Brother Sewell: As one of our sisters has turned Adventist and has some of the members bothered, I would like a full explanation of the following passages of scripture: Ex. 31: 16, 17; Matt. 5: 19; Rom. 14: 5, 6. Who are meant by the “children of Israel” in the passage first named? What “commandments” is Jesus speaking of in the second passage?
The children of Israel were the Jewish people, the posterity of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. In this particular passage it meant the children of Israel that had come out of Egypt under Moses as their leader.
The Sabbath day, as one of the Ten Commandments, had but recently been given to the Jewish people. The verses you mention show that the Sabbath day was given to the Jews only. The Gentile world never had any share in it. In the first of Genesis, where the seventh day is first mentioned, it says that God rested that day. He had finished the work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh. But he did not require men to rest on that day then. To show that the Sabbath belonged to the Jews only, the passage you name uses this language: “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever.” These verses show beyond a peradventure that the Sabbath day was given to the Jews, and to them only; and when it says it would be a sign between Jehovah and the children of Israel forever, the “forever” means to the end of the Jewish covenant, the law of Moses, which really did end. Hence, when Jesus died on the cross, the law of Moses, the Jewish covenant, was taken out of the way, and with it the Sabbath day. This is shown in the following passage: “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” (Col. 2:14.) The word handwriting especially takes in the Ten Commandments, as they were the handwriting of God, and the Sabbath day was the fourth command of the ten. Therefore the Sabbath day was, without any doubt, done away.
In verse 16 of the same chapter Paul says: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.” This shows that the whole affair of the law was done away, Sabbath day and all. Hence the seventh-day claim is without foundation. The seventh-day Sabbath never did belong to the Gentiles, and it was taken from the Jews when Jesus died; and so it is out of date entirely now, as is the whole of the law of Moses. Matt. 5:19 simply has reference to the commands of the law of Moses, which law was still in force when Christ used that language; but when he died on the cross, some three years later, the law was taken away.
The other passage (Rom. 14:5, 6) has reference either to the Jewish Christians, who wanted to keep up the holy days of the law, such as the Sabbath day, or it refers to some sort of superstition among Gentile Christians there, either one of which would cause confusion and division without profit, and they better not have divisions over the opinions of men. All ideas of holy days, then, except the first day of the week, were merely the opinions of men not involving any divine authority. There is not a particle of divine authority to keep the seventh-day Sabbath since the abolition of the old covenant and the establishment of the new.