Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory
of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Titus 2:13)
The Biblicist Toolbar
 Home   Articles   Outlines 

Remembering The Sabbath 
Sunday being a "Christian-Sabbath" was slowly developed in church history

It is true, based on Scripture, that the Sabbath Day was never changed from the seventh day to the first day of the week. However, it is also Biblically true that there is no mandatory obligation for the Church/Body of Christ, corporately or individually, of Jewish origin or Gentile origin, to observe the seventh day Sabbath or set aside any other particular day of the week as holy, for rest or worship.


A popular teaching today states that when Jesus died the sacrificial laws were nailed to the cross but not the 10 commandments. Therefore, based on these perpetual commandments, believers are still obligated to keep the fourth commandment of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. So it is necessary to remark on the above belief since it is a cause of confusion regarding the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jo. 1:29). Jesus was God's Lamb sent to redeem and reconcile sinful mankind to a holy God. The cross of Christ dealt with man's sins, not God's laws. There He dealt with the transgressions of all men, those under the Law (Jews) as well as those not under the Law (Gentiles).

As to what was nailed to the cross, Colossians 2:13-14 says that while we were dead in our transgressions and uncircumcision of our flesh He made us alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions against God, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it (the certificate of debt) out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. There is absolutely no mention of the Mosaic sacrificial system being nailed to the cross in this text. Only the cancelling out of a hostile decree of just condemnation and the bestowing of life to all who believe.

Though the Law itself was righteous and good it was never designed to be a means of righteousness for those under its jurisdiction (Israel); but instead through it came the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19-20, Rom. 7:7ff). Specifically, that part of the Law which is often referred to as the 10 Commandments or, the Decalogue. For instance, in Rom. 7:7ff, Paul employs the commandment, "You shall not covet," as the lawful commandment which became a cause of death through sin for him. And in 2Cor. 3:6-11 he ascribes to all 10 Commandments, "engraved on stone," the "ministry of death" (vs. 7) and the "ministry of condemnation" (vs. 9). The commandment to keep a seventh day Sabbath (holy) being part of the "letters engraved on stones."

Some try to present a historical argument for perpetual Sabbath keeping from the passage in Genesis which states that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh, blessed it and sanctified it (Gen. 2:2-3). But there is nothing in that text which commands men to observe a seventh day Sabbath. The actual command to observe a Sabbath day rest was not formally given until the Mosaic Covenant delivered to national Israel at Mt. Sinai. Nor is there any indication in the Bible that a seventh day Sabbath was observed or divinely expected to be observed by anyone, including the patriarchs, until the Mosaic Law. And in its original Law form it was not a day of worship (an element added by Judaism) but explicitly a day of rest, i.e., cessation of all work, and if violated punishable by death (Ex. 31:14,15; 35:2). It was the Law!

The covenant of Law was a complete package. Transgressions against it were dealt with either immediately (sometimes death) or through the prescribed sacrificial system. Especially the yearly "Day of Atonement" by which the nation's transgressions were annually and temporarily "covered" (not removed, Heb. kaphar, to cover). A foreshadowing of God's future and final sacrifice of His Son for the sins of all mankind. The writer of Hebrews states that the annual sacrifice of the Mosaic system was weak because it repetitively brought to conscience the people's sins. Whereas the once for all sacrifice of Messiah has the power to cleanse even the conscience of the sinner (Heb. 9:14) and to perfect for all times those who are sanctified in Him (Heb. 10:14).

The New Testament message to the Church is that in Christ we (Jew or Gentile) are not under law (neither the covenant nor principle of) but under grace (Rom. 6:14; 10:4). Christ inaugurated a New and better Covenant in His blood by which we (both Jew and Gentile) draw near to God (Matt. 26:28; Heb. 8).

Paul teaches in Galatians 3:19 that the Law was (1) added, in respect to the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant of promise, for the purpose of defining transgressions (Rom. 3:20; 7:7); and, (2) temporary in that it was only to be an operative covenant with national Israel until the Seed should come, that is, Messiah. He would then justify all men by faith (Gal. 3:24). The Law was Israel's preparatory "tutor" to lead them to Messiah to be justified by faith. "But now that faith has come we are no longer under a tutor" (vs. 25, expanded on in Gal. 4:1-6).

With this said, going back to Colossians chapter two, Paul exhorts the Church by saying, "As therefore you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk (or, lead your life) in Him." That is, rooted and built up in Him, established in faith in the One in whom we have been made complete (vs. 6, 10). Therefore, he goes on to say, we are not to let anyone act as our judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day (vs. 16). Things which were merely a "shadow" previously obligatory but no longer since the "Light" has come.

Though sometimes disputed, the context of the Book of Galatians is clearly the Law of Moses (2:16,19,20; 3:2,5,10-29; 4:4-5,21; 53-4,14; 6:13). And in Gal. 4:10 Paul chides the believers there for adopting the observance of days, months, seasons and years; actually devaluating them as a means for living out their spiritual lives. The "months" refer to the New Moon festivals, "seasons" to the Seven Holy seasons of Israel, "years" to the Sabbatical Year or of Jubilee and "days" to the Sabbath days.

As for the "Sabbath rest for the people of God" which the writer of Hebrews speakes of in 4:9, William R. Newell accurately comments:

"The "rest" itself is here called sabbatismos, a "state-of-rest" (cessation from labor or employment). Not in the sense of a weekly ocurrence, but in the sense of that eternal state entered into by those who, already new creatures in Christ, enter that New Creation of Revelation 21-22; to which they already belong, where all things are according to God, where God Himself is at rest: For this is what is meant by God's rest!" (Hebrews Verse by Verse)
In Romans 14:4-6 Paul sums it all up by presenting the correct attitude for believers regarding this matter. "One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (vs. 5). In other words, we are prohibited against judging one another regarding this issue. One may observe the seventh day of the week (Saturday) for worship while another sets aside the first (Sunday). And still another may not set aside any particular day. Although, we are warned in Scripture not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25). It is when believers teach that it is mandatory for the Body of Christ to observe a "Sabbath" either on the seventh day (Saturday) or first day of the week (Sunday) that they err. Or any other day, for that matter. Scripture requires no Sabbath obligation for the Church. The substance of our faith is not a shadow but the brightness of the glory of Jesus Christ and who we believers are IN HIM.

When Did The Sabbath Day Change To Sunday?

The concept of Sunday being a "Christian-Sabbath" was slowly developed in church history, but this concept has always been, and still is, contrary to Scripture.

The Scriptures seem to give evidence that the gathering of the saints on "the first day of the week" was an early development by the Church. Probably chosen because it was the day of the Lord's resurrection (Matt. 28:1; Mk. 16:2,9; Lk. 24:1; Jo. 20:1,19). In Acts 20:7 Luke records that when they were at Troas the believers there gathered together on the "first day of the week" to break bread. In 1Cor. 16:2 Paul instructed the Corinthian church to set aside on "the first day of every week" (no doubt the day they gathered together) the money they would give to him as a gift to help the needy church in Jerusalem.

Though meeting on the first day of the week for fellowship and the breaking of bread became an early tradition within the Church, it should be clearly understood that no place in the Epistles written to the Churches is it instructed or commanded that they must do so. Also, in reference to the Acts 20:7 passage, the "first day of the week" would not have started on Sunday morning but on Saturday evening (sundown), since a Jewish day was from sundown to sundown. The text itself verifies this fact in that Paul prolonged his message until midnight. Paul would not have talked from Sunday morning until midnight but more likely sometime after sundown Saturday until midnight that same night. "The first day of the week" was never referred to by early Christians as the Sabbath, nor was it ever intended to replace the Jewish seventh-day Sabbath which was required in the Mosaic Law.

By the second century many Christians within the empire were regularly meeting on the first day of the week, but it wasn't until A.D. 321 that Sunday legislation began with Emperor Constantine. Some try to claim that it was at this time that Sunday worship actually began in the Church, but Philip Schaff sheds some light on this theory:

"In the year 321 he issued a law prohibiting manual labor in the cities and all judicial transactions, at a later period also military exercises, on Sunday. He exempted the liberation of slaves, which as an act of Christian humanity and charity, might, with special propriety, take place on that day. But the Sunday law of Constantine must not be overrated. He enjoined the observance, or rather forbade the public desecration of Sunday, not under the name of Sabbatum or Dies Donmini, but under its old astrological and heathen title, Dies Solis, familiar to all his subjects, so that the law was as applicable to the worshippers of Hercules, Apollo, and Mithras, as to the Christians. There is no reference whatever in his law either to the fourth commandment or to the resurrection of Christ" (History of the Christian Church, vol. iii, emphasis mine).
Later on church councils ratified what was already common practice within the churches and, contrary to the Scriptures, began to apply "Sabbath" rules to Sunday.

So in conclusion, there is great flexibility in the teachings of Scripture regarding the setting aside of one day: "One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). But nowhere is the setting aside of any day mandatory for believers, either for worship or "Sabbath" keeping. For what would believers do who live in countries that do not recognize Saturday or Sunday as days of worship? Christ came to change hearts, not civil laws.

We are, however, encouraged to not forsake our own assembling together. And since the western Church has traditionally made Sunday a day of worship, and western countries still traditionally rest from many occupational labors on this day, Sunday is a convenient day for saints to gather when possible. Thus fulfilling our requirement to gather together that we might encourage one another, and all the more as we see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:25). We should take advantage of it while we can. Times are changing!

Written by Gary Nystrom

click for Copyright Information
The Biblicist P.O. Box 11684 Eugene, Oregon 97440