God has made various covenants with man throughout his existence. For example, God made covenants with Adam, all mankind through Noah, Israel and all people through Abraham, Israel through Moses, and all people through Christ. It is important to understand what scripturally applies to us in the New Testament. This is so we can understand what God has promised us and what He requires of us. It is also important because much false doctrine has arisen out of failure to properly understand what does and does not apply at this time in history.
One such area of concern is the Sabbath. We should first understand what the Sabbath is not, and then we can look at what it means to us today. Some people think God instituted the Sabbath on the seventh day of creation week in Genesis 2:1-3. There are several reasons this is not the case:
1. The Sabbath was part of the covenant of the law of Moses with Israel.
2. The word Sabbath does not appear in the Bible until Ex 16:23. That was about 2,500
years after creation, and over 1/3 into the history of man. The Sabbath was to be on the
seventh day (Ex 20:8-11, Ex 31:15), but the seventh day existed before and not as the
3. The seventh day was not a commandment to man or part of any covenant with man.
Adam was literally one day old. God’s covenant with Adam is found in Gen 1:26-29 and
Gen 2:16-17. There is nothing about a seventh day or a Sabbath.
4. The Hebrew words for seventh and sabbath are different and not interchangeable.
5. The word for rested in Gen 2:1-3 is used many ways and does not mean Sabbath. It is
most often translated cease (47 times).
Some people point to the fact that the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments and is placed on the seventh day as reasons to believe it should be kept today (Ex 20:8-11). The above points on the seventh day as well as points below from the New Testament should be considered. Also, when Moses restated the Ten Commandments forty years after Exodus 20, he gave a different reason for the Sabbath: “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 (Deut 5:15).” This does not show a contradiction. It shows that Moses was emphasizing another reason for Israel to keep the Sabbath. They were about to enter the land of Canaan. God brought them out of Egypt and made them a special people unto Himself by a covenant (Ex 19:5-6). The Sabbath not only had a practical aspect of rest from work, it also showed Israel and everyone else that they were in a special covenant with Him. That covenant was unique to Israel, and only applied to them.
There are 3 aspects to the law of Moses: the civil, the ceremonial, and the moral. The civil and ceremonial parts did not carry over to the new covenant, but the moral parts did. For example, it is still immoral to commit murder or adultery, but the church does not execute people for these offenses as the law of Moses required. The priesthood and sacrificial system did not carry over to the new covenant because they are fulfilled in Christ (Heb 8-10), as was the whole law of Moses (Mt 5:17-18, Lk 24:27 & 44). The Sabbath had aspects of both ceremonial and civil law, but since it did not exist before the law of Moses (Ex 31:12-17, Neh 9:13-14, Eze 20:12), and there is no New Testament commandment to keep it, especially for Gentiles, it is not a moral requirement today.
Jesus was accused of being a Sabbath breaker because He did miracles on the Sabbath. Here is a list of miracles he performed on the Sabbath:
1. Withered hand - Mt 12:9-14
2. Demon possessed - Mk 1:21-27, Lk 4:41
3. Healings - Mk 6:2-5
4. Fever - Lk 4:38-40
5. Woman bowed - Lk 13:10-16
6. Dropsy - Lk 14:1-4
7. Lame man – Jn 5:18
8. Blind man – Jn 9:14-16
When He was accused of breaking the Sabbath, the Lord responded with some teaching about it. He reminded these alleged experts on the Bible of what it says about it:
1. Have ye never read what David did? - Mt 12:3-4
2. Priests offer sacrifices on the Sabbath – Mt 12:5
3. The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath – Mt 12:8
4. Which of you would not pull his animal out of a pit? – Mt 12:11
5. It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath – Mt 12:12
6. The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath - Mk 2:27
7. Animals taken to water – Lk 16:15
8. Babies are circumcised on the Sabbath - Jn 7:22-23
Paul baptized Lydia and her house in Philippi on the Sabbath (Acts 16:13). This would have been forbidden under the Jewish interpretation of the meaning of the Sabbath in those days.
Some people teach that Christians should not have gatherings or celebrations on Sunday. Rather, they should do these things on Saturday, in keeping with the Sabbath. Let us examine the scriptures to see if this is true. There are aspects of the Sabbath that even those that say we should keep it do not follow. The punishment for not keeping the Sabbath was death (Ex 31:14-15, Ex 35:2). Who would argue that should be done today? There was also a Sabbath wherein every seven years the Israelites were not to plant or harvest their crops (Lev 25:1-6). Then there was the year of jubilee which was a yearlong Sabbath that came every fifty years (Lev 25:8-16). Lev 25:10 is inscribed on the Liberty Bell, but who keeps that literally? Do people who believe in gathering on Saturday instead of Sunday keep all of the aspects of the Sabbath including:
1. Not leaving their home (Ex 16:29)
2. No work (Ex 20:10, Ex 31:14, Ex 35:2, Lev 23:3) including even something as small as
picking up sticks (Num 15:32)
3. Light no fire including their stove (Ex 35:3)
4. Place twelve loaves of unleavened bread with frankincense before the Lord (Lev 24:6-9)
5. Offer two lambs, a meal offering with oil, and a drink offering (Num 28:9-10)
6. Carry no burden (Neh 13:19)?
The first day of the week has some significance in the Bible. If the eighth day is the first day of the week in the Old Testament, we have these references:
1. A newborn animal was to be with his parents for seven days, and then could be offered
on the eighth day – Ex 22:30, Lev 22:27
2. Babies were to be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth – Lev 12:3, Lk 1:59,
Acts 7:8, Phil 3:5
3. Certain sacrifices were to be offered on the eighth day
a. a sacrifice after the consecration of the priests – Lev 9:1
b. the leper’s cleansing – Lev 14:10 & 23
c. the offering after an issue from the body had stopped – Lev 15:14 & 29
d. after the feast of tabernacles – Lev 23:36, Num 29:35
e. to restore a Nazarite vow – Num 6:10
There are four references to the first day of the week in the New Testament. The most important one, and the basis for the others, is that Jesus rose on the first day of the week (Mt 28:1, Mk 16:2 & 9, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1 & 19). This is often cited as the reason the church has its main weekly gatherings on the first day of the week, which for us today is Sunday. That the early church did is shown in Acts 20:7 and 1Cor 16:2. The church also gathered their offerings on that day in those meetings (1Cor 16:2). John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (Rev 1:10). This is usually understood to be the first day of the week.
The New Testament makes it clear that Christians, especially Gentile ones, are not required to keep the Sabbath. The early church had a problem with some Jewish Christians after Gentiles started becoming Christians. They thought Gentile converts had to get circumcised and keep the law of Moses. Paul made several comments in his epistles about circumcision no longer being required (Rom 2-4, 1Cor 7:19, Gal 5:6 & 11, Gal 6:15, Col 3:11). He significantly said that circumcision is fulfilled through water baptism (Col 2:11-12). This issue came to a head in Acts 15 when a conference of the church leaders was held to discuss and settle this issue. Their decision, which they said the Holy Ghost agreed with, was that Gentile Christians needed neither to be circumcised nor keep the law of Moses. They wrote a letter in which they only specified four things for Gentile Christians to keep: “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication (vs 29)”. There was no mention of keeping the Sabbath. This would have been a critical thing to mention if it was a requirement. One group even claims that having church gatherings on Sunday instead of Saturday is the mark of the beast. If that were true, why didn’t Jesus and the apostles make it clear that it was a salvation issue? Why, in fact, did they teach the opposite?
Paul specifically addressed this issue in Romans 14, Galatians 2-4, and Colossians 2. Let us first look at Romans 14. “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it (Rom 14:5-6a).” “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth (Rom 14:22).” The context of Romans 14 is the issue of eating meat that had been offered to idols. In Rome and other places where paganism was practiced, meat would be presented before idols before it was sold in the market for food. This became an issue in the early Gentile churches because they came from idolatry. Paul addresses this here and in 1Cor 8 and Col 2:16. As far as regarding certain calendar days or not, Romans 14 says this should be a personal conviction, but not a requirement on all. It also gives some principles regarding personal convictions that can be followed today for other issues. Personal conviction is OK as long as it:
1. is based on scriptural principles
2. does not become doctrine outside of scripture
3. is not used to judge or condemn others
4. makes one think they are more spiritual than others
5. does not cause others to stumble
6. promotes peace and edification of the brothers
Galatians 2-4 also speaks on this issue. In Gal 2:14-22, we find three relative points:
1. Gentiles do not have to keep the law of Moses
2. justification and righteousness come by Christ, not the law
3. the Sabbath was part of the law and there is no New Testament scripture which makes it
Galatians 3 shows us the following:
1. the Holy Ghost is given by promise, not the law - vs 1-5
2. like Abraham, we are justified by faith, not the law - vs 6-9 (Abraham lived about 500
years before the Sabbath was instituted)
3. if we keep one part of the law, we must keep it all – vs 10, Gal 5:3, Jam 2:10-12
4. the fulfillment of the promise of Abraham is the gift of the Holy Ghost – vs 14
5. the law cannot disannul the promise which is fulfilled in Christ – vs 16-18
6. the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ – vs 24
7. those baptized into Christ have put on Christ – vs 27
8. we are Abraham’s seed (not Moses) – vs 29
Galatians 4 gives us these points:
1. “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again
to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye
observe days, and months, and times, and years (vs 9-10).”
2. vs 21-31 – the allegory of Isaac and Ishmael shows the difference in the two covenants
Colossians 2:16-17 says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days, Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
We should be careful not to insert typology into the Bible that is not specifically there. However, since the Sabbath represents rest, we can find a parallel to rest in the New Testament, particularly in Isaiah 28:11-12 which speaks of another tongue and rest. Paul quotes this passage in 1Cor 14:21 and relates it directly to speaking in tongues by the Holy Ghost. We also see that Jesus promised rest for the souls of those weary ones who come to Him (Mt 11:28-29). We can find spiritual rest in our relationship with God, even when circumstances do not appear restful.
Since the Sabbath is about rest and the law of Moses was to point us to Christ, we can see the idea of rest not only pointing to the rest we can have in our spirits now, but also to that future rest God has promised to His people (2Thes 1:7, Rev 14:13). Although Hebrews 3-4 is comparing the entrance of Israel into the promised land to that future rest, we can still see a correlation. It also correlates the seventh day of creation to it (vs 4).
There are several reasons we cannot specifically correlate Saturday to the Sabbath. The ancient Hebrew calendar and the modern one are different than the modern one used in Gentile nations. They had a solar and also a solar/lunar calendar which operated on different cycles and months than we do today. Also, certain events fell on fixed dates of the month, not the same day of the week (Ex 12, (Lev 23). Since these events fell on a Sabbath, they may not have been on what we would think of as a modern Saturday. The same thing happens with modern celebrations such as birthdays and holidays. The Gentile world has also changed its calendar several times. Noted Gentile calendars are the Julian and Gregorian. In summary, the point here is that in the New Testament, neither Saturday nor the Sabbath are prominent or mandated days. They are fulfilled in receiving the Holy Ghost, which was first poured out on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4, fifty days after Passover (Lev 23:15-16). We can find rest for our souls in the gift of the Holy Ghost and the continued presence of God.