The word Sabbath, and its plural Sabbaths, is found 148 times in scripture. Fifty-six of those occurrences appear in the New Testament. In the New Testament, in not one of those fifty-six occurrences is Sabbath ever used in reference to Christian worship of God.
The first recorded use of the word Sabbath appears in Exo. 16:23 “To morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the LORD:”, with very little instruction given regarding Sabbath observance other than how to collect the manna (Exo. 16:16-26). Moses tells us in Gen. 2:3 “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made”, but does not provide any information from which we can draw the conclusion that any one anywhere knew about the Sabbath much less how to keep it until Exo. 16:23.
It is important to know what the Bible actually says about the Sabbath regarding to whom it was given and at least some of the details about Sabbath day observances. We can confidently state that it was strictly a Hebrew institution and that there was necessarily a time limit during which it was to be observed after which said observances would necessarily cease. Note the word perpetual – Exo. 29:9; 31:8; 31:16; Lev. 3:17; 6:20; 24:9; 25:34; Num. 19:21. The word perpetual had a divine time limit as indicated by Paul using the word till – Gal. 3:19: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Gal. 3:19ff).
Moses is unequivocal as to whom the Law of God applies Deu. 5:1:
And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day (Emp. added. GH).
To whom did the Law of Moses apply? Only the nation of Israel. According to Moses’ reference in verse two to Mt Horeb, we would need to turn back to Exo. 20 to read the second reference to the Sabbath, the first reference being chapter 16 as noted above, for a more authoritative revelation and additional details as seen in Exo. 20:8-11. To further insure the correctness of this application to Israel alone, note in Exo. 14:21-31 God leading the nation of Israel out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. One might also note the reference made in Deu. 5:15 to this same event. It is plain the Sabbath was given through Moses to the Hebrews only.
How did the Israelites keep Sabbath? What did the Law command? It was to be kept from “even to even” (Lev. 23:32). There was to be no fire in their habitations (Exo. 35:3). (Think electric lights, gas stoves as a modern day application, one might even include the use of an internal combustion engine.) They could neither bake nor boil (Exo 16:23). Those who broke the Sabbath were to be stoned (Exo. 31:15). Do those that believe the Hebrew Sabbath to be binding on Christians practice such things? If not, then we must ask why not, insisting on an answer that contains book, chapter and verse from the Bible.
Does the Bible make a distinction between Moral Law and Ceremonial Law? Is there some part of the Old Testament that is known as the law of the Lord and another designated as the law of Moses? Which part if any has been done away with leaving the rest still valid and binding on Christians today, if any?
Consider what we are told in Luke 2:21-24: “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.” (Emp. mine, GH). I have reread Exo 20 and Deu. 5 and am unable to quite lay my finger on the passage that discusses ceremonial activities such as was done in this passage. Yet, these events were accomplished according to the law of Moses and the law of the Lord. The two phrases are interchangeable. The passages to which Luke refers are Exo. 13:2,12 and Lev. 12:8,11.
Does the scripture make a differentiation between the two phrases—law of Moses and law of the Lord—or are they treated as an organic whole? Upon the return of some of the captive Jews from Babylonian captivity to the city of Jerusalem they gathered together to hear a reading from Neh. 8:8: “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” (Emp. added, GH). In 2 Kings 14:6 the king executed those who murdered his father but refrained from killing the murderers children in order to comply with what was written in book of the law of Moses as recorded in Deu. 24:16. In 2 Chr. 35:12 we find the people treating burnt offerings in accord to what was written in the book of the Law of Moses which refers to Lev 3:3 for direction. In Ezra 6:18 the priests were set in their divisions and the Levites in their courses to obey Numbers 3:6—as the book of Moses. In Mark 12:26 Jesus quotes a passage from Exo. 3:6 saying it is found in the book of Moses. In regulating certain church gatherings Paul says women are to be under obedience citing the law contained in Genesis 3:16. These phrases—the book of the law of God, the book of the law of Moses, book of Moses, the law—all refer to what is contained in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. We would know nothing of the Ten Commandments in detail if we did not have those books to study.
We have demonstrated that the law or covenant by which God ruled the nation of Israel was an exclusive system only for the Hebrew nation. It has also been made clear that the law of God, the law of Moses, the book of the law of Moses and the book of Moses all refer to the same thing and that all that the Israelites were to do morally, spiritually and ceremonial are all part and parcel of the whole system. James says it quite clearly: Jas. 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. What does the Old Testament have to say about its ending?
It is the case the covenant given to Moses informs us it would end and even providing clues to help us identify when that would be. Hosea says: “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts” (Hos. 2:11). Paul follows up with,
Blotting 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; Let 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 (Col. 2:14,16).
There is even more such information. Consider the prophet Jeremiah:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD” (Jer. 31:31-32).
Because Israel continually broke the covenant He made with Israel after leading them out of bondage, He would institute a replacement. But when?
Amos gives specific signs:
Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small,…The LORD hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works. Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? and it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day (Amos 8:4-9).
Reread Hos. 2:11 once again just here. When did the ‘sun go down at noon”? “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour” (Matt. 27:45). “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst” (Luke 23:44-45). Paul said that all of these observances would be taken out of the way and nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). And so they were taken away completely (Heb. 7:18; 8:13; 9:9; 10:8-9).
The Old Law has been done away with having been replaced by a New Covenant as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34). The Hebrew writer quotes Jeremiah in Heb. 8:6-13. We have new ordinances to keep (Acts 2:42).
Jesus told the gathered apostles the night of his arrest that they would receive another Comforter, and that He, “… shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” John 14:26. He, “…guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” John 16:13. Paul informs us that they would receive revelation as well as the Holy Spirit inspiring them exactly how to express what God wanted revealed (1 Cor. 2:13-16). The importance of this is understood when we do not find the first reference to Christians gathering to worship God on any other day than the first day of the week.
Paul arrives in Troas and tarries to meet with the brethren upon the first day of the week. “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). He instructed the Corinthian church to contribute upon the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). Paul was consistent in all of his teaching in every congregation (1 Cor 4:17; 7:17). Since he was inspired by the same Spirit as the other apostles it is save to assume that all faithful congregations followed the same pattern of worship on Sunday being led by the same Spirit (Rom. 8:14).
To sum this up, there is no book, chapter or verse, much less a series of books, chapters and verses in the Bible, when taken in total context teaches or other wise commands anything known as a Christian Sabbath for which a Christian is liable to observe in obedience to Christ.
Note: In writing this article I relied heavily on the argumentation provided in a booklet entitled: ” Is The Sabbath Binding on Christians and The Lord’s Day” by T.H. Etheridge, published by Firm Foundation Publishing House, undated.