FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY
Continued from previous page
The whole discussion then is not about freedom to observe
the law versus freedom from its observance, but concerns
"unessential" scruples of conscience dictated not by divine
precepts but by human conventions and superstitions. Since these
differing convictions and practices did not undermine the essence
of the Gospel, Paul advises mutual tolerance and respect in this
The situation in Galatians is radically different. Here Paul
strongly reprimands those Gentile Christians who 'had themselves
circumcised (Gal.6:12; 5:2) and who had begun to "observe days
and months and seasons, and years" (4:10) He defines their
adoption of these practices as a return to the slavery of the
"elemental spirits" (Greek - 4:8-9) - cosmic powers credited with
controlling the fate of mankind. In many respects the polemic in
Galatians 4:8-11 is strikingly similar to that of Colossians
2:8-23. In both places the superstitious observance of sacred
times is described as slavery to the "elements." In Galatians,
however, the denunciation of the "false teachers" is stronger.
They are regarded as "accursed" (1:8,9) because they were
teaching a "different gospel." Their teaching that the observance
of days and seasons was necessary to justification and salvation,
perverted the very heart of the Gospel (5:4).
Whether or not the Sabbath is alluded to in Galatians
depends upon the interpretation of "days - "Greek" (4:10). Some
critics argue on the basis of the parallel passage of Colossians
2:16, where "sabbaths" are explicitly mentioned, that "the 'days'
certainly indicate even the sabbaths." 79 We do not deny this
possibility, but we have shown earlier that the plural "sabbaths"
used in Colossians, was the common designation not only for the
Sabbath day but also for the whole week. Thus the plural "days"
of Galatians could well indicate that the Colossians' "sabbaths"
are "weekdays" and not vice versa. Assuming that the Sabbath is
part of the "days" observed by the Galatians 80 the questions to
be considered are: What motivated
79 C.S.Mosna, "Storia della domenica," p.183. Cf. H.Schlier, "Der
Brief an die Galater," 1962, p.204-207; he admits however that
"days" may have a wider meaning; W. Rordorf, "Sunday," p.131; "By
"Greek" in v.10 a reference is certainly being made to the
sabbath days which recur week by week."
80 This is altogether possible, especially in view of the fact
that the Galatians were causing themselves to be circumcised and
to become Jews in every respect.
the observance of the Sabbath and of festivities? Is Paul
opposing the Biblical precept which enjoins the observance of the
Sabbath and of festivals, or is he denouncing the perverted use
made of these religious practices?
It is generally agreed that the Galatians' observance of
Jewish festivals was motivated by superstitious beliefs in astral
influences. This is suggested by Paul's charge that their
adoption of these practices was tantamount to a return (4:8 to
former pagan subjection to elemental spirits and demons (4:8-9).
Apparently, on account of their pagan background, the Galatians,
aptly stated by W. Rordorf, "could discern in the particular
attention paid by the Jews to certain days and seasons nothing
more than religious veneration paid to stars and natural forces,"
The fact that in the pagan world, as we already noticed,
Jewish Sabbath observance was often attributed to the evil
influence of the planet Saturn, may well have contributed to the
development of this misconception. It would appear, then, that
any Sabbath-keeping practiced by the Galatians would be motivated
by a superstitious misconception of the Biblical precept.
Paul's concern, however, is not to expose the superstitious
ideas attached to these observances, but rather to challenge the
whole system of salvation which the Galatians' false teachers had
devised. By conditioning justification and acceptance with God to
things such as circumcision and the observance of days and
seasons, the Galatians were making salvation dependent upon human
achievement. This for Paul is a betrayal of the Gospel: "You are
severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you
have fallen away from grace" (Gal.5:4).
It is within this context that Paul's denouncement of the
observance of days and seasons must be understood. If the
motivations for these observances would not have undermined the
vital principle of justification by faith in Jesus Christ, Paul
would only have recommended tolerance and respect (as he does in
Romans 14), even if some ideas were foreign to Old Testament
teaching. Since however the motivations for these practices
adulterated the very ground of salvation by dogmatic confidence,
the Apostle does not hesitate to reject them. In Galatians as in
Colossians, then, it is not the principle of Sabbath-keeping that
Paul opposes, but rather the perverted use of cultic observances
which were designed to pro-
81 W. Rordort, "Sunday," p.133; on the astral superstition
associated with the Sabbath see above fns. 70, 71, 72.
mote salvation not by divine grace but rather by human
(Once more it is interesting what Bacchiocchi relates, but I do
not believe he has got to the truth of the matter concerning the
problem in Rome, Galatia, or Colossae - Keith Hunt)
Our analysis of the three Pauline texts generally adduced as
proof of Paul's repudiation of the Sabbath as an Old Testament
ceremonial shadow, has shown that this interpretation is
unwarranted on several counts.
In the first place, in all the three texts Paul does not
discuss whether or not the Sabbath commandment is still binding
in the Christian dispensation, but rather he opposes complex
ascetic and cultic practices, which (particularly in Colossians
and Galatians) were undermining the vital principle of
justification by faith in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, the fact that a superstitious form of
Sabbath-keeping may have been part of heretical teachings
denounced by Paul, does not invalidate the binding nature of the
precept since it is a perversion and not a precept that is
condemned. The reproof of the misuse of a Biblical precept cannot
be legitimately interpreted as the abrogation of the precept
Thirdly, the fact that Paul recommends tolerance and respect
even with regard to differences in diet and days (Rpm.14:3-6)
stemming from human conventions, indicates that on the question
of "days" he was too liberal to promote the repudiation of the
Sabbath commandment and the adoption of Sunday observance
instead. If he had done so, he would have encountered opposition
and endless disputes with Sabbath advocators. The absence of any
trace of such a polemic is perhaps the most telling evidence of
Paul's respect for the institution of the Sabbath.
(Indeed as I've pointed out elsewhere on this Website IF the
apostles were to CHANGE the holy day and worship day of the week
from the 7th day Sabbath to the first day Sunday, there would
have been a Jerusalem conference, as it was for the question of
"circumcision" as we find in Acts 15. The importance of Sabbath-
keeping for the Jews was just as important a matter as
circumicsion. For there not to be a debate and clear pronouncing
in ministerial letters of a change from Sabbath to Sunday, is
quite unthinkable in the light of the question of circumcision,
and the time devoted to it debate and answer - Keith Hunt)
In the final analysis then, Paul's attitude toward the
Sabbath must be determined not on the basis of his denunciation
of heretical and superstitious observances which possibly
included Sabbath keeping, but rather on the basis of his overall
attitude toward the law. The failure to distinguish between
Paul's concept of the law as a body of instruction which he
regards as "holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12; cf. 3:31;
7:14,22) and of the law as a system of salvation apart from
Christ which he strongly rejects, is apparently the cause of much
misunderstanding of Paul's attitude toward the Sabbath. There is
no question that the Apostle respected those Old Testament
institutions which still had value for Christians. We noticed,
for example. that he worshiped on the Sabbath with "Jews and
Greeks" (Acts 18:4.19: 17:1,10,17), he spent the days of
"Unleavened Bread" at Philippi (Acts 20:16), he "was hastening to
be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost". (Acts
20:16), he assumed a Nazarite vow on his own initiative at
Cenchreae (Acts 18:18), he purified himself at the Temple to
prove that "he lived in observance of the the law" (Acts 21:24),
and he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). On the other hand,
whenever any of these or similar practices were promoted as the
ground of salvation, he denounced in no uncertain terms their
perverted function. We might say, therefore, that Paul rejected
the Sabbath as a means of salvation but accepted it as a shadow
pointing to the substance which belongs to Christ.
I will say once more that Bacchiocchi has given some reasonable
insight into the question of understanding Col.2:16; Rom.14; and
Gal.4:10. But I do not see his explanations as the real answers
to the theology Paul was denouncing. Each had its own context and
was not a part of the other. Each was different in nature to the
other. The answer to these passages of NT Scripture are given on
this Website in other studies.