Seventh-Day Adventists/The Sabbath is Moral Law
Dear Bro Sal:
The Sabbath is an unchanging moral law of God. How can it not be? It is in the Ten Commandments. It is not only for Israel. Moral laws are for all people. You cannot make the Sabbath to be ceremonial if God made it moral from the beginning. The ceremonial laws of Israel were done away with by Jesus not the moral. How do you consider the Sabbath to be ceremonial in the face of the evidence?
Dear Brother Martin:
The question to be answered is: Is the Sabbath a purely moral law? My answer is no. The 7th day Sabbath has both moral & ceremonial aspects associated with it. The Sabbath commandment emphasized rest.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates" (Exodus 20:8-10 NKJV; cf. Exodus 16:29-30; 23:12; 31:14-15; 34:21; 35:2).
However, the Sabbath was also associated with worship.
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord" (Leviticus 23:1-3 NIV).
All Christians can agree that the worship of God is moral.
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me" (Exodus 20:3-5 NKJV).
The ceremonial part of the Sabbath is its timing (the 7th day) and the sacrifices to be offered.
"On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering." (Numbers 28:9-10 NIV).
Moral law is an expression of the character of God. God puts His moral law into the hearts of all mankind. Therefore, special revelation is not needed for man to know a moral law. God did not have to give man special revelation in order for man to know that murder is wrong. All mankind knows this moral truth. Ceremonial laws are not so known. The Sabbath is not so known. A man living in deepest, darkest Africa knows not to murder, but he does not know that he should be observing the 7th day Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday each week. This would require special revelation from God. In fact the Sabbath was first received by special revelation given by God to Israel.
“You came down also on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven, And gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, And commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, By the hand of Moses Your servant” (Nehemiah 9:13-14 NKJV).
Moral laws have always existed and will always exist. They illuminate the sinfulness of all mankind. "...for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20 NASB). " The Law came in so that the transgression would increase..." (Romans 5:20 NASB). Ceremonial laws are instituted only for a specific period of time and for a specific people. The Sabbath was instituted as a part of the Old Covenant after Israel’s exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 16:22-30) and codified at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 20:8-11). The Law Covenant to which the Sabbath belonged came into being 430 years after the promise made to Abraham and was brought to an end by Christ (see Galatians 3:17-19). Only the Israelites were given the Sabbath. Only the Israelites and those under their authority were required to observe the Sabbath. No other people were ever commanded to observe it or condemned for not observing it. Thus the Sabbath, unlike a moral law, was never universally binding on all people. The Sabbath was the special sign of the covenant that God made with the Israelites.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:12-17 NIV).
When Jesus freed God's people from bondage to sin he took away the necessity to observe the ceremonial requirements of the law. The moral requirement to worship God remains intact in the New Covenant. God's people no longer have any obligation to observe special days, new moons, seasonal feasts or sabbatical years.
"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you" (Galatians 4:8-11 NIV).
Generally speaking the physical elements of the Old Covenant have been done away with and the spiritual elements remain. For example, circumcision once the physical mark of the people of God is now a matter of the heart. "But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God" (Romans 2:29 ESV). The heart or spirit of a person is the important thing to God not the rituals performed. Jesus informed the woman at the well that the Old Covenant was giving way to the New Covenant.
"Jesus answered and said to her, 'Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life... Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth'” (John 4:13-14, 21-24 NKJV).
"Spirit and truth" is key in the New Covenant not the particular day, nor the particular place, nor the particular sacrifices offered. The new religion cannot be tied down to days, places, and agricultural sacrifices. In the New Covenant there is no mention of the importance of these things. Already in the Old Covenant there was an awareness of their inferiority.
"For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:16-17 NKJV).
"The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”
But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:21-22 NIV).
In the New Covenant the acceptable thing to God is our spiritual sacrifices. "You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5 ESV).
The important thing to God is that we praise Him and treat one another with love and respect.
"Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:15-16 NKJV).
The physical things: days, places, and sacrifices are not important any longer. Jesus praised the Jewish scribe for recognizing the relative unimportance of the holy sacrifices.
Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. (Mark 12:32-34 NRSV).
As a point of comparison with the 7th day Sabbath let's look at the seasonal feast called the Passover (see Exodus 12:1-20). I include here as part of the Passover the feast of Unleaven Bread which has been reckoned to be part of the eight day celebration called Passover. "Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near" (Luke 22:1 NRSV). Like the Sabbath, this feast has both ceremonial and moral aspects associated with it. The moral part is the worship of God in a sacred assembly.
"These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: The Lord’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast. On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present a food offering to the Lord. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work" (Leviticus 23:4-8 NIV).
The ceremonial part is the particular timing and the sacrifices offered (see Exodus 12:1-11; Leviticus 23:8). Like the Sabbath, the Passover's ceremonial aspects have been taken away. Jesus is our Passover Lamb. "...For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV; cf. John 1:29). Likewise Jesus is our Sabbath rest.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV).
Both the Sabbath and Passover are examples of something that was absolutely required of Old Covenant believers. Both had moral and ceremonial parts. In the New Covenant the moral remain and the ceremonial (the timing and sacrifices) have been taken away. Both are called feasts of the Lord in Leviticus 23. In the Old Covenant the violation of either the Sabbath or the Passover was met with a severe penalty (cf. Exodus 31:14-15 and Exodus 12:15, 19). This is not so in the New Covenant.
In the New Covenant the great teacher, Paul, is no respecter of days.
"You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you" (Galatians 4:10-11 NIV).
The worship of God is moral law. However, the sacrifices and the paticular day of worship is unimportant to Him in the New Covenant. Consequently, Paul says that Christians should not be concerned if someone condemns them in respect to Old Covenant observances.
"Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17 NRSV).
Note that Paul does not say that Christians cannot observe Old Covenant observances just that it is no longer a requirement for God's people. Paul gives great liberty in whether or not to observe Old Covenant food laws and special days. This is particularly clear in his address to the Church at Rome.
"One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God" (Romans 14:5-6 NIV).
If the Sabbath was a purely moral law would Paul give such liberty? Does Paul ever say to not judge a fellow Christian who is breaking a purely moral law? Of course not. In fact he gave a harsh rebuke to the Church at Corinth for not condemning a fellow Christian for sexual immorality.
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 NIV).
But concerning the Sabbath Paul says to not judge and to follow one's own conscience. Therefore, I conclude that Paul did not see the Sabbath as a purely moral law.
The 7th day Sabbath was the remembrance sign of the Old Covenant. The Ten Commandments were the heart of the Old Covenant between God and Israel.
"Then the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. So 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 NASB).
In the midst of this covenant contract was the Sabbath commandment. In covenant contracts of the time and region it was common practice to place the covenant's sign in the midst of the other commandments. This sign was typically ceremonial in nature. It is not very difficult to see the parallels between the covenant contract between a king and his subjects and the covenant contract between God and Israel. Both contracts contained a list of commands to be kept by the submissive party. Both contracts contained a ceremonial sign in the midst of the contract demands. In the covenant between God and Israel that ceremonial sign was the 7th day Sabbath with its particular timing (the 7th day) and sacrifices (see Numbers 28:9-10 quoted earlier). A purely moral law is not valid only on a particular day and has sacrifices associated with its validity. Therefore, the Sabbath is not a purely moral law.
Thank you for the question.
God Be With You,