Is the Sabbath in the New Testament?

 By Elder Enoch Ofori Jnr

The label "the Jewish Sabbath" has often been applied to the seventh day. Yet nowhere in the scriptures is the 7th day referred to as such nor are we told to keep a `Jewish Sabbath’. It’s a misnomer! The 7th Day Sabbath is "the Sabbath of the LORD" (Exodus 20:10). In His own words, God calls the seventh day "My holy day" (Isa. 58: l3).

While many are quick to acknowledge that the Ten Commandments (all equally Jewish?) are reaffirmed in the New Testament, in the same breath they denounce the 4th Commandment (the 7th Day Sabbath) as having been abolished. If so, is there any scriptural proof that the 4th Commandment has somehow been removed from the Decalogue, with nine commandments remaining to be kept? 

There’s none! All the Ten Commandments, including the 7th Day Sabbath, are found in the New Testament. And Christ affirms that "the Sabbath was made for man", not just for the Jews (Mark 2:27).

But still some disagree, preferring to associate the Sabbath with the law of animal sacrifices, which foreshadowed the perfect, once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 9:26, 10:4, 12-14). Since the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, logically, that would mean treating the rest of the Decalogue the same—all abolished! But, as is easily verifiable from the scriptures, the Decalogue is both taught and endorsed in the New Testament (Luke 18:18-20; Rom. 13:8-10; Heb. 8:10-12). The fact that Christ died for our sins does not give us a license to commit murder, worship false gods or break any of the Ten Commandments which constitutes "sin" (1 John 3:4; Rom.3:31). The apostle Paul asks in alarm: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin [which is the transgression of God’s law – 1 John 3:4], that grace may abound? God forbid [‘May it never be!’ NAS]. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" Rom. 6:1-2).

The same applies to the Sabbath. "God forbid" that we should consider it okay to violate it. Why’? It’s because there’s not the slightest hint in the N.T. that the Sabbath has been cancelled from the Ten Commandments under the New Covenant.

In fact, the apostle James, referring to the Decalogue, insists: "Whoever shall keep the whole law [of which the Sabbath is part], and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10-12).  The Lord Jesus and all the early disciples kept the Sabbath – Luke 4:16, Acts 13:42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4. (Christ was only falsely accused of Sabbath breaking by the same detractors

of His who also accused Him of demon possession. If we accept one accusation, we must necessarily accept the other too).

What is more, Heb. 4:9 states: "There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (New  American Standard Version). Read that again, "There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God".

If you count yourself among the people of God, then the Sabbath is for you. This is because it’s by keeping the Sabbath in honour of God as the Creator that He sanctifies or sets apart His people from all others:

"Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Ex. 31:13 NKJV; see also Ez.20:12).

As the set-apart people of God, how do we observe the Seventh-day Sabbath in reflection of our status? God, our heavenly Father whose will we must do on earth, provides our first example of Sabbath-keeping:

"For He has said somewhere [in Gen. 2:2-3] concerning the seventh day: ‘AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS’;“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

“For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His [on the seventh day of the week after creating the world in six days].

“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that [Sabbath] rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience [shown by Sabbath breakers in the O.T.].

“For the word of God [of which the Sabbath is part] is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword … "(Heb 4:4, 9-12 NASB).

The Sabbath is a valid part of God’s New Covenant law written in the hearts of all true believers (Heb. 8:10-11; Ezekiel 36:26-27). Christ Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15, 12:24) states it plainly that He did not come to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill (Grk "pleroo" i.e. fill up, endorse, `magnify and make it honourable’- Isai. 42:21) and that till heaven and earth pass away not one jot or tittle (not even a comma) shall pass away from God’s law (Matt. 5: 17-1 8).

Against this clear pro-law stance of Christ, many others preach the abolition of God’s law. Gal. 2:16 is a favourite scripture: "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified". And yet we read in Romans chapter 2: "It is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but THE DOERS OF THE LAW WILL BE JUSTIFIED. On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Rom. 2:13, 16 NASB).

Could the Bible be contradicting itself? Not at all. The Bible is not talking about one and the same law! The former relates to the ceremonial laws (such as circumcision and animal sacrifices which could not remove sin but merely pointed to the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ), and the latter to the moral law of the Ten Commandments (1 Cor. 7:19; Heb. 9:9; Rom. 8:2; 1John 2:3).

The Jerusalem Council never called the law of God a yoke, but rather circumcision (which some were insisting the Gentile Christians undergo). Far from teaching the Gentiles to disobey God’s commandments, the council even went further to instruct them to abstain from pollutions of idols and from abominable food (Acts 15:20). In verse 21, Sabbath observance among the Gentile believers is implied in James’ statement that "Moses [meaning the O.T. scriptures, esp. the first five books, being the only scriptures tile first-century Christians knew since the N.T. had not yet been compiled] hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogue every Sabbath day." James could not have been referring to the non-Christian Jews since they were not the subject of the meeting, but the Gentile Christians being followers of the churches which were in Judea- 1 Thess. 2:14. (Please read Isaiah 56:1-5).

Acts 20:7 is not a reference to a Sunday morning service. It was a meeting held in the evening– as evidenced by the "many lights" in the chamber (verse 8) — apparently after or as a continuation of the main Sabbath service.

As the context (chapter 20 in its entirety) clearly shows, it was to all intents and purposes a `farewell party’ held in honour of the Apostle Paul who the disciples would see no more. Why a Saturday evening event (called "Motza’ ei Shabbat" in Hebrew, meaning "departure of the Sabbath") is described as having taken place on a Sunday is that in the Bible a new day begins at sunset and ends the same (Gen. 1:5; Lev 23:32).

Rather than keeping the first day (Sunday) as ‘Sabbath", Paul actually used the light part of the day to travel to Assos (Acts 20:1 1-13).

Neither does 1 Cor. 16:1-2 offer proof of Sunday observance among the early Christians. On the contrary, there’s every indication that, instead of the first day being used for formal worship, it was a day routinely used for the business matters of the Church. Paul’s instruction to the

Corinthian believers expressly stated:

"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come".

What was the background to Paul’s instruction? What did those "gatherings" consist of? And why did he want them taken care of before his coming?

Picking on the word "collection" many commentators have assumed that "the collection for the saints" referred to offering taken during church services on Sunday! The order "to lay … in store" itself contradicts such an idea, as do several background scriptures throwing light on the matter. It was not an offering of money at all but food items for the saints at Jerusalem.

In Acts 11:28-29, we read of a famine in Judea, earlier prophesied by the prophet Agabus, which necessitated that assistance be sought from the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem believers. In a time of widespread famine, money would count for little. Thus in response to Paul’s appeal, food formed the main portion of the relief sent by the Gentile Churches (2 Cor. 8 and 9; Acts 24:17).

In Rom. 15:25-28, which reports one such relief organized by the Assemblies in Macedonia and Achaia, St Paul specifically uses the word "fruit" to refer to the donation made by the believers there to the "poor saints which are at Jerusalem".

Putting it all together, it can be understood that the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the Gentile Churches had nothing to do with formal worship on Sunday and everything to do with "laying aside" and "gathering" up supplies for the saints in Jerusalem.

Now, we can see why Paul didn’t want them to engage in any “gatherings” when he came over to worship with them! Because he would be worshipping with them on the Sabbath, any such work would be a violation of the Sabbath.

Clearly, then, the sanctity of the Sabbath was uppermost in the mind of Paul when he gave his instruction to the Gentile Churches.

The fact has been established beyond doubt: Sunday was an ordinary working day for the first-century believers, and that’s plainly underlined in Paul’s carefully worded instruction. For the one-and-half years he stayed in Corinth, he consistently observed the Sabbath, for "he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks" (Acts 18:4-11).

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself during His earthly ministry, was a habitual Sabbath-keeper, and He left us His example to follow: "And He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as His custom [Gr. "etho" manner, wont, habit, convention] was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read" (Luke 4:16).

Having learnt of Christ in all aspects of His life (1 Cor. I 1: 1; 1 Pet 2:21; I John 2:6) explains why Paul was such an avid Sabbath-keeper (Acts 17:2)! Even in places where there were no synagogues or Christian assemblies, he still found it worthwhile to observe the Sabbath (Acts 16:13).

Surely, we are "built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20). So why not follow their example by also observing the Sabbath as they did?

Rather than a burden, the Sabbath commandment is a law of love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3 NKJV; see also John 14:15).

To those who call God’s Sabbath a delight (not a burden), He gives this ‘rich’ promise:

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. THE MOUTH OF THE LORD HAS SPOKEN" (Isa. 58:13-14 NIV, emphasis mine).

The Sabbath is not a burden, but a law of love by which we delight ourselves in the LORD. It’s the identifying sign between God and His people forever (Ex. 31:16-17). Far from being abolished, it’s to be kept till the very end of the age, and it will be kept in the Millennium (Matt. 24:20-21; Isa. 66:22-23). The Sabbath is a constant pointer to God’s Eternal Sabbath-rest in the world to come where God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes, and we shall not labour nor suffer any curse ever again! (Compare Neh. 8:9-10 and Rev. 21:1-4).

The Sabbath represents God’s plan to give you rest and peace forever; it represents the enduring rest Christ promises all who come to Him (Matt. 11.28-29). In God’s eternal plan, the SABBATH NEVER ENDS! Please, keep the Sabbath through faith in Christ (Rom. 3:31) in loving obedience to our Heavenly Father and enjoy His Sabbath rest forever. Amen!

For more enlightenment on the Sabbath question, especially as regards its proper observance: please contact:

Pastor Enoch Ofori Jnr.
7th Day Pentecostal Assembly
P. O. Box 481, Kumasi
Mobile Phone: 0244-235015/020-7499933
Tel: 233-51-95507