The book of Hebrews demonstrates both continuity and discontinuity between the Old Testament and the New. The fact that the writer of Hebrews wrote the book demonstrates the power that the Old Testament sacrificial system held over many of the believers in the Jesus movement.
There can be no doubt that the book of Hebrews pictures a break with parts of the Old Testament. Hebrews 7:11 states that there was a need to move away from the levitical priesthood if perfection is to happen in believers. In contrast, Christ had to come once and for all (Hebrews 9:26). In addition, Christ set aside the levitical sacrificial system. (Hebrews 7:18, Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9). Thus there is no question something was abolished by the death of Christ. However, was the law in general or the Sabbath specifically abolished? Hebrews answers this question with a strong no.
Bacchocchi notes that the book of Hebrews does not just talk about discontinuities, but also continuities. There is continuity in the prophetâ€™s words (Hebrews 1:1-2). There is continuity in that the sanctuary system has just changed from the earthly one to a heavenly one. Nevertheless, there is still a sanctuary system working for humanity.
But most relevant to our discussion is that Bacchiocchi notes a continuity in the “Sabbatismos” which bacchioccchi states is:
A term used in a technical way by Plutarch, Justin, Epiphanius, Apostolic Constitutions to designate Sabbath observance—which “remains” (apoleipetia), literally “is left behind for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
There was a break between the Old Testament and the New. Hebrews notes that this break was the sacrificial system. That sacrificial system was replaced by Christ’s death on earth and Priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. While the earthly sanctuary system has been done away, the writer of Hebrews states that the Sabbath remains for the people of God. Praise God for Godâ€™s gift of the Sabbath. In the future we will discuss Hebrews 4 more deeply.
Dr. Bacchiocchi continues his arguments for the continuity between Judaism and Christianity by looking at some examples of continuity in the book of Matthew.
Christ Life and Teaching
Matthew presents many major events of Christâ€™s life as a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. In addition, Christâ€™s teachings are characterized as a continuation of the Old Testament. Bacchiocchi notes that in Matthew 7:12, the Golden rule is the essence of the Law and the Prophets. In addition, Matthew 22:40 states that the two great commandments are the basis of the Law and Prophets.
Fulfillment of the Law
Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20). What does it mean to fulfill? In context, â€œfulfillâ€ means to clarify or explain. Note how Jesus explains the law as in Matthew 5:27-28. Jesus states that the law of â€œThou shalt not commit adulteryâ€ is â€œThou shalt not look at a woman in lust.â€
Bacchiocchi provides a compelling case that both Matthew and Luke describe a continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This continuity argues against any claims for an abrogation of the Sabbath based on a radical discontinuity.
Dr. Bacchiocchi argues that the description of the earliest Christian gatherings indicate a continuity between Judaism and Christianity and not discontinuity. This is one of the strongest arguments for the continuing validity of the Sabbath for Christians.
Synagogue Primary Place of Worship of Early Christian Community
In Acts, Luke (Luke and Acts) describes the synagogue as a place where early Christian worship took place. Luke writes, in Acts 18:24-26, that Apollos preached about Jesus in the synagogue.
When Paul went searching for Christians to imprison them, he went to the synagogues (Acts 9:2; Acts 22:19). Paul continued his habitual Sabbath-keeping after conversion for Luke identifies Paul’s habit of Sabbath-keeping as a “custom.â€
Jews and Gentiles Wanting to Worship on the Sabbath
At Pisidian Antioch they went to the Synagogue and sat amongst the worshippers (Acts 13:14). The synagogue leaders asked them to speak. This further confirms that Christian believers did not experience a radical separation from their Jewish brothers and sisters.
It is here that Paul and his companions were invited to come back and the “next Sabbath” almost the whole town came back to hear them. We must note that the group that came to hear him was both “Jews and Gentiles.” Why didnâ€™t Paul tell those Gentile believers to come hear us tomorrow, which would have been Sunday, if Sunday did have an apostolic origin?
We also see this in Corinth where both Jews and Greeks were convinced of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And these meetings happened on the Sabbath in the synagogue (Acts 18:4).
Outdoor Sabbath Worship
Even when they were not in the synagogue, Paul and his companions found worshipers. So they went to a place where they thought there would be some Sabbath Prayer Warriors (“where we expected to find a place of prayer”). And they found such a place down by a riverside. When you sing the song, “Gonna Lay down My Burdens, down by the riverside,” you are bringing to mind these early Seventh day Sabbath meetings. (Acts 16:13)
The idea that there was a radical break between Judaism and Christianity is not in line with the evidence presented by Luke in the book of Acts. Early Christians were a group of Jews who believed that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah. Because of this, they came and worshiped at the synagogue on the Sabbath day.