Should the Sabbath Be on Saturday or Sunday?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Are Christians today supposed to keep the Saturday Sabbath or is Sunday now the Lord’s Day?  Are we breaking the Law by not keeping a Saturday Sabbath or is this legalism?

Sabbath Command

Many Christians from different denominations argue over which day to observe as the Sabbath.  Ancient Israel and even a few Orthodox Jews of today keep Saturday as the Sabbath.  Their day begins at sunset Friday night and ends on Saturday at sunset.  The Sabbath was a reminder to Israel of Who the Creator is (Genesis 2:1-3) and a reminder of His power over creation (Exodus 20:11) and was a sign for Israel to all the other nations that He was their God (Dueteronomy 5:15).  This Sabbath command was given to the nation of Israel as a sign and symbol of God and Who He is, but this was never given to the Gentile nations at any other time.  Not even once were other nations commanded to keep the seventh day Sabbath. The Sabbath command, directly from God, was given specifically to Israel as the Fourth Commandment.

Is Sabbath Commanded in the New Testament?

There is no Scripture anywhere in the New Testament that commands that Christians are to observe and keep a Saturday Sabbath.  Not from Jesus, not from Paul, nor from any of the other apostles.  The one Scripture that some use to say the Sabbath day is commanded is found by the (unknown) writer of Hebrews.  It says in Hebrews 4:9 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”  But looking at one text is dangerous in determining doctrine. We must always read verses in the entire context of the chapter and sometimes in the context of the entire book. Let’s see what the writer of Hebrews was talking about in Hebrews 4:1-3,  Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.  Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest.”  The rest that the writer was speaking about was entering into faith in God and resting in His works.  The ancient Israelites did not believe God and so they did not enter into that rest…which was to be in the Promised Land.  They were stiff necked which was when God said, They shall never enter my rest.”  That is what happened; that generation died in the wilderness.  The Book of Hebrews was written to the Jewish Christians and those Jews who had heard about or seen Jesus Christ.

The remainder of Hebrews chapter four shows that this was no specific day of rest like Saturday that the author was speaking about; Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.  There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:6-11). Several things we notice here is that if they had obeyed Joshua, then Joshua would have given them rest.  This was not a day of rest because “if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.”  Note that they did not go in because of their disobedience or unbelief.  This was a call for belief and trust in God because David’s message was proclaimed, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  This was a call to obedience and a call to rest in (trust in) God.  This was not a day of the week but a call to believe, yet what happened?  They hardened their hearts.

Jesus was asked by the young rich ruler how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus then goes on to mention the commandments. He says, You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother (Luke 18:2).  Here Jesus had the perfect opportunity to tell him to keep the Sabbath but he didn’t.  In fact, they asked Jesus which are the two greatest commandments. Jesus answered, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).  Here again, Jesus could have included the Sabbath day but He didn’t.  These two commandments are the heart and soul…the summary…of all of the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath was not included.

Didn’t Paul Preach on the Sabbath?

He preached to the Jews on the Saturday Sabbath because that is where they were assembled, not because he was following a commandment to do so.  How else could Paul reach and preach to the Jews except on their Sabbath day while they were in the synagogues?  This was Paul’s standard procedure when reaching a city.  He always first stopped and preached to the Jews who were not part of the church, yet in the hopes that some might believe.  Some did believe, but most did not.  But then Paul met with the Christians as we see in Acts 20 and 1 Corinthians 16.  Paul’s custom when speaking to the churches was on the “first day of the week.”  In Acts 20:7 it says that On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.”  In fact, it was the custom of the church to meet on Sunday’s to gather collections too, as it says in 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”   Here we see Paul was collecting the money for the Jerusalem Christians and also note that he said, when I come meaning when he came, he would collect them on Sunday.  Obviously he was collecting the money when they were all meeting.

Did Jesus Keep the Sabbath?

Jesus was challenged many times by the religious leaders about the Sabbath.  They claimed that He violated the Sabbath many times but the truth is He never did.  The religious leaders had created or added their own Sabbath laws…in the hundreds, which were never given in the Mosaic Law.  They had made the Sabbath a burden instead of a delight.  Jesus said in Luke 6:1-11:

 “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”  Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”  On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

Notice that Jesus said that He is Lord of the Sabbath meaning that He was the originator of the Sabbath as Creator implying that He had the authority to change it.  He said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, indicating that it was of good intention for man to rest but not that man was made for (or to keep strictly) the Sabbath.  Since Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, the implication is that the Sabbath was for man and for healing purposes, not for restricting what he can and can not do.

Why Sunday Observance?

The early church often broke bread, a symbol of meeting, on the first day of the week.

Jesus was resurrected on Sunday, the first day of the week (Mark 16:2).  The early church often broke bread, a symbol of meeting, on the first day of the week.  The early Christian church celebrated the Lord’s resurrection on Sunday and met on that day to honor the day that He was resurrected.  Whether some churches keep the Saturday Sabbath, or some observe Sunday is not something that we should be judging others over.  Some attend worship services on Saturday night, some on Saturday, some on Friday night, while the vast majority worships on Sunday.  So what?  This was Paul’s teaching on this issue, as he said, Each person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.  Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God (Romans 14:5-6).  He continued by writing, Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

Paul clearly understood that trying to strictly observe the Mosaic Laws was becoming a stumbling block as he said, But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years (Galatians 4:9-10)!

We can summarize Paul’s beliefs on trying to keep certain days or feasts or months that these can be enslaving, we should be convinced in our own minds and not judging others who are convinced in their own minds. We do all these things as unto the Lord, and even the Sabbath day is a shadow of the things that were to come, but now the reality is found in Christ Jesus.  I will not judge you for keeping Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, or whatever day.  We do all things as unto the Lord and are convinced, each one of us, in our own minds.  I pray others will not judge those who observe different days than they do.  I have to work on Sunday’s as a pastor so my day of rest is often Friday night until Saturday morning since I also have to work during the week.  Whether you keep a Saturday or Sunday Sabbath or Lord’s Day, you decide.  The reality is found in Jesus Christ and that is Whom I worship. It is not so much when we worship but Who we worship that is important.

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