The seventh-day Sabbath is taught and kept holy in
accordance with biblical instruction. Instituted at Creation, reaffirmed
to Israel as a part of the covenant at Sinai and taught by Jesus Christ
who is the Messenger of the New Covenant, the observance of the Sabbath
is considered basic to a Christian's relationship with God.
The Church of God continues to observe the
seventh-day as did Jesus and the New Testament Church. The
Sabbath was established by God at Creation week; it was made for man,
reaffirmed by Jesus, taught by the apostles and kept down through the
centuries by faithful Christians. The importance of the Sabbath in the
Old Testament cannot be disputed. Its continued observance is
exemplified in the New Testament which confirms Sabbath-keeping as a
fundamental practice of Jesus and the apostolic Church.
The original twofold functions of the Sabbath in the
Old Testament were not ceremonial. The Sabbath (1) provided needed rest
for the body and the psyche; and (2) gave opportunity for closer contact
with God through study and prayer. When God established Israel as His
people, the Sabbath was utilized as the time for congregational
services, a commanded assembly of all the people. These needs are still
very much extant in the 21st century.
The weekly Sabbath celebration serves as a reminder
that God is Creator by its regular memorial of the Sabbath of Creation.
It also affords a view toward a future new creation resulting from God's
Kingdom on earth.
While a simple, straightforward command from God to
keep the Sabbath would be sufficient for us to keep it, an understanding
of the Sabbath's purpose and intent is helpful and enlightening. The
purpose behind most laws is clear, and that which lies behind the Old
Testament commands about the Sabbath is evident. Once this purpose is
understood, it becomes obvious why no New Testament restatement of the
basic command was necessary or even likely. The New Testament
discussions and examples concern how to keep the Sabbath (in
spirit rather than in a rigid, legalistic manner), not whether to
The most important New Testament statement on the
Sabbath was spoken by Jesus Christ as quoted in Mark 2:27-28. Jesus not
only affirms the Sabbath command, He also instructs us about its
purpose. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath:
therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath." Thus, it is
apparent that the Sabbath was made for men, for his spiritual and
physical benefit. It provides the means for loving God to a greater
degree by direct worship and, indirectly, by the spiritual renewal which
enables one to keep up a constant direction of mind toward godly matters
throughout the week. It is in our earnest attempt to express loyalty and
love toward our Creator and to worship Him in spirit and in truth that
we, as Christians, continue to keep the seventh-day Sabbath.
The English word "Sabbath" is basically an anglicized pronunciation
of a Hebrew word meaning "rest" or "repose." This Hebrew noun is itself
evidently related to the verb "to stop, rest or cease." This same verb
is found in ordinary usage (e.g. Lam. 5:14, "The elders have ceased from
the gate"). "Ceasing " is exactly what God did on the seventh day of
Creation week. In the Hebrew, Genesis 2:2 literally says that God
"sabbathed"-ceased" or rested-on the seventh day from all His work.
definition, the Sabbath is a weekly holy day, a solemn rest, an
appointed feast, a holy convocation (Lev. 23:3). As such it is a period
of time of approximately 24 hours reckoned from Friday evening sunset
until Saturday evening sunset. The period of observation is borne out by
the direct statement in Leviticus 23:32 on observing an annual Sabbath,
"from evening to evening."
Old Testament Period
The initial and cardinal passage about the Sabbath is contained in
the Creation account which reads: "Thus the heavens and the earth were
finished, and all the host of them. 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" (Gen. 2:1-3).
Since from the beginning the Sabbath is associated
with Creation week and specifically the creation of man, the Sabbath's
universal or cosmopolitan perspective sets it above any uniquely
Israelite law and practice. The Creation Sabbath is presented in much
the same way that the later prophets envisioned it-namely as an
observance for all mankind, for the Gentile as well as for the
Israelite. Therefore, while the Sabbath was later a functional part of
the covenant at Sinai (Ex. 20-24), its purpose and place are clearly
much broader than that. (For example, Isaiah 66:23 shows that all
nations will be observing the Sabbath during the millennial reign of
In Exodus 16 the Sabbath is once again explicitly
mentioned. This chapter records God's revealing of which day was indeed
the seventh of the week-the Sabbath-to the nation of Israel. God's great
efforts to show Israel His true Sabbath would, of course, be natural in
light of the importance given the Sabbath in the Creation account. He
would surely want His chosen people to know which day He had earmarked
as "blessed and sanctified."
The account of Exodus 16 shows the great importance
God places on a specific period of time for the Sabbath. The true
Sabbath could never be just one day, any day, out of seven. God caused
special miracles to ratify the holiness of the Sabbath-double the normal
amount of manna was found on the sixth day and the extra manna did not
spoil when left until morning as it would have on any other day. And
when some Israelites went looking for manna on the Sabbath, God told
Moses, "How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?" (v.
28). This statement is especially relevant since it took place before
the covenant at Sinai, proving both that the Sabbath predated that
covenant and that it is included as one of God's commandments and laws.
The additional significance of the account of Exodus
16 lies in the fact that it shows the supreme importance of the
Sabbath to God. The fact that God revealed and maintained the identity
of His Sabbath to Israel by the daily and the weekly miracles of the
manna-along with the clear example of the types of punishment meted out
upon those who broke the Sabbath as recorded in these
verses-reemphasizes that God's original Sabbath command was a law of
extreme importance. The fact that the events described in Exodus 16
actually occurred in Israel before the institution of the
covenant at Sinai corroborates the truth that the Sabbath was not,
as some contend, only part of God's specific pact with that nation
and hence of significance to no other people. But even then, the
inclusion of the Sabbath by God in His covenant with Israel-His clear
delineation of the Sabbath as one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus
20-only adds weight to its importance, rather than detracting
from it. At the making of the Sinai covenant the Sabbath was one of the
Ten Commandments recorded on the tablets of stone and kept inside the
ark of the covenant. Other terms of the covenant were considered of less
significance as was shown by their being kept outside the ark. Once
again, it is only logical that God would include in His covenant those
laws and principles He knew would be good for Israel, especially because
Israel was a nation He hoped would be the example and showcase to the
Under the Sinai covenant, the Sabbath had national
significance; its observance involved the entire community. God showed
this by adding to the original Genesis command a communal responsibility
of Sabbath-keeping which involved children, male and female servants and
even animals and strangers within Israel's boundaries (Ex.
God's Sabbath command of Exodus 20:8, "Remember the
Sabbath . . . to keep it holy" represents an example of God definitely
tutoring His special people in the obedience of a universal law, rather
than His singling out one nation for obedience to an exclusive law not
meant for the rest of mankind. The admonition, "Remember," itself
indicates that this commandment is not instituting the Sabbath for the
first time, but rather enjoining Israel to keep and retain what is
already in existence. The Sabbath was in existence before Israel. Some
quote Nehemiah 9:13-14 as disproof of this. Actually, these verses show
the opposite. God gave Israel right and true and good laws, statutes and
commandments, and He made known to them His Sabbath. It does
not say He originated or instituted the Sabbath with them-it says He
made it known to them. Israel had lost knowledge of it at
that time, as Gentiles have today. But God revealed the Sabbath to
Israel, who was to become His covenant nation. God did not create the
Sabbath at Sinai, but rather made it fully known at that time.
Just as the Sabbath was commanded before the covenant
of Exodus 20-24, so the Sabbath was also given as a separate covenant
with special significance in Exodus 31:12-17. It is referred to as a
"sign" (Hebrew 'ct) of the special relationship between God and Israel.
(Signs referred to elsewhere as evidence of covenants are: the rainbow
in regard to God's covenant with mankind, Genesis 9:8-17; and
circumcision as a sign of the covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:1-14.)
Why was God's Sabbath day singled out in Exodus 31 as
a sign? Because of its nature. Many other nations kept some of the laws
of God in one form or another. Some had fairly tight moral laws, usually
criminal ones. But none kept the Sabbath day. It was the one law of God
that would make Israel stand out. It would act as a sign to show that
Israel was the nation of God. It would also keep Israel knowledgeable of
God as Creator-the one true God who made everything. When the nations of
the ten tribes of Israel later gave up this Sabbath sign, they were lost
to history. But the Jews continue to keep it to this day, and are known
by it. It is even called "Jewish" by others. The Sabbath is the one
commandment of the ten that will maintain a direct line to God.
This Sabbath covenant of Exodus was to be
"perpetual." With reference to this, some quote passages referring to
the sacrificial system being "forever" (e.g. Ex. 29:28) and conclude
that when the Bible uses the term "forever," it does not mean that at
all. This is not correct. The word in Hebrew translated "forever" in
most instances is olam. It can mean "the world" or even "the
age." From this we can come to the basic meaning of olam, that of
continuousness. It essentially gives the concept of a situation
in which there is no end in sight; this does not have to mean that there
is no end, just that no end is seen from the immediate
perspective. In some scriptures (e.g. Ex. 21:6) olam obviously
means "continuously," whereas in others (e.g. Ps. 10:16) the same word
means "eternally. " What about "forever" in Exodus 31? The key idea to
remember is that olam means to do something continually or
that some condition exists continually. So we must go by the
context. In the case of a command of God we can say that it is in force
until God says differently. In the case of Exodus 31 the Sabbath
remains between God and His people. God never did say stop. God
still only deals with Israel-Abraham's seed-but in the New Testament,
"Israel" has become spiritual and all peoples can, through Christ,
become "Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29),
which promise-salvation-"is of the Jews" (John. 4:22). Everyone has to
become a part of Israel in order to enter into God's covenantal
relationship. The Church is the Israel of God (Rom. 9:6-8). So the
Sabbath remains a sign to show just who is in that covenantal
relationship with God, just who the true Church is or who the people of
God are. This Sabbath covenant is not the same as the Sinai covenant of
Exodus 20-24. So the modification of that Sinaitic covenant to the New
Covenant does not necessarily affect the Sabbath covenant.
Ezekiel 20:12 shows that God gave Israel His
Sabbath as a sign for another reason as well: so that they would
continually know who was the God that sanctified them. This means
that the Sabbath is one means by which God sanctifies a method God has
chosen of consecration by setting apart for a holy purpose. Certainly
sanctification is even more important in the spiritual sense of the New
Covenant than it was in the physical sense of the Sinai covenant.
Consequently the meaning, impact and importance of the Sabbath in its
widest spiritual intent under the New Covenant, far from being
diminished, must in fact be intensified for Christians.
Since the Sabbath began at Creation-not with the
Sinaitic covenant with Israel-and then was made a special sign in
a covenant forever with Israel, we still know the Sabbath as God's
covenant people today: it is still the same sign.
Once again, the purpose of the special Sabbath
covenant of Exodus 31 was to earmark Sabbath observance as a
distinguishing practice that would help identify God's people among the
world's populace. Thus it served to differentiate the true believers
from the nonbelievers, God's people from the heathen, and not merely the
civil Israelite nation from the Egyptian or Canaanite nations. Since the
Sabbath was an important religious command of God, its observance
helped to identify God's religious system and not merely a civil
system or ethnic group. For this reason this special Sabbath Covenant
applies today, with the same spiritually binding significance for all
who wish to become and remain a part of God's true Church.
Leviticus 23 enumerates the Sabbath as one of the
appointed feasts of the Lord. Other passing references in the Pentateuch
and historical books do not shed significant further light on what has
already been mentioned. However, several important scriptures are found
in the later prophets.
One of the greatest indictments against the people
for Sabbath-breaking-along with a warning that such action would result
in the overthrow of Jerusalem-was made by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer.
17:19-27). Jeremiah was ordered to stand in the gates of Jerusalem and
warn the leaders and people: "Take heed for the sake of your lives, and
do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day, or bring it in by the gates of
Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath
or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your
fathers" (vv. 21-22).
Verses 24-26 promises that if the people should keep
the Sabbath day holy they should be blessed, and the city of Jerusalem
should remain forever. But verse 27 goes on to warn of the dire
consequences of negligence in regard to the Sabbath: "then I will kindle
a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and
shall not be quenched." This threat was made good: the city of Jerusalem
was overthrown, its palaces and Temple burned and the nation of Judah
taken into captivity. Disobedience toward the Sabbath command was
evidently widespread among the people in the latter years of the period
of the monarchy. Jeremiah 17:23 confirms this fact: the people of
Jerusalem did not heed Jeremiah's warning to keep the Sabbath ("they
obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that
they might not hear, nor receive instruction").
Ezekiel also speaks quite strongly against breaking
the Sabbath and considers it one of the main reasons why Israel went
into captivity. The lengthy passage in 20:10-26 is a scorching,
indictment of the continual disobedience of the nation. The captivity
was the fulfillment of a promise in the wilderness: "Moreover I swore to
them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and
disperse them through the countries, because they had not executed my
ordinances, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and
their eyes were set on their fathers' idols" (vv. 23-24). This is a very
succinct summary of the cause of the Exile. Clearly, one of the major
reasons was profanation of the Sabbath.
Isaiah also emphasized the importance of the Sabbath
"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure (pursuing your own business) on my holy
day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord
honorable; . . . I will make you ride upon the heights of the
earth" (Is. 58:13-14).
However, more universal in nature is the promise to
the Gentile ("the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord") who
shall keep the Sabbath. Not only shall they be accepted, but those
unfortunate enough to be eunuchs shall receive something far greater
then children for their faithful Sabbath observance (Is. 56:3-7). While
this promise is set in the context of national Israel, its international
scope cannot be ignored.
The captives in time were freed and some returned to
Palestine. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe their return and
their attempts to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. Nehemiah
10 records a special covenant made by some of the people, including
Nehemiah, in which they "entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk
in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to
observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord" (v. 29). Among
the provisions of this covenant was that "if the peoples of the land
bring in wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy
from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day" (v. 31). These verses make it
obvious that Nehemiah and the people deeply recognized the seriousness
of Sabbath-breaking and its part in bringing about their
Nevertheless, it did not take long for the emergence
of a certain laxity in this regard. Nehemiah soon found himself
confronting a situation in which the Sabbath was treated as an ordinary
business day. He met the problem head on and apparently solved it for
the time being (Neh., 13:15-22).
During. the intertestamental period a great
reawakening took place among the Jewish community with respect to the
importance of God's laws. One catalyst was the remembrance of the
exiles; another was the slaughter and persecution brought about by
Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. The Jewish community
"built a wall" around the law by adding regulations far beyond the
biblical statements in an attempt to make it "impossible" for anyone to
even approach breaking the law: the example of the Sabbath is a classic
Hence, as we approach the time of Christ's ministry,
we find that the Sabbath, due to man's sincere but exaggerated
interpretations, had become not a joy but a burden- something not
originally intended by God. As a result, Christ had to set out to
clarify the true "spirit" of the law.
New Testament Church
There is great emphasis on the Sabbath throughout the
Old Testament. Much is also written about Sabbath observance in the New
Testament. The emphasis changes, however, from a nationalistic system of
communal Sabbath-keeping, fulfilling the letter of the law, to an
individual responsibility of personal worship on the Sabbath, fulfilling
the spirit of the-law. The issues discussed in the New Testament
never deal with whether the Sabbath should be kept. This
would be utterly impossible as we will see. Rather, the questions deal
with how the Sabbath should be kept.
The seventh-day Sabbath is observed today by only a
few, because it is generally assumed that the New Testament shows the
abolition of any need to keep the Sabbath. This assumption is rejected
by the Church of God. Granted, there is no explicit statement such as,
"Christians must keep the Sabbath." When we actually go back to the New
Testament environment, however, the fact that we should keep the Sabbath
is so plain that no such statement is required.
A clear understanding of the Sabbath in the New
Testament requires a brief summary of the state of Sabbath observance
among Jews during Christ's time.
G.F. Moore, the well-known scholar of early Judaism,
states: "The two fundamental observances of Judaism are circumcision and
the Sabbath" (Judaism, II, 16). This was as true in the first
century A.D. as at any other time. Both practices were referred to as
"signs" (Hebrew 'ot) and an "eternal covenants" (berit 'olam)
in the Old Testament. I Maccabees 2:32ff describes a group of Jews
who were slaughtered because they refused to defend themselves on the
Sabbath. As a result, Mattathias and his followers determined to fight
in self-defense on that day if necessary, but even then they would not
take the offensive (I Macc. 2:41; 11 Macc. 8:26ff).
The book of Jubilees (2nd century B.C.) gives some
detailed regulations for the Sabbath.. Things forbidden included
preparing food, taking anything between houses, drawing water, riding on
an animal or ship, making war or having sexual relations (2:29-30;
50:8,12). The Qumran community had a number of the same regulations.
Other prohibitions included going more than a thousand cubits from one's
town, helping an animal out of a pit or in giving birth, and apparently
even using an instrument to save a human being from water or fire
(Damascus Covenant 10.14-11.18).
Recent scholarly studies have emphasized the extreme
strictness in, and rigorous administration of, Sabbath observance in the
days of Jesus, even when compared to the later Rabbinic writings in the
Therefore, when Jesus was called into account for
doing certain things on the Sabbath, it was not for violating specified
Old Testament prohibitions, but for disavowal of noninspired,
traditional regulations concerning the Sabbath. The Old Testament did
not forbid one to pick ears of grain on the Sabbath to eat on the spot.
Yet when Jesus and His disciples did this He was called to account. The
reason? Because the religious leaders had classified picking ears as
"reaping" and rubbing loose the grain as "threshing."
The incident of the disciples plucking grain to eat
in the fields (Mt. 12:1-8; Mk. 2:23-28; Lk. 6:1-5) was no violation of
property law since this was specifically permitted in the Old Testament
(Deut. 23:25). They were accused only of Sabbath-breaking. Jesus did not
defend their actions on the grounds that the Sabbath was done away.
Rather, He used relevant analogies: David and the showbread (KJ.V-"bread
of the Presence," RSV) and the priests in the temple. It was only after
He had shown that the actions of the disciples were not a true violation
of the Sabbath that He asserted, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not
man for the Sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the
Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27-28). By this means He showed not that the Sabbath was
done away but rather the correct spirit in which to keep the Sabbath.
Jesus was clearly a Sabbath-keeper, not a Sabbath-breaker.
Similarly, it was forbidden by extra-biblical Jewish
law to treat a sickness when the sick person's life was in no immediate
danger. Although being watched by the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus
healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:9-14; Mk.
3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11). To defend Himself He used the analogy of pulling a
sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. This shows that it was not His intent
to break the Sabbath but to show that relieving suffering was wholly
consistent with the purpose of the day.
Similarly, when He healed a cripple who had been ill
38 years, He told the man to pick UP his pallet and go home (John. 5:8).
This carrying of a few ounces of weight was in no way a violation of the
law against bearing a burden on the Sabbath (Jer. 17:21,22,27). It was
only in the opinion of certain onlooking religious leaders that He had
violated the Sabbath discussions given in the gospels. (Other healings
are also described in such passages as John 9; Luke 13:10-13; 14:2-4.)
One passage is undisputed, at least insofar as a
clear reference to Sabbath observance after Jesus' own lifetime is
concerned. This is Matthew 24:20: "Pray that your flight may not be in
winter or on a Sabbath." This admonition is directed at Jesus' own
followers. And such instructions would have had little place in a
non-Sabbath-keeping community. Scholars are almost unanimous in agreeing
that this refers at least to a time as late as the 66-70 war against
Rome, long after Jesus' death. (The dual implications of this prophecy
also show that Jesus knew that the Sabbath would be kept by His people
millennia later in the "time of the end.")
In addition, Christ's own example of attending the
weekly synagogue is significant. In Luke 4, Jesus attends the synagogue
on the Sabbath day in His own city "as His custom was" (v. 16).
Evidently it had not been His custom heretofore to speak in the
synagogue since the listeners were astonished at his teaching. This
indicates He attended regular services as a means of Sabbath observance
rather than just for the purpose of teaching. And it is impossible to
over emphasize the importance of Christ's own example since He told His
disciples to teach all nations those things that He had commanded them
Thus, we may conclude that the picture of Jesus as a
lawbreaker or antinomian radical, while maintained in some
fundamentalist circles, is easily refuted by the scriptures and is also
generally rejected by scholarship.
The argument that Christians today need not do what
Jesus Himself did and taught is refuted by Matthew 28:20, as mentioned
above, where the disciples are told to teach what Jesus had commanded
them. Furthermore, Matthew 11:13 shows that "all the prophets and the
law" were in effect until John; this means that Jesus' own actions and
teachings were more than simply fulfilling the Sinai Covenant-they were
setting the proper example for all Christians for all time.
It is abundantly clear that the Jerusalem Church
never gave up Sabbath observance during the New Testament era. On Paul's
last visit to Jerusalem (about 58-60 A.D.), James and all the elders of
the Church told Paul how the thousands of converted Jews "are all
zealous ["ardent upholders," Moffatt] of the law" (Acts 21:20). In such
an environment, it is inconceivable that the cherished and holy Sabbath
would no longer be kept.
In his letter to the Church in Rome in this same time
period, 55-59 A.D., Paul reminds them that the Gentiles "have been made
partakers of their spiritual things" in a direct reference to the
poor saints in the Jerusalem Church for whom Paul was asking
physical contributions (Rom. 15:26-27). One cannot imagine that
"partaking of their spiritual things" would not include worship on the
Sabbath, since it was fully revered by the Jewish Christians in
Jerusalem and constituted a significant part of their spiritual lives.
The first ministerial conference in the apostolic
Church is highly informative both for what was said and for what was not
said (Acts 15). In the year 49-50 A.D., the issue of whether
circumcision was required for salvation caused such dissension in the
Church that Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to discuss the matter
with the apostles and elders. Various issues of current interest were
discussed-issues such as idolatry, fornication and certain eating
laws-but the Sabbath was not discussed at all. It was not relevant. Why?
Because it simply was not an issue. Nobody in all Christianity was as
yet teaching that the Sabbath did not have to be observed and kept holy
by the Church. Just the opposite, in fact, appears to have been the
case. James, who seems to have been in charge, concluded by referring to
what was actually happening in that crucial time. "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). As S. Bacchiocchi, a
scholar who has researched the question, writes:
"We should note that James' statement refers
specifically to the Gentile Christians outside Judea. It is
therefore significant to notice that the Gentile Christians
(possibly former "Proselytes or God-fearers") were still
attending synagogue, listening to the reading and exposition of
the Scriptures "every Sabbath." The total silence of the Council
on such an important matter as a new day of worship [or
elimination or even denigration of the long-standing day of
worship] would seem to indicate that such a problem had not yet
Thus it can be seen that Acts 15:21 is a very
interesting scripture, albeit, perhaps, somewhat enigmatic. James does
not make a big issue about what he is saying; apparently, he does not
have to. He is simply explaining why this major conference would only
rule on a few things for the Gentile Christians to abstain from:
"pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled,
and from blood" (Acts 15:20). Obviously, there were other things
Christians had to abstain from, such as dishonoring parents, killing,
lying, etc., but James is simply saying that all these other
responsibilities of Christians were well known since God's laws were
read every Sabbath in the synagogue.
As far as circumcision was concerned, a specific
Church ruling was made, in accordance with the binding and loosing
authority given by God (Mt. 16:19), not to require it for Gentile
The traditional anti-Sabbath rejoinder to Acts 15
asks how the requirement for Sabbath observance can be left in while at
the same time the requirement for circumcision is ruled out? Or phrased
another way, why would not the abrogation of the Sabbath commandment be
included within the abrogation of circumcision which symbolized
the Sinai covenant?
The answer is almost fully contained in the question
itself. Circumcision of the flesh indeed symbolized the Sinaitic
covenant which had now been superseded by the terms of the New Covenant.
But the Sabbath far transcended the covenant at Sinai in both
directions: it was instituted at Creation, long before Sinai; and it
also foreshadows the future millennial rest in the Kingdom of God. The
Sabbath, in fact, shall be observed following the return of Christ when
the fullness of the New Covenant shall spread over all the earth (Is.
The picture of the early Gentile Church in Acts
illustrates continued Sabbath observance. From Acts 13 we learn that the
apostles Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue in Antioch of
Pisidia on the Sabbath (v. 14). They were so successful that they were
asked back the next Sabbath. Acts 13:42-43 is then an interesting
passage. It shows that the Jews rejected Paul's strong message and went
out of the synagogue. But the Gentiles wanted to hear more
and beseeched Paul to preach to them the next Sabbath. Here are
Gentiles, not asking to meet on a Sunday or a weekday evening, but on
the Sabbath. The next Sabbath almost the whole city came to hear
Paul speak (v. 44). Notice that the Jews were not a part of this; they
were angry with Paul (v. 45). This was a Gentile meeting (v.
48)-on the Sabbath! They knew the significance of the Sabbath day. If
Paul had wanted to meet with the Gentiles on a Sunday, he could easily
have said: "We can just assemble tomorrow on the Lord's day." But this
is not the case. They all waited a whole week-then on the
following Sabbath day we find Paul preaching to a whole Gentile city! He
was not trying to impress the Jews. They had turned from him. But Paul
kept the Sabbath, and here endorses it for the entire Gentile world.
In Acts 16:13 Paul goes out to a place of prayer
(apparently because there was no synagogue). It was, in fact, Paul's
custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 17:1-2). While these
occasions were used as opportunities to spread the gospel, as would be
natural, they are certainly also further examples of Paul's worshipping
God specifically on the Sabbath.
The point that needs to be understood is that meeting
on the Sabbath was completely normal for the Gentiles. There was nothing
extraordinary about it, nothing to make an issue out of. What we find
recorded in the book of Acts are some matter-of-fact comments by Luke
concerning what occurred. It was common knowledge-and Theophilus (to
whom the book was written, Acts 1:1) took for granted this fact-that the
entire Church, Gentile and Jewish, met on the Sabbath as spiritual
Israelites. This is what would be expected: Paul preaching on the
Sabbath and then meeting with Gentiles on the same day. it was nothing
unusual. So we can now examine Acts alongside the gospels and still
find no teaching-not even a hint of one-that the Sabbath day was
removed or changed. On the contrary, we find Jesus and Paul keeping it,
teaching on it and meeting with others to worship God on it-all on the
It is also significant that the Sabbath is called the
Sabbath. This was not the common Greek way of referring to the seventh
day of the week. So, Luke is actually giving additional meaning to the
Sabbath by referring to it by name. He does not call it the "Jewish
Sabbath" but simply "the Sabbath." (The Hebrew-or Aramaic-word was, in
fact, borrowed by the New Testament writers.)
Acts was written years after the resurrection of
Jesus and the establishment of the Church in Gentile as well as Jewish
areas. If the Sabbath had been removed, it should have been long since
gone. The date was probably in the middle or late 60's A.D. It was not
common for Gentiles to call the seventh day of the week "the Sabbath,"
any more than it is common in the United States to call Saturday the
Sabbath (And Theophilus, to whom the book was written, could have been a
Gentile.) So, when Luke says that Paul went into the synagogue on the
Sabbath, he is commenting in effect that this was God's Sabbath or
rest day, for he calls it just that. The connotation would be the same
today if we heard someone call Saturday "the Sabbath"; we would think it
significant and probably assume that that person kept Saturday as his
Sabbath or rest day. The same goes for Luke 23:56. The women rested on
the Sabbath "according to the fourth commandment." This is not
meant as a mere historical narrative but as a comment on that day
actually being the Sabbath. Calling the seventh day Sabbath then
is very significant, especially around 63 A.D. when Luke wrote his
gospel. There is more concrete evidence in Acts that Paul and all the
apostles kept the Sabbath. Perhaps the strongest proof is that they were
never accused by the Jews of breaking it. Notice in this regard John
5:9-18 and 9:13-16. Here these men thought Jesus had broken the Sabbath
by healing on that day. They wanted to kill Him for this and claimed the
legal right to do so. This was serious. It was a major issue to them.
Then, in the latter passage, some of them conclude that Jesus could not
be of God, because He did not keep the Sabbath. What we find in Acts are
similar vicious attacks on Paul but a stark contrast regarding
accusations about not keeping the Sabbath.
The Jews from Palestine were really after Paul. They
wanted to find something against him. He was constantly under attack.
But he was never even accused of breaking the Sabbath as was
Jesus. This proves that he never even appeared to break it, much
less did he actually teach against it. Paul, in reality, kept more of
the laws of the Sinaitic Covenant than he had to (Acts 21:17-27), so
obviously he kept the Sabbath which was considered so much more
important. Paul was not lying or giving witness to something that was
not true. James was not fooled. Acts 21:24 is true: that is what
Paul did-he kept the law even to the extent of "the customs." So it is
plain he also kept the Sabbath. The Ten Commandments or moral living are
not even in question. James was not implying in verses 21-24 that Paul
was Sabbath-breaking, or lying, or killing or otherwise breaking the
law. There would have been no question on those big matters. The
question was how many of the ceremonies and rituals should a converted
Jew continue to keep?
We can be absolutely sure that the Jerusalem Church
kept the Sabbath. James and the others had favor with the
people-even priests obeyed the faith (Acts 2:47; 6:7). This would have
been utterly impossible if the Church had been meeting on Sunday (or any
other day) and breaking the Sabbath. If that had been the case, it would
have been mentioned as the major accusation against, and problem for,
the Church. The Church was indeed persecuted by the religious leaders of
the day, but not for Sabbath-breaking.
Scholars recognize that the Palestinian Christian
churches continued in Sabbath observance even after the break with
Judaism. While the apostle Paul is considered by some as an
instigator of a full-scale departure from Jewish law, such an
interpretation depends in part on interpretations of documents outside
and later than the New Testament.
In several instances Paul appeals to Jesus' teachings
as backing for his own commands. We find three such major examples in I
Corinthians alone: in chapter 7 (on marriage); in chapter 9 (on support
of the ministry); and in chapter 11 (on the "Lord's Supper"). If Jesus
had done away with the Sabbath, it is inconceivable that Paul would have
been ignorant of the fact. Yet if Jesus had done away with the Sabbath
and Paul knew of it, it is absolutely inconceivable that Paul would
not have cited this as proof of his own alleged teachings against
the Sabbath, if such he had had.
Certain scriptures in Paul's writings are often
adduced as proof of his alleged attitude that Sabbath observance is
unnecessary or even evil. For example, it is often held that Romans
14:5-6 shows that it does not matter which day one keeps holy, but this
is actually nowhere stated. Since eating is mentioned several times in
the passage, some commentators suggest it may be a question of fast days
or something else to do with food. Verse 5 speaks of esteeming one day
above another but says nothing about the reason for the preference. The
word "esteem" (Greek krino) is not otherwise used of keeping a holy day.
Similarly, in verse 6, the word phroneo ("regardeth," KJV; "observes,"
RSV) is not otherwise used to refer to the observance of festivals. To
use this passage as proof that Paul no longer believed Sabbath
observance to be necessary requires anti-Sabbatarians to demonstrate
that this is in fact what lies behind the statement-something that has
not been done up to this time.
The reference to "days, and months, and seasons, and
years" in Galatians 4: 10 is frequently applied to the Jewish Sabbath
and holy day observance. The basis for this is the apparent Jewish
identity of those causing problems in Galatia. That the troublemakers
had certain characteristics which would gain them the label "Jewish" is
correct (e.g. circumcision), but this still does not delineate the
situation. Was it Pharisaic, was it Essenic, was it some sort of
syncretistic group? What part did astrology play? What was the makeup of
the Galatian congregation? Such things are often assumed rather than
The fact is, we do not know anything about the group
causing the problem other than what the epistle itself tells us. To
assume more than this is not to rely on the evidence. Why does Paul
speak of their "turning back" to the "weak and miserable stoicheia"
(v. 9)? These Galatians do not seem to be former Jews, since they
are receiving circumcision- something Jews would already have. Unless
one takes the "turning back" as purely a metaphorical expression, one
would assume they are going back to their former pagan conditions.
Further evidence is found in the vocabulary here. Why
would one speak of "days" (hemerai), "months" (menai), "seasons"
(kairoi) and "years" (eniautoi), if one had the Old
Testament festivals in mind? One would expect to see "Sabbath,"
"festival days" (heorte), or similar words but not vague
references to "days" and problematic and unspecified comments about
"seasons" and "years." It is strange that Paul manages not to use a
single normal word for the weekly or annual celebrations, if that is
what he had in mind. We can only conclude that the passage cannot
legitimately be used as evidence of Sabbath abolition. Indeed, in the
Gentile world, up to one third of the days of the year were special in
one way or another, with certain restrictions, etc. In addition, certain
months were considered sacred. The Jews never observed any months.
Colossians 2:16 is the first scripture to give a
certain reference to the Sabbath and annual, holy days. Yet again we
have a problem of background. We evidently have a syncretistic group
exploiting the Church at Colossae. Certain ascetic practices of pagan
philosophies are mentioned (Col 2:8, 18-23). Therefore, it is not
surprising that Paul says, "Let no one pass judgment on you in questions
of food and drink," since some people apparently were passing
judgment. Of course, eating and drinking are only a "shadow" .
(forerunner) of what is to come, but the solid "body" (ultimate goal)
belongs to Christ. Does that mean we should no longer eat and drink?
Hardly. Paul is showing that the ascetic practices some wished to
enforce were of little real substance, Any eating or abstinence is not
the end but only a means to an end. A Sabbath observer could say the
same about the Sabbath and holy days. They are-not were-a shadow of what
is to come; and therefore are still important and necessary, just as
eating and drinking are.
What is Paul specifically instructing the Colossian
Church? From our historical perspective, it is difficult to know for
sure. Could Paul be encouraging the Colossians who were being troubled
by pagan Gentiles who were criticizing the new converts for keeping
the Sabbath? Or was Paul allaying the fears of brethren who were
being criticized by strict, proselytizing Jews for the manner in which
they kept the Sabbath? (Since Jesus taught the Sabbath as a blessing
for man and not as a burden upon man, some extremely zealous
Judaic factions might well have been claiming that the new converts were
breaking the Sabbath when in fact these converts were keeping it
precisely as Jesus Himself had done.) In either case, Colossians 2:16 is
transformed into a clear statement evidencing that Gentile Christians
were keeping the Sabbath. What is absolutely certain is that Paul is
not speaking against Sabbath observance. If he were teaching against the
Sabbath in Colossians 2, the discussion in the New Testament would have
been enormous. No such discussion or dissension exists.
The fact that Paul expected Gentiles to keep the law
is demonstrated in many scriptures throughout the book of Romans (e.g.
Rom. 3:31; 7:12, 22; etc.) Romans 2:25-29 is especially interesting and
direct, though often overlooked. Here uncircumcised Gentiles are
admonished to be circumcised of the heart (v. 29) and to become Jews
inwardly by keeping "the righteousness of the law" (v. 26) and by
fulfilling the law (v. 27). (Obviously Paul could not have meant the
full Sinaitic Covenant in his use of the term "law" here, since
circumcision was a part of the law.) Only with God's Holy Spirit,
through Christ, can a human being fulfill the righteousness of the law
(Rom. 8:4) and "delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom.
Aside from the actual New Testament verses in which
Sabbath observance is directly mentioned, the question of why the
Sabbath law is not repeated as a direct command must be addressed. A
comparison of the treatment in the New Testament of the law of
circumcision and the Sabbath (the two great pillars of the Jewish faith
in Christ's time) will illustrate the problem, and supply the solution.
Sabbath observance was a practice among all Jews, in
Palestine as well as in the diaspora. In fact, Sabbath observance was
very influential in the Roman world as a whole among non-Jews. *
* This is clear from the number of references
in various writers in the First centuries B.C. and A.D. Horace
shows that many people had "joined" the Jews or at least were
careful of what they did on the Sabbath to avoid offending
Jewish scruples (Satires 1.4.14ff; 1.9.60ff). Ovid
indicates that many young Roman maidens frequented the synagogue
on the Sabbath (Ars amatoria 1.75 and 415). Other writers
indicating widespread Jewish influence, often with Sabbath
observance of some sort, include Tibullus (1.3.13ff); Seneca
(Epistle 2.40); and Juvenal (Satire 14.96ff). One
historian summarized the situation as follows: "an observance of
the Sabbath ... became very common in some quarters of Rome
under the Empire" (Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus
Circumcision was also a major pillar of the Jewish
faith. For a male to become a full proselyte to Judaism, circumcision
was required. Not unnaturally, few males were willing to take this
course, yet this did not prevent many from becoming "God-fearers" or
"semi-proselytes." This was especially popular outside Palestine-in the
diaspora. It was considered sufficient to accept belief in one God and
to adopt a minimum of other commandments, such as the Sabbath, the
dietary laws and basic ethical requirements. Even though such
individuals were not converts, strictly speaking, they were encouraged
by Jewish leaders and evidently expected to share in the favor of God as
much as Jews by birth (see for example, G.F. Moore, Judaism II,
325; G. Bornkamm, Paul 10; K.G. Kuhn, TDNT VI, 731).
However, even the "God-fearers" who were not forced
to experience removal of the foreskin still had to observe the Sabbath,
the second major tenet of Judaism. This poses a rather obvious but
crucial question: if circumcision-which was not a universal
requirement for Gentiles anyway-is such a major issue in the New
Testament, why is the Sabbath not even an issue of controversy?
We have to remember that we are not dealing with a
minor point. On an unimportant issue, the silence of the New Testament
might be purely accidental. But we are dealing with one of the two
major pillars of the Jewish religion at the time.
It hardly needs pointing out, of course, that
circumcision was an important issue in the early years of the apostolic
Church. So long as the only new converts were Jews, no problem arose.
But it was not long before the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10-11). God
clearly gave His Spirit without requiring circumcision. When Peter was
called into question about it, his answer seemed to have quieted any
However, it was not completely settled, because it
came up again, requiring the council of Acts 15. Even then circumcision
must have been a problem, because Paul continues to mention it. Those
troubling the Galatians were evidently teaching circumcision, so that
Paul in exasperation, sarcastically wishes they would slip and castrate
themselves (Gal. 5:12). He says many times that neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision-physically-is of any spiritual consequence (I Cor. 7:19;
Gal. 5:6). It is spiritual circumcision of the heart-that counts
(Rom. 2:29 ff).
This "pillar" of Judaism was so important that it
received considerable attention throughout the New Testament. Despite
precedents in conversion without circumcision, the subject was debated
quite vigorously in the early Church. Yet the other pillar-the
Sabbath-does not receive anywhere near comparable treatment. A silence
at this point seems hardly accidental. Considering the historical
situation, silence undoubtedly means that the Sabbath was a nonissue-never
challenged or questioned The required conclusion must therefore be that
Sabbath observance was both taught and obeyed by the early Church.
Sabbath observance was so important in the Jewish
religion that there are statements in Talmudic literature to the effect
that Sabbath observance is the equivalent of the Abrahamic Covenant, and
that the law of the Sabbath was said to be equal to all the other laws
and commandments in the Torah! (Mekhilta 63; Pesikta Rabbti 23;
Palestinian Talmud Berachot 3; Nedarim 38; Exodus Rabba 25.)
Although these are post-first century texts, they illustrate what is
also clear from the earliest records: The acknowledged importance of the
Sabbath to Judaism is highly relevant for achieving an accurate
understanding of New Testament teaching regarding Sabbath observance for
The enormous importance of the Sabbath in first
century Judaism is powerful corroboratory evidence that neither Jesus
nor any of His apostles following, ever "did away" with Sabbath
observance on the day God created for rest and worship. The few
scriptures (primarily in Paul's writings) often quoted in an attempt to
end the obligation of Christians to keep the Sabbath, pale by comparison
with the overwhelming significance of the Sabbath. If the apostles had
dared to eliminate the Sabbath, surely a gargantuan conflict would have
exploded into the New Testament record. Compare the major controversy in
the New Testament Church over circumcision (e.g., Acts 15), which was
declared to be unnecessary or optional for Christians, with the
relatively minor controversy over how a Christian should observe
the Sabbath (in contradistinction to the "'customary" rigorous
regulations of common Jewish law).
Since the Sabbath was considered by the Jews to be so
important-as important as all the rest of the law put together in some
circles (see above)-if Jesus and His apostles had taught and
practiced the total abrogation of the Sabbath commandment as is often
claimed, then the religious controversy and disputations should perforce
have filled the gospels, the book of Acts and all the epistles. There
is no such enormous controversy in the New Testament records, and
therefore we can only conclude that the Sabbath was not abrogated!
This would also explain why we do not find repeated
reaffirmations of the Sabbath as a command of God. It is mentioned, of
course (as already shown), but everybody in the New Testament world
already knew about or believed in the importance of the Sabbath. There
was not the slightest doubt or uncertainty. To have emphasized
Sabbath-keeping in the New Testament would have been like the proverbial
"carrying coals to Newcastle" or "taking, ice to the Eskimos in winter.
" The issue that Jesus (and later the apostles) addressed was not
whether to observe the Sabbath-it had always been revered as the fourth
of the Ten Commandments-but rather how to observe the Sabbath in
the light of the restrictive concepts of the day.
Commonly available historical scholarship testifies
to the fact that Christians kept the Sabbath even after New Testament
times. Eusebius reports that even the liberal wing of the Jewish
Christians "shared in the impiety of the former class (radical wing], in
that they were equally zealous to insist on the literal observance of
the law." S. Bacchiocchi writes that around 80-90 A.D. "the Rabbinical
authorities reconstituted at Jamnia [after the fall of Jerusalem]
introduced a test, in the form of a curse to be pronounced in the famous
daily prayer Shemoneh Esreh by any participant in the synagogue
service, against the Christians. The fact that a test had to be
introduced to detect the presence of Christians in the synagogue would
seem to indicate, as J. Parkes observes, that Judeo-Christians still
frequent the synagogue. It would therefore appear that no radical break
with Judaism took place until the year 135 A.D."
It was after 135 A.D., when the Romans crushed the
Bar Kokhba revolt and forbade the traditional observance of many Jewish
laws including the Sabbath, that the new Gentile leaders of the
Jerusalem Church probably began to adopt the weekly Sunday observance,
thereby establishing Sunday as their day of worship. This became
necessary in order to eliminate any possible association with
Judaism-and any resultant suspicion-in the eyes of the Roman overlords.
Nevertheless, the observance of the Sabbath was such
a strong tradition that it continued alongside Sunday for several
centuries even in large portions of Catholic Christianity. For example,
the so-called Apostolic Constitutions (about 375-400) exhort the
faithful to assemble "on the Sabbath day and . . . the Lord's day"
(2.59. 1). Both days are to be feasts (7.23.2); Christian slaves are to
be allowed to rest on both of them (8.33. 1). Even though Sunday is
given a slightly higher value, the Sabbath is to be celebrated as the
memorial of Creation and a time for godliness (7.36.1-2).
One of the great Catholic theologians of east,
Gregory of Nyssa (about 335-394), writes, "With what face will you dare
to behold the Lord's day if you have despised the Sabbath? . . . For
they are sister days" (De Castig 2). Even the noted Alexandrian
theologian Oricren, the source of so much of later Catholic theology,
wrote in his Hom. in Num. 23.4:
"Leaving on one side, therefore, the Jewish
observances of the Sabbath, let us see of what kind the
observance of the Sabbath ought to be for the Christian. On the
Sabbath no worldly affairs ought to be undertaken. If,
therefore, you abstain from all secular works, and do nothing
worldly, but employ yourself in spiritual works, and come to
church and give ear to the Scripture lections and to
sermons,.... this is the observance of the Sabbath for the
Even as late as the 5th century, we find the Sabbath
still being remembered in Catholic Christianity, with the notable
exceptions of Rome and Alexandria. The church historian, Socrates,
writing about 440, states:
"Almost all churches throughout the world
celebrate the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath of every week, yet
the Christians at Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some
ancient tradition, have ceased to do this" (5.22).
His contemporary Sozomen similarly tells us, "The
people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on
the Sabbath, as well as the first day of the week, which custom is never
observed at Rome or at Alexandria" (7.19).
Sabbath Analogy of God's Plan
The Sabbath day has two great overall purposes
according to the Bible: 1) It looks back as a witness to the physical
creation; 2) it looks forward as a shadow to the spiritual rest )and
creation. (A third purpose can be listed as well: the Sabbath was to be
remembrance of the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, Deut. 5:15.) God
does things in type and antitype, in "shadow" and in "substance."
When God created the earth in six days and
then rested on the seventh, this completed the physical creation. There
is no more physical creation going on. The works are finished as Genesis
2:2-3 and Hebrews 4:3 attest. So the Sabbath day looks back to that
Creation, the week of the physical creation (Ex. 20: 11; 31:17). It is
then a memorial, which helps us to remember the Creator who made
everything. It keeps Him fully in mind every week.
But God also has a great spiritual plan-a spiritual
creation-which is now in progress (2 Cor. 5:17). There is a new
Creation, and the Sabbath also looks forward to that. Hebrews 4:1-11
refers to a rest for God's people. It is a yet future rest
that we are to strive to enter-the ultimate rest in the Kingdom of God.
The seven-day week (v.4) is a picture of this spiritual week God has
instituted. God rested-so man shall too. Therefore, the Sabbath day each
week also, looks forward to that future rest-when the whole earth shall
be at rest-when all shall be taught the way of God. Hebrews 4 shows this
clearly and verse 9 is particularly relevant. It says, "There remaineth
therefore a rest [sabbatismos-"sabbatizing"I to the people
of God." So, because of the future rest (katapausis) spiritual
Israel is to enter, there remains for us a sabbatismos or "
sabbatizing. " This means that we will keep that future Sabbath of
millennial rest as we now keep the weekly Sabbath to look forward to it.
In other words, the Sabbath is both a memorial
and a shadow. It is a memorial of Creation and a shadow of the
coming future rest of God's people following the return of Jesus Christ.
The Sabbath did not originate with the law of' Moses or with the
Sinaitic covenant with physical Israel-so it does not pass with that
covenant; rather it originated with Creation and looks back as a
memorial to it. The Sabbath is also a shadow, looking forward to the
yet future time of the Millennium. A shadow remains as long as the
substance is still future. So it remains-looking forward
to that time. And when that time comes, the Sabbath shall still be kept
(Is. 66:23) although no longer as a shadow but as a memorial to the then
contemporary reality of Christ's millennial rule.
It was a widespread belief in both intertestamental
Judaism and the early Church that the seven days of Creation were an
analogy of God's plan for man. This belief held that the first six days
represent the entirety of human history in which man is allowed to go
his own way under the sway of Satan the devil, and the seventh day on
which God rested represents the millennial rest when God Himself sets up
His own rule and Kingdom over the earth. Such a Kingdom is described in
a number of Old Testament passages (e.g. Is. 2:2-4; 11; Mic. 4:1-8).
Moreover, two New Testament passages refer explicitly
to this future Kingdom. Revelation 20:1-10 describes a time when Jesus
Christ Himself returns to the earth and has Satan bound. The righteous
will rule. The time of this rule is specifically described as "a
thousand years" (vv.4,6). As we have seen, Hebrews 3:7-14; 11 draws a
lengthy analogy with the Sabbath rest which physical Israel had never
entered into. Christians have a chance to enter into this rest if they
do not harden their hearts as the Israelites did. In Hebrews 4:9 this
eschatological rest is explicitly connected with the seventh-day Sabbath
Sabbath in the Millennium
As already mentioned, the weekly Sabbath day was
taken as a sign of a millennial "Sabbath" of one thousand years in which
God (Jesus Christ) would rule directly over the whole earth. The Kingdom
of God was already awaited by the Old Testament prophets. Some of the
descriptions of it include references to worship on the weekly and
annual Sabbaths. For example, Isaiah 66:10 ff describes the restoration
of Jerusalem as the capital of the world and the rule of God, over all
nations. The righteous are vindicated and rebellions punished. Verse 23
states "From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another,
shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord." Sabbath
worship is envisioned for all peoples, not just for Israelites. (The new
moon was often treated as a semi-holiday because of its importance for
calendrical purposes. However, it is nowhere explicitly designated a
holy day. See further discussion under "Annual Holy Days.")
Ezekiel 40-48 describes Israel and the future Temple
in prophetic vision. Regular observance of the weekly Sabbath and other
holy days shall be established alongside a reinstituted priesthood and
temple ritual. The Passover and Feast of Tabernacles are discussed in
45:21-25. The weekly Sabbath is mentioned in 44:24; 45:17; 46:1,3,4,12.
Then, as now, there shall be physical human beings with the same basic
needs that human beings have always had. The physical and spiritual
needs for the Sabbath then shall be the same as they are now and as they
have been in the past.
Principles for Observing the Sabbath
Genesis 2:3 reveals that God blessed the seventh day
and sanctified it-set it apart as a holy day-because He rested from all
His work. God did not rest because He was tired (cf Is. 40:28); He
rested because He was creating something new by the very act of His
resting. He was putting His holy presence into the seventh day of the
week and setting the precedent for what all mankind should later do.
The Sabbath in the Sinaitic covenant and in later
administrations was often hedged about with very strict legal ordinances
about what could or could not be done on that day. These regulations had
the purpose of teaching respect for the day and helping lead to the
proper understanding of the day and its intent. Jesus looked beyond
these legalistic ordinances surrounding the day and pointed to the true
purpose of the day.
The Sabbath is a definite day, the seventh day of the
week, established by God at creation. To alter its observance to one
day-just any day-in seven makes it lose its original meaning. Of course,
modern man is aware of geographical locations in which the sun does not
set below the horizon every 24 hours. The polar regions in summer are
one example; outer space is another. Yet, just as individuals in such
locations do not lose track of time in relation to the rest of the
world, the basic time of the seventh day of the week on earth can still
be known. Despite lack of a clear time of sunset, an appropriate
demarcation of the Sabbath day can still be determined.
That period of time defined broadly as "evening and morning" was blessed
and hallowed. To hallow or sanctify is to make holy or set apart for
holy use. When originally defined, the days of creation week were
defined only in the broad terms of "evening" [the 12-hour night/dark
portion of a 24-hour period] and "morning" [the 12-hour day/light
portion of a 24-hour period]. It is the individual's responsibility,
considering the local geographic configuration or latitude, to determine
as best he is able, a full 24-hour cycle of time. (From the commencement
of the night, following an evening sunset until the end of the next
evening sunset, 24-hours will elapse). Scandinavians certainly have more
need of a broader meaning of the "evening and morning" cycle than do
people who live in the tropics.
Christians must keep the day in the spirit. And a
true spiritual understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath
obviates the need for detailed regulations; indeed, detailed regulations
cannot substitute for a proper spiritual understanding. To attempt to
draw detailed lines of Sabbath do's and don'ts would be of little use
and would only confuse those seeking to gain understanding of the real
intent of the Sabbath, which must come from the Spirit of God. Yet some
guidelines are necessary-especially for the new convert.
Therefore, a rather broad discussion is given here as a means of
pointing to a proper understanding of the day.
The Sabbath is a special day, a holy day, a
day specifically devoted to God and to spiritual matters. It is not a
day for regular business (Is. 58:13) but a time to turn from the cares
and concerns of the mundane life to the things of God. It is a day in
which to rejoice, to enjoy, to rest and have time for God and for one's
family. The concept of rest does not mean inactivity though, since
spiritual activity is quite important. Physical activity per se
is not prohibited since certain kinds may be conductive to a better
observance of the day (Mt. 12:1).
Jesus' example of doing good on the Sabbath is a
farther indication that physical activity as such is not prohibited
(e.g. Mt. 12:9-13; John. 9:1-14). Doing good by helping others is very
much in keeping with the intent of the Sabbath. Relieving the sufferings
or taking care of the immediate needs of others is at the heart of
Christian love. Since the purpose of the Sabbath is to lead to a more
profound understanding of this godly love, activity which promotes this
is certainly in harmony with the Sabbath command.
On the other hand, whatever does not contribute to a
proper use of the Sabbath is out of keeping with it. Doing one's normal
business, earning a living, becoming burdened with the mundane cares of
daily life, following purely physical pursuits to the exclusion of
spiritual ones, or regularly participating in activities which prevent
the needed rest of mind and body, are contrary to the purpose of the
Sabbath. These all defeat its very intent-the reason why it was given to
man-because they do not generate the benefits that the Sabbath was
created to give.
It is not the responsibility of the Church to create
an encyclopedic handbook for Sabbath observance. The Church teaches the
broad principles and the members apply them in situations as they
arise. The Church cannot legislate on every last situation that may be
encountered. Each member must be educated and encouraged to make
personal value judgments according to his own character and
conscience within the general guidelines provided by the Church.
It is the duty of the ministry of the Church to teach
the profound spiritual meaning of the seventh day from a biblical
perspective. The ministry must teach both what the letter of the
law says and what the spirit of the Sabbath law is.
The most important declaration regarding Sabbath
Observance was Jesus' statement that "the Sabbath was made for man, and
not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27). God created the Sabbath day to
serve man-not vice versa. Man was not intended to be enslaved to
a period of time. Sabbath observance should not be allowed to become an
end in itself. Rather, the day is to serve and help those who
observe it. The Sabbath was created, as Christ pointed out, for the
service of mankind. It was the day upon which God "rested"-that is,
ceased from His labors of creation-"and was refreshed" (Ex. 31:17). The
example is clear: God rested, therefore man also should rest from his
weekly labors. When man observes the Sabbath day, he is imitating his
Creator and commemorating the creation itself.
The Israelites were instructed to cease from their
usual food-gathering labors on the seventh day as God Himself had set
the example (Ex. 16:29-30). The day was to be a time of "solemn rest, a
holy Sabbath" (verse 23).
In the giving of the Decalogue at Sinai, the command
concerning the Sabbath became the "fourth commandment." The Israelites
were instructed to keep the seventh day holy:
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it
holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but
the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou
shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy
manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy
stranger that is within thy gates: 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" (Ex. 20:8-11, emphasis ours).
The theocracy of Israel was primarily an agrarian
society. "Work" most often meant farm labor of one kind or another. That
is why the commandment included cattle or oxen (cf. Deut. 5:14). In
context, it is clear that labor which involved planting, plowing and
harvesting is what was being forbidden on the seventh day (cf. Ex.
34:21). There is a parallel between this kind of labor and the
work of God at Creation-hence the discussion of Creation in Exodus
As the community of Israel developed sophistication
within the context of a national theocracy, the implications of the
fourth commandment extended into other areas. In the special "Sabbath
covenant" section (Ex. 31:12-17), the command to rest applied to "any
work" (v. 14). In short, the Sabbath is a day when God's people cease
from their usual workday labors as did God. The fact that we are
imitating God's example when we do so shows our special relationship
with God-it shows that we are "His people."
Isaiah 58 sheds more light on the meaning of the
Sabbath day in Israel:
"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; then you shall take: delight in the Lord" (Is.
In short, the Sabbath is God's day. It is a day
devoted to God and to godly activities. It is holy. It is hallowed.
It is a day to be honored. It is a time to "delight in the Lord" as
opposed to one's own mundane business affairs. It should be carefully
noted that the term "seeking your own pleasure" (RSV-"finding thine own
pleasure," KJV) in Isaiah 58:13 does not, in the Hebrew, have reference
to personal enjoyment. The word "pleasure" is khephets in Hebrew.
In the Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917, it is rendered "thine
own business." The New English Bible makes the meaning clearer
than either the King James Version or the Revised Standard
"If you cease to tread the Sabbath underfoot,
and keep my holy day free from your own affairs, if you call the
Sabbath a day of joy . . . if you honor it by not
plying your trade, not seeking your own interest or
attending to your own affairs..."
This translation shows the true intention of the
words "your own pleasure." The Hebrew term rendered "pleasure" is often
translated "desire" or "purpose" in other passages (e.g. I King 5:8-10;
Eccles. 3:1,17; etc.). The Jewish translation speaks of "pursuing their
own business" and "thy wonted ways." The Hebrew khephets is not
addressing the question of pleasurable activities that are
illegal on the seventh day. If pleasure were not present, how could the
day possible be a delight?
This scripture-Isaiah 58:13-has been erroneously
applied by some to such activities as television-viewing, swimming,
listening to music, marital relations and even reading the weekly comics
in the newspaper. Of course, any of these activities could violate the
spirit of the Sabbath day if they were to be abused or overdone.
Of and by themselves they are not wrong. What is wrong is any
activity which interferes with or detracts from the joy, rest and
spiritual intention of the day. If any activity works against the
spirit of the Sabbath, it is wrong, no matter what it is.
The main concern of most scriptures pertaining to the
Sabbath is that one should not pursue his usual business or work
activities on that day. One should have more of God and less of
himself in his thoughts on the Sabbath. It is a day to honor God,
to remember His creation, and to rest. Obviously then, it should
not be a day of violent physical activity of any kind-work or play. It
is a day of restfulness. It is a time to unwind and to draw close to
God. One's own thoughts of business, money-making, buying and selling,
or one's job, should be minimized if not forgotten. The cares of the
week are left behind. It is a day to "take it easy" and to worship God.
This is the spirit of the day.
This background should help put things in
perspective. Jesus provided additional insight into the intention of the
when He said, " it is lawful to do, good on the Sabbath" (Mt.
12:12). He was speaking of such things as healing, or pulling a stranded
animal out of a ditch or similar activities. Jesus was expounding the
spirit of the day in these examples. By the ox in the ditch" example
(Lk. 14:5), He showed that it is not that all physical activity is wrong
on the Sabbath-but that the kind of physical activity which is involved
in earning a living or in doing business is. Pulling an ox out of a
ditch can involve considerable expenditure of physical effort, yet it is
not wrong because it is "doing good." It is a matter of capturing the
spirit of the law and ordering one's priorities aright. If we can do
good for a domestic animal, how much more for a human being who is of
infinitely more value (Mt. 1-2:9-13)?
The sect of the Pharisees had missed the point of the
Sabbath law. They thought that virtually any physical effort, except for
a very limited amount, was wrong. Christ showed that what is important
is not the effort, but the kind of effort and the direction
of that effort. Doing good-serving people who are in dire
need-is not wrong on the Sabbath day. Serving one's own business
interests is wrong. What about doing one's own business on the
Sabbath if that business is "doing good"-in the health services, for
example? Obviously, emergencies and responsibility for human welfare
follow Jesus' own examples regarding doing good on the Sabbath. Yet
there can be a fine line between such responsibilities and the regular
full-time work of the normal week. One who truly desires to keep God's
Sabbath will not seek an excuse to regularly engage in work on the
Sabbath, yet will be instantly ready to aid fellow human beings who are
in need of help.
With these basic guidelines in mind, it should be
evident that the individual must evaluate each situation that confronts
him as it arises. He or she must answer several basic questions: will
this activity violate the spirit and intent of the Sabbath day?
Can I do it in faith? If there is doubt in the person's mind, if the
activity contemplated is questionable, it is probably best to avoid it
(Rom. 14:23). If it would offend his conscience-or that of others in the
Church-he should avoid the activity. Paul said "if food is a cause of my
brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to
fall" (I Cor. 8:13).
These guidelines are what the Church provides to its
members as the basis for their personal decision making. It is
not the duty of the ministry to spell out and rule on every last kind of
activity in the human realm! It is in its spiritual significance. It is
the individual's responsibility to interpret that teaching in the light
of his or her own situation.
By way of clarification, the following examples may
It is obviously out of step with the spirit of the
Sabbath day to participate in violent physical sports activities. Can
one "keep the Sabbath holy" while charging down a football field or a
basketball court? In competitive sports, one must go all out to the
point of exhaustion to win. The Sabbath is a day of rest.
The Sabbath would not be a day to dig up the garden,
or plow or harvest in a major way. But there is nothing wrong with
watering the lawn or pulling up a few carrots or breaking of stalks of
celery for a fresh salad.
One should not do the entire week's shopping on a
Saturday; one should plan ahead. But if the baby needs milk, and you are
out of it, there is nothing wrong with picking up a quart or two. There
is a principle here.
As a rule, Christians should avoid getting into
situations where Sabbath observance becomes difficult. As we have always
said it is best to remain far from the edge of the cliff. Why trouble
your conscience? This is especially true concerning business matters.
Partnerships with non-Church members can be difficult in this respect.
One has to remember that, for a Christian, there is a balance between
the proper keeping of the Sabbath for himself and his Christian duty to
treat his neighbor with the utmost respect and outgoing concern. Herein
lies the ever-present danger of the two extremes: 1) a Christian can
delude himself into not helping his family or his fellow man because of
his self-righteous desire to "perfectly" keep the Sabbath holy; 2) the
same Christian can delude himself just as convincingly into not keeping
the Sabbath because he has persuaded himself that others "need" him to
There is no simple solution to this dilemma: no
formula to apply, or panacea to discover. God designed our minds and His
law so that we would have to confront difficult and unique situations
throughout our Christian lives. How we handle each of these situations
shall determine the quality of the character we are building; that is
what building character is all about.
In all this, we should remember that Israel was a
self contained, controllable, theocratic community. In today's world, on
the other hand, Christians cannot control the circumstances of their
environments except to a very limited extent. We are sent into the world
(John. 17:18). We must coexist with a world that, for the most part, does
not obey God. Our situation is quite different from that of ancient
The Church therefore advises its members to use
vision and foresight in planning business ventures that could present
problems in the future. They are encouraged to avoid awkward and
difficult situations. Oftentimes we are presented with difficult
choices. In the developing nations, for example, certain activities on
the Sabbath are compulsory by law. Those failing to comply can be shot
or imprisoned! If a man is to be imprisoned and taken from his family
who rely upon him to support and provide for them, it is far better that
he perform a public service on the Sabbath (e.g. garbage disposal) if
the law requires it, than to allow this to happen. God places heavy
emphasis in the New Testament on a man's responsibility to provide for
his own family. He who fails to do so is considered to be "worse than an
infidel" (I Tim. 5:8).
In certain parts of Europe, it is possible to lose
custody of one's children if one does not send them to school on the
Sabbath. If this were to happen, parents would have no control over
their children, whatsoever. Moreover, they would still end up going to
school on the Sabbath. It is better to allow them to attend
school that half-day than to lose them altogether! Of course, it is not
ideal, but it is the best thing to do under the circumstances.
The Sabbath is a means of honoring and worshipping
God. We can honor and worship Him in the privacy of our homes by having
the time to draw closer to Him. This can be accomplished by rest,
prayer, reflection (meditation) on His ways and by reading His handbook
of life-the Bible.
We should also more formally show honor and worship
to God by assembling with His true Church on His Sabbath. The Sabbath is
called a "holy convocation" (Lev. 23:3). The book of Hebrews states that
God's Church must not neglect "to meet together" (Heb. 10:25). J. B.
Phillips translates this verse: "And let us not hold aloof from our
church meetings. "
The Sabbath demonstrates one's recognition of God as
Creator, both past and future, and as Lord of our lives. If we do not
set aside the Sabbath day-not just any day of the week, but the day
specifically ordained, sanctified and commanded by God and His
Word-perhaps it is because of a disinclination or "inability" to serve
Him and put Him first. One's respect for the Sabbath is one means (among
many) of showing one's true attitude toward God and His rulership.
Keeping the Sabbath in its full spiritual intent is a
means of developing and demonstrating godly love. It is also a solemn
command from God, who wants only the best for His creation. Physically
and mentally, the Sabbath renews the body to do more in six days than
could be done in seven without such rest. Spiritually, it shows respect
and love toward God. God's Sabbath is surely "for men" (Mk. 2:27).
READ THESE SCRIPTURES FROM YOUR OWN BIBLE:
Sabbath was made for man and the Son of man is Lord of the
Sabbath is a holy day, a solemn rest, an appointed feast, a holy
rested on the 7th day, a specific day and the only one with a
the millennium everyone will keep the Sabbath.
Sabbath is mentioned as Law before Sinai.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Sabbath is a sign between God and His people.
Blessing for keeping the Sabbath.
is keeping the Sabbath with the Gentiles.
1 Corinthians 7:19
Physical circumcision is nothing. Uncircumcision is
nothing, but keeping the commandments (including the 4th) are.
the heart is important.
forward to the ultimate rest in the Kingdom of God.
Sabbath is to be
kept after return of Christ.
The Sabbath is a
- Gathering together on
1. Which of the following is true
regarding the Sabbath:
a) is Holy.
b) instituted at Creation.
c) reaffirmed to Israel at Sinai.
d) taught by Jesus Christ.
e) is basic to a Christian's relationship with God.
2. The weekly Sabbath celebration serves as a reminder that:
a) Association with others is fun.
b) God is Creator
3. The New Testament discussions about the Sabbath revolve around how to
keep it not whether to keep it. True or False?
4. The basic New Testament scripture on how to keep the Sabbath is_____
5. The Hebrew word translated 'Sabbath' means to rest, stop or cease.
True or False?
6. The Sabbath is from:
a) midnight going into Saturday to midnight going into Sunday.
b) sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
c) noon Friday to noon Saturday.
d) Saturday morning to Sunday morning.
7. The weekly Sabbath predated the covenant with Israel.
True or False?
8. What verse tells us that God hallowed the Sabbath by resting on it?
9. The Sabbath was created only for the tribes of Israel and not the
rest of the world. True or False?
10. Where do we hear God speaking to Moses saying "How long refuse ye to
keep my commandments and my laws?
11. Exodus 20:8 says, "_________ the Sabbath day to keep it holy."
12. Exodus 31 says that the Sabbath is a _________ [what?] between Him
and His people?
13. Finish this sentence: The Sabbath is the one commandment of
the ten that will maintain a _____ _____ to God [what?]
14. Romans 9:6-8 says that in these New Testament times the seed of
Abraham and the promises go to the followers of Christ, not physical
Israel. See Gal. 3:29. Is this an accurate understanding of
the New Testament. Yes or No?
15. The Sabbath is no longer a sign between God and His people.
True or False?
16. Jeremiah 17 speaks to dire consequence of negligence in regard to
the Sabbath. True or False?
17. The nations went into captivity, in part, because of their Sabbath
breaking. True or False?
New Testament Church
18. The Sabbath is clearly done away with in the New Testament times.
True or False?
19. Secular history of the 1st century cannot be used to support the
idea of Sabbath-keeping at that time. True or False?
20. The ministerial conference of Acts 15 did not discuss the abolition
or altering of the Sabbath. Why?
a) It was an unforgivable oversight.
b) It was never an issue.
21. The Sabbath transcends the covenant at Sinai. True or False?
22. What scriptures in Acts record the Gentiles asking Paul to preach to
them again on the next Sabbath?
23. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles was constantly being attacked by
others Jews who said he was teaching against the Law. Acts
21:20-21 clearly indicates that these accusations were false. Why
then if he taught another Sabbath day was he not accused by other Jews
of Sabbath breaking?
a) The critics could never discover that all these churches started by
Paul were keeping the wrong day [Sunday].
b) Because Paul vigorously kept all the laws of God including the
24. The Greek word translated 'esteem' [Krino] is never used for
Sabbath-keeping. True or False?
25. The Sabbath day has two great overall purposes according to the
a) It looks back as a witness to the ________ _________ [what?]
b) It looks forward as a shadow to the spiritual rest of the
Sabbath in the Millennium
26. In what verse in Isaiah do we read, "...and from one sabbath to
another shall all flesh come to worship before me.
27. What 9 chapters in Ezekiel describes Israel and the future Temple in
prophetic vision and specifically mentions Sabbath-keeping:
Principles for Observing the Sabbath
28. In polar regions where the sun does not set for 24 hours, 7 days a
wee and in outer space the Sabbath day has no meaning. True or
29. The church...
a) teaches broad principles regarding Sabbath-keeping.
b) provides specific lists of what cannot be done on the Sabbath.
30. Today, Sabbath teaching includes:
a) the letter of the Law.
b) the spirit of the Law.
31. Which of the following are true about the Sabbath:
a) it is God's day.
b) it is a day devoted to Godly activities.
c) it is holy.
d) it is a joy and delight.
e) not a day for doing thine own business.
32. The phrase "nor finding thine own pleasure" is better rendered:
a) feeling good physically and emotionally.
b) looking for a joyous time.
c) plying your trade.
33. The following are inherently wrong on the Sabbath:
a) watching TV
c) listening to music
d) marital relations
e) reading the weekly comics
True or False?
34. What is wrong is any activity which interferes with or detracts from
the joy, rest and spiritual intention of the day. True or False?
35. It is the duty of the ministry to:
a) provide the member with basic guidelines for making their own
b) spell out and rule on every last kind of activity.
36. Which of these activities would seem not in the spirit of keeping
a) participating in football or basketball.
b) digging up the garden or plowing a field.
c) harvesting a crop or entire garden.
d) doing the week's shopping.
e) none of the above.
f) all of the above.
37. In Leviticus 23:3 the Sabbath is called a ____ __________ [what?]
38. Hebrews 10:25 encourages church members to ____ ________ [what?] on