The Intent of the Sabbath

Updated on March 26, 2018
Pastor Kev profile image

I am an adopted son of the MostHigh, a husband of a beautiful wife, father of three amazing P's, and a Discipleship Pastor in South Carolina

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In the Old Testament, a view of the Sabbath was expressed at the creation of the world in Genesis 2:1-3. The text reads that God rested after completing creation, and He made the 7th day holy. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, He included a commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. He clarified within that commandment that His people should complete their work in 6 days, but give the 7th day to God, using the example of rest that God took after creation. The author of Exodus and Leviticus repeatedly called for the people of God to remember the Sabbath. In Leviticus 25 God specified a Sabbath year as well, where the land was supposed to be given a rest after every six years. Not only does scripture mandate the Sabbath, though, Leviticus 24:8, Numbers 28:9-10 and Ezekiel 46:4 include certain offerings that are to be given on the Sabbath as well. Throughout the Old Testament, there are constant reminders to the people of God about the importance of the Sabbath and the penalties of not keeping it, as God had commanded. The Old Testament not only includes the institution of the Sabbath and its observances, but it also records examples of people breaking it, and of God’s reaction and their punishment. Numbers 15:32 records a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and God’s ordered punishment was death by stoning by the people of Israel. In Jeremiah 17:21-27, the author records God warning His people to not “bear a burden” on the Sabbath, and if that command was ignored, God would destroy the palaces of Jerusalem. Certainly, among Old Testament authors recording the very word of God, the divine mandate was to keep the Sabbath holy for God.

By the time the events of the New Testament occurred, several more restrictions for the Sabbath had been enacted during the intertestamental period; restrictions such as the number of steps one could walk, and what constituted a dwelling from which to carry things between them. It was from this that Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1 that the law was actually a yoke of slavery that Christ has set us free from. In much of the New Testament writing, there seems to be, while not overtly written, a delineation between ceremonial laws such as circumcision or Sabbath observation, and moral laws such as murder or adultery. Paul argued in Galatians 3:2-3 that Gentile Christians had been saved outside of the performances of the Law, so the observances of the law were not required. One could also infer from Paul’s writings that the Sabbath was given to the Jew but not the Gentile

A 21st century Christian examining the topic of the Sabbath is faced with an undeniable truth that the Sabbath is important to God. It is of such extreme importance that He included it in His word over 172 times. First, the placement of the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday is more of a semantic issue. While Jewish and a few religions observe the Sabbath on Saturday, historically Christians set aside Sunday as their day of rest. Paul wrote in Romans 14:5, one person considers one day more sacred than another. Christians should see that Paul was leading Christians to understand that legalism (strict adherence to the Law) had been replaced by a relationship with Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the law, so this particular topic is approached by the author’s intent. Jesus affirmed in Mark 2:27 that “the Sabbath was made for man”. Matthew 5:17 records Jesus words that He was the fulfillment of the law, not its abolishment. The 21st century Christian can see that Jesus was conveying that God set the example of rest on the 7th day. God did not need to rest, He is God, but He was setting the example for Christians to follow. Because He is the creator, he knows infinitely more about the makeup of His creation than is known by the created. God set this example of rest, to show people that they need to rest from their work, and in that rest, focus their attention on Him, the creator. All have a void in their hearts that can only be filled with God. With the creator setting the example, God’s love and care is evidenced. There are some who argue that Genesis 2:3 states that God blesses the seventh day, so the seventh day is the only day appropriate to be treated as the Sabbath. The argument is that He did not state that He blessed one of the seven days, just the seventh. This argument, however, seems to be turned on its ear when reading Jesus’ words in Mark 2:28 in which He states that He is Lord of the Sabbath. In his response to the people who were questioning his picking heads of grain and eating them, Jesus explained that He had the authority to do so, given that He was the Lord of the Sabbath. Basically, He wrote the rules, and He had the right to do so because he knew the intent of the Sabbath.

While being a semantic issue, the Sabbath could also be seen as a Semitic issue. Because God set the example of rest in Genesis 2:3, Jews were to observe the Sabbath as a day of rest as instituted and commanded by God. However, Christians are to hold to keeping a Sabbath and keeping it holy to God as well, because Christians have been “grafted in” per Romans 11:24. Even with Gentile Christians being now part of God’s people, Jesus himself, who was Jewish, gave repeated examples that showed that doing the work of God on the Sabbath was not a breaking of the Sabbath. From healing on the Sabbath to eating, Jesus’ work on the Sabbath was the example that Christians should not use a legalistic excuse to not expand God’s kingdom. Even in John 5, Jesus told the Jewish leaders that His father was always at work, no matter which day of the week. Jesus also said in Matthew 12 and in Luke 14 that if something precious fell into a well or ditch, would not they lift it out, no matter the day of the week. God continues to work every day because He loves His people, and they should love others in the same way. In this way also the Priests certainly were doing work each Sabbath but were innocent of breaking it, per Matthew 12:5. The intent of the Sabbath law was not to restrict enjoyment, nor was it to be a reason for an arbitrary number of steps to be taken; it was for God’s people to rest from their work, and to give a day to focus on God and His will, which is the ultimate giver of perfect rest. What is shown is that the Christian has a relationship with God through Jesus. Christians desire to know Jesus more, to know Him better, and to keep His perfect example. John wrote in 1 John 5:3 that Christians show they love God by keeping His commandments and His commandments are not burdensome. The issue is not that Christians must keep a Sabbath rest, the issue is that Christians get to. God’s people are allowed by God one day to rest from their work, and focus praise and worship on Him, endeavoring to know Him better.

Questions & Answers

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      • Tony Muse profile image

        Tony Muse 

        6 months ago from Texas, USA

        AF Mind,

        I believe that making Paul's statement about this being about the festivals is inserting foreign context in an attempt to divert from the true meaning.

        The context is clear; not passing judgment on others based upon where they are in their walk of faith.

      • AF Mind profile image

        AF Mind 

        6 months ago

        Tony,

        Where did either of us insert a foreign context in the passage? You are only addressing a few verses in the chapter rather than the full context.

      • Tony Muse profile image

        Tony Muse 

        6 months ago from Texas, USA

        PlanksandNails,

        I never said anything about Romans 14 not having anything to do with Sabbath days, whether the weekly or the festival Sabbaths. It is my position that all of the Sabbaths were but a shadow and that we are not under any obligation to observe them.

      • PlanksandNails profile image

        PlanksandNails 

        6 months ago

        Tony,

        (((The context is eating all things verses vegetables only, not abstaining from all foods as in a time of fasting.)))

        Only eating herbs/vegetables is a type of fast. Daniel fasted for three weeks. He ate no meat, wine, etc, but only ate vegetables (Daniel 1:12-13; 10:3). This is an example of a fast that was not a requirement under the Law. This qualifies as 'doubtful disputation' as in Romans 14 of people who abstained from certain kinds of food on their own accord and were being judged for it.

        (((Paul also uses observing certain days verses regarding all days alike. The issue appears to be with those coming from being under the law of Moses to the law of faith.)))

        The issue in Romans was about a 'doubtful disputation' that was not clear in the Mosaic law. The only commandment requiring fasting (denying oneself) is on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27; Acts 27:9). Any other fast would be at one's personal discretion since scripture is silent on it.

        Whether we agree or disagree about fasting being in the passage — I agree with you that Romans 14 has nothing to do with the Sabbath.

      • Tony Muse profile image

        Tony Muse 

        6 months ago from Texas, USA

        AF Mind & PlanksandNails,

        The topic of this part of the book of Romans is summed up in verse 1 and 10; accepting those who are weak in faith and NOT passing judgment on others, it is between them an the Lord. Paul then demonstrates this point with those who still placed themselves under dietary restrictions. The context is eating all things verses vegetables only, not abstaining from all foods as in a time of fasting.

        Paul also uses observing certain days verses regarding all days alike. The issue appears to be with those coming from being under the law of Moses to the law of faith. There were apparently then, as there are now, those who struggled with laying down the yoke of the law of Moses.

        In the end, it should not be an issue among believers and one group should not pass judgment on the other. So, if it should not be an issue among believers, how can it b an issue of obligation to God, especially in regards to salvation?

        Honestly, I see this passage as an issue for Sabbatrians and they must interject foreign context in order to justify their doctrinal views.

      • AF Mind profile image

        AF Mind 

        6 months ago

        Kevin,

        I agree with PlanksandNails. Read verse 2. This is not about eating unclean meats. One person believes they can eat all things, and another eats "herbs". It is saying that if one person eats meat and another one does not, don't get onto them for it. When it says all things, it means eating all five food groups; dairy, fruit, grain, vegetables, and meat.

        Verse 2 contrasts the person who "eats only vegetables" with the one who believes "he may eat all things"— meat as well as vegetables. Verse 6 discusses eating vs. not eating and is variously interpreted as referring to fasting (not eating or drinking), vegetarianism (consuming only vegetables) or eating or not eating meat sacrificed to idols.

        Paul says that some days are esteemed by others and some are not. If we compare this with the food he mentions and how some "eat to the Lord" and some do not, we can conclude that these verses are referring to fasting. They were debating on which days they should fast. In Luke 18 12 we see a Pharisee fasting twice a week. Historical evidence proves that this was done on Mondays and Thursdays.

        Luke 18:12. δὶς τ. σ., twice in the week: voluntary fasts on Mondays and Thursdays, ultra-legal in his zeal.—ἀποδεκατ-ῶ (-εύω, W. and H[141]) = δεκατεύω in Greek writers: tithing a typical instance of Pharisaic strictness.—πάντα, all, great and small, even garden herbs, again ultra-legal.—κτῶμαι, all I get (R.V[142]). [141] Westcott and Hort. [142] Revised Version. — Expositor's Greek Testament

        Paul was simply saying, "Fast whenever you feel led too, and since there is nothing wrong about setting aside certain days for doing so then no one is to judge you on it."

        In verse 17 he says nothing is unclean in and of itself. As we will find out in 1 Corinthians 10 the context here was about food offered to idols.

      • PlanksandNails profile image

        PlanksandNails 

        6 months ago

        Kevin,

        Fasting was practiced heavily in the 1st century. Monday and Thursday were considered fast days in the second temple period. Paul was addressing man's traditions. The word 'eat' is found over 12 times in the chapter. However, the chapter never once uses the word 'Sabbath' or anything that would identify it as being the subject Paul was addressing. To use this passage as proof-text for anything about the Sabbath is eisegesis.

        In the chapter, Paul mentions a parallel with food and days. One can observe a day and eat, and one can also not observe a day and not eat (abstain) and do it to the Lord. There were those who avoided eating meat offered to idols, but there were others who customarily abstained from eating foods outright (fasting) on certain days also.

        Fasting from food and observing days is found in these passages:

        I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ - Luke 18:12

        Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast? - Matthew 9:14

        Romans 14 must be used out of context to justify the eating of unclean foods or about the Sabbath. The historical context is that Paul was not addressing the law at all, but tradition. There is no biblical connection between the weekly Sabbath observance and whether one decides to consume food or not.

        Zechariah did not seem to care for human tradition and it seems neither did Paul. God's law were not optional and did not change according to one's personal preference unless you believe that Paul teaches the separation of faith from God's law.

        Furthermore, it would be impossible for Romans 14 to be related to the Sabbath because it is a feast day (Leviticus 23:1-3) Paul does not mention the Sabbath in Romans at all because making it optional was never an issue — human tradition was the issue.

      • Pastor Kev profile imageAUTHOR

        Pastor Kevin Hampton 

        6 months ago from Spartanburg, SC

        Planks, thanks for reading the article!!

        Respectfully, I would disagree that the entirety of Romans chapter 14 is devoted solely to fasting days. The author does not even use the word fast, he does write about eating though.

        It appears that the author is speaking to individual convictions of the Holy Spirit. Verses 2-4 speak to eating certain food, while verses 5-9 seem to deal with certain days, of which the Sabbath would be one.

        I do understand the historical critical context of this passage in dealing with celebrating feasts, however, it seems to me that the author is taking on the issue of conscience at a macro scale rather than limiting it to just fasts (or feasts).

        (What Jewish fasts are there that someone can or cannot eat vegetables or meat and look down upon someone who eats the other?)

        Each pericope serves a larger theme of convictions and of conscience. Each pericope begins with "one person" and then follows a train of thought.

        I also do not see any mention of specific days that the author is referring, so it is an exercise in hermeneutics to determine the author's intent, which again seems to point to convictions, not a specific fasting time, and can easily cross over the principlizing bridge hermeneutically to today's issue of the Intent of the Sabbath. Whether a Christian celebrates their weekly Sabbath rest on Wednesday or Sunday isn't important, only that they do it.

      • PlanksandNails profile image

        PlanksandNails 

        6 months ago

        Kevin,

        You stated,

        (((Paul wrote in Romans 14:5, one person considers one day more sacred than another.)))

        The context of Romans 14 has nothing to do with the Sabbath. It is speaking about 'special days' concerning fasting.

        These fast days are mentioned in Zechariah 7:5-6.

        The passage in Romans is about certain foods on fast days and how people’s beliefs about fasting should not be interfered with. The fast days could be observed according to each believer’s conscience according to Paul. A man could eat or not eat, keep the day or not keep it. Each man could observe fast days or not observe them according to their own convictions.

        Do not FOR THE SAKE OF FOOD, destroy the work of God. – Romans 14:20

      • Tony Muse profile image

        Tony Muse 

        6 months ago from Texas, USA

        AF Mind,

        I don't esteem any day above another, that includes Sundays.

      • AF Mind profile image

        AF Mind 

        6 months ago

        Tony,

        They were indeed a shadow. But that does not mean they are not to be followed. We see that in Genesis the 7th day was sanctified (Genesis 7 2). If it was not for rest like the other sanctified day (Sabbath), how would you say it was sanctified apart from the other days then?

      • Tony Muse profile image

        Tony Muse 

        6 months ago from Texas, USA

        AF Mind

        But the law, which the Sabbath commandment and the rest of the commandments are contained within, were but a shadow of the true substance. Jesus didn't "replace" the Sabbath, the Sabbath was but a shadow of Christ. It was a weekly reminder to the Israelites of the coming true rest.

      • AF Mind profile image

        AF Mind 

        6 months ago

        Excellent article.

        Tony,

        Matthew 11 26-30 says he is our rest, but not that he is the replacement for the Sabbath.

      • Tony Muse profile image

        Tony Muse 

        17 months ago from Texas, USA

        I actually believe that the weekly Sabbath "rest" pointed to the rest that we now have in Christ. While I do believe that it is good for man to set a day aside to both physically and emotionally rest as well as to spend more time reflecting on the goodness of God, I do not believe that we are commanded to keep any particular day as that day.

        Peace!

      working

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