The Sabbath

One of the most widespread continuities between present 'Christian' practices and the Mosaic Law is seen in the idea that we must keep the Sabbath. Some groups claim that we should keep the Jewish Sabbath exactly as defined in the Law; many others feel that Christians should have a specific day of the week upon which to worship, which they often define as Sunday. The first thing to clarify is that the Sabbath was the last day of the week, when God rested after the six days of creation (Ex. 20:10,11). Sunday being the first day of the week, it would be incorrect to observe this day as the Sabbath. The Sabbath was specifically "a sign between me (God) and them (Israel), that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them" (Eze. 20:12). As such, it has never been intended to be binding on Gentiles (non-Jews).

We have seen that through Christ's death on the cross, the Law of Moses was done away, so that there is now no necessity to observe the Sabbath or, indeed, any festival, e.g. the day of Christ's death (Col. 2:14-17). The early Christians who returned to keeping parts of the Mosaic Law, e.g. the Sabbath, are described by Paul as returning "to the weak and miserable principles (N.I.V.), whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage. Ye observe days (e.g. the Sabbath), and months, and times, and years (i.e. the Jewish festivals). I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (Gal. 4:9-11). This is the seriousness of attempting to keep the Sabbath as a means to salvation. It is clear that observing the Sabbath is irrelevant to salvation: "One man esteemeth one day above another (i.e. in spiritual significance): another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that observeth (A.V. mg.) the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that observeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it" (Rom. 14:5,6).

Because of this, it is understandable that we do not read of the early believers keeping the Sabbath. Indeed, it is recorded that they met on "the first day of the week", i.e. Sunday: "Upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread..." (Acts 20:7). That this was a widespread practice is indicated by Paul advising the believers at Corinth to take up a collection "upon the first day of the week" (1 Cor. 16:2), i.e. at their regular meetings on that day. All the believers are described as being priests (1 Peter 2:9) - who were exempt from keeping the Sabbath (Matt. 12:5).

If we are to keep the Sabbath, we must do so properly; we have earlier shown that it is fatal to keep the Mosaic Law partially, because this will result in our condemnation (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10) . Salvation is through keeping the law of

Christ rather than that of Moses. Israel were not allowed to do any work on the Sabbath: "Whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death". They were also commanded: "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day", and therefore they were forbidden to prepare food on that day (Ex. 35:2,3; 16:23). A man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath, presumably in order to kindle a fire, was punished with death for doing so (Num. 15:32-36).

Those denominations who teach that Sabbath-keeping is binding upon their members should therefore punish those members with death when they break the Sabbath. There should be no cooking of food or use of fire in any form - e.g. in driving motor vehicles, using heating systems etc. Orthodox Jews today set an example of the kind of behaviour expected on the Sabbath: they remain indoors all day except for religious reasons, and are not personally involved in cooking, transport etc. Most of those 'Christians' who claim to keep the Sabbath fall far short of this.

It is often argued that keeping of the Sabbath was one of the ten commandments given to Moses, and that, whilst the rest of the Law of Moses was done away, the obligation remains to keep all of the ten commandments. Seventh Day Adventists make a distinction between a 'moral law' of the ten commandments and a so-called 'ceremonial law', which they believe was done away by Christ. This distinction is not taught in Scripture. We have earlier demonstrated that the Old Covenant refers to the Law of Moses, which was replaced on the cross by the New Covenant. It can be shown that the ten commandments, including that concerning the Sabbath, were part of the Old Covenant which was done away by Christ:- God "declared unto you (Israel) his covenant, which he commanded you (Israel) to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone" (Deut. 4:13). Again it should be noted that this covenant, based upon the ten commandments, was made between God and Israel, not Gentiles of the present day.

- Moses ascended Mount Horeb to receive the stone tables upon which God had written the ten commandments. Moses later commented concerning this, "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb" (Deut. 5:2), i.e. through those ten commandments.

- At this time, God "wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments" (Ex. 34:28). This same covenant included details of the so-called 'ceremonial law' (Ex. 34:27). If we argue that keeping the covenant made in the ten commandments is necessary, we must also observe every detail of the entire Law, seeing that this is all part of the same covenant. It is evidently impossible to do this.

- Heb. 9:4 speaks of "the tables of the covenant". The ten commandments were written on the tables of stone, which comprised "the (old) covenant".

- Paul refers to this covenant as "written and engraven in stones", i.e. on the tables of stone. He calls it "the ministration of death...the ministration of condemnation...that which is done away" (2 Cor. 3:7-11). The covenant associated with the ten commandments can certainly not give any hope of salvation.

- Christ blotted out "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us" (Col. 2:14) on the cross. This alludes to God's handwriting of the ten commandments on the tables of stone. Likewise Paul speaks of "the law...being dead...the oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6), probably referring to the letters of the ten commandments which were written on the tables of stone.

- Just one of the ten commandments is styled "the law" in Rom. 7:8: "The law...said, Thou shalt not covet". The preceding verses in Rom. 7:1-7 stress how "the law" has been done away by Christ's death; "the law" therefore includes the ten commandments.

All this makes it clear that the Old Covenant and "the Law" included the ten commandments. As they have been done away by the New Covenant, the ten commandments have therefore been removed. However, nine of the ten commandments have been reaffirmed, in spirit at least, in the New Testament. Numbers 3,5,6,7,8 and 9 can be found in 1 Tim. 1 alone, and numbers 1,2 and 10 in 1 Cor. 5. But never is the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath repeated in the New Testament as obligatory for us.

The following list of passages documents further how the other nine are reaffirmed in the New Testament:-

Digression 28: The Crucifix

It is widely believed in Christendom that Jesus Christ was killed on a cross. However, the Greek word ' stauros', which is normally translated 'cross' in English Bibles, really means a stake or pole. Indeed, the crucifix symbol probably has pagan origins. It is fitting that Christ died with hands and arms lifted up above his head, rather than spread out in a crucifix form, seeing that uplifted hands is a symbol of God's promises being confirmed (Eze. 20:5,6,15; 36:7; 47:14), as well as intense prayer (Lam. 2:19; 1 Tim. 2:8; 2 Chron. 6:12,13; Ps. 28:2), which Christ was engaged in on the cross (Heb. 5:7). He said that as the bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole when Israel were in the wilderness, so he would be publicly lifted up in his time of dying; thus he associated the 'cross' with the pole (John 3:14).

The Roman Catholic Church has attached great mystical significance to the cross. This is completely without Biblical support; it has resulted in the crucifix becoming a talisman, a physical token that God is with us. People have come to feel that by wearing a crucifix or regularly making the sign of the cross, God will be with them. This is mere tokenism; the real power of the cross is through our association with Christ's death by belief and baptism, rather than recalling the physical form of the cross. It is easier, of course, to do the latter than the former.

Digression 29: Was Jesus Born on December 25?

Another major mistake of popular Christianity is concerning the birthday of Jesus. The shepherds were sleeping in the fields with their flocks at the time of Christ's birth (Luke 2:8); they would not have been doing this at Christmas time, during the winter. Christ lived for 33.5 years and then died at the feast of Passover, which is at Easter time. He must therefore have been born six months the other side of Easter - i.e. around September/October.

December 25 was originally the date of a pagan feast in pre-Christian Europe. The Acts of the Apostles records how the true Christians were badly persecuted by the pagans because of their beliefs. Time and again the apostles warned that because of this, some Christians would adopt pagan beliefs, to enable them to make their religion more palatable to the pagans around them (e.g. Acts 20:30; 1 John 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Peter 2:1-3). The adoption of December 25 as a Christian festival is a prime example of this. Christmas trees, mistletoe etc. can all be traced back to pagan rites practiced on December 25.

It follows from this that true Christians should not celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25. In practice, true believers will make use of most public holidays, e.g. Christmas, to fellowship together wherever possible.

STUDY 9: Questions

1. Why was the death of Jesus, rather than of any other man, required for our salvation?

2. Why were the animal sacrifices of the Law of Moses not sufficient to take away sin?

3. Was Jesus our representative or our substitute when he died?

4. Which of the following statements is true?

a) Christ died instead of us dying b) Christ represented us, so God can forgive us for his sake c) Christ was like us but does not represent us d) Christ's death meant that God will no longer hold any human being guilty for sin.

5. Did Jesus benefit from his own death?

6. When Christ died on the cross, did he a) End the smaller commands of the Law of Moses but not the 10 commandments b) End all of the Law of Moses including the ten commandments c) End the Law of Moses except for the Jewish feasts d) Have no effect on the position of the Law of Moses?

7. Should we keep the Sabbath now?

8. Give reasons for your answer to question 7.

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