9.2 Changing God’s ‘Eternal law’
The most common argument used by Sabbath-keepers is
that the Law of God can’t change, and it is described as an
‘eternal’ law. Here are some bullet points against that
The Law of Moses changed- even within Moses’
- The Law changed in accordance with circumstance. Thus
in Ex. 12, the Passover was to be eaten in individual homes; but in Dt.
16, spoken at the end of Moses’ life, when Israel were about to
enter their land, this was forbidden. Passover had to be eaten at the
- Many parts of the ‘eternal law’ were only
relevant to the period of time when Israel were in the wilderness. As
an example, consider the ‘eternal law’ of Lev. 17:5-7,
stating that animals could only be slaughtered at the tabernacle. This
would’ve meant that those who lived a distance from the sanctuary
would have had to be vegetarians. Later, Moses amended this law. Dt.
12:20 ff. permitted Israel to slaughter their animals without going
through the procedures of Lev. 17. Only the regulations about blood
were preserved (Lev. 17:10 cp. Dt. 12:23).
-The commandments about carrying the ark obviously were
only addressed to a tempporary situation. It was placed in the temple
and "it shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders" (2 Chron. 35:3).
Clearly Mosaic commands weren't "eternal" in the sense of being
unchangeable. Indeed many of the laws were impossible for Israel to
obey when they were outside of their land in captivity; yet
geographical distance from the land didn't make them therefore
automatically not God's children just because they couldn't keep all
His laws. Indeed Dt. 4:10 could be read as implying that the Law was to
kept "all the days that they shall live upon the eretz /
land" of Israel.
- Ex. 21:30 implies penalties could be met by a fine
instead of the actual punishment- the Law was evidently flexible, and
the priests were empowered to use it that way. But this feature means
that we are mistaken to see Moses' Law as a set of statements which
were 'eternally' set in stone. The fact some of the commands were
broken by men like David and yet he isn't condemned for it, but rather
commended, is further illustration.
- The plans for the temple were given to David by God;
but they replaced parts of the law God gave to Moses about the
tabernacle. The laws given about the temple replaced those given about
the dimensions and construction of the tabernacle.
- The laws about following the cloud, camping around the
tabernacle, eating the manna, etc. were obviously annulled once Israel
entered the land and settled there. The specific monetary amounts of
the fines [e.g. shekels] would’ve had to change too, over time.
- I would even suggest that Moses’
‘law’ about God visiting the sins of the fathers upon the
children was annulled and changed by His later statement through
Ezekiel that He would not operate like that, but instead, the
person who sinned would die for his own sin (Ez. 18:4).
From a practical point of view, it's apparent that much
of the law of Moses could only ever have been relevant to Israel in the
wilderness [e.g. the commandments about the manna, carrying the
tabernacle etc.] or to when Israel were settled in the land of Canaan.
Indeed, the closer one looks at the law, the more evident it is that it
applies to Israelite people in Canaan and not to God's Gentile people
worldwide, existing as they do without a Levitical priesthood. Thus
Lev. 13:37 speaks of how the plague of leprosy was to examined and a
sore pronounced clean if "black hair" grows up within the sore. Clearly
the people in view were Israelites with dark body hair, and not blond
The Hebrew word ‘olahm’, translated
‘for ever’ clearly doesn’t always mean literal future
infinity- although in some places it can have that sense.
It’s actually used in places to describe the past;
events of a long time ago, but not events that happened an
‘infinitely long time’ ago. It describes the time of a
previous generation (Dt. 32:7; Job 22:15); to the time just before the
exile of Judah (Is. 58:12; 61:4; Mic. 7:14; Mal. 3:4); to the time of
the Exodus (1 Sam. 27:8; Is. 51:9; 63:9); to the time just before the
flood (Gen. 6:4)(1).
- A servant was to serve his master ‘for
ever’ [olahm]- i.e. for the limited period of the
slave’s life, not literally ‘until infinite time in the
future’ (Dt. 5:7; 1 Sam. 27:12; Job 40:28).
- Jeremiah’s enemies were “always” [olahm]
at ease (cp. Ps. 73:12)
- The temple would eternally bear God’s Name- but
the temple was destroyed.
- Hannah promised to give Samuel to the Lord for olahm(1
Sam. 1:22), but this is defined as “all the days of his
life…as long as he lives” (1 Sam. 1:11,28).
- Jerusalem would be an eternal ruin (Jer. 25:9); and
yet the same prophet predicts that one day in the future, it would be
rebuilt, and be no longer a ruin (Jer. 31:4).
- God told the family of Eli that He had once promised
that family that they would be “‘before me forever (olahm)’;
but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me; for those who
honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be treated with
contempt” (1 Sam. 2:30). God can say that something will be
‘forever’ but then change it.
(1) Consider this discussion of the
meaning of olahm in the Theological Dictionary of the
Old Testament, edited by G. Johannes Botterwick and Helmer
Ringgren (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980): “…Jenni holds
that its basic meaning “ most distant times ” can refer to
either the remote past or to the future or to both as due to the fact
that it does not occur independently (as a subject or as an object) but
only in connection with prepositions indicating direction ( min
“ since, ” ad “ until, ” lĕ
“ up to ”) or as an adverbial accusative of direction or
finally as the modifying genitive in the construct relationship. In the
latter instance ō lā m can express by itself the whole range
of meanings denoted by all the prepositions “ since, until, to
the most distant time ”; i.e. it assumes the meaning “
(unlimited, incalculable) continuance, eternity. ” (THAT II, p.
230) …But … it is sometimes used of a not-so-remote past.
For the meaning of the word in its attributive use we should note the
designation of the lord as el ō lā m , “ The Eternal
God ” ( Gen 21:33 )…The LXX generally translates ō lā m by
aiō n which has essentially the same range of meaning. That neither the
Hebrew nor the Greek word in itself contains the idea of endlessness is
shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to events or
conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by
the fact that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not
merely saying “ forever,” but “ forever and
ever.”.. Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or
period—an idea that is sometimes expressed in English by “
world. ” Postbiblical Jewish writings refer to the present world
of toil as hā ō lā m hazzeh and to the world to come
as hā ō lā m habbā " ”.