Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?
Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?
Origin of the Sabbath
History of the Sabbath
Views of the Christian's Obligation To Keep The Sabbath
I. ORIGIN OF THE SABBATH
A. Teaching of the Bible
1. Sanctification of the seventh day of creation.
The Hebrews did not claim to be the creators of this unique institution.
They affirmed that God Himself was its creator. The record of its origin
which they preserved for us is in the Bible. The divine origin of the
sabbath is described in the opening chapters of Genesis. The first two
chapters describe God's creative activity during six days and His
sanctification of the seventh day by His cessation from His creative work
(Gen 1:1-2:3). The word "sabbath" is not employed, but it is certain that
the author meant to assert that God blessed and hallowed the seventh day as
The grouping of the creation narrative into six periods called days,
followed by a seventh day of rest, seems to have been done purposefully to
establish a weekly sacred day. Later scriptural teaching on the sabbath
seems to corroborate this. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue, as
recorded in Exodus, gives as the reason for the Israelites' observance of
the sabbath the fact that God "in six days . . . made heaven and earth, the
sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the
LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exod 20:11). The words of
Jesus, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27),
point back beyond the Mosaic command to the original purpose and will of
God. They indicate that the sabbath came into being when man came into
It seems clear, therefore, that the divine origin and institution of the
sabbath took place at the beginning of human history. At that time God not
only provided a divine example for keeping the seventh day as a day of
rest, but also blessed and set apart the seventh day for the use and
benefit of man. There is no mention of the observance of the sabbath by
the patriarchs, although a period of seven days is mentioned several times
in the account of Noah and the Flood (Gen 7:4, 10; 8:10, 12), and a week is
mentioned in the story of Jacob and Rachel (29:27). Whether the patriarchs
had knowledge of or observed the sabbath does not matter; the revelation of
God to Moses was that He had instituted the sabbath at the close of
2. The ordinance concerning the manna.
The first mention of the word "sabbath" is in Exodus 16:23 which gives
certain regulations concerning the gathering and preparation of the manna,
when the Israelites were in the wilderness of Sin. At the command of the
LORD, Moses told the people to gather and prepare twice as much manna on
the sixth day as on other days (Exod 16:5). When the leaders of the
congregation reported to Moses that the people had done so, Moses replied,
"This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a
holy sabbath to the LORD'" (16:22, 23). The next day Moses commanded the
people to eat what had been kept over, and added, "Today is a sabbath to
the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall
gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none"
(16:25, 26). Some of the people, notwithstanding this explicit command,
went out to gather manna on the seventh day (16:27). At this point the
LORD said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my
laws? See! The LORD has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day
he gives you bread for two days; remain every man of you in his place, let
no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (16:28, 29).
This passage shows that the sabbath was certainly made known to Israel
before the giving of the law at Sinai. The Israelites did not arrive at
Sinai until the following month (16:1; 19:1). This passage also shows that
this was not the first institution of the sabbath. The incidental manner
in which the matter is introduced and the remonstrance of the LORD for the
disobedience of the people both imply that the sabbath had previously been
known. The LORD'S inquiry, "How long do you refuse to keep my commandments
and my laws?" sounds as if it had long been in existence. In fact, the
equation of the sabbath with the seventh day, the statement that the LORD
gave the Israelites the sabbath, and the record that the people, at God's
command, rested on the seventh day, all point unmistakably to the primeval
institution of the sabbath.
3. The fourth commandment of the Decaloque.
The fourth commandment itself does not purport to be the first promulgation
of the sabbath. Its introductory words, "Remember the sabbath day" (Exod
20:8), suggest that the sabbath had been previously known but either
forgotten or neglected. The reason given in the commandment for the
sanctification of the sabbath day was the example of God at the close of
creation (20:9-11). The commandment pointed back to the original
institution of the sabbath.
The fourth commandment made the sabbath a distinctive Hebrew institution.
It formed an integral part of the covenant which God made with Israel at
Sinai. The covenant consisted of "the ten commandments" uttered by the
LORD Himself from the mount (Deut 4:13; 5:2-21). The fourth commandment
has a central place in that covenant, serving as the connecting link
between those commandments having to do with duties toward God and those
having to do with duties toward man.
The Ten Commandments are prefixed by a declaration that God had brought
Israel out of the land of Egypt (Exod 20:2; Deut 5:6). These words can
apply in their literal sense only to the children of Israel. The wording
of the commandments themselves also indicates that they were given
specifically to the Israelites. The fifth commandment contains a promise
of long life in the land which the LORD was about to give to Israel (Exod
20:12; Deut 5:16). Similarly, the Deuteronomic version of the fourth
commandment gives the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt as the
primary reason for the observance of the sabbath (Deut 5:15). The keeping
of the sabbath is elsewhere declared to be the sign of Israel's allegiance
to God (Exod 31:13; Neh 9:14). It served to distinguish Israel from the
other nations. There can be no doubt that in its original setting and
application the sabbath command was a law intended only for the people of
At the same time it is evident that the fourth commandment contains
principles which are applicable to all people. It recognizes the moral
duty of man to worship his Creator, for which stated times and places for
worship are needed as well as the ceasing from the ordinary employments of
life. It recognizes also the basic need of man for a weekly day of rest.
Man's history has demonstrated his need for the recuperation of his
physical and mental energies once in every seven days as well as his need
for a day of the week set apart for spiritual devotion and instruction.
The sabbath command provided for these needs of the ancient Israelites.
II. HISTORY OF THE SABBATH
A. The sabbath of the Mosaic legislation.
The regulations for the observance of the sabbath in the Mosaic legislation
are relatively simple. The sabbath was to be observed on every seventh
day; it was to be observed by all: the servants, the humble beasts of
burden, the members of the Hebrew household, and the guests who were
staying within their gates were all commanded to cease from labor on that
day (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15).
The humanitarian aspect of this freedom from toil on the sabbath is
especially emphasized in Deuteronomy, where the deliverance of Israel from
the oppressive bondage of Egypt is given as the reason for the keeping of
the sabbath (Deut 5:14, 15). The gathering of manna on the seventh day had
been expressly forbidden (Exod 16:27-29). Likewise, the kindling of it
fire on the sabbath was forbidden (35:3). The penalty for profaning the
sabbath by doing any work on it was death (31:14). A man who was found
gathering sticks on the sabbath day was stoned to death. (Num 15:32-36).
The sabbath, however, was not a day of total inactivity. The priests
carried on their duties about the Tabernacle. The bread of the Presence
was to be set on the table in the holy place on the sabbath day (Lev 24:8).
A special sacrifice, in addition to the ordinary daily sacrifice, was to be
offered on the sabbath day (Num 28:9, 10). The rite of circumcision was
performed on the sabbath if that was the eighth day after the child's birth
(Lev 12:3; John 7:22). The sabbath is listed among the sacred festivals,
"the appointed feasts of the LORD" (23:1-3). It, like them, was proclaimed
to be "a holy convocation" (23:3). This can only mean that it was regarded
as a day for the calling together of the congregation of Israel to worship.
In the early history of the Israelites, the sabbath was a day of welcome
rest from labor and of solemn worship at the sanctuary of God.
B. The sabbath in the historical and prophetical books of the Old
The first mention of the sabbath in the historical books is in 2 Kings
4:23, which contains a question uttered by the husband of the Shunammite
woman at whose home Elisha had been entertained. She had asked for one of
the servants and one of the donkeys that she might go to see the prophet
(4:22). Her husband expressed surprise at her request and said, "Why will
you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath" (4:23). His
mention of the sabbath was incidental, but his remark plainly infers that
it was customary to suspend work and to visit the prophet on the sabbath.
Visiting a prophet on the sabbath would necessarily he limited to the few.
There is evidence that visiting the Temple on the sabbath was a more
widespread custom. There are a number of references in Chronicles to the
ritual performed in the Temple on that day (I Chron 9:32; 23:31; 2 Chron
2:4; 8:13; 23:4; 31:3). The prophet Isaiah, in his condemnation of the
hypocrisy of the worshipers, seems to indicate that assemblies took place
in the Temple on that day (Isa 1:13).
Isaiah denounced the formalistic sabbath observance of his time (1:12, 13),
and defined true sabbath-keeping as turning from one's own ways and from
one's own pleasures, and taking delight in the LORD (58:13, 14). Other
prophets raised their voices in protest against the abuse of the sabbath
(Jer 17:21, 22; Ezek 22:8; Amos 8:4). They regarded the destruction of
Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jews as due, at least in part, to the
desecration of the sabbath (Jer 17:27; Ezek 20:23, 24). Hosea predicted
that God would make Israel's sabbaths to cease because of her
unfaithfulness (Hos 2:11); but that this cessation of sabbath observance
was not meant to be permanent is made clear by Isaiah and Ezekiel (Isa
66:23; Ezek 44:24).
During the period of the Exile, the sabbath rose in prominence as compared
to the other religious festivals of the Jews, since it was independent of
the Temple in Jerusalem, whereas the other festivals were in part dependent
on that religions center. In the period of the return from exile, sabbath
observance was revived in Palestine, in large measure through the reforms
of Nehemiah. On his return to Palestine, he was shocked to see the
widespread desecration of the holy day. People labored in the fields,
gathered the harvests, and bought and sold publicly on the sabbath day.
Nehemiah rebuked the nobles of Judah and ordered the gates of Jerusalem
closed during the sabbath (Neh 13:15-22). His vigorous efforts were
largely responsible for the establishment of the sabbath as a day of
universal rest among the Jews of Palestine.
C. The sabbath in the inter-testamental period.
In the years following the reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra, their successors,
the scribes, developed an elaborate code of regulations and restrictions
governing sabbath observance. These were intended to safeguard and
preserve the spirit of the sabbath, just as the shell protects the kernel.
They were an attempt to "hedge in" the law so that its proper observance
would be guaranteed. The discussion of actual or hypothetical cases led to
the formulation of thirty-nine articles which prohibited all kinds of
ordinary agricultural, industrial, and domestic work, unless it was by its
nature, or in the circumstances of the case, necessary (G. F. Moore,
"Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era," pp. 27-30).
The efforts of the scribes to promote a regard for the Hebrew sabbath were
successful. The sabbath became so deeply rooted in Jewish consciousness
and so treasured by individual Jews, that in the days of the Maccabees many
chose to die rather than desecrate it. The Jews refused to engage in
battle, even in self-defense, on their holy day. Later, however,
Mattathias, the leader of the revolt against the tyranny of Antiochus IV,
ruled that it was permissible to take up arms in self-defense on the
The ruling of Mattathias is significant because it was the first of many
such rulings designed to liberalize the restrictions of sabbath observance.
Many ways were found to get around the letter of the law. The motive for
the extended casuistry on the sabbath was undoubtedly to make the law more
practicable, but it led to many fanciful and far-fetched interpretations.
For example, from the rabbinical interpretation of the command in Exodus
16:29 to "remain every man of you in his place" on the sabbath day, it was
determined that a sabbath day's journey might not exceed two thousand
cubits beyond one's dwelling. However, if a man had deposited at that
distance on the day preceding the sabbath enough food for two meals, he
thereby constituted it his dwelling, and hence might go on for another two
thousand cubits. Similarly, if families living in private houses which
opened into a common court deposited food in the court before the sabbath,
thereby establishing a "connection" between the houses and making them one
dwelling, they were permitted to carry things from one house to another
without breaking the law (A. Edersheim, "The Life and times of Jesus the
Messiah," Vol. II, p. 777).
One of the outstanding features of this period was the rise of the
synagogue. The synagogue became the center of the religious life of
Judaism, not only in those places which were far removed from Jerusalem,
but also alongside the Temple in Jerusalem. Attendance at the synagogue
became customary on the sabbath day (Luke 4:16). The Hebrew sabbath became
distinctively a day of worship, a worship connected largely with the
D. The sabbath in the New Testament period.
1. Jesus and the sabbath.
At the beginning of the New Testament period, the true meaning of the
sabbath had been obscured by the multitudinous restrictions laid upon its
observance. Sabbath observance had largely become external and formal.
Men had become more concerned for the punctilious observance of a day than
for the poignant needs of human beings. It was inevitable that Jesus
should come into conflict with the Jewish leaders over the sabbath. It was
Jesus' custom to attend the synagogue on the sabbath (Luke 4:16; Mark 1:21;
3:1; Luke 13:10). In His teaching He upheld the authority and validity of
the Old Testament law (Matt 5:17-20; 15:1-6; 19:16-19; 22:35-40; Luke
16:17) His emphasis, however, was not on an external observance of the
law, but on a spontaneous performance of the will of God which underlay the
law (Matt 5:21-48; 19:3-9). Jesus sought to clarify the true meaning of
the sabbath by showing the original purpose for its institution: "The sab.
bath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
On six different occasions Jesus came into direct conflict with Jewish
prejudices in regard to the sabbath. He defended His disciples for
plucking grain on the sabbath by alluding to the time when David and his
men ate the bread of the Presence (Matt 12:1-4; Mark 2:23-26; Luke 6:1-4).
By so doing, Jesus placed the sabbath commandment in the same class as the
ceremonial law which prohibited the eating of this sacred bread by others
than the priests, and taught that human need had precedence over the legal
requirements of the sabbath. He also reminded His critics that the priests
in the Temple profaned the sabbath and were guiltless (Matt 12:5). He no
doubt referred to the practice prescribed by the law of circumcising a male
child on the sabbath if that were the eighth day after his birth (Lev 12:3;
John 7:22, 23). Thus the ceremonial law requiring the circumcision of the
child on the eighth day took precedence over the law of the sabbath. It
was on this same occasion that Jesus said that the sabbath was made for
man, and not man for the sabbath (Mark 2:27), indicating that He regarded
the sabbath as a provision for man's need and welfare and not as a
burdensome legal requirement. It was also on this occasion that Jesus
asserted His lordship over the sabbath (Matt 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).
Jesus expressed anger over those Jews at the synagogue in Capernaum who
showed more concern for the punctilious observance of the sabbath than for
a human being who was deprived of the use of a hand, and proceeded to heal
the man before them all (Mark 3:1-5). On another occasion, when the ruler
of the synagogue became indignant because Jesus healed a woman who had had
a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years, He defended His action by
appealing to the common practice of untying one's domestic animals to lead
them to water on the sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). Again, when Jesus, under the
critical eye of the Pharisees, healed a man on the sabbath who had dropsy,
He defended His action by asking if His critics would not rescue an ox or a
donkey that had fallen into a well on that day (14:1-6).
The remaining two occasions when Jesus' action on the sabbath brought Him
into conflict with the Jewish leaders are recorded by John. One was the
healing of the sick man at the pool of Bethzatha (John 5:1-18); the other
was the healing of the man born blind (9:1-41). On the first of these
occasions Jesus defended His right to heal on the sabbath on the grounds
that His Father did not suspend His beneficent activity on that day (5:17)
and on the second occasion He condemned the spiritual blindness of the
Pharisees (9:40, 41).
In all of these instances, Jesus showed that He placed human need above the
mere external observance of the sabbath. Jesus never did or said anything
to suggest that He intended to take away from man the privileges afforded
by such a day of rest. On the other hand, it cannot be said that Jesus
intended to perpetuate the Hebrew sabbath or extend its application to all
men. As far as the record of the gospels is concerned, He never made
mention of the fourth commandment. By emphasizing the principles which lay
back of the law, the spirit and purpose of the law instead of its formal
and external regulations, He prepared the way for the abolishing of all the
external laws and ordinances of the Old Testament.
2. Paul and the sabbath.
The early Christians were loyal Jews. They worshiped daily in the Temple
at Jerusalem (Acts 2:46; 5:42). They attended services in the synagogue
(Acts 9:20; 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10; 18:4). They revered the law of Moses
(21:20). The Jewish Christians undoubtedly continued to observe the
sabbath. When Gentiles were brought into the Christian community, a
problem arose with regard to their relation to the Jewish law. There were
those who insisted that it was necessary for them to submit to the rite of
circumcision and keep the law of Moses, which would, of course, include the
sabbath command (Acts 15:1, 5; Gal 2:3-5). Others, of whom Paul became the
leader, affirmed that it was not necessary for the Gentile converts to
accept the religion of Judaism. Paul argued that, since they had received
the Spirit without observing Jewish law, they were not obligated to adopt
Jewish ceremonial [laws] in order to live righteously (Gal 3:2-3; Acts
The Apostle Paul regarded the law as a yoke of bondage from which the
Christian had been set free (Gal 5:1). In his "revolt against external
law" (P. Cotton, "From Sabbath to Sunday," p. 11), Paul made no distinction
between moral and ceremonial law. It was all a part of that old covenant
which was done away in Christ (2 Cor 3:14). The sabbath is definitely
included in "the bond which stood against us with its legal demands,"
which, Paul declares, God canceled and set aside, "nailing it to the cross"
(Col 2:14). It is mentioned along with festivals and new moons, all of
which are declared to be "only a shadow of what is to come" (2:16, 17). To
"observe days, and months, and seasons, and years" is to be slaves to "the
weak and beggarly elemental spirits" (Gal 4:9, 10; Col 2:20). The
observance of days is a characteristic of "the man who is weak in faith"
Paul provides no grounds for imposing the Hebrew sabbath on the Christian.
The Christian is free from the burden of the law. The Spirit of Christ
enables him to fulfill God's will apart from external observance of the
law's demands. The author of Hebrews likewise speaks of the Hebrew sabbath
only as a type of "God's rest," which is the inheritance of all the people
of God (Heb 4:1-10). He does not tell his readers to keep the sabbath, but
rather urges them to "strive to enter that rest" (4:11).
E. The sabbath in the post-New Testament period.
The Early Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd Christian centuries were
practically unanimous in their view of the Hebrew sabbath. Some insisted
that it was completely abrogated; others emphasized its typical character;
but all agreed that it was not binding on the Christian. Ignatius, the
disciple of the Apostle John, and the bishop of Antioch, wrote to the
Magnesians in the early years of the 2nd century: "Be not deceived with
strange doctrines, nor with old fables. For if we still live according to
the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace"; and then
goes on to categorize his readers as "those who were brought up in the
ancient order of things" but who "have come to the possession of a new
hope, no longer observing the Sabbath" ("The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. I,
pp. 62, 63).
Justin Martyr, the first great Christian apologist around the middle of the
2nd century, explains in his "Dialogue with Trypho" why the Christians do
not keep the law of Moses, submit to circumcision, or observe the sabbath.
He asserts that
(1) True Sabbath observance under the new covenant is the keeping of a
perpetual sabbath which consists of turning from sin.
(2) The righteous men of old, Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the like,
pleased God without keeping sabbath.
(3) God imposed the sabbath upon the Israelites because of unrighteousness
and hardness of heart
("The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. I, pp. 199, 200, 204, 207).
Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons during the latter part of the 2nd century,
viewed the sabbath as symbolical of the future kingdom of God, "in which
the man who shall have persevered in serving God shall, in a state of rest,
partake of God's table" ("Against Heresies, Book IV, Chap. 16, The
Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. I, p. 481). He cites Abraham as an example of
one who believed God "without circumcision and without observance of
Clement of Alexandria, writing in "The Stromata" around the close of the
2nd century, says: "The sabbath, by abstinence from evil, seems to indicate
self-restraint" (Book VII, Chap. 12, "The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. II, p.
Tertullian, at the beginning of the 3rd century, says: "We have nothing to
do with Sabbaths or the other Jewish festivals, much less with those of the
heathen" ("On Idolatry," Chap. 14, "The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. III, p.
70). In another work he says that those who would contend for the
continued obligation of sabbath-keeping and circumcision must show that
Adam and Abel, Noah and Enoch, and Melchizedek and Lot also observed these
things. He goes on to say that the sabbath was figurative of rest from sin
and typical of man's final rest in God. It, together with the other
ceremonial regulations of the law, was only intended to last until a new
Lawgiver should arise who should introduce the realities of which these
were shadows ("An Answer to the Jews," Chap. 2, "The Ante-Nicene Fathers,"
Vol. III, pp. 153, 155, 156).
The Hebrew sabbath has, of course, continued to be observed by
non-Christian Jews to the present time. During the first centuries some
Jewish Christians also continued the practice of observing the seventh day
of the week as well as the assembly for worship on the first day of the
week. But their influence on Christianity, though discernible for several
centuries, especially in the East, dwindled rapidly after the destruction
of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (P. Cotton, "From Sabbath to Sunday," pp. 58-63).
The testimony of the ante-Nicene fathers is that for the vast majority of
Christians, the sabbath was a Jewish institution which was not binding on
III. VIEWS OF THE CHRISTIAN'S OBLIGATION TO KEEP THE SABBATH
A. The "Christian sabbath" view.
This view holds that Sunday is the Christian sabbath, the observance of
which is a moral obligation based on the fourth commandment of the
Decalogue. Philip Schaff, the church historian of England, calls it the
"Anglo-American theory" because it has been so widely held in Great Britain
and the United States. He traces its origin to the Puritans at the close
of the 16th cent. (P. Schaff, "History of the Christian Church," Vol. VI,
This view emphasizes the divine institution of the sabbath at the close of
creation. God's blessing and sanctification of the seventh day is taken to
mean that He intended one day in seven to be observed by all men in all
ages as a sacred day of rest and worship. The fourth commandment of the
Decalogue, which alludes to the primeval institution of the sabbath, is
regarded as a moral command, and therefore of universal and perpetual
obligation. It is argued that the day of the week on which the sabbath is
to be kept was not of the essence of the law, but rather the observance of
one day in every seven. Jesus affirmed that He was "Lord even of the
sabbath" (Mark 2:28) and therefore had the authority to change the day of
its observance. It usually is held that this change took place during the
forty days between Christ's resurrection and ascension, when He spoke to
them concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
Sabbatarians insist that Jesus intended to perpetuate the sabbath and
extend its application to all men. Much stress is laid on the statement of
Jesus, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27),
as evidence that Jesus regarded the sabbath as an institution which is
grounded in the very constitution of man, and which was instituted by God
from the very beginning not only for Israel but for the whole human race
(W. F. Crafts, "The Sabbath for Man," p. 366). The teachings of Paul
regarding the sabbath are taken to refer only to the Jewish sabbath and not
to the "Christian sabbath."
This view has appealed to many Christians because it seeks to establish a
firm Scriptural basis for the observance of Sunday by grounding its
observance on the fourth commandment. The Bible does teach that God
instituted the sabbath at the close of creation (Gen 2:3). The sabbath is
identified as "the seventh day" (Gen 2:3; Exod 16:29; 20:10; Deut 5:14),
not as one day in seven. There is a moral element in the fourth
commandment, for it provides for the worship of God. There are, however,
also ceremonial elements in the commandment which applied only to the
Israelites. While this command is included among the moral laws of the
Decalogue, it is also included among those civil and religious observances
which were obviously temporal and provisional. Jesus Himself treated the
sabbath law as ceremonial when He defended His disciples for plucking grain
on the sabbath. A moral law could never be suspended by circumstances of
hunger or by the requirements of a merely ceremonial regulation. Paul made
no distinction between ceremonial and moral laws when he declared that all
external law is abrogated for the Christian.
The basic weakness of this theory is the teaching that a change was made in
the day of the week to be observed as the sabbath. There is not the
slightest hint in the New Testament that Jesus transferred the sabbath to
another day of the week, nor that anyone else did so. Furthermore, if one
insists on the perpetual and universal obligation of the fourth
commandment, and at the same time recognizes that there is no New Testament
ground for a change in the day of its observance, the only logical position
to which he is forced is to maintain that the seventh day of the week, and
not the first day, should be observed as the sabbath, as the fourth
commandment stipulates. This is precisely the position which is taken by
the Seventh-day sabbatarians.
B. The seventh-day sabbath view.
This view, held by the Seventh-day Baptists who originated in England in
the 17th century, and by the Seventh-day Adventists who originated in
America in the 19th century, insists that Christians are obligated to keep
the seventh day of the week as the sabbath. In support of this position,
they appeal largely to the Old Testament, especially to the language of the
fourth commandment, which, they point out, clearly states that the seventh
day is the sabbath, appointed by God to commemorate His work of creation.
The Ten Commandments are referred to as "the law of God," to be
distinguished from the ceremonial and civil laws which are called "the law
of Moses" (A. L. Baker, "Belief and Work of Seventh-Day Adventists,"
The seventh-day sabbatarians also find evidence for the observance of the
seventh day in the New Testament. They appeal to the practice of Jesus and
the apostles of attending the synagogue on the sabbath (Luke 4:16; Acts
13:14, 42; 16:13; 17:1-2; 18:4). They appeal to Jesus' prophecy regarding
the destruction of Jerusalem and His exhortation that His disciples pray
that their flight should not be on the sabbath (Matt 24:20). They even
contend that the reference in Revelation 1:10 to "the Lord's day" is a
reference to the seventh-day sabbath (ibid., pp. 73, 74).
Since, according to the Seventh-day Adventists, it is useless to search for
the change from seventh day observance to first day observance in the New
Testament, they assert that this change was made by the Roman Catholic
Church. They teach that, during the early centuries of the Church, a great
apostasy set in, in which the pagan festival of Sunday was gradually
substituted for the ancient sabbath by "unconsecrated leaders of the
Church" and by the half-pagan emperor Constantine (E. G. White, "The Great
Controversy," pp. 58, 59).
The insistence of seventh-day sabbatarians on the wholly moral character of
the fourth commandment and on its perpetual and universal obligation is
based upon statements which find no support in the Bible. They ignore the
clear statements that the fourth commandment was addressed to the
Israelites whom the LORD had delivered from Egypt. Moreover, the
distinction which they make between "the law of God" and "the law of Moses"
is not supported by Scripture. Likewise, their interpretation of the words
of Christ and of Paul which are quoted in defense of the perpetuity of the
sabbath command, if pressed to its logical conclusion, proves too much.
The word "law" as used by Jesus and Paul refers to more than just the Ten
Commandments. Seventh-day sabbatarians do not insist that all the laws of
the Mosaic legislation are meant to be observed by Christians in this age.
But, they fail to see that Paul definitely included the sabbath command
among those ordinances which were done away in Christ. Their claim that
the Roman Catholic Church changed the sabbath from the seventh day to the
first day of the week is without foundation. In spite of some Roman
Catholic writers that claim that such a change was made by "the Catholic
Church," the evidence from the Early Church Fathers is conclusive that
these early church leaders did not regard Sunday as a continuation of the
While later writers came to think of Sunday as bearing some analogy to the
Hebrew sabbath, and others called the Christian holy day a sabbath
(Eusebius, "Commentary on the Ninety-first Psalm," quoted by J. A. Hessey,
"Sunday," pp. 299, 300; Alcuin, "Homily 18, post Pentecost," quoted by
A. E. J. Rawlinson, "The World's Question and the Christian Answer," p. 78;
P. Alphonsus quoted by Hessey, "Sunday," p. 903), they grounded its
observance more on the authority of the Church than on the fourth
commandment. The Reformers, although they advocated the Christian
observance of Sunday, did not base its observance on the sabbath command.
R. L. Dabney, "The Christian Sabbath: Its Nature, Design and Proper
W. F. Crafts, "The Sabbath for Man" (1985)
W. W. Everts, "The Sabbath: Its Permanence, Promise and Defence" (1885)
A. E. Waffle, "The Lord's Day: Its Universal and Perpetual Obligation"
J. A. Hessey, "Sunday: Its Origin, History and Present Obligation" (1889)
W. D. Love, "Sabbath and Sunday" (1896)
H. R. Gamble, "Sunday and the Sabbath" (1901)
A. A. Hodge, "The Day Changed and the Sabbath Preserved" (1916)
E. G. White, "The Great Controversy" (1926)
B. S. Easton, "Lord's Day," ISBE (1930)
J. R. Sampey, "Sabbath," ISBE (1930)
G. F. Moore, "Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era," Vol. II
P. Cotton, "From Sabbath to Sunday" (1933)
J. P. Hutchison, "Our Obligations to the Day of Rest and Worship" (1942)
A. E. Miligram, "Sabbath: The Day of Delight" (1944)
A. E. J. Rawlinson, "The World's Question and the Christian Answer" (1944)
G. H. Waterman, "The Origin and History of the Christian Sunday"
(Unpublished Master's thesis, Wheaton College, 1948)
W. Rordorf, "Sunday: The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the
Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church" (1968)
The preceding historical account of the sabbath was taken from the book Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible edited by M. C. Tenny. Copyright 1975, 1976 by the Zondervan Publishing House. Used by Permission. Entered into electronic media by Bible Bulletin Board, Shreveport, LA.
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