If Christians are no longer required to observe the mitzvoth of Torah, what about the Sabbath—the fourth commandment? This podcast (21 mins) aims to answer that question, as we continue to ponder the relationship of the old covenant to the new, and the Old Testament to the New Testament.

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Main ideas:

  • Sabbatarians are right about the day: Sabbath is the 7th day, sundown Friday-sundown Saturday. The 4th-C church created a "Sunday Sabbath". (Although Christians had long been meeting on Sundays, it was not legally day of rest/worship.) This happened under Constantine (early 300s).
  • Yet in the 1st C, there was a change to the 1st day of week: John 20:19, 26; Acts 2:1, 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10. Jesus, after all, rose from the dead, appeared, ascended, and gave the Spirit on Sundays.
  • John was in the Spirit on "the Lord's day" (Gk. kyriakē, the Greek word for Sunday).
  • True, Paul enters synagogue on Sabbath, but this was for purposes of evangelizing the Jews (Acts 17:2).
  • Some claim that the Sabbath preceded Moses—that it was for Adam. Yet there is no evidence of Sabbath before time of Moses (New 9:14).
  • The patristic writers agree that Sabbaths are no longer kept. Rather, Christ's followers assemble on Sunday (Ignatius, Magnesians 9:1; Epistle of Barnabas, 15:8-9; Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67. It seems highly unlikely the generation after the apostles forgot the truth about the Sabbath. Ignatius, after all—writing around 107 AD—was a disciple of the apostle John!
  • Sabbath receives near zero emphasis in the N.T. documents. If it is so important, isn’t it odd Paul that explicitly mentions it only once (saying it should not be an issue, Col 2:17-17; also Gal 4:8-11). It is certainly not a matter of salvation / superiority.
  • What about the feeling that all 10 commandments must still apply, for aesthetic purposes or symmetry? Asymmetries are a feature of biblical revelation as well as of the natural world. Arguments from symmetry have aesthetic appeal, but not logical power.
  • Christianity is a continuation and fulfillment of Judaism, but there’s also a radical disjunction from Judaism. Getting our heads around this was not easy for early (predominantly Jewish-background) Christians, and we too need to give this special consideration.
  • Although Sabbath law no longer applies, but there are still vital spiritual principles: We are not machines. "The Sabbaths were given to Israel in order that they might study Torah" (Jer. Talmud, Shabbat 15:3). Shabbat is rest, yet not laziness. It is devotion to God, but not work. It is for study and prayer, but not a burden. And for those with families, a time to share.
  • We have seen abundant evidence that the early church did not observe Sabbath as a Christian ordinance. Not everyone will agree with the assessment, so let’s show grace to those who value one day over another (Rom 14:5-6)—even though we must not allow them to judge us over the issue (Col 2:16).

Supplement to this lesson:  Holiness podcast. This talk explains how the distinction between special people, places, things, and times—all features of the old covenant—have been abolished (or transformed) in the new covenant.