Seattle Area Seventh Day Baptist Church, Auburn Washington


Frequently Asked Questions About The Sabbath

(Bible quotations are from the ESV)

4.  Doesn't the NT teach observance of "the Lord's Day" instead of the Sabbath?

5.  If Christians are free from the Law, why should they keep the Fourth Commandment?  Doesn't Galatians 3:10 even say we put ourselves under a curse by obeying the Law?

6.  Weren't the Ten Commandments "nailed to Jesus' cross"?  If so, they don't apply to the Christian.

7.  Doesn't Colossians 2:16 say Christians should not be judged for breaking the Sabbath?

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4.  Doesn't the NT teach observance of "the Lord's Day" instead of the Sabbath?

The phrase translated "Lord's day" is only used once in the whole Bible (in Rev. 1:10). We are not told in that passage that this "Lord's day" refers to the first day of the week (Sunday), and nothing is said about it's being a day of worship. All that is said is that John was "in the Spirit" on that day and had a vision. It may mean the day of judgement ("Day of the Lord"), to which John is carried in his vision (for the Book of Revelation focuses on the end times). It may actually mean the Sabbath, since Isa. 58:13 speaks of the Sabbath as "the holy day of the LORD." If it refers to the day of the resurrection at all, it could just as easily refer to the anniversary of the resurrection (i.e., "Easter"), rather than the weekday on which the resurrection occurred. Even if John is using a phrase he has coined to refer to the day of the week on which the resurrection occurred, he does not say it is a day of worship.

Jesus appeared to a number of his disciples at various times when he was resurrected, and several of these appearances occurred at the earliest opportunity--on the first day of the week. But that fact does not automatically confer the status of a "new Sabbath" upon the first day of the week, any more than the fact he appeared first to women confers on women the exclusive right to be witnesses of his resurrection or pastors. There are a few references in the NT to believers doing things on the first day of the week, but Scripture never says this was their regular day for worship, replacing the Sabbath, and never refers to the first day as "the Lord's day."  

In John 20:19, the believers are together "on the evening of that day, the first day of the week" when Mary Magdalene had seen the resurrected Christ. Indeed, they may have gathered for the specific purpose of discussing her report that he was alive (Jn. 20:18). All that is said about the gathering is that the disciples were behind locked doors "for fear of the Jews." Jesus appears to them, not to establish a new day of worship (which would have been a notable change Scripture would certainly have reported), but to prove he was alive. According to Jn. 20:26, "Eight days later his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them." The disciples may have gathered on other days that week (Jn. 20:25) as well, but Scripture describes this particular gathering because the disciples are in the same house where Christ had first appeared to them, and (this time) Thomas happens to be with them. Christ appears again, and confirms his resurrection to Thomas. To allege that either of these gatherings was for weekly worship goes far beyond anything Scripture actually says. In addition, those who argue for Sunday observance allege the disciples gathered on Sunday mornings, in commemoration of the resurrection. But the meeting in Jn. 20:19 was in "the evening" (with the same being probably true of the second meeting, "a week later" v. 26).

In Acts 20:7 believers are gathered on the first day of the week "to break bread." But are we to assume they never broke bread (either as a common meal, or as communion), except on a weekly day of worship? According to Acts 2:46, the believers at Jerusalem gathered in the Temple courts "day by day," and they broke bread in their homes (presumably also, every day). The purpose of the gathering in Acts 20 is not to celebrate a Sunday "Lord's day," but simply to allow Paul opportunity to preach to the believers one more time, before he leaves "the next day." If the Jewish reckoning of days is used here, then the gathering was probably on what we would call Saturday night, not Sunday at all. Paul preached until midnight (v. 7), so the meeting probably began after dark.

In 1 Cor. 16:1-2 Paul tells the believers, "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come." The natural sense of these words is that individuals were to set aside money on a regular basis at home.  That is the natural place for each one to determine (week by week) what amount would be in keeping with his income and to set it aside for later presentation as a single offering upon the arrival of Paul. This passage does not speak about a church collection being made every first day of the week. In fact, it speaks of money being "put aside," not collected at church. The collection would occur at a church gathering when Paul got there. Again, no mention is made of a day of worship. To find one here, requires reading into the Scripture, what is not there

A major principle of the right application of Scripture is ignored by those who seek to establish a Sunday "Lord's day" observance from these few NT references to the first day of the week. Doctrines should be established from teaching passages, not descriptive passages of Scripture. In other words, we are on shaky ground when we develop doctrines and practices from passages that don't directly teach such doctrines and practices. It's too easy to make things mean what we want them to mean when we begin reading doctrinal truths into descriptions of events, especially when those doctrines aren't directly stated elsewhere in Scripture. Scripture says, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy," and never, "Remember Sunday by keeping it holy."  Back to Top

5.  If Christians are free from the Law, why should they keep the Fourth Commandment?  Doesn't Galatians 3:10 even say we put ourselves under a curse by obeying the Law?

Christians receive salvation through faith in Christ alone, apart from the keeping of the law (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5-6). In the matter of their salvation, then, they are "free from the law" and are not "under the law." But Paul asks (in Rom. 6:15), "Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" The Ten Commandments still define what sin is. In fact, 1 Jn. 3:4 says that "sin is lawlessness." So breaking the Ten Commandment Law is sinful. The NT commends obedience, not lawlessness. Though Christians are not bound to parts of the Old Testament law which applied only to Israel under the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments (including the Sabbath Commandment) give universal moral principles. Illustrating the difference, 1 Cor. 7:19 says, "Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." (See also, Matt. 5:17-19).

The curse of Gal. 3:10 falls on all those who "rely" on observing the law (i.e., for their salvation), not those who seek to obey the Ten Commandments out of love and obedience to God. Gal. 3:11 confirms that it is not simple obedience to the Law which Paul condemns, but relying on our ability to keep it in order to "justify" ourselves before God (i.e., make ourselves acceptable to God by attempts to be good, rather than faith in Christ's atoning death).  Back to Top

6.  Weren't the Ten Commandments "nailed to Jesus' cross"?  If so, they don't apply to the Christian.

 (Also see answer to the previous question, #5, above.)

The OT law included temporary regulations that applied specifically to the religious and civil life of Israel, living under the Old Covenant, in the land of Canaan.  It also included moral laws of a more permanent and universal nature, such as the Ten Commandments (and the commands Jesus mentions in Matt. 22:37-39).  In those places where New Testament passages speak against the law, they are not denying the universal moral teachings (like the Ten Commandments), but are denying: 

 a) that anyone can be saved by keeping the law (i.e., justification by law-keeping, rather than by faith) and characterizing the law as against us (Col. 2:14, Rom. 8:2, Acts 15:10), apart from grace, or

 b) that the temporary parts of the law which applied to Old Testament Israel (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:9-10; 10:1-4) are obligatory for the New Testament Christian.

Eph. 2:15 is an example of b), above. In the context of uniting Jew and Gentile in the church (see Eph. 2:14, especially), Paul speaks of Christ, "abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances." He doesn't mean Christ did away with the law altogether, since Christ himself denied that he came to do that (Matt. 5:17, and see also Rom. 3:31). He means that the ceremonial parts of the law which had separated Jew and Gentile (laws about "clean" and "unclean" foods, for instance--Mark 7:18-20) were now obsolete. The result is that the "hostility" between Jew and Gentile has now been put to an end, at the cross (Eph. 2:16). This passage does not speak about the Ten Commandments, which contained nothing which required the separation of Jew and Gentile.

Colossians 2:13b-14 is an example of a), above. It speaks of God (through Christ) "having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." Deut. 31:26-27 describes the only way in which the Old Testament law could be characterized (by Paul) as "against us." It gives testimony to our sin and rebellion. But if forgiveness now comes through Christ ("having forgiven us all our trespasses," Col. 2:13), not by law keeping, then the law's condemnation is forever removed. The term "record of debt" is the same one that meant "indictment" or "bill of indebtedness" in New Testament times. It is that indictment or indebtedness (caused by sin) that was "nailed to the cross" (in the sense that complete forgiveness came, when Christ was nailed to the cross).[1]

 To say that the law cannot be used to earn salvation (and is against us, apart from grace) is not to say that the moral teaching of the Old Testament is suddenly declared "a dead letter" for the Christian. Paul would "turn over in his grave" (so to speak!) if he thought we were using his words to urge believers to start disobeying the Ten Commandments!  Back to Top

7.  Doesn't Colossians 2:16 say Christians should not be judged for breaking the Sabbath?

(Also see answer to the previous question, #6, above.)

The Colossian believers were being troubled by false teachers who told them faith in Christ was not enough: they also needed to keep the dietary and ceremonial regulations of the Old Covenant. Furthermore, they needed to gain the "hidden knowledge" claimed by the Greek religion later to be called Gnosticism. Paul reminded them that their real spiritual problem was sin, but that Christ has "forgiven us all our trespasses" (Col. 2:13). On the other hand, Paul taught, observing the law doesn't help sinful people make themselves acceptable to God, since (in that context) the law just reveals their sin (and is thus, "against" them--v. 14). And Gnostic practices, such as asceticism ("Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" v. 21) are worthless in dealing with sin because they are "according to human precepts and teaching" (v. 22) and "are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (v. 23). Paul's conclusion: the believers should stand firm in the truth that Christ has "forgiven us all our trespasses." They should not submit to the "regulations" of Gnosticism (v. 20), and they should not let anyone judge them by their adherence/non-adherence to Jewish practices (v. 16).

In Col. 2:16, Paul seems to go beyond the point of just saying that law-keeping cannot save a person. He specifies certain Old Covenant practices (those urged by the false teachers, no doubt) and tells the believers they are no longer accountable to obey them, for any reason: "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath."

To be judged "in questions of food and drink” probably means being held accountable to keep the Old Covenant dietary laws (in this context where circumcision, v. 11, and the law, v. 14, are mentioned), but are the believers also told not to keep the Sabbath? If Paul isn’t saying the 4th Commandment no longer applies to believers, what is he saying about the Sabbath? The key to understanding this verse is to recognize Paul is talking about ritual provisions of the law (like the dietary rules he mentions "in the same breath"), not moral provisions (such as the Ten Commandments). The Sabbath was given before the law of Moses and involved only the concept of rest (Ex. 16:23), but under the law of Moses certain temple rituals were assigned to the Sabbath (Lev. 24:5-9, Num. 28:9-10), along with rituals for the festivals and New Moons.  It is these temple rituals, not Sabbath observance itself (resting), which are meant. That distinction is evident in the text of Scripture, here, which addresses something "with regard to" these observances, as they were being urged on believers at that time.  That something is almost certainly the practice that was at the heart of all the rituals centered at the temple: animal sacrifices.  A study of the Old Testament background for the phrase, "a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath" confirms this.

In the Old Testament, the Sabbath is never listed together with the new moons and festivals except when discussion is about the burnt offerings the Sabbath shared with these other days (1 Chron. 23:31; 2 Chron. 2:4; Ezek. 45:17; Isaiah 1:13-14, etc.). Therefore Col. 2:16 must be referring to the same thing (the making of burnt offerings at the Temple).  Those who wished to draw Christians back into Old Covenant Judaism were passing judgment upon them for abandoning the temple sacrifices (to which the Christian reply is made in places like Heb. 10:1-4 and Heb. 13:9-14). The idea of Col. 2:16 is: don't let the false teachers talk you into keeping the Jewish ceremonies of the Old Covenant. Don't let them judge you for giving up the dietary laws and the Temple ceremonies (with the burnt offerings Moses commanded for the Sabbath--and for the new moons and festivals). Reason: "These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Col. 2:17). The 4th Commandment was never a shadow of Christ's coming. The burnt offerings, however, were a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ's body on the cross. (The word translated "substance" in Col. 2:17 is literally "body," as used in Heb. 10:1-10, where it is again contrasted with the "shadow" that is in the ritual aspects of the law.  Heb. 10:1-10 is a good commentary on the Colossians passage.)  Back to Top

[1] Whether the image is of a separate bill of indictment/indebtedness specifying the sinner's guilt/debt, or is of the law itself as a bill of indictment/indebtedness (as a way of portraying its role in condemning the sinner), the meaning is the same.  It is either condemnation based on the law, or the use of the law to condemn, which has come to an end in Christ: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).  Back to Top

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