WERE THE OLD COVENANT AND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS THE SAME THING?
By Eric V. Snow
Should the old covenant be seen as more or less identical to the law? Or, are the two
substantially different entities altogether? One of the foundational fallacies of the teachings of
the Worldwide Church of God concerning abolition of the Sabbath is about how it equates the
old covenant and the law.
Pasadena has defined "covenant" the way a dictionary would: "We can start by defining
the word covenant. In simple terms, a covenant is a formal agreement. It can be an agreement
between two people, a treaty between nations, or a relationship between God and a human
individual or nation." However, in the course of argumentation, a truly CRUCIAL term switch
(equivocation) occurs. Pasadena then says that the law and the old covenant are the same,
thereby confusing what the agreement (contract) was about with the agreement itself:
The Ten Commandments were the words of the covenant. . . . The Ten Commandments formed the core of the Sinaitic, or old covenant, but the covenant also included all of Exodus 20-24. . . . The old covenant, as a package of laws regulating a relationship between God and his people, is obsolete. . . . This "setting aside" is not just talking about Levitical and sacrificial laws that were added to the old covenant--it is talking about the old covenant itself. The whole package was set aside and replaced by Christ.
David Albert also expressed this viewpoint succinctly and clearly:
I didn=t know and nobody had ever taught me in my 35 years in the Church that the Ten Commandments were the old covenant, as is to clearly stated in Ex. 34:28 and again in Deuteronomy 4:13. I see now that we were ignorant about such basics as how God in his Word defines the old covenant--namely, by the Ten Commandments and vice versa. Nobody ever taught me the truth and the sweeping implications of these two vitally important verses.
The importance of this issue can=t be stressed enough. For it was the most important argument
in Mr. Tkach=s three hour sermon that first announced the Anew covenant@ changes that would
abolish the Sabbath, tithing, and the holy days.
Here it shall be maintained that the Ten Commandments, and indeed all the laws God
gave to Israel, are not the same thing as the old covenant. By itself, the old covenant was a
contract between God and Israel in which the latter made a generic promise of obedience in
return for material (not spiritual) national blessings. (Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 describe the physical
promises, and won't be the focus of this analysis). Now, the Ten Commandments are called a
"covenant" in Deut. 4:13; 9:9-11; I Kings 8:9,21. But is this covenant the same covenant as the
old covenant? No--instead, actually two covenants were made with Israel in Ex. 19-24, one of
which was the Ten Commandments, the other which is the old covenant in which God made
Israel His chosen people with various (material) blessings in exchange for their promise of
obedience. But--how do we know they are different covenants?
Evidence that these covenants are different is found in how Paul's descriptions of the Ten
Commandments or the law don't fit those made about the old covenant. For example, the author
of Hebrews (8:6-7) said about the old covenant: "But now He has obtained a more excellent
ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, WHICH HAS BEEN
ENACTED, on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have
been no occasion sought for a second." Consider carefully as you read through the Ten
Commandments: Can you find anything wrong or weak with their promises? Paul quotes the
fifth commandment in Eph. 6:1-3, inserting the parenthetical thought "(which is the first
commandment with a promise)" concerning its statement, "that it may be well with you, and that
you may live long on the earth." Now, what's wrong with that promise? Don't the meek inherit
the earth (Matt. 5:5) for life evermore? As Walker put it: "It is scripturally impossible for the
Ten Commandments to be the old covenant, for there are no defective promises found therein."
This text also implies Paul thought individual parts of the Ten Commandments were still
binding, when he so-matter-of-factly cites the fifth one.
Consider--the old covenant wasn't "faultless" (Heb. 8:7). Do the Ten Commandments
have any faults in them? Would you dare call something written by the finger of God (Ex.
31:18) and thundered aloud by His own voice (Ex. 19:11-12, 19-20; 20:1; Deut. 5:4-5, 22-27;
9:10) defective or faulty? Ps. 19:7 says: "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul."
James 1:25 says: "But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by
it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what
he does." In Romans 7:12, Paul maintains: "So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is
holy and righteous and good." Could such a law be faulty as well if it is "perfect," "holy,"
"righteous," and "good"? Can you honestly maintain these descriptions of the Ten
Commandments or the law fit the old covenant? (Remember, Paul had just quoted the tenth
commandment in Rom. 7:7, so this should be the "law" he has in mind in v. 12). God found fault
with the people of Israel (Heb. 8:8), not His law itself, because they tried to obey it by human
effort. For the basic flaw of the old covenant lies not in the law Israel was supposed to obey in
its contract with God, but in them trying to do it without God's Holy Spirit to aid them in their
The old covenant now no longer exists, which is what Heb. 8:13 really says: "When He
said, 'A new covenant,' He had made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and
growing old is ready to disappear." But does God's law continue to exist? James thinks so (2:10-
11): "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of
all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not commit murder.' Now if you
do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law."
Paul also thinks so in Romans 7:7-8: "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!
On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not
have known about coveting [i.e as a sin] if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin,
taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart
from the Law sin is dead [i.e. doesn't exist]." Hence, the law couldn't be the same thing as the
old covenant since one still exists and the other doesn't. Similarly, if the law was substantially
identical to the old covenant, then one could insert into Romans 3:31 "old covenant" where "law"
appears, and it would make sense: "Do we then nullify the (old covenant) through faith? May it
never be! On the contrary, we establish the (old covenant)." The absurdity of saying the law and
the old covenant are substantially one and the same is evident.
Now the giving of the law is implied to be different from the covenants in Romans 9:4:
"(W)ho are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and
the giving of the law and the temple service and the promises." Implicitly, the law is not made
identical to the covenants (plural) mentioned since it is listed separately from them. The old
covenant wasn't the law itself, but it was made "concerning all these words" (Ex. 24:8, KJV) of
God's law in written form. A similar distinction exists in Ex. 34:27-28 in which the covenant
between God and Israel is different from the Ten Commandments: "And the Lord said to Moses,
'Write these words, for after the purpose and character of these words I have made a covenant
with you and with Israel'" (v. 27, Amplified). "It was not the law itself but over the keeping of
the law--'the tenor of the words'--that the Old Covenant was made.@ Moses called the golden
calf Israel worshipped "your sin, the calf which you had made," yet this wasn't the sin itself
(compare I Cor. 10:19). "In the same way the Old Covenant was not the law, but it was
concerning the law. Thus it is called the covenant." Again, we have more reasons to doubt the
view the law and the old covenant are basically identical.
Another way to look at the relationship between the old covenant and the Ten
Commandments is to see the latter as the basis for the former. For the failure of Israel to obey
God (i.e., uphold its part of the contract) doesn't make its basis cease to exist, since the contract
is about or concerns the basis, but isn't it itself. The old covenant was not a law, but an
agreement to keep the law. And Israel failed miserably in keeping this law, and failed to uphold
its part of the covenant. For God found "fault with them" (Heb. 8:8), that is, the people, not his
perfect law (Ps. 19:17; James 1:25). The basic flaw with the old covenant was on the human end
(trying to obey without spiritual help), not God's (concerning His law). It=s incorrect to say the
law, sacrificial or moral, was the old covenant, as opposed to saying it was about, concerning, or
was the basis for, Israel's general promise to obey in return for material national blessings.
Hence, the teaching of the Worldwide Church of God that the Ten Commandments are
basically the same thing as the old covenant is incorrect. Therefore, one can=t argue that the
end of the old covenant abolishes the Sabbath, the Holy Days, or tithing. For after all, if God
says (Heb. 8:10), AI will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts,@
how does that abolish the law, as opposed to making it more binding? Therefore, the end of the
old covenant and the establishment of the new, far from abolishing these laws, allows them to be written on our hearts.
This whole line of ultimately reasoning comes from a truly brilliant SDA book by Allen Walker called The Law and the Sabbath. Its chief value lies in how it refutes this crucial argument of Pasadena=s, which Dr. Bacchiocchi=s works don=t appear to deal with. For this argument was at the core of the arguments Brinsmead made in his Verdict articles and Ratzlaff made in Sabbath in Crisis. It can be ordered for $6.95 plus $2 postage from: Amazing Facts, P.O. Box 680, Frederick, MD 21705-0680.