Several of our members asked about the footnote for Exodus 20:8 which is found in the John MacArthur Study Bible.
In this footnote, Mr. MacArthur argues against the applicability of the Fourth Commandment in the New Covenant Dispensation.
Because this is the prevailing opinion in most American (i.e., dispensationalist) churches, we took some time together to understand and answer these arguments in March-April of 2014.
Objection #1 – The sabbath is a Jewish ordinance
The sabbath originated on Mount Sinai when Israel was constituted as a nation. It is therefore an inherently Jewish ordinance which is applicable only to the Jews.
Answer: The sabbath is a creation ordinance
Genesis 2:1-3 introduces the sabbath as a creation ordinance which is tied to man’s universal and perpetual calling to reflect God’s image through work.
Many pre-Sinai passages intimate a “seven day rhythm” in God’s world (Genesis 7:4,10; 8:10,12; 29:27; 50:10, Exodus 12:15-16,19, etc.)
Exodus 16:22-30 indicates that the sabbath law was both known and enforced before the fourth commandment was issued on Mount Sinai.
Exodus 20:8-11 asserts God’s pattern of creation as the original rationale for the sabbath. Redemption from Egypt was added only secondarily (Deut. 5:15).
Objection #2 – The Gentiles never knew of the sabbath
We see no evidence of Gentiles (i.e., non-Jewish people) observing the weekly sabbath in the OT. This is further proof that it is a specifically Jewish ordinance.
Answer: The Gentiles simply rejected the sabbath
If the sabbath was a creation ordinance, then it was surely communicated from Eden to the Ark, from the Ark to Babel, and from Babel to the ends of the earth.
Romans 1:18-21 and 2:14-15 confirm the universal knowledge of God’s moral laws based on his creation and man’s conscience.
Several passages indicate that the sabbath was intended for “the stranger” and “all nations” rather than Jews only (Exodus 20:10; Isaiah 56:3-8, 66:22-23).
Argumentum ad absurdum: Evidence of “non-observance by Gentiles” might also be offered to prove they are not obligated to monotheism, monogamy, etc.!
Objection #3 – Many OT laws are no longer binding
There are several OT laws which we are no longer obligated to keep as New Covenant believers and the sabbath is simply one of them.
Answer: The sabbath law is very special
The keeping of a weekly sabbath is the only OT Law which was personally modeled before man by God himself (Genesis 2:1-3).
As one of the Ten Commandments, the sabbath law was written with the finger of God and stored in the ark (Exodus 31:18, 32:16, 40:20, 1 Kings 8:9).
Unlike many OT laws, the fourth commandment was instituted as an everlasting sign and was enforced through capital punishment (Exodus 31:12-18).
The fourth commandment is the only one the Ten Commandments over which Jesus claimed a special personal lordship (Mark 2:27-28).
Objection #4 – The sabbath law is not repeated in the NT
Unlike the other nine commandments, the fourth is not repeated verbatim by Jesus or the Apostles. This proves it is no longer binding for Christians.
Answer: This “argument from silence” is not persuasive
Statistically speaking, the fourth commandment is referred to more often in the NT than the other nine combined [60 times in the KJV].
This argument assumes a discontinuity between the testaments which is unwarranted and which was explicitly denied by Jesus (Matthew 5:17-19).
A better (i.e., a more biblical) approach would be to assume that OT laws are still biding unless expressly rescinded in the NT.
Argumentum ad absurdum: If only reiterated laws are still binding, on what grounds do we condemn bestiality, rape, cursing the deaf, tripping the blind, etc.?
Objection #5 – The sabbath law is abrogated in the NT
There are several NT passages which clearly teach that the fourth commandment is no longer binding upon Christians.
Answer: The passages usually cited do not prove this
Galatians 4:10-11 warns about returning to the ceremonial law as a means of justification. The passage only proves justification by faith alone.
Colossians 2:16-17 refers to OT ceremonial feasts rather than the sabbath. Note the technical threefold phrase in Hosea 2:11, Neh. 10:33, 1 Chron. 23:31, etc.
Romans 14:5 simply encourages liberty in adiapohora (i.e., non-moral issues). The sabbath is not mentioned and the Romans observed all sorts of “holidays”.
All these passages prove is (1) the OT law cannot justify, (2) ceremonial feasts are abrogated, and (3) Christians should not be legalistically judgmental.
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