Do Christians Need To Keep The Sabbath?
A number of religious groups claim that the Old Testament (OT) command to keep the Sabbath is still binding on us today. The Sabbath law was given to Moses as part of the Ten Commandments and was a day to be kept holy by resting and doing no work. The claim is made by groups such as the Seventh day Adventists that this command is just as necessary today as it was back at the time of Moses.
So, are we expected to keep the Sabbath day as they claim, and are we in fact disobeying God if we choose to work/play on this day? (We now define as Sunday, our last day of the week which was previously the first day of the week, hence Sabbath used to be a Saturday).
The answer which I believe we will see clearly from scripture is, no we do not need to continue keeping the Sabbath as it was kept in the OT. I would say however that the reason for the Sabbath and the principle behind it, make the idea of a day of rest, to focus on our spiritual health a very good one.
The New Testament clearly teaches that we are no longer bound to the Old Covenant/Ten Commandments and hence we are no longer bound to keep the Sabbath holy.
The book of Hebrews repeatedly contrasts the Old and New covenants, stating that we are no longer under the Old Covenant.
“By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
It states here very clearly that we have died and been released from what once bound us, the Law, which as stated above includes the Sabbath.
The argument is sometimes made that the law which we died to doesn’t include the Ten Commandments. This is clearly dealt with by reading Romans 7:7
“…I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, you shall not covet.”
Therefore the law was the commandments (“you shall not covet”) and the Bible clearly states that this Old law/covenant was weak and obsolete and that we died to it.
2 Corinthians 3 also contrasts the two covenants, indicating that the Old Covenant which we have now died to, left a veil over our faces, preventing us from seeing God more fully through Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at 2 arguments given in favour of keeping the Sabbath day.
1) Law of Moses (ceremonial law) was the law done away with by Christ while the Law of God (Ten Commandments) was for all time. In other words a distinction is made between these two things to enforce the keeping of the Commandments.
Scripture proves that no distinction can be made as they show the two terms “Law of Moses” and “Law of God” are interchangeably. See Luke 2:22-23.
2) Based on a verse in Exodus 31:14-17 Sabbath keepers claim that the Sabbath was to last forever.
“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting (perpetual) covenant.” (v. 16)
At first glance this passage seems to say what the Sabbath keepers claim due to the use of the word “lasting” or “perpetual”.
However, in v16 the covenants duration is given as being, throughout your generations. This phrase denotes the generations of the Jews as God’s chosen people. They were his chosen people during the time of their covenant with him, which lasted from Mount Sinai until the cross of Christ. The term “perpetual” is defined and limited by that phrase.
Many aspects of the Mosaic Covenant are said to be perpetual. Aaronic Priesthood (Exodus 29:9), Incense burning (Exodus 30:8), washing feet and hands by the priests (Exodus 30:21), Observance of feast of tabernacles (Leviticus 23:41) and blowing of trumpets by priests (Numbers 10:8).
The word “everlasting” was used simply to mean, age lasting, which for the Jews, was until the cross. Genesis 17:13 described circumcision as an “everlasting covenant” however Paul said in Galatians 5:2 that followers of Christ do not need to be circumcised. The length of everlasting therefore depends on the context in which it is used.
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are only a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ”
Here is a summary to support the idea that we no longer hold to the Sabbath as a binding ordinance, not because we don’t want to because we would rather work and make money, but because scripture is clear on the subject.
1) Multiple scriptures show that we are no longer under the Old Covenant/Sabbath
2) The Law of Moses and Law of God cannot be separated and were interchangeable terms
3) The length of everlasting as defined in Exodus depends on the context in which it is used
4) We do not judge anyone as to whether they keep the Sabbath or not, you are entitled to do so, but you cannot bind this on others.