9-5 The Sabbath

One of the most widespread continuities between present 'Christian' practices and the Mosaic Law is seen in the idea that we must keep the Sabbath. Some groups claim that we should keep the Jewish Sabbath exactly as defined in the Law; many others feel that Christians should have a specific day of the week upon which to worship, which they often define as Sunday. The first thing to clarify is that the Sabbath was the last day of the week, when God rested after the six days of creation (Ex. 20:10,11). Sunday being the first day of the week, it would be incorrect to observe this day as the Sabbath. The Sabbath was specifically "a sign between them (Israel) and Me (God), that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them" (Eze. 20:12). As such, it has never been intended to be binding on Gentiles (non-Jews). “... the Lord has given you [not all mankind] the Sabbath (Ex. 16:29); “... You [God] made known to them [Israel] Your holy Sabbath” (Neh. 9:14).
The fact God blessed the seventh day (Gen. 2:3) is no reason to think that therefore the Sabbath must be observed-- many centuries went by after creation before God instituted the Sabbath. Jesus once commented on a theological problem: a baby boy had to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. If this day fell on a Sabbath, then work would have to be done. So which law should be kept, circumcision, or the Sabbath? Jesus replied that circumcision had to be honoured, because this came from Abraham, whereas the Sabbath law was later, from Moses: “Moses therefore gave you circumcision [not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers(i.e. Abraham)...]” (Jn.7:22). If the law of circumcision took precedence over that of the Sabbath, how can it be argued by some that the Sabbath law is binding but that of circumcision isn’t? Circumcision was the token of the covenant with Abraham, whereas the Sabbath was the token of the law of Moses (Ex. 31:17), and Jesus judged that the covenant with Abraham was more important. The same kind of argument is used by Paul, when he reasons that the new covenant given to Abraham [which included no command about the Sabbath] is something which cannot be added to or disannulled. He asks, therefore, why it was that “the law was added” (Gal. 3:15,19)? He replies that the law was added, by implication temporarily, seeing that the new covenant cannot really be added to, in order to teach men about sin and lead them to an understanding of Christ, the promised seed of Abraham. Now that Christ has come, we are not under the Law.
Therefore through Christ's death on the cross, the Law of Moses was done away, so that there is now no necessity to observe the Sabbath or, indeed, any festival (Col. 2:14-17). The early Christians who returned to keeping parts of the Mosaic Law, e.g. the Sabbath, are described by Paul as returning "to the weak and miserable principles (NIV) to which you desire again to be in bondage. You observe days (e.g. the Sabbath) and months and seasons and years (i.e. the Jewish festivals). I am afraid for you, lest I have laboured for you in vain" (Gal. 4:9-11). This is the seriousness of attempting to keep the Sabbath as a means to salvation. It is clear that observing the Sabbath is irrelevant to salvation: "One man esteems one day above another (i.e. in spiritual significance); another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Rom. 14:5,6).
Because of this, it is understandable that we do not read of the early believers keeping the Sabbath. Indeed, it is recorded that they met on "the first day of the week", i.e. Sunday: "... on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread ..." (Acts 20:7). That this was a widespread practice is indicated by Paul advising the believers at Corinth to take up a collection "on the first day of the week" (1 Cor. 16:2), i.e. at their regular meetings on that day. All the believers are described as being priests (1 Peter 2:9) - who were exempt from keeping the Sabbath (Matt. 12:5).
If we are to keep the Sabbath, we must do so properly; we have earlier shown that it is fatal to keep the Mosaic Law partially, because this will result in our condemnation (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). Salvation is through keeping the law of Christ rather than that of Moses. Israel were not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath: "Whoever does any work on it must be put to death". They were also commanded: "Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day", and therefore they were forbidden to prepare food on that day (Ex. 35:2,3; 16:23 NIV). A man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath, presumably in order to kindle a fire, was punished with death for doing so (Num. 15:32-36).
Those denominations who teach that Sabbath-keeping is binding upon their members should therefore punish those members with death when they break the Sabbath. There should be no cooking of food or use of fire in any form - e.g. in driving motor vehicles, using heating systems etc. Orthodox Jews today set an example of the kind of behaviour expected on the Sabbath: they remain indoors all day except for religious reasons, and are not personally involved in cooking, transport etc. Most of those 'Christians' who claim to keep the Sabbath fall far short of this.
It is often argued that keeping of the Sabbath was one of the ten commandments given to Moses, and that, whilst the rest of the Law of Moses was done away, the obligation remains to keep all of the ten commandments. Seventh Day Adventists make a distinction between a 'moral law' of the ten commandments, “the law of God”, and a so-called 'ceremonial law', the “law of Moses”, which they believe was done away by Christ. This distinction is not taught in Scripture. The Bible uses the terms “law of Moses” and “law of God” interchangeably (Num. 31:21; Josh. 23:6; 2 Chron. 31:3). We have earlier demonstrated that the Old Covenant refers to the Law of Moses, which was replaced on the cross by the New Covenant. It can be shown that the ten commandments, including that concerning the Sabbath, were part of the Old Covenant which was done away by Christ:-
• God "declared to you (Israel) His covenant which he commanded you (Israel) to perform, that is the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone" (Deut. 4:13). Again it should be noted that this covenant, based upon the ten commandments, was made between God and Israel, not Gentiles of the present day.
• Moses ascended Mount Horeb to receive the stone tablets upon which God had written the ten commandments. Moses later commented concerning this, "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb" (Deut. 5:2), i.e. through those ten commandments.
• At this time, God "wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments" (Ex. 34:28). This same covenant included details of the so-called 'ceremonial law' (Ex. 34:27). If we argue that keeping the covenant made in the ten commandments is necessary, we must also observe every detail of the entire Law, seeing that this is all part of the same covenant. It is evidently impossible to do this.
• “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moses put there at Horeb ... the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:9,21). Those tablets, on which were the ten commandments, were the covenant.
• Heb. 9:4 speaks of "the tablets of the covenant". The ten commandments were written on the tablets of stone, which comprised "the (old) covenant".
• Paul refers to this covenant as "written and engraved on stones", i.e. on the tablets of stone. He calls it "the ministry of death...the ministry of condemnation ...” that which is “... passing away" (2 Cor. 3:7-11). The covenant associated with the ten commandments can certainly not give any hope of salvation.
• Christ “...cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us..." (Col. 2:14 NIV) on the cross. This alludes to God's handwriting of the ten commandments on the tablets of stone. Likewise Paul speaks of being "released from the law... the old way of the written code" (Rom. 7:6 NIV), referring to the letters of the ten commandments which were written on the tablets of stone.
• Just one of the ten commandments is styled "the law" in Rom. 7:7: "The law... said, ‘You shall not covet". The preceding verses in Rom. 7:1-6 stress how "the law" has been done away by Christ's death; "the law" therefore includes the ten commandments.
All this makes it clear that the Old Covenant and "the Law" included the ten commandments. As they have been done away by the New Covenant, the ten commandments have therefore been removed. However, nine of the ten commandments have been reaffirmed, in spirit at least, in the New Testament. Numbers 3,5,6,7,8 and 9 can be found in 1 Tim. 1 alone, and numbers 1,2 and 10 in 1 Cor. 5. But never is the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath repeated in the New Testament as obligatory for us.
The following list of passages documents further how the other nine are reaffirmed in the New Testament:-
1st. - Eph. 4:6; 1 John 5:21; Matt. 4:10
2nd. - 1 Cor. 10:14; Rom. 1:25
3rd. - James 5:12; Matt. 5:34,35
5th. - Eph. 6:1,2; Col. 3:20
6th. - 1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21
7th. - Heb. 13:4; Matt. 5:27,28
8th. - Rom. 2:21; Eph. 4:28
9th. - Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:25; 2 Tim. 3:3
10th. - Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5.
The Lord Jesus invites those who follow Him to accept the “rest” which He gives (Mt. 11:28). He uses a Greek word which is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, for the Sabbath rest. Jesus was offering a life of Sabbath, of rest from trust in our own works (cp. Heb. 4:3,10). We shouldn’t, therefore, keep a Sabbath one day per week, but rather live our whole lives in the spirit of the Sabbath.