In our prior feature lesson, we noted that the Sabbath was a time of rest given exclusively to the Hebrew people through Moses. However, Jesus' death on the cross fulfilled the Old Testament (which contained the Sabbath law), and it was no longer binding after that point in time. Paul instructed early Christians that the Sabbaths (and other activities of the Old Law) were merely a "shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col 2:17). Additionally, in the prior verse he tells them not to allow others to judge them regarding such matters. Clearly, if anyone was still bound by the Sabbath law, Paul would not have written those words. Paul understood that the Old Law had served its purpose and had been fulfilled. Christians are to live under the New Testament.
In today's lesson, we want to examine this subject further by proposing some questions for Sabbatarians, as well providing analysis of some arguments they often raise.
QUESTIONS FOR SABBATARIANS
1. If the Sabbath is still in force, why not keep all of the laws concerning it?
In other words, besides just worshiping on Saturdays, Sabbatarians, in order to be consistent, must restrict themselves in these ways:
Biblically, it should be clear that this issue is much more than just a matter of which day one worships on.
2. If the Sabbath is still binding, why do we not find commands pertaining to it in the New Testament?
It is significant to note that there are principles in the New Testament that reiterate all of the Ten Commandments except the Sabbath law. Although the penalties are different under the New Covenant, it is no accident that the Sabbath is not mentioned. God would not fail to mention such if it was important for Christians. Consider the following evidence from the New Testament:
Since there are 21 epistles in the New Testament telling Christians how to live and worship, why is there not one command to keep the Sabbath? If it was important, surely the Holy Spirit would have mentioned it! Additionally, it should be noted that there was a council concerning circumcision (Acts 15). This would have been a perfect place for God to make known the Sabbath to Christians. Why didn't He? The New Testament silence in this regard is significant. The only time the Sabbath is mentioned in the doctrinal epistles of the New Testament it is labeled as a shadow and Paul implied that it did not need to be kept any more (cf. Col 2:16,17)!
3. If the Sabbath is still binding, then why not observe the Sabbath year also?
Exodus 23:10-12 reveals - "Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove."
This, like the first question, is a question of consistency in application.
4. If the Sabbath is to be observed because Jesus observed it, then why not observe all the other commands Jesus observed?
Jesus observed all of the commanded Jewish feast days because He was a Jew living under the Old Testament. However, as was demonstrated in the prior feature lesson, Christ has fulfilled the Mosaic law and removed it from being binding upon man any longer. The problem with this line of thinking is that it will lead to blindly binding things Jesus did as a Jew that should not be bound upon Christians. Consider these words from Paul to Christians in Galatians 5:1-4:
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace."
Although the focus here is upon circumcision (a practice that was required under the Old Testament), the application toward the Sabbath is identical. Anyone who submits to the Sabbath law in an effort to be saved is a debtor to keep the entire Old Testament system.
5. If the Sabbath is still in force today, why were the worship assemblies for the Lord's church in the first century conducted on Sundays?
The assembly mentioned in Acts 20:7 was for the purpose of breaking bread (or sharing in communion). Why did Paul wait seven days to assemble with the church since he was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem (cf. Acts 20:6,16)? Why not assemble on the Sabbath day to partake of the Lord's Supper? This would have given Paul an extra day for traveling. However, the fact that they met on Sunday in these circumstances is significant. The Sabbath was not mentioned at all. Similarly, in I Corinthians 16:1,2, Christians are commanded to give of their means weekly on Sunday. One of the reasons for their coming together was to contribute to the church treasury.
Let us now consider some...
FAVORITE ARGUMENTS OF SABBATARIANS AND HOW TO ANSWER THEM
1. "The Sabbath is a 'perpetual' covenant (i.e., lasting forever), and we today should keep it" (Exo. 31:16,17).
There are several details that must be noted. First, the key phrase is "throughout their generations." The "children of Israel" no longer exist as a nation today. Not one of her twelve tribes can be located today. Not one single Jew can trace his linage, as to tribe or descent, today. Additionally, there are other Old Testament items that were also said to be "forever," yet we know according to the New Testament that God does not expect them to be kept today. For example, the Passover was said to be "an everlasting ordinance" (Exo. 12:14). The burning of incense was to be "perpetual" (Exo. 30:8). Burnt offerings were to be "continual...throughout your generations" (Exo. 29:42). The atonement offering was to be "throughout your generations" (Exo. 30:10). The priesthood was "everlasting...throughout your generations" (Exo. 40:15). Friends, if the Sabbath law is eternal, then are all of these other items also still binding today? Let us not forget what Paul clearly declared in Colossians 2:16,17!
The solution to this alleged problem boils down to the meaning of the Hebrew word "olam" (rendered as "everlasting"). This term is best understood as a "long duration of unknown length." The Sabbath and other items mentioned above did last a long time, but not "forever," as we commonly use the term today.
2. "Paul preached on the Sabbath day, and thus, we should honor it" (Acts 13:14ff; 16:13,14).
Paul preached many times on the Sabbath day in order to reach the Jews in their gatherings. However, after his conversion, Paul did not keep the Sabbath as a holy day or as a part of Christianity. He understood that it was no longer binding upon him.
3. "Jesus said not one jot or tittle would pass away till all is fulfilled, so the Sabbath should still be kept" (Matt. 5:18).
The key word is "till," clearly conveying a condition. It is true that the Sabbath law was binding until all the Old Testament law was fulfilled. This happened on the cross where Christ declared that all was finished or completed (cf. John 19:30; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14).
4. "There remains a Sabbath 'rest'" (Heb. 4:8-11).
This passage cannot refer to the weekly Sabbath which the Hebrews observed. Joshua and Israel observed the weekly Sabbath, but the "rest" mentioned here was not given by Joshua. The writer of Hebrews is most certainly referring to the heavenly rest of the faithful. As God rested from His labors in creating, Christians shall rest from their labors on Earth. God's children are to give diligence to enter into this rest mentioned in Hebrews 11.
5. "The Sabbath was changed to Sunday by man, but God wants us to keep Saturday as the Sabbath."
Again, if this were the case, what about Acts 20:7 and I Corinthians 16:1,2? If the apostles were to be guided into all the truth by the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:13), why did they assemble on Sundays and teach Christians to do likewise? Why did they not issue a single command to keep the Sabbath but instead actually spoke against it as a "shadow" (Col. 2:16,17)?
6. "If the Ten Commandments are gone, we are left without any law! Thus, the Ten Commandments are still in force today."
As was explained earlier, nine of the ten commandments are restated under the New Testament. Additionally, there are other commands we are to keep as Christians under the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). Christians do have laws to obey today, even though we live under a system of grace (cf. Rom. 6:14,15).
7. "The 'Law of God' is different from the 'Law of Moses.' Moses' law was done away with, but not God's law which includes the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath law."
Sabbatarians claim that the "law of God" contains the Ten Commandments only. Then they affirm that the "law of Moses" contains the ceremonial and sacrificial ordinances and that it was this "law of Moses" (or the ceremonial law) that was done away at the cross. This claim can be disproved from Nehemiah 8. The phrase "Law of Moses" was used in 8:1 to refer to that from which Ezra was reading. But, notice that in 8:8 the same material is referred to as "the Law of God." In 8:14, the Law of Moses commanded the Feast of the Tabernacles, yet, this book was later called "the Law of God" (8:18).
Luke 2:22-24 is also worth studying on this point. The "law of the Lord" commanded the sacrifice of turtledoves (2:24). This is a reference back to Leviticus 12. However, this is what the Sabbatarians claim should be called the "Law of Moses." Dear listeners, if there is a distinction between the "Law of Moses" and the "Law of the Lord," Luke did not know it (and neither did the Holy Spirit who inspired Luke to write)! Clearly, the phrases are used synonymously or interchangeably. The Law of Moses is the Law of the Lord because it was divinely given to Moses. Moses did not originate the law.
8. "Jesus warned about the destruction of Jerusalem and told them to pray that their flight would not be on the Sabbath. Thus, they were still keeping the Sabbath law" (Matt. 24:20).
Jesus also told them to pray that their flight would not be in "winter" because of the difficulty of travel. It must be understood that the gates of the city would be closed on the Sabbath because of the Jews who were still mistakenly following the Mosaic law instead of Christ at that time (cf. Neh. 13:19). It is true that some were still keeping the Sabbath at that point in history, but they were doing such in error.
Before we conclude this study, let us give attention to...
SOME INTERESTING QUOTES FROM AUTHORITIES AND HISTORIANS
It should be understood that none of the following quotations are inspired of God or infallible. But, that being said, the combined evidence from these writers is compelling, in my estimation.
It is clear that the early Christians, who were guided into all the truth by the Holy Spirit via the apostles, did not keep the Sabbath or seventh day of the week. They worshiped God in spirit and truth on Sundays (the first day of the week)! There is no good reason for followers of Christ today to cast off apostolic example and do differently.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.
Endnotes:(emphasis to all quotes above has been added, SRB)
1The Ante-Nicean Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 63.
2Epistle of Barnabas, Ch XV, p. 147.
3Ibid, p. 186.
4History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, p. 201.
5Ibid, p. 222.
6Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1, p. 206.