF ye will obey my voice
indeed, and keep my covenant, THEN ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto
me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a
kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of
Ex.19:4-6 gives a list of the
specific blessings that were promised IF Israel would keep the covenant (TC).
1 PETER 2:9
Now therefore, IF ye will obey my voice indeed, and
But you are
keep my covenant, THEN ye shall be
[because Christ kept the covenant for us]
(1) a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me
(1) a chosen people...a people belonging to God
(2) a kingdom of priests, and
(2) a royal [kingly] priesthood,
(3) a holy nation.
(3) a holy nation,
the beginning and the ending of
Lord said to Moses, "Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he
chooses into the
And when Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up the spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split [the power of God that once caused men to tremble now set them free]. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life [after the resurrection of Jesus]. Mt.27:50-52
brothers, since we have confidence to enter the
happened when the historical shift from the OC to the New took place. At the moment that the veil
First century Jewry could not
accept the total change of status brought into being by the change of
covenants. They wanted to hang on to everything that was distinctive of the OC.
[Their rejection of Christ as the Messiah and God’s
rejection of them was comparable to His judgment upon the first generation of
Israelites coming out of
The rending of the veil not
only raised the believing Gentile up to be on an equal basis with a believing
Jew as a member of the Body of Christ, it also lowered the status of the unbelieving
Jew and put him on the same level as the Gentile "dog." The
Many things were added to the
Tablets of Stone that explained
and applied the covenant. Ex.20-22 is called the "Book of the
Covenant." The "Law of Moses" included everything in the
Pentateuch, and as such was sometimes called "the Law" or "the
Covenant." However the TC was the specific covenant document that
Foundational Covenant Document
Civil and Social Laws
Dept. of Health
Dept. of I.R.S.
"The Law(s) of Moses"
"The Laws of the
4. The Works of John Owen, Banner of Truth, Vol.7, p.542
5. Owen, p 551
Scripture makes a clear distinction between
The Ten Commandments were given only to the Nation of Israel
The TC covenant document was
given only to the nation of
was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, WHEN the LORD made a covenant with the children
The Prophets saw the coming of a NC and spoke of it in glowing terms. Whenever they contrasted the OC with the NC, they always state when and with whom the OC was made.
Behold days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel..., not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hands to bring them out of the land of Egypt..." Jer.31:31-32.
What 3 points does this passage make?
1. There was going
to be a NC.
2. The NC was going to be different in nature from the OC.
3. The OC being replaced was made at Sinai and made only with
Was God promising
to make a new and different covenant with
NT Scriptures always connect the OC with
the time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant
with the house of
(1) when the OC was made
(2) with whom the OC was made
(3) the fact the NC would be different than the OC
Does this passage relate this covenant back to Adam in the garden? No.
What was the great
difference between the nation of
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness... Rom.2:14.
"The Law" in this passage refers to the whole law arising from the covenant. It cannot refer to "a sense of moral duty" since all men have that by virtue of being God's image bearers and Paul is talking about a law that all men definitely do not have. What is Paul's whole point in the context of this passage? To show that the Jews are more guilty than the Gentiles. How does he substantiate this? With the observation that the Gentiles "without the law" live better lives than the Jews do "with the law." The Jews alone have the special gift of the Law that God wrote on the Tablets of Stone and elaborated upon.
Why can’t this passage be referring to "ceremonial law”? Because it
convicts the conscience of sin. Conscience by nature and without
special revelation cannot convict men of disobedience to "ceremonial"
laws. One of the many proofs that the Sabbath is not a "moral law" is
the fact that a single instance has never been discovered of someone knowing by
nature the Sabbath law. The law concerning Sabbath keeping must always be
taught as special revelation just as it was to
Does Paul say, "The law" is written in the Gentile's heart? No - he says that certain behavior proves that there is a conviction of right and wrong in all men. This fact shows that conscience is active even in the Gentiles, more so than in the Jew. This power of conscience "shows the work of the law written in their hearts." The "work" of the law is to accuse or excuse according to the standard given to it. It condemns all violations of known wrong and rewards obedience to what is known to be right. All men have a conscience and they all experience to a greater or lesser degree conviction they have done wrong.
The Gentiles did not
have "the law" but they did have the "work of the
law" in their hearts. The law can only "work" true repentance
that leads to faith if there is (1) a covenant with clear terms and (2) the
individual has a knowledge of those terms. In giving
Let us distinguish between the TC as the terms of a legal covenant and the duties commanded by the individual commandments.
the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of
which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better
promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no
place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people
and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new
covenant with the house of
The three distinct contrasts in verse 6 were: (1) Christ has a better ministry than Aaron; (2) because Christ's ministry is based on a new and better covenant; (3) the covenant Christ administers is superior to the covenant under which Aaron ministered because it is based on better promises.
Heb.8:7-9 settles any
discussion as to either when (at Sinai) or with whom (
What does v.10
emphasize and what conclusions can be drawn from it? First, God promises to make
a new covenant, and this covenant will be with the "house of
The second major thing in the text is God's promise to put his laws in the mind and write them on the hearts of His NC people. "What is the difference, if any, between the "covenant" and the word "laws" in this passage?" Exactly what is God promising to do in this verse? What is the "NC" He is making and what "laws" is He going to write on the heart?
The text, and its context, is talking about a covenant that is both new and better than the OC at Sinai and the new experience of the law being written on the heart by the indwelling Spirit. The answers lie in understanding the three comparisons made in verse 6. Why did the OC fail and thereby need to be replaced by a new and better covenant? It could not secure the necessary obedience to its terms - write on the heart the desire to do the things that were written on the Tablets of the Covenants. It could write on stone but not on flesh (2 Cor.3). By nature all men hate God's authority (Rom.8:7) and even the mighty Law of God cannot change that rebellion into a sincere desire to obey. The OC failed to bring sinners into God's presence because it could not change the sinner's heart, conquer sin in the flesh, or cleanse the conscience from the guilt of sin.
The greater glory of the NC is not that the standards or laws have been either lowered or done away. The greater glory of the NC is that no obedience at all is required as the terms of being saved because the very terms of the Tablets of the Covenant have been finally and fully met in the Person and work of our Surety, the Lord Jesus Christ. The glory of the NC is in the words, "IT IS FINISHED."
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. Rom.4:5
This trust is the "rest" that weary souls enter into when they come under the yoke of Christ and are liberated from the yoke of the covenant given to Moses on Sinai.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Mt.11:28-30.
Mt.11:28-30 with Moses and old law covenant.
The yoke of the covenant written on the Tables of
Stone was a burden impossible to
bear. The yoke written in the blood of
Exactly what "laws" does the Holy Spirit write on the heart of a NC believer? These laws as far as their content are basically the very same moral laws that were written on the tables of stone. Heb.8:10 is not talking about two different "sets" of laws that totally contradict each other as if there were two "kinds of morality." The morality of the NC does not destroy the true morality demanded in the laws of the OC. It takes that morality to a higher level. It is true that Christ adds laws that were impossible for Moses to ever give but that does not mean Christ contradicts Moses.9 Hebrews is talking about two different motivations that grow out of two different kinds of covenants." 2 Cor.3 is the Holy Spirit's commentary on Heb.8:10. Neither of these passages teaches that God "tattoos" the exact words of the Decalogue on our hearts. Both passages are talking about the powerful effect of regeneration that results in a totally new and different attitude toward God. They are picturing the removal of the stony heart that hated the Tablets of Stones and all they represented - the effect of regeneration in replacing the stony heart with a heart of flesh. The new heart of flesh loves all of God's revealed laws simply because it loves the new Lawgiver Who teaches them.
The difference is not in the specific duties demanded but the difference between law and grace as covenants. It is the difference of being constrained by love from within a heart rejoicing in a covenant of grace. These two passages are talking about the difference between the conscience being under the old Pedagogue (the Law of the OC), and being under the new Pedagogue, the indwelling Holy Spirit.
7. The writer of Hebrews, as well as the prophecy in Jer.31:33 establish that the "fathers" referred to in this passage are the patriarchs.
8. John Bunyan wrote an excellent article proving the Seventh Day Sabbath could not possibly be a so called "Creation Ordinance." See, "Questions about the Nature and Perpetuity of the Seventh-Day Sabbath," by John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, Vol.2, pp.359-387. Also, Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath, by Dr Robert Morey.
9. See But I Say Unto You. This book shows that Christ supersedes and replaces Moses as the New Lawgiver.
The Seventh Day Sabbath was the Sign of the Mosaic Covenant!
Because the Tablets of Stone were a distinct covenant, they were accompanied by a specific "covenant sign." The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant and therefore it had to be part of the covenant document of which it was the sign.
the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also
unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout
your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify
you. Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one
that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for
whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his
people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest,
holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely
be put to death. Wherefore the
What facts does this text establish?
1. The Sabbath (4th Commandment) was the sign of the covenant.
2. The covenant was made only with the nation of
3. The essence of the Sabbath commandment was to refrain from all physical work.
The following passage shows that the Sabbath was so important because it was the sign of the covenant.
And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man DO, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted: THEN I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out. Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my SABBATHS: for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness. But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my SABBATHS; and they shall be a SIGN between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God. Ez.20:12-20
the "then" in verse 13 and its connection to v.16 and 20.
while the children of
was not a "tough on the first case as an example to others" action by
God. Picking up sticks was breaking the "sign" of
the covenant and thereby disavowing [disrespecting]
the entire covenant. The Sabbath was to
Name the major covenants so named in the Bible and their respective signs.
Noahaic covenant - …"I have set My bow in the cloud and it shall be the sign of the covenant ..." Gen.9:8-17
Abrahamic covenant - "This is my covenant...you are to undergo circumcision, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and you." Gen.17:11
Mosaic covenant - "...you must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come....The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath for the generations to come as a lasting covenant." Ex.31:12-18
Davidic covenant -
New covenant – “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” 1 Cor.11:25-26 [Why not water baptism? see A String of Pearls Unstrung]
The God designed function of the TC was conviction and fear not joy and hope. The same moral rules that furnish our minds with help in pleasing our heavenly Father functioned in the conscience of an Israelite as the condemning covenant of life and death (2 Cor.3:6-18) of their covenant God.
we see the clear contrast that Christ is making when instituting the remembrance
service for celebrating the NC, everything falls into place. When Jesus said
"THIS do in remembrance of ME" He was contrasting the NC, and its
remembrance sign, with the OC, and its remembrance sign. He was saying,
"Instead of keeping the Sabbath in remembrance of the old creation and
The OC bound men to God as their Creator and Lawgiver and celebrated the work of the old creation. The NC binds us to God as our Redeemer through our Lord Jesus Christ and celebrates the work of the new creation. The one reminds us of sin and the other reminds of forgiveness (1 Cor.11:25-27).
The Tablets of
Stone were the
In the wilderness, what did
The "Ark of the Covenant" was so named
because of its CONTENT. The Ark of the Covenant was built for the express purpose of housing
the covenant document that established
And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof…And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee. Ex.25:10, 16
And he spread abroad the tent over the tabernacle, and put the covering of the tent above upon it; as the LORD commanded Moses. And he took and put the testimony into the ark, and set the staves on the ark, and put the mercy seat above upon the ark: Ex.40:19-20
At that time the LORD said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark. And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand. And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them unto me. And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the LORD commanded me. Dt.5:1-5
were the TC placed in the Ark of the Covenant? Why was that box so sacred that humans hands were not even allowed to touch it (2 Sam.5-6)?
When we understand why a man was instantly killed by God for merely putting his
hand on the
There could be no entrance into the presence of God
Paul is saying the same truth in the following passages:
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone...2 Cor.3:6-7
Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. Rom.7:9-10
Paul said the "commandment was ordained to life." However, because of sin, he discovered the commandment was "death to him." The TC did indeed promise life to anyone that kept them perfectly. They also promised death to all who failed to keep them. However, the Tablets of Stone could not do either of these things if it did not have the status of a covenant. A bare commandment cannot kill unless the death penalty is connected to it. And no commandment can give life unless the commandment is the terms of a covenant that promises life. Paul specifically says, "the very commandment that was intended to bring life," was what "put me to death."
Jesus responded to the rich young ruler as He did only because the TC offered life to those who perfectly obey. The young man thought he must "earn" his way to eternal life and Jesus told him to "Keep the Law" (Mt.19:17). When the young man asked, "Which one?" Jesus quoted 5 of the commandments plus the "second greatest commandment of all" (Lev.19:18). If the person perfectly kept the law it would prove that he did not have original sin in the first place. It is impossible for any son of Adam to obey the law perfectly simply because every son of Adam has a sinful nature inherited from his father Adam that keeps him from perfect obedience.
However, the Tablets of the Covenant still offer life and righteousness just as surely as they threaten death and damnation. The problem that prevents anyone from earning righteousness by keeping the OC is in the nature of the sinner and not in the nature of the covenant. The priesthood, services, sacrifices etc., all started and ended at the same time as the OC that necessitated their being established.
This is the whole burden of Hebrews 8-10.
the first covenant had
regulations for worship [Don't confuse the actual
covenant, the TC, with all of the "regulations"] and also an
earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lamp stand,
the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the
What was the purpose for the priesthood and sacrificial system. To administer the OC
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Heb.9:15
relationship of the Law Covenant (the stone tablets in the
The Ten Commandments as a Covenant Document had a Historical Beginning and End
The New Testament
Scriptures are clear that TC are finished as a covenant
contract between God and
1. Some specific "law" had a historical beginning.
2. That same "law" had a historical end.
3. The historical
beginning of that "law" is always associated with the giving of the
Tablets of the Covenant to
4. The historical ending of that "law" is always connected with the coming of Christ and the establishment of the NC.
The historical beginning of the law covenant coincided with the beginning of the Nation of Israel.
For before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Rom.5:13
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. Rom.5:20
What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. Gal.3:19
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. Gal.3:24-25
Is Paul denying that before Sinai God punished behavior that was contrary to the moral duties set forth in the law given at Sinai as a covenant? No - the flood was the direct result of men and women living in a manner which they had every reason to know was displeasing to God. Whatever "law" began at Sinai also forever ended at the cross. However, there is another kind of "law" that continues in the Christian life.
In what way is Paul talking about the law in the verses just quoted? In terms of the law of the covenant. What is the meaning of the word "law" in Gal.3-4 and what makes you think so? Gal.3:13-14 tells us that Christ died under the law and delivered us from its curse. That can only be the law associated with the Stone Covenant, the "law" that came 430 years after the promise to Abraham is separate from the promise of the gospel given to Abraham. The question in 3:21 [“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?”] would be totally unnecessary. The fact that Paul spends so much time in answering the problem with a carefully worded argument proves the reality of a problem. The argument is so careful that it builds a key point on the use of the singular "seed" instead of seeds (3:16).
The law in Gal.3 had the
power to "imprison the whole world" and prove it was "guilty
before God" (v.21-23). The Jewish ceremonial law could never do that.
Verses 17-20 refer to the waiting period between the promise to Abraham and its
fulfillment – the interim imposition of the law covenant at Mt Sinai after
deliverance from 430 years of slavery in
These things may be
taken figuratively, for the
women represent two covenants.
One covenant is from
When Paul speaks in negative terms about the law, its weaknesses or its final demise, he is referring to the law covenant. When he speaks of the law in a good sense and applies it to us today, he is speaking of the moral duties contained in the individual laws.
The following facts summarize Paul's understanding of the purpose and function of the TC today:
1. A NC was ratified in the blood of Christ at the cross. The OC written on the Tablets of Stone at Sinai have been "fulfilled" and done away. The claims of the OC have been met; its curse has been endured and removed; and its blessings have been secured by Christ and bestowed on His Church.
2. A new people or nation was born at Pentecost. The true "holy nation" of "kings and priests" (the true Israel of God) came into being (Compare Ex.19:4-5 and 1 Pt.2:9-11).
3. A new approach to God was opened upon the veil being rent from top to bottom. It was the Tablets of Stone that blocked the way into the presence of God's presence, but now the terms of the covenant have been fully met and we enter boldly into the Most Holy Place (Heb.10:1-23).
4. A new status (Sons of God) with new privileges was given to the "grown up" people of God.
5. A new Pedagogue took over in the conscience of the new covenant believer. The TC were in themselves, the old Pedagogue in the conscience of an Israelite. That old Pedagogue has been dismissed (Gal.3:24-25) and replaced by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The Biblical Significance of the Tables of Stone
Various writers in both the OT and NT quote individual commandments out of the Decalogue as well as the rest of the OT Scriptures and use it to reinforce a moral/ethical duty. Our Lord used Dt.6:6 and Lev.19:18 as the foundation to prove the two greatest commandments in all of Scripture.
Medieval concept of law which broke it down into moral, ceremonial, and civil
laws must be replaced with Biblical terminology. "The covenant in force at
the time" was the means of establishing morality and holiness for any
individual. God's commandment to
We cannot understand how David could enter into a polygamous marriage with Bathsheba with God's expressed approval and blessing without understanding the change in the terms of the "Be ye holy, for I am holy" commandment when it is given under the NC. Obviously David could be holy in God's sight under the OC and practice polygamy but a believer today under the NC cannot do the same thing.10 Polygamy did not break the Seventh Commandment (You shall not commit adultery) under the OC. But it violates the new and higher moral law established pursuant to the original intent of God in creating mankind as male and female that Christ gave the Church in the NC.
It is impossible to make a clear distinction between moral and ceremonial laws in Scripture. While we would all put eating unclean animals on the so called "ceremonial law list" (Lev.11:44-46) and would certainly put respecting our parents (Lev.19:2-3) on the "moral list," the Holy Spirit put them both on the same list under the OC. This is even clearer in Lev.19:18-19. In these verses, one of the two greatest moral commandments ("love your neighbor as yourself") is mixed together with "ceremonial laws."
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. "`Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. Lev.19:18-19.
In the above passage, the Holy Spirit deliberately put the second highest moral commandment in all of Scripture in the middle of what would have to be designated a "ceremonial list. Jesus obviously did not think of the TC as the "highest moral standard ever given." The context of the text quoted by Jesus gives no indication that it is a "great moral law" and the surrounding laws are only "ceremonial." It is only when Christ chooses to use Lev.19:18, as He does in Mt.22, that the phrase in this text becomes the "second highest commandment" upon which all other laws, including the TC, hang. Dt.6:6 and Lev.19:18 are not the "summary of the TC." It is the other way around!
Look at the context of the "second highest commandment":
LORD said to Moses, Speak to the entire assembly of
Neither our Savior nor Moses, the writer of Leviticus, thought of dividing up the various laws in Lev.19 into different kinds of lists. The chapter begins with the identical exhortation of "Be Holy for I am Holy" that Peter gives to Christians (1 Pt.1:15-16). The above verses quoted from Lev.19 cover honoring parents, keeping the Sabbath, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and then immediately talks about mixing different seed and different cloth and cross breading of animals. Some of these laws are "ceremonial" in nature and others are "moral" in nature.
Could "love your neighbor as yourself" be the "second greatest moral duty" for an Israelite living under the law of Lev.19? In what way was this law more important than planting his garden correctly? What about the concept of degree, the more important matters of the law Jesus criticized the Pharisees for neglecting (Mt.23:23; Lk.11:42)? The same thing is true today. There is a very great difference in the respective importance of those same things under the NC. How an Israelite obeyed the commandment "Be ye Holy" is in many respects totally different from how a Christian today obeys the identical commandment. Neither Moses, Christ, nor anyone else in all of Scripture created lists and used the different lists as the foundation of moral conduct.
The message of the New Testament Scriptures is the historical shift from the authority of Moses to the full and final authority of Christ. Christians are not under the authority of Moses as their lawgiver. They are under the authority of Christ the new Lawgiver. Christians are not under the OC and do not use it to define their moral absolutes any more than they use it to define their diet. They are under the NC and it defines everything in their life and worship either by clear precept or personal application of a principle. Often times the principle will be a spiritual application of an OC law. Paul's use of Dt.25:4 is only one example: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it only about oxen that God is concerned? (1 Cor.9:9)
are under higher laws and a greater obligation to be holy because of
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Eph.2:19-20.
Who do the "prophets" refer to in this passage? The New Testament Prophets.11 The life and worship of the Church
is not built on Moses, his laws, or the covenant that established
The couplet "Apostles and Prophets" may bring together the Old Testament (prophets) and the New Testament (apostles) as the basis of the church's teaching. But the inverted order of the words (not "prophets and apostles" but "apostles and prophets") suggests that probably the New Testament prophets are meant. If so, their bracketing with the apostles as the church's foundation is significant. The reference again must be to a small group of inspired teachers, associated with the apostles, who together bore witness to Christ and whose teaching was derived from revelation (3:5) and was foundational.
In practical terms this means that the church is built on the New Testament Scriptures. They are the church's foundation documents. And just as a foundation cannot be tampered with once it has been laid and the superstructure is being built upon it, so the New Testament foundation of the church is inviolable and cannot be changed by and additions, subtractions, or modifications by teachers who claim to be apostles or prophets today. The church stands or falls by its loyal dependence on the foundation truths which God revealed to his apostles and prophets, and which are now preserved in the New Testament Scriptures. John R Stott, God's New Society, p.107
life and worship of
American colonies were under the constitution and laws of
Our new Lawgiver has given new and higher laws in addition to interpreting the individual commandments in terms of the kingdom of grace. Could the thunder, lightening, and fear of Sinai be separated from the Tablets of Stone? No - that OC is forever done away in the body of Christ on the cross. The gospel of God's grace cannot remain pure and victorious in the conscience until the covenant of works is replaced by the NC. A great Puritan preacher said it well:
It will prove a special help to know distinctly the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, between Moses and Christ; Moses without all mercy breaketh all bruised reeds, and quencheth all smoking flax. For the law requireth, 1, personal; 2, perpetual; 3, perfect obedience; 4, and from a perfect heart; and that under a most terrible curse, and giveth no strength, a severe task-master, like Pharaoh's requiring the whole tale, and yet giveth no straw. Christ cometh with blessing upon blessing even upon those whom Moses had cursed, and with healing balm for those wounds which Moses had made. The same duties are required in both covenants; as, `to love the Lord with all our hearts, with all our souls,' &c., Dt.vi.5. In the covenant of works, this must be taken in the rigor . . . This law is sweetened by the gospel, and becometh delightful to the inner man, Rom.vii.22. Under this gracious covenant sincerity is perfection. This is the death in the pot in the Roman religion, that they confound the two covenants; and it deads [deadens] the comfort of drooping ones, that they cannot distinguish them. And thus they suffer themselves to be held `under bondage,' Isa.lxi.1-2, when Christ hath set open doors before them. See "But I Say Unto You
The Holy Spirit has said it best:
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and
that is burning with fire; to
darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged
that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was
commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned."
The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with
fear." But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly
10. See "But
I Say Unto You" for a discussion of the
change from the canon of conduct under which
11. For solid exegetical evidence of this see William Henrickson, Commentary of Ephesians, Baker Book House, p.142