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Is the Sabbath “All in a Name”?

Posted on December 23, 2019
Is the Sabbath “All in a Name”?

Everybody knows that Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week—right? But does the Bible ever command Sunday as the day of worship?

Many historians and scholars—and, of course, officials and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church—assert that the day of worship was changed by the Church’s own authority. But according to U.S. Catholic magazine, an 84-year-old magazine published by the Claretian order of priests and brothers, it’s as much about the name as anything else.

According to David A. Pitt, an associate professor of liturgical and sacramental theology at Catholic Church-owned Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, “Naming Sunday as ‘the Christian Sabbath’—or worse, ‘the Sabbath,’ which eliminates Judeo-Christian differences—neglects the true importance of the day.” He adds, “How we name something shapes how we understand it.”

While it’s true that names convey understanding (you don’t see many parents naming their sons Ichabod—which means “God’s glory has departed”—these days), it’s also true that names are vital to identify a correct person in a group. Someone named Joe Washington could indeed be the president of his own company, but calling him “President Washington” would make many think of the historic American figure George Washington, known as the nation’s first president. Context is key, not just the words.

Catholic Professor Offers Much to Agree On

What’s interesting is that the U.S. Catholic writer admits much about the Bible Sabbath with which Sabbath-keeping Christians would easily agree. Professor Pitt writes, “The Sabbath is the Jewish day of rest and remembrance, a day of freedom and peace. According to Exodus 20:9–11, human rest on the Sabbath honors God’s rest after the six days of creation.”

That’s true, as is Pitt’s assertion that “entering weekly into God’s rest on the seventh day helps people live as God’s image and likeness and reminds them that God is the source of life.”

And few who have seriously studied the Bible could argue with this point:  “Jesus’ Sabbath practice was thoroughly Jewish. He taught in synagogues, once indicating his mission to proclaim liberty to captives and set the oppressed free (Luke 4:16–21). Ultimately, Jesus lay in the tomb on the Sabbath. Having inaugurated the kingdom of God on Earth in his ministry, he rested in honor of God’s creation and God’s abundant hospitality to all.”

So far, so good. But from here, things appear to go off the biblical rails. Dr. Pitt asserts, “While the earliest Christians imitated Jesus’ Sabbath observance, they also gathered on Sunday to perpetuate Jesus’ presence among them.” There’s no evidence of such first day of the week gatherings in the New Testament; the only passage mentioning a religious activity on the first day of the week speaks about individually preparing tithes and offerings (1 Corinthians 16:2), not gathering for worship.

In Acts 20:7, we read about a first day of the week gathering “to break bread,” which was notable only because the apostle Paul was in Troas and addressed the assembly. Given that Paul’s talk lasted past midnight, this hardly seems like a regular, repeated activity.

In other words, there’s no scriptural support for the notion that early Christians worshiped on two days each weekend. If nothing else, the culture of the time and its business demands wouldn’t permit that.

Is Sunday a Superior Day?

Moreover, Dr. Pitt maintains that Sunday is in a sense superior to the Sabbath: “Sunday is thus a day of work, not rest: The church’s liturgy—literally, ‘a public work done on behalf of the people’—proclaims Christ’s saving work.”

While it clearly is his right to hold such beliefs, it’s useful to remember that every Christian doctrine must always be measured against the truths of the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible command us to set the first day of the week aside as a day of worship. Nowhere did Jesus say the Sabbath found in the Ten Commandments is obsolete. Indeed, as Dr. Pitt admits, the Savior’s Sabbath-keeping was “thoroughly Jewish.”

Still have questions? We offer, free of charge, an interactive Bible study lesson on “The Lost Day of History.” This study takes readers through the Bible and shows, from Scripture, what God says about the Sabbath, and what believers should do in response. There’s no human opinion here; you can verify everything in your Bible.

In a world as rushed and hectic as ours, the need for restoration is apparent. It’s wonderful, then, that not only did God make provision for humans to rest, but also that He unambiguously stated which day of the week it was, and what His children were to do (and not do) on that day. By searching for yourself, we pray you’ll also discover the blessings of the Bible Sabbath—and that you’ll start enjoying them!

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