Sabbath Rest #6 - Sabbath in the New Testament
We now look at the New Testament of the Bible after Christ’s life on earth to see what Scripture says or doesn’t say about Sabbath observance under the new Christian life.
This covers the first few generations and early church development, up to prophecies in Revelation for the very end of the world.
No Specific Mention
First, it’s interesting to note that the New Testament doesn’t actually say anything about either keeping or not keeping the Sabbath – either in its original Saturday form or any new Sunday one.
Some claim that the other nine commandments are mentioned; however, as mentioned in the previous section, others disagree.
This is surprising, as most Christians presume a clearer instruction for Sunday being a new 'Sabbath' day.
Therefore, it’s not a case of proving either position by a black and white New Testament command but looking closely at the context of what is said to further discern the matter.
In short, with no clear termination or transfer of the Sabbath to Sunday, I can’t see how one of the Ten Commandments can be removed. Therefore, silence is assumed to continue these core Moral laws of God, as Christians have believed throughout the centuries.
I also wonder if God has specifically left the issue for people to discover by faith and experience and not apply as a religious ritual as the Jewish culture did (Jesus was also slow to say that He was the Son of God to give space for only true believers to discover this in time).
The Early Disciples Sabbath Observance
There are various examples of the early disciples still observing the Sabbath rest on a Saturday.
Because it was part of the local Jewish law and culture anyway, then the contrary position on the subject says that this was only following these local customs to reach people rather than by choice.
Alternatively, this might also explain why it has so few references in the New Testament anyway, on the basis that it was assumed to be complied with.
1. Paul’s Preaching & Teachings
There are references to Paul himself preaching and teaching to both Jews and Gentiles on the Sabbath day, often in the synagogue where they would be as part of this day:
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” - Acts 18:4
“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,” - Acts 17:2
There’s also reference to the disciples being involved and a city-wide congregation of people on the Sabbath:
“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 grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.” - Acts 13:42-44
2. Paul’s Countryside Gathering
There is a recorded incident of Paul meeting with believers in the countryside on a Saturday Sabbath in Philippi, probably because there was no established church there yet, but still in fellowship with people:
“And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a riverside, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” - Acts 16:12-13
3. John’s Lord’s Day Prophecy
In Revelation, where John received direct prophecy from Christ, this is described as being on the 'Lord’s day'.
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,” - Revelation 1:10
Others say this was the future description for Sunday, or a more generic Lord Day in the Roman kingdom. However, a Lord’s Day is seen elsewhere in scripture as linked with the original Saturday Sabbath and God’s own day:
“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.” - Mark 2:27-28
“Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you…And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.” – Exodus 16:13 & 23
On the Sabbath Camper display, I've added reference to these three Sabbath observances below the Saturday-Sabbath road, as you immediately enter the New Testament period after Christ's Resurection.
The Early Disciples Sunday References
A common assumption is that the early disciples began weekly gatherings on a Sunday rather than Saturday to remember Christ’s resurrection. This is then believed to lead into a new Sunday Lords-Day observance pattern as an alternative Sabbath day.
However, Scripture actually says the early disciples met every day of the week in people’s homes; therefore, although other days aren’t necessarily mentioned, it does not automatically mean that Sunday was the only or special day of the week:
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” – Acts 2:46
The Sunday stance on the subject interprets these first-day references as a new form of weekly rest by the disciples instead of the seventh day; however, with no clear instruction by them or God as so.
There are five scripture references to such first-day gatherings, which don’t automatically state that this is a new weekly rest day:
1. Resurrection Sunday
Later on the same day of Christ’s resurrection (the first day Sunday), scripture describes how the disciples meet together.
“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.” - John 20:19
However, the reason for meeting together is stated as being for 'fear of the Jews', not a new form of worship. Furthermore, this was literally hours after seeing the resurrection with no time to process this into any agreed new weekly celebration day.
Also, earlier that day, there is the story of the two people walking on the road to Emmaus, with no awareness of any new first-day-rest principle just beginning:
“And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.” - Luke 24:13
2. A Week Later
On the following weekend, there is the instance of Jesus appearing to the disciples again, this time with Thomas.
Although some interpret a week later as the following Sunday, this is neither stated as the first day nor further acknowledges this as a particularly special day.
“A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”” – John 20:26
The date of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was outpoured to the disciples, has been calculated to fall on the first day of the week:
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. Suddenly, there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” – Acts 2:1-4
However, the day of the week is not actually stated, with a mixed opinion on whether it did actually occur on the first day of the week or not.
Plus, if it was a Sunday, then there is no specific claim that this was a new weekly Lords day.
4. Weekly Collections
Paul instructs believers to prepare a collection for other believers on the first day of the week. There is no mention of a communal worship service, just preparation of something to bless others with.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” – 1 Corinthians 16:1-2
This was straight after the seventh-day sabbath rest on what would then be the first working day of the following week.
This would probably have been done separately in each household as part of people’s personal weekly finances, also indicated by the phrase 'by him'.
5. Paul’s Preaching
The disciples clearly meet at one point on the first day of the week in Acts and hear Paul before he departs:
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.” - Acts 20:7 – 11
However, regarding the reference to midnight on this first day, the meeting must have started on Saturday evening when it went dark. The first day began on a Saturday evening (and lights in the room, therefore, being mentioned).
Paul, therefore, began his journey on Sunday itself straight afterwards. However, if this first day was a new rest day, then Paul would not have been travelling then (unless he completely disregarded any day of rest):
6. Breaking Bread
Although there is an instance of breaking bread on this first day of the week, this describes general eating together and not a form of the communion of believers:
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them…” – Acts 20:7(a)
There is also no reference to this being a special day of the week, and as mentioned earlier, the early disciples shared eating and life together every day of the week.
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” – Acts 2:46
On the Sabbath Camper display, these six Sunday references are noted along the alternative brown Sunday track that stems off from Easter day. This is an alternative assumed day, with the first reference being straight away on Sunday Easter.
References to the Sabbath
There are also references in the New Testament from writers like Paul to the occasion of Sabbath or Lords Day.
The alternative Sunday position on the subject highlights that these appear to indicate that Sabbath observance is no longer required.
However, when you look into the context of each one, they are not clear instructions regarding the weekly Sabbath rest, but often the additional Sabbath festivals under the Ceremonial law in the Old Testament.
Turning to the specific references, these are:
1. No Judgement
Paul does mention in Colossians about not judging people regarding sabbath days which are only a shadow of things to come before Christ:
“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 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.” - Colossians 2:16-17
However, rather than the weekly Sabbath, these appear to refer to the additional Sabbath celebrations in the Old Testament concerning 'handwriting of ordinances (however, others see 'holy days' including these sabbath festivals, leaving a reference to the sabbath being assumed as the weekly one).
But the Sabbath is mentioned along with other clear ceremonial laws. These are stated as being a shadow of future things in Christ and ordinances under the ceremonial and civil laws.
Also, the word sabbath is plural 'days', suggesting multiple ones rather than the weekly Sabbath day.
2. Esteeming Certain Days
In Romans, Paul discusses how one day should not be more important than another:
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks..” - Romans 14:1-6
The alternative position, therefore, assumes this includes the Sabbath, which is only applicable for believers if their conscience wishes, not automatically for all Christians. There is no problem, therefore, observing the Saturday Sabbath if you personally are comfortable with; however, this shouldn't be insisted upon for all believers through the Ten Commandments.
However, Paul appears to be again addressing general holy day festivals in the Old Testament, with which former Jewish believers struggled. There is no specific mention of the sabbath, just 'one day'.
The context of this reference in the first few verses is about days of fasting and eating. Therefore, the point about certain days is about how this particular issue was inherited from the Jewish ceremonial law, not the weekly Sabbath.
3. Observing Days
There is another reference in Galatians from Paul, who mentions the issue of potential bondage by observing certain days and times:
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” – Galatians 4:9-11
However, the Sabbath day is not specifically mentioned, only general 'days', in the context of other months, times and years and the calendar events of the old ceremonial law.
4. Ultimate Rest
In Hebrews, there is a clear reference to the seventh-day of rest, even though the word Sabbath is not used:
“For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:…There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” - Hebrews 4:4-6 & 9
The mainstream position interprets this as meaning that the sabbath has been done away by a new overall rest in Christ for Christians now (who is Himself our Sabbath).
The context of these verses is indeed the full and general rest that Christians have in Christ now. However, the writer is specifically addressing Jewish believers who were falling back into former religious ways.
This Sabbath analogy helps illustrates that this new rest in Christ is not a shadow of it, but rather a comparison to, not a replacement of.
Put another way; the Sabbath is a helpful weekly way and sign to rest and submit to Christ 24/7.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
Also, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath or some kind or equivalent form of rest.
5. Council of Jerusalem
A final reference is the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. The early church apostles decided here what new Gentile believers should observe as Christians that used to be under the old Jewish law.
This doesn’t actually refer to the Sabbath, but rather fasting and eating rules, and circumcision. The final decision is to only refrain from blood-contained meat, fornication and idolatry:
“But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” – Acts 15:20
The question is, why wasn’t Sabbath-keeping raised as another important and potentially controversial issue, either at this time or elsewhere in scripture?
The alternative position assumes that any traditional Saturday Sabbath-keeping should have surely been raised at this Council, as it was such an essential point, and with new Gentile believers not being used to a traditional Jewish Saturday.
However, I see this the other way round. Because the Saturday Sabbath was so much part of the Jewish culture and faith, any attempt to change this must have also caused issues with Jewish believers, as circumcision and eating did.
There were more obvious ordinances just for the Jews, therefore, any changes to the Sabbath without a clear reference to in scripture must have been controversial and had to be raised here (plus, it was also a sign in the Old Testament like circumcision was).
Therefore, if it wasn’t an issue, there was no point in bringing this matter up, as there were plenty of other points of controversy to clarify.
These five references to the Sabbath have been highlighted on the Sabbath Camper display along the main Saturday-Sabbath road at the same time period as the earlier references to people still observing this day. This is also when the Sunday references are, as outlined earlier.
In earlier sections, the commandment to observe the Sabbath is in the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, which Christ fulfilled and reinforced in the New Testament as part of the core Moral Law.
However, the alternative position assumes a new Law of Christ in the New Testament with no indication that Christ included Sabbath-keeping as part of this.
This believes that by Christ fulfilling all the law, we don’t need to then observe this particular one as we celebrate a new 24/7 rest in Christ now. However, a new ‘Christian Sabbath’ or ‘Lords day’ was still started by early Christians on the first day of the week to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and the beginning of a new never-ending ‘eighth day’ of rest.
Therefore, this Sunday, or any day of the week, can be chosen to rest if you wish to, on the basis that it is only the spirit, not the letter of the law, that counts now.
However, as we look at what Paul and other New Testament believers taught and observed about God’s laws and commandments, there are several points that I believe do indicate that the Ten Commandments, as well as Sabbath, are still applicable for Christians today:
1. Commandment in our Heart
The Hebrew writer describes God’s commandments now in our hearts by the Spirit as new born-again believers for us to live rightly according to these moral characteristics of God, by His grace:
“Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord...For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:…And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” - Hebrews 8:9 & 10-13
This relates to a New Covenant and the basis of relating to God’s core laws, not a new actual law of God or Christ.
Paul reiterates this in Corinthians and how they’re in our hearts now, not on a piece of stone:
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” - 2 Corinthians 3:2-3
2. Based in Love
The law is described as being fulfilled and established by love, not in any way replaced by what we feel like doing:
“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” - Romans 13:10
3. Follow the Commandments
There are many references to Christians following God’s commandments to express their faith and love for God fully:
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” - James 2:20
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” - 1 John 2:4
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.” - 1 John 5:2
This ends in Revelation, where the final overcoming Christians ready for Christ’s Second Coming are the ones loyal to God, having the patience and faith of Jesus Christ and keeping the commandments of God.
"Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." - Revelation 14:12
4. Original Old Testament Commandments
The New Testament part of the bible had not been written at the time of it occouring, of course, as it was lived out; it was a written record afterwards.
There was just the Old Testament written Torah and commandments, and verbal accounts of Christ referred to.
5. Unapplicable Ordinances
As mentioned earlier, the ceremonial and civil laws written in ordinances was the ‘law’ ended by Christ at His Resurrection.
This includes circumcision, which, according to Paul, is nothing compared to God’s commandments which are in high esteem:
“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” - 1 Corinthians 7:19
6. Under the Law
References to not being ‘under the law concerns not being under the law's penalty, which is death, not the law itself.
"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:" - Galatians 3:13
Christ’s atoning sacrifice has satisfied this and paid the penalty, meaning Christians can now follow the Moral Law with a new spirit-changed heart by the ability of Christ.
7. Sabbath Consequences
Turning to the Sabbath point, particularly about the law, if this had ended, then there would have been an uproar in the New Testament.
Amidst a strong Jewish culture observing the Saturday Sabbath, it would have created controversy amongst believers just like eating, and circumcision did and even led to things like the disciples being stoned to death.
Regarding how this issue of God's commandments and law in the New Testament is shown on the Sabbath Camper display, there is a duplicate copy of the previous tablets of commandments between both the main Saturday road and Sunday track.
This is later on this second part of the journey in relatively modern times and symbolises the two emerging views of God's law and commandments for Christians today.
The bottom one near the Sunday track is the assumed new Law of Christ which essentially cherry-picks out certain laws that Christ mentioned, and happens to exclude the fourth commandment on Sabbath keeping.
The top one near the Saturday road is the same Ten commandments as previously as the core Moral Law of God (and Christ) still applicable to Christians today.