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The Command to Keep the Sabbath

Q. What is meant by the command to “Keep the Sabbath Day holy?” And, why isn’t it included in the New Testament'

A. To keep it “holy” meant to observe the day according to God’s instructions. The central idea was rest from labor, as specified in Deut. 5:12-15.

In the Deuteronomic account of the Ten Commandments, the Lord reminds the people that they had been slaves in Egypt and that He had brought them out from there. Therefore, He explains, He commanded them to observe the Sabbath. The weekly rest would remind them of a time when they could not rest when they were slaves.

The link between slavery in Egypt and the Sabbath is reiterated in Ezek. 20:5, 12: “On the day I chose Israel...[the Lord says] I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.” The Sabbath was essentially Jewish, which explains, in part, its absence in New Testament instructions to Christians.

It should be noted that nine of the Ten Commandments are both moral and timeless. It will always be wrong to lie or steal—on earth and in heaven. But in heaven, there will be no Sabbaths. Observation of a Sabbath was moral only as an act of obedience to a command limited to a specific earthly people.

C. Donald Cole, “Questions & Answers,” Today in the Word, October 1997, p. 12

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