The Simple Reason: God Asks Me to Keep the Sabbath
The simple reason for me to keep the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath is that it’s one of God’s Ten Commandments found in the Christian (and Jewish) Scriptures, the Bible. Why do I choose to believe and obey the Bible and the God of the Bible? That’s another topic, but I believe the reasons for that are also compelling!
The Sabbath commandment is the only commandment to start with the word “Remember” – implying that it might easily be forgotten. The fourth commandment (Ex 20:8-11) makes it very clear which day is meant: i.e., the seventh day of the week.
Christians (and even non-Christians) around the world still affirm the importance of the Ten Commandments (see http://www.tencommandmentsday.com/). Jesus and many of the New Testament writers also affirmed the keeping of the Ten Commandments.
OK, so I’ve given the simple reason, but that probably wouldn’t satisfy everybody, so I’m going to go into more detail here. As you can see, I’m basing my belief and practice on the Bible as my authority, informed (and also limited) by my understanding of it until now. I don’t profess to have complete understanding of everything in the Bible; so this discussion is not intended to be ‘the final word’ and I’m always happy to learn more.
Note: I reference Bible texts throughout, on the assumption that the reader will check their own Bible (or an online one – e.g. http://www.biblegateway.com) to see and decide for themselves (cf Acts 17:11).
Weight of Biblical Evidence Contradicts Current Empirical Evidence
Not only is there overwhelming evidence supporting the current value and applicability of God’s Ten Commandment law, but there was also unanimous empirical support for keeping the Sabbath throughout the millennia of history covered by the Bible. That is, all the Bible writers and main characters, including Jesus Himself, faithfully kept each Sabbath.
Further, on simple reading and interpretation of the Scriptures, it appears obvious that the day God intended for us to keep was always to be the seventh-day Sabbath, not any other day. It is true that there are some obscure texts (which we’ll look at in some detail) that some people suggest mean God either changed the Sabbath to another day or abolished it. Such conclusions are actually very hard to reach from Biblical evidence alone, but because the overwhelming majority of Christian churches around the world worship on Sunday, this current empirical evidence seems to make it much more difficult for sincere and faithful Christians to see the Biblical evidence for the seventh day. Many of God’s people are unfortunately missing the blessing of the seventh-day Sabbath because of this. The Bible gives us clear warnings about following the crowd instead of the Scriptures (Acts 5:29, Mark 7:7,9, Matt 7:13,14).
So there are a few things that we need to cover to understand this present situation. We’ll cover such things as when, why and how Christians started worshipping on Sunday, and whether the Bible really does suggest a change or abolition of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath is a Huge Blessing to Me!
But first I would like to share why the Sabbath, for me, is such a blessing. In today’s post-modern world, experiential support is often (though incorrectly) weighted above any other form of evidence, so I’ll happily deal with this right up front. I believe God always gives us commands that are entirely consistent with His character of love (1 Jn 4:8) and that actually give us freedom (James 2:12) because they are designed for our happiness. Indeed, the Bible says that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
How does the Sabbath contribute to my happiness? It is a day that has as its focus dwelling in the presence of God – building my relationship with Him, and sharing “God time” with fellow believers. It’s much like sharing a birthday or anniversary with someone special. Actually that is what the Sabbath is – it’s the earth’s birthday, because the Sabbath is the day God finished His amazing work of Creation. So not only do I go to church and spend time with fellow believers, but I also spend time in nature, admiring the beauty of God’s Creation that has withstood centuries of sin, death and degradation. Given there are bad things in this world that have marred the perfection of God’s original Creation, the Sabbath is also a time to remember God’s promise of recreation – recreation of a New Earth (Rev 21) and also His recreation of His own image in us. Our creation and recreation in God’s image is a past, current and ongoing reality, as well as a future reality in completeness (Gen 1:26, 1 Cor 15:52-54, 2 Cor 3:18).
Our bodies seem to be designed to take a weekly rest. Nearly every culture, business, industry or institution uses a weekly schedule. Interestingly, the seven day week cannot be conclusively traced to any other origin than the story of Creation. And it is certainly my belief that when God created us, He knew that we would need a weekly day of rest and worship to revitalise. Hence the Bible says the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Interestingly, when humans have tried to operate on any cycle other than a seven-day week, it has resulted in burn-out – even for animals made to work a 10-day week! But this practical reason for a seven-day week doesn’t point specifically to the seventh day as being special, so we’re also dealing the question of which day.
Does God Still Ask Us to Keep the Sabbath?
The basic and obvious answer to this question is that God expects us to keep the seventh-day Sabbath just as much as He expects us to keep any other of His Ten Commandments (e.g. “Do not kill”, “Do not steal”, etc. – see Ex 20:3-17). There are several texts in the Bible that quite clearly show that God’s seventh-day Sabbath day is still important today, and that the Ten Commandment law is still binding today. There are also some texts that seem to say that special ceremonial laws and days are no longer important after Jesus’ death and resurrection – and we’ll need to look at that, to see if the Sabbath is included or excluded in that which was brought to an end at the cross. There are actually no texts that even remotely ask us to honour the first day of the week, and we’ll look at that in a little more detail, too.
First, there are many texts which highlight the perpetuity of the Sabbath:
- The Sabbath was instituted at Creation as part of a perfect world, before sin (Gen 2:1-3).
- The Sabbath will be kept in the New Earth (Is 66:22,23).
- The Sabbath was given to all of mankind, not just to Jews (Mk 2:27,28, cf Creation).
- Jesus and Paul kept the Sabbath (Luke 4:16, Acts 13:42-44), as did every other Bible character both before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, it cannot be argued that Paul simply kept the Sabbath because others around him did, because he voluntarily kept the Sabbath with believers where there was no established Christian church (e.g., Philippi, see Acts 16:13).
- Jesus predicted and advocated that the Sabbath would be kept at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, many years after his death (Matt 24:20).
- The Lord still has a special day at the end of the first century (“the Lord’s day”, Rev 1:10). Which day that is isn’t specified in Revelation, but it is in Matt 12:8, Mark 2:27,28 and Luke 6:5 – i.e., the seventh-day Sabbath.
- The Sabbath was established for all mankind as a sign between God and His people (Ezek 20:12,20). It could be argued from the context that these texts are only addressing the Jews as God’s people, but the purpose of the Sabbath sign given (God’s sanctification of His people) is equally applicable today, therefore the Sabbath sign may also be argued to be equally applicable to all who are sanctified by God, including Christians today.
- God’s final message to mankind is a call to worship of the Creator (Rev 14:6,7). The basis of all worship is the fact that God created us (Rev 4:11). Worshiping God as Creator is giving honour to Jesus, the active agent in Creation (Eph 3:9). We worship Him as the Creator by keeping His Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11 – note the similar wording to Rev 14:6,7).
- Since the Sabbath is actually a memorial of Creation (the day that God rested), keeping another day and calling it the Sabbath (which means ‘day of rest’) does not make too much sense. How would your significant other feel if you decided that some other day other than their birthday or anniversary should be celebrated? Even God’s crowning work of redemption (Jesus’ death for our sins) involved Jesus’ body resting in a tomb throughout the Sabbath day.
- As Christians we have a ceremony, a ritual, instituted as a memorial and celebration of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus: baptism (Rom 6:3-6).
It seems fairly clear from those texts that there is abundant evidence in the Bible that the seventh-day Sabbath has continued, and was supposed to continue, beyond Jesus’ death. But since the Sabbath is a part of the Ten Commandments, and some say they are done away with, let’s also consider the question of whether there is any expectation of the Ten Commandments continuing. We won’t be able to go into all the detail on this question, as this is another topic in itself, but a few key points should suffice:
- The Bible is all about God’s dealing with the problem of sin. The Bible starts with a perfect Creation in the first two chapters of Genesis, then the introduction of sin in Genesis 3. The last three chapters mirror this: Revelation 20 is the final annihilation of sin and sinners, and Revelation 21 and 22 are God’s perfect recreated New Earth. In the middle is an abundance of stories, prophecies and instruction as to how we can avoid the penalty of sin, which is death. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)
- OK, so what is sin? Why do we humans deserve death? Sin is defined in the Bible as being the transgression (breaking) of God’s law (1 John 3:4). If you read through Romans, you can quite clearly see that we wouldn’t even have a ‘sin problem’ except that a law exists to point out sin (Rom 3:20, 5:13; 7:7; 7:13, etc).
- God’s law cannot be changed (Ps 89:34, Deut 4:13) – it is for this reason that our salvation required Jesus’ death.
- God’s commandments are eternal (Ps 111:7,8), and they existed before Sinai or Jews (Gen 26:4,5).
- They reflect God’s character of goodness and love (Ps 119:172, Rom 7:12).
- They lead us to see our guilt and lead to our conversion (Ps 19:7, Rom 3:20).
- The law serves the purpose of a mirror – pointing out our problem (James 1:23-25).
- We are not “under the law” (Rom 6:14) as a means of salvation, because all that the law can do is reveal our guilt, not cleanse it. But salvation (thankfully) comes totally and always by grace through faith (Eph 2:8) just as it always did, even before Christ’s death (see Titus 2:11, Acts 4:12, Hebrews 4:2; 11:1-40, Ps 51).
- It is God’s purpose to write His law in our hearts under the new covenant (Heb 8:10). But it should be noted that this new covenant was always God’s purpose – not simply after Jesus’ death and resurrection (see Gen 17:7,13,19, Jer 31:33). God found fault with the people’s side of the bargain, not with His own eternal covenant (Heb 8:8). This should hardly be surprising, since God cannot err, does not change (Mal 3:6), and His means of dealing with the sin problem – i.e. His covenant – was offered to man from the beginning as an everlasting gospel covenant (Rev 14:6, Gen 3:15, Rev 13:8).
- The problem Paul was addressing in Romans and Galatians was that the early Christians were misunderstanding the purpose of God’s law, and trying to keep it in their own strength as a means of salvation, just as the children of Israel had mistakenly done (Ex 19:8; 24:3,7, cf Heb 8:8). This was never God’s intention, since it was just as impossible for people by themselves to keep the law completely holy then as it is today.
- Paul specifically warned against trying to nullify God’s law by a misunderstanding of grace (Rom 3:31; 6:1,14,15).
- However, a love relationship with God does lead us to naturally keep His commandments (John 14:15), because God gives us power and desire to keep His laws (Ps 40:8, John 1:12, Rom 8:1-4, 2 Cor 5:17, 1 Jn 2:4,5, 5:3, cf Ezek 20:12,20).
- Jesus did not come to change the law (Matt 5:17-19) but to expand on it (Is 42:21, Matt 5-7). Jesus reveals how love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:10, Jn 14:15). When Jesus gave ‘new commandments’ based on love (Matt 22:37-40, cf Jn 13:34), He was actually summarising the Ten Commandment law, and even quoting from the Old Testament. Deut 6:5 says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” And Lev 19:18 adds “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The first four commandments “hang” from the principle of love to God, and the last six “hang” from that of love to fellow man.
- God emphasises that all, especially His last day people, should and will keep His commandments (Matt 5:19, Jn 14:15, 1 Jn 2:4, Rev 12:17, 14:12).
- God actually prophesied that His law (and specifically that which deals with time) would come under attack (Dan 7:25) and Jesus gave warning to those who would detract from the commandments (Matt 5:19). The final judgment scene of Daniel 7 is in response to the little horn power that attempts change “times and laws”. (The call to worship the Creator at a time of final judgement in Rev 14:6,7 is closely related not only to the 4th commandment as discussed above, but also this prophecy in Daniel 7.)
- Roman Catholic catechisms are evidence of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Dan 7:25. The 4th commandment (actually the 3rd in the Catholic version) is reduced to “Remember to keep holy the LORD’S day.” Specificity to the seventh-day is removed. Various catechisms explicitly explain how the Catholic Church changed the Sabbath to Sunday independent of any Scriptural basis. See http://www.sabbathtruth.com/sabbath_quotes.asp#Catholic and http://www.vatican.va/archive/compendium_ccc/documents/archive_2005_compendium-ccc_en.html.
- Most Christians today recognise the ongoing relevance of the Ten Commandments. In case there was any doubt, James and Paul make it very clear that they (in addition to Jesus) also uphold the ongoing relevance of these ten laws by specifically quoting and upholding them (James 2:10-12, Rom 7:7).
What was Discontinued or Changed at the Cross?
So there is a very strong Biblical case for the ongoing relevance and importance of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. But some people are confused because it is true that some things were discontinued at the cross, and we need to be sure that the Sabbath was not one of them.
The legal implications of any modification to the moral law (that which defines sin) which required Jesus’ death are quite profound. Therefore if there is any change to the moral law, then one would expect significant warning and explanation to the nature of the change in the Bible. We do have warning that enemies of God would think to change God’s law (Dan 7:25) but nowhere does the Bible indicate that the terms of our salvation or the identifier of sin (the moral law) would change.
What did change at the cross was that those ceremonial laws and events which were instituted in response to sin and that pointed forward to the coming Messiah were nailed to the cross (Eph 2:15, Col 2:14). The discontinuation of the ceremonial laws was with perfectly good reason, because why would you keep killing lambs when the Lamb of God has already taken away the sin of the world once and for all (Heb 10:1-14)?
Was the seventh-day Sabbath one of the things nailed to the cross? The wording of the texts suggests that it was not. The Sabbath was not a shadow of Christ, while other ceremonial laws and events were shadows (so see Heb. 8:5; 10:1, in their context of discussion of ceremonial laws of sacrifices: 8:1-5; 10:1-14). The weekly Sabbath, in fact, has eternal relevance regardless of whether sin had ever occurred or not, because it is a memorial of Creation. Further, the weekly Sabbath is a part of the Ten Commandment (moral) law, which, from the evidence given above, is unchangeable. The moral law defines sin and constitutes the reason we faced the death penalty until Jesus took it for us in our place. If that moral law could be changed, Jesus would not have had to die.
Let’s look a little more closely at these and other texts which might seem to suggest the Sabbath was included in that which was nailed to the cross, or was somehow changed:
- Col 2:14-17. This passage says that there were handwritten ordinances (cf. Eph 2:15) that were blotted out or nailed to the cross. There are some key things to note about this passage:
- The ordinances were “against us” (vs 14). Are the Ten Commandments “against us”? Specifically the Sabbath? Not according to Mark 2:27,28, which says the Sabbath was made “for” us. It is also inconceivable that God would give us the Sabbath, before humanity ever sinned, but that it would be against us. The ordinances that were “against us” involved the sacrificial system. These were unpleasant but a necessary object lesson in dealing with the sin problem. They became unnecessary when the substance or reality of Christ’s death and resurrection occurred.
- So in verses 16 and 17, where Paul advises that no one need to observe the Jewish ceremonial calendar, whose special days were also called ‘sabbaths’ (but not ‘the Sabbath’), it is quite clear that it is the ceremonial feast days because of verse 17. As already stated above, this verse says that they were a shadow of the coming Messiah. But when the substance had come, there was no need for shadowy symbolic ceremonies pointing forward to an event that had already happened! The condemnation surrounding matters of “food and drink” (offerings) and what was being observed/not observed at festivals, new moons or S/sabbaths was the crucial point. There were additional animal sacrifices and food/drink offerings offered at festivals, new moons and on the weekly Sabbath (see Num. 28:3-10: daily and weekly animal and food and drink offerings; 28:11-15: new moon/month offerings; 28:16 – 29:38: yearly festivals). So even if the seventh-day Sabbath is included in what was meant by “S/sabbaths”, then the shadow would only refer to ritual elements enacted on the day (cf Heb 8 and 10 again re “shadow”, as explained above). Lev. 23 has a clear demarcation between the ceremonial and the weekly sabbaths: v 3 heads up all the festivals with reference to the weekly Sabbath exalted, and v. 38 sets the weekly Sabbath apart; but the remainder of the chapter is about ceremonial sabbaths.
- Rom 14:5. This text seems to suggest that any day is as good as another, even though some regard one day as more important than another. The question is: important for what? Is Paul talking about a day of worship? Or a day to go to the market? Or a day to celebrate as an anniversary or birthday? Or a day to spend with family? Or a day to spend with God? The context says nothing about a day of worship or the Sabbath. Verse 1 sets the context – it is about “doubtful disputations”. The Sabbath, to Paul and the early Christians, was certainly not a doubtful matter. Everybody was keeping it. The rest of the Bible is also clear on the matter of the Sabbath. Verse 6 is key. It talks about eating and abstaining. Paul was talking about days of fasting and feasting – probably connected to the ceremonial feast days of the Jewish calendar. Some Jewish Christians believed fasting on particular days was important (cf. Luke 18:12). Paul is saying here that such days for feasts or fasts are a matter of individual conscience, not God’s command. To apply this text as justification for not keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is equally as (in)appropriate as applying it as justification for not remembering your significant other’s birthday or anniversary!
- Acts 20:7 is used by some to say that the early Christians met on the first day of the week, keeping Sunday holy. We have seen that there is abundant evidence of early Christians keeping the Sabbath (Acts 13:42-44; 16:12,13; 17:2; 18:4, etc). But this text is the only evidence of a first-day meeting of Christians. It is quite clear that Paul ministered to believers on many different days, not just Sabbaths. So this isolated text should not be considered as evidence for a change from Sabbath to Sunday, and particularly on closer examination. It is clear that Act 20:7 is talking about a night meeting during the dark part of the first day of the week. The Sabbath (as with all days) was observed from sunset to sunset (cf. Lev 23:32). The seventh-day Sabbath, therefore, is from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (Mk 1:21,32), so this night meeting on the first day of the week therefore had to be what we would now call a Saturday night meeting. Why was there a night meeting? Because Paul was to leave the next day (in the daylight hours of Sunday). So it seems that Paul had met with the believers all Sabbath, and continued the meeting into Saturday night, before leaving when daylight came. Travelling all day Sunday is hardly keeping Sunday holy. The New English Bible translates this passage explicitly as involving a Saturday night meeting, with Paul travelling on Sunday.
- 1 Cor 16:1,2. Here Paul advises the Corinthian Christians to put aside money as an offering on the first day of the week. Note that there is nothing suggestive of regular worship meetings, merely counsel to put money aside for later collection. In fact, the Greek expression is clear that the counsel is that the money be put aside at home. The advice also focuses on the work of deciding and allocating funds, rather than giving them. The former is appropriate on a ‘work’ day of the week, the latter on a ‘worship’ day. Paul was advising the Corinthians to do some budgeting for later collections, not weekly worship through giving.
So it seems that there is absolutely no Biblical support for the idea of Sunday sacredness, and only very weak but invalid support for the idea of the abolition of seventh-day sacredness. In fact I have heard that there have been offers of prize money to anybody who could find any form of Biblical support for a change from seventh-day to Sunday sacredness. So far those who have offered still have their money.
Various Positions on the Sabbath and the Ten Commandments
It is clear that there are some things under the label of “law” that were abolished at the cross and some that are currently binding (e.g. see Jn 14:15, Rev 14:12, etc). It is interesting that there is not a lot of agreement between Sunday-keepers as to the basis for abolishing the Sabbath. Was the Ten Commandment law completely abolished? Was just the fourth commandment abolished? Was it only changed, not abolished? Who changed it?
The Catholic church openly states that it changed the Sabbath to Sunday. Since there is nothing in the Bible to support this, Catholics claim that the majority of Protestants are actually still showing allegiance to the ‘Mother Church’ by keeping Sunday. I agree (see http://www.sabbathtruth.com/sabbath_quotes.asp#catholic).
You can see these multiple and confusing positions outlined from an anti-sabbatarian point of view at http://www.bible.ca/sabbath.htm and http://www.bible.ca/7-4-positions.htm. The only tenable position is that which I have outlined, otherwise in some way God is made to look vacillating by changing some aspect of a Ten Commandment (moral) law that should quite clearly be unchangeable.
Note that the history given on the http://www.bible.ca website conflicts with the evidence presented at http://www.sabbathtruth.com/history/sabbath_history1.asp. I will give a quick overview of my understanding of the history of the change from Sabbath to Sunday, but this is by no means intended to be exhaustive. Check the above links for much more evidence.
How did a Change from Sabbath to Sunday Happen?
It is clear that at some point the majority of Christians changed from worshipping on Sabbath to worshipping on Sunday. My understanding of this change is that it was gradual over the course of the first few centuries A.D., as the early Christian church deteriorated and compromised with the world. A few key points are listed:
- Christians actually started voluntarily celebrating the entire crucifixion weekend, focusing on the Friday, and making it a yearly celebration coinciding with the Jewish Passover.
- But both the Sabbath and the Passover were associated with identifying Christianity as a Jewish sect. Since the Jews were extremely unpopular in Rome, further changes were considered desirable.
- First it was a yearly Sunday celebration of the Resurrection.
- The Roman Empire at the time had a joyous sun-worshipping festival on Sunday (hence the origin of the name of the first day of the week).
- The emperor of Rome, Constantine, made a lot to compromises between pagan religion and Christianity for political expediency and gain. One of the things he did to combine the two religions was to transfer solemnity from the Sabbath to Sunday. A law in favour of Sunday was passed in A.D. 321. The church took action in the council of Laodicea in A.D. 336, also transferring the solemnity of the Sabbath to Sunday:
- “On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits.” Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vo1. 3, p. 1902.
- Around this time (4th Century AD), various councils and laws increasingly condemned the seventh day and exalted Sunday. Thus the pagan institution of Sunday sun worship became the Christian Sunday.
- “The church … took the pagan Sunday and made it the Christian Sunday … and thus the pagan Sunday, dedicated to Balder, became the Christian Sunday sacred to Jesus.” The Catholic World, Vo1. 58, No. 338, p. 809.