What is the Sabbath day?
Question: "What is the Sabbath day?"
Answer: At first glance, the question “What is the Sabbath day?” seems fairly simple. According to Exodus 20:8-11, the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, on which we are to rest, in remembrance that God created the universe in six days and then “rested” on the seventh day. However, due to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of some Christian groups, the meaning of the Sabbath day rest has been confused.
Some Christian groups, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, view the Sabbath as the day of worship, the day on which Christians should attend church / worship services. While these groups typically also teach that no work is to be done on the Sabbath, the concept of the “day of worship” is far more emphasized than the “day of rest.” The problem with this is that the Bible nowhere commands that the Sabbath be the day of worship. In Exodus 20:8-11, “keeping the Sabbath holy” is defined as not working on the Sabbath. Nowhere in this passage is the Sabbath described as a day especially set aside for worship. Similarly, other Scriptures command against working on the Sabbath, but say nothing of the Sabbath being the ordained day for worship (Exodus 16:23-29; 31:14-16; 35:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Jeremiah 17:21-27). In the Old Covenant, there was not one day set aside for worship. Sacrifices were made daily at the tabernacle / temple. The “worship” was continual. The idea that the Sabbath day is the God-ordained day of corporate worship is not biblical.
Now that is not to say the Sabbath was not set apart for worship. The New Testament records Jews and converts to Judaism meeting in the synagogues on the Sabbath (Mark 6:2; Luke 4:31; Luke 13:10-16; Acts 13:14,27,42-44; 15:21; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). Obviously, with no work being done on the Sabbath day, that would make the Sabbath day the ideal day to have organized worship services. However, again, the Bible does not command that the Sabbath day be the day of worship. The Bible describes worship on the Sabbath, but does not prescribe organized corporate worship on the Sabbath.
Further, once the New Covenant was established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the New Testament nowhere describes Christians setting aside the Sabbath day as the day of worship. The only Scriptures that describe Christians in any sense meeting on the Sabbath are in fact pointing to evangelistic efforts at Jewish synagogues, which met on the Sabbath day. Acts 3:2 records the early Christians meeting every day. The Bereans studied the Scriptures every day (Acts 17:11). Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 both mention Christians meeting on the first day of the week. There is no prove in the New Testament that the Apostles or the early Christians in any sense observed the Sabbath day as the prescribed day of worship.
Traditionally, Christians have held their primary corporate worship services on Sundays, the first day of the week, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection, which occurred on a Sunday (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). It is important to understand, though, that Sunday is not the commanded day of corporate worship either. There is no explicit biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be the day of worship. Scriptures such as Romans 14:5-6 and Colossians 2:16 give Christians freedom to observe a special day, or to observe every day as special. God’s desire is that we worship and serve Him continually, every day, not just on Saturday or Sunday. Please read our other articles on the Sabbath day and Sabbath keeping to explore this issue further.
It is our contention that the Sabbath command, which biblically speaking is to rest on the seventh day of the week, is not binding on Christians, but is rather a matter of grace. However, even if the Sabbath command does apply to New Covenant believers in Christ, the command would be to observe the Sabbath as the day of rest, not necessarily to set aside the Sabbath day as the weekly day of corporate worship.
Recommended Resource: Balancing the Christian Life by Charles Ryrie.
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Questions about the Church
What is the Sabbath day?