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An investigation of the Weekly Sabbath 


What is the Sabbath? Where did it come from? How are we supposed to observe it? Why do most Christian churches observe Sunday? What is their justification for observing Sunday? What day did the apostles and the early Christian church observe? How did Sunday originally replace Saturday as the Sabbath and day of worship? 

These are a few of the questions we want to answer in this booklet. 


The word "Sabbath" is the anglicized translation of two Hebrew words: Shabbath (Strong's Hebrew Concordance number 7676) and Shabbathown (7677). 7676 refers to the weekly Sabbath and Day of Atonement when no work is permitted,  and comes from the root word shabath (7673) meaning to rest, cease, celebrate, to keep the Sabbath. (7677) also refers to a day of rest, often to a yearly high day, and comes from (7676). We'll understand the meaning of these words better as we examine their applications. 

The Bible first uses the word Sabbath in Exodus 16:22-23 where on the sixth day, Friday, the Israelites are instructed to collect twice the daily amount of manna or bread. 

(Exo 16:22-23 NASB)  Now it came about on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, {23} then he said to them, "This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning." 

Continuing in verse 25: 

(Exo 16:25-26 NASB)  And Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. {26} "Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.". 

So here we see the first connection between the word Sabbath and the seventh day. But the instruction to rest on the seventh day came much earlier, in fact the first example came on the seventh day of creation way back in Genesis 2. 

(Gen 2:2-3 NASB)  And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. {3} Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. 

The word "sanctified", 6942, means to consecrate, hallow, or to keep holy. 

So we can see that the observance of the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, was commanded well before Moses instructed the Israelites to observe it in Exodus 16. In fact, we see in Genesis 26 that Abraham was keeping not just the seventh day Sabbath but all the commandments. 

(Gen 26:4-5 NASB)  "And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; {5} because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." 

Exodus 20 contains a list of the Ten Commandments. So does Deuteronomy 5. Let's continue our study of the Sabbath by reading the Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. 

(Exo 20:8-11 NKJV)  "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. {9} Six days you shall labor and do all your work, {10} but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. {11} For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. 

OK. So we know that the Sabbath day is the seventh day of the week, what we call Saturday in English. Saturday originally meant the day of Saturn. But Saturday is not the day most people worship and rest. Saturday is the day most people work around the house or go to sports events or go shopping. What should we be doing on the Sabbath day? Leviticus 23:3 gives us some insight. 

(Lev 23:3 NASB)  'For six days work may be done; but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings. 

In this verse we encounter the words "holy convocation." What do they mean? They come from 4744  meaning a public meeting or assembly. So we are to assemble together on this day. And what do we do at these meetings? In as much as it is a sanctified and holy day, we should rest, read and discuss God's word, pray for those in need, sing songs praising God, and discuss topics which are edifying to a Christian life. In short, we remember our Creator on the Sabbath. 

What time on Saturday is the Sabbath? Lev 23:32 is discussing the annual High Day of Atonement, but it still answers that question. 

(Lev 23:32 NASB)  "It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.". 

The Day of Atonement is kept on the tenth day of the seventh month but notice when we are instructed to observe it, from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth. Evening is generally accepted to be at sunset. So we are to keep the weekly Sabbath from sunset  Friday evening to sunset Saturday evening. It should be noted that the word "sabbath" in verse 32 is from the same Hebrew word, (7676), as the weekly Sabbath. 

We read in Genesis 2:2 that God "rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done." This does not mean that He slept on that day. Psa 121:4 reads: 

(Psa 121:4 NASB)  Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 

Also, Isa 40:28 makes the same point. 

(Isa 40:28 NASB)  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. 

No, God rested on the seventh day because he was observing the Sabbath, not because He was tired. 

Now to continue our study of the Sabbath as described by the Old Testament, let's return to Exodus 16 where the word Sabbath was first used. Much of the following text has been selected from a document entitled "The Systematic Theology Project." 



The additional significance of the account of Exodus 16, which we read, lies in the fact that it shows the supreme importance of the Sabbath to God. The fact that God revealed and maintained the identity of His Sabbath to Israel by the daily and the weekly miracles of the manna, along with the clear example of the types of punishment meted out upon those who broke the Sabbath as recorded in these verses, reemphasizes that God's original Sabbath command was a law of extreme importance. The fact that the events described in Exodus 16 actually occurred in Israel before the institution of the covenant at Sinai corroborates the truth that the Sabbath was not, as some contend, only part of God's specific pact with that nation and hence of significance to no other people. But even then, the inclusion of the Sabbath by God in His covenant with Israel, His clear delineation of the Sabbath as one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, only adds weight to its importance, rather than detracting from it. At the making of the Sinai covenant the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments recorded on the tablets of stone and kept inside the ark of the covenant. Other terms of the covenant were considered of less significance as was shown by their being kept outside the ark. Once again, it is only logical that God would include in His covenant those laws and principles He knew would be good for Israel, especially because Israel was a nation He hoped would be the example and showcase to the world. 

Under the Sinai covenant, the Sabbath had national significance; its observance involved the entire community. God showed this by adding to the original Genesis command a communal responsibility of Sabbath-keeping which involved children, male and female servants,  even animals and strangers (Ex. 20:10) but also points out it was God's Sabbath, not ours or the Jews only. 

God's Sabbath command of Exodus 20:8, "Remember the Sabbath . . . to keep it holy" represents an example of God definitely tutoring His special people in the obedience of a universal law, rather than His singling out one nation for obedience to an exclusive law not meant for the rest of mankind. The admonition, "Remember," itself indicates that this commandment is not instituting the Sabbath for the first time, but rather enjoining Israel to keep and retain what is already in existence. The Sabbath was in existence before Israel. Some quote Nehemiah 9:13-14 as disproof of this. Actually, these verses show the opposite. God gave Israel right and true and good laws, statutes and commandments, and He made known to them His Sabbath. It does not say He originated or instituted the Sabbath with them. It says He made it known to them. Israel had lost knowledge of it at that time, as Gentiles have today. But God revealed the Sabbath to Israel, who was to become His covenant nation. God did not create the Sabbath at Sinai, but rather made it fully known at that time. 

Just as the Sabbath was commanded before the covenant of Exodus 20-24, so the Sabbath was also given as a separate covenant with special significance in Exodus 31:12-17. 

(Exo 31:12-17 NKJV)  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {13} "Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: 'Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. {14} 'You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. {15} 'Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. {16} 'Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. {17} 'It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'" 

It is referred to as a "sign" (Hebrew owth, 226) of the special relationship between God and Israel. (Signs referred to elsewhere as evidence of covenants are: the rainbow in regard to God's covenant with mankind, Genesis 9:8-17; and circumcision as a sign of the covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:1-14.) 

Why was God's Sabbath day singled out in Exodus 31 as a sign? Because of its nature. Many other nations kept some of the laws of God in one form or another. Some had fairly tight moral laws, usually criminal ones. But none kept the Sabbath day. It was the one law of God that would make Israel stand out. It would act as a sign to show that Israel was the nation of God. It would also keep Israel knowledgeable of God as Creator—the one true God who made everything. When the nations of the ten tribes of Israel later gave up this Sabbath sign, they were lost to history. But Judaism continues to keep it to this day, and is known by it. It is even called "Jewish" by others. The Sabbath is the one commandment of the ten that will maintain a direct link to God. 

This Sabbath covenant of Exodus was to be "perpetual." With reference to this, some quote passages referring to the sacrificial system being "forever" (e.g. Ex. 29:28) and conclude that when the Bible uses the term "forever," it does not mean that at all. This is not correct. The word in Hebrew translated "forever" in most instances is olam, 5769. It can mean "the world", long duration, futurity, antiquity, always, continuous existence, or even "the age." From this we can come to the basic meaning of olam, that of continuousness. It essentially gives the concept of a situation in which there is no end in sight; this does not have to mean that there is no end, just that no end is seen from the immediate perspective. In some scriptures (e.g. Ex. 21:6) olam obviously means "continuously," whereas in others (e.g. Ps. 10:16) the same word means "eternally. " What about "forever" in Exodus 31? The key idea to remember is that olam means to do something continually or that some condition exists continually. So we must go by the context. In the case of a command of God we can say that it is in force until God says differently. In the case of Exodus 31 the Sabbath remains between God and His people. God never did say stop. God still only deals with  Abraham's seed, Israel, but in the New Testament, his seed has become spiritual and all peoples can, through Christ, become "Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29), which promise, salvation "is of the Jews" (Jn. 4:22). Everyone has to become a part of Abraham's seed, spiritual Israel,  in order to enter into God's covenantal relationship. God's Elect are the Israel of God (Rom. 9:6-8). So the Sabbath remains a sign to show just who is in that covenantal relationship with God, just who the people of God are. This Sabbath covenant is not the same as the Sinai covenant of Exodus 20-24. So the modification of that Sinaitic covenant to the New Covenant does not necessarily affect the Sabbath covenant. 

Since the Sabbath began at Creation, not with the Sinaitic covenant with Israel, and then was made a special sign in a covenant forever with Israel, God's covenant people still know the Sabbath: It is still the sign between God and His people. 

Once again, the purpose of the special Sabbath covenant of Exodus 31 was to earmark Sabbath observance as a distinguishing practice that would help identify God's people among the world's populace. Thus it served to differentiate the true believers from the nonbelievers, God's people from the heathen, and not merely the civil Israelite nation from the Egyptian or Canaanite nations. Since the Sabbath was an important religious command of God, its observance helped to identify God's religious system and not merely a civil system or ethnic group. For this reason this special Sabbath Covenant applies today, with the same spiritually binding significance for all who wish to become and remain a part of God's called out ones. 

Leviticus 23 enumerates the Sabbath as one of the appointed feasts of the Lord. Other passing references in the Pentateuch or Torah and historical books do not shed significant further light on what has already been mentioned. However, several important scriptures are found in the later prophets. 

Let's look at the results of Sabbath breaking: One of the greatest indictments against the people for Sabbath-breaking, along with a warning that such action would result in the overthrow of Jerusalem, was made by the prophet Jeremiah. 

(Jer 17:19-27 NASB)  Thus the LORD said to me, "Go and stand in the public gate, through which the kings of Judah come in and go out, as well as in all the gates of Jerusalem; {20} and say to them, 'Listen to the word of the LORD, kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all inhabitants of Jerusalem, who come in through these gates: {21} 'Thus says the LORD, "Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem. {22} "And you shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers. {23} "Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction. {24} "But it will come about, if you listen attentively to Me," declares the LORD, "to bring no load in through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but to keep the sabbath day holy by doing no work on it, {25} then there will come in through the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city will be inhabited forever. {26} "They will come in from the cities of Judah and from the environs of Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the lowland, from the hill country, and from the Negev, bringing burnt offerings, sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing sacrifices of thanksgiving to the house of the LORD. {27} "But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I shall kindle a fire in its gates, and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched."'" 

Jeremiah was ordered to stand in the gates of Jerusalem and warn the leaders and people: "Take heed for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day, or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers" (v. 21-22). 

Verses 24-26 promises that if the people should keep the Sabbath day holy they should be blessed, and the city of Jerusalem should remain forever. But verse 27 goes on to warn of the dire consequences of negligence in regard to the Sabbath: "then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched." This threat was made good: the city of Jerusalem was overthrown, its palaces and Temple burned and the nation of Judah taken into captivity. Disobedience toward the Sabbath command was evidently widespread among the people in the latter years of the period of the monarchy. Jeremiah 17:23 confirms this fact: the people of Jerusalem did not heed Jeremiah's warning to keep the Sabbath ("they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction"). 

Ezekiel also speaks quite strongly against breaking the Sabbath and considers it one of the main reasons why Israel went into captivity. The lengthy passage in 20:10-26 is a scorching, indictment of the continual disobedience of the nation. The captivity was the fulfillment of a promise in the wilderness: "Moreover I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not executed my ordinances, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers' idols" (v. 23-24). This is a very succinct summary of the cause of the Exile. Clearly, one of the major reasons was the profaning of the Sabbath. 

Isaiah also emphasized the importance of the Sabbath for Israel: 

(Is. 58:13-14) "If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure (pursuing your own business) on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; . . . I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth" 

However, more universal in nature is the promise to the Gentile ("the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord") who shall keep the Sabbath. Not only shall they be accepted, but those unfortunate enough to be eunuchs shall receive something far greater then children for their faithful Sabbath observance (Is. 56:3-7). While this promise is set in the context of national Israel, its international scope cannot be ignored. 

The captives in time were freed and some returned to the land of Israel. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe their return and their attempts to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. Nehemiah 10 records a special covenant made by some of the people, including Nehemiah, in which they "entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord" (v. 29). Among the provisions of this covenant was that "if the peoples of the land bring in wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day" (v. 31). These verses make it obvious that Nehemiah and the people deeply recognized the seriousness of Sabbath-breaking and its part in bringing about their captivity. 

Nevertheless, it did not take long for the emergence of a certain laxity in this regard. Nehemiah soon found himself confronting a situation in which the Sabbath was treated as an ordinary business day. He met the problem head on and apparently solved it for the time being (Neh. 13:15-22).  

During. the intertestamental period, i.e. the period of time between the Old and New Testaments, a great reawakening took place among the Jewish community with respect to the importance of God's laws. One catalyst was the remembrance of the exiles; another was the slaughter and persecution brought about by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. The Jewish community "built a wall" around the law by adding regulations far beyond the biblical statements in an attempt to make it "impossible" for anyone to even approach breaking the law: The example of the Sabbath is a classic one. 

Hence, as we approach the time of Christ's (Yeshua haMeshiach's) ministry, we find that the Sabbath, due to man's sincere but exaggerated interpretations, had become not a joy but a burden, something not originally intended by God. As a result, Christ had to set out to clarify the true "spirit" of the law. 


There is great emphasis on the Sabbath throughout the Old Testament. Much is also written about Sabbath observance in the New Testament. The emphasis changes, however, from a nationalistic system of communal Sabbath-keeping, fulfilling the letter of the law, to an individual responsibility of personal worship on the Sabbath, fulfilling the spirit of the-law. The issues discussed in the New Testament never deal with whether the Sabbath should be kept. This would be utterly impossible as we will see. Rather, the questions deal with how the Sabbath should be kept. 

The seventh-day Sabbath is observed today by only a few, because it is generally assumed that the New Testament shows the abolition of any need to keep the Sabbath. This assumption is rejected by this Church and other Biblical scholars who specialize on the Sabbath, such as Samuele Bacchiocchi.  Granted, there is no explicit statement such as, "Christians must keep the Sabbath." When we actually go back to the New Testament environment, however, the fact that we should keep the Sabbath is so plain that no such statement is required. 

A clear understanding of the Sabbath in the New Testament requires a brief summary of the state of Sabbath observance among Jews during Christ's time. 

G.F. Moore, the well-known scholar of early Judaism, states: "The two fundamental observances of Judaism are circumcision and the Sabbath" (Judaism, II, 16). This was as true in the first century A.D. as at any other time. Both practices were referred to as "signs" (Hebrew owth, 226) and "eternal covenants" (berit 'olam) in the Old Testament. I Maccabees 2:32ff describes a group of Jews who were slaughtered because they refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath. As a result, Mattathias and his followers determined to fight in self-defense on that day if necessary, but even then they would not take the offensive (I Macc. 2:41; 11 Macc. 8:26ff). 

The book of Jubilees (2nd century B.C.) gives some detailed regulations for the Sabbath. Things forbidden included preparing food, taking anything between houses, drawing water, riding on an animal or ship, making war or having sexual relations (2:29-30; 50:8,12). The Qumran community had a number of the same regulations. Other prohibitions included going more than a thousand cubits from one's town, helping an animal out of a pit or in giving birth, and apparently even using an instrument to save a human being from water or fire (Damascus Covenant 10.14-11.18). 

Recent scholarly studies have emphasized the extreme strictness in, and rigorous administration of, Sabbath observance in the days of Jesus, even when compared to the later Rabbinic writings in the Mishnah. 

Therefore, when Jesus was called into account for doing certain things on the Sabbath, it was not for violating specified Old Testament prohibitions, but for disavowal of non-inspired, traditional regulations concerning the Sabbath. The Old Testament did not forbid one to pick ears of grain on the Sabbath to eat on the spot. Yet when Jesus and His disciples did this He was called to account. The reason? Because the religious leaders had classified picking ears as "reaping" and rubbing loose the grain as "threshing." 

The incident of the disciples plucking grain to eat in the fields (Mt. 12:1-8; Mk. 2:23-28; Lk. 6:1-5) was no violation of property law since this was specifically permitted in the Old Testament (Deut. 23:25). They were accused only of Sabbath-breaking. Jesus did not defend their actions on the grounds that the Sabbath was done away. Rather, He used relevant analogies: David and the show-bread (per the KJV; it was called "bread of the Presence" in the RSV) and the priests in the temple. It was only after He had shown that the actions of the disciples were not a true violation of the Sabbath that He asserted, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27-28). By this means He showed not that the Sabbath was done away but rather the correct spirit in which to keep the Sabbath. Jesus was clearly a Sabbath-keeper, not a Sabbath-breaker. 

Similarly, it was forbidden by extra-biblical Jewish law to treat a sickness when the sick person's life was in no immediate danger. Although being watched by the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:9-14; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11). To defend Himself He used the analogy of pulling a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. This shows that it was not His intent to break the Sabbath but to show that relieving suffering was wholly consistent with the purpose of the day. One could also argue that responding to an emergency on Sabbath is permitted. 

Similarly, when He healed a cripple who had been ill 38 years, He told the man to pick up his mat and go home (Jn. 5:8). This carrying of a few ounces of weight was in no way a violation of the law against bearing a burden on the Sabbath (Jer. 17:21,22,27). It was only in the opinion of certain on-looking religious leaders that He had violated the Sabbath discussions given in the gospels. (Other healings are also described in such passages as John 9; Luke 13:10-13; 14:2-4.) 

One passage is undisputed, at least insofar as a clear reference to Sabbath observance after Jesus' own lifetime is concerned. This is Matthew 24:20: "Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath." This admonition is directed at Jesus' own followers. And such instructions would have had little place in a non-Sabbath-keeping community. Scholars are almost unanimous in agreeing that this refers at least to a time as late as the 66-70 war against Rome, long after Jesus' death. (The dual implications of this prophecy also show that Jesus knew that the Sabbath would be kept by His people millennia later in the "time of the end.") 

In addition, Christ's own example of attending the weekly synagogue is significant. In Luke 4, Jesus attends the synagogue on the Sabbath day in His own city "as His custom was" (v. 16). Evidently it had not been His custom heretofore to speak in the synagogue since the listeners were astonished at his teaching. This indicates He attended regular services as a means of Sabbath observance rather than just for the purpose of teaching. And it is impossible to over emphasize the importance of Christ's own example since He told His disciples to teach all nations those things that He had commanded them (Mt. 28:20). 

Thus, we may conclude that the picture of Jesus as a lawbreaker or antinomian radical, while maintained in some fundamentalist circles, is easily refuted by the scriptures and is also generally rejected by scholarship. 

The argument that Christians today need not do what Jesus Himself did and taught is refuted by Matthew 28:20, as mentioned above, where the disciples are told to teach what Jesus had commanded them. Furthermore, Matthew 5:17 states that Christ came to fulfill the law and the prophets. That means that Jesus' own actions and teachings were more than simply fulfilling the Sinai Covenant, they were refining them and setting the proper example for all Christians for all time. 

It is abundantly clear that the Jerusalem Church never gave up Sabbath observance during the New Testament era. On Paul's last visit to Jerusalem (about 58-60 A.D.), James and all the elders of the Church told Paul how the thousands of converted Jews "are all zealous ["ardent upholders," Moffett] of the law" (Acts 21:20). In such an environment, it is inconceivable that the cherished and holy Sabbath would no longer be kept. 

In his letter to the Church in Rome in this same time period, 55-59 A.D., Paul reminds them that the Gentiles "have been made partakers of their spiritual things" in a direct reference to the poor saints in the Jerusalem Church for whom Paul was asking physical contributions (Rom. 15:26-27). One cannot imagine that "partaking of their spiritual things" would not include worship on the Sabbath, since it was fully revered by the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and constituted a significant part of their spiritual lives. 

The first ministerial conference in the apostolic Church is highly informative both for what was said and for what was not said (Acts 15). In the year 49-50 A.D., the issue of whether circumcision was required for salvation caused such dissension in the Church that Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders. Various issues of current interest were discussed; issues such as idolatry, fornication and certain eating laws, but the Sabbath was not discussed at all. It was not relevant. Why? Because it simply was not an issue. Nobody in all Christianity was as yet teaching that the Sabbath did not have to be observed and kept holy by the Church. Just the opposite, in fact, appears to have been the case. James, who seems to have been in charge, concluded by referring to what was actually happening in that crucial time. "For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues" (Acts 15:21). As S. Bacchiocchi, a scholar who has researched the question, writes: 

"We should note that James' statement refers specifically to the Gentile Christians outside Judea. It is therefore significant to notice that the Gentile Christians (possibly former "Proselytes or God-fearers") were still attending synagogue, listening to the reading and exposition of the Scriptures "every Sabbath." The total silence of the Council on such an important matter as a new day of worship [or elimination or even denigration of the long-standing day of worship] would seem to indicate that such a problem had not yet arisen. 

Thus it can be seen that Acts 15:21 is a very interesting scripture, albeit, perhaps, somewhat enigmatic or puzzling. James does not make a big issue about what he is saying; apparently, he does not have to. He is simply explaining why this major conference would only rule on a few things for the Gentile Christians to abstain from: "pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:20). Obviously, there were other things Christians had to abstain from, such as dishonoring parents, killing, lying, etc., but James is simply saying that all these other responsibilities of Christians were well known since God's laws were read every Sabbath in the synagogue. 

As far as circumcision was concerned, a specific Church ruling was made, in accordance with the binding and loosening authority given by God (Mt. 16:19), not to require it as a prerequisite for Gentiles wanting to become Christians. 

The traditional anti-Sabbath rejoinder to Acts 15 asks how the requirement for Sabbath observance can be left in while at the same time the requirement for circumcision is ruled out. Or phrased another way, why would not the abrogation of the Sabbath commandment be included within the abrogation of circumcision which symbolized the Sinai covenant? 

The answer is almost fully contained in the question itself. Circumcision of the flesh indeed symbolized the Sinaitic covenant which had now been superseded by the terms of the New Covenant. But the Sabbath far transcended the covenant at Sinai in both directions: it was instituted at Creation, long before Sinai; and it also foreshadows the future millennial rest in the Kingdom of God. The Sabbath, in fact, shall be observed following the return of Christ when the fullness of the New Covenant shall spread over all the earth (Is. 66:23). 

The picture of the early Gentile Church in Acts illustrates continued Sabbath observance. From Acts 13 we learn that the apostles Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath (v. 14). They were so successful that they were asked back the next Sabbath. Acts 13:42-43 is then an interesting passage. It shows that the Jews rejected Paul's strong message and went out of the synagogue. But the Gentiles wanted to hear more and beseeched Paul to preach to them the next Sabbath. Here are Gentiles, not asking to meet on a Sunday or a weekday evening, but on the Sabbath. The next Sabbath almost the whole city came to hear Paul speak (v. 44). Notice that the Jews were not a part of this; they were angry with Paul (v. 45). This was a Gentile meeting (v. 48)—on the Sabbath! They knew the significance of the Sabbath day. If Paul had wanted to meet with the Gentiles on a Sunday, he could easily have said: "We can just assemble tomorrow on the Lord's day." But this is not the case. They all waited a whole week, then on the following Sabbath day we find Paul preaching to a whole Gentile city! He was not trying to impress the Jews. They had turned from him. But Paul kept the Sabbath, and here endorses it for the entire Gentile world. 

In Acts 16:13 Paul goes out to a place of prayer (apparently because there was no synagogue). It was, in fact, Paul's custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 17:1-2). While these occasions were used as opportunities to spread the gospel, as would be natural, they are certainly also further examples of Paul's worshipping God specifically on the Sabbath. 

The point that needs to be understood is that meeting on the Sabbath was completely normal for the Gentiles. There was nothing extraordinary about it, nothing to make an issue out of. What we find recorded in the book of Acts are some matter-of-fact comments by Luke concerning what occurred. It was common knowledge, and Theophilus (to whom the book was written, Acts 1:1) took for granted this fact, that the entire Church, Gentile and Jewish, met on the Sabbath as spiritual Israelites. This is what would be expected: Paul preaching on the Sabbath and then meeting with Gentiles on the same day. It was nothing unusual. So we can now examine Acts alongside the gospels and still find no teaching, not even a hint of one, that the Sabbath day was removed or changed. On the contrary, we find Jesus and Paul keeping it, teaching on it and meeting with others to worship God on it, all on the Sabbath. 

It is also significant that the Sabbath is called the Sabbath. This was not the common Greek way of referring to the seventh day of the week. So, Luke is actually giving additional meaning to the Sabbath by referring to it by name. He does not call it the "Jewish Sabbath" but simply "the Sabbath." (The Hebrew, or Aramaic, word was, in fact, borrowed by the New Testament writers). 

Acts was written years after the resurrection of Jesus and the establishment of the Church in Gentile as well as Jewish areas. If the Sabbath had been removed, it should have been long since gone. The date was probably in the middle or late 60's A.D. It was not common for Gentiles to call the seventh day of the week "the Sabbath," any more than it is common in the United States to call Saturday the Sabbath. (And Theophilus, to whom the book was written, could have been a Gentile.) So, when Luke says that Paul went into the synagogue on the Sabbath, he is commenting in effect that this was God's Sabbath or rest day, for he calls it just that. The connotation would be the same today if we heard someone call Saturday "the Sabbath"; we would think it significant and probably assume that that person kept Saturday as his Sabbath or rest day. The same goes for Luke 23:56. The women rested on the Sabbath "according to the fourth commandment." This is not meant as a mere historical narrative but as a comment on that day actually being the Sabbath. Calling the seventh day Sabbath then is very significant, especially around 63 A.D. when Luke wrote his gospel. There is more concrete evidence in Acts that Paul and all the apostles kept the Sabbath. Perhaps the strongest proof is that they were never accused by the Jews of breaking it. Notice in this regard John 5:9-18 and 9:13-16. Here these men thought Jesus had broken the Sabbath by healing on that day. They wanted to kill Him for this and claimed the legal right to do so. This was serious. It was a major issue to them. Then, in the latter passage, some of them conclude that Jesus could not be of God, because He did not keep the Sabbath. What we find in Acts are similar vicious attacks on Paul but a stark contrast regarding accusations about not keeping the Sabbath. 

The Jews from the land of Israel were really after Paul. They wanted to find something against him. He was constantly under attack. But he was never even accused of breaking the Sabbath as was Jesus. This proves that he never even appeared to break it, much less did he actually teach against it. Paul, in reality, kept more of the laws of the Sinaitic Covenant than he had to (Acts 21:17-27), so obviously he kept the Sabbath which was considered so much more important. Paul was not lying or giving witness to something that was not true. James was not fooled. Acts 21:24 is true: that is what Paul did, he kept the law even to the extent of "the customs." So it is plain he also kept the Sabbath. The Ten Commandments or moral living are not even in question. James was not implying in verses 21-24 that Paul was Sabbath-breaking, or lying, or killing or otherwise breaking the law. There would have been no question on those big matters. The question was how many of the ceremonies and rituals should a converted Jew continue to keep? 

We can be absolutely sure that the Jerusalem Church kept the Sabbath. James and the others had favor with the people, even priests obeyed the faith (Acts 2:47; 6:7). This would have been utterly impossible if the Church had been meeting on Sunday (or any other day) and breaking the Sabbath. If that had been the case, it would have been mentioned as the major accusation against, and problem for, the Church. The Church was indeed persecuted by the religious leaders of the day, but not for Sabbath-breaking. 

Scholars recognize that the Israeli Christian churches continued in Sabbath observance even after the break with Judaism. While the apostle Paul is considered by some as an instigator of a full-scale departure from Jewish law, such an interpretation depends in part on interpretations of documents outside and later than the New Testament. 

In several instances Paul appeals to Jesus' teachings as backing for his own commands. We find three such major examples in 1 Corinthians alone: in chapter 7 (on marriage); in chapter 9 (on support of the ministry); and in chapter 11 (on the "Lord's Supper"). If Jesus had done away with the Sabbath, it is inconceivable that Paul would have been ignorant of the fact. Yet if Jesus had done away with the Sabbath and Paul knew of it, it is absolutely inconceivable that Paul would not have cited this as proof of his own alleged teachings against the Sabbath, if he had them.  

Certain scriptures in Paul's writings are often adduced as proof of his alleged attitude that Sabbath observance is unnecessary or even evil. For example, it is often held that Romans 14:5-6 shows that it does not matter which day one keeps holy, but this is actually nowhere stated. Since eating is mentioned several times in the passage, some commentators suggest it may be a question of fast days or something else to do with food. Verse 5 speaks of esteeming one day above another but says nothing about the reason for the preference. The word "esteem" (Greek krino) is not otherwise used of keeping a holy day. Similarly, in verse 6, the word phroneo ("regardeth," in the KJV; "observes," in RSV) is not otherwise used to refer to the observance of festivals. To use this passage as proof that Paul no longer believed Sabbath observance to be necessary requires anti-Sabbatarians to demonstrate that this is in fact what lies behind the statement, something that has not been done up to this time. 

The reference to "days, and months, and seasons, and years" in Galatians 4: 10 is frequently applied to the Jewish Sabbath and holy day observance. The basis for this is the apparent Jewish identity of those causing problems in Galatia. That the troublemakers had certain characteristics which would gain them the label "Jewish" is correct (e.g. circumcision), but this still does not delineate the situation. Was it Pharisaic, was it Essenic, was it some sort of syncretistic group? What was the makeup of the Galatian congregation? Such things are often assumed rather than proved. 

The fact is, we do not know anything about the group causing the problem other than what the epistle itself tells us. To assume more than this is not to rely on the evidence. Why does Paul speak of their "turning back" to the "weak and miserable stoicheia" (v. 9)? These Galatians do not seem to be former Jews, since they are receiving circumcision,  something Jews would already have. Unless one takes the "turning back" as purely a metaphorical expression, one would assume they are going back to their former pagan conditions. 

Further evidence is found in the vocabulary here. Why would one speak of "days" (hemerai), "months" (menai), "seasons" (kairoi) and "years" (eniautoi), if one had the Old Testament festivals in mind? One would expect to see "Sabbath," "festival days" (heorte), or similar words but not vague references to "days" and problematic and unspecified comments about "seasons" and "years." It is strange that Paul manages not to use a single normal word for the weekly or annual celebrations, if that is what he had in mind. We can only conclude that the passage cannot legitimately be used as evidence of Sabbath abolition. Indeed, in the Gentile world, up to one third of the days of the year were special in one way or another, with certain restrictions, etc. In addition, certain months were considered sacred. The Jews never observed any months. 

Colossians 2:16 is the first scripture to give a certain reference to the Sabbath and annual, holy days. Yet again we have a problem of background. We evidently have a syncretistic group exploiting the Church at Colossae. A syncretistic group is a group with varying, often opposed beliefs, which merges into a new conglomerate group, typically marked by internal inconsistencies. Certain ascetic practices of pagan philosophies are mentioned (Col 2:8, 18-23). Therefore, it is not surprising that Paul says, "Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink," since some people apparently were passing judgment. Let's look at verses 16 and 17 in the KJV. 

(Col 2:16-17 KJV)  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: {17} Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. 

What Paul is admonishing them to do is to ignore the ascetic criticisms regarding food or drink or yearly holydays or sabbath days or even how they determine or observe the new moon days.  Does that mean we should no longer eat and drink? Hardly. Paul is showing that the ascetic practices some wished to enforce were of little real substance. Any eating or abstinence is not the end but only a means to an end. A Sabbath observer could say the same about the Sabbath and holy days. They are, not were, a shadow of what is to come; and therefore are still important and necessary, just as eating and drinking are. But notice verse 17 again. The word "is" is in italics. It is not in the original text. Verse 17 is telling us  to pay attention to and be judged by the body of Christ, the church, those who are not ascetics. The "body of Christ" being the church is also referred to in many other scriptures, the closest being Col 1: 18. 

The fact that Paul expected Gentiles to keep the law is demonstrated in many scriptures throughout the book of Romans (e.g. Rom. 3:31; 7:12, 22; etc.) Romans 2:25-29 is especially interesting and direct, though often overlooked. Here uncircumcised Gentiles are admonished to be circumcised of the heart (v. 29) and to become Jews inwardly by keeping "the righteousness of the law" (v. 26) and by fulfilling the law (v. 27). (Obviously Paul could not have meant the full Sinaitic Covenant in his use of the term "law" here, since circumcision was a part of the law.) Only with God's Holy Spirit, through Christ, can a human being fulfill the righteousness of the law (Rom. 8:4) and "delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Rom. 7:22). 

Aside from the actual New Testament verses in which Sabbath observance is directly mentioned, the question of why the Sabbath law is not repeated as a direct command must be addressed. A comparison of the treatment in the New Testament of the law of circumcision and the Sabbath (the two great pillars of the Jewish faith in Christ's time) will illustrate the problem, and supply the solution. 

Sabbath observance was a practice among all Jews, in the land of Israel as well as in the diaspora. 

Circumcision was also a major pillar of the Jewish faith. For a male to become a full proselyte to Judaism, circumcision was required. Not unnaturally, few males were willing to take this course, yet this did not prevent many from becoming "God-fearers" or "semi-proselytes." This was especially popular outside the land of Israel, in the diaspora. It was considered sufficient to accept belief in one God and to adopt a minimum of other commandments, such as the Sabbath, the dietary laws and basic ethical requirements. Even though such individuals were not converts, strictly speaking, they were encouraged by Jewish leaders and evidently expected to share in the favor of God as much as Jews by birth (see for example, G.F. Moore, Judaism II, 325; G. Bornkamm, Paul 10; K.G. Kuhn, TDNT VI, 731). 

However, even the "God-fearers" who were not forced to experience removal of the foreskin still had to observe the Sabbath, the second major tenet of Judaism. This poses a rather obvious but crucial question: If circumcision, which was not a universal requirement for Gentiles anyway, is such a major issue in the New Testament, why is the Sabbath not even an issue of controversy? 

We have to remember that we are not dealing with a minor point. On an unimportant issue, the silence of the New Testament might be purely accidental. But we are dealing with one of the two major pillars of the Jewish religion at the time.. 

It hardly needs pointing out, of course, that circumcision was an important issue in the early years of the apostolic Church. So long as the only new converts were Jews, no problem arose. But it was not long before the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10-11). God clearly gave His Spirit without requiring circumcision. When Peter was called into question about it, his answer seemed to have quieted any objections. 

However, it was not completely settled, because it came up again, requiring the council of Acts 15. Even then circumcision must have been a problem, because Paul continues to mention it. Those troubling the Galatians were evidently teaching circumcision, so that Paul in exasperation, sarcastically wishes they would slip and castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). He says many times that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, physically, is of any spiritual consequence (I Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6). It is spiritual circumcision of the heart, that counts (Rom. 2:25 ff). 

This "pillar" of Judaism was so important that it received considerable attention throughout the New Testament. Despite precedents in conversion without circumcision, the subject was debated quite vigorously in the early Church. Yet the other pillar, the Sabbath, does not receive anywhere near comparable treatment. A silence at this point seems hardly accidental. Considering the historical situation, silence undoubtedly means that the Sabbath was a nonissue, never challenged or questioned. The required conclusion must therefore be that Sabbath observance was both taught and obeyed by the early Church. 

Sabbath observance was so important in the Jewish religion that there are statements in Talmudic literature to the effect that Sabbath observance is the equivalent of the Abrahamic Covenant, and that the law of the Sabbath was said to be equal to all the other laws and commandments in the Torah! (Mekhilta 63; Pesikta Rabbti 23; Palestinian Talmud Berachot 3; Nedarim 38; Exodus Rabba 25.) Although these are post-first century texts, they illustrate what is also clear from the earliest records: The acknowledged importance of the Sabbath to Judaism is highly relevant for achieving an accurate understanding of New Testament teaching regarding Sabbath observance for the Christian. 

The enormous importance of the Sabbath in first century Judaism is powerful corroboratory evidence that neither Jesus nor any of His apostles following, ever "did away" with Sabbath observance on the day God created for rest and worship. The few scriptures (primarily in Paul's writings) often quoted in an attempt to end the obligation of Christians to keep the Sabbath, pale by comparison with the overwhelming significance of the Sabbath. If the apostles had dared to eliminate the Sabbath, surely a gargantuan conflict would have exploded into the New Testament record. Compare the major controversy in the New Testament Church over circumcision (e.g., Acts 15), which was declared to be unnecessary or optional for Christians, with the relatively minor controversy over how a Christian should observe the Sabbath (in contradistinction to the "'customary" rigorous regulations of common Jewish law). 

Since the Sabbath was considered by the Jews to be so important, as important as all the rest of the law put together in some circles (see above), if Jesus and His apostles had taught and practiced the total abrogation of the Sabbath commandment as is often claimed, then the religious controversy and disputations should perforce have filled the gospels, the book of Acts and all the epistles. There is no such enormous controversy in the New Testament records, and therefore we can only conclude that the Sabbath was not abrogated! 

This would also explain why we do not find repeated reaffirmations of the Sabbath as a command of God. It is mentioned, of course (as already shown), but everybody in the New Testament world already knew about or believed in the importance of the Sabbath. There was not the slightest doubt or uncertainty. To have emphasized Sabbath-keeping in the New Testament would have been like the proverbial "carrying coals to Newcastle" or "taking, ice to the Eskimos in winter. " The issue that Jesus (and later the apostles) addressed was not whether to observe the Sabbath, it had always been revered as the fourth of the Ten Commandments, but rather how to observe the Sabbath in the light of the restrictive concepts of the day. We will discuss how to observe the Sabbath and how Saturday was changed to Sunday later. 


The Sabbath day has two great overall purposes according to the Bible: 1) It looks back as a witness to the physical creation; 2) it looks forward as a shadow to the spiritual rest and spiritual creation. (A third purpose can be listed as well: the Sabbath was to be a remembrance of the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, Deut. 5:15.) God does things in type and antitype, in "shadow" and in "substance." 

When God created the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh, this completed the physical creation. There is no more physical creation going on. The works are finished as Genesis 2:2-3 and the last part of Hebrews 4:3 attest. So the Sabbath day looks back to that Creation, the week of the physical creation (Ex. 20: 11; 31:17). It is then a memorial, which helps us to remember the Creator who made everything. It keeps Him fully in mind every week 

But God also has a great spiritual plan, a spiritual creation, which is now in progress (2 Cor. 5:17). There is a new Creation, and the Sabbath also looks forward to that. Hebrews 4:1-11 also refers to a rest for God's people. It is a yet future rest (katapausis, #2663 of Strong's Greek Concordance) that we are to strive to enter, the ultimate rest in the Kingdom of God. The seven-day week (v.4) is a picture of this spiritual week God has instituted. God rested (#2664), so man shall too. But, the Sabbath day each week also looks forward to that future rest, when the whole earth shall be at rest, when all shall be taught the way of God. Hebrews 4 shows this clearly and verse 9 is particularly relevant. It says, "There remaineth therefore a rest [sabbatismos (#4520), a "sabbatizing"] to the people of God." So, because of the future rest (katapausis) spiritual Israel is to enter, there remains for us a sabbatismos or " sabbatizing. Verse 10 warns us that we cannot enter into the millennial rest if we don't keep the Sabbath rest as God did from His work of creation. 

In other words, the Sabbath is both a memorial and a shadow. It is a memorial of Creation and a shadow of the coming future rest of God's people following the return of Jesus Christ. The Sabbath did not originate with the law of' Moses or with the Sinaitic covenant with physical Israel, so it does not pass with that covenant; rather it originated with Creation and looks back as a memorial to it. The Sabbath is also a shadow, looking forward to the yet future time of the Millennium. A shadow remains as long as the substance is still future. So it remains, looking forward to that time. And when that time comes, the Sabbath shall still be kept (Is. 66:23) although no longer as a shadow but as a memorial to the then contemporary reality of Christ's millennial rule. 

It was a widespread belief in both intertestamental Judaism and the early Church that the seven days of Creation were an analogy of God's plan for man. This belief held that the first six days represent the entirety of human history in which man is allowed to go his own way under the sway of Satan the devil, and the seventh day on which God rested represents the millennial rest when God Himself sets up His own rule and Kingdom over the earth. Such a Kingdom is described in a number of Old Testament passages (e.g. Is. 2:2-4, 11; Mic. 4:1-8). 

Moreover, two New Testament passages refer explicitly to this future Kingdom. Revelation 20:1-10 describes a time when Jesus Christ Himself returns to the earth and has Satan bound. The righteous will rule. The time of this rule is specifically described as "a thousand years" (vv.4,6). As we have seen, Hebrews 3:7-14; 11 draws a lengthy analogy with the Sabbath rest which physical Israel had never entered into. Christians have a chance to enter into this rest if they do not harden their hearts as the Israelites did. In Hebrews 4:9 this eschatological rest is explicitly connected with the seventh-day Sabbath rest. 


As already mentioned, the weekly Sabbath day was taken as a sign of a millennial "Sabbath" of one thousand years in which God through Jesus Christ  would rule directly over the whole earth. The Kingdom of God was already awaited by the Old Testament prophets. Some of the descriptions of it include references to worship on the weekly and annual Sabbaths. For example, Isaiah 66:10 ff describes the restoration of Jerusalem as the capital of the world and the rule of God, over all nations. The righteous are vindicated and rebellions punished. Verse 23 states "From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord." Sabbath worship is envisioned for all peoples, not just for Israelites. 

Ezekiel 40-48 describes Israel and the future Temple in prophetic vision. Regular observance of the weekly Sabbath and other holy days shall be established alongside a reinstituted priesthood and temple ritual. The Passover and Feast of Tabernacles are discussed in 45:21-25. The weekly Sabbath is mentioned in 44:24; 45:17; 46:1,3,4,12. Then, as now, there shall be physical human beings with the same basic needs that human beings have always had. The physical and spiritual needs for the Sabbath then shall be the same as they are now and as they have been in the past. 


Genesis 2:3 reveals that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, set it apart as a holy day, because He rested from all His work. God did not rest because He was tired (cf Is. 40:28); He rested because He was creating something new by the very act of His resting. He was putting His holy presence into the seventh day of the week and setting the precedent for what all mankind should later do. 

The Sabbath in the Sinaitic covenant and in later administrations was often hedged about with very strict legal ordinances about what could or could not be done on that day. These regulations had the purpose of teaching respect for the day and helping lead to the proper understanding of the day and its intent. Jesus looked beyond these legalistic ordinances surrounding the day and pointed to the true purpose of the day. 

The Sabbath is a definite day, the seventh day of the week, established by God at creation. To alter its observance to one day, just any day, in seven makes it lose its original meaning. Of course, modern man is aware of geographical locations in which the sun does not set below the horizon every 24 hours. The polar regions in summer are one example; outer space is another. Yet, just as individuals in such locations do not lose track of time in relation to the rest of the world, the basic time of the seventh day of the week on earth can still be known. Despite lack of a clear time of sunset, an appropriate demarcation of the Sabbath day can still be determined. 

That period of time defined broadly as "evening and morning" was blessed and hallowed. To hallow or sanctify is to make holy or set apart for holy use. When originally defined, the days of creation week were defined only in the broad terms of "evening and morning," not specifically as the time of sunset to sunset. It is the individual's responsibility, whatever the local geographic configuration or latitude, to determine as best he is able to the meaning of "evening" which begins a day. Scandinavians certainly have more need of a broader meaning of "evening" than do people who live in the tropics. 

Christians must keep the day in the spirit. And a true spiritual understanding of the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath obviates the need for detailed regulations; indeed, detailed regulations cannot substitute for a proper spiritual understanding. To attempt to draw detailed lines of Sabbath do's and don'ts would be of little use and would only confuse those seeking to gain understanding of the real intent of the Sabbath, which must come from the Spirit of God. Yet some guidelines are necessary, especially for the new convert. Therefore, a rather broad discussion is given here as a means of pointing to a proper understanding of the day. 

The Sabbath is a special day, a holy day, a day specifically devoted to God and to spiritual matters. It is not a day for regular business (Is. 58:13) but a time to turn from the cares and concerns of the mundane life to the things of God. It is a day in which to rejoice, to enjoy, to rest and have time for God and for one's family. The concept of rest does not mean inactivity though, since spiritual activity is quite important. Physical activity per se is not prohibited since certain kinds may be conductive to a better observance of the day (Mt. 12:1). 

Jesus' example of doing good on the Sabbath is a further indication that physical activity as such is not prohibited (e.g. Mt. 12:9-13; Jn. 9:1-14). Doing good by helping others is very much in keeping with the intent of the Sabbath. Relieving the sufferings or taking care of the immediate needs of others is at the heart of Christian love. Since the purpose of the Sabbath is to lead to a more profound understanding of this godly love, activity which promotes this is certainly in harmony with the Sabbath command. 

On the other hand, whatever does not contribute to a proper use of the Sabbath is out of keeping with it. Doing one's normal business, earning a living, becoming burdened with the mundane cares of daily life, following purely physical pursuits to the exclusion of spiritual ones, or regularly participating in activities which prevent the needed rest of mind and body, are contrary to the purpose of the Sabbath. These all defeat its very intent, the reason why it was given to man, because they do not generate the benefits that the Sabbath was created to give. 

It is not the intent of this document to create an encyclopedic handbook for Sabbath observance. The Bible teaches the broad principles and Sabbath observers must apply them in situations as they arise. We cannot legislate on every last situation that may be encountered. Each reader must be educated and encouraged to make personal value judgments according to his own character and conscience within the general guidelines provided by the Bible. 

It is our duty to teach the profound spiritual meaning of the seventh day from a biblical perspective. We  must teach both what the letter of the law says and what the spirit of the Sabbath law is. 

The most important declaration regarding Sabbath Observance was Jesus' statement that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27). God created the Sabbath day to serve man, not vice versa. Man was not intended to be enslaved to a period of time. Sabbath observance should not be allowed to become an end in itself. Rather, the day is to serve and help those who observe it. The Sabbath was created, as Christ pointed out, for the service of mankind. It was the day upon which God "rested", that is, ceased from His labors of creation, "and was refreshed" (Ex. 31:17). The example is clear: God rested, therefore man also should rest from his weekly labors. When man observes the Sabbath day, he is imitating his Creator and commemorating the creation itself. 

The Israelites were instructed to cease from their usual food-gathering labors on the seventh day as God Himself had set the example (Ex. 16:29-30). The day was to be a time of "solemn rest, a holy Sabbath" (verse 23). 

In the giving of the Decalogue at Sinai, the command concerning the Sabbath became the "fourth commandment." The Israelites were instructed to keep the seventh day holy: 

(Ex. 20:8-11, emphasis ours)."Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it." 

The theocracy of Israel was primarily an agrarian society. "Work" most often meant farm labor of one kind or another. That is why the commandment included cattle or oxen (cf. Deut. 5:14). In context, it is clear that labor which involved planting, plowing and harvesting is what was being forbidden on the seventh day (cf. Ex. 34:21). There is a parallel between this kind of labor and the work of God at Creation, hence the discussion of Creation in Exodus 20:11. 

As the community of Israel developed sophistication within the context of a national theocracy, the implications of the fourth commandment extended into other areas. In the special "Sabbath covenant" section (Ex. 31:12-17), the command to rest applied to "any work" (v. 14). In short, the Sabbath is a day when God's people cease from their usual workday labors as did God. The fact that we are imitating God's example when we do so shows our special relationship with God. It shows that we are "His people." 

Isaiah 58 sheds more light on the meaning of the Sabbath day in Israel: 

"If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure; or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord" (Is. 58:13-14). 

In short, the Sabbath is God's day. It is a day devoted to God and to godly activities. It is holy. It is hallowed. It is a day to be honored. It is a time to "delight in the Lord" as opposed to one's own mundane business affairs. It should be carefully noted that the term "seeking your own pleasure" (in the RSV; "finding thine own pleasure," in the KJV) in Isaiah 58:13 does not, in the Hebrew, have reference to personal enjoyment. The word "pleasure" is khephets, in Hebrew, H2656. In the Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917, it is rendered "thine own business." The New English Bible makes the meaning clearer than either the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version: 

"If you cease to tread the Sabbath underfoot, and keep my holy day free from your own affairs, if you call the Sabbath a day of joy . . . if you honor it by not plying your trade, not seeking your own interest or attending to your own affairs..." 

This translation shows the true intention of the words "your own pleasure." The Hebrew term rendered "pleasure" is often translated "desire" or "purpose" in other passages (e.g. I King 5:8-10; Eccles. 3:1,17; etc.). The Jewish translation speaks of "pursuing their own business" and "thy wonted ways." The Hebrew khephets is not addressing the question of pleasurable activities that are illegal on the seventh day. If pleasure were not present, how could the day possibly be a delight? It is addressing not doing your own affairs, business, or desires. 

This scripture, Isaiah 58:13, has been erroneously applied by some to such activities as swimming, listening to edifying music, marital relations and even reading the weekly comics in the newspaper. Of course, any of these activities could violate the spirit of the Sabbath day if they were to be abused or overdone. Of and by themselves they are not wrong. What is wrong is any activity which interferes with or detracts from the joy, rest and spiritual intention of the day. If any activity works against the spirit of the Sabbath, it is wrong, no matter what it is. 

The main concern of most scriptures pertaining to the Sabbath is that one should not pursue his usual business or work activities on that day. One should have more of God and less of himself in his thoughts on the Sabbath. It is a day to honor God, to remember His creation, and to rest. Obviously then, it should not be a day of violent physical activity of any kind, work or play. It is a day of restfulness. It is a time to unwind and to draw close to God. One's own thoughts of business, money-making, buying and selling, or one's job, should be minimized if not forgotten. The cares of the week are left behind. It is a day to "take it easy" and to worship God. This is the spirit of the day. 

This background should help put things in perspective. Jesus provided additional insight into the intention of the day when He said, " it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Mt. 12:12). He was speaking of such things as healing, or pulling a stranded animal out of a ditch or similar activities. Jesus was expounding the spirit of the day in these examples. By the ox in the ditch" example (Lk. 14:5), He showed that it is not that all physical activity is wrong on the Sabbath, but that the kind of physical activity which is involved in earning a living or in doing business is. Pulling an ox out of a ditch can involve considerable expenditure of physical effort, yet it is not wrong because it is "doing good." It is a matter of capturing the spirit of the law and ordering one's priorities aright. If we can do good for a domestic animal, how much more for a human being who is of infinitely more value (Mt. 12:9-13)? 

The sect of the Pharisees had missed the point of the Sabbath law. They thought that virtually any physical effort, except for a very limited amount, was wrong. Christ showed that what is important is not the effort, but the kind of effort and the direction of that effort. Doing good, serving people who are in dire need, is not wrong on the Sabbath day. Serving one's own business interests is wrong. What about doing one's own business on the Sabbath if that business is "doing good", in the health services, for example? Obviously, emergencies and responsibility for human welfare follow Jesus' own examples regarding doing good on the Sabbath. Yet there can be a fine line between such responsibilities and the regular full-time work of the normal week. One who truly desires to keep God's Sabbath will not seek an excuse to regularly engage in work on the Sabbath, yet will be instantly ready to aid fellow human beings who are in need of help. 

With these basic guidelines in mind, it should be evident that the individual must evaluate each situation that confronts him as it arises. He or she must answer several basic questions: will this activity violate the spirit and intent of the Sabbath day? Can I do it in faith? If there is doubt in the person's mind, if the activity contemplated is questionable, it is probably best to avoid it (Rom. 14:23). If it would offend his conscience, or that of others in the Church, he should avoid the activity. Paul said "if food is a cause of my brother's falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall" (1 Cor. 8:13). 

These guidelines are what we provide as the basis for  personal decision making. It is not the purpose of this document to spell out and rule on every last kind of activity in the human realm! It is in its spiritual significance. It is the individual's responsibility to interpret that teaching in the light of his or her own situation. 

By way of clarification, the following examples may be instructive: 

It is obviously out of step with the spirit of the Sabbath day to participate in violent physical sports activities. Can one "keep the Sabbath holy" while charging down a football field or a basketball court? In competitive sports, one must go all out to the point of exhaustion to win. The Sabbath is a day of rest. 

The Sabbath would not be a day to dig up the garden, or plow or harvest in a major way. But there is nothing wrong with pulling up a few carrots or the breaking of stalks of celery for a fresh salad. 

One should not shop on a Saturday; one should plan ahead. But if the baby needs milk, and you are unexpectedly out of it, you may have to buy a quart or two. There is a principle here. 

Christians should avoid getting into situations where Sabbath observance becomes difficult. It is best to remain far from the edge of the cliff. Why trouble your conscience? This is especially true concerning business matters. Partnerships with people who do not keep the Sabbath can be difficult in this respect. One approach many use is to simply not answer the phone or, if you have an answering machine, screen your calls by listening to who is calling before answering the call. One has to remember that, for a Christian, there is a balance between the proper keeping of the Sabbath for himself and his Christian duty to treat his neighbor with the utmost respect and outgoing concern. Herein lies the ever-present danger of the two extremes: 1) a Christian can delude himself into not helping his family or his fellow man because of his self-righteous desire to "perfectly" keep the Sabbath holy; 2) the same Christian can delude himself just as convincingly into not keeping the Sabbath because he has persuaded himself that others "need" him to work. 

There is no simple solution to this dilemma: no formula to apply, or panacea to discover. God designed our minds and His law so that we would have to confront difficult and unique situations throughout our Christian lives. How we handle each of these situations shall determine the quality of the character we are building; that is what building character is all about. They also determine  the amount of strengthening of the Holy Spirit within us.  

In all this, we should remember that Israel was a self contained, controllable, theocratic community. In today's world, on the other hand, Christians cannot control the circumstances of their environments except to a very limited extent. We are sent into the world (Jn. 17:18). We must coexist with a world that, for the most part, does not obey God. Our situation is quite different from that of ancient Israel. 

We advise you to use vision and foresight in planning business ventures that could present problems in the future. You are encouraged to avoid awkward and difficult situations. Oftentimes we are presented with difficult choices. In the developing nations, for example, certain activities on the Sabbath are compulsory by law. Those failing to comply can be shot or imprisoned! If a man is to be imprisoned and taken from his family who rely upon him to support and provide for them, it becomes a difficult choice whether it is better that he perform a public service on the Sabbath if the law requires it, than to allow this to happen. God places heavy emphasis in the New Testament on a man's responsibility to provide for his own family. He who fails to do so is considered to be "worse than an infidel" (1 Tim. 5:8). 

In certain parts of Europe, it is possible to lose custody of one's children if one does not send them to school on the Sabbath. If this were to happen, parents would have no control over their children, whatsoever. Moreover, they would still end up going to school on the Sabbath. It is better to allow them to attend school that half-day than to lose them altogether! Of course, it is not ideal, but it may be the best thing to do under the circumstances. 

The Sabbath is a means of honoring and worshiping God. We can honor and worship Him in the privacy of our homes by having the time to draw closer to Him. This can be accomplished by rest, prayer, reflection (meditation) on His ways and by reading His handbook of life—the Bible. 

We should also more formally show honor and worship to God by assembling with His Church on His Sabbath. The Sabbath is called a "holy convocation" (Lev. 23:3). The book of Hebrews states that God's Church must not neglect "to meet together" (Heb. 10:25). J. B. Phillips translates this verse: "And let us not hold aloof from our church meetings. " 

The Sabbath demonstrates one's recognition of God as Creator, both past and future, and as Lord of our lives. If we do not set aside the Sabbath day, not just any day of the week, but the day specifically ordained, sanctified and commanded by God and His Word, perhaps it is because of a disinclination or "inability" to serve Him and put Him first. One's respect for the Sabbath is one means (among many) of showing one's true attitude toward God and His rulership. 

Keeping the Sabbath in its full spiritual intent is a means of developing and demonstrating godly love. It is also a solemn command from God, who wants only the best for His creation. Physically and mentally, the Sabbath renews the body to do more in six days than could be done in seven without such rest. Spiritually, it shows respect and love toward God. God's Sabbath is surely "for men" (Mk. 2:27).  


After the reader has absorbed all the above, one question probably lingers in your head: With all the proofs and logic of the Saturday Sabbath, why do most "Christian" churches observe Sunday? To answer that we want to turn to a Biblical scholar who has addressed this question in his paper "From Sabbath To Sunday: How Did It Come About?" The scholar's name is Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi. His paper is lengthy so we will just show the highlights here. We have taken the liberty to modify such words and phrases as we deem appropriate. He starts out by stating: 

A question that is invariably asked: "How do you reconcile your conclusion that Sunday observance began in the early part of the second century when the Roman Emperor Hadrian promulgated a most repressing anti-Jewish and anti-Sabbath legislation in A. D. 135, with the view that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday in the fourth century by the Emperor Constantine?"  

His answer to this question is simple. Constantine did not introduce Sunday observance. He simply made the Day of the Sun a civil holiday by promulgating the famous Sunday Law in A. D. 321. The reason Constantine made Sunday a civil holiday is simply because by that time the Day of the Sun had become popular both among the pagans and the Christians. This is indicated by the very wording of the legislation: "On the venerable Day of the Sun . . ." It is evident that at that time the Day of the Sun was already "venerable," that is, popular and respected. 

The process which led to the adoption of the Day of the Sun as a civil holiday for the whole Roman Empire began in the early part of the second century, when the Day of the Sun was advanced from second day of the week to the position of first and most important day of the week.  There are compelling indications that when the Romans advanced the Day of the Sun to the first and most important day of the week, Gentile Christians, who came from a pagan background, were influenced to adopt the selfsame Day of the Sun, in order to show separation from the Jews and identification with the Romans. To put it differently, they chose to be politically correct by adopting the Day of the Sun, rather than to be biblically correct by observing the seventh-day Sabbath. 

The fact that Sunday observance began earlier than anticipated, in no way weakens the validity and continuity of the Sabbath. It only goes to show that the Devil understands the importance of Sabbath observance in the religious life of God's people. After all Sabbath keeping is equated in Scripture with faithfulness to God, and Sabbath profanation with apostasy. Through the prophet Ezekiel God laments: "the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness . . my Sabbath they greatly profaned" (Ezek 20:13). The reason for this equation is not difficult to see. A person who ignores the Lord on His Holy Day, ultimately ignores the Lord every day. 

In view of the vital importance the Sabbath plays in the religious experience of God's people, it would have been most surprising if the Evil One had not tampered with the Sabbath commandment during the first three centuries. By leading many Christians to reject the Sabbath soon after the beginning of Christianity, the Devil succeeded in promoting false types of worship. We must never forget that the Great Controversy largely centers on worship: that is, true worship versus false worship. And the Sabbath is essential to worship, because it invites us to worship God by consecrating our time and life to Him in a special way every seventh day. 

A major reason for the unceasing interest in the historical origin of Sunday has been the need to define the nature of Sunday keeping in its relationship to the Sabbath. The debate often centers around this fundamental question: Did Sunday originate as the continuation of the Sabbath and consequently should be observed as a DAY of rest and worship like the Sabbath? Or, did Sunday begin as a brand new Christian institution, radically different from the Sabbath, and consequently should be observed more as an HOUR of weekly worship? 

Christians have been equally divided in their answer to these questions. On the one hand there are those churches who follow the Calvinistic tradition that views Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, and thus to be observed as a HOLY DAY of rest and worship unto the Lord. On the other hand, there are those churches that follow the Lutheran and Catholic traditions that sees Sunday as different from the Sabbath, and thus to be observed primarily as the weekly HOUR of worship. 

Briefly stated, there are two major views today regarding the historical origin of Sunday and its relationship to the biblical Sabbath. The older and traditional view, which can be traced back to early Christianity, maintains that there is a radical discontinuity between the Sabbath and Sunday, and consequently Sunday is not the Sabbath. The two days differ in origin, meaning, and experience. The more recent view, which is articulated by Pope John Paul II himself in his Pastoral Letter Dies Domini, maintains that Sunday began as the embodiment and "full expression" of the Sabbath, and consequently it is to be observed as a biblical imperative, rooted in the Sabbath commandment itself.  

According to the traditional view, which has been held by the Catholic Church and accepted by those Protestant denominations which follow the Lutheran tradition, the Sabbath was a temporary Mosaic institution given to the Jews, abrogated by Christ, and consequently no longer binding today. Christians adopted Sunday observance, not as the continuation of the biblical Sabbath, but as a new institution established by the church to celebrate Christ's resurrection by means of the Lord's Supper celebration.  

This traditional position has been held by the Catholic Church which has claimed the responsibility for changing the Sabbath to Sunday. For example, Thomas Aquinas (A. D. 1225-1274) who is regarded as the greatest Catholic theologian who ever lived, explicitly states: "The observance of the Lord's Day took the place of the observance of the Sabbath not by virtue of the [Biblical] precept but by the institution of the church." This view has been reiterated through the centuries in standard Catholic catechisms where a statement like this is usually found: "We observe Sunday rather than Saturday because the Catholic Church by virtue of her authority has transferred the solemnity of the Sabbath to Sunday." 

Recently, however, there have been both Catholic and Protestant scholars who have argued for an apostolic origin of Sunday observance. According to these scholars, the Apostles themselves chose the first day of the week as the new Christian Sabbath at the very beginning of Christianity in order to commemorate Christ's resurrection. 

This view is defended at great length by Pope John Paul II in his Pastoral Letter, Dies Domini (The Lord's Day), which was promulgated on May 31, 1998. In this lengthy document (over 40 pages) the Pope makes a passionate plea for a revival of Sunday observance by appealing to the moral imperative of the Sabbath commandment. For the Pope Sunday is to be observed, not merely as an institution established by the Catholic Church, but as a moral imperative of the Decalogue. The reason is that Sunday allegedly originated as the embodiment and "full expression" of the Sabbath and consequently should be observed as the biblical Sabbath. 

John Paul departs from the traditional Catholic position presumably because he wishes to challenge Christians to respect Sunday, not merely as an institution of the Catholic Church, but as a divine command. Furthermore, by rooting Sunday-keeping in the Sabbath commandment, the Pope offers the strongest moral reasons for urging Christians "to ensure that civil legislation respects their duty to keep Sunday holy." 

The attempts made by the Pope and other Church leaders to ground Sunday observance on the Sabbath commandment, raises this important question: "If Christians are expected to observe Sunday as the Biblical Sabbath, why should not they observe the Sabbath in the first place?" What was wrong with the biblical Sabbath that needed to be changed to Sunday? To apply the Sabbath Commandment to the observance of the first day of the week, Sunday, can be confusing to say the least, because the Fourth Commandment enjoins the observance of the seventh day, not of the first day. This confusion may explain why many Christians do not take the observance of Sunday seriously. 

For the sake of clarity, Bacchiocci states at the outset the conclusion of his investigation. Simply stated, his analysis of the biblical and historical texts indicate that the change from Sabbath to Sunday did not come about at the beginning of Christianity by the authority of Christ or the Apostles who allegedly chose the first day of the week as the new Christian Sabbath to celebrate Christ's resurrection. Rather the change began about a century after Christ's death during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (about A. D. 135), as a result of an interplay of political, social, pagan and religious factors to be mentioned shortly. Essentially, it was the necessity to avoid the repressive anti-Jewish and anti-Sabbath legislation promulgated in A. D. 135 by Emperor Hadrian that caused the Bishop of Rome to pioneer the change from Sabbath to Sunday and from Passover to Easter-Sunday. These changes were designed to show the Christian separation and differentiation from the Jews at a time when Jewish religious practices were outlawed by the Roman government. 

The implications of this conclusion is that the change from Saturday to Sunday was not merely a change of names or numbers, but a change of meaning, authority, and experience. To help you see how he reached this conclusion, he will take us step by step through the major parts of his research. We begin by examining first the alleged role of Christ, of His resurrection and of the Jerusalem church in the change from Sabbath to Sunday. Then we proceed to consider the pivotal influence of the Church of Rome and of Sun-worship in the adoption of Sunday.  


The common view among Sunday keeping Christians is that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday by the Apostolic Church in order to commemorate Christ's resurrection. This is indeed the common explanation given for Sunday keeping. The Pope himself appeals to the resurrection and appearance of Jesus on Sunday in his Pastoral Letter Dies Domini in order to argue for the apostolic origin of Sunday. Numerous Catholic and Protestant scholars have written in defense of the same view. Here are seven major reasons which discredit the alleged role of Christ's Resurrection in the adoption of Sunday observance. 

1. There is no commandment of Christ or of the apostles regarding a weekly-Sunday or annual Easter-Sunday celebration of Christ's resurrection. We have commands in the New Testament regarding baptism (Matt 28:19-20), the Lord's Supper (Mark 14:24-25; 1 Cor 11:23-26) and foot-washing (John 13:14-15), but we find no commands or even suggestions to commemorate Christ's Resurrection on a weekly Sunday or annual Easter-Sunday. 

2. If Jesus wanted the day of His resurrection to become a memorial day of rest and worship, He would have capitalized on the day of His resurrection to establish such a memorial. It is important to note that divine institutions like the Sabbath, baptism, Lord's Supper, all trace their origin to a divine act that established them. But on the day of His resurrection Christ performed no act to institute a memorial of His resurrection. 

3. Sunday is never called in the New Testament as "Day of the Resurrection." In fact, He was not resurrected on the first day of the week. He was resurrected on Saturday, about sunset. However, He did ascend to our Father on the first day of the week. 

4. The Sunday-Resurrection presupposes work, rather than rest and worship, because it does not mark the completion of Christ's earthly ministry which ended on a Wednesday afternoon when the Savior said: "It is finished" (John 19:30), and then rested in the tomb three days and three nights according to the commandment. Instead, the Resurrection marks the beginning of Christ's new intercessory ministry (Acts 1:8; 2:33), which, like the first day of creation, presupposes work rather than rest. 

5. Sunday became the Lord's Day because that was the day in which the Lord's Supper was celebrated. This view, accepted by many, lacks biblical and historical support. Historically we know that Christians could not celebrate the Lord's Supper on a regular basis on Sunday evening, because such gatherings were prohibited by the Roman hetariae law—a law that outlawed all types of communal fellowship meals held in the evening. The Roman government was afraid that such evening gatherings could become an occasion for political plotting. The true Lord's Supper was held the evening before His crucifixion.  

To avoid the search of the Roman police, Christians changed regularly the time and place of the Lord's Supper celebration. Eventually, they moved the service from the evening to the morning. This explains why Paul is very specific on the manner of celebrating the Lord's Supper, but he is indefinite on the question of the time of the assembly. Note that four times he repeats the same phrase: "When you come together" (1 Cor 11:18, 20, 33, 34). The phrase implies indefinite time, most likely because he set no time of day for the celebration of the Lord's Supper. 

6. Many Christians today view their Lord's Supper as the core of Sunday worship in honor of Christ's resurrection. But in the Apostolic Church, the Lord's Supper was not celebrated on Sunday, as we have just seen, and was not connected with the Resurrection. Paul, for instance, who claims to transmit what "he received from the Lord" (1 Cor 11:23), explicitly states that the rite commemorated not Christ's resurrection, but His sacrifice and Second Coming ("You proclaim the Lord's death till he comes" -- 1 Cor 11:26). 

Similarly, Passover, celebrated today by many Christians on Easter Sunday, was observed during apostolic times, not on Sunday to commemorate the Resurrection, but according to the biblical date of Nisan 14, primarily as a memorial of Christ's suffering and death. Contrary to what many people believe, Easter-Sunday was unknown in the Apostolic Church. It was introduced and promoted by the Church of Rome in the second century in order to show separation and differentiation from the Jewish Passover. The result was the well-known Passover controversy which eventually led Bishop Victor of Rome to excommunicate the Asian Christians (about A. D. 191) for refusing to adopt Easter-Sunday. These indications show that Christ's supposed resurrection on the first day of the week, did not influence the Apostolic Church to adopt the weekly Sunday and the annual Easter-Sunday to commemorate such an event. 

7. The earliest explicit references to Sunday keeping are found in the writings of Barnabas (about A. D. 135 ) and Justin Martyr (about A.D. 150). Both writers do mention the Resurrection but only as the second of two reasons, important but not predominant. Barnabas' first theological motivation for Sunday keeping is eschatological, namely, that Sunday as "the eighth day" represents "the beginning of another world." The notion of Sunday as "the eighth day," was later abandoned because it is senseless to speak of "the eighth day" in a seven-day week. Justin's first reason for the Christians' assembly on Dies Solis--the Day of the Sun, is the inauguration of creation: "Sunday is the first day on which God, transforming the darkness and prime matter, created the world." These reasons were eventually abandoned in favor of the Resurrection which became the primary reason for Sunday observance. 

The seven reasons given above suffice to discredit the claim that Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week caused the abandonment of the Sabbath and the adoption of Sunday. The truth is that initially the resurrection was celebrated existentially rather than liturgically, that is, by a victorious way of life rather than by a special day of worship. 


There are seven evidences that Sunday worship began in Rome. 

1. In the first place, the Church of Rome was composed predominantly of Gentile converts. Paul in his Epistle to the Roman Church explicitly affirms: "I am speaking to you Gentiles" (Romans 11:13). This means that while the Jerusalem Church was made up almost exclusively of Jewish Christians who were deeply committed to their religious traditions, like Sabbath-keeping, the Church of Rome consisted mostly of Gentile converts who were influenced by such pagan practices as Sun Worship with its Sun Day. 

2. In the second place the predominant Gentile membership apparently contributed to an early Christian differentiation from the Jews in Rome. This is indicated by the fact that in A.D. 64, Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome, though the Jewish district of Trastevere had not been touched by the fire. This fact suggests that by A. D. 64 Christians in Rome were no longer perceived to be a Jewish sect by the Roman authorities, but a different religious movement. Most likely the reason is that by that time Christians in Rome no longer participated in the worship service of the synagogue. This was not the case in the land of Israel where Christians attended the synagogue's services until toward the end of the first century. This is indicated by the fact that in order to keep Christians away from the synagogue services, rabbinical authorities introduced around A. D. 90, the malediction of the Christians to be recited during the worship service. 

3. The role of the Bishop of Rome in pioneering and promoting the change from Sabbath feasting to Sabbath fasting, as well as the change from Passover to Easter Sunday. To this point we shall return shortly. At this juncture it suffices to note that the Bishop of Rome emerged to the leadership position after the A. D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. He was the only one who commanded sufficient authority to influence the majority of Christians to adopt new religious observances, such as weekly Sunday and annual Easter Sunday. 

4. To appreciate why the Bishop of Rome would pioneer the abandonment of the Sabbath and the adoption of Sunday, it is important to consider a fourth important factor, namely, the fiscal, military, political and religious repressive measures imposed by the Romans upon the Jews, beginning with the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in A. D. 66 and culminating with the Second Jewish Revolt in A. D. 135. These measures, which were introduced by the Roman government to punish the Jews on account of their violent uprisings in various places of the Empire, were especially felt in the city of Rome, which had a large Jewish population. 

Fiscally, the Jews were subjected to a discriminatory tax (the fiscus judaicus) which was introduced by Vespasian and increased first by Domitian ( A.D. 81-96) and later by Hadrian. This meant that the Jews had to pay a penalty tax simply for being Jews. Militarily, Vespasian and Titus crushed the First Jewish Revolt (A. D. 66-70) and Hadrian, the Second Jewish Revolt (A.D. 132-135). Religiously, Vespasian (69-79 A.D.) abolished the Sanhedrin and the office of the High Priest.  

These repressive measures against the Jews were intensely felt in Rome, which, as we said,  had a large Jewish population. In fact, the mounting hostility of the Roman populace against the Jews forced the Emperor Titus, though "unwilling" (invitus), to ask the Jewess Berenice, sister of Herod the Younger, whom he wanted to marry, to leave Rome. 

5.  A fifth significant factor is the anti-Jewish propaganda by a host of Roman authors who began reviling the Jews racially and culturally, deriding especially Sabbath keeping and circumcision as examples of Judaism's degrading superstitions. These authors especially derided Sabbath keeping as an example of Jewish laziness. Contemptuous anti-Jewish literary comments can be found in the writings of Seneca (d. A.D. 65 ), Persius (A.D. 34-62), Petronius (ca. A.D. 66), Quintillian (ca. A.D. 35-100), Martial (ca. A.D. 40-104), Plutarch (ca. A.D. 46-119), Juvenal ( A. D. 125) and Tacitus (ca. A.D. 55-120), all of whom lived in Rome most of their professional lives. 

6. The sixth and most decisive factor which influenced the change of the day of worship from Sabbath to Sunday, is the anti-Jewish and anti-Sabbath legislation promulgated by the Emperor Hadrian in A. D. 135. Hadrian went as far as outlawing the practice of Jewish religion in general and of Sabbath keeping in particular in A. D. 135. 

This repressive anti-Jewish legislation was promulgated by Hadrian after three years of bloody fighting (A. D. 132-135) to crush the Jewish revolt. His Roman legions suffered many casualties. When the Emperor finally captured Jerusalem, he decided to deal with the Jewish problem in a radical way. He slaughtered thousands of Jews, and took thousand of them as slaves to Rome. He made Jerusalem into a Roman colony, calling it Aelia Capitolina. He forbade Jews and Jewish Christians from ever entering the city. More important still for our investigation, Hadrian outlawed the practice of the Jewish religion in general and of Sabbath keeping in particular throughout the empire. 

It is not surprising that the Jews view Hadrian and Hitler as the two most wanted men of their history. The two men share the infamous distinction of wanting to eradicate the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. Hadrian attempted to abolish Judaism as a religion and Hitler tried to liquidate the Jews as a people.  

When Bacchiocci learned about the Hadrianic anti-Jewish and anti-Sabbath legislation, he asked himself: How did the Christians, especially those living in Rome under the immediate attention of the Emperor, react to such legislation? Did they choose to remain faithful in their Sabbath observance, even if it meant being punished as Jews, or did they abandon Sabbath-keeping in order to clarify to the Roman authorities their separation and differentiation from the Jews? The answer is simple. Many Christians changed the time and manner of observance of two institutions associated with Judaism, namely the Sabbath and Passover. Next, we shall see that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday and Passover to Easter Sunday in order to avoid even the semblance of Judaism. 

7. To understand what contributed to these historical changes, we need to mention a seventh important factor, namely, the development of a Christian theology of contempt for the Jews. This is what happened. When the Jewish religion in general and the Sabbath in particular were outlawed by the Roman government and derided by Roman writers, a whole body of Adversus Judaeos ("Against all Jews") Christian literature began to appear. Following the lead of Roman writers, Christian authors developed a "Christian" theology of separation from and contempt toward the Jews. Characteristic Jewish customs such as circumcision and Sabbath keeping were proclaimed to be signs of Jewish depravity. 

The condemnation of Sabbath keeping as a sign of Jewish wickedness, contributed to the abandonment of the Sabbath and the adoption of Sunday observance, in order to clarify to the Roman authorities the Christian separation from Judaism and identification with Roman paganism. This historical change from Sabbath to Sunday observance was pioneered by the Church of Rome—a predominantly Gentile Church which, as noted earlier, took over the leadership of Christian communities after the A. D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. 


What have we covered? We've defined the Sabbath. We've described why and how we are to keep it. We've described its Old Testament beginnings and described how it was abused by the Israelites. We've described how it was not changed by New Testament scripture. We described its analogy with God's plan and Kingdom. We described the principles for keeping it. We showed how Saturday was changed to Sunday by the Roman "Christian" church, a change based partly on the supposed day of Christ's resurrection. And finally, we described the domination of the Roman government on the establishment of a Sunday sabbath.  

We've seen that, apart from even the Old Covenant, God initiated the Sabbath Day as the last act of Creation Week. God blessed the Sabbath by placing himself in the day through dedication and example of behavior. Clear scriptural examples show how many of the righteous forefathers from the time of Abel, Enoch, Noah, and down through the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kept God's Sabbaths, as well as the rest of the commandments of God. 

After 400 years of slavery in a society that did not know the true God, Israel was reintroduced to the Sabbath, along with the rest of the commandments of God upon their exodus from Egypt. Even though they repeatedly affirmed their commitment to God down through the subsequent centuries, Israel showed time and again by their abuse of the Sabbath day, their utter lack of faith and trust in the God who had provided the Sabbath rest for their own good. 

Finally, in New Testament times, we saw how pagan rulers under the sway of Satan, used the power of their offices to first discourage freedom to worship God on the day he commanded. Then, through their legislative edicts, those rulers actually moved God's venerated Sabbath day from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week to be in line with the pagan's venerated "day of the sun." They subsequently gained compliance of the populace through their persuasive enforcement tactics, including the death penalty.  

Whether through voluntary inattentiveness and rebellion, or through foreign enslavement or through government edict, Israel's history is replete with abuses of God's Sabbath day. We learned, however, that the Sabbath day is more than just an observance. It also outlines much of God's plan for humanity and, ultimately, pictures the true spiritual rest that can await those who keep the weekly Sabbath: the Kingdom of God.  

We hope this booklet will assist you in validating your own Sabbath observance. 


Bacchiocchi, Samuele, "From Sabbath To Sunday".  Copyright 1977 by Samuele Bacchiocchi.  The Pontifical Gregorian University Press, Rome 1977 

Bacchiocchi, Samuele, "From Sabbath To Sunday: How Did It Come About?" Research Paper: Endtime Issues No. 64. 1 March 2001. 

Brown, Francis, "The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon". Copyright 1979 by Jay P. Green. Published by Hendrickson. Publishers. 

Strong, James, "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible".  Copyright 1990 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. 

"Systematic Theology Project".  Article:  Sabbath". 


God gave man the Sabbath to keep him in the true knowledge of the true worship of the true God. 

  1. God made the Sabbath.  Gen 2:3
  2. God rested the seventh day from His labors.  Gen 2:2 
  3. God blessed and sanctified the seventh day.  Gen 2:3 
  4. God blessed the seventh day and said it was the Sabbath.  Ex 20:10,11 
  5. God's people kept the Sabbath before the Ten Commandments were given.   Ex 16:16-30 
  6. God blessed the Seventh day because on it He rested from the work of creation.  Ex 20:11 
  7. The Sabbath is a memorial of creation . . . and is a sign forever between God and his people that we know that the Eternal has set us apart. Ex 31:13-17 
  8. God ordained that man should keep the Sabbath.  Ex 20:8;  Heb 4:4,9 
  9. God forbade work even in harvest time on Sabbath.  Ex 34:21 
  10. If we obey God and keep his commandments we shall be a "peculiar treasurer" to God for all time.  Ex 19:5 
  11. God remembers us as long as we keep Sabbath.  Ex 31:13 
  12. It is a sign between God and His people. Ex 31:17 
  13. God commanded his High Day Sabbaths to be kept forever.  Lev 23:14,21,31,41 
  14. It was one of the Ten Commandments which God gave to his people. Ex 20:8-11; Deu 5:12-15 
  15. Wages of sin. (1 JOHN 3:4)  Death for not keeping Sabbath. Ex 31:14-15 
  16. There is no record of God having removed His blessing from the Sabbath. 
  17. God sent Israel into captivity for Sabbath breaking.  Neh 13:17,18; Ezek 20; 2 Kings 17 
  18. God promised that Jerusalem would stand forever if the people would observe Sabbath.  Jer 17:24,25 
  19. God promised the gentiles a blessing if they joined His people and kept the Sabbath. Isa 56:2,6,7 
  20. God promised to bless any man who keeps the Sabbath.  Isa 56:2 
  21. God called it His holy day.  Isa 58:13 
  22. The Sabbath will be kept in the World Tomorrow.  Isa 66:22,23 
  23. Israel kept the High Day Sabbaths and was blessed.  Ezra 3:4 
  24. Sabbaths are a sign between God and His people.  Ex 31:13  Ezek 20:20 
  25. God taught discipline to His people when they kept the Sabbath.  God demands His Sabbath be kept.  Ezek 20:16,19,21 
  26. Abraham kept God's Sabbaths.  Gen 26:5  Luke 13:28 
  27. Manna showed God's desires of Sabbath.  Ex 16:23,28,29 
  28. All His commandments are to stand forever.  Psa 111:7,8 
  29. Absence of manna positively identified Sabbath for over 40 years.  Ex 16:35 
  30. Sabbath means rest.  The word Sabbath appears 60 times in the N.T. 
  31. Change of times and laws prophesied in Dan 7:25
  32. Sunday keeping appears nowhere in the true translations of Bible. 
  33. First day appears in Mat 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2 but in none of these is any authority given to change Sabbath to Sunday. 
  34. God's word and laws permanently in effect.  Mat 5:17,18. 
  35. Blessings if we keep commandments;  cursings if not. Deu 28 and Lev 26
  36. Jerusalem would not have fallen if Israel would have kept Sabbaths.  Jer 17:21-22, 24-25. 
  37. Christ recognized Sabbath law as binding. Mat 12:12; 5:17. 
  38. Christ taught His disciples how to keep the Sabbath.  Mat 12:1-13 
  39. Christ kept His Father's commandments  John 15:10  and gave an example to follow  John 8:12; 1 Pet 2:21. 
  40. The first day of the week is not the Sabbath. The Sabbath comes just before the first day, so it is the 7th day.  Mat 28:1; Luke 23:56; Luke 24:1 
  41. Christ made it obligatory for us to keep the commandments in order to gain eternal life.  Mat 19:17  Rev 22:14 
  42. The law of the 7th day was not changed.  Christ rose "in the end of the Sabbath" on the 7th day Sabbath.  Mat 28:1-6 
  43. End time church would be keeping Sabbath.  Mat 24:20 
  44. Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (therefore it is the Lords day).  Mark 2:23-28; Isa 58:13;  Mat 12:8 
  45. Christ kept the Sabbath during His ministry.  Luke 4:16 
  46. The "holy" women kept it after the crucifixion.  Luke 23:56 
  47. Christ made a point of healing on the Sabbath thereby acknowledging and underlining it.  Luke 13:10-17 
  48. Breaking the law is sin.  1 John 3:4  Sabbath is part of that law.  James 2:8-12  If we are to put sin out of our lives we must observe the Sabbath rather than defile it.  Rom 6:15-18 
  49. God commissioned Jesus to preserve His laws.  John 7:19 
  50. Sabbath 7th day followed by Sunday.  Mark 16:1-2 
  51. Luke writes of the Sabbath 22 years after the crucifixion.  Acts 17:2 
  52. Paul still recognized it as the Sabbath after his conversion.  Acts 13:27  48 AD 
  53. Gentiles asked Paul to preach to them on the Sabbath.  Acts 13:42 
  54. Paul held city-wide services on the Sabbath.  Acts 13:44 
  55. James recognized the Sabbath.  Acts 15:21  52 AD 
  56. Paul had services on the Sabbath by the side of a river when no synagogue was available.  Acts 16:13 
  57. Paul's custom to preach on the Sabbath day.  Acts 17:2,3 
  58. At Corinth, a gentile city, Paul worked through the week, but preached every Sabbath to the people for 18 months.  Acts 18:1-4,11 
  59. Paul tells Philippians to follow him and he kept the Sabbath.  Phil 3:17 
  60. Christ did not change spiritual laws.  Heb 13:8 
  61. By faith Rom 1:17 you take the 1st step  Luke 17:5  and observe God's Sabbaths  Mat 7:21; James 1:22; Luke 6:46; Rom 2:13 to receive God's eternal reward. 
  62. Paul shows resting on the Sabbath pictures our future as spirit-born Sons in God's family.  Heb 4:1-11
  63. After crucifixion his followers, not hearing of a Sabbath change by his teaching, "prepared spices..." and rested according to the commandments.  Luke 23:56 
  64. We are commanded to follow Christs example which includes Sabbath keeping.  1 Pet 2:21; 1 Cor 11:1 
  65. In 230 AD Tertullion in Rome caused pagan and Christian festivals to amalgamate by changing Sabbath to 1st day.  (2 Babylons - Hyslop pg 93). 
  66. Victor, Bishop of Rome in 196 AD compelled all to observe Passover on Sunday, changing Sabbath and God's laws (Boweds, History of Popes, pg 276) 
  67. Constitine in 321 AD "...on the day of the sun...all work stopped and day be kept holy..."  (Schaff, History of Christian Church vol III pg 380) 
  68. Sabbath was made for man and thus not solely for the Jews. Mark 2:27 
  69. There is no record of God having removed His blessing from the Sabbath. 
  70. Therefore the Sabbath remains.  Heb 4:9 
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by Wayne Bedwell

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