Reposted from The Cripplegate.
Here are three reasons why I teach that Christians are not under the Sabbath law of the Old Testament, and that it is unwise to call Sunday “the Christian Sabbath.”
I am a dispensationalist
The Sabbath restrictions are found in the Old Testament and are part of the law given to Israel as they entered the Promised Land. The fourth commandment makes clear that the Sabbath law applies to anyone in Israel, regardless of their own personal convictions about the legitimacy of the Covenant. In other words, in OT Israel, just because a person didn’t believe in Yahweh, didn’t mean that they could break the Sabbath. It was a basic component of Israelite Law given to the members of the Old Covenant for their time in the Promised Land.
I have never been convinced that the Old Testament law can rightly be divided up into three categories—civil, ceremonial, and moral. I see benefits of that tri-fold scheme in that it is helpful to provoke the student to understand diverse reasons behind the giving of the law. But at the same time, those in the OT didn’t seem to operate with trifurcated law. For them, all law was moral, because it all revealed the moral character of their God. With that said, I’m not persuaded that some laws are transferred to the church age, while others are not. This muzzles the impact of the paradigm-shattering revelation that the Law was fulfilled in Christ. Thus the approach of “all OT laws are valid for the church unless specifically set aside” is just not a helpful approach to law, living, or the OT.
Finally, even if I did adopt a tripartite system to decide what laws to obey, I don’t think the Sabbath would survive “strict scrutiny,” as they say in American jurisprudence. One could just as reasonably argue that Sabbath keeping is part of the civil or ceremonial laws as they could that it is part of the moral law. After all, it is not confined to the fourth commandment. Additional restrictions are found throughout the law; the Sabbath and manna (16:23-29), the Sabbath and fire (Exodus 35:3), the Sabbath and sales (Nehemiah 13:15-22), and the Sabbath and the East Gate (Ezekiel 46:1-3), to name just a few examples.
Thus it is best to see OT law as given to Israel, designed to keep Israel’s purity and guard their identity—both morally and culturally. The Law functioned as a whole to keep watch over God’s people until the Savior would come at the right time in history. The law is helpful for Christians, but only if we use it lawfully (1 Tim 1:8), and in this instance placing Christians under the Sabbath restrictions would be an unlawful use of the law.
I have a calendar (and a Bible!)
The Sabbath in the OT law was Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This matches the created order, the fourth commandment, and the practice of OT Israel. There is no indication in the OT it was ever moved to Sunday.
That is obvious, and I’ve never met anyone who has argued otherwise. But the point is this: there is also zero NT evidence that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Every reference in the NT to Sabbath law or practice has the Sabbath on Saturday. This is true in the gospels, in Acts, in Colossians 2:16, and even by implication in Hebrews 4:9 (more on that in the next point). And yes, that is the sum total of Sabbath references in the NT. There is never an indication that the Apostles, elders, or deacons in the NT ever thought of Sunday as the Sabbath. There is no indication they ever transferred the concept of a day of rest to Sunday.
Sunday, for them, was The Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10). It became the day for worship, as over time the Christians were kicked out of the Sabbath-keeping synagogues. The earliest churches met on the first day of the week—Sunday—because that was the day the Lord rose from the grave (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). In the descriptions of the church meeting Sunday, there is never a hint that the concept of Sabbath was moved to that day.
On the contrary, Colossians 2:16 refers to the Sabbath as a “shadow of the things to come.” So “let no one pass judgement on you” in questions of the Sabbath–hardly language that would make sense if Sunday was the Sabbath.
Moreover, the Jewish practice of Sabbath (both today, as well as in Jesus’ lifetime) is the the opposite of “let no one pass judgement.” Everything was regulated. Everything was judged. Everything was done with the goal of passing other’s judgement (Luke 14:3, 23:56, John 5:9-10, 16, 18, 7:22-23, 9:14-16, 19:31). This was not a system the early church transferred to Sunday. The idea that the Sabbath restrictions and all their controversies were transferred to Sunday, but without a single comment in the NT about it, is simply too far-fetched.
I have a greater rest—fulfilled in Christ
There is one main NT passage about a Christian’s relationship to the Sabbath—Hebrews 4:9-11:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
Here the concept of Sabbath is used to point to the accomplishment of Christ. The promise of rest is future, the work of God that achieves it is past, and all that remains is for people to enter it in the present. But Paul points out that it is fundamentally different than the OT rest. There, the Sabbath rest was entered prophetically, and but one day a week, and even that was not the true Sabbath rest. Some, like Joshua, indeed did enter the real and ultimate Sabbath rest, even in the Old Covenant. It was not a rest they entered by means of law keeping, nor a rest they experienced only once a week. Instead, it was a rest they entered by means of faith in the future work of the savior. We too can enter that same rest, only we don’t look forward, as they did, but backward to the cross of Christ.
This is the concept sacrificed by describing Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. If Sunday becomes the NT version of the OT Sabbath, then it implies that believers today are still looking forward to a receiving a future rest.
Better to say that there is a Sabbath rest for the people of God, and it is not connected to a day of the week but rather to a Spirit in the heart. It is entered by ceasing to labor for salvation, ceasing to hold-up law keeping as ground for covenant identity, and instead resting in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
The same Christ who rose on Sunday.