Seventh-Day Adventists/The Old and the New Covenant
A major problem you have is that you have failed to recognize that the New Covenant is a continuation of the Old Covenant. This causes you to make many theological mistakes. God deals with His people in one way. The “new” in the New Covenant is that God’s Law is now applied in a spiritual way. The Holy Spirit was given to help people understand the Old Covenant in a new and spiritual way. So the Sabbath remains for God’s people it just doesn’t have all the man-made burdensome additions. 2 Cor. 3:6 shows that we are ministers of a new covenant not according to the letter but according to the spirit of the letter.
Dear Brother Tyrone:
The first thing that came to mind when I read your question was if you believe the Old Covenant is now to be practiced in a spiritual way, why do you still observe the old physical Sabbath? Why not observe the Sabbath spiritually in Christ (cf. Matthew 11:28-30)?
The verse you referred to (2 Corinthians 3:6) does not say anything about applying the Old Covenant spiritually. The verse reads, “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” (NIV). In this verse “the letter” refers to the Old Covenant and its written laws, and “the Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit of the New Covenant.
In v. 6 Paul begins to compare the Old Covenant with the New. “…for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”. Immediately Paul lets the Corinthians know that what the Judaizers are preaching kills, but what he is preaching gives life. The contrast, Paul contends, is stark. It’s between spiritual life and spiritual death. He also noted this to the Roman church. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2 NASB). Therefore, Paul in his great love for the church preaches forcefully and plainly. “But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (2 Corinthians 3:7-8 NASB). Paul leaves no doubt that the Ten Commandments are the ministry of death. The Ten Commandments as the covenant document represents the entire Old Covenant (cf. Exodus 34:28 & Deuteronomy 4:13). The Old Covenant Law was given to increase sin (cf. Romans 5:20) which brings with it spiritual death. The New Covenant is of the Spirit which brings with it life. “It is the Spirit who gives life…” (John 6:63 NASB). So Paul is not saying that the New Covenant is a continuation of the Old Covenant. He is contrasting the differences between the two. For Paul it was not the spirit of the law, but rather the Spirit vs. the Law.
The New Covenant is not a continuation of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was added to God’s revelation 430 years after the establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant and was in effect only until Christ (cf. Galatians 3:17-19). There is nothing in a careful reading of Galatians that indicates that the Old Covenant was to continue, in fact quite the opposite is true. In Galatians 3 Paul states that the Old Covenant was a tutor to lead to Christ and then the tutor is dismissed.
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:23-25 NASB).
In Galatians 4 Paul states that the Old Covenant was to suffer the same faith as Hagar the slave woman. “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman’” (Galatians 4:30 ESV). This theme is repeated throughout Paul’s writings, i.e. that the Law covenant of Sinai is now obsolete for God’s people and has been replaced with the New Covenant of grace. “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13 NIV). So Paul cannot properly be understood to be saying that the two covenants are actually one continuous covenant just now spiritually applied.
The New Covenant is indeed “new”. Jeremiah predicted a time would come when God would make a new covenant with His people and that it would not be like the Old Covenant.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33 NASB).
Some say that the Ten Commandments as given at Sinai are the law written on hearts in the New Covenant. I have addressed this issue before in detail and will not do so again. Suffice to say that such an interpretation does violence to the text as well as the rest of the Bible. I will say this, nine of the Ten Commandments are moral laws which were written on man’s heart from his beginning not just since the New Covenant came into being. Only the Sabbath commandment is not a moral obligation. The Sabbath was the ceremonial sign of the covenant between God and Israel (cf. Exodus 31:16-17). When that covenant ended so did the sign’s usefulness.
Also note this fact: God did not say, “I will put my Ten Commandments into your hearts.” He said, “law” (Jeremiah 31:33). It’s God’s Law which for us Christians would be the commandments of Jesus and the Holy Spirit empowered Apostles. It may also be informative to know that Jeremiah used the word “law” eleven times in his writing and never did it mean the Ten Commandments apart from the rest of the Old Covenant commandments (see 2:8; 6:19; 8:8; 9:12; 16:11; 18:18; 26:4; 31:33; 32:23; 44:10, 23).
A verse which may help with the understanding of 2 Corinthians 3:6 is Romans 7:6. “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (NASB). Again, here is 2 Corinthians 3:6. “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” (NIV). In both verses Paul uses “Spirit” to represent the Holy Spirit given in the New Covenant and “letter” to represent the Old Covenant and its written law. In both verses Paul put the Spirit in opposition to the letter. Both verses teach that Christians are not under the Law Covenant, but under the Holy Spirit-led New Covenant. Both verses teach that the Spirit is superior to the written law. In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul teaches that this superiority is over the Old Covenant Law whether written with ink or on stone. “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV). Paul particularly pointed out the superiority of the New Covenant over the Ten Commandments.
“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it” (2 Corinthians 3:7-10 ESV).
In conclusion, the New Covenant is not a continuation of the Old Covenant applied in a spiritual way. The Old Covenant was a temporary covenant only meant by God to last until He sent His only Son (cf. Galatians 3:17-19). The Holy Spirit was not “given to help people understand the Old Covenant in a new and spiritual way.” The Holy Spirit was given to fulfill God’s promise delivered by the Prophet Jeremiah.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…” (Jeremiah 31:31-32 NASB).
With God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit the Old Covenant ceased to exist as a way of life for God’s people and a new covenant came into being “not like” the Old Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant of promise came before the Sinai covenant of Law (the Old Covenant). Therefore, the Old Covenant was a temporary addition to the revelation of God. The Old Covenant of Law ran along side the Abrahamic Covenant of Promise for a time. The Old Covenant began 430 years after God made the covenant with Abraham and it lasted only until Christ who is the end of the law (cf. Romans 10:4). The Law was only for ancient Israel and so was its sign, the 7th day Sabbath.
God Be With You,