What Is the Christian Sabbath?

The God’s Rest Fulfillment View

As we have seen, the Bible does not allow for bringing a Sabbath day—whether the seventh day or the first—into the New Covenant. The Lord’s Day view, too, is flawed because it invents from vague, unconvincing evidence a day that it says Christians ought to keep.

But we have not yet examined all of the evidence. I have reserved the following Scriptures to be studied under this heading because, rather than just showing a lack of evidence to support the forgoing views, they are positive evidence that God has not instituted any day that He intends Christians must keep. The evidence in these Bible passages is so compelling that even if we ignored everything else in this article, these Scriptures alone prove that there is no Sabbath Day or Lord’s Day that Christians must keep.

Romans 14: Paul begins this chapter by saying that we are to receive into the church those who are weak in the faith, but not to let this cause disputing. In verse 2, he points out that one person may believe he can eat all things, and another, who is weak in faith, may believe he can eat only vegetables. So he clearly delineates here that, in the matter of food, believing you can eat only vegetables is an indication of a weak faith. Nevertheless, neither of these two—the one who is strong in faith or the one who is weak—should despise or condemn the other for his difference (verses 3–4).

Now notice verses 5–6: “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” One person believes he needs to observe a day; another person does not observe a day. Each position is okay. God accepts both of these people, and we should not judge, or condemn, either person for his or her stand on the keeping of days (verses 7–13).

From this information, is it possible to determine Paul’s—and even God’s—view on the keeping of days? Yes, it is. If Paul believes that it is all right to keep a day and all right to keep no days, then he must believe that there is no particular day that must be kept. If God accepts the person who observes a day and the person who observes no days, He must not have a day in mind that He believes people must keep. If God accepts the person who keeps no days, He will not condemn or even chasten that person for Sabbath breaking or for not observing Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

This conclusion is so obvious, the implication of Romans 14 is so clear, that the way Sabbath and Lord’s Day keepers try to get around it is by saying Romans 14 does not apply to the Sabbath or Lord’s Day. But the Scriptures do not allow such an interpretation.

One of the most well known promoters of the seventh-day Sabbath, Samuele Bacchiocchi, on pages 365–366 of his classic work on the subject, From Sabbath to Sunday, says that Paul is not addressing anything to do with Mosaic law, but only asceticism. But Bacchiocchi’s argument falls flat.

There is nothing in the context to pinpoint that Paul is addressing only asceticism. Paul, himself, identifies that what he is addressing in Romans 14 are “doubtful disputations” (verse 1). These might concern asceticism, pagan practices, or the law. In fact, examining the context of chapter 14, we see that Paul specifically addresses the Mosaic law in chapter 13. He says that love is the fulfilling of the law and lists some points of the law (Romans 13:8–10); he says that we should cast off the works of darkness and not make provision for the flesh (13:11–14). He then immediately (the chapter breaks in the Bible were added centuries later) says, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (Romans 14:1). Contrary to what Bacchiocchi asserts, Romans 14 is written in the context of how we fulfill the law.

Richard P. Belcher and Richard P. Belcher, Jr., in their book A Layman’s Guide to the Sabbath Question, summarize the position of those who hold the Sunday-Sabbath view toward Romans 14:5: “If one interprets this passage to refer to the Christian Sabbath and contends that even this day can be set aside, this is obviously an erroneous interpretation. If no day has any special significance, including the Lord’s day, then the apostle John in Revelation 1:10 is either misleading, or is in conflict with Paul, or John is cast in the role of the weaker brother” (pages 67–68). John and Paul are not in conflict. This argument assumes Revelation 1:10 is a reference to Sunday and sees Romans 14:5 in that biased light. Since, however, no line of reasoning in the Belchers’ book, nor any presented by anyone else I have ever read (and I have been studying this subject for many years) presents compelling evidence that Revelation 1:10 is a reference to Sunday, this argument is really saying nothing. Those who hold this position are telling us to believe that Romans 14 does not refer to the weekly Sabbath (they say it refers to the annual Jewish holy days) without presenting any real evidence.

Let’s face it. Paul makes no exception. He says it is perfectly acceptable to esteem every day alike, which is the same as esteeming no day in particular. He gives no hint whatsoever that either the seventh day or the first day are exceptions to what he is saying.

Since Paul, in Romans 14, allows the keeping of days if one desires to do so, does this mean that Paul believed it was okay to keep a day, such as a Sabbath or a Lord’s Day, thinking that in doing so one is earning merit with God? What if one keeps the day believing it is required and that not keeping it will bring chastisement from God? Paul addresses this aspect of the question in Galatians and Colossians.

Galatians: Anyone studying this subject should read Paul’s entire epistle to the Galatians. I will pick out a few verses. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (1:6–9). It helps to understand this epistle to know that Paul is a Jew who is writing to Gentile Galatians who have been wrongly instructed by Judaizers to keep the law. Paul calls this another gospel; a perversion of the Gospel of Christ, and he curses those who preach it.

Now read Galatians 2:16, keeping in mind that Paul is a Jew who uses “we” to mean “we Jews.” “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Paul is saying, Look, you Gentiles, even we Jews (at least, those of us who know better) know that no one is justified by trying to keep the law; therefore, we believe in Jesus Christ that we might be justified by faith. The implication is, the Galatians are being foolish to turn to the law that the Jewish Christians have given up for faith in Christ. “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (2:21).

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (3:10–14). Paul is saying here that if anyone, Jew or Gentile (he says, “every one” and “no man”), tries to attain righteousness by the law, that person comes under a curse. For example, anyone who thinks he can earn merit with God by keeping a Sabbath comes under the obligation to keep the entire law perfectly. As no one can do this (Romans 3:20–23), the attempt only condemns.

“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Galatians 3:19). The law was given to Israel to expose their sinfulness only until Christ (“the seed”) came. “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” (3:24–25). Notice that Paul says “our schoolmaster.” By “our” he means the Jews, the only people to whom the law was given. Paul equates the law to a “schoolmaster.” The word “schoolmaster” is translated from the Greek word paidagōgos. “Schoolmaster” is a mistranslation. Paidagōgos refers to a slave-attendant who was assigned to keep a boy under control until the boy came of age. Paul says the law was a paidagōgos that was added to keep Israel under control until the Seed (Jesus Christ) came. He also says, in essence, that after the coming of faith, the time of the paidagōgos is ended. Since he equates the paidagōgos with the law, he means that “we are no longer under” the law. By “we” he means the Jews, but, again, the implication is that, if the law is ended for the Jews to whom it was given, certainly the Gentile Galatians should not be trying to keep it.

“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world” (4:3). Notice that Paul again uses “we.” He is saying that both he and all Jews, when under the law, “were in bondage under the elements of the world.” This fact shocks many people, but Paul is clearly saying that the law was a bondage, and he calls it “the elements of the world.” Now notice verse 9: “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (4:9). The Galatians had been pagans, not Jews. They had never been under the law. They were only now turning to the law. Yet Paul says they were returning to the “weak and beggarly elements.” As shocking as it may sound, Paul places the Old Testament law in the same category as pagan rules and regulations the Galatians had once been under.

“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of [or for] you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (4:10–11). There are those who say the issue in Galatians is only circumcision. This verse shows that it is not true. The Galatians were turning to the keeping of “days and months and seasons and years” (4:10—New King James Version), such as the Sabbath, new moons, feasts, and sabbatical years. Paul, saying he was afraid for them for their doing this, indicated that his labors in preaching the Gospel of grace to them might have been in vain.

“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (4:21) What law? Some pagan law? No. The Law of Moses is meant. “For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar [Hagar]. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (4:22–31). Paul’s teaching is clearly that we, as Christians, are not under the Old Covenant’s laws, which lead to bondage. Whether we are Jews or Gentiles, we are to be free under the New Covenant.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (5:1). “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (5:4). If we try to be justified by the law, we come under its bondage. We fall from the doctrine of grace, no longer believing in justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (5:13–15). “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:2). As Christians, we are to keep the law of Christ, which is to love one another. We are enabled to do this when we are born again. “Biting” one another, such as accusing of sin those who do not keep the day you keep, is the real sin.

Copyright © 2007-2009 Peter Ditzel