THE CLEAR WORD ON THE LAW

 

BY STEPHEN PITCHER

 

This article is a chapter from a forthcoming book by Stephen Pitcher comparing the Seventh-day Adventist publication The Clear Word, “an expanded paraphrase” of the Bible written by the former chairman of the theology department at Southern Adventist University, Jack Blanco, with standard translations of Scripture. Comparisons are between The Clear Word (TCW) and the English Standard Version (ESV). Also included in some comparisons are The Easy English Clear Word (TEECW) and The Clear Word for Kids (TCWK).

 

One cannot fully understand Adventism and the content of The Clear Word on passages regarding law without understanding the centrality of the Ten Commandments in the religion’s great controversy world view. This insider understanding was established by Ellen White’s so-called “great controversy vision” and recorded in her book The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan.

In brief, Adventist theology teaches there is currently a “great controversy” between Christ and Satan, with Satan claiming God is unfair to expect His people to keep the law. The “law” is identified as the Ten Commandments and is claimed to be the eternal standard God expects His created beings to uphold—including keeping the seventh-day Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment. Thus, the great controversy has at its heart the requirement to keep the seventh day in order to vindicate both God’s character and the fairness of the law.

Adventism’s eighth Fundamental Belief articulates its position on the great controversy in part as follows:

All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. … Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated.1

Primarily, the great controversy is over God’s law and his character, but God will “ultimately be vindicated” at the end of this controversy. This teaching is contrary to Scripture which teaches that Jesus, through His work on the cross, His death, and His resurrection, has “disarmed” Satan and his minions, triumphing “over them through Him” (Col. 2:14). Hebrews 2:14 also tells us, “Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, he himself also shared the same things, so that by his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death (that is, the devil).”

Moreover, Romans 3:25, 26 reveals that the only “controversy” that existed was not an accusation that God was unfair to require people to keep the law, but rather the question was whether God was just in leaving “the sins previously committed” unpunished. Jesus’ propitiatory death proved that God was just, because He both took the responsibility for paying the price of human sin, and He justifies those who have faith in Him. Any unanswered questions were answered at the cross, and Jesus was the victor.

By contrast, Adventism teaches that the work on the cross was only the beginning of the atonement; it would not be finished until the end of the investigative judgment.

 

Adventist understanding of law  

Along with understanding the great controversy theme, an understanding of Adventism’s view of God’s law will help us interpret some of the changes made in the text of The Clear Word. Fundamental Belief 19 provides our initial insight into this belief:

19. The Law of God: The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. … Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is an evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives and therefore strengthens Christian witness.2

Notice that this statement asserts that salvation is “all of grace”, but that its fruitage is “obedience to the Commandments” which “is an evidence of our love for the Lord….” This reasoning betrays the Adventist belief that salvation is of grace, but staying saved and loving our Lord require keeping the Ten Commandments. In fact, Adventism teaches that the seventh-day Sabbath “is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people.”3 Thus the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is the universal sign, or seal, designating a person as one of God’s people.

In contrast to Nehemiah 9:12–14 and Galatians 3:19, Adventism denies that the Ten Commandments were delivered through Moses only to the people of Israel. Instead, Adventism argues that the Ten Commandments have been binding on all people at all times, including Adam and Eve, Noah, the patriarchs, and all Gentiles. Notice the statement in fundamental belief #19 above that claims this law is “binding upon all people of every age.”

Since Adventism teaches that the Ten Commandments are binding upon all people of every age, members must, therefore, consider obedience to all of them to be necessary for salvation. In fact, the General Conference Ministerial Association admits this conclusion in its book Seventh-day Adventists Believe. On page 267 of the second edition of that work we read the following:

As the expression of God’s character and love, the Ten Commandments reveal His will and purpose for humanity. They demand perfect obedience, “for whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). Obedience to the law, as the rule of life, is vital to our salvation.4

Not only does Adventism teach that the Ten Commandment law has been binding on all humans who ever lived, but it also teaches the law was known to the angelic beings even before the creation of Adam and Eve. Seventh-Day Adventists Believe further states:

That Lucifer and his angels sinned gives evidence of the presence of the law even before Creation (2 Pet. 2:4).5

Ellen G. White, prophetess6 of the Adventist organization, wrote about this belief in her book Spirit of Prophecy:

The law of God existed before man was created. The angels were governed by it. … Adam taught his descendants the law of God, which law was handed down to the faithful through successive generations. … The law was preserved by Noah and his family, who for right-doing were saved in the ark by a miracle of God. Noah taught his descendants the ten commandments. The Lord preserved a people for himself from Adam down, in whose hearts was his law.7

Not only were the angels and the pre-flood population of the earth “governed” by the Ten Commandments, according to Ellen White, but she also says that the law will be the “standard” against which God will judge everyone in the judgment:

In order to be prepared for the judgment, it is necessary that men should keep the law of God. That law will be the standard of character in the judgment.8

Two more of Ellen White’s classic statements round out Adventists’ perception of the Ten Commandments:

 The law of God is as sacred as God Himself. It is a revelation of His will, a transcript of His character, the expression of divine love and wisdom. The harmony of creation depends upon the perfect conformity of all beings, of everything, animate and inanimate, to the law of the Creator.9

God requires perfection of His children. His law is a transcript of His own character, and it is the standard of all character. This infinite standard is presented to all that there may be no mistake in regard to the kind of people whom God will have to compose His kingdom.10

Because of Ellen White’s many comments about the centrality of the Ten Commandments in all existence, Adventists believe that the law is the “transcript” of God’s character, and that their obedience to every one of them is required for salvation. In fact, however, Jesus is the “transcript” of God’s character. Ten commands do not embody the character of almighty God. In Jesus, however, “all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). He is eternal God incarnate. In contrast, the law was not given until Mt. Sinai, and it lasted until the “Seed” came (Gal. 3:19). Contrary to Ellen White’s pronouncements, the law is not eternal, and no temporary document can be a transcript of the eternal, omniscient, one true God.

 

Clear Word and eternal law

There is no scriptural support for the belief that the Ten Commandment law is eternal and that it governed Adam and Eve. But what does The Clear Word have to say to us about the law? Here we will compare several texts with the English Standard Version (ESV) to demonstrate that author Jack Blanco has twisted the plain words of Scripture in order to convey Adventist doctrine in this paraphrase of the Bible.

Notice the subtle but serious change that is made to the following passage from Matthew.

 

Matthew 12:5–6


The Easy English Clear Word and The Clear Word for Kids
If you’re worried about My disciples working on the Sabbath, don’t you realize that priests work harder on that day than on any other? But they’re doing God’s work. I know what’s right to do on the Sabbath and what isn’t.

The Clear Word
If you’re concerned about work being done on the Sabbath, what about the priests who work harder in the Temple on the Sabbath than on any other day of the week? You don’t realize it, but you’re talking to One greater than your Temple.

English Standard Version
Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.


 

Note in TEECW and TCWfK Jesus does not claim to be “greater than the temple” but is merely knowledgeable about what’s right and what isn’t right to do on the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus was declaring that He was greater than the center of Judaism. By saying He was greater than the temple, He was claiming that everything inside the temple was fulfilled in Him. He is the Bread of Life and the Light of the world. He is the Sacrifice, and in Him and His blood is atonement. He is the author of and the fulfillment of the law; all morality is in Him. Even the sign of the covenant, the Sabbath, is fulfilled in Him and His blood which He poured out for sins. Rest and ceasing from our works is found in Him.

Furthermore, Jesus clearly points out that the “priests … profane the Sabbath and are guiltless,” while Blanco changes the account to read that the “priests … work harder … on the Sabbath than on any other day.” In Adventism, someone may work very hard on the Sabbath yet be exempt from the guilt of breaking the law if one has certain “exempt” jobs. For example, within Adventism, a doctor or nurse may work on the Sabbath and not incur guilt because they are doing what Jesus did on the Sabbath day—helping and healing sick people—even though they are receiving compensation for their work. In contrast, a factory worker, for example, who continues to work on the Sabbath day cannot become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The priests’ Sabbath work and Sabbath sacredness itself come into focus with Jesus’ words in the next verse where He states that “something greater than the temple is here.” Given the context, that Jesus is greater than everything—including the law—which is contained in the temple, one could argue that “one greater than the Sabbath is here.” Since Jesus is the creator of the Sabbath, He could “profane” the day and yet be guiltless because He had authority over it. Jesus makes this clear in the next two verses:

 

Matthew 12:7–8


Easy English Clear Word and The Clear Word for Kids
In the Scripture God says, “I want My people to be kind to others. That’s more important than bringing me offerings.” If you would remember that, you wouldn’t always be judging people. God’s Son is Lord of the Sabbath and He’s the one who made the rules.

The Clear Word
If you understood what God meant when He said, ‘I would rather you show mercy than to offer endless sacrifices for sins,’ then you would not have condemned the innocent. It would have been obvious to you that my disciples were simply trying to satisfy their hunger after attending the synagogue. It is the Son of Man who is the Lord of the Sabbath.

English Standard Version
And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”


 

As usual, The Clear Word adds many words to the text. In TEECW and TCWfK Blanco adds that Jesus is the one “who made the rules.” Furthermore, the Bible does not hint that Jesus is subject to any such rules. Instead, Scripture states that Jesus’ authority over Sabbath put Him above any “Sabbath rules” because He was greater than the Sabbath, not subject to it.

Furthermore, Blanco diminishes Jesus’ authority over Sabbath and established “rules” by adding the idea that the disciples’ picking and eating grain was simply “Sabbath dinner”. The Bible does not say Jesus and His disciples had been in the synagogue before plucking and eating grain, and it never establishes the Adventist practice of “Sabbath dinner”. Blanco deliberately reinforces Adventist Sabbath-keeping and church attendance with this addition. He destroys Jesus’ point that He is greater than the Sabbath and consequently has complete authority over it.

If the Ten Commandments were eternal and universal, handed down from generation to generation from Adam and Eve forward, we would expect to find all of them repeated in the New Testament, particularly at the time of the foundation of the new Christian church. To be sure, the moral principles contained in the Decalogue are repeated many times in the New Testament. The Sabbath, however, is never required, nor is Sabbath-breaking listed as a sin in the New Testament epistles.

When questions about the law and its application to the Gentiles arose, however, church leaders agreed at the first church council recorded in Acts 15 that only four stipulations from the Mosaic covenant would be required of Gentile believers:

 

Acts 15:28–29


English Standard Version
For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

The Clear Word
We feel that the Holy Spirit has directed us not to put any burden on you except the following necessary guidelines, in order to promote greater fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians. First, don’t identify with paganism by eating things sacrificed to idols. Second, don’t eat food prepared with blood or eat meat from strangled animals as the pagans do. And third, don’t adopt the sexual practices of the world with its many perversions. If you do this much, you’ll do well. Best wishes from us to you.”


 

Blanco presents these guidelines as being for the purpose of promoting “greater fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians.” Scripture, however, does not explain them as social pragmatism. Although they may help to some degree, these four laws are not sufficient to promote fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians. For example, the food Gentiles eat (and notice that Jewish food laws were not included in the list of requirements) would be considered unclean by Jewish believers. Moreover, Jewish believers were keeping the Sabbath, yet no such commandment had been given to the Gentile believers. While the requirements listed in this passage helped facilitate table fellowship among Jewish and Gentile believers, they primarily protected Gentiles from practices connected to pagan worship.

Furthermore, the occasion of the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15 would have been an excellent time to teach the Gentiles about the “perpetuity of the law” and Sabbath-keeping if the law was required of Christians. However, the Ten Commandments are completely missing in this letter from the leaders of the Church at Jerusalem.

 

Ceremonial and moral laws?

Adventism, as well as many in the evangelical world, divides the law into parts: ceremonial, civil, and moral. While the commands within the law do apply to different aspects of life, the parts cannot be separated from one another. Scripture treats the law as a unit and never divides it into separate categories. The law stands or falls as a unit. Jesus did not fulfill only ceremonial aspects of the law; He fulfilled the whole law. Adventism’s rigidity about this divided law, however, derives from Ellen White who writes:

God’s people, whom He calls His peculiar treasure, were privileged with a twofold system of law; the moral and ceremonial. …

From the creation the moral law was an essential part of God’s divine plan, and was as unchangeable as Himself. The ceremonial law was to answer a particular purpose in Christ’s plan for the salvation of the race. The typical system of sacrifices and offerings was established that through these services the sinner might discern the great offering, Christ. . . . The ceremonial law was glorious; it was the provision made by Jesus Christ in counsel with His Father, to aid in the salvation of the race. The whole arrangement of the typical system was founded on Christ. Adam saw Christ prefigured in the innocent beast suffering the penalty of his transgression of Jehovah’s law.11

Adventism’s teaching of the divided law is key in their argument that the Sabbath is an eternal moral principle. They argue that the Ten Commandments are “moral”, not “ceremonial”, and because the Sabbath is in the center of the Ten, it must, therefore, be a moral requirement. Thus they argue that the “ceremonial law” of sacrifices was done away at the cross, but the Sabbath continues as part of the “transcript of God’s character”, Adventism’s definition of the Ten Commandments.

This artificial division of the law, however, confuses the New Testament’s clear teaching about the new covenant and Jesus’ fulfillment of the law. Adventists use this argument to state that because the Sabbath is in the Decalogue, it is a moral law in exactly the way the commands against murder, stealing, and adultery are eternal moral laws. They argue that the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath, are eternal. In reality, however, the weekly Sabbath was a ritual law exactly as were the yearly and monthly sabbaths such as Passover, the Day of Atonement, and the New Moon. (See Leviticus 23 in which the religious festivals are listed and explained.)

Paul’s epistles explain clearly how the law and the Sabbath are obsolete in the new covenant. Not surprisingly, in the preface of his first edition of The Clear Word, Jack Blanco admitted that “The epistles of Paul were the most difficult to paraphrase.”12 In fact, it is in Paul’s letters that we see some of the most serious differences between TCW and the Bible as Blanco incorporates Adventist theology into his paraphrase of the biblical text.

According to Adventism, whenever we come across a passage in the New Testament that says the law has been done away or made obsolete, we should understand those passages to apply only to the ceremonial law, not to the whole law including the Ten Commandments. The Clear Word is clear on this point, as seen in the following passage:

 

Colossians 2:16–17


The Easy English Clear Word and The Clear Word for Kids
Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to go through certain rituals, eat certain foods, keep certain feasts, or observe extra sabbaths to be saved. All these things pointed forward to Jesus. So now they’re meaningless.

The Clear Word
Don’t let anyone control your life by giving you a set of ceremonial rules about what to eat, what to drink and which monthly festivals or special sabbaths to keep. All these rules about ceremonial days were given as a shadow of the reality to come, and that reality is Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.


 

Blanco has changed Paul’s warning not to allow anyone to pass judgment on one’s food or drink by adding the words “ceremonial rules”, “rituals”, and “feasts” to the text. He does not allow this verse to declare that one may eat all foods without limiting himself only to those foods declared to be “clean” in the Mosaic law. Furthermore, Blanco changes Paul’s command not to let anyone pass judgment on the keeping of any Sabbath—whether it’s a yearly festival, a monthly new moon, or a weekly Sabbath—by twisting the text to refer only to “special”, “extra”, “festival” Sabbaths.

The keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath is a moral issue in Adventism; therefore Blanco changes Paul’s reference of the weekly “Sabbath” to “special sabbaths” in order to obscure Paul’s prohibition against requiring a weekly Sabbath observance. Yet it is clear in Scripture that no one is to judge another in matters of food, drink, or a Sabbath day, specifically referring to the weekly Sabbath. Moreover, TEECW and TCWfK state that no one must require another to “observe extra sabbaths to be saved”—a command which implies that there is a Sabbath that must be observed to be saved. This requirement is, of course, the seventh-day Sabbath.

Paul famously addresses the fact that observing a Sabbath is not a requirement but a personal decision in Romans. Blanco, of course, must amend Paul’s clarity:

 

Romans 14:5


The Clear Word
The same thing applies to religious festivals. One person thinks he has to keep every Jewish festival, while another thinks those days are no different from other days. About nonessentials like these, everyone needs to make up his own mind.

English Standard Version
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.


 

Paul’s “days” here most likely include the weekly Sabbath as well as the monthly and yearly Jewish festivals. Blanco, however, disallows the weekly Sabbath in Paul’s statement that personal conviction determines how a day is esteemed. He even states that Jewish festivals are “nonessentials”. He eclipses Paul’s declaration that personal conviction determines whether one esteems some days as more important, or whether he esteems each day alike. Clearly there are no intrinsically holy days, but Blanco’s paraphrase does not allow that meaning in the text.

In the following passage Paul uses a formula repeated throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. He lists the Jewish holy days in ascending order from days to years (sometimes this formula is reversed, listing them from years to days). Blanco, however, changes “days”, which would clearly refer to the weekly Sabbath, to “religious holidays”. He makes this change so The Clear Word will remain consistent with the Adventist teaching that the weekly Sabbath is a requirement, a moral issue, not just an issue of preference. “Holidays” will remove any sense of the passage referring to the seventh-day Sabbath.

 

Galatians 4:10–11


The Clear Word
You’re putting a saving significance on observing all kinds of religious holidays, months, seasons and years. I’m really worried about you, and wondering whether all my work for you has been in vain.

English Standard Version
You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.


 

In 1 Timothy we are taught that the law is good when used lawfully, and Paul explains that it is for the ungodly and sinners, not for the just. Blanco, however, changes Paul’s meaning.

 

1 Timothy 1:8–11


The Easy English Clear Word and The Clear Word for Kids
We know that the law of God is good if used the right way. It’s not against good people. It’s against criminals, murderers, kidnappers, liars and those who have impure lives. It’s even against Christians who live contrary to God’s commandments. Sound doctrine brings the law and gospel together. That’s what God told us to teach.

The Clear Word
We know that the law of God is good if it is rightly understood and applied. The law does not condemn good men but those who are lawless. It’s against criminals, lawbreakers, irresponsible members of society and those we generally call sinners. It’s against the unholy and profane, those who mistreat their parents, who are murderers, prostitutes, sexual perverts, slave traders, kidnappers, liars and perjurers and anyone who lives contrary to God’s commandments and the gospel. Sound doctrine harmonizes the law and the gospel, which our glorious and blessed God entrusted me to teach.

English Standard Version
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.


 

Scripture clearly states that the law condemns sinners, not the just. The Clear Word, however, sets up a false contrast between “good men” and the “lawless”. Significantly, Jesus Himself declared there is no one good but God (Mk. 10:18). The “just”, however, are those who have been justified by faith and reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, as Paul explains in Romans 5:1.

Furthermore, The Clear Word versions all state that the law and gospel are to be “harmonized” or “[brought]… together.” TEECW and TCWfK even state that the law is “against Christians who live contrary to God’s commandments.” (Of course, this designation would include all Christians who do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath—the vast majority of Christians.) Contrary to Blanco’s paraphrase, however, sound doctrine does not bring “the law and gospel together”. On the contrary, sound doctrine makes a clear distinction between the two and uses them in their proper spheres. The law is not the rule of faith and practice for Christians.

 

The law is changed

Not only does the New Testament teach that Christians are not under the law, but the book of Hebrews brings us face-to-face with the fact that the law has been changed. Chapter seven introduces this change, and the author explains it in detail. Blanco, however, has edited Adventist theology into Hebrews to make it say that only the “ceremonial” law is changed, leaving the rest of the Mosaic law intact.

 

Hebrews 7:12


The Clear Word
And if there is a change of priesthood, there must also be a change of the law that forms the basis of the priesthood.

English Standard Version
For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.


 

Notice that Blanco states the change is “a change of the law that forms the basis of the priesthood” rather than simply “a change in the law.” Blanco reveals the Adventist belief that the Ten Commandments are eternal, predating the levitical priesthood. According to this belief, the Decalogue cannot be changed; only the ceremonial laws governing the priest’s performances of the sacrifices and the temple service could change.

In fact, Blanco overtly introduces the idea of the “ceremonial law” as opposed simply to the law, or “a former commandment”, in verses 18–19:

 

Hebrews 7:18–19


The Easy English Clear Word and The Clear Word for Kids
So the old rituals of the Levites and priests at the Temple are no longer needed. Besides, those rituals were weak and could not change people’s lives. All they could do was point us to Jesus. So now we have a better hope, because through Jesus we ourselves can come into the very presence of God.

The Clear Word
So the ceremonial law with its rites and symbols and all the instructions given to the Levitical priests had to be set aside because it was ineffective and no longer needed. That is to say, the law of ceremonies had no power to perfect our salvation but only to point to it. Now a much better hope is introduced by which we draw near to God. This hope came to us through Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version
For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.


 

It is not only the “law of ceremonies” that has become ineffective and useless, but the entire law, because “the law made nothing perfect”. It was, as the author of Hebrews demonstrates in Hebrews 10, only a shadow of the good things in Christ. The entire law was changed when Jesus came as a new kind of high priest—one in the order of Melchizedek instead of according to Aaron (Heb. 7).

In chapter 8 Blanco continues his decimation of Hebrews’ powerful declaration that the old covenant was flawed, so God established a new one. He invents what he calls “the Levitical covenant” and forces the text to render that fictional entity obsolete. In fact, Hebrews 8 quotes from Jeremiah 31:31–34 where God rendered the old covenant—of which the Ten Commandments were its very words (Ex. 34:28)—obsolete. Notice how Blanco distorts God’s word:

 

Hebrews 8:7–8


The Easy English Clear Word and The Clear Word for Kids
If the first agreement God made with Moses under the old priesthood had been perfect, why make a new one under the priesthood of Jesus? People misunderstood the old priesthood. They had faith in it instead of in what Jesus would do for them. So God said, “The time is coming when I will make a new agreement with my people.”

The Clear Word
If the Levitical covenant made at Sinai under the leadership of Moses had been faultless and final, then why would there be need for a new priestly covenant under the leadership of Christ? But God found fault with how the people accepted it, placing their faith in what they could do instead of in what Christ would do. In the days of Jeremiah, He said, “The time is coming when I will carry out the promise I made to Abraham and will set up a new order of things with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

English Standard Version
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”


 

Not only does Blanco create a fictional “Levitical covenant” to avoid God’s declaration that He found fault with the old covenant, but he also avoids the statement that God found fault with the people themselves—not merely with the way they accepted the covenant. Then Blanco changes the meaning of the text by having God say He would keep His promise to Abraham by setting up “a new order of things”. With this statement, Blanco is introducing the Adventist teaching that there is only one covenant but various expressions of it. This text, however, is not referring to the Abrahamic covenant. Rather, it clearly describes a new covenant promised by Jeremiah, and Hebrews 8 states that the covenant He made with Israel at Sinai is obsolete.

Moreover, TEECW and TCWfK say the people misunderstood the priesthood and were to look forward to Jesus. This idea is not in the text. The Israelites at Sinai had not had Jesus clearly revealed to them; they were expected to trust the God who led and provided for them. Nowhere does Scripture suggest that ancient Israel was expected to “have faith in what Jesus would do for them”. Rather, they were to obey God’s word and trust His promises. God’s word did foreshadow the Lord Jesus, but Israel did not fully understand that fact. They knew that their God delivered them and provided for them, both materially and spiritually, and they were to trust Him.

In Hebrews 8:12–13 Blanco further obscures the reality of the new covenant by continuing to write about Abraham and a “Levitical covenant”, neither of which are in the text:

 

Hebrews 8:12–13


The Clear Word
“I will be merciful and forgive their wickedness, and I will remember their sins no more.” When God talked about a new covenant, He was not talking about doing away with the covenant of righteousness He had made with Abraham, but the Levitical covenant which has now become obsolete and old.

English Standard Version
“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.


 

Distorted central passage

One of the central passages in the New Testament regarding the law is 2 Corinthians 3. This chapter clearly explains that believers are “servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” It even states that the law is a “ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones.” Blanco’s paraphrase clearly reveals Adventism’s true belief that the law continues. In fact, his first edition of The Clear Word was even more distorted than his current edition. Therefore, we will quote at length from 2 Corinthians from both the first edition and the current edition in order to demonstrate how this paraphrase twists God’s word for the purpose of reinforcing Adventist theology.

 

2 Corinthians 3:7–16


The Clear Word Bible, 1st Ed.
The good news of salvation was spelled out in the Old Testament at the time God wrote the commandments on tables of stone and told them to build Him a sanctuary. Those events which were accompanied by incredible glory are today misunderstood and misapplied by the Jews until they sound as if God pronounced a death sentence on mankind. When Moses came down from the mountain, the Israelites couldn’t even look at him, his face was so radiant with glory. But that glory had to pass away and the glory of Christ had to come. When you think of what the Holy Spirit is doing and what He’s writing on peoples hearts, isn’t that more glorious than God writing His law on tables of stone? If a system of religious services which contained only promises of salvation and in itself could not give life was so full of glory, how much more glorious is God’s offer of salvation today now that those Old Testament promises have been fulfilled and ratified by Jesus Christ! Because of the glorious act of God giving His Son to die for us, the Old Testament services are now at an end.

If that which only lasted for a short time was so glorious, how much more glorious is that which lasts forever! We can talk to you plainly and with confidence because our hope has been secured. The glory we proclaim is much more radiant than that of Moses. He had to have a veil over his face to hide his glory when he talked to the people. But that glory faded away. It had to give way to the radiance of Christ. The Israelites are wearing a veil over their faces today when they read the Old Testament and misapply what they read, because only in Christ can those Old Testament services be understood. Even today when they read the writings of Moses every Sabbath, a veil of ignorance and misunderstanding continues to hang over their faces, keeping them in the dark. When they do open their hearts to the truth, as some of them have, and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, that veil of misunderstanding falls off and the significance of the Old Testament services are seen for what they are.

The Clear Word
At Sinai God wrote the law on tables of stone. The giving of the commandments was accompanied by such glory that when Moses came down from the mountain, the Israelites couldn’t even look at him. But that glory had to pass away. When you think of the Holy Spirit writing the law on people’s hearts, isn’t that more glorious than God writing His law on tables of stone? If that system of religious service containing only promises of salvation was full of glory, how much more glorious is God’s offer of salvation today now that those Old Testament promises have been fulfilled and ratified by Jesus Christ. Because of the unspeakably glorious act of God in giving His Son to die for us, the Old Testament services are now at an end.

If that which lasted for only a short time was so glorious, how much more glorious is that which lasts forever! That’s why we can preach with such confidence and boldness, because the hope we have has been secured by Jesus Christ. The glory we proclaim is much more radiant than that of Moses. He had to have a veil over his face to hide his glory when he talked to the people. But that glory faded away. It had to give way to the radiance of the cross. In one sense, the Israelites are wearing a veil over their faces today when they read the Old Testament and misapply what they read, because only in Christ can those Old Testament services be understood. Even when they read the writings of Moses every Sabbath, a veil of ignorance and misunderstanding continues to hang over their faces, keeping them in the dark. When they do open their hearts to the truth as some of them have, and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, that veil of misunderstanding falls off and the significance of the Old Testament services are seen for what they truly were.

English Standard Version
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.

For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.


 

Of first importance is the fact that, in verse 7, Blanco avoids any hint of the “ministry of death” when referring to the letters engraved on stone. To refer to the law as a ministry of death would be contrary to the Adventist teaching on the importance, permanence, and eternality of the Ten Commandment Law. Furthermore, Blanco consistently changes references to the law to refer only to the Old Testament sacrificial system, the levitical law. In fact, the sacrificial laws comprise only a portion of the whole Mosaic Law. Significantly, Blanco applies the references to fading glory only to the fading glory on Moses’ face; he does not refer to the fact that the Bible actually speaks of the Old Testament law having a fading glory which was coming to an end.

Verse 8 is about the ministry of the Spirit as compared to the ministry of death. Blanco omits the contrast between a ministry of death and the ministry of righteousness and instead contrasts the law being written on stone with the law being written on the heart. This distortion obfuscates the purpose of this passage of Scripture. The law was to bring Israel to a point of desperation where they recognized their need of a Messiah, and it demanded death for disobedience. In these ways it was a burden and a ministry of death.

In verse 9 Paul speaks of a “ministry of condemnation.” Blanco eliminates these words and instead refers to the Old Testament promises being fulfilled in Christ. “Ministry of condemnation” is too strong a term for Adventism to apply to the law; it is akin to “ministry of death”. Blanco simply avoids using the words Scripture uses to describe the law.

In verse 10 Paul, referring to the law, says that “what once had glory has come to have no glory at all.” Blanco changes this passage to say that the “Old Testament services are now at an end.” Again he avoids identifying the law as something that has no glory. To rationalize his statements, he artificially divides the law into “ceremonial” and “moral” segments and insists that only the glory of the ceremonial portions of the law has ended. He cannot have the glory of the law itself coming to an end; to do so would contradict the Adventist understanding of the centrality and eternality of the Ten Commandment law.

In verse 13 of TCW Blanco adds that the glory of the former covenant must come to an end and “give way to the radiance of the glory of the cross,” or, as he stated in his first edition, it gave way to “the radiance of Christ”. This addition to the verse reveals his Adventist belief that only the ceremonial elements of the law ended because they were fulfilled in Christ. Adventism does not believe that the law came to an end; it has no understanding of Jesus fulfilling the Ten Commandments. The Bible, on the other hand, simply states that the old covenant represented by Moses and the fading glory were coming to an end.

Scripture says, in verse 14, that their “minds were hardened”. Blanco, on the other hand, doesn’t mention their hardened minds—a figure of speech which describes unbelief. Instead, he rewrites the verse to suggest the Israelites were simply misunderstanding the meaning in Moses’ writing and misapplying it to their lives. Blanco does not want his readers to see Paul’s clear indictment of those who read the law and ignore the new covenant and life in the Spirit.

Verse 16 replaces “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” with “that veil of misunderstanding falls off and the significance of the Old Testament services are seen for what they truly were.” Blanco wants us to read this passage and think it is only speaking of the ceremonial portions of the law rather than explaining that the whole law of Moses is replaced by the new covenant. In fact, 2 Corinthians 3 is specifically an explanation of the fading glory of the Mosaic covenant—including the Decalogue written on stone—and the increasing glory of the new covenant of the Spirit which has replaced the old covenant.

Adventism, however, cannot have the entire law coming to an end because Adventism teaches that the moral law, as preserved in the Ten Commandments, will remain unchanged for eternity. In fact, Ellen White wrote about the “immutable” nature of the Ten Commandments:

The law itself would have no glory were it not that Christ is embodied in it. The revelation of Jesus Christ cast its glory back into the Jewish age. The law had no power to save. It was lusterless, except as Christ was represented in the law as the One full of righteousness and truth. And when Christ was revealed in His advent to our world, and died man’s sacrifice, type met antitype. Then the glory of that which is not typical, not to be done away, but which remaineth, God’s law of ten commandments, the standard of righteousness was plainly discerned as immutable by all who saw to the end of that which was abolished.13

According to The Clear Word, when Christ died, He fulfilled the prophetic symbolism of the sacrificial system. Type met antitype, and only the ceremonial law came to an end. Seventh-day Adventists Believe states:

As a reflection of God’s character, the Ten Commandment law is moral, spiritual, and comprehensive, containing universal principles.14

But for the ceremonial laws:

No more worries about the ceremonial laws, with their complex requirements regarding food and drink offerings, celebrations of various festivals (Passover, Pentecost, etc.), new moons, or ceremonial sabbaths … , which were only a “shadow of things to come” (Col.2:17).15

Note that Adventism does not include the weekly seventh-day Sabbath in the “shadow of things to come”. For Adventists, the weekly Sabbath is a moral principle and must be observed —it is not a shadow. This belief is made clear in the Church Manual of the Adventist Church where Sabbath-breaking is given as a reason for disciplining church members. Continued Sabbath-breaking will eventually lead to disfellowshipping of the individual in question. In fact, item number two under “Reasons for Discipline” reads:

2. Violation of the law of God, such as worship of idols, murder, stealing, profanity, gambling, Sabbathbreaking, and willful and habitual falsehood.16

 

Eternal law

Finally, Blanco tampers with Romans 5, that seminal chapter that explains man’s sinfulness in Adam that sentences us to death even without the law. Notice how he alters Romans 5:14 in order to connect sin with the law:

 

Romans 5:14a


The Clear Word
Yet the law was there because people died from Adam to Moses before the law was written out …

English Standard Version
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses …


 

Blanco would have us believe that the law had been taught to mankind from the time of Adam. In fact, he uses the fact that people died before Sinai as proof that the Ten Commandments existed and were known, and their disobedience to that unwritten law was what constituted their sin. Yet Romans 5:13 tells us:

…for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

According to the Scripture, there was no law from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, “yet death reigned” (Rom. 5:14a). Death can exist even in the absence of law.

In Adventism, however, the Law is considered to be on the same level as God. Ellen White said,

The law of God is as sacred as God Himself. It is a revelation of His will, a transcript of His character, the expression of divine love and wisdom.17

An Adventist writer has recently emphasized this Adventist view of the law’s being God’s revelation of Himself with these words:

There is the inclination to think of God as a Being of living power with infinite possibilities of exercising His will. We tend to see the law as being a much lesser thing, merely the spoken will of the Supreme Ruler and certainly not something which is the expression of Himself.18

Therefore, to place God on a level of infinite greatness while relegating the law to a lesser plane is to hold a position of serious error. They must be thought of as being as holy, as great, as infinite, and as sacred as one another.

Likewise, the understanding that Jesus came to reveal the Father is to comprehend that Christ came to magnify the law. These were not two separate tasks to be accomplished in turn or even in concert. They were one and the same work. The revealing of God’s character was the magnification of the law.19

In other words, Adventism sees the law as being the “transcript” of God’s character. It is the perfect statement and revelation of God Himself. Jesus, who came to “reveal the Father”, in fact came to reveal the law. In Adventist theology, Jesus came to “magnify the law”, to demonstrate that humans could keep it, and that God’s requiring it of all mankind is fair and just.

Within Adventism, Jesus did not come to make the law obsolete by fulfilling it. He did not come to replace the law as the living source of righteousness and justice. In fact, Adventist theology has Jesus leading its members to the law. Accepting Jesus, in other words, means embracing the law as one’s attainable standard of righteous obedience because one has Jesus’ example and power on his side.

 

The Garden at Andrews University

This fact is demonstrated in the Garden of Grace on the campus of Andrews University and the Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. One enters the garden by way of the cross, then one turns from the cross and walks toward “the Father” at the opposite end of the garden. The presence of the Father is represented by the Ten Commandments, and one arrives there by passing the cross which supplies the power to attain the law-keeping which enables being in God’s presence.

The “Description of the Garden” explains:

The Cross: Standing at the foot of the Cross you imagine Christ where everything behind the cross is washed with the water of life. And looking up, as though looking into heaven, you read the promise, “I Will Come Again”. Standing there in the calm embrace of your experience, you see your reflection in the polished granite [behind the cross]. You, the Cross, the Water, and the commandments all reflect into one image. And you are inescapably part of the story. The Cross, at the center of the circle, represented as the earth and at the pavement’s edge the mountains and the valleys form the earth.

The Commandments: Reflected. The Commandments beckon from across. It seems a long walk, like leaving earth, and entering the universe of the Creator. The path from the Cross leads directly to the Commandments and there is another way through the Holy Spirit from the quiet waters through the arbor…Once within the circle, up close and intimate, we read what the hand of God wrote in millenniums past. Simple and embraced by the Father’s arms, intimate in His presence.

This garden illustrates the heart of Adventist theology: the law does not lead one to Christ where His finished works frees one from the curse of the law and one finds new birth and eternal life in the Lord Jesus. Instead, Adventist theology sees Jesus as the power source or the down payment for salvation. Adventists believe that the law is eternal, representing and defining God and their own potential. For an Adventist, Jesus is the “ticket” to being able to keep the law and thus finally to experience the eternal perfection of God.

 

Conclusion – Freedom in Christ

The gospel message of freedom in Christ through belief and trust in His finished work of life, death, and resurrection is a joyful clarion call to Adventists to leave the legalism found in their religion. The gospel calls them to be born again and to become a part of the Body of Christ. It is “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1a.). Freedom in Christ is a powerful weapon against legalism, whether found in the Adventist Church or any other community. This freedom is not a freedom to sin, but a freedom from our own works and from the curse of the law. When we receive the righteousness of Christ our Lord and Savior by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone, we then know a freedom to choose to do his will. We were not free to obey Him in our unsaved state because we were formerly slaves to our sinful natures.

In Christ, however, we are transferred out of death into life (Jn. 5:24). The law no longer rules over us; we are free in Christ, and His own righteousness is credited to our account (Phil. 3:9). In Christ we are free from the law, and our eternal security is based on the grace of God in Christ alone! †

 

Endnotes

  1. Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-day Adventists Believe, 2nd Ed., 2005, p. 113.
  2. Ibid., p. 263.
  3. See Ibid, p. 281, Fundamental Belief number 20, The Sabbath.
  4. Ibid., p. 267. Emphasis mine.
  5. Ibid., p. 270.
  6. “My commission embraces the work of a prophet, but it does not end there. It embraces much more than the minds of those who have been sowing the seeds of unbelief can comprehend.” White, Ellen G., Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 36, 1958.
  7. White, Ellen G., The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, 1870, pp. 261, 262.
  8. White, Ellen G., The Great Controversy, 1911, p. 436.
  9. White, Ellen G., Patriarchs and Prophets, 1890, p. 52.
  10. White, Ellen G., Christ’s Object Lessons, 1900, p. 314.
  11. White, Ellen G., The Faith I Live By, 1958, p. 106.
  12. Blanco, Jack J., The Clear Word Bible, first edition, 1994, p. ix.
  13. White, Ellen G., Manuscript Releases, Vol. 10, p. 330, 1990. Emphasis mine.
  14. Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-day Adventists Believe, 2nd Ed., p. 265, 2005.
  15. Ibid, p. 274.
  16. Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, 2010, p. 62.
  17. White, Ellen G., Patriarchs and Prophets, 1890, p. 52.
  18. Straub, Kevin (Compiler), As He Is, Teach Services Inc. Publishing, 2012, p. 104.
  19. Ibid., p. 105.
Stephen Pitcher

Stephen Pitcher

Stephen Pitcher was raised a non-Christian but met Jesus at the age of 17. Subsequently he studied with Mormon teachers, but Walter Martin's teaching kept him from converting. Later, it was Walter Martin's endorsement of Seventh-day Adventists as evangelical brothers that gave him "permission" to become an Adventist before marrying his Adventist fiancÈe. Fifteen years later Steve began to learn the truth about the origins of Adventism and the doctrinal issues that remain today. Seventeen years ago Steve left Adventism and now stands on Jesus alone. He attends Redeemer Fellowship in Loma Linda, California.
Stephen Pitcher

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