Chapter 12: Sabbath Day
12.1 The Old Testament Sabbath was a shadow of the
things to come. New Testament believers need not observe the Sabbath since
Christ removed the law by nailing it to the cross (Col).
According to verse 14, it was the “handwriting
of requirements that was against us” that God has wiped out and nailed to the
cross. The written code was nailed to the cross because it was “contrary to
us.” In other words, Christ’s death has freed us from the condemnation of the
law. This passage is not about the doing away of food, drink, festival, new
moon, or sabbaths, but the abolition of the written code and regulations
concerning these things. For example, God did not wipe out food or drink (in
that case, we should not eat or drink), but he removed the regulations about
food and drink. Likewise, this passage says nothing about abolishing the
The Sabbath, being one of the Ten Commandments,
has not been abolished, but the strict regulations concerning the keeping of
the Sabbath day were fulfilled by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Christians today still need to keep the Ten
Commandments (see question 12.7, point 4).
12.2 The Old Testament Sabbath Day was only a
picture of the rest that a person enters when he places his faith in Christ and
ceases from his own works (see Heb 4:9-11).1
The Sabbath rest does not only point to
accepting of the gospel but also to the eternal rest. This promise still stands
(v. 1); so we need to “be diligent to enter that rest” (v. 11). Sabbath
observance today also foreshadows the eternal Sabbath rest.
This passage cannot be the basis for abolishing
the Sabbath because the promise of eternal rest still remains. It does not say
that we need not keep the Sabbath after we have placed our faith in Christ. Observance
of the Sabbath day, being one of the Ten Commandments, still must be kept today
(see questions 12.6 to 12.9).
The weekly Sabbath was part of God’s creation,
for he “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (see Gen 2:2-3; Ex ). Since God’s creation has
lasted to this very day, the Sabbath day instituted by God continues to be a
blessed and holy day as it has always been since the creation week. The rest we
have received in Christ Jesus does not and should not displace the rest on the
seventh day or the observance of the Sabbath according to God’s commandment.
12.3 The Lord Jesus healed the blind on the
Sabbath, thereby abolishing the Sabbath (Jn -16).
Jesus healed on the Sabbath not to abolish the
Sabbath but to show that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Mt -13).
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to
fulfill it (Mt -20).
The Pharisees condemned Jesus of breaking the Sabbath; yet Jesus was actually
demonstrating the correct way to keep the Sabbath.
Jesus never said that it was not necessary to
keep the Sabbath. In fact, he himself always kept the Sabbath (Lk ; ; Mk 6:2).
12.4 In Matthew 12:1-8, Jesus defended the
disciples when they violated the Sabbath. He cited the example of priests
desecrating the Sabbath in the temple and said, “in this place there is One
greater than the temple,” meaning if the priests could break the Sabbath, he
could do so all the more.
Jesus did not say that New Testament believers
do not have to keep the Sabbath. He defended the disciples on the basis that
“God desires mercy” (Mt 12:7). The issue here is not whether to keep the
Sabbath but how to keep the Sabbath in the true spirit.
Jesus did not mean that he could violate the
Sabbath all the more. Rather, he was saying that if the priests were not
condemned for what they did in the temple, Jesus, being greater than the
temple, had the authority to not condemn the disciples.2
12.5 Christ resurrected on Sunday and appeared to
his disciples and Mary Magdalene on Sundays, never on the seventh day of the
week (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:9; Lk 24:13-15; Jn 20:19). Thus he established the
first day of the week to be a day of worship.
Jesus appeared on the same day to Mary Magdalene
(Jn -18), to the two
disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-15), and to the disciples in the
house (Jn ) because
he had risen before the dawn of that day (see Lk 24:1-3). The second time Jesus
appeared to the disciples was on the second day of the week (Jn ). The day of his third
appearance is unknown (Jn ).
So Jesus did not specifically set aside the first day of the week and the day
itself is not significant.
Nowhere in the Bible does it record that Jesus
Christ replaced the seventh-day Sabbath with the first day of the week to be a
day of worship. Nor did Jesus himself instruct the disciples to worship on the
first day of the week instead of on the Sabbath.
We must not interpret the Bible based on what we
think a certain event signifies, especially when the interpretation contradicts
with the commandment of God.
12.6 Sabbath is a commandment exclusively given to
the Israelites (Deut ).
It is also a token of God’s covenant with Israel (Ex 31:13-17; Ezek -13). In the New Testament, God
is dealing with the church, not the Israelite nation and he has set aside the
covenant. As such Christians do not need to keep the Sabbath.
Sabbath was instituted since the beginning (Gen
2:1-3; Ex ) even
before the Israelite nation existed. The Sabbath was made for man (Mk ); “man,” of course, does not
only refer to the Jews.
That the Ten Commandments were given to the
Israelites does not mean that they have nothing to do with Christians. The
words of God were first entrusted to the chosen people of the Old Testament
(Rom 3:1-2) and are passed on to the chosen people of God of the New Testament
(see Acts 7:38).
Luke was not a circumcised advocate for the law
(see Col-14; note v. 11) and being a
co-worker with Paul (see Acts ;
Phm 24; 2Tim ) he
could not have preached the Mosaic law. However, he specially mentioned in his
writings that Jesus, as his custom was, went into the synagogue on the Sabbath
day (Lk 4:16), and that the women from Galilee rested on Sabbath in obedience
to the commandment (Lk 23:55-56); he also recorded that Paul went into the
synagogue on the Sabbath as his custom was to reason with the Jews from the
Scriptures (Acts 17:2). This fact tells us that all Christians, whether Jew or
gentile, must also keep the Sabbath according to God’s commandment.
Isaiah’s prophecy that foreigners will keep the
Sabbath further confirms that Gentile believers in the New Testament will keep
God’s Sabbath (Isa 56:6-7). So Sabbath observance is not only limited to the
The Sabbath is a sign between God and Israel.
But it is not ONLY an Old Testament token. It is also a commandment and it has
a significance that applies to Christians (Heb 4:9-11).
We were once sinners and were under the bondage
of sin and Satan (Jn ),
but Christ has freed us from this bondage (Rom 8:2; see Acts 26:18). Just as
the Israelites needed to keep the Sabbath to remember God’s deliverance from
the land of Egypt, we also need to keep the Sabbath
to remember God’s deliverance from the bondage of sin.
12.7 God did not command the patriarchs to observe
the Sabbath day. Clearly, the command to keep the Sabbath was only meant for
the Israelite nation.
The Bible also does not record that God gave the
Ten Commandments to the patriarchs. Does this mean that the Ten Commandments
were only meant for the Israelite nation?
God did not formally give his commandments to
his people until the Israelites were led out of Egypt and entered the wilderness.
Sabbath observance, being on one of God’s commandments, was thus not formally
decreed before that.
The fact that we find no record that God
commanded the patriarchs to observe the Sabbath does not necessarily mean that
the patriarchs did not keep the Sabbath; nor does it deny God’s institution of
the seventh day as the Sabbath day since the beginning.
The Ten Commandments had never been abolished;
they still need to be kept by Christians today (Lk -20; 1Cor ; 1Jn 5:2-3; ). God’s commandments were first given to the Israelites
was God’s chosen nation, not because the commandments merely applied to the
12.8 Romans 10:4 states that Christ is the end of
the law. It is a mistake to preach that Christians today should still observe
the law by keeping the Sabbath.
Here Paul is talking about the Israelites trying
to establish their own righteousness by observing the law rather than
submitting to God’s righteousness (v. 3). He is not saying that Christ did away
with the law. Even Christ himself stated that he did not come to abolish the
law but to fulfill it (Mt -20).
The passage is not teaching that Christ had done away with God’s commandments,
but that a person is justified by believing in Christ, not by keeping the law.
The purpose of keeping the Sabbath is not to
gain our own righteousness; instead, we are fulfilling our duty by obeying
God’s commandments under the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
12.9 Jesus and the apostles never teach that
Christians should observe the Sabbath. In Acts 15:28-29, Sabbath observance is
not included as a requirement. So Sabbath observance has been done away with in
the New Testament.
It’s true that the New Testament never
specifically instructs Christians to keep the Sabbath; however, it also never
states that Christians need not keep the Sabbath. The Lord Jesus kept the
Sabbath (Lk ; ; Mk 6:2). And so did the
apostle Paul (Acts -14;
; 17:1-2; 18:4). Luke
also confirmed Sabbath-keeping by Christians (see question 12.6, point 3).
Sabbath observance was not instructed because it
had long been a custom ever since the Old Testament (Acts ).
Just because Sabbath observance is not included
in the requirements prescribed by the apostles, this does not mean that it had
been done away with. There are many other commandments which are not included
(e.g. do not murder, do not steal). The believers were expected to learn the
other commandments from the synagogues on every Sabbath (Acts -21).
12.10 The sum of all the commandments is love for
God and man (Mt -40).
As long as we have love for God and for others, it is not important whether we
keep the Sabbath.
How can we love God and not keep his
commandments? We show our love for God and for our brothers by obeying God’s
commands (1Jn 5:2-3; Jn ).
In Mt 22:37-40, Jesus does not mean that love
for God and for others replaces God’s commandments, but that the underlying
spirit of God’s commandments is love.
12.11 The disciples held a service on the first day
of the week to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord (Jn ). We must do the same today.
The verse reads, “when the doors were shut where
the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews” (Jn ). It does not say that they were having a
At this point the disciples still did not
believe that the Lord had risen and were thus rebuked later by the Lord (Mk
16:9-14). Thomas, who was not present when Jesus appeared to them, was still
unbelieving (Jn -25).
If the disciples did not even believe in the Lord’s resurrection, how could
they have been celebrating it?
12.12 In Troas,
Paul and the believers worshiped on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Paul
stayed in Troas seven days, yet the passage
gives no mention of worship on the seventh day of the week. This proves that
the Christians always worshiped and partook the Holy Communion on the first day
of the week.
The breaking of bread here should refer to a
love feast or fellowship meal, which was a common practice in the Apostolic
period (Acts ; see
Jude 12). The phrase “breaking of bread” does not necessarily mean the Lord’s
Supper (see Lk vs.
Lk 24:30; Acts 27:33-35).
Paul’s companions were sailing while Paul was
speaking (v. 13). If the first day was the day of worship, Paul would not have
arranged his companions to be sailing while he himself was worshipping.
The passage does not mention the Sabbath because
Sabbath observance was a custom and needed not to be mentioned. The first day
of the week is mentioned instead because Paul was to leave the next day (v. 7)
and would probably never see the members again (Acts -25). So this special occasion deserves
In any case, we find no basis that Christians
should worship on the first day of the week rather than on the Sabbath.
12.13 In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul instructs the
church to make offerings on the first day of the week. Offering is a part of
worship (Heb 13:15-16; Deut 16:16; Phil 4:18). The Corinthians must have been
worshipping on the first day of the week and this is why Paul specified that
day to be a day of offering.
Here Paul is not telling the members to have
worship services on the first day of the week and at the same time make
offerings. Paul was suggesting that on the first day of the week each member
should set aside (or “save” in NIV) some of the money earned (or things stored)
the previous week so that “there be no collections when I come.” This
instruction is only to facilitate the collection of offerings.
Paul specifies the first day of the week rather
than Saturday probably because Saturday is a day to rest from labor. It’s also
quite possible that he wanted the believers to set aside the donation at the
beginning of the week (Sunday) so that it would not be consumed during the rest
of the week.
12.14 The majority of Bible commentators agree that
“the Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10 is the day of Christ’s resurrection.
Christians today should observe the Lord’s Day.
None of the writers of the New Testament,
including the apostle John himself, ever stated that “the Lord’s Day” was the
first day of the week. The conjectures by Bible commentators cannot be held as
The Bible never teaches that we should worship
on “the Lord’s Day” or on the first day of the week.
The Lord’s Day should refer to the “day of Jesus
Christ” (Phil 1:6; ;
1Cor 1:8) or the “day of the LORD” (Isa 13:6,9; Joel 2:1; Zeph ).
12.15 I can observe the Sabbath any day of the
week; I don’t necessarily have to observe the seventh day of the week. If I
think the first day is the best day, I’d keep the Sabbath on that day (Rom
14:4-6; Gal -11).
The Bible never says, “Choose one day out of
seven as a Sabbath day and observe it.”
The day (7th day) itself is a holy day and God
especially blessed this day. God has set this day aside to be a day of rest
God was very specific about exactly which day
the Sabbath was. In Exodus 16:23, God said, “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a
holy Sabbath to the Lord” (italics added). And in verse 26 Moses explains that
the seventh day (not any other day) is the Sabbath day. The same clarity and
explicitness are also expressed in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:9-11; Deut -14).
We must do what God has commanded us, not what
we feel is the best choice (see 1Sam ).
Rom 14:4-6 and Gal 4:10-11 do not refer to the
weekly Sabbath day but to the observance of special days. The context of Romans
14 shows that Paul was talking about Mosaic regulations on days and food (see
v. 2: refrain from meat). Gal 4:10-11 is even clearer in that it refers to
observance of special occasions prescribed in Old Testament regulations.
12.16 How can we be sure that the seventh day today
is the original seventh day God set aside in the beginning? It might be
possible that we lost track of time at certain points in the history of human
The Lord Jesus observed the Sabbath day (Lk ; ; Mk 6:2). So it should be beyond doubt that the day
had not been lost up to Jesus’ time.
The apostles confirmed the Sabbath kept by the
Jews (Acts ). Paul
himself also kept the Sabbath (Acts -14;
; 17:1-2; 18:4).
During the same period, sun worshippers observed
Sunday and Sunday worship was later brought into the church. Yet the Jews were
still keeping the Sabbath (7th day). Both practices have been observed until
Although the Jews have been dispersed to
different parts of the world, they all have been keeping the Sabbath on the
same day even until today.
The seven-day week is found in many countries
around the world since ancient times, and the days are the same from country to
God, the creator of the Sabbath as well as the
universe, would not have allowed His sacred day to be lost.
12.17 When Joshua fought the Amalekites, “the sun
stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a
whole day” (Josh -13).
So Sunday is actually the original seventh day (see diagram3).
God’s definition of a day is not a 24-hour
period. Rather, a day is marked by evening and morning (see Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19,
23, 31 cf. Lev ).
A correct diagram3 is shown below:
If a day had indeed been lost at Joshua’s time,
the Lord Jesus would have been observing the wrong day (see Lk )—an impossibility, since Jesus
himself is the creator and the Lord of the Sabbath (Mk -28).
12.18 At the time of Gregory XIII, 10 days were
dropped from the Julian calendar in 1582. The British countries did not conform
with the calendar change until 1752, when they dropped 11 days out of the
calendar. So it is clear that the Sabbath cannot fall on today’s Saturday.
The dates were changed, yet the days of the week
remained the same:
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
The Julian calendar was put into effect 45 years
before Christ and the change to the calendar had no effect on the days of the
week. In other words, the Saturday today on which we keep the Sabbath is the
same seventh day of the week as it had always been since Jesus’ time.
12.19 The world is divided up into time zones.
Saturday in China, for
example, comes earlier than it does in America. Which time zone should be
the standard if we wish to be so precise about the day of the week to observe
God knew long ago that the earth was a sphere
and that there would be time differences. God would not give a commandment that
is impossible to follow. We simply keep the Sabbath day from sunset to sunset
(or the corresponding hours) at our own locale.
If the objection’s misleading logic were to
hold, it would also be impossible for Sunday worshippers to decide which time
zone should be the standard to mark the first day of the week.
Harold J. Berry, What They Believe: Seventh-Day
Adventists (Lincoln: Back to the Bible, 1987) 23. (The quotation is an argument
made by the author, a professor of GraceCollege of the Bible; it
is not the belief held by Seventh-Day Adventists.)
In fact, there is no biblical evidence that
priests actually desecrated the Sabbath; they only performed their priestly
duties on the Sabbath as they were commanded to do. Jesus was using the logic
of the Pharisees to make a supposition (i.e. if the Pharisee’s standard holds,
the priests would have been violating the Sabbath by doing work on that day).
This is a modified version of the diagram
presented in Has Time Been Lost?, a publication of the World Wide Church of