A response to those who believe that a follower of Jesus Christ must keep the seventh day as a holy Sabbath.
Keeping the Sabbath.
There are a number of religious groups that assert that the Christian believer must keep the Sabbath Day, and that this day is Saturday - 'the Lord's Day' - and not Sunday. It is generally claimed that the sabbath was given to mankind to observe, 'more than two thousand years before the existence of a Jew'. What validity do these statements have, and how important is the Sabbath to today's Christian believer?
The Bereans of New Testament times had this commendation:
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Acts 17:11
So with this in mind, let us look at some verses from Scripture that make reference to the sabbath, for the advice of Paul is:
"Prove all things, hold on to that which is good."
1 Thessalonians 5:21
The first sabbath.
A good place to commence this study is the opening book of the Bible. Genesis 2:2,3 refer to the seventh day, and show that God established the seventh day as a separate and holy day. However, the passage does not refer to this seventh day being a 'sabbath', nor does it say that it was to be observed by mankind as a sabbath. Neither does any other passage in this first book of the Bible state, or even infer, that the seventh day had been instituted or observed as a Sabbath day of rest for mankind.
You will recognise that the first occasion in which the seventh day is referred to as the sabbath was with the children of Israel in the wilderness.
"And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. And they laid it up till the morning as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein. And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." Exodus 16:23-29
The instructions being given here were to become part of the Ten Commandments that would be given to Moses two months later.
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." Exodus 20:8
However, returning to the narrative of Exodus 16, the passage reads as though the sabbath was being introduced for the first time. The basis of collecting food on six days and resting on the seventh is covered in verses 4-8 of that same chapter, "that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or no." (v4)
That the observance of the sabbath was a new concept is admitted by Moses himself when he repeated the law a second time:
"The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all here alive this day." Deuteronomy 5:2,3
So it was not the covenant that had been given to the fathers (i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), but one that was being given to them in their day. This is repeated three times in this one verse to emphasise the fact. And what was this particular covenant? The Ten Commandments, which Moses immediately goes on to relate. These commandments are called 'the covenant' in a number of places:
"I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." Exodus 34:28
"He declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even Ten Commandments." Deuteronomy 4:13
"There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there in Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel… I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant of the LORD." 1 Kings 8:9,21
A New Testament writer, Paul, also regarded the Ten Commandments as the covenant made with Moses, and used an Old Testament passage to drive home his point.
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when 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 the fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt ..." Hebrews 8:8,9 [Quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34].
Covenant with Israel.
Whenever this covenant is spoken about with regard to its relationship with mankind it is, without exception, related to the people of Israel. It is nowhere referred to as an all-encompassing world-wide concept.
"See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days;" Exodus 16:29
"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;" Exodus 31:13
"Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant." Exodus 31:16
"Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant." Leviticus 24:8
"He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgements unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgements, they have not known them." Psalm 147:19, 20
"Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them." Ezekiel 20:10-12
Since the covenant was exclusively for the Israelites, we can appreciate why no mention whatever is made of the sabbath prior to Israel being in the wilderness. Consider the unambiguous words of Nehemiah when writing of the Israelites,
"And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:" Nehemiah 9:14
Nehemiah clearly expresses in this passage the fact that if the sabbath observance had not been made by the hand of Moses, then they would have remained ignorant of it.
Before that covenant had been made through Moses, there was no mention of a sabbath, or an inference of any valid base. Take, for example, a verse frequently used to support this claim, to be found in Exodus 5.
"And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens." Exodus 5:5
It would appear inconceivable that the Egyptians would have allowed foreign slaves to have every seventh day as a day off work, when their own workers had no such luxury! Why were the Egyptians searching for ways to make them work harder, such as to gather their own straw, when they could merely have withdrawn their seventh-day 'perk'!
"Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves." Exodus 5:7
The Hebrew word translated in Exodus 5:5 as 'rest' is 'shabath', meaning to repose, (intransitive) to desist (from exertion), to cease, to leave off. The most basic meaning for this word is found in Genesis 8:22.
"While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease."
It is also the same word that is used in Genesis 2:2,3. God's work was completed, and, therefore, there was no need to continue. He did not need to rest like a weary man, but he only 'ceased' his creative activity. The word 'shabath' is used some 200 times in the Old Testament, and the primary idea appears to be 'to sit down' or 'to stand still'. Check out this fact for yourself. There is no foundation for asserting that the Israelites observed a sabbath each week in Egypt; and certainly it is not implicit in Exodus 5:5. The context clearly shows that the rest to which Pharaoh was referring was their stated desire to absent themselves 'for a feast'.
"And afterwards Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. ... The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the LORD our God." Exodus 5:1,3
A new experience.
If , as some claim, the sabbath was being kept through the Egyptian period (for the incident in Exodus 5:5 was only about nine months prior to their departure from Egypt), then why was it when someone broke the sabbath law (by picking up sticks), that no-one, not even Moses, knew what had to be done!
"And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: .." Numbers 15:32-35
If, as sometimes claimed, Moses had been making the Israelites in Egypt observe the sabbath, how did it arise that he had never needed to take corrective action for a sabbath breaker? This is especially so if the phrase of God at Mount Sinai applied to a pre-given sabbath,
"How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?" Exodus 16:28
If such were true, then how weak was Moses as a leader! For up to that time he had never had experience of rebuking a sabbath breaker!
Of course, the reference to the refusal to "keep my commandments and my laws" is not a specific reference to the Law of Moses, for the latter, by definition, was not around until it was given through the hand of Moses. Just as when David, and others, make reference to 'the law' (Heb: torah) they are not simply referring to the Law of Moses. These later writers are in fact very frequently referring to the 'Torah', the first five books of the Old Testament. But more than that, as so many references demonstrate, they refer to the Jewish way of life, requiring total dedication by reason of the covenant. That the torah is not only law can be seen from the fact that it is equally well prophetic utterances (Isaiah 1:10; 8:16) and the counselling of the wise (Proverbs 13:4). Therefore, to quote passages such as Psalm 19:7, or Isaiah 8:20 (as sabbath supporters do) as support for observing the sabbath today, is clearly pointless, or even for observing the sabbath in the days of the Psalmist - the sabbath is simply not being discussed in the passages alluded to.
The same playing with the word of God is shown when selecting Psalm 89:34 in support of the keeping of the sabbath day.
"My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips."
For if the quotation is continued to show the context, it is very apparent that it is dealing with a completely different subject: namely, the establishment of the Kingdom under Jesus Christ as promised to David.
"My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah." Psalm 89:34-37
As is clearly stated, the word 'covenant' used in context here, refers to a covenant with David concerning his seed, and has nothing at all to do with the sabbath We must always be careful to quote, or use, Scripture only when we are sure that it endorses within its context the things which we wish to demonstrate. Otherwise, we may believe a delusion. More than that, we would be doing the very thing that Isaiah warned against.
"But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared , and taken." Isaiah 28:13
The word of God must always be considered within context. If one draws a point from here, and selects a further point from there, and an inference from another place, then one can prove anything from the Bible. In fact, that is probably why there are so many 'versions' of Christianity around today!
Too many people today base their faith on inference - on supposed 'facts' that are not in the record. Sabbath-believers make many inferences, strongly based in the first book of the Bible, and in the last book of the Bible - two books which in fact do not make mention of the word 'sabbath', let alone mention it as a command of rest to mankind. To claim that John received his revelation on the sabbath (refer Revelation 1:10) is a biased interpretation of the 'Lord's Day'. There is available today some fragmentary writings from the time of the apostle John's closing days (ca. AD96) which are clearly using the same phrase to refer to the first day of the week, ie., Sunday. It is not surprising that such would be the case, since Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Further evidence is that Paul delayed his departure from the brethren until after he had met with them to break bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7-11), monetary collections were to be taken up on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-3), and the testimony of writers of that era. Ignatius (AD107), who was a disciple of the apostle John himself, wrote:
"Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables. For if we still live according to Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace ... those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the sabbath." The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1, pp 62,63
There are other writers, such as Barnabas (ca. AD100), Justin Martyr (AD145-150), Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons during the latter part of the second century (AD155-202); Clement of Alexandria, around the close of the second century; and Tertullian, at the beginning of the third century who each affirmed that the followers of Christ did not observe the sabbath. The latter writer stated:
"We have nothing to do with sabbaths or the other Jewish festivals, much less with those of the heathen." The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 3, p70.
The claim that Sabbath believers often make-that it was Constantine in AD321 who first initiated Sunday worship amongst Christians-is untrue, and patently in error as even the above sampling of quotations show.
Was the Sabbath shifted?
"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.." Acts 20:7
Now concerning this event as recorded in Acts 20, although Paul was in Troas for seven days (verse 6), apparently neither he, nor the local believers met for the breaking of bread until the first day of the week. Since they were following the Jewish custom of regarding days from sunset to sunset, this passage showed that they were occupying the Saturday evening in this manner, and actually continued through to the Sunday daybreak.
"When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed." Acts 20:11
The Syriac translation (known as the Peshitta, and dating from near the end of the 4th. century AD) recognised this passage as celebrating the Lord's Supper, in translating it "to break the Eucharist", i.e. to break the Eucharistic bread.
So we note in this passage, that the event was not associated with the Sabbath day, but the first day of the week. That day was not renamed as the Sabbath. The seventh day could never be renumbered as the first. Indeed, the fact that Paul and his companions sometimes attended services in the Jewish synagogue, showed that he still recognised the continuance of the Jewish Sabbath, though it doesn't in itself prove that they continued to recognise the Sabbath as a special day of worship.
The Sabbath was not shifted from being the seventh day of the week. To this day it remains the seventh day of the week. It is completely irrelevant to assert that the edict of Laodicea changed the day of worship from the seventh to the first day of the week, as sometimes alleged - the observance had changed centuries before, but the Sabbath day remained unmoved. But it no longer had relevance to the follower of Jesus Christ.
Why change the day?
Why the change away from the sabbath? An incident when Jesus was with his disciples provides an important indication of a fundamental change in the covenant.
"At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day." Matthew 12:1,2
The incident referred to is narrated in 1 Samuel 21, and we need to note certain details of the story so that we can see why the incident could be used to explain the disciples' gathering of corn on the sabbath day.
"Then came David to Nob to Ahimelech the priest: and Ahimelech was afraid at the meeting of David, and said unto him, Why art thou alone, and no man with thee? And David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business, and hath said unto me, Let no man know any thing of the business whereabout I send thee, and what I have commanded thee: and I have appointed my servants to such and such a place. Now therefore what is under thine hand? give me five loaves of bread in mine hand, or what there is present. And the priest answered David, and said, There is no common bread under mine hand, but there is hallowed bread; if the young men have kept themselves at least from women. And David answered the priest, and said unto him, Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in a manner common, yea, though it were sanctified this day in the vessel. So the priest gave him hallowed bread: for there was no bread there but the shewbread, that was taken from before the LORD, to put hot bread in the day when it was taken away." 1 Samuel 21:1-6
The significant statement is the last sentence, which provides the reason why David was able to take the bread. For the bread was about to be replaced by a new lot, and was therefore of no further use to the priest. Although the loaves had been holy, they no longer were, because they were about to be replaced. And so we can see its application to the circumstances surrounding the disciples eating the corn on the sabbath. Technically they were erring against the Law, but it was excusable, because that Law was about to be superseded by a new and better one, which was to make the sabbath day redundant. The new bread, the 'bread of life', was about to replace the old.
A fading Law.
Of great importance to the subject is a New Testament passage in which Paul argues that the Ten Commandments, as such, represented "a ministration of death, written and engraven in stones... which was to be done away" (2 Corinthians 2:7). One cannot but conclude that the sabbath was part of that which was "written and engraven in stones". Paul's comment was that the children of Israel "could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished" (v13).
Can sabbath-keepers today recognise the truth of this statement, or are they like those of whom Paul mentioned that could not recognise an end of an era? This passage is a very powerful, unambiguous, testimony against the belief that the Sabbath is binding today.
This replacement of the Law is emphasised frequently by the apostles in the New Testament. Take, for instance,
"For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." Hebrews 7:12
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:4
Jesus had illustrated these changes.
"Ye have heard that it hath been said... But I say unto you..."
In this way, and in his teaching, Jesus affirmed and amplified nine of the Ten Commandments. The fourth commandment, relating to the sabbath, was the only one not reaffirmed by Jesus. Neither did any of the apostles reaffirm it. So nowhere in the New Testament is the Christian commanded to observe the sabbath.
"Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect to a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]; which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ." Colossians 2:16,17
The claim that this passage is not referring to the weekly sabbath is seen in its full weakness when one refers back to the phraseology of the covenant from which Paul is deriving his lesson. He spoke in Colossians 2:16 of three observances of the law:
· Holy days.
· The New Moon
· The sabbath [that the word 'day' in verse 16 is additional to the manuscript is acknowledged.]
Now, with this in mind, let us refer to a few passages of the Old Testament.
"And to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the LORD in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the LORD:" 1 Chronicles 23:31
"Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." Isaiah 1:13
"For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God." Nehemiah 10:33
"He appointed also the king's portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the LORD." 2 Chronicles 31:3
"Behold, I build an house to the name of the LORD my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense, and for the continual shewbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the LORD our God. This is an ordinance for ever to Israel." 2 Chronicles 2:4
Note in this last quotation that the sabbath, the new moons, and the solemn feasts are being referred to as "of the LORD our God", and that the same writer, a few chapters later (2 Chronicles 8:13), refers exactly the same ordinances to the hand of Moses. There is no two-tier law recognised here - the law that Moses gave the people, was the law of God, for all of it was given to Moses by God himself.
Ceremonial and Moral Law.
In contrast to the artificial distinction that 'seventh-day' sects draw between the so-called 'ceremonial laws' and the so-called 'moral laws', the Old Testament writers made no such distinction, in attributing the same feasts interchangeably to the supposedly different sectors of the law. The terms 'ceremonial law' and 'moral law' are not found anywhere at all in the Bible, whether Old Testament or New Testament. The terms only exist in the minds of those who insist on their distinction. And that distinction did not exist in the mind of any Bible writer.
Is it believable that the writer to the Hebrews, who obviously was well versed in the Law (as is so evident in his writing), in mentioning these three factors of the law of the LORD (Holy days, the New Moon and the Sabbath), did not have these Old Testament passages in mind? The passage of 2 Chronicles 31:3 clearly links the three factors with the very subject that Paul is discussing, namely, the Law of the LORD. There can be no other conclusion than to accept that Paul had the Jewish weekly sabbath in mind. And so, quite clearly, no one in Christ can be judged by the sabbath day.
Why? Because as he said, they "are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ." Colossians 2:17
The apostle Paul remarked to those in Galatia,
"It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made." Galatians 3:19
Two points are stressed by Paul. The first is that the law was added after transgressions had occurred (so that it could not have been given to Adam and Eve at the time some would imply from Genesis 2:2,3). The second point is that the promise being referred to was the promise made to Abraham (v16), and the promise itself is provided in such passages as Genesis 12:2,3; 15:4,5; 17:4-8 etc. The seed referred to was unquestionably Jesus Christ, and therefore the law was to carry forward until he came. And surely he did come, if the Bible record is to be believed. And in coming as he did, Jesus fulfilled the role expected of him.
"Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." Psalm 40:6 (LXX); Hebrews 10:9
That is exactly what Jesus did. That is why he came. He came to provide the release from a law that represented bondage.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not untangled again with the yoke of bondage." Galatians 5:1
Any sabbath believer should be prepared to consider these things.
Keeping the sabbath.
But, it might be asked, 'What harm there would be if I continued to observe the sabbath?' Let me explain by quoting the words of Paul:
"Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Galatians 4:11,12
"Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Galatians 5:4
Admittedly in this last passage Paul is describing those who demand the contin-uation of the law by insisting on circumcision, but in the context of the whole letter he is merely using the argument of circumcision to illustrate his principle; he could have used the sabbath with equal validity. For the principle remains the same:
"Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Galatians 5:2-4
By arguing that the Mosaic Law (the Torah, which includes the Ten Command-ments) given at Sinai is still binding today in effect rejects faith in Jesus Christ. Why? Because this view rejects the fact that Jesus Christ (Heb: Messiah) fulfilled the law, and in so doing, paved the way for God to terminate it. To persons who profess to be Christians, but who are persuaded by arguments in favour of keeping the law, or some portion of it, the apostle Paul was able to write as forcefully as he did (Galatians 5:2-4, above).
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:4
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks about those who justify themselves in or by means of the law. If one believes in justification in or through the law, one leaves no room for Jesus Christ and his grace. A modern translation puts it this way:
"Those of you who try to earn God's approval by obeying his laws have been cut off from Christ. You have fallen out of God's favor.." Galatians 5:4 GWT version.
In other words, believers of the Law were cut off from Christ, not that they belonged to him at any time; they were never his. The verb translated as 'fell' in that verse, means 'to fall off'. It does not mean that they lost the grace of God that was their's at one time, but that they were off the path of grace since they chose justification by law instead of justification by grace.
"But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them." Galatians 3:10,11
If there was justification by keeping the law, and proving one's self righteous by such works, then there would have been no need for Jesus Christ - there would be no value in his sacrifice. Sure, it is important that we do works in obedience to the commands of God and his Son (Matthew 28:19,20; John 15:14), for they demonstrate our love and faith; lack of these factors would indicate that our faith was dead. But we cannot earn salvation no matter how hard we work. No salvation from sin and death would be possible without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:9,10
Giving up the Law.
Naturally, the early followers of Christ were hesitant in abandoning the Law, which had become institutionalised in their lifestyle throughout more than 1000 years of history. The record of Acts 15 relates the reserve held by some early Christians against the abandonment of the law as given to Moses. So the apostles and elders sent a letter to those "subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment", stating "the necessary things" to be retained. These "necessary things" were "that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication" (Acts 15:29), all things that pre-dated the Ten Commandments and the Law given to Moses (refer for example to Genesis 9:3,4; 34:2-7; 35:2-5). Note particularly that the observance of the sabbath was not listed as one of the "necessary things" to retain!
When Jesus died, his will (or testament) came into force, and so the Jews them-selves no longer had to conform to the Mosaic Law, but were able to be accepted under the law of Christ. The Jews were especially thankful, for until then they had been violators of the Law covenant, and his dying as an accursed criminal obtained freedom from that Law that they couldn't keep. The Law knew nothing of forgive-ness: it provided only death. This was the message that Paul gave to the Jews in the synagogue as recorded in Acts 13.
"Be it known therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." Acts 13:38,39
The Law had, in fact, fenced the Jews off from the Gentiles [i.e. non-Jews]. Requirements that did not apply to Gentiles were laid on the Jews, and uncircumcised Gentiles were barred from sharing worship with the Jews.
"Ye know that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean." Acts 10:28,29
Once the Law was removed it was possible for Jews and Gentiles to be united through Christ in worship of the only true God.
"For he… hath made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man... for through him we both have access by the one Spirit unto the Father." Ephesians 2:14, 15,18
The law had served a purpose.
"Wherefore the law was our [Jews'] schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" Galatians 3:24,25.
It is a little unfortunate that the Greek word 'paidagogos' is translated as 'schoolmaster', for it can give a misleading slant to the intended meaning. As William Barclay, an eminent scholar of Greek, comments in his book, "New Testament Words",
"…it is a word the correct under-standing of which is essential, if Paul's thought is to be understood. .. It was when (the child) went to school that the paidagogos really took over the management of the boy and retained it till the boy was eighteen. The paidagogos was not in our sense of the word a teacher at all. His duty was to accompany the boy to school each day and to see that he got there safely; to carry the boy's books and his lyre; to watch his conduct in school; to see to his conduct in the street; to train the boy in morals, in manners and in deportment. He must see that the boy walked modestly with downcast head in the streets; he must see that he gave place to older people and was becomingly silent in their presence; he must teach him to be well-mannered at the table and to wear his clothes with grace. He had to teach him all the Greek meant by eukosmia, good manners, good deportment, pleasantness of life." pp 206,207
So Paul's Greek readers would know exactly what Paul was alluding to in his comparison of the Mosaic law covenant with the figure of a paidagogos. Hence the complete aptness of its purpose "to bring us to Christ" (Galatians 3:24).
The law was there to keep them on the path, and to ensure that they got to their Teacher (Messiah) safely. And so we see that when the Teacher came, he reinforced those same principles that had been guidelines in their past. The Sermon on the Mount reinforced all those parts of the Mosaic law covenant, and extended the lessons in keeping with the preparation for the new and better covenant that would be established following his sacrificial death. They were merely shadows of that better thing to come. But unless one has light, one can miss recognising shadows. Jesus came as that light, to make the shadows obvious. However if we maintain our walk in darkness, then we will be blind to even the existence of shadows. Jesus fulfilled the things written about him in the Law, in the Prophets and in the Psalms (Luke 24:44).
Fulfilment of the Law.
The Law was fulfilled in Jesus, and he made no attempt to replace its principles, but, as already mentioned, extended nine of them:
1st Ephesians 4:6; 1 John 5:21; Matthew 4:10
2nd 1 Corinthians 10:14; Romans 1:25
3rd James 5:12; Matthew 5:34,35
4th abolished: Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:16,17; Hebrews 8:13
5th Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20
6th 1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:21,22; Romans 13:9
7th Hebrews 13:4; Matthew 5:27,28; 1 Corinthians 6:9,10
8th Romans 2:21; Ephesians 4:28
9th Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25; 2 Timothy 3:3; 1 Timothy 3:8-11
10th Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5
Jesus said that,
"the first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment." Mark 12:29,30
Yet this greatest, and first, of commandments was not one of the Ten Command-ments. Jesus said that it was greater than the Ten Commandments, because it incorporated the essence of all that God and Jesus demand of us. And Jesus added a second commandment (also notably not one of the Ten):
"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandments greater than these."
No! Not even any of the Ten. In actual fact these two commandments are part of the so-called 'ceremonial law' (Deuteronomy 6:4; Leviticus 19:18), supposedly "done away"! Yet Jesus claimed the two 'ceremonial laws' to be greater than the Ten, a situation that must include the fourth commandment relating to the sabbath.
Freedom in Christ.
The freedom we enjoy in Christ allows us to worship God on any day of the week. The sabbath still remains as a Saturday, but it is no longer observed as under the Law. We wait for the true sabbath to come, that great time when we will enter 'into the rest'. For the true believer in Christ each day is 'separated' unto God as a holy day. The first day of the week (Sunday) perhaps especially so, in the commemoration of Jesus rising from the dead to an eternal life as our mediator.
Recall again those words of Paul:
"Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Galatians 5:2-4
One cannot justify one's self by one's compliance with the Law, for in doing this one aligns ones' self with exactly the condition that Paul was fearing amongst the Galatians. By justifying ones' self by the Law as sabbath observers proudly do, renders Jesus Christ of no effect. Not my words, but Paul's!
It is a very serious situation in which sabbath-keepers place themselves. I would implore anyone in such a position to read the Scriptures as the Bereans did, without preconceived bias, and see the true freedom that Christ has brought. Let us recognise the true Jesus, the Bible Jesus, the Jesus who came to fulfil the sabbath.
"Let us labour therefore to enter that rest..." Hebrews 4:11
Paul and the sabbath.
A point often expressed by today's sabbath-believers is that if Paul was insistent that the sabbath was no longer binding on the Christian believer, why then was he visiting the synagogues on the sabbath?' Not because he was observing the sabbath, but by doing so he was able to gather the attention of those he was trying to save. Jesus Christ did exactly the same thing. As Paul wrote to the Romans,
"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." Romans 10:2
No wonder, then, that Paul went to the synagogue on the sabbath! Yes, Paul did preach (not worship) on the sabbath to Jews.
"And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath and persuaded Jews and Greeks." Acts 18:4
But when the Jews opposed him, that practice ceased.
"And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go to the Gentiles. And he departed thence ..." Acts 18:6,7
That was his last recorded contact with the Jews on a sabbath; the sabbath was not mentioned again (except for Colossians 2:16). The Jews were so strongly entrenched in their own interpretation of Scripture that Paul gave up his effort.
Sunday as the sabbath?
Let us revisit this important aspect. It is claimed by many who insist on keeping a sabbath (Saturday) observance, that the replacement of the sabbath day by Sunday is "Christianity's greatest deception". It is claimed that men in various ecclesiastical councils had no authority to change the sabbath to a Sunday. The change is generally attributed either to Constantine or to the Roman Catholic organisation.
But the Bible knows of no such change. The sabbath of the Bible in every case recognised the seventh day of the week as being that day. However, the followers of Christ recognised the first day of the week as being the appropriate day for their assembly for worship and 'breaking of bread'. This was indicated in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the day of Pentecost.
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." Acts 2:1-3
Pentecost was the 50th day after the sabbath of the Passover week, and was therefore the first day of the week, Sunday. A new day for worship had been established! Subsequent practice of the disciples confirmed this.
"And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. 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." Acts 20:6,7
Paul's stay at Troas was for seven days, so it must have included a sabbath, but the disciples waited until the next day to 'break bread'. The sabbath remained as Saturday, and it still does remain as Saturday. But it no longer carries the ritual obligations of the Law, for this was done away in Christ.