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The Old Testament includes many commands not found in the New Testament, such as the Sabbath (seventh day), animal sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood, circumcision, special holy days, burning incense, tithing, instrumental music, and dancing in worship. Many people wonder whether we today should observe these commands.
A few people try to keep all Old Testament laws. Others keep only New Testament laws. Still others try to keep the Ten Commands, the Sabbath on the seventh day, or parts of the Law of Moses, but disregard other laws. To please God and to be united religiously we must determine which Old Testament laws, if any, apply to us today. The purpose of this study is to address these issues.
Consider some introductory questions:
People sometimes talk as if they believe that we today must observe every command God ever gave and must keep "holy" everything God ever told people to keep holy. But consider a few Bible examples:
Noah's ark (Gen. 6:13-7:5) - With Noah God made a covenant (6:18) which involved commands Noah had to obey (6:22; 7:5). After the flood, God promised He would never again destroy all flesh by a flood (9:11-17). Must we today still build arks? (Cf. Gen. 22:1-19.)
Circumcision (Gen. 17:9-14) - Circumcision was both a covenant and a command given by God to Abraham and his descendants (cf. 21:1-4; Lev. 12:3). God now says this command no longer applies (I Cor. 7:18-20; Gal. 5:1-8; 6:12-16; Acts 15:1-29).
Levitical priesthood (Ex. 40:12-16; 29:1-9) - Under the covenant made at Mt. Sinai, only Aaron and his descendants could serve as priests (Num. 3:10; 18:1-7; 16:40). But today Jesus is High Priest, though He was not a descendant of Aaron. This proves there has been a change in the law (Heb. 7:11-18; cf. I Pet. 2:5,9).
Animal sacrifices (Num. 15:1-6) - Throughout the Old Testament God commanded people to offer animal sacrifices (cf. Gen. 4:1-5; Lev. chap. 1-7). But today animal sacrifices have ceased to be offered because Jesus is our perfect sacrifice (Heb. 10:1-18).
Holy days (Ex. 12:1-28; 13:3-10; Lev. chap. 23) - God commanded Israel to keep various holy days, but we today should not keep them (Col. 2:14-17; Gal. 4:10,11). Note that, when God commands a certain day to be a holy day of rest, He can later change and no longer require men to keep it.
Undeniably, God has given different laws to different people at different times. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), but this refers to God's character and nature, not to His laws for men. The above Scriptures clearly prove that God Himself has made changes in the laws He has commanded people to keep.
There are at least two possible reasons why we may not be required to obey a command given by God:
1. God gave some commands to specific people, never intending them to apply to all people everywhere. Obvious examples are the command to Noah to build the ark and circumcision for all male descendants of Abraham. If God intended certain commands to be limited to certain people, but we teach other people they must also obey those commands, then we are not demonstrating faithfulness to God. Rather, we are perverting His will. (Cf. Rom. 3:19.)
2. God intended some commands to be temporary. When they fulfilled their purpose, they were no longer needed so God removed them. This is true of all the examples listed above.
Please note that people have no right to annul God's laws on their own authority. Only God can decide this. If He intends a law to apply to us, we are unfaithful if we do not obey it. But we are equally unfaithful if we condemn people for not following a law, when God Himself does not require those people to follow that law.
The question before us then is what is God's intent regarding the Old Testament commands in general.
The laws revealed in the Old Testament were unquestionably decreed by God Himself. He alone has the right to determine who must obey those laws and how long they should remain in effect. What was His intent regarding these Old Testament laws?
Deuteronomy 4:1,44,45 - The Ten Commands were given to the children of Israel after they came out of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 5:1,6 - Moses spoke to Israel and gave them the Ten Commands to observe. God brought them out of the land of Egypt.
Exodus 34:27,28 - The Lord made a covenant with Israel writing on tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
1 Kings 8:9,21 - The two tablets of stone contain the covenant the Lord made with Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 4:7-13 - No other nation had such a great law as the Ten Commandments.
Deuteronomy 5:15 - Israel (v1) was a slave in the land of Egypt, God brought them out and commanded them to keep the Sabbath day.
Exodus 31:13,16,17 - The Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel like circumcision was (Gen. 17; Rom. 4:11). How could it have been a sign between God and Israel if He had given the same law to other nations too? Would a ring be a sign of a man's special relationship with his wife, if he gave similar rings to many other women?
Today people need not keep the commands revealed through Moses, including the Ten Commands and the Sabbath, for the same reason we do not need to build arks like Noah or sacrifice sons like Abraham. God did not address these commands to us.
God repeatedly told Israel that various provisions of the law were to last "throughout their generations." This is said regarding:
Genesis 17:9,10 - Circumcision
Exodus 12:14; Leviticus 23:21,31,41 - Holy feast days
Exodus 29:42; 30:10 - Animal sacrifices
Exodus 30:8 - Incense
Exodus 30:31 - Holy anointing oil
Exodus 31:13-17 - Sabbath observance
Exodus 40:15; Numbers 18:23 - Levitical priests in the tabernacle.
[Cf. Num. 15:38; Ex. 30:21; Lev. 7:36; Num. 10:8; 35:29]
All these practices were to endure for the same length of time - throughout Israel's generations. If any of them has ceased, then they must have all ceased since they were all to endure the same length of time. But we have already proved that many of them have ceased, therefore they must have all ceased.
These all continued as long as Israel's special relationship to God continued, and all would end when that special relation ended. That special relationship ended when the gospel came into effect. There is no more Jew or Gentile in God's plan (Gal. 3:28). [Cf. Eph. 2:11-18; Acts 10:34,35; 15:7-11; Rom. 10:12; Col. 3:11]
7:11-14,18 - The law allowed priests only of the tribe of Levi, but it predicted a time when Christ would be a priest of the tribe of Judah. This meant the law would be changed (v12), disannulled (v18).
8:6-13 - These verses quote Jeremiah 31:31-34 which predicted God would make a new covenant different from the one He made with Israel when He led them out of Egypt. Christ has now enacted this new covenant, hence the first one is made old and is vanishing away (v13). Again, this fulfills God's word in the Old Testament.
10:1-18 - Animal sacrifices offered under the first covenant could not completely remove sin. Jesus' death is the sacrifice of the new covenant which can completely forgive. So Christ took away the first will (covenant) and established the second. This was done in harmony with God's will, not contrary to it (v9,10).
The law was "weak and unprofitable" in that it told men they were sinners but could not permanently forgive them (7:11,18; 8:6,7). This does not mean God made a mistake in giving the law. It had a purpose, but that purpose was temporary. When the new law came, the old had accomplished its purpose so it was removed.
As in Hebrews, the Old Covenant (v14) is contrasted with the New (v6). The old was a ministration of death because it proved men deserved death. Yet it came with glory. The new covenant is a ministration of righteousness and is more glorious (v9).
Note v11 - That which was with glory (the old covenant - v7) was done away so that which has more glory (the new covenant) may remain. It is not just the glory that was done away, but that which was glorious - the Old Testament itself - was done away.
As in Hebrews, the law resulted in man's being under a curse because it showed men were sinners, but it could not completely remove the guilt (3:10; 2:16). This is contrasted with salvation by faith in Christ under the gospel (1:11,12; 3:26-28).
3:24,25 - The law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Now faith has come, so we are no longer under the schoolmaster.
To be "under" a law means to be subject to it or under obligation to obey it - note 4:4,21 (cf. I Cor. 9:20,21; Matt. 8:9; Rom. 3:19.) We are not just freed from condemnation of the law, but we are free from the law itself, which was the schoolmaster. [Cf. 3:16,19]
5:1-6 - Since we are no longer under the law (5:18), circumcision no longer matters. Those who follow the old law are entangled in a yoke of bondage. Christ profits them nothing and is of no effect to them. They are fallen from grace.
Again the gospel is contrasted with the Old Testament ("the law"). The law showed men they were guilty of sin (3:20,23). This brought condemnation of death (5:12; 6:23), but the law could not permanently remove that guilt. (This does not prove the law was bad, but only that the people were bad - 7:7-24; cf. 7:5.) Nevertheless, God did not want all men lost, so He offered the gospel (1:16).
7:2,3 - Illustration: a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If she marries another man she is an adulteress. She may remarry only if her husband has died.
7:4-6 - Likewise, we are dead to the law and delivered from it, just as the woman was released from the law of the first husband (v2). Note that we are not just free from the condemnation of the law or traditions about it, but we are free from the law itself. [cf. 6:14]
Just as the woman could then be joined to a different man, we are now joined to Christ. We are not to follow both the Old Testament and the law of Christ at the same time. To do so would be spiritual adultery like the woman having two husbands at once! We have a different law, just as the woman has "another man."
Gentiles had formerly been separated from the covenant relationship enjoyed by the Israelites. By His death, Jesus made peace between Jew and Gentile. To achieve this, He had to abolish the law of commandments that was a wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. It had been given only to the Jews and thus signified their favored position. To grant favor to men of every nation, God had to remove that law (cf. Gal. 3:28; Acts 10:34,35; Matt. 28:19; etc.).
If we bind the Old Testament today, we are rebuilding the wall of partition Jesus died to destroy. That would defeat Jesus' death!
This is a parallel to Ephesians 2. Christ blotted out the handwriting of ordinances and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. So we should not allow people to condemn us for not keeping the Old Law (v16). (Again the law was "against" men in the sense that it showed they were guilty of sin but could not forgive them.)
Some say this passage proves the old law is still binding since Jesus did not come to destroy it, but it would stand till heaven and earth pass away. If so, then the whole law still stands since not one jot or tittle would pass away. This includes the law and prophets (v17), even the least commandments (v19) (animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc.). Yet we have earlier proved that many things were removed. Hence this passage cannot prove the law is still in effect.
The parallel in Luke 16:17 shows that "till heaven and earth pass away" means "it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away." So it would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the law to pass away "till all be fulfilled" (v18). But Jesus came to fulfill it! So the law passed away when Jesus fulfilled it. (Cf. Matt. 24:34).
A contract can be rendered void in one of two ways: illegally by destroying it (as by tearing it up), or legally by fulfilling it. For example, if you hire me to build a house for a price, it would be illegal for you or me to destroy the contract. But if we fulfilled the contract (I build the house and you pay me), it would no longer be binding.
Likewise, Jesus did not come to destroy the law (remove it contrary to its provisions). But He did come to fulfill it and replace it, completely in harmony with the provisions of the law itself. He did fulfill the law (Luke 24:44-47; Acts 13:29). Therefore, it passed away!
All Old Testament laws passed away for the same reason animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc., passed away. God gave them to accomplish a purpose for the nation of Israel. They accomplished that purpose, so God removed them.
Some people agree that many Old Testament laws are no longer in effect, but they still bind some of these laws such as the Sabbath, tithing, or instrumental music. Let us consider this approach.
We have learned that the Old Covenant has ceased to be binding. That should include all Old Testament practices unless it can be shown by the Scriptures that God intended for certain laws to continue. So people have offered some rules for proving that certain laws are still in effect but others are not. Let us consider these rules.
Some say the Ten Commands (including the Sabbath) are the "Law of God," the "Moral law" (or "spiritual law"), and this is still binding. But the other Old Testament commands are the "Law of Moses," or the "Ceremonial law," and these were removed.
However: What Scriptural proof is there that these distinctions in laws are valid? How do we know that what was done away includes only the law of Moses or ceremonial law, but not the law of God, etc.? How do we know what laws are included in the law of God (moral law) and what laws are not? (Note that the terms "moral law" and "ceremonial law" are nowhere mentioned in the Bible.)
Some say the Sabbath must continue today because it was one of the Ten Commands, the "moral" "Law of God." But the Sabbath is also repeated in parts of the Old Testament other than the Ten Commands (Ex. 31:13ff, etc.), and it is listed with laws and feast days that have been done away (see Lev. 23:1-44; 19:3&30). Why doesn't this prove the Sabbath was done away as part of the "ceremonial" "Law of Moses"? Wherein is the Sabbath any less "ceremonial" than these other feasts and Sabbath rests?
Further, modern Sabbath-keepers usually also practice Old Testament tithing, instrumental music, and even dietary laws. These laws are not in the Ten Commands, nor are they any more "moral" in nature than other "ceremonial" laws that have been done away. Hence, these folks violate their own rule and contradict themselves.
Actually, the Bible shows that the law of God and the law of Moses are just different terms for the same law. Further, the law of God included things that have clearly been done away. For example:
Nehemiah 8 refers to the "book of the law," and calls it the book of the law of Moses (v1) and the book of the law of God (v8,18). God commanded it by Moses (v14), so both terms refer to the same law.
Luke 2:21-24,39 - The law of Moses (v22) is called the law of the Lord (v23,24,39). This law included a purification rite and animal sacrifices. These were clearly done away (cf. Lev. 12:2-8). Hence, the law of the Lord is the same as the Law of Moses, and it contains things that were done away.
In 2 Chron. 31:2-4 the law of God included animal sacrifices, new moons, and feast days, which we know were done away.
There is no distinction between the law of God and the law of Moses. It was both God's law because He originated it, and Moses' law because he revealed it (Neh. 10:29). This whole distinction is a man-made rule having no Divine sanction (Matt. 15:9; 2 John 9-11).
Some say Jesus abolished the laws that were given at Sinai, but laws given before Sinai were never abolished (including the Sabbath, which they say was given at creation - Gen. 2:2,3).
Again, where does the Bible say that laws given before Sinai are still binding? There are many commands that were first given before Sinai but are not now binding. This includes animal sacrifices (Gen. 4:4; 8:20; etc.), circumcision (Gen. 17:9-14), the Passover (Ex. 12), and unclean animals (Gen. 7:2).
Further, there is no proof that God bound the Sabbath on men from creation. No passage mentions Noah, Abraham, Jacob, or any patriarch keeping the Sabbath. Ezek. 20:10-12 says God gave Israel the Sabbath as a sign between Him and them when He led them out of Egypt, and Deut. 5:15 says it was a memorial of that event (cf. Neh. 9:13,14; Ex. 31:13-17). How could it be a sign between Him and one nation if everyone since creation had the same sign? How could it be a memorial of an event before that event occurred?
Gen. 2:3 says only that God Himself rested on the seventh day, then it says that is why He blessed and sanctified it. But it does not tell when He began to require men to keep it, nor who was required to keep it. Remember this was written by Moses many years after Israel left Egypt and had been given the Sabbath. He mentions the Sabbath in connection with Creation so men would see the purpose of it, not necessarily to explain when people began to keep it. Similar language is found in Gen. 3:20 and Matt. 10:4.
Some say the Sabbath is still in effect because Ex. 31:16,17 says it was to be kept "forever," "everlasting," "perpetual."
But this passage also says the Sabbath was a sign only between God and Israel, so why bind it today on other people? And this "everlasting" law required people to be killed for violating it. If the law is still in effect today, the punishment must also be in effect. To fail to keep any part of the law is to admit the law is not binding.
The Hebrew terms "forever," "everlasting," etc., do not necessarily mean a thing has no end. This is proved by many other practices which God said were "forever," but which definitely have ceased.
Examples are: the Passover (Ex. 12:14); incense (Ex. 30:8); feast days (Lev. 23:14,21,31,41); animal sacrifices (Lev. 16:29-34; 6:19-23; 2 Chron. 2:4); Levitical priesthood (Ex. 40:15; 29:9,26-28; 28:40-43; Num. 25:13; Deut. 18:5); tabernacle worship (Ex. 27:21; 30:8,17-21; Lev. 24:5-9); circumcision (Gen. 17:9-14); all God's commands (Psa. 111:7; 119:151,152,160). If these practices could cease though they were "forever," why cannot the Sabbath have ceased?
"Forever" in these passages means something would last an indefinite period of time - "age lasting." The context of Ex. 31:13,16 defines this further to mean "throughout Israel's generations." This expression proves these practices, including the Sabbath, have all ceased because Israel's generations as God's chosen nation have ceased (see notes above).
All attempts to bind parts of the Old Testament today are doomed to fail. We will confirm this conclusion as we proceed.
Let us review the passages we used earlier to show the Old Testament was removed. We will show how each one proves that even the Ten Commands and the Sabbath were removed.
Jesus took away the covenant which God made with Israel when He led them out of Egypt (8:9; 10:9,10). This covenant is viewed as one covenant, the first covenant (8:7,13; 9:1,15,18; 10:9). It was not two covenants, one removed and the other remaining. What did this first covenant include?
Hebrews 9:18-20 - The first covenant was dedicated by blood and included every command spoken by Moses. Ex. 24:3-8 explains more fully and shows this included all the words the Lord spoke (v3,4,7), including the Ten Commands given in Ex. 20:3-17.
Hebrews 9:1-4 - The covenant which was removed included the tables of the covenant inside the ark of the covenant. This clearly means the Ten Commands - Ex. 34:27,28; Deut. 4:13; 5:2,22; 9:9,11.
The old covenant would "pass away," in contrast to the new covenant that would "remain." The covenant that would pass away was written and engraved on stones (v7). But this means the Ten Commands, as shown in the verses above.
Further, Moses' face shone so he had to wear a veil when he delivered this law (v7,13). But Ex. 34:27-35 shows this happened when he delivered the Ten Commands. So the old covenant that passed away included the Ten Commands.
The law brought men to Christ, but we are no longer under that law (3:24,25; 5:4). Which law? The one given 430 years after the promise to Abraham (3:17). Ex. 12:41 shows this was when Israel left Egypt. Hence, this is the one covenant given at Mt. Sinai (Gal. 4:24), which we have already proved includes the Ten Commands.
The law removed includes "all things written in the book of the Law" (3:10). But Hebrews 9:18-20 and Ex. 24:3-8 showed that this included the Ten Commands.
If we bind part of the law, we are debtors to keep the whole law (5:3). The law is a whole. You cannot take part and leave part. You must take it all or none. If we take it, we fall from grace (5:2,3,4).
We are discharged from the law like a woman is freed from a dead husband. So it is spiritual adultery to try to practice both the old law and the law of Christ. From what law are we freed? The one that commands "Thou shalt not covet" (v7). But this is one of the Ten Commands. Hence, we are free from the Ten Commands.
Jesus abolished the law that was a wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. We already showed that this law included the Ten Commands, which were a wall between Jew and Gentile because God gave them to the Jews but not the Gentiles. Likewise, the Sabbath was a sign of God's special relation with Israel (Ex. 31:13-17).
Had Jesus left the Ten Commands or the Sabbath in effect, He would have left a barrier between Jew and Gentile. To accomplish His purpose, He had to remove the Sabbath and the Ten Commands.
Jesus removed the ordinances, so we need not keep the laws regarding foods, holy days, or the Sabbath (2:16). But the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commands. Hence, all the Old Testament laws were removed, including the Ten Commands and the Sabbath.
Some claim "Sabbath" here refers only to the annual feast days because the Greek word is plural. However "Sabbath" in the plural often refers to the seventh day: Ex. 31:13; Luke 4:16; 23:54; Acts 13:14; 16:13; Matt. 24:20; etc. In Matt. 12:1-14 and Luke 13:10-17, the plural and singular forms are used interchangeably referring to the seventh day. The Greek Septuagint uses the plural in the Ten Commands in Ex. 20:8 and Deut. 5:12 just like Col. 2:16.
The New Testament refers to the Sabbath 59 times. Not one of these instances can be shown to exclude the seventh-day Sabbath.
In fact, Col. 2:16 lists the Sabbath separately from the new moons and the feast days purposely to specify the seventh day in addition to the feast days. This is exactly like the Old Testament verses 1 Chron. 23:31; 2 Chron. 2:4; 8:13; 31:3; Neh. 10:33; and Ezek. 45:17.
Col. 2:14-16 specifically identifies the Sabbath as a practice that has been blotted out. People today must not require us to keep the dietary laws, the holy days, or the seventh-day Sabbath.
Jesus fulfilled the law so that it passed away. What did this include? It included the law and the prophets, every jot and tittle. Clearly that includes the Ten Commands and the Sabbath.
There is no proof that any part of the law is binding now. The law was a unit and could not be partly removed. Jesus had to remove it all. We cannot go to the Old Law to authorize any practice now.
Some people ask, "If the 10 Commands were removed, wouldn't that make it all right to steal, lie, murder, etc.?" So consider what the Bible says about the law we today should follow.
Hebrews 10:9,10 - Jesus took away the first will that He might establish the second. (cf. Heb. 8:6-9; 7:22; 2 Cor. 3:6)
Romans 7:4 - We are freed from the law to be joined to Christ.
Galatians 3:24-27 - We are not under the schoolmaster (old law) because now the gospel faith has come (cf. 1:11,12).
An illustration: The area we now call the United States was once ruled by Britain, then it was under the Articles of Confederation, and now we are under the Constitution. Likewise God provided for man first the patriarchal rule, then the laws at Sinai, and now the gospel or New Testament. We are no more subject to the Old Testament laws than we are to the Articles of Confederation.
Colossians 2:14 - He nailed the first ordinances to His cross.
Ephesians 2:13-16 - He abolished the old law by His blood.
Hebrews 9:16,17 - As with any will or testament, Jesus had to die to bring His testament into force. The old law was in effect until Jesus died, then it was replaced by the gospel. (Cf. Gal. 3:13; Rom. 7:4)
Matthew 28:18-20 - Jesus possesses all authority so we must obey all His commands.
1 Corinthians 14:37 - The gospel contains the commands of the Lord.
1 Corinthians 9:20,21 - Though Paul was not under the law of the Jews, he was not without law but was under law to Christ.
James 1:18,25 - The gospel is the perfect law of liberty, by which we will be judged (John 12:48; cf. 1 Pet. 1:22-25; Rom. 6:17,18; Acts 3:20-23; Isa. 2:1-4).
God did not remove the old law so that we might be without law but so that we would serve Him under the terms of the New Testament. There are commands for us to obey, but these are the commands of the New Testament, not those of the Old Testament.
Even while the Old Testament was in effect, God planned eventually to replace it. Will the New Testament also be replaced by some other system of commands for men on earth?
2 Corinthians 3:6-11 - The first covenant passed away so that it could be replaced by that which remains (does not pass away).
Hebrews 12:27,28 (cf. v18-29) - The law given at Sinai was shaken (removed) that it might be replaced by another (the New Testament) which will never be shaken but will remain.
The reason the Old Testament had to be replaced was that its sacrifices could not permanently remove guilt. The New Testament has the sacrifice of Jesus, which can remove all sins so they are remembered no more (Heb. 10:1-18; 7:11-28; 8:6-9; 9:11-28; Rom. 1:16; Mark 16:15,16). So there is no reason for God to remove it.
Jude 3 - The gospel faith was delivered to the saints once ("once for all" - NKJV, ASV). This word "once" is also used for Jesus' death in contrast to animal sacrifices (Heb. 10:10-14; 7:27; 9:12,25-28). Animals had to be repeatedly offered because they could not permanently remove guilt. Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice that need not be replaced by anything else. Likewise, the gospel is given to men "once." It is God's last word to man. It is so perfect, it will never be changed nor replaced by God while the world stands.
1. No God but Jehovah - 1 Cor. 8:4; Acts 14:15
2. No graven images - Gal. 5:19-21; Rom. 1:22,23; 1 John 5:21
3. Don't take God's name in vain - James 5:12
4. Remember the Sabbath. This command is the only one of the ten that is nowhere repeated in the New Testament. The only Sabbath rest promised in the New Testament is eternal life (Heb. 4:9-11).
5. Honor your parents - Eph. 6:2,3
6. Do not kill - Rom. 13:8-10
7. Do not commit adultery - Rom. 13:8-10; 1 Cor. 6:9,10
8. Do not steal - Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 4:28
9. Do not bear false witness - Rev. 21:8; 22:15; Col. 3:9
10. Do not covet - Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 5:3.
We obey the commands that are repeated in the New Testament, not because they were in the Old Testament, but because they are in the New Testament.
|OLD TESTAMENT||NEW TESTAMENT|
|Animal sacrifices||Sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:9ff)|
|Human high priest||Jesus is high priest (Heb. 9:11f)|
|Physical temple||Spiritual temple (1 Cor. 3:16)|
|Fleshly circumcision||Heart circumcision (Rom. 2:28f)|
|Instrumental music (Psa. 150)||Singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)|
|Tithing (Heb. 7:5)||Give as prospered (1 Cor. 16:1f)|
|Sabbath & holy days||First day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1,2)|
Compare Rom. 7:2-6 - A woman is not subject to the authority of two husbands at once. If her first husband dies, the expectations of her second husband may be in some ways different from, and in some ways similar to, those of her first husband. If she does things similar to what she used to, it is because of what the second husband wants, not because of what the first husband wanted.
Likewise we are under the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant. The laws are in some ways similar and in some ways different (cf. Heb. 8:9). But none of the requirements of the First Covenant have any power now. Wherein the laws are different, we follow the second covenant, not the first. Wherein the laws are similar, we obey, not because the first law said to, but because the New Covenant says to.
Jesus arose from the dead (Mark 16:9; Matt. 28:1,6; etc.).
Jesus first appeared to prove He had been raised (John 20:19; Mark 16:2,9; Matt. 28:1,6-10; etc.).
The Holy Spirit came on the apostles, the gospel was first preached, people first obeyed, and the church began, all on Pentecost, which was a first day of the week (Acts chap. 2; cf. Lev. 23:15,16).
All these major events occurred on the first day of the week. What event of major New Testament significance ever occurred on the seventh day of the week? None. It should not surprise us, therefore, to see special significance for the first day of the week in the New Testament church.
1 Corinthians 16:1,2 - The church was commanded to take up the collection on the first day of the week. What passage tells the church to take up collections on the seventh day?
Acts 20:7 - The church assembled regularly to have the Lord's supper (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 11:17,18,20). When did they do so? On the first day of the week. The time of day is not the issue here but rather the day of the week. The passage says "first day of the week," and cannot possibly mean the "seventh day of the week."
Some say "break bread" can refer to a common meal. But the phrase is often used for the Lord's supper (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23,24; Acts 2:42). We know Acts 20:7 refers to the Lord's supper because the context clearly shows this was a worship assembly. Paul, who preached on this occasion, had already taught that only the Lord's supper, not common meals, should be eaten in the worship assembly (1 Cor. 11:17-34).
The significance of the day is also implied by the fact Paul waited 7 says to meet on the first day with the disciples (Acts 20:6,7). But he was in a hurry (v16), so much so that he left at daylight the next day even though he had been up all night with the church (v11).
If the church had met on the seventh day of the week to break bread, Paul could have saved all this trouble and left a day earlier. If the seventh day is the special day for Christian worship, and the first day has no significance, why is the first day mentioned but the seventh day is not? And why did Paul go to so much trouble to meet with the church on the first day?
The only day authorized for the New Testament church to have the Lord's supper and the collection is the first day of the week. No passage anywhere in the Bible authorizes the church to do these things on the seventh day.
Jesus lived under the Old Testament law (Gal. 4:4), so of course He kept the Sabbath (Luke 4:16; etc.). As we already learned, the law was not removed until He died.
He also was circumcised (Luke 2:21), had animals offered for him (Luke 2:22-24), taught others to offer animals (Matt. 8:4; Mark 1:44; Luke 2:22ff; cf. Lev. 14:1-32), observed feast days (Luke 2:41f; Matt. 26:17ff), and showed great zeal for the physical temple (John 2:13-17). He taught others to observe all things taught by those who sat in Moses' seat (Matt. 23:2,4). Are we today required to do all these because He did them?
But there is no evidence that Paul or any other inspired man observed the Sabbath as obedience to Divine commandment after Jesus' death. The passages used to "prove" he did are all referring to assemblies of unconverted Jews (Acts 13:14,42,44; 15:20,21; 16:13; 17:1-3; 18:4f). Not one of these refers to worship of Christians like Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 16:1,2 refer to on the first day of the week.
The passages say Paul attended Jewish synagogues for the purpose of teaching the Jews who had assembled (Acts 13:5,14-16ff,42,44; 14:1; 17:1-3; 18:4,5). Jews kept the Sabbath, as they had for generations (Acts 15:20,21), because they did not believe the Old Testament had been removed. Their assemblies offered Paul an opportunity to teach, but no passage says he thought he was required to observe the Sabbath. We have already cited several verses showing Paul taught that the law, including the Sabbath, is not binding.
Using an opportunity to teach is not the same as observing a religious day. Apostles taught other times and places too (Acts 5:42; 17:17,22; 19:9f; 20:7,31). Does this mean we must observe these times and places religiously? If Sabbath-keepers will allow us, we will attend their Sabbath meetings to teach them, but we would not be observing the Sabbath. (If they attended our assembly on Sunday to teach us their views, would that prove they were Sunday keepers?)
Sabbath-keepers sometimes belittle our evidence for the first day of the week, but we can see the strength of this evidence when we compare it to the "proof" offered for keeping the seventh day. If Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 16:1,2 mentioned the seventh day instead of the first day, you can be sure Sabbath-keepers would consider them to be very convincing verses!
We do not say the first day of the week is the "Christian Sabbath." A Sabbath is a day of rest and no New Testament passage tells us to rest on any particular day. There is no "Christian Sabbath," but the first day is a special day on which we do acts of worship that are authorized for no other day.
For a more detailed study regarding the first day of the week, please go to our Bible Instruction web site at /instruct/ and study there our free article about the day for the Lord's Supper. Or see the links at the end of this page below.
The Bible teaches that the entire Old Testament law was removed by God. None of it is binding today as authority for any religious practice, and that includes the Sabbath and Ten Commands.
We now live under the New Testament. Every practice for the church must be authorized by the gospel. If no authority can be found in the gospel for a practice, then it should be abandoned regardless of whether or not it was practiced in the Old Testament.
The New Covenant is a better system, having a better hope, and built on better promises (Heb. 7:22; 8:6; 9:23; 7:19). Do not become entangled again in the bondage of the Old Law.
(C) Copyright 1991, 1998, David E. Pratte
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The Value of the Old Testament Today
The Proper Day for the Lord's Supper
Sabbath Day or First Day of the Week?
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
The Preservation of the Bible
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