The Sabbath Issue

Chapter 2: The Sabbath in the New Testament

 

Whilst Acts 21:20-24 makes it clear that the Jews of Jerusalem chose to keep the Law, by contrast the next verses make it clear that the Gentiles are not expected to observe the Law in any way. Acts 21:25-26: “BUT concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing (referring to the Law, which they are not expected to observe -v24), except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality (this refers of course to the Acts 15 decision).”

In Conclusion, the New Testament is clear that the Sabbath Law is NOT binding for us today. In fact the prophets spoke of a time when the Law of Moses with its Sabbaths and Feasts would cease: “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her Feast days, her new Moons, her Sabbaths, all her appointed Feasts” (Hosea 2:11).

In the next Chapter, we will discover the basis for this change from the Old-Testament practice of Sabbath Law to the New Testament freedom in this area. In so doing we will discover even more compelling proof that we are no longer under the Old-Covenant Sabbath Law. We are no longer under it, because we are no longer under the Old-Covenant, for it has now been rendered inoperative through the death of Christ, and has been replaced by a New and better Covenant (Law) in Christ (in which there is no Sabbath Law).

In the New Covenant (Testament) teaching of Jesus and His Apostles, there is NO COMMAND given to the Church to keep the Sabbath Day, which is an amazing omission if it was an important command for us to keep. Surely if God wanted the Church to keep the Sabbath, He would have made that clear in the New Testament (especially with all the Gentiles joining it). The obvious conclusion is that Sabbath Observance is NOT part of the New Covenant between Christ and His Church. We are free to keep it or not. 

So in the New Covenant Law of Christ there is no mention of the Sabbath being obligatory upon believers, whether Jew or Gentile. Not only do we have a total absence of any Sabbath Law, we also have 3 New Testament Passages of Scripture that positively and clearly tell us that we are NOT under the Sabbath Law of the Old Covenant (that applied to Israel before the Cross).

*New Testament Passage 1
Romans 14:4-10: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one DAY above another; another esteems every DAY alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind (of God’s will for his life). He who observes the DAY (as special), observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the DAY (as special), to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (He will judge His servants).” 

This passage directly speaks against those who would judge fellow-believers over how they keep, or fail to keep certain days special. This means there is no moral law in place which would give us a basis for judgement over how other people are living their lives in this area. Instead each believer is responsible as a servant of Christ to seek, discover and do God’s will for Himself as to how he orders his time, and he will ultimately give an account for this to his Lord. Hence he is to: “be fully convinced in his own mind” as to God’s will for his life in such matters. He is to do this by combining general Biblical principles with the special guidance of the Holy-Spirit for his life. For some this will mean a stricter routine than others. The important issue is not whether he observes special days or not, but whether what he does is: ‘unto the Lord’,that is: it is done with a heart submitted to His will for his life. We are free (not under law), but it is a freedom with responsibility. 

Romans 14:5,6a: “One person esteems one DAY above another; another esteems every DAY alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind (of God’s will for his own life). He who observes the DAY (as special), observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the DAY, to the Lord he does not observe it.” 

This teaches freedom in the observance of days. The statements he makes here are general in nature, applying to all days, including the Sabbath, so it will not do to claim he did not mean to include the Sabbath day in this guidance. Paul would certainly have made it clear if he did not intend to include the Sabbath day, otherwise he would be misleading them on a most important issue. 

These verse are clearly against mandatory sabbath-keeping for both Jews and Gentiles. They say that we are free either to make one day special (e.g. Sabbath or Sunday), or to count all days the same in the way we life our life. But whatever we do, we are not to do it as a matter of law, and we are certainly not free to judge others who do things differently from us, as if they were breaking the Law of God. If there was a general law that applied to special days, such as the Sabbath Law, then we would have that as a basis to judge others, but we are told not to judge others on such issues. This means there cannot be a Law, but that each man, as God’s servant, is responsible to seek God’s will for his own life and do it. The freedom God gives us in this area is not freedom to live a disordered life, but freedom with the responsibility to find out God’s will for our life and organise our days in order to fulfil that in the best way. That’s why he says: “Let each be fully convinced (what God’s will is for his life) in his own mind.” We are free, but still morally responsible and accountable to God how we live. 

Since the Sabbath is not Moral Law, God gives us freedom in this area in our seeking to do His will. By laying down the requirement: “let each be fully convinced in his own mind”, Paul is not so concerned about what our actual choice is, but that we make it in the right way and for the right motives and reasons, especially if we are making a change (whether a Jew deciding to not keep Sabbath strictly, or a Gentile deciding to keep it). We are free (in that we can do either without breaking Divine Law), but as servants of Christ we are still accountable to Him in whatever choices we make.

When we were children our bed-times were set by our parents (as a law), even though there is no ultimate, absolute moral law that says when we should go to bed. Regular bedtimes were a sign of their authority over us, and they instilled in us a cycle, pattern and discipline of life, imparting wisdom to us that would be helpful later on, when we have more freedom (such as not going to bed too late, getting enough sleep and having a regular pattern of sleep). Then as we grow up we were given more freedom and responsibility to decide the best time for us to go to bed each night. There is no longer a strict law governing bedtimes, but there are principles of wisdom we should still abide by and not abuse, otherwise we will pay a price. So if my life requires me to have a strict bedtime, I should not judge others for whom more variation and flexibility works better. It is just like that in the keeping of special days for rest and worship, such as sabbath days. God wants us to act like responsible grown-up servants of God, rather than children who require strict laws governing every detail in this area. 

This aspect of the Old-Testament Law as a temporary tutor to govern and teach man through childhood, until he has reached spiritual maturity (through Christ) is perfectly described in Galatians 3:23-25: “before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”Now that we have ‘grown up’, God releases us from the law of childhood that covered many details of life, and gives us more freedom and responsibility to make our own choices, treating us more as adults. Those who want every part of their lifestyle to be prescribed by law-codes (wanting to live under Law rather than Grace) are stunting their spiritual growth, by insisting on holding onto the ways of childhood. 

Now this passage affirms strict sabbath-keeping is being valid under the New Covenant, as long as it is done voluntarily, through the freedom we have in Christ and not as a matter of being under Divine Law (with punishment for disobedience). However this passage rules out mandatory sabbath-keeping as a valid option for a New-Testament believer, because it tells that we have a free choice in this area (it is contrary to New-Testament teaching). This Scripture proves that it is not a valid New Testament belief to believe in the Sabbath as binding Law, as the 7th day Adventists do.

Moreover this passage warns those who judge others for not keeping (sabbath) days as they do, that they themselves are actually the ones who are in sin for looking down in contempt on those who don’t follow their rules. The sole right and prerogative to judge men, in how well they follow Him in the timing of their lives, belongs to Christ. Anyone usurping His place of judgement will have to answer to Him in the Judgement: “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10).

*New Testament Passage 2 (Colossians 2:14-17) 

Colossians 2:14,15 says that “Christ (on the Cross) has wiped out the handwriting of requirements (the ordinances of the Law) that was against us, which was contrary to us (condemning us).”

Then Colossians 2:16-17 says: “So (since we have been released from the Law) let no one judge you in food or in drink (Old Testament Food Law), or regarding a Festival (the Feasts) or a New Moon or SABBATHS, which are (all) a SHADOW of things to come, but the SUBSTANCE is of Christ.” 

If sabbath-keeping was obligatory, failing to keep it would put us under Divine Judgement, but this passage clearly says this is not so: “let no one judge you in ... SABBATHS.” In other words, we no longer have obligation to keep the Law of Moses, especially in regard to the Ceremonial Laws, which were typological in nature, serving as shadows (pictures) of our Salvation in Christ. Other shadows were Tabernacle System (Hebrews 8:5) and the Sacrificial System (Hebrews 10:1). Now that the Substance (Christ) has come, the Shadow is no longer obligatory, for the reality is here. It has served its purpose of pointing you toward and reminding you of the fulfilment that it represents, and so it is no longer necessary. When your beloved is absent for a time, you may need to keep their photo at hand to look at, but when the person is present, you don’t need the photo anymore! You now have the real thing!

Now this passage specifically names and includes SABBATHS (along with the Feasts and Food Laws) as being among the Old Testament Shadows that we don’t have to observe, because we now have the Substance in Christ. Hebrews 4:3-10 confirms this, interpreting the Sabbath as a ceremonial Type of our present Salvation Rest in Christ, as well as our future eternal Heavenly Rest. 

Now to get around this passage, 7th Day Adventists have to say that Paul was not referring to the weekly Sabbaths here, but only to Feast Day ‘sabbaths.’ However, he makes no such distinction here. Rather he makes a general statement that covers ALL SABBATHS. In fact, the primary application clearly has to be to the weekly Sabbath, for he had already covered Festivals and their Sabbaths in a previous phrase: “regarding a Festival (Feast)...or Sabbaths.” 

*New Testament Passage 3 
Galatians 4:10,11: “You observe (sabbath) days and months (new moons) and seasons (feasts) and years (sabbatical and jubilee years). Does he commend them for this? No! Instead he says: 
I am afraid for you, lest I have laboured for you in vain.” 

The context of the Book of Galatians clearly tells us that the Apostle Paul is referring to the Law of Moses. He plays down the importance of the observance of special days, both for salvation and for a rule of life. He considers that imposed observance (in an attempt to keep the Law) is spiritually a backward step. If believers in this present Church-Age (especially Jews) choose to keep the Sabbath, that’s fine, but they are not to do it as a matter of law. 

*The Teaching of Jesus confirms this Apostolic Teaching, that the Sabbath was Ceremonial Law in nature, rather than Eternal and absolute Moral Law. In this, He corrected the teaching of the Pharisees which said that: “Israel (man) was made for the Sabbath.” This means, according to the teaching of Jesus, the Sabbath would not necessarily be part of the New Covenant. 

His teaching on the Sabbath in the Gospels revolved around His conflict with the Pharisees as to their interpretation of the Sabbath. The Rabbis had made the Sabbath an end in itself (Moral Law). 

They even taught that Israel was made to fulfil it. They personalised the Sabbath as a Queen and Bride. Their elevation of its status to unbreakable Moral Law, and addition of many sabbath-laws defining in detail what could and could not be done, made it a burden. Thus through their traditions they totally missed the purpose of the Sabbath, which was to help man, not enslave him. Jesus put it best in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is not absolute and eternal, it was made for man, and therefore is always subject to higher Moral Law. Man is eternally under Moral Law, but Sabbath Law was a created law that was to be a servant (guide) to and for man. In fact a Man is Lord over the Sabbath, Mark 2:28: “Therefore the Son of Man (Jesus) is also Lord of the Sabbath” (also Matthew 12:8). By this saying, Jesus also claimed authority to override their regulations and prescribe true Sabbath Observance. 

As a Jew born under the Law (Galatians 4:4), Jesus lived under the Law and observed the Sabbath biblically, but not necessarily according to the rules of the Pharisees (which often brought Him into conflict with them). This was before the Cross, and so this is no basis for Sabbath Observance today, especially for Gentiles. 

Whenever someone needed help or healing on a Sabbath, Jesus felt free to give it, although in so doing He broke the Sabbath in the eyes of the Pharisees, who saw it as absolute Moral Law. In John 5, He did not just heal on the Sabbath, but also told the healed man to take up his bed and walk, thus technically instructing him to carry a load and break the Sabbath. The only explanation for this approach of Jesus to the Sabbath, is that He saw the Sabbath as just Ceremonial Law made specially for man, to help teach him to live a balanced lifestyle; and as such, whenever Sabbath Law conflicted with the Moral Law (LOVE), it had to bow and give way. Thus He continued to do works of healing on the Sabbath, even though it led to great criticism and persecution from the Jewish Leaders: “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:16,17). Here He admits to working on the Sabbath, but it is in obedience to God. He did not compromise His interpretation of the Sabbath as being subject to Moral Law, even though it resulted in Him attracting much trouble, opposition and hatred from the Jewish Leaders. 

This interpretation of the Sabbath is supported by Matthew 24:15-21: “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea FLEE to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those 
days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or ON THE SABBATH. For then there will be Great Tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

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