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Questions On Doctrine


Distinction Between the Decalogue and the Ceremonial Law



On what grounds do Seventh-day Adventists consider as separate the "moral law" and the "ceremonial law," in view of what our Lord accomplished on Calvary's cross?


We feel that there are ample Biblical grounds for making this distinction. The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, constitute in principle God's eternal law. Not only is this law eternal, but it is immutable. It is the foundation of His throne; it is the expression of His character. Since it represents His character—or what God Himself is—we believe it is as eternal as the everlasting God.

This thought can be seen in the following qualities inherent in God and in His law:

God Is

His Law Is

Righteous Ezra 9:15 Righteous Ps 119:172
Perfect  Matt. 5:48 Perfect  Ps. 19:7
Holy Lev. 19:2 Holy Rom. 7:12
Good Ps. 34:8 Good Rom. 7:12
Truth Deut. 32:4 Truth Ps. 119:142

But while this is true of the eternal law of God as expressed in the Decalogue, it would not be true of the


ceremonial law that God gave to Israel. This ceremonial law embraced the types and shadows that entered into the sacrificial system of Israel. All the sacrificial offerings, the feast days, and even the priesthood—all that was typical of the sacrifice and ministry of Christ our Lord—met its end on Calvary's cross. This we believe is what is meant by the apostle Paul when he wrote that Christ "abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances" (Eph. 2:15).

"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col. 2:14).

"Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ" (verse 17). The distinction between the moral law of God—the Decalogue—and the ceremonial law can be seen in the following:

The Decalogue The Ceremonial Law
1.Spoken by God Himself. Ex. 20:1, 22. 1.Spoken by Moses. Ex. 24:3.
2. Written by God. Ex. 31:18; 32:16. 2. Written by Moses. Ex. 24: 4; Deut. 31:9.
3. On stones. Ex. 31:18. 3. In a book. Ex. 24:4, 7; Deut. 31:24.
4.Handed by God, its writer, to Moses. Ex. 31:18. 4.Handed by Moses, its writer, to Levites. Deut. 31:25, 26.
5.Deposited by Moses "in the ark." Deut. 10:5. 5.Deposited by the Levites "by the side of the ark." Dent. 31:26, A.R.V.
6.Deals with moral precepts. Ex. 20:3-17. 6.Deals with ceremonial, ritual matters.
(See parts of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.)


7.Reveals sin. Rom. 7:7. 7.Prescribes offerings for sins. (See book of Leviticus.)
8.Breaking of "the law" is "sin." 1 John 3:4. 8.No sin in breaking, for now "abolished." Eph. 2: 15. ("Where no law is, there is no transgression." Rom. 4:15.)
9.Should "keep the whole law." James 2:10. 9.Apostles gave "no such commandment" to "keep the law." Acts 15:24.
10.Because we "shall be judged" by this law. James 2:12. 10.Not to be judged by it. Col. 2:16.
11.The Christian who this law is "blessed deed." James 1:25. 11.The Christian who keeps this law is not blessed. (See, for example, Gal. 5:1-6.)
12."The perfect law of liberty." (Cf. James 1:25. James 2:12.) 12. The Christian who keeps this law loses his liberty. Gal. 5:1, 3.
13.Established by faith Christ. Rom. 3:31. 13.Abolished by Christ. Eph. 2:15.
14.Christ was to "magnify the law and make it honourable." Isa. 42:21. 14.Blotted "out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us." Col. 2:14.
15."We know that the law is spiritual." Rom. 7:14. (Cf. verse 7.) 15."The law of a carnal commandment." Heb. 7:16.

It should also be noted that the leading confessions of faith, and the historic creeds of Christendom, recognize the difference between God's moral law, the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, as separate and distinct from the ceremonial precepts. The following are a few of them:

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566), of the Reformed Church of Zurich, and one of the most authoritative of all Continental symbols (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1, pp. 391,


394, 395), in chapter 12, "Of the Law of God," after contrasting the "moral" and the "ceremonial" laws, says of the moral law, "We believe that the whole will of God, and all necessary precepts, for every part of this life, are fully delivered in this law" (not that we are to be justified by it, but that we shall turn to Christ by faith). The types and figures of the ceremonial law have ceased. "The shadow ceased when the body came," but the moral law is not to be disdained or rejected, and all teachings against the law are condemned. (See Schaff, vol. 3, pp. 854-856.)

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England (1571). Article VII states that while "the lawe geven from God by Moses" concerning "ceremonies and rites" is not binding, "no Christian man whatsoever, is free from the obedience of the commaundementes, which are called morall." (See Schaff, vol. 3, pp. 491, 492.)

The American Revision of Thirty-nine Articles by the Protestant-Episcopal Church (1801) is identical with the foregoing.. (See Schaff, vol. 3, p. 816.)

The Irish Articles of Religion (1615), believed to have been composed by Archbishop Ussher, after stating that the ceremonial law is abolished, says: "No Christian man whatsoever is freed from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral." (See Schaff, vol. 3, pp. 526, 541.)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), after showing the difference between the ceremonial and the moral law, and the abrogation of the former and the perpetuity of the latter, in chapter 19 declares "the moral law doth forever bind all," not for justification,


but as a rule of life, in order to recognize the enabling power of Christ. This law continues to be "a perfect rule of righteousness." And it adds, "Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation." (See Schaff, pp. 640-644.)

The Savoy Declaration of the Congregational Churches (1658). There is no change in chapter 19, "Of the Law of God," from the Westminster Confession. (See Schaff, vol. 3, p. 718).

Baptist Confession of 1688 (Philadelphia), based on the London, 1677, confession, has no change from the Westminster Confession in chapter 19, "Of the Law of God." It deals with the distinction between the moral and the ceremonial law, and asserts that no Christian is free from obedience to the moral law. (See Schaff, vol. 3, p. 738.)

Methodist Articles of Religion (1784). These twenty-five articles, drawn up by John Wesley for American Methodists, are an abridgement of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, and declare: "Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth, yet, notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience to the commandments which are called moral." (See Schaff, vol. 3, pp. 807, 808.)

The conclusion from the foregoing is therefore clear: The position maintained by Seventh-day Adventists regarding their relationship to the Decalogue, and their distinction between the moral and the ceremonial


law, is fully sustained by the leading creeds, articles of faith, and catechisms of historic Protestantism. The concept that the Decalogue was abolished by the death of Christ is a relatively recent one. Certainly it was not taught by the founding fathers of Protestantism, for such is in total conflict with their belief

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