Keeping The Sabbath: Was it Abolished?

Part one of the Keeping the Sabbath series focuses on whether or not the Sabbath was abolished, as some claim.

Introduction

When I mention the keeping the Sabbath, I often get the weirdest reactions from people. The reason for the variety of reactions I receive, is the variety of teachings and beliefs people have acquired about God's law. You have people who think it doesn't matter if you keep the Sabbath or not; they see it as optional. Similarly, there are people who think it should be observed, but that it doesn't matter what day you keep the Sabbath. Of course, there are also those who think you're crazy if you observe the Sabbath on the Sabbath instead of Sunday. Conversely, those who observe the Sabbath on the Sabbath and usually believe it wrong to keep Sunday. Within all of these groups, are people who can't fathom devoting a whole day to God, which has an interesting effect on their interpretation... I've written posts about the Sabbath before, but I feel like I should address the questions that come with the reactions above, as well as, dive into the topic in more depth.
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Photocredit: Your Divine Connection

Did Jesus Abolish Sabbath?

The first question we need to answer is "did Jesus abolish the Sabbath." Everything else rides on the answer to this question. Many people think Jesus abolished the law on the cross (see my post "The Law" for more details on this topic). From there, they come to the conclusion that they don't have to keep the Sabbath. The command to keep the Sabbath holy is one of the 10 commandments, so do they now conclude it's ok to kill people? Of course not! The 10 Commandments are still very much in effect, but the devil has set a trap in the form of allowing us to twist God's words into thinking we have a choice in which laws we want to follow.

17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:17-20 KJV
Jesus talks about the Sabbath plenty in His ministry and never does He say the Sabbath is done away with. What Jesus did say is that he didn't come to destroy the law (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus said with His own mouth that His mission was not to destroy the law, yet so many churches teach that the law was abolished by Jesus... Is that not odd?
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What Did Jesus Do on the Cross?

What Jesus actually did was clarify and triumph over the law. Jesus is the only man to never break a single letter of the law, including the Sabbath. He upheld the law exactly the way God intended for man, and thus fulfilled the law. When He died on the cross, He was blameless, which allowed Him to be worthy enough to take on the sins of everyone else. In the Old Testament, as they describe the sacrifices that were made for sins, you will notice that the sins of the person were symbolically transferred to a pure and innocent animal, and then it was the animal's blood that paid for the sin. In more severe cases, the person had to pay for the sin with their own blood and received a death sentence for their sins. Jesus took all of this upon Himself, thus paying the price for our sins and eliminating the need for us to sacrifice animals or ourselves. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies foreshadowing His first coming, along with the holy days that symbolized His purpose and mission (you can read the specifics on this here). This is what Jesus did on the cross, and after He did all of this for us, He defeated death. The wages of sin are death, but Jesus defeated both, so when we follow Him we are guaranteed victory.
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What Did Jesus Say About the Sabbath?

When Jesus discusses the Sabbath, it's always to correct the Pharisees' distortion of the law. One thing you have to remember when reading the Bible, is to put the text back into the context of the time period it takes place, which means you have to understand the history of the era. A key fact in this discussion is that the Jews took the law of Moses and drastically expanded it.

This expansion of the law effected the Sabbath, as well. God forbids specific actions (like buying and selling or carrying a burden), but the Israelites created a detailed list of prohibited activities, many of which were never specified by God. Activities such as writing and even tying a knot were forbidden—good thing they didn't wear lace-up shoes back then! Below are a few Jewish websites that outline some of these prohibitions: Jesus clashed with the Pharisees because they were taking the letter of the law to a rigid and ungodly level. In His confrontations, Jesus proves that you can always do good on the Sabbath. In Luke 6, Jesus heals someone on the Sabbath despite objections. The message He's sending is that if you fall and break your arm on the Sabbath it is perfectly fine for a doctor to fix your arm. There are things that are out of our control, particularly in the realm of health, which may cause for attention on the Sabbath. For example, a woman may go into labor on the Sabbath; she can't just not have the baby and Jesus' actions imply that it would be perfectly fine for a midwife or doctor to assist the woman. In Matthew 12:1-8, Jesus and the disciples are chastised for picking corn to eat on the Sabbath. Here, Jesus compares feeding themselves to King David eating the shewbread (which was only for the priests) because he was hungry. Jesus informs the Pharisees that it is OK to feed yourself during the Sabbath. For instance, it may not be lawful to pick a bushel of corn because it is excessive and preparation for business or the future, but it is perfectly fine to pick enough to eat right then. Jesus is stressing necessity again. There will be things that are necessary that occur on the Sabbath and you will have to tend to them (such as hunger).[1] Essentially, Jesus says that it's permissible to do things out of kindness, in the service of God, and out of necessity; this does not abolish the Sabbath at all.
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Did Paul Abolish the Sabbath?

Many people choose to cite Paul as the source of their belief that the Sabbath has been abolished. Before we get into the verse from Paul that suggests the Sabbath is no longer valid, I want to point out that only God can make or void a law. Every law Moses wrote was given by God, and as such, Moses introduces the laws with phrases such as "thus saith the Lord." As a mere man, Paul doesn't have the authority to change laws without instruction from God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. We know from Jesus' assertion that He didn't come to destroy the law but to fulfill it, that He wouldn't be the one to tell Paul to change a law.

Keeping that in mind, this is what Paul said about the Sabbath that leads people to believe it has been abolished.
14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 16Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:Colossians 2:14-16 KJV
20Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21(Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?Colossians 2:20-22 KJV
Remember above, where I discussed the Pharisees adding laws to God's law? Colossians 2:22 makes an explicit reference to the laws of men. This is a huge indicator that Paul is not talking about walking away from God's law, but is echoing Jesus' teachings that man has made up his own law and is following God's law incorrectly.

So why does Paul say not to let anyone judge us about sabbath days? This is one of those New Testament passages that should remind you that to understand the New Testament, you have to understand the Old Testament. After the exodus, Moses lays out a series of what people refer to as "ceremonial" laws. These laws included offerings, holy days, and feasts. Feasts were done both in remembrance of their journey from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, as well as, to prophesy the spiritual journey Jesus has provided for us. I discussed how Jesus fulfilled these feasts and sacrifices in the post on Leviticus 23. What's important in this passage, is not so much how Jesus fulfilled these things, but what He fulfilled. These feasts and holy days were identified by the new moon, had requirements of meat and drink offerings, and/or forbade the Israelites to indulge in certain foods at that time. The holy days were also called sabbaths. As you can see by context, Paul isn't referencing the 7th day Sabbath, a day which God made holy before sin entered the world. Paul is talking about the annual sabbaths, the feasts and ceremonies the Jesus fulfilled which His ministry.
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Conclusion

As you can see, Jesus never abolished the Sabbath. That means, definitively, that we should be keeping one day holy. In the other posts of the series I will discuss the questions of which day, what it means to keep the Sabbath holy, and why it is important.
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References

  1. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A.R., Brwon, D. "Matthew 12 Commentary". Bible Study Tools; visited July 2016

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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