Changing God's Eternal Law 


9.2 Changing God’s ‘Eternal law’

The most common argument used by Sabbath-keepers is that the Law of God can’t change, and it is described as an ‘eternal’ law. Here are some bullet points against that view.

The Law of Moses changed- even within Moses’ lifetime:

- The Law changed in accordance with circumstance. Thus in Ex. 12, the Passover was to be eaten in individual homes; but in Dt. 16, spoken at the end of Moses’ life, when Israel were about to enter their land, this was forbidden. Passover had to be eaten at the sanctuary.

- Many parts of the ‘eternal law’ were only relevant to the period of time when Israel were in the wilderness. As an example, consider the ‘eternal law’ of Lev. 17:5-7, stating that animals could only be slaughtered at the tabernacle. This would’ve meant that those who lived a distance from the sanctuary would have had to be vegetarians. Later, Moses amended this law. Dt. 12:20 ff. permitted Israel to slaughter their animals without going through the procedures of Lev. 17. Only the regulations about blood were preserved (Lev. 17:10 cp. Dt. 12:23).

-The commandments about carrying the ark obviously were only addressed to a tempporary situation. It was placed in the temple and "it shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders" (2 Chron. 35:3). Clearly Mosaic commands weren't "eternal" in the sense of being unchangeable. Indeed many of the laws were impossible for Israel to obey when they were outside of their land in captivity; yet geographical distance from the land didn't make them therefore automatically not God's children just because they couldn't keep all His laws. Indeed Dt. 4:10 could be read as implying that the Law was to kept "all the days that they shall live upon the eretz / land" of Israel.

- Ex. 21:30 implies penalties could be met by a fine instead of the actual punishment- the Law was evidently flexible, and the priests were empowered to use it that way. But this feature means that we are mistaken to see Moses' Law as a set of statements which were 'eternally' set in stone. The fact some of the commands were broken by men like David and yet he isn't condemned for it, but rather commended, is further illustration.

- The plans for the temple were given to David by God; but they replaced parts of the law God gave to Moses about the tabernacle. The laws given about the temple replaced those given about the dimensions and construction of the tabernacle.

- The laws about following the cloud, camping around the tabernacle, eating the manna, etc. were obviously annulled once Israel entered the land and settled there. The specific monetary amounts of the fines [e.g. shekels] would’ve had to change too, over time.

- I would even suggest that Moses’ ‘law’ about God visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children was annulled and changed by His later statement through Ezekiel that He would not operate like that, but instead, the person who sinned would die for his own sin (Ez. 18:4).

From a practical point of view, it's apparent that much of the law of Moses could only ever have been relevant to Israel in the wilderness [e.g. the commandments about the manna, carrying the tabernacle etc.] or to when Israel were settled in the land of Canaan. Indeed, the closer one looks at the law, the more evident it is that it applies to Israelite people in Canaan and not to God's Gentile people worldwide, existing as they do without a Levitical priesthood. Thus Lev. 13:37 speaks of how the plague of leprosy was to examined and a sore pronounced clean if "black hair" grows up within the sore. Clearly the people in view were Israelites with dark body hair, and not blond Scandinavians.

Defining ‘Olahm’

The Hebrew word ‘olahm’, translated ‘for ever’ clearly doesn’t always mean literal future infinity- although in some places it can have that sense. It’s actually used in places to describe the past; events of a long time ago, but not events that happened an ‘infinitely long time’ ago. It describes the time of a previous generation (Dt. 32:7; Job 22:15); to the time just before the exile of Judah (Is. 58:12; 61:4; Mic. 7:14; Mal. 3:4); to the time of the Exodus (1 Sam. 27:8; Is. 51:9; 63:9); to the time just before the flood (Gen. 6:4)(1).

- A servant was to serve his master ‘for ever’ [olahm]- i.e. for the limited period of the slave’s life, not literally ‘until infinite time in the future’ (Dt. 5:7; 1 Sam. 27:12; Job 40:28).

- Jeremiah’s enemies were “always” [olahm] at ease (cp. Ps. 73:12)

- The temple would eternally bear God’s Name- but the temple was destroyed.

- Hannah promised to give Samuel to the Lord for olahm(1 Sam. 1:22), but this is defined as “all the days of his life…as long as he lives” (1 Sam. 1:11,28).

- Jerusalem would be an eternal ruin (Jer. 25:9); and yet the same prophet predicts that one day in the future, it would be rebuilt, and be no longer a ruin (Jer. 31:4).

- God told the family of Eli that He had once promised that family that they would be “‘before me forever (olahm)’; but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me; for those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt” (1 Sam. 2:30). God can say that something will be ‘forever’ but then change it.


(1) Consider this discussion of the meaning of olahm in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, edited by G. Johannes Botterwick and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980): “…Jenni holds that its basic meaning “ most distant times ” can refer to either the remote past or to the future or to both as due to the fact that it does not occur independently (as a subject or as an object) but only in connection with prepositions indicating direction ( min “ since, ” ad “ until, ” “ up to ”) or as an adverbial accusative of direction or finally as the modifying genitive in the construct relationship. In the latter instance ō lā m can express by itself the whole range of meanings denoted by all the prepositions “ since, until, to the most distant time ”; i.e. it assumes the meaning “ (unlimited, incalculable) continuance, eternity. ” (THAT II, p. 230) …But … it is sometimes used of a not-so-remote past. For the meaning of the word in its attributive use we should note the designation of the lord as el ō lā m , “ The Eternal God ” ( Gen 21:33 )…The LXX generally translates ō lā m by aiō n which has essentially the same range of meaning. That neither the Hebrew nor the Greek word in itself contains the idea of endlessness is shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by the fact that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely saying “ forever,” but “ forever and ever.”.. Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or period—an idea that is sometimes expressed in English by “ world. ” Postbiblical Jewish writings refer to the present world of toil as hā ō lā m hazzeh and to the world to come as hā ō lā m habbā " ”.