Evaluating the Observation of the Sabbath

In this article, I’ll take a look a rather controversial topic. Is the Sabbath meant to be held on a Saturday or Sunday? Must it be either/or? Let’s dive in.

A day of rest is vitally important. Not only can working seven days a week cause serious exhaustion and stress, it is also a day completely devoted to our Lord. For as long as I can remember arguments have existed over specific days the Sabbath is to be observed. Is it Sunday, or is it Saturday? Can it be any day of the week? While personal convictions hold Sunday as a day of rest, my goal is not to argue for a Sunday Sabbath, as I believe it to hold an entirely different purpose. Sunday is an observation of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as opposed to a traditional “Sabbath,” thus those who desire to observe the Sabbath on a Saturday I offer no condemnation or criticism. What I do hope to undo is the belief that those who do not hold to a traditional Saturday Sabbath are at risk of a loss of salvation. That Saturday and only Saturday is a command binding upon all men is the argument I wish to dismantle in this article.

Let’s begin by looking at a few verses used to argue for a Saturday Sabbath before diving into our findings,

“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:11)

Here I make no argument against the command of a seventh day Sabbath. Indeed, observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy was a vital part of God’s covenant with Israel. It was a binding command for them, however, does that mean it is the same for us today? A while back I wrote a three part series on how the old covenant harmonizes with the new. To clearly see what carries over and why we need to break the law up into three distinct categories.

First, some laws are known as universal morals. These are laws such as “do not murder,” “do not steal,” etc. As there are no disagreements among both skeptics and believers that these should be followed we need not explore them further.

Second, other laws are known as Cultural Universals. These are laws specific to Israel’s culture with a universal moral behind them. One of the best examples of this is in Deuteronomy 22:8-9, which says,

“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.”

The skeptic here may label this as useless in our modern culture, but they’re failing to see the moral behind it, which is important for us today. Not only that but a lot of Ancient Near Eastern cultures still build houses where the roof is used as an entire room. This room was/is used for things such as entertainment and household chores like laundry. Our modern equivalent is a balcony, so the moral law of providing safety is just as relevant to us today as it was back then. When it comes to the objection of God changing His mind, cultural universals are often brought up as evidence, but as we’ve shown, though circumstances may change, God still holds the values behind such laws.

Third, the final category of law is Ceremonial laws or Ritual laws. This is where sacrificial laws and dietary laws are set. I cover the purpose of these laws here. In summary, they were meant to set Israel apart from other nations as God’s holy people. Under the new covenant, the old ritual laws were superseded in Jesus and replaced with baptism and communion.

The law is a mix of moral absolutes and more complex specifics purposed for either a certain time or culture. Those desiring to bind a Saturday Sabbath to everyone today need to prove that the command doesn’t fit into either of the second or third categories.

An important verse regarding this subject is Colossians 2:14-17, which reads,

“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

In keeping mind that Sunday is an observation of the Resurrection as opposed to a “replacement” Sabbath, this is a post-resurrection passage that clearly states that there is no longer any binding to a specific day for the Sabbath. The case is made even stronger when we realize these verses parallel the commands of Numbers chapters 28-29, which mention the Sabbath in a wide list of Ceremonial laws which have all been superseded in Christ.

Galatians 4:9-11, likewise, emphasizes the point that a seven day Sabbath is no longer binding to us today,

“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.”

When we note that the context shows Paul arguing against the Judaizers who wanted to impose Jewish rituals on Gentile converts makes our case even stronger.

Another passage we can point to is Romans 13:8-10,

“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The entire law is fulfilled in the love for Jesus and those around us as love will lead us to live morally pure lives. Since the observance of the Sabbath, as we argued, isn’t a moral law, it needn’t be binding on us today.

A final passage we’ll look at in favor of this argument is Romans 14:4-6,

“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”

We can argue from these verses that, although a Saturday observance is completely justified, it does not follow that it is to be esteemed above any other since our rest is in Jesus as opposed to a specific day,

We’ll turn to look at a few more verses used to argue the position that a Saturday Sabbath is a binding commandment for all.

“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.” (Acts 17:2)

The question is, how do we know Paul was upholding a Saturday Sabbath here as opposed to knowing the Jews would be gathered on the Sabbath and that that was the best time to preach? The various verses in Acts only say that Paul went to the synagogues on the Sabbath, not that he held it as a binding law. These in no way exclude Sunday.

Similar could be said of Matthew 24:20. Whilst prophesying about the fall of the Jerusalem temple, Jesus prays that the disciples wouldn’t have to flee on the Sabbath. Wouldn’t the Sabbath simply be an inconvenient time due to the crowds?

Further arguments are made that Sunday is never seen as a holy day in the Scriptures, but these we needn’t address as Sunday isn’t a Sabbath but an observation of the Resurrection. For this, we can provide some Scriptural support.

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)

Sunday was an important day for the disciples to remember the Resurrection. If it were not so there would be no need to mention “the first day of the week.”

“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

Here is another example of Paul giving some significance to Sunday as a religious ceremony. Finally, Sunday, as a day of observance, was recognized by various Church Fathers.

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch,

“If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death—whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master.” – (Letter to the Magnesians(shorter) Chapter IX.—Let us live with Christ [A.D. 110]).

Origen,

If it be objected to us on this subject that we ourselves are accustomed to observe certain days, as for example the Lord’s day, the Preparation, the Passover, or Pentecost, I have to answer, that to the perfect Christian, who is ever in his thoughts, words, and deeds serving his natural Lord, God the Word, all his days are the Lord’s, and he is always keeping the Lord’s day. – (Origen Against Celsus. Book 8 Chapter XXII.)

Peter, Archbishop of Alexandria,

“No one shall find fault with us for observing the fourth day of the week, and the preparation, on which it is reasonably enjoined us to fast according to the tradition. On the fourth day, indeed, because on it the Jews took counsel for the betrayal of the Lord; and on the sixth, because on it He himself suffered for us. But the Lord’s day we celebrate as a day of joy, because on it He rose again, on which day we have received it for a custom not even to bow the knee.” – (The Canonical Epistle Canon XV.)

There are plenty of other testimonies from the early church fathers so we don’t have a shortage of evidence that Sunday was a significant day for many.

Overall, I hope this study has cleared up some confusion. Although discussion can continue let us remember that it is Christ that sanctifies and saves and not the law alone. No man is more worthy of salvation and love than another.

 

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