Keeping the sabbath Refs
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Ever since the time of Jesus there have been people who think it is necessary for believers in Christ to keep the Sabbath. In this chapter we will review the Bible teaching on the Sabbath, and consider whether it is really necessary for followers of Jesus to keep it.

Colossians 2:11-17

Many of the early believers were Jews who had been taught from childhood to obey the law of Moses. Things such as keeping the Sabbath, circumcision, avoiding unclean food, and not eating with Gentiles (non-Jews), were part of their culture. Some of them found it difficult to accept that these things were no longer required for followers of Jesus.

Paul had to write to the believers at Colosse and elsewhere, explaining that it was no longer necessary to keep the law.

1. Paul says they had been figuratively circumcised in Christ (v11). What does this mean?
2. What did Paul mean when he wrote that the law “was against us and stood opposed to us”? (v14)
3. Paul concludes that the law was a “shadow of the things that were to come” and that “the reality is found in Christ” (v17). How did the Sabbath foreshadow the work of Jesus? [Hint: see Hebrews 4:9-11.]

The introduction of the Sabbath
Sabbath simply means “rest”. The Sabbath day was the seventh day of the week (what we know as Saturday). God instructed the people of Israel to keep the seventh day as a day of rest from their normal work.

The first mention of a seventh day rest is in Genesis 2:2-3. When God had completed the work of Creation, he rested. How did God rest? But the Bible does not include any instruction from God (at that time) that men and women should set aside the seventh day for rest.

Introduction of the Sabbath:
Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23-30; 20:8-11; 31:14-17; 35:2-3; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
Not keeping the Sabbath:
Numbers 15:32-36; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Jeremiah 17:21-27.
A true Sabbath:
Isaiah 58:13-14.
Jesus and the Sabbath:
Matthew 12:1-14; Luke 13:10-16; 14:1-6; John 5:9-18; 9:14-16.
Controversy over the Sabbath:
Romans 14:1-6; Galatians 4:9-11; Colossians 2:16-17.

The first general instruction to keep the Sabbath was given to the Israelites in the wilderness. Exodus 16:23-30; 20:8-11; 31:12-17 It was to be a reminder to the Israelites that God had created heaven and earth in six days, and then rested on the seventh. The law required that no work was to be done. Exodus 31:14-16; 35:2 The penalty for disobedience was death. Foreigners living in the land of Israel also had to keep the Sabbath. Exodus 20:10

The Sabbath in the New Testament
It was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. Luke 4:16 However, his view of real Sabbath keeping was very different from that of the Pharisees. see Matthew 12:1-14 Nowhere did he state or imply that keeping the Sabbath was to be part of Christian discipleship. Jesus and the apostles restated all of the ten commandments except for keeping the Sabbath.

It would appear from the Acts, that early Jewish followers of Je­sus continued to attend the synagogue. e.g. Acts 13:14-42; 14:1; 17:1-2,10,17; 18:4,19,26; 19:8. It was an opportunity to share their faith and persuade other Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. Of course, this must have been on the Sabbath.

However, they would not have been able to hold the Lord’s Supper in the synagogue. They must have gathered on other occasions to worship in this way. We are not told when they met, or when we should meet.

There are hints that they may have met regularly on the first day of the week (Sunday). Acts 20:7 The believers in Troas met with Paul on a first day. In Galatia and Corinth, the first day of the week was selected as the day to set aside money which was being collected for the poor in Jerusalem. 1 Corinthians 16:2 Early Christian historians, from the second century onwards, record that the traditional practice for Christians was to meet for fellowship on the first day of the week. However, there is no command in the New Testament stating on which day we should meet. We are only commanded to meet regularly. Hebrews 10:25

Controversy over the Sabbath
As we saw in the letter to the Colossians, keeping the law of Moses was a controversial issue even in the first century. It became such a cause of division that the apostles and elders met in a conference at Jerusalem to decide what to do about it.
Acts 15:1-32 They discussed whether circumcision and the keeping of the law of Moses should be imposed on Gentile believers. The conference concluded, under guidance from the Holy Spirit, that circumcision was not required of Gentiles. They also decided that there were only four requirements from the law of Moses which were important enough to be required of Gentile believers: they were to abstain from (1) food polluted by idols; (2) sexual immorality; (3) the meat of strangled animals; and (4) blood. Notably, keeping the Sabbath was not included. If it was important, surely this is the place where it really ought to have been mentioned.
Are these four requirements still binding on us today?

Paul had to instruct the believers continually not to be pressured by those who wanted to enforce the Sabbath, the feast days, and other parts of the law of Moses. Much of the letter to the Galatians concerns this problem. For example, he wrote:

But now that you know God-or rather are known by God-how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:9-11)
Why does Paul describe the law of Moses as “weak and miserable principles”?

He also instructed the believers in Rome on how to handle such controversies:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters . . . One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. (Romans 14:1-6)

Notice that it is not wrong to want to keep the Sabbath, but it is not required. We should not argue about such opinions.


The Sabbath was introduced to help the Israelites in their worship and to remind them that God created all things and rested on the seventh day. On the Sabbath day, the people of Israel were to abstain from their usual work, and use the time for God. In Christ, we are no longer required to keep the Sabbath, or the other parts of the law of Moses.


1. Read Matthew 5:17-19. How do you understand this comment of Jesus in the light of the many passages which state that keeping the law is no longer required?
2. Read Isaiah 58. The Jews were apparently fasting, keep­ing the Sabbath and the feast days, but God was unhappy with their worship. What should they have been doing? What lessons are there for us?
3. God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath to help them in their worship. Although we are not commanded to keep the Sabbath, what can we learn from the practice? What changes will you make in your own life as a result of this study? Be specific!


1. Apart from the seventh day, there were other “Sabbaths”. Use a concordance to find out what they were.
2. Nine of the “ten commandments” are reaffirmed in the New Testament. Find one New Testament verse re­affirming each of the nine commandments.
3. How would you answer a person who insisted that only those who keep the Sabbath will be in God’s kingdom?
4. Read Hebrews 3:7-4:11.
(a) What was the “rest” that God said the children of Israel would never enter?
(b) What is the “rest” that we can enter?
(c) What does Hebrews 4:10 mean?


• Sunday and the Sabbath by Michael Ashton (published by The Christadelphian). 16 pages.
• BB Study 9.6.
• Wrested scriptures by Ron Abel (published by The Chris­tadelphians, Pasadena). Pages 39-42 deal with passages about the Sabbath that are frequently misinterpreted.


7. Creation
10. Worship
35. The sacrifice of Jesus
36. The Lord’s Supper
45. The kingdom of God

 
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