That Jews clearly understand that the Sabbath was intended for them only, and not the Gentiles, was shown in the the last post. These Jewish rabbis stated simply, clearly and uniformly:
1. “Gentiles are not meant to keep Shabbat” “Shabbat is only for the Jewish people”
2. “It is not a creation ordinance”
3. “Before the giving of the Torah there was no obligation to observe Shabbat”
The purpose of this post is to consider the biblical support for the Jewish view that the Sabbath was given and intended only for the nation of Israel.
See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath.
(Exodus 16:29 NKJV)
I will also cause all her mirth to cease,
Her feast days,
Her New Moons,
All her appointed feasts.
(Hosea 2:11 NKJV)
And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15 NKJV)
The Sabbath given to Israel, not to the Gentiles
The Sabbath, as a command, obligation and requirement, is part of a covenant that God made with the nation of Israel. If you, dear reader, are a Gentile, you were never party to the covenant of which it is a sign. It is not an obligation intended for you. God expressly stated this when He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses:
Exodus 31:13-18 (NKJV) “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. … 16 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. ’” 18 And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
Carefully read the verses above, from which the following observations can be made:
1. Preface to the Decalogue. This passage in Exodus chapter 31 is a divine expansion, explanation and commentary on the fourth commandment of the “tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (:18). God did not give Moses the Ten Commandments until “He had made an end of speaking”. These words spoken by God actually comprise a preface to the Decalogue; they were important instructions that were to accompany the commandments written on the tables of stone.
The Sabbath commandment is incomplete without this additional material. Innocently overlooking or purposefully disregarding this passage will leave the reader with an incomplete view of the intention of the Sabbath commandment, leaving the door open to various interpretations and applications. These verses in Exodus chapter 31 contain the divine explanation of the intention and limits of the Sabbath commandment, and are essential to its proper context and understanding.
2. The Sabbath is a special sign between God and Israel. If the Lord required Sabbath observance of all people as a moral imperative since creation, it would be impossible to use it as a unique sign for the children of Israel.
3. The Sabbath is a covenant between God and Israel. A covenant is a binding contract. When we think of the old covenant, it is largely embodied in the Sabbath. Only three things are specifically identified as the covenant between God and Israel: circumcision (Gen. 17:10) through Abraham; the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:2) and the Sabbath (Exodus 31:16) through Moses.
4. “Throughout your generations.” God is setting the Sabbath commandment apart from the moral commandments of the Decalogue. No moral law is intended for a particular people and and their offspring (Israel), and for a time period in reference to them (their generations). Compare the laws which prohibit idolatry, murder, theft, and adultery.
The Scriptures are the Reason
The Jewish people have always understood that the Sabbath was given specifically to and intended for them because the Torah teaches so, and not because of later traditional teaching. They understand Hebrew, whereas Christian Sabbatarians approach the Hebrew Scriptures without the proper knowledge and background to understand this issue as a Jew does. (Some of the details of the importance of this is outlined in the book From Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, by D.A. Carson. There are markers in the Hebrew which are essential for the correct interpretation of passages such as Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 16 and Exodus 20 in relation to the Sabbath).
Sabbatarians usually place a lot of interpretive weight on extra-biblical sources that they consider inspired, which heavily influences their worldview and hermeneutic. This factor makes the playing field very uneven, and debate futile for the Bible-believing Christian. Though the Sabbatarian often denies relying on these “other sources” for truth, they are unable to consider that these sources could possibly be wrong.
The Verdict of Ancient Literature
Not once in the Old Testament, New Testament, Talmud, Mishnah, ancient Jewish writings, Church fathers, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha or any other ancient text, is Sabbath observance ever spoken of as applying to anybody, except the Jews.
Here is an example from the Book of Jubilees (a Jewish pseudepigraphal work of the second century BC):
And the Creator of all things blessed it, but he did not sanctify all peoples and nations to keep Sabbath thereon, but Israel alone (Jubilees 2:31).
Another ancient Jewish quote:
The observance of the Sabbath proclaimed on Sinai by an Israelite outweighs all other commandments. And from the point of view that the Sabbath was established as a token between God and his people (Exod. xxxi. 13) one is justified in saying that it is not right and proper for a non-Jew to observe that Sabbath; it is the expression of a relation so intimate that the intrusion of a stranger would be resented. (Midrash Exodus Rabbah, page 81)
Some Notes about Ellen G. White and Seventh-day Adventism
The only body of work that is an exception to the above are the writings of Ellen G. White, who lived from 1827-1915. She is one of the main founders of the Seventh-day Adventism, and considered by them to be a modern-day prophetess.
Ellen G. White often wrote that it was necessary for “God’s remnant people” to keep the Sabbath. Seventh-day Adventists consider the writings of Mrs. White to be authoritative and inspired, and they have guided the denomination in its affirmation of its particular “truths” (the pillars of the Adventist faith).
She often refers to “my accompanying angel” who directed her writing, and she saw numerous visions which established the beliefs and doctrines of Seventh-day Adventism. Some of these visions concerned the “Sabbath truth” (which is obviously one of the major pillars, hence their name “Seventh-day” Adventist).
It is notable that Adventists are the only major Christian denomination that considers the strict observance of the seventh-day Sabbath to be important (and eschatologically essential) to salvation; no “Bible only” church does.
Much of Ellen G. White’s commentary on the Sabbath can’t be supported from the Bible (she writes with confidence where the Bible is silent), and is in contradiction to the conclusions we have drawn from the evidence given in the Scriptures and other sources of knowledge.
It must be asked, in all fairness, whether Ellen G. White or the Bible sets the standard for their belief. Adventists insist that faithful Christians are bound to observing the Sabbath as a day of rest and corporate worship, according to Jewish laws and regulations. Yet, the Jews don’t observe the Sabbath as a day of corporate worship from biblical command; in fact, it is a custom that began after their return from Babylonian exile. The Israelites were actually commanded to remain in their houses on the Sabbath day (Exodus 16:29-30).
The big question is: Must believers in Jesus Christ employ the Sabbath as the primary and only suitable day of Christian worship, even though in the Bible it is nowhere commanded, neither is the practice recorded?
In the New Testament, the first Christians met together for fellowship, edification, and the Lord’s supper each day (Acts 2:46), or later, on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). There is no witness of a Christian meeting on the Sabbath. Certainly a practice of this importance would not be treated with silence from the Scripture.
Is it possible that Seventh-day Adventism, like Roman Catholicism, has created a system of salvation which blends old covenant Levitical ritualism with new covenant gospel teaching?
The next article in this series defines the difference between moral law and ceremonial laws, or ethical and ritual commandments. It then examines the biblical evidence in reference to which category the Sabbath commandment belongs.
Sabbath and the Gentiles by Rabbi Derek Leman
Updated August 17, 2014