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Should Christians Observe the Sabbath
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The Misconception

Basing on a misunderstanding of Colossians 2:16, Sunday-keeping Christians claim that the Sabbath observance is only under the Law. Unlike the Jews in the Old Testament, Christians are now under Grace and need not keep the Sabbath. Colossians 2:16-17 reads:

“Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (NASB)

The laws ‘are a mere shadow of what is to come’ but ‘the sub-stance belongs to Christ’. Since salvation has been completed by Christ Jesus on the cross, the shadow vanishes and with it the keeping of the Sabbath.

Among the various sophistical arguments for the abolition of the Sabbath, the one basing on Cobssians 2:16-17 seems very convincing. If the argument is sound, it would appear that the Apostle Paul was against the observance of the Sabbath by Christians. But if this was not the actual belief of Paul, then it is certain that these people are distorting the truth in the Scriptures to fit their Sunday-keeping practice.

Did Paul Preach The Abolition Of The Sabbath?

When the Gentiles accepted Christianity, the early church encountered the problem of whether or not they should be circumcised. In order to resolve this controversy once for all, the Apostles and the Elders met at the Council of Jerusalem. After heated debates it was finally decided that circumcision was unnecessary for Christians (Acts 15:1-20). Paul emphatically declared, “Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, hut what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Cor 7:18-19) He expounded that baptism which is ‘a circumcision made without hands’ had replaced the physical circumcision (Col 2:11-12). Because of this abolition, the cross of Jesus Christ has been the constant target of fierce attacks by the Jewish Christians, and Paul himself had been severely persecuted for his unrestraint opinions (Gal 5:11; 6:12). The Holy Bible records those events unreservedly.

Circumcision was a covenant made between God and Abraham (Gen 17:9-14), and was later incorporated into the Mosaic Law (Lev 12:3). However it was never part of the Ten Commandments. The observance of the Sabbath, one of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11), was written on tables of stone by God Himself (Ex 31:18). Had Paul actually advocated that the Sabbath was abolished, his persecution would have been much greater than what he had been receiving for advocating the annulment of circumcision. Yet, there is not a single verse in the whole of the New Testament stating or even indicating that he was persecuted for advocating the abolition of the Sabbath. The Bible does not even mention that the Sabbath has been replaced by Sunday. This fact alone leaves us in doubt as to whether all the Sunday-keeping Christians insistence on the abolition of the Sabbath may be valid after all.

When Paul and Silas had travelled through Amphipolis and Appollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And ‘according to Paul’s custom’, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ”. Note it was Paul’s custom to keep the Sabbath; regularly as a matter of practice. We can be certain that Paul could never have suggested the abolition of the Sabbath when he himself observed it. Any assertion then that Paul preached the abolition of the of the Sabbath is not consistent with Paul’s own regular Sabbath observance, otherwise it would appear that Paul contradicted himself.

Some ingeniously contended that Paul entered the synagogue on the three successive Sabbaths to reason with the Jews out of the Scriptures, but not to observe the Sabbath. However one must not ignore the important fact that Paul on numerous other Occasions also entered a synagogue on the Sabbath. That his audience comprises not only the Jews but also the Gentiles would support the historical fact that the early Christians congregated and worshipped on the Sabbath. (Acts 13:42-44). And when they met in the synagogue on the Sabbath, of course, Paul had to preach to them. Clearly then, Paul’s preaching in the synagogue was part of his Sabbath observance as a minister. The other records of his Sabbath-keeping habit are found in Acts 13:14; 18:4, and the one in Thessalonica is found in Acts 17:1-3.

Are The Ten Commandments Binding On Christians?

Sincere and pious Christians would ‘never say that they would worship other gods; bow down before a graven image; take the name of the Lord in vain; dishonour their father and mother; kill; commit adultery; steal; bear false witness; or covet other people’s goods. We are quite sure that no true ministers will teach their believers to break these Commandments of God. But if someone teaches you that you need only to observe nine commandments leaving out the fourth one, would it not be foolish of you to follow him if he gives no scriptural support? It may surprise you to know that millions of Christians through sheer ignorance or religious bigotry today are flagrantly breaking God’s Commandment by not observing the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday).

In the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Mt 5:17-18). The following statement is in a more serious tone: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”. (vs 19) Beware therefore, of those who teach that the Commandments of God have been done away with.

There are two sets of law in the Old Testament, which must be clearly distinguished. One is the Ceremonial Law which is a shadow of what is to come, while the other, the Moral Law contained in the Ten Commandments. It is not too difficult to understand that the Ten Commandments are binding on man, whereas the Ceremonial Law is only of a specific, temporal and spatial nature; binding only on the Nation of Israel. As the Ceremonial Law, the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us, was taken out of the way and nailed to the cross (Cot 2:14), they are no longer binding on Christians who have been united with the Lord Jesus Christ through baptism. In the Old Testament times, the people were unable to keep the Ten Commandments fully because of the weakness of the flesh (Rom 3:20; 8:3). In the New Testament times, however, the Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to aid us in keeping and observing all the Commandments (Rom 8:1-4; Eze 36:26-27; Heb 10:15-16).

It is evident that the Lord intended the Ceremonial Law and its Ordinances to be transient in nature so as to foreshadow better thing to come. Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Christ completed the work of salvation. The ordinances which were against us were thus abolished (Heb 91-10), but the Moral Law as contained in the Ten Commandments are still binding on God’s chosen people in the New Testament as it were for the Israelites in the Old Testament.

Under Grace, the Christian is expected to keep the Ten Commandments even more perfectly (Mt 5:20-48). The Ten Commandments can be divided into two parts; the first four stipulates the duties of man toward God, and the remaining six, man’s moral duties toward his fellowmen. It is only natural that any Christian who truly loves God will not break the first four commandments any more than he will violate the other six commandments if he loves his fellowmen. Jesus explained that loving God and loving man are the bases of the Ten Commandments (Mt 22:37-40). Love, man’s moral obligation towards God and men, is embodied in the Ten Commandments. All Christians are morally bound by the Ten Commandments to love the Lord and follow Him. (Lk 4:16). One should never break the Ten Commandments and therefore the sanctity of the Sabbath must be upheld (ref Gen 2:2-3).

The Historical Background Of The ColossianChurch

A brief background knowledge of the ColossianChurch is perhaps necessary to enable us to grasp the significance of the controversy surrounding the Sabbath. Notably, most of the Christians there were formerly heathens (Col 1:21,27; 2:13). When Paul was imprisoned, Epaphras, one of the early church workers came to visit him and reported of the heresies which had infiltrated the Colossian Church (Col 1:7-8; 4:12.13,18). Though personally unacquainted with the Colossians (2:1). Paul wrote them this letter denouncing the heresies, and exhorting them not to be deluded by persuasive arguments contrary to the truth.

While Church Historians unanimously believe that both the heretical sects; the Gnostics and the Jewish Essenes. stepped up their insidious activities during that time, they did not agree as to which exactly accounts for the Colossian Heresy. We may not label it precisely, and the prevail­ing syncretism of Jewish legalism. Greek philosophy and Oriental mysticism makes it unlikely that it was purely Jewish in origin. Some feel that it was probably a Judaistic form of Gnosticism, because the Essenes were not found outside Palestine prior to 70 AD.

Be that as it may, the issues raised certainly bear a striking resemblance to Essenism. The Essenes, a Jewish religious community, devote much of their time to the study of moral and religious matters, leading ascetic lives of ceremonial purity even more rigorous than those of the Pharisees. They strictly practise celibacy, abstention from animal sacrifice, and preach the doctrine of salvation by works. Paul often labelled them as ‘false teachers’ (Col 2:16, fl,23). Here are some of their heretical teachings:-

1.        The worship of Angels (Col 2:18).

2.        The observance of the ordinances of circumcision, meat, drink, holy day, new moon and a sabbath (Col 2:11,16).

3.        The advocation of Asceticism (Col 2:20-23).

Paul called these heresies ‘philosophy and empty deceit’, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ (Col 2:8). Paul warned the Cotossian Church that Christians are no longer under the Law, and that they should not allow anyone to judge them for not observing the ordinances pertaining to meat, drink, holy day, new moon and sabbath days. These ordinances have been abolished when Christ died on the cross.

The True Meaning Of Colossians 2:16

In the foregoing paragraphs, we have proven that Colossians 2:16 cannot be used as a ground to support the belief that the Sabbath has been done away with. It is important to note that the correct interpretation of this verse will not only enable the Sunday-keeping Christians to follow the truth but also the Sabbath-keeping ones who retain Judaic traditions.

First of all, a careful analysis will show that the misconception of this verse; Colossians 2:16, resulted from reading it out of context. In verses eleven to thirteen, Paul expounded the Doctrine of Circumcision made without hands, or baptism. In verse fourteen he explained that when Christ was crucified, He cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and are hostile to us. In the King James Version it is stated that the Lord Jesus nailed to the cross the ‘handwriting of ordinances’. The word ‘ordinances’, ‘Hukkim’ in the Hebrew language means religious rites and formalistics ceremonies in the Mosaic and Rabbinic tradition.

This word ‘ordinances’ occurs elsewhere in the New Testament:

(a)      Luke 1:6 And they (Zacharias and Elizabeth) were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (KJV) Here John the Baptist’s parents were blameless in regard to religious ceremonies. No one can be blame-less in keeping the Moral Law (Phil 3:6; with Rom 7:18-24; 8:3-4).

(b)      Ephesians 2:15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of com­mandments contained in ordinances; (KJV)

(c)      Colossians 2:20 Wherefore if ye he dead with the Christ from the rudiments of the world,  why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,…(KJV)

(d)      Hebrews 9:1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. (KJV)

(e)      Hebrews 9.10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. (KJV)

Undoubtedly, the ‘bond’ (Greek — cheirographon) used in the Revised Standard Version, refers to the Ceremonial Law, which Jesus abolished when He died on the cross. But it would be ill-advised to suggest that the Ten Commandments, the binding Moral Law were abolished.

Colossians 2:15 describes how the Lord triumphed over the principalities and powers, namely not only the powers on earth and in heaven, but the carnal ordinances. Because of the Lord’s supreme authority and power, the carnal ordinances could no longer pose a threat to the believers under His Grace.

For Colossians 2:16; clearly we have to associate the ‘meat, drink, holyday, new moon and sabbath days’ with the ordinances or the ceremonial laws. The ‘sabbath day’ listed with all the other Mosaic regulations are related to the Ceremonial Law; the ordinances pertaining to the Sabbath, instead of the indisputable itself.

If we examine the ordinances relating to the Sabbath observance, we will find how the Jews were hound by regulations which were rigid and complex.

(f)       They cannot kindle fire in their habitation on the Sabbath (Ex 35:3).

(g)      They cannot gather sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36).

(h)      They cannot carry any burden on the Sabbath (Neh 13: 15-22).

(i)        They can only walk a certain distance (about five furlongs) on the Sabbath. It is called ‘a sabbath day’s journey’ (Acts 1:12).

(j)        They have to make offerings every sabbath (Num 28:9-10).

(k)      Any person who worked on the Sabbath and profaned it would be put to death (Ex 31: 14-15).

All these ordinances relating to the Sabbath observance are inseparable from the legalistic manner of eating and drinking which Paul referred to in Cobssians 2:14. as ‘carnal ordinances’. Thank God, Christ nailed them altogether on the cross. For this reason, no one can judge us if we do not keep these ordinances in our observance of the Sabbath.

How Should Christians Observe The Sabbath?


It is flow very clear that Colossians 2:16 does not teach Christians not to observe the Sabbath but actually teaches them not to give opportunity for others to judge them by carnal ordinances attached to the Sabbath. Christians who are now no longer under the Mosaic Law but under Grace, should observe the Sabbath of Grace and be free from all the cumbersome restrictions and frightful punishments ascribed to the ordinances. Although the Sabbath of Grace is observed on the seventh day (Saturday), which is on the same day as the Sabbath of Law, its significance and method of observance differ greatly from that of the Old Testament Sabbath. Under Grace, Christians have to keep the Sabbath in the way God originally intended for man; freedom, joy and peace.

On many occasions, Jesus preached and healed the sick on the Sabbath day. His actions provoked the Jews (Lk 13:10-14; Jn 5:10-18). Many of the Jews in His days, were so legalistic and bigotted that they went out and took counsel against him and sought to destroy him for healing on the Sabbath day (Jn 9:13-16, 24: Mt 12:14). The Lord answered them; “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath” (Mt 12:11-12).

On another occasion, after healing a woman with the spirit of infirmity, he was questioned by the ruler of the synagogue. Jesus replied, “You hyprocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan hound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk 13:15-16).

Today many Sunday-keeping Christians have violated the fourth commandment and yet tried to pass judgement on the true Christians who observe the Sabbath of grace. The Lord Jesus certainly desires them to correct themselves, so that they can face the Lord on the Day of Judgement.

To reiterate the significance of Colossjans 2:16, let all Christians remember that the Lord Jesus Christ has never abolished the Sabbath. He abolished the onerous ordinances and challenged the legal severity; the letter of the Sabbath observance, advocated by the Pharisees and the Scribes. Let us endeavour to follow Jesus example: “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and He went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day” (Lk 4:16).

The Pharisees were always ready to pick faults with Jesus. When they failed to find fault in Him they picked on His disciples. One day they complained against the disciples who plucked corn on the Sabbath day; “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” (Mk 2:23-24). The Lord replied, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). This indicated that what the Pharisees mistakenly thought unlawful was in fact lawful. Due to the misconception of the Sabbath observance, the Pharisees were dictated by the Law that ‘man was made for the Sabbath’, a dictum antithetical to our Lord’s; ‘the Sabbath was made for man’. We must not allow ourselves to be dictated and enslaved by the strict Sabbatical ordinances.

The very word ‘Sabbath’ means rest, both spiritually and physically. One would fail to obtain true rest if he is still bound by the legal demands. And so the object and the meaning of the Sabbath are completely lost. The Lord did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it, and to show Christians how the Sabbath should be observed (Mt 5:17). Since the Son of Man is the Lord also of the Sabbath, all Christians should observe the Sabbath. In response to the Sunday-keeping friends’ claim that the Sabbath is only for the Jews and not for the Christians. we would remind them that the Lord not only referred to the Jews but to all mankind when He said; “The Sabbath was made for man”. When God had created the Universe and thereafter rested on Sabbath day. He did it not only for the Jews but for ‘man’ especially for those who would come to Christ. who will give them the Eternal Sabbath (Mt 11:28-29).

Is The Sabbath Merely A Shadow?

Many fail to grasp the typological significance and the basic difference between the words ‘shadow’ and ‘substance’. To give a simple illustration; the Passover Lamb in the Old Testament foreshadows or prefigures the ‘substance’, which is Jesus Himself (1 Cor 5:7-8). When Christ sacrificed himself on the cross for us, the ‘shadow’ became the ‘substance’. While the Passover Lamb is no longer used, the ‘substance’, which is the ‘bread’ in the Holy Communion, continues to be used in the church today. By the same token, we can safely hold that whilst the Sabbatical ordinances have been abolished, the Sabbath itself remains.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that the chosen people of God in the Wilderness could not enter into His rest because of their unbelief (Heb 3:16-19). Christians today must fully understand and keep God’s Sabbath rest, so that they will not fall into the same disbelief as the Israelites. God gave the Sabbath to man because lie wants His people to enjoy the physical and spiritual rest in this world as a foretaste of the Everlasting rest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Unfortunately, innumerable Christians are oblivious to the true Sabbath. Irresponsible church leaders are preaching against the Sabbath. They thought that since Jesus has come and given us rest, there is no longer any need for Christians to keep the Sabbath. This doctrine is not only foreign to the Bible but is also derogatory to the Lord’s status as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mk 2:27). We must not only accept Jesus Christ as our Lord but also His Sabbath as well.


There is absolutely no doubt as to whether Christians should observe the Sabbath. The Holy Bible makes it very plain that God’s Commandment includes the keeping of the Sabbath; which is as binding on all Christians as any of the other nine command­ments. The two prevailing extreme views can be summarised as follows:-

1.        To most of the Protestants, the Sabbath has been abolished. The Roman Catholic Church declares that she has the authority to change the day of worship from the seventh day (Saturday) to the first day of the week (Sunday).

2.        A group of Seventh-day Sabbath Christian sect maintains that the Sabbath should be observed strictly according to the Law with the ordinances. Some of them even believe that keeping this kind of Sabbath is a prerequisite of salvation.

These two views do not comply with the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation there is not a single reference to the transfer of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day. We can find no passage which sanctions the necessity of observing the day of the resurrection. Nor is there any indication that the Holy Spirit came on a certain Sunday. Those who preach or observe Sunday as a special day of worship risk worshipping God in vain, because they are teaching ‘as doctrines the precepts of men’ (Mt 15:9). They may be very enthusiastic in serving God on a day of their own choice, but “has the Lord any delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Sam 15:22)

Let our Sabbath-keeping friends who are so very concerned with the Law and the ordinances, remember that for “freedom Christ has set us free: stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Christians are saved by grace through faith, and no man is justified by works of the Law. (Gal 2:16). A person can observe the Sabbath meticulously throughout his life, yet if he does not believe in the saving grace of Jesus he cannot be justified before God.


“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary. we uphold the law” (Rom 3:31). “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (Rom 6:1-2). That a Christian is saved by grace through faith does not mean that he can throw away any of the Ten Commandments, If he does so, he becomes a sinner, because ‘sin is lawlessness’ (1 Jn 3:4). He must not only keep the Sabbath because it is the mandatory fourth commandment of God, he must also keep it according to the Lord’s teachings. On the narrow path to salvation, no Christian can afford to side-step to the right or to the left, “for the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13-14).

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