The Sabbath Issue

Chapter 6. The Sabbath: Moral or Ceremonial Law? - Part 2

Moreover we have 3 New Testament Passages (Colossians 2:16-17; Romans 14:5,6; Galatians 4:10,11) that clearly state that New Testament believers (both Jew and Gentile) are not under the Old Covenant Sabbath Law. Paul regarded the Sabbath as Ceremonial.

Moreover these Passages all specifically describe Sabbaths as being part of the Ceremonial Law, that has now passed away in Christ.

1. Colossians 2:16-17: “Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a Festival (the Feasts) or a New Moon orSABBATHS, which are (all) a SHADOW of things to come, but the SUBSTANCE is of Christ.” 

Here all Sabbaths are included amongst the ‘shadow’ ceremonial laws, which have been fulfilled now that Christ, the ‘substance’ has come. Therefore we are no longer under the Sabbath Law, so that no one has the right to judge us for not keeping it as Law.

2. Romans 14:5,6: “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.” 

These verses tell us we are free in Christ to keep the Sabbath as special or not. Thus they treat the Sabbath Law as Ceremonial, not eternal Moral Law. There cannot be a New Covenant Sabbath Law. 

3. Galatians 4:10,11: “You observe (Sabbath) DAYS and months and seasons (feasts) and years: I am afraid for you, lest I have laboured for you in vain.” Under the influence of misguided legalistic Jewish teachers, the Gentile Galatians had been persuaded to submit to the Law of Moses, which included the keeping of the Jewish feasts and Sabbath days. “You observe DAYS” is a general description without qualification, and so it is talking about all the days that the Jews regarded and kept as special under the Law of Moses. These certainly included the weekly Sabbath day.

Paul’s response to their legalistic keeping of days (keeping the Sabbath day holy as a sign of their submission to the Law of Moses) was not positive! They had been saved by grace and so were under New Covenant Grace, but by putting themselves back under Old Covenant Law (as revealed in their legalistic observance of Sabbath days) they had fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4). Paul rebukes the them for going back under the Law, and in particular for trying to keep the Ceremonial Calendar (as Law). In this, he includes the Sabbath (along with the Feasts) as part of the Ceremonial Law of Moses, from which believers are now free (it is fulfilled in Christ).

*Viewpoint 8. The Application and Fulfilment of the Sabbath in the New Testament is Typological (it is treated as a temporal shadow pointing to the future substance and fulfilment in Christ, as is typical for all Ceremonial Law in contrast to eternal Moral Law).

By definition, temporal Ceremonial Law is typological in nature, it is Shadow pointing to a future Substance (fulfilment in Christ). By contrast, all Moral Law is eternal, based on the very nature of God. Therefore it is not a temporal and prophetic shadow of something to come (the substance or fulfilment). Moral Law is ‘substance’, whereas Ceremonial Law is only ‘shadow’ pointing to the future manifestation of the ‘substance’ in Christ. While Ceremonial Law is creational and temporal in nature, ceasing to be relevant and passing away (as Law) once the substance has come, Moral Law is self-existant, absolute and eternal as part of the very nature of God and never passes away. (As such Ceremonial Law has a lesser status than Moral Law and must bow to Moral Law, if the two ever are in conflict). This fundamental difference between Moral and Ceremionial Law gives us one of the best ways to tell if a Law is Moral or Ceremonial. If the Bible interprets it as a Type and Shadow of something to be fulfilled in Christ, a Shadow of something whose Substance will be brought to pass through Christ, then it is clearly temporal and ceremonial in nature.
Colossians 2:16-17: “So let no one judge you...regarding a Festival (the Feasts) or a New Moon or SABBATHS, which are a SHADOW of things to come, but the SUBSTANCE is of Christ.” Here ALL SABBATHS are described as SHADOWS of the SUBSTANCE that is come through Christ. This clearly shows that Sabbaths are typological and ceremonial in nature.

The other major passage deal with the interpretation of the Sabbath is in Hebrews 3:7-4:13, which we will look at in more detail in Chapter 8. This passage is part of a larger section of Hebrews which is all about showing how all the Old Testament Types and shadows point towards their fulfilment in Christ and the New Covenant. The main message to these Hebrew Christians, was not to go back to the shadow ceremonies in Judaism, now that the substance has come in Christ. He warns them not to go back under the Ceremonial Laws of Moses (including the Sabbath - as Law), now that they have fulfilled their prophetic purpose. Thus it is in that context that Hebrews explains the Sabbath. It treats the Sabbath typologically. Thus the New Testament consistently used the Sabbath as a basis for Typology for Messianic fulfilment. 

Thus Hebrews talks about the Sabbath, but typologically rather than literally. That is, it does not command Sabbath Observance today, but shows how the Sabbath has been and will be fulfilled in Christ.

Hebrews 4:3-10 interprets the Sabbath as a Ceremonial Type of: 
(1) our Salvation-Rest - now fulfilled in Christ, 
(2) our future Eternal Heavenly Rest in Christ, 
(3) the earth’s Millennial-Rest (the Sabbath Day of history). 

“For we who have believed do enter that (SALVATION) REST, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath,‘They shall not enter My REST,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the 7th day in this way: “And God rested on the 7th day from all His works”; and again in this place: “They shall not enter My REST.” Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them REST, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. (Paul is proving from Psalm 95 that the Sabbath-rest had a future typological fulfilment). There remains therefore a (Sabbath) REST for the people of God for he who has entered His REST has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His (Salvation Rest, Millennial Rest and Heavenly Rest through entering into Christ’s finished work).” 
The Sabbath Typology is complex since the Type and its Fulfilment have a number of layers. We will discuss it more fully in Chapter 9.

*In describing the Sabbath as Typology fulfilled in Christ, the New Testament treats it as Ceremonial Law, rather than Moral Law. 

*Viewpoint 9 - The Sabbath was originally instituted for Israel as the special Ceremonial Sign of the Old Mosaic Covenant, which separated Israel as a holy nation. As such it fulfilled a major part of the Law’s purpose as the Middle-Wall of Partition separating Jews and Gentiles. Now it was the Ceremonial Law that formed this Wall, since the Moral Law applies equally to all peoples, but the Jewish ceremonial sacrifices, worship-system, food-laws, feasts and sabbaths were special to Israel. This Ceremonial Wall is no longer operative in Christ (Ephesians 2:14-16), which means Gentiles are not required to submit to any Jewish laws to qualify for and fully participate in the blessings of the New Covenant. Since the Sabbath represents a special Sign for Israel, if it still applied in the New Covenant, it would mean that part of the barrier between Jews and Gentiles was still standing, essentially requiring Gentile believers to become Jewish in their practices. This would be inappropriate, contradicting the nature of this present Church Age, where all people (whether Jew or Gentile) are treated on a basis of equality (Galatians 3:26-29). We all enter the New Covenant and become part of the Body of Christ on the same basis (by God’s grace alone, received through faith in Christ alone, without reference to our works or ceremonial customs or practices) and we are all are equal in Christ, with equal access to the Spirit, promises and blessings of God in the New Covenant. Therefore, the New Testament does not require Gentiles to practice the Jewish Sabbath in order to qualify for the full blessings of the Covenant. 

Moreover, the fact that the Sabbath is described as a Covenant SIGN (Exodus 20:8, 31:12-17, Ezekiel 20:12, 20) tells us that it must be ceremonial in nature. Also as the Sign of the Old Covenant, it is only in force as long as the Covenant is in force, so now the New Covenant has replaced it, we are no longer under the old Sign. 

Conclusion: However you look at the Sabbath Law (from these 9 Viewpoints), it is clearly Ceremonial, not Moral in nature. Its inclusion in the 10 Commandments does not automatically make it Moral Law. The reason it is included is because of its special and vital role as the Ceremonial Sign of the Old Covenant that God had made with Israel. Since the Sabbath Law is ceremonial, it certainly has been fulfilled and passed away in Christ, along with all the rest of the Ceremonial Law belonging to the Law of Moses. Therefore (as it is not Moral Law) the Sabbath Law is not part of the New Covenant in Christ, and so is not included in the New Testament.

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