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

New Testament Basics: Jesus on Materialism

MaterialismFirstFollowers5 6 14“He who dies with the most toys wins.” So said billionaire Malcolm Forbes, a man famous for acquiring a wide array of material goods. Yet like everyone else, he died unable to take it with him. Most of us regard this reality as a truism, but we nevertheless find it very difficult to strike a balance between grasping and letting go. The fact is, the pursuit of possessions is not just a potential snare for the rich; it can damage anyone’s outlook and peace of mind.

The conflict between the get and give ways of life is an ancient dilemma. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24; English Standard Version throughout). He also made it clear that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). 

If Jesus taught that the pursuit of material possessions is a diversion from life’s spiritual quest, how should we think about such everyday needs as food, clothing and shelter?

Jesus didn’t imply that we shouldn’t work. However, He assured His followers that God knows what we need, and that worrying about such things is futile: “Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28–30).

What He wants us to achieve is balance in how we approach work and in our various wants and needs. The apostle Paul wrote that if someone isn’t willing to work, then he should not expect to eat the fruit of someone else’s labor (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The author of Proverbs instructed us to look to the ant for an example of how we should work to feed our families and ourselves (Proverbs 6:6–11). The focus is on contributing to the welfare of those in our care, not on amassing wealth or collecting “toys.”

Jesus was teaching His followers the most important priority in life. His discussion of materialism ended with a remarkable promise regarding our material needs. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” He said, “and all these things will be added to you”(verse 33).



Tags: Jesus, first christians, greed, Early Church, 12 disciples, materialism, give versus get

Understanding the Bible: Out With the Old and In With the New?

OldAndNewFew believers today would admit that they place the same importance on the contents of what is called the Old Testament as they do on the New Testament. But the apostle Paul tells us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16, New King James Version). This would include the Hebrew Scriptures. 

When Christ taught the people of the first century—His first followers—He was using the same Hebrew Scriptures. Using the term Old Testament to describe them can privilege the New Testament in a way that debases the value of the Scriptures that Christ used to great effect in His teaching. 

Jesus pointed out that His purpose was to uphold and magnify the law of God, not to make it of less effect. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, New International Version). 

The Old part of the term Old Testament is simply a reference to the covenant relationship God established with ancient Israel at Mt. Sinai, when the Ten Commandments were given. 

The New part of the phrase New Testament refers to the new relationship offered through Jesus Christ to all humanity. This new relationship includes access to the Father of humankind through the gift of the Spirit of God. It would be a mistake to think that the Old Testament is no longer useful for instruction and correction just because we use the word old to describe it. 

A first-century audience would have recognized that Jesus taught from the Hebrew Scriptures. Those words had meaning and authority in their lives. Christ’s followers conveyed His teaching in what became known as the New Testament, which supports the Old. 

Jesus made it very clear that God’s law is still valid when He stated, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, NIV). 

First-century followers of Jesus understood and valued the Hebrew Scriptures as the inspired Word of God. By taking a studied approach, we should be able to come to the same conclusion.


Tags: first christians, new testament, Old Testament, first century church

The First Christians: From Nazareth to Nicaea

9781846141508LA book recently published in the United Kingdom deals with a subject of interest, namely the history of the early church. It is written by Geza Vermes, whose works we have previously mentioned. The publishers, Allen Lane, a division of Penguin Books, provide the following information on this new title.

Geza Vermes, the author of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls and acknowledged expert on the life and times of Jesus, tells the enthralling story of the first Christians and the origins of a religion.

The creation of the Christian Church is one of the most important stories in the development of the world's history, but also one of the most enigmatic and little understood, shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. With a forensic, brilliant re-examination of all the key surviving texts of early Christianity, Geza Vermes illuminates the origins of a faith and traces the evolution of the figure of Jesus from the man he was—a prophet fully recognisable as the successor to other Jewish holy men of the Old Testament—to what he came to represent: a mysterious, otherworldly being at the heart of a major new religion. As Jesus' teachings spread across the eastern Mediterranean, hammered into place by Paul, John and their successors, they were transformed in the space of three centuries into a centralised, state-backed creed worlds away from its humble origins. Christian Beginnings tells the captivating story of how a man came to be hailed as the Son consubstantial with God, and of how a revolutionary, anti-conformist Jewish sub-sect became the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

Geza Vermes, is an interesting author. Born a Jew, he took orders in the Catholic church before reconverting to Judaism. With this background, he provides a unique view of the genesis of the early church .


Tags: first christians, Jesus Christ, Paul, Trinity, State Religion, church history

Is the Bible Irrelevant to the Modern World?

Professor of Religion poses ultimate question

In his God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, like others before him, has denied the place of religion in our lives: we as adults should not teach matters of faith to our children. This idea has now been taken up by Hector Avalos, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa StateUniversity. Avalos has just published a book entitled The End of Biblical StudiesAs a professor, Avalos opines that the Bible is irrelevant to the modern world and therefore should not have any impact upon our lives. Teaching the Bible as a book of any value to a modern student should cease! Amazon’s editiorial description of his book states:

In this radical critique of his own academic specialty, biblical scholar Hector Avalos calls for an end to biblical studies as we know them. He outlines two main arguments for this surprising conclusion. First, academic biblical scholarship has clearly succeeded in showing that the ancient civilization that produced the Bible held beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of the world and humanity that are fundamentally opposed to the views of modern society. The Bible is thus largely irrelevant to the needs and concerns of contemporary human beings. Second, Avalos criticizes his colleagues for applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today's world. In effect, he accuses his profession of being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account of its own findings to the general public and faith communities.

The arguments that can be ranged against such an approach are probably fewer than people might think. Most Christian religions only pay lip service to the Bible. Any detailed study of Christianity shows that most of its major doctrines have no relationship to and are often in stark contradiction to the biblical instruction. So the majority of “Christians,” before reacting viscerally to the ideas of Avalos, should perhaps stop and consider that their belief systems and actions support his argument.

One respondent to Avalos takes the opposite approach. John F. Hobbins in his Blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry highlights the biblical instruction to care for the poor and fatherless and shows how far society is removed from Scripture. To Hobbins, and to this writer, society would be greatly enriched by applying the biblical commands.

The Bible is not old-fashioned and irrelevant to modern circumstances. Living the life of caring for others would be a witness against the rationality of Dawkins and his colleagues. In fact it is the dissonance between biblical injunctions and the way society operates that gets to the very heart of modern problems. But following "The Way" of caring espoused by the Bible would mean obeying commands established in another day and time. And obedience sits uncomfortably with our post modern age, for it implies someone else dictates our lives.

If only we could appreciate how ephemeral our ideas of liberty really are and that we are held in captivity to a destructive system. The first followers of Jesus Christ understood this connection. They showed their allegiance to the way of life He taught by their concern for the other members of their society.

Tags: first christians, Hector Avalos, Religious Studies, The End of Biblical Studies

Patristics and the Jewish Roots of Christianity

Musings from the Fifteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies

Last week (August 6-11) Oxford University hosted its Fifteenth International Conference on Patristic Studies, an event conducted by the University every four years.  This event brings together over 500 academics from the four corners of the globe and from all denominations. “Patristics” is a name given to the study of the Church Fathers from the post apostolic time of Clement I of Rome into the fifth century of this era. 

Delegates attended lectures and workshop sessions covering subjects often defined by century, geographical location and language: either Greek, Latin, Syriac, and or Coptic. Of particular interest to me were the sessions covering the Jewish and Christian interaction in the third century. 

Several papers were presented on various writings of Origen who wrote in some detail of the interactions he had with either Jewish Christians and/or Jews in both Alexandria and inCaesarea. The strength of his polemic against such people is indicative of the sense of challenge that existed even in the early third century to define Christianity as it appears today.

Clearly in Origen's time, people were very much more aware of the Jewish roots of Christianity, in a way that would surprise most present day people who claim to be Christian. The subject of identity formation of the emerging Christian community is currently well considered in academic circles, but conferences such as this highlight how antithetical so many of the leaders and opinion formers of this earlier period were to the foundation that Jesus Christ had laid. The result is a movement that would not even recognize its founder if he appeared today. 

One area of this period that highlights that difference and has shaped today’s Christianity more than the teachings of Jesus Christ himself is that of Christology, in which philosophical reasoning was brought to bear in the understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ. The historical period of the patristic studies covers the time in which the development of Christology led to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and the attendant nature of God; doctrines which are used today to define whether or not a person is a Christian.

This period is a very crucial era to appreciate and understand. It has had a far greater impact on the development of what is today considered Christianity than did the era of Jesus and the Apostles.

Tags: Jesus, first christians, Origen, Apostles, Church Fathers, Jewish Christians, Patristics

First Followers of Jesus: Doctrinal Distinctives

G.K. Chesterton

“Jesus as Jewish is probably the most essential (and dangerous) idea that I can think of.” This recent comment from Rice University professor and blogger April DeConick reminded me of statements from three other thinkers.

In the 19th century, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard noted, “The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist.” He further concluded that through the centuries, millions have "sought little by little to cheat God out of Christianity, and have succeeded in making Christianity exactly the opposite of what it is in the New Testament” (The Fatherland, 1854-1855, X).

In 1910, the English author G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried” (What’s Wrong With The World, 37).

Toward the end of the 20th century, the French theologian, lawyer and sociologist Jacques Ellul said: “We have to admit that there is an immeasurable distance between all that we read in the Bible and the practice of Christians” (The Subversion of Christianity, 7).

These writers were simply recognizing a contradiction that has characterized what became official Christianity from the time it left its first century moorings. Their observations provide a backdrop to the award-winning video, Cheating God out of Christianity. 

The authentic followers of Jesus certainly lived a different way than most professing Christians today. When we examine the New Testament record without the filters of subsequent denominational teaching, we discover a body of believers whose practice is largely unfamiliar.

I began making a list of the differences. Perhaps you can add to the list by posting a comment below.

Of course none of this matters unless a person is convicted that getting back to those early church beliefs and practices is essential. The articles in the following series provide more background:

The Gospels for the 21st Century
The Apostles 


Tags: Jesus, first christians, Church Practice

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