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 (Q and A on Biblical Doctrines)
Chapter 15: Sabbath
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Q1 What is the Sabbath?

The Sabbath is a day of rest (Isa 58:13) which falls on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. It originated when God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. 

            Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

            Genesis 2:1–3

God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. His purpose in instituting it was to benefit man, hence the words of Jesus: “The Sabbath was made for man...” (Mk 2:27). 

Q2 What significance does it have?

The Sabbath has great significance for believers, for on this day, we are reminded of a number of important teachings:

God created the heavens and the earth. Many people do not believe in God, but the Bible points out that they are without excuse: the whole of creation testifies to His existence and His role as Creator: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). The Sabbath is the day on which God desires us to remember His creation work (Ex 20:11). It is also a sign that He is our God: “Hallow My Sabbaths, and they will be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God” (Ezek 20:20).

God has saved us. The Book of Deuteronomy records God’s words to the Israelites: “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). As Christians, God has similarly delivered us, saving us from the bondage of Satan and sin (Acts 26:18; Rom 6:17). For this reason, we must remember God’s saving grace each Sabbath.

God grants us a special blessing. The Book of Genesis records: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it…” (Gen 2:3). The prophet Isaiah explains that the blessing comes upon believers when they keep the Sabbath:

            If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding Your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

            Isaiah 58:13–14

The blessing that is the “heritage of Jacob” is recorded in Genesis 28:4: “And give you [i.e. Jacob] the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham.” This promised land was Canaan, a place that God calls an “everlasting possession” (Gen 17:8) and which symbolizes the heavenly kingdom. As Christians, we are the spiritual seed of Abraham and heirs on account of Christ (Gal 3:29). When we keep the Sabbath, we can expect to be blessed with this heritage. This truth is reinforced by Jesus, who teaches us to keep the commandments of God for eternal life (Mt 19:17).

We should be holy. God says, “Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (Ezek 20:12). God has given the Sabbath to everyone He has called—both Jews and Gentiles (Isa 56:6–7)—to remind them of the need to be holy. Elder Peter says, “But as He who called you is holy,  you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1:15); “But you are a chosen generation,  a royal priesthood,  a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).  

God gives us physical and spiritual rest. Genesis 2:2 records: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” In this verse,  the Hebrew word for “rested” is sabat, meaning “to repose, i.e. desist from exertion” and “to cease”.[1]  We know that our everlasting God does not tire (Isa 40:28), yet He rested from His work to show us to do likewise. This is why Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man...” (Mk 2:27). 

We anticipate a future heavenly rest. The writer of Hebrews says that the Sabbath prepares us for an eternal rest:

            There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.

            Hebrews 4:9–11 

This is the ultimate hope of all Christians. But the only way to secure this hope is through faith and obedience to God’s commandments (Heb 4:1–13).

Q3 When was the Sabbath included in the Ten Commandments? 

God included the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, after the Israelites had left Egypt.

            Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

            Exodus 20:8–11

Q4 Did God’s people keep the Sabbath before then?

Yes, the Bible records God instructing the Israelites to observe the Sabbath soon after they departed from Egypt, before their arrival at Mount Sinai. He did this in tandem with the bestowal of manna, guiding the people to gather manna for six days and to rest on the seventh. Hence, Moses declared, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord…’ ” (Ex 16:23); “See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” (Ex 16:29). 

Q5 Was the Sabbath only meant for the Israelites?

The belief that the Sabbath was solely for the Israelites is a misconception for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Sabbath transcends race: the Bible records clearly that it was established by God at the beginning of time, before the Israelites even existed (Gen 2:3). Secondly, every person has a duty to remember God’s creation, for we are all beneficiaries (Ex 20:11).  Thirdly,  even though we may not be able to relate directly to God’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, we are mindful that we were once slaves to sin (Rom 6:17) and had to be saved by God through the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:18–19). Hence, just as He freed the Israelites from the oppression of Pharaoh, so He has freed us from the power of Satan (Acts 26:18). Fourthly, we note that when God delivered the Ten Commandments, He also instructed the Israelites to ensure that the Gentiles in their midst could likewise enjoy the Sabbath (Ex 20:10; Deut 5:14).

Finally, the Book of Isaiah speaks of a time when Gentiles will keep the Sabbath. God will bring them to His holy mountain—His church—where they will worship Him with joy. 

            Also the sons of the foreigner
Who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him,
And to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant—
Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
Will be accepted on My altar;
For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.

            Isaiah 56:6–7

Today, we are experiencing the fulfilment of this blessing and are reminded of Paul’s teaching that God is also a God of the Gentiles (Rom 3:29).  

Q6 Has Jesus not abolished the law, including the Ten Commandments?

The first point to note is that the Sabbath predates the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments. It was established by God at creation (Gen 2:1–3), two and a half thousand years before He delivered the law at Sinai. Moreover, God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath even before their arrival at Sinai (Ex 16:23–30).

The second point to note is that when Jesus came to the world, He did not abolish the law:

            Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

            Matthew 5:17–19

Here, the word for “fulfil” is pleroo in Greek. It has various nuances of meaning, including to “make full”, “complete” and “make perfect”. [2]  Jesus fulfilled the law by making it full, complete and perfect: He made clear the spirit of God’s law and highlighted the fact that God now requires us to keep His commandments from within our hearts (see Matthew 5–7). In terms of the Sabbath, He taught and showed us through personal example a number of important truths: the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mk 2:27); it is a day for doing good to others (Mt 12:12); God desires mercy over sacrifice (Mt 12:7); He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mt 12:8). 

Q7 How did Sunday observance come about?

History indicates that Sunday observance came about gradually, after the passing of the apostles:

• Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, taught Christians to observe the “Lord’s Day” (Sunday) in addition to the Sabbath from about ad 100.[3]

• Tertullian, writing in the third century ad, advocated the need for Christians to rest on Sunday.[4]

• From the fourth century ad onwards, church councils began enforcing Sunday worship—the first being the Council of Elvira around ad 300.[5]

• In ad 321, the Roman emperor Constantine decreed Sunday to be a public holiday and outlawed work. Later emperors added other prohibitions.[6]

• Around ad 364, the Council of Laodicea (in Phrygia Pacatiana) stipulated the following in its 29th Canon:[7]

Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.

Q8 What justification does the Catholic Church give for Sunday observance?

The justification for Sunday observance can be found in the literature of the Catholic Church. The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine,[8] for example, gives the following explanation:

            Q. What is the Third Commandment?[9]
A. The Third Commandment is: Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.

            Q. Which is the Sabbath day?
A. Saturday is the Sabbath day.

            Q. Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
A. We observe Sunday because the Catholic Church transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.

            Q. Why did the Catholic Church substitute Sunday for Saturday?
A. The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday, because Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday, and the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles on a Sunday.

            Q. By what authority did the Church substitute Sunday for Saturday?
A. The Church substituted Sunday for Saturday by the plenitude of that divine power which Jesus Christ bestowed upon her.

            Q. What does the Third Commandment command?
A. The Third Commandment commands us to sanctify Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

            Q. What does the Third Commandment forbid?
A. The Third Commandment forbids (1) The omission of prayer and divine worship; (2) All unnecessary servile work; (3) Whatever hinders the keeping of the Lord’s Day holy.

            Q. Is the desecration of the Lord’s Day a grievous matter?
A. The desecration of the Lord’s Day is a grievous matter in itself, though it admits of light matter.

In addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church[10] states:

            Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath.

            Paragraph 2175

The sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.

            Paragraph 2190

Q9 What were the religious associations of Sunday before the Catholic Church adopted it as their day of worship?

The very name “Sunday”[11] is indicative of its pagan associations:

            The Babylonians named each of the days after one of the five planetary bodies known to them and after the Sun and the Moon, a custom later adopted by the Romans. For a time the Romans used a period of eight days in civil practice, but in ad 321 Emperor Constantine established the seven-day week in the Roman calendar and designated Sunday as the first day of the week.

            Week”, Encyclopaedia Britannica[12]

This day was dedicated to the worship of the sun in the time of the Roman Empire.[13] However, in ad 321, Emperor Constantine decreed that all judges, city people and craftsmen rest on “the venerable day of the sun”.[14]  This move benefited those Christians who had been observing the Lord’s Day (Sunday) as their day of rest and worship, for their practice became more acceptable to the hostile pagan world. They reinterpreted the pagan name “Sunday” to signify Christ, the “Sun of Righteousness” (see Mal 4:2).[15]

Q10 Did the apostles replace the Sabbath with Sunday worship?

No, they did not. From the Bible, we see no evidence of the apostles substituting the Sabbath with Sunday worship. On the contrary, after Jesus’ ascension, they continued observing the Sabbath, worshipping and preaching in the synagogues. Examples in the Book of Acts include:

Paul and Barnabas in Antioch: “But when they departed from Perga,  they came to Antioch in Pisidia,  and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down” (Acts 13:14); “And the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44).

Paul and Silas in Philippi: “And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there” (Acts 16:13).

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1–2).

Paul in Corinth: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). 

Furthermore, it is reasonable to expect that, if the apostles had abolished the Sabbath or replaced it with Sunday worship, we would see evidence for it in the New Testament Scriptures. This is because changes to traditional practice, such as circumcision, provoked great feeling and debate in the early church (see Acts 15:2, 7). However, there is no indication that this happened with the Sabbath. 

Finally,  where the Bible does mention church activity on the first day of the week, there is no indication that the believers were observing Sunday in place of the Sabbath. For example, Acts 20:7 records: “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.” From the previous verse, we understand that Paul had stayed in Troas for seven days. Finally, on the first day of the week, the disciples gathered to break bread and to listen to his message before his departure the next day. In short, this was a farewell service. Another often quoted reference is 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” Here, Paul was simply instructing the members in Corinth to put aside their donations for their fellow brethren in Jerusalem on the first day of the week, so that there would be no last minute rush when he next visited them. We note that he did not state the need to do this in conjunction with a church service.  

Q11 Is there any biblical basis for the argument that Christians should observe Sunday in place of the Sabbath in order to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus?

No, there is not. While the Bible records that Jesus resurrected on the first day of the week (Mt 28:1–8; Lk 24:1–3), there is no reason to infer that Christians gained a new teaching to observe Sunday in place of the Sabbath.

Christians who argue the need for Sunday observance often cite Revelation 1:10 in an attempt to prove the overriding significance of this day. However, there are two problems with this argument: one is that there is no indication that the “Lord’s Day” mentioned in this verse refers to Sunday; a second is that, even if the “Lord’s Day” did refer to Sunday, we still cannot assume that we have a new commandment to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection on this day, or that it replaces the Sabbath. The Bible simply does not give us these teachings.  

Concerning the argument that Jesus abolished the Sabbath, again, there is no biblical basis for this. He neither abolished it, nor gave His disciples a new commandment to observe Sunday. Instead, we learn that Jesus Himself observed the Sabbath (Lk 4:16; 6:6), as did the apostles (Acts 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:1–2; 18:4). What Jesus did do was to teach the people about the true significance of the Sabbath—for example, that it is a day for doing good to others (Lk 6:9). Moreover, when challenged for not complying with the rabbis’ legalistic regulations, He declared, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Lk 6:5). In other words, the Sabbath belongs to Jesus; indeed, He instituted it because He was the one who made the heavens and the earth and rested on the seventh day (Jn 1:1–3).   

Q12 How should Christians observe the Sabbath?

God has always intended the Sabbath to be a joyful day—a day for believers to rest and receive His blessings. Jesus, who is Lord of the Sabbath, encourages us, saying:

            Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

            Matthew 11:28–30

From His words, we understand that He would never give us a heavy burden to bear, especially not on the day that He has gifted to us.

In terms of how we ought to observe the Sabbath, the Bible gives us the following teachings:

To rest from our secular work: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Ex 20:8–10).

To keep it holy: “Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil” (Isa 56:2; cf. 58:13–14).

To gather with others to worship God: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation…” (Lev 23:3); “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:25).

To read the Bible: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Lk 4:16); “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21).

To pray: “And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made…” (Acts 16:13).

To listen to the word of God: “And the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44).

To preach God’s word: “Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught” (Mk 1:21). 

To do good deeds: “…Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mt 12:12).


© 2012 True Jesus Church.

[1]      Strong’s reference no. H7673.

[2]      Strong’s reference no. G4137.

[3]      Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians 9, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

[4]      Slater, T., “Sunday”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912). New Advent.

[5]      “Church year”, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2009.

[6]      “Sunday”, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2009.

[7]      Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, vol 14, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Henry Percival (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1900). Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

[8]      Geriermann, Peter, The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine (Saint Louis, MO: Herder Book Co., 1946).

[9]      Note: In the New King James Version of the Bible, the Sabbath commandment is the fourth commandment (see Exodus 20:8–11). But, as the commandments are not specifically numbered, the Roman Catholic Church states: “The division and numbering of the Commandments have varied in the course of history. The present catechism follows the division of the Commandments established by St. Augustine, which has become traditional in the Catholic Church.”

[10]    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition (Sunday Visitor: 3/1/2000).

[11]    Latin, Dies Solis, “Day of the Sun”.

[12]    “Week”, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2009.

[13]    Unger, Merrill F., The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[14]    Documents of the Christian Church, ed. Henry Bettenson (OUP: 1976).

[15]    Unger, Merrill F., The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

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