The New Sabbath

Recently, we had a sermon regarding the Sabbath.  In that study we observed that while the Sabbath is not commanded today (Eph. 2:11-15; Col. 2:14,16), there are still some lessons we can learn from it.  First, rest is a good thing when done at the appropriate time (Gen. 2:1-3; Ecc. 4:5-6; Mk. 6:30-31… Mt. 26:45).  Second, God’s commands are purposeful (Ex. 16:4-5,22-29; Mt. 12:9-13; Mk. 2:23-28; Lk. 13:10-17).  Third, the Sabbath gives us a joyous picture of a restful reward in heaven (Heb. 4:1,9-11; Rev. 6:11; 14:13; Mt. 11:28-30).

However, one issue that came up after the sermon which deserves further attention is the question of whether Sunday is the new Sabbath.  Some believe that the Sabbath was not abolished in the Christian era—it was simply shifted from Saturday to Sunday.  In their view, Christians should still keep the Sabbath like the Jews did, but on a different day.  Is that accurate?

It is clear that Sunday, the first day of the week, is a significant day for Christians.  Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday (Mt. 28:1-2).  The first century Christians observed the breaking of bread (Lord’s Supper) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).  The weekly collection for the saints also occurred on Sunday (I Cor. 16:1-2).  Therefore, Sunday is a day in which Christians assemble and worship.  Does that make it the new Christian Sabbath?  Not necessarily.

What exactly do we mean by Sabbath?  Not everyone means the same thing.  Some people mean that Sunday is a holy day, like a Sabbath.  It is true that Sabbath’s were holy days.  “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day” (Ex. 35:2a).  In this sense, it is easy to see how someone might refer to Sunday as the Christian Sabbath.  However, just because holy acts (assembly and worship) are done on the first day of the week, that does not mean the day itself is holy.  Paul states that “one person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).  If the first day of the week has been designated by God to be holy for Christian, then it would be rebellious and sinful for a Christian to regard “every day alike.”  Therefore, while it may be acceptable for some to view Sunday as holy, it is not appropriate to require this of everyone.

A second meaning of calling Sunday a Sabbath is to say that it is a day in which there should be no work or recreation.  This isn’t a common view anymore, but there was a time when it was considered scandalous for Christians to do much of anything on Sunday other than to assemble together and worship God.  Stores were expected to be closed.  Christians were to spend the day in solemn meditation rather than doing yard work or engaging in play time.  This is a more natural understanding of the Sabbath.  The way that the Jews kept the Sabbath holy was to do no work on that day (Ex. 35:2).  If the New Testament merely shifted the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday then Sundays should now be a day of rest from work.

However, the idea that Sunday is the new day of rest is an unfounded one.  Sunday is not called the Sabbath.  There is no command to rest on the first day of the week.  Additionally, we are not told that the day of the Sabbath has moved nor have Christians been given any sort of instructions regarding mandatory rest on any day.  Instead, we have been directly told that “no one is to act as your judge in regard to… a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16).  Sabbaths are not to be required of each other nor prevented.  It is up to you to decide if Sunday will be a day like any other or a day that is totally devoted to worship and rest for God’s sake.  But to be clear, the Christian Sabbath doctrine has been conjured up in the minds of men rather than established by the inspired word of God.