“In one of your previously published articles (”Should Christians Keep the Sabbath?" — Archives, January 17, 2001), you stated that the Ten Commandments are not binding upon Christians today. This is a ridiculous position. If the Ten Commandments have been abolished, then a person could worship false gods, kill, steal, bear false witness, etc. The Ten Commandments have not been nullified."
We are compelled to take issue with our respondent’s complaint. The protest she lodges is flawed — both from a logical and a Scriptural vantage point.
First, it is not the case that when one is freed from the restraints of one legal system, that such disengagement automatically implies that he now is at liberty to pursue any conduct that was prohibited under the former regime. Consider these cases.
- When the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in the 18th century, that did not suggest that the inhabitants of this new country were free to live with reckless abandon as outlaws in a land of terror. Common sense demands that the previous legal system would have to be superceded by a new framework of law that embodied similar moral ordinances.
- If one is driving at 70 m.p.h. on an Arizona interstate, and he crosses the state line into California, does he assume that he is now free to accelerate to 90 m.p.h.? Of course not. And why is that the case? Because he is aware that there is another law — a California law — that limits the speed at which he may drive.
If one acknowledges the logic in the simple illustrations cited above, why should he have difficulty in recognizing that the same principle is applicable in the realm of religious law? The fact that the law of Moses, with its Ten Commandments, was abolished at the cross, does not suggest that man is bereft of moral or religious regulation under the Christian system. There is a “law of Christ” to which men are amenable (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Sin is condemned under the law of Christ, as it was under the Law of Moses, but the two systems are not parallel, in many respects (cf. Jn. 1:17).
Here are some of the principles that must be considered in connection with this issue.
- The issuance of the Ten Commandments at Sinai (Ex. 20:1ff) did not commence the divine law against murder, theft, etc. Murder was an evil centuries before the Ten Commandments were given. When Cain killed Abel it was wrong (Gen. 4:10ff; cf. 1 Jn. 3:12; Gen. 9:6). The command of the Decalogue, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13) merely codified a moral imperative that was in force already.
- The issue is not: “What were the divine requirements of the past?” — or: “What will be the obligations of the future?” Rather, the crucial question is this: “What is the will of God for man within the framework of the law under which he currently lives?”
Adam was not required to circumcise Cain and Abel, for that mandate came later. The Israelites were obligated to offer animal sacrifices; Christians are not. Today the sinner is commanded to be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16); no such ordinance was in force under the law of Moses, nor will such obtain in heaven.
The point is this: One is not at liberty to dip into the Bible, find a command, and arbitrarily impose it as a sacred obligation. Rather, the student of Scripture must ask: “When, and to whom, did this commandment apply?”
- The book of Acts contains the historical record of the establishment and growth of Christianity in the first century. This document spans approximately thirty years of New Testament history. There is not a solitary reference in the book of Acts that indicates that the early church, under apostolic oversight, assembled for worship on the Sabbath day.
About a half dozen times reference is made to Paul entering into various synagogues to instruct the Jews assembled on that day (Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). This is perfectly understandable since the synagogue assembly would constitute a ready-made Jewish audience, and opportunities for speaking were made available to visitors (Acts 13:15). In this connection it is important to note that synagogue exercises on the Sabbath were not for the purpose of public worship, but for religious instruction (see: Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891, II, p. 54). The fact of the matter is, the synagogue arrangement itself was not a part of the Mosaic legal system (see: Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957, p. 251). It evolved in the inter-biblical era as a teaching expediency.
- There is ample New Testament instruction dealing with the religious and moral evils censured by nine of the Ten Commandments, e.g., prohibitions against the worship of idols, the condemnation of murder, stealing, lying, etc., yet there is not a solitary New Testament passage that imposes Sabbath observance upon Christians. In point of fact, Paul plainly declared that no Christian should be “judged” (i.e., condemned) for failing to observe the Sabbath (Col. 2:16) — a statement that never would have been made if the law of Moses had been binding when the apostle penned his letter.
- The evidence of the New Testament is decisive. The early Christians met on “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7), indeed “every first day of the week” (1 Cor. 16:2). [Note: The Greek of 1 Corinthians 16:2 is kata mian sabbatou, literally, “on the first day of every week” — see: J.H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1958, p. 328).
- The testimony of the writers of the post-apostolic age is uniform in affirming that the day of worship for the early Christians was Sunday. After surveying the literature of that era, Professor Everett Ferguson observes: “The evidence for the early Christians’ day of worship is clear and unmistakable. They did not observe the seventh day, the Sabbath, as the Jews, but they assembled on the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection of Christ” (Early Christians Speak, Austin, TX: Sweet, 1971, p. 70).
It is an interesting oddity that some years ago, a Seventh-day Adventist writer attempted to establish the historicity of “Christian Sabbath-keeping” by appealing to certain writers of the post-apostolic age. He could not cite a single quotation for the practice that dated before the latter part of the fourth century A.D. (see: “How Long Did The Early Church Keep Sabbath?” — Liberty, January-February, 1968). By that time, of course, a sizable portion of the “Christian” movement was deep into apostasy already (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff).
There is no biblical case that can be made in defense of “Christian Sabbath-keeping” for today. Efforts to this end are exercises in theological futility. That proposition has the support of neither Scripture mandate nor apostolic precedent.