The Seventh-Day Sabbath
The Old Testament Covenant and Sign
between God and National Israel
by Curt Wildy
Introduction to Part Four
In this final part, I want to cover the issue of whether Christians are under any kind of Sabbath-keeping obligation; are we required to observe a “Sunday Sabbath?” It is my firm belief that we are not. Moreover, I will go so far as to say that I “stand in doubt…” of any who would make “Sunday Sabbath” observance a litmus test for the salvation of others. I am exceedingly troubled by any preacher who “doubts whether [someone else] is saved” simply because they either do not observe a Sabbath day or fail to “honour the Sabbath” in a manner similar to their own self-righteous and hypocritical standards. These erroneous, Sabbatarian judgments only serve to confuse and entangle others. Those who make them often wish to draw others back under the bondage of the law from which the Lord Jesus has made His people free.
Please understand, I am not speaking against all who believe in a Sunday Sabbath; some esteem one day over another and I do not want to upset anyone who chooses, by God’s providential and ordaining hand, to esteem Sunday as such. However, I am absolutely speaking against those who either implicitly, or explicitly, judge another’s state before God, or the quality of their walk before God, based upon a supposed Sunday observances or a lack thereof. This is not an attack against weaker brethren; it is a direct rebuke against those modern-day Pharisees and Judaizers who replace circumcision with Sabbath-keeping in their Galatian-like error.
How Does One Keep A Sunday Sabbath?
God, in the Old Testament (and to a degree in the New) gave detailed instruction on how to observe the Seventh-day Sabbath. If Sunday is the new Sabbath day, where is the detailed instruction on how to observe it? If one argues that we are to observe it in essentially the same manner that the Israelites observed the Seventh-day Sabbath then I counter with the charge of abject hypocrisy because very few modern-day Sabbatarians do so. This is especially true amongst those who claim to believe in free and sovereign grace but who appear Hell-bent on bringing others back under the bondage of the Moral and Sabbatarian laws. Many of them speak much about their observance, clearly priding themselves upon it, when in reality they are following their own traditions of men. Consider what the Lord required for Sabbath observance:
I. No work was to be performed: In Part Three (B), we saw that God required abstention from most all works; no labour was to be performed on the Seventh-day except for acts of mercy and true necessity. Exodus 20:8-9 declares “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day [is] the sabbath of the LORD thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that [is] within thy gates…” Now consider many of those grace-professors who claim to keep a Sunday Sabbath and yet do all manner of work during it. Many of them:
- Lather up with shampoo and bar soap;
Put on make-up;
Set the breakfast/lunch/dinner table;
- Clear the table;
Wash the dishes (or place them in the dishwasher);
Clean/polish their shoes;
- Lift garage doors (manually or via remote)
Open an umbrella;
- Shovel snow (if the car is blocked by it);
Drive to church (and elsewhere);
- Ride a bike to church (or elsewhere);
- Fix a problem with their car or bike;
Write something out (paper, computer, bulletin board, etc.);
Erasing what has been written previously;
- Tear toilet paper and/or paper towels for use;
The things above are abstained from by most Orthodox Jews; they consider them to be Sabbath-profaning acts. Having lived in a Hasidic neighborhood, I know from personal experience that they will not even twist open a jar of food on the Sabbath (one of them personally asked me to do it for him). Yet how many “strict Sabbath observers” amongst the professors of grace open cans, and jars, and other containers on Sunday? How many of them cook or purchase food cooked by others on that day (or “just warm up” a pre-prepared meal)? How many engage in but one of the above acts, let alone multiple?
It is sheer hypocrisy for these “grace,” or any other, Sunday Sabbath observers to impose their Sabbath traditions upon others – all in the name of God and Gospel. They may argue that the Jews take these things too far; but who are they to judge and how can they rightly discern? What is their authority for determining what is and is not allowed on Sunday if there is no clear New Testament scriptural basis for such determinations? How can they rightly argue that prohibitions against opening umbrellas, using shampoo, tearing toilet paper, etc. are taking it too far when the Jews at least start with the Bible (especially as it relates to the Temple/Tabernacle building) to come to such conclusions? I am sure that the Jews would argue that these Sunday Sabbatarians are not going far enough in observing a Sabbath if that was truly their aim. I doubt it is though, not deep down in side. I think in reality, these Sunday observers (speaking of those who judge saved or loss, or the likelihood of being yet saved or lost, on Sunday Sabbath-keeping) are of the number of those who commend themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves (and such are not wise).
We see some amongst them who will not be baptised, nor partake of the Lord’s Supper, nor “join their local church,” (all the things their local churches and denominations advise them to do); yet, they will nonetheless boast of their “sabbath observance” and openly judge others who do not live up to their standards. Again, this is sheer hypocrisy, sanctimonious nonsense, and it needs to be acknowledged and countered as such. I have seen and heard Sunday-Sabbatarians, those who claim to hold to the Doctrines of Grace, remain silent when Arminians are deemed brethren by others within their denomination. I have seen them not even raise a fuss when encountering those who reject the precept that all of the elect will hear and believe the Gospel in this life. But oh, oh let someone not observe a Sunday Sabbath, now that is a major problem; that is something to wax on about. Speaking peace to Arminians, embracing those who believe that God’s people can remain Muslims and Buddhists (etc.) for the entirety of their lives, we won’t rebuke you on that (at least not too much) but — ‘well, I heard you played a round of kickball with the children… I heard you read the newspaper and checked your email… we need to speak out against that right now. I don’t know if you can be truly saved if you continue to watch football (soccer) on a SUNDAY evening.‘ What foolishness!
II. No burden was to be borne: We read in Jeremiah 17:21-22 “Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring [it] in by the gates of Jerusalem; 22 Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.” How many “grace” Sabbath-day keepers:
Carry bibles, books, food, clothing, tracts, pamphlets, audio/visual equipment, and other things from the house to the church (and elsewhere); and
- Bring things back home from church (and elsewhere).
What gives these judgemental Sunday Sabbatarians the right to carry things (bear a burden) to and from their homes when the Bible forbids such activity on the Sabbath? Is the argument that it isn’t much of a burden to bring church-related material or equipment to the church enough? It seems that many “grace” and other Sunday Sabbatarians would think so but many amongst the Jews would not. Again, how can we tell whose standard of Sabbath-prohibition observance is correct (i.e. the Jew’s or the Sunday Sabbatarian’s)?
Some even take this “bear no burden” instruction to include metaphorical burdens. They believe it also means to bear no secular (mental or emotional) burden — or what we would also call cares/anxieties. They would view focusing on business, politics, financial matters, what one needs to purchase, etc. as a profaning of the Sabbath — and yet how many Sunday Sabbatarians speak of these very things after services on Sunday.
III. No fire was to be kindled: We read in Exodus 35:2 “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. 3 Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.” Yet, how many Sabbatarians are guilty of the following on Sunday:
Bathing/showering with hot water;
- Heating a house, church, etc. from a fire, boiler, etc;
- Brewing (hot) coffee/tea;
Cooking or otherwise “warming-up” the meal;
- Starting a car (due to the ignition); and
- Turning on their lights when an incandescent bulb, candle, or similar light source is used.
As recognised by the Orthodox Jews today, the above things are prohibited by the Old Testament Sabbath laws. Again, if one argues that the Orthodox Jews are the ones who take such interpretations too far, we have to ask again… by what standard are you making such a judgment. How can the “grace” Sabbatarian prove that the Orthodox Jew is wrong when arguing that the listed acts violate the no fire-kindling prohibition? In fact, many strict observers amongst those who hold to particular redemption avoid cooking, lighting fireplaces, etc. out of a fear of violating this same rule.
IV. No commerce or business transactions allowed: The Orthodox Jews recognise the prohibition against engaging in business and commerce on the Seventh-day Sabbath. They look to verses like Nehemiah 10:31 “And [if] the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, [that] we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and [that] we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.” to justify their stance. However, have we ever seen or heard of Sunday Sabbatarians engaging in the following on Sunday:
- Using the telephone;
- Using anything else that will require a bill for its use or human interaction for its initiation/completion;
- Purchasing gas;
- Purchasing cooked/warmed-up meals from stores/restaurants;
- Purchasing other non-essential items; or
- Checking on the status of something when it requires human intervention;
If we know any Sunday Sabbatarians, I trust that we have seen and heard of them engaging in such activities not infrequently.
V. No seeking of personal pleasure or entertainment: Consider Isaiah 58:13-14 “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath , [from] doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking [thine own] words: 14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it].“
The Sabbath-keeper is not supposed to seek out, or engage in, activities that amount to entertainment/personal pleasure. Have you ever listened to Sabbath-keepers on a Sunday? If not, perhaps you should. Though they may abstain from computer use, television watching, sports, newspaper and magazine reading, etc. you may, nonetheless, find them engaging in:
Prepping for visitors;
- church financial matters;
- genealogies and family matters;
- trips, vacations, and trip/vacation plans;
- the latest gossip and tales;
- forms of levity (e.g. telling jokes); and/or
- Engaging in other activities not directly related to resting, bible reading, meditation, listening to sermons, etc.
Am I saying that it is sinful to engage in such things on a Sunday – especially in moderation? No… I would say that the foolish jesting, tale-bearing, and gossiping is sin, but not the other things. However, I believe that the answer ultimately lies in the conscience of the Christian (whatever is not of faith is sin) and it is between the individual and God — it is not for me to judge unless God has given us clear warrant to do so (as with tale-bearing, jesting foolishly, etc.). Nonetheless, those who engage in the above-listed activity are violating the no-personal-pleasure requirements as per many other Sabbatarians (who make such judgments). Therefore, engaging in these things can likewise give a strong appearance of hypocrisy when one insists on pointing out the ‘observance’ failures of others.
VI. No travel, or at least, excess travel: There is a clear limitation on travel when it comes to the sabbath. Exodus 16:29 declares “See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” However, it appears that by some point, some limited travel was allowed for. We read in Acts 1:12 “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey.” A sabbath day’s journey (which is the distance one could travel without violating the Sabbath) was anywhere from a quarter of a mile to approximately one mile depending on which source you read. The question I have concerns those “grace” Sunday Sabbatarians who travel well beyond one mile, sometimes even tens or hundreds of miles, on the so-called Sunday Sabbath. Where is their concern over violating this rule? Shouldn’t there be woe to those Sabbatarians who go for Sunday walks or drives above 1/4 to 1 miles?
IX. Sacrifices and offerings were required: Consider Leviticus 24:1-7 “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamps to burn continually. 3 Without the vail of the testimony, in the tabernacle of the congregation, shall Aaron order it from the evening unto the morning before the LORD continually: [it shall be] a statute for ever in your generations. 4 He shall order the lamps upon the pure candlestick before the LORD continually. 5 And thou shalt take fine flour, and bake twelve cakes thereof: two tenth deals shall be in one cake. 6 And thou shalt set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the LORD. 7 And thou shalt put pure frankincense upon [ each] row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, [ even] an offering made by fire unto the LORD. 8 Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, [being taken] from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant.“
Where are the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings today? I have yet to see a Sunday Sabbatarian offer up a sacrificial lamb, cakes of flour, etc. They would likely answer that “these sacrifices and offerings pointed to christ, He fulfilled the type, for he was the blessed sacrifice…” to which I would respond “True, He did fulfil the type being the sacrificial Lamb of God… and yet the Sabbath Day likewise pointed to Christ, it typified the rest we have in Him, and He is our rest.” The Sabbatarian would likely counter “but the Sabbath is a moral law, one of the Ten Commandments, and the sacrifices were only ceremonial laws.” To which I would respond “the Christian is not under the law for righteousness or for sanctification because the Lord Jesus is the end of the law; He finished it, He fulfilled it; and He completed it as it relates to us (He has been made our righteousness and sanctification). We are alive in Him but we are dead to the law… if you wish to be under the law’s yoke, so be it — but do not attempt to drag others down with you… neither judge unjustly those who you condemn for not falling into your error.”
When was the Sabbath kept?
The Seventh-day Sabbath started at sunset on Friday (some say when either the first star, second star, or third star was visible, depending on the source). Likewise, the Sabbath ended at nightfall on Saturday (again, when one to three stars were visible). Why do the vast majority of Sunday Sabbatarians not follow this rule? Why do they not start at sunset on Saturday evening and end at nightfall on Sunday evening? What gives the Sunday Sabbatarian the right to change the general hour at which the Sabbath starts and stops? Who said they could switch from an evening to morning cycle to a morning to evening cycle when defining the days of the week for Sabbath purposes? Why do they judge those who watch Sunday evening sports (not that I would encourage anyone to do so) when the event starts after nightfall on Sunday? If the Jews wouldn’t judge such Saturday evening activity as “Sabbath-profaning,” why should the Sunday Sabbatarian judge such Sunday evening activity as such? I think the answer is clear; the judgemental amongst the Sunday Sabbatarians have established man-made traditions for themselves and have taken it up themselves to elevate those traditions to the level of commandments from God. Isn’t this the heart of Pharisaism? Isn’t this the very leaven of hypocrisy?
Did God change how the sabbath was to be observed?
A common argument is that God changed the Sabbath from a day of rest to a day of worship and therefore the prohibitions against many of the activities that I have listed no longer apply. The problem with this argument is that it is completely arbitrary and subjective, especially given how freely Sunday Sabbatarians pick and choose what prohibitions they wish to put themselves under. To say that one can joke and discuss secular matters but that one cannot read a newspaper or check their email is, indeed, arbitrary. To say that one cannot vacuüm but can brew coffee/tea and cook/warm-up food is confusing; it has no basis in anything except ones personal (or church) preference or tradition. It is the frivolous, inconsistent, and superficial nature of the determination that makes the judgmental Sunday Sabbatarian mindset so specious and hypocritical.
Wasn’t the Sabbath changed to Sunday?
Some, including myself at one point, looked to the following verses to prove that Sunday was an actual Sabbath day:
Matthew 28:1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first [day] of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
Mark 16:2 And very early in the morning the first [day] of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun….
Luke 24:1 Now upon the first [day] of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain [others] with them.
John 20:1 The first [day] of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre… 19 Then the same day at evening, being the first [day] of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace [be] unto you.
Acts 20:7 And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
1 Corinthians 16:2 Upon the first [day] of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as [God] hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.
In the above passages, the phrase first [day] of the week consists of the Greek words mia (first) ton (of the) sabbaton (week)… or μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων in the original. Since the word week is literally the word sabbaths then the argument is that at the end of the (Saturday) sabbaths dawned the first of the Sunday sabbaths. The problem lies in the fact that most scholars agree that sabbaton also means seven days or a week. We see this in Luke 18:12 which reads “I fast twice in the week (sabbaton), I give tithes of all that I possess).” The Pharisee was truly stating that he fasted twice within a seven day period and not that he fasted twice on the same Sabbath day. This understanding is so common and so universal that most every translation translates it as week and not Sabbaths. The word mia does mean first but it is most commonly translated one. Everything points to Sunday being the first, i.e. (day) one, of the week — and not a first of a Sabbath.
Likewise, we read in Mark 16:9 “Now when [Jesus] was risen early the first [day] of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Here, the word first is not mia but protos. Protos literally means (primarily) first in time or place. It can also mean first in rank, position, and “at the first;” however, the complete biblical context points to it being the first day of the week. First in time as it relates to the course of the week and first in place, being placed before the other days of the week.
It is true that the brethren gathered to hear the word preached on this first day, broke bread on the first day, and collected offerings on the first day; however, to argue that the day of the week upon which Christ arose, and the day of the week that we assemble for worship, is now a Seventh-day Sabbath substitute/replacement is a major, and erroneous, leap. Christ is the believer’s sabbath; the shadow has been replaced with the Substance and we find our rest (even our Sabbath rest) in Him. Even if Sunday was now ranked above the other days (going back to protos), an argument to which I do not hold (since I esteem all days and not one), it does not mean that a new and actual New Testament Sabbath was established.
Even if it isn’t really a Sabbath, shouldn’t we treat “The Lord’s Day” as one?
Clearly there is an advantage to having the day off to worship on Sunday and even to rest up afterwards on that day. Sunday is a day that we can hear the word proclaimed, sing praises, pray, worship, commune with brethren, and so forth. However, this does not a Sabbath-day observance make. I prefer not to do anything secular on Sunday. Generally speaking, I do not want to watch TV, play sports, go shopping, etc. on that day. I find that I really need the time to rejuvenate mentally, physically, and more importantly spiritually (when God enables). I prefer not to have the distractions of the world bombard me on that day. But it isn’t my “Sabbath” because, once again, Christ is. There remaineth a Sabbath-keeping, a Sabbath observance, for the people of God; but such observance is not in a day, it is the course of ones regenerate life. It is a constant observation of the rest we have in Christ and by Christ. It is a cessation of our own works and an utter reliance on His finished work for peace, joy, and salvation.
Yet, I have heard all manner of human arguments, reasonings, and philosophisings as to why we need to “treat” the Lord’s Day as the Sabbath (just as I have heard all manner of human arguments, reasonings, and philosophisings as to why we need to be preoccupied with pants, and suits, and haircuts, and head-coverings, etc.). The world will tempt us on that day, it will distract us on that day; we need to close the stores and stop the presses; we need to impose upon others our will and traditions so that we can better protect ourselves and… “serve God” (with emphasis added on “serve God” so as to sound more holy and pious). However all such things are, indeed, but human arguments, reasonings, and philosophisings. God would have put forth clear commandments related to Sunday Sabbath observance if such a thing existed and if He wanted us to judge others concerning it… but He didn’t. The fact that He didn’t does not mean that religious man must take it upon himself to ‘fill-in the blanks’ that God ‘left out.’
If others want to do something secular on Sunday (be it play sports, watch a football game, ride a bike, etc.) who am I to judge? Has God put me in the position to deem one saved or lost (or more likely saved or lost) based upon their Sunday activities. Has He called me to view one as ‘not a very good Christian‘ because of some self-righteous view of how they should be spending their time on Sunday? Such a notion reaches amongst the very height of religious absurdity to me — though not quite as high as similar judgments based upon suit wearing, pants wearing, and/or whether one publicly announces (for all present in the venue to hear) his thanksgiving for the food being served (or whether he waits upon the minister to publicly proclaim such thanksgiving… for all to hear… on his behalf).
If you are one who finds it difficult to believe that someone is saved, simply because they reject the notion of a Sunday Sabbath and/or reject the notion that they have to treat the Lord’s Day as one, you have a very big problem. You are elevating obsolete Sabbath-day requirements, and your man-made traditions concerning them, to the same level that the Judaizers elevated the obsolete circumcision requirements. This is dangerous ground and I, for one, would not want to remain under the preaching of any man who unrepentently promotes such things.
Many may find this stance harsh. Due to affection and affiliation they may not see such Sabbatarian judgmentalism as rising to the level of the Galatian error over circumcision. Even after multiple attempts to work out such matters, they may not see it as cause to disassociate from those who promote such error. However, at the very least, they should see it as rising to the level of Peter’s dissembling, and resist it as Paul did Peter (and that, to his face… Galatians 2:11-16).
Nonetheless, God is in control. He alone knows the heart and I trust that He will deliver all that are His. I cannot say that all who make such rash Sabbatarian judgments are unsaved; however, I can say that I stand in doubt of many of them. It isn’t for me to spend a lot of time worrying about it; it is best to leave such things to God and move on. However, I will leave you with Galatians 4:8 “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. 9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you… 20 for I stand in doubt of you. 21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?“
To God alone be the glory,