The Holy Sabbath
Sabbath In History
The Sabbath Was Established During the Creation
“So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it,
because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation” (Gen
God completed his creation on the sixth day. And
on the seventh day, God sanctified the day as a “holy day,” i.e. a sabbath day,
and blessed the seventh day. This is the origin of the holy sabbath (Gen 2:1,
2; Ex 20:8–11).
God First Commanded His People to Observe the
Sabbath After the Exodus
After the fall, the Bible did not mention the
sabbath again until Israel
came to the wilderness of Sin. Moses said to Israel, “Tomorrow is a day of
solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD” (Ex 16:1, 23). The holy sabbath was
thus made known to Israel
in the wilderness after the exodus. The sabbath became a day when people and
animals could rest from their labor (Ex 23:12). Thus, after God’s command, the
people rested on the seventh day (Ex 16:30).
In the wilderness, Israel was given manna—a heavenly
food. The Israelites need not worry about food—God’s wondrous provision recalls
the Edenic days (Gen 2:16). However, some Israelites failed to keep the sabbath
according to the Lord’s grace and provisions (Ex 16:25–29).
The Sabbath Was Included in the Ten Commandments
Since Israel did not observe the sabbath,
God specifically included its observation in the Decalogue, which was written
by God himself (Deut 9:10). The Fourth Commandment reveals the sabbath’s
significance and reads:
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six
days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to
the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your
daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the
sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the LORD made heaven and
earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore
the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex 20:8–11; cf. Deut
God intended Israel to remember his creation by
this commandment. Thus, we can infer God also meant the sabbath for Adam and
Eve to enjoy in the wonderful garden of Eden.
The reiteration of the Decalogue by Moses
stresses the remembrance of God’s salvation (Deut 5:15).
Failure to Keep the Sabbath Led to the Babylonian Captivity
The people of Judah profaned the holy sabbath
(Jer 17:21–23; cf. Ezek 20:12, 13). Through prophet Jeremiah, God warned his
people about the consequences of failing to observe the sabbath: “But if you do
not listen to me, to keep the sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and
enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire
in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be
quenched” (Jer 17:27). Unfortunately, the Israelites were stiff-necked. During
Zedekiah’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, came to burn down the holy temple
and the royal palaces. Numerous people died, and the people of Judah
fell into captivity. Thus, the seventy years of Babylonian captivity finally
offered the opportunity for the land to enjoy its sabbaths (2 Chr 36:17–21).
Sabbath Observation was Enforced During and
After the Rebuilding of the Temple
In order to fulfill Jeremiah’s
prophecy, God moved Cyrus, king of Persia, to release God’s people at
the completion of seventy years (Jer 25:11, 12). Thus, the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the
temple (2 Chr 36:22, 23). At that time, however, some Jews transgressed the
sabbath. Nehemiah, their governor, rebuked them severely by saying, “What is
this evil thing which you are doing, profaning the sabbath day? Did not your
fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this evil on us and on
this city? Yet you bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath”
(Neh 13:15–18). Therefore, he ordered the Levites to close the city gates on
the sabbath so as to hallow the day (Neh 13:19–22). From then on, the Jews
strictly observed the sabbath day up until the apostolic era. However, the
rules became even stricter during the Hasmonean, i.e. Maccabean era. As time
went on, the prohibitions on work and other activities became more and more
stringent. The rabbis of the second century imposed many additional regulations
aimed at enhancing sabbath day’s sanctity.
Purpose Of Establishing The Sabbath
The Lord Jesus said, “The sabbath
was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27). The establishment of the
sabbath is not to bind people with elaborate regulations under the law, but
rather it is for humanity’s benefit.
To Remind Humanity of God’s Creation
The sabbath is a memorial day of
the completion of God’s creation. As established by God, the sabbath allows
humanity to remember God is the Creator and Provider of all creation (Ex
20:8–11; Ezek 20:20).
To Allow People Physical and Spiritual Rest
“Six days you shall do your work,
but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your ass may have rest,
and the son of your bondmaid, and the alien, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12).
The Bible tells us that the everlasting God, the
Creator, does not faint and is not weary (Isa 40:28). God does not need to
rest, but out of his love for the world he created the sabbath in order to give
a day of rest and refreshment to his creation.
Rest became necessary in Adam’s days, because
Adam had to till and keep the garden (Gen 2:15), and had dominion over the
whole earth (Gen 1:28). The establishment of the sabbath day was a provision
for Adam. God blessed this day (Gen 2:3); and those who keep the sabbath will
not confront serious “hardships in life,” in the sense of not being able to
survive (cf. Ex 16:29). Obviously, day to day hardships that all humanity
encounters are excluded.
To Remind Humanity of God’s Salvation
“You shall remember that you were
a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out thence
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God
commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). People forget God and his
grace quite easily. Therefore, God demanded the Israelites to have a holy
convocation on this day in memory of his deliverance of his people from bondage
(Lev 23:3; Ps 103:2, 3). In the New Testament, God’s chosen should all the more
remember the Lord’s salvation and grace, since Jesus redeemed us from the
bondage of sin and death. We must especially remember the Lord’s great
salvation on the sabbath (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor 5:14, 15).
To Remind God’s People That God Sanctifies Them
“Moreover I gave them my
sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I the LORD
sanctify them” (Ezek 20:12). The sabbath, given by God, is a grace to those who
keep it. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it in creation (Gen 2:3).
Consequently, it is different from the other days of the week. God wants his
people to keep the sabbath day holy and to avoid profane activities (Neh 13:22;
Isa 58:13, 14). Thus, sabbath observance generally consists of a church
gathering for the following reasons: spiritual communion with God, listening to
God’s word, and a striving “for peace with all men, and for the holiness
without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14; 1 Pet 1:15). So the sabbath
reminds God’s people that he sanctifies them (2 Thess 2:13; Heb 10:10, 14).
To Allow the Chosen
People to Look Forward to the True Rest in the Heavenly Kingdom
The sabbath is a present type of
the coming true rest in heaven. After God’s redemptive plan is accomplished, he
will let his children enter the eternal rest in the kingdom of heaven. The
Bible says, “There remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever
enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his” (Heb 4:9,
10). There is no true rest in this world (Ps 90:10), except in the Lord (Mt
11:28, 29). Having the promised eternal rest in the future, we should keep the
sabbath while looking forward to the Lord’s second coming. For at the second
coming Jesus will receive the saved ones into the heavenly kingdom to enjoy the
true, eternal sabbath. Thus will we leave behind the pangs and sufferings of
the world (Rom 8:22, 23; Heb 4:1).
Did The Early Church Keep The Sabbath?
The sabbath is the seventh day
(Gen 2:1–3), which is Saturday according to the Roman calendar (Lk 23:56–24:2).
However, many Christian churches still observe Sunday. But according to the
Bible, there is no evidence of sabbath observance on Sunday in the early
church. The following biblical passages are often used as “proof” texts by
Sunday observers state the Lord Jesus
resurrected on the first day of the week, which instituted a new sabbath.
Christians should therefore observe Sunday. However, the Bible does not tell
believers to observe or remember the day of the Lord’s resurrection.
In the four Gospels, “the first day of the week”
is recorded in six places (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2, 9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1, 19); yet,
none of these six passages record the disciples gathered to commemorate the
The reason the Bible specifically records “the
first day of the week” is to emphasize the fulfillment of prophecy—namely, that
Lord Jesus would be buried and would arise on the third day.
John 20:19 states that the Lord appeared in the
midst of his disciples. This cannot be regarded as a Sunday observance proof
text since the disciples’ were hiding for fear of the Jews. Moreover, the Lord
did not appear to the disciples on the first day alone, for the Bible clearly
records the Lord appeared to the disciples “after eight days” (Jn 20:26; cf.
Some regard John 20:19 as grounds for the
disciples’ Sunday observance, but the Bible is clear when it says the doors
were shut for fear of the Jews. Furthermore, while the Lord Jesus appeared on
that first day, some of his disciples (e.g., Thomas) did not even believe the
Lord resurrected (Mt 28:17; Mk 16:14; Jn 20:25). How then can we assume the
disciples already began to keep a Sunday sabbath in memory of the Lord’s
Some take Acts 20:7 as an illustration of Sunday
The breaking of bread in Acts 20:7 was not
necessarily a church doctrine or custom. There is no fixed date for breaking
bread, since the Bible records believers breaking bread daily in the temple and
at home, i.e., house churches (Acts 2:46, 47).
This gathering in Acts 20:7 could continue until
midnight because there were many lamps in the upper room (Acts 20:8).
The lengthy gathering was held because Paul
intended to depart the next day (Acts 20:7, 11). It was a farewell service. How
can we use this verse to assert the disciples substituted Sunday observance for
Some hold that 1 Corinthians 16:2 supports
Sunday sabbath observance. However, close analysis reveals the weakness of this
argument. “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something
aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be
made when I come.” First, the passage gives no indication a meeting was held
nor is there indication offerings were given on Sunday. Paul merely told the
believers to lay offerings gained during the previous week aside so that
contributions would be unnecessary on Paul’s arrival.
Some quote Revelation 1:10 as proof of Sunday
sabbath observance. However, close analysis reveals that “the Lord’s day” is
not necessarily the Lord’s resurrection day (Sunday). The support for Sunday
observance in Revelation 1:10 is pure speculation according to the biblical
text. Likewise, quotations supporting the “Lord’s day” theory from early church
fathers are speculation as well. The church fathers probably used this verse to
fit the church practice of Sunday observance after the apostolic period, which
shows the drifting away of the church from the truth. Thus, the Sunday
observer’s speculative interpretation of Revelation 1:10 cannot be verified by
the Bible. While it is true “the Lord’s day” (thought to be Sunday, the day of
Christ’s resurrection) appeared in post-biblical writings, the allusions to the
Lord’s day, in second century and later writings, reflect the then current
practice of celebrating “the Lord’s day.” By that time, celebrating the Lord’s
day was gradually coming into vogue, especially after the apostles and early
Christians, who kept the true sabbath (Saturday), died. So all literature from
the early church fathers cannot be presented in support of the Lord’s day. The
Lord Jesus never instituted Sunday observance and no biblical authority
sanctions observance of “the Lord’s day” as a Sunday sabbath. On the other
hand, both the Lord and the apostles observed and respected the true sabbath
under grace. The Lord Jesus claimed that the Son of man is the lord of the
sabbath (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28). The sabbath is a day set apart by the Lord in truth
and in grace. God clearly declared that the sabbath is his holy day (Isa
58:13). Since the sabbath is God’s holy day, we should not follow our own holy
day(s) or our own pleasures and traditions.
So we should recognize that the
first day of the week is not the sabbath nor is it necessarily “the Lord’s day”
in Revelation 1:10. Rather, John was revealed the things to come by the Lord
Jesus on the “Lord’s day,” which could very well be the sabbath day (i.e.,
Saturday). For if any day is indeed the Lord’s day it should be the day God
blesses and calls his holy day (Isa 58:13).
Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?
Many Sunday observers assert Christians need not keep the sabbath since
they are not Jewish. Thus, many Sunday observers are really non-sabbath
observers, since even Sunday is not sacred. In light of this argument, let us
examine the following:
1. God gave the sabbath to Israel, because they were the
chosen people by whom his oracles and will were proclaimed to the world (cf.
Rom 3:1, 2).
The Lord Jesus said that “the sabbath was made
for man” (Mk 2:27). So God established the sabbath after he had created man on
the sixth day. When the Lord said “man” did he only refer to the Jewish man?
Most likely not, since there were no Jews in the beginning; in fact, there were
no racial differences in the beginning. Thus, we are all “man,” i.e., human
beings, and the sabbath was made for us according to Jesus.
The Bible tells us that strangers who joined
themselves to the Lord had the privilege of enjoying the grace of the sabbath
(Isa 56:2–7). Many of these strangers were Gentiles.
The sabbath reminds humanity of God’s creation.
Is God the God of the Jews only? Can Gentiles be exempted from remembering the
Creator and from worshipping him? (Eccl 12:1, 13; 1 Cor 8:6; Phil 2:9–11).
Many non-sabbath observers argue Christians are saved by grace, so they
do not need to keep the Ten Commandments. However, according to the Bible:
Salvation does not come from the works of law,
but through the Lord’s precious blood and faith in the Lord (Rom 3: 25, 28).
However, under the grace of the Lord, Christians
can never abolish the Ten Commandments, nor should they transgress the
commandments at will. Paul told us to uphold the law through our faith (Rom
3:31, 6:15; cf. Mt 19:17; 1 Cor 7:19; Rev 12:17, 14:12). The ordinances of the
law have been taken away by the cross, and so we need not follow the rules and
rituals in a legalistic manner (Eph 2:15; Col 2:14, 16; Heb 9:10). Nevertheless, the
fulfillment of the law does not mean that the Ten Commandments are obliterated,
perverted, or twisted. Rather, Christians must keep the “spirit” of the moral
law, i.e., the commandments, through the help of the Holy Spirit. Keeping the
“spirit” of the law is a much higher standard than the legalistic keeping of
the law, for it is written in our hearts rather than in letter only (cf. Mt
5:17, 18, 21–23; Heb 8:10; Jas 2:10–12).
Observing the sabbath under grace differs
greatly from the legalistic observance according to the Old Testament and
additional Jewish traditions (Ex 35:1–3; Num 15:32-36). Observing the sabbath
under grace is neither a burden nor a bondage (Mt 12:1, 2; Mk 3:1, 2).
Actually, sabbath under grace can be seen as a return to the rest of Edenic
days—loving, joyful, peaceful, and healing—since Christians enjoy spiritual and
physical blessings from the Lord (cf. Gen 2:3; Ex 16:23–25; Lk 12:9–13; Jn
Non-sabbath day observers argue that the sabbath is “a shadow of the
things to come,” and Christ came to eliminate the sabbath. Thus, Christians are
not required to observe sabbath any more. However, according to the Bible:
In Colossians 2:16–17, the food, drink,
festival, new moon and sabbath are a shadow of the things to come, but the
substance is of Christ. These “shadows” are “eliminated” or overtaken by the
cross. The Passover has, for instance, moved from the shadow to true substance,
which came with Christ (1 Cor 5:7, 8). The ceremonial laws in the Old Testament
concerning food and drink are no longer observed in the New Testament, but the
substance of the food and drink cannot be done away with—the substance coming
with Christ. Likewise, the stifling legalistic or rabbinical rules, oral or written,
concerning sabbath observance are abolished by the Lord Jesus; however, the
true substance of the sabbath itself, instituted by God from the beginning,
cannot be eliminated.
So from Colossians 2:14–17, Christians should
clearly understand that we must not return to legalistic regulations, lest we
incite judgment from others (2:16). However, Christians should take care not to
judge another Christian because he or she keeps the sabbath under grace. As
stated, sabbath observance under grace is very different from observance under
law. So the “food, drink, festival, new moon, and sabbath” under the law are
merely a shadow of things to come, for the substance is indeed of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ gave us victory by his death on the cross, on which all the ordinances
and rituals were nailed with the Lord. Though we do not observe the Old
Testament sabbath ordinances and practices, we must still observe the sabbath
under grace lest others judge us hypocrites, i.e., do not take the sabbath
lightly just because we are no longer bound by stringent regulations. Do not
use liberty as a cover for vice. The “things to come” in Colossians 2:17 may
refer to the completion of the Lord Jesus’ work of salvation at his second
coming, when we shall enter the true and eternal substance of sabbath rest
found in Christ (Heb 4:10).
Non-sabbath Sunday observers use Galatians 4:10 and Romans 14:5–6 as
evidence that there is no difference in keeping the sabbath on Saturday or
Sunday, since the observance of either day is unto the Lord. However, according
to the Bible:
“One day,” “another day,” and “everyday” do not
refer to “the sabbath” or “Sunday” at all in Romans 14:5–6. Close analysis of
the passages in context reveal that these two verses mainly deal with special
fasting and feast days, including all the fleshly ordinances of food, drink,
washings, etc. (Heb 9:10). In the Old Testament, there were many feasts and
days of fasting, such as fasting on the day of atonement (Lev 16:29–31,
23:27–32), fasting on the day of Purim (Est 9:31), and fasting in the fourth,
fifth, seventh, and tenth month (Zech 8:19; cf. 2 Kgs 25:25; Jer 39:1, 2,
Looking at the two passages in context, we
understand some believers of the early church followed legalistic practices of
the Old Testament, observing days (feast and fasting days), new moons,
sabbatical years, and dietary laws. Many of these believers simply focused on
the legalistic practices forgetting the true substance of the gospel. For this
reason, Paul exclaimed, “I am afraid I have labored over you in vain” (Gal
4:11). The fact is that Galatians 4:10 and Romans 14:5–6 were not written to
refute the sabbath. We know this for at least two good reasons. First, Paul
himself observed the sabbath under grace according to his custom (Acts 17:2).
Second, we must remember that the sabbath controversy between keeping the
sabbath versus Sunday had not yet arisen during Paul’s time, when he wrote the
two epistles. The sabbath controversy only arose after Sunday observance became
popular and was proclaimed by Constantine
in A.D. 321, which was many years after Paul.
Jesus Christ And The Sabbath
Non-sabbath Sunday observers
often maintain Lord Jesus abolished the sabbath. Therefore, we should look into
the statements and actions of Jesus on the sabbath, since he is lord of the
sabbath (Mt 12:8).
Failed to Honor the Sabbath
captivity to Babylon
was due to their failure to honor the sabbath unto the Lord (2 Chr 36:17–21;
Jer 17:27). After returning from Babylon,
many Jews deeply understood that the rise and fall of their nation depended on
the observance of God’s laws (Neh 13:15–22). In fact, many Jews made oaths that
they would keep the sabbath from then on without fail (Neh 10:29–31).
In light of this stress upon
sabbath observance, rabbinical tradition added many rules to the sabbath. The
Mishnah1 codified 39 different kinds of work forbidden on the sabbath. These
additional traditions are complicated and burdensome regulations that bind
sabbath observers to the sabbath, i.e., making man for the sabbath. In
contrast, the Lord Jesus said “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for
the sabbath.” According to Jewish tradition, anyone who transgressed the rules
would be expelled from the synagogue by the rabbis.
Jesus Christ Observed the Sabbath
While Jesus was in the world, “he
came to Nazareth,
where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was,
on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read” (Lk 4:16).
In another instance, Jesus went
down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught the people on the sabbath
As the Son of man, Jesus himself
“ceased,” in a symbolic sense, his work on the seventh day (Jn 19:31), rested
in the tomb, and resurrected on the first day of the week to continue his work
of salvation (Lk 23:54–56, 24:1, 2).
Jesus Christ Instructed the Disciples to Keep
The controversy between the Lord
Jesus and the Pharisees mostly concerned the legal aspect of the sabbath (Mt
12:9–14; Mk 3:1–6). The reason was not because the Lord Jesus did not observe
the sabbath, but because
the method, attitude, and perspective of sabbath observance between the Lord
Jesus and the Pharisees greatly differed (cf. Jn 9:14–16).
During Jesus’ time, the Jews kept
the sabbath under the Mosaic law, in addition to the many traditional
restrictions. According to the law, prohibitions and rules were strictly
enforced, including the following:
No labor is allowed on the sabbath (Ex 20:10).
No fire is to be kindled on this day (Ex 35:3).
All should rest on this day even during plowing
and harvest time (Ex 34:21).
Any one who profanes the sabbath shall be put to
death (Ex 31:12–17, 35:2; Num 15:32–36).
The Lord Jesus—the Lord of the
sabbath—brings us abundant grace (Jn 1:14, 17). Jesus redeemed us from the
curse of the law (Gal 4:5). Therefore, the Lord’s sabbath observance does not
follow the fleshly ordinances of the law. Under God’s grace and favor, Jesus
observed the sabbath as a free, joyful, and gracious blessing rather than a
burden (cf. Gen 2:3; Ex 16:23–25; Isa 58:13).
Although both kept the sabbath,
the Pharisees kept it under the law, while the Lord Jesus kept it under grace.
For this reason, the Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for looking upon him as a
law-breaker. The Lord Jesus came to proclaim the true substance of the sabbath.
Thus, Jesus set an example of sabbath observance for his disciples, keeping the
sabbath in a gracious manner despite constant threats and persecution from
The Controversies Surrounding Jesus’ Sabbath
At one time, the Pharisees pointed out the
“unlawful act” of the Lord’s disciples on a sabbath day. The “unlawful act”
concerned one sabbath when the hungry disciples, following Jesus through the
grainfields, plucked heads of grain to eat. Upon seeing this, the Pharisees
took offense, seeing the act as a form of labor (Mt 12:1, 2). However, Jesus
justified their act by quoting precedents accepted by the Pharisees themselves:
David and his followers unlawfully ate the bread
of the Presence out of hunger (Mt 12:3, 4, 7).
The priests in the temple profaned the sabbath,
and were guiltless. They were justified because any work performed in the
temple was considered temple service. The temple typifies Jesus Christ (Jn
2:19, 21) and all the disciples are priests (Rev 5:9, 10). Thus, if the
disciples performed acts under the Lord’s grace, they should be considered
guiltless, even though they did not stop working on the sabbath (Mt 12:5, 6,
The Pharisees opposed to Jesus’ healing of the
sick on the sabbath.
One sabbath day, Jesus healed a man who had a
withered hand (Mt 12:9–13). The Pharisees were offended by Jesus’ act. The Lord
Jesus countered, “What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit
on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value
is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath” (Mt 12:11,
On a sabbath day, Jesus healed an invalid man
who had suffered for 38 years by the pool of Bethzatha in Jerusalem. At the hypocritical protest of the
Pharisees, Jesus became furious. He answered, “If on the sabbath a man receives
circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me
because on the sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?” (Jn 5:5–18, 7:23).
On the sabbath the Lord cured a woman from her
spirit of infirmity for 18 years. The ruler of the synagogue was indignant at
the miraculous cure, saying, “There are six days on which work ought to be
done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” Then the
Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie
his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not
this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be
loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Lk 13:11–16).
From the above passages, the
contention between the Lord Jesus and the Jews was not focused on the sabbath
day itself, since the Lord did not mean to change the day at all. Rather, the
emphasis is on the manner and attitude of keeping the sabbath. The Pharisees
kept the sabbath according to the Mosaic law and the rabbinical tradition, but
the Lord Jesus kept it under the Lord’s grace since he himself is the lord of
The instructions of the Lord can
be summarized as follows:
It is lawful to do the service of God on the
sabbath (Mt 12:5; Jn 7:23).
It is lawful to do good work on the sabbath (Mt
12:12; Mk 3:4).
As the Lord’s disciples, we
should follow Jesus’ example—putting aside all secular activities on God’s
designated sabbath. What we should do on the sabbath is: to remember God’s
grace, to worship him, and to perform good deeds that glorify his name (Gen
2:3; Isa 58:13, 14; Mt 15:9).
The Apostles Observed The Sabbath
Many Christian churches are
inclined to lay the abolition of the sabbath on the Lord and the apostles.
There is no scriptural evidence to support either the Lord Jesus or the
apostles abolished the seventh-day sabbath. On the contrary, we see that Paul
and the other apostles of the Lord kept the sabbath, which was their custom
(Acts 17:1, 2).
Paul and Barnabas at Antioch
“But they passed on from Perga
and came to Antioch of Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the
synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets...” (Acts
13:14, 15). “The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear
the word of God” (Acts 13:44).
Paul and Silas at Philippi
“And on the sabbath day we went
outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of
prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (Acts
Paul and Silas at Thessalonica
“Now when they had passed through
Amphipolis anApollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue
of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued
with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1, 2).
Paul at Corinth
“And he argued in the synagogue
every sabbath, anpersuaded Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
James at the Jerusalem Council
James testified at the council,
“For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him,
for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:21).
The Lord Jesus told the disciples to pray that
their flight would not be in the winter, nor on the sabbath day (Mt 24:20).
When the Roman army came to
in A.D. 70, the Lord knew the disciples would still keep the sabbath.
Who Changed The Sabbath Day From Saturday To
If the Lord and the disciples did
not abolish the sabbath, who did? How did Sunday, often called “the Lord’s
day,” come to replace the seventh-day sabbath?
According to the Catholic Church, “The Church of God [i.e., the Catholic Church] has in
her wisdom ordained that the celebration of the sabbath should be transferred
to the Lord’s day” (Catechism of the Council of Trent, Donovan translation,
1829, p. 267).
“It was the Catholic Church which, by the
authority of Jesus Christ, has transferred this rest to the Sunday in
remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord. Thus the observance of Sunday by the
Protestants is a homage they pay, in spite of themselves, to the authority of
the [Catholic] church” (Mgr. Segur, Plain Talk About the Protestanism of Today,
The Sunday legislation has, dated from the first
Sunday edict issued by the Emperor Constantine in March, 321 B.C., been
mortified and carried on in Christendom.
The term “the Lord’s day” did not appear in any
civil legislation concerning Sunday until the year A.D. 387, more than two
generations after the first law (“Sunday,” Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of
Religious Knowledge, Vol. 11, p. 147).
Sunday observance has been existing in
Christianity side by side with Sunday activities regulated by the civil
legislation of the secular world.
“Is there no express commandment for observing
the first day of the week as the sabbath, instead of the seventh day? None
whatever. Neither Christ nor his apostles, nor the first Christians
celebrated the first day of the week instead of the seventh as the sabbath”
(New York Weekly Tribune, May 24, 1900).
Dr. Edward T. Hiscox (Baptist) commented, “There
was anis a commandment to ‘keep holy the sabbath’, but that sabbath was not
Sunday. It will, however, be readily said, and with some show of triumph, that
the sabbath was transferrefrom the seventh to the first day of the week....
Where can the record of such a transaction be found? Not in November 16, 1893).
“It [the Roman Catholic Church] has reversed the
fourth commandment, doing away with the sabbath of God’s word, and instituting
Sunday, as a holy day” (N. Summerbell, History of the Christians, p. 418).
“Sunday is a Catholic institution, and its
claims to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles ... From the
beginning to the end of the Scriptures there is not a single passage that
warrants the transference of weekly public worship from the last day of the
week to the first” (Catholic Press, Sydney, Australia, August 25, 1900).
“The Catholic Church ... by virtue of her divine
mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday” (Catholic Mirror, Baltimore,
September 23, 1893).
“Question: Which is the sabbath day?
Answer: Saturday is the sabbath day.
Question: Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
Answer: We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church in
the Council of Laodicea ... transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday”
(Rev. Peter Geiermann, C.S.S.R., The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine,
3rd edition, 1913, p. 50, a work which received the “apostolic blessing” of
Pope Pius X, January 25, 1910).
“The seventh-day sabbath was ... solemnized by
Christ, the apostles, and primitive Christians, till the Laodicean Council did,
in a manner, quite abolish the observation of it ... The Council of Laodicea
(A.D. 364) ... first settled the observation of the Lord’s day” (Prynne’s
Dissertation on the Lord’s day, pp. 33, 34, 44).
“Question: Have you any other way of proving
that the Church
[Catholic] has the power to institute festivals of precept?
Answer: Has she not such power she could not have done that in which all modern
religionists agree with her: she could not have substituted the observance of
Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh
day of the week—a change for which there is no scriptural authority” (Rev.
Steven Keenan, A Doctrinal Catechism, p. 174, New York: Edward Dunigan &
Church history gives ample evidence of the
origin of Sunday observance, “a venerated day of the sun,” which has pagan
rather than biblical origins. The Catholic Church abolished the sabbath, an act
that she has triumphantly declared to the world. Therefore, Christians should
not assume Jesus and his disciples substituted the first day of the week
(Sunday) for the seventh day (Saturday) just because it is a long-standing
tradition. Rather, Christians must return to the truth and observe the true
sabbath under the Lord’s grace (cf. Mt 15:9; Rev 22:18, 19).
How Do We Keep The Sabbath?
So far, we have examined: how the
sabbath was established by God at creation; how it was made known to Israel
before the giving of the law; how it was included in the Ten Commandments; how
it was related to the severe legalistic rules of the Old Testament; and how it
was given new significance by the Lord Jesus, whose observation practices were
handed down to the apostles. Let us now look into the Scriptures for how we
should observe the sabbath:
Put Aside All Secular Activities
“If you turn back your foot from the sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the
holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or
seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly...” (Isa 58:13).
Attend Church Services/Gatherings
“Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh
day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work on
it; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings” (Lev 23:3).
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and
he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood
up to read...” (Lk 4:16).
“The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered
together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44).
Perform Evangelical and Charitable Works
“And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he
entered the synagogue and taught” (Mk 1:21).
“And on the sabbath day we went outside the gate
to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat
down and spoke to the women who had come together” (Acts 16:13).
“So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath” (Mt
12:11, 12; Mk 3:4, 5).
As for the time calculation of
the sabbath day, it is to be kept “from evening to evening” (Lev 23:32, cf. Mk
1:21, 32). That is, from Friday evening to Saturday evening.
At first glance, it may seem
difficult to reconcile the different time zones around the globe. However, all
we need to do is honor and keep the sabbath according to the time and dates of
the local area. Therefore, regardless of the country where a true believer
dwells, he or she can keep the sabbath according to God’s commandment, and
enjoy the abundant spiritual blessings.