Christians, the Sabbath and Rest

commandment 4There are various views on how the Sabbath commandment (Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15) applies today. Below are four of the most common:

a) Seventh Day (Saturday) Sabbath – Seventh Day Adventists, Seventh Day Baptists etc. say Christians should gather for church on Saturday, as keeping the Sabbath was a key sign of God’s faithful people in the OT, and remains so today.

Issue: There is no record of Gentile Christians being encouraged to observe the seventh day Sabbath. It seems that the earliest Christians began meeting on a Sunday, the first day of the week: (John 20:19, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2 ).

b) First Day (Sunday) is the Christian Sabbath – This view is well-known as the view of Eric Liddell in the movie Chariots of Fire. It became most prominent in the time of the British Puritans. The Westminster Confession of Faith says: God has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world…was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ was changed to the first day of the week…and is to be continued until the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath (WCF, 21.7).

Issue: There is nowhere in the Bible where this ‘neat’ change from Saturday Sabbath to Sunday Sabbath is made explicit. There are examples of Christians meeting on the first day (Sunday) but in the Jewish and Roman calendars, Sunday was not a day of rest, so Christians met either early in the morning or in the evening. Sunday did not become a day of rest for five centuries. The earliest Christians believed Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath.

c) Lord’s Day observance – This view says the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Jesus, but Christians now meet on the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10). Though this verse doesn’t mention which day of the week this was, all the writings of the earliest church tell us they think it was Sunday. The earliest Christians did not consider Sunday to be the Sabbath, yet met on Sunday as it was the day Jesus rose from the dead.

Issue: Some say one reference to ‘the Lord’s Day’ is not enough to sustain this view, and that it relies more on early church history than the Bible.

d) In Christ every day is alike –  This view says that because Jesus has fulfilled the Sabbath, we shouldn’t really think of any day as being any different. Christians should meet together regularly (Hebrews 10:25), but every day is the same, every day is an opportunity for us to live for Jesus.

Issue: The Sabbath was ‘made for man’ (Mark 2:27) – ie for our good, both spiritually and physically. This view potentially ignores the physical and spritual benefit of marking out time for both work and rest.

There are also variations within each of the above. For example some within both c) and d) say it is fine to meet on other days if necessary. All of the above views recognise some level of continuity with the Old Testament, and some level of discontinuity (eg even Seventh Day Adventists don’t stone people for breaking the Sabbath, as the law required).

The concept of ‘rest’ is a rich Biblical theme. Hebrews 3-4 takes us on a tour of ‘rest’ in the Bible, including: i) Seventh day ‘rest’ (4:4) and ii) Promised Land ‘rest’ (3:18, 4:8), which point forward to iii) Present rest from ‘works’ through trusting in Jesus (4:10 – cf. Matt 11:28-30) and  iv) Future ‘rest’ of the new creation (4:9,11 cf. Rev 14:13, 21:1-22:6). Ultimate ‘rest’ can come only through Jesus who is the ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ (Matthew 12:8) and says ‘Come to me, and I will give you rest…rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:28-30).

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5 responses to “Christians, the Sabbath and Rest

  1. Pingback: Ten Words of Grace Series | Grace Transforms

  2. I found this very interesting and also confronting in view of previous knowledge and experience. I would love to entirely drop, forget, ignore this previous knowledge but it still comes up to trouble me. I wonder if I could trouble you to go onto the web and look up
    http://www.eccesiastica.org/sabbath-html, have a good look at the Sabbath Day subjects, get back to me and help ease my conscience by telling me it is incorrect.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love my current church, it’s gospel message, it’s Pastors and it’s congregation, but these “old” beliefs still niggle me.
    I just want to serve my God and be a better Christian.

  3. I disagree with writer here, “There is no record of Gentile Christians being encouraged to observe the seventh day Sabbath. It seems that the earliest Christians began meeting on a Sunday, the first day of the week.”

    Romans 13:9 includes “if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

    Hebrews 4:9-11 are a clear encouragement to observe the Sabbath. How do Saints expect to rest in Heaven by disobeying the commandment to to rest on Earth?

    “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

    Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the of God.

    And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” – Acts 13:42-44

    So, we have preaching, grace, Gentiles, and Sabbath together.

    Blessings

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post.
      I am grateful for your comment, but do not find it in any way convincing.You refer to three passages:
      1. Romans 13:9 says nothing about keeping the Sabbath on a Saturday. It is about how love is the fulfillment of the law.
      2. Hebrews 4:9-11 is not a clear encouragement to keep a Saturday Sabbath. As I have stated above Hebrews 3-4 takes us on a tour of ‘rest’ in the Bible, including: i) Seventh day ‘rest’ (4:4) and ii) Promised Land ‘rest’ (3:18, 4:8), which point forward to iii) Present rest from ‘works’ through trusting in Jesus (4:10 – cf. Matt 11:28-30) and iv) Future ‘rest’ of the new creation (4:9,11 cf. Rev 14:13, 21:1-22:6). Hebrews 4:9-11 then, rather than speaking of a Saturday rest looks forward to a future rest that we are encouraged to ‘make every effort to enter’ (4:11) through faith in Jesus.
      3. Acts 13:42-44 shows Paul meeting with Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism on the Sabbath, because this is the day the synagogue met, so it was a logical day to evangelise (eg see also Acts 18:4). But you can’t infer from this that it is the day of the week that Christians met for church. In contrast Acts 20:7 is a clear example of Christians gathering to ‘break bread’ and hear Paul preach the word of God, and it is on Sunday, the first day of the week.
      Thanks again for taking the time to interact.
      Kevin

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