Should Christians Keep the Sabbath Today?
The change in the law
Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for sin and the ideal High Priest who could truly gain forgiveness for us. Therefore the old system of animal sacrifices and high priests was done away with after his death (Heb. 10:5-14). "The priesthood being changed (from the Levites to Christ), there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Heb. 7:12). Therefore, "there is verily a disannulling of the former regulation (i.e. the law of Moses) because it was weak and useless. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope (through Christ) did" (Heb. 7:18,19 A.V. with N.I.V.). This means that it is irrelevant to argue that any command system of God cannot be changed and is eternal - for clearly there was a change made.
The problem of trying to keep the Law
To trust in Sabbath keeping for justification means that we do not accept the fullness of Christ’s victory. Such beliefs mean that we do not accept Christ’s sacrifice as completely successful, and that we feel that works are necessary to bring about our justification, rather than faith in Christ alone. "No man is justified by the law in the sight of God...for, The just(ified) shall live by faith" (Gal. 3:11 cf. Hab. 2:4). Our own effort to be obedient to the letter of God’s laws, however determined, will fail and will not bring us justification; surely every reader of these words knows this already.
If we observe the Law of Moses, we must attempt to keep all of it. Disobedience to just one part of it means that those who are under it are condemned. "As many as are of (i.e. rely on) 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).
The victory of Jesus
The weakness of our human condition means that we find it impossible fully to keep the Law of Moses, but due to Christ’s complete obedience to it, we are freed from any obligation to keep it. Our salvation is due to God’s gift through Christ, rather than our personal works of obedience. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Thus "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). Because of this, we are no longer required to keep any of the ordinances of the Law of Moses. The New Covenant in Christ replaced the Old Covenant of Moses’ law (Heb. 8:13). By his death, Christ blotted out "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us (by our inability to fully keep the law), and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross...Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink (offerings), or in respect of a religious festival, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the reality is Christ" (Col. 2:14-17 A.V. with N.I.V.). This is quite clear - because of Christ’s death on the cross, the law was taken "out of the way" so that we should resist any pressure put on us to keep parts of it, e.g. the feasts and the Sabbath. Like the rest of the law, the purpose of these things was to point forward to Christ. After his death, their typical significance was fulfilled, and there was therefore no further need to observe them. If we are going to keep the Sabbath, then why not keep the other Jewish festivals? For Paul lumps them all together. He made no difference between the 10 commandments and the rest of the Torah.
Warnings against keeping any part of the Law of Moses in order to gain salvation are dotted throughout the New Testament. Some taught that Christians should be circumcised according to the Mosaic Law, "and keep the law". James flatly condemned this idea on behalf of the true believers: "we gave no such commandment" (Acts 15:24). Peter described those who taught the need for obedience to the law as putting "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 (as opposed to their works of obedience to the law) we shall be saved" (Acts 15:10,11). Paul is equally outspoken: "A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ...that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified...no man is justified by the law...by (Christ) all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Gal. 2:16; 3:11; Acts 13:39).
The New Torah
"All the titles given by the Jews to the Torah: bread, water of life, light of the world, shepherd, the way, the truth and the life, all these John applies to Christ. The opening of John's gospel is taken from a pre-Christian Jewish hymn of praise to the Torah, in the Jewish hymn it is the Torah that is "in the beginning", "the Word", "with God", "the world was made", "light", "life", "the true light that enlightens every man", "grace and truth", "in the bosom of the Father", but John applies all these to Christ. All that Judaism had claimed for the law, John applies to Jesus Christ, he, rather than the Torah, is the final revelation of God's will" (J. Mann). The 5 books of Moses are seen to be matched in the 5 segments of Matthew’s Gospel, and the way the Lord Jesus in imitation of Moses declared His Law from a mountain.
The Sabbath and Israel
The Sabbath was the last day of the week, when God rested after the six days of creation (Ex. 20:10,11). As Sunday is 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" (Ez. 20:12). As such, it has never been intended to be binding on Gentiles (non-Jews). "The Lord hath given you [not all mankind] the Sabbath (Ex. 16:29); "thou [God] madest known unto them [Israel] thy holy Sabbath" (Neh. 9:14).
The Sabbath Is Part Of The Old Covenant
Jesus once commented on a theological problem: a baby boy had to be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. If this day fell on a Sabbath, then work would have to be done. So which law should be kept, circumcision, or the Sabbath? Jesus replied that circumcision had to be honoured, because this came from Abraham, whereas the Sabbath law was later, from Moses: "Moses gave you circumcision [not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers - i.e. Abraham]…". If the law of circumcision took precedence over that of the Sabbath, how can it be argued by some that the Sabbath law is binding but that of circumcision isn’t? And how can it be argued that a Sabbath law was in force from Eden onwards? Circumcision was the token of the covenant with Abraham, whereas the Sabbath was the token of the law of Moses (Ex. 31:17), and Jesus judged that the covenant with Abraham was more important. Paul uses the same kind of argument, when he reasons that the new covenant given to Abraham [which included no command about the Sabbath] is something which cannot be added to or disannulled. He asks, therefore, why it was that "the law…was added" (Gal. 3:15,19)? He replies that the law was added, by implication temporarily, seeing that the new covenant cannot really be added to, in order to teach men about sin and lead them to an understanding of Christ, the promised seed of Abraham. Now that Christ has come, we are not under the law.
The Sabbath is irrelevant to salvation
Therefore 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 (for) 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).
The Example Of The Early Church
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.
There is ample historical evidence that the early church didn’t keep Saturday. If some say ‘We keep the Sabbath but it’s now Sunday’ then they admit God’s law was changed- therefore their arguments about the unchangeable nature of God’s commands are nullified.
Ignatius (110 AD):"no longer observing the Sabbath but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day"; "If then they who walked in ancient customs came to a new hope, no longer living for the Sabbath... how then shall we be able to live without Jesus…"
Justin Martyr (100-165): "Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly"
Epistle of Barnabas (120-150): "we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, a day also in which Jesus rose from the dead"
Irenaeus (178): "the mystery of the Lord's resurrection may not be celebrated on any day other than the Lord's day"
Bardasian (b. 154): "the first day of the week we assemble ourselves together"
The Didache (70 AD): "on the Lord's own day gather yourselves together and break bread"
Pliny (112) wrote to Trajan that the Christians met together Sunday morning for worship.
And therefore "Unquestionably the first law, either ecclesiastical or civil, by which the sabbatical observance of that day is known to have been ordained, is the edict of Constantine 321 AD." (Chambers Encyclopaedia art. "Sabbath"). Both history and Scripture show that the practice of the early believers was to meet together on Sundays- not Saturday. Either the early church was disobedient, or one has to conclude that Saturday observance was changed to Sunday. And there is no evidence for this.
No Difference Between Torah And The Decalogue
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. Some make a distinction between a ‘moral law’ of the Ten Commandments, "the law of God", and a so-called ‘ceremonial law’, the "law of Moses", which they believe was done away by Christ. This distinction is not taught in Scripture. The Bible uses the terms "law of Moses" and "law of God" interchangeably (Num. 31:21; Josh. 23:6; 2 Chron. 31:3). The Old Covenant refers to the Law of Moses, which was replaced on the cross by the New Covenant. - 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.
All this makes it clear that the Old Covenant and "the law" included the Ten Commandments. As the New Covenant has done the Old Covenant away, the Ten Commandments have therefore been removed. The Lord Jesus invites those who follow Him to accept the "rest" which He gives (Mt. 11:28). He uses a Greek word which is used in the Septuagint for the Sabbath rest. Jesus was offering a life of Sabbath, of rest from trust in our own works (cf. Heb. 4:3,10). We shouldn’t, therefore, keep a Sabbath one day per week, but rather live our whole lives in the spirit of the Sabbath.
The Ten Commandments are referred to in Revelation 19:10 when the term "testimony" is used. In the Law the "Testimony" was another term for the Ten Commandments: "then put in the ark the Testimony" (Ex 25:16, 21; 30:6), "when the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God" (Ex 31:18). So we can see that the "Testimony of Moses" was the Ten Commandments. Now what does Revelation say the "Testimony of Jesus" is? "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev 19:10). The "testimony" of the old covenant is replaced by those New Testament prophets who spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
- All the believers are described as being priests (1 Pet. 2:9) - who were exempt from keeping the Sabbath (Mt. 12:5).
- Paul lists many sins in the New Testament, both those practised by the "world" as well as those practised in the churches: (Rom 1:28-32, 2 Cor 12:20-21, Gal 5:19-21, Eph 4:25-29, 5:3-18, 2 Tim 3:1-9, 2 Pet 2,3:3-7) but nowhere mentions Sabbath-breakers.
- 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). 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 which teach that Sabbath-keeping is binding upon
their members should therefore punish those members with death when they break
the Sabbath like this.
Source: Duncan Heaster