Should We Keep the Sabbath? (Part 2)

In this lesson, we will continue to consider some common arguments for observing the Sabbath.

Arguments For

11.  Another Rest Not Mentioned

This argument is based on Hebrews 4:8, which reads, “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.”  This is interpreted to mean, “If Jesus had given another day of rest, wouldn’t he have spoken of this day?” 

First, this is not a question.  There is no question mark.

Second, while “Jesus” is mentioned in the Greek, the reference is to Joshua.  “Jesus” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrews “Joshua” (cf. Acts 7:44-45).  Consider also, “In the book of Hebrews, the name Jesus appears 14 times.  Each time it is used with descriptive terms such as Christ, the Son of God, high priest, author and finisher of our faith, and the great Shepherd, or used in the context of shedding his blood for our sins.  Every single occurrence is accomplished by a description that removes any doubt that the Jesus being discussed is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, except Hebrews 4:8” (Kevin L. Cunningham, The Sabbath, The Law and the New Covenant, p. 51).     Third, the context should be considered.  The point that is being made is that God, through David, spoke of another day of rest (Hebrews 4:7 cf. Psalm 95:6-11).  Stan Crowley comments, “Although these verses (Psalm 95:6-11 B.H.) refer to the failure of the Israelites to enter their rest (i.e. the Promised Land), there is at the same time an admonition by the psalmist to harken to God’s voice and not harden one’s heart.  Hence, the Hebrews writer states, “after so long a time’ (the psalmist write five or six centuries after the failure of the Israelites), there is still at the time the psalmist wrote, a day of opportunity, “Today” (Psalm 95:7).  The conclusion is that the offer of rest in the land of Canaan must not have been… the ultimate rest… we see that the ultimate rest was not the Promised Land… It was a rest that was available in the days of the psalmist; it was a rest that was available in the days of the Hebrews writer… the rest spoken of is the eternal rest available to the obedient believers who are faithful to the end” (editor Devin W. Dean, Studies in Hebrews, The Gospel Journal Commentary Series, p. 101).  This is an exhortation to enter into the Promised Land of Heaven (cf. Hebrews 3:7-11; 4:1-3). 

12.  There remains a rest

This argument is based on Hebrews 4:9, which reads, “There remains a rest for the people of God.”  Some understood this to mean that the Sabbath-day is still to be observed. 

The context must be considered.  The context is the same as in the previous discussion of Hebrews 4:8.  The heavenly rest is in view, not the weekly Sabbath-day.  “Rest,” in context, refers to the Promised Land (Hebrews 3:10-11. 17-19; Psalm 95:10-11 cf. Numbers 14:29-33).

13.  Constantine

It is asserted that Constantine changed things.  Constantine changed the Sabbath-day from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week.  Constantine made the first day of the week the day which Christians assemble to worship.

First, let me clarify that the Bible does not teach that Sunday, the first day, is a Sabbath-day or the Christian Sabbath.  Men do sometimes use such language.  The Bible does not. 

Second, the evidence indicates that Christians were assembling for worship on the first day of the week long before Constantine (Emperor of Rome from 306-337 A.D.).   Consider: (1) Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.).  He said, “And on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who lived in a city or a rural district… we make our assembly in common on the day of the sun, since it is the first day on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day.  For they crucified Him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the sun) he appeared to his disciples…” (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, pp. 67-68 quoting Apology I, 67:1-3, 7). (2) Ignatius of Antioch (death c. 107-110 A.D.).  “If therefore those who lived according to the old practices came to the new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath but living according to the Lord’s Day, which also our life arose through him…” (Everett Ferguson, p. 67 quoting Magnesians 9).  (3) Tertullian (c. 150-222 A.D.) “Other… suppose that the sun is the god of the Christian, because it is well-known that… we regard Sunday as the day of joy” (Everett Ferguson, p. 68 quoting To the Nations I:13).  (4) Epistle of Barnabas (late first century or early second century A.D.).  “We keep the eighth day for joy, on which also Jesus arose from the dead…” (Everett Ferguson, p. 67 quoting the Epistle of Barnabas 15:8f).  (5) The New Testament record.  Acts 20:7, “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” 1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside…”  Why is the first day specified?  Why not the Sabbath?  Why do we not read, “Now on the Sabbath day, when the disciples came together…”?     Third, what did Constantine do?  I would suggest that he decreed in 321 A.D. what we might call Blue Laws.  He decreed, “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and the people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.  In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-growing or for vine-planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost” (Philip Schaff, History of The Christian Church, vol. 3, p. 380 quoting Cod. Justin. lib.3, tit. 12. 3).  He later exempted the liberation of slaves on Sunday (Schaff, Vol. 3, p. 105, quoting Cod. Theodos. lib. 2.  tit. 8).    

14.  Catholic Church

Some have appealed to statements made by Roman Catholics e.g. Bertrand Conway (1873- 1950) wrote in the Question Box, “What Bible authority is there for changing the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week?  Who gave the Pope the authority to change a command of God?  If the Bible is the only guide for the Christian, then the Seventh Day Adventist is right in observing the Saturday with the Jews.  But Catholics learn what to believe and do from the divine, infallible authority established by Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, which in Apostolic times made Sunday the day of rest to honor our Lord’s resurrection on that day (Question #266, babel, hathitrust.org). 

First, there is no evidence in the Scripture that the first day was made a day of rest in Apostolic times. Constantine did this.

Second, while the New Testament does not explicitly teach that the first day is to be the day of Christian worship, it does provide us an example of the disciples coming together on the first day of the week “to break bread” (Acts 20:7 cf. Acts 2:42; Matthew 26:26). 

Third, since when do we turn to Roman Catholics to establish doctrine? 

15.  The Ten Commandments Special

It is sometimes argued that The Ten Commandments are special.  (1) The Ten Commandments were written by God (Exodus 31:18; 32:15-16; 34:1; Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:22; 9:10; 10:2-3).  The rest of the law was written in a book by Moses (Deuteronomy 31:24).  (2) The Ten Commandments were placed in the Ark (Exodus 25:16 cf. 31:18; 40:20; Deuteronomy 10:4-5).  The rest of the law was placed by the side of the Ark (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).

First, I agree The Ten Commandments were special.  The seem to be foundational principles to the Covenant (cf. Exodus 34:27). 

Second, it should be remembered to whom this was given (Exodus 20:1-2; 31:16-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-3; 12:15; Ezekiel 20:10-12; Nehemiah 9:13-14).  The Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel (Exodus 31:16-17; Ezekiel 20:10-12, 20 cf. Genesis 17:10-12).  Foy E. Wallace Jr. mused, “If all nations were commanded to keep the Sabbath, how could it be a sign between God and one nation?” (Foy Wallace Jr., God’s Prophetic Word, p. 328).  Guy Caskey remarked, “A sign is something special, not general… I wear a wedding band on the third finger of my left hand.  It is a sign between me and one woman.  It is not a sign between me and every woman… so the Sabbath was given to Israel as a sign between that nation (not all nations) and God” (Guy Caskey, A Reply to an Adventist, p. 86).

Third, special does not prove that it is binding on all men, or on men today (Romans 7:4, 6-7 cf. Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21).

About Bryan Hodge

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