Did Christ Abolish the Sabbath?
Most people know the Old Testament Sabbath was on the seventh day of the week—Saturday on the Roman calendar. But that day is for the Jews, they reason. Jesus Christ came to change Sabbath observance to Sunday worship.
Early in Christ’s ministry, we find that He taught on the Sabbath day (Mark 1:21; 6:2; Luke 4:31; 13:10). In fact, Luke 4:16 says this was His custom! Mark 2:27-28 say, “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” Jesus Christ, the Scriptures reveal, is the Lord of the Sabbath. He made it for you and me!
The word Sabbath or Sabbaths is mentioned 172 times throughout the Bible; 60 of these are found in the New Testament. If Christ had changed the Sabbath day to Sunday, surely He or the apostles who followed in His steps would have explained the change.
Acts 13:14-15 show that the Apostle Paul was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath many years after Christ died. In verse 42, after Paul’s Sabbath sermon, many of the Jews who heard him became offended and left. But notice, “the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.” The Gentiles, those who had no prior knowledge of Sabbath observance, asked if Paul could come back the next Sabbath.
Notice what happened: “And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God” (verse 44). Why didn’t the Gentiles ask him to come back on the following Sunday? Because Paul, like Christ, kept the Sabbath.
Notice Acts 17:2: “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.” This is now 20 years after Christ died, and we see that it was still Paul’s custom to keep the Sabbath, just as it was Christ’s custom (Luke 4:16).
Over 10 years later, Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews. In the first few verses of chapter 4, after discussing the spiritual “rest” this world will enjoy after Jesus Christ returns, Paul then explains how our weekly Sabbath observance pictures that millennial rest. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God,” Paul wrote (verse 9). The Greek word for rest is sabbatismos, which simply means “keeping of the Sabbath.” Most Bible margins even point this out.
Had the seventh-day Sabbath been changed to Sunday, wouldn’t Paul have explained this to, of all people, the Hebrews in Judea? Instead, Paul reminded them that their weekly Sabbath observance was a very type of the millennial rest to come upon the entire world.
But What About Sunday?
While the seventh-day Sabbath is mentioned 60 times in the New Testament, the first day of the week, Sunday, is mentioned only eight times!
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, the disciples were told by Paul to take up a “collection for the saints” on the first day of the week. Some use this not only to show we should go to church on Sunday, but also that we should take up a collection of money each week. In fact, Romans 15:25-28 explain that this special collection was taken for the saints in Jerusalem because they were extremely poor. Furthermore, Paul offered to help carry the collection in verse 4. So this collection was primarily food and supplies, not money. And it was for the saints in Jerusalem, not the Church. Furthermore, they were told to gather it on Sunday. So, far from being a command to worship God on Sunday, Paul was actually instructing them to gather up food and supplies for the Jerusalem brethren on Sunday, after the Sabbath had ended.
Acts 20:7 has another reference to the first day of the week. In that passage, the disciples assembled together for a meal—to “break bread.” Since God begins and ends each day at sunset (rather than midnight), this dinner actually took place after sunset on Saturday night—the beginning of the first day of the week. Paul preached unto them until midnight, the verse says. At the break of day, on Sunday, Paul left on foot, Scripture says, and sailed for Assos (verse 13).
Read the entire passage. Nothing in it commands a weekly Sunday observance. Paul was merely taking advantage of his last opportunity to meet with and speak to the brethren at Troas—and it was actually on Saturday night.
Nailed to the Cross?
Many try to make Colossians 2:16-17 say the New Testament Church did away with the Sabbath. It reads, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” The word judge means “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong” (Thayer’s Lexicon). Also notice the word “is” at the end of verse 17. It’s in italics, which means it was not in the original Greek text—it was added by translators.
Understand the meaning! “Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days … but the body of Christ.” In other words, don’t let a man determine what is right or wrong about which days to observe. These matters should be determined by the Body of Christ—or the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:27). And the Church establishes doctrine by what is inspired in the holy Word of God. The Bible, as we have seen, plainly teaches that we should observe the Sabbath.
And let’s not overlook this additional thought from Colossians 2:17: “Which are a shadow of things to come ….” You cannot separate the shadow from its object. A shadow from a tree, for example, always leads you right to the tree. If you take away the shadow, there is no tree.
Why would you take away the Sabbath if it is a shadow of things to come—God’s millennial rest?
Yet, that is exactly what many do. Newer Bible translations, for example, make the shadow sound negative or bad. All that matters is Christ, they say. Never mind His example—just believe in Him.
One other important point to make regarding this passage is that it was written to the Gentiles at Colosse (see Colossians 2:13). Before coming into God’s Church, the Gentiles had never observed God’s Sabbath command. Yet Paul tells them to not let any man judge them with respect to the Sabbath or holy days.
Why would he write something like that if these people had never kept those days in the first place?
The Sign of Christ’s Messiahship
The first reason most Sunday keepers cite as proof of the Sabbath’s obsolescence is the resurrection of Christ. Let’s again examine the scriptural record. After Christ had been resurrected, Mary Magdalene went to visit His tomb early Sunday morning. All four Gospels discuss this event as occurring on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). And all four accounts specifically say this occurred after the Sabbath. (Notice the Bible makes a clear distinction between the Sabbath and the first day—even after Christ died.)
On Sunday morning, the women came to do the work of a common weekday. They were not observing the Sabbath day of rest. They did this the day before (see Luke 23:56). Then on Sunday, they gathered their spices and headed to Christ’s tomb. In all these passages, there is not one command to keep the first day holy!
Neither is there any admonition for us to commemorate Christ’s resurrection. Some claim that John 20:19 is such an example: “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.” Nothing here, however, authorizes Sunday observance. In fact, the disciples weren’t even gathered for a service. They were dwelling together with the doors shut “for fear of the Jews”! They couldn’t have been there to celebrate the resurrection because they didn’t even believe that it had happened (see Mark 16:14; Luke 24:37, 39, 41). This meeting was simply Christ’s first opportunity to meet with His disciples since being resurrected. For 3½ years before this time, Christ had been with them practically every day. The fact that He was with them on a Sunday is not unusual.
Besides that, there is no scriptural command to observe the day of Christ’s resurrection, whether on Easter Sunday or any Sunday. (The Bible commands us to observe the day of His death—see 1 Corinthians 5:7; 11:23-26.)
Even if the disciples had gathered on Sunday to supposedly commemorate the resurrection, it would have been the wrong day! When asked for a sign that He was from God, Jesus responded, “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Traditional Christianity teaches that this three-day period can be counted from late in the afternoon on Good Friday until early morning Easter Sunday. That’s part of three days, they insist—Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But that popular belief plainly allows for only two nights and one day in the grave when Christ specifically said He would be in the earth three days and three nights, just as Jonah spent the same amount of time in the fish’s belly (Jonah 1:17).
Traditional Christianity has never understood the truth on this matter because the sabbath that was drawing near at Christ’s crucifixion was not a seventh-day Sabbath—it was an annual sabbath—one of God’s seven annual holy days (John 19:31). In a.d. 31, the year Christ was crucified, that annual sabbath occurred on a Thursday, meaning Christ died late in the afternoon the day before—on Wednesday.
Three full days and nights brings the actual resurrection to late Saturday afternoon, shortly before sunset. By the end of the Sabbath, Jesus was already gone (Matthew 28:1).
Think what this means. The foundational proof that traditional Christianity uses to endorse Sunday observance is that “our Lord was resurrected on that day.” But He wasn’t! Furthermore, He never commanded Sunday to be observed. Jesus Christ kept the Sabbath!
So Where Did It Begin?
So if the authority for Sunday observance cannot be found in Scripture, where is it? History tells. If we go back far enough, we can see where Sunday advocates clashed head to head with Sabbath keepers. At the Nicean Council of a.d. 325, for example, Emperor Constantine said, “Let us then have nothing in common with the Jews.” He continued, “Forasmuch, then, as it is no longer possible to bear with your pernicious errors, we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together. We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies: and forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever. … Take the far better course of entering the Catholic Church …. From this day forward none of your unlawful assemblies may presume to appear in any public or private place. Let this edict be made public.”
The Roman Catholic Church is responsible for changing the Sabbath to Sunday and enforcing Sunday observance. To assemble together on any other day for a religious observance was considered unlawful. This was confirmed at the Council of Laodicea almost 40 years later in a.d. 363. At that conference, it was decreed, “Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, resting rather on Sunday. But, if any be found to be Judaizing, let them be declared anathema [cursed and excommunicated] from Christ.”
Today, even Sunday-observing theologians will sometimes admit the Sabbath was changed by man. Notice the question posed to the Catholic Church in the book Catholic Doctrinal Catechism: “Have you any other way of proving that the church has power to institute festivals of precept? Answer: Had she not such power, she should not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her—she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh day, a change for which there is no scriptural authority.”
Here is a quote from the Theological Dictionary, by Charles Buck, a Methodist minister: “Sabbath in the Hebrew language signifies rest, and is the seventh day of the week … and it must be confessed that there is no law in the New Testament concerning the first day.”
Finally, here is what Isaac Williams wrote in Plain Sermons on the Catechism: “And where are we told in Scripture that we are to keep the first day at all? We are commanded to keep the seventh; but we are nowhere commanded to keep the first day. … The reason why we keep the first day of the week instead of the seventh is for the same reason that we observe many other things, not because the Bible, but because the church has enjoined [or commanded] it.”
Followers of Christ
Scholars will reason around it, but the Bible is clear. There simply is no command endorsing any kind of Sunday observance. What God does command is this: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
The Israelites were commanded to keep the Sabbath. The prophets—described as part of the foundation of God’s Church today (Ephesians 2:19-21)—all kept the Sabbath. Jesus Christ came in the flesh and observed the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). All of the apostles, including Paul, observed the seventh-day Sabbath (Acts 17:2). They followed Christ’s example. And in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
Don’t let any man decide what’s right and wrong with respect to the Sabbath. Just follow Christ’s example.