What has troubled many Sunday-keeping Christians is the fact that Christ kept the seventh-day Sabbath. Not only did Christ keep the seventh-day Sabbath, He kept it habitually. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day. . . ” (Luke 4:16). Christ even went so far as to say He was the Lord of the Sabbath. “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). And why should He not make this claim? He was the one who created the Sabbath (John 1: 1-3). Christ’s disciples were also Sabbath keepers. See, for example, Luke 23:54-56 and Mark 16:1. These texts show that even during the crucial time of Christ’s crucifixion and burial, the disciples were observing the Sabbath.
The book of Acts gives us several examples of Sabbath keeping. Acts 13:14, 42, and 44, clearly show that the Apostle Paul kept the Sabbath and that the Gentile proselytes did the same. The Sabbath observance recorded in this chapter took place around 15 years after Christ’s ascension into the heavens. Paul did not believe for one moment that the death of Christ “did away” with the Sabbath. We read in Acts 13, “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. . . . And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. . . . And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” There is another example in Acts 16:13. “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” And yet another example. “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures” (Acts 17:2). We see the same thing in Acts 18:4. “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” What these texts prove, is that many years after the sacrifice of Christ, both Jews and Christians attended the synagogue where they worshiped on the Sabbath. None of these worshipers assumed that the Sabbath no longer existed.
Sabbath Given at Creation
Christ said He was the Lord of the Sabbath. It is the day He gave mankind at Creation. Sabbath observance does not rest on any historical church tradition. It rests on biblical authority and was created at the beginning. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 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. 2:1-3). “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. 20:11). Christ, the Creator (Col. 1:16), gave the Sabbath for the benefit of man (Mark 2:27).
The Bible describes the Sabbath as a memorial of Creation. This is found in Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:11, Exodus 31:15-17, and Hebrews 4:4. Therefore, there is no credibility to the Jewish argument that the Sabbath was given by Moses for the exclusive use of Israel alone. While it belonged in the domain of Israel for many years, the New Covenant expanded the Law of God to include Gentiles. The Creation recorded in Genesis, chapter two, implies the Sabbath rest was intended for all mankind. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “the Sabbath was made for man.” The Jewish argument that the Sabbath was given by Moses was a result of the struggle between the rabbis and the radical Hellenists who were trying to coerce the abandonment of Judaism. The preservation of the Jewish identity was accomplished by the adoption of this exclusive and nationalistic view. The result was that the Sabbath was reduced from a Creation ordinance to a Mosaic ordinance. Church Fathers and later Reformists, as well as modern theologians, have utilized this same argument in order to challenge Christians who defend the obligation to keep the Sabbath in the Christian dispensation.
The fact that the Sabbath is to be “a day of delight” (Isa. 58:14) is taken from the Creation Sabbath which was a day of joy, harmony, and peace. This example was for all future times. The weekly Sabbath in the Old Testament period embraced the national aspiration for a resting place in the land of Canaan. But this is only a type of the future age of rest and peace during the Millennium. The idea that the Sabbath represented rest and prosperity led the school of Shammai to forbid the giving of contributions to the poor on the Sabbath. They viewed such acts as negating the prospects of future material prosperity typified by the Sabbath. Later, Jesus countered this notion by healing the sick on the Sabbath, which embodied the Messianic expectations which the Sabbath certainly depicted. The coming of Christ did not negate the Sabbath. Rather, it emphasized the redemptive nature of the Sabbath. Jesus was a habitual Sabbath keeper (Luke 4:16). Matthew 24:20 proves the permanence of the Sabbath.
Benefits of the Sabbath
The world today is filled with tension. Millions of people are restless and fearful. Stress-management programs of one type or another, meditation groups, and health clubs attempt to help people cope with the need for inner rest and peace. Pills, alcohol, and drugs are used as forms of escapism. Many others indulge in sports, vacations, TV, etc., to find relief from the stress and worry of modern life. But it is the Sabbath that truly provides the experience of inner rest, the release from the pressures of society, and the job. The Sabbath allows us to experience the reality of God’s presence and His peace and rest. It is not an abstract theological notion; Sabbath keeping is a tangible demonstration of the practice of one’s faith. One who ignores the Sabbath, more than likely, ignores God every day. One who is indifferent toward the Sabbath-who regards it as a workday or holiday-is harming his own best interests.
The fourth commandment reads:
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).
We have the instruction both to work and to rest in this fourth commandment. This is an imitation of the pattern God established during the Creation week. In Genesis 2:2-3 the word “rested” sums up how God felt about His creation. He said it was complete and perfect. When He rested from His perfect work, He was acknowledging His perfection.
Aside from receiving the physical benefits of rest, one who keeps the Sabbath acknowledges God’s total claim over his life. The bestowal of one’s time in obedience to God’s commandment regarding the Sabbath is an act of worship which acknowledges God as the possessor of the sum of human life-time itself! Human life is time. When time is used up, life itself ends. Sabbath keeping acknowledges God as the Creator of all things. The time He has set aside for worship designates the weekly Sabbath as a time period for holy use. Since He is our Creator we owe God the respect His creation calls for. The weekly Sabbath is the memorial of His creation, a reminder week by week of His sovereign power and creativity. It is the “day of delight,” the Bible reminds us.
Many are unaware of God’s instruction to keep the Sabbath. Those who know, but refuse to do so, indicate their distrust for God and His providence. If their disobedience hinges on the quest for pleasure, they are failing to recognize the true pleasures of life. If they worry about financial security and success on the job, they limit God’s power to help and bless them. The Sabbath command restricts the amount of time man can apportion for his weekly labor. It counteracts the temptation to deify work. We are given six working days which are fulfilled by rest on the seventh day. The idol of work is demolished when man rejects the lifestyle of financial success and status that often leads him to break the Sabbath. Activities on the Sabbath such as the quest for material pleasures, pursuing sports, attending amusement parks, the beach, the dance hall, the restaurant, or the ski resort cannot fulfill the longing man has deep in his soul. These are all forms of evasion-a temporary illusion which hides men from reality. In the end man is left with spiritual emptiness. This spiritual emptiness is what is behind the exhaustion and tension suffered by so many. The tyranny of materialism can be broken by means of keeping the Sabbath. There is great spiritual value in the Sabbath and the fellowship that comes about by meeting with those who are like-minded. True values are revealed to those who obey God and keep the Sabbath. When not balanced by rest, work becomes an oppressive and relentless taskmaster. It degrades the personality and destroys the balance between the body and the mind. The idol of work turns men into mere brutes.
The Sabbath exemplifies the ideal of God’s love and care-the method He has given to bestow human freedom at the physical level. The Sabbath grants man the freedom from the tyranny of work, from heartless exploitation, from the over- attachment to people and things, and from man’s greed. It refreshes and energizes man with renewed zeal for the coming week. Even when circumstances seem to be unfavorable, the man who observes God’s Sabbath has renounced the greed and selfishness brought on by the quest for material things. The Sabbath protects both man and animals from the abuses of greedy employers. It teaches the selfish-at least for one day a week-to resist the temptation for the continual accumulation of wealth. It teaches man to gratefully acknowledge the blessings of God. When work is completed at the end of the week, one can look forward to a day of rest. God’s plan for the week is completed in our lives when we experience the meaning and sense of direction that the Sabbath brings. If not, then our lives become a continuous, meaningless, linear existence.
When Israel was in slavery, the people could not keep the Sabbath. When God delivered them, they were told to remember the Sabbath. Sabbath keeping was to be a concrete experience even involving a future consideration for the more unfortunate (Deut. 5:15). Among other things, the Sabbath was given because it demonstrated a genuine concern for the rights and needs of others. But it anticipated, not only a personal rest and liberation from social injustice, but the future rest and peace to be realized at the return of the Messiah.
One who accepts the Sabbath, accepts what God has created. One who truly accepts God as the Creator, accepts the day God created for the Sabbath. One who accepts the Sabbath does not attempt to change the day to any other day than the day God commanded. The Sabbath, unlike the Temple of ancient Israel, is incorruptible. Men may corrupt what they do on the Sabbath, but they cannot alter the incorrupt nature of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is immaterial because it occupies time rather than space and matter. Ideas and concepts attached to material objects and things tend to deteriorate along with the objects they represent. Monuments grow old and fade. But not the Sabbath. It is incorruptible, universal, accessible to all men.
Many polls indicate Sunday keeping is losing ground and on the wane. Could it be that Sunday keeping has neither biblical nor apostolic authorization? Can one expect to take Sunday keeping seriously when it is regarded as a convenient time to appear in church, and then to be free the rest of the day for any other activity? Sunday keeping is essentially an hour of worship, not 24 hours devoted to God as the Bible instructs. Indifference toward Sunday worship is of vital concern to many theologians who view this indifference as a threat to the survival of Christianity itself. Sabbath keeping rests on explicit Bible commands. Sunday keeping rests on the edict of a human king. The vast majority of Christians today regard Sunday as a holiday rather than a holy day. Keeping a day holy to God rests on a strong theological conviction. Those truly convicted of God’s commands will not hesitate to keep the Sabbath holy from “even to even” as the Bible instructs.
The Sabbath “Regiven” to Israel
Exodus 16 reveals that Sabbath breaking was a violation of the fourth commandment. The command to rest on the seventh day of the week was a part of the Law of God. In the Exodus account, God miraculously revealed which day was the Sabbath (Ex. 16:4-6, 27-28). But this was not when the Sabbath was ordained. It was ordained at Creation. Israel’s long years in slavery had not only caused the people of Israel to lose sight of the significance of the Sabbath, but of the correct day as well. Moses said, “Six days ye shall gather it [the manna]; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none” (Ex. 16:26). “So the people rested on the seventh day” (v. 30).
The fourth commandment specifically states: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). Later, Nehemiah wrote, “Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant” (Neh. 9:13-14). While Moses gave Israel the Sabbath, the fact is that it was “regiven” at that time. It can be demonstrated that all ten of the Ten Commandments were in force long before the time of Moses. Aside from that, the command to observe the Sabbath is found in several places in the Pentateuch. See for example, Exodus 23:12; 34:21; 35:2-3, Leviticus 19:3, 30; 23:1-3, and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
Abraham was faithful to God. He was called out of his own country in order to serve God. “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. . . . And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:1, 7). Why did God choose Abraham? Notice Genesis 18:19. “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Gen. 18:19). God promised to multiply the seed of Abraham “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:5). We can rightfully assume Abraham kept the Sabbath. Why? Because it was revealed at Creation and is a part of the Law of God. We should not assume that because the Sabbath is not mentioned between Genesis 2 and Exodus 16, that it was not kept. For example, based on 2 Kings 4:23, it is presupposed that the Sabbath was kept during the Old Testament period This text indicates the custom of visiting a prophet on the Sabbath, even though little about the Sabbath is mentioned during the Old Testament period.
Weekly Cycle Remains the Same
The notion that we cannot be sure which day is the seventh day of the week is disproved by both the Bible and history. Jesus kept the Sabbath. Since He was sinless (Heb. 4:15), He kept the correct Sabbath. So, the seventh day of the week was known in His day. Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). Historically, it has been easy to trace the Sabbath since that time. The seventh day sanctified at Creation, and kept by Christ, is the same seventh day of the week today. Time has not been lost and the weekly cycle remains the same. Chapters one and two of Genesis delineate the weekly cycle. The heavenly bodies were given to designate the years, months, and days (Gen. 1:14-18). Jeremiah records, “Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever” (Jer. 31:35-36). “Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season. . . . Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; Then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David my servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. . .” (Jer. 33:20, 25-26). The Psalmist adds, “Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. . . . He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass” (Ps. 148:3, 6). These texts candidly tell us the weekly cycle cannot be broken.
But what about the argument that the principle of Sabbath keeping means it is permissible to observe one day in seven rather than the seventh day of the week? This notion is a fiction. It is based on the idea that the seventh-day Sabbath is a ceremonial law given to Moses in order to teach Israel about the spiritual rest that is to be manifested in Christ. The Sabbath of Creation does not give the slightest hint of one day in seven. It specifically states the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week (Gen. 2:3). Both the Creation account and the Bible command tell us the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, not the first day nor sixth day, nor any other day of the week. Had any other day of the week been designated, God would have made this plain to the priests and Levites who labored on the Sabbath. Also, the notion that “every day of the week is a Sabbath to the Lord” is fatuous. This notion is merely an attempt to repudiate worshiping God on any day of the week. This attempt to repudiate the Sabbath is intended to eventually turn men from both belief in and the worship of God.
A Perpetual Covenant and an Everlasting Sign
The perpetuity of the Sabbath as an identifying sign is emphasized in Exodus 31.
. . . Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. . . . Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed (Ex. 31:13, 15-17).
This same thing is emphasized in Ezekiel 20. “Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. . . . I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God” (Ezek. 20:12, 19-20). The main reason the modern Jews are recognized as the descendants of Israel today is because of their faithfulness to the Sabbath law.
The word “forever” needs as explanation. As used in the Bible it means as long as the factors involved continue to exist. This is illustrated by an example given in Exodus 21:1-6. After seven years a Hebrew bondman could exercise the option to be free, but if he chose to remain with his master we read, “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever” (v. 6). What are the factors here? As long as both the servant and the master were alive the factors continued to exist, but if either died the factors were no longer in force. With respect to the perpetuity of the Sabbath, the factors are: 1) Day and night continue to exist, so that the weekly cycle continues to exist; and 2) men exist on this planet who can observe the Sabbath. The factors continue to exist. The Sabbath is, therefore, a perpetual sign, an everlasting covenant-forever. These factors will continue on into the Millennium (Isa. 66:23).
Christ-a Sabbath Breaker?
Some say the Sabbath is no longer in effect because Christ broke the Sabbath. This is cited for “proof” that it is no longer necessary to keep the Sabbath. Matthew 12:1-8 is the text used. Christ’s disciples were criticized for plucking a few heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. Jesus quickly dismissed this criticism by citing David’s example of what his men had done when they were hungry. He then pointed out how the priests worked on the Sabbath and were not censured for doing so. Next, he told the Pharisees that had they known who He was, they would not have been so quick to condemn. For, as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), He fully understood that the Sabbath was given for the benefit of man. Therefore, it was not wrong for His disciples to eat a few heads of grain on the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:10-13 is another text used to support the argument that the Sabbath is done away. In this incident Christ healed a man who had a withered hand. This was done on the Sabbath. Jesus anticipated the criticism of the religious leaders. He told them that if it were permissible by the law to rescue an animal on the Sabbath, it was certainly permissible to deliver a man from physical bondage. Another example of healing is found in Luke 13:10-17. Here the Pharisees were shamed by Jesus’ reply and quickly silenced.
A more detailed account of a Sabbath healing is found in John 5:1-9. Jesus miraculously healed a man who had been bedridden for 38 years. The religious leaders hurled their customary abuse. Jesus’ reply was, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (v. 17). What did He mean by this? Is it all right to work on the Sabbath? “Hitherto” means “unto now,” or “even unto now.” The meaning is that both the Father and the Son were working “even unto now.” Yet, the Bible tells us the Father rested from all His physical work (Gen. 2:2-3, Heb. 4:4). The work to which Jesus referred could not, therefore, be referring to any kind of physical work on the Sabbath. What did Jesus mean? In John 6:29 Jesus said the work of God is to believe on Him whom the Father had sent. If the people refused to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, then they would surely reject the works He had performed-miracles, such as the healings on the Sabbath. These works were the work of God-the work to which Jesus referred. See John 10:37-38 and John 14:11. Jesus said His meat was to do the will of the Father and to finish His work (John 4:34). He emphasized, “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24).
Jesus’ works were of a spiritual nature. Both He and the Father had been working “even unto now” to bring to fruition the plan of salvation. The saving mission of Christ is implied in the statement, “I am working even unto now.” The physical work of God ended in the Creation as recorded in Genesis, chapter two. The spiritual work of God continues “until now”-the redemptive work of Christ. What Christ did, or did not do, on the Sabbath is a part of the redemptive nature of the commission given Him. He ministered to both the physical and spiritual needs of the people-the redemption of the whole man. Healing on the Sabbath was a part of that redemption. There were physical needs as well as spiritual needs. Notice the redemptive aspect of Jesus’ healing. He told the man in John 5:14, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” After the blind man was healed, we find in John 9:35-38 this statement: “. . . Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him” (John 9:35-38).
In every case where Jesus or His disciples were criticized for the manner in which they kept the Sabbath, Jesus showed how wrong and vindictive the accusers were. He appealed to the Scriptures, proving that His activities were in harmony with the plan and purpose of the Sabbath. If, for example, to avoid breaking the law, it was permissible to circumcise on the Sabbath, it was certainly permissible to make a man whole by healing him on the Sabbath.
What Was the Penalty for Sabbath Breaking?
The children of Israel were obedient to God but only for a short time. This obstinance was apparent even before the Old Covenant was ratified. Notice this example. “Six days ye shall gather it [manna]; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none” (Ex. 16:26-27). Later, this rebellious spirit was dealt with severely. “And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses” (Num. 15:32-36).
Much later during the time of Jeremiah we read, “Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction” (Jer. 17:21-23). Because of this refusal God warned, “But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched” (Jer. 17:27).
While in the wilderness, even before the Israelites reached the Promised Land, they polluted the Sabbath. God said through the prophet Ezekiel:
But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. . . . Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. . . . Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols. Wherefore I gave them [up to] also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live” (Ezek. 20:13, 15-16, 24-25).
That first generation of Israelites who refused to obey God died in the wilderness. They were not permitted to enter the Promised Land, while they doted on their own man-made laws that were not good.
In Ezekiel, chapter 23, Israel and Judah are likened to two women-Aholah and Aholibah. What did God say to them? Read it in verses 46-48.
The LORD said moreover unto me; Son of man, wilt thou judge Aholah [Israel] and Aholibah[Judah]? yea, declare unto them their abominations; That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. What punishment did God prophesy? For thus saith the Lord GOD; I will bring up a company upon them, and will give them to be removed and spoiled. And the company shall stone them with stones, and dispatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses with fire. Thus will I cause lewdness to cease out of the land, that all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness” (Ezek. 23:46-48).
A national punishment for Sabbath breaking is war and captivity.
We find the fulfillment of this punishment recorded in 2 Kings 17. Because of their continued obstinacies and Sabbath breaking, we read, “Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only. . . . Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day” (2 Kings 17:18, 23). What about the people of Judah? Did they fare any better? “And the city [Jerusalem] was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. . . . And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon. . . . And the king of Babylon smote them, and slew them at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was carried away out of their land” (2 Kings 25:2, 7, 21). Some 70 years later a remnant of the Jews returned to Palestine and set up their own nation again. But not Israel. The ten tribes never returned and were lost from sight. Today they are referred to as “the lost ten tribes of Israel.”
God grants blessings for obedience but curses for disobedience. In Leviticus 26 He says, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD” (Lev. 26:2). Then follows a series of blessings which fall upon the obedient. But notice also the curses for disobedience. “And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies’ land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it” (Lev. 26:33-35).
Did Paul Preach Christian Freedom?
We are assured there is no need to observe the seventh-day Sabbath because the Apostle Paul detached Christianity from its Jewish cocoon. We are told that only in the Gentile world could Christianity find its full expression. It is now liberated from the shackles of the law. Is this true?
In his epistles Paul uses the word “law” in a number of differing ways. Law sometimes refers to the Mosaic law (Gal. 4:21); sometimes to the entire Old Testament (1 Cor. 14:21); it refers to the will of God written in the minds of the Gentiles (Rom. 2:14-15); to the evil inclinations of man (Rom. 7:21); and sometimes to the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:2). In the context of justification (i.e., right standing with God) Paul says the law is of no avail (Rom. 3:20). But, in the context of sanctification (right living before God) Paul tells us of the validity and value of the law (Rom. 7:12; 13:8-10, 1 Cor. 7:19). Man, born a sinner, transgresses the Law of God almost from birth (Ps. 51:5). When man comes to the realization that he must live right before God, his righteousness cannot clear him from past guilt, that is, for the sins he has already committed. Only his acceptance of the shed blood of Christ can justify or remove his guilty past. But, after being justified, can he continue to break the Law of God? Absolutely not, says the Apostle Paul! (Gal. 2:17-18). Right living requires obedience to the law. Paul upholds the law in the context of sanctification.
Did Paul observe the seventh-day Sabbath? Yes, indeed! See Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4. Paul did not preach a message of “Christian freedom”? This idea is an interpretation read into Paul’s writings. The Apostle Peter referred to Paul’s epistles when he wrote, “. . . even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
The Sabbath and Acts 15
Some would have us believe that the decision made at the Jerusalem conference, as recorded in Acts 15, did away with the Sabbath. Is this the truth? The account shows that Jewish teachers came from Jerusalem to Antioch, located in Syria, and taught the brethren that in order to be saved they must be circumcised. This caused such an uproar that it was decided to take the matter to Jerusalem to be settled. A conference took place which included the apostles and elders, held at Jerusalem where the Church was made up of believing Jews who were zealous for the law (Acts 21:20). Some of the elders present at the conference had been Pharisees who had not yet recognized the error of the Pharisaic exclusiveness. They were the ones who insisted the Gentiles should be circumcised (Acts 15: 5). Peter quashed this notion by showing how God had used him to first take the gospel to the Gentiles and that circumcision was not required. Both Barnabas and Paul attested to God’s work among the Gentiles, also showing that circumcision did not enter into the picture.
The decision made was that the Gentiles should not be required to be circumcised-that it was not a requirement for salvation. However, it was decided there would be four things Gentiles would be required to do in addition to keeping the spiritual Law of God. They must refrain from pollutions of idols, from fornication, from animals that had been strangled, and from the eating of blood (Acts 15:20). This was because these prohibitions had been taught in all the Jewish synagogues around the world, having been an integral part of the Mosaic teaching from the beginning. These four practices were very much a part of the Gentile way of life and to permit this lifestyle by those Gentiles who attended Church would have been offensive to the Jewish Christians and sinful in the eyes of God. The Sabbath was not even a matter of consideration in this Acts 15 conference. To insist the Sabbath was abolished by the council in Acts 15 reveals the desperation of some who hate the Sabbath and would like to see it banished from the Christian way of life. There was no radical distinction made between the Old and New Covenants in this Jerusalem conference. The idea that the Sabbath was done away by this conference goes back to second and third-century theologians who viewed the Sabbath as a “temporary” ordinance derived from Moses, but which was to be abolished by the coming of Christ. The idea, carried down to our day, purports that the Sabbath was a “social institution” initiated after the Israelites entered the Promised Land, but later annulled by Christ. Sunday is regarded as the Christian innovation which celebrates Christ’s resurrection. Christ transcended the law. Therefore, His followers had a right to select Sunday as a day of worship. We have already seen that the Sabbath did not begin with Moses. It was given by God at the Creation. The entire argument falls flat in the face of that fact.
A concept that developed during the Middles Ages was that, while there is a basic unity between the Old and New Testaments, the decree by Constantine to require Sunday as a day of worship is theologically binding. Thomas Aquinas refined this idea by differentiating between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the fourth commandment. He said the moral aspect was made up of the principle of setting time aside (one day in seven) for rest and worship-this in accordance with natural law. The ceremonial consideration was comprised of a specific day (the seventh day) set aside for the purpose of commemorating the Creation, as well as the present and future rest in God. This reasoning was referred to as the “transference view” and accepted by most of the churches, including those who broke away from the Catholic Church during the Reformation. This “transference view” depends on an artificial distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the fourth commandment. Luther added the view that there was a radical separation between natural law and the law of Moses, and between the Law and the Gospel. Many churches of the Reformation followed along and now believe Christians are free to observe any day. Calvin accepted the view of Thomas Aquinas and regarded the ceremonial aspect of the fourth commandment as abolished. The fact is: There is no biblical authority for the artificial and arbitrary distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the fourth commandment, supposedly “done away” by Christ. Christ kept the seventh-day Sabbath and so did the Apostle Paul. Some today probably feel it is unfortunate that Christ and Paul did not understand the distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the law. But there is only one consistent view that is compatible with both the Old and New Testaments. The Sabbath was not transferred to Sunday. It was established permanently and reveals the continuity between the Law of Moses and Christianity. The Jerusalem conference had nothing to do with the so-called abolition of the Sabbath for this very reason.
The Long Day of Joshua
The Bible clearly tells us the weekly cycle cannot be broken. Yet, some insist that Joshua’s long day disrupted the weekly cycle and that we cannot know for sure which day is the seventh day of the week. Joshua’s long day is recorded in Joshua 10:12-14. Israel was winning at war with the Amorites and needed more time to make the victory complete.
Joshua said to the Lord in the sight of Israel:
. . . Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel (Josh. 10:12-14).
The text states that the sun did not hasten to go down “about a whole day.” So, the daylight portion of the day was lengthened about 12 hours. In the Bible a day is reckoned from “even to even,” that is, from sundown to sundown. This lengthening did not result in an additional day; sundown to sundown simply included a period of time longer than usual. The weekly cycle was not disrupted because no new calendric day was added. The Bible specifically states, “there was no day like that before or after it.” Regardless of the length of the day, it was one day only.
The Sabbath that Joshua and the children of Israel observed was the same Sabbath Jesus Christ observed. The Sabbath Jesus observed is the same seventh day of the week that Sabbath-keeping Christians observe today. It is the true Sabbath given at Creation, the day we call Saturday, the seventh day of the week.
God’s Law Does Not Change
Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-4). He does not change (Mal 3:6). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). In Matthew 4:4 He said, “. . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The command to keep the seventh-day Sabbath proceeded out of the mouth of God (Ex. 20:1, 8-11). Jesus said His words are the words of life (John 6:63). His words, therefore, are the pathway to salvation. What was Moses inspired to write about God’s words?
Read it in Deuteronomy 4:1-2.
Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Christ was the God of ancient Israel who spoke to Israel face to face. “The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. . . . The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire” (Deut. 5:2, 4). But God knew the weaknesses of men. He said to Moses, “. . . I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:28-29).
God repeated this instruction to Moses:
Go say to them, Get you into your tents again. But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it. Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left (Deut.5:30-32).
There is no other command in the entire Bible, Old or New Testament, that instructs any other day of worship except the seventh-day Sabbath. The New Testament is an expansion of the Old. The Ten Commandments now live in the hearts and minds of spiritual Israel-the New Testament Church. Because the Law of God does not change, this includes the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.
Texts That Are Questionable
Paul’s writings have been misinterpreted by many. We have already seen from the book of Acts that Paul kept the Sabbath. Would he practice one thing and preach another? Of course not! Let us now examine a number of texts written by the Apostle Paul to see what he really said.
This text is often quoted to “prove” Paul invalidated the law, and thus the Sabbath. The text is as follows: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” What is justification? Justification takes place when the sinner is declared innocent or guiltless. Justification for sin comes only by accepting the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He gave His life for our sin. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Every human being is under the death penalty because every person has committed sin. These sins and the death penalty are erased once we accept the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, keeping the law cannot remove sin. Why? Because man is unable to keep the law. Once we repent of past sins (Rom. 3:25), we come under the blood of Christ. But, we cannot continue to sin after that. Doing so places us under the death penalty once again. Paul does not nullify the Law of God by this text. He simply points out that in the context of justification, keeping the law is of no avail. Only the shed blood of Christ is.
This text reads: “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” This text has been interpreted to mean that it makes no difference which day one observes as the Sabbath. The day one keeps is a matter of personal choice.
Let us take a look at the context. Verses one and two state: “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.” Paul instructs the brethren not to exclude from fellowship a spiritually weak brother who is a vegetarian. Verses three and four enjoin the brethren not to judge or find contempt for such a one because of his weakness or lack of understanding. In verse five Paul introduces the subject of certain days that are esteemed or regarded higher than other days. In verse six Paul brings up the matter of regarding or not regarding, or eating or not eating, on these days. Verse five cannot be referring to the Sabbath because the Sabbath is always a feast day (Lev. 23:2-3). Paul goes on to say that we will all be judged as individuals. Therefore, we have no right to judge those who are spiritually weak. We must, therefore, be careful not to place a stumbling block before our brother (verse 13). Why? “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy [Spirit]” (Rom. 14:17). What is the subject of this chapter? We are not to judge others for certain scruples they may have about eating, and for certain days on which they may choose to exercise these scruples. Attaining to the Kingdom of God is not a matter of meat and drink, but righteousness, and joy, and peace in union with the Holy Spirit. This chapter does not concern itself with the Sabbath day. Rather, it involves certain days on which some may choose to fast, or on which to refrain from eating certain foods. Christians are not to judge those who have such scruples.
2 Corinthians 3:7
Some believe this text says the Ten Commandments are now abolished. Is this the case? Beginning in verse six Paul writes: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away. How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?” (vv. 6-8). Does this passage say the Ten Commandments are done away?
Notice carefully. The text refers to “the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones.” The Ten Commandments were not written and engraved in stone. They were written by the finger of God upon two tables of stone. Was there, however, a ministration of death that was written and engraved in stones? In Deuteronomy 27:1-4 we read:
And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister: And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee. Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister.
What was this law Moses talked about? The answer is found in Joshua 8:30-32.
Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal, As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.
Iron tools for building the altar were forbidden. This ministration of death was engraved upon this altar of whole stones, but the stones first had to be plastered. What, then, did Paul say was to be done away? The answer: The ministration of death-the curse for disobedience (Deut. 27:15-26).
The civil law required the death penalty for many infractions. A comparison of the proscriptions in Deuteronomy 27 with other Old Testament passages makes it clear to see the penalty was death for many of these. This was to change with the establishment of the New Testament. Paul explains to the Corinthian Christians: “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:2-3). New Testament obedience does not require a letter-of-the-law enforcement. An inward change in the heart and mind enables Christians to live according to the spiritual intent of the law. The Ten Commandments now become a part of the heart and mind. The ministration of death was not the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stone by the finger of God (Deut. 9:9-11, Ex. 34:27-28). The civil law was written on plaster over whole stones and contained the ministration of death. The ministration of death was done away, not the Ten Commandments.
The Sabbath is said to be abolished based on what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:10. The text reads: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). Paul warned the Galatians that righteousness cannot be attained by the works of the law (Gal. 2:21). Righteousness comes by faith in the sacrifice of Christ, acceptance of that sacrifice which was made in man’s stead, and repentance. Repentance means to change, to turn around and go the other way, not to sin any longer. Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). One who repents no longer habitually breaks God’s Law. But certain of the Galatians were attempting to attain righteousness by performing the “works of the law.” They failed to understand the importance of the sacrifice of Christ, that they could not attain righteousness except by means of this sacrifice. In their minds circumcision was the sign of this righteousness (Gal. 3:2, 5; 5:1-6). Paul tells them they are under a curse for not doing all things written in the law. They were not under a curse for obeying the law; rather, they were under a curse for not obeying all things written in the law. Why did Paul say this? Notice what Peter said in Acts 15:10-11. “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” Peter says in Acts 15 that even the Israelites were unable to live according to the law, so now why try to burden the Gentiles with it?
This is why Paul tells the Galatians, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11). Galatians 3:10 does not say the Law of God is abolished. It says that the man who tries to use the law as a method of justification is under a curse. Why? Because few, if any, have been able to keep all of its requirements. Faith in the sacrifice of Christ is what leads to justification. Rather than abolishing the Sabbath, Galatians 3:10 upholds the requirement to obey the Ten Commandments.
Many take Galatians 4:10 to mean the Galatians, who had been delivered from Judaism, were reverting back to Jewish practices. These practices included Sabbath keeping. Paul warns them, “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:9-11). Days, months, times, and years, it is believed, include the Sabbath. But is this true?
The epistle to the Galatians was written to Gentiles. While the Churches in Galatia were made up of both Jews and Gentiles, Galatians 4:10 clearly addresses the Gentiles. How do we know? Because verse eight could not apply to the Jews. God had committed the oracles to the Jews, and Gentile converts came into the New Testament Church as a result of their contact with the Jewish synagogues. The Gentiles were the ones who had not known God, not the Jews. Gentile religion was made up of forms of idolatry, which Paul calls the “weak and beggarly elements of the world.” The notion that “weak and beggarly elements” refers to the law of Moses is far-fetched. Arndt and Gingrich inform us that the meaning of “weak and beggarly elements” is much disputed. Some scholars take it to mean elements of learning, fundamental principles-applied to elementary forms of religion, both Jewish and Gentile (which have been superseded by the new revelation of Christ). Other scholars believe it means elemental spirits associated with the physical elements. Still other scholars understand it to mean heavenly bodies (signs of the Zodiac), since these bodies were regarded as personal beings and were given divine honors (A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 776). The fact is: No one completely understands the meaning of the expression “weak and beggarly elements.” Galatians 4:10, therefore, cannot be used as proof that Paul was referring to the Sabbath.
The word “again” is found two times in Galatians 4:9. What were these Gentiles doing? They were turning again to the “weak and beggarly elements.” Are the Laws of God ever called “weak and beggarly elements” in the Bible? Of course not! The Gentiles were turning back to what they had accepted and believed before they came into contact with the Truth of God. Prior to this time had they understood the Truth? Not at all. They had come into contact with the Truth via the synagogue, and then by the preaching of the Apostle Paul. The oracles of God are never called the “weak and beggarly elements.” What was this bondage they were in? It is common knowledge that the Gentile world offered sacrifices to a myriad of pagan gods. Go back to verse eight. Paul states that when these Gentiles did not know God they did service to them which are no gods. Clearly, this could not be referring to the Jews.
Also, take a look at the word “observe” in verse ten. Most people assume “observe” means “to celebrate,” or “to keep.” This is not the case. Arndt and Gingrich tell us “observe” means “to watch closely,” “to observe carefully,” “to watch someone to see what he does.” See A Greek-English Lexicon, page 627. In every place where the Greek word paratereo is used, except in Galatians 4:10, it means to “watch closely.” See also The Word Study Concordance, page 593; The Analytical Greek Lexicon, page 306; The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 2, page 153. This last reference states that paratereo means “to lie in wait,” “to watch,” as the modern English versions translate it. What Galatians 4:10 is really saying is that these Gentiles were closely watching these days for various signs of one kind or another. The word paratereo does not signify a religious observance. These superstitious inclinations of the Galatians were the weak and beggarly elements Paul warned them about.
What, then, were the “days, months, times, and years”? Are these referring to the weekly Sabbath? Notice what Arndt and Gingrich say regarding Galatians 4:10. “The meaning of eniautos in the combination kairoi kai eniautoi is not clear. It could be an allusion to the so-called ‘sabbatical years’ (Lev. 25), but may also means certain days of the year. . . as the New Year festival” (Arndt and Gingrich, 266). When an authoritative work, such as Arndt and Gingrich, admits the meaning of the Greek is not clear in this phrase, those who insist it means the weekly Sabbath are simply interpreting. The fact is: The meaning of “days, months, times,” and “years” is wide open to speculation. There is no proof Galatians 4:10 refers to the weekly Sabbath. It is a known fact that these Gentile nations observed many special days, set aside for pagan celebrations of one type or another. It is this superstition Paul is censuring.
Some refer to Ephesians 2:15, insisting this verse proves the Ten Commandments are done away. The text reads: “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” What did Paul mean when he wrote this? Does it refer to the Ten Commandments?
The Gentile Churches that Paul raised up in Asia Minor were made up of both Jews and Gentiles. A look at the context of Ephesians, chapter two, tells us that the Gentiles had not been given the opportunity to participate in the promises and covenants made to Israel (vv. 11-12). Without the true God, they had no hope. But Christ changed all this (v. 13). The Gentiles have now been brought into a spiritual relationship, and Christ broke down the wall of partition that separated the Jews and Gentiles (v. 14). Then, in verse 15, Paul states that Christ abolished the enmity-the law of commandments-contained in ordinances. Peace and harmony between Jews and Gentiles had now resulted in a single new spiritual body-the Church. Both Jews and Gentiles are now reconciled to God by the sacrifice of Christ, and in Christianity the separation between Jews and Gentiles had now ceased.
Some would have us believe that the reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles was accomplished by the abolition of the Ten Commandments. Is this so? Notice the word “ordinances.” In the Greek language it is the word dogmasin which means “decrees.” Arndt and Gingrich tell us on page 200, that Ephesians 2:15 should read, in part, “law of commandments consisting in (single) ordinances.” The word “decrees” is used in Acts 16:4 to define the requirements laid upon the Gentiles in the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15. These decrees of Acts 15 were decidedly not the Ten Commandments. The Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 1, page 330, states that Ephesians 2:15 uses the plural to denote the individual statutes of the commandments of the Mosaic Law. Were there any commandments in the Mosaic Law that forbade social and religious contact with the Gentiles? Yes, indeed! Notice Exodus 34:12-16, Deuteronomy 7:2-6, Joshua 23:11-13, and Numbers 1:51; 3:10; 18:4. To these laws the Jews added many other regulations, so that eventually Gentiles were considered to be as unclean as dogs. These are the “decrees” or “dogmas” to which Paul refers in Ephesians 2:15.
Paul now instructs the Ephesians that these decrees are nullified, and that Gentiles who accept Christ are permitted complete social and religious intercourse with the Jewish Christians. This approval had been given many years before when Peter went to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:28). The remainder of Ephesians, chapter two, instructs the Christian brethren how unity should prevail in the church.
The above text is a favorite of those who wish to repudiate the Law of God, and hence the Sabbath day. The usual interpretation is that Christ nailed the Law of God to the cross, thus doing away with the Sabbath. The text reads: “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. . . . Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
Notice Arndt and Gingrich. They tell us on page 889 that “handwriting of ordinances” means “a (handwritten) document, specif. a certificate of indebtedness, bond. . . the bond that stood against us.” Paul tells us in Colossians 2:14 that the bond or debt against us was nailed to the cross. But the bond or debt of what? Notice, “ordinances” is the same Greek word-dogmasin-found in Ephesians 2:15. It is used in Colossians 2:20 where it is also translated “ordinances.” What ordinances? The word “ordinance” means “decree,” “ordinance,” “decision,” “command.” But what decree, ordinance, decision, or command? Paul gives us the answer in verses eight and twenty-two: philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, rudiments of the world, commandments and doctrines of men! “Ordinances of men” brought about the debt or bond that was against us. For example, how many traditions, philosophical ideas, rules of men, or man-made laws have caused us to walk contrary to the Law of God? By following these man-made “ordinances,” we have brought upon ourselves the death penalty-the debt we owe for breaking God’s commandments. This was the debt Christ blotted out when He died on the stake for us. He paid the penalty we owe. Christ, not the Law of God, was nailed to the cross.
Paul continues, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Col. 2:16). The phrase “in respect of” should be translated “part.” See under meros (Greek Analytical Lexicon, by Harper, page 264). Bullinger points out in The Companion Bible that “part” means “in taking part.” Thus, the text should read: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in taking part of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.” Verse 17 goes on to say: “Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” The word “is” is not found in the original text. Translators added it to the English in order to make the meaning clear. But it does not make the meaning clear. It confuses what Paul said. What Paul is stating in verses 16 and 17 that it is not man’s right is to judge the above matters. The only judge in these matters is the Body of Christ-the Church. The word “judge” is from the Greek word krino. Besides meaning to judge or condemn, it means to “consider,” “to prefer.” (See Arndt and Gingrich, 452-453). Paul instructs the Colossians that one should be careful not to offend a brother on those public occasions of worship (Sabbaths, holy days) by what one eats or drinks. See 1 Corinthians 8:8-13; 10:31-32. Keep in mind there were false teachers in Colosse attempting to impose regulations on “touch not, taste not, handle not” as a means to achieve humility (Col. 2:23). Paul prohibited these teachers from instituting any kind of legislation (man-made rules) regarding the Sabbath or holy days. Paul pointed out that the Sabbath and holy days are shadows of things to come. Therefore, they should be observed today. The Sabbath was not done away. This letter, written about 30 years after the crucifixion of Christ, shows it should be kept or it would not be called a “shadow of things to come.” Colossians 2:14-17 does not say the Sabbath was nailed to the cross. It says the debt we owe for breaking the Law of God was nailed to the cross.
This text actually explains what was done away by the sacrifice of Christ. Referring to those things that were temporary, Paul wrote: “Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.” In the verses preceding verse ten, Paul describes the service of the Tabernacle. In verse nine he points out that this Old Testament system was of a temporary nature and not intended to bring about perfection in the worshiper. Then in verse ten Paul says this Old Testament system consisted of “only meats and drinks, divers washings, and carnal ordinances imposed upon them until the time of reformation.” What were these carnal ordinances? Were they the Ten Commandments?
Arndt and Gringrich tell us on page 197 that “carnal ordinances” should be translated “regulations for the body.” Clearly, “carnal ordinances” does not refer to the Ten Commandments. “Regulations for the body” had to do with various rules for ceremonial purity. These included washings regarding cleanliness and uncleanliness. These ceremonial laws were temporary in nature. The Temple, which was central to the entire ceremonial system, was destroyed in AD 70. During the Old Testament period one who was ceremonially impure or unclean could not participate in many of the biblical requirements. But he could be cleansed at the Temple. Someone today who fails to wash properly may be physically unclean, but he is not ceremonially unclean. Jesus disputed with the Pharisees over this very issue (Mark 7:1-9). This was why Paul could write: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:11-12). The physical system of the Old Testament pointed to Christ. Paul says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:14-15).
Hebrews 9:10 does not say the Ten Commandments were done away. Rather, it says the sacrificial system, with its attendant regulations for the body, were done away. The Law of God will never be done away. It is everlasting. “The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (Ps. 111:7-8).
This Scripture, in fact, teaches us to keep the Sabbath. The problem is that it is mistranslated in the Authorized Version. The Authorized Version reads: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” The chapter itself describes the physical rest Israel received upon entering the Holy Land. This rest is a type of the rest Christians will receive when they enter the Kingdom of God. The rest that the nation of Israel received when they entered the Holy Land under Joshua was not the fulfillment of the rest God finally intends to give His children. There is another rest coming. This rest is salvation in the Kingdom of God. This is why Paul wrote in Hebrews 4:9: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” Throughout this chapter the word for “rest” is katapausis. It means “a place of resting down.” But when we come to Hebrews 4:9 the word for “rest” is sabbatismos which means “a keeping of the Sabbath.” The text should read: “There remaineth therefore a keeping of the Sabbath to the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). A variant of this would be “a Sabbath rest is left behind (or remains) for the people of God.”
What Paul says in Hebrews, chapter four, is that since the Sabbath is the type of the coming Millennium, and Israel’s entry into the promised land was only a type of this, Sabbath observance remains for the people of God. The Millennium will be the time when the world will rest from sin. This great event will not take place until the return of Jesus Christ and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God. The Sabbath represents that coming time. It is a shadow of things yet to come. Paul made it plain in this chapter that the Sabbath should be kept.
Revelation 1:10 has been taken by many to refer to Sunday, the first day of the week. This is the day customarily kept by the vast majority of professing Christians. According to verse ten, the writer of the book of Revelation-the Apostle John-is supposedly worshiping on the “Lord’s Day.” Does the Lord’s Day in the book of Revelation refer to Sunday, the first day of the week?
The book of Revelation was written around AD 100. Historically, Sunday was not called the “Lord’s Day” until the end of the second century-about 100 years later. In the Gospel of John, which was written about the same time as the book of Revelation, John refers to Sunday as the “first day of the week.” Therefore, the “Lord’s Day” in the book of Revelation cannot be referring to Sunday. If it is not referring to Sunday, to what then is it referring?
The book of Revelation is a detailed outline of many unfulfilled prophecies. Most of these prophecies occurred after the time of the Apostle John. They will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. John says he was “in the spirit” on the Lord’s Day. The Greek word for “on” is en, meaning “in” or “into.” The text should read: “I was into the Spirit on the Lord’s day. . . .” The text tells us that by God’s Spirit, John was taken by means of a vision into the Lord’s Day. What is the Lord’s Day? There are over 30 prophecies in the Old Testament which describe the Day of the Lord, or Lord’s Day. You can find a list of these Scriptures in any Concordance. This is a future time period when God will take a direct hand in the affairs of this world-a time of world-shaking catastrophic events, a time when the sun will turn black and the moon will turn to the color of blood, a time when the entire Earth will reel back and forth like a drunken man, a time of cataclysmic disaster and death. Those who think Revelation 1:10 refers to Sunday as a day of worship had better take another look. A look at the Old Testament passages which refer to the Lord’s Day will quickly dispel this notion.
Is Sunday Keeping Authorized in the New Testament?
Let us take a look at the New Testament Scriptures which mention “the first day of the week” to see if any of them authorize Sunday observance. There are eight texts to examine. If we are to observe Sunday, at least one of these texts will surely instruct us, or show by example, that we should do so.
Four of these Scriptures refer to the same event-early Sunday morning following the crucifixion and burial of Christ. This was when the disciples came to prepare Jesus for burial. These Scriptures are: Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1. In each of these Scriptures we find that Sunday was a work day, not a day of rest. The disciples would not have come to embalm Jesus, which took some time to do, if Sunday were a day of worship. Another one of the eight texts which mention the first day of the week is Mark 16:9. This Scripture refers to early Sunday morning also. In this case Christ appeared to Mary early on Sunday morning, but not for the purpose of worship, as she immediately left His presence to report the event to the disciples. John 20:19, another text which mentions the first day of the week, informs us the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews. They were in a “safe house” for the purpose of personal security, not for the purpose of worship.
Now over to the book of Acts. We see in Acts 20:6-7 that Paul was in Troas. On the first day of the week the disciples gathered to “break bread.” Paul had been preaching to them and continued his speech until midnight. Verse eight tells us there were many lights in the upper chamber. Could this have been Sunday night? Biblical days are from sundown to sundown. If Paul preached to them until midnight, there is only one period of time that could be within the first day of the week. This would have been Saturday night, because had it been Sunday night, the Bible would have called it the second day of the week. This is because the first day of the week would have ended at sundown Sunday evening. Since the Sabbath ended at sundown and Paul continued preaching to them until midnight, he was preaching on into the beginning of a new biblical day-Sunday, which began at sundown on Saturday night. Notice they had gathered on the first day of the week (after sundown on Saturday) to “break bread,” that is, to eat a meal. Paul, because of the need, continued speaking after the Sabbath on into the first day of the week. Then, what did he do the next morning during the daylight portion of Sunday? He walked from Troas to Assos, a distance of 19 miles. Clearly, he was not observing Sunday as a day of worship. To Paul, Sunday was a day of work.
The last of the eight texts which refer to the first day of the week is 1 Corinthians 16:2. This Scripture tells us the Corinthians were instructed to “lay by him in store” on the first day of the week. This was intended as a collection for the needy saints. Paul specifically stated “that there be no gatherings when I come.” This offering was to be taken to the saints at Jerusalem. The Corinthians were Sabbath keepers; they did not keep Sunday (Acts 18:4). They were instructed to set this offering aside on Sunday, which was a work day, and to hold it until his arrival. We are not told where it was being held. It could have been in their homes, or it could have been in some central location. He would then be able to collect it upon his arrival and then quickly be on his way to Jerusalem. 1 Corinthians 16:2 shows Sunday to be a workday, not a day of worship.
The fact is: Every one of the New Testament Scriptures that refer to the first day of the week make it clear that Sunday was a workday, not a day of worship.
The Future of the Sabbath
Those who oppose the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath may be in for a surprise. The seventh-day Sabbath has a bright future ahead. It will be observed in the Millennium when Christ sets up His world government. Notice Isaiah 66:23. “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.” The context of this verse in Isaiah 66 is just after the return of Jesus Christ (vv. 15-23). The Sabbath is a memorial of Creation, and God will not allow mankind to continue ignoring it. The prophet Ezekiel foretold the same thing. We read: “Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the door of this gate before the LORD in the sabbaths and in the new moons” (Ezek. 46:3). It makes little sense to believe the Sabbath, which was kept for thousands of years before the Christian era, was “done away” by Christ, and then reinstated by Him during the Millennium. God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). The Sabbath instituted at the beginning is to be observed today and will be observed to the end of time.
How Should the Sabbath be Kept?
One who is converted will quickly come to understand the purpose of the Sabbath. He will recognize that a list of do’s and don’ts is unnecessary-that obedience to God’s Sabbath law is from the heart and his desire will be not only to please God, but to derive the benefit from the Sabbath that God intended. Here are some general principles:
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it (Isa. 58:13-14).
Sabbath activities should be God-centered, not man-centered. On this day we are granted freedom from the drudgery and routine so often encountered in work. It is a day of spiritual rejuvenation, a day that is intended to refresh us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This kind of activity avoids the exhaustion and dissipation so often associated with weekend pleasure. The Sabbath is a day when benevolent services to others can be rendered. Activities which do not accomplish these goals, or which deprive us of the spiritual and physical benefits of the day, are not the kind of activities in which Christians should participate. When we realize the joy and the spiritual and mental rest that God intended for us to experience, we can truly appreciate the beneficence of God in giving us the Sabbath. This day has been set aside as holy time. No other day can give us the kind of benefits God intended.