Monday: Human Commandments

Although the scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat, their source of authority for religious instruction extended beyond the Old Testament. The law that the Pharisees utilized consisted of biblical interpretations of leading rabbis. These interpretations were not intended to replace the Scriptures but to complement them. At first they circulated orally; later the scribes began to assemble them into books.

Image © Jeff Preston from

Image © Jeff Preston from

The first official publication of rabbinic law did not appear until the end of the second century A.D., when Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince) published the Mishnah. The laws recorded in the Mishnah reflect about four centuries of rabbinic interpretation. Included among the contributing rabbis are many who lived at the time of Jesus, the most notable being Hillel and Shammai. There was also Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel and also Paul’s teacher.

Read Matthew 15:1-6. What is the controversial issue here? What error is Jesus seeking to correct?

In lesson one, we learned that the rabbinic laws were called halakah, which means to walk. The rabbis felt that if a person would walk in the ways of the minor laws, they would keep the major ones by default. However, somewhere along the way the minor laws began to take on major status, and after a while it was difficult to distinguish the traditional from the biblical.

It does not appear that Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees having their own rules. However, He did have a problem with the elevation of these rules to the status of doctrine. No human has the authority to create religious restrictions and elevate them to the level of divine mandate. But this is not to say that groups of believers are prohibited from creating regulations that help to govern community behavior. Practical instruction could help people greatly in keeping of the law. However, the instruction should never be allowed to take the place of the law itself.

As Seventh-day Adventists, what rules, traditions, and customs do we have that we believe help us to live more faithfully and obediently to the law? Write them down and bring them to class on Sabbath, asking questions about the role that they play in the life of your faith community.



Monday: Human Commandments — 37 Comments

  1. Apparently Jesus did not have a major problem, if at all, with the phylacteries or borders of the garments themselves (Matthew 23:5), since the practices were initially an effort to comply with the instruction of Jesus himself (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Numbers 15:38-40). Of course this was all to get to and reflect in the heart.

    The problem was with the enlarging of the symbols as a way to stand out and look pious, as well as their effort to impose their own ideas on the religious society, rather than listen to the prophets.

    It is easy to look down on the Pharisees or those considered modern day replicas of the same attitude. Yet while the Pharisees erred with the promotion and enforcement of human traditions there is a real risk of falling into a counterbalancing error.

    The enemy of souls undermines God’s laws by first moving some to add unreasonable and impossible requirements to God’s standards and advocate same with passion. Then he incites others to react with fervor, to toss out the baby with the bath water and bath tub, in effect rejecting the idea of Christian standards, making everyone his/her own moral compass.

    This self-reference is also a manifestation of self-righteousness and pride, cloaked as ‘freedom in Christ.’ The over compensation in response to the excesses satisfies Satan’s objective, resulting in accusations and counter accusations and in all this God’s just laws are not properly observed.

    The people of God ought to be on guard (1 Peter 5:8), so as not to get caught in this crafty scheme of the adversary. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are the Spirit’s prescriptions to prevent or treat the elevation of human commandments above God's standards.

    • This reply is perfectly balanced; the best I've seen. Oftentimes, people who uphold standards are called self-righteous, while those who do as they like and are smug and satisfied with their way of life do not also see that their behaviour can be deemed as self-righteousness also.

    • Good points all the way, but even self-denial can be problematic. Monastics and flagellants are examples of this.

      I think we need to study the role of the Holy Spirit in all this (how shall we live), as well as the role of Jesus as our example. We also have to push beyond into the New Covenant idea that God's Law must now be written upon our hearts.

  2. 'But this is not to say that groups of believers are prohibited from creating regulations that help to govern community behavior.'

    The danger with this, if we put laws and regulations before believers, is that it might bring us back to being legalistic again. When we were yet sinners, we were governed by laws (the law was before us and Jesus was behind us), but after we were born again, the order should have also changed. It should already be Jesus that is in front of us and the law should be behind us. If we turn away from Jesus, we will see the law and it will remind us to turn back again to Jesus. This is what I know to be the role of the law now.

    If we only learn to truly love the Lord, this statement in our lesson is not anymore applicable, "Practical instruction could help people greatly in keeping of the law." Today that we are already under grace, I think we don't need minor laws in order to keep the major laws because being under grace means being reflectors of laws. During Jesus time, minor laws were allowed because they were under the old covenant which was legalism. I believe what we need under the new covenant is Christ alone to become genuine followers of laws and not regulations created by man.

  3. The law was written in our hearts (our minds), not done away with. As humans we tend to add our own experiences and bias as we attempt to "complement" God's Word. The only "Complement" needed to scriptures is the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth.

  4. Dear SS members,
    I greet you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have enjoyed this week's lesson right from the introductory part, especially this quote from John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, who suggested that "One’s theology is influenced by 4 factors: faith, reason, Scripture, and tradition....He acknowledged that the Bible was foundational, but he also recognized that one’s individual faith, ability to reason, and religious tradition affect the way in which the Bible is interpreted."

    Today's lesson focuses on how Jesus dealt with human dogmas Mat 15:1-6 and leaves us with a challenge. "As SDAs, what rules, traditions, and customs do we have that we believe help us to live more faithfully and obediently to the law?"
    in light of the above, I would like members on this forum to enlighten me on the meaning of 1Tim 4:1-5 and Rom 14:14-17.

    • You know our beliefs and counsels on vegetarianism may be an example of human laws. We are right to urge, encourage, prompt, exhort people to eat the right clean foods but to suggest that there will be no salvation for the clean meat eater is honestly going too far.

    • My brother, to be able to understand the serious impact of diet, you have to able to connect the importance of the original diet in Genesis 1:29 to the many serious impact on diet given in the Spirit of prophesy - Counsels on Diet and Foods and Temperance by E.G White and the present truth - what true scientist are saying about the impact of diet and our health.
      Prayerfully examine the phrase "You are what you eat" and thing about the following:
      Eating is a spiritual act and satan knows this very well
      The food you eat affects your mind which is your spiritual channel!
      The most effective tool used by satan to bring people down in every sense of the word is again food.
      The food you eat has a direct impact on your health and your health affects your spirituality.
      Satan is an angel and will not eat meat!
      It is hard to serve God in a sick body which is now a very serious problem with many christians including SDAs.
      It is simply a mystery for the ordinary person to understand how any article of food is processed in the body to support normal body function
      Many people are sick and dying prematurely because of authoritative misinformation on diet and health.
      The most significant cause of cancer from the China study is any form of animal protein including fish.
      Many SDAs get sad when vegetarianism is preached
      Happy Sabbath

  5. Every society has to have some rules that while somewhat arbitrary, help society to get along a bit better. For example Australia has a fundamental traffic law, "Keep Left". The choice of "left" reflects Australia's colonial past, but it is in the best interests of anyone driving in Australia to keep to the left-hand side of the road. Traveling on the right usually ends up with embarrassment at best and an accident at worst. Clearly the USofA decided at some stage to make the rule "Keep Right" The interesting thing is that when I go to the USA I have to obey USA law rather than Australian law. Both the Australian and USA law reflect the greater principle that for society to function one must agree to certain conventions and work practices so that we can live and work together.

    This demonstrates that sometimes laws in themselves are arbitrary but the principle on which they are based is important.

    It is probably worth thinking what we are trying to achieve in some of our discussion about laws and law-keeping in spiritual terms. Sometimes the detail that has been added by way of explanation and guidance, while useful, has changed with time and culture, but the great principles on which they are based remain forever. It is not easy to see the difference between detail and principle at times and we should be careful not to discard detail too readily.

    An international forum such as this one is useful because we should be able to see detail that is important to some cultures but not to others. It should be able to provide us with an insight into how we think about the great principles of God's Law.

  6. In our walk with God we must always be cognizant of the fact that growth is continuous in everyone. For those of us who knows more the responsibility is to mentor those who know less, and be humble enough to accept being mentored by those who know more. Problems will surely arise when we began to behave as if we are better than others. Through the grace and mercy of Christ we are never better but we become more responsible.

  7. I have a problem with Adventism in Jamaica and abroad. Laws are made by the church about the wearing of pants by women, the wearing of sleeveless by women, the wearing of jewelry and make up. As a unit why is it permitted in one country yet not in another. The Jews refused to worship with the Gentiles - in Adventism you have church for whites and church for blacks. Is it that we need to start a company like Jesus did with the disciples?

    • @Barbara Kington: On the issue of black and white churches: I'm black. I have lived in a country in my Division where this practice is common. I really was blessed with the great congregational singing and the zeal for worshiping and more church services with the black congregations I attended than I was used to from my home country. I however struggled to settle as things such as dancing and some degree of being casual in an Adventist church were new to me and I was not comfortable with this.

      After attending 'white churches' often in the same neighbourhoods, I wondered if my observations could have led to this separation. Services here were traditional and were more like I expected from an Adventist church. Often I felt so much at home here, though I battled with the language, but efforts were made by church members and Pastors involved to accommodate me and my family. (By the way, the 'black churches' were equally accommodating.) We attended mid-week Bible studies too and they were deeply enriching. But I somewhat missed the fervent congregational singing from across the street, but I had to make a choice.

      What I observed though is that in most cases, it appears involvement of Adventist Christians in civil or any kind of politics (voluntary/involuntary)has resulted in these complexes which then lead to a loss of true and traditional Adventist values. In the process, we are both losers to a large extent. I then felt deeply hurt by what civil politics has done and still continues to do to promote some kind of subtle hostilities within the world church. I pray the LORD raise an army that will rise above these divisions for His Name's sake.

      • Thanks Sindi and Barbara. Well I am a black (Pacific Islander) but am not used to the way other black churches in Carrabean or America worships. Theres hardly shouting 'alleluiahs'and strong singing etc in our churches. Many would find it boring bit thats the way we believe in 'reverently worshipping. I strongly believe the creation or developing of our 'little laws' in our own churches affect how we we fearfully praise, worship and give Him glory that He deserves, in a bigger picture. The importamt thing bove all else is devoting ourselves fully to Him to hasten His return.

      • Churches are segregated according to the major lines in the society around it.
        So if neighborhoods are segregated by economic class, the churches in the neighborhood will be too.
        That is a huge factor.
        I'm unaware of any church who rejects a member based on skin colour.

  8. I absolutely love Judans comment.i won't even try to add to it! I have saved it for future thought and possibly sharing. Thank you!

  9. Sabbath keeping- to remember the 4th commandment
    Healthy lifestyle- to remind us that our bodies are temples for Jesus
    Belief that the Bible is the word of God- to remind us that it is the most important book there is.

  10. Hi Barbara, I can understand your frustration and have had to move between countries with different dress standards. It takes a bit of getting used to. Some of the differences are historical and cultural and we need to learn to be tolerant of one another. It is difficult to create "standards" across cultural and national borders. I think that we should adopt the principle, "Get the heart into the right place and the dress and behaviour will follow!"

    It is a bit like a building. A building with a good paint job looks nice but we all know that the structure of the building is the important thing. That does not mean that we ignore painting the building, but making the structure sound is the primary task.

    • Speaking for myself, fear is the primary barrier to tolerance.
      You try your best to make sure you have everything in order in terms of your practices, and you convince yourself that God is pleased with a certain "order of things".
      You feel comfortable that the bounds you have set are the correct bounds--not just for you, but for everyone (objectively).

      When you see other people with different boundaries to yours and equal (or apparently greater) zeal for Christ it:

      1. Challenges your reasoning.
      2. De-legitimizes your own personal boundaries. Because if what they (other people) do is O.K. as well, then my boundaries aren't really "truth"--I just made them up in my head. This leads then to:
      3. A loss of certainty. I can no longer be sure that my "system" works and so my salvation is now that much less certain.

      People with stricter boundaries can also be seen as a threat, because we have this unstated religious idea that the more austere and demanding your practice of religion is--the purer and more holy it is.
      So you feel guilty just being in the presence of some people because somehow they must be more holy than you are.

      • I think your analysis of the discomfort with different traditions is "right on."

        And there's one more aspect to this:

        Christians with "stricter boundaries" can feel more "holy," and they can feel they have the responsibility to bring others up to their standards to make them more "holy."

        That is why we need to make a clear distinction between extra-biblical standards and biblical principles.

        While there are good reasons for the standards of avoiding tobacco, alcohol and drugs, the standards for dress and ways of keeping Sabbath are not as easily defined and should be left to the individual conscience. If we see someone inappropriately dressed (according to our standards), it seems to me that it would be best to befriend, love them and share with them how we nurture our relationship with Christ. After all, a relationship with Christ is all that matters, and He is well able to impress people to consider how to dress appropriately.

        Christ didn't tell us to police the way people eat, dress, and entertain themselves. He told us to spread the gospel message!

  11. I am not comfortable following " human commandments". If we try earnestly to follow God's commandments (sincerely, humbly and not for show) that will take us a lifetime, and in dong so we will have adhered to any human "commandments" any of us humans could think up.
    Who am I and who are you to impose more commandments than what God gave us?
    Don't we believe He thought of everything necessary?

    • Joy, the problem is that, since humans make up so many extra "commandments" (e.g. regarding dress, for instance), that adhering to God's commandments is not likely to fulfil human requirements. And these human requirements can get in the way of a relationship with God.

      That is why we should be very hesitant to impose extra-biblical standards on fellow Christians.

      Another problem that crops up is that older Adventists appear to believe that the order of service they have followed all their lives must be directly from the Bible, and they will not vary from it in the least particular. And then we have younger Adventists who would like to change the services to make them more relevant to their friends - and I'm quite certain that is a goal in harmony with the commission that Christ gave us.

      So are we, who are older, willing to let the younger generation take some responsibilities in areas where we differ? After all, our church was started by persons in their teens and twenties. (Ellen White was a teenager.)

  12. The Pharisees and Scribes imposed their laws and traditions on the people because they wanted to be seen as ''important'' and also interpreters of God's law. Today we have so many Leaders, and 'motivational spiritual' leaders doing the same thing, quoting and interpreting the Scriptures according to their own interpretation to the detriment of their congregation. Jesus directed them back to the scriptures, because the Pharisees and Scribes wanted the people and Jesus' disciples to follow their own teachings and traditions, Jesus referred them to the Commandments as stated in Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16. So the Jewish leaders by following their own teachings, made the ''Word of God'' useless''. The Bible alone is to be followed. We all have to know the ''Scriptures'' for ourselves.

  13. Hello Barbara,
    In regards to the Caribbean, our society tends to be more conservative in our life styles. That is the reason for the dress code. Scripture says in ROmans 14:14-15 "but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." Do it to keep the peace. As far as black and white churches that goes back to the early 20th century when racism in the USA was more prevalent. I live in California and attend a church which is racially mixed, we have Asians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Hispanics, Caucasians, Filipinos even Afican Americans. I look at as a precursor for when I get to heaven. This is why these lessons are important.

  14. Dear Jose,

    This is an answer to your question.
    Can there be laws that can make us more faithful and obedient? Can law do this kind of work? Is it not the work of God? God has already warned us in Revelation that those who add or subtract to the law will receive the wrath of God.

    Consider the experience of our one brother who said that he was prohibited to serve as a deacon because he is not in uniform. One brother was not able to take the pulpit because he was not wearing a tie. If I will add again the trauma that my 3 year old son suffered from a Sabbath School teacher because only of the law, "NO GUARDIANS ALLOWED". The angry teacher pulled the helpers out. If you only see how angry my son was that time. My son got a phobia and will not go to Sabbath School again. (This is opposite to what Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me.") We convinced him to attend the SS for 0-2 yrs old and stayed there until he was 6 because it is only there that guardians are allowed.

    Where in the Bible can we find such laws? They are not in the Bible but they are more powerful than the Bible. Try to observe and you will find out that these traditions are implemented more strictly than God's laws in the church. This is actually one of the dangers of man-made laws to the life of a Christian. If you are not strong enough in your faith, you will surely leave the church and say that the church is composed of wolves clothed in sheeps skin (Our members know who are we when we are outside the church).

    I believe, rules, traditions, and customs help help the church live more faithfully and obediently to the law BUT ONLY OUTWARDLY. It's true we can build a "PURE" church using list of laws (like soldiers made disciplined by different by-laws). But this church will be the kind of church described in Revelation. "You say I am rich and well-off and I have all I need. But you do not know how miserable and pitiful you are. You are poor, naked and blind." This is what will result if we try to purify our church by set of laws. Self-made righteousness.

    God's advice to us is. "Buy FROM ME..." What God needs from us is a change INSIDE not OUTSIDE. A righteousness that is God-bestowed and we can only attain this kind of righteousness through Him NOT THROUGH LAWS.

    Surrender ourselves to Christ. This is the one and only formula and the rest of the good things will follow. Why hinder it by putting man-made laws between man and his God?

  15. Dear Judan,
    Thanks for your detailed illustration on some human dogmas that end up being stumbling blocks to some in the faith. However, some how you got me lost in the story because you barely touched on the two verses for which I needed some clarification i.e. 1Timothy 4:1-5 and Romans 14:14-17?

    I specifically brought this up because I have encountered Christians who upon quoting those scriptures question SDA's stance in these matters.

    I tried looking up both scriptures in the SDA bible commentary volumes 6 &7 and to my amazement they kept referring me to comments made in other Pauline epistles, I thus ended up not getting any concrete response(check yourselves)!!! Yet other bible commentaries like the Matthew Henry Bible Commentary (MHBC) attempts to lay down some explanation to this text.

    I have posed the same exact question on a forum of my college alumni since morning but everyone is avoiding this subject.......can someone out there explain please and also marry it with Rom 14:6,10?

    • You are referring to unclean foods. I think we need a theologian here. I cannot give a detailed answer to your question and even the references because I was not trained to do that. If you are only in my place, we have a lot of good debaters here who can bring us back to the original language of the Bible and get the exact meaning of the texts. We can just call one and we will have the answers to our questions.

      Despite of this, our church does not prohibit marrying and eating of some foods. We are celebrating "Holy Week" today, I think you can see these prohibitions here. There are also churches who prohibit eating of flesh but only vegetables but again we are not those said churches.

      As to unclean foods, if you go back to the original language of the Bible, unclean foods are labeled as not foods. So when the Bible says do not eat, we do not eat not because they are unclean but because they are not actually foods. (This is what I heard.) I think this is only what I can share as our foundation and I will not go any further.

      Isaiah 66: 15-17 will always be a perfect text for us to use when it comes to the question of foods. The Lord has not yet come so this prophecy has not yet met its fulfillment. This is a prophecy that is still to take place in the coming of the Lord. The text says, "those who eat pork, mice and other disgusting foods will meet their end with fire".

      This implies that the law on foods is still valid today. So if we can read some texts as if they are suggesting that we can now eat anything under the sun (there are lots of them), this is not what they mean so we need to interpret the text in another way.

      I know your intention in asking this question. You want to defend our church. Can we labeled this law as a tradition that our lesson mentions this week? Brethren I hope we can help Jose. I think his question is also a question of most of us.

  16. My admittedly non-theological view of these verses is that Paul is simply saying; don't get sidetracked on issues that detract from the gospel. He mentions the food issue because apparently some people were making more of an issue out of it than necessary.

    I don't see in these verses an excuse to eat what you like. If you were to completely ignore the Biblical food laws and make you decisions on sound current medical and dietary research you would probably find that you would be eating the sort of diet that the Bible suggests and that the church has promoted anyhow.

    I have lived through enough fad diets, promoted by well-meaning but somewhat misguided Seventh-day Adventists, to know how distracting they can be.

    There is always a danger of picking up a verse here and there where the detail may be used to support a particular view. Reading a whole epistle, and comparing what Paul has said on the same topic in his other epistles is a much safer approach. Paul is consistent in principle even when there is some variation in detail.

    • Thank you Maurice,
      I read that quote from his book to Timothy and to the Romans and the message seems to be consistent! What am I missing here?

      • Jose, I think you are missing the cultural context. Re foods, the context is this:
        All meat sold at the markets was first offered to idols. So come Christians thought they should avoid the meet sold at the markets and eat only vegetables. That was okay, of course, but Paul said that it is not a salvation issue. But if eating meat would cause offense to a "weaker brother" (read the context in Romans 14), then he would eat only vegetables.

        Paul was not saying that the rules for healthy eating which were known even before the Flood (There are references to clean and unclean animals at that time) were done away with. The animals that were "unclean" and not fit for food before the flood and at the time of Moses, are even less fit today.

        For that matter, all animal foods have become so polluted with pesticides and hormones that in most places of the world, they are not safe to eat as offered in the stores. The healthiest diet is still the plant-based diet God gave to Adam and Eve at the gates of Eden.

        As far as "days" are concerned, it seems pretty clear that Paul was not referring to the seventh-day Sabbath, or there would have been a major outcry, and we would know about it. He appears to have been referring to some other holy days, and, again, he said it was not a salvation matter, and each should decide according to his conscience.

        If we would only take the same approach of leaving each other the freedom of conscience in matters that we do not see the same, even though we are seeking to serve God conscientiously, how much more of the unity we could show to the world - the kind of unity Jesus prayed for in John 17.

  17. human commandments;the laws of man,along with its traditions.if it involves and interferes with the liberty of conscience its probably worth looking is written"woe to you scribes and pharisees who wash the out side of the cup but within dirty!then using the law of God by obeying our parents and using the blessings they are to us and putting self-righteousness above the spoken truth.double jeopardy what we have isn't of ours,all is from Christ we can give nothing(our work"debt"forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors") to whom ever,if not from the treasures of heaven.

  18. One of our church elder is so fond of teaching the ever ceasing fullfillment of the law to non adventist christians, he knows many speceffic references from the bible supporting his claims that he as SDA member stands for the truth even calling them evil-disguised aposles of God. Does our elder doing the same as those scribes in teaching the law? If yes what aproach shall I do to correct him .

    • I am sorry that your church elder is so self-righteous. Our role is to point people in the right direction based on the Bible not to ridicule and condemn especially when such persons are often times genuinely seeking to please God in the things that they do. Your own elder may have been ignorant of God's standards at sometime.

  19. Dress Code: I am thankful to God that His Love Spread to the other parts of the world..We are not required anymore to wear Grass Skirts and Topless...

  20. If we're led by the Spirit of God, will He not transform us into the image of Christ? Sometimes we receive instruction and edification from each other, but isn't Christ our supreme love? Aren't we trying to reflect Him? If He is our focus He will lead us into all truth. As the Jews we get off the path forgetting the weightier parts of the law because our 'right acts' based on traditional practices impresses us. We're spiritually blind yet think we are rich in goodness.

  21. Regarding the issue of segregated churches and differing practices such as style of worship, females wearing trousers, etc. I have been guided by and try to evaluate church mores by three P's. Prejudice, Preference and Principle. Whatsoever is borne of prejudice has to be discarded and forgiveness from GOD sought. Preference if not in contradiction to GOD 's word is just what it is. However even if it is a 'human law' or preference that does not contradict the Bible, if it will cause my brother or sister to stumble then in humility, I need to yield my preferences for the greater good of the body of CHRIST. However I need to put my foot down and even dig my heels in for whatsoever is based on the Principles of the Bible even though it may cause offence and disagreement. We 'ought to obey GOD rather than men. GOD pleasers rather than man pleasers.
    May GOD give each one of us the grace to examine our own selves whether we are (still) in the faith.


Please leave a comment long enough to say something significant and considerably shorter than the original post. First and last name required.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *