Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians?

A Critical review of question #37 Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians? 

Taken from 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law

© Copyright 2010

By Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner

Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI.

Quotations used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

This article opens with the question, Is the Sabbath still required for Christians? Right away the writer betrays his own position on this question when he states, “The Sabbath was given to Israel as a covenant sign, and Israel was commanded to rest on the seventh day.” While it is true that the Sabbath was a sign given to Israel, there are also two other things in this quote that are not true. The Sabbath was not established, nor was it given to Israel exclusively, but to the whole world long before Israel ever existed. Observe what God says, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Gen. 2:1-3). Verse three of this text asserts God sanctified the seventh day, making it a day of high and holy observance, a day to join with Him in reflection of His work in creation.

Israel was commanded to rest on the seventh day because this was the moral imperative attached to it from the beginning of time. The Sabbath was a day set aside by God for not only Israel, but for all humanity to observe. Keeping the Sabbath is a means of sanctification to believers given by God (Ex. 31:13; Ez. 20:12).

Further down, Dr. Schreiner rightfully states, “The paradigm for the Sabbath was God’s rest on the seventh day of creation.” Israel was not given the duty to observe the Sabbath for the first time at Mount Sinai, but was well aware of it being a perpetual, moral imperative, long before that (Ex. 16:28). Observe in the verses surrounding verse 28 what God said through Moses to this effect:

Exodus 12:15

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.

Exodus 12:16

On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat — that only may be prepared by you.

Exodus 13:6

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD.

Exodus 16:26,27

Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none.

Exodus 16:29,30

See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.

Each one of these verses given in the context of verse 28, reveal the fact that Israel was required to observe the Sabbath under the creation ordinance of God. These verses appear in Exodus before the giving of the law at Mount Sinai! This makes what happened at Sinai not a new thing for Israel to observe, but an ordinance that was re established as their perpetual moral duty. The words spoken to them were: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Ex. 20:8-11). In these words’ God called on Israel to “remember the Sabbath day,” and to “keep it holy.” Nobody is told to remember something of which they were not previously made aware.

Also, it is obvious in what was said, that the reason for this ordinance being given to Israel was the same as that stated in the earlier Exodus verses, as well as what is said in Genesis. The Sabbath day is a day of high and holy observance of Gods work in creation. They were to rest on that day because He rested on it.

By opening up the question in this way, Dr. Schreiner is giving us his application of the Sabbath before giving us the doctrine of it. Why do I say this? Because he starts with Israel, not with God. We are automatically made to think of the Sabbath as something which pertains exclusively to Israel, rather than the world. There is nothing wrong with approaching a subject by asking a question in which we already suppose the answer. All knowledge is axiomatic in that way. The problem is in doing it without presenting all the information first that supports that position. A person’s argument can easily be crafted in this manner to suit whatever position they assume from the start.

That brings us to the second problem I see in the statement quoted above, the Sabbath is not a specific covenant sign only for Israel, but an unchanging moral duty which is incumbent upon every person to keep. The Sabbath being a covenant sign, is therefore, given to His people in every generation. The prophets looked ahead to the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom, which we now know as Christ and the church. There is little wonder then, that the prophets spoke of the Sabbath as something to keep in the future, when this day would come.

Dr. Schreiner says:

“I do not believe the Sabbath is required for believers now that the new covenant has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Isaiah says:

“For My salvation is about to come, And My righteousness to be revealed.” (Is. 56:1) speaking of this day we are now in. But take note the context of his words:

“Blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who lays hold on it; Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil.” Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to the LORD Speak, saying, ” The LORD has utterly separated me from His people”; Nor let the eunuch say, ” Here I am, a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: ” To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off. ” Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants — Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant — Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Is. 56:2-7).

It is not to Israel alone that Isaiah says this. Isaiah is speaking of the church in the New Covenant, made up of Jew and Gentile. Even though Isaiah spoke to “Judah and Jerusalem,” it is also said that “all nations” will come into the Lord’s house in the latter days (Is. 2:1,2). And what will these people do who will come into the Lord’s house on that day? They will “keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant.” If the Sabbath is a covenant sign, it is a sign to all who are under a covenant relationship with God. The Sabbath is a sign of obedience, devotion, reverence, and faith, to those who keep it, something that was lacking among most Jews in Isaiah’s day.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Schreiner cites the Nohaic and Abrahamic covenants with the signs attendant upon them, as though they were given in isolation of all other signs that God has given. Signs are given as emblems in confirmation of God’s oath. As such, they are given for the purpose of faith. Take for instance the sign of circumcision. Every male under Abraham’s roof was required to be circumcised, yet, every male was not under his covenant promise (Gen. 17:10-27). It was given as a sign of God’s oath to him, and to the heirs of one particular son (Gen. 21:4). If we understand the nature of the oath, it should be apparent that all the children of that son were not included in the promise given to Abraham, even if they were all circumcised. Scripture makes this point abundantly clear (Rom. 4:9-12; Gal. 3:5-9). The sign of circumcision was a sign of faith to those who had it, as well as to those who now are not circumcised, but have the same faith as Abraham. Circumcision did nothing for an unbelieving Jew but testify against his unbelief. So the difference between the Sabbath and circumcision is stated thus, one is a creation ordinance, the other the confirmation of an oath.

The supposition that the Sabbath is a covenant sign given exclusively to Israel, betrays a misunderstanding of both law in general, and God’s covenant in particular. So let’s start with God’s covenant first. We grant that there are several covenant promises revealed in the Old Testament, given to several persons, accompanied by several particular applications. To conclude however, that God has several covenants, or, several covenant purposes is an entirely wrong assumption. Each one of these so called “covenants” is a progressive unfolding of a single covenant purpose known in Scripture as the “everlasting covenant.” The term “everlasting covenant” is exceedingly broad in the sense that it takes in the entirety of redemptive history, as can be shown in a select number of verses provided here in order to illustrate the point. There is fifteen in the Old Testament, and one in the New Testament. Gen. 9:16, 17:7,13,19; Lev. 24:8; Num. 25:13; II Sam. 23:5; I Ch. 16:17; Ps. 105:10; Is. 24:5, 55:3, 61:8; Jer. 32:40; Ez. 16:60, 37:26; Heb. 13:20.

The word “covenant” by itself is used many more times than just these sixteen verses, but an examination of them without the addition of “everlasting” makes it clear that all covenant language falls under it. This includes covenant language that does not even use the word “covenant” in the verse, which will be considered as well. The narrower signification given to the phrase “everlasting covenant” is seen in the last and only verse in the NT, “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Heb. 13:20,21). Jesus Christ and the offering of His blood on behalf of His people, is the promise of the everlasting covenant. And lest anyone cavils against this assertion, based on the fact that Jesus’ blood is the New Covenant (Matt. 26:28), not the Old, listen to what the writer of Hebrews says in this regard “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Heb. 9:15).

The purpose of the “everlasting covenant” is salvation. The object of it is Jesus Christ. The additions of rainbows, children, nations, land, ordinances, priest hoods, and even blood in reference to specific periods of time attended by God’s power, are all subsidiary elements of the everlasting covenant. We might say they are provisional in nature. Scripture defines the everlasting covenant as God’s eternal decree revealed in the form of a promise He is obligated to perform (Heb. 6:17,18). Concerning this promise however, all of the elements listed above are not on an equal footing with each other. Take for instance, the nation of Israel, it came to an end as a theocracy when they were invaded and destroyed by Babylon, then taken into captivity. Even though the people remained, and the temple was rebuilt twice until it was finally destroyed in 70 AD, the earthly theocracy was over. There was nothing everlasting about it in an earthly sense, so that whatever was said to that effect was in reference to the eternal promise. Some say the political state of Israel today constitutes a renewal of the promise, but even if that was true, what would it have to do with eternity? Political Israel is no theocracy, nor is there a temple. Furthermore, there is no commitment on the part of all Jews in the world to see it as such. So until that happens, which it won’t, no connection can be legitimately made of it to the Bible.

The everlasting covenant transcends every epoch of time in the history of redemption. The various covenants as distinct entities of the Old Testament were but governmental administrations of this one covenant. This squares with the entirety of Scripture too, for we are told that Christ is the Messiah “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Rom. 3:25). As the blood of the everlasting covenant, it transcended each and every administration of God’s covenant too, including the Mosaic. Every believer in every age since the time in which God spoke to Eve in the garden, has been redeemed by the satisfaction of Christ. The only substantial difference between the Old and New Covenant is its scope and application. Instead of a single nation of a single ethnic identity, it now includes the world (John 3:16). Instead of an earthly theocracy defined by borders, we have the theocratic rule of Christ administered in the local church. In other words, the New Covenant is an expansion of the Old, therefore, its administration has changed, but not its essence (Matt. 8:10-12).

Next, let us consider biblical law in reference to the Mosaic covenant. Dr. Schreiner is quick to assert that Sabbath observance is Mosaical law without reference to Christian duty. I am sure that he, as well as all other good Christians would never suggest for a minute that we are free to ignore any of God’s moral imperatives. I fear however, that in trying to place Sabbath observance as strictly for Jews only under the Old Testament, actually turns God’s law into theological antinomianism.

Oftentimes the Mosaic law is said to consist of 613 commandments. Scripture itself nowhere makes this assertion, but rather it has been stated thus by Jewish scholars. Because they refer to the law of Moses in this way, many Christians in the last two hundred years have accepted this assertion. This is due in large part to a theological system that views Judaism as a current and future covenant system in God’s kingdom. Jewish scholars have taken virtually every command they can find in the Old Testament, and have included them in this list which they ascribe to Israel as within its exclusive province. For instance, they include the command God gave Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply” in their list (Gen. 1:28). This is a command given to all mankind to multiply, and to “fill the earth and subdue it,” for the name “Adam” in Hebrew means man (Gen. 2:19). Another thing these scholars do is to assign many categories of law to the Mosaic system. All of this is contained in their uninspired writings such as the Talmud.

Now, there is no argument from us that the Mosaic law system can be assigned many individual categories. But the law of Moses as dictated by God to Israel, can be summed up in three basic categories. These three categories are properly considered as the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial law. This way of looking at it is what the Christian church has done historically. We will consider them briefly in the same order, showing the relationship of each one together and with the New Covenant.

The Moral Law

The formal introduction to Gods theocratic rule over Israel begins with what are commonly termed the ten commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). It is important to notice here that God spoke to Israel as His covenant people before the giving of the law (verses 1,2). The law was not the basis of their covenant relationship. This is an important point to make because the same thing about the moral law holds true in the New Covenant. God’s elect are saved by grace apart from the law. Not only are they saved apart from the works of the law but their keeping of it in any sense has nothing at all to do with future justification. God gives His law to His people who are already in covenant relationship to Him, just as it is here stated in Exodus. This must be asserted at the outset of the discussion, for this has become the essence of current theological argumentation concerning not only the law, but justification too.

Although the moral law appears in Exodus twenty in the form of a code, or, constitution to Israel, it is in no way new as we have already shown. To suppose that it was original to Israel is to ignore numerous instances where it’s power and presence is revealed in Scripture before Moses. We are told as far back as Genesis that Abraham was both aware of and kept God’s law (Gen. 26:5). Abraham was already in covenant relationship to God, already justified by faith when these subsequent things were said about him to his son Isaac (Gen. 15:6). Moses spoke about the law to Israel, three days after God delivered them from Pharaoh at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:26). Apparently, Israel was already in covenant relationship to God, under the known authority of His law before the giving of the ten commandments to them at Sinai. But there is another way that the moral law which preceded Moses can be deduced from Scripture.

Take for instance the injunction against idolatry. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, but it was temptation to be as God that led them to do it, a violation of the first commandment (Gen. 3:5,6). Cain knew the injunction against murder when he lied about killing his brother (Gen. 4:8-15). Noah’s sons knew the command to honor parents when they covered their naked father (Gen. 9:22,23). The builders of the tower of Babel were well aware that the making of graven images was will worship when they built it (Gen. 11:4). Abraham knew that a carefully crafted lie might serve his own self interest (Gen. 12:11-13). Jacob knew that it was sin to steal, though he did not know his wife Rachel had stolen her father’s idols (Gen. 31:19-37). Joseph knew that it was sin against God to commit adultery (Gen. 39:7-12). These examples, along with the law of the Sabbath already cited above prove that knowledge of the moral law existed before Israel received it in the form of a code at Sinai.

We have New Testament verification of this as well. The apostle Paul states it in his opening to the book of Romans “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom. 1:18-21). The wrath of God was revealed to men from the creation because the moral law was revealed to them, God had shown it to them.

Now, we do not argue against the fact that no formal code like the decalogue existed before Sinai. Exactly how the moral law was known is not made clear, but the fact that it was known cannot be denied. Understanding this truth makes sense of Paul’s statement further on in Romans about the imputation of Adams guilt to all men from the fall.

Romans 5:12

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned — For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Paul is making reference to the absence of the decalogue given through Moses to Israel when he says “For until the law,” not the absence of the law in the world when he says “sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

The Civil Law

The civil law was given through Moses to Israel in regulation of it as a theocratic society, just as any other society might be otherwise regulated. The civil law regarded not only the individual Israelite’s relationship to other Israelites, but also to God as Ruler of the kingdom. A code of law pertaining to the theocracy appears in many places throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And though the civil law is distinct from the moral and ceremonial law, it was given to enforce all three upon the people. As such, it contained civil punishments for violating any aspect of the law, whether it is moral, civil, or ceremonial in nature. Concerning Israel, the law certainly came as a unit. Therefore, It is often referred to as the Mosaic law in the singular sense for this reason. There were 613 specific laws that comprised the Mosaic economy. Since the specific statutes can be numbered this way, it can also be divided into the specific categories of which we speak.

Take for instance Exodus chapter twenty-one. There is contained in it law concerning servants (verses 1-11), law concerning violence (verses12-27), and law concerning animals (verses 28-36). These would certainly be classified as civil law. Maintenance of the moral law was a civil matter under the Mosaic institution too. Take for instance the prohibition against sexual immorality in Leviticus chapter eighteen. Civil punishment for committing these crimes is stated in the same chapter. “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you” (verse 26). Therefore, when it comes to Sabbath observance, it is no surprise that it too, is a matter of civil enforcement as well (Ex. 20:8-11). The fact that civil language appears in the decalogue in reference to the Sabbath does not diminish its application to the rest of it. In fact, the moral law is the basis for the civil law of Israel, it is a morality defined by God in the decalogue.

The Ceremonial Law

The ceremonial law was given to Israel through Moses in order to define their religious practice regarding God. We understand this as the sacrificial system. The law prescribed the offering of animals to God as worship (Lev. 1:2). In order for this system to be instituted, it also required a priesthood and a place for the sacrifices to be offered (Ex. 28:1, 25:8). The ceremonial law included everything to do with the animals to be offered and the manner in which they were to be offered (Lev. 1:1-17). It included the wardrobe and rites concerning the priest, as well as his daily, weekly, and yearly duty (Ex. 28:4, 29:4-9,38; Lev. 24:8, 16:34). It also included the design by which a sanctuary was to be built, along with every item in it (Ex. 25:8,9). And since Israel was not permanently fixed in the land at the time of Moses, the sanctuary was to be portable. This temporary structure, which was really a tent, was used until the time of King Solomon who replaced it with a permanent structure. The sacrifices, the priesthood and the objects that adorned it however, were permanent.

Just like the moral law, the ceremonial law did not begin with Moses, only the Mosaic portion of it. It was merely expanded and codified under Moses for Israel’s use. The offering of sacrificial animals is recorded in Scripture long before Moses, or, even Abraham. God sacrificed an animal to provide clothing to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). It would be conjecture to say that this was the beginning of the sacrificial system of worship, but not long after we find Abel offering an animal “of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat” in obedience to God’s command (Gen. 4:4). Especially noteworthy is the rejection of Cain’s offering which was not an animal. With Noah, we see not only the sacrifice of animals offered unto God, but an altar to do it, the use of ceremonially clean ones, and fire (Gen. 8:20,21).

Back in Abrahams day, Scripture introduces a mysterious figure called Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). Melchizedek is called both the “king of Salem” which means king of peace in Hebrew, and “the priest of God Most High,” which further adumbrates the practice of ceremonial offering that predates Aaron.

The sacrificial system was instituted as a visible representation of expiation for sin. This coincided from the beginning with the promise of a Savior. To the believing soul, animal sacrifice was worship, not salvation. Salvation was always believed to be accomplished by the Lord, even if the details of it were not fully realized until the Messiah came to accomplish it. Visible representations of spiritual realities were provided by the Lord to Israel in the absence of a fully informed faith. There was nothing saving at all about them, which was a mistake perpetrated by Jews who were self righteous.

The temple with all its ministrations, along with everything else that fell under the worship of Israel, was by design given to prefigure Jesus Christ and His spiritual kingdom. The entire ceremonial law prefigured the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for sin. Every part of the priesthood and the tabernacle typified some important aspect of Christ and His ministry (Heb. 8:1-6). The Book of Hebrews develops this theme in great detail in chapters’ 7-10.

Once Christ had come, whom the sacrifices foreshadowed, they ended that part or division of the Mosaic law. This is what Jesus meant when He said the work given to Him by the Father was finished (John 17:4). Of course, it was not completely finished until His death for sin was accomplished (John 19:30). Jesus is the Temple, the Priest, and the Sacrifice (John 2:18-21; Heb. 2:17, 3:1, 4:14,15; I Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:12 ) Jesus even fulfilled the type that was cast in the person of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:15-17).

Theocratic Rule

The civil part of the law under Moses ended too, but for a different reason. And there are also two different issues involved in this that are necessary to be understood concerning the Sabbath. These two issues were combined together under the Mosaic economy, one was temporary, the other is permanent. So, that which was temporary no longer applies, while that which are permanent remains. These two things concern God’s theocratic rule, and the application of it under the Mosaic economy.

Israel was a theocratic nation established under Moses (Ex. 19:6,7). As such, it ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent captivity of Babylon over the people. But the theocratic rule of God preceded Israel and remained afterward, and still remains to this day. This is because the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, it merely had an earthly expression in Israel. Although it is not expressed in this way before Israel became a nation, it is obvious that it existed beforehand in the use of certain language. It is seen in the fact that there was a covenant relationship between God and His people which preceded it. The everlasting covenant is God’s theocratic kingdom. It never ends.

Before the Messiah came, John the Baptist came preaching the kingdom of heaven, that it was near (Matt. 3:2). When Jesus appeared, He too, came “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). But this kingdom was not something future, but rather a present reality (Luke 17:21). It is present within all who are its members in a spiritual way. This is how God presently conducts His theocratic rule over the kingdom.

Civil rule under Moses was entirely temporary. It was joined to Gods theocratic rule over His spiritual kingdom as long as the earthly nation of Israel existed. As long as the earthly kingdom of Israel was in operation, the civil law under Moses was in operation. But once having ended, it ended too. It is a mistake today to suppose the ancient nation of Israel continued after the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jewish people came under foreign rule afterward, which has never ceased to this day, except for those who live in present day political Israel. Even when the decree went out under Cyrus to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem, Israel was not restored to its former condition as an independent nation (Ezra 1:1,2). Cyrus was appointed by God to exercise rule over the Jews. Now, it was certainly according to God’s theocratic rule that Cyrus sent out his decree (Dan. 9:25). But Judah as a civil entity was still considered a Persian district with an appointed Governor (Ezra 5:14). No earthly king would be present with the people of God until Messiah appeared, which He did. But it was not for Himself that He appeared, but for the salvation of His spiritual nation, the church (Dan. 9:26).

And what about now, is there anyone who would say that God does not exercise theocratic rule over His people? After the resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father, and He now sits at His right-hand ruling from heaven (I Cor. 15:25).

So what about the law, did it end with the kingdom as some now suppose? And is the Sabbath gone with it as Dr. Schreiner suggests? Just as the civil law under Moses was actually based upon the moral absolutes of Gods righteousness, the moral law is the basis for His theocratic, eternal spiritual kingdom. There is no surprise then to the fact that Jesus upheld the law as a standard of righteousness. By the law we do not mean simply the ten commandments, but every moral imperative contained within the pages of Holy Writ (Matt. 5:17-20). Now, He does not say this to His disciples as a means of salvation, any more than it was under Moses. But Jesus is concerned to assert that moral blamelessness as established by the law is in fact, a perpetual obligation He imposes upon His people. This is the nature of the spiritual kingdom.

The presence of grace according to Christ’s death for His people, is to free them from the law’s demand as a means of eternal life, not as a standard for conduct. Here is where the contrast between Moses and Christ is so mistaken today. Jesus and the Pharisees were not under the civil law of Israel in His day, but the civil law of Rome. Jesus is not talking about fulfilling the civil law here in Matthew. He is talking about the moral law. Someone might say at this point, wait a minute, Jesus had not died yet, wasn’t the ceremonial law still in effect? Certainly it was, but the issue of righteousness concerning the perpetuity of the moral law depended on the active obedience of Christ to fulfill it. Then, when He died, and not for any defect found in Him, but for our defects as sinners, the law was upheld. The ceremonial law ended as an administrative form of worship, and the righteousness of the moral standard of God is exalted. So now, we who are under grace are free to serve God (Rom. 6:15-18).

Sin is still defined by the absolute standard of Gods holiness, and Christian’s still sin too, but does that mean they are under no obligation to the law as a duty to God? The apostle argues against this in the sixth chapter of Romans. He even states the commandments to the Roman believers in explicit terms (Rom. 13:8-10). The second table of the law is mentioned here only, because it is given in the context of Christian obligation to secular government, and to fellow citizens in society.

Certain Objections Anticipated

At this point two objections are made to what we’ve said. The first one is that there is a new and higher law of love which has replaced the code of moral commandments. We have already answered this above in our explanation of Matthew chapter five, which by the way, goes on to teach the spiritual nature of the commandments, and our obligation to them as well (verses 21-48). To say that love is a new law is completely false, for Jesus lists it in this fifth chapter already, as well as in other places, as that first principle of Gods moral law (Matt. 22:35-40). And Jesus makes this point abundantly clear to His disciples saying “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”; He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:15,21). He is not saying if you love me, there is no need to obey Me, that is a ridiculous idea if anyone has it. No, He says we love Him by keeping His commandments.

The second objection is that there is no mention of Sabbath observance for today in the New Testament, therefore, it was done away with Moses. In fact, this is not true. First of all, we have already shown that keeping the Sabbath is a moral obligation established at creation, therefore, there is no need to return there. It was not introduced for the first time at Sinai, but it was added too there in terms of content. What we mean is the civil requirement was added to it, but why? It was added because Israel was a theocratic society under civil law. Just because no language of a civil nature is attached to the sin of adultery in the decalogue, doesn’t mean there was no civil penalty for it, indeed there was (Lev. 20:10). It simply was not stated in the decalogue.

This is a good opportunity to bring up a text in the gospels in relation to this very sin and the law against it. This is the woman caught in adultery in John chapter eight. This is the perfect example of what we have been saying. When Jesus was confronted by the Jews with the adulterous woman, they tested Him according to the civil punishment required under Moses (John 8:2-11). Jesus forgave the woman, which infuriated the Jews who accused Him of violating the law. But the civil law had ended along with the theocracy, therefore, the moral enforcement of it is now the exclusive purview of God. In reality, it always was this way, even before Moses. Civil law is only temporal, and can only achieve temporal punishment. The moral law is different, for it is punished eternally.

So how was Jesus able to forgive the woman? It goes back to exactly what it was that He fulfilled. Again, we quote Paul, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:3,4). While the death of Christ fulfilled what the ceremonial law foreshadowed, punishment from God on account of sin, the life of Christ fulfilled in the moral laws righteous demands against us. This, the active obedience of Christ, we call the righteousness of God, has been imputed to every believer in justification. But notice what else Paul is saying in this passage, “who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Those who are in Christ have the righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in Him, Hallelujah! But it does not negate the requirement of it in our obedience to God, a single iota, only its punishment for our failure. This is true liberty!

To wrap this point up then, the forgiveness Christ gave to the woman was based on His fulfillment of the laws righteous demand made against her, both passively and actively. But notice what Jesus said to her in the face of these Jewish condemnations under Moses, and God, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). Jesus told her to stop committing adultery, or, in other words, keep the moral law, but now do it under grace. If you fail, there are no more threats it can make against you (Rom. 6:23).

Coming back to the decalogue, it might be asked, why is there civil prohibition stated concerning the Sabbath, but none of the other commands? Doesn’t that separate it from the rest? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that it was already a controversy in the wilderness before Sinai, and it would be so afterward (Ex. 16:27,28; Num. 15:32-36). This is not a surprise, for it is ever a temptation for those who disrespect God to ignore this commandment. Men might not bow before some figurine, nor be guilty of open swearing, nor cheat on their wives. But tell them to set aside one day in seven for God, and that is intolerable. Therefore, it stands to reason there would be specific prohibitions against work added!

So why doesn’t the word Sabbath appear in the New Testament in reference to Christian duty? Indeed it does, though not very obviously to modern English reading eyes. In Matthew chapter twenty eight, verse one we read: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” (Verse 1). The word Sabbath actually appears twice in this verse, though it is not translated as such. The Greek word Sabbaton is translated as day in the second clause of this verse. So the writer, Matthew is saying here after the Sabbath, meaning Saturday, on the first Sabbath of the week, etc. The same dual application of the word Sabbath appears in two of the gospel accounts the same way (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1,2). The translation “first day” for Sabbath appears in the other two gospel accounts the same way as the first two (Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

There are two things to say about this. One is all four of the gospel writers wrote these verses years after the event, after Pentecost. They wrote as Christians understanding the transformation of the covenant. All four writers made a distinction between the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Sabbath in this account for the specific reason of stating its new significance. The Sabbath was changed from Sunday to Saturday because of Christ’s resurrection on that day. It is for much the same reason that Old Testament circumcision was performed on the eighth day. Seven is the perfect number. God worked six days, and on the seventh day He rested, establishing the seven-day week as a perfect cycle. But the resurrection, just like circumcision, looks ahead to a new beginning in the unfolding revelation of God. All of His redemptive work is done, so that which is eternal and spiritual is now complete, therefore, the rest of God is on Monday. Not only do we join with God on the Sabbath in reflecting upon His work in creation, but in His work of salvation too.

No where in the Old Testament is the Sabbath stated as a Saturday observance, it is established as one day in seven (Gen. 2:1,2; Ex. 20:10; Heb. 4:4). The first Sabbath day as Matthew called it, is Resurrection day. It established a new Sabbath week, or, a seven-day cycle, this is why it is called the Lords day now in Scripture, as well as the Sabbath (Rev. 1:10). In reality, the Sabbath was always called the Lord’s day, so in that there was nothing new about it (Is. 58:13). The day most likely was changed to distinguish it as God’s new high holy day apart from the Jewish Sabbath which unbelieving Jews still recognized. This change was just as much a consternation to the Jews who rejected Christ as anything else they rejected about Him.

The gospels are not the only place in the New Testament either, where the Greek word Sabbaton is translated as “day” (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2). In both places we read in our English Bibles the same thing in its place “the first day of the week,” signifying the resurrection day as the Lord’s day, or, Sabbath in which the church came together for worship. And it should be noted too, that the word Sabbaton is never used in any other context in the New Testament except for the special day of observance as the Lord commanded in the decalogue. The Greek word hemera is generally used in reference to any ordinary, or, common day of the week, as opposed to the day of Christian worship used in these two verses. A good example of this is Romans 14:5,6 where it is used five times by Paul in these two verses to show he is not talking about the Sabbath.

Which brings us to the second thing to be said about the Greek word Sabbaton appearing in our English Bibles as “day.” It appears no doubt that way in our English translations because of clarity. Green’s Literal Translation reads “But after the sabbaths, at the dawning of the first of the sabbaths, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the grave.” (Matt. 28:1 LITV). The word “day” instead of “Sabbaths” twice helps us to see it in this light as before and after the resurrection. It shows us a continuation of the Sabbath. The same thing can be said about the English translation of the Acts and Corinthian verses. To have the word Sabbath used to mean two different days is confusing. This is why all the New Testament writers used the expression first Sabbath, or, first day to mean the Christian Sabbath. The English translators recognized this and did accordingly. It also shows the need to exercise proper diligence in Bible study before developing or negating a doctrine over a mere word, or, the lack thereof in our English Bible. A situation like this shows the need for proper theological understanding of revelation when interpreting it.

Further Objections Answered

Last of all, we come to the actual issue of the Christian Sabbath itself with the central question of this article, Is the Sabbath still required for Christians? We will now attempt to answer a number of negative statements made in reference to this question. Dr. Schreiner asserts that though Jesus observed the Sabbath that was no endorsement of it’s continuation in the New Covenant. Jesus observed the Sabbath because He was born into and lived under the Mosaic law. Dr. Schreiner cites Galatians 4:4 in support of this. He also goes on to suggest that no where in the gospels are we led to believe that the Sabbath will continue into the Christian era. Let us break this and some further assertions down into its various parts.

Dr. Schreiner says that Jesus observed the Sabbath. How did He do this if He was rightfully accused of breaking it by the Pharisees according to their interpretation of Moses? Obviously, it can’t be both ways in the manner that Dr. Schreiner has suggested, that the Sabbath was purely legal under civil law that prohibited all activity. The Scriptural law of contradiction will not allow it (Gen. 22:16; Heb. 6:13-18). If the Pharisees were right, then the civil law was still in full effect, making it illegal in their minds for Jesus to be out performing His ministry on the Sabbath. We have already answered this by showing the civil part of the Mosaic economy was not in effect. This is why Jesus was not breaking the Sabbath by this standard, but observing it. If it were not so, that Judah was still under theocratic civil law according to the Mosaic covenant, the Jews could have put Jesus to death themselves if He were a lawbreaker. Instead, they could only appeal to the Roman governor (Mark 10:33; John 18:31).

Dr. Schreiner says Jesus was born under the law (Gal. 4:4). We protest once again that there is any implication in this verse that it means the civil law. Certainly, Jesus was born under the ceremonial law, for He was circumcised the eighth day, consecrated in the temple and baptized by John (Luke 2:2124; Matt. 3:13-15). As we said, the ceremonial law was the ordered worship not only of Israel but of every saint in the Old Testament. But nowhere in the New Testament are we told that Jesus Himself offered any sacrifices. The reason for this should be obvious. If the sacrifices prefigured His atoning death on the cross, and He is sinless, He was under no requirement to do such a thing for Himself. We do not suggest that Jesus never offered a sacrifice as ceremonial worship, only that the gospel writers are deliberately silent on it for this reason. The context of Paul’s words in Galatians chapter four is the ceremonial law.

The main issue of Paul’s argument however, is the covenantal relationship of believers to God under Moses, compared to that which now exists under the gospel. The entire chapter focuses on the typology of the ceremonial law. There is nothing typical in either the civil or the moral law in the decalogue. That being the case, the meaning of verse four has more to do with personal obedience from a moral perspective. Jesus fulfilled the moral law in His personal obedience. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law in His personal sacrifice of Himself for sinners. The civil law required no such fulfillment in either of these respects, but was temporary and over in terms of its requirements, long before Jesus was born.

Dr. Schreiner says that reading the gospels suggest an end to the Sabbath, really? Everywhere one looks in the gospels, there is a positive presentation of it taught by Jesus to His disciples. This is done in the absence of any suggestion to the contrary notion that it was about to end. In fact, we have already noted the writers of the gospels wrote many years after the actual accounts they wrote. They made a point to cast the Sabbath in a positive light. Completely absent from their narrative is anything that would suggest that the civil law of Israel was present in those circumstances they recorded. Instead, Jesus’ positive teaching on the Sabbath suggests the perpetuity of it. Why else would He be teaching His disciples these principles in a positive light, if indeed the Sabbath was about to be done away with?

Dr. Schreiner goes on to say rightfully that Jesus “ought” to have been healing on the Sabbath, of which we concur. Schreiner cites Luke 13:16 where he contends Jesus demonstrated His Divinity in a miracle of healing, as proof of his assertion there is now an end to the Sabbath as defined by the law.

This is an amazing statement made by Dr. Schreiner, one in fact, that supports our argument rather than his. It is the issue of the oughtness of Sabbath observance. The text cited (Luke 13:16) is of Jesus healing a woman, which is an act of mercy. Did Moses prohibit such an act in the decalogue? Does the New Covenant prohibit such an act now? In fact, Jesus asserted the oughtness of this work under the Mosaic law, in the dialogue He had with the ruler of the Synagogue (Luke 13:10-17). This is very instructive. The ruler cites the law in his instruction to the crowd concerning work on the Sabbath. Jesus corrected the man, showing the work prohibited by the law is ordinary work, not works of mercy. Jesus points this man and the crowd to the fact that it was acceptable under Moses to tend to a donkey on the Sabbath without violating it. The ruler was a hypocrite because of his selectivity concerning acceptable and unacceptable work.

In fact, performing works of mercy is exactly what is intended by God in the Mosaic ordinance to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Ex. 20:8), for “In it you shall do no work” (Ex. 20:10b). We see the specification for it in Isaiah, as a day of duty. Isaiah uttered God’s own words to this effect saying “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Is. 58:6,7). And what day are these works required? God tells us further down in the chapter, it’s His appointed day of rest. “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words” (Is. 58:13).

There is another issue here which Dr. Schreiner overlooks in his analysis. Though it is true Jesus as God performed a miraculous work in healing the woman, it is also true he did this and all of His work as the Son of God incarnate, or, the Son of Man (Matt. 9:6). If it was merely a demonstration of Divine power that God intended here, He could do this in any way, such as He did in parting the Red Sea, or any number of other things done previously. The point is, He didn’t do this. Instead, God incarnate did this, just as He did every other thing during His ministry on earth. While Jesus most assuredly demonstrated His Divinity in this and all other miracles He performed, He also demonstrated His perfection as the Son of Man. In this, Jesus set an example to us, not of performing miracles, but of doing works of mercy in obedience to the moral duty to keep the Sabbath.

When all of the instances of Jesus working on the Sabbath are examined, an outline of what Sabbath duty is emerges. They are threefold in nature, acts of mercy, of worship, and of necessity. When reading the gospel accounts of the Sabbath, it is clear that the prohibition given in the decalogue against work was not the only duty required of it. In fact, if we join Jesus’ teaching on positive moral duties, together with the prohibition against work, a new picture of its meaning emerges. How else were the Israelites to keep the Sabbath holy in regard to spiritual duties, if they spent their day in common pursuits? This is the reason for the prohibition. Now, in the present age there is no earthly theocracy to impose civil penalties on violating the Sabbath. God will do this to Sabbath breakers Himself on judgement day (Acts 17:31). In fact, the many instances of Jesus performing ministries on the Sabbath, rather than using that day for ordinary activities, present a clear New Testament teaching on keeping the Sabbath.

Dr. Schreiner now turns his attention to the New Testament epistles, telling us that Paul taught there was no requirement for Christians to keep the Sabbath. He points to what has become a popular text in support of this assertion in Paul’s letter to the Colossians (Col. 2:16,17). The main point of the assertion is summed up in the words “which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Verse 17). If the “Sabbaths” of verse 16 “are a shadow of things to come,” then that shadow, or, type is now fulfilled in Christ, therefore, there is an end to it. Dr. Shreiner goes on to explain the meaning of the word “shadow” (Gr. Skia) as illustrated in Hebrews 10:1, of which we are in perfect agreement. The context of the verse he cites in Hebrews however, is referring not to the civil or moral aspect of the law, but the ceremonial (verses 1-4).

We admit that on the surface it seems that Dr. Schreiner has presented proof positive of his assertion from Paul’s words in Colossians chapter two. But we also say that Dr. Schreiner has misconstrued Paul’s meaning in these verses which he cites (16,17). A reading of the entire chapter reveals the people Paul is talking about in it are guilty of teaching several false ideas to the Colossian believers. So he warns them accordingly saying “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8). Listed are four things for them to beware of from these men, philosophy, deceitfulness, human tradition, and worldly principles. The Pharisees Jesus dealt with were not known for their philosophy or worldliness, but for their studious keeping of the law which Dr. Schreiner so rightfully points out. Since Paul was a former Pharisee it is unlikely he would make the mistake of ascribing these two things to their account. Paul is speaking about Hellenists when he uses such phrases. However, deceitfulness and tradition were attributable to the Pharisees. These four things combined lead us to the conclusion that it was Hellenistic Jews who were in plentiful supply in Colossae of whom Paul warned the Christians.

The next thing to consider is the several practices and teachings the Colossian Christians should beware of. There are five listed in verse 16, food, drink, festivals, new moons and Sabbaths, and four more in verse 18, false humility, worship of angels, esoteric things which he has not seen, and vanity of mind. Based on the way he introduces the things in each of these verses, Paul gives warning of two different sets of people. The first false teacher Paul specifies by starting with “So let no one judge you” before going on to state the things being judged. The second false teacher Paul specifies by starting with “Let no one cheat you” before going on to state the things by which they cheat. By looking at the things Paul listed we can ascertain whom he is talking about in each of the two lists. The first set of errors seems to allude to God’s charge against His apostate people in Isaiah’s day. “Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.” (Is. 1:13). Perhaps the food and drink were an allusion to forbidden meats under the law, and Nazarite abstinence of alcohol. This being the case, we conclude that Paul is talking about Jews.

Now since these things were rites prescribed by the law, we have to enquire as to why God condemns Judah for keeping them. The answer is in chapter one of Isaiah. Judah mixed their ceremonial rites with such sins as sexual immorality (v10), violence (v15), injustice and oppression (17), rebellion, thievery and bribery (v23), and many more. In other words, Judah corrupted their worship with sin, therefore it was unacceptable to God. This is where we are instructed concerning Pauls meaning in Colossians. He uses the phrase “new moon or Sabbaths,” just as Isaiah does in reference to rites, or the ceremonial law. We know this too, by his adding to it the food and drink of festivals. This is not the Sabbath day spoken of in the decalogue, but the ceremonial festivals which coincided with three different types of Sabbatical observance under the law (Ex. 23:10-19; Lev. 25:9-15). This is also why we see it stated in the plural in both texts, rather than the singular as it appears in the decalogue (Ex. 20:10). Sabbath day observance is what God has sanctified perpetually. The Sabbath year and Jubilee were ceremonial, and all three combined in terms of ceremonial ritual constituted the Sabbaths spoken of in both texts (Is. 1:13; Col. 2:16). All three were moral duties for Israel, which they corrupted by their sin. Obviously, there are no Sabbath festivals prescribed in the New Covenant. So it was the imposition of ceremonial rites these Jews in Colossae were trying to teach, that Paul was warning against, not Sabbath day worship and service. When Paul states “which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” he means the entire ceremonial package, not the Christian Sabbath, or, Lord’s day worship as it became.

The fact ceremonies were performed by Mosaic ordinance on the Sabbath doe’s not make the day itself ceremonial. If this were true, every day would be the Sabbath, for every day under Moses sacrifices were offered in Israel (Num. 28:4,8).

The second set of Jews Paul is talking about in verses 18ff are Gnostic Jews who taught various ascetic disciplines, as a means of obtaining spiritual knowledge, and ultimately, redemption in the Hellenistic sense of it.[1] There was no such thing as the worship of angels ever prescribed by Moses. Gnosticism is an esoteric religion which incorporates Hellenistic thinking. So we conclude that Paul was talking about Hellenistic and Gnostic Jews who were both teaching perfection through the observance of outward rites, some Jewish, some Pagan, but all in opposition to Christ.

Once again, Dr. Schreiner finds an ally in Paul from his letter to the Romans (Rom. 14:5). And once again, Dr. Schreiner misconstrues Pauls meaning here on Christian liberty. We point to the example Paul gives in this text of scruples over eating vegetables or not (verse 2). There is no such thing as vegetarianism prescribed in the Mosaic law. This was a scruple that many Jews had, supposing it to be a more consecrated thing than the eating of meat, of which certain ones were forbidden. Daniel requested he be fed with vegetables because he had no control over what kind of meat he might be served in Babylon (Dan. 1:5,8,11,12). As far as esteeming one day over the other, there is nothing in Paul’s words to suggest he is talking about the day God consecrated for worship. That is, unless Dr. Schreiner thinks that worship is a matter of Christian liberty.

Dr. Schreiner comes back to the book of Hebrews again, this time to assert the Sabbath is a shadow from a different angle. But once again, he introduces contradiction into his argument. Schreiner does this by citing Hebrews 4:1-10, and especially in verse 9 in explaining the Sabbath is a “foreshadowing” of a “rest” which awaits fulfillment for the people of God in eternity. Dr. Schreiner makes use of the difference between inaugurated and consummated eschatology to argue a future, rather than a present Sabbath experience for Christians.

This is an interesting argument, but it begs the question. Since salvation is inaugurated through the death of Christ, but consummated in the age to come, do we experience it now? To go even further with it, do we have any duty toward God in the present age? The answer to those two questions should be obvious. To argue that we need not observe the Sabbath today because it has been fulfilled in Christ, while at the same time saying that it is a type which needs fulfillment, is a contradiction.

We have already shown the Sabbath not to be a type which required fulfillment in the same one to one way as the animal sacrifices. It is true that its end awaits something still yet future for us in eternity (Heb. 4:4-10). The writer of Hebrews was merely showing that those who stand in the church now may not be those who will inherit eternal life. And that is not because justification is by works or a matter of future reward. The writer of Hebrews aptly explains in chapter six there are those who fall away without recovery (Heb. 6:1-8). John says “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” (I John 2:19).

Once instituted at creation, application of the sanctity of one day in seven is developed progressively throughout redemptive history until the time it need not be observed on earth anymore. This will come about as a result of the restored earth, where the redeemed will live in perfect harmony with God, apart from sin (II Pet. 3:13). In fact, Peter says that only then will the promise of salvation be fully consummated. Since this is true, everything concerning Christ and the church is still yet future, even though enjoyed here and now.

Dr. Schreiner has presented two different assertions of the Sabbath in direct contradiction to each other. The first, that the Sabbath is a type that is fulfilled in Christ from Colossians 2:16,17. The second, that the Sabbath is a type that is unfulfilled now and awaits future fulfillment from Hebrews 4:1-10. So he goes from type to fulfillment twice in succession, and then asks “Does the Lord’s Day, that is, Christians worshiping on the first day of the week, constitute a fulfillment of the Sabbath?” If God fulfills the type the first time, how does it become a type again? Jesus fulfilled it, or, either He didn’t. Eschatological expectation cannot free us from biblical logic. The problem created in Dr. Shreiner’s argument can only be resolved if we understand the Sabbath to be moral law which Christians are required to obey because of grace (Rom. 6:1,15,17,18).

Furthermore, Hebrews 4:1-10 does in fact support the continuation of the Sabbath by saying “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” (Verse 9). The Greek words katapausis and katapauo for God’s rest, is used repeatedly in these verses, except for verse 9 where the word sabbatismos is used to indicate a present Sabbatism that remains for God’s people.

The Sabbath is in the decalogue because it is an unending moral imperative. As such, no sinner has or ever could fulfill its requirements. A person might abstain from work, or, even do good works on the Sabbath, but that does not constitute fulfillment of its righteous requirement. Jesus did this in His active obedience throughout His life. Scripture asserts that justification is based on both the active and passive obedience of Christ, imputed to us through faith (Rom. 4:20-24, 5:18,19, 8:3,4). To suppose the Sabbath command is any different from the other nine is absurd. God gave them as a single unit on two tablets, indicating the unchangeable character of what they were intended to convey. To suppose that one, or, all ten of those commandments have been done away with by the New Covenant is ridiculous. James asserts the same thing in his New Testament letter (James 2:10,11). James refers to the decalogue, not the civil or ceremonial law in this passage. The decalogue stands or falls together as a single unit.

But of course, Dr. Schreiner avoids the issue of moral duty by presenting an antithesis between two sets of words, the Sabbath and the Lord’s day, as though they were two entirely different concepts. He is not the first to do this, nor will he be the last. We therefore, answer this question with the words of the seventeenth century Puritan, Thomas Shepard from a paper entitled The Change Of The Sabbath:

“And verily, when I meet with such like speeches and objections as these, viz., Where is it expressly said that the old Sabbath is abrogated? and what one scripture is there in the New Testament declaring expressly that the Lord’s day is substituted and put in its room? I can not from such expressions but think and fear that the ignorance of this change in some does not spring so much from deficiency and want of light on God’s part, but rather from perverseness on man’s part, which will not see nor own the truth, because it is not revealed and dispensed after that manner and fashion of expression as man’s wit and fantasy would have it.”

Further Objections from Tradition

At a certain point in his thesis Dr. Schreiner leaves off from Scripture to pursue an argument taken from a certain church tradition. Here, Dr. Schreiner points by name to a sect called the Ebionites who practiced both the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday and the Christian Lord’s day on Sunday, as proof of a difference between the two. His conclusion from this is that they did not see the Lord’s day as “the fulfillment” of the Sabbath.

Why Dr. Schreiner would point to the Ebionites in defense of his theory is both curious and amazing. This was a sect of so-called Jewish Christians, who were also heretics.[3]

Dr. Schreiner’s next assertion from tradition is to suggest that “Most of the early church fathers did not practice or defend literal Sabbath observance.” In support of this assertion he refers to a certain letter written to Diognetus

Appealing to the opinion of some early church leaders will do nothing for this argument if it does not hold up to Scripture. Therefore, making such an appeal is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways depending on its accuracy according to Scripture. Our own approach to any argument of this sort is to show early church opinion only if it is clearly consistent with the Bible. Since we have already dismantled nearly every point Dr. Schreiner has made in support of his thesis from Scripture, it hardly seems necessary to go any further with this. Nevertheless, in response to the particular letter he uses, we assert that he does not want to go there, but since he has, we will go there with him too. The reason for this being that over the last two thousand years, there has been almost complete unanimity of thought on the continuance of the doctrine of the Christian Sabbath. It has not always been entirely accurate in the way it is viewed, on that we will concede. But to argue that it has not been church tradition is inaccurate.

The only way it could be argued otherwise, is to take the words of the church fathers out of context, which we think is being done here when Dr. Schreiner cites a certain example of this in defense of his position (Diognetus 4:1). This passage does not in fact, say anything about Sabbath observance as Dr. Schreiner suggests. That is, unless he thinks that the Mosaic institution of the law and ultimately the Sabbath is superstition.[2] It is granted, those people who practice true religion falsely, or, false religion truly, do so out of superstition. The early church fathers did speak about the difference between the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath in their writings. And there was disagreement on the particular day to observe it, whether it should be Saturday or Sunday. But remarks made against the Jewish Sabbath by them are always done so in this context, that a proper day of observance according to apostolic rule is determined.

It is extremely interesting that Dr. Schreiner himself makes our case for us when he says the early church fathers saw the Lord’s day as “unique.” Where he is wrong is in asserting the Sabbath ended when the Lord’s day began. The day was changed by apostolic tradition, but did not cease to be a “unique” day that God’s people are to set aside for worship, one day in seven. The name was changed for this very reason, to distinguish for Christians what the high holy day of worship in Christ is about. There are a couple of things about this that are routinely overlooked today when considering the question Dr. Schreiner poses. He has fallen into this himself. The church today has been so influenced by Dispensationalism for so long that it tends to view the Old and New Covenant as something of absolute discontinuity, beginning and ending on a dime so to speak in terms of time and purpose.

Of course, every Christian understands the Old Covenant as something that was looking ahead to fulfillment, and the New Covenant as that fulfillment in Christ. But how to understand, the end of one and the beginning of the other has been ruined by literalist interpreters that create false dichotomies between the two. For instance, there is no accident that the gospel narratives are set in a period of time that predates the cross, but it is also part of the New Testament. It was not written on the spot when the things happened, but years later after Pentecost by Christians. Therefore, we must understand there is continuity between the Testaments. When Jesus taught His disciples what the Sabbath meant, He was teaching them what to teach the church (Matt. 16:18, 18:17). The church did not begin at Pentecost, though the Christian era did (Acts 7:38).[4]

The gospel narratives are placed by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament canon as the churches possession, the churches teaching, to whom all the promises made to the fathers has come (II Cor. 1:20). The gospels and the book of Acts are both transitional in nature in terms of the cross. In fact, it was this way until the close of the canon at the end of the apostolic era. The temple remained for years after Pentecost before it was destroyed. So before the cross Jesus referred to the Sabbath as the Sabbath. After the cross, the apostles by His authority, changed the name and the day of its observance to separate Christians from Temple worship. This is why the name was changed. The Lord did not want His people going in and out of an earthly Temple, though many did do this for a time. We need only to point to the fiasco that occurred when Paul did this, even though he was given sanction for it by the Jerusalem Presbytery (Acts 21:15ff).

Aside from the many times the word Sabbath is used in the gospels, pointing to its continuation, there is one in particular of note. This is when Jesus spoke of it at the end of the age (Matt. 24:20). This chapter has been steeped in confusion since ultra-literalism has infiltrated the church for the last two hundred years. Jesus is not talking about the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD, but the church from verse three onwards. Temple worship technically ended at His death (Matt. 27:51), even though we see Paul in the temple in Acts before it was destroyed. These words by Matthew are figurative of the cataclysmic change of things within the cosmos that occurred at the death of the Son of God. It is further confirmed by Peter in his sermon (Acts 2:16-21). When Jesus referred to the Sabbath at the end of the age to His disciples, it was pre cross terminology, just like the temple itself. Jesus applies the words of Daniel about the “abomination of desolation” to what is the eschatological holy place, the church which is His assembly (Matt. 24:15). Even if one does not agree with our interpretation of the temple, and views this in part as a prediction of 70 AD, our point about Jesus’ use of the term “Sabbath” remains.

Christians in the first century understood the Lord’s day to be the Christian Sabbath, just as the church has over the last two thousand years. This is reflected in both Roman Catholic and Protestant creed and tradition, though we don’t make it out to have equal authority with Scripture. So we ask does Dr. Schreiner repudiate this witness while pointing to some obscure statement in an early church writer? The letter to Diognetus specifically refers to the Hellenistic, Gnostic errors in Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

And lastly, we come now to the next and last appeal to tradition made in this thesis. Dr. Schreiner makes his last appeal to the book of Barnabas (15:8,9). All we can say to this is, that it is an uninspired, Gnostic writing rejected by the early church as unfit to be placed in the canon. Why he would appeal to this book is beyond us. Therefore, it is worthy of no further comment.

Conclusion

So we conclude here that the point Dr. Schreiner tries to make, that the Sabbath is not required of Christians, is fundamentally unbiblical. We have taken the time to offer a critique of it because it follows a dangerous trend in current evangelical thinking today, away from sound orthodoxy. Until more recent time there was but one sect of evangelicals that believed the Sabbath to be simply an Old Testament Mosaic institution, done away with by the New Covenant. We have referred to this sect as Dispensationalism, and its teaching was cut out of whole cloth a little less than two hundred years ago. About thirty or so years ago another sect arose from them espousing the same views concerning Old and New Testament law. This is known as New Covenant theology, named after its insistence on essentially the same ideas about biblical law as put forth in this thesis. Where Dr. Tom Schreiner fits into this, we are not exactly sure. However, an examination of his writings on his website show he is part of a current movement away from Systematic Theology, to what is now called Redemptive Historical Theology, or, just Biblical Theology.

This term, Biblical Theology, just like New Covenant theology is extremely misleading in its title. We will save our critique of this movement for another time. But suffice to say, the method involved in this teaching of determining the nature of the Sabbath and its application for Christians today is completely defective. Therefore, we recommend that serious Bible believing Christians abstain from this and any other attempt to deny what Jesus Himself has clearly shown to be the duty of His people. To do otherwise is to engage in the rank heresy of antinomianism. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15).

Notes

[1] For further reading on this, we refer the reader to a paper entitled Colossian Problems by FF Bruce.

[2] The Epistle to Diognetus from Mathetes (Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation)

CHAPTER 1

1:1 Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that thou art exceedingly anxious to understand the religion of the Christians, and that thy enquiries respecting them are distinctly and carefully made, as to what God they trust and how they worship Him, that they all disregard the world and despise death, and take no account of those who are regarded as gods by the

Greeks, neither observe the superstition of the Jews, and as to the nature of the affection which they entertain one to another, and of this new development or interest, which has entered into men’s lives now and not before: I gladly welcome this zeal in thee, and I ask of God, Who supplieth both the speaking and the hearing to us, that it may be granted to myself to speak in such a way that thou mayest be made better by the hearing, and to thee that thou mayest so listen that I the speaker may not be disappointed.

[3] The Ebionites was a second century sect of gnostic Jews. Eusebius wrote about them as a sect that evolved from those Judaizers of the first century Luke referred to in Acts 15:1-5. For further reading on the error of the Judaizers, we refer the reader to a previous article entitled Apostasy, Part 3 – Doctrinal Apostasy in the NT Church.

[4] The word congregation in acts is the same as church in Matthew. The Greek word Ecclesia means congregation, or, assembly. It is crass literalism that makes distinctions where they do not belong, and fails to make them where they do.

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