In mainstream Christianity, most people think that the Sabbath command (#4 of 10) is done away with, despite both a clear scriptural teaching on this being an everlasting commandment, and a lack of evidence that it was done away with. Still, those who wish to acknowledge “the spirit of the law” feel that “any day can be the Sabbath” now, based on Romans 14:5-6:
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Many people assume from this passage that Paul is saying that whatever day one chooses to rest and worship is irrelevant so long as one is “fully convinced in his own mind” and “observes it to the Lord.”
Does this mean that the Fourth Commandment, telling us to remember the seventh-day Sabbath day and keep it holy, is no longer necessary for Christians? Did Paul teach that the Sabbath is no different from any other day or that we are free to choose for ourselves whatever day we wish to observe?
To come to that conclusion, one must read it into the verse, because—notice carefully—the Sabbath is nowhere mentioned here. In fact, the word Sabbath or references to Sabbath-keeping are not found anywhere in the book of Romans. The reference here is simply to “day(s),” not the Sabbath or any other days of rest and worship commanded by God.
Keep in mind that Paul, earlier in this same epistle, had written, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans:7:12), “The doers of the law will be justified” (2:13) and “I delight in the law of God” (7:22). If he were saying here that keeping God’s Sabbath day is irrelevant, it would be completely inconsistent with his other clear statements in this same letter. Also, no New Testament writers refer to the Sabbath by such ambiguous phrases as “one day.”
Context shows the meaning of “days”
What, then, were the “days” Paul mentions here? We must look at the context to find out.
Notice first that this discussion is about “disputes over doubtful things” (verse 1). These were matters of “opinions” (NRSV), which tells us that Paul isn’t addressing issues clearly stated in the Scriptures, such as when and whether to keep the Sabbath.
The passage in question about days is in verses 5 and 6, immediately between references to eating meat, vegetarianism and fasting in verses 2, 3 and 6. There is no biblical connection between Sabbath observance and any of these things, so one must take these verses out of context to assume that Paul was referring to the Sabbath.
The answer is found in the Moffatt translation: “Then again, this man rates one day above another, while that man rates all days alike. Well, everyone must be convinced in his own mind; the man who values a particular day does so to the Lord. The eater eats to the Lord, since he thanks God for his food; the non-eater abstains to the Lord, and he too thanks God”
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains that “the close contextual association with eating suggests that Paul has in mind a special day set apart for observance as a time for feasting or as a time for fasting” (Everett Harrison, 1976, Vol. 10, p. 146). It is apparent that Paul wasn’t discussing the Sabbath, but rather other days during which fasting or abstaining from certain foods was practiced.
Not only were there weak converts who avoided eating meat offered to idols, but there were others who customarily abstained from particular foods. They semi-fasted on certain particular days. Still others refused to practice a semi-fast or abstain from foods, but regarded every day in the same way.
Paul was writing to a mixed church of Jewish and gentile believers in Rome (Romans:1:13; 2:17). Personal eating and fasting practices that were not clearly addressed in the Scriptures had become a point of contention for some.
The Talmud records that many Jews of that time fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. They also had other traditional fast days (compare Zechariah:7:3-5). Since some of the Jewish Church members in Rome self-righteously criticized others (Romans:2:17-24), perhaps they had become like the Pharisee who boasted, “I fast twice a week” (Luke:18:12), and set themselves up as more righteous than others who were not fasting at these times.
Possibly members of the church at Rome were trying to enforce fasting on particular days on other Christians there, prompting Paul’s pointed question: “Who are you to judge another’s servant?” (verse 4). Paul appears to be setting the record straight by emphasizing that fasting is a voluntary exercise of worship not limited to a particular day. Therefore, one person’s fasting on a particular day when another is eating does not make him more righteous.
Why were some avoiding meat?
In verses 2 and 3 Paul discussed vegetarianism (“he who is weak eats only vegetables”) and continued this theme in verse 6 (“he who eats . . . and he who does not eat”).
The context shows us that some members of the congregation there were eating meat, and others were abstaining from eating meat. The vegetarians were likely members who “so feared lest they should (without knowing it) eat meat which had been offered to idols or was otherwise ceremonially unclean (which might easily happen in such a place as Rome), that they abstained from meat altogether” (W.J. Conybeare and J.S. Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, 1974, p. 530).
In 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, Paul addressed the issue of eating meat that may have been sacrificed to idols and consequently could have been viewed by some members as improper to eat. Paul’s point in that chapter was that unknown association of food with idolatrous activity did not make that food unsuitable for eating.
Paul was addressing the same issue to both the Romans and the Corinthians, namely whether members should avoid meats that may have been associated with idolatrous worship.
This is indicated by Paul’s reference to ” unclean” meat in Romans:14:14. Rather than using the Greek word used to describe those meats listed in the Old Testament as unclean, he used a word meaning “common” or “defiled,” which would be appropriate in describing meat that had been sacrificed to idols.
Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 8 was the same as in Romans:14:15: Be especially careful not to offend a fellow member, causing him to stumble or lose faith, over the issue of meats.
In no way was this related to Sabbath observance because God’s Sabbath is a “feast” day (Leviticus:23:1-3), not a day when one must abstain from eating meat. The Sabbath is nowhere mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans; it simply wasn’t the issue.
Those who look to Romans for justification for their view that Paul abrogates keeping Old Testament laws face the added burden of explaining why, if his purpose is to argue that those laws are done away, Paul quotes from that same Old Testament more than 80 times in this same epistle as authority for his teaching. This simple fact alone confirms Paul’s view that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans:7:12).
There is no doubt from scripture that Paul kept the 7th Day Sabbath (Saturday) (dozens of places in Acts and elsewhere) and instructed others to “follow him as he followed Christ.” Having been taught personally by Christ, would not Paul have been keen to the notion of a change in the 4th commandment for the New Testament church? Instead we see Sabbath keeping!
Let us follow the scripture, reject the tradition of men, and observe the one day that God blessed:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. Exodus 20:11