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1. Sabbatarians make some good points.
- Sabbath is the 7th day, sundown Friday-sundown Saturday. It was never Sunday.
- 4th century church created a “Sunday Sabbath” where none had been before. (Although Christians had long been meeting on Sundays, it was not legally day of rest/worship.) This happened under the Roman emperor Constantine.
- Most Christians are ill-schooled in the Old Testament, and do not appreciate most of the wisdom found in the first testament.
- Sabbatarians like the SDA and WCOG have some insights from which mainstream Christians can benefit.
- None of these points speaks directly to the issue at hand: The question of whether Christians should observe the Sabbath.
2. Key features of Judaism do not translate directly into Christianity.
- We are no longer an agrarian church-state.
- Tithing is “found” in the NT only in passages referring to OT law (Matthew 23 and Heb 7)
- There is no longer any minimum or maximum giving level
- Kosher law
- Perhaps there is medical or hygienic wisdom in some of the laws, but
- Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7; see Acts 10, 1 Tim 4, Heb 13)
- Acts 15 – not required,
- though spiritually speaking we are circumcised (Col 2)
- No longer permitted to hate or kill enemies
- Church is no longer a political entity
- We are already entering the true Sabbath rest (Heb 4).
- Sabbath, like many other O.T. components, belongs to the world of shadows; we are called to embrace substance, the reality in Christ (Col 2:17).
- It’s a non-issue (Gal 4:8-11, Col 2:16-17)
- Conclusion: Christianity may be a continuation and fulfillment of Judaism, but there is also a radical disjunction. Getting their heads around this was not easy for the early (predominantly Jewish-background) Christian leaders.
3. The Sabbath was not observed in the NT and early church.
- Naturally, Sabbath was observed by the Jews.
- Jesus observed the Sabbath.
- The first generation of Christians in Israel maintained many of the Jewish customs (sabbath, kosher, circumcision...)
- Paul became a Jew to the Jew, a Greek to the Greek (1 Cor 9).
- Timothy he circumcised, but not Titus.
- He was “selectively observant.”
- Paul mentions Sabbath only once (saying it’s should not be an issue, Col 2).
- Early church evangelized on Sabbath (Acts 17:2 etc), but that was in order to reach out to the Jews.
- There was a change to the first day of week: John 20:19, 26; Acts 2:1, 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10.
- But Sunday did not become a “Sabbath” until 200 years later.
- Patristic writers confirm that Sabbaths were no longer to be observed. Following are typical Patristic comments on Sabbath
- If, then, those who had lived in antiquated practices came to newness of hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath but living in accordance with the Lord’s Day [Sunday, kyriake, the Lord’s day, in Greek], on which our life also arose through him and his death (which some deny)… (Ignatius, Magnesians 9:1).
- Finally, he says to them, “I cannot bear your new moons and Sabbaths.” You see what he means: “It is not the present Sabbaths that are acceptable to me, but the one that I have made; on that Sabbath, after I have set everything at rest, I will create the beginning of an eighth day, which is the beginning of another world.” This is why we spend the eighth day in celebration, the day on which Jesus both arose from the dead and, after appearing again, ascended into heaven (Epistle of Barnabas, 15:8-9).
- But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead…For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67
- You will find many more comments in the early church fathers. Perhaps search the web or buy some books. From the 1st to the early 4th centuries (the great apostasy took place in the 4th century) the Sabbath was not observed.
- Still, the principle of Sabbath contains wisdom for us, and there is much to learn.
- Conclusion: Neither the NT nor the patristics support Sabbath observance.
4. Asymmetries are a feature of biblical revelation.
- Many reason that all 10 of the 10 commandments must carry over into the N.T.; it would not be right, or elegant, if only 9 still applied in our time.
- Yet there are many examples of things not being so neat and tidy in nature, and in the Bible.
- The number of lunar cycles in a solar cycle (one year) is not even.
- The earth being the only inhabited planet in our solar system.
- Irrational numbers (like pi and e).
- And many other examples..
- Lev 19 and Deut 6 – why not explicitly in the Decalogue? Why located where they are? Why was Deut 6 not in the first version of the law of Moses?
- 12 tribes, but then Joseph splits into Ephraim and Manasseh. 11 plus 2 “half-tribes.”
- 12 apostles, but then add Paul, one “abnormally born.”
- 2 versions of Decalogue (Exodus 20, 34)
- 9 of 10 Commandments appear in N.T. Only no. 4 conspicuously not repeated. Interesting that this is the only particularly “Jewish” commandment.
- Arguments from symmetry have aesthetic appeal but not logical power.
- Whether 7, 9, or 10 commandments are applicable today must be determined by careful Bible study, not by a preference for elegance or simplicity.
5. Does “everlasting” mean never to cease, always valid? Not at all.
- ‘olam / aion – quality > quantity. Does not suggest infinity.
- Examples of this point
- Circumcision – Genesis 17:13
- Sprinkling of blood – Exodus 12:24
- Aaronic priesthood – Exodus 29:9, 40:15
- Solomon’s temple – 1 Kings 8:12
- Longevity of a slave – Deuteronomy 15:17
- Sabbath – Exodus 31:16
- Conclusion: “Perpetual” does not prove the Sabbath is for today. Moreover, there is no evidence of Sabbath before the time of Moses.
6. What about Matthew 5:17?
- Sabbatarians claim that we are to obey the Decalogue, which Jesus refers to in this passage. Similarly, the "commands" of God (as in 1 John) are interpreted as including Sabbath observance.
- Many things abolished but all are fulfilled; all come to full fruition in Christ.
- “The least of these commandments” – everything, major and minor things (Matt 23:23, Luke 11:42).
- Tithing of herbs?
- Not eating shellfish?
- Sabbath year, Jubilee year?
- How does Jesus fulfill the law? He embodies, and his teaching embodies, its deeper meaning.
- Jesus came not to abolish, yet in one sense he did come to abolish: many laws no longer apply. It’s a matter of emphasis. Parallel: In John he came to judge, and yet he did not come to judge (John 9:30, 12:47).
- OT law still the word of God for us, even though it isn’t the word of God for us.
- Conclusion: If Jesus meant to say that the law—from the greatest commands to the least—was never to be done away with, then we should be obeying more than just Sabbath law. All the O.T. would still be valid; it would still be our law. Matthew 5 does not help the Sabbatarian cause.
7. “Cumulative case”
- The "evidence" sabbatarians rely on is weak.
- Only biblical proof is admissible, not symbolic illustrations, anecdotal evidence, or pragmatic reasoning. Undoubtedly there are many blessings flowing from dedicating a day a week to worship, study, and rest--just as there are to observing kosher law, or even being vegetarian--but this does not constitute a biblical proof.
- Just saying “Putting it all together…” doesn’t strengthen the case; it weakens it even further (50% probability x 25% x 33% x 25% x 66% ~ 7%!). Piling up weak evidence does not strengthen one's position, regardless of how large the pile becomes.
- The biblical and extrabiblical evidence do not support the Sabbatarian position.
- The “cumulative” evidence is even weaker than the individual arguments.
- The Sabbatarians are wrong.
9. Where to go from here?
- Sabbath may no longer apply, but there's still a spiritual principle for us to implement.
- We are not working machines.
- We need to set aside time to honor God and build our relationship with him.
- Torah-observing Jews teach that Shabbat is for the purpose of a “quiet time.” Prayer and study of the word (esp. the Torah) are to dominate the day. “The Sabbaths were given to Israel in order that they might study Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 15:3). Many Jews make this quality family time, even opening their homes to non-Jews.
- Putting it all together, 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.
- For more on the relationship between the OT and the NT, listen to the podcast on Holiness, esp. the opening section. For a recent exploration of Sabbath, see Matthew Sleeth's 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life.
- It is okay to have different opinions.
- Whatever your conclusion, be sure to display grace (Romans 14:5-6).
- Sabbath receives near zero emphasis in the N.T. documents. It is certainly not a matter of salvation.
- Those err who make it a point of salvation or superiority.