Are We Keeping the Sabbath?

Here is a repost of a blog I did almost a year and a half ago, I’ve found it useful for reference, from time to time…

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…


…Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

-Exod 20:8-11

What about the Sabbath day? Is this something that Christians should keep?

It’s important to note that though Paul (and presumably many other Jews who became Christians) seems to have maintained purity laws and attended synagogue services, he tells us that he did this not out of any obligation but purely for evangelistic reasons (cf. 1Cor 9:19-23). When Paul visited James in Jerusalem, there was a rumor that Paul was teaching Jews that they should no longer follow Jewish purity laws. James knew that this was not true, so he encouraged Paul to finance the vow (possibly a Nazarite Vow) of four young men, and Paul actually joins them (cf. Acts 21:17-26).

So did Paul have a problem with following purity laws? Certainly not, but don’t miss the rumor. Paul could not have been teaching that Gentiles should also keep Jewish purity laws, neither was he teaching that Jews should continue to keep them out of obligation. There is no way that rumor would be circulating if Paul, in fact, had been teaching that people needed to keep the law, that just makes no sense at all.

No, Paul taught that though Jews were totally free to continue to keep Jewish law if they desired, should those Jews impose that Old Covenant law on Gentiles, or even on fellow Jews who chose not to follow them, they are actually only seeking to be wise in their own eyes and are being overly judgmental (cf. Col 2:16-23; Rom 14). Paul calls those who abstain from certain foods “weak” in their faith and places no inherent value in honoring any days higher or more holy than the rest.

In fact, there is no biblical data to suggest that Christians as a whole kept the Sabbath after Jesus’ resurrection, but we know that they did meet on Sunday (the “first day of the week”) from passages like Acts 20:7.

Even while Jesus was on the earth the inspired Gospel writer John tells us that Jesus did, in fact, claim to be “working” on the Sabbath and that he was “breaking the Sabbath.” It does not say the Pharisees thought this, it says he was doingthis.

[on the Sabbath] Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

-John 5:17-18Every one of the Ten Commandments are affirmed in the New Testament at least twice, except “sabbath keeping” (the fourth commandment) is never affirmed, not one time!:

  • 1st. – No Other Gods (Eph. 4:6; 1 John 5:21; Matt. 4:10)
  • 2nd. – No Idols (1 Cor. 10:14; Rom. 1:25)
  • 3rd. – Don’t Take the Lord’s Name in Vain (James 5:12; Matt. 5:34,35)
  • 4th. – Remember the Sabbath Day (none!)
  • 5th. – Honor Your Parents (Eph. 6:1,2; Col. 3:20)
  • 6th. – No Murder (1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21)
  • 7th. – No Adultery (Heb. 13:4; Matt. 5:27,28)
  • 8th. – No Stealing (Rom. 2:21; Eph. 4:28)
  • 9th. – No Lying (Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:25; 2 Tim. 3:3)
  • 10th. – No Coveting (Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5)

“The Lord’s Day” is a term first used in the New Testament (Rev 1:10), though it is not defined which day it was. However, the term is used universally in the Christian Church right after the NT was finished to refer to Sunday (the “first day of the week”).  Justin Martyr (AD100-165) in his “First Apology (Ch. 67) confirms the universal practice of Sunday worship, not Saturday Sabbath keeping. Now, either the entire church, thousands of authors, all spontaneously changed the meaning of the word without even the hint of indication, or when John wrote about “The Lord’s Day” the practice of Sunday worship was already established (as is also seen in Paul’s ministry in Acts 20).

Now I have also heard some people say that Sunday is now the “Sabbath.” This is absolutely incorrect. As we’ve already seen from Paul, we need no longer honor any days above the rest. The Sabbath is no longer a day, our Sabbath is a person, Jesus Christ. He brought a new (Heb 9:15) and better (Heb 7:22) covenant for those who would believe in him. As Paul told us above, these things are the “shadow” but Christ is the “substance.” Jesus is here, he came, he did his work, “it is finished.” If you are in Christ, your Sabbath is in him, not a day. It’s not wrong to honor a specific day, but it doesn’t make you more holy.

Some people appeal to God’s Law (specifically his “written Law” that was given to Moses at Sinai) as being “eternal,” therefore because Sabbath keeping is a part of the Law of Moses, it too is “eternal.” However, this is easily demonstrated to be false. There is no mention of the Sabbath in Genesis, or in Exodus, during all the thousands of years from Adam and Eve until the Israelites were liberated from Egypt. Not one verse of Scripture shows Adam, Enoch, Methuselah, or Noah keeping the Sabbath or passing it down to others. We never read that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or any of the patriarchs ever kept the Sabbath, not even one time.

And on the issue of the Mosaic Law being “eternal” it simply isn’t. God commands Adam and Eve as well as Noah and his sons to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”(Gen 1:28; 9:1). Yet, the Mosaic Law would forbid this in Lev 20:17 as they were all relatives. Either God commanded something against his “Eternal Law” or the Mosaic Law was an expression of God’s character to a specific people at a specific time.

In fact, this is what Jesus said when he said he did not come to overturn the Law of Moses, but to bring it to its intended completion. The word Paul uses to describe the relationship between the Mosaic Law and Jesus’ death on the cross is the same used to describe a woman’s relationship to the covenant of marriage once her husband dies… it was not annulled or overturned, it simply came to its intended end “until death do us part” (Eph 2:15) and is now obsolete (Heb 8:13). See my video on this specific verse (Matthew 5:17).

The only reference to the Sabbath in the New Testament after Acts is Col 2:16, where Paul told believers they are not under bondage to Jewish dietary restrictions or the Sabbath.

In AD50 some Pharisees argued that “it is necessary to circumcise them [Gentiles], and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). The decision of the council, however, was that the law of Moses was not binding on Gentile believers. Peter even declared, “We believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we [Jews] shall be saved in the same manner as they [Gentiles]” (Acts 15:11).

After Jesus’ death on the cross, there is no more need for circumcision, no more need for dietary restrictions, no more clean and unclean animals (see Lev. 11).

Paul warned against those who were “commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:4) he tells us that they are of demonic influence!

Paul taught, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (v. 5). Paul also exhorted the Galatians to “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). His appeal focused primarily on whether circumcision was a necessity for new believers, but the issue was much larger: if one adopts the practice of Jewish circumcision, he becomes “a debtor to keep the whole law” (Gal. 5:3).

There was a group, usually known as the “Judaizers,” who added law keeping to the Gospel. Paul countered by arguing that the Mosaic law was like a tutor, a schoolmaster “to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:24–25). As the Galatians started to believe in Jesus for salvation, but also add the law in order to follow him, Paul tells them “But now after you have known God…how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal. 4:9). What was the evidence of their turning back? Paul accused them, “You observe days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:10).

After the cross, Jewish dietary regulations were made obsolete. This is clearly taught in Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9–16, 28; 11:5–10) and in Paul’s epistles (Rom. 14:2–3; Col. 2:16; 1 Tim. 4:3–5). In a similar manner, the Sabbath is no longer binding on Christians (Col. 2:16). Christ has freed us from the Mosaic Law. Christ released us from the Sabbath. His finished work on the cross abolished the entire Mosaic law of ordinances, which includes the Sabbath commandment.

Basically, those who attempt to keep the Sabbath do so with a belief that law can be divided into moral and ceremonial aspects, it cannot, the law is the law and you cannot “pick and choose.” Jesus fulfilled it all! Yet, there is no Tabernacle or Temple. When Moses was given the Law, he had to build a place to sacrifice. You cannot keep the OT law without a place of sacrifice. Both Paul (Gal. 3:10; cf. 5:3) and James (James 2:10) illustrate the folly of trying to keep the law, to fail in one point makes one guilty of all. The NT makes no moral/ceremonial distinction in the Mosaic law, and simply speaks of the entire law (e.g., Gal 3:23–24; 4:4–5).

Jesus fulfills the law and the prophets. He is the substance of the shadow, not just for the Sabbath, but for the whole ball of wax. You can’t just pick the laws you think people must follow, and then say Jesus covers the rest. Jesus died for them all, and he completely fulfills them all, leaving none to be accomplished by any of us – including observing the Sabbath day.

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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