SHOULD CHRISTIANS OBSERVE THE SABBATH?
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
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
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
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
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:-
worship of Angels (Col
observance of the ordinances of circumcision, meat, drink, holy day, new moon
and a sabbath (Col
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
The True Meaning Of
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:
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).
2:15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments
contained in ordinances; (KJV)
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)
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
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.
cannot kindle fire in their habitation on the Sabbath (Ex 35:3).
cannot gather sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36).
cannot carry any burden on the Sabbath (Neh 13: 15-22).
only walk a certain distance (about five furlongs) on the Sabbath. It is called
‘a sabbath day’s journey’ (Acts 1:12).
to make offerings every sabbath (Num 28:9-10).
person who worked on the Sabbath and profaned it would be put to death (Ex 31:
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
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.
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).
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
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).