Should We Keep The Sabbath?

Didn't Jesus teach obedience to the Law of Moses in Matthew 5?
When Did the Law Pass Away?
When the Law Passed Away - Did that include the Sabbath?
The Jerusalem Decree
Was The Sabbath Instituted Prior to Moses?
What about the Early Christians - what did they do?

Didn't Jesus teach obedience to the Law of Moses in Matthew 5?

Matthew 5:19"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus plainly taught during his earthly ministry that the Jews should keep the Law of Moses. It was the Law of God to the Jew - even during the time that Jesus lived. Consider the book of Nehemiah and the descriptions it makes of the "Law"

Neh. 8:1

Book of the Law of Moses,

Neh 8:2

the Law

Neh. 8:8

the Law of God;

(Mat 5:17-18 NKJV)"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. {18} "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

What is the difference between "destroying" and "fulfilling"? The word translated destroy (kataluo) means the same as to "demolish". The word translated fulfill (pleroo) can mean to satisfy, finish, end, etc.

4137. pleroo, play-ro'-o; from G4134; to make replete, i.e. (lit.) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (fig.) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish (a period or task), verify (or coincide with a prediction), etc.:--accomplish, X after, (be) complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfil, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply.

An "end" is still implied, but a different kind of an "end". To demolish, or destroy, would imply a destruction of the purpose and goals of the law. To fulfill it implies a completion of the goals and purposes of the law. The goal of the law was to bring man to a right relationship with God (and therefore provide "life") - as Paul said about the Law:

(Rom 10:5 KJV) For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

As Paul said about the current state of the Law after the death of Jesus:

(Gal 3:24-25 KJV) Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. {25} But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

Notice back in Matthew 5:18 that "heaven and earth shall not pass away... from the law till all is fulfilled." Some have taught that the law will not pass away until the "earth" does. However, what the text says is that it would not pass away until it was fulfilled. In other words, its purpose will not be destroyed. It would continue until its purpose was fulfilled - which is what Jesus came to do. Since its purpose was completed in Jesus, Paul would speak of the Law as the schoolmaster, that we are no longer under (Gal 3:25).

When Did the Law Pass Away?

Prior to the death of Jesus, the Law of Moses was still in effect, and Jesus taught adherence to it. He taught that he did not come to destroy it, but to fulfill it. After his death the Apostles taught that Christians were no longer bound by it. Paul taught that it was nailed to the cross of Jesus:

(Col 2:14 KJV) Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

When the Law Passed Away - Did that include the Sabbath?

Some teach that the "handwriting of ordinances" was the "ceremonial law" and not the "moral law". That phrase "handwriting of ordinances" is simply a way of referring to the law given by the hand of Moses as was spoken of in second Chronicles:

(2 Chr 33:8 KJV) "... take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses."

What part of the law did NOT come by the hand of Moses? Is there a distinction being made here about one part of the law and not another? Paul certainly did not make this distinction. When he spoke of the Law, he spoke of it as including the 10 commandments and argues that the Christian is freed from it. Consider Romans 7 and the arguments that Paul makes...

(Rom 7:6 NKJV) But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Just a few verses later, as Paul deals with the natural question that since we have been delivered from the Law, is the Law therefore bad? (Rom. 7:7 "... Is the law sin?") When he explains that this is the wrong conclusion, he explains "Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law." When he identifies HOW the Law identified sin he speaks specifically of the 10 commandments and uses one of them as an example:

(Rom 7:7 NKJV) What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet."

He identifies the shortcoming of the Law is really its inability to overcome the nature of mankind -- (Rom 7:14 NKJV) "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin." The state of man therefore under the Law was "sold under sin". The problem then is that the Law could not take away sin (Heb 10:4 NKJV) For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.) In this state then (i.e. "under the Law"), Paul would cry out "(Rom 7:24 NKJV) O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" -- with the answer being "through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:25) since Christ brings deliverance from the Law (Rom. 7:6) AND deliverance from sin (Rom 8:3 NKJV) For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: ..."

Further evidence is provided in the Galatian letter where Paul taught that we who are Christians have been "redeemed from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13)." He stated that those who keep one part of the Law are obligated to keep the entire Law:

(Gal 5:3-4 NKJV) And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. {4} You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Now, when he states in chapter 3 that we are redeemed from the curse, is he speaking of only a portion of the Law (i.e. the Ceremonial Law)? Certainly not - from the context it can be seen that when he quotes in Galatians 3:10 the "curse" of the Law - he quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 where the portion of the Law under consideration includes the "moral law" (i.e. the 10 commandments). First consider the statement of Paul:

(Gal 3:10 NKJV) For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them."

(Deu 27:26 NKJV) 'Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen!'

Consider the context of Deuteronomy 27:26 where a series of curses is commanded against those who do not keep the law - and what is under consideration includes the 10 commandments!

(Deu 27:14-26 NKJV) "And the Levites shall speak with a loud voice and say to all the men of Israel:

{15} 'Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.' And all the people shall answer and say, 'Amen!'

Commandment #1
(Exo 20:3-4 KJV) Thou shalt have no other gods before me. {4} Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, ...

{16} 'Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen!'

....

Commandment #5
(Exo 20:12 KJV) Honour thy father and thy mother: ...

{26} 'Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen!'

(Summary statement quoted in Gal. 3:10)

Therefore it is clear that Paul speaks of the Christian as having been redeemed from "the Law" - not a "portion" of the Law, but the entire Law. This principle is illustrated when Paul recounts how when he went up to Jerusalem, Titus was not required to be circumcised:

(Gal 2:2-5 NKJV) And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, ... {3} Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. {4} And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), {5} to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

The Jerusalem Decree

Now since Paul taught that the Law (embodied in the 10 commandments, not limited to these, but certainly INCLUSIVE of these - since he used one of the 10 commandments as an example of "the Law" in Rom. 7:7) was no longer binding to the Christian, it was therefore improper for the Jewish Christians to attempt to bind it on the Gentiles who were pressing into the church. Some were contentious and wanted to bind a portion of the Law (i.e. circumcision - "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved", Acts 15:1) and therefore the council of Apostles was convened to deal with the question. The resolution stated by Peter was that the Law of Moses should not be bound on Gentile Christians -- (Acts 15:10 NKJV) "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" Now the "circumcision" was not something which they were not "able to bear", but one who accepted circumcision, was under obligation to keep the entire Law -- (Gal 5:3 KJV) "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law." Now Paul is not talking about just the act of circumcision, but the attempt to be justified by circumcision - which is what some of the Jews were teaching - "Unless you are circumcised ... you cannot be saved"

An interesting part of this proceeding was that not even Sabbath-Keeping was given to the Gentiles as part of the Jerusalem decree.

(Acts 15:19-20 KJV) Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: {20} But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

Was The Sabbath Instituted Prior to Moses?

Some have argued that Sabbath-keeping was instituted by God long before the Law of Moses and therefore even when the Law of Moses was taken away, the Sabbath Law still remained. However, it would be expected that this should have been covered by the Jerusalem decree. The other things mentioned, certainly did predate the Law of Moses - such as not eating blood -- (Gen 9:4 KJV) "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

Was Sabbath-keeping an institution prior to the giving of the Law of Moses? A quick look at a concordance will tell you that the first mention of the Sabbath was in Exodus 16:23 by the words of Moses as Israel was on their way to Sinai. But some argue that the seventh day was "sanctified" by God in Genesis chapter 2 -- (Gen 2:3 KJV) "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." The question therefore that needs to be addressed is "when did God sanctify the Sabbath?" Nehemiah answers this question:

(Neh 9:13-14 KJV) Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: {14} And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:

This is consistent with the other information that we have about the Israelites as they left Egypt. On the occasion in Exodus 16, where the Sabbath is first mentioned, is recorded the concern of the leaders when on the sixth day the people gathered a double portion of the manna, and Moses had to explain (Exodus 16:23) about the Sabbath. This is a new experience for them, something they had to be convinced of. He is not here reminding them of something that they had known for many years, but giving the Sabbath command as Nehemiah said. Can reminding someone of something they already know be referred to as making "known unto them"? The Bible is consistent throughout on this matter.

Ezekiel also testifies about the matter:

(Ezek 20:12 KJV) "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."

How would the "sabbaths" be a sign between the Jews and God, if it had been given to all men from the beginning? Some argue that the "sabbaths" here are the ceremonial sabbaths OTHER than the 7th-day Sabbath since it is plural. However, it should be noted that the word is used in the plural sense to include the 7th-day Sabbath in Exodus:

(Exo 31:13-14 KJV) 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. {14} 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 doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

Now this fits perfectly with the statements of Paul after he stated that the Old Law was taken out of the way by Jesus ((Col 2:14 KJV) Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;), when he said to the Colossians not to let anyone judge them because of not keeping the Sabbath:

(Col 2:16 KJV) 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 "Sabbath"? The plain and obvious meaning is ALL of the Sabbaths. Some want to quibble and say that this is not the 7th-day Sabbath, but ONLY the OTHER Sabbaths. However the plural usage is consistent with the plain and obvious meaning (just as in Exodus 31:13-14) and just as Paul included the 10 commandments as part of "the Law" in Romans 7:7, so this passage is consistent as well - i.e. if the Law of Moses is done away with, then so is the Sabbaths (all of them) that were commanded under the Law.

That the Sabbath was instituted by Moses is also witnessed to by the early Christian writer Justin Martyr.

What about the Early Christians - what did they do?

We know from Acts 20:7 that the early Christians met on the first day of the week:

(Acts 20:7 KJV) 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.

This appears to be a pattern, and not just a one-time meeting - so that when Paul instructs the churches to "give", he urges them to do it on the first day of the week:

(1 Cor 16:2 KJV) 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.

Now if they were already meeting on the first day of the week, this would not require a separate coming together, but would be done as part of the assembly which would already be gathered. If not, then it would require a separate gathering - which was the express purpose of the author to avoid!

Pliny, the Younger, in writing concerning the Christians, stated that their testimony about themselves was this:

"But they maintained that their fault or error amounted to nothing more than this: they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day, before sunrise and reciting an antiphonal hymn to Christ as God, and binding themselves with an oath - not to commit any crime, ..." (Pliny's letter to Trajan, "Jesus & Christian Origins outside the New Testament", F. F. Bruce, Wm. B. Eerdsmans Publishing Co., 1974 p. 26)

While this account does not mention the day, it does demonstrate that a certain day was determined and practiced (presumably the same day as practiced by the Apostles).

Ignatius [A.D. 30-107.] wrote about Christian observance of the Sabbath

"If, therefore, 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, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death " THE EPISTLE OF IGNATIUS TO THE MAGNESIANS, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, Chapter 9, Master Christian Library, p. 126

A little later in Justin Martyr's writings ... (in his first Apology) ...

(Justin Martyr [A.D. 110-165.] Justin was a Gentile, but born in Samaria, near Jacob's well.)

"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, ..." - FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN MARTYR, CHAPTER 67, "WEEKLY WORSHIP OF THE CHRISTIANS", p. 343

Also, in his dialogue with Trypho, a Jew

(Justin) "Is there any other matter, my friends, in which we are blamed, than this, that we live not after the law, and are not circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers were, and do not observe sabbaths as you do? "

(Trypho's Reply) "...you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God, ..."
- DIALOGUE OF JUSTIN MARTYR WITH TRYPHO, A JEW, CHAPTER 10 (Trypho) "TRYPHO BLAMES THE CHRISTIANS FOR THIS ALONE THE NON-OBSERVANCE OF THE LAW", p 374

Justin, on when the Sabbath regulations were instituted ...

"Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned, [i.e. Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, (D. Duncan) ] though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God; and after them Abraham with all his descendants until Moses, ..."
- DIALOGUE OF JUSTIN MARTYR WITH TRYPHO, A JEW, CHAPTER 19, "CIRCUMCISION UNKNOWN BEFORE ABRAHAM.THE LAW WAS GIVEN BY MOSES ON ACCOUNT OF THE HARDNESS OF THEIR HEARTS" , p. 384

Justin, on the Gentile converts who do not keep the Sabbath ...

"But the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts.

- DIALOGUE OF JUSTIN MARTYR WITH TRYPHO, A JEW, CHAPTER 26, "NO SALVATION TO THE JEWS EXCEPT THROUGH CHRIST," p. 392

Justin, again on when the Sabbath was instituted ...

"As, then, circumcision began with Abraham, and the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts with Moses, ..."

- DIALOGUE OF JUSTIN MARTYR WITH TRYPHO, A JEW, CHAPTER 43, "HE CONCLUDES THAT THE LAW HAD AN END IN CHRIST, WHO WAS BORN OF THE VIRGIN," p. 412

Conclusion:

The early Christian testimony is in accordance with what the apostles taught in the New Testament. If Jewish Christians kept the Sabbath, it was undoubtedly because they were Jewish, NOT because they were Christians.

David A. Duncan

Take me to the "Sabbath Keepers Refuted" website!