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Friday, March 09, 2001 6:03:12 PM

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Did the Apostle Paul Abolish the Sabbath?

Did Paul nullify or change the Sabbath commandment?

by Larry Walker

raditional Christian belief is divided into two camps on the Sabbath issue. Some insist that the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath, are still obligatory for Christians. Most who hold this view teach that Sunday is the New Testament Sabbath, based on the claim that the early Church, or specifically the apostle Paul, changed the day.

A minority of churches believe the seventh day (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, rather than Sunday, the first day of the week) must be observed as the Sabbath. The Sunday camp rejects any obligation to keep the Sabbath as a binding commandment and asserts that Jesus replaced all prior practices with a "law of love," which carries no obligation for keeping any day as a Sabbath. These churchgoers meet for worship on Sunday as a voluntary church tradition.

Based on what we have discovered in our survey of the story of rest, we must ask those who teach that the Sabbath is no longer to be kept for their proofs.

Those who believe the Sabbath is no longer valid quote a few passages from Paul's epistles to attempt to validate their claim. We will briefly consider each.

Sabbath-keeping not the issue

Romans 14:5, 6: "One person esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord . . ."

Those who oppose Sabbath observance can't seem to resist reading it into these two verses, even though the entire chapter is devoted to eating and fasting. Expositor's Bible Commentary remarks, "Whether the question of regarding the day as more sacred than another refers to Sabbath observance or to special days for feasting or fasting is not easily determined." This would certainly be true for those who want to read Sabbath-keeping into the context.

That having been said, the quote continues: "Since the early church in Jerusalem almost certainly observed the Sabbath, it is not impossible that Paul has the Sabbath in mind . . . Even so, if the day of worship is in view, it is strange that any believer could be said to consider 'every day alike' . . . The close contextual association as a time with eating suggests that Paul has in mind a special day set apart for feasting or as a time for fasting."

The Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. Human nature resulted in self-righteous condemnation of those who were not fasting at these set times. "I fast twice a week," boasted the Pharisee in one of Christ's parables (Luke 18:12). First-century gnostic philosophy advocated fasting and condemned feasting. The gnostics also attached special significance to times.

In Romans 14:5, 6 Paul sets the record straight by emphasizing that fasting is a voluntary exercise of worship not limited to a particular day. Therefore, one person's fasting on a particular day when another is eating does not make him more righteous. The keeping of the Sabbath simply is not in the context of Romans 14, and to read it in is clearly a case of eisegesis (interpreting a passage of Scripture according to personal notions rather than according to original meaning).

Let no man judge you

Colossians 2:16, 17: The main thrust of this passage is "let no man judge you." It doesn't say whether the Colossians were keeping the Sabbath festivals or not. For that matter, it also doesn't say whether they were eating and drinking.

The word translated "regarding" is not a preposition. Had the author, Paul, intended the meaning "regarding," he could have used the pronoun peri ("concerning") as in 1 Corinthians 8:1. Instead, he used the noun meros (from merizo, meaning "to cut"), which means "portion or part." So the meaning here is a part or portion or aspect of the observance of the Sabbath, new moon or festival. The problem in Colossae was likely gnosticism. The gnostics did not object to observing Holy Days, only the aspect of feasting (eating and drinking) to celebrate the days.

Notice also that the passage says these days are (not were) a shadow of things to come. Based on the tenses of the verbs, the verse cannot mean that Christ's coming does away with the biblical Holy Days, because He had already come when Paul wrote that the days (still) are a shadow of things coming.

Ironically, this verse, which is often used to argue against the Sabbath and Holy Days, is actually a positive statement in favor of Sabbath and Holy Day observance.

Paul is not saying, as many believe, that once Jesus Christ, the "reality" or "body," came, observance of the Sabbath and biblical Holy Days is no longer necessary. In verse 17, the word is is not in the text. Translators added it in an attempt to clarify the meaning. But the contrast between shadow and body doesn't fit the main context of the passage, which is judging. The body-shadow dichotomy does occur in extrabiblical sources. However, nowhere in the New Testament does the Greek word soma ("body") mean anything other than a literal body or the "body of Christ," the Church, as used in verse 19.

Here is a paraphrased meaning of the passage: Don't let any man judge you for eating and drinking or for any portion of a festival, new moon or Sabbath (which are a shadow of future events in God's plan). Rather, let the Body of Christ be your judge.

Paul's target: gnosticism

Galatians 4:10: "You observe days and months and seasons and years." Here again, the key to understanding this verse is the gnostic heresy that prompted Paul to write this passage.

The classic Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Kittel sums up the meaning of this passage: "The compound (verb paratareo = 'observe') . . . seems to have the sense of 'scrupulous, well-informed observance in one's own interest,' which does not fit the traditional celebration of the Sabbath or other Jewish feasts, but does fit regard for points or spans of time which are evaluated positively or negatively from the standpoint of the calendar or astrology" (Vol. VII, p. 148).

Paul is decidedly not condemning days God had instituted. His target again is gnostic beliefs and practices. GN

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