A friend of mine recently sent me a popular YouTube video (see below) put out by Chris White of Chris White Ministries regarding the weekly Sabbath as it relates to the Old vs. the New Covenants in Scripture – suggesting that the weekly Sabbath, while a key part of the Old Covenant between God and the Israelites, is not part of the New Covenant that God set in place between Himself and all Christians.
After watching this video, I must say that it is one of the best and most well-done presentations I’ve yet to come across on this particular topic. White presents a great many Biblical truths in a well-organized, thoughtful, and easy to follow manner – especially regarding the concept of righteousness by faith in Jesus alone that is so heavily emphasized by the writers of the New Testament – which is, fundamentally, the “Good News” of the Gospel. Salvation is entirely a gift, apart from anything that we could ever do to recommend ourselves to God by keeping any rule or law. Righteousness is also given to us by God’s grace through what Jesus did for us – as a gift of the Spirit if we will but simply accept the Spirit of God into our lives to take control of our thoughts and passions – to live out the life of Christ through us outside of our own power. Such concepts come through crystal clear in White’s presentation and, by themselves, make it well worth watching.
However, White also presents a few, often subtle yet important, misconceptions about the Law and the Covenants of God in his efforts to promote what has become known as “New Covenant Theology“. New Covenant Theology has been gaining ground fairly recently (since the late 1990s after being forwarded by a group of Baptist theologians including Tom Wells, Fred Zaspel, John Reisinger, and Steve Lehrer) and proposes to replace the historical protestant view of “Covenant Theology” (Link). A key component of New Covenant Theology is the, “logical priority of the New Testament over the Old Testament” with the end product being, among other things, “the denial of the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments for Christians.” (Link, Link)
In short, New Covenant Theology, instead of seeing a smooth continuity between the Old Covenants (that God established with the patriarchs and with Israel) and the New Covenant (under the overall banner of the “Eternal Covenant”), proposes that the Old Covenant Mosaic laws and practices, including the Ten Commandments, were completely done away with and were entirely replaced by the “New Covenant” that was ushered in by Jesus – with entirely new laws, customs and symbols that were all based on the Royal Law of Love.
Now, White certainly presents these arguments about the Law and the Covenants of God in a very artful and attractive manner – and he’s obviously very sincere. However, upon closer examination, his arguments clearly fail to be consistent with all that the Scripture has to say on the topics presented.
I will touch on these key concepts along the way as I review White’s otherwise excellent presentation – with special emphasis regarding the Sabbath and its place within the New Covenant for the Christian.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Abrahamic Covenant vs. the Mosaic Covenant:
- 2 Ministry of Death:
- 3 New Covenant Based on “New” and “Better” Commands:
- 4 Jesus Fulfilled the Law:
- 5 Sabbath Issues:
- 5.1 All of the Ten Commandments Replaced by the New Covenant – sort of:
- 5.2 Sabbath to be observed by everyone in the New Earth:
- 5.3 Sabbath to be observed by future Christians:
- 5.4 Sabbath not instituted in Eden:
- 5.5 Sunday Observance by Jesus’ Disciples:
- 5.6 Colossians 2:
- 5.7 Hebrews 4 – A Sabbath Rest for the Christian:
- 5.8 Early Church Father’s Worshiped on Sunday:
- 5.8.1 Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (35-108 AD):
- 5.8.2 Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155 AD):
- 5.8.3 Polycrates of Ephesus (125-196 AD):
- 5.8.4 Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (120-190 AD):
- 5.8.5 St. Patrick (385-461 AD):
- 5.8.6 Second and Third Century Church Fathers:
- 5.8.7 Apostolic Constitutions (375-380 AD):
- 6 Summary:
- 7 Video Presentation by Chris White:
- 8 Comparison Presentations by Skip MacCarty from Andrews University (Link):
- 8.1 Skip MacCarty, Part 1 (The Evangelical Model)
- 8.2 Skip MacCarty, Part 2 (The New Covenant)
- 8.3 Skip MacCarty, Part 3 (New Covenant DNA)
- 8.4 Skip MacCarty, Part 4 (New Covenant DNA at Sinai)
- 8.5 Skip MacCarty, Part 5 (Unifying Backstory of the Old and New Covenants)
- 8.6 Skip MacCarty, Part 6 (Window into Paul’s Understanding of the Covenants)
- 8.7 Skip MacCarty, Part 8 (A Study of 2 Corinthians 3)
- 8.8 Skip MacCarty Book – In Granite or Ingrained?
The Abrahamic Covenant vs. the Mosaic Covenant:
Appropriately, White starts off explaining that God first entered into a covenant (or a contract or legal agreement between two parties if you will) with Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21) before He entered into a second covenant with Israel under Moses. Since these covenants all had outward “signs” associated with them to indicate that the contracts were still standing, White suggests that the “sign” for the covenant with Abraham was in the form of circumcision while the “sign” for the covenant with Israel was the weekly Sabbath.
Here we run into a subtle inconsistency since the rite of circumcision was not placed upon Abraham at the time of the signing of his covenant with God. God gave his promises to Abraham, signed and sealed, well before God required circumcision of Abraham (Genesis 15:17-18). So, clearly, circumcision could not be a “sign” of the original covenant with Abraham. In fact, circumcision would never have been required of Abraham, or his descendants, had Abraham not tried to take things into his own hands, so to speak. As part of God’s covenant with Abraham, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a “great nation” (Genesis 12:2). The problem was, of course, that Abraham had no son. So, after what seemed to him to be an impossibly long time, so long that it was now impossible for him to have any son of his own with his wife Sarah, he decided to help God out by taking Sarah’s servant, Hagar, to be his wife and fulfill God’s promise through her (Genesis 16:1-3).
Of course, this action was opposed to faith in God and His word (equivalent to a “Old Covenant” or “human effort” action, outside of faith in God, by Abraham, as far as Paul uses the term), so God gave Abraham a physical reminder not to do that again. He had Abraham cut off a piece of the part of his body that got him into this trouble – thinking that he could achieve by his own power what God had promised to give him by His power. And, voila, circumcision came into being for Abraham and all of his descendants (Genesis 17:9-14) as a sign to stick with faith and faith alone in the promises of God – because doing it through human power will only get one into trouble! (trouble that we are still experiencing today with the constant fighting in the middle east between the descendants of Hagar and the descendants of Sarah).
In this line White rightly points out that God’s covenant with Abraham was by faith, not by works, citing Paul’s argument in Romans:
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:2-3)
Clearly then, Abraham would have been just fine if He had stuck with simply believing what God said instead of trying to do it himself – which ended with losing a piece of himself as a little reminder not to do that again!
White then goes on to explain that another covenant was added to the original covenant given to Abraham – the one given to the Israelites through Moses. This second Mosaic Covenant did not replace or supersede the original covenant given to Abraham. So, why was there a need for yet another covenant? Well, the second covenant was added to Abraham’s offspring “because of transgressions”:
“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.” (Galatians 3:19)
So, what, exactly, was being “transgressed”? Well, clearly, the Royal Law of Love was being transgressed (James 2:8). Now, this Law should be obvious to anyone walking with God by faith. Certainly, Abraham was in line with God’s Laws of love towards both God and his neighbors. After all, we are told that Abraham kept all of God’s Laws along these lines – through God’s Power.
“Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” (Genesis 26:5)
Again, Abraham did not keep God’s moral laws as a path to salvation, but as a natural response to the leading of His Spirit. The same is true of the sacrifices that were instituted for Adam and Eve as prefiguring the death of Jesus for the sins of mankind. Abraham also obeyed these sacrificial laws as part of the inherited covenant originally given to Adam and Eve.
“Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering;…” (Genesis 4:4)
What then happened with the Israelites? Well, they had been kept in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years and had lost touch with the Spirit of God and become jaded to the Royal Law.
“God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.'” (Genesis 15:13)
So, they had to be specifically reminded as to what loving God and one’s neighbor actually looked like – and about the sacrificial system instituted for Adam and Eve and their children, and about not worshiping idols and keeping the weekly Sabbath that was also originally instituted in Eden before the Fall for the benefit of mankind (Mark 2:27). It actually had to be spelled out to them in the form of the Ten Commandments – followed by additional laws that further expounded on the Ten commandments.
And, what was the response of the people when God spoke these “new” laws to them?
“All that the LORD has said, we will do.” (Exodus 24:3).
The problem here, of course, is that it was impossible for them to actually do what they claimed they would do with their own efforts. There was nothing wrong with the Laws that God gave to them that told them how to Love. The problem was with their own confidence to actually be able to achieve these things without God’s Power – without God’s Spirit living within them giving them the Power to truly be good like God is good.
Obviously then, as White points out, a New Covenant was needed that was based on “better promises”.
“The new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people…” (Hebrews 8:6-8).
Where then was the fault with the Mosaic Covenant? Was the fault with the Laws of God, the Laws of Love, that were written in stone with His own finger? Of course not. The problem was with the people trying to keep these Laws through their own efforts – devoid of the Spirit of God enabling them to do so.
Now, it is clear that no one who was righteous in the Old Testament times became righteous through keeping the Law by their own efforts. This is why King David said:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:10-12).
Here David is asking God for His Spirit to enable him to have a “willing spirit” and salvation. David knew that he could not do it himself. Without the Spirit of God living within him, he knew that things were hopeless for him.
Again, it’s all about righteousness by faith – and always has been. It wasn’t as if this wasn’t explained to the people who lived during the time of Moses. God presented His own grace as a free gift, along with His Spirit, as a means to truly obey His Laws of Love.
The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live… Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (Deuteronomy 30:6, 11-14)
So, here we have God promising to do the work for the people which would enable them to keep His Laws of Love. He isn’t asking them to do it of their own power. He is one who says that ”I will circumcise your hearts”. I will put “the word in your heart”. Is this not a very “New Covenant” concept? Yet, here it is as part of the Old Mosaic Covenant! Consider that Paul himself quotes this very same Old Testament passage as his explanation for the basis of New Covenant:
But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:6-10)
Is this not the very basis of righteousness by faith? – which forms the fundamental bedrock of the New Covenant with Jesus? – and yet was first expressed as the very foundation of the Mosaic Covenant?
Ministry of Death:
Ten Commandments Entirely Abolished:
Of course, White points out that the Law, to include all of the laws made under Abraham or Moses or Adam and Eve, were described by Paul as the “ministry of death”. This includes the Ten Commandments!
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! (2 Corinthians 3:6-10)
So, if the Ten Commandments only bring us death, what are we to do? Well, like David we need to head for the only Source of help! While the Law itself can only condemn those who are sinning against it, there is a Savior who can both forgive the sins of the sinner and cleanse the sinner from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) so that the sinner, through the new birth into the Spirit (John 3:7), can be made to be like Christ – fully restored!
At this point, we are no longer living through our own effort, but through the power of God’s Spirit:
“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” (Romans 7:4-7)
Of course, White describes this as being the result of the “New Covenant” in Christ – and it is! White argues that the New Covenant in Christ enables one to live according to the promise rather than according to one’s own works to inherit salvation – and that’s true! White points out that the Christian takes on the inheritance of the “free woman”, not the “slave woman” – and that’s true too!
“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.” (Galatians 4:22-23)
White points out that the “signs” of the New Covenant with Christ are baptism and the Lord’s Supper – and that’s true as well.
“This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21)
“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water [the gentile believers]. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47)
“And when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:24-26).
As White explains, the Holy Spirit is the seal while baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the outward signs of being in a saving covenant relationship with God. This is how the “ministry of death” is actually overcome – through the power of God who enables us to truly “be good” – to actually “go and sin no more”. (John 8:11).
Here is where White goes a little off base. He argues,
“The Spirit in the New Covenant did what the Law did in the Old Covenant.”
– Chris White
Well, not really. The Law could never produce righteousness – never without the Spirit. The Law in the “Old Covenant” could only condemn. It could never save. It never saved anyone – ever. Again, David knew this. This is why he asked for the Spirit to help him keep the Law because he knew that he could not keep the Law without the help of the Spirit. What really happens then in the New Covenant (and the Old Covenant as well), is that the Spirit enables one to actually keep the Law – as Paul explains clearly in this passage in his letter to the Romans:
And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so… For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:4-7, 13).
Notice here that Paul isn’t doing away with the Law, but showing that the Spirit enables us to actually meet the righteous requirements of the Law – to actually be able to submit to God’s Law in a way that would otherwise be impossible through our own human endeavors. So, the Spirit doesn’t negate the Law of God. Rather, the Spirit empowers us to actually keep the Law – which has and will always been the case for anyone seeking after a relationship with God.
Antinomianism and New Covenant Theology:
But isn’t doing away with the moral Law (i.e., the Ten Commandments), a form of “antinomianism”? – as defined by the classic Methodist commentator Adam Clarke?
“The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law, but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.”
The Adam Clarke Commentary, Gal. 5:13
Of course, the term “Antinomianism” was coined by Martin Luther during the Reformation, to criticize extreme interpretations of the new Lutheran soteriology (or doctrine of salvation). The Lutheran Church benefited from early antinomian controversies by becoming more precise in distinguishing between Law and Gospel and justification and sanctification.
The spiritual declension which had been manifest in England just before the time of Wesley, was in great degree the result of Antinomian teaching. Many affirmed that Christ had abolished the moral law, and that Christians are therefore under no obligation to observe it; that a believer is freed from the “bondage of good works.” Others, though admitting the perpetuity of the law, declared that it was unnecessary for ministers to exhort the people to obedience of its precepts, since those whom God had elected to salvation would, “by the irresistible impulse of divine grace, be led to the practice of piety and virtue,” while those who were doomed to eternal reprobation “did not have it in their power to obey the divine law.”
Ellen White, The Great Controversy, 88, 260.2
In response to these popular notions in his own day, Martin Luther developed 258 theses during his six antinomian disputations, which continue to provide doctrinal guidance for Lutherans today. For example, upon hearing that he was being charged with rejection of the Old Testament moral law, Luther responded:
“And truly, I wonder exceedingly, how it came to be imputed to me, that I should reject the Law or ten Commandments, there being extant so many of my own expositions (and those of several sorts) upon the Commandments, which also are daily expounded, and used in our Churches, to say nothing of the Confession and Apology, and other books of ours.”
In his “Introduction to Romans,” Luther stated that saving faith is, “a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever…Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”
Martin Luther, “A Treatise against Antinomians, written in an Epistolary way”, 1539. & “An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans”, Luther’s German Bible of 1522 by Martin Luther, (1483–1546).
In this light, it is interesting that promoters of “New Covenant Theology“, like Chris White, have been accused of Antinomianism in modern times for their belief that the Ten Commandments have been “abrogated” or completely removed by the New Covenant. However, as discussed further below, most proponents of New Covenant Theology (or NCT), Chris White included, try to get around this charge by arguing that nine of the Ten Commandments are renewed under the New Covenant’s “Law of Christ” (see: The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian: Five Views, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993. ISBN 978-0-310-53321-4, also re-published as Five Views on Law and Gospel, page 343).
New Covenant Based on “New” and “Better” Commands:
So, was the “old” Ten Commandment Law evil? White argues that the difference between the old Law and the New Law is that the New Law is the Royal Law of Love toward God and one’s fellow man. After all, didn’t Jesus call this a “New Command”?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
White equates this with the Royal Law mentioned in James:
“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. (James 2:8)
Of course, James points out that this “Royal Law” of Love is actually found in the “Scripture” – i.e., the Old Testament Scripture. It’s taken straight from Leviticus 19:18. And, Jesus himself points to this particular Old Testament Passage as the basis for all morality – for all moral laws:
“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
And, what is the detailed expression of these Two Great Commandments of Love? – Well, according to James, it’s the Ten Commandments:
But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:9-11)
Here, immediately after James cites the Royal Law, he cites the Ten Commandments as an illustration of the Royal Law of Love – as an illustration of what it means to break the Royal Law.
Yet, White argues that the Royal Law of Love is “never in reference to the Ten Commandments anywhere in Scripture.” Really? Despite the fact that James himself, who introduced the term, clearly links them together? The Ten Commandments are nothing more than a written expression of what it means to actually be loving toward God and toward one’s neighbor. Yet, White strongly argues that, “All of the Ten Commandments were replaced by the Law of Christ… which is to love your neighbor.”
I’m sorry, but isn’t that like saying the same thing? All of the Ten Commandments, which are commandments about loving God and one’s neighbor, were replaced by a “new” commandment to love God and one’s neighbor? Make sense? I’m sorry, but nothing was really “replaced” here. The moral laws are eternal and never need replacing because love never goes out of style with God – for “God is love.” (1 John 4:8 & 16)
This is where it gets somewhat confusing, because White seems to recognize this on some level. He cites Paul here:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
That’s just it, Love is the fulfillment of the Law – and always has been! It is just that it is impossible for fallen human beings to actually self-generate true love for God or our neighbors. That’s simply impossible for us to do – outside of the Spirit of God living in us by the grace of God. And, White actually admits this, pointing out, “The Spirit will cause a person to live morally.” He even points out that, “All the Old Testament Laws are listed in the New Testament list of sins.” And, he adds that James himself argues that the Spirit will produce the “good works” in us as an evidence of our faith and relationship with Jesus (in reference to the famous passage in James 2:20 that reads, “Faith without works is dead”.
“In no way does James imply that doing any good work is what we need to do to be saved. He is clearly saying the same thing that Jesus said, that if you are saved, if you have been given the Spirit of God in your heart, it will begin to give you these new desires. It will be evidence of your salvation, not the cause of it.”
– Chris White
And that’s exactly right. Good works found coming from us are evidence of salvation, not the cause of it. The cause, of course, is a saving relationship with God through the Power of His Spirit.
However, there is a sense in which the New Covenant is actually quite new to the understanding of those listening to Christ:
“John 13:34 – A new commandment I give unto you – In what sense are we to understand that this was a new commandment? Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, was a positive precept of the law, Lev 19:18, and it is the very same that Christ repeats here; how then was it new? Our Lord answers this question, Even As I have loved you. Now Christ more than fulfilled the Mosaic precept; he not only loved his neighbour As himself, but he loved him More than himself, for he laid down his life for men. In this he calls upon the disciples to imitate him; to be ready on all occasions to lay down their lives for each other. This was, strictly, a new commandment: no system of morality ever prescribed any thing so pure and disinterested as this. Our blessed Lord has outdone all the moral systems in the universe in two words: 1. Love your enemies; 2. Lay down your lives for each other.”
Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, LL.D., F.S.A., (1762-1832)
The fourth Commandment is also love since it is a sign or a symbol (like the flag of a country or a wedding ring) that it is the Creator God we love and worship. Loving God with all your heart therefore sums up the first four Commandments while loving your neighbor sums up the last six.
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)
Yet again, the Ten Commandments are a reflection of God’s character of love. Jesus demonstrated what loving obedience is about in John 15:10, “If you keep my Commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s Commandments, and abide in his love.”
Jesus Fulfilled the Law:
From His “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus explains that He did not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)
White explains that since Jesus fulfilled the Law, we are no longer under the Law, but under grace. Of course, yet again, if this is true for us, it was also true for Moses as well as everyone else who existed before Jesus fulfilled the Law.
The problem with the concept of “fulfill” is that the particular Greek word used here (Pleroo) can have several different meanings in various contexts – to include the concept of magnification or enhancement. For example, one of the definitions in the Thayer Greek Lexicon goes as follows:
1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full.
2C3: to fulfil, i.e. to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be… (Link)
There is a Greek word for fulfilled that does mean to bring to an end (sunteleo), but the word used here is pleroo, not sunteleo. In context, then, the Greek word used for fulfill in Matthew 5:17 means to do fully or to give full meaning – to be obeyed as it should be. What is not evident in this passage is Jesus destroying or ending the moral Law. Rather, we see Jesus giving the Law its full meaning by obeying and magnifying the Law and by illustrating its underlying spirit of love for God and for one’s neighbor in His own life.
Another fact that many overlook is that any relevant change that was to occur in the New Testament under the New Covenant was prophesied and described in some detail in the Old Testament. Where in the Old Testament does it say that Jesus would end the goodness or relevance of the Law for the righteous? – for even one of the Commandments of the Decalogue? – such as the fourth Commandment regarding the weekly Sabbath? Rather, the Old Testament prophets themselves describe Jesus as enhancing or magnifying the Law and its true meaning.
“The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable.” (Isaiah 42:21)
Again, we are told here, by Isaiah, that the Law, the Decalogue in particular, would be magnified and made honorable, not destroyed or made irrelevant for the Christian, by Jesus. While it does not have the power to save (it never did), it still maintains the power of a mirror which can inform the Christian of a need for an even closer walk with Jesus (which was always the function of the Law).
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)
Again, while the mirror cannot help you look or be any better, it can tell you that you need to find Someone who can…
In the remainder of Matthew chapter 5 we see how Jesus has without a doubt magnified the law. Note the following magnifications of the moral Law:
Matthew 5:21-22 from do not kill to not being angry with your brother without cause, 5:27-28 from do not commit adultery to being guilty if you look at a woman lustfully, 5:31 from divorcing by a letter to any man who divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, causes her or anyone who marries a divorced woman to commit adultery, 5:33-37 from not breaking oaths made to the Lord to do not swear at all, either by heaven or earth or by Jerusalem. And do not swear by your head, let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No, 5:38-42 from an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth to turning the other cheek and if someone sues you for your coat, give them your cloak also, 5:43-45 from love your neighbor and hate your enemy to love your enemies and bless them that curse you and pray for those that are spiteful and use you.
Does this give the impression that fulfilling the law ends the law? – or is the real meaning of the Law being magnified and enhanced so that people could have an even better understanding of God’s Law and character? – a character that is love?
After all, why was the moral Law originally given to the Israelites? Was it not because they had become jaded to the Spirit during their time in captivity in Egypt and were becoming less and less aware that they were drifting farther and farther away from God’s goodness? – from the true morality of Love? Paul explains:
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. (Galatians 3:19)
Because of transgressions? Transgressions against what? Well, against the moral Law of Love. Just because they had forgotten that the Law existed doesn’t mean that it didn’t actually exist before Mt. Sinai. After all, how can one transgress if there is no Law? After all, Paul clearly states that, “Where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). So, it seems quite obvious that the Ten Commandments did in fact exist before Mt. Sinai. Otherwise, there could be no “transgression” or sin – for “sin is the transgression of the Law” (1 John 3:4).
But once the “Seed” had come, did the moral Law suddenly go away? Well, not really. What happened was that Jesus illustrated the Law in His own life so that we could better understand what it really meant to keep the Law – to be truly loving toward both God and one’s neighbor. In other words, He “magnified the Law” (Isaiah 42:21) to show us the true beauty of Holiness without spot or wrinkle – to attract us to what might be beautiful in us too through the Power of the Spirit.
The fourth Commandment regarding the weekly Sabbath is interesting because it happens to be placed right in the middle of a bunch of other commandments that are clearly moral, not ritualistic or symbolic in nature. Yet, this weekly Sabbath commandment was written in stone along with all of the other moral Laws and placed inside the Ark of the Covenant (Mosaic Covenant), while the other laws that were written by the hand of Moses, including all of the other ceremonial laws regarding the other annual sabbaths, where placed on the outside of the Ark in the box – “as a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26). Why then was the weekly Sabbath singled out for such a privileged position among the moral laws?
All of the Ten Commandments Replaced by the New Covenant – sort of:
Of course, White proposes that all of the Ten Commandments were replaced by the New Covenant of Jesus in the form of the Royal Law of Love:
“Scripture teaches that none of the Ten Commandments are still in effect today… All of the Ten Commandments were replaced by the Law of Christ… which is to love your neighbor.”
– Chris White
Yet, he goes on to include nine of the Ten Commandments as remaining as definitions of “sin” for the Christian.
All the Old Testament Laws are listed in the New Testament list of sins…
Murder and adultery and all of these other moral principles were not pointing to Christ as the Sabbath was… Those things could not be fulfilled like the Sabbath or Passover or the sacrificial system…
Nowhere in the New Testament is there a single charge to keep an Old Testament ritual like the Sabbath or Passover or anything else.
– Chris White
So, on the one hand, White argues that all of the Ten Commandments were replaced by the New Covenant Law of Love. Yet, on the other hand, White argues that nine of the Ten Commandments are “moral principles” that “could not be fulfilled” like the Sabbath or the other symbolic laws. Therefore, the New Covenant Law of Love incorporates nine of the Ten Commandments as still being helpful for the Christian as eternal moral laws to show us when we have fallen into sin against the Royal Law of Love. However, at the same time, White argues that, “In the New Covenant all things are lawful for us. But, still, not all things are beneficial (1 Cor. 6:12). Of course, I’m sure that White would not include murder, adultery, coveting, etc., in this list of “lawful things” – and neither would Paul. This is the danger of taking one passage out of context. In short, we all agree that nine of the Ten Commandments are still in place for the Christian as valid moral Laws that show us when sin has entered our lives. Yet, the one Commandment that begins with the word “Remember” is left out of the New Covenant? – because it is symbolic, not a moral principle? – are you sure?
Consider that the Ten Commandments are divided into two parts. The last six deal with one’s relationships to one’s neighbors while the first four deal with one’s relationship to God. Ironically, it is the last six that are written on the hearts of everyone from birth. Even little children inherently know, as a divine gift, that it is wrong to lie and steal. However, the truth of the first four Commandments, or even the truth of the very existence of a Creator God who loves us and died to save us, must be learned over time through the study of God’s revealed Word – the Bible. The truth of these realities is not based on inherent knowledge that is written on the heart of a person. However, once God’s actual will is known through the study of the Scriptures, it is obvious that those who truly love Him will wish to do His will in these points as well – as the Spirit gives them the Power to do so.
In this light, the very fact that the weekly Sabbath was included in God’s list of moral principles on stone, along with the starting word “Remember”, is quite telling. Sure, there was a special reason given for the Israelites to keep the Sabbath as a way to remember their deliverance from slavery (Deuteronomy 5:15). However, this wasn’t the reason that was actually written in stone. The reason it was written in stone was to forever call the mind back to creation week so as to remember God as our Creator – as well as our Redeemer. John, in his Revelations, quotes this particular passage as the first of the Three Angel’s messages to be presented at the end of time – to “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Revelation 14:7). The language here is taken directly from the language of the fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). Again, the mind is called back to remember that God is our Creator and our Redeemer and therefore has the right to our love and worship.
The Sabbath therefore becomes a sign of our love for God as a Christian who remembers and reveres God as our Creator and Redeemer from bondage – like a flag or a wedding ring. As with all symbols, there is an arbitrary component to it. We are told that the “seventh day” is the day God has chosen for us to “keep holy” to Him. Why not celebrate on some other day? Because, God specified the seventh day, and that should be enough for us. The same was true in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any other tree in the garden except for one particular tree – a tree that was arbitrarily chosen as a symbol of loyalty. It wasn’t that the fruit of this tree was poisonous or anything. It was simply a sign of their love for God that they not eat of that particular tree simply because God said so – no other reason. The same is true of the Sabbath observed on the particular day that God has commanded as a sign of love between Him and His people.
Of course, not everything about the Sabbath is arbitrary. The Sabbath was actually given to mankind as a blessing or a gift, not a curse – way back in the Garden of Eden before the Fall of mankind. Jesus confirms this directly when He said that He personally created the Sabbath as a gift for all of mankind – not mankind for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
So, what are the benefits of “keeping” the Sabbath? Perhaps there is a reason why Seventh-day Adventists are the longest lived ethnically diverse group of people in the world (Link)? – among the “blue zone” people throughout the world. (Link)? Even White recognizes the practical benefits of observing a weekly day of rest and time devoted to God.
The Sabbath is a good day for rest. Man is wired for rest. And it is extremely healthy to do so. In fact, all of God’s ritual laws were healthy.
– Chris White
Why then, when God asks for something that is so good for us to do on a weekly basis do we think to complain about the particular day upon which He asks for us to do this good thing? Why not just do it out of love for Him? – just because He asked us to as part of His set of moral Laws that He wrote in stone?
After all, White has absolutely no problem at all with observing symbolic acts as part of the New Covenant relationship with God. He’s perfectly fine with the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper and the symbolism of Baptism as well. He doesn’t consider the observations of these symbolic acts at all contrary to the Liberty of the Christian under the New Covenant Law of Love. Yet, we cannot observe these Christian acts as they were intended to be observed without the Power of God’s Spirit enabling us to actually love these things. Otherwise, observing the Lord’s Supper or going through the rite of Baptism could become very legalistic acts in and of themselves – with people thinking that the performance of these rituals somehow earns them salvation.
So, it isn’t really the symbolism associated with the weekly Sabbath that White has a problem with. It is simply the fact that he believes that the Sabbath was created just for the Jews and the Jews only – that it didn’t really exist beforehand. He doesn’t believe that it was observed, on a weekly basis, in the Garden of Eden for example. That is why he equates it to something like circumcision – a ceremonial law that was in fact only given to the Israelites and did not exist before the time of Abraham. White doesn’t recognize the explanation of Jesus when He said that the Sabbath was made for “the man” (for Adam and Eve and all of mankind). But, what if he’s wrong? Then, clearly, he’s missing out on a special blessing for those who do observe the Sabbath as the gift it was intended to be for all of mankind.
Sabbath to be observed by everyone in the New Earth:
But what about those passages that claim that the Sabbath will be observed in the “New Earth”.
“For just as the new heavens and the new earth Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD, “So your offspring and your name will endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)
Well, White doesn’t recognize this as actually representing the New Earth within which the saints of God will live forever. Instead, White thinks that this will happen during the “Millennium” where the Old Testament sanctuary service, together with its animal sacrifices and the weekly Sabbath, will be re-instituted as a memorial of what Jesus did. Of course, the millennial sacrifices will not be intended to atone for sins. The blood of Christ precludes any need for that. Just as the Old Testament sacrifices anticipated the death of Christ as a future event, it is suggested the future millennial sacrifices will commemorate the death of Christ as a past event. Yet, White seems to be a bit confused here:
“It’s not good doctrine to say that just because something is to be done in the Millennium that we should be doing it now.”
“Whatever the reason that God has decided to have these things done in the Millennium, I don’t really know.”
– Chris White
Beyond the obvious confusion and inconsistency with this proposal is the basic problem that God doesn’t like animal sacrifices, and never did.
“I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.” (Isaiah 1:11; see also Psalms. 40:6; 51:16; Hebrews 10:6)
He only instituted these sacrifices as a necessary illustration to point the minds of those who lived before the time of Christ to the terribleness of the sacrifice that would be required of Him in order for their sins to be washed away. Outside of this necessity, however, the death and suffering of animals is hateful to God – who suffers pain when even a little sparrow falls wounded to the ground (Matthew 10:29).
Beyond this, the text of Ezekiel itself precludes this notion, since the various offerings noted to take place in Ezekiel’s temple are said to “make atonement for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 45:17). Therefore, these sacrifices are presented as an atonement for sin, not as a memorial as White claims. Christ Himself recommended the use of wine and bread to commemorate His death (1 Cor. 11:24–26). Why then would God replace this with animal sacrifices in which God never found any pleasure (Isaiah 1:11; Psalms. 40:6; 51:16; Hebrews 10:6)?
Also problematic for White’s argument, in Ezekiel’s vision, the Levites and Aaronic priesthood are seen in their former places of service. According to the New Testament, there has been a change of the priesthood (Hebrews 7:12). The Jewish priesthood has been replaced by a different priesthood (1 Peter 2:5) and a non-Aaronic high priest (Jesus). This modification will not be reversed, for Christ is said to be “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4; Hebrews 7:17, 21).
So, how then are we to understand Ezekiel’s temple vision? Well, one might reasonably refer to the vision as that which “might have been,” had the Jewish exiles in Babylon exhibited a more thorough repentance than they did. There is an indication that the realization of this vision in Israel’s future was contingent on the people being sufficiently ashamed, or repentant, of their past sins: “Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple” (Ezekiel 43:10–11).
The response of the Jews to their opportunity to return and to rebuild their temple was notoriously tepid. Only a small remnant opted even to return to Jerusalem, while the rest were content to remain in Babylon. As a result, the temple they built proved to be inferior to the one that Ezekiel described (Link).
What this suggests, of course, is that the weekly Sabbath will actually be observed in the New Earth as Isaiah prophesied – not as a memorial to times gone by, but as the everlasting blessing to mankind that it was originally intended to be when it was first created in Eden before the Fall of mankind.
Sabbath to be observed by future Christians:
Now, Jesus also prophesied about the Sabbath being kept in the future.
So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. (Matthew 24:15-21)
White responds to this passage by claiming that this will take place sometime yet in the future when the “Antichrist” shows up during a time of extreme religious revival in modern-day Israel. Traveling on the Sabbath will be quite difficult. Yet, the Antichrist will issue a death decree against the people of God which, for some strange reason, will begin in Judea.
Of course, it is a well-established historical fact that the early Christian Church recognized this prophesy as being about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. During this time, when the Roman armies mysteriously withdrew for a time and the armies of the Jews chased after them, the city, the temple, and the entire countryside were left wide open for the Christians to flee unhindered. Because of this, not a single Christian died in during the destruction of Jerusalem – a horrendous event that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people (Link). Josephus (a personal witness to the events) claims that over 1.1 million people were killed during the initial siege, of which a majority were Jewish. Another 97,000 were captured and enslaved (Link).
“This counsel [of Matthew 24:16] was remembered and wisely followed by the Christians afterwards. Eusebius and Epiphanius say, that at this juncture, after Cestius Gallus had raised the siege, and Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished (see Matthew 24:13).”
Adam Clarke (1837) Commentary On Matthew 24
Sabbath not instituted in Eden:
Made only for the Jews:
Another claim forwarded by White in his presentation is that the weekly 7th-day Sabbath was made for the Jews and the Jews alone. It didn’t exist before the time of Moses. But what about the passage in Genesis where God made the 7th day Holy?
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:3)
Well, White argues that Adam and Eve sinned the very next day following that single Sabbath day of bliss in the Garden of Eden.
“Adam and Eve sinned immediately following their creation so that God only had one Sabbath day with them – a Sabbath that would have continued indefinitely [every day] if they had not sinned… Only on that one day did God and man have a right relationship apart from the separation of sin”
– Chris White
The problem here is that there is no biblical evidence to back up this claim. The way the Bible reads the Sabbath was created as part of the weekly cycle, a holy day that was to be repeated week after week to mark off the weekly cycle – a cycle of time that has no external markers of the passage of time (unlike a day or a month or a year).
This understanding of the origins of the Sabbath in Eden is also much more consistent with the explanation of Jesus that He originally created the Sabbath as a gift for all of mankind, not just for the Jews (literally translated “the man” or “Adam”).
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. – Mark 2:27
The term Jesus used here for “man” was “anthropos” in the original Greek preceded by the definite article “ho”. The Greek words translated “the man” in this scripture are ὁ ἄνθρωπος (Gtr. ho anthropos). In fact, there are a number of Bible translations that highlight the universal nature of this term:
- Common English Bible (CEB) “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.”
- The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) “Shabbat was made for mankind, not mankind for Shabbat.”
Good News Translation (GNT) “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath.”
- Lexham English Bible (LEB) “The Sabbath was established for people, and not people for the Sabbath.”
- New Revised Standard (NRS) “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”
- Berean Literal Bible (BLB) “And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made on account of the man, and not the man on account of the Sabbath.”
- The Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures has produced a translation of the New Testament in Hebrew. It translates both of these occurrences of the man with הָאָדָם (Htr. ha adam) which is “the man” or “Adam”. So in their thinking “ho anthropos” is equivalent to “ha adam”
Clearly, this indicates the intended universal nature of the gift of the Sabbath for the benefit of all of mankind back in Eden – when Adam and Eve were still in their innocence. After all, Jesus could easily have said that the Sabbath was made for the Jews, but He didn’t. Rather, He chose to use a term that speaks to the universal nature of the Sabbath as a gift for all of mankind – from our very beginnings (Link).
And, there are other evidences that the weekly Sabbath existed and was known before Sinai:
“And Pharaoh said, ‘Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest (šaḇaṯ) from their burdens (seḇālāh)!’ … ‘Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.’” Exodus 5:5,9
“This is to teach us that the Israelites possessed scrolls with the contents of which they would expect deliverance, every Sabbat, assuring them that the Holy One Blessed be He would redeem them. Thus, because they rested on the Sabbath, Pharaoh said to them: ‘Let heavier work be laid upon the men and let them not expect deliverance from false words. Let them not expect deliverance, or be refreshed on the Sabbath day.” (Shemot Rabbah, 5:18)
Here we can see that the issue of the burdens (seḇālāh) of the Israelites was enhanced by Pharaoh in response to the teaching of Moses that they should rest (šaḇaṯ) from their labors. So, here we have another example where, in the Hebrew teachings, the Sabbath predated the giving of the Manna and the written Law on Mt. Sinai.
Consider also a situation where someone (the God of the Bible in this case) claimed to have created a given cyclical pattern of time specifically for our benefit (i.e., “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath – Mark 2:27). This is a testable claim. Given the truth of such a claim the implication is very direct and clear. Obviously, in such a situation one should actually expect to find some sort of biorhythm(s) that is tuned to this particular weekly pattern. One should also expect that if one did not follow God’s advice on following this pattern (given that God actually exists and is, in fact, our Maker), that one would be able to notice a physical difference in one’s general well-being when in or out of line with God’s claimed ideal pattern for the weekly cycle. In other words, God has presented a testable hypothesis or claim to us that we can actually test in a scientific, potentially falsifiable, manner. Perhaps there is a reason why Seventh-day Adventists are the longest-lived ethnically diverse group of “blue-zone” people in the world (Link)?
Dr. Martin Luther, even though a Sunday (not a Sabbath) keeper, argued that the Sabbath was originally created for all of humankind in Eden, before the Fall. Yet, ironically, he personally felt that the particular day of the week chosen for rest and religious contemplation no longer mattered for the Christian since “no one day was better than another” – as long as at least one day a week was set aside. He thought that since, by his day, Sunday had long been accepted as the common day of worship, that this practice should be maintained – “so that things may be done in an orderly fashion and no one creates disorder by unnecessary innovation.” Still, mysteriously given this perspective, Luther believed that the Sabbath had in fact originally been created by God at the very beginning of time for all of mankind to enjoy:
“God blessed the Sabbath and sanctified it to Himself. It is moreover to be remarked that God did this to no other creature. God did not sanctify to Himself the heaven nor the earth nor any other creature. But God did sanctify to Himself the seventh day. This was especially designed of God, to cause us to understand that the ‘seventh day’ is to be especially devoted to divine worship….
It follows therefore from this passage, that if Adam had stood in his innocence and had not fallen he would yet have observed the ‘seventh day’ as sanctified, holy and sacred…. Nay, even after the fall he held the ‘seventh day’ sacred; that is, he taught on that day his own family. This is testified by the offerings made by his two sons, Cain and Abel. The Sabbath therefore has, from the beginning of the world, been set apart for the worship of God…. For all these things are implied and signified in the expression ‘sanctified.’
Although therefore man lost the knowledge of God by sin, yet God willed that this command concerning the sanctifying of the Sabbath should remain. He willed that on the seventh day both the word should be preached, and also those other parts of His worship performed which He Himself instituted.”
Martin Luther, The Creation, A Commentary on Genesis,” Vol. I, pp. 138-140, (Originally completed in 1545 – Link) translation by Professor J. N. Lenker, D. D., Minneapolis: 1901; and also “Copious Explanation of Genesis,” Vol. I, pp. 62, 68. Christiania: 1863. (Link) See also the translation by Henry D. Cole (Link)
Sunday Observance by Jesus’ Disciples:
One of the key points forwarded by White in his presentation is that the earliest Christians, very soon after the time of Christ, started to observe Sunday rather than the Sabbath as their day of worship. He points out that of the seven times that Jesus met with His disciples following His resurrection, five of these times were Sunday visits. Examples of worship services on Sunday include:
John 20:19 (Sunday evening = Monday)
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Evidently, the hour is late; the disciples have returned from Emmaus (Luke 24:23), and it was evening when they left Emmaus. At least it must be long after sunset, when the second day of the week, according to the Jewish reckoning, would begin (our Monday). So, this isn’t exactly a Sunday worship service, but a Monday meeting during the first hours of the second day of the week – not the first day…
Acts 20:7 (Sabbath evening preaching and eating – Paul leaving the next day)
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
This is one of but eight passages in the New Testament that mention the first day of the week. Yet, this particular passage is very commonly used by those who argue that the early Christian church began the custom of gathering together for worship services on the first day of the week while forsaking the observance of the weekly Sabbath on the seventh-day.
Of course, what those who cite this passage usually forget to mention is that this particular “proof text” for Sunday observance is actually telling a story about a meeting that took place on Saturday night – after a likely all-day Sabbath meeting with Paul. Paul was clearly eager to spend as much time with these beloved people as possible, so he stayed late into the evening speaking to them until midnight that Saturday evening (which, in Jewish reckoning, would quality as the first hours of the “first day of the week” or what is now known as Sunday). In fact, he spoke so long that a young man named Eutychus got tired, fell asleep on a window ledge, and fell out to his death – only the be raised from the dead when Paul prayed for him (Acts 20:9-10).
Clearly then, this passage has nothing to do with the early Christian Church choosing to observe Sunday as a holy day rather than the weekly Sabbath day. The main reason for this particular gathering with the disciples on that “first day” (which began at sunset on Sabbath evening) was because Paul was “ready to depart on the marrow.” For this reason only did they gather… not to have a worship service as the proponents of Sunday observance suggest, but to hear Paul’s farewell speech and to give their goodbyes as he was leaving soon after. Also, just because they decided to have a meal while he spoke is not a valid reason to assume this was a worship service or a communion service. After all, we know that the disciples broke bread on a daily basis, from “house to house.” (Acts 2:46).
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 (Setting aside of offerings to avoid collections when Paul comes)
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
Sounds like such a setting aside of funds has more to do with practicality than it does with regular worship. This is especially in light of the fact that it was Paul’s own custom to worship on the Sabbath day, not Sunday. The Book of Acts alone gives a record of Paul holding eighty-four worship meetings upon that day (Acts 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4-11). The few texts above that mention Sunday cannot remotely compare when it comes to the Biblical support for Sabbath observance, as a day of worship, by the disciples of Jesus (and Jesus Himself for that matter).
Rev. 1:10 (John in Spirit on the Lord’s Day – or the Sabbath day)
The best interpretation of John’s phrase “the Lord’s Day” is that John was talking about the Sabbath (Revelation 1:10). After all, up until that point in the history of the early Christian Church, only the Sabbath had ever been referred to as “the Lord’s Day” (Mark 2:28 and Isaiah 58:13). This is right in line with the fact that the Christians continued to worship in the temple and in their synagogues, as they had always done (Acts 3:1). No significant changes to their customs of worship are described in the Bible.
There was also never any dispute between the Christians and the Jews about the Sabbath day. This is good evidence that the early Christians still observed the same day that the Jews did. The first mention of Sunday as the “Lord’s Day” didn’t take place until the middle of the second century since the first undisputed reference to Lord’s Day in reference to Sunday is in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter (verse 34,35 and 50), probably written about the middle of the 2nd century. The Gospel of Peter (35 and 50) uses kyriake as the name for the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection (Link). Also, the first mention of Sunday as a mystic “eighth day” is found in the Gnostic pseudo-Barnabas epistle (Link), and the first mention of the term the “Lord’s Day” in reference to Sunday as a mystic day typifying the renewed life was made by the Gnostic philosopher Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD). However, among the apocryphal books of the second century, the “Lord’s Day” is actually identified with the Sabbath as well in the Acts of John as “on the seventh day, it being the Lord’s day, he said to them: now it is time for me also to partake of food.” (Link)
White’s argument that the term the “Lord’s Day”, in reference to Sunday, was promoted by Ignatius, a disciple of John, is based on documents that were modified and expanded well after the time of Ignatius (Link).
Perhaps the most common passage cited with regard to the lack of Sabbath observance by protestant Christians is Colossians 2:16-17. And, White is no exception in his review of this passage:
Let no man therefore judge you in food, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
This passage is cited as proof that Jesus did away with the Law at the cross, to include the weekly Sabbath, as no longer binding for the Christian. It is usually argued that Jesus fulfilled the shadowy Law so that the Christian need not live under the Law, but under grace. After all, it was Paul himself who explained, “You are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14).
What many fail to understand, however, is that the weekly Sabbath does not foreshadow a future event, but past events. Yet, here in Colossians, Paul specifically explains that he is talking about the laws that were put in place to foreshadow the coming of Christ. There were ceremonial laws, animal sacrifices, and yearly sabbaths that pointed toward the life and death of Jesus. Obviously, these met their reality in Jesus Himself and were no longer needed or helpful once He was Himself sacrificed.
The weekly Sabbath, however, does not point forward, but backward. It is not a “shadow of things to come.” It is for this reason that it was written in stone and placed inside of the Ark of the Covenant with the rest of the eternal moral laws of the Decalogue – not on the outside in the box with the rest of the Mosaic laws that were not directly written with the finger of God on stone, but by Moses on parchment “as a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26). You don’t write a temporary “shadow” on stone. And, you don’t place a “shadow” on equal footing with other eternal moral laws – moral laws that were and are and will forever be binding for all of humanity. Even among anti-Sabbatarians, most recognize, including White, that at least nine of the Ten Commandments are still binding upon the Christian (and will be observed through the Power of the Spirit in one’s life). Why then was a temporary “shadow law” placed among these nine permanent non-shadowy laws written in stone by His own finger? That conclusion simply makes no sense. It is inconsistent with the idea of a rational God.
Beyond this, Colossians 2 is really about combating the growing influence of Gnosticism in the region. Paul tried to keep the Colossians focused on Christ as the head of the Church (Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:10-19). But these Gnostic teachers were trying to persuade them to direct their worship toward angels (Colossians 2:18) and neglect their own bodies (Colossians 2:23). The Gnostics had introduced various man-made prohibitions—such as “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” (Colossians 2:21)—against the enjoyment of physical things. They especially objected to the pleasurable aspects of God’s festivals—the eating and drinking aspects—that are commanded in the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 12:17-18).
As noted several times above, the Sabbath was never intended to be a day of fasting, but a day of celebration and of feasting – and there were specific rules against turning the Sabbath into a day of fasting. However, all of this feasting went against Gnostic ideas that such feasting is a bad thing. So, when Paul wrote, “… Let no one judge you in food …” (Colossians 2:16), he wasn’t discussing what types of foods they should or should not eat. The Greek word brosis, translated “food,” does not refer to the kinds of foods one should or should not eat, but to “the act of eating” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Food”). The point is that the Gnostics disdained feasting—any type of eating and drinking for enjoyment. Yet, this idea is opposed to God’s expressed command for the enjoyment of such things on His holy days.
Particularly, in verse 16, Paul comes to the primary point he wants to make. He tells the Colossians not to let anyone (including the Gnostics) judge them in eating or drinking, or in the observance of festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths.
This passage is widely misunderstood because most scholars begin with the assumption that the Sabbath, new moons, and Holy Days mentioned in verse 16 are among the false teachings Paul is combating. They assume that the Gentile Colossians were not keeping these days, but the heretics (who are usually labeled “Jewish Gnostics”) were trying to force them to observe them. Two points discredit this theory:
First, Paul calls the Gnostic teachings the “tradition of men” (Col. 2:8) and the “commandments and doctrines of men” (Col. 2:22). Regardless of how Paul felt about the observances he lists in verse 16, being a Pharisee trained in the Law (Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:5; Phi. 3:4-6), he would not have called them the “traditions of men.” They are clearly defined in the Torah (Exo. 16, 20; Lev. 23; Deu. 16) as divine commands the Israelites were to obey.
Furthermore, it’s clear that the heretics’ teaching involved strict ascetic regulations (Col. 2:21-23). Yet asceticism is the opposite of feasting. You don’t promote asceticism by encouraging the observance of feast days. Instead, you elevate asceticism by criticizing the way someone is keeping a feast, or by condemning the fact that they are celebrating a feast at all.
Because of an anti-Jewish bias which can be traced back to the early Catholic church, almost all scholars have misunderstood the meaning of Paul’s statement in these verses. For the Gnostics to be judging the Colossians regarding the manner of observance of the Sabbath, new moons, and Holy Days, they obviously had to be keeping them!
The phrase “in food or in drink” does not accurately convey the meaning of the original text. The Greek reads “en brosei kai en posei” and refers to the acts of eating and drinking. The strict Gnostics were substituting an ascetic philosophy (Col. 2:8, “human tradition”) and “doctrines of demons” (see I Tim. 4:1-3) for the truth that had previously been taught to the Colossians. They were evidently quick to find fault with anyone who did not follow their teaching of denying oneself food and drink.
The text shows that the Gnostic teachers were also condemning the Colossian Christians for their observance of the Sabbath, new moons, and Holy Days. The Gnostics’ reason for judging the Colossians in these matters goes hand in hand with their criticism of “eating and drinking.” Jews in the 1st century (as well as early Christians) treated the Sabbath as a weekly feast day, and fasting was forbidden on the Sabbath.
Again, what was actually happening here is that these heretical teachers were advocating man-made regulations concerning physical things that “perish with the using” – which Paul was arguing against (verse 22). Of course, no such distorted ideas are taught anywhere in the Scriptures. This is important to recognize, since it is commonly assumed that Paul condemns the observance of the Sabbath and other holy days in these particular passages. However, what Paul is really doing here is warning the Colossians against a popular philosophy in the region that disparaged the feasting and joyous observance of the Sabbath – and other holy days.
This is really why Paul is telling the Colossians to “let no one judge you” with regard to eating, drinking, or observing the weekly and annual sabbaths – rather than what is commonly read into Colossians 2:16: “There is no reason to keep the Sabbath or holy days.” Christians in Colossae were being pressured by the ascetic society around them, which would have looked down on their feasting on holy days, not their actual observance of holy days.
So, again, Paul’s main point: The Gnostics of Colossae had no authority to judge or determine how the Colossians were to observe God’s festivals. That is why Paul said, “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 …” (Colossians 2:16-17, KJV). Nothing in this passage even suggests that God abolished His weekly Sabbaths or authorized Paul to do so. Succumbing to the judgmental influence of those early gnostic heretics is what Paul condemns, not the observance of Sabbaths or even the annual feast days in these particular passages (Link).
Actually, what Paul appears to be saying is that such judgments are reserved for the Church of God to determine – not the Gnostics or anyone other than the church as a body of believers.
Consider, in this line of reasoning, that the literal translation of the Greek in the last part of verse 17 is “but the body of Christ.” In Greek, verses 16 and 17 say: “Consequently, let no one judge you in eating or in drinking with respect to a festival or a new moon or sabbaths (which are a shadow of things to come) but the body of Christ.” The phrase used here, “body of Christ” should not be confusing, for Paul uses it several other times in the letter to the Colossians (1:18; 1:24; 2:19; 3:15), as well as in some of his other epistles (Rom., I Cor., and Eph.). In these instances, it is a figurative reference to the Church.
Therefore, the phrase “which are a shadow of things to come” was intended by Paul to be a parenthetical statement. It was added to give the Colossians additional insight into the festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths. However, it was not necessary to complete the thought. Even if Paul had left that phrase out, his admonition would have been understandable: “Let no one judge you regarding eating and drinking (at these times) . . . but the body of Christ.” – or the Church alone.
Paul is plainly saying here that the Church was to be the Colossians’ only guide on eating and drinking, as these things related to Sabbath, new moon, and festival observances. They were not to let the Gnostics force ascetic practices on them, especially during these holy times (which are a shadow of the good things coming in the future – cf. Heb. 9:11, 10:1). (Link).
One last point about verse 17; the word translated “are” is the Greek verb esti. This verb is in the present tense; Paul is saying the annual Holy Days and the Sabbath ARE currently shadows of things to come. Paul does not say that they were shadows that were fulfilled at the coming of Christ. From this we know that the events they foreshadow have not been completed yet; therefore, the shadows still have relevance. The celebration and feasting on these holy days is but a foretaste of heaven and the celebrations that the redeemed will experience in the New Earth!
So, again, instead of doing away with God’s Sabbath or even the Holy Days, this passage of Scripture, when understood correctly, actually demonstrates, quite clearly, that the Colossian Church was actually keeping them as times of celebration and feasting – as was their original intent. (Link).
Hebrews 4 – A Sabbath Rest for the Christian:
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,e just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11)
This passage is often referenced by evangelical Christians, including Chris White, in favor of the idea that “every day is the Sabbath” for the Christian. The Old Covenant 7th-day Sabbath simply prefigured the rest that the Christian would experience “in Christ” where Jesus Himself is now our Sabbath rest.
However, there is something very interesting about this particular passage in Hebrews. All eight previous uses of the word “rest” in Hebrews 3 and 4 are a translation of the Greek word katapausis. However, in verse (4:9) the author of Hebrews (many think it was Paul), deliberately uses the Greek word sabbatismos – which is not used anywhere else in the Bible. Extrabiblical sources that do use this word define it to mean “observance of the seventh-day Sabbath”. This term, Sabbatismos, “was used by pagans and Christians as a technical term for Sabbathkeeping. Examples can be found in the writings of Plutarch, Justin, Epiphanius, the Apostolic Constitutions, and the Martyrdom of Peter and Paul.” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath Under Crossfire, 1998).
Unfortunately, the King James and the New King James translations do not distinguish between the meaning of katapausis and sabbitismos, and mistakenly translate both words simply as “rest”. This is misleading, for it does not convey the author’s intention to remind Hebrew Christians of the full meaning God invested in the Sabbath when He instituted it at creation and embedded it in the Ten Commandments.
The author of Hebrews, if read in the original Greek, leaves no doubt, for in this same context he links God’s continuing appeal to enter His rest to the origin of the Sabbath at creation when he specifically noted, “on the seventh day God rested from all his work” (Hebrews 4:4). By declaring that the Sabbath rest remains for the people of God, Hebrews rescues the true Sabbath observance from the faithless legalism of Judaism into which it had fallen and restores it to its true covenant role as a sign between God and His people. The Sabbath reminds them that He is their Creator and Redeemer – the only One who can make them a holy people who can truly enter His rest…
Early Church Father’s Worshiped on Sunday:
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (35-108 AD):
Of course, White questions the idea that the disciples of Jesus favored Sabbath observance, citing several early church fathers who argued for Sunday observance and against Sabbath observance for the Christian. Perhaps the most prominent of those cited by White is Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of John (which provides him with pretty good credentials). Here is the passage referenced by White from a letter of Ignatius to the Trallians:
If therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things that have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.
– Ignatius of Antioch
This seems pretty conclusive until one considers some of the historical facts surrounding this passage. As it turns out, the “Letter to the Trallians” is controversial – with none of the controversies being in favor of those who oppose Sabbath observance. The most common citation (noted here) appears to be a mix of the longer and shorter versions taken from “Verse 9” of the letter. The longer version is discounted by scholars as not authentic because it was modified and lengthened much later by someone else (Link). In other words, it’s a late modification by someone other than Ignatius. Even according to Wikipedia, it isn’t a reliable quote (Link). Now, consider that the shorter version says nothing about “the Lord’s Day.” It reads as follows:
“If, then, those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbath, but living according to the Lord’s life…”
The subsequently modified longer version, does define the “Lord’s Day” as Sunday, but also recognizes that the Sabbath was being observed by early Christians:
“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner… but let everyone keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God… and after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival.”
More significant still is the context. As Kenneth A. Strand concisely and incisively remarks:
Regardless of what the “Lord’s Life” or “Lord’s Day” may have meant either in Magnesia or in Antioch and regardless of whether or not Ignatius intended a cognate accusative, the context reveals that it is not the early Christians who are pictured as “no longer sabbatizing,” but that it is the Old Testament prophets who are described . . . Surely Ignatius knew that the Old Testament prophets observed the seventh day of the week, not the first! The contrast here, then, is not between days as such, but between ways of life—between the Jewish “sabbatizing” way of life and the newness of life symbolized for the Christian by Christ’s resurrection.
– Kenneth A. Strand, “Three Essays on Early Church,” p.45.
The “sabbatizing” then which Ignatius condemns, in the context of the conduct of the prophets, could hardly be the repudiation of the Sabbath as a day, but rather, as R. B. Lewis, asserts, “the keeping of the Sabbath in a certain manner—Judaizing.” This, in fact, is the sense which is explicitly given to the text in the interpolated long recension:
“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness . . . But let every one of you keep the Sabbath in a spiritual manner, rejoicing in the meditation on the law, not in the relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, nor walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them.”
The fact that pseudo-Ignatius here urges Christians to stop “practicing Judaism” (Magnesians 8:1) or “living like the Jews” (10:3) and to follow the example of the prophets in not Judaizing on the Sabbath, implies that many Christians were still following traditional Jewish customs, especially in the matter of Sabbath keeping. If such were the case, it would hardly seem reasonable to presume that Christians in Asia had already radically abandoned the Sabbath and were observing solely Sunday. (Link)
It is even more unlikely that Ignatius, the disciple of John would speak against Sabbath observance since another disciple of John, Polycarp of Smyrna, was a Sabbath keeper as was Theophilus (another bishop of Antioch not too long after Ignatius). Also, the Apostolic Constitutions, written in Antioch (375 to 380 AD), still maintained the observance of the weekly Sabbath as a day of worship and joy.
Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155 AD):
This makes even more sense once one considers that another disciple of John, Polycarp, was a Sabbath keeper.
Polycarp personally knew the Apostle John, and was his disciple. All of his life he was devoted to the teachings of John and the other Apostles and was considered to be a Nazarene. The 15th-century Jewish historian, sometimes called Rabbi Ifaac wrote:
“Polycarp…Born late in the reign of Nero, he became a Nazarene.”
Hoffman , David. Chronicles from Cartaphilus: The Wandering Jew. Published by , 1853. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized Sep 7, 2007, p. 636
Being a Nazarene meant, of course, that Polycarp continued to observe the Sabbath as a holy day of worship – as did the Apostle John before him since Polycarp was John’s disciple.
As late as the eleventh century, Cardinal Humbert of Mourmoutiers still referred to the Nazarene sect as a Sabbath-keeping Christian body existing at that time (Strong (1874), Cyclopedia, I, New York, p. 660). Modern scholars believe it is the Pasagini or Pasagians who are referenced by Cardinal Humbert, suggesting the Nazarene sect existed well into the eleventh century and beyond (from the Catholic writings of Bonacursus entitled “Against the Heretics“). It is believed that Gregorius of Bergamo, about 1250 AD, also wrote concerning the Nazarenes as the Pasagians.
The argument by some that the Nazarenes followed the floating “Lunar Sabbath” is based largely on John Keyser’s book, “From Sabbath to Saturday“ where a statement by Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) is referenced as follows:
“Neither worship as the Jews; for they, thinking that they only know God, do not know Him, adoring as they do angels and archangels, the month and the moon. And if the moon be not visible, they do not hold the Sabbath, which is called the first; nor do they hold the new moon, nor the feast of unleavened bread, nor the feast, nor the great day.” (Stromata, Chap. 5)
Lunar Sabbatarians commonly interpret this statement as follows:
This clearly indicates that at this time the weekly Sabbath was still dictated by the moon’s course (Link).
Well, not quite. Certainly, this passage does not trump the numerous statements from many authors concerning the regular weekly cycle of seven fixed days followed by the early Christians (including the Nazarenes) – along with a fixed Sabbath day every 7th day. Therefore, what Clement is most likely talking about here is one of the annual sabbaths – like the “Feast of Trumpets” (which happens to fall on “the first” day of the month of Tishrei).
For a more detailed discussion of the whole notion of a “Lunar Sabbath” see: Link
The same appears to be true of those who followed the teachings of the Apostle Paul – including the gentile Nazarenes up into the fourth and fifth centuries. They were sometimes derisively referred to as “Minim” by some of the Jews:
“In fact some Minim of gentile stock, following St. Paul, taught that the Law had been abolished with the exception of the Decalogue…”
Bagatti (Catholic Scholar). The Church from the Circumcision, p. 108
Irenaeus on Polycarp:
This devotion to the teaching of the Apostles was carefully noted by those around him and by those who came after. For example, Irenaeus, a contemporary of Polycarp (130-220 AD), spoke of Polycarp as follows:
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time
Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4.
It is also interesting to note that Irenaeus and Eusebius both record how the Apostles Philip and John, as well as faithful church leaders and martyrs such as Polycarp and Melito, kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan in accordance with the gospel and would not deviate from it.
Besides observing the Passover exactly on the 14th of Nisan, not always on the Sunday following, Polycarp also observed the Sabbath – as did the Nazarenes in general. Irenaeus, on the other hand, was known as a “peacemaker” and so adopted weekly Sunday observance as well as Easter Sunday observance (not usually on the 14th of Nisan). He also downplayed Sabbath observance, giving it a metaphysical meaning similar to the Gnostics – despite the influence of Polycarp.
Roman supporters ultimately did largely eliminate the Christian observance of the Passover on the 14th of Nisan – by the decree of the pagan Emperor Constantine in 325 AD.
In any case, while Irenaeus commended Polycarp for blasting the “heretic” Marcion (who tried to do away with the Old Testament, the law, and the Sabbath), he apparently did not think that changing the date of the Passover to Sunday (as some Roman bishops did) or the day of worship to Sunday (as Justin advocated) was heretical.
The account of Polycarp’s death at the stake also appears to cite Sabbath observance by his followers. According to the letter “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” by the Smyrnaeans:
“On the day of the preparation, at the hour of dinner, there came out pursuers and horsemen” and Polycarp was killed “on the day of the great Sabbath at the eighth hour.”
The encyclical epistle of the church at Smyrna, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole’s 1885 translation
Note: The margin says, “The great Sabbath is that before the Passover.”
The use of these two expressions (“day of the preparation” and “the day of the great Sabbath”) strongly indicates that those in Polycarp’s area were still keeping the Sabbath as well as Holy Days, like the Passover, in the latter portion of the second century. Otherwise, since Asia Minor (including Smyrna) was a Gentile area, the terms “preparation day”, which was generally used in reference to the Friday preceding the weekly Sabbath day (since food preparation could be done on the annual sabbaths, but not on the weekly Sabbath), and “great Sabbath” would not have been relevant.
Polycrates of Ephesus (125-196 AD):
In the closing decades of the second century, Polycrates, a faithful church leader who had been personally trained by Polycarp, took over a leadership position (and was eventually crucified). He remained prominent Christian leader who was faithful to the example of the Apostles of the Jerusalem Church. Polycrates taught the true Gospel of the literal establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the unconscious state of the dead awaiting the resurrection, and the importance of keeping God’s Law.
Toward the end of the second century, Victor, bishop of Rome, had begun labeling Polycrates and those who followed his teachings as heretics—sources of discord and schism in the church. Polycrates remained faithful despite increasing pressure and isolation as well as persecution and hostility from fellow Christians as well as the surrounding pagan society.
Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (120-190 AD):
And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create…Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the “Sabbath,” is translated into Greek the “Seventh” (ebdomas), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation.
Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapters XI, XII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight
In the fifteenth chapter of this book, Theophilus compares those who “keep the law and commandments of God” to the fixed stars, while the “wandering stars” are “a type of the men who have who wandered from God, abandoning his law and commandments.”
In short, Theophilus bears testimony to the validity and binding nature of the commandments of the Decalogue, including the Sabbath, and says not one word concerning the observance of Sunday or the “Lord’s Day” as a holy day.
St. Patrick (385-461 AD):
The Christianity which first reached France and Britain was of the school of the apostle John, who ruled the churches in Asia Minor. Colonists from Asia Minor laid the foundations of the pre-Patrick church. They brought with them the doctrine which they received of John, Paul, Philip, and the other apostles of the Lord, which included the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. (Link)
“It seems to have been customary in the Celtic churches of early times, in Ireland as well as Scotland, to keep Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a day of rest from labour. They obeyed the fourth commandment literally upon the seventh day of the week.”
Professor James C. Moffatt, D.D., Professor of Church History at Princeton, The Church in Scotland, p. 140.
Ironically St. Patrick himself evidently kept Saturday as a day of rest, (A.C. Flick, The Rise of Medieval Church, pp. 236-327).
“Patrick rejected the union of church and state. More than one hundred years had passed since the first world council at Nicaea had united the church with the empire. Patrick rejected this model. He followed the lesson taught in John’s Gospel when Christ refused to be made a king. Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36). Not only the Irish apostle but his famous successors, Columba in Scotland, and Columbanus on the Continent, ignored the supremacy of the papal pontiff. They never would have agreed to making the pope a king.” (Truth Triumphant, pp.85,86)
The monks sent to England [in 596 A.D.] by Pope Gregory the Great soon came to see that the Celtic Church differed from theirs in many respects… Augustine himself [a Benedictine abbot] . . . held several conferences with the Christian Celts in order to accomplish the difficult task of their subjugation to Roman authority… The Celts permitted their priests to marry, the Romans forbade it. The Celts used a different mode of baptism from that of the Romans… The Celts held their own councils and enacted their own laws, independent of Rome. The Celts used a Latin Bible unlike the [Catholic] Vulgate, and kept Saturday as a day of rest.”
Alexander Clarence Flick, The Rise of The Mediaeval Church, 1959, pp. 236- 327 [Dr. Flick (1869-1942) was professor of European history in Syracuse University and author of an important historical work].
Due to the world of Patrick’s day knowing the truth about him and the Celtic Church, Rome made no mention of, or claim to, Patrick until at least 200 years after his time. Bede did however make record in 431 A.D. of an attempt of a Roman Catholic missionary to bring the Celtic assemblies under the rule and doctrine of Rome:
“Palladius was sent by Celestinus, the Roman pontiff, to the Scots [Irish] that believed in Christ.” (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, p.22) But “he left because he did not receive respect in Ireland” (William Cathcart, D. D., The Ancient British and Irish Churches, p.72).
Other doctrines that Patrick, Columba, and the Celtic assemblies held included the belief in the mortality of man and the hope of the resurrection (vs. immortality of the soul and going to heaven, hell, and/or purgatory); the distinction between clean and unclean animals; “improvised” prayers (from the heart, rather than merely from the lip with repetitions); that Christ Jesus is our only Mediator–as opposed to various “saints,” Mary, angels, etc.; and that redemption and atonement comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ alone–separate from works and heeding commandments/doctrines of men (see The Celtic Church in Britain by Leslie Hardinge, as well as Truth Triumphant by B.G. Wilkinson, for documentation).
“The Roman Catholics have proudly and exclusively claimed St. Patrick, and most Protestants have ignorantly or indifferently allowed their claim…But he was no Romanist. His life and evangelical Church of the 5th century ought to be better known.” (McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. VII, p.776; article: Patrick, St.)
Second and Third Century Church Fathers:
Of course, it is true that by the mid-second and third centuries, a number of church fathers, especially in Rome and Alexandria, started to distance themselves from the Sabbath, preferring to emphasize Sunday as a day of Christian fellowship and worship. However, these changes were largely politically motivated in order to distance the Christians from the Jews (who were very unpopular at that time) and were not followed by the Church leaders in the Eastern regions which continued to observe the Sabbath as holy to God.
For a detailed discussion of this process see: Link
Apostolic Constitutions (375-380 AD):
It is also interesting to consider the testimony of the Apostolic Constitutions from the early Christian era – especially since they were written in Antioch where both Ignatius and Theophilus were bishops:
The Apostolic Constitutions or Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (Latin: Constitutiones Apostolorum) is a Christian collection of eight treatises which belongs the Church Orders, a genre of early Christian literature, that offered authoritative “apostolic” prescriptions on moral conduct, liturgy and Church organization. The work can be dated from 375 to 380 AD. The provenance is usually regarded as Syria, probably Antioch.
Of the Apostolical Constitutions, Guericke’s Church History says:
“This is a collection of ecclesiastical statutes purporting to be the work of the apostolic age, but in reality formed gradually in the second, third, and fourth centuries, and is of much value in reference to the history of polity, and Christian archaeology generally.” – Ancient Church, p. 212.
Here are a few passages relevant to the Ten Commandments and the keeping of the Sabbath as holy:
“Have before thine eyes the fear of God, and always remember the ten commandments of God, – to love the one and only Lord God with all thy strength; to give no heed to idols, or any other beings, as being lifeless gods, or irrational beings or demons. Consider the manifold workmanship of God, which received its beginning through Christ. Thou shalt observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from his work of creation, but ceased not from his work of providence: it is a rest for meditation of the law, not for idleness of the hands…
O Lord Almighty, thou hast created the world by Christ, and hast appointed the Sabbath in memory thereof, because that on that day thou hast made us rest from our works, for the meditation upon thy laws…
Thou didst give them the law or decalogue, which was pronounced by thy voice and written with thy hand. Thou didst enjoin the observation of the Sabbath, not affording them an occasion of idleness, but an opportunity of piety, for their knowledge of thy power, and the prohibition of evils; having limited them as within an holy circuit for the sake of doctrine, for the rejoicing upon the seventh period…
On this account he permitted men every Sabbath to rest, that so no one might be willing to send one word out of his mouth in anger on the day of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is the ceasing of the creation, the completion of the world, the inquiry after laws, and the grateful praise to God for the blessings he has bestowed upon men.
Testimony of the Apostolical Constitutions (375-380 AD), Book ii. sect. 4, par. 36.
Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbath day and the Lord’s day let them have leisure to go to church for instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is on account of the creation, and the Lord’s day, of the resurrection.”
Testimony of the Apostolical Constitutions, Book viii. sect. 4
See also the review of J.N. Andrews: Link
Chris White is right on the money when it comes to righteousness by faith and the fact that we can do nothing, of ourselves, to recommend us to God. We are totally dependent upon the unmerited grace of God for our salvation that was purchased for us, and then given to us as a free gift of love, by God. Keeping the Law doesn’t save us. Getting baptized doesn’t save us. Observing the Lord’s Supper doesn’t save us. Going through the motions of doing nice things for our neighbors doesn’t save us. The only thing that saves us is the grace of God. We can either accept or reject this gift. We can either accept the Spirit into our lives or decide to go it alone.
The Bible is in fact very clear that the Spirit in the heart will produce a change in the desires and actions of a person that causes one to actually keep the Royal Law of Love. So, yes, while one’s own works and efforts are not the basis of salvation, the gift that God gives us of the Spirit, if accepted into the heart, will actually work in us to “will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
You see, the good works that the Christian does through the power of the Spirit is not the basis of salvation, but it is evidence that the Spirit is in fact at work in the heart of that person. It is for this reason that James says,
“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless. Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:18-22).
Again, true faith in God will produce in us good works. Yet, the works themselves are not what save us. Salvation and forgiveness, again, are free gifts, as is the Spirit, independent up anything that we do or have ever done. Yet, these gifts are not meant to save us in our sins, but from our sins. Does God really want to leave me as I was? – to save me without changing me from the monster I was into something truly beautiful? I think not… and that is why the Spirit is included in the gift of salvation – so that I don’t have to stay as I am, but can be “reborn” and thereby changed into a new creature where the “old has gone and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now, that’s the true miracle of grace!
But what about those who deliberately keep on sinning against God’s righteous moral laws? – who deliberately put forth an effort to trample upon them?
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26-27).
You see then, it is possible to reject the gift of salvation – by rejecting the call of the Spirit of God to walk in His power to live a righteous life that magnifies the Law of God, the Law of Love towards God and towards one’s neighbor, and gives it honor in your life. Such a rejection of the call of the Spirit is the only thing that the Christian should fear. Otherwise, once the Spirit has been accepted into one’s heart, there is nothing to fear because those who follow the Spirit will automatically be doing the will of God and will be living according to the Law of Love.
But what about those who are blindsided by sin. They didn’t go out deliberately to sin, to act contrary to the Law of Love, but kinda fell into it. Well, the relationship between God and the Christian in such cases is not broken. The blood of Jesus covers such failures on the part of a true Christian.
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1).
So, the Christian who wants to remain friends with God will be given the Power of God to walk with Him. Only those who really work hard at leaving God and continually and very deliberately reject the leading of His Spirit, will one day be “let go” (Hosea 11:8) and will be lost. In short, though, it seems to take a lot of deliberate effort to be lost because God is very persistent in His pursuit of those He loves – which is all of us!
Of course, if we don’t resist the overtures of God we will be drawn to Him and we will accept God’s gift of salvation, which includes God’s gift of the Spirit who cleanses us from all of our unrighteousness. The Spirit will cause us to love even as we are loved. The Spirit will cause us to actually be able to truly love our neighbors with deep disinterested passion for those around us – and for God as well. Through this Divine Power, we will actually be enabled to keep God’s Royal Law of Love. This will, in turn, allow us to keep all of the moral Laws without them being able to condemn us any longer – all of the Ten Commandments including the Sabbath.
After all, the Sabbath was given as a gift for all of mankind back in Eden before the Fall. It is a practical gift that is a joy and a blessing if observed through the Spirit. And, it turns the mind back to God as our Creator and our Redeemer from sin and suffering. It gives us confidence that God is for us, not against us, and that it is He who gives us a real hope and a very bright future (Jeremiah 29:11). The Sabbath is a taste of heaven – one of the two gifts from Eden that we still have with us in this fallen world (the other being marriage). Why would any follower of Christ ever want to refuse such a wonderful gift? It’s like shooting oneself in the foot! Certainly, the disciples of Jesus never did abandon their observance of the Sabbath, out of love for God, and they taught their own followers to do the same. Should we not do likewise today?
So, yes, while it is possible to be saved while being honestly ignorant of the continual gift of the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, such a one is missing out on a true blessing that still remains for those who love Jesus and are looking forward to His soon return and the Earth made new – where we will be able to celebrate the Sabbath with Him, face to face, in the New Jerusalem forevermore.
Remember also that the only thing that makes the New Covenant of Jesus really “new” is Jesus Himself. Although the moral laws remain the same, the Ten Commandments don’t change between the “Old” and the “New”, just seeing how Jesus lived them out in His own life, how He “magnified the Law”, gives us new insight into the character of God and makes us see something that was once “old” with new eyes… so that it appears to us to be brand new.
“The Law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; the Gospel sends us to the Law to frame our way of life… If Christ has freed us from the penalties, how ought we to subject ourselves to the precepts! If He has delivered us from the curses, how ought we to study the commands! If He paid our debt of sin, certainly we owe a debt of service.”
Samuel Bolton (1601-1654)
For more detailed information regarding the history of the Sabbath and the early Christian Church, see: Link
Video Presentation by Chris White:
Comparison Presentations by Skip MacCarty from Andrews University (Link):
Skip MacCarty, Part 1 (The Evangelical Model)
Skip MacCarty, Part 2 (The New Covenant)
Skip MacCarty, Part 3 (New Covenant DNA)
Skip MacCarty, Part 4 (New Covenant DNA at Sinai)
Skip MacCarty, Part 5 (Unifying Backstory of the Old and New Covenants)
Skip MacCarty, Part 6 (Window into Paul’s Understanding of the Covenants)
Skip MacCarty, Part 8 (A Study of 2 Corinthians 3)