Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Sabbath

The question of whether we are to keep the Sabbath in this New Covenant era is one which has been on my mind for a number of years. Over the years as I have studied the Bible an understanding of the Sabbath has been put in place brick by brick. But in the last few weeks I have given a bit more time reading and studying this issue of a Sabbath day. The reason for this is that I came to this passage in my reading of the scriptures. "Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." Colossians 2:16-17. In this passage Paul is saying that the Jewish laws about food and drink and festivals and the Sabbath do not apply to the Christian. No one is to force you to observe these laws for they have passed away with the coming of Christ. Those rules were only shadows but Christ is the fulfillment of those shadows. This applies to the Sabbath day as well, which may be hard to believe. Yet the text is very plain and it would be dishonest to try and escape its teaching with all its implications. So in order to help us understand better why the Sabbath day is no longer in effect, lets take a brief look at its history. I say brief because this subject could fill a book.

The first time the Sabbath day is mentioned is in Exodus 16:23, when the Israelites were commanded to gather enough manna on the sixth day for the seventh day. Before this there is no mention of a Sabbath day or a day of rest, besides the seventh day of creation where God rested. "And on the seventh day God finished his work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation." Gen 2:2-3.  We know God didn't need to rest since He never gets tired. But it is also true that man at this time didn't need to rest either since he was perfect. While God blessed the seventh day because He rested on it, there is no command for man to rest on that day. From Adam all the way to Moses we never read of anyone keeping the Sabbath. Even the book of Job which was written before the coming of the law, never speaks of a Sabbath. It is when God makes a covenant with Israel that we first read of a Sabbath day.

In the Mosaic Covenant, the Lord formally institutes the Sabbath day. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God." Exodus 20:8-10. Before this there were no Sabbaths. This is confirmed by Nehemiah 9;14, "and you have made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant." Here we see that God gave the Sabbath day to Israel. Through out their history Israel was to keep the Sabbath day. The prophets called them to observe the Sabbath. By the time of Christ, Israel had corrupted the Sabbath by many rules and had forgotten the intent of the law. Our Lord often confronted them about this and taught them how God wanted the Sabbath observed. Jesus kept the Sabbath as well as all the laws and ceremonies of the Mosaic covenant since He was born under the law and still lived under the law of Moses. But after the resurrection of Christ we never read of any Christians observing the Sabbath day. In all the letters of the New Testament, there is no command to observe a Sabbath day. In fact we find in a number of places that Christians are not bound to keep a Sabbath day as well as all the other rules of the Old covenant.

This absence of a Sabbath continues in the early church. As far as we know the early church did not observe the Sabbath. They didn't consider the Sunday to be a Christian Sabbath. While they did gather together for worship on the first day of the week, they did do work on the Sunday. In 321 A.D. Constantine proclaimed Sunday to be a day of rest, although it was not strict as various activities were permitted. Yet even in this, the basis of this proclamation was not the fourth commandment. It wasn't until the Middle ages that theologians began to connect the Sabbath day and the Sunday. So it seems fair to say that the Christian Sabbath idea is a much later development.

Why then is there no Sabbath for those in the New covenant? A look at the meaning of the Sabbath will help us understand this. But I'll look at the meaning of the Sabbath day next time. If this is all strange and new to you, I understand. Let me finish this series before you come to a judgement on this matter.

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