The nation of Israel had a liturgical calendar. There was the annual passover, the feast of tabernacles, the feast of trumpets, the day of atonement, and even the less regular jubilee. Special events went on during these times, as these feast days called to memory, both our’s and God’s, the covenant and the saving acts that God brought about in history.
Leviticus 23 lists these feasts and gives descriptions and instructions for them. The big thing to notice, in my opinion, is the first feast listed: the Sabbath.
The weekly Sabbath day is the first feast listed, and I believe it is the paradigmatic feast. It sets the principle of liturgical days, and it sums up and encapsulates all of the other feasts. Just as each of the other nine commandments serve as a summary for all of the law (Deuteronomy is an explanation of the ten commandments.), so too the Sabbath summarizes all of the feasts. It is, in a way, ceremonial law through and through.
This also explains why Paul associates Sabbaths with the other feasts. Colossians 2:16-17 says, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Food, drink, festivals, new moons, and sabbaths are all things that New Covenant Christians cannot be judged by, for they were shadows.
Galatians 4:9-11 says, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”
These verses seem to me to be directly speaking to the Old Covenant Sabbath practice just as much as the other days and seasons. Given the conflict with the Jews and the struggle over what aspects of the Old Covenant to retain, I do not see any immediate reason to extract the weekly Sabbath day from consideration.
It seems to me that the only reason that one would try to argue that the weekly Sabbath is not in view is because of a commitment to the Sabbath as “moral law.” Since it is part of the big ten, it is in a separate category from the rest of the Old Testament law. I find this untenable for a number of reasons. The three-fold distinction of the law is itself questionable. It has its benefits, but it is nowhere explicit in scripture. We’ve also already shown how the ten commandments serve as a summary of all of the law, with the Sabbath encapsulating all of the feast days. It is the first of the “feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations.”
Rather than arguing that the proximity to other festivals and feast days means that Paul does not have the weekly Sabbath in mind, as I often hear, it makes much more sense to understand Paul in light of Leviticus 23. The weekly Sabbath was always in close proximity to the other festivals and feast days.
What’s more, if Paul had intended for us to make a big distinction between the weekly Sabbath and the other special days, the days which pass away, he certainly had the opportunity to do so. He could have said, “Every day but this one!” but he didn’t. Instead he writes, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”
That doesn’t seem like Paul is too concerned with unchanging law at all. It seems like he thinks the whole question of day-keeping is adiaphora. And of course, “separating” and “keeping holy,” the principle parts of making the Sabbath day a “memorial,” are very much priestly terms. Israel as the separate and holy nation had a specific calling, and it is one that I am not at all convinced that the Gentiles had.
The other argument is based on the creation ordinances. Because one of the explanations for the Sabbath is God’s own creative work as an example, the Sabbath is said to be a creation ordinance, while the other feast days are not.
This too is wrong. All of the festivals were creation ordinances, and we can see that in Genesis 1: 14. ““Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years.” The feasts of Israel followed the celestial calendar.
The New Covenant is different. The elementary elements have all been put low. They no longer have authority. Indeed, the man Jesus Christ has all authority, and he gives that authority to his church. The Church sets the calendar now. It sets the times and the seasons, and a good example would be the reallignment of world dating in the anno domini system.
The Church sets the feast days, and the Church set the Lord’s Day after the new creation ordinance, that is the resurrection of Christ. There is a new heavens and a new earth, and that’s what the Church is all about.