Sabbath Keeping

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

The Seventh-Day Adventists started in the 1800's as followers of teachers who believed in the immediate return of Jesus Christ. These predictions obviously failed, but it did not stop the rise of a self-proclaimed prophetess named Ellen G. White. Seventh-Day Adventists regard her writings as inspired instructions from God. This belief in modern-day prophecies continues today. I often talk with Adventists who will make the most outlandish claims concerning current events, claims which never come true, but such never seems to bother these folk. They just return with more prophecies.

Yet, despite their beliefs in modern-day revelation, Seventh-Day Adventists go to the other extreme in regards to the Old Law - in particular, the section of the Old Law known as the Ten Commandments. Adventists believe that the Ten Commandments are a permanent set of laws. They believe they were established at the Creation and will continue to the end of the world. In their document Questions on Doctrine, published in 1957, they state on page 12, "That the will of God as it relates to moral conduct is comprehended in His law of ten commandments; that these are great moral, unchangeable precepts, binding upon all men, in every age (Exodus 20:1-17)."

This belief in the permanency of the Ten Commandments leads the Adventist into their most identifying mark - worshiping God on the last day of each week. One Adventist, in a letter to me wrote, "The Sabbath was established by God on the very first seventh day, when all was new and perfect. In that week of creation the seventh day was made holy by God and set aside to honor Him as creator."

Despite their assertion, the first mention of the Sabbath day appears in Exodus 16:4-5, 22-30. If you read this passage carefully, you will notice that Moses had to explain in detail what the Sabbath meant and how the people were to observe it. Despite his thorough explanation, many of the Israelites failed to keep the Sabbath regulations on the first Sabbath. It is obvious that they never heard of the Sabbath before. They had never kept such regulations in the past. This should not surprise us. The book of Genesis covers more than 2,000 years of history and, yet, there is no mention of anyone observing a day of rest in all its pages.

The next mention of the Sabbath occurs in Exodus 20:8-11 where the observance of the day is made a part of the Ten Commandments. Actually the Ten Commandments is just the preamble for a long series of laws which run from Exodus 20 to Exodus 23. All these laws were recorded by Moses as mentioned in Exodus 24:3-4. God then invited Moses to climb Mt. Sinai where He would give Moses a copy of the commands on stone (Exodus 24:12). Adventists emphasize that the finger of God wrote the commandments on stone to show the permanence of His Law (Exodus 31:18). Ironically, it was this set of tablets that Moses smashed as he came down the mountain when he saw the people worshiping an idol (Exodus 32:15-19). The stone tablets did not last a day. Moses returned to the mountain with another set of tablets (Exodus 34:4). Moses was tasked to engrave the second set of tablets (Exodus 34:27-28). It was this second set which was placed in the ark of the covenant.

Adventists claim that the Ten Commandments are a universal law, applicable to all of mankind. Interestingly, in a discussion of the command to keep the Sabbath, God stated, "So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed" (Exodus 31:16-17). Notice the emphasized sections. This Sabbath law was a sign between God and the Israelites. It was limited to one nation. Looking back on this event, God told the prophet Ezekiel that Israel was chosen from among the nations to be His people (Ezekiel 20:5) and that the commands, especially the Sabbath, were given to Israel as a sign of the covenant between the people and God (Ezekiel 20:10-12). In reviewing the laws of God, Moses stated that they were unique among the nations: "Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?" (Deuteronomy 4:8).

Just prior to restating the Ten Commandments, Moses introduced them with these words, "The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all of us alive here today." (Deuteronomy 5:2-3) Not only were the commandments unique to the nation of Israel; Moses plainly stated they did not exist in the past.

Several of the verses cited mention that the Sabbath was given to the Israelites to help them remember the creation of the world and the day God rested from His labors, but there is another purpose to the Sabbath celebration. The children of Israel were slaves in the land of Egypt. Slaves did not get time off and were not allowed to rest. When God gave them freedom, he also gave them a day of rest to remember their freedom (Deuteronomy 5:15). Such a remembrance would only apply to the children of Israel. No other nation started in slavery.

Other commandments also include language exclusive to the Israelites. The command to honor your mother and father was given so "that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you" (Deuteronomy 5:16). The promised land was the land of Canaan which God promised to the descendants of Abraham. No land was promised to the entire world. No land was promised to people who lived prior to Abraham. The only group of people to receive land from God was the Israelites.

The Ten Commandments were permanent laws for the Israelites, but they were laws with limited duration. The prophet Jeremiah recorded this statement, "'Behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt . . . " (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Hebrew writer discusses this change in law and covenant in detail in Hebrews 8:7-10:25. The covenant was changed for the Christian. Paul makes the same point in Romans 7:4-7 by stating that Christians had died to the old law so they could be bound to a new law. Notice in particular his example of the law we were released from in verse 7 - He quotes the tenth commandment: "You shall not covet." The Ten Commandments were not seen as a separate body of law from the remainder of the Old Law. The entire Old Law, including the Ten Commandments, was no longer binding on Christians.

Paul makes this point very clear in Colossians chapter 2. In verses 9-12, he points out that, instead of males being circumcised as was done under the Old Law, all are spiritually circumcised through the act of baptism. The Old Law's circumcision was a physical sign of a person placing himself under the covenant made between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:11,14). It served as a witness or testimony to the existence of the covenant. Under Christ's new law, the witness to the covenant was the act of baptism and the removal of sin from the person's life.

In verses 13-15, Paul further presses his point by stating that Christ canceled "the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us" when he died upon the cross. Proof of this change was given when Jesus arose triumphantly over death to become the King of kings. What did Paul have in mind by this certificate of debt? Later in the chapter, he gives an example of decrees regarding clean and unclean in verses 20-21. In Ephesians 2:14-18, Paul makes the same point. Christ's death destroyed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. He abolished the enmity (hatred or hostility) which Paul declared was "the Law of commandments contained in ordinances." Seventh-Day Adventists try to avoid the clarity of this passage by saying only a portion of the Old Law was removed. They declare that the Ten Commandments, in particular, still remain in effect. However, we have already shown that Paul saw the Ten Commandments as a part of the Old Law (Romans 7:4-7).

As a result, Christians are not to be judged on the observance of Old Testament laws, such as food and drink regulations, festival keeping, new moon festivals, or Sabbath day keeping (Colossians 2:16-17). These regulations and events were merely shadows of the Christian religion. I have had several Seventh-Day Adventists try to reverse the meaning of this passage by saying, "See, you cannot judge me if I choose to observe the Sabbath." Paul shows that Christians are free from the ordinance of circumcision and the debt of sin created by the Old Law. The intent of Paul's statement is to say that none can judge the Christian for not keeping the food regulations and festival, new moon, and Sabbath observances. Even Seventh-Day Adventists are not consistent in the application of this verse. They want to keep the Sabbath day, but they ignore the other things included by Paul with the Sabbath day. They do not follow the Old Law's rules about food and drink restrictions. They do not keep the Passover Feast, the Harvest Feast, the Feast of Booths, or the Day of Atonement. They do not even observe the monthly New Moon Festival. They understand that these things passed away with the Old Law, yet they cling to the one piece which they want, the Sabbath Day.

James warned that a person cannot pick and choose which pieces of God's Law a person wants to follow (James 2:10-11). Binding one piece of a law means you acknowledge the entire law as binding on you. It is dangerous to bind ourselves under an expired covenant. The Old Law stated that a partial follower has placed himself under a curse (Galatians 3:10-12). The covenant engraved on stones (a direct reference to the Ten Commandments) was a ministry of death (II Corinthians 3:5-11). The Old Law was to pass away while the New Law remains. Christians are not under the Law given at Mount Sinai, which included the Ten Commandments (Galatians 4:21-26, 30-31).

Does this mean that Christians are allowed to worship other gods, to kill, to steal, or to lie - all things forbidden by the Ten Commandments? Obviously not! Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the Law of Christ (Examples are: Ephesians 4:24, Hebrews 13:4, and I Corinthians 10:7). Only one of the Ten Commandments is not found within the pages of the New Testament and that is the commandment to observe the Sabbath.

Seventh-Day Adventists object to this assertion arguing that Jesus kept the Sabbath. Yes, Jesus observed the Sabbath as did all other faithful Jews. He also was circumcised and kept the festivals, such as the Passover and the Feast of the Tabernacles. Yet, all of these have passed away as well. You see Jesus lived under the Law of Moses. He showed, as no one prior was able, that the law was observable. With His death, the Law passed away (Colossians 2:14), but during Jesus' life it was still in effect. The new Law of Christ did not become effective until His death (Hebrews 9:16-17).

Another objection is that the Bible speaks of people observing the Sabbath after Jesus' death, such as in Matthew 24:20. This is also true. There are still people observing the Sabbath day. There are still Jews to this day who cling to the Law of Moses and refuse to acknowledge the Messiah. However, this does not prove that Christians were observing the Sabbath. The passage refers to the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:34-24:2). Jesus told His disciples to pray that the destruction would not come in the winter, which would make travel difficult, or on the Sabbath day. On the Sabbath day, the gates of Jerusalem were shut, making escape from the city impossible. This passage cannot be referring to the end of the world. How can anyone flee from the second coming of Christ?

In their desire to bind Old Testament Law, the Seventh-Day Adventists violate the commands and examples of the New Testament. The early church partook of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). They were commanded to give of their means on the first day of the week (I Corinthians 16:2). I have asked several Adventists why they have altered these commands, changing the day of the week to the Sabbath day. None have given me an answer. They have altered the commands of God to suit their beliefs (Galatians 1:6-10).

The holy day for Christians is the first day of the week. This is the day when our Lord and Savior arose from the grave (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20). It was on the day of Pentecost, a Jewish holiday which always fell on a Sunday, when the church was established (Acts 2; see Leviticus 23:15-16). It was on this day of the week that early Christians worshiped God by partaking of the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7) and giving to the church (I Corinthians 16:2). Will you not join the children of God and worship God in accordance with His Word?