Is the Sabbath for Today/Part 1
|By: Dr. Robert A. Morey; ©2003|
|Are Christians today obligated by the Ten Commandments to observe the Sabbath? We asked Dr. Robert Morey of Truth Seekers Ministry to give us his perspective.|
The doctrine of sabbatarianism comes in two forms: Christian and cultic. In its Christian form, sabbatarianism teaches that the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday. Thus the “Christian Sabbath” is on Sunday and not on Saturday. This was the position of the Puritans and the Pilgrims. They legislated various civil laws called “blue laws,” which forced everyone to observe Sunday as a day of rest. It was illegal to conduct business on Sunday.
The Puritan view of the Sabbath was a radical departure from the theology of the European Reformers such as Calvin who believed that the Sabbath and all other Jewish ceremonial laws were fulfilled by Christ and were thus no longer in force.
In its cultic form, sabbatarianism claims that Saturday is the true Sabbath and that it is the only valid day of worship for Christians as well as for Jews. They do not believe that the Sabbath was changed by God from Saturday to Sunday.
Such cults as the World Wide Church of God, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, etc., claim that it was the Roman Catholic Church who changed the day from Saturday to Sunday. Some early Adventist writers went so far as to claim that anyone who went to church on Sunday had the mark of the beast on his forehead and would be destroyed on the Judgment Day.
While the Christian and cultic forms of sabbatarianism disagree on which day the Sabbath should be observed, they use the exact same arguments to prove that we should keep a Sabbath. Thus it does not really matter if we are dealing with followers of the Puritans or the Adventists, they will both argue that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, a moral law, etc. A refutation of the basic arguments which underlie all forms of sabbatarianism is the focus of this study.
The following treatment of the subject reveals that both views are erroneous. The Sabbath was swept away along with all the other ceremonial laws when the veil of the temple was ripped from top to bottom. We can no more keep the Sabbath today than offer animal sacrifices. Christ has come and all things are new.
Part I—The Sabbatarian Position Outlined
The utmost care has been taken to research Christian Sabbatarianism in order to give it a fair and positive presentation. The classic literature, such as the works of John Owen, have been carefully examined. The modern expositions of sabbatarianism such as John Murray were consulted. The following presentation of Christian sabbatarianism, therefore, is not a straw man. It is a factual exposition of the doctrine and the arguments given to support it.
The cultic writings of Ellen G. White, Herbert Armstrong, etc., have been carefully researched to document their arguments for sabbatarianism as well.
God instituted a seven-day week for all mankind and his domesticated animals. This was instituted at Creation and is to be observed in all ages by all men until the end of the world. A week composed of less or more than seven days is sinful and in violation of the will of the Creator.
In this seven-day week, man is to sanctify or set apart one day out of seven. This sanctification of one-seventh of his time is to be composed of:
- Physical cessation from all labor, except works of necessity, charity, or mercy.
- Wholly giving oneself to the worship of God through the use of the public and private means of grace.
- Abstaining from all activities which center in self-pleasure or recreation that tend to distract the mind from spiritual worship and contemplation. This includes sexual pleasure for married couples.
According to cultic sabbatarianism, the seventh day, i.e. Saturday, is the only day that God ever sanctified and appointed as a day of rest for all mankind. Sunday is a pagan day of worship and is not to be viewed as a Sabbath.
According to Christian Sabbatarianism, the Sabbath was appointed by God to be observed on the seventh day from Adam to Christ. But God Himself has now changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week, i.e., Sunday, from Christ’s resurrection to the end of the world. The Lord’s Day is now the Christian’s Sabbath.
The Sabbatarian Arguments Set Forth
- God commanded Adam and Eve to keep one day out of seven as a Sabbath rest. This means that Sabbath-keeping is a “creation ordinance.” As a creation ordinance, it is binding on the entire human race throughout all generations. The Sabbath creation ordinance consists of three parts:
- God instituted a seven-day week for man and his domesticated animals.
- God commanded man to keep one day out of seven as a Sabbath.
- God instilled into the very being of man and his animals a physical, psychological, spiritual and social need to observe a one day out of seven biological cycle within man and his animals. Thus the seventh day was observed as the Sabbath by man at creation.
- In the Ten Commandments, God commanded Israel to keep one day out of seven as a Sabbath rest. Since the Sabbath command is in the Decalogue, it must be a “moral law.” As such, it is binding on all mankind until the end of the world. While the cultic Sabbatarian would restrict the fourth Commandment to the seventh day, the Christian Sabbatarian would state that the seventh day is not part of the moral law, but is a positive or ceremonial law. The day can be changed without breaking the fourth Commandment.
- The Fourth Commandment begins with the word, “Remember.” This proves that Moses was calling upon the Jews to remember what they already knew of and practiced, namely, the Sabbath. Moses was not introducing something new, but, rather, he was reminding them of the Sabbath-keeping which had been practiced since man was created.
- Christ said, “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). This means that the Sabbath is a moral law because it was made for man, i.e., mankind as a whole. The Greek word means all of humanity.
- Hebrews 4:9 states that the Christian is still to observe a Sabbath day of rest.
- The Sabbath was practiced before the Fourth Commandment was given (Exodus 16). Therefore it was observed since the Creation itself.
- In Matthew 24:20, Christ prophesied that Christians would be observing the Sabbath even at the end of the world.
- The silence of the New Testament as to the Christian’s obligation to keep the Sabbath proves that they were all keeping it.
- Since it had been commanded in the Old Testament, and it is nowhere abrogated in the New Testament, it is still in effect.
- The early church was Jewish and kept it automatically.
- There were “pastoral reasons” for the silence.
The next article will begin “An Examination Of The Sabbatarian Arguments”.
[…] Is the Sabbath for Today – Part 1 By: Dr. Robert A. Morey […]
Christianity needs to also be the religion for the simple minded people. Why does the Sabbath need to create such controversy which no other commandment creates? Why do we need to split one commandment into two components? Why not take it just face value as being one of the ten? Is it so bad and so difficult to do, that we need to go to great length and many books to justify not doing it or doing it on a different day.? I suspect there is more to it and more at stake in it than meets the eye for such efforts to be wasted on this if it wasn’t so.
Does your church keep saturday or sunday sabbath? I have a lot of difficulty with which day is right. What is right in Gods eye?
This is a great question. Let me respond with a few brief thoughts.
1) The New Testament does not present the Sabbath as something binding for Christians today. Some passages, like Romans 14, outline how a believer can choose to observe it or not observe it (I suppose one may also choose to keep the general principle, but not the day itself, by setting aside another day of the week for rest and undistracted fellowship with God). Paul calls us as believers not to judge one another on this topic but rather seek to build each other up. He treats it as a disputable matter in the same vein as Jewish dietary laws with clean and unclean foods. Here is a snippet from Romans 14.
“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:5-6).
In Colossians, Paul calls the Sabbath a “shadow” – something that is not the ultimate reality but merely points to it. Christ, and the eternal rest He has established for his followers, is what the Sabbath was there to foreshadow.
“Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).
This ultimate Sabbath-rest is also spoken of in Hebrews 4.
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10).
2) Historically, the Sabbath has been observed on Saturday. After Jesus’ resurrection, the church celebrated Sunday as the Lord’s day – the day Jesus defeated sin and death by rising from the dead. However, the early church found no immediate need to harmonize these two days together (that only happened later). They did not treat the Lord’s day as the new Sabbath and did not celebrate it by ceasing from their labor. Rather, Sunday was one of the main days they gathered to worship. Part of why they did not feel a need to harmonize the two was because they did not find the Sabbath to be a requirement for believers. Thus, they were fine with the Lord’s day being its own thing.
3) If you haven’t made your way through the series of Sabbath articles we have on our website by Dr. Robert A. Morey (there are quite a few in the series), I encourage you to check those out. He deconstructs the main arguments presented in favor of the Sabbath remaining in effect.
If you are looking for a very in-depth engagement with this topic, I would recommend From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation. It was written by some highly respected biblical scholars, including its editor, D.A. Carson. Here is a link to it.
I hope this helps you as you continue to explore this topic.