What is the Sabbath?
Let us discuss the Fourth Commandment, Exodus 20:8, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” What is the Sabbath? The word, sabbath, by itself comes from the root word, שׁבת, shabat, which according to the Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon is defined as: to cease, desist, end, or rest. The word also has the following meanings: The Sabbath (a religious observance), a sabbath (any seventh day of the week—our Saturday), a day of atonement, a week (remember this!), a sabbath year (a period of seven years), a day of cessation from work, a day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and a day set apart for a specific memorial, such as the Day of Atonement or the Passover. (Though we may explore the word ‘sabbath’ much more deeply, this is a deep enough explanation for our purposes in this essay.)
The commandment itself is more specific; it mentions the Sabbath Day. God commanded that the seventh day of the week was a day when no one would work, not a man, a woman, a child, a slave, or a beast of burden. It was in commemoration of the completion of God’s creation of the universe (the heavens and the earth) and to remember that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God ceased from creating or rested on the seventh day and He decreed that man would commemorate that occasion weekly on successive seventh days of the week.
What occurred on the Sabbath Day in ancient Israel? Rebecca Anderson explains:
“(T)he Sabbath was explicitly codified in the Mosaic Law, even receiving a central place in the Decalogue: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (Ex. 20:9, 10) The keeping of the Sabbath was a sacred sign between God and Israel, a day “holy to the Lord” (Ex. 31:12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17) and violation became punishable by death (Ex. 35:2). When a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath contrary to the Lord’s command, he was stoned to death by the community (Num. 15:32, 33, 34, 35, 36). Thus it was clear from the very beginning that this day of rest was not to be taken lightly.
“In addition to abstaining from work during the Sabbath, the Israelites were to remember their slavery in Egypt and the Lord’s deliverance (Deut. 5:15). In the Tabernacle on this day, fresh cakes of shewbread were set in order before the Lord (Lev. 24:5, 6, 7, 8) and a burnt offering was made consisting of two year-old unblemished male lambs and a measure of fine flour mixed with oil. This was all the ritual required of the Israelites by the Torah.”
Rebecca J. Anderson, 1994,
The Sabbath in Ancient and Modern Practice,
The people rested from all labor and reflected on The Creation and on the deliverance from Egypt. The sacrifices and showbread were placed by the priests in the Holy Place on each Sabbath. The people gave the animals to sacrifice and the mixtures for the showbread and incense as a weekly offering, probably brought to the priests on weekly mornings (Exo 36:3, cf. Amos 4:4).
Thus, in ancient Israel, the Sabbath was a day of rest and reflection on what God had done. By the time of Jesus, the Synagogue system of worship was in place. The synagogue system had a ritual that included prayers, singing of hymns or psalms, readings from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, a commentary or sermon on the scriptures, a homily, fellowship, and other activities. The Sabbath Day begins at sundown at the end of the sixth day of the week (our Friday), and ends at sundown at the end of the Sabbath Day (our Saturday).
Must Christians observe the weekly Saturday Sabbath?
The Sabbath was fulfilled by Christ. The Book of Hebrews tells us that Christ is our Sabbath rest. Therefore we are not commanded to keep a specific Sabbath Day for Christ is our Sabbath every day. Paul said, in Romans chapter fourteen that some may honor one day above another, others do not. He said let us be convinced in our own hearts whether to honor a specific day or not (Rom 14:5, 6). In Colossians chapter two, Paul said we are not required to celebrate the Sabbath day, for it was a shadow of things to come (Col 2:16, 17). The point of all this is that we do not have to worship on the Saturday Sabbath. That was an ordinance that was nailed to the cross (Col 2:14).
Reasons to worship on Sunday, the First Day of the Week.
• Jesus arose on Sunday and appeared to the disciples in the upper room that very day (John 20:1, 19)
• The church began on Pentecost (Hebrew שבועות, Shavuot, or weeks; Greek πεντηκοστη, pentecoste, or fiftieth, for fiftieth day after Passover) which always occurred on Sunday (Lev 23:15, 16; Deut 16:9, 10; Acts 2:1-47).
• The disciples came together to break bread on the first day of the week. Paul preached to them on one of those Sundays (Acts 20:7).
I believe we should worship on Sunday because the early church worshipped on Sunday. By the early church, I mean the church in the first three centuries before the edict of Constantine to worship on Sunday. How do I know that? I know it because of the writings for early church fathers in the first three centuries AD. I am going to give you four examples out of many quotes of the early church fathers.
• Didache: (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) 90 AD “But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread,”
• Epistle of Barabbas 100 AD “We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead”
• Justin (First Apology of) 150 AD “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.”
• Tertullian (Apology) 200 AD “We solemnize the day after Saturday in contradistinction to those who call this day their Sabbath””
Here is a listing of a many of the early Church Fathers who wrote that they and their congregations worshipped on Sunday, the first day of the week: Didache-90 AD, Barnabas-100 AD, Pliny-110 AD, Justin-150 AD, Justin Martyr-155 AD, Gospel of Peter-180 AD, Clement-190AD, Tertullian-200, Origen-220 AD, Cyprian-258 AD, Ignatius-250 AD, and Victorinus-300 AD. This listing is not complete, but it is comprehensive.
Christian assemblies have been worshipping on Sunday since the Church began on day of Pentecost, which always occurs on a Sunday. That Pentecost in Acts 2:1 occurred 50 days after the Passover during which Christ was crucified.
In the Sixteenth Century, former Catholic priests, Andreas Fisher and Oswald Glait began promoting Saturday worship for Christians assemblies. Since then, most Christian assemblies that commonly (and falsely) require Saturday worship began doing so in the Nineteenth Century.
Many Sabbatarians claim that we who worship on Sunday are worshipping the Sun god since Sunday is named after the Sun god. There were many sun deities including Ra of the Egyptians, Helios of the Greeks, Sol Invictus of the Romans, etc. That is a brazenly contrived false argument, because they worship on Saturday, which is named after the Roman god, Saturn! Do they worship Saturn? Of course not.
Are Christians required to meet on the Saturday Sabbath? No. Christians may worship on the Saturday Sabbath, but it is not a requirement. Many will say that we must worship on the Jewish Sabbath and will tell you that the writings of the early church fathers did not indicate they worshipped on Sunday, but they must twist what was written by the early church fathers in order to claim they did not worship on Sunday.
They will also dispute that the Greek in the New Testament does not actually mean the first day of the week, but again, they must jump through hoops to arrive at these conclusions. Matthew specifically states that Mary and Mary Magdelene came to the tomb where Jesus was buried early in the morning at the end of the Sabbath, on the first day of the week (Mat 28:1). In context of the phrase, “the end of the Sabbath,” the use of the word σαββατων1 sabbaton, actually means the Sabbath Day or the seventh day of the week. However, in the context of the phrase “the first day of the week” (μια σαββατον) the Greek word sabbaton (σαββατων), is a complete seven day week. There, it does not mean the Sabbath Day; it means the first day of the week and the first day of the week is Sunday. It is therefore impossible to dispute that Mary and Mary Magdelene came to the sepulcher on Sunday.
These Sabatarians are just like the Judaizers of Paul’s day. They are teaching a false doctrine that we must observe the Saturday Sabbath or we are heretics not worthy of salvation. That is what the Judaizers did. They insisted that in addition to our faith in Christ we must obey all of the Jewish laws and ordinances, including circumcision, or at least the Ten Commandments in order to be saved. That is the real heresy and the Sabatarians participate in that heresy.
Conclusion: there is nothing that prohibits the church from worshipping on Sunday.
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).
Mark S. Oaks Updated 2/10/2021