Refuting Christian Sabbath Teachings (Part 1)
There are teachings by Christians who believe in the necessity of observing Sabbath day since it is seemingly an everlasting command of God. Since God Himself practiced Sabbath by resting on the 7th day and it was contained in the 10 Commandments, which they argue transcends the Mosaic Law. In other words, it is still operative today. However, is this teaching truly biblical? We refute these teachings in these 2-part articles to reveal the inconsistent and erroneous interpretation of Scripture.
The big issue is the approach to interpreting the Scriptures.
When incorrect approaches are taken to interpreting Scripture, it can lead to all kinds of incorrect doctrines. In any analysis, whether it be scientific, economic, medical, relational etc including theology – the analysis must be based upon the most proven, certain, and significant facts. It must be understood that even when some facts are proven, it may not always be significant facts. For example, analysis of economic trends must be based upon proper statistical economic data not on anecdotal data. And while the statistical data on employment rates of PhD graduates may be totally reliable, it is not a significant indicator on the overall economic trend. Understanding of the relative weight that should be given to each economic data is crucial to proper analysis.
In interpreting Scripture, the following must be given its appropriate emphasis:
Clearest Scripture should be given precedence over less clear Scripture.
New Testament teachings should be given precedence over Old Testament teachings and historical narratives. This is because The New Testament represents and encompasses the New Covenant within which we are saved. The New Testament provides the clearest expression of God’s purposes. For that reason, the New Testament should normally be used to interpret the Old Testament, while the Old Testament should inform the New Testament. There is a famous Augustinian saying “The Old is in the New Revealed, the New is in the Old Concealed” Without the Old, we cannot understand the New, and without the New, we have an incomplete understanding of the Old.
The most significant doctrines clearly derived upon Scripture should be given the greater weight.
All Scripture never contradicts itself. Thus, all doctrines derived from Scripture must fit together and not contradict each other. Hence, all of Scripture should be carefully weighed up.
There are a lot more principles involved in good interpretation of Scripture, but we will not elaborate them here.
The Christian sabbath teachings are in error because of the following reasons:
1. Apostle Paul made it very clear that salvation is by grace alone, not in observation of ceremonies or special days.
Firstly, we are saved solely by the grace of God, not by our human efforts. Not by observing ceremonies and special days. Not by any human merit on our part. Ephesians 2:8–9 (NIV) 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
We are saved purely because we responded by faith in God’s grace to provide Jesus Christ as our Saviour. There is nothing we can do to earn this salvation. Not by attending church, doing good, following the bible teachings or observing Sabbath or Sunday as holy days.
Paul was very clear against the Jewish Christians who were advocating the need to continue with circumcision to be acceptable to God. Because it meant negating relying solely on the grace of God. If believers also needed circumcision, then it means it is not purely by the grace of God that we are saved. Galatians 5:2–6 (NIV) 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
If we believe that we need to observe circumcision rather than solely the grace of God, in would mean we should obey the entirety of the Law too.
Paul explained that there is no value anymore in circumcision, a religious requirement in the Old Testament. For the same reason, there is no value in observing Sabbath or any other religious acts, as far as our earning our salvation is concerned. In fact, far worse, if we believe that we need to observe circumcision rather than solely the grace of God, in would mean we should obey the entirety of the Law too. Because grace is no longer sufficient. This would apply also to observing Sabbath too.
All the religious ceremonies including Sabbath day are a shadow, indicators of the spiritual realities to come.
Secondly, Paul made it explicit that all the religious ceremonies including Sabbath day are a shadow, indicators of the spiritual realities to come. That the reality of the truths contained in seed form within all these ceremonies, are to be found in Christ. Colossians 2:16–17 (NIV) 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
For the significance of all these religious practices are intended to point towards Christ, the Saviour.
2. The true eternal Sabbath-rest is found is Jesus Christ.
That is why Jesus used precisely the following words in Matt 11:28-30 (NIV) 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” For true rest is found in Christ alone.
This is reinforced by Jesus also in Mark 2:27-28 (NIV) 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus Christ basically declared Himself as the Lord of Sabbath, for He is the creator of Sabbath and the ultimate expression of Sabbath.
Now we need to understand that only when Jesus died at the cross was the New Covenant enacted. Before then, the Mosaic Law requirements such as the 10 commandments were still operative. Hence Jesus still supported observation of Sabbath amongst other ceremonial requirements. In the Gospel we will find therefore that Jesus observed all religious requirements expected of Jews, not just the Sabbath.
The writer of Hebrews brought up the issue of finding Sabbath-rest. Hebrews 4:9–10 (NIV)9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.
True sabbath-rest means resting from our self-effort to gain salvation from God, that is peace in God. How do we enter that rest? Hebrews 4:2–3 (NIV) 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest…
Sabbath-rest is found through continually trusting in Jesus Christ until its ultimate fulfilment when we return to God.
Sabbath-rest is found through continually trusting in Jesus Christ until its ultimate fulfilment when we return to God. We are now saved by God’s grace alone and not through human effort. Jesus served as a lens to refocus the weekly sabbath on its eternal principle: True Sabbath is resting by faith in Christ. Jesus is the ultimate reality of the truth of Sabbath (Col 2:17). As Christians we are to continue in this Sabbath rest by living in continual trust in God’s provision. 24/7 and 365 days in the year.
True Sabbath is resting by faith in Christ. Jesus is the ultimate reality of the truth of Sabbath (Col 2:17).
3. The Mosaic Law were fulfilled in Christ and no longer applicable.
Jesus declared in Matthew 5:17–19 (NIV) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
This passage has to be carefully and properly interpreted. Firstly, Jesus emphasised that the Law and Prophets are not to be abolished by Him. Indeed, it appears that every tiny aspect of these Law and Prophets would remain until everything is accomplished. He further reinforced that by pointing out that those who practiced these Law and Prophets will be called great while those who fail to, will be called least.
The status of the Law and Prophets. It is not a question of whether these are to remain or to be removed. Rather it was about their fulfilment through Jesus Himself.
The intent that the Law and Prophets continue, but in a different form. A new form anchored in Christ.
Secondly, Jesus clarifies the status of the Law and Prophets. It is not a question of whether these are to remain or to be removed. Rather it was about their fulfilment through Jesus Himself. We may understand the prophecies awaiting fulfilment, but Law? This brings into question the nature and purpose of the Law. Is the Law meant only to provide commands to live by or has a higher purpose? The Mosaic Law was intended to also point to a righteousness found only in the Person of Christ, as pointed out in Romans 10:4 (NIV) Christ is the culmination of the law. The NIV translation is the better translation and captures, I believe, the intent that the Law and Prophets continue, but in a different form. A new form anchored in Christ.
Jesus fulfilled the Law by obeying the law perfectly and by fulfilling the requirements of the sacrificial system.
Thirdly, Jesus declared that He had come to fulfil the Law and Prophets. Since Jesus came to die at the cross and then return to heaven, it implies that the fulfilment of the Law and Prophets occurred at His death. It further implies that “everything is accomplished” by that time. This gives greater significance to Jesus’ last utterance in John 10:30, “It is finished.” Jesus fulfilled the Law by obeying the law perfectly and by fulfilling the requirements of the sacrificial system.
The Law have become obsolete since Jesus has effectively met every requirement of the Law to be fully righteous.
Jesus has now made that righteousness available to all who would trust in Him.
Fourthly, since the Law and Prophets has been fulfilled, what significance do the Law and Prophets hold today? The Law have become obsolete since Jesus has effectively met every requirement of the Law to be fully righteous. The obsolescence of the Mosaic Law is confirmed in Hebrews 8:13 (NIV) By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. Jesus has now made that righteousness available to all who would trust in Him. Romans 10:4 (NIV) Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
In conclusion, the Mosaic Law have been fulfilled by Jesus and is no longer applicable to Christians.
4. Christians are to live under the Law of Christ (or the Law of the Spirit) rather than by the Mosaic Law.
As stated earlier, Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and has altered its form to be embodied by Himself. Now, it is expressed to us in as the Law of Christ or the Law of the Spirit. Galatians 6:2 (NIV) Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
The Law of Christ is a law of love and empowerment by the Spirit in our hearts in such a way that it brings life.
The Law of Christ is a law of love and empowerment by the Spirit in our hearts in such a way that it brings life. This contrasts with the Mosaic Law which while it brought awareness of sin, it brought death because it provided no power to overcome sin. Romans 8:2 (NIV) because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
When Matt 5 is studied as a whole, Jesus began to unpack the implication of His statement in Matt 5:17-19. Notice Jesus first tackled the 6th commandment in Matt 5:21-22 and He elevated it to a higher standard. In other words, the Law of Christ now examines the heart intent. He then continues with the 7th commandment on adultery in Matt 5:27-31 and again elevates it to the condition of the heart. Jesus then addressed the 3rd commandment in Matt 5:33-37 on making oath by broadening its scope to an issue of integrity which again is a heart issue. In effect, Jesus was introducing the Law of Christ’s new, higher perspective upon the 10 Commandments.
In conclusion, Christians are now to live under the law of Christ which is a higher law, a law of love and empowerment by the Spirit.
We have shown the error inherent in the Sabbath-keeping teachings as it has ignored or misunderstood the significance of clear New Testament teachings. Our standing before God is not based upon our performance, particularly our observance of religious ceremonies and days. It is by the grace of God alone through Christ. Specifically, our true Sabbath is found in Christ, no longer in observing a special day. This is further sported by the fact that the Mosaic Law is now obsolete and not applicable to Christians. Instead, Christians are now to live by the Law of Christ which is a law of love and empowerment by the Spirit.
Continued in Part 2
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