The Sabbath

The issue of keeping the Sabbath (the seveth day of the week; Saturday) is something continually comes up in conversations with professing believers both on the streets and in churches. I found David Cloud's explanation to be one of the best and easiest to understand and apply in a conversation, and so I have reproduced it in its entirety below (originally sent out via the FBNS, Thu, Jul 15, 2010; I would also highly recommend his book The Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible and Christianity which has over 6,000 topic studies of this type).

The Sabbath Yesterday and Today

Seventh-day Adventists teach that men kept the sabbath from the days of Adam onward, but this is contrary to the Bible’s own record.

While it is true that the sabbath originated at end of the six days of creation (Gen. 2:1-3), that was God’s rest, not man’s. There is no record in Genesis that God gave the sabbath to man, and there is no record of men keeping the sabbath before Israel in the wilderness. The saints in Genesis built altars, prayed, offered sacrifices, and tithed; but the Scripture is silent in regard to sabbath keeping.

The Sabbath was First Given to Israel and Is God's Sign to Israel

Nehemiah 9:13-14 plainly states that the sabbath was first given to Israel in the wilderness.

Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant. [Nehemiah 9:13-14]

If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had kept the sabbath, their children would have been familiar with the practice; but Nehemiah tells us that this was not the case.

Key, Definitive Passage: Exodus 31:12-18

Exodus 31:12-18 plainly states that the sabbath was a special sign between God and Israel. If mankind in general had been given the sabbath following creation, it could not have been a sign for Israel. The fact is that the sabbath belongs to the nation Israel and not to any other people. It is also important to note that the sabbath will be an eternal possession of Israel (Ex 31:16). This sign will never be annulled or transferred to another people. This explains why the prophets foretell that Israel will keep the sabbath even after the kingdom of Christ is established on earth (Isa. 66:23). It also explains why Jesus Christ mentioned the sabbath in His prophecies of the Tribulation (Mt. 24:20). Jews still keep the sabbath today and there are restrictions in the land of Israel. The El Al Airline does not fly on the sabbath, for example.

The Sabbath and the New Testament Saint

In their writings to the churches, the Apostles only mentioned the sabbath three times:

  1. The sabbath is a symbol of salvation rest in Christ (Heb. 4).
  2. The New Testament believer is not bound to keep the sabbath (Col. 2:9-17).
  3. The New Testament believer has liberty in the matter of holy days (Rom. 14:1-23).

Those who claim that the sabbath is binding upon the Christian, are teaching contrary to apostolic doctrine.

The sabbath relates to the old creation and was given expressly to Israel; the Lord’s Day relates to the new creation and belongs especially to the church. The sabbath speaks of law as six days of lab or which are followed by rest, but the Lord’s day speaks of grace, for we begin the week with rest that is followed by works. [Wiersbe's Old Testament Outlines]

Why, then, did Jesus keep the sabbath? He kept the sabbath for the same reason He kept all the other Mosaic laws. (He also observed the feasts.) Jesus did these things because He was born a Jew, born under the law, that He might fulfill it and redeem His people from its penalty and bondage (Gal. 4:4; Rom. 9:5).

Biblical Evidence that Early Christians Worshipped on Sunday

1. Jesus rose from the dead on the first day (Mk. 16:9).

2. Jesus first appeared to his disciples on the first day (Mk. 16:9).

3. Jesus repeatedly met with the disciples at different places on the first day after the resurrection (Mk. 16:9-11; Mt 28:8-10; Lk. 24:34; Mk. 16:12-13; Jn. 20:19-23).

4. Jesus blessed the disciples on the first day (Jn. 20:19).

5. Jesus imparted to the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first day (Jn. 20:22).

6. On the first day Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach the gospel to all the world (Jn. 20:21; with Mk. 16:9-15).

7. On the first day Jesus ascended to Heaven, was seated at the right hand of the Father and was made Head of all (Jn. 20:17; Eph. 1:20).

8. On the first day many of the dead saints arose from the grave (Mt. 27:52-53).

9. The first day became the day of joy and rejoicing to the disciples (Jn. 20:20; Lk. 24:41).

10. On the first day the gospel of the risen Christ was first preached (Lk. 24:34).

11. On the first day Jesus explained the Scriptures to the disciples (Lk. 24:27, 45).

12. On the first day the purchase of our redemption was completed (Rom. 4:25).

13. On the first day the Holy Spirit descended (Acts 2:1). Pentecost was on the 50th day after the sabbath following the wave offering (Lev. 23:15-16). Thus Pentecost was always on a Sunday.

14. The Christians met to worship on the first day (Acts 20:6-7; 1 Cor. 16:2) (D.M. Canright, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced).

Since those days, the vast majority of Christians have always met to worship on the Lord’s day. They do this in honor of the resurrection of their Savior. Christ was in the tomb during the sabbath, and rose as the firstborn from the dead on the first day. The sabbath signifies the last day of the old creation (Gen. 2:2). Sunday is the first day of the new creation.

Historical Evidence that Early Christians Worshipped on Sunday

The Epistle of Barnabas (about A.D. 100) -- "Wherefore, also we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead."

The Epistle of Ignatius (about A.D. 107) -- "Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish Law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace ... If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death."

Justin Martyr (about A.D. 140) -- "And on the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read. ... But Sunday is the day on which we all hold a common assembly, because it is the First day of the week on which God ... made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead."

Bardesanes, Edessa (A.D. 180) -- "On one day the first of the week, we assemble ourselves together."

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 194) -- "He, in fulfillment of the precept, according to the gospel, keeps the Lord’s Day ... glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself."

Tertullian (A.D. 200) -- "We solemnize the day after Saturday in contradiction to those who call this day their sabbath."

Irenaeus (about A.D. 155-202) -- "The Mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection may not be celebrated on any other day than the Lord’s Day, and on this alone should we observe the breaking off of the Paschal Feast."

Cyprian (A.D. 250) -- "The eighth day, that is, the first day after the sabbath, and the Lord’s Day."

Anatolius (A.D. 270) -- "Our regard for the Lord’s resurrection which took place on the Lord’s Day will lead us to celebrate it."

Peter, Bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 306) -- "But the Lord’s Day we celebrate as a day of joy, because on it, he rose again."