Letter to a Sabbath-Keeper
Dear Sabbath-keeping friend,
As you are not in agreement with our views on the Sabbath, I’d like to give some clarifications and explanations on why we keep the Sunday as the day of rest – and not the Saturday. I can really appreciate your sincerity and eagerness to follow God’s Word and therefore pray that you will accept our viewpoints which I believe are firmly based on Scripture.
Unfortunately, among Christians of various denominations there is a lot of confusion and differing opinions on the Sabbath. Satan has been able to sow discord among well-meaning believers and caused splits among individuals and groups because they couldn’t agree on the question of the Sabbath.
Where we agree
We agree with you that the question of keeping the Sabbath is an important one and cannot just be pushed aside. We both don’t agree with people who claim the Sabbath does not need to be kept because we are now under grace, not under the law. Where these people err is their false claim that freedom from the Law is liberty to not have to keep the Law. However, freedom from the Law means that we are not anymore under the punishment of the Law. But the Law – except the ceremonial laws – has in no way been set aside by Jesus. However, through the Holy Spirit we are now able to keep it.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” (HEBREWS 10:16)
Where we disagree
You put a huge emphasis on the specific day – the Saturday – to be kept as Sabbath, whereas we don’t think any day must be preferred above the others, as long as there is a day set apart for God. Because of the New Testament precedents we think this day should be Sunday.
In the following, therefore, I will discuss the arguments for Saturday vs. Sunday and also touch on how the Sabbath should be kept.
Which day is Saturday?
For several reasons we don’t even know if Saturday is the Sabbath day that – according to most Sabbath-Saturday adherents – has been kept since the Lord instituted it.
“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (GENESIS 2:2-3)
- Because of the various time zones there can be a difference of up to 24 hours between areas keeping the Sabbath. When the Sabbath begins in London, England, on a Friday evening, it has already almost ended in Sydney, Australia. Let’s assume you would take a flight from London to Sydney and your plane would depart from London at 12 pm on a Friday. You’d arrive in Sydney after a 22 hour flight at around 7 pm local time – Saturday! You would have had only a 15 hour Sabbath! On your return flight, you’d have a Sabbath of 33 hours! If two Saturday-Sabbath keepers decided to take a trip around the world, one going east and the other west, each of them keeping every seventh day as Sabbath, they would find – when meeting each other again – that one was observing Friday, and the other Sunday! This is because there is an imaginary line running through the Pacific Ocean that is called the International Date Line. Now the question arises – when God made the world and rested on the seventh day, was that rest day the Saturday in Australia or was it the Friday in Great Britain? Or should we - as a compromise - maybe keep the Saturday according to Jerusalem time? “No compromises”, you say? But you make your own compromise by saying that everybody should keep the Sabbath whenever there is Saturday in their own time zones. If you so much insist on keeping the original Sabbath that God instituted, how can you be so sure to have the correct day?
- But much worse for your Saturday argument is the fact that the Hebrew word “shabbath” does NOT mean “Saturday” (nor “Sunday”). It means “rest, intermission, a ceasing from labour’. It also means “seventh”, indicating that the cycle of rest should occur every seventh day. But it does not indicate which day the day of rest should fall on. “But”, you are repeating the same argument over and over, “God rested on the seventh day, and that was a Saturday. Period!” Don’t you see: There is no such phrase in the Bible as “the seventh day of the week”. The Bible is entirely silent on the matter as to which day of the week this cycle commenced. It simply sets forth the principle of one day's rest in every seven.
- There were so many interruptions and changes to the calendar system that it is impossible to say if our current Saturday corresponds to the original Sabbath that God instituted or at least the Sabbath the Jews used to keep. Just to name one example: From about the year 200 B.C. to 396 A.D., both the Roman and Greek empires observed an eight-day week. So even if I wanted to keep Saturday as my Sabbath day, there is no way of knowing if our Saturday is still the original Saturday. You answer: “But the Jews kept an uninterrupted calendar regardless.” Even if this was true, not even the Jews kept the original Saturday.
- The Hebrew / Jewish calendar worked in the following way: The year contained 12 months of 30 days each, giving a total of 360 days to the year, and ever since has been the basis of prophetic time cycles. However, this was 5 days short of the true length of the year. This was overcome by adding five days, called `supplementary days', to the year at several set times, thus extending the year to the true 365 days, with no doubt the addition of the extra day each fourth year as we still observe to make up for the quarter of a day each year. These extra days were observed as `sabbaths'. That is, at several times during the year, the seventh day Sabbath lasted for two days instead of one, thus retaining the required six days of work between each sabbath period. The effect of this quite excellent arrangement was that whilst the Sabbath fell on the same date each year, it fell on a different day. Sometimes the Sabbath would fall on a “Monday”, sometimes on a “Saturday”, etc., except the current names for our week days only originated in the first century AD.
- Also: The Jewish Sabbath was a changeable Sabbath, changing at Pentecost every year to one day later until each day of the week was observed every seven years. Pentecost was the first day after the seventh Sabbath (LEVITICUS 23:15-21)
From all this I can conclude: As much as you want to sincerely obey God’s Word and keep the Sabbath – you have to make some sort of compromise, if you want it or not. We don’t know if our Saturday is the original Saturday. Your decision to choose our Saturday as Sabbath is arbitrary. It could just as well be Thursday or any other day.
Arguments for Sunday
“This may be true or not”, you reply, “but I still believe that God rested on the seventh day and declared this day holy, and the seventh day is the Saturday, that’s why I’m going to keep my Saturday holy as well”. Here now a few arguments why I keep Sunday as my “holy day” (holy means “set apart for God”).
- Not once in the New Testament is it mentioned that the disciples met on a Saturday! But each time a meeting day is mentioned, it is the Sunday, the first day of the week!
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them…”(ACTS 20:7},
“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 16:2). Paul used to preach on the Sabbath day to the Jews because they met in the synagogues on that day. He did that because it was a convenient place and time to preach to them all together. But when he wanted to meet and worship with his fellow Christians, it was on a Sunday.
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.”(ACTS 18:4)
"…They came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.”(ACTS 17:1,2). This does not indicate that Paul observed the Sabbath. He rather used the opportunity to persuade the Jews to become Christians. For example, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed for some reason seven days in Troas. He passed a Sabbath in the place, but if he observed it in any way, the fact is not stated. But on the first day of the week the disciples came together to break bread (ACTS 20:7)
- Jesus, after His resurrection, never once appeared on a Sabbath, but ALWAYS on a Sunday, the first day of the week.
“And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun... Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene.”(MARK 16:2,9).
“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 said unto them, Peace be unto you.”(JOHN 20:19). Note that the disciples obviously were used to meet on Sundays, because a week later they had met again, and Jesus appeared to them again:
“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.”(JOHN 20:26)
- The Holy Ghost came at Pentecost – a Sunday: LEVITICUS 23:15,16 shows that Pentecost occurred fifty days after the Sabbath, on
“the morrow after the seventh Sabbath.”On the first day of the week, therefore, on the first day after seven Sabbaths, the baptism of the Spirit was experienced by the disciples, the Gospel was first preached, the church was established, and the first converts were won to Christ.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And 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 2:4)
How to keep the Sabbath
You will again have to admit that you are making compromises in the way HOW you keep the Sabbath. Or do you, as stipulated in the Old Testament, not prepare food, leave your house, kindle fire or do any work whatsoever? You would also be only a “Sabbath day’s journey” of about 1000 yards allowed.
“And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.” (EXODUS 16:23)
“See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” (EXODUS 16:29)
“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.” (EXODUS 35:3)
“Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” (EXODUS 31:15, EXODUS 20:8-10; LEVITICUS 23:3)
I assume, however, that you will concede that it is unreasonable to follow the above Old Testament commandments on the Sabbath to the letter. As it is the Spirit that gives life, you would rather follow the principle, right?
“Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 CORINTHIANS 3:6)
Not even Jesus kept the Sabbath to the letter and was actually accused of breaking the Sabbath.
“Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” (JOHN 5:18)
He defended His disciples when they plucked the ears of corn on a Sabbath because they were hungry. After all, according to the Law they would have been guilty of death (NUMBERS 15:32-36). But Jesus preferred mercy above sacrifice (MATTHEW 12:1-8). Jesus healed several people on the Sabbath (JOHN 9:14-16; MATTHEW 12:10-12; LUKE 13:14-16). Jesus even told a man to “take up his bed and walk” – a clear breach of the Sabbath (JOHN 5:8-10). It is obvious that, while Jesus did keep the Sabbath (see LUKE 4:16), He made it clear to everybody that there is a higher principle than following laws to the letter – namely to do good and help your neighbour. Even the Pharisees had to acknowledge that.
“And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.” (LUKE 14:5,6)
The point I am making here is – by insisting on observing the Saturday as your Sabbath, don’t you try to follow the Law to the letter? Yet you agree with me that laws should not be kept to the letter, but in the spirit?
You put such a huge emphasis on keeping a particular day although the New Testament never demands it. On the contrary, we read in the letter to the Romans:
“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.” (ROMANS 14:5,6)
Your salvation is at stake
However, there is an even more important aspect. You are a very sincere and well-meaning Christian, but, like the Jews of old, I fear that you try to establish your own righteousness!
“For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (ROMANS 10:2-4)
I really hope you can see this, because if not, your salvation is at stake! Nobody can get saved through their own works. The Israelites kept the Sabbath for forty years in the desert, yet except Joshua and Caleb none of them saw the Promised Land.
“They to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:” (HEBREWS 4:6)
There is a more important rest than the Sabbath rest:
“For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.” (HEBREWS 4:10)
You can keep the Sabbath faithfully, but still not enter into God’s rest – if you are not led by the Holy Spirit (ROMANS 8:14) and try to impress God with your own works.
Read the whole letter to the Galatians, as they had to be warned by Paul of the very same danger you are in.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel … O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth? … This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (GALATIANS 1:6; GALATIANS 3:1-3)
What was the specific thing in which the Galatians tried to follow the law and not faith (GALATIANS 3:10-12)?
“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” (GALATIANS 4:10,11)
Do you realize that the Galatians did the very same thing you try to do by keeping the Sabbath? Don’t fall into the Galatians’ trap! Otherwise,
“Christ shall profit you nothing.” (GALATIANS 5:2) If you try to keep the commandments, you must keep the WHOLE LAW (JAMES 2:10).
“But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” (GALATIANS 5:18).
People feel a sense of holiness in keeping holy days such as Saturday, Sunday or whatever. But it’s far from the holiness which God wants us to enter into. While Christians should keep the Sabbath (in the spirit and led by the Spirit), the keeping of days, weeks, months, or years will never produce His holiness in us. Therefore Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, didn’t mention once the fourth commandment. Therefore the apostles didn’t mention it once either, not even when communicating the very basics of faith in ACTS 15:28
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.”
On the Day of Pentecost God manifested His true Sabbath. Thus when they were filled with the Holy Ghost they ceased from their worldly works, their worldly doings, their evil ways, and ceased trying to establish their own righteousness. The Holy Spirit took control of their lives. They entered into “rest”.
There is your rest. This is your Sabbath. It is you ceasing, and God doing.
We don’t enter the kingdom of God by keeping the Law. Remember the scribe who kept all the commandments and to whom Jesus told that he was
“not far from the kingdom of God” (MARK 12:28-34)?
“Not far” is close but not good enough. Our own works are never good enough!
This is how you enter the kingdom of God:
“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (JOHN 3:5)
This is how you remain in the kingdom of God:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh (own works / own righteousness)
, but after the Spirit.” (ROMANS 8:1)
Should you now still decide to keep the Saturday as your Sabbath, we will not judge you according to Scripture:
“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.” (COLOSSIANS 2:16)
But we request from you that you don’t judge us either NOT keeping the Saturday.
Appendix: Some other arguments frequently brought forward for keeping the Saturday
Did the Catholic Church (or Emperor Constantine) change the Sabbath to Sunday?
It is true that the Emperor Constantine enacted a Sunday Law, but it had no reference to a change from the Sabbath to Sunday. The following kept the Sunday instead of the Sabbath long before Constantine:
Ignatius Martyr, 69 A.D. – "And after the observance of the sabbath (that the Jews kept), let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all days of the week”
The Didache, from 75-90 A.D., on of the earliest Christian documents "The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles," written about 80 A. D.; we read, 'But every Lord's day (Sunday) gather yourselves together, and break bread and give thanksgiving" (Vol. VII, Page 381)
Justin Martyr, A.D. 100-167 – “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read”
Barnabas, A.D. 110 – “Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present sabbaths are not acceptable to me ... I will make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose again from the dead”
Irenaeus, A.D: 150-202
Melito, A.D: 170
Clement, A.D: 196 – “He in fulfilment of the precept, keeps the Lord’s Day when he abandons an evil disposition ... glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself.”
Origen, A.D: 185-253
Tertullian, A.D. 200 – “We solemnise the day after Saturday in contradistinction to those who call this day their Sabbath.”
The observance of the Sunday as Sabbath did not begin at the Council of Laodicea (363 AD). The Lord’s Day had been observed by Christians for more than 300 years!
Luke, in the book of ACTS 20:7, says:
“On the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…” This was about the year 57 AD!
We conclude: the observance of Sunday as the Sabbath Day (or Lord’s Day) was long established before Constantine.
If Jesus observed the Sabbath, should we not follow His example?
Jesus’ custom was to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (LUKE 4:16). Should we not therefore also keep the Sabbath?
No! Jesus also kept the Passover (LUKE 22:13-15), the Feast of Tabernacles (JOHN 7:2; JOHN 7:10-14) and all the other Old Testament festivals. Our Lord was “born under the Law” (GALATIANS 4:4). He lived under the Law and observed it. Hence He kept the Sabbath and all the provisions of the Law. A sacrifice was offered at His birth (LUKE 2:22-24), He was circumcised (LUKE 2:21).
People who use this argument must also be circumcised, observe the yearly festivals and sacrifice animals for their sins.
Thank God we live under a new and better covenant now (HEBREWS 8:6-10)!
Jesus rose from the dead not on a Sunday, but a Saturday
Proponents of this theory claim that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday (Nisan 14th). The following day was an annual Sabbath (Nisan 15th). Three days would have elapsed on the normal Saturday – Sabbath (see MATTHEW 12:38-40 – the sign of Jonah) leading to the conclusion that Jesus rose on Saturday. Therefore the women found the tomb empty early Sunday morning when it was still dark.
Scripture can easily disprove this argument.
The expression “after three days” does not necessarily mean 72 hours or three complete days. LUKE 13:32 says
“the third day I shall be perfected.” (see also MATTHEW 16:21; MARK 10:34).
There is a serious logical flaw in the argument brought forth: if Jesus had been crucified on a Wednesday and Thursday was a Sabbath where no work was allowed, what did the women do on Friday? Did they really spend all day buying and preparing spices? As Saturday was another Sabbath, they would have been able to use their spices only on the fourth day by which time really it was already too late to embalm a dead body.
But the most serious argument against the Saturday theory is the clear words of Scripture. The Bible very plainly says that Jesus rose on the first day of the week:
“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…” (MARK 16:9)
Can anything be clearer? To prove this further, let’s remember that the Jewish day lasted from evening to evening. The first day of the week would then last from our Saturday evening (6 pm) to Sunday evening (6 pm). As the women came to the grave very early Sunday morning, even before dawn, Jesus must have risen some time before day break. MATTHEW 28:11-15 informs us that (on Sunday) the guards were bribed to say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body in the night. We find another confirmation in LUKE 24:21 when the two disciples who – on the Sunday - went with Jesus to Emmaus said,
“To day is the third day since these things were done.” And by “these things” they meant the chief priests and rulers delivering him to be condemned to death and crucifying him (LUKE 24:20).
Conclusion: Scripture is very clear that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, probably shortly before day break.
Christian Assemblies International - Teaching Department