Article written and provided by Richard K. Foster
An extremely common SDA argument is that keeping Sunday—the first day of the week—instead of Saturday, the seventh day of the week, is diametrically opposed to the fourth commandment of Exodus 20:8-11. But in making this argument (intended to condemn Christians) they have to assume some strong presuppositions. But if their presuppositions are wrong, then the argument is completely baseless, and falls flat.
Presupposition 1: When the Sabbath command says that the seventh day is the Sabbath, it has to mean the exact seventh day of the week as we know it, or Saturday.
To an SDA the substance of the fourth of the ten commandments is the particular seventh day. To them the issue is not time set aside as a holy rest for God, it is not even a seventh of time set aside for God, but the exact period of sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. This presupposition stands diametrically opposed to the interpretation of every sound and orthodox Bible teacher in church history, who have all recognized that when the fourth commandment says “the seventh day is the Sabbath” it is not talking about a particular day of the week, but in context it is crystal clear it is talking about the seventh day following six days of work.
In other words, what the command requires is a pattern or cycle of six days of work, with a day of holy rest to God every seventh day. When this is considered, we understand that the day of rest and worship could be changed from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week with the resurrection of Christ, and by doing so the fourth commandment remains completely intact. Not one bit of the substance or benefit of the fourth commandment is removed by the change of day from the seventh to the first day of the week.
Presupposition 2: The seventh day of the week, Saturday, is an inherently holy day, with a virtue infused into it that other days do not have.
To come to this conclusion SDAs lean on Genesis 2:3, where it says that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. Again though, context is everything. The Genesis passage adds that the blessing upon the seventh day was because God rested from His work of creation on that day. The day wasn’t holy for its own sake, but God’s rest is the reason it was made holy as day of rest.
Likewise, we have an exact parallel of the work and rest of God in creation, in the work and rest of Christ in redemption. Christ worked for our redemption from sin, in His life, death, and burial in the grave, kept under the power of death until the third day, in account of our sins. But when He rose victorious over death at the dawn of the morning of the first day of the week, His work for redemption was finished.
And at this very point he transitioned from His work to redeem us, and He entered into His mediatorial rest as our great high priest who ever lives to make intercession for us. Christ is a priest who does not work, as the book of Hebrews so dramatically contrast the work of the Old Testament priests in standing daily to make intercession for Israel vs. Christ making a single offering for sin, after which He sat down at the right hand of God. For more info see Hebrews 4:1-11.
So, just as the seventh day creation rest was blessed because of God’s rest, so first day rest is blessed now, because Christ entered into His rest from the work of redemption on that day. No longer does the seventh day rest signify the rest of God, but now the first day rest of Christ signifies gospel rest, which we have in Him, if we are united to Him.
Secondly, the view that days have inherent holiness infused into them is similar to say, the Roman Catholic view of the sacraments. Biblical Christianity understands that the elements in the Lord’s Supper for example, the bread and wine, do not have a holiness or virtue infused into them. The power in the Lord’s Supper is solely the spiritual reality that the bread and wine are representing, Christ’s body and blood given for Christians in His death for sin. Thus when believers partake of the supper, we receive the blessing of rememberance which God gives us spiritually in the supper.
But there is not some physical virtue in the Lord’s Supper, rather it is a physical sign to remind us and bring us back to the spiritual reality in Christ. It is the same with the Sabbath. The physical and mental rest from ordinary labors for one day every week is designed to represent the spiritual rest which believers have in Christ, and which we shall fully enjoy in the eternal state. The physical day itself is not where the virtue is, anymore than the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are where the virtue is. Rather the virtue is the spiritual reality that the physical sign points to.
And for those who have turned back to the sign of original creation rest (which was lost through sin), and away from the sign of the redemptive rest of Jesus Christ, they have completely been diverted away from remembering the gospel rest in Jesus Christ. This is perhaps why every seventh day group in church history inevitably loses the gospel.
It must be noted that these presuppositions are incredibly strong in the minds of SDAs. For those born into the system these presuppositions have been drilled into them as the only right understanding from early childhood on. To break them free from what truly is the SDA idol (seventh day sabbath), requires the power of God. In fact it is likely they will embrace, and get grounded in the true gospel of Jesus Christ first, before they will begin to see the mistake and folly of New Covenant Christians turning back to the Old Covenant, and old creation sign of seventh day sabbatarianism.
Nevertheless it is important that they give up their Old Covenant style sabbatarianism (not to be confused with Christian sabbatarianism), in order to fully understand and enjoy the liberty that Jesus Christ gives to His people. With this in mind let us continue to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our SDA friends, and the truth of the rest He gives, while praying that the Holy Spirit will bring these things home to their minds and hearts.