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9.6 The Sabbath

One of the most widespread continuities between present 'Christian' practices and the Mosaic Law is seen in the idea that we must keep the Sabbath. Some groups claim that we should keep the Jewish Sabbath exactly as defined in the Law; many others feel that Christians should have a specific day of the week upon which to worship, which they often define as Sunday. The first thing to clarify is that the Sabbath was the last day of the week, when God rested after the six days of creation (Ex. 20:10,11). Sunday being the first day of the week, it would be incorrect to observe this day as the Sabbath. The Sabbath was specifically "a sign between me (God) and them (Israel), that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them" (Eze. 20:12). As such, it has never been intended to be binding on Gentiles (non-Jews).

We have seen that through Christ's death on the cross, the Law of Moses was done away, so that there is now no necessity to observe the Sabbath or, indeed, any festival, e.g. the day of Christ's death (Col. 2:14-17). The early Christians who returned to keeping parts of the Mosaic Law, e.g. the Sabbath, are described by Paul as returning "to the weak and miserable principles (N.I.V.), whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage. Ye observe days (e.g. the Sabbath), and months, and times, and years (i.e. the Jewish festivals). I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (Gal. 4:9-11). This is the seriousness of attempting to keep the Sabbath as a means to salvation. It is clear that observing the Sabbath is irrelevant to salvation: "One man esteemeth one day above another (i.e. in spiritual significance): another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that observeth (A.V. mg.) the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that observeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it" (Rom. 14:5,6).

Because of this, it is understandable that we do not read of the early believers keeping the Sabbath. Indeed, it is recorded that they met on "the first day of the week", i.e. Sunday: "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread..." (Acts 20:7). That this was a widespread practice is indicated by Paul advising the believers at Corinth to take up a collection "upon the first day of the week" (1 Cor. 16:2), i.e. at their regular meetings on that day. All the believers are described as being priests (1 Peter 2:9) - who were exempt from keeping the Sabbath (Matt. 12:5).

If we are to keep the Sabbath, we must do so properly; we have earlier shown that it is fatal to keep the Mosaic Law partially, because this will result in our condemnation (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). Salvation is through keeping the law of Christ rather than that of Moses. Israel were not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath: "Whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death". They were also commanded: "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day", and therefore they were forbidden to prepare food on that day (Ex. 35:2,3; 16:23). A man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath, presumably in order to kindle a fire, was punished with death for doing so (Num. 15:32-36).

Those denominations who teach that Sabbath-keeping is binding upon their members should therefore punish those members with death when they break the Sabbath. There should be no cooking of food or use of fire in any form - e.g. in driving motor vehicles, using heating systems etc. Orthodox Jews today set an example of the kind of behaviour expected on the Sabbath: they remain indoors all day except for religious reasons, and are not personally involved in cooking, transport etc. Most of those 'Christians' who claim to keep the Sabbath fall far short of this.

It is often argued that keeping of the Sabbath was one of the ten commandments given to Moses, and that, whilst the rest of the Law of Moses was done away, the obligation remains to keep all of the ten commandments. Seventh Day Adventists make a distinction between a 'moral law' of the ten commandments and a so-called 'ceremonial law', which they believe was done away by Christ. This distinction is not taught in Scripture. We have earlier demonstrated that the Old Covenant refers to the Law of Moses, which was replaced on the cross by the New Covenant. It can be shown that the ten commandments, including that concerning the Sabbath, were part of the Old Covenant which was done away by Christ:

God "declared unto you (Israel) his covenant, which he commanded you (Israel) to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone" (Deut. 4:13). Again it should be noted that this covenant, based upon the ten commandments, was made between God and Israel, not Gentiles of the present day.

Moses ascended Mount Horeb to receive the stone tables upon which God had written the ten commandments. Moses later commented concerning this, "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb" (Deut. 5:2), i.e. through those ten commandments.

At this time, God "wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" (Ex. 34:28). This same covenant included details of the so-called 'ceremonial law' (Ex. 34:27). If we argue that keeping the covenant made in the ten commandments is necessary, we must also observe every detail of the entire Law, seeing that this is all part of the same covenant. It is evidently impossible to do this.

Heb. 9:4 speaks of "the tables of the covenant". The ten commandments were written on the tables of stone, which comprised "the (old) covenant".

Paul refers to this covenant as "written and engraven in stones", i.e. on the tables of stone. He calls it "the ministration of death...the ministration of condemnation...that which is done away" (2 Cor. 3:7-11). The covenant associated with the ten commandments can certainly not give any hope of salvation.

Christ blotted out "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us" (Col. 2:14) on the cross. This alludes to God's handwriting of the ten commandments on the tables of stone. Likewise Paul speaks of "the law...being dead...the oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6), probably referring to the letters of the ten commandments which were written on the tables of stone.

Just one of the ten commandments is styled "the law" in Rom. 7:8: "The law...said, Thou shalt not covet". The preceding verses in Rom. 7:1-7 stress how "the law" has been done away by Christ's death; "the law" therefore includes the ten commandments.

All this makes it clear that the Old Covenant and "the Law" included the ten commandments. As they have been done away by the New Covenant, the ten commandments have therefore been removed. However, nine of the ten commandments have been reaffirmed, in spirit at least, in the New Testament. Numbers 3,5,6,7,8 and 9 can be found in 1 Tim. 1 alone, and numbers 1,2 and 10 in 1 Cor. 5. But never is the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath repeated in the New Testament as obligatory for us.

The following list of passages documents further how the other nine are reaffirmed in the New Testament:-

1st. - Eph. 4:6; 1 John 5:21; Matt. 4:10
2nd. - 1 Cor. 10:14; Rom. 1:25
3rd. - James 5:12; Matt. 5:34,35
5th. - Eph. 6:1,2; Col. 3:20
6th. - 1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21
7th. - Heb. 13:4; Matt. 5:27,28
8th. - Rom. 2:21; Eph. 4:28
9th. - Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:25; 2 Tim. 3:3
10th. - Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5.