Should We Keep the Sabbath? (Part 1)

What is the Sabbath?  The Hebrew word in its verbal for means “cease; desist” (BDBG).  The Israelites were instructed that they were to keep a weekly Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15).  No ordinary work was to be done on this day (Exodus 16:16-24; 20:8-11; 34:21; 35:1-3; Numbers 15:32-36; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Nehemiah 13:19-22; Jeremiah 17:21-22).  Basic needs could be met (cf. Exodus 12:16).  Mercy could be showed (Luke 14:1-5; Matthew 12:1-7 cf. Hosea 6:6).  However, it was not to be an ordinary day of work.

Furthermore, the word Sabbath was (is) used by Jews for the seventh day.  The rest of the days are commonly referred to by their number – first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth (sometimes called the day before Sabbath, or preparation day).  However, the seventh day was (is) commonly called Sabbath day (Jewish calendar, jewfaq.org; Days of the Week in Hebrew, lp.eteacherhebrew.com).

Some, such as the Seventh-day Adventist and the Seventh-day Baptist, teach that Christians (and even all of humanity) should keep the Sabbath.  Furthermore, some teach that the Sabbath-day is the day that the church should assemble and worship. 

In this lesson, we will consider some common arguments for this position.  Let’s notice…

Arguments For

1.  Creation

It is argued that the Sabbath was set aside for humanity to keep from Creation.  Read Genesis 2:2-3.

First, let us point out that there is no indication that anyone kept the Sabbath prior to the Exodus.  There is no command to keep it.  There is no example of anyone keeping it.  There is no punishment mentioned for anyone who did not keep it. 

Second, let us ask who wrote the book of Genesis?  It is commonly understood to be Moses.  Josephus indicates that Moses wrote five of the Old Testament books, “which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death” (Against Apion 1-8).

It seems at least possible that this has reference to Israel.  Guy V. Caskey suggested, “When did God bless and hallow it?  When he gave it to Israel to observe, because in it he had rested” (G.V. Caskey, A Reply to An Adventist, p. 15).  The Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel (Exodus 31:16-17 cf. Genesis 17:10-12).  It commemorated the Exodus (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).  Their work week was to be based on God’s creation week (Exodus 20:8-11). 

Even if humanity began to keep the Sabbath in patriarchal times, this would not prove that the Sabbath is still binding on man or the day of worship for Christians.  We need New Testament evidence.

2.  Before Sinai

The children of Israel observed the Sabbath before Sinai (Exodus 16:23-30 cf. Exodus 20:8-11).  It is inferred from this that it was not revealed at Sinai for the first time.  Man must have known of it through the ages.

This is unwarranted.  There is no record of anyone keeping the Sabbath prior to Exodus 16.  Moreover, the record suggests otherwise (Deuteronomy 5:1-3, 12-15; Ezekiel 20:10-12; Nehemiah 9:13-14).

3.  Remember

It says “Remember the Sabbath” (Exodus 20:8).  It is thought that “remember” suggests that this was an ancient practice.

It does no such thing.  Read Exodus 13:3 cf. 12:51. 

4.  Perpetual/Forever

It is argued that the Sabbath is still bound because of the words “perpetual” (Exodus 31:16) and “forever” (Exodus 31:17). 

First, who is addressed?   It is the children of Israel that is being addressed (Exodus 31:16-17).

Second, the Hebrew word (olam) translated “perpetual” and “forever” is sometimes used in the dispensational sense, i.e., “age-lasting.”  It is used of many things which Sabbatarians consider no longer binding, e.g., (1) Circumcision (Genesis 17:13-14); (2) Passover (Exodus 12:14); (3) Show bread (Leviticus 24:9); (4) Aaronic Priesthood (Exodus 40:15 cf. Hebrews 7:12); (5) Trumpet blowing (Numbers 10:8).

The words “throughout your generation” (Exodus 31:13-16) is also emphasized by some.  However, this wording is also used of many things which Sabbatarians consider no longer binding, e.g., (1) Passover (Exodus 12:14); (2) Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:17); (3) Aaronic priesthood (Leviticus 7:36 cf. Hebrews 7:12); (4) Unclean laws (Leviticus 22:3); (5) Israelite garments (Numbers 15:38). 

5.  Jesus

It is argued that Jesus kept the Sabbath (Luke 4:16; 4:31; 6:5; 13:10).  I agree that He did [He also had many conflicts over human traditions concerning the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; 12:9-14; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 5:1-16; 9:13-34)].

Let us remember that Jesus lived under the law of Moses (Galatians 4:4).  He also kept the Passover and the Feasts (Matthew 26:18; John 2:13; 2:23; 5:1; 7:2, 10; 11:55 cf. 12:1, 12-13). 

6.  Paul

It is pointed out that Paul preached on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14-ff; 13:42-ff; 16:13-ff; 17:2-ff; 18:4).  He did so.

First, while the Synagogue is used to evangelize, the record does not say anywhere that the early church met to worship and partake of the Lord’s Supper on the Sabbath.

Second, in Corinth, there is no Sabbath after Paul turns to the gentiles (Acts 18:4-6, ff).

Third, Paul taught daily (Acts 19:9; 20:31 cf. 5:42).  This does not prove that the Lord’s Supper is to be partaken daily. 

7.  Jerusalem

It is suggested that since Jesus said “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:19), it must be that the Sabbath would still be kept by Christians when Jerusalem fell.

It proves no such thing.  The context does not concern worships of Christians.  It concerns the difficulties that may be involved in escaping Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was a walled city.  It was the practice of Jews to shut the gates of the city on the Sabbath (cf. Nehemiah 13:9-22).

8.  Heaven

It is asserted that the Sabbath will be kept in heaven (Isaiah 66:22-23).  

First, even if this refers to heaven, this does not prove what we are to do as Christians on earth.  Consider: Marriage (Hebrews 13:4 cf. Mark 12:18-20).

Second, this text also mentions the “New Moon.”  Are we to keep this? (Colossians 2:14).

Third, I do not believe that this refers to heaven.  It speaks of “all flesh” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50).  I believe that this is borrowed language from Judaism, language familiar to the people of Israel’s day, used to speak of all flesh (Jew and Gentile) worshipping together in the Christian age.

9.  Ceremonial Law/Moral Law

It is claimed that there is a difference between Ceremonial Law and Moral Law.  They believe that Ceremonial Law was taken away at the cross.  However, Moral Law (contained in the Ten Commandments) has not been taken away.  These are God’s eternal moral principles for man.   First, there are moral laws found outside of the Ten Commandments (e.g., Exodus 22:14; 22:21; Leviticus 19;14; 19:17; Deuteronomy 10:19).  When Jesus was asked about what the greatest commandment was, He referral to two passages outside of the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:36-40 cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).  [Sabbatarians suggests that these words sum up the Ten Commandments.  Deuteronomy 6:5 is said to sum up the first four commandments.  Leviticus 19:18 is said to sum up the last six commandments].

Second, this distinction is not found in scripture.  Consider: Romans 7:4, 6, 7 (v.7 cf. Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21).  Consider: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 (verse 7 cf. Exodus 31:18; 32:19; 34:1, 4, 28-29; Deuteronomy 10:4-5; 1 Kings 8:9; 2 Chronicles 5:10).

10.  Morals

It is supposed that if The Ten Commandments are not binding, then stealing and other things would not be prohibited.

First, nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament.  (1) No other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3 / Acts 14:15; 1 Thessalonians 1:9).  (2) No graven images for worship (Exodus 20:4-6 / Acts 15:29; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:9; 10:14; Colossians 3:5; 1 John 5:21).  (3) No taking of the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7 / Matthew 6:9).  (4) Keep the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11 /?).  (5) Honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12 / Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20; 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 4, 8, 16). (6) Shall not murder (Exodus 20:13 / Romans 13:8-10; 1 Peter 4:15; 1 John 3:15).  (7) Shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14; / Matthew 5:27-28; 19:9; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-ff; Galatians 5:19; Hebrews 13:4).  (8) Do not steal (Exodus 20:15 / Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-ff; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Peter 4:15).  (9) No false witness (Exodus 20:16 / Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:9; Revelation 21:8).  (10) Shall not covet (Exodus 20:17 / Matthew 5:27-28; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:3; Hebrews 13:5).  It seems significant that the Sabbath is not repeated in the teaching of the New Testament. 

Second, consider an illustration.  Texas has been called the “Six Flags State.”  It has been under the laws of: (1) Spain (1519-1685; 1690-1821); (2) France (1685-1690); (3) Mexico (1821-1836); (4) Republic of Texas (1836-1845); The U.S.A. (1845-1861; 1865-present); (6) the Confederacy (1861-1865).  No doubt certain things such as murder, theft, rape, etc., were illegal under each of these flags.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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