"Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." (Genesis 2:1-3, NIV).
"For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exodus 20:11, NIV).
I would like to point out a few important points here. The first is this: we find that the Sabbath is described as "the seventh day" and not merely "a day" or "any seventh day." The phrase in Hebrew is yom ha'shevi'i, literally "the seventh day." By saying "the" seventh day ("ha" in Hebrew), we are taught that the Sabbath is a definite, specific day of the week and not merely any old day at random. It is "the" Sabbath rather than simply "a" Sabbath.
This is akin to a teacher saying "Please bring the book to class" versus "Please bring a book to class." The first phrase alludes to a specific book, probably the textbook for the class. The second phrase includes no such indication. Rather, the teacher is asking students to merely bring a book. No particular book is advised. Perhaps they will require it during a quiet reading time or perhaps they will need it to do a physics experiment in their science class. Likewise, when we are told about "the" seventh day and "the" Sabbath, God is telling us that these are specific occasions on His divine calendar.
A second important point I would like to bring attention to is that God blesses this particular day of the week. To the average Christian, this might seem very odd. How can a day be blessed? This question arises often from Christian who come from a religious background that promotes the spiritual over the physical. Ultimately, this comes form the Greek philosophical models established by the ancient pagan thinker Plato and his colleagues, whom the early Church Fathers openly admired and drew inspiration from (they mention their love for Plato in their own Bible commentaries).
According to Stanford University's Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Neoplatonism "appealed to the mundane literati as much as to the religious zealot, to the die-hard pagan as much as to the up-start Christian who needed a philosophical background to parse the theological fine points which would eventually distinguish the orthodox from the heretic." Later on, the same article says:
Ancient Platonism and Neoplatonism both taught that the spiritual, immaterial world was preferable to the physical world humans live in. They even went so far as to teach that the physical world was an evil illusion (Plato called it a shadow) and only the spiritual was truly good and real! Later Persian and Egyptian Gnostics, operating within this same worldview, would go on to say that since "spiritual = good" and "physical = evil" then there must have been two separate Gods - a good God who made and ruled the spirit world and an evil God who made and ruled the material world.
Some Christian Gnostics such as Marcion of Sinope (2nd century AD) claimed that the God of the Old Testament was an evil deity who created the physical world. Marcion also taught that God gave the Jewish people so many "carnal ordinances" only because He was concerned with the physical world and physical living. Jesus, he said, was the good God who made the spirit realm and he was the one who came to liberate mankind from the Law of the evil Old Testament God and free humans from teachings which only concerned the flesh. This belief later led Marcion to reject the entire Tanach (Old Testament), suggesting that a "new testament" should replace the Tanach and be used instead. Marcion also rejected the Gospels because they felt too Jewish to him. Ultimately, the young Christian Church declared Marcion to be a heretic, stripped him of his office, and excommunicated him. Yet, although the Church rejected Marcion in speech, Marcion had already left his mark on Christianity forever so that the Church embraced him with their actions.
Marcion taught that Gentile Christians should put their "new testament" above the ancient scriptures of Israel, i.e. the Bible. The Church agreed. Marcion taught that the spiritual interpretation of scripture should be preferred to the plain, simple, literal interpretation of scripture. The Church usually agreed. In fact, early Christian literature from the centuries after the apostles shows that many mainstream Christians began to teach very "spiritualized" (non-literal) interpretations of the biblical Law - in part because they still felt obligated to keep it in some form. For example, there is one document that was very popular during the 2nd century onward called The Epistle of Barnabas (not written by the Barnabas of the New Testament). This book was once considered credible by many prominent Christian thinkers such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen of Alexandria (notice that both men are from Egypt, the home of Gnosticism). It was even promoted by many Christians to be included in the New Testament! Yet in it, the author writes the following regarding his own personal, "spiritual" view of the Sabbath and how he believes that the plain meaning of the Bible is wrong:
Moreover concerning the Sabbath likewise it is written in the Ten Words [i.e. Ten Commandments], in which He spake to Moses face to face on Mount Sinai; And ye shall hallow the Sabbath of the Lord with pure hands and with a pure heart. 2 And in another place He saith; If my sons observe the Sabbath then I will bestow My mercy upon them. 3 Of the Sabbath He speaketh in the beginning of the creation; And God made the works of His hands in six days, and He ended on the seventh day, and rested on it, and He hallowed it... 5 And He rested on the seventh day. this He meaneth; when His Son shall come, and shall abolish the time of the Lawless One, and shall judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day. 6 Yea and furthermore He saith; Thou shalt hallow it with pure hands and with a pure heart. If therefore a man is able now to hallow the day which God hallowed, though he be pure in heart, we have gone utterly astray... 8 Finally He saith to them; Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot away with. Ye see what is His meaning; it is not your present Sabbaths that are acceptable [unto Me], but the Sabbath which I have made, in the which, when I have set all things at rest, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world. 9 Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens. (Barnabas 15:1-9) 
The author says that Jesus (the Son) was sent to "abolish" and "change" the calendar that God put in place and only then shall men truly rest. Continuing, he says that "we have gone utterly astray" if we think that a person can keep the Sabbath holy and pure. He concludes by saying "it is not your present Sabbaths that are acceptable" to God anymore. He then replaces the biblical seventh-day Sabbath with "we keep the eighth day for rejoicing." By "eighth day" he is actually referring to the day after the seventh day, what we would normally call the first day - Sunday. In the Epistle of Barnabas, which is not a book in the New Testament - we find that the replacement of the Sabbath with Sunday was taking root. Hearkening back to his pagan Gnostic roots, the author tries to convince the reader that God did not intend for anyone to literally rest on the literal seventh day.
Is this what your church teaches? If so, it is from the Epistle of Barnabas - not the Bible. Yet, how do we know that the Epistle of Barnabas takes the wrong approach when it tries to spiritualize the Sabbath command and the Sabbath blessing? How do we know that the author is in error? The best example, is what God does for the Jewish nation while they are wandering in the wilderness. Not only did God promise to give the Jews extra manna on Friday to provide food for both Friday and Saturday (Exodus 16:22-26) but God ordered that a man be put to death for transgressing the literal Sabbath prohibition on work (Numbers 15:32-36). If the Sabbath command was to be interpreted spiritually rather than literally, then why did God prohibit people from going out and collecting manna on the seventh day? And if the Sabbath command was to be interpreted spiritually rather than literally, then God put someone to death for no reason because, after all, they wouldn't have transgressed anything.
Speaking of the manna, God prohibited people from going out to collect manna on the seventh day (i.e. the Sabbath) which implies that not only did God have a particular day in mind (because He was not going to send manna on that day) but it also implies that all of the people were also of a common understanding of what the seventh day and what the Sabbath were. If they were not of a common understanding the first week, then they certainly were the second week after spending an entire day without food the previous week. When they saw that no manna had fallen that morning, they realized that this day was the seventh day, the Sabbath, that God had commanded, blessed, and sanctified. God was showing them very plainly that there was no such thing as a personal Sabbath, or a Sabbath that occurred one out of seven days, or a Sabbath that occurred once every seven days. No, God had intended for one particular day to be designated as Shabbat, the Sabbath, the day of rest. God and His people were perfectly aligned in their understanding of what constituted "the Sabbath."
So rather than being a hyper-spiritual state of mind during the messianic era as taught by the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, and rather than being a carnal indulgence as taught by the Christian Neoplatonists, the Sabbath was a literal day that was to be observed with literal rest on a very specific seventh day of the literal week - and not just any seventh day. No, only the seventh day - the day which God designated during the Creation Week. This day, this window of time within the natural material world, was designated as a moment of holiness and of rest from the concerns of the week. It was a time for people to be with their God and for God to be with His people. Rather than shunning the material world, God elevated physical reality and sanctified it.
How does He do this? God does this by attaching boundaries and obligations to the seventh day and in this way, the day is sanctified (set apart, made unique) from all the other days of the week. By doing these special things and by abstaining from certain things, we set this day apart as a unique occasion for God. Since this unique occasion is both given and commanded by the unique God of the Bible, we know that this is what he desires. God does not ask human beings to sanctify other days according to their own personal preferences and treat those days as sabbaths while simultaneously ignoring the days He did give. God blessed and declared holy the seventh day, the Sabbath, and no one can revoke that blessing, nor can anyone revoke the holiness that God infused into this day - not the Church Fathers, not Barnabas, and not anyone else. If for whatever reason there remains any doubt, consider the words of Nehemiah who states explicitly, "You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses" (Nehemiah 9:14, NIV).
As I mentioned earlier, "God blessed the seventh day" (Genesis 2:3, NIV) and "the LORD blessed the Sabbath day" (Exodus 20:11, NIV). Not only do these verses create a parallelism and thus equate "the seventh day" with "the Sabbath day" but they provide us with two witnesses to the blessing that God placed on the Sabbath - and all those who observe it. Yet, "every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses" (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15, 2 Corinthians 3:1). Therefore, let us consider the words of the prophet Isaiah as our third witness:
While there are a number of things in this passage that are worth unpacking, I will address a few. First, let's notice who the passage is talking about: foreigners and eunuchs. Foreigners are those who are not naturally Jews. In other words, they are converts from pagan idolatry to the religion of the Bible. And what about the eunuchs? The Torah prohibits castration and thus does not permit Jews to be eunuchs. Thus, if these eunuchs are non-Jews, then they are by definition Gentiles, foreigners. What does God say about these foreigners who attach themselves to Him and keep the Sabbath holy, i.e. free from desecration? God says to them:
"From one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord" (Isaiah 66:23, NIV)
The Gospel are very explicit in dealing with Jesus' attitude toward the Sabbath. To begin, we know that Jesus taught as a circuit-preaching rabbi in various synagogues in Galilee and it is said that he did this numerous times (Mark 1:21, 6:2, Luke 4:16, 4:31, 6:6, 13:10). One such passage shows Jesus' dedication and continued commitment to personally observe the Sabbath himself: "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read" (Luke 4:16, NIV). Not only was Jesus attending and participating in Sabbath services "as was his custom," but Jesus is reinforcing the synagogue as a legitimate institution within Jewish life - thus promoting Sabbath observance among his countrymen by the example he is setting. In other words, Jesus strengthened the Sabbath in the life of his fellows by honoring the Sabbath in public and not merely as an optional, personal lifestyle choice - as is taught by many preachers today.
There is also Jesus' prophetic statements in Matthew 24 regarding the revealing of the ominous "abomination of desolation." Notice what Jesus instructs his disciples to do:
Not only did Jesus observe the Sabbath regularly but we find that it was also the practice of his disciples. We find, for example, that after Jesus is crucified that he disciples continue to observe the Sabbath. Clearly, if Jesus had taught against the Sabbath during his life, his disciples would have understood this better than anyone. After all, they were around Jesus all the time, watching his example and learning his teachings. In each account of the Jesus' burial, Mark, Luke, and John all go out of their way to mention that the disciples observed the Sabbath together.
"It was Preparation Day [i.e. Friday], and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment" (Luke 23:54-56, NIV). According to the text, why did the disciples and the women rest on the Sabbath? Was it to avoid persecution from the Jews? Was it simply because Sabbath-observance was an aspect of Jewish culture? Was it because the apostles were still stuck in an Old Testament mindset? According to the text, they rested out of "obedience to the commandment." They rested because God said so. Likewise, John not only sasys the same thing but fills in some of the details of the event:
Notice the relationship between the Sabbath and the people are. The Jewish leaders want to get Jesus off the cross because the Sabbath coming. Two Pharisaic followers of Jesus, Joseph and Nicodemus, acquire the body of Jesus and speedily prepare to entomb him because the Sabbath is coming (and dealing with burials is prohibited on the Sabbath). Consider that Jesus' tomb was chosen not based on the quality of the tomb but on the tomb's proximity to the crucifixion sit. As it says, it was late Friday afternoon and the men chose the tomb because it was "nearby." We find that both the Jewish leaders and the followers of Jesus are scrambling to get Jesus off the cross and entombed before the Sabbath - this is astounding because this is perhaps the only time that the Jewish leaders and the followers of Jesus are cooperating to achieve the same, burying Jesus in order not to desecrate the Sabbath!
Lastly, consider what Mark records about the disciples: "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body" (Mark 16:1, NIV). After Jesus' body had been removed from the cross and placed in the tomb, the women left the scene in order to prepare for the Sabbath. After all, that is the purpose of Friday being "the Preparation Day." Traditionally, women play a very important role in the family's entering of the Sabbath. It is during the the introduction of the Sabbath that women play a larger role than during the week. Undoubtedly, the women had a lot of cooking, table-setting, and cleaning to do!
So what happened was that the women were preparing and thus were unaware of Jesus' body already being prepared by Joseph and Nicodemus. They thought that Jesus had just been dropped of in the tomb and left there! Yet, despite this disgrace that would have occurred had this actually happened, the women still understood the importance of the Sabbath. The women understood that the matters of life had to be put on hold for a day - even when it meant observing the Sabbath rather than giving Jesus their Master a proper, honorable, burial. In their minds, observing the Sabbath trumped giving Jesus his burial honors. This was how important the Sabbath was to them.
Should we expect Jesus to be offended by his disciples' observance of the Sabbath? Not at all! In fact, we read that Jesus resurrected after the Sabbath was already over. "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week [i.e. Sunday], Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb" (Matthew 28:1, NIV). Apparently, Jesus wanted to observe the Sabbath too - even while he was "resting" in the grave.
There are about 85 instances in Acts alone when the Apostles observed the Sabbath, usually staying to teach at local synagogues or Nazarene
fellowship meetings while they travel throughout the Roman Empire. Given the great number of these, I will only discuss some of them in hopes to demonstrate the overall behavior and practice of the disciples.
So to begin, Luke records in the very first verses in Acts what the apostle's were up to after Jesus ascends into heaven, saying that “they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away" (Acts 1:12, CEB). Even after Jesus ascends into heaven, the apostles are still not only observing the Sabbath but they are holding on to the the concept of the "Sabbath day's journey." Without getting into the minutiae, the essence of this unit of measurement is how far a person is permitted travel during the Sabbath. It goes back to this command in the Torah: "See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath... Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day" (Exodus 16:29, ESV).
The Sabbath day's journey was thus the permitted distance that one could travel until he left "his place" and violated the commandment (we will go into detail on how to define "place" in our next Sabbath article). Traditionally, the Sabbath day's journey was determined to be .59 miles (in ancient times it was a round number). According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online,
Yet the Jewish Nazarenes and the Gentile Christians were not the only ones enjoying the Sabbath day. Paul, the self-declared "apostle to the Gentiles," himself believed in keeping the Sabbath according to the scriptures. And just as James had suspected, Paul discovered throngs of Gentiles flocking to the synagogues every Sabbath day to hear the rabbi preach about Moses and the Torah.
"As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures" (Acts 17:2, NIV).
"Every Sabbath he [i.e. Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks... 7 Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. 8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:4-9, NIV)
Not only do we see the Sabbath-observant, "God-fearing" Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus but also the entire family of the Sabbath-observing rabbi. This was all accomplished through the work of another Sabbath-observant man, the apostle Paul. As I had mentioned before, both Jews and Gentiles were attending Sabbath synagogue services together and James took advantage of this fellowship, asserting that the Gentiles should use these services as a mans to gain knowledge of their Noahide Laws.
I can only imagine how man times throughout this article you may have mentally blurted out "Yeah, but what about when Jesus __________! He broke the Sabbath there, didn't here? Doesn't that prove that Jesus did away with the Sabbath?" At one time or another, I myself probably wondered the same thing. Could it really be that Jesus is teaching or acting against the Sabbath in this instance? This seems so unlike some of the other things he said. Am I understanding him correctly? What's really going on?... Studying history, Jewish cultural, the original languages, and traditional Jewish views of the Sabbath have taught me that I should not be so quick to doubt Jesus. He always does what he does for a reason... unfortunately for us, we sometimes do not know or understand his reasons. Yet when we do study and when we do carefully analyze the texts, we often discover that our initial impressions were mistaken. It is because of this that I have listed this section on answering objections as a reason because when these objections are sufficiently answered, they become points of evidence. So throughout this list of objections, remember these words of Jesus:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8-12, NIV)
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:9-12, NIV)
Let's break down the first portion: Jesus and his students are walking through grain fields. Certain Pharisees hassle Jesus because of his disciples' behavior. Jesus says that mercy (letting his disciples eat) takes precedence over Sabbath observance. In the second portion, Jesus says that healing the man is an act of chesed, kindness, toward the man.
In the first instance, Jesus recalls his interlocuters' attention to what David (a type of Messiah himself) himself did: he violated the Torah in order to feed his starving troops (1 Samuel 21). By bringing to mind what David did, Jesus is attaching messianic significance to David's act and thus also to his own permissiveness with his own disciples (spiritual troops, in a sense). While the Pharisees were correct that picking, grinding, and separating wheat on the Sabbath is unlawful, they forgot two things: in Judaism, it is unlawful to fast on the Sabbath and mercy (chesed) is supposed to overrule sternness, or judgment (din).
This does not mean that the Torah can be violated for any reason but it does mean that in emergency circumstances, there are times when mercy overrides the letter of the law. So, when mercy is chosen, it is not a rejection of the Torah but rather it is utilizing a built-in loophole in the Torah. Since it was illegal to go without food on the Sabbath and apparently some of the disciples forgot to pack a lunch, they ended up hungry. When they began to pick food out of hunger, Jesus was presented with two choices - rebuke them and implore them to stop or say nothing, letting their mealtime go uninterrupted. Because fasting is thought to pose some health risk to a person, and because it is illegal to fast on the Sabbath, and because saving life overrides the obligations of the Sabbath, Jesus made the decision to safeguard the health of his students and refrain from rebuking them.
So the question is, did Jesus break the Sabbath here? No, he never picked anything personally. Only his disciples did. Even the Pharisees understood this because they did not rebuke him for picking, only his students. So were the disciples guilty of breaking the Sabbath? On this particular occasion, yes they were. However, they are justified in what they did because of the built-in loopholes in the Torah that call for the preservation of life to temporarily override the Sabbath. This doesn't mean that what they did was right - they should have prepared better, or at least tried to ask for charity from the local townspeople (the Torah obligates people to give to the poor and share their resources with them).
However, if the disciples were too poor to buy food the previous day, and if the townspeople did not give them food, and if they had run out of food in their reserves... what else were they supposed to do? Usually, when Jesus has food available, he shares with his disciples. Yet, no such mention is given on this occasion - implying that Jesus didn't have anything either. Regardless, from a legal perspective, the disciples' actions were questionable but not necessarily violations. Similar debates are still had today, in fact, placing the disciples' controversy in the middle of a long history of legal debates.
Now regarding the man whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the same principle of chesed overriding din comes into play. According to the Torah, a person is not permitted to heal a person on the Sabbath IF they use concoctions, potions, ointments, herbs, medicines, teas, etc. because these things require herbs to be ground up in a bowl and mixed with liquids (typically water). The grinding and the mixing of the substances are prohibited. However, Jesus healed the man by means of a miracle and not with the help of substances. Therefore, even according to the strict letter of the law, Jesus violated nothing. In fact, his accusers did not know the Torah as well as some people imagine.
So when these Pharisees ask Jesus, "is it legal to heal a person on the Sabbath?" the answer is... it depends. Jesus, in typical fashion, proceeds to cite the Torah as his defense for what he is about to do. He then returns the question: wouldn't you rescue one of your animals if it fell into a drainage ditch and was suffering? Of course you would since the Torah commands us to do so (Deuteronomy 22:4). Then Jesus goes on to make what is called a kal v'chomer
(from small to big) argument, saying that if you would rescue an animal on the Sabbath, then surely you would also rescue a human being on the Sabbath since humans are greater than animals. Therefore, Jesus proceeds to save the crippled man from his condition without using substances (herbs, medicines, etc.). Therefore, Jesus was entirely justified in what he did and he did not break any commandment whatsoever.
"Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27, NIV)
Curiously, this verse is sometimes used as an argument for not keeping the Sabbath. Yet, when we really look at what it is saying, we find that it is saying the exact opposite. The Sabbath was made for man - the Sabbath was not made to be against man. It was made for the benefit of man. It was made with man in mind. Remember, God blessed the Sabbath and said that man will be blessed for keeping it. This is how the Sabbath was made for man. It is a free gift of God to bless us and to connect with us.
We also read that man was not made for the Sabbath. This is entirely correctly! The Sabbath is for our benefit and it is here for our advantage! However, some people do not interpret the Sabbath to be a blessing or to be an advantage. Why? These people are concerned mostly with worldly affairs such as sports, business, work, recreation, shopping, partying, and many other secular activities. While observing the Sabbath will certainly bring blessings into the life of the one who keeps it, the primary blessings are spiritual blessings - closeness with God, psychological/ mental rest, time to study God's word, time to fellowship with other believers, opportunities to spend time with our families and children. Thee are all things that money cannot and will not ever be able to buy. These are the true gifts of God. In addition to this, the holiness factor also comes into play. God gave the Sabbath as a blessing, yes, but He also designated it as a special day, a holy space in time, for His children to dedicate to Him. In a sense, it is a weekly celebration of our special God and His special ways! It is a bold sign to the rest of the world - hands off my Sabbath! This is my special time with God! He wants to spend time with me today! Sorry, but you'll just have to wait till later because God comes first.
"One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind" (Romans 14:5, NKJV).
Many Christians have been taught to interpret this verse out of context. This is usually done passively either out of ignorance by those who use it or actively by those who know better yet continue to use it nonetheless. It is argued that we are not to esteem one day (i.e. the Sabbath day) over any other since, it is taught, all days are equal. If this was truly the meaning of the verse, multiple significant problems arise.
However, all of these problems suddenly disappear when we simply read the context of Romans 14:5. Rather than being advice on choosing personal holy days, Paul is giving his Gentile disciples advice regarding which days to fast on. During the first century (and even today) many Jews would fast on Mondays and Thursdays. Apparently Paul had received questions regarding which day to fast on or he had heard that there were debates going on in Rome regarding fast days. In Romans 14, he is writing as a response to this particular issue, an issue experienced by a single congregation on a single topic. Consider the complete context of the passage:
"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 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, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks" (Romans 14:1-6, NKJV).
There are two groups being discussed here: those who eat a variety of things throughout the week and those who do not eat (or who do not eat a variety of things). These days which Paul speaks of are days when some people "esteem one day above another" as it pertains to not eating. There is the other group who "esteems every alike" as it pertains to eating or not eating. In other words, there were some people who believe certain days were preferable to other when it came to fasting. These people believed that Day X and Day Y were ideal for fasting whereas the other group considered Day X and Day Y no better and no worse than any other day a it pertained to fasting. It was good to fast on those days, but it was equally good to fast on other days too. Paul is saying that whichever group a person agrees with, they should be convinced in their own mind that what they are doing is good.
In Judaism (the theological background from which Paul came), this scene gives us a glimpse of what is called an "argument for the sake of Heaven." In this case, "these and these are the words of the living God." In other words, both sides are godly and correct in their perspectives. To the Greek, for one side to be right, the other must be wrong. To the Jew, however, sometimes both sides can be right. This is not simply drawing a compromise though. Both sides must 1) be debating for the sake of arriving at the truth and not merely arguing for the sake of beating the other side in a debate. 2) both must put forth biblical evidence. When these two criteria are met, and the two sides are not mutually exclusive, then the argument might be an argument for the sake of heaven and thus both sides might be right. Therefore, Paul is saying that the pro-eating and the anti-eating factions both have good points and both should respect the other side. To reinforce the idea that Romans 14:5 is speaking of fast days and not the Sabbath, consider what Paul himself writes elsewhere regarding knowledge, food, and judgment:
Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. 2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. 4 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. 7 However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled" (1 Corinthians 8:1-7, NKJV).
Did you notice any common threads among these verses? The context of the passage is Paul's fear that the Colossians might be drawn away and taken captive by:
God guarantees to is people not only that He is a wise God, and not only is He the giver of true wisdom, but He is also the one who will make the Israelites wise - so wise that everyone around them will compliment them and their God for how wise they are. Not only will they appear wise, they will actually be wise and full of understanding. God says that by obeying His voice, His commandments, this will show the nations that Israel is wise. God does not say that His commandments should be performed in order to appear wise. Rather, He says that by doing the commandments, people will prove that they are wise. There is a big difference.
Does observing the Sabbath require a person to show false humility? Absolutely not. God, Who is the giver of the Sabbath, never commands a person to have false humility. He actually says the opposite: "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8, NIV). Certainly God is expecting us to exhibit true humility.
Does the Sabbath require human beings to treat their body harshly by deny food as previously stated earlier? Absolutely not. Not only is fasting on the Sabbath unlawful but harming one's own body is also contrary to the Torah. Not only are humans not permitted to harm each other, we are also not permitted to harm ourselves. If a person decides to invent a new practice and this new practice involves self-harm, then that practice is immediately declared invalid and illegal according to the Torah.
Does the Bible ever claim that the Sabbath should not be observed due to its inability to prevent sexual impurity? No. Actually, it is a Jewish tradition for married couples to be intimate on Friday evening as the Sabbath is beginning. Intimacy between a married couple is, in fact, the only type of sexual activity that is permitted by the Torah. So if anything, the Sabbath helps couples stay sexually pure together by having them focus on each other rather than other people after whom they might accidentally (or God forbid intentionally) could lust. This is all besides the fact, though, that God never said the Sabbath was supposed to fight sexual impurity. He never once mentions any connection. What I have just described is a traditional practice, albeit one that Paul may have known about considering his Pharisaic upbringing.
So we understand that Paul is speaking of the man-made rules claimed to have come from pagan deities that require a person to practice asceticism (self-harm and starvation). Paul rightly claims that all of these pagan religions, philosophies, and dangerous practices will never change the heart of a person nor will it ever help a person become more holy and sexually pure. Yet these are exactly the things which the Gentiles to whom Paul was speaking had left behind in their former religions! These are the things which Paul's audience used to do to themselves! The Colossians know exactly what each of these strange practices entails. After all, many of these things were practiced daily.
This is precisely what Paul was referring to when he says "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us" (Colossians 2:13-14, NIV). What were these sins? The sins were all the rules the Gentiles as former pagans and philosophers were committing. Contrary to what many Christians believe, these rules have absolutely nothing to do with the Torah or Jewish practices. They were actually practices which Jews consider to be abominations!
Now that we have broken down and analyzed each facet of the rules that Paul condemns and proven that they have nothing to do with the Sabbath day and nothing to do with keeping the Sabbath, let's go back to our initial verse and wrap things up: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day" (Colossians 2:16, NIV). What is perhaps is the biggest question regarding this verse is, who is doing the judging?
In Judaism, Gentiles are not required to keep the entire Torah. Gentiles are required to obey what are called the Seven Noahide Laws. From this perspective, no Jew has any incentive to pressure Gentiles into observing Judaism. However, suppose that a person used to be a worshiper of Zeus. Let's call him Alexander. Alexander used to go to the local temple, shrine, or altar dedicated to Zeus and they would offer up incense or pour a wine libation in honor of Zeus. Alexander might even sacrifice an animal on the altar such as a pig or goat. Alexander made friends with local shrine-worshipers and undoubtedly had neighbors who attended pagan priestly services in the temple dedicated to Zeus. Perhaps he had family members who served as priests in the local cult or who were goldsmiths who fashioned golden idols of Zeus. Perhaps Alexander himself was one who helped overlay the 30-foot Zeus statue with gold, silver, and giant bronze armor...
Then one day, Alexander stops pouring out wine to Zeus. He stops throwing sacred incense into the fire in honor of Zeus. His boss notices that Alexander has been showing up late to work recently and the quality of his craftsmanship has really declined. And even when he does show up to work, when he ties his sandal straps, he avoids bending down in the direction of the Zeus statue (so that he doesn't end up bowing to it). Not only this, but during the pagan holidays, Alexander is nowhere to be found. Nobody has seen him in the gymnasium, nor has anyone found him in the philosophical academies. Alexander has totally gone missing! His family and friends decide to visit him at home and make sure that he is not become ill... or crazy.
Alexander's family and friends visit him after paying a visit to the Zeus shrine a few blocks from his house. They knock. No one answers but they can her sounds coming from the inside. They open the door and they are shocked by what they discover: there are a two bearded Jewish men, speaking poor Greek and wearing strange clothing. Their accents reveal them to be foreigners from the Middle East. Alexander's family and friends have heard about these Jews. They are atheists who deny the gods of Greece. They claim to worship an invisible God that lives in the sky. They are also ones who would rather die than bow to one of the beautiful Zeus statues and they prefer to face the sword with boldness rather than throw even a few sprinkles of incense into the altar fires. Many people believe they are nothing but trouble and have come to this country to foment rebellion against the mighty Caesar. And here was Alexander, learning the secrets of their subversive cult...
Has Alexander become an atheist? Has he renounced the pantheon? Doesn't he know how dangerous this is? Doesn't he know that the gods will take revenge for his insolence? Doesn't Alexander understand that his family and friends will never accept him again? Doesn't he realize that rebellion against the gods is rebellion against the powerful Roman Empire? Doesn't Alexander know that there are legions of Roman soldiers stationed in Greece that would love to cause some action?...
This is the world that many former pagans lived in. This was the reality they faced every day. They faced mockery, persecution, and death threats all because they were rejecting the gods of the culture around them. They were being pressured from every side. Some of these Gentile Christians buckled under the pressure that Christian living presented. Many returned to paganism, especially when the Roman government cracked down on Christians in the late first century and early second century. Pliny the Younger, a governor in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey, near Greece) once sent a letter to the Roman Emperor regarding how successful his torture of Christians was. He even claimed that he managed to re-convert many of these back to paganism by coercing them to pour out a wine libation or sprinkle incense to the gods.
The scenario I described above is based on true events that Gentile Christians faced, some of whom were actually named Alexander considering it was a very common name in that part of the world at the time. The persecution these brave converts faced was not from judgment Jews from Judea. The persecution came from old friends and family members. It came from coworkers, bosses, and business partners. It came from the government. All of these forces converged on the Gentile converts. They were the ones doing the judging. They were the ones battering the Gentile Christians with insults and condemnation for their newfound religion.
So considering this, let's reapproach Colossians 2:16 with fresh eyes:"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day" (Colossians 2:16, NIV).
The pagan, idol-worshiping, Zeus-revering family, friends, and neighbors of the newly-converted Gentile Christians were judging them because even as Gentiles they observed a different diet than the pagans (see Acts 15) and they observed the celebration of the new moon and the Sabbath day with the Jews (I gave a lecture on this where we examine the ancient sources that prove this). Remember that in the book of Acts, when Paul went around the Roman Empire preaching, he found synagogues with both Jewish and Gentile believers already worshiping together. The Gentiles were already attending Sabbath services long before Paul and Barnabas showed up and this is exactly what James was counting on when he pronounced his ruling: "For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (Acts 15:21, NIV).
Thus was fulfilled by Isaiah the Prophet: "From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD" (Isaiah 66:23, NIV).
I would like to conclude this conceptual overview of the Sabbath and the seventh day by addressing one very common misconception. Many people believe that “the Lord’s day” is in fact the Christian Sabbath. However, as we have seen, the Bible does not talk about a so-called Christian Sabbath. The phrase itself appears nowhere in the entire Bible. The phrase “the Lord’s day” actually only appears once in scripture, Revelation 1:10. The apostle John writes “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind me a great voice like a trumpet.”
The phrase “Lord’s day” appear only once (Revelation 1:10) and it in no way is connected to the Sabbath, any day of rest, or a day of special holiness or uniqueness. Not only is the Lord's day not defined as a replacement Sabbath for Christians but the Lord’s day is not even associated with Sunday, the traditional day honored by many Christians. Yet, when we study the related verses in which "the day of the Lord" is mentioned, you will learn what Revelation 1:10 is actually referring to.
John is not writing about receiving a vision of the end times on a bright Sunday morning. He is in fact recounting a vision he received concerning the Old Testament “day of the LORD” – a phrase which always alludes to the end times and judgment (which is exactly what the book of Revelation is about). Here are just a few examples of the term used throughout the Bible:
The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. 15That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— 16a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 17“I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. 18Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath.” (Zephaniah 1:14-18, NIV)
"Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light" (Amos 5:18, NIV).
"Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthian 1:7-8, NIV).
"Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, NIV).
For more references to "the day of the Lord" click here. The notion that the Lord’s day was Sunday, or that Sunday was the new "Christian Sabbath" actually comes from Puritan religious writings from the 1600s. There is no record of Christians in ancient times observing Sunday as the Sabbath whereby they abstained from work, lighting fires, and all the other guidelines that the biblical seventh day Saturday Sabbath implores us to live by and be blessed by. In short, God never blessed Sunday. Neither did God sanctify (or declare holy) Sunday. Nor, for that matter, has Sunday ever been called the seventh day of the week. Both scripture and history teach us that God was right - there is one Sabbath.
Now that we discovered the truth about God blessed and holy Sabbath day, those who are curious to learn more are invited to study our next article: "The Sabbath: A Practical Guide to the Laws and Customs of Shabbat." COMING SOON
 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Neoplantonism" (2016). Retrieved on 7 Jan 2018 from here.
 Theopedia.com, "Gnosticism" (n.d.) Retrieved on 7 Jan 2017 from here.
 "The Epistle of Barnabas," (n.d.) trans. J. B. Lightfoot. Retrieved 7 Jan 2017 from here.
 "Sabbath Day's Journey," (1939) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 7 Jan 2017 from here.
 "The Seven Noahide Laws," (n.d.) Auburn University. Retrieved 8 Jan 2017 from here.
 There is an exception to taking medicine (pills) on the Sabbath, however, if the consequences of not doing so would be hazardous to one's health or cause great pain due to the principle of "saving life overrides the Sabbath." I know of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who permits taking medication on Yom Kippur, the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" as an act of mercy to the patient. Again, even in Orthodox Judaism, the principle of mercy overrides the strict letter of the law without abolishing or neglecting the Torah permanently. In other words, the exception lasts so long as the necessity does. It does not gives someone a free ticket to disobey any commandment they wish just because they perceive that it will negatively affect them somehow.
 For more information on the concept of arguments for the sake of Heaven (or, for the sake of truth), please see this article.
 See Talmud Bavli, Eruvin 13b: "Rabbi Abba said in the name of Shmuel, For three years, the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai argued. One said, 'The halakha is like us,' and the other said, 'The halakha is like us.' A heavenly voice spoke:"These and these are the words of the living God, and the halakha is like the House of Hillel."