The Sabbath

Answers to Objections About the Sabbath

One of the arguments given frequently to support Sunday as a day of rest and worship is that the early Christians worshipped on the first day of the week. Hence it is important for us to take a look at these claims and examine the New Testament passages that mention the first day of the week. For surely, if Jesus or the Apostles did indeed abandon the seventh-day Sabbath for Sunday, there must be some evidence of this in connection with the mention of "the first day of the week!"

A Look at the Numbers

The word "Sabbath" is used at least sixty times in the New Testament in connection with more than twenty separate Sabbath situations. In none of these is there any hint that the Sabbath rest was to cease. In fact, the opposite is true, as we have already seen in previous chapters.

In contrast, the phrase "the first day of the week" (the word "Sunday" is never used) occurs only 8 times; and six of these have to do with one particular first day of the week-the one associated with the resurrection of Jesus.

1-4) Matt. 28.1; Mark 16.2; Luke 24:1; and John 20.l all refer to the visit of the women to the tomb of Jesus. He was not there, for He had already been resurrected. There is no hint in any of these verses of Sunday replacing the Sabbath. They are simple time references.

5) Mark 16.9 is another time reference to the Sunday after the resurrection; Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene on that day.

6) John 20.19 refers to the evening of the same day, when Jesus met with His disciples. Some claim this was the first Sunday service. But the facts are quite to the contrary: the disciples didn't even believe Jesus was resurrected; they were gathered for fear of the Jews; and, technically, the event took place on the second day of the week, which began, according to Jewish reckoning, at sunset.

Also, on this same day, although the phrase, "the first day of the week" isn't mentioned, Jesus met with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). Some have grasped at this account of their evening meal as evidence of a celebration of the Lord's Supper. On the contrary, the two disciples were simply being hospitable, offering food and lodging to a stranger. The event is certainly no precedent for Sunday-morning communion, nor for abandoning the Sabbath.

7) Acts 20.7 recounts Paul's meeting with brethren at Troops, "on the first day of the week." This verse is popularly used to support Sunday as a Christian day of rest and worship. There is considerable controversy about whether the event took place on Saturday night or Sunday night; however, this is beside the point. The meeting was anything but typical. The disciples were gathered on a special occasion to hear the Apostle Paul. The book, From Sabbath to Lord's Day, even though very much against the Sabbath, admits- "We must resist any temptation to use Luke's account as though it were a paradigm of 'first day' observance. Too many of the features of his account depend on the extraordinary nature of this occasion as Paul's last night with a this particular church" (Zondervan, 1982, p. 133).

8) The last mention of "the first day of the week" is found in 1 Cor. 16:2, which verse is frequently used as precedent for Sunday collections at church. In fact, it indicates quite the contrary. Paul's use of the phrase "lay by him in store" indicates that whatever was to be done, it was to be done at home-not at a meeting. The phrase also implies work on the first day of the week - not rest and worship. Apparently Paul wanted them to use the first working day of each week to take inventory, so to speak, to set aside something for the poor saints at Jerusalem-so they didn't need to do so when he arrived.

That's it! Eight references to "the first day of the week." And not one of them indicates anything special or holy about the day. The fact is that it wasn't until decades after the death of the Apostles that Christians began to abandon the Sabbath for Sunday - in response to political and religious pressures extant in the Roman World. There are three passages in Paul's writings that are frequently used to prove that Christians should observe no special day as different from any other day. These passages are Romans 14.1-5, Gal. 4.10, and Col. 2.16.

Before examining these, it is important that we understand something about Paul's teachings and attitude about the observance of periodic festivals in general.

Paul Observed the Sabbath

First of all, Paul himself observed the sabbath, and, at least on some occasions, other festivals. He kept the Sabbath with Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13.14, 42, 44; 14.1; 16.13; 17.2; 18.4). He, himself, lived in obedience to the laws of the Old Covenant (Acts 21.24; 23.6-1 25.8; 26.5). He spoke and taught positively about the Ten Commandments, which included the Sabbath command (Rom. 2.13, 26; 7.7, 12, 14, 22). Even the anti-Sabbath book From Sabbath to Lord's Day concedes this point: "On the other hand, we have evidence from both Paul himself and the book of Acts that Paul continued his own Sabbath keeping" (ibid., p. 182).

In this context, it is inconceivable that Paul would have taught Christians to abandon the Sabbath in favour of no day of rest and worship.

Another factor is that many, if not most, of the Gentiles Paul wrote to had been adherents to the Jewish religion. When Paul first preached to them, they were in the synagogues worshipping with Jews (Acts 13.16,26). When James spoke before the Jerusalem Council, he did so with the understanding that Gentile Christians were still meeting in the synagogues on the Sabbath:

For Moses has been preached in every city... and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath (Acts 15.21).

Paul had not, apparently, taught the Gentiles to abandon the Sabbath in favour of Sunday. With this background, we can examine each of the three passages in question.

Romans 14.1-5

The overall subject of this passage is that Christians should not be judging one another about disputable matters. Specifically, Paul deals with the subject of those who were vegetarians as opposed to those who ate flesh food. He could very easily have straightened out the dispute by saying "It's okay to eat flesh." But he didn't. Rather, he said, "Don't judge."

It is in this context that Paul mentions, almost in passing, the matter of observing special days. "One man considers one day more sacred than another,- another man considers every day alike" (v. 5). H is counsel: "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."

We don't know enough about the problems in the Roman church to be absolutely certain what Paul is referring to. He could have meant special days for fasting, or for feasting, or for abstaining from meat (the primary question at hand). However, it is highly unlikely that he could have been referring to the Sabbath-because, as demonstrated above, he himself observed it and spoke very positively about the Ten Commandments, which included the Sabbath (Acts 13.14, 42, 44; 16.13; 17, 2; 18.4; 21.24- 23.6; 25.8; 26.5; Rom. 7.12, 14, 22).

The message of Romans 14 is "Don't judge!" It certainly is no proof that the Sabbath of Creation, the Sabbath that Jesus and the apostles kept, was done away with!

Galatians 4.10

In this passage, Paul upbraids the Galatians for "...observing days, months, seasons, and years!" At first glance this might seem to condemn the observance of any periodic festivals - whether a day (Sabbath) a season (annual festival in its season) or a year (Sabbatical or Jubilee year). But an understanding of the context shows quite the opposite.

The primary problem in Galatia was that certain Jews were insisting that if Gentiles wanted to be first class Christians, they must also be circumcised and come under the Old Covenant, which God had made with Israel (through Moses). Paul was furious! These people were already God's children through faith in Jesus Christ-they didn't need to accept the Old Covenant in order to enhance their standing. However, does this mean that Paul was condemning all festival observance?

Hardly! Given his own practices and the fact that many, if not most or all, of these Gentiles had been adherents to the Jewish religion, it is inconceivable that he was condemning festival observance per se.

The answer seems to be in the word "observe". This word can imply meticulous observance. In other words, the problem at Galatia was that the Gentiles were being led by Judaizers to get all involved in the fine details of festival observance-in the context of embracing the Old Covenant. They were more concerned about the form than the substance. This is hardly a condemnation of the Sabbath.

Colossians 2.16

This verse has been used to prove almost every point of view regarding the observance or non-observance of festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths. The main point of the verse is "Don't judge." And, by itself, it doesn't really prove much more than that.

Those doing the judging were probably people of the ascetic philosophy, who objected to eating and drinking, particularly as associated with festivals of any kind. The book, From Sabbath to Lord's Day, although written specifically to promote Sunday, says on this verse, "The most natural way of taking the rest of the passage is not that he [Paul] also imposes a ritual of feast days, but rather that he objects to certain elements of such observation" (ibid., p. 182).

1 would add, what Paul objects to is the judging! And beyond that, there is simply not enough evidence for us to say it proves anything one way or the other. It certainly doesn't prove that Christians should observe no day at all. (A complete discussion of Col. 2.16 is available on tape.)

These three passages are simply Paul's attempt to deal with specific problems in specific churches of his day. Because we don't have all the facts surrounding these problems, we don't know precisely what Paul is driving at. But there are plenty of other passages that plainly and clearly show that Paul kept the Sabbath, and that the Fourth Commandment is part of God's will for His children now as it has been since Creation.