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What Day is the Sabbath, and how ought we keep it Holy?

The Berean Search This series is a living, ongoing Bible study, as opposed to a position statement that has been printed in quantity so that it cannot be revised or corrected as readers react to it. This series is stored on computer, to be printed out only as requested. That way, critiques can be incorporated into the computer file so that all subsequent requests for that title will include any critiques.



1. Nutshell Summary

2. Old Testament passages: the Sabbath Spirit

3. Part One: "The Lord's Day: Sunday, or the Sabbath?

4. Part Two: "Is God's LAW, in general, still valid?"

5. Part three: "How ought we to honor the Sabbath today?"

Nutshell summary: Yes, Virginia, there is a Sabbath, still. It's still Saturday. Sabbath worship was still the "custom", not only of Jesus, but of Paul. There is only one Sunday meeting described in the New Testament, but nothing indicates there was anything "customary" about it; rather, it was the eve of Paul's departure, and probably the conclusion of a week-long, daily evangelistic crusade.

But Jesus established many exceptions to rigid, legalistic Sabbath observance. On the other hand, just because Jesus established exceptions, does not mean the exceptions replace the rule; even with all Jesus' exceptions, teaching in the synagogues on the Sabbath remained Jesus' "custom".

But something wonderful happened when the Curtain of the Temple ripped in two as Jesus' Spirit left His body. The reality, of which ritualistic Sabbath worship had been the shadow, had come. Jesus spoke of it in Luke 12. His hearers couldn't live what He taught them until the Holy Spirit gave them courage and Life, but they heard Jesus tell of inviting mankind back into Paradise! Yes, literally: all these years men have blamed Adam for blowing it for everybody, but Jesus says in Luke 12 that every man has the choice Adam had, and that if a man will choose to "seek first the Kingdom of Heaven", then Adam's curse will be reversed: he will NOT have to work for his food and clothing "by the sweat of his brow". Rather, if a man today will serve God, which Adam would not, then for that man today, just as for Adam before the Fall, God will provide all his needs without him having to worry about them!

Hebrews speaks at length of this return to Paradise, which it calls "rest", specifically relating the Sabbath to Paradise. Hebrews makes very clear that the Jews who ritually observed the Sabbath did not enter the Rest which the Sabbath foreshadowed, because of "unbelief". But what is the reality of which Sabbath is the shadow? Moses offered rest one day a week; Jesus offered Rest all seven!

Moses said to rest on the 7th day of the week. Hebrews says to rest today.

It is said by Sunday worshippers today that all the other nine Commandments were repeated in the NT, but not the Sabbath, which supports the theory that in the "new dispensation" the Sabbath was eliminated or switched to Sunday. But why would NT writers repeat the commandment to worship on Saturday, to Christians who were already in the habit of worshipping all seven days?!

Besides determining for ourselves how to honor the Sabbath in our lives, we need to determine how we should judge others others by whatever doctrine we adopt. Romans 14 warns us to be careful.

Even in the OT, passages like Isaiah 58 indicate the Sabbath is not just a day, but a way.

Isaiah 58:1 Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast; tell my people of their sins! 2 Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and are so delighted to hear the reading of my laws_just as though they would obey them_just as though they don't despise the commandments of their God! How anxious they are to worship correctly; oh, how they love the Temple services! 3"We have fasted before you," they say. "Why aren't you impressed? Why don't you see our sacrifices? Why don't you hear our prayers? We have done much penance, and you don't even notice it!" I'll tell you why! Because you are living in evil pleasure even while you are fasting, and you keep right on oppressing your workers. 4 Look, what good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. 5 Is this what I want_this doing of penance and bowing like reeds in the wind, putting on sackcloth and covering yourselves with ashes? Is this what you call fasting? 6 No, the kind of fast I want...

[Comment: This is not a new definition of "sabbath" which replaces the old and leaves the old no longer in effect, any more than when James said faith without works is dead, that James was defining "faith" as "works" and was leaving "faith" no longer in effect. This passage, like the James 2 passages, merely appeals to us to live our faith. The Sabbath is not merely a gauge of bodily activity per se, but it its purpose is to increase the quality of our activity. It is to help us cease from selfish purposes, and to take up God's purposes.] that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn. 7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute. Clothe those who are cold, and don't hide from relatives who need your help. 8 If you do these things, God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you; your godliness will lead you forward, goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. 9 Then, when you call, the Lord will answer. "Yes, I am here," he will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors! 10 Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. 12 Your sons will rebuild the long-deserted ruins of your cities, and you will be known as "The People Who Rebuild Their Walls and Cities."13 If you keep the Sabbath holy, NOT HAVING YOUR OWN FUN AND BUSINESS on that day, but enjoying the Sabbath, speaking of it with delight as the Lord's holy day, and honoring the Lord in what you do, not following YOUR OWN DESIRES AND PLEASURE nor talking idly, 14 then the Lord will be your delight, and I will see to it that you ride high and get your full share of the blessings I promised to Jacob, your father. The Lord has spoken. (The Living Bible, (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1997.


Warnings against Sin

Jeremiah 59:1 Listen! The Lord is not too weak to save you, and he is not becoming deaf. He can hear you when you call. 2 But there is a problem-your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. 3 Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your mouth is full of lies, and your lips are tainted with corruption.4 No one cares about being fair and honest. Their lawsuits are based on lies. They spend their time plotting evil deeds and then doing them. 5 They spend their time and energy spinning evil plans that end up in deadly actions. 6 They cheat and shortchange everyone. Nothing they do is productive; all their activity is filled with sin. Violence is their trademark. 7 Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder. They think only about sinning. Wherever they go, misery and destruction follow them. 8 They do not know what true peace is or what it means to be just and good. They continually do wrong, and those who follow them cannot experience a moment's peace. 9 It is because of all this evil that deliverance is far from us. That is why God doesn't punish those who injure us. Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.

Following passage lists Sabbath desecration as a primary reason for Babylonian invasion.

Jeremiah 17:21 This is what the Lord says: Listen to my warning and live! Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem's gates on the Sabbath day. 22 Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day. I gave this command to your ancestors, 23 but they did not listen or obey. They stubbornly refused to pay attention and would not respond to discipline. 24 But if you obey me, says the Lord, and do not carry on your trade or work on the Sabbath day, and if you keep it holy, 25 then this nation will continue forever. There will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem. Kings and their officials will always ride among the people of Judah in chariots and on horses, and this city will remain forever. 26 And from all around Jerusalem, from the towns of Judah and Benjamin, from the western foothills and the hill country and the Negev, the people will come with their burnt offerings and sacrifices. They will bring their grain offerings, incense, and thanksgiving offerings to the Lord's Temple. 27 But if you do not listen to me and refuse to keep the Sabbath holy, and if on the Sabbath day you bring loads of merchandise through the gates of Jerusalem just as on other days, then I will set fire to these gates. The fire will spread to the palaces, and no one will be able to put out the roaring flames. Holy Bible, New Living Translation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1996.



The Lord's Day: Sunday, or the Sabbath?

Published Jul/A/94 (in the Prayer & Action Weekly News)

Exodus 31:12 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 13 Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. 14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. 16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.

Verse 13 says that keeping the Sabbath lets God's people know that God has sanctified them. How? Perhaps by the resulting miracle, (Exodus 16:14-29, Leviticus 25:2-22) when God makes our labor as fruitful as if we had not rested. Remember that God is talking about the "sabbaths of the land", too, where God's people are to let their farm land lie fallow (unplanted, unploughed), all over the nation, every seventh year! (Leviticus 25. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says the Sabbaths of the Land were never observed, so God would take Israel into captivity for 70 years so the land could rest those 70 Sabbath years it missed during the 490 previous years of non-observance.)

V. 16-17, this is another "eternal" statute. But a millennium later, that law was "done away", according to many preachers today. Is 1,000 years "eternity"? If it isn't exactly eternity, is it close enough? If it is "a sign...for ever", does that mean it lasted even after Jesus came?

Whoever violates it is not one of God's people, v. 13-14. Does that mean it is important to obey it?

Isaiah 58:13 adds that not only is the Sabbath a day for not doing work, but also a day for not doing as you please, not going your own way, and not speaking idle words.

Isaiah 58:13 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

Does that mean the Sabbath is not a day to watch football?!

The Sabbath is a day to honor God, the verse says. It's a delightful gift of God. (It's a time I get to do these "Through The Bible" studies, and other Scripture searches, almost all day long.)

Many readers have urged me to deal with the issue of whether Sabbath commandments mean Christians should set aside Saturday, rather than Sunday.

So I did, and I didn't foresee what I would see. You probably won't either. You know, Bible study can really be a dangerous thing. It can make you change views you have held all your life, and then people will think you are unstable as water, blown about by every wind of doctrine, and stupid too.

Disclaimer. So before you all write in and ask for your subscription money back, let me remind you that this is a forum, not a position paper. What I am writing here is only this week's Bible study. My real purpose is to provoke P&A readers to read the Bible. I really am not motivated at all by the desire to get P&A readers to interpret the Bible the way I do, any more than I expect my students to whom I give music lessons to grow up and sound just like me! The Bible is a living document. Even if I could accomplish getting you to agree with my every interpretation of the Bible that I have now, I would disagree with you after I read it through again and saw things I haven't noticed as of now!

I am motivated by (1) my desire to have every P&A reader Biblically literate; (2) my own desire to do a more thorough study of every chapter than I have ever done before; and (3) the hope that readers who see problems in my Scripture search will write to me and enrich my understanding.

I need to say this especially this week, because my conclusions from this study are unnerving. But it applies just as much to last week's thoughts on the veneration of Mary, and on the need to test prophecy.

Let me put it another way: honest, folks, these writings of mine are not views set in concrete. They may become that if no one corrects me, but I am genuinely counting on you to correct me if my understanding is flawed. It isn't just my reputation that may hang in the balance if I go off on some silly tangent and no one bothers to rescue me: it's my soul.

Bible Believers Only

We'll start with the assumption that you are a Bible believing Christian. If you haven't yet reached the conclusion that every word, every period and colon is the Word of God, this whole discussion won't make any more sense to you than trying to add up how much you owe me for a subscription if we haven't yet come to consensus on the issue of whether 2+2=4.

Let's take our inquiry in order, in 3 stages:

(1) IS THE SABBATH, NOW, ON SATURDAY OR SUNDAY? Did the apostles switch from Saturday to Sunday observance? Is such a switch Scriptural?

(2) IS THE LAW, IN GENERAL, STILL VALID? Was it "done away with" by the New Testament?

(3) HOW FLEXIBLY IS THE SABBATH TO BE OBSERVED? Is the Sabbath a metaphor for something else, or is God telling us to honor a literal day?

(1) Is Sunday the "Lord's Day"?

Revelation 1:10, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day." Most Christians today assume "the Lord's Day" means Sunday.

But which day does the Bible say was the Lord's? It is the Sabbath which is "holy of the Lord", Isaiah 58:13. "...the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord..." Exodus 20:10 (the 4th Commandment).

There are Scriptures describing various actions on other days, but I don't know of any Scripture where God says He honors, or associates Himself with, any other day.

For example, God created the earth on Sunday, "the first day", Genesis 1:1-5. That was a major piece of work! If we follow God's example we will work on Sunday!

Mark 2:28 directly calls the Sabbath the Lord's day: "Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath."

"The first day of the week" is mentioned only 8 times in the whole Bible. 6 of those times were a reference to the day Jesus rose, Mat 28:1, Mark 16:2 & 9, Luke 24:1, John 20:1 & 19. (Note: Mat 28:1 is correctly translated "after the sabbath") Would you classify the resurrection as "work" or "rest"? If you compare lying in the grave with rising from the dead, and you have to classify one as "work" and the other as "rest", wouldn't you have to classify lying in the grave as rest, which Jesus did on the Sabbath? And rising from the dead as an "act", or work, which Jesus did on Sunday?

A restful offering?

An offering was taken on Sunday: "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered you." 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.

Do you think this proves the early church did their resting on Sunday? Doesn't a collection fall into the category of "work"?

You say, "But the fact that they took up an offering on Sunday proves Sunday was the day they came to church." But, you see, they fellowshipped every day, if they followed the pattern of Acts 2:46, the only such pattern in the Bible. Wouldn't it be nice, today, to have the big day of Bible study and fellowship separated from the work of counting out your tithe?


Only 1 Sunday Sermon

In all the Bible, only one sermon is recorded as being preached on Sunday, and upon this one verse hinges virtually the sole Biblical support for switching "the Lord's Day" from the Sabbath to Sunday:

"And on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." Acts 20:7.

There are two different ways this verse has been interpreted, which accounts for why some worship on the Sabbath and some on Sunday. Either interpretation would appear correct, just based on the grammar, if there were no other verses in the Bible to guide us.

The interpretation which supports Sunday worship is:

"And on the first day of the week, [THE ONE DAY OF THE WEEK] when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." Acts 20:7.

The interpretation which supports Sabbath worship is:

"And on the first day of the week, [AT SUPPER TIME,] when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them." Acts 20:7.

What a difference has been inserted "between the lines"! Sunday worshippers take this verse as proof that Sunday was the ONE day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread.

But there are two big reasons for assuming the folks at Troas met every day to break bread. One is that such was the routine of that first church in Jerusalem, where they were "daily...breaking bread from house to house [at home]." Acts 2:46. It is not impossible, I suppose, that the "embers" of the spirit had died down that much, that quickly, from meeting daily to meeting weekly. But I can't think of anything else in the NT [New Testament] to indicate the church was dying that quickly. But at any rate, the interpretation of this verse, as a declaration that the disciples were meeting once a week on Sunday, rests on the rather cynical assumption that the disciples were only meeting once a week. This requires the assumption that the spiritual embers at Troas had died down even more than in today's churches, which meet more often than that!

But there is another big reason to believe the folks at Troas met daily, at least for this week: that was a big week! If a high powered evangelist came to your church today from another country, v. 6-7, and was only going to be with you a week before sailing off again, even today you would surely have evangelistic services every night!

Acts 20:6 And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. 7 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.

Here are the ASSUMPTIONS that must be made to believe this verse establishes that the early church made Sunday their primary day of worship:

(1) Acts 20:7 means: "And on the first day of the week, [THE ONE DAY OF THE WEEK] when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them."

(2) The church at Troas met only one day a week, even when Paul was with them for a whole week.

(3) Verse 7 clearly says this was not just a special event, where the church came together on the eve of Paul's departure, but that the church always came together on only this day, and the event was no special accommodation for Paul.

(4) This single account of a Sunday sermon not only proves the early church switched from the Sabbath to Sunday, but it does not contradict any of the following verses:

As of Jesus' death, Jesus' followers still "rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment." Luke 23:56.

"And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures", Acts 17:2.

In Acts 13:42-44, the whole Gentile city came together to hear Paul preach on the Sabbath. These passages describe worship on two consecutive Sabbaths; after the first, the Gentiles "besought that these words might be preached the next Sabbath" -- why didn't Paul just say, right then and there, "Hey, why not just come tomorrow? This 'Sabbath' stuff is all passed away anyway; why, the only reason I came today was for the Jews; but as long as it's just us, why hang around for another out-of-date day, when we can come tomorrow, on the Lord's Day, while you're still fired up?"

It was Jesus' "custom" to stand up to read in the Synagogue on the Sabbath day, Luke 4:16.

When Jesus prophesied about the fall of Jerusalem, a time subsequent to the authoring of most, if not all, of the New Testament, (and he could have been talking of our own time), Jesus warned, "But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day." Matthew 24:20. This proves Jesus regarded the Sabbath as the day of rest, at least through the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which was after the whole history of the Acts of the Apostles was recorded.


The Age of Grace, and FIJA: or, The Biblical Way to Apply God's Law and Man's Law.

Published July/B/94

Last week, addressing part 1, I fell into the conclusion that there is absolutely no sound Biblical reason for believing Jesus or the Apostles, in their own practice, switched their holy day from Sabbath to Sunday. Honest, I never concluded that before. Of course, I had never studied it so intensively before, either. If I have missed something, won't someone please tell me?

This week, I set forth my understanding of how to interpret, in general, God's laws, and even man's laws. And next week, I will jump into the Scriptures that suggest how to interpret, specifically, the Sabbath. Such as in the first half of Hebrews. As of this writing, I don't know what I will find: call me if you have some answers. If you don't have any, pray we will find the right ones.

Does this seem too much time for this subject? This whole study has a much broader application than to just what we do on the Sabbath. Of all the practices commanded by the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath Rest was the first to appear, way before Moses. Genesis 2:3.

Most of the criminal charges brought against Jesus related to the Sabbath; and of all the NT [New Testament] Scriptures which explain how to apply OT [Old Testament] commandments, most are probably about the Sabbath.

As the most scrutinized Commandment in the Bible, NT treatment of it may help us get a better focus on how God wants us to treat all His OT -- and NT -- commandments. And all our own human commandments.

2. Is God's LAW, in general, still valid?

Among Scriptures popularly quoted to prove Moses' law is no longer in effect are Ephesians 2:15. Jesus "abolished in his flesh, the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances".

And Colossians 2:14, Christ blotted "out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross".

And Colossians 2:20-23. "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh."

On the other hand...

Since you believe the Bible is the Word of God, you would not "think...(of saying that Jesus came) to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." Matthew 5:17.

You believe that "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled", as Jesus said next. And you know that not everything in the law and prophets has been fulfilled yet.

You have heard people suggest everything in the law and the prophets was fulfilled a year or so after Jesus said that, forcing the phrase "till heaven and earth pass" to be interpreted as a "figure of speech" that does not at all set the time of the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. But you have probably thought it a surprising "figure of speech" to associate with an event only a year down the road.

You know that Jesus left quite a lot of force behind Moses' commandments for however long they were in force:

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:18-19.

You may have wondered why, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to "bring all things to [the disciples'] remembrance" (John 14:26) so they would be able to write the 4 Gospels (among other things), Jesus made sure Matthew remembered Matthew 5:17-19, if those verses were out of date decades before he wrote it down!

Verse 20 explains what Jesus means by "fulfilling" [the law]. It means going beyond the to-the-letter observance of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Matthew 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And the rest of the chapter gives examples of how Christians are supposed to do that. The sacrifice Jesus offered us went even farther beyond the requirements of Moses' law than Jesus asks us to go beyond Moses' law in Matthew 5 and throughout the Gospels.

In fact, Jesus' statements appeal to something even more compelling than divine authority outside ourselves: they appeal to our common sense, and our conscience. It's ourselves agreeing with Jesus that, of course, there are other sins besides those recognized in criminal court! And some of them are worse sins than those which humans are competent to judge! (V. 22)

Read Matthew 5 if you haven't done so recently. It is so compelling that even atheists quote parts of it, like v. 39. Although I have never heard an atheist quote verses like 28-30.

You believe, with Paul, that God's laws were established, not abolished, by the NT: "Do we then make void the law through faith? GOD FORBID! yea, we establish the law." Romans 3:31.

(Paul was explaining in the previous verses that we need both law and faith; we need law to teach us the difference between right and wrong, v. 20. But that knowledge, alone, cannot empower us to do right, and it certainly can't get us out of trouble when we do wrong! That's why we need faith, too. Which means trust: in Christ. Which means putting our lives in His hands, and obeying Him, like a child who submits to his parents and in return has the hope of deliverance from danger and forgiveness for sins, v. 24.)

On the other hand...

But if you are a Bible Believer, you also believe that if God "enforces" His laws, it's by different rules than man uses; because no matter how much a man violates God's laws he can have a place in Heaven, (Luke 23:39-43) and no matter how much a man obeys God's laws he can have a spot in hell! (Matthew7:22-23)

You agree that we needed the law the same way children need a schoolmaster; but that Christians are graduates and don't need it any more. Galatians 3:24-25.

You agree we can't "save ourselves" -- that is, get the charges against us dropped, for the laws we have broken -- by telling the judge about the laws we haven't broken!

James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

If there is a way to get the charges dropped for our lawless deeds, it will have to be a better way than to get credit against them for our law-abiding deeds! "...a man is justified without the deeds of the law", Romans 3:28. Galatians 2:16, " the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."

But you know that at least one penalty for forgetting God's law is that the world will be a mess, because people will be too ignorant to even try to keep the law. Romans 7:7 "...I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."

On the other hand...

But as a Bible believer you know that there is apparently no direct relationship between our obedience to God's laws and our innocence in His eyes: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9. So it's not just works of the law that won't save us; it's any works.

To be specific, many say today, the whole of the law has been narrowed down and sifted, leaving us just 4 simple rules: no fornication, and no meat that is (1) offered to idols, (2) killed by strangling, or (3) still full of its own blood. Acts 15:20-21.

If you have been paying attention, rather than skimming, you have surely noticed that both the folks who believe the law is still for us, and those who believe it is out of date, have plenty of Scripture to support their side. Let that be a warning to us to proceed with humility, mindful that we are human and incapable of perfect understanding of how to piece these Scriptures together; and mindful that at what we mark as the end of our inquiry, there may be other crucial verses which we have forgotten.

My solution to how to resolve these seeming contradictions is that the value of all laws, stories, parables, and miracles is the principles they contain, which are like pearls of great price for us to find and apply in every last corner of our lives. Matthew 9:17

"But how do we know whether a particular law is to be literally obeyed or just gleaned for its principle?" you ask.

"If the shoe fits, wear it"

Simple. If the shoe fits, wear it. Meditate on God's purpose for each law for the people at the time it was given. If circumstances are different now, adjust accordingly. (Mat 9:14-17) Otherwise they still make sense for us, just the way they are.

Matthew 9:14 Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? 15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. 16 No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. 17 Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

For example, laws about restitution for robbery still make better sense than slapping a thief in jail and paying his upkeep. But Moses' laws about oxen injuring people contain wise principles which we apply today in our laws about car accidents, and equipment needed to conduct business.

I'm not talking about a manner of interpretation that requires Greek scholarship to understand. All it requires is common sense. If you can take a book by Ben Franklin and find principles, like "a stitch in time saves nine", which you can apply to many things in your life even if you don't sew, and you gladly do so, how much more can you find nuggets in every jot and tittle of God's Word?

Paul gave an example of how to extract principles to live by from supposedly out-of-date scenarios about oxen, and he made any attempt to interpret it literally, as if God ever meant to apply it to oxen, look ridiculous.

1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? 10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?

So if any preacher today tells you the Law of Moses, with all its obscure laws about oxen and leprousy, has no guidance for us today, just stop paying his salary, because 1 Corinthians 9:9-11 is the only passage in the Bible that tells you to pay your preachers, and it is based on one of those obscure laws of Moses about oxen.

In fact, Jesus rather passionately, even impatiently we may feel, demands that we grow up and develop our ability to discern principles from Scripture.

Mark 4:13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?

(Also Mark 7:17, Matthew 15:15-16, Matthew 16:7-11)

But then how does that fit Ephesians 2:15, where Jesus "abolished in his flesh, the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances"?

Ephesians 2 is about how Gentiles were outsiders, before Jesus' coming in the flesh knocked down the wall of separation ("discrimination", liberals would say) between spiritual "insiders" and "outsiders". The verse focuses on that enmity as what was abolished.

The verse then has an "or, in other words,". And then it doesn't say Jesus "abolished the law", but the law "of commandments contained in ordinances".

In other words, Jesus abolished a way of applying God's laws that was so narrow, it was irrelevant outside the Jewish culture!

How does that line up with Gal 3:25-26, that says we have "graduated" from God's law and don't need to go to school any more?

Is graduation when you repudiate everything you have learned in order to graduate? Let's hope that isn't the way you live now! Isn't it, rather, when you are ready to effectively apply what you have learned in your everyday life?

When you graduate from human teachers, that means you are ready to apply your math and language skills to any life situation, as opposed to being confined to the limited examples provided by your teacher; with competence, approaching that of your teacher, to check the accuracy of your own work.

When God speaks of us as graduates from His Laws, must not that mean that, having some mastery of the examples in His Word of how God has discerned right and wrong, and what men ought to do, in 1200 pages of real life situations, that we are ready to discern right and wrong, and what to do, in our lives?

Okay, then how does all this apply to Acts 15:10, 20: "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the [Gentile] disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?... But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood"?

In the first place, the whole debate was whether anyone could be saved without being circumcised and keeping the whole law of Moses. V. 1. So Peter pointed out that Gentiles were obviously being saved in their uncircumcised, legally illiterate state. Kind of settles the issue of whether it is possible to become saved without Moses' laws, to see people being saved without Moses' laws. The only possible question remaining is whether a person thus saved should then back up and follow Moses' laws.

Then Peter called it "tempting God" to put a yoke on others which we ourselves could never pull. What "yoke" was he talking about? He was referring to the direct connection which the Pharisees made between being saved and keeping Moses' law: in other words, the futile, desperate path to heaven, of trying to impress God with how innocent we are of violating His Laws.

The verse never says the "yoke" referred to the law itself, and the context says it refers to the use of God's laws as a screen to filter, out of heaven, anyone who fails to obey them.

But while that applies to Moses' law, it doesn't apply to circumcision, which is not that hard to do and doesn't even apply to women. Peter's opposition to that, too, provides the clue that what he opposed was...

What Peter opposed was the attempt to make an impossible yoke look easy by trivializing God's law into a relative handful of things (such as circumcision) which humans can almost do, encouraging people to "rest on their own laurels" as the key to heaven instead of upon God's mercy.

Not only are we kidding ourselves to think we can perfectly obey even a trivialization of God's laws, but such a vision understates what God desires of us (as we learn in places like Mat 5).

But God desires for us, not just that we go through a few initiation rites so we can join His Club, but that we grow. Which requires that we never stop practicing, to use the terminology of a musician.

That's why Peter was able to oppose the Pharisees' trivialization of God's laws on the ground their path was too hard, without opposing Jesus' placement of even higher standards before man!

In verse 20, I believe James meant that so far as legalistic obedience to Moses' law was concerned, the things they still needed to watch out for in their culture were fornication, eating blood, and partaking of benefits distributed through false belief systems. But for all the rest of the laws of Moses, they should go ahead and study them, like they already are, but they should use their own judgment to discern, from them, principles to live by.

This interpretation explains verse 21, which was the clincher, the final argument which persuaded the assembly that only these 4 rules needed to be promulgated by them: "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day."

Certainly we cannot interpret verse 20 as if those were the only commandments which the Apostles ever sent to the Gentiles; since there were many commandments given by Jesus, and Paul said the things which he wrote are the commandments of God, 1 Cor 14:37.

The fact that the Gentiles received many other commandments besides these 4, and the fact that most NT commandments were reiterations or elaborations of OT commandments, rules out that the apostles meant to abolish all the OT except for 4 rules. But the conclusion that they meant to preserve legalistic observance of only those four, and to let all the rest be "written on their hearts" and applied as required by common sense, appears consistent with all the Scriptures I can think of now.

Another possible interpretation is that the four were only given as examples of what the Gentiles already knew. As if to say "Look, you already have your own Bibles. (You have people in every city reading Moses to you.) You know you aren't supposed to worship idols, etc., etc. You don't need the Church at Jerusalem interpreting the Bible for you, or giving you new commandments. So we are writing this letter to assure you that the people from our church who ordered you to be circumcised before you could be saved, do not represent us."


There is a concept today struggling, at the fringes of American law, to climb its way back to its historical position at the center. Its effect on the interpretation of man's law is similar to the effect of Jesus' teaching on the interpretation of all law.

I want to give a few details of this legal movement for two reasons: (1) the principles are similar enough to Scriptural principles to illustrate a few Spiritual points; (2) 1 Corinthians 6 calls upon Christians to create a system of justice that supersedes corrupt human courts, so we need to be thinking about how we are going to do it; and (3) the truths clarified by this movement clarify Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees' enforcement of the Sabbath, and clarify how we ought to enforce it today upon one another.

"FIJA" stands for "Fully Informed Jury Amendment". It is a movement to amend state constitutions (only a half dozen or so have such amendments already) so that juries will always be told, in court, that they have the authority to judge not just the facts of the case, (what the accused did that is alleged to violate the law), but also the law by which the accused is charged (whether the law is just, or whether it makes sense in this situation).

America's Founding Fathers and their courts passionately defended the authority of juries to "judge both the law and the facts". Judges today angrily oppose such information, and give stern jury instructions that the judge is the sole judge of the law in the case; and the jury is there to judge only the facts. In fact, judges ordinarily never allow the jury to see what the exact wording of the law is!

Our Founding Fathers regarded this power of juries as the bulwark of our freedoms. We would not have Freedom of Religion, or Freedom of the Press, today, had not juries exercised that right, and everyone in 1787 knew it and reminded each other of it often.

The English-speaking world received Freedom of Religion when a quaker preacher, William Penn, gave a sermon outside, in 1670, after the Church of England padlocked his church doors and passed a law against his theology.

Penn's case was pretty fresh in American memory at the time of the Constitution, since Penn went on to found Pennsylvania in 1680 (he made a deal with the King who had owed Penn's deceased father the equivalent of half a million dollars) and to write Pennsylvania's first Frame of Government (constitution), which considerably influenced the charters of other states, and the U.S. Constitution of 1787.

Penn's jury was ordered by Penn's judge to convict Penn, since the facts were not contested and the judge was the legal authority. The jury refused! So the judge locked up the jury for several days until they would find the preacher guilty! By locking them up, history means in a small room with no food, and no toilet services. So when they returned to the courtroom, they were soaked in their own feces. And yet still they refused to convict! After a few days of this, supportive mobs swelled outside, until the king and his courts could no longer prevail against the authority of the jury, which, after all, had already been made a pillar of English Law by the Magna Carta in June 15, 1215.

In 1215, King John loved taxes too much for his own good. His barons revolted. They could have simply defeated King John and appointed a replacement king. That was the usual thing to do in those days. But they did something very different. They drafted a Constitution, a law to which even the king would be subject. One of their issues was what America's Founding Fathers called "No Taxation Without Representation", but as long as they were rewriting government, they addressed many other abuses.

Previously, the king was his own law. He made laws, and he interpreted them as he pleased. He was, in other words, a lawless tyrant, accountable to no one. The barons did not replace one absolute tyrant with another, a remedy which would have lasted only until the new tyrant felt confident. They eliminated absolute tyranny, and their remedy has lasted nearly a millinium.

Subjecting a king to a Constitution was not unprecedented. When God annointed Saul to be King, God made him subject to a Constitution.

1 Samuel 10:24 And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the LORD hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king. 25 Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD.

God had decreed this limitation on kings long before.

Deuteronomy 17:18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: 20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

King John's barons drew up a list of rights they wanted, but twice the King refused to grant them. The barons raised an army to force the King to agree. The King saw he could not resist their army, so he put his seal on it. But he was furious; as soon as he could, he engaged in war to rescind those rights. But he died the next year, leaving an infant prince whose ministers were in no position to oppose the barons.

The Magna Charta marked the first time in English history that the absolute authority of a king was limited by law. Of the many rights it created which are the foundation of our freedom today, one was the right to Trial by Jury. The Magna Carta said a free man could not be "destroyed in any way" unless he had been found guilty by "a jury of his peers". Historically, and obviously, the sole purpose of the jury was to limit the law of the King. Take away the law-judging authority of the jury, and you take away the purpose of the jury.

If all you want is accuracy in understanding the letter of the law, then truly the best people for that job is a judge and a couple of lawyers. If all you want is accuracy in reconstructing the facts, then amateurs off the street would appear less qualified than experienced investigators.

That's why common sense and history make it obvious that the jury has neither purpose. The one thing a jury of amateurs off the street can do, which neither trained lawyers nor experienced investigators can do well, is judge the relationship of the laws to the facts, and put themselves in the place of the accused to see what application of the law would be reasonable; and to make this judgment free of the political pressures upon salaried judges and investigators.

The case that established Freedom of the Press was in New York City. In 1735, state governors were still appointed by the King of England, and accountable to no one in the states. Peter Zenger reported on the New York governor's corruption in his newspaper. The governor had him arrested for "libel". The judge did not dispute that Zenger told the truth, but at that time, "libel" meant any criticism, whether or not it was true. Zenger's defense attorney, who by the way was from Pennsylvania, one of the best in the colonies, argued that any law which made telling the truth a crime was absurd. He said the evidence that Zenger told the truth should be a defense against the charge of libel. The jury agreed, and established what we experience today as "freedom of the press".

The difference between Zenger's trial and trials today is that Zenger's attorney was allowed to eloquently argue the absurdity of the law as it was interpreted. Today a judge instantly censors such discussion, and if he is not quick enough to censor it before the jury hears enough to possibly influence them, he dismisses the jury and orders a new trial with sanctions against the defendant saying anything like that again.

But today, if a judge can find out that a juror has even read a flier handed him by the protesters outside who want to explain to jurors that this right is theirs under our Constitution and by any principle of common sense, the judge will sternly lecture that juror about the folly of the flier, and if the juror looks like he might possibly be thinking about the flier, the judge will remove that juror from the case!

But in 1791, when America's first Chief Justice, John Jay, appointed by President George Washington, gave jury instructions, he told them "The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the fact in controversy". Noah Webster's first 1828 dictionary defines "jury": "twelve men who...decide both the law and fact in criminal prosecutions". By taking away this authority, modern courts deny defendants the right to an "impartial jury" acknowledged by the Sixth Amendment. That is, we still get a jury, but one so much more restricted that the principal similarity is the name. There is no longer any right to a "trial by jury", as the framers of the Sixth Amendment defined the terms.

You probably thought the Constitution guaranteed a right to trial by jury, didn't you? Well, it did, actually. But in a case today, where there is no dispute over what happened, (the "facts"), but the only dispute is over whether what happened was against the law, and the judge takes upon himself the sole power to judge the only dispute, not allowing the jury to even know what the dispute is, that isn't much of a "trial by jury", is it?

The "FIJA" concept is also called "jury nullification", because when juries repeatedly refuse to convict people accused under unacceptable laws, the effect is to nullify those laws, since prosecutors will lose their will to bring charges under them.

Our founding fathers published numerous statements about the importance of leaving it to juries to uphold laws, as the final check against tyrannical law, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled otherwise; although it has said the jury needn't be told they have the right to judge the law, too!

But I believe the FIJA philosophy has been framed awkwardly. It is not accurate to say juries have the right to "judge the law", since a jury makes a decision in only one single case and has nothing to say about the force of any law the rest of the time.

It is more accurate to say merely that the jury has the right and authority to apply the law.

That's just common sense. In other words, the jury should, and does to some extent, no matter what the judge says, decide whether it makes sense to apply the law in these particular circumstances.

In other words, they go by the principle, "if the shoe fits, wear it." If someone does something which is obviously wrong, and there is a law covering such actions, "the shoe fits", and it is Just to find him guilty. But when a man does something which is not considered wrong by any consensus of society, but only primarily by government-paid people, and the law by which he is tried wasn't even originally designed to cover actions like his, [you know the example I am thinking of: Rescuers whose "crime" is "trespassing"; but there are many similar situations], then a jury would be Just to disregard the judge's self serving "instructions" and acquit.

Does this help you understand what is going on today? You never even thought the manner of interpreting and applying laws could even be a concern of laymen. But it is at the heart of Freedom. It is on the skids in America today, in America's courts.

If it matters that much in the case of human laws, how much more must Biblical principles of interpretation matter in God's laws?

If man's laws are perverted by judging others by the letter of the law, without evaluating whether it was the original intent of the law's authors to apply the law in the human situation at hand, how much more are God's laws perverted when we "pour new wine into old wineskins"?

Juries weren't invented by the Magna Carta. The word "judges" appears 12 times in Moses' Law, and most of the time it is clear that a single case comes before "judges", plural. The "elders" at the "city gate" may describe the same process, Deuteronomy 21:19, 22:15, 24. We don't know many details how it operated, but certainly the "judges" then were more like a "jury" today than like a single, government-paid and beholden "judge" today.

If every American can acknowledge today that his "right to trial by jury" has something fundamental to do with his freedom, and if we see that juries were part of God's system, and we know from Matthew 18:15-17 that Jesus' system of justice was consensus, not just of 12, but of "the whole church", then are not God's laws perverted today by judgments made of entire denominations and all in them, made by individual pastors acting alone, without any "Due Process"; that is, without any careful inquiry where testimony is brought by eyewitnesses and the accused have the right to be present, and to face their accusers, and to defend themselves?

Do not such pastors have a monetary incentive to condemn other denominations? Does not his paycheck depend on keeping people in his own denomination? Is not then he prejudiced, in the same way government-paid judges are today? Would not an unpaid Jury, not just of 12 but of all the thousands invoked by Jesus in Matthew 18:17, be more impartial?

Jesus established exceptions to to-the-letter interpretations of God's laws by the Pharisees. He picked corn and healed on the Sabbath. These exceptions have actually been codified in American law: the Necessity Defense, for example, was founded on Jesus pointing out that any Pharisee would pull his ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath.

And there are other legal defenses today that were first articulated by Jesus.

Don't patch an old law onto a new situation

"Original Intent", the doctrine that the interpretation of a law should be governed, not by what its words mean today, but by what they meant then, and by the purpose they had then (to the extent there is a difference). For example, how did the framers of the First Amendment apply the First Amendment to Bibles in public schools? During the months they debated the First Amendment, they also enacted the Northwest Ordinance, which required Bible instruction in all public schools in all new territories, and appropriated money for the printing of Bibles! We certainly reject the original intent of the First Amendment today!

By first discerning the original purpose of a law, we can wisely glean from it that which is beneficial. Jesus used, and codified for all time, the defense of "original intent" when he said, in effect, "don't patch an old law onto a new situation", Matthew 9:14-17.

Jesus even argued for common sense, in contrast to mindless legalism, in legal interpretation, John 7:24: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." Notice this is an attack on superficially judging only the actions, rather than taking into account their effect, and their purpose. This verse is the foundation for the principle, in American law today, that a prosecutor must prove not only that the accused did certain actions forbidden by law, but that he also had criminal intent.

All Jesus' appeals, in establishing exceptions to laws, were appeals to common sense!

Perhaps the most profound principle of legal interpretation laid down by Jesus was when he said "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath", and another time, "is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?" In other words,

Any interpretation of law that is not beneficial is invalid.


Illegitimacy of Human Laws

It is not the Sabbath law, or any other law of God, that Jesus abolished: but only a legalistic way of interpreting it "that was against us", and that Jesus "nail[ed] to his cross", Colossians 2:14.

Verses 20-23 probably refer to human laws added to God's laws, which Paul opposes just as Jesus did in Mark 7.

But if that is true for God's laws, isn't it just as true for man's laws?

I have a copy of the Iowa Rules of Court from about 1880. It is on 8 pages the size of a postcard, and three of them are blank so you can take notes! Now we have a 1" thick book that changes every year.

Man's laws, too voluminous for any man to read, especially since they change every year, fill large, expensive libraries. God's laws fill 1200 pages that can be read in a week, and that never change.

God's laws contain general principles which can be applied to any situation; while man's laws are very narrowly interpreted to apply to specific situations. Thus, in 1993, the Iowa legislature thought it necessary to add "milk boxes" to a list of containers which it is against the law to steal!

The following verse is a general attack on man's additions to God's laws, and on trivialized interpretations of God's laws that render them as superficial, seemingly obeyable, and insensitive to original intent and purpose as typical human laws. If you have the courage to accept it, the criticism is not limited just to "rules to live by" enacted without legal force by local pastors, but it applies just as well to all human laws:

 "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." Colossians 2:20-23.

Never forget that verses about "obeying your dictators" must be applied with "righteous judgment" to "we the people" in America, who are the rulers, not the ruled. The stewardship verses are for us. What do we do, with the influence God has granted us, to reshape our laws after God's principles?


As we leave this subject, let me note one final element of God's laws that is seldom discussed by Christians arguing for Godly principles in American law: mercy.

The OT commands that "thine eye shall have no pity on them" in Deut 7:16, 13:8, 19:13, 21, 25:12. This is not necessarily inconsistent with the parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Jesus' parable affirmed that the law is the law, and it isjust to punish. But Jesus added Repentance to the list of considerations the jury should weigh. Jesus elsewhere explained that we should be just as merciful as we want God to be with us. If there is no repentance, then Jesus' parable affirms that we should be as unmerciful towards the accused as the accused has been. The fact that the above verses in Moses' law do no mention the factor of repentance, does not mean God did not want mercy exercised when repentance exists. Certainly God Himself showed mercy very often when sinners and tyrants, even in the OT, showed a little bit of repentance.

Our parole boards today serve this function, but they are crippled by the influ­ence of incompetent psychia­trists rather than seasoned Chris­tians. And the principle of parole, as opposed to unconditional pardon, preserves Jesus' principle of retaining the power to revoke a pardon if the repentance proves shallow or insincere. But again, the effectiveness of our parole officers today is weakened by the influence of easily duped psychiatrists.

NEXT WEEK: Is the oldest law on earth, the Sabbath, a metaphor, or is it to be observed on literal Saturdays?










Is the Sabbath for us?

Published Jul/D/94

SYNOPSIS: This is the third of 3 parts: (1) IS THE SABBATH, NOW, ON SATURDAY OR SUNDAY? Did the apostles switch from Saturday to Sunday observance? Is such a switch Scriptural? (2) IS THE LAW, IN GENERAL, STILL VALID? Was it "done away with" by the New Testament? (3) HOW FLEXIBLY IS THE SABBATH TO BE OBSERVED? Is the Sabbath a metaphor for something else, or is God telling us to honor a literal day?

In part 1, (Jul/A/94), I conclud­ed there is no Scriptural evidence that the First Church transferred whatever reverence they had for the Sabbath to any other day. The idea that "the Lord's Day" should be translated as "Sunday" lacks Scriptural support. Sabbath worship was the custom of both Jesus and Paul. Paul kept to the Sabbath schedule even when his only audience was Gentiles. Only one meeting was recorded on Sunday and that was because Paul was sailing the next day; the Apostles met every day of the week anyway.

In part 2, (Jul/B/94), I conclud­ed that all of God's Word is still, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, a source for us of instruction and even of doctrine. But as Jesus explained, we need to discern the original intent of each story and each statute, and live by the principles we thus extract from them, as opposed to trivializing them by applying them only where "the letter of the law" explicitly applies them.

Here's Part 3:

"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Colossians 2:16-17.

Sabbath worshippers argue that "the sabbath days" in this verse refers, not to every seventh day of every week, but to the special holy days which are also sometimes called "sabbaths". Such a distinction is logical in light of the fact that the holyday "sabbaths" instituted by Moses largely fore­shadow NT events, while the Sabbath of every week was instituted by God before there was even The Fall, or the need for the NT!

 However, Hebrews talks at length of the "rest" which the Sabbath foreshadows, and Hebrews is definitely talking about the Sabbath instituted by God before the Fall, which falls once every week. But how can the Sabbath foreshadow a Rest which was experienced in the past?

This would still be good grammar, so long as that Rest is not in the present, but is coming again in the future. But actually the Bible never uses the word "foreshadow". It uses the phrase "a shadow of things to come", which would not be inconsistent with the theory that it is, simultaneously, also "a shadow of things that once were."

Here are my notes on the relevant chapters of Hebrews:


Hebrews 3

Moses was a faithful servant, v. 2 & 5. By comparison, Christ was not only faithful, but He built the House in which Moses was the servant! 1-6

But today, as then, the problem is not what God offers, but whether hard hearts will accept it, 7-10.

The "rest" which the Hebrews could not enter was not the Sabbath rest every 7 literal days -- they entered that rest or they were stoned to death! -- but the rest of reaching their prize, the Promised Land. V. 11.

V. 13, rather than taking salvation for granted once you "get" it, we must "exhort one another daily, ...lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."

V. 14, our "promised land" is to be "partakers of Christ".

V. 17-19, the key to a hard heart is "unbelief".

Apostasia, unfaithfulness, disobedience,

That is what kept the first generation of Egyptian refugees from entering the Promised Land.

But rather than trivialize "faith" into mental acceptance of some promise whose acceptance costs us nothing, let's keep in mind that Israel's challenge was to keep marching forward, rather than running back to their old life, even when they were down to the last gulp in their canteens and the only thing they could see for miles, besides sand, was a stupid rock, or when marching forward meant marching into the ocean, with the greatest military machine in the world closing in on them from behind! (Numbers 20:1-11)

The last straw was when God was finally ready to let Israel march in and conquer, but they were too scared, even though all that stood in their way were a few lousy armies of giants armed to the teeth. (Numbers 13:26-14:45)

The Israelites would have done fine if their only requirement was "easy believism". They could have recited, "I believe Moses is the servant of the Christ, the Son of the Living God" 10 times a day, smiling, as long as there was plenty of food on the table and no enemies swooping down the hills upon them.

If you think you are saved because you have "faith", ask yourself this: how long will you treasure your faith as it begins to CO$T you more and more? As the cost begins to approach everything you have to pay, and every thing you treasure, and it becomes horribly painful, how certain are you that you will never change your mind and turn it in for a refund?

Also ask if, like Jonah, you are fleeing in the opposite direction from where God is trying to send you, because of your lack of faith?

Keep in mind that when the apostles were so worried about a little ol' storm that they thought they ought to disturb Jesus' beauty rest, just because their ship was taking on water and about to sink, Jesus addressed them, "Oh ye of little faith"! Has your faith been tested that much? And if it were, would you soar over their heads on the wings of your superior faith?

God did mighty miracles for Israel. All they had to do, in order to have a firm basis for their faith in God's willingness and ability to carry them over the next impossible hurdle, was remember. We have the testimony of the Bible, and of every scientist who has tried and failed to refute it, as the basis of our faith, if we will but remember. We have, also, the testimony of miracles done in our presence, and done in our very own lives, if we will but remember. Nevertheless, God sorely tested the faith -- or the memory -- of Israel. It was their failure to pass very severe tests (compared with what we face) that kept them out of their "rest", and therefore we must prepare to pass very severe tests if we do not want to be kept from our rest as partakers in Christ!

Think about it. What is "rest"? Isn't it being worry free and appreciating every minute?

And yet here we are on this place called "earth", so full of dangers ready to frighten the stoutest-hearted. What other way is there to "rest", here, than by complete, 100% faith in our Shep­herd, as articulated in Psalm 23 and 91? How else can you define the very word "rest", as having any kind of unassailable peace to it, except by positing, as a requirement of it, absolute faith in God to see us through, which faith of course would be irrational for anyone not 100% committed to serving Him?

Hebrews 4

V. 1, the only thing to fear is the fear of worldly dangers that might keep us from marching forward into His Rest.

We have heard the Gospel, v. 2. But "the Gospel" isn't a new thing added by the NT to the OT, because THEY HEARD IT TOO. But they didn't hear it with faith. V. 3, we who believe finally are entering into the Rest prepared from the founda­tion of the world, although God's wrath kept them out of the promised land because the people did not know His ways, Psalm 95.

V. 4, this Rest is the Sabbath Rest, from all our works: "For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his", v. 10.

That "day" is not the next literal Sabbath, but "today", v. 7.

We can make this point more emphatically. Verse 7 says God "limiteth", or defined, or set the boundaries of, or specified [Gr} a certain Day, and that Day which God specified was not "Sabbath" but "Today!" We don't have to wait till next Saturday to soften our hearts; we can do it right now! V. 8 Sabbath keepers of the past never experienced the Rest which their observance foreshadowed. V. 9 The Rest God offers us goes way beyond the most scrupulous Sabbath-honoring of the Pharisees. V. 10, the Rest we are talking about is to cease from your own works, as God did from His. Did God start working again next Sunday? The Bible says no such thing. It says He rested. He stopped creating. In all the six millineums since, we have seen no clear evidence of anything newly created; or what Darwinists would say, nothing which we can prove has "evolved". God's example is ours: to cease from our labors, not just one day out of seven, but Today, and every Today for the rest of our lives in which we are able to believe God will meet our physical needs as we serve Him, Luke 12. V. 11, This kind of Rest is something we have to work at! But not a labor which is physical, or self-serving; but rather mental and spiritual, self-denying, and God-serving.

Hebrews 4:7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus [Joshua - same name in the Greek] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Let us labour [Gr: spoudazo {spoo-dad'-zo} translated in KJV as "endeavour" 3 times, as "do diligence" twice, as "be diligent" twice, and once as "give diligence", "be forward", "labour", and "study". Meaning: "to hasten, make haste; to exert one's self, endeavour, give diligence"] therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

Gene Faulstitch of Spencer, IA, who has made a national name for himself as a Biblical Chronologist, notes other ways God has used the Sabbath to foreshadow his Plan of Salvation. Just one example striking enough for me to remember out of a long conversation: it was 100,000 weeks from the birth of Jacob to the baptism of Jesus, and 100,000 weeks from the death of Jesus to the Feast of Tabernacles in 1947 when 10 German war criminals were hung and the government of Israel was estalished; Jesus was in the center of history. ("Sabbath" also means "week".)

Ezekiel 20:20 offers, "And hallow my sabbaths: and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God."

A sign? How were Sabbaths a sign (evidence)?

Initially, it was evidence of God's providence when God miraculously kept their 6th-day manna from molding on the Sabbath.

Later, it was evidence of God's providence when the 6th year brought in enough crops to make it through the 8th year so that none but volunteer crops were seen the 7th year.

But in all of that, God's people ceased from their food-producing work only one day a week, which is nothing compared with Hebrews 4:10, which says the Sabbath foreshadows the day when God'speople will "cease from their own works", PERIOD!

The Israelites lacked the faith to completely rest from their own work, to attend exclusively to God's work, ONE day a week. But the Sabbath was only a taste of God's desire to provide for our needs if we will only rest from working for our needs ALL 7 days a week, and attend exclusively to seeking the Kingdom of Heaven! Who, today, has the faith to do THAT? Who can believe the door to Eden is really open, and that we can walk back in so long after God cursed the ground for Adam's sake, forcing Adam to work hard just for his food? Genesis 3:17

This would surely be a bizarre, extremist interpretation to take of this one verse were it not for Mt 6:19-34 and Lk 12, telling us to cease from our needs-provid­ing work and work strictly for God, and Jesus specifically said to quit worrying about food and cloth­ing! God will take care of that! And Jesus is talking 7 days a week, not just one. Thus when Hebrews keeps talking about "Today", it literally means "any day you're ready, and every day; not just Saturday!"

Does that mean there is nothing left of anything special about the literal Sabbath -- from Friday Sundown to Saturday sundown?

First let me go over what NT "freedom" is not: it is not an excuse to go on working to satisfy your own needs and desires 7 days a week because you lack the faith or desire to serve only God, on even ONE day a week!

But if you have truly made the plunge into full time service to our Lord, then Jesus points out that even under Moses' law, those who were in full time service to the Lord -- that is, the priests -- "worked" (for the Lord, that is) on the Sabbath and there was nothing wrong with that. Matthew 12:5.

Am I justifying a new cult of workaholicism?

Work for God is incomparable with work for menial necessities. Think about your experience in working for necessities.

Isn't it a common complaint for many people that their work is not "fulfilling"? Not so with work for God! Such work gives purpose for life! It is "work" in the way fishing, or partying, or shopping, or surfing, is work, except that work for God is far more re­fresh­ing than any self-serving "vacation"!

Keep in mind that even in Paradise, Adam had at least two jobs: to "dress" the garden, and to name the animals. And yet it was Paradise; in the same way that a fishing vacation requires physical and mental activity, and yet no one calls it "work"!

On the other hand, there is that intriguing verse, Matthew 24:20, that indicates Jesus expected his follow­ers to observe the literal Sabbath so rigidly that when enemy troops came, his followers would be ham­pered by their observance from fleeing!

On the other hand, a possible reason Jesus said to pray that flight be not on the Sabbath, was not that his hearers would think it wrong to flee, but that the entire infrastructure of the nation would be shut down. Flight might be difficult for those trying to flee. Sabbath keepers might even persecute those fleeing. Josephus records such a time. Antiquities, Book 12, chapter 6, paragraph 2, describes a war, before Jesus' time, when a thousand Jews, with wives and children, let themselves be smothered in caves rather than "desecrate the Sabbath" by defending themselves or even blocking the cave entrances.



(1) The Sabbath is less a day to stop working then it is a day to start believing. It is a symbol for early retirement, a lifetime vacation from labor driven by necessity to provide material needs -- a lifetime of attendance to the Kingdom of Heaven.

 (2) God gives us liberty to individually discern the "work" God has for us, on this as well as on every day. Luke 6:9, it is always "lawful to do good on the Sabbath".

(3) "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath", Mark 2:27. In other words, any interpretation of sabbath practice that is not beneficial to man is invalid. But that also includes interpretations of NT Freedom that trash all the benefits Godhas offered us through the Sabbath.

Yes, the Sabbath is God's clue to us that the gate back into Eden is wide open! Will you walk back in with me? I was very slow to believe it, myself. I stumbled through like a clubfooted snail, incredulous that something so good and carefree could be a responsible way to live. God helped by burning some of the bridges behind me. But it's true! God really does provide! Provision seldom arrives before you need it; as in Israel, God doesn't bring the water out of the rock before the last drop is out of your canteen. But God provides!

"But this isn't Eden! You're going to die, an event that never took place before Adam's fall!"

Oh? So you think I'm going to die, eh? If a man keep Jesus' saying, he shall never see death.

I didn't make it up. I just read it. You can read it to, in John 8:51. Metaphorize it as much as you think you have to, but don't get so carried away that you never enter His rest.

God never cursed Adam. God cursed the ground, and did it as a gift for Adam; as God told him, 'cursed is the ground for thy sake'. Genesis 3:17

 God had work for him to do before he sinned which was no less challenging than what he faced after he "fell". The only difference is that after he became headstrong about doing the work he had to do to have a full life, God created the mechanism by which if Adam would not work, he would not eat. God did that to bless him, not to curse him.

Far from a curse, the hard work God assigns to man is the greatest blessing God could give him. God's 'curse' is actually a souvenir of Paradise. IT IS MORE THAN A SOUVENIR OF PARADISE: IT IS THE TICKET BACK IN.

Ecclesiastes 2:24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat[,] and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in[,] his labour.

The traditional KJV translation, without the commas in parenthesis, implies that there are three things best for a man: eating, drinking, and enjoying labor. This may be, but another possible correct interpretation is by inserting the commas in parenthesis; remember that Hebrew has no punctuation anyway so it is up to us to find the interpretation which is most consistent with all Scripture. With the commas, we find that labor alone is the key: we are, says the Hebrew, to gorge ourselves on it (in contrast to today's "sluggards", Pro. 6:9-11, who worry about "workaholics"), guzzle it down, and enjoy the good of it. The sense of really pouring it down, really gorging, is in the Hebrew words. It certainly describes the way Solomon worked, as he describes earlier in the chapter!

The first several chapters of Ecclesiastes go on to list many goals of men, which men look to for meaning, such as leaving a name for oneself: and then trash those goals, one by one, leaving the repeated theme of labor as the purpose of life. (3:12-13, 22, 5:18, 8:15, 9:7-9.)

But Jesus gives further information about precisely what sort of labor gives purpose to Life. The theme of Luke 12, Matthew 6, and Hebrews, is that a man doesn't have to work for his own physical needs any more if he will take upon himself God's "yoke", Matthew 11:28-30, "seeking the kingdom of Heaven". God will provide him all the food, shelter, and clothing he needs, without having to toil for it.

 In other words, the terms God imposed on Adam because of his rebellion are precisely the same terms which Jesus will lift from the shoulders of Adam's descendants to the extent of their obedience.

God declares with a shout of triumph, "I do not need the Garden of Eden to provide for man the conditions of Paradise, to the extent that he seeks it! Believe, and receive!" Mark 11:24

Entering Paradise isn't the hard part. A baby can do that. Being thankful is the part we have to learn, Philippians 4:11.

Final conclusion:

But is anything left of straightforward, physical observance of the Sabbath? After we blend in Jesus' principles of the Necessity Exception, and the principle that God has work meant to be done on the Sabbath, (that's when clergy work; if laymen are at fault for working then, how much more their own pastors who are 40 times more guilty!), and the principle that it is always lawful to do good on the Sabbath, and the principle that Sabbath application should benefit man, have the exceptions blotted out the rule? How about the principle that Sabbath Rest means ceasing from the pursuit of self-centered needs and serving God full time?

Romans 14 deals with Sabbath observance and meat-eating rules, two of the greatest, bloodiest controversies of all religious history. But instead of simply saying how to believe, which Paul could have done in a couple of verses, Paul spent the whole chapter helping us understand how each of us is accountable to God to study the issues together and share what light we have with each other, but we should not put our brothers in fear of Hell, making them doubt their salvation, with arguments that undermine their faith, just for not agreeing with us, v. 1.

It is not the doctrines in brains that indicate spiritual condition, but the openness of Hearts to God. Brains can be sluggish, so it can take them more time to discover "all the correct doctrines". So God judges hearts. 1 Corinthians 4:5.

Such a cautious approach to judging your brother is not necessary when your brother is, for example, fornicating with his mother, 1 Corinthians 5. But you can see that by the time you apply all the above Biblical principles to Sabbath observance, the most Godly manner of physical observance can vary from one man's situation to the next. There are limits to how accurately one man can judge how God will judge another, on a matter with so many variables. It does not mean one sin is greater than another; only that one sin is easier to judge, than the other, in another.

 Obviously, Rest is part of the cycle of life and work. Life cannot continue without it. Even the heart rests between each beat. Even God rested. Let us not metaphorize the Sabbath to the extent we take an extra full time job and let strangers raise our kids, so we can take an extra vacation.

Pat Robertson writes, "Galley slaves and coolies forced to work seven days a week became no better than beasts of burden. Higher civilizations rise when people can rest, think, and draw inspiration from God. Laws in America that mandated a day of rest from incessant commerce have been nullified as a violation of the separation of church and state. In modern America, shopping centers, malls, and stores of every description carry on their frantic pace seven days a week. As an outright insult to God and His plan, only those policies that can be shown to have a clearly SECULAR purpose are recognized. What idiocy our society has indulged in by refusing to acknowledge the wisdom of God." p. 236

"Adolf Hitler once commented on the efforts of German evangelical clergymen to oppose his programs. "Their task is to prepare men's souls for heaven; they must leave the earth to me,' he said. What a job he did on earth without their advice..." P. 227, The New World Order, by Pat Robertson.

Worship, too, is part of the Sabbath tradition, Isaiah 66:23, Mark 1:21, 6:2; Luke 4:16, 6:6; Acts 13:14, 42, 18:4. Worship with other worshippers. According to 1 Corinthians 14, worship consists of interaction between believers. It is difficult to find a church in America where that degree of interaction is allowed, but there are other ways to communicate with other believers in this technological generation besides physically, face to face.

Even for those working full time for God, there is a way to work without resting, and there is a way to work restfully. Only with great wisdom can the difference be discerned. If worry accompanies your work for God, then are you working in faith? And yet the difference between yearning, without which we are not motivated to work hard for God, and worry, is subtle. Are you filled with despair as you work? On the other hand, the more despair you have, the less you will work, except to the degree your faith (that there is hope, through God's Grace blessing your work) equals your despair. Actually you can't even have deep faith, except to the depth of your yearning. If you don't yearn for anything, then there is nothing for you to believe you will receive.

Hebrews almost equates "faith" with "rest". It says it is "unbelief" that prevents entry to the Promised Land.

So if you are working 16 hours a day, without a day off, but only for money, and if I knew, I would pray for you, that you might trust Luke 12 and begin laying up treasures in Heaven. It is most dangerous to run your body in the ground as quickly as you can, without preparations for when you leave it. But if you take off a day, I would not feel in a position to judge you for which day you select, without knowing your circumstances and how conscientiously you have studied the issue, Romans 14:5.

If you are a workaholic for Jesus, I will pray your faith equals your work, that you may be at peace in your work. To the extent I see you sacrificing all for the service of Jesus and the Least of His Brethren, it will not occur to me to challenge you for not resting on one particular day, when you are ceasing from your own labors on all seven.

And if you are part of the new movement of house churches patterned after Acts, which meet almost daily, shall I tell you to repent because you do not honor the Sabbath more than other days?

Matthew 5 lists many specific ways Jesus' law takes the principles of God's laws, which had previously been understood to apply only physically and superficially, and applies God's principles not only to all actions, but even to thoughts. Moses said to love your neighbor; Jesus said to love more than that: love even your enemy. Moses said to honor the Sabbath. Jesus' first Church honored all seven days. Hebrews offers entrance to Paradise, to the Rest of which the Sabbath is but a shadow.

Will you dare to cease from "your own" labors, and "seek first the Kingdom of Heaven", not worrying how you will pay your bills, but doing the work that is far more important, trusting God? Will you step out of your boat and walk towards Jesus, even though it is stormy?

Will you lay aside your burdensome Doctrine Addiction, in which another human soul before you is not there for your love and fellowship, to study the Word and learn together, but is only there to be transfigured by your light, or else removed from your holy presence?

Will you return to Paradise?

Will you Rest, TODAY?


End: Personal testimony: Many, many times in my life I have faced the choice, because of limited time and money, whether to spend my hours and money paying the bills, or doing things in the service of God that do not benefit me while my personal finances spin out of control. For over 20 years now, since really absorbing Luke 12, I have pretty consistently chosen the former. Funny how each choice fills me with a taste of terror, despite all the times previously the Lord has provided my needs according to His Promise, always miraculously, sometimes dramatically enough to impress others.

I bear in my heart the weeping, the sighing, described in Ezekiel 9. Although I have rested from my own work, I press myself to squander less and less time on triviality while babies are dying and souls withering.

At the same time I feel the joy described in Psalms 5:11 and Philippians 4:11. I no longer have the experience of complaining that I am in a dead-end job, or locked in a career that isn't "me". I no longer long for wealth sufficient that I may "retire", or go on "vacation". It is my service to God that most refreshes me; I dread the prospect of laying around fishing, or lying on a beach, or spending an afternoon watching football! That would truly be "work" compared with the perpetual vacation I already enjoy!

I no longer feel "empty". I never feel my life "lacks purpose", or is "meaningless". My once empty heart now is full. I praise God for filling my life, keeping me busy with work that exercises every one of my talents, always bringing out new ones I never heard of, with goals which cannot possibly be fulfilled this week, thus ensuring that this sense of purpose will probably fill the rest of my days.

When Saturday comes, I reverence the Day in the way I reverence the memory of my wedding day! The day I contemplate our marriage certificate hanging on the wall is no different than other days, since on every day, I am perpetually married, praise God!

On Saturday, I think of the Rest God offered, and my heart overflows with gratitude that I am at Rest. As much as possible I choose Saturday for extra Bible Study, but if God's work calls for other activity I do that. If extra Bible Study time comes on Sunday, or Monday, I take it and charge it to my Saturday account, thanking God for the latitude counseled by Romans 14 and by the exceptions Jesus gave. But I do not even assume Bible Study is more "restful" than the other work I do in His service. I do love it, however.

In fact, if you were to persuade me that Saturday were the only day to Rest, or that every minute of Saturday must be Rest, then I would have to figure out how to solve the problem I faced for the years before I figured out I was already Resting: I would have to figure out which, of all the possible actions or non-actions before me, constitutes Rest to any greater degree than all that I do every day? How could I answer that? For my day of Rest has become Today.





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