Sabbath Keeping

Johnie Edwards
Bloomington, Indiana

Sabbath keeping or the first day of the week? Which day is it that Christians are taught to keep? A lot of religious folks are divided on this issue. The only way one can know which day to observe is to study the Word of God and see. To this end, we study.

Sabbath Keeping Belonged to the Jewish Age

During the 2500 years of the Patriarchal Age, there was no command for or example of anyone keeping the sabbath day as such. Just prior to the giving of the sabbath, God told the children of Israel not to gather any manna on the seventh day as a test run. The only thing God was doing on this occasion was: "that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no" (Exod. 16:4). The fact that Moses told them exactly what to do on this occasion shows they had not been observing such a day (Exod. 16:22-26). It was new to them!

For the 1500 years of the Jewish Law, we can read of the sabbath command and penalty for violating it. A careful reading of the Bible will clearly show when the sabbath day observance was given, and to whom.

1. The sabbath was given when the children of Israel came out of Egyptian bondage. "And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. . . Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exod. 20:1-2,8).

2. Purpose of the sabbath. The sabbath observance was given to the Jews as a memorial of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. "And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day" (Deut. 5:15).

3. A sign between God and Israel. "The sabbath is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever . . . through out their generations" (Exod. 31:12-17; Ezek. 20:10-12). Sabbath keeping was a sign between God and Israel. It was never given to any other nation.

4. Sabbath given at Sinai. "Thou comest down also upon mount Sinai, and speakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant" (Neh. 9:13-14).

5. A special law for the fleshly descendents of Jacob. "The Lord made a covenant with us at Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day . . . keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee" (Deut. 5:2-12). A careful reading of the context will show the covenant Moses refers to in this passage is the sabbath law, as he listed all the ten commandments.

No Distinction in the Law of God and the Law of Moses Sabbatarians teach that the law of God and the law of Moses are different laws. They tell us that the ten commandments, which includes the sabbath, is the law of God, and is still binding today. Sabbath keepers say that the law of Moses is merely the ceremonial law, and that law has been done away with.

The Bible makes no distinction in the "law of God" and the "law of Moses." They are one and the same law! The law of God is called the law of Moses and the law of Moses is called the law of God. Please take note: "And when they brought out the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, Hilkiah the preist found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses" (2 Chron. 34:14). Ezra said, "This Ezra went up from Babylon: and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given" (Ezra 7:6). In fact, one the ten commandments, which we are told is the "Law of God," is referred to as being said by Moses. "Moses said, honor thy father and thy mother" (Mk. 7:10). Please observe that some elements which are in the so-called "ceremonial law" are said to be in the law of the Lord! "He appointed also the king's portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feast, as it is written in the law of the Lord" (2 Chron. 31:3). Did you ever read any thing about burnt offerings in the ten commandments?

The truth of the matter is this: God gave the law of Moses and Moses gave the law of God! Moses was only the law giver. For the law was given by Moses" (Jn. 1:17). It was all God's law! It's like Nehemiah said, "And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel" (Neh. 8:1). Moses was simply carrying out the wishes of the God of heaven. "And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month" (Neh. 8:14).

The sacrifice for purification, as offered by Mary, is not part of the ten commandments, yet is called the law of the Lord. "And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord; And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons" (Lk. 2:22-24). Which law was this, the law of Moses or the law of God, since both are mentioned in this passage?

To make a distinction between the law of God and the law of Moses is to make a difference when God made none! The only reason folks even make an attempt to show there is a different in the law of God and the law of Moses is to bind sabbath keeping on people today.

The Covenant, Including the Ten Commandments, Done Away in Christ

The covenant, which contained the ten commandments, was made at the time the children of Israel came out of the land of Egypt. "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kgs. 8:9;21). The sabbath law was written on two tables of stone. "And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded your to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone" (Deut. 4:13; 9:9-11; Exod. 34:28).

Just what happened to that covenant that was given when the Jews came out of Egyptian bondage, the ten commandments? Let the Bible answer the question. The apostle to the Hebrews said it in such a way that there can be no doubt about it. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: (Now watch it, JE); Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord" (Heb. 8:7-9). This is a quotation from the weeping prophet Jeremiah as he looked down the stream of time, to the coming of a new and different covenant (Jer. 31:31-32). God made a new covenant which does not contain the command to keep the sabbath day. "A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13).

Christians are dead to the law that commanded sabbath keeping. The apostle Paul used the marriage relationship to teach that folks cannot be under two laws at the same time, no more than a woman could be married to two men at the same time. The Holy Spirit then drew this conclusion: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God... But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:1-6). Just what law was that from which "we are delivered"? Again, let the Word of God answer: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law, for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Rom. 7:7). Where is the law that says "thou shalt not covet"? It's found in the ten commandments, which contains sabbath keeping (Exod. 20:17)! And, it's the law that the Bible says we have been delivered or discharged from.

The law which commanded sabbath keeping has been "nailed to the cross." Paul wrote the Colossians, "Blotting out the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col. 2:14). Since these ordinances, which contained the command to "remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exod. 20:8), has been taken out of the way, we must "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ" (Col. 2:16-17).

Sabbath keeping has been done away. Remember the ten commandments, containing the sabbath law was written on "two tables of stone" (Deut. 4:13). Now watch what the New Testament says about these commandments, as the writer spoke of the apostles of Christ:

Who also made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done way was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. . . And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded; for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ (2 Cor. 3:6-14).

Please take your New Testament and underscore the words "engraved in stones"; "done away"; "abolished"; "done away in Christ." If you can see through a barrel with both ends knocked out, you can see it is just as Paul told the Ephesians: "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconciled both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Eph. 2:15-16).

We, today are reconciled to God in the New Testament church which was made possible by the death of Christ on the cross, when we obey the gospel.

Sabbath Keepers Do Not Keep the Sabbath Properly

Those who demand that the sabbath day is still binding, fail to follow the Lord's instructions in regards to its observance. Please notice:

1. The sabbath was a day of rest. "And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy :lay, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day" (Exod. 35:1-3; 20:8-10). Do you know any sabbath keepers who observe this rest-rule today?

2. Penalty for violating the sabbath law. The penalty for breaking the sabbath law was physical death. A man who failed to observe the day as a day of rest, but was found working, paid the price of disobedience.

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. . . And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses (Num. 15:32-36).

Here is a good example that God means what he says and says what he means! Where is the passage of Scripture that teaches the sabbath day is binding, but the penalty is for violating the sabbath law is removed?

3. A burnt offering. Sabbath observance was to be accompanied with a burnt-offering. "And on the sabbath day two lambs of the first year without spot, and two tenth deals of flour for a meat offering, mingled with oil, and the drink offering thereof: This is the burnt offering of every sabbath, beside the continual burnt offering, and his drink offering" (Num. 28:9-10). Sabbath keepers do not observe this command today. Why not? Where is the passage that teaches the sabbath day is still binding but not the burnt offering?

4. Travel restricted. The Bible speaks of "a sabbath day's journey" (Acts 1:12). During the time when sabbath keeping was in force, God expected his people to stay at their place and rest. "Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (Exod. 16:29). Travel was restricted to less than a mile on the sabbath day. Why don't sabbatarians respect this regulation? It looks like people would try to be more consistent in their teaching and practice!

The First Day of the Week

In the New Testament, God chose the first day of the week as the "Lord's day." John said, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day' (Rev. 1:10). Just what day is the Lord's day? Sabbath keepers tell us it is Saturday or the seventh day of the week. Sabbatarians say that men changed the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Many refer to the Lord's day as a "Christian Sabbath." The first day of the week is never called the sabbath.

The New Testament finds the Lord's people meeting on the first day of the week. In fact, a number of things took place on the first day of the week as recorded in the New Testament.

1. Christ arose from the dead. Mark said, "Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week" (Mk. 16:9). Luke records the same thing (Lk. 24:1).

2. Jesus met with his disciples. Between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus met with his disciples on a number of occasions on the first day of the week (Jn. 20:1,19,26).

3. Great events of Acts 2. Pentecost day always came on the first day of the week (Lev. 23:15). Think of all the things which occurred in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit "gave utterance" to the apostles as they preached (Acts 2:4). The first gospel sermon was preached (Acts 2:22-36). The Lord's church had its beginning as men heard, believed and were baptized "for the remission of their sins" (Acts 2:38,47).

4. The church assembled. We read of the church coming "together" (1 Cor. 11:18-20; 14:23). What did they do on the first day of week when they came together? They observed the Lord's supper. "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them" (Acts 20:7). By the way, a sabbath day passed by while Paul waited for the first day of the week, and he was as silent as a tomb about keeping the sabbath day! The fact that Christians were assembling on the first day of the week to worship God can be seen in Paul's order for the Lord's people to give of their means. "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you Jay by him in store, as God hath prospered him that there be no gatherings when I come" (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Isn't it strange if the sabbath day was binding on these early Christians, they were never told to do anything on that day? If sabbath keeping is binding on New Testament Christians, looks like we would find them meeting on that day to worship God. Jesus who was said to be "the Lord of the sabbath" (Mk. 2:28), never commanded Christians to keep the sabbath.


The sabbath day served its purpose and then was taken out of the way. Those who demand that the sabbath law must be observed today need to answer Paul's question to the Galatians, "Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" (Gal. 4:21) The greatest argument against Judaism, including sabbath keeping, was in the form of an allegory of two women. Take your Bible and study this story and you can see that we are not under the old law but under the law of Christ. "So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free" (Gal. 4:21-3 1; 6:2).

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 17, pp. 528-531
September 3, 1992