Many people have deep convictions about the Sabbath Day. The Sabbath Day is the seventh day of the week. In Spanish, Saturday is rightly called “Sabado.”
Some think the Sabbath Day was changed to Sunday—quite a leap, in my view. Others think that the church should meet, and people should not work on Sabbath Day, so they form “Seventh Day” religions. Some Messianic Jews even believe that Christ actually arose on Saturday!
When people have agendas, it is difficult to reasonably address these matters. Emotions fly high. And, even among those who are reasonably objective, there is always room to disagree. Here is my take.
Although God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, there is no implication in the Bible that the Sabbath Day was observed until the Torah was given. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for example, are nowhere said to observe the Sabbath. From creation week until the time of Moses, the Sabbath is nowhere to be found in Scripture.
This suggests that—unlike murder or adultery or bearing false witness—the Sabbath command is not grounded in God’s nature and is not a moral issue. It has always been wrong to murder or commit adultery, even before the Torah was given to Moses.
Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament. The one that is not repeated is the Sabbath Day command. Either this is merely an omission or an omission that makes a statement.
The Torah was given to the Hebrew (Jewish) people, not to mankind. And, although Christians study the Torah (Law), we are not under its system of its bundled commands (1 Corinthians 9:20-21). Some of the Law pertains to how Israel was to be governed legally; some of it pertains to the Old Testament rituals centered around the central sanctuary (the Tabernacle and later the Temple), as well as matters of dress, personal religious practice, morality, and theology. It is so interwoven that our attempt to categorize certain commands is open to debate.
It is important to understand that, although we learn from the Torah (it is part of Scripture, all of which is both inspired and profitable), the Torah is streamlined for the Hebrew people.
Christianity, in its purest form, is “Trans-cultural Messianic Judaism,” as David Stern puts it. In the Torah, God’s eternal Law is combined with God’s purposes for the Hebrew culture (Jewish people). We gain great wisdom from the Torah, but gentile believers are not held to its many obligations (Galatians 5:18, Colossians 2:16-17).
Let us narrow our discussion about the Sabbath. There are a host of viewpoints (and some are agenda-driven or quite a stretch, while others are viable), but here is where I have settled.
The original Sabbath command was primarily about rest, not gathering in a building to worship. As one source puts it:
The essence of Sabbath-keeping was physical rest. In Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the Sabbath command specifies rest from labor as the way to keep the day “holy.” There is no mention of going to a worship service each Sabbath. Other passages in the Old Testament also define the Sabbath by rest, not by attendance at worship services. See Exodus 31:12-17, Numbers 15:32, Nehemiah 13:15-22 and Jeremiah 17:19-27. (gci.org)
In time, the Jews also began to assemble as a community on Saturday, which was something not commanded in Scripture (a holy convocation [Leviticus 23:3] in the Torah was understood as a family gathering, and the key idea of the Sabbath was rest, probably implying time to memorize Torah as well, which was considered a form of rest). During the Babylonian captivity, the synagogue developed.
As a Jew, Jesus would have rested on the Sabbath, which was Saturday. The fact that Jesus participated in the synagogue suggests this was a good innovation. We need to remember that the synagogue was a Jewish innovation, not part of the Torah.
Saturday will always be the Sabbath Day, but a day which is intrinsically no different from other days (Romans 14:5-6), even though God set it apart for Israel, setting it apart as a day of rest. Jesus and the Jewish believers (by and large) continued to be Torah observant, so they continued to eat kosher, observe the holidays, and even offer temple sacrifices (Acts 21:17-28).
Gentile believers, however, were not constrained to follow Torah (Acts 15:19-21), but were under certain moral aspects of the Law. Based upon the Romans 14 passage and a number of others, the bottom line seems to be this: Jewish believers who wanted to continue to observe the Torah (but trusting in the atoning work of Jesus, not their Torah observance, for justification) could do so. These Messianic Jews, I believe, are called the “Israel of God,” (Galatians 6:16) in contrast to what we call the “Judaizers” who demanded Torah observance (Acts 15:1) as a condition of salvation.
In my opinion, early Jewish believers participated in the Synagogue on Saturday and then met with fellow Christians (Jew and gentile) on Sunday. Even gentile believers, however, may have been encouraged to get synagogue training in the Torah on Saturday (possibly inferred from Acts 15:21). Instruction in Torah is still important, even for gentile believers, since all Scripture is both inspired and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17); we can learn much from Torah, even if we are not obligated to be Torah observant.
Taking a wisdom approach toward the Torah (Romans 15:4) could lead us to the principle of “Sabbath rest,” the idea that we need to schedule a day to relax, but to mandate a particular day as “holy” might be a bit of a stretch (Romans 14:5).
So in my view, all Christians met together on Sunday to commemorate the resurrection, perhaps to give God the first part of the week, and to celebrate the fact that we are part of His new creation. For Jewish believers and perhaps some gentile believers, this was in addition to meeting on Saturday at the Synagogue with mainstream Jews.
Believers are to gather together regularly (Hebrews 10:23-25), but the Hebrews text does not demand we meet on a certain day. Nonetheless, if the option is available, it makes sense to meet on Sundays for the same reasons the early church met on Sundays. The first day of the week is when Jesus rose, it reminds us that we are the new creation, and it portions off the “first fruits” of our week to honor God.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.