A common claim from the SDA Church is that the 10 Commandments were known before Sinai. To this, many former Adventists have taken great umbrage rightly pointing to the 10 Commandments being the “words” of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 34:28). However, the SDA Church’s claim is not novel to them and we should be careful to not commit the genetic fallacy—that because the SDA Church believes it, it must be wrong.
Paul makes it clear that God has written certain moral precepts upon the consciences of humans (Romans 1-2). The conscience either excuses or convicts a person when they go against theirs and sin against God. He specifically mentions that even though the Gentiles were not given the law, the conscience served and functioned as a natural law unto them (Romans 2:14). The revealing of the law actually increased the knowledge of sin already present (Romans 3:20, 5:20, 7:7-9).
What we find is that the substance of the 10 Commandments, which is love for God and love for neighbor (Romans 13:8-10), is written within a person intrinsically such they know certain things are morally right and wrong by nature of how God designed humanity. A person can sear their conscience which will dull this conviction leading to a debased mind (Romans 1:28).
There are a number of instances in scripture where we see certain commandments being violated before the giving of the law at Sinai and God holds the individuals accountable. Such examples include:
- Murder and Violence (Genesis 4:6-12; 6:5, 11-12)
- Adultery (Genesis 12:17-20, 20:3-7)
- Lying (Genesis 12:11-3, 20:2)
- Homosexuality/Rape (Genesis 19:4-7)
- Drunkenness and Incest (Genesis 19:30-8)
- Theft/Stealing (Genesis 27)
- Unequal Measures (Genesis 29:18-23)
- Worship God Alone (1st Commandment) (Genesis 35:2)
- Kidnapping (Genesis 37:12-29)
- Bearing False Witness (Genesis 39:17-20)
These examples, many of which are found in the 10 Commandments, are moral in nature. They inaccurately reflect the Creator who is not these things, which is what makes them sin. For example, God is not a thief, hence why thievery is wrong. One does not accurately reflect God as His image bearer when they steal.
While it is true that the 10 Commandments are the words of the Mosaic Covenant, that doesn’t then mean that they are only distinct to the Mosaic Covenant or have no transcendence to that covenant. For example, lying is wrong and will always be wrong. That transcends Sinai and is written on the heart of a person. The giving of the law served a purpose with some of it being unique to Sinai and others being carried over into it.
Part of the New Covenant, foretold by the prophets, is that the law would move from stone tables to the table of the heart (2 Corinthians 3:3; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). The law of Christ (Galatians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 9:21) is ultimately summarized by love for God and neighbor which scripture says is the summation of the 10 Commandments as well (Mark 12:28-31).
Some say the law of Christ is contrary to the law of God. But the law of Christ must be understood in light of Christ’s own teachings. Christ taught that he had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill, and that if anyone denied the least of the commandments he would be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20). The Law of Christ would not be contrary to the Law of God, but would endorse it.
A lot of the pushback on the SDA Church in this area is due to specifically the fourth commandment, the Sabbath, and trying to find a way to show that it isn’t binding on Christians. Many feel as though if this topic is conceded, it then concedes the SDA Church’s teaching on the Sabbath. This is not at all the case. The SDA Church did not originate the idea of the 10 Commandments preceding Sinai but borrowed from the works of others that came before them, twisting their understandings to then fit the SDA Church’s Great Controversy Worldview. And the individuals they borrowed from did not agree with the SDA Church’s view of the Sabbath while being sabbatarians themselves.
It is the Adventist Church’s twisting and misapplication that is the problem, not the law of God. As Paul rightly recognizes that the law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). It just needs to be wielded properly, understanding the law gospel distinction.
We do not take the view that the 10 Commandments are unique to Sinai, but stand strongly opposed to seventh day Sabbatarianism and fundamentally disagree with the SDA Church’s erroneous definition and application of the law, including the fourth commandment, which we believe to be substantively about the Creator being due an allotted portion of our time and focus in worship by virtue of who He is. The Christian Sabbath is not to be confused with the Jewish old creation sabbath that the SDA Church upholds.
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