The main reason why most Christians believe that the Sabbath is no longer a requirement for Christians is that it is part of the Old Covenant and they think it has nothing to do with the New. They say, “We are under the New Covenant, not the Old, therefore the old Jewish Sabbath commandment does not apply to us.”
On the surface, this argument seems to be very persuasive, yet let us take a few moments to examine what the Bible says about the Sabbath and the Old and New Covenants.
God, in Scripture, nowhere refers to the Sabbath as “the Jewish Sabbath,” but rather as “my holy day,” “the Sabbath of the LORD.” The fourth commandment states, “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” (Exodus 20:10) When a stranger, a gentile, wished to give his life to the Lord, or if he was just visiting with the Jews, he was commanded to keep the Sabbath. “Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. ” (Isaiah 56:6, 7)
The Old and New Covenants
Let us take a few moments to examine what the Bible says about the New Covenant.
We read the following in Hebrews 8:6-9. “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. [Notice that the Old Covenant was established on promises.] For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. [There were faults in the Old Covenant. What were those faults?] For finding fault with them, [The first covenant was based on promises that the Israelites made to God. God found fault with them because they did not keep their promises.] He saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.”
It is plain that the Old Covenant was faulty, not because God’s promises were faulty, nor because His law was faulty, but because the Israelites failed to keep their promises. After God spoke His Ten Commandments the Israelites said, “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8) The law was what the Israelites covenanted to keep. The covenant was the promise that the Israelites made to God. The covenant made with Israel was established on faulty promises of the people. The law played an intricate part of the Old Covenant, and, as is clear from the above verses, the law plays an intricate part of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was based on promises that men made and failed to keep. The New Covenant is based on the promises of God, who promised to write the LAW within our hearts. Notice, it is the exact same law, based on better promises. The Old Covenant was was done away with, not the Law.
The New Covenant is a placing of the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath, in our minds and hearts. God said, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27) God will cause us to walk in His ways.
Concerning the New Covenant Paul quoted the Scripture that says, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: [Notice that the Old Covenant was based upon the promises of Israel to keep the Ten Commandments. The New Covenant is based on God’s promise to write those same Ten Commandments in our hearts, and to cause us to walk in His ways.] And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Hebrews 8:10-13)
What was decaying and waxing old was not the Ten Commandments, for they stand fast forever. The covenant based on the Israelites’ promise to keep the law was what was ready to vanish. The New Covenant is now based on God’s promise to fulfill His law in our lives. This can only happen if we let Him have His way in our lives.
Concerning the ratification of the New Covenant Paul wrote, “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament [or covenant] is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.” (Hebrews 9:16, 17) The New Covenant was ratified by the death of Christ, and was not in force until His death. “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.” (Galatians 3:15) After the death of Christ nothing could be added to the New Covenant. Some say that Sunday keeping is part of the New Covenant and point to the resurrection of Christ on that day as proof of this assertion, yet that Sunday came three days too late to be part of the New Covenant. Any assertion that Sunday is part of the New Covenant is proven untrue by the Scriptures.
Christ is the end of the law
As further justification for the claim that the law has been abolished, some quote Romans 10:4, which says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Many conclude that this means that Christ abolished the law, but Jesus said that He “came not to destroy the law.” The Greek word that was translated “end” is “teloV” meaning, “the point aimed at as a limit, a goal.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) Hence, Christ is the ultimate goal whom each of us are striving to imitate. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13) The same author used the word “teloV” in this way: “Now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end [teloV] everlasting life.” (Romans 6:22) Clearly, Paul was referring to everlasting life as the point being aimed at, or the goal of our Christian walk. Even so, coming to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” is the end, or goal of the law.
A man cannot ever be justified by the works of the law. Being justified is to be forgiven of sins, and there is no way that by keeping the law we can make up for even one sin that we have committed. Only by faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ can we be forgiven of sins. Paul exclaimed, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:21)
The Bible declares that “sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4) If the law has been done away with, there can be no law to transgress. If this were true, then there could be no sin, and hence, no sinner, and no need for justification. Doing the works of the law will not save you, but not doing them can cause you to be lost, unless you repent. (See Galatians 5:19-21)
Would you consider it a bondage to have a law telling you not to kill your neighbor? No! that law is for your benefit. Even so, the commandments are for our benefit. “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12, 13)
The blotting out of ordinances
Paul wrote concerning what happened at Christ’s death, “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” (Ephesians 2:15)
He also wrote, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” (Colossians 2:14) Some claim that the above verses prove that the law has been nailed to the cross. Is this really what Paul was saying? Paul said this concerning the law: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12) This agrees with the testimony of David: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7)
Notice that Paul did not say that the law, or the Ten Commandments, were nailed to the cross. So what was Paul talking about when he said “the handwriting of ordinances” was nailed to the cross? We read in Exodus concerning the feast of Passover, “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.” (Exodus 12:14) The Jewish Passover, the sacrificial system, and the priesthood, which were “a shadow of things to come,” were called ordinances. This is what Paul was referring to, which was done away with. God’s moral law, known as the Ten Commandments, was not “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us.”
Paul continued his thought concerning what took place at the cross by stating, “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: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16, 17) A few verses later, he wrote, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances. (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Colossians 2:20-22)
There was a big controversy in the early Christian church in which Jewish converts were seeking to compel gentile Christians to observe their traditions. The controversy was so great that a council was called in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 15. This is undoubtedly what Paul is referring to in Colossians 2. He referred to these ordinances of the Jews as “traditions of men” (v. 8), “commandments and doctrines of men,” “shadows of things to come,” and “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us.”
The ceremonies of the Jews were good for the time they served, but the rending of the veil of the temple, at Christ’s death, signified the end of that system. Anyone who would continue the traditions of the Jews after the cross would be following the commandments of men.
When Paul mentioned “the sabbath days,” he was not referring to the weekly Sabbath, for that was never a commandment of men, but the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. He was referring to the sabbath days associated with the feasts of the Jews, which could fall on any day of the week. The fact that Paul referred to the sabbath days, linking them with feast days, new moon, and meat and drink offerings proves that he was not referring to the fourth Commandment. For if he was, he would have mentioned it with other commandments in the Ten Commandments.
Concerning these verses one Bible Commentary states, “ ‘SABBATHS’ (not ‘the sabbaths’) of the day of atonement and feast of tabernacles have come to an end with the Jewish services to which they belonged (Leviticus 23:32, 37-39). The weekly sabbath rests on a more permanent foundation, having been instituted in Paradise to commemorate the completion of creation in six days. Leviticus 23:38 expressly distinguished ‘the sabbath of the Lord’ from the other sabbaths.” (James, Fausset, Brown Commentary on Colossians 2:16)
It is quite clear that Paul was not referring to the Ten Commandments when he stated that the handwriting of ordinances was nailed to the cross.
A disannulling of the commandment
Paul wrote, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” (Hebrews 7:12) “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.” (Hebrews 7:18) Paul is referring to a law that is weak and unprofitable. He said that since the priesthood has changed there must also be a change of the law. It is obvious that the law Paul was referring to was not the Ten Commandments, for they had nothing to do with laws concerning priests. Moreover, the Ten Commandment law is not weak and unprofitable, but “holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12) The law that was changed due to the changing of the priesthood is the ordinances concerning the sacrificial system, the priests, and the earthly sanctuary service.
Paul wrote, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4) Here we can plainly see that the law which was changed and done away with was the law of ordinances which dealt with the sacrificial system, the priesthood, and the earthly sanctuary service.
The law as our schoolmaster
“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions,… Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Galatians 3:19-25) The law of God speaks only to those who have broken that law. “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19) Once we have come to Christ and have been justified (literally, made innocent), the law has nothing to say to us for we stand before God as if we had not sinned. Hence we are no longer in need of a schoolmaster. The moment we again break that law, the law is there to testify that we are a sinner. Hence we again need that schoolmaster to bring us back to Christ. If there were no law to tell us that we have sinned, we would continue in a deplorable condition.
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Romans 7:7) Thank God for His law, for without it we would be liars, thieves, murderers, and such like. We need the law, our schoolmaster, to tell us when we have stepped out of God’s plan for our lives. If we are following Christ, we do not need the schoolmaster, because it will have nothing to say to us.
The ministration of death
“But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away.” (2 Corinthians 3:7)
There is no doubt that the phrase “written and engraven in stones” refers to the Ten Commandments. Notice that Paul does not say that that which was “written and engraven in stones” was done away, but he said the “glory was to be done away.” Paul said that the “ministration” of the law “was glorious,” “which glory was to be done away.” It is clear from this verse that Paul was not referring to the Ten Commandments as being “done away.” This fact is made even more certain when we look at other verses written by Paul. The beginning of Romans chapter three is taken up with Paul proving, from the Old Testament, that every man is a sinner in need of a Saviour. He wrote, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19) Here Paul says that “the law” speaks that “all the world may become guilty before God,” “that every mouth may be stopped.” According to Paul, the law speaks to every man, convicting him of his guilt. A law that has been done away could not possibly convict a man of his guilt. If I am driving down the road at 70 miles per hour in an area where the speed limit used to be 55, but now has been done away, can that abolished law possibly convict me that I am guilty of breaking it? Certainly not! An abolished law is useless, and unable to convict of sin.
Notice how Paul ends Romans chapter three. After explaining how we can be justified of our transgression of the law, he wrote, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31) It would be pointless and ridiculous for Paul to say that we establish an abolished law. Furthermore, he said clearly that we do not make void the law. In other words, the law is still in effect.
This point is brought out even more forcefully by the words of James, when he wrote, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:10-12) James was evidently referring to the Ten Commandment law as “the law of liberty” by which we “shall be judged.” You can be certain that we will not be judged by a law that has been abolished.
Also notice that James said that if you break the Ten Commandment law you are a “transgressor of the law.” John wrote, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4) If the law has been abolished, it is not possible for anyone to transgress it and, hence, there would be no such thing as sin or sinners, and no need for a Saviour. Certainly nobody could accept such an absurd idea, yet if we make the claim that the law is abolished we have no choice but accept the inescapable conclusion that sin is non-existent and needs no pardon.
Again, Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Romans 7:7) It is certain that Paul is referring to the Ten Commandment law because he quoted the tenth commandment. He goes on to say, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good… I consent unto the law that it is good.” (Romans 7:12, 16) It is evident that in 2 Corinthians 3:7 Paul was not referring to the law as being done away, but to the glory that attended Moses’ ministration of that law. Furthermore, God said that the New Covenant consisted in Him taking that same law and writing it in our hearts. (Hebrews 8:10) As we continue with the remaining verses of second Corinthians chapter three we will see this point brought out more clearly.
“How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:8, 9)
Notice that Paul is referring to the ministration of the law as glorious, rather than the law itself.
“For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” (2 Corinthians 3:10, 11)
What is done away? Some mistakenly assume that this refers to the Ten Commandments. However, we have seen that this is not possible. Furthermore, the context clearly refers to Moses’ ministration as being glorious. It is Moses’ ministration, and the glory that attended it, that was done away, not the law itself. Now, the ministration of righteousness exceeds the glory of the ministration of Moses. The same Ten Commandment law is being ministered, but now it is ministered by the Spirit, “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)
“Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” (2 Corinthians 3:12, 13)
Notice, Paul said that the vail over Moses’ face hid “that which is abolished.” What was the vail hiding? Not the Ten Commandment law engraved in the stones which he was holding in his hands, but the glory of Moses’ ministration of that law. That is what was abolished. The ministration of the law through Moses is totally different than the ministration of the law through the Spirit working upon our hearts. Moses ministered the law through cerimonies and services, while the Spirit ministers the law in our hearts.
Paul wrote, “But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 3:14)
Now, through Christ, we can read the Old Testament without the vail. The Old Testament becomes a new book to those who understand the mission of Christ. The vail was taken away from the two men who were on the road to Emmaus when Jesus, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) After they heard the Old Testament for the first time without the vail, “they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
When we read the whole passage of second Corinthians chapter three in its full context, it is indeed very clear. It in no way teaches that the Ten Commandments have been abolished.
Let us confess, with Paul, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1 Corinthians 7:19)