by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.
”God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross. There Christ defeated all powers and forces. He let the whole world see them being led away as prisoners when he celebrated his victory. Don’t let anyone tell you what you must eat or drink. Don’t let them say that you must celebrate the New Moon festival, the Sabbath, or any other festival. These things are only a shadow of what was to come. But Christ is real!” (Colossians 2:14-17)
Let me state in the most clear and concise way that the purpose of the Bible is primarily to help us understand who and what God is and who, what, why and how those connected to God are to live their lives, interact with the world that surrounds them, and serve the greater cause and calling of God through the life and mission of Jesus Christ.
Beloved, any version of the “protestant” Bible, i.e. King James, New International, Living Translation, Revised Standard or even the Contemporary English Version, is comprised of the same two testaments, 66 different books or letters, 1,189 chapters, 31,173 verses and approximately 773,500 words. The books and letters of the Bible cover differing topics and were addressed to a wide variety of audiences and in several specific historical contexts. This same collection of testimonies took nearly 1,500 years before it was dramatically and controversially decided upon which writings would go into an “official” collection.
Several of the Bible’s passages have caused confusion and conflict over the centuries when they are taken out of their historical context. I want to share with you an example of one of the more confusing issues — The Sabbath.
Any initial questions regarding, “What is the Sabbath day?” seems fairly straightforward.
According to Exodus 20:8-11, the sabbath is the seventh day of the week, on which we are to rest, in remembrance that God created the universe in six days and then “rested” on the seventh day. However, due to taking scripture out of context and rather simple misinterpretation by some Christian groups, the meaning of the Sabbath Day rest has been confused. Although God’s resting on the seventh day (Genesis 2:3) did hint of a future sabbath law, there is no biblical record of the sabbath before the Israelites left the land of Egypt. Nowhere in scripture is there even a hint that keeping the sabbath was practiced from the beginning of humanity (Adam) to Moses (the salvation/covenant agent of God).
The Word of God makes it clear that sabbath observance was a special sign between God and Israel:
“Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:16-17)
In Deuteronomy 5, Moses restates the 10 commandments to the next generation of Israelites by commanding sabbath observance in verses 12-14. Moses gives the reason for the sabbath:
”And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Notice the word “therefore.” God’s intent for giving the sabbath to Israel was to remember their Egyptian slavery and the Lord’s deliverance. Note the requirements for keeping the sabbath: A person placed under that sabbath law could not leave his home on the sabbath (Exodus 16:29), he could not build a fire (Exodus 35:3), and he could not cause anyone else to work (Deuteronomy 5:14). A person breaking the sabbath law was to be put to death (Exodus 31:15; Numbers 15:32-35).
Some Christian groups view the sabbath (Saturday) as “the day” of worship. The challenge with this view is that the Bible never commands that The Sabbath be “a day” or the “only day” of worship.
In Exodus 20:8-11, “keeping the Sabbath holy” is defined as not working on the sabbath. Nowhere in this passage is the sabbath described as a day especially set aside for worship.
As described in the Old Testament, there was not one “special” day set aside for worship — the act of “worship” was continual. Priests made sacrifices daily at the tabernacle/temple. Beloved, I am not saying that “The Sabbath” was not set apart for act of worship. The New Testament records Jews and converts to Judaism meeting in the synagogues on the sabbath (Mark 6:2; Luke 4:31; Luke 13:10-16; Acts 13:14, 27, 42-44; 15:21; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). However, the idea that The Sabbath (Saturday) is God’s ordained day of corporate worship is not now, nor has it ever been, biblical.
Again, to better understand The Sabbath we need to remember that the New Testament was established by the life and mission of Jesus Christ. The New Testament in no way describes Christians setting aside Saturday as “the day” of worship. The only scriptures that describe Christians in any sense meeting on the sabbath are in fact pointing to evangelistic efforts at Jewish synagogues, which met on the sabbath day. Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 both mention Christians meeting on the first day of the week. There is no evidence in the New Testament that the Apostles or the early Christians in any sense observed The Sabbath Day (Saturday) as the prescribed day of worship.
Traditionally, Christians have held their primary corporate worship services on Sundays, the first day of the week, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection, which traditionally has been recognized as happening on a Sunday (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). It is important to understand, though, that Sunday is not the commanded day of corporate worship either. There is no explicit biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be the day of worship. What God clearly desires is that believers worship and serve continually, every day, not just on Saturday or Sunday.
An examination of New Testament passages shows us some important points: Whenever Christ is said to appear in His resurrected form and the day is mentioned, it is always the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1, 9 and 10; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1, 13 and 15; John 20:19 and 26). Paul wrote, ”To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20). Paul did not go to the synagogue to fellowship with and edify the saints, but to convict and offer salvation through Jesus. There is simply no obligation for the New Testament Christian believer to keep The Sabbath.
This idea is repeated more than once in the New Testament:
“Some of the Lord’s followers think one day is more important than another. Others think all days are the same. But each of you should make up your own mind. Any followers who count one day more important than another day do it to honor their Lord.” (Romans 14:5-6a)
“But now you know God, or better still, God knows you. How can you turn back and become the slaves of those weak and pitiful powers? You even celebrate certain days, months, seasons, and years.” (Gal. 4:9-10)
Please remember that coming together to worship with other believers is necessary and a great privilege. However, “The Sabbath” was given to Israel, not “the church.”
The Sabbath is part of the Old Testament Law, and Christians are free from the bondage of the Law (Galatians 4:1-26; Romans 6:14).
Observing the Sabbath, either Saturday or Sunday, is not required of the Christian. It is far more essential that we should worship God every day and in every part of our lives. Peace.