Sabbath in the New Testament
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The Continuity
Between Judaism and Christianity

Sabbath keeping in the New Testament

Questions about the Sabbath in the Old Testament

Questions About the Sabbath in the New Testament

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Chapter IX

Questions Abouth the Sabbath 

in the New Testament

Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University


Where is the Sabbath found in the New Testament? 


Implicit Indications. A reader can hardly miss finding the Sabbath in the New Testament. More coverage is given to the Sabbath teaching and ministry of Christ by the Evangelists than to any other aspect of Christís ministry.  

It is important to remember that the Gospels were written, not immediately after Christís death as mere biographies of His life, but about 30 to 60 years after His departure as theological handbooks to promote the Christian faith. The unusual coverage given by the Gospel writers to what Jesus said and did on the Sabbath is indicative of the great importance attached to Sabbathkeeping in their respective communities at the time of their writing. 

Explicit Indications. Besides the implicit indications suggested by the unusual coverage, the New Testament contains explicit indications of the fact and manner of Sabbathkeeping. The reader is referred to chapter V where these indications are presented. 


Was not the provocative manner of Sabbathkeeping of Christ designed to pave the way for the abandonment of the Sabbath and adoption of Sundaykeeping instead? 


Nullify or Clarify? This is a popular view defended in much recent research. In my opinion, such a view rests on an arbitrary interpretation of the Sabbath episodes of the Gospels. What the defenders of this view fail to recognize is that Christís provocative manner of Sabbathkeeping was designed not to nullify but to clarify the divine intent of the Fourth Commandment. 

Repeatedly in the Gospels Christ acts as the supreme interpreter of the law by attacking external obedience and human traditions which often had obscured the spirit and intent of Godís commandments (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28; 9:13; 12:7; 23:1-39). 

Divine Intent. It is noteworthy that in all instances where Christ or His disciples were accused of Sabbathbreaking, He defended their conductóoften by appealing to the Scripture ("Have you not read . . . "óMatt 12:3, 5)óand thus showing that their actions were in harmony with the divine intent of the Sabbath. 

An objective reading of those Sabbath pronouncements where Christ declares the Sabbath to be a day "to do good" (Matt 12:12), "to save life" (Mark 3:4), to show "mercy" rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7) and "to loose" men and women from physical and spiritual bonds (Luke 13:16), offers unmistakable proof of Christís intent to clarify and not to nullify the Sabbath. 


If God wanted Christians to observe the Fourth Commandment, why did He not reenact it in the New Testament as He did the other nine commandments? 


No Reenactment. This frequently asked question is based on the assumption that all of the Ten Commandments, with the exception of the Fourth, are reenacted in the New Testament. This assumption is totally wrong because none of the Ten Commandments are in fact reenacted in the New Testament. An important reason is that New Testament writers saw in Christ not a new Lawgiver who enacted a new or a modified Decalogue, but rather a Revealer of the intent of Godís laws (Matt 5:17-18; Luke 16:17; Rom 8:4; John 7:19; Matt 7:12). 

Taken for Granted. Most of the Ten Commandments are referred to, but not reenacted, because they are taken for granted. The Second Commandment against the making of graven images is never mentioned in the New Testament, yet Protestants in general accept such a commandment as binding. 

The New Testament is not a book of new laws. It does not enact new moral laws but it takes for granted the Old Testament moral law, because, as Paul affirms, "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12). 


How can the Ten Commandments be binding upon Christians when they were given to the Jews and include specific references to Jewish social conditions? 


Bible is Jewish. If a person chooses to reject the revelation which God gave to the Jews, he will have to reject the whole Bible because all of it was given to Jews. The Sermon on the Mount, the Olivet Discourse, and the Great Commission were all spoken to Jews. The reason is that the Jews were the race chosen by God to receive and communicate His truth to other nations (Deut 28:9-10; 7:6). 

Many forget that the earliest Christians who, according to the book of Acts, responded by the thousands to the Messianic proclamation (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 21:20) were Jews. When they accepted Jesus of Nazareth as their expected Messiah, they did not cease to be Jews, but simply became "believing Jews" who are described as "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20). 

No Ethnic Distinction. The attempt to make the Cross the dividing line between Judaism and Christianity, Law and Grace, Sabbathkeeping and Sundaykeeping, is based on a fictitious construct of redemptive history which is devoid of Biblical and historical support. The Scripture teaches that "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him" (Rom 10:12). 

Timeless Principles. The moral principles embodied in the Decalogue, namely loyalty, worship, reverence, holiness, respect to parents, love, purity, honesty, truthfulness, and contentment, are principles which transcend racial, linguistic, and cultural boundaries. The application of these principles may vary in the course of time, but their essential truth is timeless. 

The Tenth Commandment condemns coveting "your neighborís house; . . . or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass" (Ex 20:17). Obviously today most people covet not their neighborsí animals, but their cars, boats, pools, etc. This means that the form of covetousness has changed but its principle is the same. If people today were no longer covetous, untrue, dishonest, or unfaithful, etc., then it would be obvious that the principles of the Decalogue which condemn these sins would be no longer relevant. But that is far from true. Experience tells us that if ever there was a time when the moral guidance of the Ten Commandments was needed, it is today. 


Paul emphasizes that justification is "by faith apart from works of law" (Rom 3:28; cf. Gal 2:16). If Paulís teaching is true, then why should a Christian feel obligated to observe the law? Is not the guidance of the Spirit sufficient? 


Method and Standard. People who raise this question ignore the fact that Paul emphasizes not only the method of salvation, that is, righteousness by faith apart from works of the law, but also the standard of salvation, that is righteousness which is manifested in the obedience to Godís commandments through faith in Jesus. To ignore this distinction mean to accuse falsely Paul of promoting justification of sinfulness rather than justification of sinners by faith. 

Godís Gift and Godís Claim. In his presentation of the dynamics of salvation both in Romans and in Galatians, Paul discusses first the method and then the standard of salvation. In the first eleven chapters of Romans as well as in the first four of Galatians, Paul explains with a variety of illustrations that the method of salvation is Godís gift of grace and not human achievement (Rom 3:21-28; 10:9-10; Gal 2:16; 3:10-11; 4:28-30). However, after his exposition of Godís gift (method) of salvation, in both epistles Paul devotes the remaining chapters to discussing Godís claim (standard) to conformity to His commandments through the grace of Christ. 

To focus on Godís gift of salvation while overlooking Godís claim to conformity to His commandments means to sell short not only the teachings of Paul but also those of the Scriptures as a whole. 

The divine grace that saves us from the penalty of sin continues to operate to the end in our lives by leading us to "walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4) and to a new conformity to Godís commandments which are the standard of the final judgment: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2). 

An Indissoluble Connection. Paul recognizes the indissoluble connection between what God gives to us through Jesus and what He claims of us through the power of His Spirit. Salvation is a gift of grace, but the acceptance of this gift requires a response of obedience which shows the genuineness of our faith. 

The gift of Godís grace teaches us "to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:12, 13). It is because God has given us, through Christ, freedom from the penalty and power of sin "that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4). 

Godís claim is not a demand for absolute perfection, yet His claim confronts us with an unquestionably high standard of righteousness to be reached through the power of His Spirit (1 Cor 7:19; Rom 8:3-4). The purpose of Godís gift of grace is not to excuse our sinful nature but to transform it into His likeness (Rom 12:2). 

The Proof of Our Transformation. The proof of the transformation of our sinful nature is obedience to Godís commandments or what Paul calls the "fruits of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22). This explains why in the final judgment God "will render to every man according to his works" (Rom 2:6). "Works" or "fruits" are decisive in the final judgment because they constitute the proof of the acceptance by faith of Godís gift of salvation. 

The conclusion then is that Paulís emphasis on justification "by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:28) is not intended to release a person from obedience to Godís law, because as the same Apostle explains, Godís gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is designed to enable us to fulfill "the just requirements of the law" (Rom 8:4). 


Does not Paul clearly teach that Christ "abolished in his flesh the law of commandments" (Eph 2:15) and consequently believers "are discharged from the law" (Rom 7:6)? Does not this mean that a person who accepts Christ is released from the obligation of observing the law? 


A Double Concept. This question, like the previous one, ignores the fact that Paul speaks about the law both positively and negatively. He says not only that Christ "abolished" the law (Eph 2:15), but also that He "establishes" it (Rom 3:31); not only that "we are discharged from the law" (Rom 7:6) about also that "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12); not only that "a man is justified by faith apart from the law" (Rom 3:28) but also that "neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God" (1 Cor 7:19). 

Different Contexts. The proposal I have submitted and discussed in chapter VI is that Paulís contradictory statements about the law can be explained by recognizing the different contexts in which Paul speaks of the law. When he speaks of the law in the context of salvation (justificationóright standing before God), he clearly affirms that law-keeping is of no avail (Rom 3:20). On the other hand, when Paul speaks of the law in the context of Christian conduct (sanctificationóright living before God), then he maintains the value and validity of Godís law (Rom 7:12; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19). For example, when Paul speaks of the various forms of human wickedness in 1 Timothy 1:8-10, he explicitly affirms "now we know that the law is good" (v. 8). 

Three times Paul states: "neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision" and each time he concludes this statement with a different phrase: "but keeping the commandments of God . . .but faith working through love . . . but a new creation" (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism suggests that Paul equates the keeping of Godís commandments with a working faith and a new life in Christ. The very purpose of Christís coming, Paul explains, is so that "the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us" through the dynamic power of His Spirit (Rom 8:4). 

The Christian, then, according to Paul, is not under law as a means of salvation, but is under the law as a revelation of Godís ethical standards for his life, because Christ has abolished the law as a method of salvation but has established it as a standard for Christian conduct. 


Does not Paulís statement in Colossians 2:16, as Paul K. Jewett puts it, "come as near to a demonstration as anything could, that he taught his converts that they had no obligation to observe the seventh-day Sabbath of the Old Testament"?1 


Historical Interpretation. Throughout Christian history, Colossians 2:16-17 has been consistently interpreted to mean that Paul regarded the Sabbath as an Old Testament typological institution fulfilled by Christ and therefore no longer binding on Christians. The statement "Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath" (Col 2:16) has been historically interpreted as a warning from Paul against the five mentioned practices, the last of which is the sabbath.2 

Approbation, not Condemnation. We have shown in chapter VII that this historical interpretation is totally wrong because in this passage Paul is warning the Colossians not against the observances of these practices as such, but against "anyone" (tis) who passes judgment on how to eat, drink, and observe sacred times. In other words, the judge is not Paul but Colossian false teachers who impose "regulations" (2:20) on how to observe these practices in order to achieve "rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body" (2:23). 

By warning against the right of the false teachers to "pass judgment" on how to observe festivals, Paul is challenging not the validity of the festivals as such but the authority of the false teachers to legislate on the manner of their observance. The obvious implication then is that Paul in this text is expressing not a condemnation but an approbation of the mentioned practices, which include Sabbathkeeping. 

This is the conclusion that D. R. De Lacey himself draws, in spite of his conviction that Paul did not expect Gentile converts to observe the Sabbath. He writes: "Here again (Col 2:16), then, it seems that Paul could happily countenance Sabbathkeeping . . . However, we interpret the situation, Paulís statement ĎLet no one pass judgment on you,í indicates that no stringent regulations are to be laid down over the use of festivals."3 In the light of these observations, we conclude that in Colossians 2:16, Paul expresses not a condemnation but an implicit approbation of practices such as Sabbathkeeping. 


Does not Paul teach in Romans 14:5 that it does not matter whether a person esteems one day better than another or all the days alike? Does not this teaching imply that the observance or non-observance of the Sabbath is a matter of personal choice? 


We have already shown in chapter VII that the Sabbath cannot be legitimately read into Paulís statement: "One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike" (Rom 14:5). In brief, the reasons we have submitted are five. 

No Reference to Mosaic Law. First, the controversy in Romans 14 between the "weak" and the "strong" believers over diet and days can hardly be traced back to the Mosaic law, because nowhere does the Mosaic law prescribe strict vegetarianism, total abstinence from wine, or a preference over days presumably for fasting. That the Mosaic law is not at stake in Romans 14 is also indicated by the term "koinosócommon" which is used to designate "unclean" food (14:14). This term is radically different from the word "akathartosóimpure" used in Leviticus 11 (Septuagint) to designate unlawful foods. 

Not "All Days Alike" Endorsement. Second, Paul applies the basic principle "observe it in honor of the Lord" (14:6) only to the case of the person "who observes the day." He never says the opposite, namely, "the man who esteems all days alike, esteems them in honor of the Lord." In other words, with regard to diet, he teaches that one can honor the Lord both by eating and by abstaining (14:6) but with regard to days, he does not even concede that the person who regards all the days alike does so to the Lord. Thus Paul hardly gives his endorsement to those who esteemed all days alike. 

Paul Observed the Sabbath. Third, if, as it is generally presumed, it was the "weak" believer who observed the Sabbath, Paul would classify himself with the "weak" since he observed the Sabbath and other Jewish feasts (Acts 18:4, 19; 17:1, 10, 17; 20:16). Paul, however, views himself as "strong" ("we who are strong"ó15:1), thus, he could hardly have been thinking of Sabbathkeeping when he speaks of the preference over days. 

Sabbathkeeping: No Personal Matter. Fourth, Paulís advice "Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom 14:5), can hardly refer to the observance of holy days such as Sabbath, Passover, and Pentecost. If Paul had taught his Gentile converts to regard Sabbathkeeping as a matter of personal conviction, Jewish Christians would readily have accused him of temerity in setting aside the Sabbath law, as they did it with regard to the circumcision (Acts 21:21). 

If the conflict in the Roman Church had been over the observance of holy days, the problem would have been even more manifest than the one over diet. After all, eating habits are a private matter, but Sabbathkeeping is a public, religious exercise of the whole community. Any disagreement on the latter would have been not only noticeable but also inflammatory. 

The absence of any controversy between Paul and Jewish Christians over Sabbathkeeping is perhaps the most telling evidence that Paul never made the observance of such a day a personal matter. 

A Limited Problem. Fifth, the fact that Paul devotes 21 verses to the discussion of food and less than two verses (14:5-6) to that of days suggests that the latter was a very limited problem for the Roman Church, presumably because it had to do with private conviction on the merit or demerit of certain days for doing some spiritual exercises such as fasting. Support for this view is provided by the Didache (ch. 8) which enjoins fasting on Wednesday and Friday rather than on Monday and Thursday, like the Jews. On these matters, Paul refuses to deliberate because he recognized that spiritual exercises can be performed in different ways by different people. 

In the light of the above considerations we conclude that Romans 14:5 does not imply that the observance or non-observance of the Sabbath is a matter of personal choice, because the "days" referred to had no connection with Biblical holy days. 


Did not the Jerusalem Council make a definite break with the Mosaic law by exempting Gentile believers from the circumcision? Is it not plausible to believe that the same Council exempted the Gentiles from Sabbathkeeping also since the latter is not part of the four regulations which the Gentiles were to observe (Acts 15:20)? 


No Break with Mosaic Law. Contrary to the prevailing view, the Jerusalem Council did not make a break with the Mosaic law in general or with Sabbathkeeping in particular with regard to the Gentiles. My three main reasons for this conclusion are given in chapter II and can be summarized as follows.  

Appeal to Moses. First, the Council endorsed Jamesí proposal to exempt Gentiles from the circumcision because James appealed to Moses for his authority: "For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues" (Acts 15:21). In other words, James argues that his proposal is to be accepted because it expresses what Moses expects from the Gentiles who wish to live among the Israelites. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the four ritual laws are part of the Mosaic law (Lev 17-18). 

Gentile God-fearers. Second, the Gentiles the Council had in mind were mostly, if not all, God-fearers who had been instructed in the Jewish faith in general and on Sabbathkeeping in particular (Acts 10:2; 13:42-44; 14:1). In fact the custom of Sabbathkeeping had been accepted not only by Gentile God-fearers but also by pagan Gentiles who had no interest in becoming Jews. 

In a well-known passage, Philo writes: "There is not a single people, to which the custom of Sabbath observance has not spread."4 Tertullian reproaches the pagans for having adopted Jewish customs such as the Sabbath.5 Another fact often ignored is that the Jews influenced the Romans to adopt the seven-day week instead of their eight-day market week (nundinum). 

Offense to Jewish Christians. Third, if the Gentiles were instructed by the Council to abstain from ritual acts such as eating food offered to idols, in order not to offend Jewish Christians, they could hardly have been instructed to ignore Sabbathkeeping which would have been even a greater offense to Jewish Christians. It is only the fact that Gentile Christians were already observing the Sabbath that made it unnecessary for the Jerusalem Council even to discuss it. 

In the light of these considerations the Jerusalem Council could hardly have considered exempting Gentile Christians from Sabbathkeeping. 


The Roman government had recognized Judaism as a lawful religion (religio lecita). This legal recognition enabled the Jews to freely practice their religion and even to be exempted from civil duties on the Sabbath. Since we have no historical indications that the Romans granted the same Sabbath privileges to Gentile Christians, would not this have made it difficult for them to observe the Sabbath? Is not the absence of any reference to problems encountered by Gentiles in observing the Sabbath a strong indication that they did not observe it? 


This question ignores three important facts which I have discussed elsewhere, and which I will summarize briefly in this context.6 

Saturday: First Day. First, in the first century A.D. Saturday was the first day of the Roman planetary week, as attested by several literary and archaeological evidences. Saturday, that is, the day of Saturn (dies Saturni) was followed by Sunday, that is, the day of the Sun (dies Solis). The priority of Saturday over Sunday continued until about the middle of the second century, when the primacy and prestige of the day of Saturn was taken over by the day of the Sun. 

It is not clear how the Romans observed Saturday in the first century. Some texts indicate that it was regarded as an unlucky day (dies nefastus) for doing business. Tibullus (about 30 B.C.), for example, explains that he could have justified his staying in Rome with his beloved Delia on Saturday by arguing that "the sacred day of Saturn held one back."7 Similarly Sextus Propertius, a contemporary of Tibullus, speaks of "the sign of Saturn that brings woe to one and to all."8 

Texts such as the ones quoted suggest that in the first century Saturday was the day in which the Romans restricted their activities out of a superstitious veneration for the god Saturn. The superstitious veneration of Saturn would obviously facilitate Sabbath observance by Gentile Christians. 

Influence of Jewish Sabbath. A second important consideration, closely related to the first one, is the widespread influence of Jewish Sabbath customs in the Roman world. In fact, it is generally recognized that it was the popularity of the Jewish seven-day week, with its Sabbath, that influenced the Romans just before the beginning of Christianity to adopt the seven-day planetary week in place of their eight-day (nundinum) week. 

The Stoic philosopher Seneca laments that "the customs of this accursed nation [Jews] have gained such influence that they are now received throughout the world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors . . . the greater part of the [non-Jewish] people go through a ritual not knowing why they do so."9 

The testimony of Seneca is confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus when he writes: "There is not one Greek or barbarian nor a single nation to whom our custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread, and where the fasts and the lighting of lamps and many of our prohibitions in the matter of food are not observed."10 

The Christian apologist Tertullian confirms the widespread Roman adoption of the Jewish Sabbath as a time for "ease and luxury." Responding to the pagan charge that Christians had adopted Sun-worship because they observed Sun-day, Tertullian writes: "We have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury, though they too go far away from Jewish ways, of which indeed they are ignorant."11 

Willy Rordorf rightly points out that the spread of Jewish Sabbath customs in the Roman empire offers a plausible explanation for the origin of Saturnís day by association with the Jewish Sabbath. Astrological and superstitious beliefs apparently came to be associated with the observance of Jewish Sabbath customs, especially since many Romans who adopted such customs were not aware of their Jewish origin.12 

The widespread influence in the Roman empire of Jewish Sabbath customs which indirectly seems to have contributed to the superstitious regard for Saturnís day as a day for "ease and luxury," would facilitate Sabbath observance by Gentile Christians. 

Gentile God-fearers. A third important consideration, often ignored, is that many, if not most, of the Gentiles referred to in the New Testament were God-fearers who had been instructed in the Jewish faith (Acts 10:2; 13:42-44; 14:1; Gal 5:2). This explains why some of them "desired to be under law" (Gal 5:18) by adopting such practices as circumcision (Gal 5:2). When the Gospel proclamation reached beyond Gentile God-fearers to pagans untouched by Judaism, then new problems arose. Gnosticism and docetism became more important problems than legalism. 

Christians who had been Gentile God-fearers would benefit from the legal protection the Romans granted to the Jews, which included freedom to observe the Sabbath. Moreover, it is generally recognized that Christians, whether of Jewish or Gentile background, were initially seen by the Romans as a kind of Jewish sect. Thus they benefited from the same religious freedom granted to the Jews. 

Problems with Any Day. A fourth and final consideration is that Gentile Christians would have encountered problems with the observance of any day. Considering the length of the early Christian meetings and the time needed to travel and to attend such meetings, it is easy to imagine how that would swallow up much of the day. This means that Christians who were dependent workers would have encountered problems with their employers no matter which day of the week they attended religious services. The fact that the New Testament makes no reference to such problems can hardly be interpreted as proof that Christians did not worship and rest on any day, since Christians gathering for worship are often mentioned (Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 14:1; 16:13; 18:4; Heb 10:25). 

The silence of the New Testament on this matter suggests that the problem of Sabbathkeeping must have been a limited problem, both because Saturday, as we have seen, was a day of reduced activity for the Romans and because presumably most Christians, as today, were able to make arrangements to obtain their Sabbath free. 


Does not Paul teach in Colossians 2:14 that the law was nailed to the Cross? If this is true, are not Christians released from the obligation to observe the law in general and the Sabbath in particular? 


Absence of "Law." In spite of its antiquity and popularity, this interpretation is totally unfounded for at least two reasons. First, because as E. Lohse points out, "in the whole of the epistle the word law is not used at all. Not only that, but the whole significance of the law, which appears unavoidable for Paul when he presents his gospel, is completely absent."13 

Second, this interpretation detracts from the immediate argument (v. 13) designed to prove the fulness of Godís forgiveness. The wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial law would hardly provide Christians with the divine assurance of forgiveness. Guilt is not removed by destroying law codes. The latter would only leave mankind without moral principles. 

Record-book of Sin. What was nailed to the Cross was not the "lawónomos" but the cheirographon, a term which occurs only in Colossians 2:14. Its meaning has been clarified by its occurrence in apocalyptic literature where cheirographon is used to designate the "record-book of sin" or the certificate of sin-indebtedness but not the moral or ceremonial law.14 

By this daring metaphor Paul affirms that through Christ, God has "cancelled," "set aside," "nailed to the cross" "the written record of our sins which because of the regulations was against us." The legal basis of the record of sins was "the binding statutes, regulations" (tois dogmasin) but what God destroyed on the Cross was not the legal ground (law) for our entanglement in sin, but the written record of our sins. 

By destroying the evidence of our sins, God has also "disarmed the principalities and powers" (2:15) since it is no longer possible for them to accuse those who have been forgiven. There is no reason therefore for Christians to feel incomplete and to seek the help of inferior mediators, since Christ has provided complete redemption and forgiveness. 

We conclude then that the document nailed to the cross is not the law in general or the Sabbath in particular, but rather the record of our sins. Any attempt to read into it a reference to the Sabbath or to any other Old Testament ordinance is an unwarranted and gratuitous fantasy. 


Is not the Sabbath part of the Old Covenant based on salvation by works that was done away with the coming of Christ? Does not the New Covenant based on salvation "by faith apart from the works of the law" (Rom 3:28) release Christians from the observance of the law, including the Fourth Commandment? 


A Faulty Assumption. This popular view rests on the faulty assumption that under the Old Covenant people were saved on the basis of obedience to Godís commandments, while under the New Covenant people are saved by faith in the Godís gracious provision of salvation.  

If this were true, it would surely open to question the consistency and fairness of God. It would imply that in redemptive history God has offered salvation on two radically different basis: on the basis of human obedience in the Old Covenant and on the basis of divine grace in the New Covenant. It would further imply that presumably God learned through the experience of His chosen people, the Jews, that human beings cannot earn salvation by themselves because they tend to disobey. Thus, He finally decided to implement a New Covenant whereby salvation is offered to believing persons as a divine gift rather than a human achievement. 

If such a construct were true, it would make God changeable and subject to learning by mistakes as human beings do. The truth of the matter is that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8). Salvation has always been in the Old and New Covenants first and foremost a divine gift and not a human achievement. No person will ever be saved because of what he has done or failed to do. 

Old Covenant Based on Grace. Part of the problem is the failure to realize that in the Old Covenant God revealed to the Israelites not only principles of moral conduct but also provision of salvation through the typology of the sacrificial system. It is noteworthy that when God invited Moses to come up on the mountain, He gave him not only "the table of stone, with the law and the commandment" (Ex 24:12), but also the "pattern of the tabernacle" (Ex 25:9), which was designed to explain typologically His provision of grace and forgiveness. 

The major difference between the Old and New Covenants is not one of methods of salvation, but, we might say, of shadow versus reality. The Old Covenant was "symbolic" (Heb 9:9) of the "more excellent" redemptive ministry of Christ (Heb 8:6). Consequently, it was necessary for Christ to come "once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26).  

The effect of Christís coming is described as "setting aside" (Heb 7:18), making "obsolete" (Heb 8:13), "abolishing" (Heb 10:9) all the Levitical services associated with the Old Covenant. Some have interpreted statements such as these as indicating that Christ by His coming has abrogated all the Old Testament laws, including the Sabbath. This interpretation ignores that such statements deal with the Levitical priesthood and services of the Old Covenant, and not with the principles of Godís moral law, which includes the Fourth Commandment. 

It is noteworthy that while Hebrews declares the typological services of the Old Covenant as "abolished" (10:9), "obsolete" and "ready to vanish away" (8:13), it explicitly teaches, as we have shown in chapters 2 and 4, that a "Sabbathkeeping is left behind for the people of God" (4:9). 

Paul and the Law. Similarly, Paul repudiates the law as a system that could save by itself apart from Christ: "if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose"(Gal 2:21). Yet he upholds the law as a revelation of Godís ethical standard for Christian conduct. For instance, he states that Christ came "in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us" (Rom 8:4) through the dynamic power of His Spirit.  

Three times Paul states: "neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision" and each time he concludes this statement with a different phrase: "but keeping the commandments of God . . . but faith working through love . . . but a new creation" (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism suggests that a a believer who has been saved by faith under the New Covenant, is not released from the observance of Godís commandments, but empowered to observe them. 


Does not Hebrews 4 teach that the Sabbath rest is a symbol of our salvation-rest in Christ? If so, does not this mean that the observance of the day is superfluous? 


Yes, the Sabbath rest is a symbol of our redemption-rest in Christ. In fact, it is also a symbol of the final rest which awaits the people of God. This symbolic function of the Sabbath, however, does not negate but necessitates its actual observance, for at least two reasons. 

Symbol Needed to Experience Reality. First, a believer can hardly experience the redemptive rest symbolized by the Sabbath rest, if the actual experience of the physical Sabbath rest is done away with. It is through the experience provided by symbols that we conceptualize and appropriate spiritual realities. The bread and wine of the Lordís Supper are not viewed as unnecessary simply because they are symbols of our redemption through Christís atoning death. 

To retain the Sabbath rest as a symbol of our redemption-rest in Christ while denying its actual observance is flagrant contradiction. How can the physical Sabbath rest help a person experience Christís redemption-rest, when the physical experience of such a rest is renounced or denounced? 

Sabbath Rest Remains. Second, it is noteworthy that while the author of Hebrews declares the Levitical priesthood and its services as "abolished" (Heb 10:9), "obsolete" and "ready to vanish away" (Heb 8:13), he explicitly teaches that a "Sabbathkeeping is left behind for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). The reason for the permanence of Sabbathkeeping is because its symbolic function can effectively help the believer conceptualize and experience the reality of Godís marvelous accomplishments: creation, redemption, and final restoration. 

The present Sabbath-rest experience enables the believer to appropriate the reality both of the past creation-redemption and of the future restoration-reunion. To do away with such a vital symbol means to deprive Christians of a most effective vehicle given by God to understand and experience His creative, redemptive, and restorative love. 


What is the meaning of Sabbathkeeping in Hebrews 4? 


Historically, the Sabbathkeeping mentioned in Hebrews 4:9-10 has been interpreted as figurative abstention from sinful acts, rather than literal cessation from work. In support of this view appeal is made to Hebrewsí reference to "dead works" (6:1; 9:14). Such a concept, however, cannot be read back into Hebrews 4:10, where a comparison is made between the divine and the human cessation from "works." It would be absurd to think that God ceased from "sinful deeds." The point of the analogy is simply that as God ceased on the seventh day from His creation work, so believers are to cease on the same day from their labors. This is a simple statement of the nature of Sabbathkeeping which essentially involves cessation from works. 

Literal Sabbathkeeping. Clear support for a literal understanding of Sabbathkeeping is provided by the usage of the noun "sabbatismosósabbath rest" and of the verb "apoleipetaióremains," both of which occur in Hebrews 4:9. The verb "apoleipetai" literally means "to be left behind." Thus, the verb implies that Sabbahkeeping has not terminated with Christís coming, because it "has been left behind for the people of God."  

The noun "sabbatismosóSabbath rest," which occurs only once in the New Testament, supports this conclusion. We have shown in chapter 4 that this noun is used several times in post-canonical literature as a technical term for Sabbathkeeping. This usage corresponds to the Septuagint usage of the cognate verb sabbatizo (cf. Ex 16:30; Lev 23:32; 26:34f.; 2 Chron 36:21), which also has reference to Sabbath observance. Thus, we would conclude then that the references to cessation from work in Hebrews 4:10, and to the verb "remains" and the noun "Sabbathkeeping" in v. 9, make it abundantly clear that the writer is thinking of a literal Sabbath observance. 

The Meaning of Sabbathkeeping. Considering the concern of Hebrews to counteract the tendency of his readers to adopt Jewish liturgical customs as a means to gain access to God, the author could hardly have emphasized solely the physical "cessation" aspect of Sabbathkeeping. This aspect yields only a negative idea of rest, one which would only serve to encourage existing Judaizing tendencies. Obviously then, the author attributes a deeper meaning to the resting on the Sabbath. 

This deeper meaning can be seen in the antithesis the author makes between those who failed to enter into Godís rest because of "unbeliefóapeitheias" (Heb 4:6, 11)óthat is, faithlessness which results in disobedienceóand those who enter it by "faithópistei" (Heb 4:2, 3), that is, faithfulness that results in obedience. 

The act of resting on the Sabbath for the author of Hebrews is not merely a routine ritual (cf. "sacrifice"óMatt 12:7), but rather a faith-response to God. Such a response entails not the hardening of oneís heart (4:7) but the making of oneself available to "hear his voice" (Heb 4:7). It means experiencing Godís salvation rest not by works but by faith, not by doing but by being saved through faith (Heb 4:2, 3, 11). It means ceasing from our work to allow God to work in us more fully and freely. 

In Hebrews the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God (Heb 4:9) is not a mere day of idleness but rather an opportunity renewed every week to enter Godís rest, that is, to free oneself from the cares of work in order to experience freely by faith Godís creation and redemption rest.  

This expanded interpretation of Sabbathkeeping in the light of the Christ event was apparently designed to wean Christians away from a too materialistic understanding of its observance. To achieve this objective, the author on the one hand reassures his readers of the permanence of the blessings contemplated by the Sabbath rest and on the other hand explains that the nature of these blessings consists in experiencing both a present-salvation-rest and the future restoration-rest which God offers to those "who have believed" (Heb 4:3). 


Can a person who does not keep the Sabbath be saved? 


A Divine Gift. Salvation is first and foremost a divine gift and not a human achievement. No person will ever be saved or lost because of what he has done or failed to do. What is essential is a whole-hearted acceptance of the provision of salvation offered to us through Christís atoning death.  

A Human Response. Accepting Godís gift of salvation means, however, also accepting Godís claim to conformity to His will through the grace of Christ. Salvation is a gift of grace but the acceptance of this gift requires a response of obedience which shows the genuineness of our faith. Sabbathkeeping offers us a unique opportunity to respond to God because the consecration of the Sabbath time to the Lord enables us to consecrate our life to Him. 

Moreover, the Sabbath, by enjoining us to stop our work, makes us free and available for Godís omnipotent grace to work in us. Thus the act of resting on the Sabbath represents the acceptance of salvation by grace and not by works. It represents our resignation to human efforts to achieve salvation and our willing acceptance of Godís gracious provision of salvation. We stop our work on the Sabbath to allow God to work in us. 


Does not the principle of Sabbathkeeping consist in observing one day-in-seven rather than the actual seventh day of the week? Thus, does not Sundaykeeping fulfill the intent of the Sabbath commandment, since it respects the one day-in-seven principle? 


Popular View. The notion that the principle of Sabbathkeeping consists in observing one day-in-seven rather than the seventh day, has been historically held both by Catholics and Protestants. In spite of its antiquity and popularity, this notion is devoid of Biblical support, as I have shown in Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, pp. 45-56. 

This notion is based on the fictitious argument that while the actual specification of the seventh day is ceremonial, that is, was given by Moses to the Jews to teach them about the spiritual rest to be manifested in Christ, the principle of one day-in-seven is moral, was given by God to mankind at creation. Christ allegedly annulled the ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath commandment, that is, the specification of the seventh day, while reaffirming the moral aspect of it, that is, the principle of one day-in-seven. 

This arbitrary and artificial distinction between the so-called moral (creational principle of one day-in-seven) and ceremonial (Mosaic specification of the seventh day), is based on fiction rather than fact. In the Scripture the notion of one day-in-seven is totally absent. Both at creation and in the Sabbath commandment God specifies "the seventh day"(Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11) and not one day-in-seven. The reason is because God has specifically chosen the seventh day to memorialize his creative (Ex 20:11) and redemptive activities (Deut 5:15). 

Moreover, do not Christians today, like the Jews in the Old Testament, need the typologic-symbolic function of the Sabbath to conceptualize and experience the blessings of creation and redemption? 

If indeed the Scripture taught the principle of one day-in-seven for worship and rest, then it would have prescribed some other day off for people like the priest who had to work on the Sabbath. The absence of such a provision proves the crucial importance Scripture attributes to the seventh day, as opposed to the notion of one day-in-seven so greatly relied upon by those who wish to make Sunday the equivalent of the Biblical Sabbath.  


How can the Sabbath be a divine precept when its observance has often led people to become legalistic, that is, to seek to be saved by their own works rather than by divine grace? 


The fact that some Christians have perverted the principle of Sabbathkeeping into a legalistic system of salvation, does not nullify the validity of the principle per se. A precept is not nullified by the fact that some pervert it. Legalists tend to forget that the Savior made the Sabbath a day of "mercy" rather than "sacrifice" (Matt 12:7-8), a time to love God and oneís fellow beings, rather than a time to parade oneís righteousness by fulfilling rituals. 

A correct understanding and experience of the Sabbath can prove to be a powerful antidote against legalism. Why? Simply because the Sabbath teaches us not to work for our salvation (legalism), but to cease from all our works, in order to allow God to work more fully and more freely in our lives 


Was not the Sabbath given to guarantee physical rest especially to dependant workers? What need is there for the Sabbath today as a day of rest when most people work only five days a week and can enjoy a weekend of rest and leisure? 


The purpose of the command to rest on the Sabbath is God-centered rest and not self-centered relaxation. We are invited to rest on the Sabbath not merely for ourselves, but primarily for God: "the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God" (Ex 20:10; 31:15; Lev 23:3).  

The Sabbath is given to mankind (Mark 2:27-28) but it belongs to God (Ex 20:10; Mark 2:28). If the Sabbath were given to mankind merely to meet physical, social and economic needs, then it would have outlived its usefulness since most people today can enjoy two or more weekly days of rest and relaxation. But the real purpose of the Sabbath is to enable us through the physical rest to enter into Godís rest (Heb 4:10). The Sabbath invites us to lay aside our daily work in order to allow God to work more fully and freely in our lives.  

God does not need our Sabbath rest, nor does He need our week days work. What He needs is a responsive heart, mind and soul, willing to experience the reality of His presence, peace and rest. Through the Sabbath God invites us into this special experience.  

The act of resting for God on the Sabbath is a most meaningful act of worship because it signifies the total consecration of our life to God. It is an act of worship which is not exhausted in an one-hour church service, but which lasts twenty-four hours. By resting specifically for God on the Sabbath the Christian shows his commitment of the week days as well when it is not possible to offer to God the same undivided and conscious acknowledgment. 


For the Christian is not every day now a Sabbath to the Lord? 


The belief that every day is Sabbath (pansabbatism) is as absurd as the belief that everything is God (pantheism). The end result in both instances is that no real worship is offered to God, because nothing really matters. These views are deceptive devices designed to do away both with the belief and the worship of God.  

The theory that every day is Sabbath ultimately results in no Sabbath at all. This truth is brought out perceptively in the following poem: 

Shrewd men, indeed, these reformers are! 

Each week-day is a Sabbath, they declare: 

A Christian theory! The unchristian fact is 

Each Sabbath is a week-day in their practice.  

Will Sabbathkeeping ever become a test of obedience for the whole world? 

A Test in the Manna Experience The very first time the Sabbath is mentioned by name as "Sabbath" in the Scripture, it is in conjunction with the manna experience in Exodus 16:23, 29. In this context the testing function of the Sabbath is evident. Loyalty to God was to be expressed by gathering one omer per person the first five weekdays and two omers per person on the sixth day (Ex 16:16, 22). The reason for gathering a double portion on the sixth day was to teach the people to make themselves free and available for God on the seventh day. 

The testing function of the Sabbath in the manna experience ("that I may prove them"óEx 16:4) is alluded to also in Deuteronomy 8:2-3 where it says: "God has led you these forty years in the wilderness . . . testing you to know what was in your heart . . . and he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna . . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." 

The Sabbath is a test because it teaches people to seek not only for physical nourishment during the six days, but also for the spiritual nourishment of Godís Word on the seventh day. To those who "went out to gather" manna on the seventh day, God said: "How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?" (Ex 16:28-29). 

A Test in the History of Israel. In the subsequent history of Israel Sabbathkeeping is equated with loyalty to God and Sabbathbreaking with apostasy (Lev 26:2; Num 15:32; Neh 9:14; 10:31; 13:15-22; Is 56:2, 6; Jer 17:21, 22, 24, 27). Ezekiel, for example, correlates rebellion with Sabbath desecration. He writes: "But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness . . . my Sabbath they greatly profaned" (Ezek 20:13; cf. 20:16, 21). 

The reason why the Sabbath is presented in the Scripture as a test of loyalty to God is not hard to see. The person who makes himself free and available for God on the Sabbath day, is the person who is committed to God every day. On the other hand, the person who ignores God on His Holy Day is the person who ultimately neglects God every day. 

A Test at the End-time. The testing function of the Sabbath will become particularly evident at the End-time when the conflict between true and false worship will intensify. The last book of the Bible summons "every nation and tribe and tongue and people" (Rev 14:6), on the one hand to renounce the perverted system of worship promoted by "Babylon," "the beast and its image" (14:8-11), and on the other hand to "fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come," and to "worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water" (14:7). 

This solemn call to abandon false worship and to restore true worship is presented in Revelation 14 as part of the preparation for "the harvest of the earth" (14:15). Christ Himself alluded to the end-time crises concerning true worship in His rhetorical question: "When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8). 

Though the problem of worshipping man-made realities such as money (Matt 6:24), power (Rev 13:8; Col 3:5), pleasure (Rom 6:19; Titus 3:3) or even human systems of salvation (Gal 4:9), has been present in every age, it is particularly acute in our time. The triumph of modern science, technology, and rationalistic thinking has led many to worship human figments rather than the Creator Himself. 

The mission of the Church at this time, as portrayed effectively by the three apocalyptic angels, is to promote the true worship of "him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water" (Rev 14:7). The Sabbath is a most effective vehicle through which the Church can promote the restoration of true worship. By focusing on Godís creative and redemptive accomplishments, the Sabbath functions as an antidote against false worship. It challenges men and women to worship not their human achievements and ambitions, but their Creator and Redeemer. 

The Church, by inviting individuals to take time out on the Sabbath to celebrate Godís past, present, and future accomplishments, challenges them to renounce their autonomy and egocentricity and accept instead Godís lordship over their life and time. 

A Test of Genuine Commitment. At a time when many Christians treat what they call "Lordís Day" as a holiday rather than as a holy day, as a day to seek for pleasure and profit rather than for divine peace and presence, Sabbathkeeping is and will increasingly become a test of genuine commitment to God. It will serve more and more to distinguish those who offer to God merely lip service from those who offer Him the service of their total being. 

The prevailing crisis of the Lord's day could well set the stage for the rising of the politico-religious power of Revelation 13, which will cause many to receive "the mark of the beast" through the legal enforcement of Sundaykeeping. Seventh-day Adventist believe that this will take place in connection with the last religious crisis affecting mankind (Rev 13:16-17). Because of this the observance of the Sabbath is and will become more and more a test of loyalty and commitment to God.  


Since Jesus observed the annual Jewish feast days, should not Christians observe them also? 


Termination of Annual Feast Days. A distinction must be made between what Jesus did and what He taught. The former is not necessarily mandatory as is the latter. Being born and brought up as a Jew, obviously Jesus observed the religious customs of His people, including the annual feasts. 

In His teaching ministry, however, Christ never suggested a permanent validity or value of the annual holy day in general. The only exception could be Passover, which Jesus celebrated with His disciples before His death, by transforming it into a symbol of His atoning sacrifice (Matt 26:26-28; Mark 14:12). Thus the Lordís Supper is seen by many Christians as the continuation and transformation of the Passover Supper. 

The termination of the function of the annual feasts, which were closely linked to the sanctuary services, is indicated by the fact that at Christís death "the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (Matt 27:51). By this dramatic act the typological function of the temple services which included the annual feast days, was declared fulfilled and terminated by Christís atoning sacrifice. This conclusion is clearly drawn in Hebrews where in speaking of the sanctuary services, which included the annual feast days, it says that they are "symbolic for the present age . . . imposed until the time of reformation" (Heb 9:9-10). The latter is said to have dawned with the coming of Christ (Heb 9:11). 

Permanence of the Sabbath. Contrary to Christís remarkable silence on the annual feast days, the Gospels report extensively on the Sabbath teachings and ministry of Christ. Through His teachings and example, Christ explained that the Sabbath was a day "to do good" (Matt 12:12), a day "to save life" (Mark 3:4), a day to liberate men and women from physical and spiritual burdens (Luke 13:15-17), a day to show "mercy" rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7). 

The reason why Christ clarified the meaning and manner of observance of the Sabbath, while he remained silent on the annual feast days is to be found in their different functions. While the Sabbath was made for mankind at creation (Mark 2:27) to meet a permanent human need, the annual feast days were established at the time of Moses in conjunction with the liturgical calendar of the tabernacle to typify the divine deliverance which culminated with the coming of Christ. The types of Messianic redemption ceased to have significance with the coming of the Messiah Himself. 


Which is the "Lordís day" mentioned in Revelation 1:10? Do you accept the Seventh-day Adventist interpretation which views it as the seventh-day Sabbath? 


The expression "Lordís day" found in Revelation 1:10 has been interpreted in four major different ways. For my extensive treatment of these differing views, the reader is referred to my book From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 111 to 131. For the sake of brevity I will summarize succinctly in this context the four major interpretations. 

Sunday. The prevailing interpretation equates the expression "Lordís day" with Sunday. This equation is based not on internal evidences of the book of Revelation but on three second-century patristic testimonies, namely, Didache 14:1, Ignatiusí Epistle to the Magnesians 9:1 and the Gospel of Peter 35 and 50. Of these, only in the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, which is dated in the latter half of the second century, is Sunday unmistakably designated by the technical term "Lordísókuriake."  

The designation of Sunday as "Lordís day" which unmistakably appears before the end of the second century cannot necessarily be read back into Revelation 1:10. A major reason is that if Sunday had already received the new appellation "Lordís day" by the end of the first century, when both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation were written, we would expect this new name for Sunday to be used consistently in both works, especially since they were apparently produced by the same author at approximately the same time and in the same geographical area. 

If a new term prevails and is more readily understood, a writer does not confuse his readers with archaic time designations. Moreover, if the new designation "Lordís day" already existed and expressed the meaning and nature of Christian worship, the Gospel writers would hardly have had reasons to use the Jewish phrase "first day of the week." Therefore, the fact that the expression "Lordís day" occurs in Johnís apocalyptic book but not in his Gospelówhere the first day is explicitly mentioned in conjunction with the resurrection (John 20:1) and the appearances of Jesus (John 20:19, 26)ósuggests that the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10 can hardly refer to Sunday. 

Easter-Sunday. Other scholars maintain that the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10, designates Easter-Sunday rather than the weekly Sunday. This conclusion rests primarily on the assumption that since in the New Testament and in the sub-apostolic literature little importance is attached to Sunday as a day of Christian worship, the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10 must then refer to the annual Easter Sunday, out of which the weekly Sunday later developed. 

The major weakness of this interpretation is that it ignores the fact that the book of Revelation was addressed by John to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which we know strongly rejected the Easter-Sunday custom, holding fast instead to the Nisan 14 dating of the Passover. How could John have meant "I was in the Spirit on Easter-Sunday" when he wrote to Christians who, we know, would rather be excommunicated by Bishop Victor of Rome than accept Easter-Sunday? 

Seventh-day Sabbath. A third view, held by seventh-day Sabbathkeeping churches, including Seventh-day Adventists, maintains that the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10 designates the seventh-day Sabbath. This conclusion is based especially on the fact that Christ declared Himself to be "lord even of the sabbath" (Mark 2:28). 

While it must be granted that conceptually there is a connection between "Lord of the Sabbath" and "Lordís day," linguistically it is difficult to defend this interpretation because the phrase "Lordís day" is never used in the early Christian literature as a designation of the seventh-day Sabbath. 

Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have interpreted the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10 as a reference to the seventh-day Sabbath. Ellen G. White expresses this view saying, for example: "The Lordís day is the seventh day, the Sabbath of creation. On the day that God sanctified and blessed, Christ signified Ďby His angel unto His servant Johní things which must come to pass before the close of the worldís history."15 Again she writes: "It was on the Sabbath that the Lord of glory appeared to the exiled apostle. The Sabbath was as sacredly observed by John on Patmos as when he was preaching to the people in the towns and cities of Judea."16 

Personally I accept this interpretation, especially since I have shown in my dissertation From Sabbath to Sunday that there are compelling indications that Sundaykeeping did not originate before the reign of Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138). Moreover, there are also indications that even when Sunday was introduced by the Church of Rome, many Eastern Christians adopted Sundaykeeping in addition to, rather than as a substitution for the Sabbath. What this means is that only the Sabbath could possibly be known to John as the "Lordís day" before the end of the first century when he wrote the book of Revelation. 

In spite of this conviction, in From Sabbath to Sunday I argue in favor of the eschatological interpretation of "Lordís day," namely, as meaning the day of Christís coming and judgment. I took this position in my dissertation, not because it reflects my personal convictions, but simply because contextually and linguistically it is more defensible. 

In doing research sometimes a person presents a working hypothesis which may not necessarily reflect oneís innermost convictions. In my case, after I had discredited the Sunday and Easter-Sunday interpretations, I needed to submit an alternative explanation. For the sake of argument I chose to defend the eschatological interpretation of the "Lordís day," even though it was contrary to my personal conviction, simply because I felt it was contextually and linguistically a more defensible explanation. 

My aim in my dissertation was not to establish whether or not the Sabbath was viewed or called "Lordís day" in early Christianity, but rather if, as is generally believed, Sunday was called and observed as "Lordís day" from the very inception of Christianity. Much of the documentation and argumentation of my dissertation disproves and discredits the latter claim. 

My defense for the eschatological interpretation of the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10 must be seen in the context of the primary aim of my dissertation, which was not to ascertain whether or not theologically the Sabbath was the "Lordís day" already in Johnís time. The failure to see my primary aim has regrettably led a few of my fellow-believers to conclude that I do not accept the Sabbath as the "Lordís day." Obviously this conclusion is totally wrong, because I believe not only that the "Lordís day" on which John was taken into vision was the Sabbath day, but also that only the Sabbath can be legitimately called and observed as the "Lordís day." 

The Day of the Lord. A fourth interpretation, which has been defended by such distinguished scholars as J. B. Lightfoot and A. Deissmann, views the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10 as a variation of "the day of the Lord" which is commonly employed in the Scripture to designate the day of Christís coming and of His judgment. The reasons for this interpretation are discussed at length in From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 123-131. 

The basic support for this interpretation is provided by the immediate and larger contexts, both of which speak of the day of Christís coming. Additional support is provided by Origenís use of the term "Lordís day" to refer explicitly to the day of Christís Return,17 by Johnís reference to "the great day of God" (Rev 16:14; 6:17), by the unique parallelism between Revelation 1:10 and 4:1-7. The parallelism consists of similarities of expressions, context, and content which suggest that the "Lordís day" of Revelation 1:10 may be understood, in the light of the parallel expression, "what must take place after this" (Rev 4:1), to mean the Day of Christís coming. 

It may be possible to combine the last two interpretations by viewing the "Lordís day" both as a Sabbath day on which John was taken in vision and as the great day of Christís coming which John saw in vision. What greater vision could have given courage to the aged apostle in exile for his witness to Christ! Moreover, the Sabbath is closely linked to the Second Advent. The meeting of the invisible Lord in time on the weekly Sabbath is a prelude to the meeting of the visible Lord in space on the final day of His coming. 


Do not the Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus resur- rected "on the first day of the week"? Does not this fact constitute a valid reason for observing Sunday in honor of Christís resurrection? 


Yes, the Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus resurrected on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19). This fact, however, does not constitute a valid reason for observing Sunday as memorial of Christís resurrection, for the simple reason that nowhere does the New Testament indicate that the day of Christís resurrection is to be memorialized by a weekly Sunday or annual Easter Sunday festival. 

If this reasoning was correct, then we should observe also Friday as a memorial of Christís atoning death, since the Gospel clearly tells us that Jesus was crucified on "the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath" (Mark 15:42; cf. Matt 27:62; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42). But, the truth of the matter is that the New Testament offers no indications regarding a weekly or annual celebration of Christís death and/or resurrection.  

The silence of the New Testament on this matter is very important since most of its books were written many years after Christís death and resurrection. If Christ or the apostles had enjoined the observance of Sunday as a memorial of the resurrection, then we should find in the New Testament some indications of such a commandment and of its observance. Instead, we find no trace of any commandment regarding the celebration of the resurrection on a weekly Sunday or annual Easter Sunday, or even of any reference where Sunday is called "the day of the resurrection" until the fourth century. The obvious reason is that in earliest centuries Sunday was not viewed as the weekly memorial of the resurrection.  


Was the Sunday resurrection of Christ the primary factor which caused the Apostles, as many Christians believe, to introduce Sundaykeeping instead of Sabbath- keeping in order to commemorate Christís resurrection by means of the Lordís Supper celebration? 


This view, though it is widely held among Sundaykeeping Christians, is devoid of Biblical and historical support. My reasons are given at length in the third chapter of my dissertation From Sabbath to Sunday. In this context I will limit myself to the brief mention of seven significant indications which discredit the alleged role played by Christís Sunday-resurrection in causing the change from Sabbathkeeping to Sundaykeeping. 

No Command in the New Testament. First, the New Testament contains no command or suggestion by Christ or the Apostles enjoining or hinting at a weekly or annual Sunday celebration of the resurrection. This is all the more surprising in view of the explicit instructions which are given regarding other practices such as baptism, the Lordís Supper, or footwashing. 

No "Day of the Resurrection." Second, in the New Testament Sunday is never called "day of the resurrection" but consistently "first day of the week." It is not until the fourth century that the designation of Sunday as "day of the resurrection" first occurs in Christian literature. The absence of such a designation indicates that during the first three centuries Sunday was not seen as the weekly memorial celebration of Christís resurrection. 

No Completion of Christís Earthly Ministry. Third, the Sunday-resurrection does not mark the completion of Christís earthly ministry. The latter ended on a Friday afternoon when the Savior said, "It is finished" (John 19:30) and then rested in the tomb according to the commandment. It is noteworthy that divine rest marks the completion of both creation and redemption. The resurrection, however, marks not the completion of Christís earthly redemptive ministry but the inauguration of His new intercessory ministry (Acts 1:8; 2:33). Like the first day of creation, the first day of Christís ministry presupposes work rather than rest. 

No Invitation to Rest and Worship. Fourth, the words uttered by Christ on the day of His resurrection are an invitation to work rather than to rest and worship. On the day of His resurrection, the Savior did not say "Come apart and worship . . . Let us take time today to celebrate My resurrection." On the contrary, He told the women, "Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee" (Matt 28:10) and later to His disciples "Go . . . make disciples, teach, baptize" (Matt 28:19-20). 

No Lordís Supper Commemoration of the Resurrection. Fifth, the Lordís Supper, which many Christians view as the core of their Sunday celebration of Christís resurrection, was initially celebrated at night on different days of the week (1 Cor 11:18, 20, 33) and was seen as the commemoration of Christís sacrifice and Second Advent, rather than of His resurrection. Paul explains that by partaking of the bread and wine, believers "proclaim the Lordís death until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26). 

No Easter Sunday Celebration of the Resurrection. Sixth, the Passover, which many Christians today observe on Easter Sunday as a celebration of the resurrection, for at least a century after Jesusí death was observed not on a Sunday but on any day of the week on which the date of Nisan 14 fell. This implies that no special significance was attached to the actual day of the week in which Passover was celebrated. Moreover the earliest documents indicate that Passover was a celebration of the Passionódeath, rather than of Christís resurrection.18 

Resurrection was not a Predominant Justification. Seventh, the earliest explicit references to the Christian observance of Sunday, which are found in the writings of Barnabas (about 135) and Justin Martyr (about 150), mention the resurrection but only as the second of two reasons for Sundaykeeping. The first theological reason given by Barnabas for Sunday observance is the eschatological significance of the "eighth day" which, he claims, represents "the beginning of another world."19 Justinís first reason is the commemoration of the inauguration of creation: "because it is the first day on which God, transforming the darkness and prime matter, created the world."20 These testimonies indicate that Christís resurrection was not seen initially as the predominant justification for Sunday observance. 

The seven reasons submitted above suffice to discredit the contention that Christís resurrection on the first day of the week was the major reason for the adoption of Sunday observance instead of the Sabbath. 


It is widely held that the Apostolic Church of Jerusalem pioneered the abandonment of Sabbathkeeping and the adoption of Sundaykeeping instead. Is not this a legitimate explanation, in view of the fact that the Jerusalem Church was the Mother Church of Christendom, and thus the only one with the necessary authority to change the day of worship? 


This explanation, though widely held, rests on gratuitous and unfounded assumptions. It is assumed, for example, that since Christ was resurrected on a Sunday in Jerusalem, Sunday worship must have originated in the city itself by apostolic authority to commemorate this important event by a distinctive Christian worship. It is also presumed that since the Jerusalem Church enjoyed pre-eminent authority, she was the only church that could successfully pioneer Sunday observance. These assumptions are discredited by several historical data which I will briefly mention below. 

Jewish Composition and Orientation. First, according to the book of Acts and Judeo-Christian documents, both the ethnic composition and the theological orientation of the Jerusalem Church were profoundly Jewish. Throughout the book of Acts, Luke reports mass conversion of the Jews (2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7; 9:42; 12:24; 13:43; 14:1; 17:10ff; 21:20). Among the thousands who believed there were "devout" Jews (Acts 2:5, 41), "many of the priests" (Acts 6:7) and "many thousands" who remained "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20). 

The misconception which has prevailed through the centuries is that the Cross brought about a radical discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity. Before the Cross there was Judaism, law, and Sabbathkeeping. After the Cross there was Christianity, grace, and Sundaykeeping. This historical explanation is challenged by Lukeís account of the many thousands of Jews who believed in Christ. These viewed their acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth as their expected Messiah not as the termination but as the continuation and integration of their Jewish faith. 

The conflict in Acts is not between Jews and Christians, but between believing and unbelieving Jews. Believing Jews are said to be "zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20). It is hard to see how Christians who viewed themselves as believing Jews, zealously observing Godís law, would pioneer the abandonment or change of the Sabbath commandment. 

Jerusalem Council. Second, the first Christian Council held (about 49-50) in the city of Jerusalem, did not exempt Gentile Christians from the Mosaic law in general or from Sabbathkeeping in particular. The only exemption was from the circumcision. This exemption was not seen as a repudiation of the Mosaic law in general. On the contrary, the final court of appeal of the apostolic decree regarding the Gentiles is the very authority of Moses. This is indicated indirectly by the fact that the four ritual laws enjoined upon the Gentiles, namely, abstention from pollution of idols, unchastity, strangled meat and blood (Acts 15:20), are all part of the Mosaic law regarding the "sojourner" who dwelt among Israelites (Lev 17 and 18). 

More directly, respect for the Mosaic law is indicated by Jamesí appeal to Mosesí authority to validate the endorsement of the four ritual laws: "For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues" (Acts 15:21). What James is saying here is that, as Jacob Jervell rightly points out, "Everyone who truly hears Moses knows that the decree expresses what Moses demands from Gentiles in order that they may live among Israelites."21 The concern at the Jerusalem Council to show complete adherence to the Mosaic law discredits any attempt to make the Jerusalem Church the pioneer of the change of the day of rest and worship. 

The Jerusalem Church after A.D. 70. Third, even after the Roman destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, and until the destruction of Jerusalem by Hadrian in A.D. 135, the Jerusalem Church, according to the historians Eusebius (about 260-340) and Epiphanius (about 315-403), was composed of and administered by converted Jews. These are characterized as "zealous to insist on the literal observance of the law."22 

More significant still is that the Nazarenes, who are regarded as the direct descendants of the Christian community of Jerusalem which migrated to Pella before the A.D. 70 destruction of the temple, according to Epiphanius, still insisted on the observance of the Sabbath until the fourth century.23 The implication is clear. If the traditional custom of Sabbathkeeping survived among Palestinian Christians long after the destruction of the temple, then the Jerusalem Church could hardly have promoted the abandonment of its observance and the adoption of Sunday worship instead. Historical testimonies indicate that of all the Christian churches, the Jerusalem church was, both racially and theologically, the most deeply attached to Jewish religious tradition. 


According to your investigation, when, where, and why did Sunday worship originate? 


Difficult to Pinpoint Origin of Festivals. It is extremely difficult to pinpoint with accuracy the exact date of the origin of any new festival. This holds true not only for the weekly Sunday, but also for the annual Easter-Sunday, Christmas, Epiphany, etc. These festivals first appear in historical records after they had already been introduced.  

While it is difficult to determine the exact place and date of the origin of Sunday, in the course of my investigation I found cumulative indications, pointing to the Church of Rome as the place where the change first began, approximately one century after Jesusí death, sometime during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138). 

Antijudaic Repressive Measures. A major factor which contributed to the change of the Sabbath to Sunday was the extreme repressive measures Hadrian adopted against Judaism in general and Sabbathkeeping in particular. These measures were adopted by Hadrian to stem the violent Jewish uprising against the Romans which was fueled by a resurgence of Messianic expectations. 

After suppressing the second major Palestinian Jewish revoltócalled after its leader, the Barkokeba revoltóHadrian in A.D. 135 not only destroyed the city of Jerusalem and prohibited Jews to enter the city, but he also outlawed categorically the practice of the Jewish religion in general and of Sabbathkeeping in particular. These measures were designed to suppress the Jewish religion, which was seen as the cause of all the uprisings. 

Measures Taken by the Church of Rome. The repressive measures adopted by the Romans against the practice of the Jewish religion encouraged the Church of Rome to clarify to the imperial authorities the Christian separation and distinction from Judaism by changing the date and manner of observance of two characteristic Jewish festivals: the Sabbath and Passover. The weekly Sabbath was changed to Sunday and the Passover date was moved from Nisan 14 to the following Sunday. 

The anti-Judaic motivation for these changes is best expressed by Constantine in his Nicene conciliar letter, where he urges Christians to adopt unanimously the Easter-Sunday practice championed by the Church of Rome, in order to "have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd . . . and to avoid all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews."24 

To promote the abandonment of Sabbathkeeping and the adoption of Sundaykeeping the Church of Rome adopted significant theological, social, and liturgical measures which are discussed at length in chapter 6 of From Sabbath to Sunday. 

Theologically, the Sabbath was reduced from a universal divine institution to a Mosaic institution, given exclusively to the Jews as, to quote Justin Martyr, "a mark to single them out for punishment they so well deserve for their infidelities."25 

Socially, the Church of Rome endeavored to kill the festive gleam of the Sabbath by turning the day from a time of feasting and joyful celebration into a time of fasting and sadness. 

Liturgically, the Sabbath was made a non-religious day in which no Lordís Supper was to be celebrated and no religious assemblies were to be held. 

The conclusion, then, of my investigation is that the change from Sabbath to Sunday occurred not immediately after Jesusí death by the apostolic authority of the Jerusalem Church to commemorate Christís resurrection, but rather it began about one century after Christís death, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian by the authority of the Church of Rome. 

The primary cause was the prevailing Roman repression of the Jewish people and religion. This condition made it expedient for Christians to show their separation and differentiation from the Jews and Judaism, by adopting a different day of worship. Expediency, however, is not a legitimate motive for changing a divine precept. Jesus never taught His followers to feel free to ignore or change His commandments whenever it became difficult to observe them. 


Did Sun-worship with its Sun-day influence the Christian adoption of Sunday as the new day of worship? 


The popularity of Sun-worship with its Sun-day influenced significantly the Christian adoption of Sunday as the new day of worship. 

Sun-worship and the Planetary Week. To appreciate how Sun-worship influenced the Christian adoption of Sunday, it is important to note first of all that the cult of Sol Invictusóthe Invincible Sunóbecame very popular in ancient Rome by the middle of the second century. The increased popularity of Sun-worship caused a significant change in the order of days of the planetary week, which the Romans adopted just before the beginning of Christianity.  

Numerous archeological and literary calendars clearly show that initially Saturday was the first day of the week, followed by Sunday which was the second day. This sequence, however, was changed as a result of the increased popularity of Sun-worship. What happened was that in recognition of the popularity of the Sun-god, the day of the Sun was advanced from the position of second day to that of first and most important day of the week.26 

Sun-Worship and Christian Sunday. The advancement of the day of the Sun to the position of first day of the week, influenced especially those Christians who had known the day and the worship of the Sun-god to choose the self-same day as their new day of worship. This conclusion is corroborated by indirect and direct evidences. 

Indirectly, Sun-worship influenced Christianity in the adoption of such practices as the eastward orientation for prayer, the Christmas date of December 25, and the adoption of the symbology of the sun to depict Christ in art and literature. 

More directly Sun-worship influenced the development of theological justifications for Sunday observance. This is indicated by the fact that the two predominant justifications found in the early Christian literature for Sunday observance are: the creation of light and the rising of the Sun of justice on the first day of the week. Jerome provides a fitting example when he explains, "If it is called day of the Sun by the pagans, we most willingly acknowledge it as such, since it is on this day that the light of the world has appeared and on this day the Sun of justice arose."27 

The conclusion then is that two major factors contributed to the change from Sabbath to Sunday, namely, anti-Judaism and Sun-worship. The former led many Christians to abandon the observance of the Sabbath to differentiate themselves from the Jews. The second influenced many Christians to adopt the observance of Sunday to facilitate their identification and integration with the customs and cycles of the Roman empire. 


Is there any real difference between the observance of the Sabbath and the observance of Sunday? Is not this simply a matter of two different names or numbers? 


Many Christians see no real difference between the observance of the Sabbath and that of Sunday. For them the only difference that exists between the two days is one of names, that is, Saturday versus Sunday, and one of numbers, that is, seventh day versus first day. 

Undoubtedly this view is held by many sincere Christians. Sincerity, however, does not make wrong views right. The fact remains that the difference between Sabbathkeeping and Sundaykeeping is not simply one of names or number, but one of authority, meaning, and experience. 

Authority. First, the difference is one of authority because while Sabbathkeeping rests upon an explicit Biblical command (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11; Mark 2:27-28; Heb 4:9), Sundaykeeping derives from a questionable church tradition, somewhat similar to that which gave origin to the December 25 Christmas celebration. The lack of a Biblical authority for Sundaykeeping may well be a major reason why, especially in the Western World, the vast majority of Christians view their Sunday as a holiday rather than a holy day, a day to seek for personal pleasure and profit rather than for divine presence and peace. 

It is only when there is a strong theological conviction that a certain principle, such as the one of Sabbathkeeping, is divinely established to ensure our physical, moral, and spiritual well-being, that a person will feel compelled to act accordingly. The lack of such a strong conviction for Sundaykeeping on the part of many Christians may well explain why they see nothing wrong in devoting their Sunday time to themselves rather than to the Lord. 

Meaning. Second, the difference between Sabbath and Sunday is one of meaning. While the Sabbath memorializes in the Scripture Godís perfect creation, complete redemption, and final restoration, Sunday is justified in the earliest Christian literature as the commemoration of the creation of light on the first day of the week, as the cosmic-eschatological symbol of the eighth day which was seen as a type of the new eternal world, and as the commemoration of Christís Sunday-resurrection. 

None of the historical meanings which have been attributed to Sunday require per se the observance of the day by resting and worshipping the Lord. For example, nowhere do the Scriptures suggest that the creation of light on the first day ought to be celebrated through a weekly Sunday rest and worship. Even the resurrection event, as we have seen earlier, does not require per se a weekly or annual Sunday celebration. 

Some Christians view their Sunday as the Biblical Sabbath and thus they transfer to Sunday the Biblical authority and meaning of the Sabbath. Such an attempt fails to recognize that it is impossible to retain the same authority, meaning, and experience, when the date of a festival is changed. For example, if a person or an organization should succeed in changing the date of the Declaration of Independence from the 4th to the 5th of July, the new date could hardly be viewed as the legitimate celebration of Independence Day. 

Similarly, if the festival of the Sabbath is changed from the seventh to the first day, the latter day can hardly memorialize the divine acts of creation, redemption, and final restoration which are linked to the symbology of the Sabbath. To transfer the symbolic meaning of the Sabbath to Sunday means ultimately to destroy the meaning of the Sabbath. 

Experience. Third, the difference between Sabbath and Sunday is one of experience. While Sundaykeeping began and has remained largely the hour of worship, Sabbathkeeping is presented in the Scriptures as 24 hours of rest and worship. In spite of the efforts made by Constantine, church councils, and Puritans to make Sunday a total day of rest and worship, the fact remains that the day has been traditionally observed primarily as the one or two hours of church attendance. 

At the conclusion of their Sunday church services, many Christians in good conscience will go to a restaurant, a shopping mall, a football game, a dance hall, a theater, etc. The recognition of this historical reality has led scholars such as Christopher Kiesling to argue for the abandonment of the notion of Sunday as a day of rest and for the retention of Sunday as the hour of worship.28 His reasoning is that since Sunday has never been a total day of rest and worship, there is no hope to make it so today when most people want not holy days but holidays. 

Celebrating the Sabbath, however, means not merely to attend church services but to consecrate its 24 hours to the Lord. The Sabbath commandment does not say, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy by attending Sabbath school and church services." What the commandment requires is to work six days and rest the seventh day unto the Lord (Ex 20:8-10). This means that the essence of Sabbathkeeping is the consecration of time. The act of resting unto the Lord makes all the activities of the Sabbath, whether they be the formal worship or the informal fellowship and recreation, an act of worship because all of them spring out of a heart which has decided to honor God. 

The act of resting on the Sabbath unto the Lord becomes the means through which the believer enters into Godís rest (Heb 4:10) by experiencing the fuller awareness of the divine rest of creation, redemption, and final restoration. This unique experience is foreign to Sundaykeeping because the essence of the latter is not the consecration of time through which to experience the reality of Godís creative and redemptive activities, but rather an hour of worship which is generally followed by pleasure-seeking or profit-making. 

The foregoing considerations suggest that ultimately the difference between Sabbath and Sunday is the difference between a Holy Day and a holiday. 


Is there any evidence of seventh-day Sabbathkeeping in early Christianity? 


Both the New Testament and the early Christian literature contain implicit and explicit indications of the existence of Sabbathkeeping. A brief allusion will be made in this context to the most significant evidences. 

The Witness of the New Testament. The earliest indication of Sabbathkeeping comes to us from the New Testament. We have examined in chapter V the numerous New Testament allusions to the fact and manner of Sabbathkeeping. We noted that the unusual coverage given by the Evangelists to the Sabbath healings and teachings of Christ is indicative of the great importance attached to Sabbathkeeping at the time of their writing. 

More significant still is the New Testament witness to the new Christian understanding of Sabbathkeeping, namely, a day "to do good" (Matt 12:12), "to save" (Mark 3:4), "to loose" physical and spiritual bonds (Luke 13:16), and to show "mercy" rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7). This new Christian interpretation indicates that the Apostolic Church did observe the Sabbath, but with a new meaning and in a new manner. 

Early Post-New Testament Testimonies. The existence of Sabbathkeeping is attested also in the early Post-New Testament references to Sundaykeeping. The Epistle of Barnabas, for example, dated between A.D. 130 and 138, speaks of the observance of the "eighth day" (that is, Sunday) in addition to, rather than as a substitution from the Sabbath. After having argued for the superiority of the eighth-day, Sunday, over the seventh-day Sabbath, the author writes, "This is why we also observe the eighth day with rejoicing" (15:9).29 The "also" (dio kai) suggests that initially Sunday was observed in addition to rather than as a substitution of the Sabbath. 

Justin Martyr, writing from Rome by the middle of the second century, differentiates between two different types of Sabbathkeepers. He speaks of some Sabbathkeepers who compelled Gentiles to observe the Sabbath and of other Sabbathkeepers who did not induce others to do likewise.30 This clearly implies that Sabbathkeepers existed in Rome by the middle of the second century, though they appear to have been a minority. 

In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, dated in the middle of the second century, Jesus is reported to have said, "If you fast not from the world, you will not find the kingdom; if you keep not the Sabbath as Sabbath, you will not see the Father" (chapter 27). Though this saying can hardly be authentic, it does reflect a high view of the Sabbath in the community where the document circulated. 

Another document known as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, dated about A.D. 120, records that Polycarpís death occurred on "a Festival Sabbath day" (8:1). This phrase could well reflect Sabbath observance among some Christians in Asia Minor, in spite of their hostile attitude toward the Jews exhibited in the narrative. 

Early in the third century, the Alexandrian theologian, Origen, refers to Sabbath observance in a sermon, saying: "Forsaking therefore the Judaic Sabbath observance, let us see what kind of Sabbath observance is expected of the Christian. On the Sabbath day, nothing of worldly activity should be done. If therefore desisting from all worldly works and doing nothing mundane but being free for spiritual works, you come to church, listen to divine readings and discussions and think of heavenly things, give heed to the future life, keep before your eyes the coming judgment, disregard present and visible things in favor of the invisible and future, this is the observance of the Christian Sabbath."31 

Origenís mention of Sabbathkeeping in Alexandria is significant, since two centuries later two church historians, Socrates Scholasticus and Sozomen, inform us that the custom of assembling together on the Sabbath was practiced everywhere except in Rome and Alexandria.32 A major factor which contributed to an earlier abandonment of Sabbathkeeping in these two cities was, as I have shown elsewhere, the presence of strong anti-Judaic feelings. 

Sabbathkeeping in the East. The existence of Sabbathkeeping in later centuries is attested in different sources. John Chrysostom delivered eight sermons at Antioch in 386 and 387, warning Christians against Judaizing practices such as Sabbathkeeping: "We are become a laughingstock to Jews and Greeks, seeing that the Church is divided into a thousand parties . . . There are many among us now, who fast on the same day as the Jews, and keep the sabbaths in the same manner; and we endure it nobly or rather ignobly and basely."33 

Similar warnings against Sabbathkeeping are sounded by such Greek churchmen as Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea, and Aphrahat.34 The strong condemnation of Sabbathkeeping on the part of numerous church leaders offers a most compelling evidence of its observance. 

Influx of Jewish-Christians. A major fact which contributed to the permanence of Sabbathkeeping in early Christianity was the constant influx of converts from the synagogue, who were keen to retain their Sabbathkeeping. John Damascus (c. 675-c. 749), the last of the great Eastern Fathers, wrote a treatise entitled "Against the Jews, Concerning the Sabbath" to counteract the perennial attraction of Sabbathkeeping.35 

In another treatise from the same century entitled The Disputation of Sergius the Stylite Against a Jew (c. 730-c.770), Syrian Christians are quoted as saying, "If Christianity is good, behold, I am baptized as a Christian. But if Judaism is also, behold I will associate partly with Judaism that I might hold on to the Sabbath."36 

Sabbathkeeping in the West. Sabbathkeeping survived not only in the East but also in the West, as indicated by its denunciation by popes, councils, and churchmen. Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) wrote in an epistle: "It has been reported to me that men of a perverse spirit have spread among you some despicable doctrines that are completely opposed to our holy faith, teaching that all work must be interrupted on the Sabbath. Who could I call them but preachers of the Antichrist?"37 

The Council of Friuli, held in Northern Italy in 796 or 797, condemns in the thirteenth canon those farmers who kept the Sabbath.38 In the tenth century, recently converted Bulgarians wrote to Pope Nicholas I to ask whether they should observe the Sabbath.39 Such an inquiry suggests that Sabbathkeeping was practiced among them, at least by some. 

A council held toward the end of the ninth century decreed, "For it is not proper for Christians to Judaize and be idle on the Sabbath but they should rather work on that day, giving greater veneration to Sunday if they want to rest, as Christians do."40 This decree repeats essentially the earlier Canon 29 of the Synod of Laodicea (c. 364) which states, "Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lordís Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ."41 The frequent repetition of this anti-Sabbath canon of the Synod of Laodicea is indicative of the persistence of Sabbathkeeping during the Middle Ages. 

On going Controversy. One of the most telling evidences of the Sabbathkeeping in early Christianity which is often ignored is found in the ongoing polemic against Sabbathkeeping. The bizarre and sometimes ridiculous arguments which were fabricated to show the superiority of Sunday over the Sabbath, are indicative not only of the existence of, but also of the influence exerted by Sabbathkeepers. 

Justin Martyr (about 150), for example, argues that Christians must not observe the Sabbath because it is a Mosaic ordinance given exclusively to the Jews as a sign of their wickedness to distinguish them for punishment they justly deserve. Instead, Christians are to assemble for worship on Sunday to commemorate the first day creation of light and the resurrection.42 Justinís false and senseless denunciation of Sabbathkeeping as a trademark of Jewish depravity must be seen as a desperate attempt to wean Christians away from such a practice. 

Another fitting example of the ongoing Sabbath/Sunday controversy is found in the Syriac Didascalia (c. 250), where several bizarre arguments are adduced to show the superiority of Sunday over the Sabbath. The author appeals to Sabbathkeepers to stop saying "that the Sabbath is prior to the first day of the week" because, he argues, when the first day, Sunday, was made at creation "the seventh day was yet unknown." He continues, "which is greater, that which had come into being, and existed, or that which was yet unknown, and of which there was no expectation that it should come to be?"43 

The author draws another argument from the paternal blessings which are bestowed not on the last but on the first child and also from Matthew 20:16, which says, "The last shall be first and the first last." On the basis of such senseless reasoning he concludes that Sunday is greater than the Sabbath.44 

Similar bizarre and artificial arguments are found in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and the treatise called On the Sabbath and Circumcision.45 The variety and frequency of these arguments are indicative of the existence and persistence of Sabbathkeepers who must have constituted a noticeable and vociferous group to deserve literary refutation. 

The Nazarenes. A final and most compelling evidence of Sabbathkeeping in early Christianity is provided by the Jewish Christian sect of the Nazarenes. These Christians represent the direct descendants of the primitive community of Jerusalem, who, according to the Palestinian historian Epiphanius, retained Sabbathkeeping as one of their distinctive beliefs and practices until at least the fourth century.46 

The survival of Sabbathkeeping among the direct descendants of the Jerusalem Church is a most significant fact. It tells us not only that the Sabbath was the original day of worship of the Jerusalem Church but also that its observance was retained by some Christian groups, even when most of Christendom had adopted Sundaykeeping. 

The evidences for Sabbathkeeping in early Christianity which I have submitted here are very selective. My only intent was merely to prove the fact of the persistence of the observance of the Sabbath in the early Christian centuries. For a more comprehensive documentation and discussion, the reader is referred to the symposium edited by Kenneth A. Strand and published under the title The Sabbath in Scripture and History (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1982). 


1. Paul K. Jewett, The Lordís Day: A Theological Guide to the Christian Day of Worship (Grand Rapids, 1971), p. 45. 

2. My brief historical survey of the interpretation of Colossians 2:14-16 is found in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 339-343. 

3. D. R. De Lacey, "The Sabbath/Sunday Question and the Law in the Pauline Corpus," in From Sabbath to Lordís Day, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, 1982), pp. 182-183. Emphasis supplied. 

4. Philo, Against Apion 2, 39. 

5. Tertullian, Ad Nationes 1, 13. 

6. My discussion is found in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 241-25.1 

7. Tibullus, C armina 1, 3, 15-18. 

8. Sextus Propertius, Elegies 4, 1, 81-86. 

9. Quoted by Augustine in City of God 6, 11. 

10. Josephus, Against Apion 2, 40. A similar statement is found in Philo, Vita Mosis 2, 20. 

11. Tertullian, Apology 16, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1973), vol. 3, p. 31. 

12. Willy Rordorf, Sunday, The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church (Philadelphia, 1968), pp. 29-34. 

13. Edward Lohse, A Commentary on the Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Philadelphia, 1971), p. 116. 

14. For examples and discussion see my treatment in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 347-351. 

15. E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, California, 1948), vol. 6, p. 128. 

16. E. G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, California, 1911), p. 581. 

17. Origen, Commentary on S.t. John 10:35: "When all these things will be resurrected in the great Lordís Day." 

18. My analysis of documents related to the date and meaning of the Passover is found in Divine Rest for Human Restlessness (Rome, 1980), pp. 233, 239-240, 300-305; also From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 80-84. 

19. Epistle of Barnabas 15, 8. 

20. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67. 

21. Jacob Jervell, Luke and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1972), p. 144. 

22. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3, 27, 3; 4, 5, 2-11; Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 70, 10, Patrologia Graeca 47, 355-356. 

23. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 29, 7, Patrologia Graeca 42, 407. Epiphaniusí text is cited and discussed in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), p. 157. 

24. Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3, 18-19, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1973), vol. 1, p. 525. 

25. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 23, 3; cf. 29, 3; 16, 1; 21, 1. Justinís texts are quoted and discussed in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 101-114. 

26. My discussion of the texts related to the introduction of the planetary week and of the advancement of the day of the Sun is found in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 238-251. 

27. Jerome, In die dominica Paschal homilia, Corpus Christianorum 78, 550, 1, 52. 

28. Christopher Kiesling expresses this view in his book The Future of the Christian Sunday (New York, 1970). 

29. The Epistle of Barnabas 15:9. 

30. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 47. 

31. Origen, Homily 23, on Numbers, Patrologica Graeca 12, 749-750. 

32. Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History 5, 22; Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History 7, 19. 

33. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians 1:7, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1973), vol. 13, p. 8. 

34. The texts are cited and discussed in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 217-218; also in Kenneth A. Strand, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture and History (Washington, D.C., 1982), pp. 154-156. 

35. John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa, Patrologia Graeca 94, 1201-1206. 

36. A. P. Hayman, ed. and trans., The Disputation of Sergius the Stylite Against a Jew (Louvain, 1973), p. 75; emphasis supplied. 

37. Gregory the Great, Epistola 13, 1, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1973), vol. 13, p. 92. 

38. J. P. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio (Graz, Austria, 1960), vol. 13, p. 852. 

39. Nicolas I, Epistola 97, 10, Patrologia Latina 119; 984. 

40. Karl Hefele, Histoire des conciles, trans. H. Lecterca (Paris, 1907), vol. 2, p. 1224. 

41. Synod of Laodicea, Canon 29, as translated in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, 1971), Second Series, vol. 14, p. 148 

42. Justinís texts are cited and analyzed in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 223-233. 

43. Syriac Didascalia 26, ed. R. Hugh Connolly (Oxford, 1929), p. 233. 

44. See note 43. 

45. The texts are cited and discussed in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 276-277. 

46. My treatment of the Nazarenes, including Epiphaniusí text, is found in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 156-158.

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