Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?
With reference to the matter of sabbath-keeping, there are three views which have been held by various segments of professed Christians:
(1) There is the seventh-day sabbath view, which is espoused in our generation by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, the Seventh-Day Church of God, and the Seventh-Day Baptist Church. The practice of keeping the seventh day of the week holy was engaged in during the early days of Christianity by a few minor "Jewish-Christian" sects, but was never accepted by gentile Christians. It reappeared in the modern sects mentioned above, beginning with the Seventh-Day Baptists in 1671.
(2) Worthy of notice also is the first day of the week sabbath idea, which holds that the sabbath was transferred by Divine authority from the seventh day to the first day of the week, making Sunday a Christian sabbath. This position prevails throughout much of the Protestant world today. Of its origin, Vergilius Ferm tells us that "....by decree of Constantine in 321, Sunday was set aside as a legal day of rest from general labor." Further, he tells us:
"It was a medieval doctrine, rejected by the reformers, but revived by English Puritans during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and officially adopted by the Westminster Assembly."
(Encyclopedia of Religion, article, Sabbatarianism).
(3) Lastly there is the "no-sabbath" view which contends that the Jewish sabbath law was fulfilled, and that no other holy day has been substituted, but that Christians are freed from the obligation of observing days altogether. Those who hold this view recognize the necessity of engaging in certain acts of worship involved in the assembling of the saints on the first day of the week, believing that the Lord appointed not only the acts but the time of their observance as well. They do not see in this the keeping of any day as holy, through rest and refraining from recreation after the manner of sabbath-keeping.
It shall be our purpose in this study to examine the teaching of the Bible in regard to these three positions, keeping in mind that the word of God is to be the final court of appeal in all such matters. We shall devote one section of this work to a careful investigation of ea-h of the three views regarding the sabbath.
The Seventh-Day Sabbath View
Before proceeding with the discussion in this section I should like to introduce Exodus 31: 12-15:
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know, that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death."
There are a number of questions which come readily to mind when we consider whether or not Christians are to keep a sabbath upon the seventh day of the week. Several of the most obvious questions are answered in the passage just referred to in Exodus chapter 31. When these questions are answered, we should know the truth on the subject of the seventh-day sabbath.
First, there is the question, To whom was the seventh-day sabbath commandment given? The answer is provided in the verses quoted above. Moses was told to speak unto the "children of Israel." Unto this nation Moses proclaimed the word of God that the sabbath was to be a "sign between me and you." Now, as most of us realize, a sign between two parties stands as a symbol of an understanding existing between those two alone. When a young man gives an engagement ring to a woman, that ring is a sign between that man and that woman. No one else is included at all. There is an agreement, a covenant if you please, between them. So God made an agreement with Israel; that is, the covenant which He made with them when He led them out of Egyptian bondage. As a sign of that covenant He gave the sabbath commandment. The covenant had never existed previously, and did not at any time include anyone except the children of Israel.
No one can take his Bible and show where the sabbath commandment was ever binding on any people except the Jews. The law which includes the sabbath was not given until the chosen race was delivered from their slavery in Egypt. Indeed, the sabbath was intended as a memorial of that very event: "And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day." (Deuteronomy 5:15) It is true that in some places the sabbath is mentioned in connection with God resting on the day following the six days of creation. However, none of these passages teach that the sabbath is intended as a memorial of the creation. Rather they teach that God's resting on the seventh day is an adequate illustration of the manner in which the sabbath was to be kept; but the sabbath itself was a memorial of the rest given to Israel from their toils under the Egyptian taskmasters. It is an easily recognized truth that a memorial cannot exist before the event which it is designed to commemorate.
The seventh-day was part of the covenant which God made with Israel when He freed them from their bondage in Egypt. Jeremiah 31:31,32 promised (and this is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 as being fulfilled):
"Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord."
Since this prophecy has been fulfilled, and since the new covenant is not according to the old covenant, it follows that we are not obligated to keep the provisions of the old covenant. That covenant was made with Israel; the sabbath was a sign between God and them; it was never binding on the gentiles; and it is not even binding on the Jews any longer, as God has now made a new covenant not according to the old.
Next, let us consider the question, For how long was the seventh-day sabbath given? Exodus chapter 31 also answers this question in verse 13. To Israel Moses was to say, "throughout your generations." If we can find out when the Jewish generations ended we shall know when the sabbath ceased, for it was to continue for the specified period, "throughout your generations." But historians are universally agreed that the generations of Israel ended with the one living when Christ died. Indeed, Jesus spoke of the accumulated wrath of God coming upon that generation. (Matthew 23: 34.35) The generations of Israel depended upon their maintaining tribal integrity. But since the destruction of Jerusalem and the consequent scattering which took place in 70 A. D., no Jew has been able to trace his generations, or to even know of what tribe he had come. Since the generations of Israel ceased, we contend that the seventh-day sabbath law also ceased.
Anyone who argues that the sabbath is still binding does so in defiance of Exodus 31:13. Either one must prove that the passage does not mean what it says, or he must contend that the generations of Israel are continuing, or he must admit that the sabbath has ceased. The exact time when the sabbath ceased to be holy may be determined by a consideration of Amos 8:5- 9. In this passage the people are inquiring as to when the feast of the new moon shall end, and when the sabbath shall be gone. It may be granted that their motive was base; they wished to use the holy days to get gain for themselves. But God answers them by saying:
"And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day."
When this event took place, then the new moon and the sabbath should be gone. Matthew 27:45 tells us that this took place at the crucifixion of Christ. So, at that time the feast of the new moon and the sabbath both ended. It is strange that sabbatarians will admit that the former is gone, but want to retain the latter. But they were to end at the same time and that time was when Jesus died on the Cross.
In connection with this we may cite Colossians 2:14-17. In this passage the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus took the law "out of the way, nailing it to his cross." And among the things which he specifies as not binding any longer we find mentioned the new moon and the sabbath. No sabbath-keeper can possibly get around this line of evidence, and those who respect the word of God will not even try.
Third, there is the question, How was the sabbath to be kept? Again, we turn to Exodus 31 for the answer. According to this text the sabbath was observed by refraining from all work on the seventh day. Anyone who worked was to be cut off from among his people, and was to be put to death. That kind of law, and its attaching penalty, was eminently suited to a Theocracy such as obtained among the Jews. They were hedged off from other people; they were isolated; their government was such that the sabbath law could be enforced, and we are assured that it was enforced. But we do not live under such circumstances today. The sabbatarians do not keep the sabbath as it was kept by the Jews. They do not utterly desist from labor on the seventh day, nor do they execute the offender. None of them do.
Sometimes sabbatarians will contend that the sabbath is still binding, but its penalty has been abrogated. However, this contention would necessitate their showing the passage which takes away the penalty for violating the sabbath. When they attempt to do so, we shall show that according to the same passage the sabbath itself is taken away. A law that carries no penalty for violation would be worthless. That is why we believe that the law of Moses, with all of its attending penalties has been abolished. Moreover, even if it could be shown that the sabbath remains and that its penalty has been removed, there would still be the necessity of keeping the sabbath by refraining from work of any kind. But this is not done by Seventh-Day Adventists and others. They may justify themselves in one way or another for not practicing total rest on Saturday, but the fact remains that they do not keep the sabbath as God commanded the Jews to do.
We have shown from the 31st chapter of Exodus that the seventh-day sabbath law was given to Israel only, and that it was never binding on anyone else. We have also shown that the sabbath law was to continue throughout the generations of Israel, and the last of their generations was the one living when Jesus died; that therefore the sabbath ended when Christ died on the cross. We have further shown that the sabbath was to be kept as a total rest day, and that the one who worked on that day was to be put to death. That this is not applicable today is seen in the fact that the sabbatarians do not keep the sabbath in this manner.
It is not our purpose in this brief tract to answer the so-called proofs that the Adventists and others offer in defense of sabbath-keeping. Suffice it to say that most of their texts consist of statements to the effect that we should keep the commandments of God, or the law of God. Their fallacy is in assuming that these passages refer to the ten commandment law of which the sabbath was a part. We shall not permit them to assume that which it is their obligation to prove. The statements regarding the importance of keeping God's commandments obviously refer to whatever commandments are binding in the age in which one lives. At least this is obvious to anyone who does not have a theory to uphold at the expense of truth.
The Sunday-Sabbath View
Some of the things which we have pointed out with reference to the seventh-day sabbath view will also apply to the view which is so prominent in the Protestant world that Sunday is the Christian sabbath. For example, the manner in which the sabbath was to be kept. The very word sabbath signifies a day of rest. Yet very, very few, probably none, of those who talk about keeping the sabbath on Sunday actually observe it strictly. Thus, they are guilty of talking one way and living another. This is the result of their false doctrine; for the Bible nowhere teaches that Sunday is the sabbath day.
First, every reference in the Bible to the sabbath makes it clear that the day of its observance was the seventh day of the week, never the first day. Never is any day referred to as the sabbath except the seventh day. So whatever significance the first day of the week may have, or whatever it may be called, it cannot scripturally be called a sabbath. It is impossible to disassociate the sabbath from the idea of "seven" — the seventh day, the seventh year, etc. Even in our modern society the academicians observe what is called the sabbatical year, in which they are relieved from their usual activities each seventh year. This fact alone should be sufficient to dispel the foolish notion that the sabbath can be the first day of the week.
Second, there is no authority in the word of God for Christians to observe the first day of the week as a sabbath. It is important that we restrict our activities religiously to what is revealed in the New Testament. "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ hath both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9) But the doctrine of Christ is contained in the New Testament. The divinely inspired scriptures are profitable for doctrine. (2 Timothy 3:16) If a person goes beyond what is contained in God's word he does not have God. It is a fact that the doctrine of Christ says nothing about the first day of the week as a day to be "kept" — holy or otherwise. Such a practice is based upon the decree of Constantine and dates from the fourth century, instead of being based upon the decrees of Christ's apostles and dating from the first century. Sunday-sabbath laws were bound by the councils of men such as the Westminster Assembly, and not by the counsel of God which is settled eternally in heaven. It is a tradition of men not mentioned in the Bible, except to be condemned by such passages as Matthew 15:3 and Colossians 2:8. It ought to be given up as an unsound practice.
Let us study briefly what the Bible says about the Lord's requirements for His people upon the first day of the week. The scriptures certainly teach that the first day of the week as a day of worship is enjoined upon God's people in this age of the world. In Acts 20:7 we read:
"And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight."
The day of assembling is here specified: "the first day of the week." The purpose of the assembly is also specified: "to break bread." The breaking of bread is the communion of the body of Christ, and is done in connection with taking the cup which is the communion of the blood of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:16) So, in obedience to the command of Christ, the disciples assembled on the first day of the week to observe the Lord's Supper. No other passage can be opposed to this to show that the Lord's Supper was ever observed by apostolic authority on any other day. This is one of the things which Christians are taught to do each Sunday.
Other acts of worship are to be performed upon the first day of the week also. In the passage we have just been discussing we read that there was preaching at the time of the assembly. This does not prove that the day was kept holy, for there was preaching on other days as well; but it does clearly mark the assembly in Troas as being religious in nature, and shows that what took place there had the apostle's approval. The same apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come." (1 Corinthians 16:2) The idea of individuals contributing into the store, or treasury, of the church implies the necessity of an assembly, since they were all to do it at the same time: "Upon the first day of the week." From this we must conclude that the church assembled on that day in Corinth. Paul had also given the same instructions to the churches throughout Galatia. We learn from these facts that in the New Testament church there was a meeting of the saints on the first day of the week, in which there was preaching, the Lord's Supper, and a collection of alms. Christians today ought to do these things and to discard the idea of a sabbath.
The significance of the first day of the week as the Lord's day derives from the important events which transpired on the day. It was upon the first day of the week that Christ arose from the dead. (Mark 16:9) It is therefore a day of rejoicing and gladness. On the first day of the week we celebrate this central fact of a Christian's faith. Moreover, the Holy Spirit was sent upon the first day of the week to inaugurate the church of the Lord.
This took place on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ. (Acts chapter 2) According to Leviticus 23:15,16 this event occurred on "the morrow after the sabbath"; or, upon the first day of the week.
To summarize: Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. He met with His disciples subsequently on the first day of the week several times. He dispatched the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the first day of the week. Afterwards we find the church meeting each first day to break bread, give of their means, and hear the word of God preached. In none of this is there any hint of the day being kept as a sabbath. In fact, we know that Paul travelled on that day according to the 20th chapter of Acts. The idea of a Sunday-sabbath is a false one if evidence is to govern our thinking.
The No-Sabbath View
Since we have seen that the seventh day is not binding upon anyone, and that the first day is a day of celebration and not a sabbath, the other view, that there is no sabbath for Christians to keep in this age, seems to be the right one. It is the view for which we contend.
Sometimes it is argued that the sabbath law is a part of the ten commandments, therefore we must either keep it or give up the other nine commandments as well. This would permit us to lie, steal, murder, commit adultery, and all of the other things forbidden in the decalogue. Of course this argument would not do the Sunday-keeper any good, for the sabbath of the ten commandments was the seventh-day sabbath, and could not be observed on any other day of the week. The answer to the argument is that the ten commandment law has been abolished in toto. The Old Testament, or covenant, has been done away, and no distinction is ever made between the decalogue and the other parts of the law of Moses. It does not need to be proved that the law has been taken out of the way, for this is admitted by all. If one insists that all of it except the ten commandments has been taken away, the burden of proof rests upon the one so teaching, and he has the obligation of pointing out the passage where the exception is made. This does not leave us free to do as we please, for the other commandments, though taken out of the way as a part of the old law, have been repeated in the superseding law of Christ. It is significant that the fourth commandment only (the sabbath law) has not been repeated. This is because it is the one which was not moral in nature, but ceremonial. The only sense in which it affected morality is in the sense that it was a part of a covenant which Israel had pledged themselves to keep, and of course it is immoral to break a pledge. But that covenant has now been done away with, and no obligation remains.
Sometimes we hear that the sabbath commandment is moral in nature because the other nine are; that there is something in the makeup of man which demands that he completely rest one day in seven. This is not so! If it were so, it is mighty strange that no one knew it until after the ten commandments were given. We can show that moral obligations were binding on the patriarchs before Moses, but no one can show that they ever kept the sabbath. Furthermore, in the 12th chapter of Matthew, verses 1 through 13, Jesus showed that there are times when exceptions can be made to the commandment to rest on the seventh day. He justified David and the priests for profaning the sabbath, as well as Himself and His disciples, on the grounds that it is better to do good than to ignore such opportunities. But a moral law can have no exception. Can we imagine Jesus saying, "Thou shalt not commit adultery unless there is a good reason"? Or, "Thou shalt not steal except when you get hungry"? Or, "Thou shalt do no murder unless it is a favor to someone"? Certainly there are no exceptions to these commandments because they are moral in nature. But Jesus taught that there could be exceptions to the sabbath commandment, even under the law of Moses. This consideration clearly demonstrates the fallacy of the argument that the sabbath is a moral law. The truth is that it was purely ceremonial in nature.
Friend, the Lord has not bound any holy day upon us in this age of the world. (Galatians 4:9-11; Colossians 2:16, 17) Judaism and all of its elements have been removed by the death of Christ upon the cross. He has not given us ordinances of bondage such as were necessary in the years of schooling before faith came. (Galatians 3:24, 25) We are expected to assemble as Christians every first day of the week to joyously commemorate what Christ has accomplished for us. There is no authority for regarding this as a holy day to refrain from all innocent pleasures and useful work should we desire to engage in such.
Let us then put away the ordinance of an earthly sabbath, and live our lives in gladness, as we look forward to the sabbath remaining for the people of God in heaven. (Hebrews 4:9-11)
— 210 Barstow, Clovis Calif.