One of the lingering questions since the beginning of the Church in the first century has been, “How are we Gentiles supposed to consider the
Sabbath?” If we look solely at the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) we assume the observance of a particular day of the week is critically important
to God and therefore to us as well. But we must ask ourselves if in fact this is God’s last and final word on this subject. If it is, we must keep the
Sabbath, if it is not, then we should know God’s will for us about the Sabbath.
To be biblically correct, the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath. The Catholic church in the late 1880’s was actually the instigators of the switch
from seventh day to the first day of the week, some say to distance themselves from Jewish tradition. Today Jews and some Christians observe the
seventh day of the week as the Sabbath.
An effective tool for helping to understand Scripture is what I call the “principle of last mention.” Simply stated this tool asks the question, “What
is God’s most recent word on the subject?” This principle realizes that things can change, in fact, God can change His mind about something and
His most recent words trump what He previously said. A quick example is His words to Adam and Eve about having free access to every tree in the
garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He later overruled that statement by extricating them from the garden altogether. The
latter word or His last mention is the one that stands, not His earlier statement. Let us apply this interpretive tool to our question about the Sabbath.
The first test I apply to questions about relevance to matters of the Law of Moses is to see what was considered by the apostles and Church
leaders in the Jerusalem Conference. (Acts 15) This was the defining moment in Church history. This was when those who actually walked with
Jesus and had heard Him first-hand would decide what was to be brought from the Law of Moses into relevance for the Church. Observance of the
Sabbath is however noticeably absent from their conclusion. James along with the noted apostles present at that conference jointly concluded this
in their letter to the Gentile churches:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things
offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you do well.”
Men of God agree that this would have been the time when Jesus would have instructed His Church leaders to institute the law of the Sabbath for
the Gentiles if indeed it were to continue in the Church from the Law of Moses. Jesus did not lead them to do this; therefore, what must be our
conclusion? We can only conclude that the law of the Sabbath under the Law of Moses is not applicable to the present-day Church. We do not find
a subsequent passage that overrules this apostolic decree from the Jerusalem Conference; therefore, this is God’s last mention in the Holy
The apostle Paul builds on this revelation about the Sabbath and other observances from the Law of Moses in his letter to the Galatians when he
Galatians 4: 9-11
“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you
desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored in vain.”
The Apostle Paul officially dismantles the law of the Sabbath being attached to a certain day of the week when he writes this to the Church:
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the
day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it…”
One concern I have for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are re-instituting the Sabbath observance back into their doctrinal arsenal is that
they carefully consider the consequences of toying with things under the Law of Moses. Look what God says here:
“You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it,
that person shall be cut off from among his people.”
An honest approach to accepting some facet of the Law of Moses implies a full acceptance of all of it. If one says he observes the Sabbath
according to Old Covenant writings, he must also accept the horrible consequence of death if he is guilty of just one simple infraction! We have
been freed from the Law, why then would anyone desire to go back under something not one person except Jesus was ever able to fully keep?
Jesus makes a statement about the Law of Moses that I had to deal with years ago when I was honestly exploring my own position on the Sabbath.
Let’s look at this together:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth
pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
What was Jesus saying here? Was He telling us the Law of Moses is still place? If that is what He means then indeed the Church remains under the
Law of Moses! Thank God Jesus did not mean that at all. If we accept the divinely inspired writings in the Book of Hebrews and in the Book of
Galatians, it becomes clear that we are not under the Law of Moses and the rules, regulations, observances, and ordinances contained therein are
not applicable to us who are in Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 7-11, Galatians 3)
There is a fine line between the end point of the Old Covenant and the beginning point of the New Covenant. One important consideration in
making this determination hinges on what Jesus says about Himself.
“But He answered and said, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’”
We must remind ourselves that Jesus was a Jew born under the Law of Moses. He, therefore, taught those under the Law of Moses as One who
Himself was so ordered. Why does He tell the man who was miraculously healed to go show himself to the priest? He gave this command because
this was a Jewish custom ordered under the Law. So if Jesus Himself tells someone to do this, why do we who are in Christ Jesus not obey this
command? We don’t obey this command because we are not under the Law. We must rightly divide the Scriptures from Genesis thru the Gospel of
John to know which truths are trans-covenantal and which ones apply only to Israel under the Law of Moses. Our attempt to understand about the
Sabbath is made clearer when we consider this. Note what Paul the great apostle writes:
“…where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”
Here was an apostle who was a Jew by birth declaring there no longer remains the distinction between the Jew and the Gentile in the sight of
God. All sinners regardless of their background are set free by the blood of Jesus from whatever bondages previously held them. The Gentiles
were freed from the bondages of sin; the Jews were not only freed from the bondages of sin they were also freed from the curse of the Law.
(Galatians 3:13) The Gentiles never had a command to observe the Sabbath and the Jewish folks had been freed from this observance when Jesus
fulfilled the Law and it became obsolete. This is why neither (former) group that now comprises the Church has a divine command to observe
There is something to be said about the significance of certain days and feasts according to the ancient Hebrew calendar. This study is not the
place for to delve into this; however, the “coincidences” are far too many to ignore when one studies Church history as well as secular history in
alignment with the Hebrew calendar. The Sabbath is mentioned in certain passages that deal with the feasts and certain prophetic fulfillments.
Perhaps greater revelation concerning the Sabbath is yet hidden, being one of the mysteries that Jesus and Paul both speak about.
In all of this discussion about the Sabbath let us not neglect to mention the original purpose for the Sabbath – rest.
A Sabbath rest is important for numerous reasons, none of which has anything to do with our righteousness or in keeping the Law of Moses.
Therefore, my admonition is for each of us to set aside a day for our rest and for our worship and intimacy with God. Recall Jesus teaches that the
Sabbath is meant for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)
Finally, allow me to admonish each of us to refrain from allowing whatever differences we have in our personal beliefs on the subject of the
Sabbath (or any other doctrinal belief) to divide us or separate us in any way. The unity of faith is God’s will and we must work hard to maintain it.
“…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace; There is one body and
one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling.”
Keep in mind that unity does not mandate conformity. We must agree to disagree agreeably in order to be pleasing to God and to present to the
world a unified Body that is indeed one just as Jesus prayed for. (John 17)
I say “Let love prevail!”
|What About The Sabbath?
By Bishop Randy Barnett