About the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day
Biblically, the word Sabbath is generally used to refer to a day or time of rest from the ordinary work in which one engages; here ordinary work refers to work that does not have a spiritual focus. This rest is to be accompanied by individual, family, and community worship. Individual worship is to take place at all times in various forms. Yet, the idea of the Sabbath carries with it the idea of a special time set aside for individual, family, and community worship; community worship is to be agreed to by the community. The wider and broader the community the more unified the community in worship. So then it is better that all churches within a city agree to the same time period (day) than for individual churches to have different time periods (days). The same goes for cities within states and states within a nation regarding the day even considering differences in time zones.
The word Sabbath means to cease from ordinary work activity as God did after creating heaven and earth in six days; hence, the association of Sabbath with the number seven. Biblically, the word Sabbath is generally associated with the seventh day of the week or the seventh year. In America, the seventh day of the calendar week is Saturday. Yet, since for most people the work week starts on Monday; hence, Saturday and Sunday considered the weekend or end of the work week. Therefore, although Sunday is the first day of the calendar week, it is the last day, seventh day, after the start of the work week. Hence Sunday can be viewed as the Sabbath (day of rest). Moreover, in some other countries, the first day of the week is Monday and the seventh day is Sunday. Other countries may use other days as their first day of the week. Moreover, the Jewish Sabbath actually begins around sunset Friday and continues until around sunset Saturday. Thus, for convenience it is customary to refer to Saturday as the Jewish Sabbath since more of Saturday is involved than Friday. In any case the word Sabbath refers to that day in principle the 4th commandment speaks of in Exodus 20:8-11.
Biblically, multiple Sabbath days were recognized in the Old Testament. Leviticus 23:3 speaks of the seventh day as the Sabbath. Leviticus 23:39 speaks of Sabbath in the seventh month on the first and eight day of a seven day feast. Leviticus 23:26-32 speaks of the Sabbath occurring on the ninth day of the seventh month. In all likelihood, the ninth day of the seventh month of every year would not be a Friday or Saturday. Moreover, Leviticus 23:39 speaks of a Sabbath occurring on the 15th day of the seventh month which would be only 6 days after the aforementioned 9th day of the seventh month. This 15th day began a seven day feast with the first day being a Sabbath and the eighth day being a Sabbath. This eighth day would be the 22nd day of the month which would be seven days after the 15th day of the month. This would not be a multiple of seven days after the 9th day of the month. Leviticus 25:4 speaks of a whole year as a Sabbath. All of the aforementioned involve the number seven, i.e., seventh day, seventh month, or seventh year. Leviticus 23 makes it clear that all of these Sabbaths were instituted by God, not just the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. So then biblically, the Sabbath was not limited to the seventh day after working six days. Given all of the above, this means that if I establish a Sabbath to be the seventh day after my work week starts (which is normally Monday in America) then I have biblically established a Sabbath that conforms to the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments.
It is noteworthy that the Bible does not specify which day of the week on which the Sabbath occurs. That is, it does not say the Sabbath occurred on a Saturday or any other specific weekday. Indeed, neither the word Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday nor Saturday can be found in the Bible. The Bible speaks of working for six days but it does not say what days of the week form those six days. It is by cultural agreement that some people such as most if not all Jews begin counting those six days on Sunday for Sabbath purposes. However, one could righteously begin counting those six work days on Monday and end up with Sunday being the seventh day for Sabbath purposes; starting on Monday would align those who consider Sunday as their day of worship with the biblical principle of remembering the Sabbath as prescribed in Exodus 20. Moreover, any other day of the week could be used as the first day for determining the seventh day for Sabbath purposes. God gives individuals and groups freedom to determine when community worship occurs in terms of specific days of the week so long as we adhere to the spirit of the Sabbath principle of community rest and worship.
In the American culture, the first day of the week is generally Sunday. Some people interchangeably use the words Lord’s Day and Sabbath Day in referencing this first day of the week. Here the Lord’s Day is that principal or primary day that some set aside to honor the resurrection of Jesus on the third day after crucifixion. According to scripture this occurred on what is called Sunday. Indeed, Mark 16:9 says Jesus rose early the first day of the week; this is sufficient justification for us to recognize Jesus resurrection on the first day of the week. Scriptures that support the practice of recognizing Jesus resurrection on the first day of the week include Matthew 28:1 and Mark 16:1-2, 9.
The Lord’s Day on the first day of the week is functionally equivalent to the Jewish Sabbath. Therefore, it is essentially the Christian Sabbath for some Christians although it is often referred to it as the Lord’s Day to minimize confusion with the Jewish Sabbath. However, other Christians such as the Seventh Day Adventist and the Seventh Day Baptist choose the time frame generally equivalent to the Jewish Sabbath as their Sabbath period. For purposes of simplicity, hereafter in this document the term Sabbath generally refers to the Jewish Sabbath or worship occurring on the seventh (generally Saturday) day. On the other hand the term Lord’s Day refers to Christian Sabbath occurring on Sunday, the first day of the week in America.
Moreover, Colossians 2:16-22 says “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….” Now this scripture does not justify choosing or not choosing either the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath as a primary day of worship. Yet, this scripture encourages those who have the Lord’s Day as their primary day of worship to not judge or denounce those who have the Sabbath as their primary day of worship and vice versa. Some say that the Colossians refers only to the non-weekly ceremonial Sabbath days such as annual Sabbath days such as those of Leviticus 23. But Colossians does not modify the word Sabbath to restrict it to annual ceremonial Sabbaths or other Sabbaths. Indeed, Colossians refers to all Sabbath days including that of the fourth Commandment of Exodus 20. Indeed, the non-weekly Sabbaths of Leviticus 23 were given to Moses by God (Leviticus 23:1) and are of God just like the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath. Furthermore, the seventh day Sabbath is a shadow of things to come just as all Sabbaths; the seventh day Sabbath foreshadows the permanent rest of the believer. Indeed, the word Sabbath seems to come of use during the time of Moses although the principle existed prior to the Mosaic Law. However, there are some that says Colossians 2:16 refers to the ordinances of Colossians 2:14 which they say Colossians 2:14 refers to the ceremonial laws including meat offerings and drink offerings. But note that verse Colossians 2:20-21 seems to refer to touching and handling such things as meat an drink rather than meat/drink offerings although omission of the word offering by Paul is intended to cover a broad spectrum which includes both meat/drink offerings and non-offerings involving meat/drink. Moreover, the whole point of Colossians 2 is that with Jesus, condemnation of the law is nailed to the cross. So then both the moral law and the ceremonial law is included in this in that with Jesus sacrificial death comes the replacement of the ceremonial law (law of sacrifice) and forgiveness of sins against the moral law (Ten Commandments). One website (www.colossians-2-16.com) indicates that Colossians 2:14 is just talking about ceremonial laws; but, that is not true. The site contains some interesting theoretical information but its conclusion is flawed as it misinterprets Colossians 2:14 and 2:17 for even the 4th commandment Sabbath of the Ten Commandments is a shadow of that rest which is to come when Jesus returns. Paul’s point is that we are not to let a man judge us with respect to the any law to the point of condemnation.
It is instructive that the apostles worshipped on both the Jewish Sabbath (Acts 13:13-14; 16:13; 17:1-3; 18:4) and the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:1-2).
What is the Sabbath?
The Sabbath has its roots in Genesis 2:1-3: “1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And 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. 3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”
In Genesis, God does not use the word Sabbath. The Sabbath is derived from what God said and did in Genesis 2. But Genesis 2:1-4 contains no commandment, no law, about what man is to do. No part of the Ten Commandments was issued by God in Genesis 2:1-4. It says what God did. Moreover, God uses the word seventh because he “worked” for six days.
Notice what Leviticus 23:23-25 says: “23And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 24 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. 25 Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. ” This notion of God instructing the people to offer an offering on the Sabbath is one reason Christians derive the notion of the Sabbath and/or Lord’s Day being a day set aside for focusing on worship rather than simply physical rest from labor. Moreover, since we are no longer required to offer the kind of offering made by fire that Leviticus speaks of, we are not bound to have the Jewish Sabbath as our principal day of worship, including honoring Jesus, although we may choose to do so. Indeed, we may choose to have both Sunday and Saturday as major days of community worship as the apostles seemingly did; perhaps this is the thrust of the concept of weekend.
In Leviticus 23 we see that a Sabbath occurs on other than the seventh day of the week. Instead it is on the first day of the month in the seventh month. Now it is probable that each and every year that day did not fall on a Saturday although in some years it may have. So the Jewish Sabbath refers to more than the seventh day.
The Sabbath and the Law
Let us observe that all the laws including the Ten Commandments fall under the heading of the Mosaic Laws, that is, Laws which God gave Moses and laws developed from those Laws which God gave Moses. Some classify the Ten Commandments as moral laws, and some of the other laws as civil laws and ceremonial laws. Various other classifications are used. But no matter how you classify them they are Old Testament Laws under the Old Covenant, including the Ten Commandments. Yet, certainly some of their provisions are carried forward to the New Covenant under the New Testament.
In Matthew 5:17-48 Jesus says he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill the law and goes on to explain what he meant by that. What law? All law is the answer. So then what did Jesus mean when he said he did not come to destroy but to fulfill the law? Jesus meant that his life and death effectively obeyed every law in spirit and truth. Because of him we are not under law but under grace. To not be under the law means the law cannot condemn us for grace has come. This is because we are baptized in his death and raised in his resurrected life (Romans 6:3-11). To be under grace does not mean we are not to obey the spirit of those laws applicable under the New Covenant, even those ones which are brought forward from the Old Testament explicitly, or implicitly in principle (Romans 3:31; 6:11-15).
Now the question is not are we required for salvation to obey the law outside of Jesus? For the answer to that question must be no, less Jesus died in vain. So then the question is are there any laws that faith beckons us to obey? And if there are any such laws what are they?
Now there are laws which faith beckons us to obey. These include the Ten Commandments. However, under the New Covenant we are called to obey the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. For II Corinthians 3:6-11 says
6Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 7But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: 8How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? 9For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 10For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
This obedience to the spirit of the law is what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 22:35-40 that on the two great commandments of love do all the law and the prophets hang.
The New Testament provides us with the new law under the new covenant. This new covenant law gives us greater insight into the old covenant laws. Remember the old covenant laws were our schoolmaster to teach us about sin, its effect, and its consequences and to bring us unto Christ that we may be justified by faith. But we are no longer under a schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24-25). That is, though the old and new testament still teaches us, the law no longer masters us as we are no longer under its dominion. So then the new covenant law tells us what we are to do and not do; this includes New Testament laws that supersede Old Testament laws such as the new covenant law of circumcision of the heart superseding old covenant law of physical circumcision.
We will only further examine the Sabbath Law since that is the issue at hand. So let’s observe that Exodus 20 says Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
The spirit of this law to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy is: let the people collectively set aside a time to worship the Lord and rest. This day does not have to always be on the seventh day just as it was not always on the seventh day under the Old Covenant (Leviticus 23:23-25). The apostles and the early church chose the first day of the week as the principal day for Christian worship, fellowship, and rest. They probably chose this day for two principal reasons: (1) It is the day of Jesus resurrection and (2) they wanted to go to the synagogue and preach to the Jews about Christ on that day that the Jewish met. If they had chosen the Jewish Sabbath as the day for Christian Fellowship then that would conflict with the need to preach and teach the Jews about Christ which was more important than when they met. They understood that it was righteous to make that choice because it would still be in obedience to the spirit of Genesis 2 as well as the Ten Commandments. So then, the day is not important. What is important is that there be a coordinated day and place where a group of people can come together and worship and rest in the Lord in obedience to the spirit of the Sabbath. Some churches choose Saturday and some choose Sunday as their principal day of Community Worship. Yet, others such as some if not all Catholics churches have worship services in the form of mass everyday of the week. The fact that Catholics hold mass everyday shows that one should not claim that Catholicism is the reason some worship on the first day of the week instead of the seventh. Indeed, the Bible does not say that Catholics started the practice of worshipping on the first day of the week, be it Sunday or otherwise; other history books must not be the source of doctrinal truths.
Scriptures Concerning the Sabbath:
Let us consider Acts 13:13-14 which says “13Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. 14But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.” Here we see that Paul and others went into the synagogue in Antioch on the Jewish Sabbath day. If you were to read the rest of Acts 13 you would find that the leaders invited them to speak. Paul accepted the invitation and Acts 13 gives the sermon/message that he spoke to them. Of course, this message included the coming, death, resurrection, and purpose of Jesus Christ as Messiah.
Now let’s look at Acts 16:13 “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. ” Here we see Paul and others going to speak with some women who were by the riverside praying on the Jewish Sabbath. Acts 16 goes on to speak of the business woman Lydia and members of her household being baptized on that Sabbath day.
Now let us turn to Acts 17:1-3 which says “1Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” Also we find in Acts 18:4 “And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” Here again we have Paul preaching on many Sabbaths in the synagogue of the Jews.
Scriptures Concerning the First Day of the Week (Lord’s Day):
Let us consider Acts 20:7 which 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.” Here Acts 20:7 speaks of them coming together to break bread on the first day of the week. Now it is not clear if this was a case of them coming together to simply eat together or to eat the “Lord’s Supper” (I Corinthians 11:20). The phrase breaking bread appears in other places in the New Testament (Luke 24:35; Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46); all of which were written by Luke. So it appears that Luke may have used the phrase breaking bread to refer to what Paul called the Lord’s Supper. In any case, Acts 20 says Paul preached for a long time. So this suggests a worship service. The man sitting in the window suggests it was a worship service open to the public and not simply a private gathering. Thus, elements of worship took place here including preaching and what was most probably the Lord’s Supper.
Now let us consider I Corinthians 16:1-2 which says “1Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2Upon 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.” Here we see a collection (perhaps money or some other need) being taken up on the Lord’s Day. The scripture says this was to be done not only at Corinth but at all the churches of Galatia. Thus, we have another worship element being done on the Lord’s Day by the early church by order of the apostle. This clearly indicates that churches everywhere met on the first day of the week or at least those of Galatia. To suggest that the people simply put the collection up in their own homes is countered by the phrase “that there be no gathering when I come”. For if that was the case there would still most likely have to be a gathering when Paul came.
So now we have the following concluding observations:
First let us establish that the apostles, like Jesus, most likely preached and taught and otherwise worshipped on other than the Jewish Sabbath and first day of the week. For the Bible speaks of them going into the synagogue and temple (Acts 3) without mentioning the Sabbath day. Also, Acts 5:42 speaks of the apostles going into the temple daily and in every house to preach and teach. So such activities could have been on the Sabbath or any other day. However, here we are only concerned with the Sabbath and Lord’s Day.
The apostles did worship on the Sabbath in the Jewish synagogue. But that makes sense since that is when the Jews met together for worship. So the apostles met with them at a minimum to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Jews and Greeks gathered in the synagogue. Note that such a gathering was most likely in most cases a Jewish gathering that Christians attended. This is different from a Christian gathering in which Jews attended. (Acts 13:13-14; 16:13; 17:1-3; 18:4)
The apostles also worshipped on the first day of the week. The combination of Acts 20 (preaching and most probably Communion) and I Corinthians 16 (taking up a collection) strongly indicates that the apostles and early church viewed the first day of the week as their primary or at a minimum equal-to-the-Sabbath day of worship and rest although it was not the only day of worship (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:1-2).
Some Christians choose to have the first day of the week (Sunday) as the primary day of community worship and physical rest. This is called the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath. This day is chosen in honor of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is what the apostles did although they also attended the synagogue on the Sabbath as they preached and gave witness to Jesus Christ. It is not useful to criticize or judge those who choose to have the Sabbath (Saturday) as their primary day of community worship and physical rest. There should be mutual respect enough to not criticize or judge either (Colossians 2:16-22) for the choice of Sunday or Saturday.
Also, be mindful that since the workweek begins on Monday and the last day of the weekend is on Sunday, Christians would be right to have a practice where the Lord’s Day and the Christian Sabbath day coincide on Sunday. This is because the biblical reference to first day of the week is understood to refer to calendar week but the Sabbath is understood in relation to the workweek; the calendar week and workweek were the same in biblical days but not now.
Also one should be mindful that some countries have calendars whose first day is Monday rather than Sunday.
For example, this is the case of Great Britain (England), France, Greece, Germany, Vatican City, etc. See Great Britain calendar.
Compare it with the United States calendar. Note that the US calendar begins with Sunday but the Great Britain calendar begins with Monday.
The point is different countries have different first day of the week and therefore different seventh day of the week. That is why we cannot definitively base the seventh day on our calendar as it depends on where you live and whether you are talking about the calendar week or the workweek.
Click here for some information on how we get the names of the days of the week. However, be mindful this is based on the writer’s research. Since the names came to be so long ago such research may or may not be completely correct.
All should remember the words and acts of Jesus (Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-7) where he says and shows that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.
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