The Fourth Command

What is the fourth command?

The fourth command is:

זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ׃

שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒׃

וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת׀ לַיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֣֨ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡֜ה אַתָּ֣ה׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּ֠בִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤֨ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֜֙ וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔֗ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖֙ אֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽ֔יךָ׃

כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖נַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑י עַל־כֵּ֗ן בֵּרַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת וַֽיְקַדְּשֵֽׁהוּ׃ס

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; [in it] you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

This command is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:12.


Why does this command begin with “remember?”

This implies that the Israelites were already acquainted with this command and were in danger of forgetting and neglecting it.  The word itself can be taken two ways:

  • It can mean to remember as in to recollect something that you were taught previously.
  • Or it can mean “remember to do” as when we say “remember to turn out the lights when you leave the house.”

If it means the first of these, then this is a command to Israel to recall what God had taught them previously about the Sabbath and to continue to do it.  If the latter, then it is simply a command to sanctify the sabbath.  The word “remember” is then similar to what we find in Ecclesiastes 12:1 “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth…”  Edersheim writes: “The fourth word, which implies a previous knowledge of the Sabbath on the part of Israel…” source   The truth is that both of these ideas are really inseparable.  Even telling someone to remember to turn out the lights implies a recall of some former instruction on the importance of turning out lights.  Both ideas are present here.


Why does this command begin with an infinitive?

The word זָכֹור is an infinitive absolute which is sometimes used to give an “emphatic imperative.” See Gesenius §113bb.


Is there any reference to this command prior to God giving it to Israel on Mount Sinai?

Yes, knowledge of this obligation is assumed in Exodus 16:22f.


What is meant by “sanctifying” the sabbath?

This means that the day was set apart for a special use and purpose. The following verses spell this out.


What sort of work was forbidden?

Some examples are given in the Old Testament as:

  1. the kindling of a fire in one’s house (Exodus 35:3),
  2. cooking (Exodus 16:23; Numbers 15:32),
  3. marketing and public trade (Nehemiah 10:31; 13:15, 16), and
  4. traveling on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:29).


What is a “sojourner” here?

This refers to a person who was not an ethnic Jew and yet lived among the Israelites for a period of time.


What is meant by the sojourner who is “in your gates”?

This means the sojourner who is in the city or inside of the city gates; cf Driver.


What is the meaning of the word “Sabbath”?

This word comes from a like sounding Hebrew word meaning “to cease,” or “to rest.” See here.


What reason does God give for setting aside one day for this purpose?

Two reasons are given.  In Exodus 20, God exhorts His people to follow His own example when He created the world in six days and rested the seventh.

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:11)

In Deuteronomy 5, God gives, as a reason for observing the Sabbath, that man and beast may have a time of rest from their physical labors.

so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:14-15)


What does the text mean by saying that God “blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it”?

This is a reference to Genesis 2:3 where God singled out the Sabbath day as a special day and set it apart for a special purpose; see here.


What additions to the sabbath law do we find in Deuteronomy 5 ?

This passage gives a further hint as to how the Israelites should observe the Sabbath; i.e. by remembering and celebrating God’s mighty deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)


Did anything like a Sabbath exist in any of the other cultures of the ancient near east?

This commandment has no parallels in ancient Near Eastern religions. Ewald writes (p271): “What Moses created out of the last day of the week, was something quite new, which had never before existed among any nation, or in any religion.”


Was this command not done away with at the coming of Jesus just as all the other Mosaic laws?

It was not.  First, the New Testament does not teach that all the Mosaic laws were removed at the coming of Jesus.  Jesus teaches us that He came to fulfill the Mosaic law which certainly did result in some of the laws being done away with, others were fulfilled in the work of Jesus, and some remained binding on believers even in the new covenant.  See this explained here.


Is it not true that all the Old Testament laws no longer bind new covenant Christians except those which are repeated in the New Testament?

No, this principle is not taught in the New Testament and the New Testament authors themselves do not practice it.


What do the New Testament authors have to say about the ten commands?

They quote from the ten commands under the assumption that simply being in the decalog means that such a law is binding.  They make no effort to show or prove that these laws must still be obeyed after the coming of Jesus.


Give an example of this.

First, consider James’ argument in chapter 2:

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.  For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:8-11)

It is clear that James understands “the law” to be a unity and that one command is as binding as the other.  The thought would have been abhorrent to James that only certain of these commands were still binding.  The assumption is that any law in the decalog is binding upon new covenant Christians simply by reason of its being in the decalog.  There is no thought here that since James is repeating these laws, they are therefore binding.  Witsius writes (§36 of bk 4; chp 4):

when Paul (Rom 13:9) and James (James 2:8, 11) inculcate the precepts of the law on Christians, in the same terms in which they were delivered by Moses to Israel, they do not insist upon this consideration, that they were agreeable to the dictates of right reason, or were ratified again by Christ, but that they were thus formerly published and written by God.

Paul also quotes from the ten commands in Ephesians 6 with no thought that these commands are binding only because they are now repeated by him.  Paul also sees the ten commands as a unit since he mentions the order in which the commands appear as another reason why children should honor their parents.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1-3)

Again Witsius (§36 of book 4; chapter 4):

[In] Ephesians 6:2, the apostle not only insists on the promise that was annexed to the fifth commandment, but also on the order of the precepts, recommending honor or regard to parents from this argument, that this is “the first commandment with promise.” But if the decalogue, as it was formerly delivered to the church of Israel, did not concern Christians, that argument of the apostle (which be it far from us to say) would have no force with Christians.


Genesis 2

What is the earliest mention of the concept of Sabbath in the Scripture?

The idea is first mentioned at the close of the creation week where we read that on the seventh day, God finished the work He had been doing. “On the seventh day He rested from all His work and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.” (Genesis 2:2-3)


What is the significance of this?

God’s action here of setting apart the seventh day as sacred and as a day of rest provides a divinely ordained pattern that all men are to follow.


How do you know that all people are to follow God’s pattern of working and resting when it appears from the above text that only God rested?

Because when God gives the fourth command in Exodus 20, He explicitly says this.  After giving the command in Exodus 20:8-10, God gives the basis for the sabbath command:

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)


Would not this command only apply to Israel since it is included in the Mosaic laws?

It certainly did apply to the nation of Israel.  It is Jesus, however, who decides to what extent any of the Mosaic laws apply to us.  This is what Jesus taught when He said that not one jot or tittle of the Mosaic law would disappear until each law had achieved its purpose. (Matthew 5:18)  When Jesus came to do His saving work, He also interpreted and applied the Mosaic laws to us.  See here.


Exodus 16

What is the next mention of Sabbath in Scripture?

In Exodus 16, God sends manna and quails to satisfy the Israelite’s hunger. God tells Moses that the Israelites are to gather only enough manna as will last them one day. On the sixth day, however, they are to gather twice as much. Then Moses announces,

He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ ” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”  (Exodus 16:23-26)


What is the significance of this text?

It shows that the command to keep sabbath was not first given to Israel on Mount Sinai.  It must have been given to them on a previous occasion since here Moses assumes its existence.


When did God first give Israel the law to keep sabbath?

No one knows.  Certainly God’s resting in creation laid the basis for this law. Sometime after Israel left Egypt, however, God must have given Israel further instructions on how He wanted them to keep sabbath.


Might not God have given the sabbath law to Israel for the first time here in Exodus 16?

This is possible but the language does not lend itself to this understanding. God tells Moses,

Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily. (Exodus 16:4-5)

This double provision on the sixth day is just mentioned without any explanation as to why a double portion might be needed on the sixth day.  Apparently, everyone already knew why the double portion was necessary.


But later, the rulers do come to Moses and ask him to explain why the people had received twice as much on the sixth day.  Does this not imply that they did not yet know about the law to keep Sabbath?

Possibly, but when all the leaders of the congregation came to ask Moses about it, he tells them “This is what the LORD spoke: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD.” Note that it says, “This is what the LORD spoke…”.  What speaking is being referred to here?  When did God speak to Israel about the seventh day being a Sabbath?  Initially, we might think of what God said to Moses in Exodus 16:4-5, but God doesn’t mention the Sabbath there.  We’re led to conclude that Israel was already in the habit of sabbatizing and that God had spoken to them about it on some previous occasion.


Isaiah 58

What mention is made of the Sabbath in Isaiah 58?

The last two verses of this chapter read:

If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word. Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth, and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 58:13, 14)



What was the attitude of Jesus to the Sabbath?

Jesus respected and obeyed the Sabbath law but rejected the teaching of the Pharisees as it pertained to the Sabbath.


What problem did Jesus have with the teaching of the Pharisees?

Because they had so terribly twisted and perverted the true meaning and purpose of the Sabbath.



They did this by multiplying so many rules and regulations for keeping Sabbath that it was no longer a joyful time of rest (Isaiah 58:13) but a burdensome slavery as each person tried to avoid violating these endless sabbath laws.  Edersheim tells (p149) of the school of Shammai who did not allow anyone to begin a project on Fridah and which continue on into the Sabbath.  For example, laying out flax to dry or soaking wool in a dye.  Since these processes (the drying and the dyeing) would continue on into the Sabbath, they were violations of the fourth command.  Laws like these were endlessly multiplied.


How does Jesus teaching correct this perversion?

First, by breaking these rules.  Bruce notes (p86) that Jesus was more often accused of sabbath breaking than any other sin, usually for healing people on the Sabbath.

  1. He healed the man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:10-13);
  2. He healed the woman with an evil spirit (Luke 13:10-13);
  3. He healed the man with swollen arms and legs (Luke 14:1-4);
  4. He healed the lame man (John 5:9, 16);
  5. He healed another blind man (John 9:14);
  6. Jesus’ disciples ate some corn on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1)

Second, Jesus points out that God had made the sabbath as a gift for man.  It was meant to minister to his needs and to provide relief from daily toil.  God didn’t create people so there would be someone to keep sabbath.  On the contrary, the sabbath was made for the rest and well being of people.  The NLT brings this out:

Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Mark 2:27-28)


Does not the coming of Jesus bring an end to the fourth command?

No, it did not.  This is clear from Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.  When Jesus was accused of violating the sabbath, He does not respond by asserting that the fourth command was abrogated.  On the contrary, He respects the Sabbath law, rejects the teaching of the Pharisees, and proves from Scripture that His disciples’ behavior was no violation of it.  Again Bruce writes (p88):

From the folly and pedantry of scribes and Pharisees we gladly turn to the wisdom of Jesus as revealed in the animated, deep, and yet sublimely simple replies made by Him to the various charges of Sabbath breaking brought against Himself and His disciples.  Before considering these replies in detail, we premise one general remark concerning them all.  In none of these apologies or defenses does Jesus call in question the obligation of the Sabbath law.  On that point, He had no quarrel with His accusers; His argument in this instance is entirely different from the line of defense adopted in reference to fasting and purifications.  In regard to fasting, the position He took up was: Fasting is a voluntary matter and men may fast or not as they are disposed.  In regard to purification, His position was: Ceremonial ablutions at best are of secondary moment being mere types of inward purity and as practiced now lead inevitably to the utter ignoring of spiritual purity; and therefore, must be neglected by all who are concerned for the great interests of morality.  But in reference to the alleged breaches of the Sabbath, the position Jesus took up was this: These acts which you condemn are not transgressions of the law rightly apprehended in its spirit and principle.  The importance of the law was conceded, but the pharisaic interpretation of its meaning was rejected.  An appeal was made from their pedantic code of regulations about Sabbath observance, to the grand design and principle of the law and the right was asserted to examine all rules in the light of the principle and to reject or disregard those in which the principle had either been mistakenly applied or as was for the most part the case with the Pharisees lost sight of altogether.


It seems that many regard the fourth command as in the same class as circumcision.

No, this is not correct.  Paul clearly teaches the end of the circumcision law (Galatians 6:15), but there is no such teaching regarding the fourth command.  Bruce makes (p72) a helpful comparison between these two:

And I begin with the observation that it is antecedently unlikely that Jesus would treat circumcision and the Sabbath as in all respects of the same nature. They were certainly not so treated under the law. For though circumcision was of fundamental importance in the covenant between Jehovah and Israel, yet it was not thought necessary to put it among the Ten Words; whereas the law of the Sabbath does find a place there along with precepts generally admitted to be ethical in their nature, and therefore of perpetual obligation in their substance. Why is this? Apparently because circumcision concerned Israel alone, whereas in the Ten Words it was intended that that only should find a place which was believed to concern all mankind.  The Decalogue wears the aspect of an attempt to sum up the heads of moral duty, put in a form, and enforced with reasons, it may be, adapted to the history and circumstances of the chosen race, but in their substance concerning not Jews only, but men in general. Speaking of the Decalogue as the work of Moses, we may say that from it we learn what in his judgment all men ought to do in order to please God, and live wisely and happily. And we can see for ourselves that circumcision and the Sabbath are in important respects entirely different institutions. Circumcision was purely ritual, a mere arbitrary sign or symbol, a mark set on Israel to distinguish and separate her from the heathen peoples around. But the Sabbath was essentially a good thing. Rest from toil is good for the body, and rest in worshipful acknowledgment of God as the Maker and Preserver of all is equally good for the spirit. Rest in both senses is a permanent need of man in this world, and a law prescribing a resting day as a holiday and holy day is a beneficent law, which no one having a regard to human wellbeing can have any wish to abrogate.

Turning now to the Gospel records: do we find Jesus speaking of the Sabbath as, say, of ritual washings—i.e. as a thing morally indifferent, whose abolition would be no real loss to men? We do not. On the contrary, we find Him invariably treating the institution with respect, as intrinsically a good thing; and His quarrel with the Pharisees on this head was not as to observance, but as to the right manner of observing the law. The Pharisees made the day not a boon, but a burden; not a day given by God to man in mercy, but a day taken from man by God in an exacting spirit. Having this idea of the weekly rest in their minds, they naturally made it as burdensome and irksome as possible, not a delight, but a horror, giving ridiculously minute definitions of work, and placing the merit of Sabbath-keeping in mere abstinence from work so defined, apart altogether from the nature of the work. With this Pharisaic idea of the Sabbath, and the manner in which it was worked out in practice, Jesus had no sympathy. He conceived of the institution, not as a burden, but as a boon; not as a day taken from man, but as a day given to him by a beneficent Providence. This idea He expressed in a remarkable saying, found, curiously enough, only in Mark, but doubtless a most authentic apostolic tradition: “The Sabbath was made on account of man, not man on account of the Sabbath.” He meant to say that God appointed the Sabbath for man’s good, and that it must be so observed as to realize the end originally contemplated; men must not be made the slaves of the Sabbath, as they were by the Pharisaic method of interpreting and enforcing the statute. This being His meaning, He consistently said, the Sabbath was made for man, not the Sabbath was made for Jews, so giving the saying a universal character. One who so thought of the institution could have no interest in its abolition. He would rather desire to extend the benefit, and He would favor only such changes as might be needful to make the benefit as great and as wide-reaching as possible. Accordingly, Jesus did not propose to abolish the beneficent institute. He did, indeed, claim lordship over the Sabbath-day. But He claimed it not with a view to abolition, but in order to give full effect to the principle that the Sabbath was made for man, that is, for his good, and to emphasize the true motive of observance, love, the supreme law of His kingdom. In other words, Christ’s claim of lordship was a claim of right to humanize the Sabbath, in opposition to the Pharisees who had Rabbinized it, and made it a snare to the conscience and a burden to the spirit.


What does Jesus mean when He says He is Lord of the sabbath?

By this comment, Jesus claims for Himself the right to preserve, modify, or abolish the sabbath if He so chose.  The obvious implication is that, as Lord of the sabbath, Jesus was in the best position for knowing whether His disciples had violated it.



Hebrews 4

How is Hebrews 4 relevant to our understanding of the Sabbath?

This is the clearest place in the New Testament where we find the teaching that the practice of sabbatizing is still binding on Christians under the new covenant.  The author writes:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.  For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.  For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.  For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (Hebrews 4:1-5)


What is the author teaching here?

The author speaks here about entering God’s rest. (Hebrews 4:1)  He teaches us that God entered His rest after the days of creation. (Hebrews 4:4)  From that time to the present, God has a standing offer that He makes to all people.  All those who will place their full confidence in Him will enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:3) when their work on earth is finished. (Hebrews 4:10)  The author compares this to Israel having a promise of entering into the land of Canaan, and many of them failing to do so because they did not have faith in God. (Hebrews 4:2)  In the same way, any person, who does not have faith in God, will not enter God’s rest.


What is God’s rest and what does it mean to enter into it?

God’s rest is the rest that He entered after He finished the six days of creation. (Genesis 2:2)  To “enter into God’s rest” means to enter heaven, that eternal rest which God promises to give to all believers after their work on earth is finished.


What does this have to do with the fourth command?

Because of a simple change of vocabulary which the author makes in v9.  The author uses the word rest in nearly every verse of this section.  The word he uses is the word katapausis or κατάπαυσις; see here. (Hebrews 4:1, 3, 5, 10, 11)  In v9, however, the author uses a different word:

For if Joshua had given them rest (katapausis), He would not have spoken of another day after that.  So there remains a Sabbath-rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest (katapausis) has himself also rested (katapausis) from his works, as God did from His.  Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest (katapausis), so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11)


What is the author’s thought in these verses?

He is teaching us that the rest God promises us cannot be possession of the land of Canaan which Joshua gave to Israel.  The reason is because David is still warning people against hardening their heart (Psalm 95:8) when he wrote Psalm 95.  Obviously, this Psalm was written thousands of years after Joshua gave Israel the land of Canaan.  Therefore, the rest God promises to those who trust Him must be something higher and greater than any earthly possession.  The conclusion is given in v9:  So there remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:9)  In other words, the rest God promises is something future.


Why is the author’s word choice here significant?

First, the word sabbatismos means to keep a sabbath, or to sabbatize.  Now the author of Hebrews uses this term to show that the eternal rest of God’s people in heaven is a rest that is typified by the sabbatizing that believers do while yet on earth.  The weekly sabbath keeping that believers practice is a picture prophecy of the great, eternal Sabbath which awaits them.  Clearly, the author understands that the Christians of his time are keeping a sabbath.


What does this promise of an eternal rest teach us about our sabbatizing here on earth?

It teaches us that we should understand God’s rest as a joyful sabbath celebration.  Furthermore, the principle assumed here is that the type continues until the antitype has arrived.  Thus, the type, which is our sabbatizing now, continues until the antitype or the eternal sabbath arrives.  We conclude from the author’s word choice here, that he understands our obligation to sabbatize to be ongoing and continuing until we enter into the eternal antitype.


Colossians 2:11

What do we learn about the sabbath from these verses?

We learn that the practice of sabbatizing had different forms throughout the history of God’s dealings with His people.  This means that sabbatizing looks different for God’s people depending on the dispensation in which they live.


What do you mean here by dispensation?

This simply refers to the specific era in which one finds himself.  For instance, David lived under the time of the old covenant; Paul lived in the time of the new covenant.  Abraham was under the covenant that God had made with him.


What does Paul teach in Colossians 2?

Paul teaches three things:

  1. The nation of Israel had a specific form of the sabbath which we will call the Jewish Sabbath;
  2. This version of the sabbath was a type of Christ;
  3. This version of the sabbath ended with the coming of the antitype which was Christ.


What does Paul say?

Paul writes the following; see v16 for specific mention of the Sabbath.

8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

16Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

20If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22(which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Colossians 2:8-23)


What is Paul teaching here?

Here is Paul is addressing those Gentile Christians who thought of themselves as second class Christians because they did not understand or observe the Jewish rituals and traditions.

  1. The Gentile Christians were not circumcised; Paul tells them that they have a spiritual circumcision which is far better. (Colossians 2:11)
  2. The Gentile Christians did not understand or observe the Sabbath or any of the other Jewish feast days. (Colossians 2:16)  Paul tells them not to worry about that either, since these days were all types of Jesus and His saving work. (Colossians 2:17)  He calls them shadows and says that Jesus is the substance or the reality.  The shadow of your friend is a wonderful thing to see but what use is it when your friend arrives and is actually standing right there in your presence?  So the Jewish feast days are just rituals which point us to Christ.  Now that Jesus has come, we have no need for these feast days, and we lay them aside.
  3. In fact, these Jewish rituals and traditions started as commands from God in the Mosaic law; but over time, were buried under a mountain of man-made rules and regulations “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” all of which are just the products of human reasoning and are of no use in honoring God. (Colossians 2:23)  These rules are just self-made religion; they don’t come from God and thus they have no authority over any believer Gentile or Jew.


How was the Jewish Sabbath a type of Christ?



Does not Paul teach here that the obligation to keep a sabbath has ended with the coming of Christ?

He certainly teaches that the obligation to observe the Jewish sabbath has ended with the coming of Jesus.  He makes no comment here about the obligation of Christians to keep any kind of sabbath at all.


Where does Paul’s teaching here leave the fourth command?

The fourth command articulates the eternal principle of sabbatizing which was first stated at the close of the creation week.  As stated previously, obedience to this principle looks different depending on the dispensation one is in.  The fourth command was something different for the Jews than it was for the apostle Paul.


Explain this more.

Consider the other commands of the decalog which also had a unique Jewish form.  Even the all important first command was obeyed differently by Israel than by the church of the New Testament.  God’s worship is no longer limited to the city of Jerusalem.  The sacrifices, rituals, and priests of the Mosaic law are no longer used or required.  The regulation and punishments pertaining to marriage are now markedly different than under the Mosaic law.  The same is true with regards to sins against the sixth and eighth commands.  Now this same principle applies to the fourth command.  Hodge writes (p329):

We are as much bound to keep one day in seven holy unto the Lord, as were the patriarchs or Israelites. This law binds all men as men, because given to all mankind, and because it is founded upon the nature common to all men, and the relation which all men bear to God. The two essential elements of the command are that the Sabbath should be a day of rest, that is, of cessation from worldly avocations and amusements; and that it should be devoted to the worship of God and the services of religion. All else is circumstantial and variable. It is not necessary that it should be observed with special reference to the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt; nor are the details as to the things to be done or avoided, or as to the penalty for transgression obligatory on us. We are not bound to offer the sacrifices required of the Jews, nor are we bound to abstain from lighting a fire on that day.


Is Paul’s teaching here consistent with the teaching we just had from Hebrews 4?

It is provided we distinguish between:

  • the Jewish version of the sabbath which was a type of Christ and ended with His coming, and
  • the Christian sabbath which is a type of God’s eternal rest and is still future for us; and therefore, continues to bind Christians until the arrival of the antitype.


Romans 14:5


What does Paul teach us about the sabbath in these verses?

Here Paul writes:

(1) Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. (2) One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. (3) The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (4) Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (5) One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. (6) He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (7) For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; (8) for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (9) For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:1-9)


Who are these people who are weak in the faith?

These would be the Jewish Christians who had believed in Jesus but continued to practice many of the Jewish rituals and traditions.


Why would a Jewish person eat only vegetables?

This is a difficult question.  Perhaps the Jewish believers thought the meat might have been used in pagan worship practices; and therefore, they refused to eat it. (cf 1 Corinthians 8)


What are the days mentioned here?

This refers to all the Jewish feast days.


In verse 5, Paul says the person who regards every day alike should be granted full respect by the Christian community.  How is this consistent with the fourth command?

This depends on whether Paul meant to include the Christian sabbath or the Lord’s day in his understanding of days here.  Stuart writes (p478):

Whether the apostle means to include the Sabbath, or rather the Lord’s day, under what he says here of the special observance of particular days, has often been called in question. It is well known, that in the early ages of the church a distinction was made between Sabbath and Lord’s day. The former was the Jewish weekly Sabbath, i.e., the seventh day of the week. It embraced also the occasional fasts and feasts prescribed by the Mosaic law; cf Col. 2:16. Gal. 4:10. Such was the Jewish use of the word שַׁבִּת, σάββατον. But the early Christians, in order to distinguish this from the first day of the week, on which they held their religious assemblies of worship (1 Cor. 16:2. Acts 20:7), called the first day ἡμέρα Κυρίου (Lord’s day), Rev. 1:10. Of this distinction there is clear evidence in the writings of the ecclesiastical fathers; and the passages above quoted seem to make it sufficiently evident.

There is nothing in the context which furnishes any certain clue to the meaning of ἡμέρα here. But if we may venture to compare it with Col 2:16 and Gal. 4:10 (and the two passages seem manifestly to have relation to the same usages and prejudices in the church), then we may draw the conclusion pretty clearly, that ἡμέρα here relates to days which the scruples of Jewish Christians deemed sacred, and has no relation to the ἡμέρα Κυρίου which all agreed to keep holy.

In light of how Paul respects the decalog in other places (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-15; Ephesians 6:1-3), it is hard to believe that he believed the one of the ten was no longer binding.






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