Ask Me Anything - The Sabbath: Is it Saturday or Sunday? Does it Matter
March 04, 2020
Ask Me Anything
The Sabbath: Is it Saturday or Sunday? Does it Matter
I think everyone knows what the Sabbath is. And what is means: to rest, cease working, desist. And I think most folks also know it was and is a big deal to the Jews. But there might be confusion among Christians as to when it is? Is it Saturday or Sunday? Does it even matter? Let’s see if we can answer that tonight.
The origin of the Sabbath
It points to the day God rested after creating the heavens and earth
Genesis 2:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
The seventh day is SATURDAY.
That idea and example was later…
It was codified in the Mosaic law
Exodus 20:8–11 (ESV) — 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 31:16–17 (ESV) — 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’ ”
So the Sabbath day was (is) Saturday, and it’s a reminder of God’s work in creation. It was so important God encoded it into the Ten Commandments so that Jews would make time to rest and reflect on who God is and what he’s done. By the time of Jesus, the Saturday Sabbath had evolved into a day of worship with Jews gathering together for Scripture reading and teaching from a rabbi, as well as a day of rest and reflection on God. Jews gather for this in synagogues every Saturday to this day.
The answer to the question of “When is the Sabbath?” is not up for debate. It is Saturday. Period. But that leads us to another question: Are Christians obligated to keep the Sabbath as presented in the Ten Commandments? Or put another way, are we wrong to skip the Saturday Sabbath and worship on Sunday?
To answer that question we must look at…
The Sabbath in the NT
During the life of Jesus
Sabbath is the 1st century was ordered according to volumes of rabbinic tradition concerning what one could or could not do on Saturday – down to the minute details of things like making clay from spittle and how far you could walk on Saturdays.
It is interesting that some of the biggest clashes between Jesus and the Pharisees occurred over issues with the Sabbath.
Mark 2:23–28 (ESV) — 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Luke 13:10–17 (ESV) — 10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
John 5:1–18 (ESV) — 1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
In the life of the early church
After Jesus was crucified, raised, and ascended back to the Father, a new creative work of God came about through his Spirit. The church was born. The early church, the newborn church we see in Acts 2 was exclusively Jewish (Jesus came to the Jew first and then the Gentile).
Those first Jewish Christians did not abandon the Sabbath.
Acts 13:13–15 (ESV) — 13 Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, 14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.”
Acts 16:11–14 (ESV) — 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 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. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
Messianic Jews today celebrate the Saturday Sabbath as well. But with the resurrection of Christ came a new day of importance for the people of God, the first day of the week — SUNDAY. It became a day of worship, fellowship, and teaching.
Acts 20:7 (ESV) — 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.
1 Corinthians 16:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 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 there will be no collecting when I come.
Sunday later came to be called the Lord’s Day.
John, in the book of Revelation, received the visions on this day…
Revelation 1:10 (ESV) — 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
At the beginning of the second century, Ignatius — an early church father — wrote, “Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days” ( Epistle to the Magnesians, IX; The Ante-Nicene Fathers [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 1:63).
Later in the second century, Justin Martyr described how Christians of his day worshiped:
On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits…. Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because …Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. ( First Apology, LXVII; [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 1:186)
So, historically Jewish Christians have kept the Sabbath on Saturday, making that their day of worship and rest as followers of Christ. Gentile Christians historically have abandoned the Saturday Sabbath and worshipped God on Sundays, the Lord’s Day.
Is that wrong? It is one of the Ten Commandments for heaven’s sake. The Seventh Day Adventists would say so. In fact, for them, worshipping on Sunday is the mark of the beast. I believe they are our brothers and sisters, but I also believe they are wrong on this matter.
Before you get worried, listen to ten reasons given by a preacher/theologian of reasons why it’s OK to worship on Sunday:
“First, although a day of rest and worship is demonstrated by God in the creation, the Saturday Sabbath was given to Israel as the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 31:16–17; Ezek. 20:12; Neh. 9:14). Since Christians are under the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6ff.; Heb. 8), they are not required to observe the sign associated with the Mosaic Covenant.
Second, there is no command in the New Testament for Christians to observe the Sabbath.
Third, even during the Mosaic economy, the Old Testament neither commanded the Gentile nations to observe the Sabbath nor condemned them for failing to do so. That offers further proof that the Sabbath was given to Israel only.
Fourth, there is no record in the Bible of anyone’s observing the Sabbath before the time of Moses. Similarly, the first command to keep the Sabbath appears in the law given to Moses at Sinai (Ex. 20:8).
Fifth, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) did not impose Sabbath-keeping on the Gentile believers.
Sixth, the apostle Paul warned the Gentiles about many different sins in his epistles but never about breaking the Sabbath.
Seventh, Colossians 2:16–17 describes the Sabbath as a shadow of Christ; the shadow is no longer binding on us since the substance (Christ) has come.
Eighth, in Galatians 4:10–11, Paul rebukes the Galatians for thinking that God expected them to observe special days, such as the Sabbath.
Ninth, Romans 14:5 declares observing the Sabbath to be a matter of personal preference among converted Jews. It was to be tolerated until they became more mature in the understanding of their Christian liberty. Therefore it could not be something God requires believers to do.
Tenth, the book of Acts and the subsequent writings of the early church Fathers make clear that the church from earliest times met for worship on Sunday.”
I think, like so much of the NT, we are confronted with keeping God’s commands (those given to Israel under the old covenant) more in principle as recipients of the new covenant. This places a greater burden on us in some ways (Matthew 5:21ff where Jesus talks about “You have heard it said.. but I say to you).
As long as we keep the Sabbath in principle, setting aside time weekly to worship God and rest from labors, we are good. For most Christians this would be Sunday.
John MacArthur, Acts (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994, c1996), 326.
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