A Christian does not need to keep the Sabbath

A Christian and Sabbath Observance: Why You Don’t Need to Rest on Sundays, or Saturdays

In a recent post on the Bible’s perspective of the Sabbath we learned that the Fulfilled Sabbath position is, in all likelihood, the most accurate in representing the biblical teaching of Sabbath. Below, I will list a few reasons as to why I believe this is so, and why the Eternal Sabbath (Seventh Day Adventist) and the Christian Sabbath (Reformed) do not line up with Scripture.

The Sabbath is in Moses, Not Genesis 2

The first reason is that both the Eternal Sabbath and the Christian Sabbath position seem to inaccurately impose the identity of Sabbath upon Genesis 2. While it may be accurate to say that Sabbath is rest, the Sabbath’s identity is wrapped up with the Mosaic covenant. That is, while there is something of a prototype established in Genesis 2 as God rests on the seventh day, what is known as the “Sabbath” does not actually show up until the time proceeding up to Sinai and the giving of the Law. There is no indication that prior to Moses there were any regulations attached to the rest God instituted on the seventh day.

While it is true that there were regulations associated with other Decalogue prohibitions such as murder and adultery prior to Moses, there is no indication that such was true of the Sabbath. In all likelihood, the Gentile peoples of the earth probably took no heed of the seventh day and certainly did not see any reason to consecrate it. Can we really argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were observing the pre-Sinai Sabbath? If this is the case, would it not follow that just as murderers and adulterers were punished and marked by Scripture as particularly evil, Sabbath breakers would be stoned as well? After all, the first breaking of the Sabbath after the giving of the Law is aptly recorded to demonstrate the severity and seriousness of disobedience to the command. If we say that the Sabbath as it existed in the Mosaic economy also existed prior to Moses, then we must say its penalties and regulations did as well.

The Decalogue is Not Binding on Christians

Secondly, both the Eternal Sabbath and Christian Sabbath positions view the Decalogue as eternally binding moral principles. While there is certainly good reason to believe this is true, it is difficult to see why, for instance, Christian Sabbath theologians will see a ceremonial principle within it. This seems like an arbitrary distinction with no hermeneutical explanation. On what basis is this determined? This arbitrariness makes the interpretation seem uncertain.

Eternal Sabbath theologians seem to have difficulty with texts which demonstrate that the Law has been abrogated as a system entirely.1 Unlike the Reformed, they do not have the tripartite division of the Law to explain why certain laws are picked up and why certain laws are abrogated. They will argue that the entire Law except for the Decalogue has been abrogated, but they cannot explain how the Decalogue remains despite these texts which indicate the passing away of the Law entirely. Why does the Decalogue remain if it was given as a part of the Mosaic Law? Indeed, one might object that the Decalogue seems to be part of the moral fabric of the universe. But if this is the case, then why were Sabbath breakers not penalized with death before Sinai, and why are they still not today? Is not the regulation of the Sabbath a part of its consecration? And if so, how can an eternally binding and transcendent law morph its regulation? This seems to be inconsistent with what we know about the nature of the Sabbath, and therefore makes their interpretation of these texts doubtful.

No New Testament Teaching on Christian Sabbath Observance

Lastly, based upon these two observations above, their interpretations of New Testament texts seem unfounded. Of particular importance are Colossians 2 and Hebrews 4. Both positions seem to argue their side on the basis of a word rather than the context and flow of the argument of the section. It is argued that in Colossians 2:16, since the word for Sabbath is plural, it must not mean the weekly Sabbath. This of course is an assumption made that seems to contradict the flow of the argument to include all Jewish types and shadows.

Similarly, the rest of Hebrews 4 clearly indicates the eternal rest in the section. It is only Hebrews 4:9, where the hapax-legomena sabbatismos appears, that is taken to mean Sabbath observance. But in regards to Hebrews 4, McCarty says that “all eight previous and subsequent uses of the word rest in Hebrews 3-4 are a translation of the Greek word katapausis. But in Hebrews 4:9 the author deliberately used the Greek word sabbatismos, a word not used elsewhere in the NT but used in the Septuagint and extrabiblical sources to mean observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.”2 This, however, makes for a rather jagged and disjointed interpretation of this verse. It seems to make the point almost a parenthetical statement rather than a conclusion statement, something the context would suggest.

In conclusion, therefore, I argue that the Fulfilled Sabbath makes the most sense of what we see in Scripture. By means of deduction, we have seen that the other two positions are riddled with issues. That is not to say that the Fulfilled Sabbath view does not have issues, but that it does not suffer from what I deem to be very problematic issues. At the end of the day, however, there certainly needs to be more work done on this issue. As imitators of God, we must be wise and must increase in wisdom, and in doing so, rightly handle the word of truth.

-Alan Kern

1 Romans 7, Colossian 2, and the logic of Hebrews which sees the Levite priesthood, which was inseparable with the old covenant, as being done away with, among others.

2  Skip McCarty, Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 26.

What do you think?