Tag Archives: Old Testament

Should We Keep The Sabbath Day Holy?: Part 3

(This is the final part of a 3-part article regarding whether Christians should observe the Old Testament Sabbath holy day.  You are encouraged to read Parts 1 and 2 before reading what’s below.) 

Questions That Come Up

We have seen that there is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the Sabbath was made part of the new covenant of Jesus Christ.  This is a new idea to many, something that they’ve never heard of or considered.  Thus, it is natural that questions might be raised in reaction to this teaching.

For example, if the Sabbath is something God does not require of anyone under Christianity, some wonder why he said that the Sabbath was a sign between him and the Jews “forever”(Ex. 31:16-17).  This is a legitimate question, and the answer can be found by making a word study on the term “forever.”   The Hebrew word is olam, which literally is defined as a “long duration, long time, (or) long completed time.”  Keeping this definition in mind, we see that this Hebrew word could in some casesbe translated “forever” (i.e., eternity), but the context determines the proper definition.  This same word is used to describe the amount of time circumcision (Gen. 17:13) and the Passover (Ex. 29:42) would be commanded by God for the Jews to observe; however, we know that the New Testament did away with those rites and holy days (Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-17).  Obviously, olam does not mean “forever” in their cases, but rather “for a long time,” or “for a long, completed time.”  In like manner, olammeans the same thing for the Sabbath Day.

Some would also ask, “Well, if God no longer requires Christians to observe the Sabbath Day, is there a day which God told us to set aside in the New Testament?”  This is also a legitimate question, for we are commanded to not go beyond what is written in God’s Word (1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19).  In the New Testament, the law which we are under, there are only two mentions of a day that has special significance for the Christian: the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), the day on which Christian disciples came together to break bread in communion (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16-17), give of their means, hear a message from God’s Word, and sing and pray together.  John wrote of “the Lord’s Day”(Rev. 1:10), and extra-biblical historical writings confirm that Christians used that term to describe the first day of the week.  In fact, history in the form of various encyclopedias and history books record that the early Christians set aside the first day of the week as a day of worship.  Below are extra-biblical testimonies from apostolic contemporaries confirming the first day of the week as the day of worship for Christians:

“We keep the eighth day (Sunday) with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”  (Epistle of Barnabas, 100 A.D.)

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits…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 Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”  (Justin Martyr, 150 A.D.)

Gradually, many Christians began to view the Lord’s Day, Sunday, as the “Christian” Sabbath, the Christian “day of rest.”  During the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries A.D., there was much controversy over whether Christians should keep the Sabbath on Sunday.  Some tried to make both the Sabbath (Saturday) and the Lord’s Day (Sunday) holy days.  Others, especially the Puritans, began to call the Lord’s Day (Sunday) “the Christian Sabbath.”  Today, many Catholics and Protestants routinely refer to Sunday as “the Sabbath.”

This brings us to one more question which many have.  Is Sunday the “Christian Sabbath”?  Again, we must go to what the Bible says, where we find that we are to call Bible things by Bible names…the definition of speaking “as oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).  We have seen previously that the word Sabbathoriginally meant “to rest from labor” in the languages in which the Bible was written.  We also saw that the Old Testament applied this word to the seventh day of the week, but the New Testament did not apply this word to any day.  It needs to be said that the New Testament never commands the first day of the week to be a day of rest.  It is commanded to be a day of worship, but not a day of rest from working.  Since this is true…why call it that?  Why call Sunday “the Sabbath,” a word that literally means to rest, when God never called it that?

Basically, there are three views of the Sabbath.  The Seventh-Day Adventists believe that Saturday is the Sabbath today and should be kept by Christians.  While they are correct to say that God called the seventh day a “Sabbath” (a day of rest), they are incorrect to say that God wants Christians to observe the Sabbath like the Jews did.  Next to them are the majority of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches, who believe that Sunday is the Sabbath and should be kept by Christians.  They are correct to teach that Christians should assemble to worship on Sundays, but incorrect to call Sunday “the Sabbath.”  Finally, there is the biblical view which states from the Old Testament that Saturday was the Sabbath, the day of rest, and proclaims from the New Testament that Christians are not obligated to keep it.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

Are you working diligently to enter into the eternal Sabbath rest?

Interestingly, the New Testament does speak of a “rest”(Heb. 4:9).  Some English translations of this verse use theterm “Sabbath rest”in this verse, because it comes from the Greek derivative of the Hebrew word which is translated “Sabbath.” When we remember that in the original language the word “Sabbath”literally is defined as “to rest from labors” rather than referring to day, we see that the Hebrew writer is not talking about a weekly rest on the seventh day of every week instituted for Israel through Moses.  The context (Heb. 4:1-11) shows that he’s talking about a heavenly rest which Jesus provides, a rest which requires diligence on our part to enter.  If we truly want to enter that “Sabbath,” that rest from labor which is in heaven for all eternity, then we need to heed Peter’s words:

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”  (2 Pet. 3:9-14)

Should We Keep The Sabbath Day Holy?: Part 2

(This is the second part of a three-part article regarding whether Christians should observe the Old Testament Sabbath holy day.  Part 1 of this article can be found here.  Part 3 can be found here.)  

What Does The New Testament Say About The Sabbath?

We have seen in the previous article how there is no indication in the Old Testament that the Sabbath was intended for all of mankind.  With that in mind, what relationship did Jesus have with the Sabbath?  Christ came into this world as a Jew born under the Law of Moses (Gal. 4:4), which would stay in effect until his death (Heb. 8:7-13; 9:15-17).  In order to be our High Priest, he had to live a sinless life, which he did (Heb. 4:15-16).  In order to live a sinless life, he would have had to have observed the Law of Moses perfectly (Rom. 4:15; 1 John 3:4), which would include observing the Sabbath.  Thus, he taught in the synagogues on the Sabbath (cf. Mark 1:21) and observed it perfectly as a Jew.

However, his actions on the Sabbath were controversial to some of his Jewish peers.  He allowed his Jewish disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath in order to eat (Matt. 12:1-2), and he miraculously healed the sick on the Sabbath (cf. Luke 13:10-14).  The Jewish leaders thought this to be a violation of the command to rest on the Sabbath, but Jesus countered his critics’ objections by showing their ignorance of the Law of Moses (Matt. 12:3-7) and pointing out their own inconsistencies (Luke 13:14-16).  By doing so, he showed himself to be Lord even of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8).  It is noteworthy that Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath never extended the Sabbath to Gentile nations.  As a Jew obligated by God under the Law of Moses to observe the Sabbath along with other Jews, there is no indication in Scripture that he ever commanded the same of Gentiles.

After his death, resurrection, and ascension, what relationship did his apostles have with the Sabbath?  During Jesus’ life, he prophesied that the Romans would destroy the temple and Jerusalem during their generation, something which took place in 70 A.D. (Matt. 24:1-34)  Even though this would be after God had taken the Law of Moses out of the way, non-Christian Jews would still be observing the Sabbath that year.  Therefore, they would have the gates of Jerusalem shut on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:19), thus providing an obstacle to Christians wanting to escape the destruction.  Thus, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Matthew to record in his gospel the instruction Jesus gave to his followers that they pray that their flight from the destruction of Jerusalem not occur “in winter or on a Sabbath” (Matt. 24:20).  However, notice that Christ’s instructions to his apostles here do not indicate whether God still bound the Sabbath under the Christian dispensation.

The book of Acts brings out in several places how the apostle Paul utilized the Sabbath during his evangelistic efforts (cf. Acts 17:1-3).  He knew the Jews would be in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, so he had the habit to enter the synagogues on Sabbaths and teach them about Jesus.  However, this also does not indicate whether God wanted all Christians to observe the Sabbath like the Jews did in the Old Testament.

In fact, Paul and the other inspired apostles and prophets taught that the Law of Moses, including the Sabbath, had to come to an end.  Paul taught that the Jews had spiritually died to the Law of Moses when they became Christians (Rom. 7:4-7), and that Jesus had ended the Law of Moses with its ordinances when he died on the cross (Eph. 2:13-16; Col. 2:14).  This led him to conclude via divine inspiration that the Law of Moses and its ordinances like the Sabbath and other Jewish holy days could not be bound on others, especially Gentiles (Col. 2:16-17).  Paul also wrote that those who think they are justified by observing the Law of Moses have fallen away from grace and would be obligated to obey all the Old Testament commands, not just certain ones (Gal. 5:3-4).  Therefore, those who teach that it is God’s will under the New Testament to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy as he had commanded under the Old Testament (like the Seventh-Day Adventists teach) are obligated to offer animal sacrifices, burn incense, and observe and obey all other Old Testament commands…all to no avail from an eternal perspective, since they would have fallen from grace.

“The ministry of death carved in letters on stone”

Fortunately, the New Testament teaches that a new, superior covenant has replaced the Old Testament covenant, which was the Law of Moses and which included the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath Day commandment (Heb. 8:6-7, 13).  Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the new covenant replacing the old (2 Cor. 3:6-11).  Did you notice how he called the old covenant “the ministry of death carved in letters on stone” (2 Cor. 3:7)?  That is an obvious reference to the Ten Commandments, including the commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy…yet God inspired Paul to tell Christians that this was “the ministry of death” which was replaced by the new covenant.

The above is blatant, biblical proof that the Sabbath is not something God has commanded Christians to observe.  This is why the apostles taught that observing the Sabbath was no longer necessary.  Granted, it is true that Jewish Christians in the first century A.D. continued to observe elements of the Law of Moses.  Paul himself did so at times in order to not offend his Jewish peers (Acts 21:20-26).  However, he and the other apostles drew a clear line when they taught that the Law of Moses could not be bound on Gentiles (Acts 15:1-2, 19-20, 28-29) and that obeying the Law of Moses would not bring anyone salvation (Gal. 5:4; Rom. 3:28).  If an individual Christian desired to privately set apart a day as holy (like the Sabbath Day, for example), that was between the individual and God (Rom. 14:5-6, 22).  However, it was not something that God wanted the church as a whole to do (Gal. 4:9-11), and those within the church who would promote such are “false brothers”trying to either wittingly or unwittingly bring the church back into spiritual slavery (Gal. 2:3-5; 5:1).

(Check here for the final part of this article.)

Should We Keep The Sabbath Day Holy?: Part 1

(This is the first part of a three-part article regarding whether Christians should observe the Old Testament Sabbath holy day.  Part 2 can be found here, and Part 3 can be found here.)

Evolutionists can claim otherwise, but it is a fact that God created this world and this universe in six literal days, and then rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-2).  Then, at some later point, God blessed the seventh day and set it apart from the other days (Gen. 2:3).  “But Jon,” you might be saying, “didn’t God make the seventh day holy right then on the seventh day?  After all, we read of it happening right there in the beginning of Genesis.”  This article is going to explore whether that is true, but for now let’s talk a little more about that seventh day.

The seventh day later became known as “the Sabbath Day.”  “Sabbath” is transliterated from the Hebrew word shabbath, which means “to rest from labor.”  The Greek word is sabbaton, and joins the English word “Sabbath” as a transliteration of the Hebrew shabbath.  That’s why it now means something slightly different from what it originally meant in Hebrew.  Today, “Sabbath” means “the day of rest,” but it originally meant “to rest from labor,” with no reference to a day.

A lot of questions come up in religious circles about the Sabbath Day, especially if you are having a religious discussion with someone from the religious sect known as the Seventh-Day Adventists.  The first question which usually arises has to do with determining which day of the week was the Sabbath Day.  Was it Saturday or Sunday?  This question is the simplest one to answer.  In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a day of rest after six days of work (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11).  The Jews began their days at sunset rather than sunrise, so the seventh day began at sunset on the day we call Friday and ended at sunset on the day we call Saturday.  Therefore, “the Sabbath” generally refers to Saturday in the Bible…with one major exception.

This exception has to do with other questions about the Sabbath which are generally raised.  For example, we know that in the Old Testament the Jews were required to observe the Sabbath Day.  However, are Christians who live under the New Testament (Heb. 8:7-13; cf. Jer. 31:31-34) supposed to keep the Sabbath?  If that’s the case, then does “the Sabbath” still take place on Saturdays…or is it now on Sundays since that is the day when Christians go to church?

What Does The Old Testament Say About The Sabbath?

To find a biblical answer to these questions, let’s first consider what the Old Testament says about the Sabbath.  We’ve seen already the first mention of the Sabbath Day in the Old Testament (Gen. 2:1-3), but interestingly enough there is no further mention of it from Genesis 2:4 all the way up to Exodus 15.  Think about what this means for a second.  We never read of the many righteous men throughout Genesis who pleased God (Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah Melchizedek, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, etc.) observing the Sabbath Day as holy or a day of rest.

But what about Genesis 2:3, where it says that God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because he rested on that day?  Since we read about God blessing the seventh day right when we read about the creation, doesn’t that mean that Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, and all the others in Genesis must have observed it just like Moses and the Jews did?

The children of Israel gathering manna

Not necessarily.  Go to Exodus 16:22-30, the first place since Genesis 2:1-3 where we read of the seventh day as being the Sabbath, a day of rest.  This passage tells us about the instructions God gave the nation of Israel concerning how to collect the manna that he rained down on them from heaven for their food while in the wilderness, shortly after they were delivered from Egyptian slavery and before they got to Mount Sinai where they received the Law of Moses.  Did you notice that they had to be specifically told (twice) not to gather the manna on the seventh day (Ex. 16:23, 29)?  However, they went out on the seventh day prepared to gather the manna anyway.  What does that tell us?  They weren’t used to taking the seventh day off from work.

Why?  Nehemiah tells us why when he wrote that the Lord “made known” to Israel the holy Sabbath at Mount Sinai (Neh. 9:13-14).  Since God made it known to them at Mount Sinai, that means they did not know about it previously.  That is why they had to be told twice not to work gathering manna on the seventh day, because putting the seventh day aside as a day of rest was something unknown to them.

With this in mind, look at Exodus 20:8-11.  This passage is part of the Ten Commandments which God gave to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.  This is when the Sabbath became a part of the Law of Moses.  Did you notice where God explains why he is giving them a commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy (Ex. 20:11)?  The reason cited here is because he had created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, which is almost identical to the reason given in Genesis 2:3.  (More on that in a second…)

There were other reasons God commanded the Sabbath Day to be holy in the Law of Moses.  It was a weekly reminder of how he had delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery (Deut. 5:15).  It was also a sign between him and Israel to show that they were his special people (Ex. 31:13-17).  This brings to mind the interesting fact that God never commanded Gentiles (non-Jews) to observe the Sabbath.  All the commands regarding the Sabbath in the Old Testament were directed towards Israel and no other nation.  The only exception was “the stranger who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:10), so that the Israelites would not be influenced by their visitor Gentiles to disobey God’s law concerning the Sabbath (cf. Neh. 13:15-21).  Other than that, it is noteworthy that God intended the Sabbath to be something special only between him and Israel while the Law of Moses was still in effect (Ex. 31:13, 16-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20).

Keeping all of the above in mind, why did Moses, the author of Genesis, mention the Sabbath while he was writing about what happened way back at creation (Gen. 2:1-3)?  Well, who were the very first readers of Genesis?  That would be the Israelites, Moses’ traveling companions who had just been commanded by God at Mount Sinai to do something that they were not used to doing: keeping the seventh day of the week as a holy day of rest.  Remember that Moses was writing Genesis while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for forty years, right after God had given them the command to keep the seventh day holy and  a day of rest.  So when writing about the seventh day of this creation’s existence, the day on which God rested, the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write Genesis 2:3 as something similar to a parenthetical statement, a relevant reminder of why God gave them that particular commandment at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:8-11).  Basically, God was telling Moses, “When you write about how I rested on the seventh day, remind Israel that I blessed this day and made it holy for them back at Mount Sinai.”

(Part 2 of this article can be found here, and Part 3 can be found here.)