I believe that reading part 1 of this article which discusses the Ten Commandments in general will enable the reader to better this second part, which discusses the Sabbath.
Undoubtedly, the Sabbath observance is the main reason why many argue that the Ten Commandments have been abolished. However, the Sabbath institution was established at the time of creation and that the Ten Commandments, which the Sabbath was part of it was written by the Lord himself.
The origin of the Sabbath and the significance of Genesis 2:1-3
The first explicit instruction about observing the Sabbath is found in Exodus 20 (vs 8). However, the first hint about the Sabbath was provided at creation in Genesis 2:1-3 that after God had created the universe in six days; he rested on, blessed and sanctified the seventh day. Accordingly, any meaningful discussion of the status of the Sabbath requires a proper understanding of the significance of Genesis 2:1-3. The high level summaries of the commentaries below provide such understanding.
The New Bible Commentary (21st Century Edition)
A dramatic change of pace and style highlights the distinctiveness of the Sabbath… Furthermore, the seventh day's importance is underlined by God blessing it and making it holy. The Sabbath is regularly called 'holy, but only in Ne. 8:9, 11 is any other festival called 'holy'. Here, God is described as resting on the seventh day, but the narrator clearly implies that mankind, made in the divine image, is expected to copy his Creator. Indeed, the context implies that a weekly day of rest is as necessary for human survival as sex (1:27-28) or food (1:29). This is an emphasis that seems to have been forgotten today, even amongst Christians.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Barnes' Notes on the Bible
'[While] there is no reference to the Sabbath observance in the Patriarchal narratives: the intervals of seven days occurring in the story of the Flood (Gen 7:10, 8:10,12) may indicate the belief in the primitive recognition of the “week” as a sacred division of time. The same division of time again comes up in the history of Jacob Gen 29:27-28. This unit of measure is traceable to nothing but the institution of the seventh-day rest.
The reference to the Sabbath in Exodus 16:23 ff. has led many commentators to suppose that the opening word (“Remember”) of the Fourth Commandment assumes the primitive recognition of the institution.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
'God … "sanctified" or appointed it in his mind to be a day separated from others, for holy service and worship.'
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
'Legal observance of the Sabbath did not begin till the days of Moses … but this blessing and sanctification were given prior to any covenant with man … The weekly rest, therefore, is universal, permanent, and independent of the Mosaic law.'
'God blessed the seventh day … and … separated it from common use, and dedicated it to his own sacred service … It appears evidently by this, that the observation of the Sabbath was not first enjoined when the law was given, but that it was an ordinance of God from the creation of the world, and, of course, is obligatory on all the posterity of Adam…'
Matthew Poole's Commentary
'God blessed the seventh day, by conferring special honours and privileges upon it above all other days, that it should be a day of solemn rest and rejoicing and celebration of God and his works… He separated it from common use and worldly employments, and consecrated it to the worship of God…'
'The blessing of the seventh day implied… it was to be invested with a permanence which did not belong to the other six days–every one of which passed away and gave place to a successor.'
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
'blessed and sanctified the seventh day—a peculiar distinction put upon it above the other six days, and showing it was devoted to sacred purposes. The institution of the Sabbath is as old as creation, giving rise to that weekly division of time which prevailed in the earliest ages.'
From the above, it can be summarised that:
At creation, God established the Sabbath by blessing and sanctifying the seventh day (i.e. separated it permanently from other days for His holy worship).
The references to division of time in seven days intervals in Genesis and opening word (“Remember”) of the 4th commandment indicate an earlier recognition of the institution.
Accordingly, it is an obligation on all posterity of Adam to observe the Sabbath in holiness and worship.
And by sanctifying the seventh day, God caused it to share one of his most important attributes–holiness.
Adequate evidence abounds in the Bible that Jesus and the early apostles all observed the Sabbath. Luke 4:16 stipulates that it was Jesus' custom to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath. Moreover, Luke deemed it imperative to record Jesus' attendance to the synagogue on three other occasions (Luke 4:31, 6:6, 13:10). Luke also identified the Sabbath as the 7th day of the week (Luke 23:54-24:1). Paul also regularly attended the Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 42-44, 16:13, 17:2). However, the ensuing discussion indicates the processes and basis that were used to change the Sabbath to Sunday.
The Constantine factor
According to Boer (1976) and Chadwick (1993), the Roman Emperor Constantine decreed in 321 A.D. that "On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed." Thus, by this decree, Constantine laid the foundation for the universal recognition of Sunday worship, and gave it both the legal and religious meaning (Boer 1976). It is imperative to mention that in both law and inscription, the motive of Constantine to introduce this custom was his respect for the sun and did not relate his legislation to Christian practice or the 4th commandments. He designated Sunday by its traditional pagan name, so that pagans could accept it. Christians therefore gave the natural sun a new meaning by thinking of Christ the Sun of Righteousness. Accordingly, Tertullian stipulates that many pagans considered that the Christians worshipped the sun because they met on Sundays and prayed towards the East. It is important to note that Ezekiel (8:15-16) prophesied about an abomination of some people facing east and worshiping the sun. Moreover, Daniel (7:25) prophesied that someone would 'think to change times and laws.' Where some have suggested that this may refer to Julius Caesar for introducing the 365 day calendar used today, one cannot rule out the prophesy relating to Constantine's decree. Thus, it was by the decree of Constantine that the Sunday worship became legalised and adopted universally.
The major arguments used to support the Sunday worship
Most of the arguments used to support the validity of the Sunday worship are based on Paul's statements that have ambiguous meanings. However, even Peter the most senior apostle and contemporary of Paul advised (in 2 Peter 3:15-16) that Paul's letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable people distort … to their own destruction.
Some consider Col. 2:16-17 as the 'killer blow against' the Sabbath observance. The text states:
• 'Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day, things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.'
It is advocated on the basis of the passage that the Sabbath observance is no more relevant because it was among 'the shadow of things that were to come.' However, such a view takes the passage completely out of context. The verse two earlier (Col 2: 14) provides the context and the key to understanding the passage in Col. 2:16-17. Col 2:14 states '[Jesus] blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us … took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.' To put verses 14, 16 and17 together into perspective, Jesus nailed to the cross, the handwriting of ordinances that was against us–including festivals, new moons and sabbath-days.
Therefore, to better understand Paul, it necessary to identifying the handwriting of ordinances that was against us. Fortunately, Moses described 'the handwriting of ordinances that was against us' in Deut. 31:24-26. According to Deut. 31:24-26, “When Moses had finished writing the words of this [his] law in a book… Moses commanded the Levites… Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark… that it may be there for a witness against you.”
It is obvious from the above that Paul referred to the Mosaic law in Col 2:14-17 and not the Ten Commandments because:
(i) Deut. 31:24-26 states plainly that the handwriting of ordinances that was against us the people was written by Moses, however, the Ten Commandments were written by the Lord himself.
(ii) The Bible has never described the Ten Commandments as acting as a witness against the people.
(iii) The document was placed beside the ark, but the Ten Commandments were placed inside the ark.
Also, many wrongly assume that the sabbath days that Paul referred to in the passage was the weekly Sabbath but that is not the case. There were several periods such as the Passover that the Israelites celebrated also as sabbaths (see Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:4-8; 25:4, 11 and Numbers 28:26 and Deuteronomy 15:1-1).
A prophecy in Hosea 2:11 about Israel's ceremonial celebrations makes this point even clearer. The passage states, “I will also cause all her mirth (celebrations) to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.” It is imperative to mention that the order of events (festivals or feast days, new moons and sabbaths ) that Hosea prophesied that their celebration would cease is the same order of the events that Paul indicated that they were a mere shadow of things to come; it appears therefore that both Hosea and Paul referred to the same events (see also Ezekiel 45:17).
According to Dr du Preez, Hosea 2:11 provides a linguistic cue that differentiates the sabbaths mentioned here from the weekly Sabbath. The weekly Sabbath is always described as belonging to the Lord as illustrated by the following passages:
• Exodus 20:10, But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God
• Isaiah 58:13, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honourable.
• Exodus 31:13, Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths…' (See also Ezekiel 20:20).
In contrast, the other sabbaths are described as belonging to Israel as indicated below:
• Hosea 2:11, I will also cause all her mirth (celebrations) to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.”
• 2 Chronicles 36:21, …until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths…”
• Leviticus 26:34, Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths
• Lamentations 1:7, 'Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries…the adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths (King James 2000 Bible)
From the foregoing discussion, it appears clear that Paul did not refer to the Lord's holy day (the weekly Sabbath), since a similar message in Hosea indicates that it was not the weekly Sabbath that was discussed. These sabbaths were part of the ceremonial laws which were nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14) and not the weekly Sabbath that the Lord had established himself.
Paul stated in Romans 14:5-6 that 'One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.'
It has been suggested that the Sabbath comes within the scope of Paul's passage and that individuals must be convinced in their own minds about which day they observe for the Lord, and if the seventh day Sabbath were a requirement, then the choice would not be human's, but God's.
However, this view takes the passage completely out of context. A careful reading of the whole chapter indicates that it had nothing to do with whether to worship on the Sabbath or not. In fact, Paul mainly discussed that some people prefer eating vegetables to meat. Bacchiocchi has suggested that Paul's brief reference to preference for “days” in less than two verses in the chapter most probably had to do with fast days rather than feast days, since the context deals with abstinence from meat and wine (Rom 14:2, 6, 21).
Bacchiocchi has suggested further that the Sabbath cannot be justifiably read into the passage because:
as generally assumed, if it was the "weak" believer who observed the Sabbath, Paul would have identified himself with the "weak" since he observed the Sabbath and other Jewish feasts (Acts 18:4, 19; 17:1, 10, 17; 20:16). However, Paul considered himself as "strong" ("we who are strong"–Rom 15:1); thus, he would not have thought of the Sabbath observance when he spoke about preference in days; and
one can hardly believe that Paul would reduce issues such as the observance of the Sabbath and Passover to a matter of personal conviction (“let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind", Rom 14:5) without ever explaining the reason for it. In Acts 21:21, when Paul provided the choice not to circumcise, he had to explain comprehensively the reason for the decision because the Jewish Christians confronted him. Accordingly, if Paul had taught his Gentile converts to regard Sabbath keeping as a personal matter, the Jewish Christians would have confronted him, but there is no hint of any such controversy in the New Testament. Thus, the fact that Paul devotes 21 verses to the discussion of food and less than two verses (Rom 14:5-6) to that of days suggests that the latter was a very limited problem for the Roman Church.
1 Corinthians 16:2
Another Pauline passage used to support the legitimacy of Sunday worship is 1 Corinthians 16:2, which states 'On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.'
It is argued that Paul in this passage directed the churches to meet on the first day (Sunday) of each week and put money aside (presumed to be tithing), thus official worship day might have been set up by the church.
Firstly, the collection became necessary because Jerusalem (Church) experienced a severe famine. Prophet Agabus prophesied about the famine in Acts 11:27. Paul considered the collection so vital that: he discussed it in several areas of his letter (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32), he was willing to face hostility (Romans 15:30-31) and was indeed arrested in Jerusalem in part because of it (Acts 24:17). Therefore, the collection fell outside the normal church service collections.
Moreover, the Pulpit Commentary postulates that 'This verse can hardly be said to imply any religious observance of the Sunday … The Greek phrase implies that the laying up was done at home, but when the money was accumulated, it was doubtless brought to the assembly and handed over to the presbyters...' The above commentary is consistent with some of the modern translations. For instance, the Aramaic Bible in Plain English translates the passage as 'On every Sunday, let each person of you lay aside in his house and keep that which he can, so that when I come there will be no collections.'
On the basis of the above information, it is clear that the advocates of the Sunday worship are deliberating distorting the truth to justify their viewpoint.
The other Pauline passage used to justify Sunday worship is Galatians 4:9-11 that states 'Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.'
An advocate of Sunday worship has postulated that based on this passage, Christians can set aside any day of the week to honour God because every day belongs to God. However, the immediate context of passage indicates that Paul did not talk about the Sabbath at all. For instance, Paul indicated in both verses 3 and 8 that before the Galatians converted to Christianity they were slaves to (or worship) those who by nature are not gods (i.e. the elemental spiritual forces of the world). In verse 9, Paul stipulated further that though they had now become aware of God, they were still turning back to those weak and miserable forces (already described in verses 3 and 8). It is obvious therefore that the special days, months, seasons and years that Paul were referring to were associated with these pagan gods described in verses 3 and 8 and not Christianity and therefore, the context clearly indicates that Paul rebukes the Galatians for turning back to their pagan days.
John stated in Revelation 1:10 that he 'was in the spirit on the Lord's day.' The advocates of Sunday worship argue that Jesus rose from dead on Sunday. Therefore, John used the phrase 'the Lord's day' to denote Sunday and Christians have to worship on that day as a remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus. However, there are several flaws in this argument.
Firstly, there is no scriptural basis for this interpretation and the argument is based on a mere human assumption, as neither Jesus nor his disciples ever taught that Christians have to worship on the day that Jesus would resurrect. Further, there are several texts in the Bible that give the presumption that the passage may mean one of these two things:
1) the end of days when the Lord is to return to the earth, destroy all the wicked and establish his kingdom (the End Time); or
2) the weekly Sabbath (Saturday).
For instance, Zephaniah 1:14-17 describes “the great day of the LORD” as the day when the Lord will come and judge the people, and in 2 Thess. 2:1-4 and Phil. 1:10, 2:16, Paul refers to the same as “the day of Christ” (see also Joel 2:31, 3:14, Amos 5: 18, 20, Obadiah 1:15, Zephaniah 1:7-8, 14, 18, 2:2-3, Zachariah 14:1, Malachi 4:5, Acts 2:20, 1 Cor 5:5, 2 Col. 1:14, 1Thess. 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10). John probably meant the same–'end of time' in Rev 1:10.
Alternately, John might have simply referred to the Sabbath as the Lord's Day because Isaiah 58:13 uses a similar phrase “the LORD's holy day” to refer to the Sabbath (the day that God blessed and made it holy at the creation) (see also Exodus 20:10, 31:13 and Ezekiel 20:20).
On the basis of the foregoing discussion, it is absolutely strange that the advocates of Sunday worship still associate Rev 1:10 with “Sunday” despite there is not a single text in the Bible supporting that view.
Acts 20:7 states "And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight." Some have suggested that this passage indicates a church meeting on Sunday, which has two important church functions (breaking bread/communion and preaching). However, the above argument is rebutted by the fact that according to Acts 2:46, on daily basis, the early church met in the temple and also broke bread from house to house.
Further, according to the Meyer NT Commentary, the argument that Sunday was already at this time regularly observed by holding religious assemblies and Agape (see on Acts 2:42) is not historically certain since the observance of the Agape in the passage might have only accidentally occurred on the first day of the week because Paul intended to depart on the following day.
One of the arguments used against the Sabbath is that it was provided to the Israelites and there is no evidence indicating that the Sabbath was ever observed prior to the time of Moses. However, as per the commentaries on Gen 2:3 discussed earlier on, God established the Sabbath at creation for all humans on permanent basis and indeed, the opening word (“Remember”) of the Fourth Commandment assumes a primitive recognition of the institution.
The Sabbath is not commanded in the New Testament.
Another argument used against the Sabbath is that it is not commanded in the New Testament, however, Hebrew chapter 4 suggests otherwise. Although, Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 largely discuss two level of rests–(1) the inability of some Israelites to obtain rest in Canaan and (2) the eternal rest for the righteous upon the arrival of Jesus. However, Hebrews 4:4, 9-10 discuss the 7th day Sabbath as follows:
1. 4, For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work."
2. 9, There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;
3. 10, for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
The combined-effect of the above verses is that the observance of the Sabbath is still required for Christians. Firstly, verse 4 indisputably discusses 7th day Sabbath. Further, the compound word 'Sabbath-rest' in verse 9 was translated from the Greek word “sabbatismos” occurring only once in the New Testament, and in a verbal form means "to keep Sabbath". In other words, the people of God have to keep the Sabbath. And verse 10 makes it abundantly clear that the people of God must rest from their work as God rested on the 7th day.
Futuristic observation of Sabbath
Several biblical passages indicate that Jesus expected the Sabbath to be observed several years after his death. For instance, in Matthew 24:24, Jesus prophesied that the Romans would besiege Jerusalem and destroy the temple, but the Jews should pray that the event would not occur in winter or on a Sabbath day. According to history, the event occurred in A.D. 70, about 37-40 years after the death of Jesus. In other words, Jesus expected the Sabbath to be as sacred as it had always been, and that the commotion, excitement, fear, and travel necessary to flee from Jerusalem would be inappropriate on the Sabbath day (40 years after his death).
Also, while many use passages in the letters of Paul to support the view that the early church changed Sabbath observance to Sunday worship, Paul himself is said to have died circa 67 A.D., some 3 years before the fulfilment of Jesus' prophecy. So why would Jesus associate his prophecy with the siege of Jerusalem if the Sabbath would be changed before that time?
Further, it appears from Isaiah 65:23 (“And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, say the LORD”) that there will be a Sabbath observance in God's kingdom and in fact, only the few occasions that mankind will actually go and worship God.
Jesus confrontations about the Sabbath
When Jesus opposed to certain traditions, he used every opportunity to demonstrate that such traditions were not consistent with the will of God. Hence if Jesus had intended to abolish the Sabbath commandment, he had several opportunities to do so. Instead, Jesus affirmed that the validity of the Sabbath and other Ten Commandments will surpass the destruction of the heaven and earth.
However, many use the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders over the Sabbath to argue that the Sabbath was abrogated. However, a careful reading of those confrontational stories indicates that Jesus only demonstrated his disapproval about the legalistic attitude of the Jews toward the Sabbath observance and not the sacredness of the day itself. It is believed that the religious leaders established “39 principal prohibited actions” such as sowing, ploughing, reaping, baking and etc. Each of these were further elaborated and broken into several smaller prohibited actions. For instance, women were forbidden to look into a mirror on the Sabbath, because they might see a grey hair and pull it out, and that constituted work. Similarly, wearing nailed shoes on the Sabbath was prohibited because in the religious leaders' view, the addition of the nails meant they were carrying an unnecessary burden.
Against this background, Jesus demonstrated through his actions on the Sabbath day that it was a day to be a joy for the people and not to unduly overburden people with excessive regulations that were not necessary. Accordingly, none of the confrontational stories concerned whether to keep the Sabbath day or not, but about how to keep it. A detailed discussion of these confrontational stories is beyond the scope of this paper, however, the readers can obtain further information from:
From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that just like the Ten Commandments, neither Jesus nor Paul taught that the Sabbath observance has been abolished. Instead, such a view is based on incorrect interpretation of the Bible, particularly, the Pauline letters.
2. Christ and His Law: SDA Adult Sabbath School Lesson for 2014 Q2: http://ssnet.org/study-guides/lesson-archives/2010-2019/christ-and-his-law-2014-q2/
3. Bacchiocchi, Samuele, The Sabbath Under Crossfire: A Biblical Analysis of Recent Sabbath/Sunday Developments Paperback – June 30, 1998
4. du Preez, Ron (2008), Judging the Sabbath: Discovering What Can't Be Found in Colossians 2:16.
5. Boer, Harry R. – A short history of the early church (1976) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan US.
6. Chadwick, Henry – The penguin history of the church 1: The early church: The story of emergent Christians from the apostolic age to the dividing of the ways between the Greek East and the Latin West. Revised edition Penguin (1993)
Author: Joseph Annor – B.A. (Hons) Majoring in Study of Religions, University of Ghana
CPA, Master of Accounting (UTS)