Christians and the Sabbath

Some Christians are into first-day Sabbatarianism and see Sunday as Christian Sabbath, while others stick with the traditional view of Saturday always being the Sabbath, these are seventh-day Sabbatarians. Meanwhile, others view both days as equally valuable because Saturday is the true Sabbath and Sunday is Resurrection day. This is why we have a two-day weekend. In fact, in Latin Saturday is called “Sabat” which is based on the Hebrew word for rest (sabbath), and Sunday is called “Dominus” which means “Lord” so it represents the Lord’s Day. This even carries over to modern Latin-based languages like Spanish Saturday is called Sabadó and Sunday is called Él Domingo. This implies that for the early church both days were valuable.

First-day Sabbatarians are wrong because the Sabbath does not change to Sunday at all. It’s still the seventh day because it’s based on the seventh day of creation (Gen 2:1-3, Ex 20:10-11 & 23:12). However, Seventh-Day Sabbatarians can take things out of context and apply these laws to Gentiles even though these laws did not initially apply to them in the first place. The Sabbath is a holy day, but there is no Sabbath observance for Gentiles in Genesis. That means this law was given specifically to the Israelites by Moses in the Sinaitic covenant. In fact, Gentile men who were uncircumcised weren’t even allowed to celebrate holy days, like Passover (Ex 12:48). Therefore, Christians are not required to observe Sabbath or any other Jewish holidays.

That is why Paul says in Colossians 2:16-17 (NLT) So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

He says something similar in Romans 14:5-9 as well:

Romans 14:5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.

In the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, it’s made clear by James, Peter, and Paul that Gentiles (non-Jews) don’t have to follow ritual purity laws like kosher food laws, and circumcision. Instead, Gentiles have to follow moral laws like abstaining from sexual immorality, blood-drinking, and idol worship. Jesus made all believers ritually pure and that includes Gentiles, therefore they are not bound by ritual purity laws. Ritual purity laws were given so that Israelites would approach God’s presence at the Temple or Tabernacle in a clean state. However, under the New Covenant, we are the temple because the holy spirit is God’s presence inside of us.

Christians are not banned from celebrating the Sabbath in the bible so in the early church, they had both, resting on Saturday and worshiping on Sunday. Unfortunately at one point, the Europeans in the late 3rd and early 4th century did ban all Jewish holidays including the Sabbath from Christianity. They had a new theological framework that said Gentile Christians replaced the Jews and this is where a lot of the “Christian” anti-semitism throughout European history comes from. This construct is Antichrist in itself because the Jews wrote the whole Bible including the New testament, plus Jesus and the apostles were all Jewish, so hating Jews is Antichrist. They would take Bible verses like John 8:44 out of context and say Jesus said all Jews were “children of the devil”. Also, they used what Paul said in Romans 11:13-18 about Gentiles being wild branches that are grafted into the olive tree (covenant) and replacing original branches (Jews) that wouldn’t produce fruit (by believing in Jesus). However, if you continue reading verses 19-20, Paul warns the Gentiles not to boast because they can easily be removed, and can be replaced with Messianic Jews at any time. So he never said this to denounce all Jews he simply wanted to point out that Jews and Gentiles are now made equal, yet European Christians took this way out of context and used it to persecute Jews for thousands of years.

The tradition of worshipping on Sunday comes from Jesus’ resurrection being on the first day of the week which is Sunday (John 20:1 & John 20:19). However the new testament never refers to Sunday as the Sabbath or calls any day other than the 7th day the Sabbath, nor is there ever a declaration that Sunday is the new Sabbath. We see evidence of the early church meeting on the first day of the week in Acts 20:7. In addition, Paul had the Corinthians collect money for Jerusalem the same way the Galatians did, by bringing the gifts to their meetings on the first day of each week (1 Cor 16:1-3). In context, this wasn’t a specific command of all churches for all time, but a system that Paul implemented to collect funds from churches at that time to help other churches. He told them to do this instead of waiting until the day he got there to collect it all at once. This scripture is about efficient fundraising at that specific moment for a specific offering, not about Sabbath rules. However, when pairing this with their fellowship meal at Troas in Acts 20:7, one could deduce that the early church already had a tradition of meeting on Sundays and Paul simply could have been telling them to give every time they had services rather than waiting at the last moment to give, that way they could guarantee the church would have more funds. The Bible doesn’t specifically say they meet on Sunday every week but the church made a tradition out of it over time.

Jesus was often criticized for healing on the Sabbath. His response was that God didn’t make man for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man, and that he was Lord of even the Sabbath (Mark2:27). Sabbath is about rest from the toils of life, and shouldn’t be used to restrict good deeds like healing people, because those are God’s good works being done on earth. Jesus himself a Jew observed the Sabbath, but in his era, the leaders were abusing the laws regarding the Sabbath and Jesus corrected them. Like in Luke 13:10-17 when he healed the woman who has some kind of spinal infirmity caused by a demon. The leader of the synagogue objected to her being healed on the sabbath, but Jesus pointed out that the religious leaders let their animals out of the stall for water on the Sabbath and that it would be wrong to have this covenant woman, wait for deliverance any longer simply because it is on the Sabbath. She had been afflicted for 18 years. Basically, he is saying that God didn’t forbid showing mercy and helping others on the Sabbath. In other words “loving your neighbor” (Lev 19:18) is a higher law than the Sabbath. Another Sabbath healing scenario happens in Mark 3:1-6 (& Luke 6:6-11), in which Jesus rhetorically asks if it is “lawful to do good deeds on the Sabbath” before healing a man, and the Sanhedrin didn’t respond because they knew he was right, but they still hated him for it. A similar discussion happens in Luke 14:1-6 when Jesus heals a man and asks the Sanhedrin rhetorically if it is “okay to heal on the Sabbath?” They didn’t answer and he points out they themselves would “work” on the sabbath if it meant rescuing their own children or animals if they fell into a pit or feeding their animals.

In another Sabbath conflict with the religious leaders (John 7:21-24), he pointed out that circumcision has to happen on the Sabbath if it is eight days after a male child’s birth because circumcision is a higher law. Jesus taught that some laws can be negated by higher more important commandments. This idea also is explained in Matt 15:3-6 when Jesus said that it is wrong to violate one commandment in order to fulfill another, like disrespecting your own parents to keep a vow. The two greatest commands are to love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). This means that Jewish emergency phone operators, firefighters, police officers, and EMTs, are not guilty of sin if working on the Sabbath, because they are out there saving lives in emergency situations. Only ordinary work from the seat of our brow (Gen 3:17-19) was to be stopped on the Sabbath, not walking in love and helping people. The Sabbath was rest from working the cursed ground, not rest from being a blessing. In the Good Samaritan parable, the Jews who ignored the man could have possibly argued “it’s the Sabbath I can’t help you” if the setting was on the Sabbath. Jesus’ point of that parable implies that hypothetically if the setting were the Sabbath, they would still be wrong for failing to love their neighbor. Just like the circumcision example, the Sabbath law is not higher than the command to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). This is what James calls the “royal law” in James 2:8.

One of Jesus’s responses to his critique of healing on the Sabbath was that his father (God) is working on the Sabbath so he is simply imitating the father (John 5). In addition, in Matt 12:7 Jesus quotes Hos 6:6, which says God wants us to walk in love more than he wants sacrifices. Ultimately, Jesus is saying that putting restrictions on God’s good works and power because it’s the Sabbath was contrary to the point of the Sabbath. Psalms 50 makes a similar note about people who give sacrifices in vain, because God wants their hearts, and that thankfulness is a greater sacrifice than any animal since God owns all animals on the earth. He basically said they were hypocrites for criticizing him for doing good works on the Sabbath when they themselves did certain works on the Sabbath.

Details of Jesus’s Sabbath teachings are in Matt 12:1-14, Mark 2:23-28 & 3:1-6, Luke 6:1-11,13:10-17, & 14:1-6, and John 5:1-18, & 7:21-24.

Ritual purity laws don’t apply to Gentiles because they were fulfilled by Jesus, however, moral laws do apply. The difference between moral and ritual purity is that ritual purity was about the physical states of a person’s body and contact with unclean things like bodily fluids and certain animals. However moral purity is about behavior, so we have to choose righteous actions to be counted as morally pure. The Jerusalem council of Acts 15 said that Gentiles do have to follow the moral laws about blood-drinking, sexual immorality, and idolatry. No mention of the Sabbath at all in Acts 15, so this leaves it up for interpretation. One could argue that the Sabbath was for the Israelites only, to set them apart as a ritual purity thing, however, on the other side, the Sabbath is in the 10 commandments which are mostly moral laws, not ritual laws. Christ himself observe the Sabbath but he made sure to observe it correctly and not use it to abuse people. However, a Christian theologian from the 2nd century named Justin Martyr pointed out that there was no mention of Sabbath observance before Moses, (not even for Abraham), even though there were moral laws like those against murder, adultery, etc. So the argument that the Sabbath was a moral law may not hold up since the other commandments like the forbiddance of murder and adultery, weren’t new at the time of Moses, and we’re observed by all people going all the way back to Noah. To each their own. We shouldn’t deny that Saturday is the Sabbath (Gen 2:1-3, Ex 20:10-11 & 23:12), nor are Christians in sin for not observing it and Paul himself confirms that in Romans 14:5-9 and Colossians 2:16-17. Pau was a former Pharisee and had three visionary encounters (Acts 9:1-19, Acts 22:17-21, Acts 23:11) with Jesus, so if anyone knows how to apply the law properly in the new covenant it is him. Likewise, people are free to observe Sabbath if they want and no one should stop them, there is no ban on the Sabbath in the New Testament, Paul is simply saying it is not required for Gentiles. Again we can look at linguistics from Latin to Spanish for Saturday (Sabat) and Sunday (Dominus), and can see that at some point in early Christianity both were valid.

Got Questions article on the subject

Notes from Wiki:
According to Socrates Scholasticus Book V, Sozoman Ecclesiastical Book VII, Sunday services were going on since the 1st century (the time of the apostles), and at the same time, the Sabbath was kept. Sunday was for worship, while the Sabbath was for rest, most churches did this because most of the church body was mostly made up of Messianic Jews. This is according to R.J. Bauckham’s “The Lord’s Day”, and Don A. Carson’s “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation”, as well as early church writers like Bardaisan, Cyprian, and Victorinus of Pettau.

The 2nd-century Christian leader Justin Martyr argued that since the Sabbath wasn’t kept before the Sinaitic covenant (Moses law), it’s not a rule that can be applied to non-Israelites. In addition, he drew on a reference to Sunday being the first day of the week (when God created light) to the light of Jesus in the dark world. He along with 3rd-century church father, Cyprian also paralleled the first day of the week (Sunday) which is after the 7th day (Saturday), with the 8th day when baby boys are circumcised, saying that gentiles don’t require circumcision because Jesus circumcised our hearts with his sacrifice and Cyprian takes it further to imply that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath requirement through circumcision because like circumcision the Sabbath was a shadow of things to come. This is consistent with Paul’s teachings and the Jerusalem council’s conclusion on the issue of Christian ritual purity in Acts 15, though the new testament author didn’t explicitly state any connection with the Sabbath.

Constantine declared Sunday a Roman day of rest in 321 AD, and while at that time Constantine himself wasn’t a Christian, he made the edict of tolerance for Christianity in 313 AD. One could argue that it’s likely he did it for pagans, who worshiped the sun on Sunday, but it would have benefited Christians who had a tradition of worshipping on that day. By 361 AD worship on Sundays had become a mandatory tradition, so here it seems the Sabbath debate was forced to the side of first day Sabbatarians in the 4th century. In the middle ages, Sunday worship had become associated with sabbatical rest.

In Rev 1:10 John says he was in the spirit on the Lord’s day. The first day Sabbatarians argue this was Sunday, 7th day Sabbatarians argue this was on Saturday. First-day Sabbatarians often site scriptures where Jesus said he was the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-14, Luke13:11-17), as a reason for a new Sabbath day to be on Sunday the day the Lord rose from the dead. However, since some Christians believe the 10 commandments still apply no matter what, changing the day of rest could be seen as contradictory to the command about keeping the Lord’s Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11).

Other church doctrines like the Didache (between 70 and 120 AD) and letters from Ignatius of Antioch (110AD) all make reference to the Lord’s day for communion and fellowship but different interpretations and translations have led to disputes over whether or not they are referring to Saturday or Sunday, but most commentaries say the Sabbath was forsaken as a Jewish thing and to replaced with Sunday observance as the Lord’s day. Various Deuterocanon books written post new testament like the Acts of Peter and the Acts of Paul declare Sunday the Lord’s day while another Deuterocanon book, the Acts of John, maintains that Saturday is the Lord’s day.”
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