CHAPTER 15: Answering some key arguments and questions
previous chapters, we learnt that influential Christians in the post-apostolic
era decried the Sabbath as a redundant Jewish tradition and promoted Sunday—the
Lord’s Day—as the new Christian feast day. Other erroneous teachings included
the claim that Jesus abolished the Ten Commandments, thereby rendering literal
Sabbath-keeping unnecessary. Today, the legacy remains, for the majority of
Christians keep Sunday as their day of rest. However, there are also those who
hark back to the Lutheran argument that all days are alike and that any day can
be observed in honour of God.
chapter, we shall use the Bible to address some of the key arguments and a
number of common questions.
15.2 Argument 1: The Sabbath
is a redundant Jewish tradition
established the Sabbath at creation (Gen 2:1–3), two thousand years before the
emergence of the Jewish nation, and two and a half thousand years before His
delivery of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Even after He chose a holy nation
for Himself—a people who would enter into a covenantal relationship with Him
(Ex 19:5–6)—He continued to extend the Sabbath blessing to those Gentiles who
knew Him through their interactions with His people. This point is evidenced in
the detail of the Fourth Commandment: “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 manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your
cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates (Ex 20:10).
God’s ultimate will was for all of mankind to return to Him and to keep His
Sabbaths. Therefore, the Book of Isaiah prophesies of a time when salvation
would extend to the Gentiles:
sons of the foreigner
themselves to the Lord, to serve Him,
love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—
who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
fast My covenant—
I will bring to My holy mountain,
them joyful in My house of prayer.
burnt offerings and their sacrifices
accepted on My altar;
house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
the new heavens and the new earth
will make shall remain before Me,” says the Lord,
your descendants and your name remain.
shall come to pass
one New Moon to another,
one Sabbath to another,
shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord.
apostle Paul describes this aspect of God’s plan as a mystery—one that was finally
revealed to the early church, and which continues to be fulfilled to this day
(Col 1:26–27). Therefore, far from being a redundant Jewish tradition, the
Sabbath has become a blessing to “all flesh”, where people of different
backgrounds come before God “from one Sabbath to another”.
15.3 Argument 2: Christians
should observe the Lord’s Day
15.3.1 Origin of the term
early as the first century, many Christians have been interpreting the term
“the Lord’s Day” to mean Sunday, attributing its origin to Revelation 1:10
which records the following words of John: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s
Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet”. However, there are
at least two problems with such a view.
problem is that nowhere in the Book of Revelation does John equate the Lord’s
Day with the first day of the week—the day of Jesus resurrection. Moreover, in
his other book, the Gospel of John, he refers to Sunday as simply “the first
day of the week” (Jn 20:1, 19).
problem relates to the setting of Revelation. The book states that John was “in
the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10; cf. 4:2). In other words, the Holy
Spirit transported him into the spiritual realm, to witness “the things which
are, and the things which will take place” (Rev 1:19). These included the
Lord’s pronouncement upon the seven churches (chapters 1–3) and visions of an
eschatological nature (chapters 6–22). In light of this, it would be more
appropriate to interpret the Lord’s Day as the day of divine judgment. This
would tally with the concept of a fearsome “Day of the Lord” that is already
well documented in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament prophetic books
(e.g. Isa 2:12; 13:9; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11; Amos 5:18; Obad
1:15; Zeph 1:14; see also 2 Pet 3:10).
15.3.2 Did Jesus’ disciples
commemorate the resurrection?
argument relating to the need to observe Sunday in commemoration of Jesus’
resurrection is that this is allegedly what the disciples did (cf. Lk 24:33–51;
Jn 20:19–23). Proponents point to an account in Luke where two followers
returned to Jerusalem to proclaim news of the risen Lord to a gathering of the
eleven disciples: “So they rose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and
found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together” (Lk 24:33).
question is, had the eleven disciples actually gathered in worship that Sunday?
The Book of John indicates not: “Then, the same day at evening, being the first
day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled,
for fear of the Jews…” (Jn 20:19). The reason they were together was because
they were frightened. Furthermore, we note that many of the disciples remained sceptical about Jesus’ resurrection, despite having heard
the news from others (Lk 24:11). It is hardly plausible, then, that they were
holding a service to commemorate, or even to celebrate, the event. It was only
later, when Jesus appeared to all of them, that they truly believed and
rejoiced (Lk 24:36–43; Jn 20:19–29; 21:1–14).
15.3.3 Did Paul and the believers in Troas observe the Lord’s Day?
biblical passage that is commonly cited in support of the Lord’s Day is Acts
20:7–12. However, it is important that we look carefully at the context of the
event. The passage records that Paul had been in Troas for a week as part of
his third missionary journey and was preparing to leave. On the day before his
departure, which was the first day of the week, the disciples gathered to break
bread, and Paul took the opportunity to encourage them
point to note is that the account depicts a farewell fellowship, not a routine
service. This is evidenced by the fact that Paul was “ready to depart the next
day” (Acts 20:7). As it transpired, the fellowship lasted until daybreak on
Monday (Acts 20:11)—longer than could be expected for a regular service.
point is that the breaking of bread took place after midnight (Acts 20:7, 11).
As Troas was a Gentile region, this would have been reckoned as Monday morning.
Therefore, assuming that the breaking of bread in this context was the Holy
Communion sacrament (as opposed to a simple fellowship meal), it did not
actually take place on Sunday at all.
we can be confident that if the believers were partaking of the holy sacrament,
Paul would have taught them to do so in commemoration of Jesus’ death, not His
resurrection (1 Cor 11:24–26).
of the above, there is nothing to suggest that the disciples at Troas were commemorating
Jesus’ resurrection through a newly established holy day, namely the Lord’s
Day. Rather, the evidence points to the nature of the occasion as being one of
a farewell fellowship in honour of Paul.
15.3.4 Did Paul instruct the church in Corinth to keep the Lord’s
Corinthians 16:1–2 simply records Paul instructing the Corinthian believers to
set aside a portion of their earnings on the first day of the week so that
there would be a fund ready for dispatch to needy believers in Jerusalem by the
time of his next visit (see Rom 15:26). There is no mention that he asked them
to do this during a service.
15.3.5 Is the Lord’s Day a
Bible, we can find no teaching, either from Jesus or from the apostles,
concerning the need to keep the Lord’s Day in commemoration of His
resurrection. Moreover, there is no basis for the elevation of Sunday above the
Sabbath, despite the seemingly authoritative arguments that emerged in the
argument is that Sunday took on a new significance when Jesus resurrected and
appeared to His disciples. However, the counter-argument is that the Bible was
merely documenting the fulfilment of prophecy and
nothing else—the fact that Jesus would die and rise again after three days (Mt
12:38–40; Lk 18:33; Jn 2:19–22; 1 Cor 15:4). In any case, after His first
appearance on the Sunday, Jesus continued to show Himself to His disciples on
other occasions: eight days later, on a Tuesday (Jn 20:26); on an unspecified
day (Jn 21:1, 14); over a period of “forty days” (Acts 1:3).
says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in
heaven” (Mt 7:21). To be saved, we must do God’s will. It entails that we keep
His commandments faithfully and not follow the traditions of man.
which you will, either the fathers or the moderns, and we shall find no Lord’s day instituted by any apostolical
mandate; no Sabbath set on foot by them upon the first day of the week.
Peter Heylyn, History of
the Sabbath, 1636
ecclesiastical writer of the first three centuries attributed the origin of
Sunday observance either to Christ or to his apostles.
William Domville, The
An Examination of the Six Texts,
15.4 Argument 3: Jesus
abolished the Law to usher in an era of grace
this argument, we need to consider three related matters: the Bible’s teachings
concerning grace, the Law, and the Ten Commandments.
15.4.1 The Bible’s teaching
for “grace” in the New Testament Bible is the Greek word charis—a
word that signifies “unearned and unmerited favour”. This is a particularly
fitting description for that aspect of God’s work which underpins the whole
Christian faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not
of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”
(Eph 2:8–9); “…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not
according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was
given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Tim 1:9).
is clear that we have been saved on account of God’s grace. Salvation is His
free and merciful gift; we did nothing to earn it. God bestowed it when He sent
His beloved Son to die for us and to shed His blood. The outcome is that we are
now justified through faith in Jesus Christ.
[B]eing justified freely by His grace through the redemption
that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be 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, to demonstrate at the
present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the
one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what
law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.
the Bible is equally clear that grace through faith in no way relinquishes our
practical obligations towards God. On the contrary, faith entails action. This
is well illustrated by the fact that when God invites us to accept salvation
through the gospel, we are required to respond in the appropriate manner: to
repent, receive water baptism and to ask for the infilling of the Holy Spirit
(Acts 2:38; Lk 11:13). In short, grace only becomes ours when we manifest our
after entering into God’s salvation, we have a duty to press onward and upwards
by keeping God’s commandments and living a fruitful and holy life (Mt 19:17; Jn
15:8; 1 Pet 1:15–16). His commandments include the Ten Commandments in their
entirety. When we live proactively in this way, we reveal our Christian faith:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith
without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas 2:18).
15.4.2 The Bible’s teaching
concerning the Law
the issue of whether Jesus abolished the Law, there is no clearer answer than
His own words, which are recorded in the Book of Matthew:
think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy
but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away,
one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches
men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and
teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ words, we note two points: He came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. The word for “fulfil”
in Greek is pleroo
and has various nuances of meaning, including to “make full”, “complete”, and
“make perfect”. Knowing this helps us to
understand a couple of key points.
Jesus fulfilled the Law by making it complete. He did this by realizing those
aspects that had been a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5; cf.
10:1). These were the rules governing the religious life of the Israelites and
concerned matters such as the tabernacle (Ex 25–31), offerings (Lev 1–7), clean
and unclean animals (Lev 11), purification (Lev 12–15), the priesthood (Lev
21–22) and festivals (Lev 23). They also included the ceremonial laws of the
Sabbath—the offerings (Num 28:9–10) and the setting out of showbread (Lev
24:5–8). All these pointed to the work of salvation that would be accomplished
by Jesus, including His establishment of the church (Heb 8:2; 9:11). Hence, the
writer of Hebrews explains that some parts of the Law were “concerned only with
foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the
time of reformation” (Heb 9:10)—the time of reformation being the coming of
Christ. Likewise, Paul describes these as “a shadow of things to come, but the
substance is of Christ” (Col 2:17).
Jesus fulfilled the Law by making it full and perfect. He did this by making
clear its spirit—specifically those aspects to do with our moral obligations
towards God and man. Hence, during His ministry, He expounded on God’s
commandments—including the Ten Commandments (Mt 19:17–19)—to reveal their
meaning at a more profound level and to highlight the fact that God now requires
us to keep them from within our hearts (e.g. Mt 5–7). In terms of the Fourth
Commandment, Jesus showed us through His personal example and teachings a
number of important truths: the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the
Sabbath (Mk 2:27); it is a day for doing good to
others (Mt 12:12); God desires mercy over sacrifice (Mt 12:7); He is Lord of
the Sabbath (Mt 12:8).
summary, far from abolishing the Law, Jesus fulfilled it through His work of
salvation and by making clear the spirit of God’s commandments. The Bible
reveals that, under the new covenant, God has placed His laws inside our hearts
through the Holy Spirit, and no longer in writing as in times past (Heb 8:10;
Ezek 36:27). His will is that we submit to the Spirit, so “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 8:4).
15.4.3 The Bible’s teaching
concerning the Ten Commandments
important to reiterate that Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments. From
the Bible, we understand that they constitute a special element of God’s Law.
Indeed, their unique status was first indicated through His writing of them
with His own finger onto tablets of stone (Ex 31:18) and His instructions to
Moses to place them within the ark of the covenant (Deut 10:2). It is
particularly significant that, thousands of years later, the Holy Spirit
enabled the apostle John to glimpse the ark in a vision of the heavenly
temple—God’s true church (Rev 11:19). These truths reveal that the Ten
Commandments remain binding on God’s people until the end of time. Importantly,
for our purpose, they are simple to keep and do not carry the curse associated
with the old covenantal Law. For this reason, elder James refers to them as the
“law of liberty” and exhorts believers to live by them (Jas 2:12).
conclusion, the Fourth Commandment—the Sabbath commandment—still applies today.
What do not apply are the regulations and the penalty of death for
transgression. Jesus Christ has ushered us into a period of grace and spiritual
maturity, whereby we no longer need the letter of the Mosaic Law to teach us in
detail how to keep the Sabbath (Gal 3:24–25). What God now requires of us is to
keep this holy day from our heart, in sincerity and faith.
15.5 Argument 4: Jesus has
fulfilled the Sabbath rest
compelling and often heard argument is that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath rest
and rendered literal Sabbath-keeping unnecessary. Here, the fulfilment
is interpreted as the complete realization of the Old Testament shadow. Those
who hold this view are apt to cite those famous words of Jesus: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give
you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for
I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt
one would argue against the biblical teaching that Jesus has given believers
spiritual rest—rest not only from the need to strive for our own righteousness
through the keeping of the Mosaic Law (Rom 3:20–22; Gal 2:16), but also from
the bondage of sin and death (Rom 8:2)—we cannot conclude that this equates to
the realization of the Sabbath, nor its obsolescence. This is because the Bible
is clear that there is a Sabbath that remains to be fulfilled. The writer of
remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest
has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be
diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of
original Greek word for “rest” is sabbatismos, which refers to the
heavenly rest that awaits victorious Christians—the time when they can lay down
their earthly labours once and for all. The writer
therefore exhorts his Christian readers—those who have already accepted Christ
as their Saviour—to be “diligent to enter that rest”
through obedience to God (Heb 4:11). The fact of the matter is, by keeping the
Sabbath rest here on earth, we are reminded that there will be a future sabbatismos in
heaven, and that we need to prepare for it through spiritual cultivation (2 Pet
who argue that Jesus has already fulfilled the Sabbath also point to Colossians
2:16–17: “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a
festival or a new moon or sabbaths,
which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” They
infer from this passage that Jesus, being the substance, has done away with the
shadow, which is the Sabbath itself. For this reason, they say that believers
can no longer be judged for non-observance. However, such a view sits neither
well with Paul’s own custom of Sabbath-keeping (Acts 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2;
18:4), nor with the Bible’s teaching concerning a future heavenly rest (Heb
therefore important that we clarify the context of Paul’s words. The point is,
he was writing to address an issue of heresy at Colosse
which involved the “commandments and doctrines of men” (Col 2:22) and which had
“an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect
of the body” (Col 2:23). It appears that some Christians were promoting a brand
of religion that combined Mosaic traditions (Col 2:11–14) with ascetic
principles (Col 2:21) and were criticizing others for not adhering to it. It
was therefore incumbent upon Paul to point out that the written Law was merely
a shadow of Jesus. It was a shadow in one sense because it pointed to His
salvation work (see Heb 7–10:22) and the era of justification by faith (Gal
3:23–25). However, the Law was a shadow in another sense because Jesus revealed
the deeper meaning of the moral element—including the Sabbath commandment—to
help us be clearer about what God requires of us in this time of grace.
Paul was not speaking against the need for the Sabbath itself. Rather, he was
pointing out that we no longer need to keep the regulations of the Mosaic Law.
15.6 Argument 5: All days
Christians cite Romans 14:5–6 to make the point that all days are alike and
that they are free to dedicate to God whichever day they choose. However, they
fail to grasp that this biblical passage does not address the matter of the
Sabbath at all, but rather an issue relating to food and drink.
in the church at Rome was that some believers regarded all food as fit and
proper to eat, while others—whom Paul described as “weak in the
faith”—abstained from foods they considered to be unclean (Rom 14:1–2, 14,
20–21). In Romans 14, Paul admonished the stronger believers to accept the
weaker ones (Rom 14:1) and to avoid doing anything that would make them stumble
(Rom 14:13–15, 20–21). He also urged both parties to stop judging the other (Rom
14:3–4, 10, 13) because, differences aside, everyone was motivated by the same
desire to please God (Rom 14:6).
14:6, Paul spoke particularly about observing “the day” alongside the matters
of eating and not eating. This leads us to understand that the day (or days)
was either a fast day or a feast day, although we cannot be sure of its exact
nature. In other words, some
believers appeared to have had a custom of fasting or feasting on certain days,
while others did not. This explains Paul’s words: “One person esteems one day
above another; another esteems every day alike” (Rom 14:5).
Paul’s conclusion? He said that, while personal convictions about food,
abstention and other related matters were all very well, they should never cause
offence to others (Rom 14:21). Importantly, believers have a duty to pursue
peace: “[F]or the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and
peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).
15.7 Argument 6: We do not
need to keep days, months, seasons and years
to the Galatians was for a Gentile church, for Paul says they were
uncircumcised (Gal 5:2; 6:12–13) and used to worship false gods (Gal 4:8). His
purpose in writing was to reprimand them for turning away from Jesus to a “different
gospel” (Gal 1:6) that was being taught by false teachers who wanted to
“pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:7). The latter advocated works of the Law
(Gal 3; 5:4), including circumcision (Gal 5:2; 6:12–13), as requirements for
4:10, Paul addressed an outcome of the false teachings which was the believers’
observance of “days and months and seasons and years”. These were the Jewish
festivals which were integral to the Mosaic Law and included the Passover, the
Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Day of Atonement, the Sabbath Year and
the Year of Jubilee and so forth. By adhering to this Jewish calendar, the
Galatian converts were giving up their liberty which came from believing in
Christ in exchange for enslavement to the Mosaic ordinances, hence Paul’s
rebuke: “But now after you have known God…how is it that you turn again to the
weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal
4:9). The ordinances were deemed “weak and beggarly elements” because of their
inability to bring about man’s justification before God (Gal 2:16).
important to point out that Paul was not talking about the weekly Sabbath,
which is part of the Ten Commandments—God’s enduring and timeless laws for all
believers. Jesus says we need to keep these in order to “enter into life” (Mt
© January 2012
True Jesus Church.