Rev. Thomas Key
While most Christians worship on Sunday, several groups insist that Christians should observe a Saturday Sabbath. Many make it a strong, divisive issue of fellowship and contend that going to church on Sunday instead of Saturday is committing sin. Let us go to the Bible and prayerfully consider two Questions: Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath? On which day does the Bible say we should worship?
Must Christians Keep the Sabbath?
Keeping the Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy…” (Exodus 20:8-11). “It shall be a Sabbath of rest unto you.” (Leviticus 16:31). But who is the “you” to whom God was speaking? Israel. The Hebrews. “My Sabbath,” God said, “shall ye [the Hebrews] keep; for it is a sign between me and you [the Hebrews] throughout your generations.” (Exodus 31:13).
Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament. The only exception is the fourth commandment. While the New Testament mentions Jews keeping the Sabbath, it is not given as a requirement for Christian believers.
Jesus himself, who said He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17),repeatedly broke the Sabbath. When Jesus told the paralytic man whom he had just healed to take up his bedding (John 5:8-10), that man broke the Sabbath at Jesus’ direction. In John 5:16-18, He said that God the Father also works on the Sabbath! And He defended his disciples when the Pharisees rebuked them for breaking the Sabbath by gathering grain.
If we read all of the Bible references to “Sabbath” and “worship”, we will see that devout Hebrews worshipped seven days a week. The Sabbath was for rest from work, not for the only day to worship God.
Exodus 20:8-11 said that Hebrews, their children and servants were to do no work on the Sabbath. Exodus 16:23 forbade the gathering of food or even cooking on the Sabbath. A Hebrew who deliberately broke this law by gathering firewood on the Sabbath was executed (Num. 15:32-36). But when the Pharisees asked why Jesus and His disciples did on the Sabbath “that which is unlawful,” Jesus replied: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:24)
It is appropriate for believers to rest one day a week, but we are not commanded to do so. In fact, those insisting on mandatory Sabbath keeping were rebuked in the New Testament: “Let no man….judge you…of the Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16-17) “One man [a Jewish believer] esteemeth one day above another; another[a Gentile believer] esteemeth every day alike…” (Romans 14:5). The latter to the Galatians was written specifically to assure believers of their liberty from Jewish regulations, including Sabbath observance. (e.g. Galatians 3:24-25)
While Jews were recognized by their keeping of Sabbaths, feasts, sacrifices, the food laws, circumcision, etc., Christians were to be recognized by their genuine love for each other (John 13:34), their loyalty to Jesus (Acts 11:26) and their following the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:2; Ephesians 1:13, 4:30; 5:18).
If Sabbath-keeping was essential to getting to heaven, why is there no evidence that God required Adam Enoch, Noah, Abraham and all the others before Moses to observe it? The law was given to rule the unruly.
Modern living makes it necessary for to be working seven days a week to provide for electricity, water and sewer treatment, hospitals, hotels, ships, airplanes, cafes, care of livestock, police and fire protection, etc.
If we follow Old Testament Sabbath prohibitions, Ex. 35:3 forbids starting fires on Sabbath – making survival difficult or impossible in cold climates. Think about the earth’s polar regions where days and nights are six months long at times! And note Ex. 31:13-17 condemns to death any who do not keep the whole law.
Also, with modern travel, crossing the international date lines easterly can skip a Sabbath, and going westward can cause two!
It is important to remember, as John 1:17 says: “..the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” One of the most obvious aspects of the law given by Moses to a rebellious generation was the keeping of the Sabbath. We longer live in the age of law, but of grace. Christ brought an end the heavy yoke of the law. Must we pick it up again?
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Gal 2:21)
Worship On Saturday?
New Testament letters to believers do not command worshiping on Saturday. The letters in the New Testament by Peter, James, John (and Paul’s letter to the Hebrews) were all written by Jews who had become followers of Christ. Not one of them instructs Jewish believers to have Saturday worship. Revelation 1:10 speaks of “the Lord’s day”, a typical term for the Sunday day of worship observed by early Christians because that was the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The early church worshiped as Christians on Sunday. Acts 20: 7 shows that in Paul’s ministry, Christians met for the Lord’s supper and preaching, not on the Jewish Sabbath, but on the first day of the week, “and on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them…”
Near the end of the first century, a letter of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, tells of Christians meeting to worship on the first day of the week. The Didache [The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles], written around c. 80-120 A.D., says “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanksgiving after having confessed your sins.” Other early church writings also overwhelmingly confirm Sunday worship for Christians.