30. Can’t Christians just keep any day as their Sabbath – doesn't the Bible teach 'today' replaces the seventh-day Sabbath?
Yes, it does have to be the seventh day.
No, the Bible does not teach that ‘today’ replaces the seventh-day Sabbath.
If one argues that the Ten Commandments are still binding on Christians as the eternal Moral Law, and that includes most Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Presbyterians (Reformed and Calvinists), then the fourth commandment (Ex 20:8-11) makes it clear ‘but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God’.
In fact, the Sabbath is often used as an argument by holders of ‘Antinomianism’, which is ‘a person who believes that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law’ (Oxford English Dictionary). As Lutheran theologian Dougals Moo admits in ‘Five views on Law and Gospel’ (1996):
“Yet worshipping on the first day of the week is not what the fourth commandment requires: It explicitly requires cessation of work on the seventh day.” (p88) (his emphasis).
As Evangelical-Dispensationalist theologian Wayne G. Strickland also observed in ‘Five views on Law and Gospel’ (1996):
“Likewise, there is no biblical evidence for Sabbatarianism that argues that the Sabbath rest has been transferred from the seventh day to Sunday. In the New Testament era, worship on Sunday was never described or understood as a Christian Sabbath.
Additional complications are caused by Sabbatarians who argue that Christ brought an end to the “existing Sabbath ceremonial” in Matthew 12:8. Thus the Sabbath principle should be enforced by moving it to Sunday or without prescribing a particular day.
There is in fact no Sabbath transfer or shift taught in Scripture. This constitutes a hermeneutical shift inasmuch as the meaning of the other nine commandments are not modified or qualified in this way in the New Testament. If the Decalogue is perpetually binding, including in the church age, how is it that this commandment can be eradicated or altered?” (p81-82) (emphasis added)
The idea that ‘today’ is the Sabbath for Christians comes from a reading of Hebrews 4:1-11 -
1 Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.
3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world.
4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.”
5 And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”
6 Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience,
7 God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.
9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;
10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.
11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
However, as explained by the SDA Biblical Research Institute:
What is the rest mentioned in Hebrews 4:1-11, and how is it related to the seventh-day Sabbath?
Hebrews 4:1-11 has been used, on one hand, to support the observance of the Sabbath commandment by Christians; and on the other hand, as evidence for the rejection of a literal obedience to the commandment. Others have concluded that the passage addresses neither observance nor nonobservance of the Sabbath. These contradictory positions show that the meaning of the text is not that obvious.
1. Purpose of the Passage: Hebrews 3:7–4:11 emphasizes the need for perseverance and faithfulness in the Christian community. The discussion about God’s rest is subordinate to that more specific goal and is used to motivate believers to be faithful. That’s why there is not a detailed discussion on the nature of the rest God offered His people in the past but is still available “today.” It also clarifies the emphasis found throughout Hebrews 4 on the problem of unbelief and disobedience and the need for diligence in the Christian life. The passage is not a theological exposition of the typological fulfillment of the Sabbath, or of the nature of the Sabbath, or of the eschatological rest. It is simply an exhortation to faithfulness.
2. God’s Rest: The Old Testament contains a theology of God’s rest in addition to the theology of the Sabbath that deals with God’s promise of rest to His people in the land and to His own resting in the temple. Psalm 95:11 demonstrates that the promise of God’s rest found in the Old Testament was not fulfilled because of the unbelief of His people. Therefore, Hebrews does not identify the “rest” with the entrance into the land of Canaan. Consequently, the rest remains to be fulfilled (Heb. 4:1, 9) and believers are exhorted to make every effort to enter this rest (verse 11). Yet the rest also seems to be a present experience (verse 3). Although that rest is not clearly defined in the text, it probably designates the blessing of salvation we enjoy now as we wait for its consummation.
3. Role of the Sabbath in the Passage: Hebrews is not equating the Sabbath rest with the eschatological rest. It states that God’s eschatological rest, like the Sabbath, has been available since He finished His work of creation. The Sabbath rest also illustrates the nature of the rest that is still available as a cessation from one’s works. Hebrews 4:10 uses the Sabbath of Genesis 2:2 as a model for its understanding of the eschatological rest. The enjoyment of both the eschatological rest and the Sabbath require ceasing from work. The works Hebrews refers to are not specifically identified, but it could be suggested that contextually they are not the works of the law. The Pauline discussion of justification by faith versus the works of the law is foreign to the argument of Hebrews. One could suggest that the works mentioned are works of rebellion and unfaithfulness (cf. Heb. 4:6).
4. A Rest Remains: The rest that remains (sabbatismos, “Sabbath observance, sabbath rest” [verse 9]) is the rest that was left unfulfilled in the Old Testament (the katapausis, “rest, resting place” [verses 1, 6]). But the word sabbatismos (sabbath rest) makes its own contribution to the discussion in that it clearly defines the eschatological rest (katapausis) as God’s Sabbathlike rest. That is to say, the seventh-day Sabbath rest illustrates the nature of the eschatological rest. This suggests that for the author of Hebrews the theology of the Sabbath was so meaningful that he utilized it to interpret God’s eschatological rest. The context does not support the suggestion that the Sabbath commandment had been fulfilled in the rest of salvation that Christ brought, making it unnecessary for Christians to obey it.
The offer of the Sabbathlike rest in the Old Testament did not set aside the literal observance of the Sabbath commandment (Isa. 56; 66:23); likewise, the eschatological rest is like the Sabbath but does not replace it. Besides, entering God’s rest in Hebrews 4 does not mean that the Sabbath is superseded. To enter God’s rest requires only perseverance and faithfulness, ceasing from our works, not the rejection of obedience to the Sabbath commandment. There is nothing in the text concerning a new type of Sabbath observance that replaces the literal observance of the fourth commandment.
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