Seventh-Day Adventists/Is the Sabbath Forever?
An SDA friend says the Sabbath is forever according to the Bible. He quotes Ex. 31:16-17 saying it is "perpetual" and "forever". So he says the Sabbath is to be kept by all Christians. What would you say to him? He likes to say, "Forever means forever."
Dear Brother Mike:
I would say let’s see what the Bible says and then let’s agree to abide by what we find. First, let’s see if what the Bible says is perpetual or everlasting are still in effect today. Let’s look at some examples from the Bible of things that God said were to be observed forever. Circumcision “everlasting pact” (Genesis 17:13), Passover “perpetual institution” (Exodus 12:14), Feast of Unleavened Bread ”everlasting institution” (Exodus 12:17), Aaronite priesthood “perpetual statute” (Exodus 29:9), offering to priests “statute forever” (Exodus 29:28; Leviticus 7:34-36), burnt offering “throughout your generations” (Exodus 29:42), burning of incense “perpetual” (Exodus 30:8), sin offering “throughout your generations” (Exodus 30:10), priestly washing “statute forever” (Exodus 30:21), anointing oil “throughout your generations” (Exodus 30:31), 7th day Sabbath “perpetual covenant” (Exodus 31:16), 7th day Sabbath a sign “forever” (Exodus 31:17), sons of Aaron may eat the grain offering a “statute forever” (Leviticus 6:18), Yom Kipper fasting “everlasting ordinance” (Leviticus 16:29), Feast of First Fruits “statute forever” (Leviticus 23:14), Pentecost “statute forever” (Leviticus 23:21), Day of Atonement “statute forever” (Leviticus 23:31), Feasts of Booths “statute forever” (Leviticus 23:41), sanctuary lights “statute forever” (Leviticus 24:3), Showbread “everlasting covenant” (Leviticus 24:8), secondary offerings “throughout your generations” (Numbers 15:21), Levitical service at the tabernacle “perpetual statute” (Numbers 18:23). So you see the argument that the 7th day Sabbath is valid for all times because it is called perpetual is fallacious. The Bible clearly shows that many things called “perpetual”, “throughout your generations”, “everlasting”, and “forever” were so only for as long as the covenant to which they were attached lasted. The previous list was valid as long as the Old Covenant was in effect. Once it became obsolete with the coming of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, the forever things in the list also became obsolete. Therefore, the belief that the Sabbath is still valid because “Forever means forever” is simply wrong.
Second, I would say let’s use good Bible study techniques in determining the relevance of this passage to Christians today. We need to read the passage under consideration in context to determine to whom it was addressed and whether it applies to Christians today. In order to better understand the context let’s read the entire passage that the two verses you mentioned belong to, Exodus 31:12-18 (ESV).
12 And the Lord said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” 18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
As one can plainly see the Sabbath law was spoken through Moses “to the people of Israel” (v. 13) not the world. Moses told them that God said the Sabbath was “a sign between me and you throughout your generations” (v. 13). Moses also said that God commanded the people of Israel, “you shall keep the Sabbath” (v. 14). Moses noted the punishment for an Israelite who violated the Sabbath. “Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death” (v. 14). The death penalty specific to the people of Israel was repeated, “shall be put to death” (v. 15). Again Moses announced who was to keep the Sabbath. “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath” (v. 16). To the people of Israel the Sabbath was “a covenant forever” (v. 16). Moses again highlighted that God said the Sabbath was for the people of Israel only, “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel” (v. 17). The Sabbath was put on the tablets of stone (v. 18) which was the covenant between God and Israel. “Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone” (Deuteronomy 4:12-13 ESV). So in conclusion, even though the Sabbath is indeed said to be perpetual and forever that does not automatically mean Christians must observe it. As we have seen Scripture gives many examples of perpetual and forever things have ceased to be valid in the New Covenant. Also in context Exodus 31:16-17 is binding only on the people of Israel it is not binding on the Church today.
I pray that you find this helpful.
Thank you for the question.
God Be With You,