Was the Mosaic Sabbath Eternal and Unchangeable?

Some Seventh-Day People Insist that the Principles of the Mosaic Sabbath Are Unchangeable and that, Therefore, the Prescribed Mosaic Sabbath Should be seen as Having Commenced from Creation;
But Is This Really Biblical?


Is the Genesis 2 Seventh Day 'Rest' Essentially Inseparable From the 'Mosaic Sabbath'?

Glaring Weaknesses in Sabbatarian, Seventh Day Adventist and Armstrongist Theology Frankly Considered

Some seventh-day observing people, undoubtedly sincere, but perhaps naive, seem to believe that if they can establish that the Sabbath was instituted in Creation Week then it must follow that the seventh-day Sabbath - as a legal obligation for all believers - is still in force. But what these people do not appear to understand is that every single Bible-believing Christian accepts that the Seventh Day 'Rest' (actually, not specifically the 'Sabbath') was instituted in Creation Week since that is plainly a biblical fact (Genesis 2:2-3), and nobody can argue with it - but that the original Creation Week Seventh-Day 'Rest' had no legalistic restrictions applied to it; those prescriptions and restrictions only came in at Sinai with the Old Covenant and were applied to Israel alone. Moreover, it is not at all difficult to establish this through the record of Scripture, as we are going to see.

The original Seventh Day - not originally 'sabbath' - the word 'sabbath' does not occur until Exodus 16:23 (of course, one cannot deny that the very origin of the word 'sabbath' is based on 'rested,' but it is nevertheless important to point this out), was given to all of mankind as a day of joy, contemplation of the Creator God and contemplation upon the beauty of Creation, apart from rest from ones normal labours. Notice Genesis 2:2-3 again.

'By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creation that he had done.' (Genesis 2:2-3, NIV throughout).

"...Since the sacrifice of Christ, the Sabbath has changed again (Matthew 11:28-12:8). It is now fulfilled in Christ with an eternal sabbatism awaiting Christians in Heaven." (Hebs 3:18-4:11).

Yes, God made that day, one day out of every seven, holy and special; a day of peace and blessing, that is, it was there if Mankind wanted to use it (it is now recognised that people actually work harder when they have a complete break from regular employment and normal activity one day in seven; seven days a week 'workaholics' end up with broken health, and often seem to lose balance in other areas of their lives as well).

Yet please notice that Genesis 2:2-3 only refers to the Lord's resting - there is not a single word there which bans anything, the text is entirely positive, and, thereafter, God did not impose 'Seventh day' observance (and certainly not Sabbath observance), anywhere in the entire book of Genesis! Please note that Genesis 2:2-3 never says anything like, 'The Lord rested on that day and, from henceforth, no work or labour must ever occur on that day.' No - the very first reference to 'Rest' is entirely positive with no mention of later requirement or restriction. Moreover, one may scan the entirety of Genesis, read of the Lord's dealings with Adam, read of Noah, read of the Flood, read of the lives of the Patriarchs, read of Sodom and Gomorrah, read of Jacob and Joseph, right through Joseph's life in Egypt and right up to the death of Joseph and there is never talk of a 'sabbath' or of any required 'Seventh Day' or sabbath observance anywhere!

The first example of obligatory, or required, sabbath observance is of Israel on-route from Egypt to Sinai in Exodus 16. Moreover - and this must be very carefully noted - according to Deuteronomy 5:2-3 and Nehemiah 9:13-14, the sabbath was never an official covenant obligation prior to the ratification of the Ten Commandments at Sinai:

'The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. IT WAS NOT WITH OUR FATHERS THAT THE LORD MADE THIS COVENANT, BUT WITH US.' (Deuteronomy 5:2-3, my emphasis).

'You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.' (Nehemiah 9:13-14).

So Nehemiah confirms what any careful research of the book of Genesis reveals, that is, that although the 'Seventh Day' was instituted at Creation Week, the observance of a 'Sabbath' was never a legal requirement until Mount Sinai.
So, the principle of the 'Sabbath,' which required observance, can only be dated back to Moses. Yet many Seventh Day observing people have been erroneously taught that the Sabbath was always a legal requirement but that the Lord chose Sinai to "remind" the people of the Sabbath and His other laws, which they had "forgotten." Sincere or not, these people do not have Scripture on their side; indeed, Israel are only 'called out' and formally organised as a people and a separate nation from the time of the exodus. So the Scripture is clear and unequivocal that the Old Covenant package - including strict Sabbath laws - only dates back to the time of Moses. Actually, the Old Testament is so clear on this point, with great stress laid on the description and detailing of the Old Covenant in the books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, with a careful description of the divine deliverance of the Ten Commandments and the book of the law and the agreement and ratification of that with the Israelites, that one is really without excuse in challenging this. The only possible reason one could ever have for challenging this point is to make some obscure theological point which is against the run of Scripture - and that is exactly what Sabbatarians attempt to do.

So only Israel were given the Sabbath as a required observance and, in fact, the Sabbath was a major sign of Israel. Apart from Israel, the rest of us simply have the principle that to rest from ones normal labours and industries one day in seven and to contemplate on our God and on the wonder and beauty of His Creation is a truly godly principle - but not a legal requirement! Most Christians like to set aside 'The Lord's Day' (the day of Christ's resurrection) in this way and even occasionally call it the 'sabbath' even while usually fully understanding that it is not - and never was - the Sabbath. That day is the actual and specific period of time from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset which was given to Israel at Sinai (the Genesis 2 'Seventh Day' is not specific).

An argument which one sometimes hears from the seventh-day Sabbatarians (and I believe that SDA writer Desmond Ford is one who has used it), goes something like this:

'In the fourth (sabbath) commandment there exists a parallel between what took place during the first six days of creation week and what transpired on the seventh day. One should note the tense in Exodus 20:11:

"For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth...and rested the seventh day; Wherefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."

All four verbs are in the past tense. No one disputes that the first two apply to Creation week. The correlation of divine acts clearly indicates that the blessing and the hallowing took place at the same time as the resting.

The last phrase, "and hallowed it," has no significance unless the Sabbath was proclaimed and set aside for human beings at Creation. The Hebrew term in this passage occurs repeatedly in Scripture to denote a public proclamation.'

Four Further Sabbath Questions

1. Is the 'Seventh Day' on which the Creator 'rested' in Genesis necessarily the very same weekday as the 7th Day Sabbath of Moses?

No. Some use naive reasoning here; they will say that since the Mosaic Sabbath is the 'seventh day' then it must be the same 'seventh day' as Genesis 2. However, it appears that 'seventh' is only used in Genesis 2 in order to denote a principle of rest one day in seven, a principle which has been shown to be mentally and physically beneficial for Mankind. Yes, the day and principle is even sanctified, but since several thousand years separate Genesis 2 and Exodus 16:23, which is the first ever use of the word 'Sabbath' in Holy Scripture, it is impossible to be certain that it is the same 'seventh day,' although maybe Exodus 31:14-17 implies that it is. However, the reason that the Lord links the Sabbath to Creation Rest is that He is identifying Himself to Israel as the true and living Creator God. By the way, the same Scripture confirms that the Sabbath was a sign between the Lord and Israel (but not between the Lord and all Mankind).

2. Is the Sabbath the 'Seal of God'?

Some Sabbatarians have claimed that the seventh-day Sabbath is the 'Seal of God.' But the Seal of God is certainly not the Sabbath. The Bible tells us clearly that the 'Seal of God' is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13 says, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory."
Ephesians 4:30 warns, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 states "Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge."

3. Is a Sabbath-keeping church, or denomination, the Commandment-keeping church of Revelation 12:17?

Rev. 12:17 says, "And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus."
In the New Covenant, what are the "Commandments of God"? Does this mean the Ten Commandments? Actually, no, the Greek word used for the Ten Commandments and 'Law' is "nomos." That word is not used here. The word used here is "entole" and it is a much broader word, usually meaning "teachings."
In Revelation and in his epistles too John uses 'entole' rather a lot. Before we find John's own definition of the way he uses the word, let us look at another example,
I John 5:1-3 says, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."

These verses are frequently used to teach people that they must still keep the Sabbath since it is one of the Ten Commandments, however, the Apostle John finally defines his use of "commandments" for us. In chapter 3 of this small epistle, he defines it specifically:
"Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in is sight. And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him..."
I John 3:21-24a.

4. Did the Roman Catholic Church change the day of the Sabbath at the Council of Laodicea?

It is amazing how common and widespread this complete mis-information is among sabbatarians! In fact, the Council of Laodicea sat 363-365AD and The Roman Catholic Church did not even exist until several centuries after that! The early "catholic" church, as described in church histories, is the Church which Jesus founded! The word 'catholic' simply meant 'universal' and the term was often used to separate biblical churches from heretical groups. However, the congregation based at Rome increasingly followed unbiblical teachings and emphases, especially in placing all power in the hands of a 'pope,' taking an independent line in doctrine and approving superstitious practises. Roman Catholicism reached the peak of its power and influence in the 11-13th centuries and can be discerned as a separate movement from about the 7th century. While a few earlier Roman bishops were known as 'popes' this was not the grandiose sense of 'pope' of later centuries.
The Council of Laodicea may have been guilty of anti-Jewish sentiments but nothing more, because, the First Day, or, Lord's Day, was already established as a day of Christian meeting in the 1st and 2nd centuries which we know from many sources, including Justin Martyr, the Epistle of Barnabas, Irenaeus, the Epistle of Ignatius, Apostolic Constitutions, and other sources too.
R.J. Bauckham says this,
"Anti-Judaism played its part in second-century Christian polemic against Jewish Sabbath observance, but it does not follow that it motivated the introduction of Christian Sunday worship.....Sunday worship dates back to the first century, while few second-century writers compare and contrast the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday. Derogatory discussions of the Jewish Sabbath do not usually refer to the Christian Sunday. If Sunday were a recent substitute for the Jewish Sabbath, we should expect far more discussion of the superiority of Sunday to the Sabbath." (R. J. Bauckham, From Sabbath to Lord's Day, p. 271, edited by D.A. Carson.)
Robin A. Brace, 2007.

So here it is being suggested that the Sabbath - as given to Israel at Sinai had always been in force as an obligation, when, as we have already seen, that is simply not the case. Moreover to insist that it is so, shows that one has never carefully studied the book of Genesis or even discovered the plain statements of Deuteronomy 5:2-3 and Nehemiah 9:13-14. Also, the Lord appeared to identify Himself with the original 'Creation Rest' in order to positively identify Himself as the Creator God, that is, the 'I AM,' rather than to infer that the Mosaic Sabbath had any sort of continuous lineage with the Genesis 2 divine rest. Certainly, the Lord based the authority and precedent for the Old Covenant sabbath on the Creation Rest, that is undeniable, but the two things are obviously quite different.

The common Seventh Day Adventist error is in failing to notice the difference between the original institution of something and the point at which a particular divine prescription comes into effect.

Frankly, it is very sloppy biblical interpretation. Yes, the Seventh Day was set aside at Creation but there were no legalistic observances attached to it at that time. But when the Israelites were given the Old Covenant (from Exodus 20), the Sabbath was given a special and prominent place and various legalistic observances were added - but those parts were added at Mt Sinai and only had effect and force under the Old Covenant! So - yes the Seventh Day was hallowed and set aside at Creation but it was given to all of mankind as a day of joy, of contemplation upon nature, and of rest. But no commands accompanied it at that time. The 'Seventh Day' only became the 'Sabbath' at the time of Moses. You think I am wrong? Then search Genesis to provide me with an example of a 'sabbath' or of any exhortation to keep a sabbath; oh, and by the way, the events related in Genesis cover an amazingly long period of time, actually several thousand years: so, several thousand years with no sabbath command!

The unbiblical argument of the claimed 'one required seventh day observance for all men of all time', sometimes continues in the following fashion:

'There is no instance in Scripture of a memorial being instituted thousands of years after the event it memorialized. The Passover, for example, began at the time of the deliverance it symbolized.'

So here it is apparently insisted that a divine prescription cannot later change and yet Holy Scripture presents us with several examples of Old Testament institutions being changed even before we reach the changes of the New Covenant. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for example, had no knowledge of the package of laws delivered to Moses and the children of Israel at Mount Sinai! This is obvious to the keen student of Scripture before we even find confirmation of this fact in Deuteronomy 5:2-3 and Nehemiah 9:13-14. Regarding using the Passover as a thing which began 'at the time of the deliverance which it symbolized' (therefore - presumably - suggesting that a later change is impossible), one wonders why an example which can be so quickly refuted would ever be chosen (simply compare Exodus 12 with Matthew 26: 20-30 !!). In fact, Jesus changed the way the Passover had been observed up until His time, turning it into Christian communion. Even the form of "passover" or "memorial" conducted among several legalistic sects (including the Worldwide Church of God and the Jehovah's Witnesses) has little in common with the Passover given to Israel! The fact that "the Passover began at the time of the deliverance it symbolized" (as seventh-day writers sometimes state) proves nothing, and is actually a very poor example. God is able to change things, and Scripture amply testifies to this.
Later we find the major changes of the New Covenant. We learn that Old Covenant law was never intended to be permanent:

'The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.' (Luke 16:16).

'All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no-one is justified before God by the law...' (Galatians 3:10-11a).

'What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come...' (Galatians 3:19a).

'In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.' (Hebrews 1:1-2).

'For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.' (Hebrews 7:12).

'By calling this covenant "new" he has made the the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and ageing will soon disappear.' (Hebrews 8:13).

'But now, by dying to what bound once 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.' (Romans 7:6).

By the way, nobody is saying that the Sabbath was a 'memorial instituted thousands of years after the event' (as seventh-day writers often infer to be the Christian position because of the gap from Creation to Mount Sinai), one day out of every seven was indeed recognised as 'holy time' in Genesis long before the time of Moses but only at the time of Moses did 'Sabbath observance' begin with many prescriptions and restrictions being added. This is simply what inspired Scripture teaches us, however unpalatable to Seventh Day Adventist theology it may be. Indeed, since the sacrifice of Christ, the Sabbath has changed again (Matthew 11:28-12:8). It is now fulfilled in Christ with an eternal sabbatism awaiting Christians in Heaven (Hebrews 3:18- 4:11). With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that the New Testament does not contain a single admonition for Christians to continue to observe a 'sabbath,' even though Christian doctrine and practise is well-covered in the epistles and in the book of Hebrews.

An even bigger problem for those who teach one regulated sabbath observance which is more or less 'set in stone' for all time, is Acts 15 where, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and dating to about AD49 or 50, the Apostles discussed which elements of Old Covenant law needed to be taught to those Gentiles who were coming to Christ. The Sabbath is highly conspicuous by its absence! Since the topic was, apparently, not even raised, this tends to confirm that the Apostles fully understood that the Sabbath was given to Israel alone. In a rare moment of 'off the record' candour a strong sabbatarian once admitted to me that Acts 15 is a major and unresolved weakness in sabbatarian argument.

Of course, a few complain that the Sabbath command was part of the Ten Commandments and not part of Old Covenant law which, again, reveals a certain biblical naievity: The Ten Commandments stand at the very heart of the Old Covenant in Exodus 20! Those theologians who came along later who often separated components of Old Covenant observance into things like 'the ceremonial law,' 'the civil law,' and 'the moral law,' were only artificially separating those parts for purposes of closer study. The Torah presents one, unified law.

A Seventh Day minister I used to know (WCG, not SDA), loved quoting Hebrews 13:8 to back up his belief that the seventh day 'sabbath' and the Leviticus 23 Mosaic 'holydays' were still in force for Christians:

'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.'

Of course, that statement is true but it describes the unchanging character and purposes of God. Just consider: If it means that Old Testament doctrine can never change (as this sincere but seriously misguided man seemed to infer), then you and I should still be performing animal sacrifices, Jesus was plainly wrong in some of His 'sermon on the mount' comments, Paul was plainly seriously wrong in numerous comments he made (especially in Romans and Galatians), and the writer of Hebrews (whoever it was) was an arch-heretic!!

So because the Lord set things up in a certain way, either at Creation or at the time of Moses, does not mean that those things can never change or have various prescriptions later added or annulled. To reject this is to either show a poor knowledge of Holy Scripture, or, more seriously, it is to attempt to force ones 'official doctrines' to fit in with Scripture rather than to allow Holy Scripture alone to shape ones doctrinal approach.

Robin A. Brace, 2007.

See also:
Why Worship on a Sunday?

How First Day Sabbatarianism Entered the Church

Entering True Sabbath Rest

The Move Away From Legalism

How Jesus Used Religion To Destroy The Power of Religion

Recovering From Armstrongism

UK APOLOGETICS

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