Answering the Sabbath Observance
by David Tant
Those who claim that the Sabbath (Saturday) is the day God has ordained from the beginning
certainly believe that their claims are based on Scripture, and vigorously defend their belief and
practice. But a careful examination of the Scriptures shows a problem with the arguments they
make to support the practice of keeping the Sabbath as a holy day in the New Testament era. Let
us consider the arguments that are made to support the claim, and then see what the Bible said.
Proposed Reasons for Observing the Sabbath
(1) The Sabbath is a holy day, for God blessed it and set it aside. “Then God blessed the seventh
day and sanctified it...” (Gen. 2:3). “"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8).
Response: The truth is that God also set aside other days as “holy.” “On exactly the tenth day of
this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you” (Lev. 2:27).
It is obvious that the “tenth day” of the month is not a Sabbath. The fact is that there are various
things in the Old Testament that were holy, but which were confined to the Old Testament
period, and were not included in New Testament practices. “These are the appointed times of the
LORD which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, to present offerings by fire to the LORD-
-burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each day's matter on its own
day” (Lev. 23:37). We would agree that burnt offerings are not a part of the New Covenant, even
though God said they were “holy.”
(2) The Sabbath was to be perpetual, everlasting, forever, etc. “So the sons of Israel shall observe
the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a
sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed” (Ex. 31:16-17).
Response: Notice that the passage says the Sabbath was to be perpetual “throughout their
generations.” When the nation of Israel ceased to exist, “their generations” also ceased to exist.
There were also other “forever” and “perpetual” matters that obviously are not to be observed
today. For example, when God brought Israel out of Egypt, the Passover feast was inaugurated,
as the Lord “passed over” the houses with blood on the doorpost. “Now this day will be a
memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your
generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance” (Ex. 12:14). I am not aware that
Sabbath observers observe the Passover feast today. The fact that something was “permanent” is modified by “throughout your generations.” We further note that there were other observances that were “perpetual,” “continual” and “throughout your generations.” "When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations” (Ex. 30:8). “It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD...” (Ex. 29:42). “Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year; he shall make atonement on it with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year throughout
your generations. It is most holy to the LORD” (Ex. 30:10). In these passages, we note that the
Passover, the burning of incense, and the offering of atonement carry the same language of
perpetuity that the Sabbath does, yet it is understood that they are not considered a part of God’s
arrangement with us today.
(3) Jesus kept the Sabbath.
Response: Certainly Jesus kept the Sabbath. He lived under the Law of Moses. “But when the
fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Gal.
4:4). As an observant Jew, Jesus was circumcised (Luke 2:21.) He kept the Passover (Luke
22:15). There is no mention of his observing the Sabbath after his resurrection, even though he
remained on the earth for some 40 days. That would include at least five Sabbath days.
The reason we find no further observance of the Sabbath is seen in the fact that the Sabbath and
other Old Testament observances were abolished at the death of Christ. “When you were dead in
your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him,
having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of
decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to
the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them,
having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to
food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a
mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:13-17).
The Scripture says Christ took the decrees out of the way, having nailed them to the cross.
Therefore, we are not to be judged any more concerning food or drink (dietary laws), or the
observance of special days (including Sabbath days) or seasons. One commentary states: “The
word judge here is used in the sense of pronouncing a sentence. The meaning is, ‘since you have
thus been delivered by Christ from the evils which surrounded you; since you have been freed
from the observances of the law, let no one sit in judgment on you, or claim the right to decide
for you in those matters’” (Albert Barnes). The apostle Paul, by inspiration declares that the
Sabbath day has no more significance to us any more than the feast days, etc. We do not live
under the Old Testament system at this time.
(4) Sabbath is mentioned 59 times in the New Testament, and therefore must be binding.
Response: As a matter of fact, the Temple is mentioned 115 times, yet we are not obligated to go
to the temple for worship today, while there was such a command in the Old Testament. “The
people of the land shall also worship at the doorway of that gate before the LORD on the
Sabbaths and on the new moons” (Ezek. 46:3). Circumcision is mentioned 55 times in the New Testament, yet is not bound. In Acts 15, the Jerusalem conference dealt with the problem of Jewish converts seeking to bind circumcision on the Gentile converts. Peter, who was the first of the apostles to go to the Gentiles (cf. Cornelius in Acts 10), stood up and testified, “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). The “yoke” referred to the Law of Moses in general, and circumcision in particular. Yet we know that in the Old Testament circumcision was God’s law for the Jews. “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:13). Note that circumcision was a “must,” and that it was an “everlasting covenant.” But we note that this “everlasting covenant” was with Israel, and as noted before, was to continue “throughout their generations,” so long as the nation existed. If the necessity of circumcision, which was an everlasting covenant, is no longer bound, then the
Sabbath, which was an everlasting covenant was also subject to coming to an end. If not, why
not? In addition, Passover is mentioned 28 times in the New Testament, yet we are not told to observe the Passover Feast. In fact, we have a new Passover—Christ. “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (I Cor. 5:7).
(5) The women rested the day after the crucifixion, therefore they observed the Sabbath.
Response: All the truth had not yet been revealed. Shortly before his death, Christ told the
disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He,
the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own
initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come”
(John 16:12-13). The full teaching of the New Covenant did not begin to be revealed until the
Day of Pentecost—50 days after the resurrection. In fact, the church had not even been
established until that day.
(6) Jewish Christians observed the Sabbath in the Book of Acts.
Response: In a period of transition, many of the Jews did not free themselves immediately from
the Law. It was mentioned earlier that the conference in Acts 15 dealt with this very matter.
Some Jewish converts were insisting that the Gentile converts had to submit to certain provisions
of the Law, such as circumcision. But the apostles quickly showed that God had released men
from the Law. “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the
disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).
(7) Paul kept the Sabbath 84 times in the book of Acts. Acts 13:14-15—two Sabbaths;
16:13—one Sabbath; 17:1-2—three more Sabbaths; 18:1-4, 11—a year-and-a-half—78
Response: Acts 18:6-7 removes about 75 of those Sabbaths. “But when they resisted and
blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I
am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ Then he left there and went to the house of a
man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue.” When
the Jews refused to listen to him, he ceased meeting with them and turned his attention to the
Gentiles, who obviously did not observe the Sabbath. But did Paul go to the synagogues while he was a Christian? “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law” (I Cor. 9:20). He had Timothy circumcised, not because of the Law, but in order to make him able to go in among the Jews, as his mother was Jewish. “Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with
him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they
all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1-3). But Paul refused to have Titus circumcised. “But not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised” (Gal. 2:3). Neither of Titus’ parents were Jewish, so there was no reason to accommodate the Jews in this situation. When Paul went into a city, and sought out a place where he could testify to Jews about Christ, where would he go? “And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3). “And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). In Acts 17:22, Paul was in the city of Athens preaching to a group of people assembled. “So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.’” Just what is the Areopagus (Mars Hill—KJV)? “From Ares (the name of the Greek deity of war) and a derivative of 4078; rock of Ares, a place in Athens:--Areopagus, Mars' Hill.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary). The fact that Paul went to a place that honored a false god certainly does not mean that he worshipped that God. And the fact that Paul went into a synagogue of the Jews does not mean that he went there to worship. He went to both places in order to teach the people gathered there.
If we wanted to address a gathering of Muslims in order to teach them about Jesus Christ, where
would be a likely place? How about a mosque, where they gather on Fridays? But that certainly
would not mean that I went to worship the Muslim god Allah. So the fact that Paul went into the
synagogues on the Sabbath in no way proves that he was “observing” the Sabbath as a good Jew
observing the Law.
(8) The Law of Moses (ceremonial) was taken away, but the Law of God (the 10
Commandments) remains in force.
Response: This argument is often made, that the fourth commandment (remember the Sabbath),
is a part of the Law of God, and the Ten Commandments are still in force, but the other Old
Testament commandments are part of the “ceremonial” law, and that is what was removed or
taken away. On one occasion when the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus, he asked them: “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?" (John 7:19). The 6 commandment forbade killing, yet Jesus said this was a part of Moses’ Law. In Mark 7:10, Christ attributes the 5 command to Moses: “For Moses said, 'HONOR YOUR
FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER.’” In Luke 2:22-23, a “ceremonial” practice is called the “Law of the Lord.” “And when the days for their purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD")”. The truth is, nowhere in the Bible is there a distinction between the Law of Moses and the Law of God. That difference exists only in the minds of men. If there is a distinction, it should be made plain in a statement of Scripture somewhere. To date, such a Scripture has not been produced.
(9) Some object with this reasoning: “If the Ten commandments have been done away, then is it OK to murder, commit adultery, and the other things that are mentioned?”
Response. An examination of the New Testament reveals that nine of the ten are mentioned in the New Testament, but one is not mentioned—Sabbath keeping. In the State of Georgia, a new constitution was enacted several years ago. It is against the law in Georgia to commit murder—not because the former law forbids it, but because the present law forbids it. In like manner, murder is against God’s law, not because the Ten Commandments forbid it, but because the Law of Christ, the New Testament does.
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