Sabbath

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Is the Seventh-day Sabbath binding on God’s people?

I defended the seventh-day Sabbath for 8 years. See: everlasting-gospel.blogspot. After I re-discovered the new covenant, and what the New Testament teaches about the old covenant, and the Sabbath, I can no longer do so.

The best books I read defending the seventh-day Sabbath were by three Seventh-day Adventist theologians:

  • The Sabbath Under Crossfire by Samuele Bacchiocchi
  • In Granite or Ingrained? What the Old and New Covenants reveal about the gospel by Skip MacCarty
  • Judging the Sabbath: Discovering What Can’t Be Found in Colossians 2:16 by Ron du Preez

The best book I read defending the new covenant Sabbath is by a former SDA pastor:

  • Sabbath in Christ by Dale Ratzlaff

SDA authors make compelling arguments for the Seventh day Sabbath and pastor Dale Ratzlaff for the new covenant Sabbath (not the seventh-day Sabbath). However, based on a restudy of the Bible covenants, I have come to the following conclusion.

I believe the new covenant which Christians are under doesn’t restate or command people to keep the seventh-day Sabbath (you will see the reason for this). Neither does it forbid keeping it. However, it teaches us not to judge (make people feel guilty) regarding the Sabbath day or day you worship.

Follow me, and see what the Bible really teaches.

No Sabbath in Genesis

  • There is no record or command to keep Sabbath in Genesis for anyone. Neither the word Sabbath is mentioned nor is there an example of man taking a day off on the seventh day.
  • Based on Genesis alone, God’s seventh day rest is unique. It simply states God rested, God blessed, and God made holy the seventh-day (Genesis 2:2-3).
  • God’s seventh day rest is not said to close with an ‘evening and morning’ like the other six days of creation indicating that God’s rest remains open, constant and continuous and that the conditions (blessedness) of that first 7th day were to remain indefinitely. Note also the creation ended on the sixth day, not the seventh.
  • The Genesis account doesn’t say that Adam and Eve observed the Seventh-day, it only tells us that God rested from his work and blessed that one day. It doesn’t say that any successive seventh day was observed.
  • He just blessed that seventh day (which doesn’t mean he blessed every seventh day ever since) because he considered that the creation of the previous six days was complete and very good.
  • If Sabbath was commanded to Adam & Eve, Sabbath prohibitions like don’t ‘light a fire’ (Ex 35:2-3), ‘carry a load’ (Jer. 17:27), travel, cook, boil, buy and sell etc. (Ex 16:23,29-30; Neh. 13:15-17) may not have made sense to them in a perfect world.
  • When Hebrews 4 mentions God’s seventh day rest (Heb 4:4), it doesn’t refer to the Saturday Sabbath commanded in Exodus. It refers to a rest one can enter ‘TODAY’ (4:7), meaning everyday, not on Saturday or a particular day.  This clearly shows God’s seventh day rest that didn’t have a morning and evening was intended to  remain open, constant and continuous.
  • The 7th day of Creation lasted only 24 hours, but the memory of it will last forever. The day a person graduates from college is a very blessed day, and the day for the graduation ceremony is set aside by college leadership. A college graduate will always remember that day without the need for any weekly, monthly, or annual rituals.
  • When it comes to Sabbath in the book of Genesis alone, no one can say for sure whether people kept Sabbath or not. Either conclusion can be ASSUMED. However, we must go by Thus says the Lord.

God operates with His people through covenants or agreements

  • He made covenants or agreements with:

– Noah : Promise of no more flood (Gen 9)

– Abraham : Father of a nation of believers, and promises were to be received by faith (Genesis 15:18-21)

– Israel : Blessings based on obedience to the law (Deuteronomy 4:13)

  • Covenant terms are binding on people with whom it is made, and as long as it is said to last. Covenants states which laws people are obligated to obey.

The covenant God made with Israel is the Ten Commandments

  • God’s covenant with Israel is the Ten Commandments; it included others laws and the earthly sanctuary service: “He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Deuteronomy 4:13; Exodus 34:28). “Now the first covenant had also an earthly sanctuary…, and the tables of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:1-4).
  • To become a member of this covenant, the males of every household had to be circumcised, which was the entrance sign into the covenant (Gen. 17.9-14; Lev. 12.3) and all had to observe Sabbath, which was the ongoing weekly sign of the covenant (Ex. 31.13-17; Isa. 56.1-8).
  • A foreigner or gentile was forbidden to partake in the covenant celebrations unless he was circumcised (Ex. 12:48). Therefore, the Sabbath and circumcision were closely linked as signs of the covenant.
  • So if you take away circumcision, then you must take away covenant celebrations including the Sabbath, because no one (Israelite or gentile) was expected to celebrate without circumcision.

God considered the LAW in the covenant as ONE Law or ONE package

  • God gave Israel only ONE law under the Ten Commandment covenant: “One law shall be for the native born and for the stranger” (Ex. 12:49). “There is one law for them” (Lev. 7:7). (See: Num. 15:16; Num. 15:29).
  • The Law of God” and the “Law of Moses” are really two different names for the same law under the Ten Commandment covenant: “Do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses” (Josh. 23:6). “…the Book of the Law the LORD (2 Chron. 17:9). “…as written in the Law of Moses” (2 Chron. 23:18). “…as written in the Law of the LORD” (2 Chron. 31:3).
  • Even if we make an artificial distinction between moral, and ceremonial laws, God considered the LAW in the covenant as ONE law. We must stick with God’s definition.

Ten Commandments or Sabbath wasn’t a law for Noah, Abraham, anyone in Genesis

  • The Ten Commandments covenant wasn’t made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob: “The Lord made a [ten commandment] covenant with us [Israel] at Horeb [Sinai]. It was not with our ancestors [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob] that the Lord made this covenant, but with us (Israel), with all of us who are alive here today” (Deuteronomy 5:2-3).
  • The law of the Ten Commandment covenant was added 430 years after Abraham, which explains why Sabbath is nowhere recorded in Genesis. “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant [with Abraham] previously established by God..” (Galatians 3:17).
  • God’s law existed in Genesis. Otherwise there would have been no sin (Romans 4:15). Abraham kept God’s ‘laws’ (Genesis 26:5); Joseph knew adultery is ‘sin’ (Genesis 39:9) perhaps through the law of conscience. However, this was not the Ten Commandments as it was not made with anyone in Genesis (Deut. 5:2-3).
  • The Jewish Talmud or history says the children of Noah did not keep the Sabbath. “The children of Noah…were given seven Laws only, the observance of the Sabbath not being among them” (Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:21 (Soncino edition, p. 23).
  • We should base our teachings on God’s word alone, not the Jewish Talmud; however, Jews, God’s chosen people, understood and interpreted that Sabbath was given only for them in Exodus; it was not established at creation.

Sabbath enters the Bible in Exodus 16 for the first time

  • Sabbath is first mentioned and introduced in Exodus 16. “The LORD hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: the seventh day, which is the sabbath,…the LORD hath given you the sabbath ” (Exodus 16:23,26, 29).
  • Sabbath was given to Israelites, not anyone else. “Say to the Israelites, “You must observe my Sabbaths..” (Exodus 31:13), and no one circumcised could keep the Sabbath (Ex. 12.48).
  • One reason why the Sabbath was commanded was to remind Israel about God’s rescue from Egypt. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15).
  • Another was to remember God’s unique seventh-day rest: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8,11).
  • When Exodus 20:8 commandment says ‘Remember’ the Sabbath day, it must be referring to the ‘Sabbath day’ that was first introduced in Exodus 16:23. One has to assume Sabbath existed in Genesis to put ‘remember’ to creation time.
  • There is no evidence from Genesis that God blessed the first seventh day as the SABBATH day. God set apart other Sabbaths as holy days including the weekly Sabbath in Exodus (Ex. 16, Lev. 23:24, 32, 37). ‘Keep my Sabbaths holy..’ (Ezekiel 20:20).
  • Paul explains the purpose of this Sabbath. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by a Sabbath day. They were only shadows of the real thing—of Christ himself’ (Colossians 2:16, 17). The Sabbath day was simply a shadow, not the real rest of God on the seventh day.

Sabbath is a ceremonial law!

  • Moral laws are laws that tell you what is moral all the time. If a law (don’t kill, steal etc) is moral one day, it is moral on all others.
  • The Sabbath law says that behaviour that is perfectly acceptable one day is forbidden the next, merely because it is a different day of the week. But God’s morality does not change with the days of the week.
  • God has the right to require different things, rituals, and ceremonies on different days, but this would be a ceremonial law, not a law about what is moral all the time.
  • Simply because Sabbath is grouped with the Ten Commandments doesn’t make it moral. Sabbath is also grouped with other ceremonial Sabbaths or feast days of the Bible (Lev. 23, Numbers 28–29).
  • Leviticus 23:1-24: ‘These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, official days for holy assembly. The seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, no regular work’ (v3), the fourteenth day is the Lord’s Passover (v5), the fifteenth day of the month is the Lord’s Feast of Unleavened bread, no regular work (v6,7), the eight day is the feast of harvest (v16), the first day of the seventh month is day of rest, celebrate with Trumpets, no regular work (v23-25), the fifteenth day of the seventh month IS the LORD’s Feast of Tabernacles, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement, no regular work (v26-27).
  • Sabbath is grouped a couple of times with moral laws because it is the sign of the covenant (Exodus 20, Deut 5), but six times with ceremonial laws (Lev. 23, 2 Chronicles 8:12-13, Nehemiah 10:32-33).  
  • The ten commandment covenant followed a similar pattern to covenant agreements made by people those days. Covenants contained three parts: Promise, Condition, Sign. For instance, a KING would make a covenant with his conquered NATION, not to kill (Promise), if they provide grain and food (Condition). The (Sign) was often arbitrary and could be an earring in the left ear, an ankle bracelet, or any other external sign. Similarly, the Sabbath was the ‘sign [of the covenant] between me [God] and you (Israel)” (Exodus 31:13).
  • Referring to the Sabbath, God says it is ‘the Sabbath of the Lord’ or ‘My holy day’. God says the same about the other Sabbaths or feast days. “These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, …The LORD’s Passover, ….the LORD’s Feast of Tabernacles…holy convocations etc” (Lev 23:1-37).
  • Not only Sabbath; circumcision, feast days are perpetual covenants (Genesis 17:13, Lev 23:41, Ex 30:21).
  • Besides the Sabbath of the Lord‘ in  Leviticus 23:38 doesn’t mean weekly Sabbath is a moral law any more than the appointed feasts are moral laws (verse 1,44).
  • Isaiah 66 is no proof that Sabbath will be kept in future any more than new moons, sacrifices will be practiced in the new earth.
  • To effectively convey this concept to an old covenant nation, the prophets described old covenant forms of worship, including new moon observances, Sabbaths (Isaiah 66:23; Ezekiel 46:3) and sacrifices in the temple (Zechariah 14:20-21).
  • Moreover, another prophecy indicates that the day-night cycle will cease in the new earth (Revelation 21:25), implying that there will be no more Sabbaths.
  • Prophecies, whether about Sabbaths or sacrifices or circumcision are not a reliable source of proof regarding Christian practice. Our doctrines must be based on scriptures that are applicable to the age we live in, and covenants we are under.

Covenant with Israel is declared obsolete when God made the new covenant

  • After Jesus’ death, God made a new covenant with His people making the Ten Commandment covenant obsolete. “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:6-13).
  • The Ten Commandment covenant had a beginning point and an ending point. “The law, introduced 430 years later…Why, then, was the [old covenant] law given? ….the [old covenant] law was designed to last only until the coming of the child: Jesus” (Galatians 3:17,19, 21).
  • The ONE law under the Ten Commandment covenant has been abolished. ‘By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances….’ (Ephesians 2:15).
  • The Ten Commandments are called “My statutes and all My ordinances in Deut. 5:1, Lev 19:1-37 etc.
  • The Ten Commandment covenant has now passed away. “But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones (ten commandments), was glorious, ….how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if what is passing away [Ten Commandments] was glorious, what remains is much more glorious” (2 Corinthians 3:7-11, NKJV).
  • When 2 Corinthians 3:6-11 says, four times that the Ten Commandments are passing away, it is the same Greek word (#2673) for abolished that Eph. 2:15 uses, which some wrongly contend is the ceremonial law.
  • God says there is a change of the law when there is a change of the covenant. ”For when there is a change of the [covenant] priesthood, there must also be a change of the law (Heb. 7.12).
  • When Paul considered himself under the law of Christ, not under the law of the old covenant (1 Corinthians 9:19-21), he meant just that. Not under its condemnation only, but also its authority, as they have been declared obsolete.
  • We cannot assume that any part of the old covenant contract is valid when the entire contract has been declared obsolete. We must look for the law and teachings restated in the new covenant to define sin and Christian living.
  • The new covenant has God’s moral laws, but this is not the Ten Commandments as that covenant has been declared obsolete. “This is the [new] covenant I will make with them after that time, I will put my laws in their hearts” (Heb. 10:16).
  • When Paul says ‘we establish the law’ (Romans 3:31), it is in the context of the new covenant law that has been established which Paul says he was under; not the old covenant law, which he says not under.
  • This New Covenant law is stated and commanded in the New Testament for God’s people just like the Old Testament books contained the Ten Commandment law and other laws for Israel who came under the old covenant.

The new covenant doesn’t restate Sabbath

  • When the new covenant or testament restates laws in the Ten Commandments (ex: James 2:8-14; Romans 13;9), it restates only moral laws. It doesn’t restate or command Sabbath.
  • If quoting an old covenant moral law in the New Testament binds the whole 10 commandment law, then quoting “Love your neighbor as yourself” should bind the whole book of Moses.
  • Since Sabbath is linked to circumcision, when the New Testament says circumcision is not required (Galatians 5:2), it automatically means Sabbath is not required.
  • Sabbatarians confirm that, “The New Testament does not re-enact the law of the tithe, as it does not that of the Sabbath; for the validity of both is assumed—(Ellen White: The Faith I Live By, page 244).
  • Sabbath is not commanded in the new covenant for Christians but we cannot assume. We must go by, ‘Thus says the Lord’.
  • Feast days are not restated. Should we also assume feast days of the Lord which he says are my feast days, are binding now? The Lord says, the Ten Commandment covenant with Sabbath given to Israel is now obsolete, because there is a new covenant (Hebrews 8:6-13)!

New covenant law has all of God’s moral principles in the old covenant 

  • Although the old covenant has been abolished with its laws, all of God’s moral principles that were in the old covenant have been restated, magnified, and we are obligated to obey them in the new covenant. God writes all his moral laws in our hearts through the Holy Spirit when we enter into a relationship with God.
  • There are hundreds of moral laws in the new covenant, which we are obligated to obey. Here are a few: Have no other Gods (Matthew 4:10), Don’t make an image or bow down to it (1 Corinthians 10:14), Don’t take God’s name in vain (1 Timothy 6:1), Don’t judge people on the Sabbath (Col 2:16,17) Honour your father and your mother (Matthew 19:19), You shall not kill (Romans 13:9), You shall not commit adultery (Matthew 19:18), You shall not steal (Romans 13:9), You shall not bear false witness (Romans 13:9), You shall not covet (Romans 7:7), Accept one another (Rom 15:7), Bear with one another (Col 3:13), Serve one another (Gal 5:13), Value one another (Philp 2:3), Encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), Pray for one another (James 5:16), Help the poor and needy (Matthew 25:41-45), Don’t discriminate (James 2:9). Don’t neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).
  • Ten Commandments are inadequate to define all sin and tends to produce righteousness that is inadequate for salvation. Example: In Matthew 19, the Rich Young Ruler thought he perfectly kept the ten commandments of God, but Jesus said it wasn’t so. Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor’. He failed to see from the Ten Commandments that he was obligated to assist the poor and needy according to his financial ability.
  • Ten Commandments are inadequate because there were moral laws in the old covenant that were outside the ten: You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child (Ex. 22:23). You shall not have respect of persons (not discriminate) (Deut. 16:19). You shall not oppress a servant who is poor and needy (Deut. 24:14). All these moral laws have been restated in the new covenant.
  • The artificial distinction that the Ten Commandments were written on stone, placed inside the ark are the moral laws while the ones written on books, placed outside the ark are ceremonial is incorrect. The above laws (ex: don’t afflict the poor, widows etc) were moral laws outside the Ten Commandments, which were placed with the ‘ceremonial laws’ (Lev. 19:18).
  • All the old & new testament moral commandments are for all people…except for the ritual laws (including the Sabbath) which were shadows, as Paul says, of the reality which is in Christ. The rest of the “commandments”, however, are valid not because they were laws/commands in the OT, but because they are moral, reflecting the nature and person of God.
  • The new covenant law that God writes in our hearts is broader, deeper, and has been magnified by Jesus, and the apostles.
  • When Revelation 14:12 and Jesus speak about God’s people keeping ‘the commandments’, it encompasses all the moral commandments and teachings. 

Not just Sabbath, other things were made for man’s benefit

  • Jesus kept Jewish customs, such as circumcision, feast days, Sabbath, making vows and temple rituals. His example isn’t automatically authoritative to Christians.
  • Didn’t Jesus says He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill? When Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” he did not mean that each specific law would stay exactly the same. Elsewhere the Bible speaks of abolishing the law (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).
  • He meant that the purpose and message of the Law and the Prophets remain exactly the same. The Law and the Prophets pointed to him and were intended from the beginning to be fulfilled by him. Matthew 5:17 is not a “proof” of any particular law, because this verse does not tell us which specific laws are still valid or which have been changed or set aside.
  • Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27)? There is nothing in the statement that Sabbath was made for man that would suggest when it was given to man. In this verse, Jesus did not use the word for create — he used egeneto, which is usually translated “came to be.” Literally, the greek should read, ‘the sabbath for the man came to be, and not the man for the sabbath’. Sabbath came to be in Exodus for Israel. Not at the creation because, this word (came to be) does not point to the creation account nor can any stress be put on the English word “made,” since it is not in the Greek. Even if the word  MADE is implied, there is no evidence of Sabbath in Genesis.
  • The festivals, lamb sacrifices, Sabbath, all were made ‘for’ human benefit, and the rite of circumcision was instituted ‘for’ human benefit, and Christ was crucified ‘for’ us.
  • The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. Why did Jesus say this? Jesus’ statement says nothing about who should or should not keep the Sabbath.
  • Of course Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He is Lord of every command ever given by God. Jesus is also Lord of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Jesus is, after all, Lord. The Lord of Israel was Lord of the law of circumcision, given as a sign to the children of Israel. But the fact that God was Lord of the circumcision law does not of itself imply that all human beings must keep it.
  • Why Pray Not To Flee on the Sabbath? (Matthew 24:20). He simply advises Christians that for circumstantial reasons, they should pray that the need to flee will not arise on the Sabbath or in winter. Why it would not be prudent to flee in winter is obvious. Adverse weather conditions would hamper flight and put those fleeing at risk from the elements.
  • But why would fleeing on the Sabbath day be a problem? Here is where we have to be aware of Jewish customs and practices regarding the Sabbath. Jesus gave his warning to the disciples because of the possibility that Jewish people in Jerusalem and Judea would have prevented Christians from fleeing on the Sabbath. Since the Jews honored Moses’ laws, they believed it was wrong to take long journeys on the Sabbath.
  • Note that this warning was given “to those who are in Judea” (verse 16), not to disciples in other parts of the world. Jesus gave the warning in Matthew 24:20 because he knew that the Jews would not allow the kind of escape in troubling times on the Sabbath that his warning required.
  • His warning was not a command to rest on the Sabbath any more than it was a command to rest in winter. These were simply inconvenient times to flee.

Jesus compared Sabbath to ceremonial laws

  • Jesus did not teach against the Sabbath, neither did he teach against circumcision and sacrifices. He could not while the old covenant was still in force.
  • A careful study of Jesus’ dealings on the Sabbath in the gospels will reveal how Jesus viewed the Sabbath and ritual laws.
  • When it came to moral laws like don’t commit adultery, Jesus magnified them by saying you can even sin by your affections and attitudes (Matt. 5:28). But when it came to ritual laws on uncleanliness like don’t touch people with skin diseases, leprosy, blood flows (Leviticus 15:7–8), Jesus made no effort to strictly obey them. He touched them, healed them and technically he was unclean till the evening according to those ritual laws (Matthew 8:3).
  • Pharisees saw disciples going out and picking grain on the Sabbath as Sabbath breaking because the old covenant Sabbath prohibitions actually commanded Israel to stay in one place on the Sabbath, and prepare food on Friday (Ex 16:29-30). Like with other rituals laws, Jesus made no effort to strictly conform with these Sabbath prohibitions. If Jesus changed these Sabbath prohibitions, it further explains the ritual nature of the Sabbath law.
  • Further, it is significant that when Jesus was confronted about his disciples allegedly violating Sabbath Law (Matt. 12:1-2, cf. Ex. 16:23-29, 34:21), His response is a defense based on David violating the letter of a ceremonial law about eating showbread (a ritual law) reserved for the priestly system (Mt. 12:3-4). Here, Jesus is putting the Sabbath into the company of ritual laws. Scripture does not excuse David with violating a moral law like adultery though with Bathsheba;
  • Rather than arguing about their interpretation, or telling them the Sabbath law is moral, Jesus went on to cite other acceptable violations of the letter of the Sabbath law such as the priests breaking the Sabbath every week (v. 5), and the validity of laying aside the law if an animal needed help (v. 11).  
  • Jesus also compared the Sabbath to circumcision (John 7:22). Again, ritual work was allowed (even required) on the Sabbath, because the ritual  circumcision law was more important than the requirement to rest on the seventh day. Yet again, Jesus is putting the Sabbath into the company of ritual laws.
  • Temple work was allowed because the temple and its sacrificial rites were more important than the Sabbath and superseded it. Similarly, Jesus is more important than the temple, sacrifices, Sabbath ritual (Matt. 12:6).
  • When David ate bread that was allowed only for priests, it was ‘unlawful‘ (Matt. 12:4) according to the letter of the law, and yet it was permitted as he was ‘innocent’ in the purpose of God’s spiritual law. Similarly, Pharisees were so strict that they didn’t allow human needs, whether hunger or healing, to be taken care of on the Sabbath, but Jesus said it was ‘lawful to do good on the Sabbath’ (Matt. 12:12) according to the purpose of God’s spiritual law, which Jesus conformed to.
  • On several occasions, he noted that the Pharisees were too strict about the Sabbath. He never told anyone to avoid anything on that day. He never commanded anyone to keep the Sabbath.

New Testament doesn’t command Sabbath neither does it forbid keeping it

  • However, God says we are not to judge people (make people feel guilty) with regard to a Sabbath day because the ultimate rest that Sabbath pointed to is now found not in a day but in JESUS. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you [make you feel guilty] by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. They were only shadows of the real thing—of Christ himself” (Colossians 2:16, 17).
  • Prominent SDA scholar Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, held that the “Sabbath day” of Colossians 2:16 refers to the weekly Sabbaths, although he uses this text to show Sabbath misuses.
  • In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul explicitly refers to the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ, which is no longer binding since the substance (Christ) has come.
  • It is also quite clear in those verses that the weekly Sabbath is in view. The sequence in whatever order, “a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” refers to the annual, monthly, and weekly holy days of the Jewish calendar (cf. 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 31:3; Ezekiel 45:17; Hosea 2:11).
  • “Sabbaton” is translated as “weekly Sabbath” 61 times in the New Testament.  Only here in Colossians 2:17 would sabbatarians want to argue that “sabbaton” no longer means the weekly Sabbath day, which is inconsistent.
  • Sunday is not the Sabbath. There is no command to keep Sunday. However, cerebrating a day in remembrance of a significant event is not contrary to scriptures. Jews celebrated days in remembrance of victories God gave them over their enemies (Esther 9:21). Similarly, Christians have been celebrating Lord’s resurrection on Sunday from the time of the apostles.
  • According to SDA scholar Bacchiocchi, the change of day happened early in the second century, before there were any “popes” around. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day ..is at the heart of the Church’s life…This practice of the Christian assembly dates from the beginnings of the apostolic age” (sections 2177-2178).
  • New covenant says Christian meetings, fellowship and regular time devoted to God are necessary. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do..” (Hebrews 10:25). Christians are to celebrate God as the creator and redeemer every day and week when they meet together for fellowship, and worship.

New covenant has a new Sabbath rest for God’s people 

  • The focus in the New Testament is not a day, but a Sabbath which is much bigger than just taking some time off each week. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest (Greek:Sabbatismos) for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). This Sabbath rest is a spiritual rest of grace, acceptance, forgiveness we experience in Christ daily. It is also a rest from guilt, sin, and its penalty. See: Did you enter the Sabbathismos?
  • This new covenant Sabbath rest is connected to God’s unique rest in Genesis. “For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world” (Hebrews 4:10). Interesting that this rest refer to God’s unique rest in Genesis which had no evening and morning. Just like Adam and Eve continued to rest in God’s completed work before sin, we now rest in Christ’s completed work continually.
  • Entrance sign of the old covenant for Israel was circumcision, and the ongoing sign was Sabbath: “Remember the Sabbath“. No one circumcised was expected to keep Sabbath.
  • The entrance sign of the new covenant for Christians is Baptism (Galatians 3:27), and the ongoing sign is Lord Supper: “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). No one baptized is required to celebrate Lord’s Supper.
  • The basis of our relationship with God should be faith in Christ, not the old covenant law. But if we want to be under the old covenant, then we are obligated to obey the whole law including circumcision. “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). The reason why you are obligated to obey the WHOLE law is because “There is one law for them” (Lev. 7:7). No circumcision means we are not obligated to obey the whole old covenant law including the Sabbath.
  • The ritual commands that God gave Israel in the Old Testament are good and they served their purpose. They are still instructive but not necessarily imperative (binding) for us. They are informative but not normative. They are descriptive for ancient Israel, but not prescriptive for Christians. We can still benefit from old covenant laws but we should point people to Christ, and the apostles, not to Moses, not to the obsolete ten commandment covenant, for instruction on how to live like a Christian.
  • As long as Christians interpret the Bible from old covenant law and glasses, they will not see the full glory of the new covenant. Perhaps this explains why many strict Sabbath keeping churches do not understand the gospel, but are havens for legalism. ‘But the people’s minds were hardened, to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 3:7-18). Of course, no church – Saturday or Sunday keeping is exempt from legalism or licentiousness.
  • The understanding of Jesus being the fulfillment of the law only comes when the veil of the Old Covenant comes off.

Only time Paul mentioned Sabbath, he said don’t judge

  • Paul sometimes kept other Jewish customs, too, such as circumcision, feast days, making vows and participating in temple rituals. His example isn’t automatically authoritative.
  • Paul considered himself under the law of Christ, not under the law of the old covenant (1 Corinthians 9:19-21). He was free to observe old covenant customs when with Jews, and he was free to ignore them in other situations.
  • The apostle Paul warned the Gentiles about many different sins in his epistles, but breaking the Sabbath was never one of them.
  • Paul in his final farewell to the believers at Ephesus he said “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God”(Acts 20:27). However, nowhere does the Bible record that Paul ever proclaimed Sabbath observance to them as part of the whole will of God.
  • If we want to know what Paul himself taught about the Sabbath, we must turn to the only place the word “Sabbath” is used in his epistles: Colossians 2:16-17: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by a Sabbath day. 
  • Sabbath Keeping in Alaska is a Problem. Perhaps this show that the Sabbath was intended to be a regional, temporary command for Israel in the Middle East and not for the world. It’s an interesting problem in Alaska. Some days when the sun rises, it won’t sunset for months. So people there follow the clock, but the command states it should be from sunset to sunset, which is impractical for them to follow to the letter.
  • The reference to the ark of the covenant in heaven in Revelation 11:19 doesn’t mean that the obsolete ten commandment covenant is still there any more than the ‘courtyard’, ‘altar’ (Rev. 11:2) are there with animal sacrifices taking place.
  • The teaching that the moral laws in the ten commandments are restated, but the ritual Sabbath was a shadow is nothing new. John Calvin wrote: “First, with the seventh day of rest the Lord wished to give to the people of Israel an image of spiritual rest…there is no doubt that it ceased in Christ (Col. 2:17),  Hence, though the sabbath is abrogated, it so happens among us that we still convene on certain days in order to hear the word of God” ([From Instruction in Faith, Calvin’s own 1537 digest of the Institutes, sec. 8, “The Law of the Lord”].
  • Martin Luther taught the validity of the moral law of the old covenant but saw Sabbath as ceremonial. “Scripture has abrogated the Sabbath day; for it teaches that since the gospel has been revealed, all the ceremonies of the old law can be omitted” (Article 28, The Augsburg Confession(1530)).

Proper Sabbath keeping is more than simply attending church

  • Many strict Sabbath keepers think that going to church on Saturday and spending a few hours mean Sabbath keeping. Proper Sabbath keeping requires obeying the following prohibitions among others set out in the old covenant from Friday sun set to Saturday sun set, in addition to obeying all other commandments: loving God supremely, and others unconditionally. However, breaking these and declaring that you keep Sabbath and teaching others to keep it makes one a liar and hypocrite:

Lighting a fire in your home on the Sabbath is forbidden. ‘Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” (Ex 35:2-3). How many Sabbatarians light a fire on the Sabbath from a gas cooker? Biblically, they are sabbath breakers

Stay in your place, you cannot travel on Sabbath. ‘Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” (Ex 16:29-30).

You can’t carry a load on Sabbath. ‘But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day’ (Jer 17:27)

You can’t buy or sell on Sabbath. ‘Therefore I warned them against (buying and) selling food on that day’. (Neh 13:15-17). How many Sabbatarians go to restaurants with their family and friends on Sabbath. Biblically, they are Sabbath breakers

You can’t cook on the Sabbath. Ellen White wrote: “The command is, “Bake that ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seethe; for tomorrow is the rest day of the holy Sabbath (Ex. 16:23)” That day is not to be given to the cooking of food…to keep the Sabbath according to the commandmentBible Echo, February 13, 1899). How many Sabbatarians cook food on the Sabbath? They are Sabbath breakers.

  • If the old covenant is still binding, then Sabbatarians are cherry-picking which Sabbath laws to obey. If the above Sabbath laws have been changed, then it reconfirms Sabbath is a ritual law. If Sabbath is to be followed as a ritual, then it has to be conformed from the perspective of God’s spiritual law and not the letter.

Didn’t the Catholic Church change the Sabbath (He will think to change times and laws?) to Sunday?

  • Firstly, according to SDA scholar Bacchiocchi, the change of day happened early in the second century, before there were any “popes” around. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church (recommended by John Paul II) states that, “The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life…This practice of the Christian assembly dates from the beginnings of the apostolic age” (sections 2177-2178).
  • Secondly, when Christians were keeping Sunday from the beginning, they were not keeping it as the Sabbath, but as the Lord’s day. They understood from the new covenant that the Saturday Sabbath wasn’t a binding matter, but people were free to observe the day as some did.
  • Thirdly, nobody can really change God’s law, but God himself. “For when there is a change of the [covenant] priesthood, there must also be a change of the law (Heb. 7.12).
  • Fourthly, even if the Catholic Church changed the day to Sunday, they changed it for the Catholics; Christians follow the new covenant and not any organisation.
  • For the word Law in Daniel 7:25, he uses the Persian word “datmeaning “decree”, not “Torah. Thus, his speaking of a beast who would change times and laws is no reference to the Decalogue or to God’s law—and certainly the Sabbath is not in view.
  • Besides, the Catholic Church did many things like set apart days as holy for canonized saints; and changing other laws.

Is Sabbath versus Sunday the end-time deciding issue? 

  • This is mainly a SDA specific teaching.
  • The New Testament never describes the Sabbath as the one great issue that will divide the true believers from the false believers. If the Sabbath was indeed such a profound issue, such a “life-or-death” matter of eternal consequence, then why did Jesus and the Apostles say nothing of its importance?
  • Jesus and the Apostles were the greatest teachers this world has ever seen. The points they repeatedly emphasized were:
  • Love
  • Grace
  • Forgiveness
  • Mercy
  • Doing good to others
  • Faith
  • Salvation
  • Return of Christ
  • Dangers of legalism
  • And yet are we to believe Sabbath is the single-most important issue that is supposed to decide the fate of humanity? Not once in the New Testament is Sunday ever referred to as the Mark of the Beast.
  • Jesus and His Apostles emphasized that true Christianity is a matter of the heart. What marks a person as righteous is trusting Christ’s righteousness (Romans 3:28) and the inside out change that happens through faith in Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, not legalism, or external religious observances. Christianity emphasized faith, hope, love, mercy, self-control, obedience and internal piety.
  • In the book of Revelation there is a war between those who have the Seal of God and those who have the Mark of the Beast. The Seal of God is the Holy Spirit. Sealing is also done by the Spirit. “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit..” (Ephesians 1:13, 14; Eph. 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22; John 6:27). Sabbath is a sign of an obsolete covenant.
  • Therefore, those who have the Mark of the Beast are those who do not have the Holy Spirit. By determining what the fruits or evidences of the Holy Spirit are, we can easily see the attributes of those who have the Spirit of God (the Seal of God) and those who are devoid of the Spirit (Mark of the Beast).

Sabbatarian teaching on the Sabbath:

  • Assumes Sabbath was established in Genesis when God’s seventh day rest is unique and Scripture says otherwise (ex: Gen 2;Deut. 5)
  • Is based on the terms of an obsolete covenant or agreement
  • Assumes the Ten Commandments continue into the new covenant when the Bible says the old covenant is the Ten Commandments package that has become obsolete
  • Assumes the old covenant law of Moses is different to the law of God when God uses those terms interchangeably
  • Assumes not ‘under the law’ means not under its condemnation, when the context says not under its authority
  • Is inconsistent when it says Sabbath must be kept, but not the feast days
  • Is inconsistent when it says Sabbath must be kept, but ignores rest of the ‘whole law’
  • Is inconsistent when an artificial distinction is made for the law in terms of ceremonial and moral when God says He gave them ‘One law’
  • Does not look at what a text says and doesn’t say (ex. Genesis 2)
  • Uses Sabbath proof texts out of context (ex: some trying to prove Sabbath from pray not to flee on the Sabbath – Matthew 24:20)
  • Focuses on the Ten Commandments which are inadequate to define all sin, as evidenced by moral laws given outside the ten in the old covenant and the fruits of people who think everything is ok if they tick the ten.
  • Fails to see the new covenant Sabbath, new covenant law and teachings, the gospel, and blinds people to these truths, and the transformation that come from the Holy Spirit writing the new covenant law in people’s hearts (SDA and strict Sabbatarian specific)
  • Focuses on the shadow (Sabbath) and not the real rest found in Jesus (SDA and strict Sabbatarian specific)
  • Gives undue focus on the Sabbath as an end time issue, when Jesus, Paul, and the new covenant don’t say a word about it (SDA specific)

Conclusion

  • New Testament doesn’t command Sabbath neither does it forbid keeping Sabbath
  • Observing either Saturday or Sunday as a Sabbath is not required under the New Covenant
  • However, Christians have the liberty to keep Sabbath if he so desires on Saturday, but he cannot ‘judge’ anyone with regard to the observance of ‘Sabbath’ (Colossians 2:16, 17) or day of worship
  • The focus in the new covenant is the Sabbath rest, salvation rest we have in Jesus daily
  • We should not ‘neglect meeting together’ exclusively for fellowship, worship, and setting aside time for God in the new covenant (Hebrews 10:25). Christians are to celebrate God as the creator and redeemer weekly when they meet together.
  • Saturday worshipers cannot biblically condemn people who worship on Sunday as they honour the resurrection of the Lord, and neither can they judge people for worshiping on Saturday.
  • Those who make Jesus their Savior and Lord will have differing opinions among them about some things — the Sabbath among them. Those who make the Sabbath part of their obedience to Christ are thoroughly Christian. Those who find other matters more important than the Sabbath – they are His too.

(Referenced: Grace Communion InternationalNon-SDA org)

Reviews

“This is one of the best delineations of Sabbath issues I have ever seen. Well done, brother! And glory to Jesus for your true understanding of His glorious grace” (Douglas Goodin, President, Cross to Crown Ministries).

“I think you made a fair presentation of the Biblical evidence without overstating the facts. I think one of the traps someone can fall into in Adventism is to make a god out of doctrines, and emphasize the rays of light over the Light-giver. Then it’s easy to get derailed into legalism. It’s something we must all be on guard against. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life” (Pastor Dirk Anderson, JacksonVille Church of God 7th day).

4 thoughts on “Sabbath

  1. Exactly. that just goes to show Ellen G. White is a false prophet. She pushed the Sabbath, and labeled Sunday-keeping as the mark of the Beast.

    A quarter of a century was more than enough years to devote to Seventh-day Adventism.

    – Dave ✞

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  2. First of all, I put no confidence in Dale Ratlitz material and I’ve studied all of it. Second of all, Seventh Day Baptist do not teach the Sabbath from the Old Covenant. We believe from Genesis there is an extra blessing ordained at creation for observing the Sabbath, but worshiping on Sunday is OK. Sabbath is not a test of Christianity. My main responsibility is pastoring a Sabbath church, but I also preach at a Sunday church.

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    • So you believe the Sabbath should be worshiped based on what God did in Genesis, yet you do not support Pastor Dale.

      There are two issues here. The first is the relevance of the Biblical Sabbath on Gentiles. The second are the teachings of the SDA Church.

      While I agree that Sabbath observance is not required, it is certainly optional. However, the position of E G White on the Sabbath and other SDA Doctrines is far different from that view. She believed the Sabbath was the “Seal of God” and Sunday-keeping “The Mark of the Beast.”

      Therefore, what are wrong with Pastor Dale’s teachings?
      -Dave

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  3. Pingback: Is the Sabbath the “seal” of God? | Gospel Reflections

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