Is the Sabbath in the New Testament?

The label “the Jewish Sabbath” has often been applied to the seventh day. Yet nowhere in the scriptures is the 7th day referred to as such nor are we told to keep a Jewish Sabbath. It’s a most egregious misnomer! The 7th Day Sabbath is “the Sabbath of the LORD” – Exodus 20:10. In His own words, God calls the seventh day “my holy day” – Isai. 58:13.

While many are quick to acknowledge that the Ten Commandments (all equally Jewish?) are reaffirmed in the New Testament, in the same breath they denounce the 4th Commandment (the 7th Day Sabbath) as having been abolished. If so, is there any scriptural proof that the 4th Commandment has somehow been expunged from the Decalogue, with nine commandments remaining to be kept?

There’s none! All the Ten Commandments, including the 7th Day Sabbath, are found in the New Testament. And Christ affirms that “ the Sabbath was made for man”, not just for the Jews - Mark 2:27.

But still some disagree, preferring to lump the Sabbath with the law of animal sacrifices, which foreshadowed the perfect, once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 9:28; 10:4).Since the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, logically, that would mean treating the rest of the Decalogue the same—all abolished! But, as is easily verifiable from the scriptures, the Decalogue is both taught and endorsed in the New Testament. Because Christ died for our sins does not give us a license to commit murder, worship false gods or break any of the 10 commandments which constitutes “sin” –  Rom. 3:31; 1 John 3:4; Rom. 13:9 -10.

The same applies to the Sabbath. There’s not the slightest hint in the N.T. that the Sabbath has been cancelled from the 10 commandments under the New Covenant.

In fact, the apostle James, referring to the Decalogue, insists: “Whoever shall keep the whole law (of which the Sabbath is part), and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” – James 2:10-12.  Jesus and all the early disciples kept the Sabbath – Luke 4:16; Acts 13:42,44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4. (Christ was only falsely accused of Sabbath breaking by the same detractors of His who also accused Him of demon possession. If we accept one accusation, we must necessarily accept the other too).What is more, Heb. 4:9 states: “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (New American Standard Version).

If Jesus’ fulfilling of the law means ‘setting aside’ the Decalogue, why are they still taught in the N.T. and even written in the hearts of believers under the New Covenant?

(Heb. 8:10-11; Ezekiel 36:26-27). If Jesus were to set aside the moral law of God, He would be contradicting His own words in Matt. 5:17-18 that He did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill (i.e. fill to the brim, endorse, ‘magnify and make it honourabe’- Isai. 42:21) and that till heaven and earth pass away not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law.

Against the clear pro-law stance of Christ, many others preach the abolition of God’s  law. Gal. 2:16  is a favourite: “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified”, oblivious of the statement in Rom. 2; 13 that “the doers of the law shall be justified”.

Could the Bible be contradicting itself? Not at all. The Bible is not talking about one and the same law! The former relates to the ceremonial laws (such as animal sacrifices which could not remove sin), and the latter to the moral law of the 10 Commandments -(1Cor. 7:19).

The Jerusalem Council never called the law of God a yoke, but rather circumcision (which some were insisting the Gentile Christians undergo). Far from teaching the Gentiles  to disobey God’s commandments, the council even went further to instruct them to abstain from pollutions of idols and from abominable food – Acts 15:20. In verse 21, Sabbath observance among the Gentile believers is implied in James’ statement that “Moses [meaning the O.T. scriptures, esp. the first five books, being the only scriptures the first-century Christians knew since the N.T. had not yet been compiled]  hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogue every Sabbath day.” James could not have been referring to the non-Christian Jews since they were not the subject of the meeting, but  the Gentile Christians being followers of the churches which were in Judea – 1 Thess. 2:14. (Please read Isai 56:1-5).

Acts 20:7 is not a reference to a Sunday morning service. It was a meeting held in the evening--as evidenced by the “many lights” in the chamber (verse 8)—apparently after or as a continuation of the main Sabbath service.

As the context (chapter 20 in its entirety) clearly shows, it was to all intents and purposes a ‘farewell party’ held in honour of the Apostle Paul who the disciples would see no more.

Why a Saturday evening event (called “Motza`ei Shabbat” in the Jewish New Testament, meaning “departure of the Sabbath”) is described as having taken place on a Sunday is that in the Bible a new day begins at sunset and ends the same (Gen. 1:5; Lev. 23:32).

Rather than keeping the first day (Sunday) as ‘Sabbath’, Paul actually used the light part of the day to travel to Assos (Acts 20:11-13).   

 Neither does 1 Cor. 16:1-2 offer proof of Sunday observance among the early Christians. On the contrary, there’s every indication that, instead of the first day being used for formal worship, it was a day routinely used for the business matters of the Church. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian believers expressly stated:

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.
Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.  

What was the background to Paul’s instruction? What did those “gatherings” consist of? And why did he want them taken care of before his coming?

Picking on the word “collection” many commentators have assumed  that “the collection for the saints” referred to offering taken during church services on Sunday!

The order “to lay … in store” itself contradicts such an idea, as do several background scriptures throwing light on the matter. It was not only an offering of money, but also items of relief such as food for the saints at Jerusalem.

In Acts 11:28-29, we read of a famine in Judea, earlier prophesied by the prophet Agabus, which necessitated that assistance be sought from the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem believers.

In a time of widespread famine, money would count for little. Thus in response to Paul’s appeal, food formed a significant portion of the relief  sent by the Gentile Churches..

In Rom. 15:25-28, which reports one such relief organized by the Assemblies in Macedonia and Achaia, St Paul specifically uses the word “fruit” to refer to the donation made by the believers there to the Jerusalem Saints.

Putting it all together, it can be understood that the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the Gentile Churches had nothing to do with formal worship on Sunday and everything to do with “laying aside” and “gathering” up supplies for the saints in Jerusalem.

Now, we can see why Paul didn’t want them to engage in any “gatherings” when he came over to  worship with them! Because he would be worshipping with them on the Sabbath, any such work would be a violation of the Sabbath. 

Clearly, then, the sanctity of the Sabbath was uppermost in the mind of Paul when he gave his instruction to the Gentile Churches.

The fact has been established beyond doubt: Sunday was an ordinary working day for the first-century believers, and that’s plainly underlined in Paul’s carefully worded instruction. For the one-and-half years he stayed in Corinth, he consistently observed the Sabbath, for “he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” - Acts 18:4-11. (Compare Luke 4:16, Acts 17:2 and 1 Cor. 11:1).

Surely, we are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). So why not follow their example by also observing the Sabbath as they did?

Sometimes, we are asked why we present the Sabbath “as if it were a command binding on believers today” and not ‘allow’ people to choose which day they prefer for worship.

Our reply is simply this:  We don’t believe in imposing the Sabbath on anyone. But we’ll gladly obey the commandments of God and teach others so, in loving obedience to our Father and King – 1 John 5:3;  Matt. 5:19; Rev. 14:12; Phi 4:13. We will obey God rather than men – Acts 5:29.

The same God who has called us into His spiritual rest also commands us to follow in His steps in observing His Sabbath of rest – Heb. 4:9-10; Eph. 5:1; Gen. 2:2-3. Why embrace one while rejecting the other? 

The Sabbath is ahead of us in the MILLENNIUM – Isa. 66:22-23.  We shall luxuriate in His REST! Halleluiah!