What Happened to the Sabbath Command?
The ten commandments are an anchor point of Christian faith in many people's minds and hearts. They are sacred and esteemed, so much so that people have been arrested for chaining themselves to ten commandment monuments that were being removed from government property. Many believers in God feel that to obey the ten commandments is the supreme requirement in pleasing Him. But there is a bit of a problem.
The first part of the problem is that most Christians couldn't even name all the ten that they are supposed to be obeying. The second part of the problem is that keeping the ten commandments is no longer God's highest standard for righteousness nor spiritual life. And the final part of the problem is that one of the ten commandments is no longer a commandment at all.
That's right, ever since Christ rose from the dead, we are commanded to obey only nine of the ten. The fourth commandment given to Moses is no longer required. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), is completely omitted from the New Testament. Nowhere in New Testament Scripture does the Lord command, imply, or insinuate that believers in Christ must keep the fourth commandment given to Moses. Rather, New Testament Scripture emphatically frees us from it.
The argument is not about which day is the real sabbath. Certainly, Saturday was the Jewish sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday evening). And Sunday should not be looked at as the Christian replacement.
What must be understood is that Christians who go to church on Sunday are not violating the sabbath command by choosing the wrong day because we are not trying to obey the sabbath command. Sunday just happens to be one of our church days, which can be any day of the week, and sometimes several, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7).
The real question is Are believers in Christ required to keep the sabbath, or any other holy day in this new covenant in Christ? The answer from Scripture is, “No”.
The sabbath day for the Jews was a day of delight and celebration for their escape from the bondage of Egypt, and that is the main reason that God required them to remember that day,
“And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15).
Non-Jews have no such celebration because they were never in Egypt, and it is wrong to force them to celebrate it.
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). All obligation to observe a set day as a shadow of something to come is ended (Gal 3:19-25, 4:21-31; Heb 7:11-10:18).
Under the New Covenant, no one is required to keep any Jewish laws or commandments unless they are moral laws. Nine of the ten are moral. But the sabbath command was only a ceremonial one. That’s why Jesus ministered and healed on the sabbath. And that’s why Jesus pointed out that King David’s men in the Old were allowed to break the law to eat the holy bread out of the temple (Mark 2:25-28). Ceremonial laws are no longer as binding as moral laws (and really, never were).
Observing any certain day as holier than another is called “being in bondage”. When Christ came, He freed even the Jews from having to observe all of their holy days. The Apostle Paul was surprised that the Galatians had turned back to the law and expressed his disappointment in feeling like he wasted his time and labor on them. He said he was “afraid” for them for their calendar worship and adherence.
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. ... But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.” (Galatians 4:4-5, 9-11).
Jesus said that the “sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The sabbath is not some special holy day to God that He anticipates each week in order to receive some special honor from men. It was made for man! It was made so that people could rest one day after working six days, and also to remember their deliverance from Egypt.
If we look at one day of rest per week, not as a command but as a wise discipline for lifestyle, it makes more sense. God worked six days and rested on the seventh. Forming some structure for our own physical and mental rest is wise. But it should not be looked at as a law to obey.
Spiritually, we do not wait for one day a week to rejuvenate or worship. We Christians can be at rest and rejuvenated every day since Christ has given us rest, and we should celebrate our salvation every day.
The sabbath day was merely a type (a symbol) of rest in Christ “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). In Christ, our rest is not dependent on a particular day, but it’s a perpetual rest.
Not one time did the Lord Jesus Christ ever encourage anyone or remind anyone to keep the sabbath holy or to remember the sabbath, nor to follow the 4th commandment. Neither did Paul. Neither did Peter. Neither did James. Neither did Luke. Neither did Jude. Neither did the beloved John.
But they absolutely did remind believers to obey the other commandments such as adultery (31 reminders in the New Testament), false witnessing (lying—11 reminders in the New Testament), coveting (18 reminders in the New Testament), murder (13 reminders in the New Testament), honor thy father and mother (at least 8 reminders in the New Testament), stealing (11 reminders in the New Testament), taking the Lord’s name in vain (blaspheme—15 reminders in the New Testament), serve no other gods (idolatry—28 reminders in the New Testament).
But “remember the sabbath and keep it holy”? 0 (Zero) reminders in the New Testament. Omitting such an important command from the Old allows us to conclude that it did not pass through the cross. The word ‘sabbath’ is found a few times, but only in reference to Jews meeting in synagogues on the sabbath and never Christians trying to follow suit.
The reason that only nine of the ten are mentioned in the New Testament is because only these nine moral commands are still applicable under the royal law of love (James 2:8). The ceremonial sabbath command is not.
Finally, those who say they are obeying the sabbath command aren’t really obeying the sabbath the way God commanded it. They’ve altered God’s command into their own convenient version. If we go by Scripture, the sabbath requirement had very specific rules:
1) no one could work
2) they couldn’t allow anyone else to work within the gates of the nation (Exodus 20:10),
3) no one could leave his dwelling (Exodus 16:29) for more than a short distance (Acts 1:12)
4) if anyone was found working, they had to be stoned to death (Numbers 15:32-36)
5) and to have a sabbath, one had to work six days (not five, as many do today)
Can you see the problem here? To keep the sabbath today the way that God intended, it would mean it would mean no mowing the yard. It would mean very empty churches (since no one could travel). And it would mean no watching television or ordering pizza (no one withing the nation’s gates could work either). The problem with the last one is that the Church doesn’t have “gates” because it is not a physical nation. And there is no way to govern every country nor every Christian. And finally, it would mean a lot of dead people who tried to sneak in some errands.
Unless we arbitrarily modify the command (which many have done without asking God about it), it’s impossible to keep.
Why does it matter? Because it’s misleading and damaging to the soul of a Christian to feel more obedient for doing it or guilty for not doing it. Every time we misplace our faith onto something that’s not spiritually real, we set ourselves up for failure—either false confidence or self-condemnation.
So, for New Testament saints, the ten commandments have changed to the nine commandments. Is that difficult to accept? With New Testament glasses on, it shouldn’t be. But it does require some serious commitment to the cross of Jesus Christ in overriding our traditional mindset and the affection we have for the ancient stone tablets.