What Day Is the Sabbath? What Does the Bible Say?


In any culture there are some things we simply take for granted. For instance, Sundays may be set aside for watching or participating in sporting activities. During the summer, Sunday could also mean barbecues in the backyard with friends.

Almost as ingrained in our collective mindset is the idea of people going to church on Sunday. We may visualize a pastor standing at the door greeting everyone, and it seems normal and expected. But has it always been this way? Have followers of Jesus always worshiped on Sunday, and does the Bible teach adherence to Sunday as the day of worship?

In the first century, Jesus went to the local synagogue to worship on the seventh day, called the Sabbath. He often stood up to teach as the Bible says it was his custom to do that on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16).

Paul, too, had a custom of teaching on the Sabbath day in the synagogue—for example, in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–3).

When he and Barnabas went to Antioch in Pisidia, they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and reasoned with the congregation and its leaders. The people were encouraged by their words, and when Paul and Barnabas were finished, the people asked if they would speak to them again the next Sabbath. As it says in Acts 13:44, almost the entire city gathered on the following Sabbath “to hear the word of God.”

If Christ and Paul kept the seventh-day Sabbath and also taught on that day, why do most 21st-century Christians keep Sunday as the day of worship? Is there a scripture that clearly directs believers to ignore the Sabbath command (Exodus 20:8–11) and change the day of rest and worship to Sunday?

You can search the Bible from beginning to end, but you will not find a directive superseding the command to keep the Sabbath as the prescribed day of worship. What you do find are scriptures showing that followers of Jesus should still follow the Sabbath command.

The Bible shows us that when the creation was completed, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1–3). He didn’t rest because He needed to rest but to set an example for us. Verse 3 also states that He “blessed” and “sanctified” the Sabbath. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains defines the Hebrew word translated “sanctify” in terms of dedicating something to God’s service—setting it aside for a special purpose. So the seventh-day Sabbath was set apart for the benefit of those who want to follow the example God Himself set. 

Leviticus 23:3 further shows us that our Creator meant the Sabbath to be “a holy convocation”—that is, a sacred time set apart for a formal gathering—and it should be observed that way. 

The Gospel of Mark records Jesus showing the Pharisees that they had a wrong view of the Sabbath day. They wanted to put undue restrictions and burdens on their followers with regard to Sabbath observance. Jesus showed them that the disciples were well within the limits of the law to walk through the grain fields and pluck some kernels of grain to eat. He emphatically stated that man was not created for the benefit of the Sabbath; rather, God had created the Sabbath as a benefit for man (Mark 2:23–27).

Jesus Christ is “Lord of the Sabbath” (verse 28; see also Matthew 12:8 and Luke 6:5). He is the one who created it and He is the one who demonstrated proper observance of it to His first-century followers. The Bible shows that He upheld the Sabbath as the day of rest and worship for His followers.

You can read more about the gradual move from Sabbath to Sunday observance in “The Path to Sunday.”

Jerry de Gier




Tags: first christians, bible study, Early Church History, the sabbath

How Did the Early Church View Itself?


One of the many ways that churches get members is through evangelical campaigns, where people are encouraged to “give their hearts” to the Lord. After all, the reasoning goes, if a person can be helped to see the need for a relationship with Jesus Christ, he or she may take that first step toward Him and thus become saved for life. When this happens, there is great joy among the members of the church because they feel they are saving souls for Christ. 

But is that what the Bible teaches? Jesus Himself gave the answer: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.44, emphasis added throughout).

This is such an important principle that He repeated it a few verses later: “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (verse 65). 

Even in Jesus' time most people didn’t understand His words, however. Nor did the vast majority follow Him, though He was the very Son of God. And that is exactly the point. His words can be understood and acted on only through a calling or a summoning by God the Father. 

Jesus illustrated the point by teaching the multitudes through parables—often-enigmatic stories that illustrate specific principles. After a few parables, His disciples came to Him and asked why He taught in this way.

Jesus replied that it had been given to them (the disciples) “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” but that the multitudes would not understand what they saw or heard (Matt 13.13–15). So to those whom God had not called Jesus spoke in parables. To His disciples, whom the Father had called, He spoke plainly and explained what the parables meant. He told His followers that they were very blessed to understand what the Scriptures teach, because many people had rigorously sought to understand and could not (Verses 16–17).

When we read the parables in the gospel accounts we see Jesus teaching His disciples truths that the majority of the public could not appreciate—spiritual gems. He also taught that it is the duty of those who do understand to hold on to such truths with all their being (Matt 13.44–52).

But isn’t God calling the entire world right now, trying to save as many as possible before they die and it’s too late?

Most churches teach that this is the only day of salvation, so they are vigorously and understandably trying to save as many people as they can. But if we can’t embark on a relationship with God unless He draws us first, where does that leave the rest of humanity? What about those who never in their life so much as heard the name of Christ? Are they lost? 

The answer is an emphatic no! Everyone will be called, but only in the order that God the Father wants them to be called—and not necessarily in this life. He has a long-term plan that includes every human being ever born. Paul was inspired to write about this in 1 Corinthians 15.22–24:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.”

The apostle John also wrote about this. Having been shown the future in a vision, he recorded that he had seen the faithful, who “lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:4–5).

The first-century followers of Jesus understood this and cherished the knowledge they were given. They also knew it was a miracle that they had been called into the body of Jesus Christ, and that the same miracle would be extended to others in God’s own good time.

Jerry de Gier



Does The Bible Say Christ Rose on Sunday?
The Bible: Who Needs It?
Apocalypse Now, Later or Never?

Tags: early christianity, Early Church History, evangelism

Passing of the Guard

Early Church Historians who shaped our understanding
Google News
Details: Passing of the Guard
Henry Chadwick

The past three years have seen some of the giants of Church History disappear from the scene.  Professor William H. C. Frend died in August of 2005 at the age of 89, followed by Jaroslav Pelikan in May of 2006 at the age of 82. Most recently, the death ofHenry Chadwick has been noted. He was 87. Numerous obituaries have been printed for each of these men who have helped shape modern scholarship, especially that of the history of the early church. 

The current Times Literary Supplement provides a fitting eulogy for Henry Chadwick, who was also a contributor to the TLS, by republishing Chadwick’s review on a book about Augustine.  It’s worth a read.

Tags: Augustine, Chadwick, Early Church History, Frend, Pelikan, Times Literary Supplement

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