A Biblical view of the Sabbath is that Christians don't need to keep the Sabbath

A Biblical Perspective on the Sabbath

From a biblical perspective, the Sabbath day in its entirety is identified as being fulfilled in Christ and is therefore transformed to be the rest which Christ will give in the new heavens and new earth. Christ came to fulfill the Law, and in doing so superseded—or rather transformed—it into the Law of Christ. In the Law of Christ, the Sabbath command is never repeated nor commanded to be observed, and therefore is no longer binding upon Christians as a weekly observance. Rather, it becomes the rest promised by Christ in the new heavens and earth. It is the eternal rest or salvation which God entered into in Genesis 2 and which Christ offers those who have faith in him.

This is distinct from Eternal Sabbath (Seventh Day Adventists) and Christian Sabbath (Reformed) positions in that the Sabbath has become something entirely different from a day in the week. This is due to the biblical theological frameworks used which tend to see more discontinuity between the biblical covenant of the Law and the new covenant, e.g. Progressive Covenantalism, Dispensationalism, and New Covenant, thereby allowing for the new covenant instituted by Jesus to be much different from the previous covenants.

Since the linchpin of this position is that the Law is wholly fulfilled and therefore abrogated by Christ, we will discuss how theologians of this position arrive at this conclusion. Doug Moo writes concerning this: “The content of all but one of the Ten Commandments is taken up into ‘the law of Christ,’ for which we are responsible. The exception is the Sabbath commandment, one that Hebrews 3-4 suggests is filled in the new age as a whole.”1 What we see in Moo’s comment is that the Law of Christ supersedes the Law. It absorbs the former Law and takes its position and authority. The Decalogue is picked up by the Law of Christ and retaught—all of it except the Sabbath, an observation which is crucial to determining whether or not the Sabbath still remains a weekly observance. Since Christ does not explicitly teach concerning a weekly observance of the Sabbath, one must look to the author of Hebrews. Moo argues that the Sabbath has become eschatological salvation in Christ. Craig Blomberg concurs, noting that “the only references to the Sabbath commands in the NT are ones that relativize their application in various ways.”2 This would suggest that weekly Sabbath observance has ceased and is now applied as a principle to various circumstances in the Law of Christ as taught in the New Testament.

The Law of Christ

What precisely is the Law of Christ? According to theologians of this position, it is what the Spirit of God now teaches us concerning loving God and loving our neighbor. Lacey, in picking up on this topic, explains that Christ “filters each piece of legislation through its fulfillment in the law of love—the teaching and ministry of Jesus—to see how it applies in the Christian era.”3 In other words, the Old Testament laws, including the Decalogue, have been filtered through Christ and are now expressed in terms of what is called the law of love. These are the guiding principles in how to live the Christian life.

Such a claim about the Decalogue has been met with much controversy. In response, Witherington has made this assessment, that Jesus “endorsed a certain amount of the principles within the Mosaic Law as part of his own teaching, in particular the love commandment, but he also declared void other parts, and intensified yet other parts of the Mosaic Law.”4 This, he argues, is evidence that the entirety of the old covenant has passed away. It was a package deal that, once fulfilled, was no longer binding. Rather, Jesus picks up on Old Testament principles and reteaches (some of) them. It is thus Jesus’ authority which makes these teachings binding, not the fact that they were in the old covenant. Moo summarizes: “Christians are freed from the law as the covenant to which they are obligated (7:1-6).”5 This argument he draws from the first part of Romans 7, but he does not limit himself to this text in the Pauline corpus.

Colossians 2 and a Fulfilled Sabbath

In fact, it is mostly Pauline arguments that are used to support this view of the Sabbath. It would be worth citing a lengthy section of Blomberg’s comments on Colossians 2:

“But in the broader context of chapter 2, it is difficult to imagine that Paul had only one or more of these narrower ranges of practices in mind. In the immediately preceding paragraphs, he explains how the Gentiles now experience salvation on equal terms with Jews in Christ, by likening their rebirth to a spiritual circumcision (2:11). Paul is addressing fundamental spiritual realities at the core of the Jewish and Christian faiths. In referring to festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths, he is clearly itemizing holy days that occurred every year (the calendar of Jewish festivals) and every month (the Jewish new moons). The final element in the triad must be something celebrated every week in Judaism. Nothing in the text limits Paul’s focus to just some aspect of the ritual any more than circumcision.”6

Since the progression in this text goes from years to months, the next item would logically be weeks, i.e. the weekly Sabbath. This, Blomberg argues, is the plain reading and requires the least strain. Moo goes further and grounds this interpretation upon the fulfillment taught in the context. He writes, “But there is still reason to think that Paul calls into question here Sabbath observance per se. The language and logic of v. 17 suggest that the primary problem with Sabbath observance was a failure to reckon with the ‘fulfillment’ of such institutions in the new era of salvation.”7 Colossians 2, then, must be teaching a complete abrogation of the Sabbath in all its forms in the Old Testament.

Similarly, they apply this fulfillment understanding of the old covenant in the new to Hebrews 4. Commenting upon the rest passage, Blomberg says, “But Hebrews is not talking here about ceasing from work one day in seven; it is talking about remaining faithful to Jesus rather than committing apostasy against which this letter so regularly warns (recall 3:16-4:3).”8 The context of apostasy in the book seems to weigh in Blomberg’s favor as he uses it as a platform to understand the rest of chapter 4. The rest is therefore what Jesus provides, not a weekly observance of a rest day.9

Is There ANY Rest?

It is important to distinguish here, on the other hand, that this position does not demand there be no rest whatsoever. Seeing that the Sabbath is viewed as having application to Christian practice, it serves as an illustration within the law of love, namely that one must rest from their labors periodically and for seasons. Blomberg puts it this way: “We can theologically defend the need for all kinds of forms of rest by means of Scripture’s teaching on humans as exercising godly dominion over creation and being temples of the Holy Spirit. But this does not require us to ‘keep Sunday [or Saturday]’ special.”10 Rest is still mandated, in other words, but only as a principle to be applied with wisdom.

Are There ANY Weekly Observances?

Likewise, it does not demand there be no meeting for the local churches. Blomberg cites Hebrews 10:25 as the command for us to gather together as the church.11 There is no frequency nor any day given. This is indicative, he says, of his point. The church mostly universally chose Sunday as the day to gather because it is the day the Lord Jesus rose again. Nevertheless, that did not stop the earliest church in Acts to meet daily in the temple for worship and for fellowship, for the breaking of bread and for prayer. They gathered together out of principle to gather without a command to meet on a particular day. As E.F. Ferguson puts it, “It is better to see that Sabbath command as a part of the Mosaic institution and the Lord’s Day as a different type of day, a day of assembly and worship.”12

-Alan Kern

1 D. Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses,” Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. S. N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 376

2 Craig Blomberg, Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 322. Blomberg is writing and himself quotes Lacey below.

3 D.R. de Lacey, “The Sabbath/Sunday question and the Law in the Pauline Corpus,” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. Carson, 159-95.

4 Ben Witherington, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998), 23

5 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 421-22.

6 Craig Blomberg, Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 342. It is important to note that his argument rests upon the rest of his context which deal with

7 Douglas Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 222

8 Craig Blomberg, Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 350.

9 Ibid. 351

10 Ibid. 352

11 Ibid. 353

12 E.F. Ferguson, “Sabbath: Saturday or Sunday? A Review Article,” ResQ 23 (1980): 181

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