Is the Lord’s Day the Christian Sabbath? (Part 1)

In today’s and tomorrow’s posts I will argue that the requirements associated with the Sabbath are not binding upon believers who worship on the Lord’s Day. I will support this thesis by arguing that the Lord’s Day is not the Christian continuation of the Sabbath which was given to Israel. In order to accomplish this, I will survey the pertinent Scriptures in the Old and New Testament today. Also, in tomorrow’s post a brief survey of the various positions held on this issue throughout the history of the church will be outlined. First, today let us begin where all theological discussions should, in the Scriptures.

The Sabbath/Lord’s Day Issue in Scripture

As D.A. Carson has noted, this issue “demands close study of numerous passages in both Testaments of the canon.” Unfortunately, the scope of this post will only permit a cursory glance at a few of the passages in question. However, the passages esteemed to be the most crucial in regards to the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy will be treated as extensively and seriously as the space available and the author’s ability may permit. We will attempt to trace this issue the way in which it has been received, in the order of the canon.

In the Old Testament
The two most important passages in the Old Testament in relationship to the Sabbath are Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:8-11. The first because it is often used to prove that Sabbath observance is part of the moral law of God as a “creation ordinance.” The second because it places the command to keep the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments along with nine other commandments deemed by most to be God’s moral law.

Genesis 2:2-3. This passage states that God rested after His six days of work in creation. Many suggest that the description of the Sabbath in these verses should be taken as a “creation ordinance.” This term is used when a “function, basic value and goal of a specific institution remain in principle the same throughout human history.” However, Genesis 2:3 only states that God Himself ceased from His work and blessed this day. There is not a positive command for Adam and Eve even though other commands are given to them (See Genesis 2:16-17). There is not even an implied command here. We only see that the goal of God’s creative activity is not man, but rather “that all creative activities of God flow into a universal rest period” which the writers of the New Testament understood to be fulfilled in the spiritual rest found in Christ (See Hebrews 3 and 4). Thus, Genesis 2 does not teach that the observance of the Sabbath is a “creation ordinance”. However, the Sabbath given to the people of Israel “was based on the creation account and became a sign of God’s redemptive goal for mankind.”

Exodus 20:8-11. Because of its inclusion with the other nine commandments which together comprise the “Ten Commandments,” many argue that Sabbath observance is part of the eternal moral law of God which compels obedience by all men everywhere. One who held this view was A.W. Pink who wrote, “It should thus be quite evident that this law for the regulation of man’s time was not a temporary one, designed for any particular dispensation, but is continuous and perpetual in the purpose of God.” Others view the Ten Commandments as a distinct covenant made only with Israel at Sinai (See Exodus 34:27-28). While nine of the “Ten Commandments” are repeated in the New Testament and are therefore binding upon believers, the command to observe the Sabbath is not repeated. The question is then asked, “Why was the Sabbath included with the other commandments if it was not a part of the ‘moral law’ of God? The answer to this question is given by John Reisinger. He wrote, “Because the Tablets of Stone were a distinct covenant, they were accompanied with a specific ‘covenant sign’ . . . . The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant and therefore it had to be part of the covenant of which it was the sign.” Harold H. P. Dressler, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Northwest Baptist Theological College in Vacouver, B.C. agrees, “As a sign of the covenant the Sabbath can only be meant for Israel, with whom the covenant was made. It has a “perpetual” function, i.e., for the duration of the covenant, and derives its importance and significance from the covenant itself.” Thus, the command to observe the Sabbath was binding only upon those who were under the covenant which was made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai and is not morally binding upon all people everywhere.

In summary, neither Genesis 2:3-4 nor Exodus 20:8-11 provide sufficient evidence that observance of the Sabbath is morally binding on New Testament believers. Instead, both of these texts can be interpreted both adequately and, in my opinion, correctly as not having any intended commandment of Sabbath observance to mankind universally. There is no command at all in Genesis 2:2-3, only a description of what God has done. The context of Exodus 20:8-11, which is a distinct covenant document made with the people of Israel, implies that the commandment stated there was binding only to those who lived under that particular covenant. This understanding of the Sabbath in the Old Testament has been expressed clearly and concisely in the words of John F. MacArthur, Jr. who said:

We believe the Old Testament regulations governing Sabbath observances are ceremonial, not moral, aspects of the law. As such, they are no longer in force, but have passed away along with the sacrificial system, the Levitical priesthood, and all other aspects of Moses’ law that prefigured Christ.

In the New Testament
There are three main areas of importance in regard to the Sabbath/Lord’s Day Issue in the New Testament. First, Jesus’ attitude toward the Sabbath is of the utmost importance in constructing a theology of the Sabbath. Second, the writings of Paul comprise approximately half of the New Testament. His instruction concerning the Sabbath is crucial since the Epistles give instruction to the New Testament Church. Finally, the attitude of the Apostles and the Early Church toward the Lord’s Day is important in determining if it is now the day of worship for believers. Today, I will look at the first two of these areas. In tomorrow’s post, I will include the view of the Apostles and the early church with a brief survey of the various views on this topic throughout the history of the church.

Jesus and the Sabbath. It seems clear from the gospels that Jesus kept the Sabbath. However, as D. A. Carson has observed, “One dare not conclude on this basis that Sabbath observance is still mandatory. The same argument would require that we continue to sacrifice in the temple.” Jesus performed multiple miracles on the Sabbath and the statement from the lips of Jesus, “The Son of Man is Lord [even] of the Sabbath” is found in all three synoptic gospels. While it is true, as Walter Chantry has observed, that Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees on these occasions was primarily over their “fundamental misunderstanding of the Sabbath law,” Jesus also corrected improper temple worship (See Luke 19:46). Yet, no one believes that Christians are now obligated to sacrifice and worship at the Jerusalem Temple. In summary, as New Testament scholar Douglas J. Moo has noted concerning Jesus, “While he does not clearly teach the abrogation of the Sabbath command, he redirects attention from the law to himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, and thereby sets in place the principle on which the latter church would justify its departure from Sabbath observance.”

Paul and the Sabbath. One key text in the Pauline corpus regarding the Sabbath will be explored in this section. It is Colossians 2:16-17 which reads as follows. “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” (NASB). In this passage, Paul clearly sees the Sabbath as no longer morally binding upon believers. As D. R. de Lacey comments, “An individual may keep the Sabbath or not.” Paul “refuses to dogmatise one way or the other.” Another Pauline passage conveying this same sentiment is found in Romans 14:5 which states, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind” (NASB). From these texts it is obvious that Paul doesn’t see the observance of the Sabbath as a morally binding precept for believers.

In tomorrow’s post, I will provide a brief survey of opinions about the Lord’s Day throughout church history. Stay tuned . . .

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14 comments

  1. Letting every man be fully persuaded in his own mind about these issues of conscience is important. But it sounds liberal to some. (I personally feel a need to dictate to you what you can and can’t do on Sunday. Call me and I’ll give you my list. :) :) )

    JRush.

  2. Good post. I fully agree! My view is that Sunday is a NOT a new “Christan” sabbath of Sunday. The thing I am concerned about on my blog is slightly different about whether we should support work on Sunday because it would prevent the people from gathering together and obey Heb 10:25.

    I found your thoughts and insights very helpful I especially like how you showed that Gen 2 is descriptive and not precriptive (to borrow that old cliche). Anyway good stuff. Its a good reference for my friends who think Sunday is the Sabbath. I am looking forward the future posts.

  3. Ahh Jeremy we are all laboring to enter into rest:-)

    I see your already rolling with this. You cheated though as the post has the 12th date? How can these things be? It’s only 10:30 pm. Ah but those would be sabbatical rules for a Sunday and I know we are not under that bondage either. Ah freedom to blog!

    Hey this is true though. My folks and I back in the 70′s visited Israel and on Friday night we got hung and couldn’t find anyplace to eat. We finally found a place that pre-cooked chicken earlier and that was all we could eat.

  4. John,

    I understand your question on your blog, I just don’t know the answer to it. :) Thanks for your comments!

    Brian,

    I usually do posts the day before and set the date for the next day. Is that cheating?

    I like the movie Chariots of Fire. I respect Eric Liddel’s courage. But I think he was wrong on the Sabbath issue.

  5. I disagree with Eric Liddel’s conclusion about the Sabbath; however, I am fully persuaded that he was fully persuaded and we should allow every man to be fully persuaded in his own mind. I admire him for his dedication and committment to his conscience before God. I do not beLiddel him for that!

    JRush

  6. I have no objection to worshiping on whatever day is meaningful to a person.

    Tuesday at 11:00 am would be alright, but I suspect few would attend.

    As for me, I use Sunday as a day to gather with Christian brothers and sisters to celebrate my Lord’s resurrection, since that’s the day He did it.

  7. Are you sure He rose on the 1st day (Sunday)? Have you ever looked at Matthew 28:1 in the Greek? Click on ‘dogpreacher’ to comment on it.

    Please, somebody, tell me why Paul (in Acts 13:42-44) didn’t clear things up for these Gentiles by saying, “Oh no guys, I’ll preach to you Gentiles TOMORROW, you know, on the Lord’s day”? Wouldn’t this have been the perfect time to clue these gentiles in to the fact that they weren’t to observe the sabbath? But, the same Paul who confronted Peter about having Gentiles to Judaize, preached the NEXT SABBATH day to them. WHY?

  8. dogpreacher,

    Thanks for taking the time to come over and comment.

    Are you wanting me to comment on your blog or what? I don’t understand
    “click on ‘dogpreacher’” and comment.

    I hadn’t looked at Matthew 28:1 in the Greek, I now have. Very interesting. I’ve usually thought that we don’t know exactly when Jesus rose, only when the empty tomb was discovered (on Sunday Morning). However, this verse could indicate that the tomb was already empty before the Sabbath ended. However, Mark, Luke and John are clear that the empty tomb was discovered on Sunday around sunrise. I will stand by my statement:”The first day of the week probably became the day of meeting for the early church because of its association with Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead.”

    As for your second question, let me ask you this. Are you trying to prove that we should be worshiping on Saturday instead of Sunday? I don’t think that’s what you mean, but it is implied by the questions you’ve asked. Just curious.

    You’re right, Paul did rebuke Peter (an Apostle) for living in such a way that contradicted the gospel. However, when preaching the gospel to unbelievers he doesn’t hold them to the same standard. His practice was to preach the gospel to everyone whenever a crowd was gathered. A crowd was usually gathered on the Sabbath at the synagogues, so Paul went and declared the gospel to the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who were there. There don’t seem to be Gentile believer’s present until after the next Sabbath’s message (Acts 13:48). I don’t argue that Saturday worship is inappropriate (which is not the topic addressed in these verses) but that our current practice of worshiping on Sunday is something completely new, separate from the Saturday worship of Judaism, associated with the resurrection of Christ.

  9. No you weren’t cheating! Jus ribbing you. Jus thought you may have been paranoid that someone might judge you for blogging on Sunday(i.e- your brother) Love ya Jeremy jus havin a little fun:-)

    I feel the same about Eric Liddell as you do. God did honor him though. Romans 14. I’d hardly call him a weaker brother though.

  10. Check out all the interlinears you can find along with your Strong’s concordance. I have every one I can find available (George R. Berry, Alfred Marshall, Jay P. Green, etc.) in both the Textus Receptus, and the Nestle Aland. ALL OF THESE say that the time frame of the trip to the tomb (in Matthew) was before the end of the sabbath.

    We start off with a wrong presupposition (Christ rose at sunrise on 1st day of the week).

    We have been told that Jesus was entombed just before sundown on Friday, and rose with the sun on Sunday. STEVE, I am here to tell you that if that were true (which it is not), then Jesus could not be Lord, and neither you nor I are saved!! Jesus prophesied that He would be “3 days & 3 nights in the heart of the earth, just as Jonas was 3 days & 3 nights in the belly of the whale.” If one holds to the Friday-Sunday theory, he must admit that Jesus did not fulfill His own prophecy, and thus would be a false prophet, a liar, and could not be God (God cannot lie).

    John 19:31 is very important for finding out when He was entombed. This “High Sabbath” was the Passover! There were 2 sabbaths that week. When they hurried to get Jesus into the tomb before “the sabbath”, it was not the weekly sabbath they were talking about, & it was not Friday.

    Jesus was sitting with His disciples at what we would call “The Last Supper” on what we would call Tuesday night (their evening of Wednesday). See Genesis 1 for the order of a day as God created it, and was still kept as such at the time of the crucifixion. He was crucified on what we would call Wednesday, & with the coming sundown being the beginning of ‘Passover’, they hastened to get Him in the tomb before the “High Sabbath” drew on.
    Faithful to His own words, 3 days and 3 nights later (just before the end of the Sabbath), He fulfilled the only prophecy given concerning the amount of time in the tomb. He is God, and thus fulfilled His prophecy perfectly, just as all other prophecies concerning Him by the prophets were fulfilled.
    By the way, in John’s Gospel, the ‘trip’ to the tomb occured while it was dark, and I submit to you that the 4 Gospels harmonize in this area. As you know, when certain areas of Scripture seem to contradict, they are but a paradox. We have not yet probed far enough for full understanding. All 4 of the Gospels vary on the time frame and on the persons involved. Please look in to the possibility of these being different trips as was very commom in the culture (hermeneutics) of that time. There would be many trips to the tomb and they often even paid mourners for days. I know that you are a believer in the Word of God being inerrant, so lets be careful to throw out Matt. 28:1 when even scholars and professors of Semitic languages agree on the interpretation of this passage as I have said here. Thanks and happy studying.
    I show this to Arminian pastors (yes, and reformed) to show them how easy it is to misinterpret Scripture and thus be teaching it in error. Once shown properly (I have even more than what I’ve said if you care to e-mail me), they are much more open to the possibility that they have been wrong in other areas (Doctrines of Grace)…..I am….

    Grateful for Grace.

  11. BTW…the word dawn in Matt. 28:1 has 2 different meanings in the greek. One is the rising of the sun. The other is “to draw on”. To exegete this verse properly, you must use the definition that fits the other parameter within the sentence. That would be that the verse says, “In the end of the sabbath…”. It cannot be ‘in the end of the Sabbath’, and 12 hours later (sunrise) at the same time.
    The only Gospel that states the visit to the tomb was at sunrise is Mark. Since there are varying time frames and individuals in each Gospel, you would have to select (if you hold the belief that these visits to the tomb were all the SAME visit) ONE Gospel to be infallible and the others to be incorrect. That is not an option.
    Please re-read each Gospel in this area with this in mind.
    Thanks for indulging me the long comment. For His Glory…

    Dogpreacher

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