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Weighing The Evidence - Which day is the Bible Sabbath?

Weighing the Evidence

by David Boatwright & Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: One hour of sleep deprivation increases the number of highway accidents by eight percent and an hour of extra sleep decreases them by eight percent! It's true-it happens twice a year during the daylight savings time adjustments. Your efficiency driving after you have been awake for 18 hours is about the same as driving after drinking two alcoholic drinks. When you have been awake for 24 hours, your driving efficiency deteriorates to the equivalent of driving under the influence of four to six drinks! Optimum performance comes with nine hours of sleep each night.

The Scriptures also teach that spiritual and physical rest is so essential for man's happiness that God set aside a holy day for that purpose during Creation and then commanded the human race to "remember" it (Exodus 20:8-11).

The Sabbath truth has come under a special attack in recent years because the devil knows that all love relationships are nurtured in the environment of quality time. The Sabbath was designed by God to be the ultimate in quality time with our Redeemer and Maker. By twisting or abolishing that holy time, the devil has sought to erode man's relationship with his Saviour.

Today there are many intense debates about which day is the correct Bible Sabbath and whether or not it even matters.

There are only two days of the week that seem to have any modern claim of being the Christian Sabbath: the seventh day, commonly called Saturday, and the first day, Sunday. In the Bible all the days of the week were named. The central name was Sabbath, which means "rest." Then came the first day after the Sabbath, the second day after the Sabbath, and so on until the sixth day which was called the preparation day (Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54). Each day was named in relation to the Sabbath.

A Solid Foundation


The establishment of the seventh day as the blessed Sabbath is one of the most firmly established facts in the Creation account. God emphatically said the "seventh day" three times in the first three verses of Genesis 2: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 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" (emphasis added).

God's people always kept the Sabbath from sundown on preparation day (Friday) until sundown on Sabbath (Saturday night) (Leviticus 23:32). The concept of beginning and ending days at midnight was introduced in modern times with the development of accurate clocks. The biblical account of the women who were preparing spices for the burial of Christ tells that they ceased their preparations Friday at sundown "and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56).

The commandment referred to here is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. It states in part, "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work" (Exodus 20:9, 10). Note that the day is called "the sabbath of the Lord thy God"-not "the Sabbath of the Jews" as some claim.

Jesus Himself told the religious leaders that He was "Lord also of the sabbath" (Mark 2:28). Because Jesus did all of the work of creation (John 1:3), it was He that blessed the seventh day and rested with Adam on that first Sabbath in Eden.

In fact, Jesus gave the vision of Revelation to the Apostle John on the Sabbath when he was a prisoner on the lonely isle of Patmos. John simply described it as happening "on the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10). But which day is the Lord's day? In Isaiah 58:13, God refers to the Sabbath as "my holy day." Never, not once in the Bible is the first day called the Lord's day!

So … What About Sunday?


But what biblical claim does the first day of the week have to being called the Sabbath? History records that Christians didn't generally observe Sunday as a day of rest or worship until almost 300 years after Christ. Certainly none of the apostles ever observed the first day as a day of worship in place of the Sabbath.

Some try to use Acts 20:7, "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread," as evidence that the disciples were having a communion service on the first day, thus designating it as the new day of worship. But the New Testament records that the disciples broke bread from house to house "daily" (Acts 2:46).

Even if the disciples had held a communion service on the first day of the week, that would not be proof that it designated a new Sabbath day-the Lord's supper was first instituted on a Thursday night.

Others cite 1 Corinthians 16:2 as an argument against the Saturday Sabbath. "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." Instead of proving that Sunday was kept as the new Sabbath, this text actually proves the opposite. Paul instructs the Corinthians to set funds aside at home on the first day so that no offerings need to be taken during corporate worship on the Sabbath.

The Bible record is clear that the apostles worshiped on the seventh day and taught others to do the same. The women who followed Jesus kept the Sabbath on the seventh day (Luke 23:56). Paul kept the seventh-day Sabbath while carrying the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 16:13, 17:2, 18:4). John kept it during his exile on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:10).

Jesus, the supreme example for all Christians, kept the Sabbath by consistently worshiping in the synagogue on Sabbath (Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16). Nowhere did He command that a different day should be kept or seek to cancel even the smallest of the commandments (Matthew 5:17-19)! In fact, Scripture clearly records that the redeemed from all nations will keep the Sabbath in the new earth (Isaiah 66:23).

A Subtle Change


Even in the absence of biblical evidence, much of the Christian world looks to Sunday, the first day, as the Christian day of rest. When and how did this come about? The change happened slowly, beginning about 300 years after Jesus returned to heaven.

The pagan Romans called the first day of the week "the venerable day of the sun," or Sun Day. Gentile Christians and Jews alike were Sabbathkeepers, while all of the polytheistic (many gods) pagan religions centered on sun worship on the first day of the week. However, in the Roman Empire the Jews were "a fly in the ointment" because they constantly rebelled and their monotheistic (one God) religion was at odds with every other. Because the Jews kept the Sabbath, all Sabbathkeepers became highly unpopular by association.

In A.D. 313, the Roman Emperor Constantine, who had been a pagan solar worshiper, nominally accepted Christianity and put into effect the first Sunday-worship law.1 Many of the Gentile Christians quickly accepted this change in an effort to distance themselves from the odious Jews because of their common day of worship.

Constantine sought to make it easier for the pagans in his realm to embrace his new politically correct religion. So he encouraged all the Christians to adopt the pagan solar holidays by renaming them after the Christian God or various Christian saints. Sincere Christians resisted this compromise, but because the majority was willing to capitulate, they were soon overpowered. Over a period of several hundred years Sunday gradually became known as the Christian Sabbath and observed as such.

Common Arguments


When modern Christians discover and embrace the biblical Sabbath truth they usually encounter a barrage of differing arguments. Typically this opposition comes from other Christians who feel compelled to the point of obsession to dissuade them from their biblical position. These contradictory arguments often serve to convince more than discourage.

One gentleman who worked in a large grocery chain in the Midwest, through study of the Scriptures, discovered the Sabbath truth. He was so excited with this blessed revelation that he immediately went to his employers and told them that he would no longer be available for work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. During the following week each worker in his department approached him with a potluck of arguments to deter him from his new "un-traditional" commitment to Sabbathkeeping.

The first one told him that the Bible says, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5). The co-worker tried to explain that the text meant he could do whatever seemed right to him and that he wasn't required to keep any particular day.

"Fine," his friend replied. "I'll take the Sabbath. I'm fully persuaded that that's the day to keep."

Seeing his cohort's failure, another worker approached the Sabbathkeeper with this argument. "It doesn't really mean that we have to keep Saturday. What the Bible really means is that we are to rest every seventh day and it doesn't matter what day we start counting on as long as we rest one day in a sequence of seven."

"Fine," he replied. "If it doesn't matter, I'll take Saturday as my one day in seven."

The next co-worker told him that in the New Testament there was no specific day set aside for worship. "You're supposed to keep every day holy," he explained.

The new Sabbathkeeper replied "I do believe I should worship God every day, but if I'm keeping every day holy and resting from work. That wouldn't be holy; that would be lazy."

Another worker told him that the Sabbath was only for the Jews. The new Sabbathkeeper asked, "Then why did Jesus say, 'The sabbath was made for man' (Mark 2:27). That's a funny way to spell 'Jew.' Was Adam a Jew when Jesus spent the first Sabbath with him in the garden of Eden?"

Still another told him that it was not necessary to keep the Ten Commandments because we are no longer under the law but under grace. "Are you saying that I can now steal your money and covet your wife?" he responded.

One night during an evangelistic series I was presenting the Sabbath truth when a Sunday minister interrupted me. He said I was teaching "legalism." I asked the man whether or not he believed that God wanted us to keep the Ten Commandments. At first he said, "No." Then when he realized how ridiculous that sounded, he changed his answer to, "Yes." But then he quickly added, "Nine of them."

"So," I responded, "are you telling me that the one commandment God wants us to forget is the only one that begins with the admonition to 'Remember'?" He left the meeting with a red face and never returned.

Still another pastor embarrassed himself when he said, "The calendar has been changed several times so we can't really know which day is the seventh day."

"If that were true," I answered, "then I guess you wouldn't know which day was Sunday either? But the fact remains that no calendar adjustment has ever had any effect on the weekly cycle."

There is no question about which day is the seventh day. Any dictionary will tell you: "Sat·ur·day (sàt_er-dê, -dâ´) noun Abbr. S., Sat.1. The seventh day of the week."2

The Bible plainly tells us that Jesus died on Friday, rested in the tomb on the Sabbath from His work of saving man, then rose Sunday morning to continue His work as our high priest (Luke 23:54; Hebrews 7:25).

In fact, in more than 145 major languages of the world, the word used for the seventh day is the equivalent for the word Sabbath or rest day. Such as Spanish, Sabado, or Russian, Subotah.

Another creative man told me that, "When the sun stood still in the days of Joshua, Saturday turned into Sunday"!

All these convoluted attempts to dispense with the simple command of God are compelling evidence that many churches are building on the sand of popular tradition. Jesus said, "Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. … Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition" (Mark 7:7, 9).

Contradictory arguments highlight the big problem associated with getting rid of the Sabbath. It's impossible to justify abandoning the Sabbath without getting rid of the whole law-they end up having to throw the baby out with the bath water. James points out that breaking even one of the Ten Commandments makes us guilty of violating the whole. "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).

A Pivotal Verse


Some Christians sincerely believe that the whole law, including the Sabbath, came to an end with Jesus' death. These people point to the well-worn verses in Colossians 2 as evidence: "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; … 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" (verses 14, 16, 17).

However, getting rid of the law is a reckless and dangerous thing to do. The first four commandments define our responsibility to our Creator. The last six are the foundation of all human civil law. If the moral law were rescinded, there would be no safe place on earth for anyone.

Paul says, "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Romans 2:13). He also adds, "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (7:12).

So what do the verses in Colossians mean? There are two primary laws taught in Scripture: the moral law of the Ten Commandments and the ceremonial law contained in ordinances. One was written by God's finger on stone and the other by the hand of Moses on parchment.

Notice how Deuteronomy 4 distinguishes between the two:

Moral Law: "And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone" (Deuteronomy 4:13).

Ceremonial Law: "And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it" (Deuteronomy 4:14).

Colossians 2:14 tells us that the law that was nailed to the cross was the "handwriting of ordinances," not the finger writing. And which law was that? "They will take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses" (2 Chronicles 33:8, emphasis added). The law nailed to the cross in Colossians 2 was written on paper and "against us." (Plus, it is very difficult to nail stone tablets to anything.)

"Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee" (Deuteronomy 31:26, emphasis added). The Ten Commandment law, written by the finger of God on tablets of stone, was inside the ark; the ceremonial law, written by the hand of Moses, was placed in a pocket on the side of the ark.

So we can see that Colossians 2 is speaking of the ceremonial laws and annual sabbaths (feasts) that were nailed to the cross. That's why when Jesus died, the veil in the temple was torn (Matthew 27:51).

Sadly, most of the Jewish nation was so engrossed in types and shadows that they failed to see the fulfillment of those Messianic symbols in Jesus. Even the Christian church had a hard time separating the shadow and the reality. Some Jewish Christians required all the Gentile converts to observe all the Jewish ceremonies that pointed to the Messiah. Somehow they didn't yet see the big picture-that the coming of the Messiah had done away with the need for those types and shadows. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts the Colossian Christians to not allow anyone to judge them in respect of the sabbath days, "which are a shadow of things to come" (Colossians 2:17).

God Does Not Change!


But what if we keep the law and just change the Sabbath commandment from seventh-day worship to first-day worship? The first roadblock is that such a change simply isn't biblical. That really makes it impossible for anyone to keep Sunday holy. You see, the commandment doesn't say to make the Sabbath day holy. It says that God made it holy and set it apart for holy use (sanctified it). We can find no place in Scripture where God transferred the sanctity of Sabbath to Sunday. Therefore, there is no way to keep the first day holy since He didn't make it holy in the first place.

Ultimately one needs to ask the hard question. Since Jesus made the Sabbath before the entrance of sin, and that which God blesses is blessed forever(1 Chronicles 17:27), why would He need to change His own eternal law? He declares, "I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6)!

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Why would God write the Sabbath commandment in stone with His own finger, speak it with His own voice, and than change it with out even producing a vague biblical reference?

The bottom line is to determine why God made the Sabbath and what advantage there might possibly be in changing it. For one thing, God wanted man and domestic beasts to enjoy physical rest that day. During the French Revolution, in the backlash against the church abuse, the atheistic leaders called for doing away with anything religious. Included in the religious ban was a change in the weekly cycle. They could find no astronomical reason for the seven-day week, so they concluded that the weekly cycle was intrinsically religious. They replaced it with a ten-day work cycle but soon found that, not only were the people dissatisfied because of physical exhaustion, but also the draft animals were constantly fatigued. It wasn't long before France returned to the seven-day week.

But physical rest was only a minor part of the full blessing God had in mind for mankind. God wants to enjoy spiritual fellowship with His created beings. The Bible gives no indication that there was a week or a Sabbath in heaven before Creation. The Sabbath was made for man, not for angels. However, God enjoys it so much that He intends to keep it with us throughout eternity. Someday He is moving His universal capitol to this earth (Revelation chapter 21), and He invites all the redeemed to meet with Him for Sabbath each week (Isaiah 66:23).

The Sabbath is, among other things, a memorial of God's creative and redemptive power. It is also a sign of His re-creative power in our lives. "Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them" (Ezekiel 20:12).

The weekly Sabbath rest also points to the eternal rest that God is preparing for the redeemed (Hebrews 4:1-11). This rest was typified by entering into the promised land for ancient Israel. Spiritual Israel looks forward to the promise of a new earth "wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13).

"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (Hebrews 4:1).

Jesus is inviting you now to experience the spiritual and physical rest of this blessed day in His presence.

"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).

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1 Colliers Encyclopedia, vol. 7, page 212.
2 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third
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