The Sabbath in the Bible
Key Thought: Does not “every day” mean all seven days in the week? And if a believer considers all days “alike,” does not that mean he attaches no special sacredness to any day? And does not Paul rebuke those who would pass critical judgment on the believers who thus viewed "every day alike”? The reader has doubtless noted that some words in the Bible are italicized. The word “alike” is one such word. Now, the italicizing of a word indicates that it is not a translation of a word written by the Bible writer, but a word supplied by the translator in his endeavor best to express what he thinks is the meaning of the original writing.
The Meaning of Romans 14:5
The Assertion: The Sabbath day is abolished, because Paul says that it is all right to consider every day alike in the Christian Era. (See Rom. 14:5.)
Evaluating the Assertion: Let us give, ﬁrst, the passage mentioned, in its context:
“Him that is weak in the faith receive you, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believes that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eats herbs. Let not him that eats despise him that eats not; and let not him which eats not judge him that eats: for God has received him. Who art thou that judges another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yet, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it. He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks.” Rom. 14:1-6.
Further in the chapter Paul refers to the matter of drink as well as food. (See verses 17, 21) Here is a discussion of meats and drinks and various holy days, and Paul’s counsel is that no believer should “judge” any other believer in such matters. How strikingly similar is all this to Paul’s counsel to the Colossians: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.” Col. 2:16. But we find in Col. 2:16 that Paul was speaking to the Colossians about the ceremonial law, which dealt with meats and drinks and a variety of holy days, and not at all with the moral law and its seventh day Sabbath. But let us look a little more closely at the passage in Romans: “Him that is weak in the faith.” What faith? The faith of the gospel of Christ, which teaches that we receive pardon from all our sins and acceptance by our Lord without the works of the law. Some coming in from Jewry, who had long been immersed in the. ritual of the ceremonial law, seemed not to have a faith quite strong enough at the outset to grasp fully the truth that we are saved wholly by the grace of God, without any good deed on our part. Others who had stronger faith, or who were Gentiles, and thus never devotees of the ceremonial law, were tempted to judge critically those whose faith was weak and who thus continued to make certain ceremonial distinctions in meats and drinks and holy days. Paul counseled against this critical attitude.
The crux of the passage, of course, is this statement: “One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” And the key phrase is, “every day alike.” The reasoning of the Sabbath objector might be summarized thus: Does not “every day” mean all seven days in the week? And if a believer considers all days “alike,” does not that mean he attaches no special sacredness to any day? And does not Paul rebuke those who would pass critical judgment on the believers who thus viewed every day alike”? The reader has doubtless noted that some words in the Bible are italicized. The word “alike” is one such word. Now, the italicizing of a word indicates that it is not a translation of a word written by the Bible writer, but a word supplied by the translator in his endeavor best to express what he thinks is the meaning of the original writing. This is done in all translations and is inevitable. The scrupulously conscientious Bible translators indicated the instances when they thus supplied a word to round out what they considered was the thought in a text. We have no way of knowing whether Paul, if he were alive and could speak to us in English, would use the word “alike” to round out his sentence. Hence, the very fact that no argument can rightly be built on the single word "alike” reduces at once a great part of the plausibility of the objector’s series of questions. But he will probably still inquire conﬁdently: Does not “every day” mean all seven days in the week? And he may add for good measure: Do not the Scriptures mean just what they say? What he forgets is that though the Bible writers were inspired, they used human language to convey their heavenly instruction. And human language is a very inexact and constantly changing medium for expressing thoughts. We must remember also that all languages have idioms, those singular combinations of words that often defy translation. For example, we may say in colloquial English that certain facts “center around this point.” But how can they both “center” and yet be “around”? We understand perfectly what is meant, but we also admit that strictly speaking we cannot make sense out of the phrase if we look at each word separately. Christ told His disciples that He would “be killed, and after three days rise again.” Mark 8:31. The Sabbath objector might plausibly ask: Does not “after three days” mean just that? In other words, does it not mean at least the fourth day, or perhaps later? But wait The Bible also informs us that Christ told His disciples that He must “be killed, and be raised again the third day.” Matt. 16:21. Why should not the Sabbath objector now ask: Does not the third day” mean just that? Only as we concede that the phrase after three days” was an ancient Jewish idiom that meant to them the equivalent of “third day” can we harmonize the two passages.
Now to borrow our English idiom, the question before us centers around this point of the proper understanding of a Bible phrase. If we carefully compare scripture with scripture, both as to constructions of phrases and as to doctrines taught, we shall have no more trouble over the Bible’s literary forms than over those in any other book. To the Sabbath objector who insists that “every day” in Romans means all the days of the week, we would direct this question: Does the phrase “every day” in Exodus mean all the days of the week? In Exodus 16 is the record of the giving of the manna. The Lord through Moses instructed the Israelites to “go out and gather a certain rate every day.” Verse 4. But when the sixth day came they were told to gather a double portion, because on the seventh day they would ﬁnd none in the ﬁeld. (Verses 22-26) But some forgot, or were unmindful, and went out to gather on the seventh day. For this God rebuked them, “How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws?” Verses 27, 28. There is no record that any Israelite replied, “Every day” means every day in the week, and therefore I thought it proper to consider the seventh day just like every other day. Evidently they had not heard of the modern “every day” argument against the Sabbath!
Exodus 16:14 clearly reveals that the word “every” may be understood to have a qualiﬁed meaning at times in the Bible. We must read the context and compare scripture with scripture to discover whether there are possible qualiﬁcations. The same is true of the word “all.” Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me.” 1 Cor. 6:12. A libertine, who isolated that statement from all other scripture, might possibly seek to prove thereby that his wastrel life and scandalous deeds were altogether “lawful.” But we protest that Paul’s statement shall be kept in the context of all scripture. And when we do so we have no trouble with the passage. We understand it to-mean that Paul considered that all things within the scope of God’s holy law, and the Christian practices of life growing out of it, were lawful to him. It was needful for him to make the all-embracing statement in order to give greatest force to the qualifying words that immediately followed: “But all things are not expedient.”
If we view Paul’s words in Romans in terms of these simple rules of Bible study, we shall see their true meaning. “Every day” meant every one of the days that were regarded as holy under the ceremonial law, which is the law obviously under discussion here. Why should Paul need to interject that he did not mean to include the seventh day, when the seventh day Sabbath was not part of the controversy before him. Nowhere in all Paul’s writings is the seventh day Sabbath the subject of controversy!
We close with a comment on Romans 14:5 by two commentators. First from the Methodist commentator Adam Clarke:
“Perhaps the word hemera, day, is here taken for time, festival, and such like, in which sense it is frequently used. Reference is made here to the Jewish institutions, and especially their festivals; such as the Passover, Pentecost, feast of tabernacles, new moons, jubilee, ec. . . . The converted Gentile esteems every day—considers that all time is the Lord’s, and that each day should he devoted to the glory of God; and that those festivals are not binding on him. “We [the translators] add here alike, and make the text say what I am sure was never intended, viz. that there is no distinction of days not even of the Sabbath. And that every Christian is at liberty to consider even this day to be holy or not holy, as he happens to be persuaded in his own mind.”
Second, from the commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown so highly regarded in Fundamentalist circles:
‘From this passage about the observance of days, ALFORD unhappily infers that such language could not have been used if the Sabbath law, had been in force under the Gospel in any form. Certainly it could not, if the Sabbath were merely one of the Jewish festival days: But it will not do to take this for granted merely because it was observed under the Mosaic economy. And certainly if the Sabbath was more ancient than Judaism; if, even under Judaism, it was enshrined amongst the eternal sanctities of the Ten Commandments, uttered, as no other parts of Judaism were, amidst the terrors of Sinai. And if the Lawgiver Himself said of it when on earth, ‘The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day’ (see Mark 2.28). It will be hard to show that the apostle must have meant it to be ranked by his readers amongst those vanished Jewish festival days, which only ‘weakness’ could imagine to be still in force, a weakness which those who had more light ought, out of love, merely to bear with.”
If the Sabbath objector still demurs at the thought of letting words and phrases be understood in certain contexts and according to current usage, we would ask him this question in closing. Do you understand the phrase, “every day clothes” to mean clothes worn every day in the week, that is, all seven days of the week? If not, why seek to build an anti-Sabbath argument out of “every day” in Romans 14:5?