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The word Sabbath means “to cease, desist…cessation from activity” (W.E. Vine). Sabbatarians today contend that Christians should keep the Sabbath day holy because they believe the ten commandments are still in effect. What does the Bible teach about the subject?
The Law Was Given to Israel
Moses wrote: The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive” (Dt. 5:2,3). The covenant he described includes the ten commandments, and he stated that since the Lord brought them out of Egypt, therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day (Dt. 5:15). The preamble to the Ten Commandments says they were given to those brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Ex. 20:2).
This is repeated several times in the Old Testament. Solomon said he built a house for the Lord: And there I have made a place for the ark, in which is the covenant of the Lord which He made with our fathers when he brought them out of the land of Egypt (1 Kgs. 8:21). 2 Chronicles 5:10 says: There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets which Moses put there at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they had come up out of Egypt. Nehemiah said: You came down also on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments. You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, and commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, by the hand of Moses Your servant (9:13,14).
The prophet Ezekiel taught the same about the origin of the Ten Commandments. Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them My judgments, which, if a man does, he shall live by them. Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them (Ezek. 20:10-12).
The New Testament teaches that the law was given to Israel and not to the Gentiles. For the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves (Rom. 2:14). “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1,2). So, the law, which included the ten commandments, was given to the Israelites after they came out of Egypt and not to the Gentiles.
Note: Sabbatarians try to contradict these passages by using Genesis 2:3: Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work. It is assumption to say that God sanctified the seventh day the day after His creative week. When Moses wrote the book of Genesis, God had sanctified the seventh day, but this verse does not say when He did it. Compare the statement about Judas immediately after the apostles were chosen and given miraculous power. Matthew says: and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him (Mt. 10:4). You may conclude that Judas betrayed Jesus as soon as he was chosen to be an apostle, but that is not true. When Matthew wrote this account, Judas had betrayed Jesus, but it was not until near the end of Jesus’ work, not at the beginning. Furthermore, when Israel was in the wilderness, a man violated the Sabbath by “gathering sticks” (Num. 15:32). They did not know the penalty for violation, so: They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him (v. 34). Is it reasonable to believe that the Sabbath had been in effect since creation and no one had violated it until Israel came out of Egypt? God said the Sabbath was given to Israel as a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Ex. 31:13). If the Sabbath was given to all nations, how could it have been a special sign between God and Israel?
How Long Was That Covenant To Last?
Paul told the Galatians that the law which was given four hundred and thirty years after the promise to Abraham, was to last till the Seed should come (Gal. 3:17-19). That law acted as a tutor (guardian) until the faith (the system revealed through Christ) came and after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Gal. 3:25).
The contrast between the Old and New Covenants is clearly manifest in 2 Corinthians 3:6-18. The background to Paul’s argument here can be read in Exodus 34:29-35. The giving of the Old Covenant was a glorious occasion, but the giving of the New Covenant is more glorious.
Contrasts in 2 Cor. 3
The fading of the glory on Moses’ face was typical of the passing of the Covenant revealed through him and that covenant specifically included what was written and engraved on stones!
The Two Covenants
In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul used another illustration of the two Covenants. Abraham’s wife (Sarah) and handmaid (Hagar) represented two covenants. For these are two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar (v. 24). The covenant given at Mount Sinai included the Ten Commandments (2 Chron. 5:10). The free woman (Sarah) represented the Jerusalem above (v. 26). Spiritual Jerusalem is the church of the Lord (Heb. 12:22,23). The handmaid Hagar, (who represented the Old Covenant) and her son Ishmael (who represented Jewish persecution, v. 29) were both cast out (v. 30). Paul’s conclusion: So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman (representing the covenant) but of the free (v. 31).
Prophecy of The Coming of The New Covenant
Jeremiah prophesied: Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord… (Jer. 31:31-34). The writer of Hebrews quotes this prophecy and concludes: In that He says, a new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). When God, through Jeremiah said that a new covenant would be given, that meant the old covenant was going to become obsolete and vanish away.
When the book of Hebrews was written, the Old Covenant had passed away and the New Covenant had been established. The priesthood had changed, and of necessity there is also a change of the law (Heb. 7:12; 8:1). The writer said that Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant, which was dedicated by His death (Heb. 9:15,16), or by His blood (Mt. 26:28). The Old Covenant had been dedicated with the blood of animals (Heb. 9:18-20). After showing the superiority of Christ’s blood over the blood of bulls and goats (Heb. 9:1-4), he said: He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:9,10).
The ten commandments are not part of the covenant dedicated by the blood of Christ. They were dedicated with the blood of bulls and goats!
We Are Dead To The Law
Paul used the illustration of marriage to show that men had to die to the Old Covenant before they could be joined to the New Covenant (Rom. 7:1-7). After saying a woman is free from the law of her husband after he dies, Paul said: Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God (Rom. 7:4). To be dead to the law means the same as being dead to sin (Rom. 6:1,2). If you are dead to sin, you do not live in it, and if you are dead to the law, you do not live in it!
What law is Paul talking about? He identified it as the one that includes You shall not covet (Rom. 7:7; see Ex. 20:17).
Paul taught the same truth to the Ephesians. Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity (Eph. 2:15,16). (Notice the underlined expressions in Rom. 7 and Eph. 2). It was through His body, His flesh or the cross that men died to the law!
Note: Adventists put the word “ten” in front of every occurrence of the word commandments – except in Ephesians 2:15, and here the context is talking about the commandments that were given to the nation of Israel (Dt. 4:13,14; 5:1-15), and not to the Gentiles who were strangers from the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12).
Sabbatarian Two Law Theory
Adventists reject the two covenants of Gal. 4:24; 2 Cor. 3:6,14 and Heb. 8:13, and divide the Old Covenant into two covenants. They call part of the Old Covenant the law of Moses (or the ceremonial law) and part of it the law of God (or the moral law).
Here is their evidence: The law of Moses – was written by Moses in a book (Dt. 31:24), it was put by the side of the ark (Dt. 31:26), it contained seven Sabbath days and many offerings and feast days (Lev. 23:13-38), it contained the law of circumcision (Dt. 10:16), and these laws pointed to the death of Jesus and were temporary (Heb. 9:10,12,14). The law of God – was written by God (Dt. 4:12,13), it was written on stone (Ex. 31:18), it contains ten commandments (Dt. 4:13), it contained only one Sabbath day (Ex. 20:8-11), it was not nailed to the cross (Mt. 5:17-19) and we keep it by God’s grace (Phil. 4:13).
What is wrong with that picture?
The Bible does not make such a distinction. God gave the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:6), and Moses gave the Law of God (Neh. 10:29). Furthermore, Moses wrote the ten commandments twice (Ex. 20 and Dt. 5), because he wrote both Exodus and Deuteronomy!
Nehemiah called what Moses wrote: the Book of the Law of Moses ( 8:1), the Law of God (8:8), the Book of the Law of God (8:18) and the Book of the Law of the Lord their God (9:3).
The Bible says: the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths and the New Moons and the set feasts, as it is written in the Law of the Lord (2 Chron. 31:3). The days of Mary’s purification: according to the law of Moses was performed in Jerusalem as it is written in the law of the Lord (Lk. 2:22-24). Those things are not in the ten commandments, but are in the Law of the Lord! The Adventist doctrine on this is clearly unscriptural.
Other Scriptures Misused
Mt. 5:17,18 - Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
They use this passage to argue that the law under which Jesus lived (Gal. 4:4) did not pass away. First, the law and the prophets referred to the whole of Old Testament (see Mt. 7:12; 11:13; 22:40). Second, Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and after His resurrection, He said: These are the things which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets concerning Me (Lk 24:44). If Jesus fulfilled His mission, every jot and tittle of the Law passed away, and if He did not fulfill it, not one jot or tittle of the Law or Prophets has passed away! (That includes much more than the Ten Commandments!)
When a man makes an agreement to buy a $100,000 house and fulfills that contract, he did not destroy it, but it ceased to be in effect. He may keep a copy and use parts of the same contract when he buys another house, but the terms from the first contract are only valid if they are included in the second. The Book of the Law of God was dedicated by the blood of animals (Neh. 8:18; Heb. 9:18-20). The New Covenant was dedicated by the blood of Christ (Mt. 26:28). There are lessons learned from the Old Covenant (Rom. 15:4), and many teachings are the same, but unless the instruction in the First Covenant is included in the Second Covenant, it has not been dedicated by the blood of Christ and is not to be bound on God’s people today.
Mt. 24:20 - And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.
Adventists use this passage to argue that the Sabbath was being observed by Christians in 70 A.D., when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. First, they ignore the word winter and focus on the word Sabbath. If Christians were observing the Sabbath, they were also observing winter as holy. Why would it have been more difficult to flee on the Sabbath or in the winter? The gates of the city would have been closed by the Jews on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:19), and travel would have also been made more difficult if it were winter. Neither has anything to do with Christians keeping the Sabbath or the winter as holy.
Isaiah 66:23 – And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me, says the Lord.
Adventists use this verse to argue that Christians should keep the Sabbath “in the new earth.” Notice again they choose the part of the verse that suits their opinion and ignore the other part. If the verse teaches that we are to keep the Sabbath, it also teaches that we should keep the New Moon! Do they teach that we should be keeping New Moons? No.
Isaiah is describing the new heavens and new earth (v. 22); the time when the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, says the Lord (65:25). This is the time when the root of Jesse (Christ, Rom. 15:12), would rule over his holy mountain (the church, 1 Tim. 3:15; Isaiah 11:6-10). Isaiah was describing our worship under Christ in words that his readers would understand. The New Testament says: Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink (dietary laws of Moses), or regarding a festival (annual holy days), new moon (monthly holy days) or Sabbaths (weekly holy days), which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Col. 2:16,17). The shadow is the Old Law; the substance (very image) is the New Covenant (Heb. 10:1,8,9). The New Covenant does not teach that certain foods are unclean, or that we should keep annual festivals (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), monthly new moons or weekly Sabbaths.
Acts 18:4 - And he (Paul in Corinth) reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
Adventists use this, and other passages where Paul went into the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath to argue that he was observing the law in order to please God.
The context shows that Paul was using the occasion to teach his Jewish brethren about the Christ. Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles (Acts 18:5,6).
At Antioch, Paul did the same thing (Acts 13:14), with a similar result. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul (v. 45). Paul used the occasion of Jews being together to teach them the gospel of Christ, and I would be happy to go to a Synagogue or a Sabbatarian church on Saturday if given the opportunity to teach. That does not mean that I would be keeping the Sabbath holy, but would be doing as Paul did. He taught that the Old Covenant (the tutor) had served its purpose and that we are no longer under it (Gal. 3:24,25). When Paul met with Christians, he met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).
What About the First Day of The Week?
Mk. 16:1,2 –Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. Also, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4), which happened on the first day of the week.
Acts 20:7 – Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
Sabbatarians try to avoid the plain teaching of this verse by arguing that it was a common meal, or that the disciples did not observe the Lord’s supper on the first day of the week.
Was this a common meal? The expression “breaking bread” can be used of a common meal (Mt. 14:19; Acts 2:46; 20:11; 27:35), or the Lord’s supper (Mt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24). How is it used in Acts 20:7? First, notice that in the context of instructing the Corinthians about the proper observance of the Lord’s supper, Paul told them: when you come together to eat, wait for one another (1 Cor. 11:33). The next verse says, But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment… (v. 34). He had told them they had houses to eat and drink in (11:22). They were not to come together as the church in Corinth to eat a common meal. So, the question is – did Paul do in Troas what he condemned in Corinth? Not likely!
Next, what does the context of Acts 20:7 indicate? Paul sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread. He evidently met with Jews there on the Passover, and wanted to be in Jerusalem before Pentecost (20:16). (If we should keep the Sabbath because Paul met with Jews on that day, why not also Passover and Pentecost?) Paul and Luke sailed five days and joined others, who were on the same trip, at Troas, where we stayed seven days (v. 6). Did Paul and those with him wait seven days for the Christians in Troas to come together for a common meal? Verse 7 says Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…Paul preached to them. If Paul waited seven days to assemble with the church to eat a common meal, he violated what he wrote to the Corinthians!
There is no reason to doubt that the disciples did what they came together to do on the first day of the week. Paul intended to depart the next day (v. 7) and after midnight his sermon was interrupted by Eutychus falling out of a window. Paul raised him from the dead, went back into the house, ate a common meal, (nothing is said about the other disciples in this eating), and left the next morning, after daybreak (v. 11). According to Roman time (as would have been used in Troas), Paul left on Monday morning. To deny that the disciples broke bread on the first day of the week is to deny they did what they came together to do!
1 Cor. 16:1,2 – Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
These verses tell us the Christians in Corinth came together every week. The Living Bible says on every Lord’s day, The New English, Jerusalem Bible and N.T. in Contemporary Language say every Sunday, and the N.I.V. says on the first day of every week. This would be implied in the expression the first day of the week, even if the word “every” were not there. When God said remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8), did He mean quarterly, or weekly?
Adventists argue that the contribution was to be stored at home. If that is true, why did Paul specify the first day of the week and how would that avoid having collections when Paul arrived? Charles Hodge commented: “The words do not mean to lay by at home but to lay by himself. The direction is nothing more definite than, let him place by himself, i.e. let him take to himself what he means to give…The word thesaurizon means putting into the treasury, or hoarding up, and is perfectly consistent with the assumption that the place of deposit was some common treasury, and not every man’s own house…The only reason that can be assigned for requiring the thing to be done on the first day of the week is that on that day the Christians were accustomed to meet, and what each one had laid aside from his weekly gains could be treasured up, i.e. put into the common treasury of the church …The end which the apostle desired to accomplish could not otherwise have been effected. He wished that there might be no collections when he came. But if every man had his money laid by at home, the collection would be still to be made” (Commentary on First Corinthians by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pg. 363,364).
Each Christian is to purpose in his heart what he will give (2 Cor.9:7), and that should be done at home, before he assembles with the church but he contributes it when he assembles.
Sabbatarians contend that the Law of Moses was done away but not the Law of God, then they go back to what they call the Law of Moses and teach tithing, which is not in the ten commandments, nor in the Covenant dedicated by the blood of Christ!
Did the Pope Change the Sabbath?
A charge often made by Sabbatarians is that the Pope changed the Sabbath to Sunday. When Roman Catholic authors claim their church changed the law, they are contending that the Roman Church is the one established on Pentecost, and that Peter was the first Pope. The apostles did teach that disciples were to observe the Lord’s supper and give as they had been prospered on the first day of the week. When Roman Catholics read Acts 20:7, they conclude this was the action of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore that church changed the day of worship. (The Orthodox Church makes the same claim.) Neither claim is true. The apostles were not Roman Catholic, nor Greek Orthodox!
Some historical quotes from “The Lord’s Day,” by D.M. Canright (published by Restoration Reprint Library):
Barnabas (A.D. 120) said: “Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day, also, on which Jesus rose again from the dead” (p. 131).
Justin Martyr (A.D. 140): “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ, our Saviour, on the same day rose from the dead” (p. 137).
Clement (A.D. 194) – “He, in fulfillment of the precept, keeps the Lord’s Day when he abandons an evil disposition …glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself… The Lord’s Day, it will be seen here, and all along, is the resurrection day. Clement lived, not at Rome, but in Egypt. So Sunday-keeping was not simply a Roman usage” (p. 142). Adventists argue that the Romans authorized “the sun’s day” (Sunday) to take the place of the Sabbath, therefore it originated in heathenism. They neglect to notice that “Saturn’s day” (Saturday) was named for the Roman mythological “god of agriculture.” The names of the days of the week have nothing to do with when we should observe the Lord’s supper and give as we have been prospered. Those who worship God on Sunday are not honoring the Sun, neither are those who worship on Saturday honoring Saturn.
Tertullian (A.D. 200) – “We solemnize the day after Saturday… We neither accord with the Jews in their peculiarities in regard to food, nor in their sacred days” (p. 144).
Did Constantine Change the Day?
Constantine (A.D. 321) is the founder “in part at least, of the civil observance of Sunday. Before this law all Christians had voluntarily kept the Lord’s Day as a religious duty. Now the civil law required pagans to respect the Christian rest day…The pagans had to conform to the Christian day, not Christians to the pagan day” (Canright, pg. 189,190).
The Pope Did Not Change it
Some claim the Roman Pope changed the Sabbath to Sunday at the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364). Quoting again from Mr. Canright: “Laodicea is not Rome…It was an Eastern, not a Western town… The Pope did not attend (In fact, there was no such office as Pope at that time. FJ), nor did he send a legate or a delegate or any one to represent him. In fact, neither the Roman Church nor the Pope had anything to do with the council in any way, shape or manner…McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia says of this council: ‘Thirty-two bishops were present from different provinces in Asia.’ All bishops of the Eastern Church, not one from the Roman Church!” (Canright, pg. 212-214).
There is no New Testament authority for observing the Lord’s supper on Saturday, for observing it quarterly, nor for the church taking a collection on Saturday.
The testimony of Scripture is that disciples in Troas came together to break bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and disciples in Corinth assembled every Sunday to worship and one of the things they did was give as they had been prospered (1 Cor. 16:1,2). These acts of worship were approved by the apostles of Christ and were practiced long before Constantine lived or a Roman Pope existed!
Rightly Dividing The Word
2 Tim. 2:15
Copyright Midway Church of Christ 2014 This page last modified July 03, 2014