By Ed Vasicek
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 the Sabbath Day, so they form “Seventh Day” religions. Some Messianic Jews even believe that Christ actually rose 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 (His attributes) 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. Some of the Law pertains to how Israel was to be governed legally; some of it pertains to the Old Testament rituals of worship centered around on sanctuary (the Tabernacle and later the Temple), as well as personal religious practice, morality, and theology. It is so interwoven that our attempts 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 parts of which are inspired and profitable), the Torah is streamlined for the Hebrew people.
Christianity, in its purest forms, is "Transcultural 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.
Let us narrow our discussion about the Sabbath. There are a host of viewpoints (and some are agenda-driven and 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 meet 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). 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.
Saturday will always be the Sabbath Day, but a day of which is no different from other days (Romans 14:5-6). God specifically gave the Jews the Sabbath Day as a day of rest in the Old Covenant. Jesus and the Jewish believers 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 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.
I do not believe that Sunday is the Sabbath. The Sabbath is Saturday, a day given to the Jewish people to rest. In my opinion, early Jewish believers participated in the Synagogue on Saturday and then met with fellow Christians (Jew or 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 set a particular day because the day itself is “holy” might be a bit of a reach (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.
But, to go back to Romans 14 above, no day is really “holy.” It is that Christians have traditionally met on Sundays; I believe the Scriptures do command regular assemblies (Hebrews 10:23-25), but I do not think it has to be on any particular day of the week. On the other hand, if the option is available, it makes sense to meet to commemorate our Lord's victorious rise from the dead.