Where is this going?
- An introduction to the Sabbath as a covenant stipulation.
- An introduction to the idea of covenant, stipulations, and sanctions.
- The Sabbath was established at creation and not with the old covenant.
- An introduction to the Sabbath’s original significance.
- Addressing the question: “Does our church honor the Sabbath?”
- An introduction to the connection between the resurrection and the Christian Sabbath.
- A brief survey of the Christian Sabbath practiced in Biblical history.
- Three proof-texts in favor of the Christian Sabbath.
- Two proof-texts in opposition to the Jewish Sabbath.
- A brief survey of Galatians and Hebrews in reference to opposition against the Christian Sabbath.
- Conclusion: The Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week.
What is the Sabbath?
The Sabbath is the day of rest, the last day of creation. Our English calendars use the term Saturday, but the terms we use to describe the days are unimportant. For example, the term Sabbath is an English equivalent of the Hebrew word, but it’s not the actual Hebrew term. That original Hebrew term is not what is most important, but the day of the Sabbath is important.
The fourth of the ten commandments is “Remember the Sabbath 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.” -Exodus 20:8-11, KJV.
The commandment was given to Israel as part of the covenant stipulations of God’s law. However, the Sabbath was already holy. The law didn’t make it holy, but God used the words “remember” and “keep.” Why? Because the Sabbath was not created at the giving of God’s law but was in the law as part of the covenant stipulations.
What is a Covenant?
What is a covenant, and what are covenant stipulations? Simply put, a covenant is an agreement between two or more persons/parties. A covenant stipulation is a requirement and/or demand of the relationship between the two parties. This covenant between Israel and God is often referred to as the Mosaic covenant in theology, and the New Testament often uses the terminology of “old” covenant to describe that covenant between Israel and God. So the special relationship that God established with Israel is a covenant relationship. That covenant relationship has stipulations that sound like this, “thou shalt not or “thou shalt.” In addition to stipulations, there are also sanctions. A sanction is the stated consequence for breaking the covenant by disobeying the stipulations. The sanctions of the Mosaic covenant sounded like this, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5)” So what is the consequence of breaking the covenant stipulations? Basically, the breaking of God’s covenant stipulations was to reject life. Jeremiah was speaking for the LORD against the nation of Judah in Jeremiah 28:16, “Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord.” In summary, a covenant is an agreement between two or more persons with stipulations and sanctions. The ten commandments are the most well known of the covenant stipulations, and to break those laws or stipulations was to become a covenant breaker and deserving of God’s justice and wrath.
The Sabbath Preceeded the Old Covenant.
Remember, in the fourth commandment, God used two words, “remember” and “keep.” These two words imply the preexistence of the Sabbath prior to the giving of the law. This is relevant because the Sabbath has important theological significance before the law is given. If our understanding of the Sabbath is only derived from the law of God, we will have enormous holes in our understanding of what the Sabbath is. So then, we must go to the beginning and find answers to our questions about the Sabbath.
The First Mention of Sabbath.
“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: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” -Genesis 2:1-3, KJV.
What does “God rested” mean? It most certainly did not mean that God became exhausted. First, this language means to communicate to us a pattern to follow. Remember, Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: (Mark 2:27).” God’s resting was an example for us to follow as His image-bearers, and that is why the fourth commandment says we are to work six days and worship on the seventh. That is the mirror image of God’s creative order. Second, this language means to communicate to us a final rest from all our work. The final rest I am speaking of is symbolic of the eschatological rest that Hebrews 4:9-11 speaks of. Another more commonly used term for eschatological rest is the term, Heaven. In summary, the fact that God rested is a narrative tool to focus our attention upon something to be attained at the end of our working, and thereby reflect God in our living.
In summary, the Sabbath mentioned in Genesis 2 was not for God as if He was tired, but it was for us to imitate Him with the weekly rhythms of our lives and with the entire scope of our existence from birth to death and beyond. The Sabbath as a stipulation of the old covenant was anchored in the creation narrative. So the two examples that we focused upon in our brief discussion of Sabbath in the Old Testament literature are not contrary to one another but complimentary. I simply mean to emphasize the fact that the Sabbath is anchored in creation for its validity and later echoed in the law by the words “remember” and “keep” it.
Do Christians Honor the Sabbath?
Does Calvary Baptist Church honor the Sabbath? Yes, but our affirmative answer is denied by Orthodox Jews and Seventh Day Adventists. Why is it denied? Simply put, because we honor the Sabbath on the first day of the week and not the seventh. Why? Good question. Let’s begin to answer that by reflecting upon the first mention of the Sabbath in Genesis 2 and the fourth commandment in Exodus 20.
What was the Resurrection all about?
The resurrection was about recreation. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the entire fallen order is to be redeemed and is in the process of recreation. For example, Paul, in Romans 8, is speaking about the creation itself groaning and waiting for its recreation. Why is the creation groaning? Because the creation is cursed from the fall of man, but Jesus Christ has obeyed where Adam rebelled, and the result will be a new heaven and a new earth. The creation awaits this day. What day will the creation be remade? Paul said the day when there is a final “manifestation of the sons of God.” This language can trip us up because we don’t always use these phrases like “manifestation of the sons of God.” What does that mean? Paul was teaching the creation itself was waiting for the last day when all the saints of God will be finally resurrected because that is the day all creation will be made new. Pay attention to Jesus’ words as He sat upon the throne in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I make all things new.” In summary, Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. Christians are said to be new creatures in Christ, and that is a reality that is here but not fully realized because we will be finally new creatures in Christ at the final resurrection.
The final resurrection is when all things are finally made new, but the first resurrection is Jesus’ after being dead three days. Paul identifies Jesus as the firstfruits of them that slept in 1 Corinthians 15. The idea of the first fruits is taken from ancient Jewish harvesting practices. The Jews would bring an offering of the first part of the crop to God because the entire crop belonged to God. So when Paul uses this analogy, he is highlighting the truth that Jesus is the first of the resurrected and glorified, and we all will, in like manner, be resurrected and glorified. So the new creation has already begun. Jesus was the first fruits. With this new creation inaugurated with Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week, the day of worship was about to be transferred to the first day or what John the Apostle in Revelation 1 calls “the Lord’s day.” Why? Remember the significance of the seventh day was the result of God resting from His work of creation, and therefore the Sabbath was established. So then, the Christian Sabbath is established as the result of Jesus resting from His work of the new creation.
The Christian Sabbath Practiced in Biblical History.
Let’s briefly survey the day of worship throughout the New Testament. First, the Christian Sabbath, as I have named it, is not mentioned in the four gospels one time. Is that a problem? No. Our theological interpretations and applications ought to be derived from the entire Scriptures as a whole unit of teaching. Worship on the first day of the week could never have begun before Jesus’ resurrection. The historical narrative of Jesus’ life clearly portrays Jesus as faithfully honoring the Sabbath. After Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week, Jesus is seen to gather with His disciples for their worship of Him. Then, after Jesus’ resurrection, you can trace the historical progression of the Christian Sabbath in the book of Acts.
The sixth day Jewish Sabbath begins to become prominent in the story of Acts in chapter 13. There is a significant reason for the prominence of the Jewish Sabbath that we need to be aware of. In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries, and they began to evangelize city after city with the same strategy. What strategy? They went to the Jewish synagogues and worshipped with the Jews for the express purpose of evangelization to start Christian churches. They traveled to cities that the gospel had not yet reached and therefore had no congregations to worship with on the first day of the week, so they did, in fact, worship on the Jewish Sabbath, but they did so for purposes of spreading the gospel. As the gospel spread and was believed by Jews and Gentiles alike in these cities, which day of the week did they worship on? There are very few examples recorded of Christian worship services in the book of Acts, but Acts 20 is such an example. In Acts 20:7, we notice that Paul was in Troas and met with the whole church for the observance of Lord’s Table and preaching. When did this meeting happen? The Christian church gathered to worship on the first day of the week. Interestingly enough, there is no more mentioning of the Sabbath in the book of Acts, but there is also no more mention of worshipping on the first day of the week either. Let’s move on to trace the progression of the Christian Sabbath in the New Testament epistles.
Admittedly, the New Testament is not focused upon reestablishing the day of worship from the sixth day to the first day. The focus of the New Testament is upon the doctrines of God, Christ, and His Church. The Christian church must look to the epistles to learn how we ought to worship. Our church leadership ought to mirror what we see in the Epistles. Our church doctrine ought to mirror what we see in the Epistles. Our church ordinances ought to mirror what we see in the Epistles. Our church worship ought to mirror what we see in the Epistles. Yes, the epistles are important for organizing Christian churches because that was the express purpose of those letters. The first churches outside of Jerusalem were founded by Paul and needed continued instruction. Paul was used by God to record His Word for instructing the Christian churches. That instruction was not only for them, mind you, but also for the Christian church throughout all the centuries to follow.
What day of the week does the rest of the New Testament teach Christian churches to meet on? The scriptural proof-texts that show the Christian Sabbath was the first day of the week is by no means numerous, but the scriptural proof-texts that show Christian worship ought to happen on the Jewish Sabbath is nonexistent. Let me give you three proof-texts that reveal the Christian Sabbath to be on the first day of the week and two proof texts to reveal that the Jewish Sabbath was not required for Christian worship.
Three proof texts for the Christian Sabbath being the day for worship.
First, Acts 20:7-12 says, “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.” (emphasis is mine)
Second, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” (emphasis is mine)
Third, Revelation 1:9-10 says, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” (emphasis is mine)
Two proof-texts against the Jewish Sabbath being for Christian worship.
First, Colossians 2:9-17 says, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (emphasis is mine)
Second, Romans 14:4-6 says, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” (emphasis is mine)
Are we able to go beyond proof-texts?
Those five proof-texts are helpful, but they are not the only Scriptural evidence in favor of the first day of the week Christian Sabbath. I could spend more time elaborating upon the significance of those proof-texts, but for the sake of this article that is already too long, I will restrain myself. A further study in the book of Galatians and Hebrews would be immensely helpful on this topic. I will not attempt to expound all that we could try in Galatians and Hebrews, but let me briefly outline those two books to help illustrate their significance in this discussion.
First, Galatians is an epistle written by the Apostle Paul to a church he helped to found. That church in Galatia, in Paul’s absence, has begun to stray away from the true gospel. The true gospel is described well in the five slogans of the reformation. The true gospel is trusting Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, according to the Scripture alone, and our hearts cry out, to God be the glory alone. So what was the false gospel that the Galatian church had begun to believe? They were swayed to mix Judaism with Christianity and thus created a new thing that was clearly neither. False teachers began to teach the gospel was receiving Christ and the law of God for our salvation. They taught the gospel was faith in Christ and working out the Jewish laws. They taught the gospel was obtained by the grace of God in part and our own merit in part. They taught the gospel as it was taught by the Apostles was incomplete without this new doctrine. The final result of the false teacher’s corrupted gospel was that salvation was partly the result of one’s own work and partly the result of God’s grace, and therefore God did not rightly receive all the glory for their salvation.
Second, Hebrews is probably a sermon preached by the Apostle Paul but recorded by his friend Luke. There is a lot of debate upon who the author of Hebrews really is because the author does not identify himself like all other epistles. The book of Hebrews was written to show Christianity was not actually a new religion, but it was the fulfillment of Judaism. Judaism was fading away. The temple would soon be destroyed as Jesus predicted, and the sacrificial system was nullified because Jesus was the Lamb of God slain to take away the sins of the world. The old Mosaic covenant was no longer binding upon the people of God because Jesus had established a new and better covenant. The Christian church was both Jew and Gentile, a mixed congregation who are united in Christ. Judaism was always pointing forward to Christ through symbolism, and now Christ had finally come to fulfill all that was foretold, and His people would be taken out of every tribe, language, and nation throughout the whole earth. Christ is the true Prophet of God that all Old Testament prophets were prefiguring. Christ is the true Priest of God that all previous men had been foreshadowing. Christ is the true King of kings who all the kings of Israel and Judah out to have been typifying. The temple was symbolic of Christ as the meeting place between God and men. The sacrifices were symbolic of Christ as the once for all atonement for sins. The Sabbath was symbolic for the rest that Jesus would carry us into after He had finished His work. Judaism was foreshadowing the Messiah, and now God’s people worship in a completely new way, and to go back into Judaism is to offend the grace of God, insult the Spirit of God, and trample over the blood of Christ.
Galatians and Hebrews are both relevant books to study in reference to our question about the Christian Sabbath because it is a serious error to imagine that Sunday worship is unfit for Christians. Assuming that the Sabbath as identified in Judaism is the only true day of worship is simply false because it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and a fundamental misunderstanding of the new covenant that Christ established.
Christians have been worshipping on Sunday, the first day of the week, since the very beginning. That is the pattern seen within the New Testament. The earliest Christian writings available to us that followed the completion of the Bible support that claim. According to all the historical data available, early Christian churches gathered on the first day of the week to worship without exception. That Apostolic move from worshipping on the first day of the week instead of the seventh day is incredibly significant. Either the Christian church as a whole has been worshipping wrong for the entirety of Church history, or the Apostles had changed the day of worship in accordance with God’s Holy will. It is my conviction that the Apostles learned from Christ, and the Christian Sabbath is rightly observed on the first day of the week.
As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he has particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s Day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.1689 Baptist Confession of Faith Chapter 22, paragraph 7