The Sabbath Day

We received an anonymous postcard at Concordia containing only a few hand-written Bible references. They all relate to the institution of the Sabbath Day, or the Day of Rest among the people of Israel. Since there is no way to communicate directly with the sender of this postcard, I will post a response here in the hope that it will be found.

God commanded the Israelites to observe the Sabbath Day in the Ten Commandments, and connected this commandment with the order of Creation. God Himself rested on the seventh day, and so He set it apart (sanctified it) for this special use.

The commandment regarding the Sabbath was given in the context of the Ten Commandments, which were part of the covenant that God established with Israel. The Ten Commandments were also a summary of the moral law, written in paradise upon the heart of man, before the Fall into sin. However, the covenant included more than the moral law. There were also ceremonial (worship) laws and civil laws for Israel to follow. Some of them were replaced during the 1,450 years between the Exodus and the birth of the Messiah, because the civil arrangement of the Israelites changed dramatically through that period. Even the ceremonial laws were not always implemented rigorously. In fact, it seems they were rarely kept according to God’s original commands.

While the Ten Commandments summarize moral law, the commandment about the Sabbath Day is a little different. In addition to moral law, it also relates to the specific worship practices that God wanted the Israelites to follow. It was not cancelled in New Testament times by anyone. Rather, it was fulfilled along with the rest of the commandments by Jesus Christ. Those who believe in Jesus have both forgiveness of their sins and righteousness in God’s sight, including the righteousness that Jesus earned by keeping the Sabbath. These are gifts from God, not a result of our own efforts. They come through faith, not by our own works of righteousness.

For God’s people in these New Testament times, the Ten Commandments are still helpful. Inasmuch as they summarize the moral law for us, they tell us how God would have all people live at all times. So we teach them all as binding upon Christians today, though not as a condition for obtaining salvation.

With regard to the Sabbath Day, we follow the word of God as written by St. Paul in Colossians 2:16-17, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” We do not object to anyone observing the Sabbath, but we do object to the imposition of this observance as a condition for salvation. Consider that this question was part of the issue before the apostolic council in Acts 15, but they did not ask Gentile Christians to observe the Sabbath.

A fuller explanation of our position on this may be found in the [Lutheran Confessions][lc], especially the Large Catechism on the [Third Commandment][tc]. Please consider that as having been repeated here. All of the Bible passages cited on the postcard we received are in harmony with the Lutheran position on the Sabbath Day.

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