IS THE SABBATH STILL VALID?
Located in Exodus 20, the fourth of the Ten Commandments reads thus:
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Ex. 20:8-11).
The fact that God commanded ancient Israel to observe a seventh-day rest is clear enough. The question that often arises, however, is whether this command is still valid in the New Testament. While some Christians believe so, others don't.
The purpose of this study is to address the common objections to the sabbath and to demonstrate why the seventh-day rest is still valid today despite the many arguments to the contrary. We will also highlight the correct way to observe sabbath as demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels.
"NOT UNDER THE LAW"
"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).
Some well-meaning Christians will argue that based on Romans 6:14 the Mosaic Law or Torah no longer applies to the Believer, thereby invalidating the sabbath also. The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it fails to consider the context of Paul's words expressed in the rest of chapter 6 and, in fact, the whole of Romans. But more alarmingly, it leads to antinomianism or lawlessness.
So what did Paul actually mean by the phrase "not under the law"? Was he really suggesting that God's Law was inconsequential to the Believer and that we could dismiss the Ten Commandments? Not at all! Here are some Scriptures to prove it:
"Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Rom. 3:31).
"For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Rom. 2:13).
"What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet... Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:7;12).
"If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good" (Rom. 7:16).
"But we know that the law is good, if a man use it legitimately" (1 Tim. 1:8).
"I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin" (Rom. 7:25).
By reading the above passages, it's easy to see that Paul wasn’t promoting the abrogation of God's Law. Instead, he was attempting to show that Christians were no longer subject to the curse and penalty of the Law once in covenant with God through faith (Rom. 8:2). But Paul also recognized that certain portions of the Law such as the ceremonial commands and national “right rulings” no longer apply in the New Testament. This is because the Old Testament's theocratic system of temple worship has been abolished by Christ on the cross (2 Cor. 3:13; Col. 2:14-16; Heb. 8:13; 10:9). Nevertheless, this does not invalidate the Ten Commandments, which represent God's eternal Law written in stone TWICE by the finger of God and reinforced by Jesus and the apostles throughout the New Testament.
It should also be noted that Jesus gave many of the commandments of the Old Testament spiritual depth and meaning by demonstrating how hate and lust were the equivalent of murder and adultery (Mat. 5:21-28). In many cases, the Law is now multilayered, providing for both a physical and spiritual application.
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days" (Col. 2:16).
It's important to realize that the "sabbath days" in Colossians 2:16 is not a reference to the weekly seventh-day sabbath. This fact is obvious because the content of this passage is entirely concerned with the Levitical or ceremonial aspects of the Law. Rules relating to meat, drink, feast days, newmoons, and “sabbaths”, were all specified under the ceremonial portion of the Law, not the Ten Commandments. Christians are often ignorant of the fact that the Jewish festivals were also designated as "sabbath" resting days, even though they didn’t fall on the seventh-day sabbath and were distinct from it. Here’s the proof:
"And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD: ….ye shall do no servile work therein. …It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath. Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath" (Lev. 23:6-39).
Paul is also warning the Colossians not to give heed to the Judaizers, who went around pressuring gentile converts into complete Torah observance. It was common in Paul's day for certain Jewish Believers to attempt to persuade gentile Believers to keep the entire Law. To address this, Paul instructs the Colossians not to let these Judaizers be their judges in respect to the ceremonial matters of the Law since these regulations were largely irrelevant to the Christian and non-salvific.
"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5).
In Romans 14:5, we find a similar misunderstanding. Some Christians are quick to assume that Paul was using his authority to void out the sabbath rest. But this is not the case. Nowhere in the chapter is the sabbath ever mentioned. The way to understand this text then is to simply examine the context around it:
"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: …One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom. 14:1-14).
From the very beginning, Paul makes it clear that he’s about to pass judgment over debatable matters, those nonessentials of the Faith that lead to “doubtful disputations”. Scholars agree that the epistle of Romans was written to a primarily Jewish audience who understood the Law (Rom. 7:1). As Jews, they would have no reason to consider the seventh-day sabbath as up for debate. Obviously, no Jew was in doubt on how to observe the sabbath. Therefore, the Christian should have strong reservations about lumping any of the Ten Commandments into the category of "debatable matters". Yet many skip right over this fact.
What Paul is actually addressing in Romans 14 are issues pertaining to dietary laws such as clean and unclean (v.14) and the observance of Jewish holy days (v. 5), all of which come under the ceremonial rulings of the Law. Paul settles the issue by giving each party freedom to follow their individual preferences without casting judgment on the other. There is no reason to misappropriate the information here as a legal right for breaking one of God’s eternal laws engraved in stone twice!
"For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb. 4:3).
This passage is often quoted in an attempt to prove that the physical day of rest was substituted for the spiritual rest represented by salvation. But is this the case? Since context is important, let's take a closer look at the context surrounding Hebrews 4:3:
"1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, anyof you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. 5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. 6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: 9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (Heb 4:1-11).
In the above passages, Believers are warned not to fall into the same pattern of unbelief as the ancient Israelites. The Israelites failed to enter the Promised Land, a type of sabbath rest, and perished in the wilderness because of their unbelief. In verse 3, we see that all who call upon Christ through Faith have entered into a spiritual type of rest by no longer depending on their good works or merit for salvation. Finally, verses 9-10 encourage us to continue to “labor” to maintain our Faith so that we may enter into God's eternal rest (heaven) promised to faithful Believers.
Clearly, the above passages are analogous. They help us appreciate the spiritual and typological significance of the physical day of rest. However, they do not set the Christian at liberty to break the sabbath. We must remember that all of the Christian sacraments, be it water baptism, communion, feet washing, or the head covering, represent spiritual principles that must be demonstrated by their physical application. In other words, the spiritual principle does not negate the physical application.
Another pertinent feature of Hebrews 4 is the fact that it contains a very direct sabbath keeping injunction. In verse 9, Paul uses the Greek word sabbatismos (strong’s G4520) when informing the Hebrews that: "There remaineth therefore a rest (SABBATISMOS) for the people of God." According to the Thayer’s Greek lexicon, sabbatismos is defined as follows:
σαββατισμός (sabbatismós to keep sabbath)
1. a keeping sabbath
Essentially, Paul is saying that because the sabbath is a foreshadow of the eternal rest we will enjoy in heaven, we should continue to keep sabbath to memorialize this truth.
THE SABBATH: GOD’S FIRST INSTITUTION
"And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made" (Gen. 2:2-3).
The sabbath is significant because it exists in the very first pages of Genesis and sets the record straight on human origin. It is also the first institution erected by God at Creation. The sabbath commemorates the fact that God created the earth in six days and is His seal of authority as CREATOR OVER CREATION. Those who observe the sabbath must realize that they are making a statement about God’s intrinsic authority over the universe.
Another reason God hallowed the sabbath has to do with fellowship. As noted in Genesis 2:3, God Himself took rest on the sabbath. This fact should not be ignored. After all, God is unlimited and requires no rest. So why did He rest? While He did so to set an example for us to follow, I believe He also rested in order to experience fellowship with the first humans, Adam and Eve. But just as God rested from His " own labors" and dedicated time for fellowship with mankind, we should do the same. The sabbath is a good opportunity to rest from our busy work schedule in order to fellowship with God.
THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR MAN
"And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mar. 2:27).
In Mark 2:27, Christ reminds the pharisees of a vital truth. The sabbath was created for the benefit of man and not the other way around. The pharisees had so engulfed the sabbath with their man-made rules that they had turned it into a day of dread. But Christians tend to pendulum swing to the opposite extreme. They devalue the sabbath to the point it no longer exists. And they do so by arguing that Mark 2:27 is proof that Christ was liberating us from a seventh-day rest. However, this is simply not true.
To properly understand Mark 2:27, we will use an analogy involving the “stop” sign. The stop sign is employed everywhere on our roads in order to improve driving conditions and prevent fatal crashes. The stop sign is there to serve man. It regulates his driving and affords him the protection he needs while navigating the roads. But it also represents the authority of the government over the roadways. We would be foolish to think we could choose when and how to obey the stop sign. So while it exists to protect man and safeguard the roads from potential hazards, the stop sign is man’s authority, not the other way around!
In the same way, the sabbath is also our servant. It was made specifically for us. It doesn’t govern the animals or the angels, only us. It represents our authority (God), and it’s there to test our resolve to submit and comply with that authority, in deference to God’s rule.
DID JESUS REALLY BREAK THE SABBATH?
Jesus is made to look as if He spent most of His time breaking the sabbath and teaching others to do likewise. But this idea is very dangerous and much more damaging than we may realize. For instance, consider the fact that if Jesus broke sabbath even once in His life, He would have been completely disqualified and His enemies would have just reason to condemn Him as a fraud. But we are told otherwise:
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Co. 5:21).
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
"Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat. 5:19).
These verses clearly teach that Jesus was without sin. Now if Jesus was sinless, and the Bible defines sin as the “transgression of the Law” (1 Jn. 3:4), then Jesus could never have been guilty of breaking the sabbath.
So perhaps it’s time to modify our way of thinking. Instead of looking at Christ as the perfect lawbreaker, we must acknowledge Him as our perfect example of true sabbath observance. We must learn how to keep sabbath the way He did, and not like the Pharisees, whom He often condemned.
LORD OF THE SABBATH
"And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath" (Luk. 6:5).
When attacked by the Pharisees for healing on the sabbath, Jesus responded by reminding them of His authority. He was “Lord also of the sabbath”. As Lord and “Lawgiver”, no one was more familiar with the sabbath than Jesus. So He knew that He was well within His lawful parameters when healing on the sabbath. But the pharisees had their own ideas on how to keep sabbath, and very often their ideas conflicted with God's Law.
Yet Christians will often deduce more than they should from the above passage and quote it as though Jesus was waving his credentials around in order to justify breaking the sabbath. But was He? Not at all! Jesus was Lord over ALL of God's commandments, not just the sabbath. Yet He never used His power or authority to live above the Law! As a result, we can be certain that Jesus kept sabbath, but He did so properly, unlike the Pharisees.
SATURDAY OR SUNDAY?
The fact that Jesus arose on the first day of the week is common knowledge. But the significance of this is often missed. Jesus kept sabbath even while resting in the tomb and was not resurrected until AFTER the sabbath:
"Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene..." (Mar. 16:9).
But many Christians believe the sabbath no longer remains and that Sunday has replaced it. This belief is rooted in the fact that Jesus arose on the first day of the week and early Christians congregated on Sunday, rather than on the sabbath. What is often ignored, however, is that the early Church only gathered on Sundays because they were Jewish and used the sabbath to frequent the synagogues where they could evangelize their fellow Jews and spread the Gospel:
"And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures" (Act. 17:2).
"But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down" (Act. 13:14).
"And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God" (Act. 13:42-44).
The collection of money for the financial needs of the Church was another reason why early Jewish Christians refrained from holding their meetings on the sabbath. To collect money or engage in financial activity on the sabbath was considered a violation, which is why they chose to meet on Sunday, rather than on the sabbath. Here's the proof:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come" (1 Cor. 16:1-2).
MOSES OF OLD
"But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day" (Act. 15:20-21).
At the first council of Jerusalem, after careful deliberation, the Apostles drafted a list of prohibitions specifically formulated for Gentile converts. This list includes abstention from idolatry, fornication, strangled meats, and blood, but does not address the sabbath. This is often pointed out as evidence that the sabbath is irrelevant to Gentile Believers. The argument sounds like this: "If the sabbath is so important, why didn’t the Apostles add it to their list of special rules?" While this argument seems valid at face value it fails to recognize the fact that the Apostles expected their Gentile converts to learn the rest of God's laws from their local synagogue: "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day" (Act. 15:21).
So the few restrictions hastily drafted by the Apostles were only meant to aid their Gentile converts while they were learning the Old Testament Scriptures from their local synagogue.
HOW TO KEEP SABBATH THE BIBLICAL WAY
Jesus declared that it was "lawful to do good on the sabbath" (Mat. 12:12). And when His disciples were hungry, He permitted them to pluck grain to satisfy their hunger despite the objections of the Pharisees (Mat. 12:1-5). Christ even healed a lame man and then instructed him to collect his bedding and be on his way (Jn. 5:8-10). Although this was highly offensive and raised many brows, Jesus knew the man had no choice if he was to avoid losing his possessions. Jesus also demonstrated that evangelism and ministry were never to cease because of the sabbath (Jn. 9:4). Preaching the Gospel and serving the homeless and hungry must always continue irrespective of the week day. This teaches us that certain types of work are not considered a violation of the sabbath and in emergency situations
working on the sabbath is completely lawful (Lk. 14:5).
But the Pharisees aligned the sabbath with their own traditions rather than the Scriptures. And as a result, Jesus had to strip away all of their traditions from the sabbath in order to restore it to God's original design. God’s sabbath command was much simpler than what the Pharisees had made it. The sabbath was originally created to be a day when we could rest from all of our weekly labors. Yet God didn’t command us to abstain from making meals, taking care of our children, congregating with others, or keeping up with the basic welfare of our animals. Here’s the instruction on the sabbath as it appears in the Ten Commandments:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it" (Ex. 20:8-11).
Now that we understand that God wants us to keep sabbath without being legalistic about it like the Pharisees, we should tackle the next question: When does the sabbath officially begin and end? And between what hours are we to take our rest? To answer this, we must first locate the definition of a true biblical day. According to Genesis 1:5, a day is defined as the interval of time between one evening and the next: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen. 1:5). Unlike our modern evaluation of time, in which a "day" starts at midnight and ends at midnight, God’s reckoning of time is considerably different. So we shouldn’t be surprised that God commanded the Israelites to keep sabbath between evenings: "It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest… from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath" (Lev. 23:32). Essentially, the sabbath begins Friday evening and concludes Saturday evening, the whole of a 24 hour period.
So far it was demonstrated that the New Testament Christian is still subject to the relevant portions of the Law, especially the Ten Commandments. We've shown that the sabbath is a sign of God’s authority over creation and that those who observe the sabbath are making a statement to a godless society about their belief in a supreme Creator.
It was further demonstrated that Jesus arose on the first day of the week in order to comply with the sabbath and that His disciples were also in the habit of keeping sabbath. This issue, to them, was so obvious that they didn’t have to reiterate it throughout their epistles. Lastly, we now understand that Christ did not violate the sabbath, but rather reprimanded the Pharisees for obscuring it with their many traditions. Christ’s example teaches us not to keep sabbath legalistically like the Pharisees, but rather in the freedom and aptitude of the Spirit.