Question: REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY TO KEEP IT HOLY. I heard my Bible Study teacher say, "We don't follow that commandment any more, it doesn't apply to the New Testament Church." That bothered me a bit. Especially in light of recent remarks that were made that we are no longer under the Law but under Grace. That one bothers me a little bit too....because I know the underlying implication that says, as long as we're under Grace, we don't have to obey the law. Try murdering someone and see if you're still under the Law. So, what do we believe about the command to remember the Sabbath? Let the discourse begin!

The Christian's Sabbath

By Rev A. F. Varnell

Copyright 1956

Few Christians there are who know why the Sabbath was given, when it was given, to whom it was given, and what the Christian's Sabbath is now in the Church age. This article is for the purpose of showing scripturally God's great plan and purpose of the seventh day Sabbath and what it foreshadowed.

The Sabbath was not given to Adam, neither to Abraham, Isaac nor Jacob. It was later given to the children of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai. "Thou camest down also upon Mount Sinai, ...and madest known unto them the holy sabbath the hand of Moses." Neh. 9:13, 14. “Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:”

The Sabbath was a day of absolute and complete rest and cessation from all labor. Not even a fire could be kindled on the Sabbath day, "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.

The seventh day sabbath was given to no other people but the children of Israel, "Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between ME and the CHILDREN OF ISRAEL forever...." Exodus 31:16, 17.

The Sabbath day had a very definite two-fold purpose. First, it was a sign and continual reminder to Israel that like as God had set one day apart from all others to be a holy day, so he had set Israel apart from other nations to be a holy, separate people. "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." Ezek. 20:12.

As well as it being a sign to Israel of their separation from other nations, the seventh day sabbath was also a marvelous shadow of a then future rest in Christ. "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a SHADOW of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Col. 2:16, 17. “There remaineth therefore a rest (sabbath) to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his." Heb. 4:9, 10.

Since Christ has come we no longer struggle under the galling bondage of the works of the law which is our own righteousness but we cease from our own works and enter into the rest (sabbath) of Christ. Sabbath means rest. The seventh day sabbath was physical rest to the body. The Christian's Sabbath is spiritual rest to the soul, of which the seventh day sabbath was a shadow. Since the true rest in Christ has come there is no longer need of the shadow. In fact to attempt to keep the seventh day now would mean to ignore the new Sabbath-rest in Christ, just as much as offering a sacrifice of the blood of animals would ignore the blood of Christ, which the blood of animals typified. There is only one way to keep the Sabbath now and that is to enter into the rest of Christ.

Those who keep the seventh day sabbath have only a shadow, and not even a shadow since the body (Christ) has come. And the manner in which the seventh day sabbath is kept now is only a mere pretense of the way it was commanded to be kept and unless it is kept as it was commanded to be kept, it is not kept at all. One man was stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath and all he did was to pick up a few sticks to kindle a fire.

It was very dangerous to break the seventh day sabbath. The penalty was physical death. It is likewise dangerous to fail to enter the rest of Christ which is the Christian's Sabbath. Spiritual death will be the result. Jesus calls to a sinful and weary world: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) But of unbelieving Israel he said: "So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest." Heb. 3:11. (Heb 3:9-11 “When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.”) Israel already had the seventh day of physical rest but because of unbelief they failed to enter into God's spiritual rest.

But what about Sunday, somebody asks, was not the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday? No, neither Sunday nor any other day is the Christian’s Sabbath. The Christian's Sabbath is rest in Christ of which the seventh day sabbath was a shadow. Paul said of the Galatians who were having a hard time to break away from the bondage of the law: "Ye observe DAYS, and months and times and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” Gal 4: 11 (Gal 4:9-11 “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.”)

Sunday is not and never was the Sabbath. It is a day of worship and greatly to be respected as such but it is not the Sabbath, although unscriptural tradition has caused it to be regarded as such, but there is no hint in the scriptures of Sunday ever being called the Sabbath. Sunday is called the Lord's day and should be reserved by the Christian for worship and not spent idly in fleshy gratification. But the Christian's Sabbath is not physical rest; it is spiritual rest.

The meat question must be considered along with the Sabbath question.

The Sabbath had a two-fold purpose, but clean and unclean meats had only one purpose, namely: God set certain creatures, which he called "clean" apart from other creatures, which he called "unclean" for the definite purpose of being a sign to Israel that God had set them apart from other nations to be a holy people unto him. "I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall THEREFORE put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean; and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine." Lev. 20:24-26.

The clean beasts represented Israel and the unclean beasts represented the Gentiles. But when the time came that the Gentiles were to be admitted into the new and living way (the Church) God gave Peter a vision of all manner of beasts and creeping things descending before him in a sheet and the voice of the Lord said "slay and eat." But Peter remonstrated when he saw all those unclean creatures and said he had never eaten anything common or unclean. Acts 10: 9-34. Acts 10:14. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common…..28. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean….34. Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35.But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him…. 44. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Then God made him to know that the separation between Jew and Gentile had come to an end, hence the sign of meats clean and unclean was finished and fulfilled. Now both Jew and Gentile alike may enter through the one door into the church, and to refrain from eating certain meats is a meaningless and empty ritual.

"Let no man therefore judge you in MEAT, or in drink, or in respect of an HOLY DAY, or of the new moon, or of the SABBATH DAYS: Which are a shadow of things to come."

"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, (the Christian's Sabbath) any of you should seem to come short of it.” Heb 4:1.

I have spent a little bit of time doing research on the questions you have about observing the sabbath in New Testament Days. Of course the word "sabbath" means a day of rest, as we have discussed. And the Seventh Day Adventists worship on Saturday. We worship God every day and our rest is not in a day but in Christ. However, there are many Scriptures which indicate that Jesus did NOT observe the sabbath DAY.

Maybe Luke 6:1--9 is the best dissertation on Jesus and the sabbath. It was one of the reasons the Jews wanted to kill Jesus. In the OT, disregarding the sabbath was punished by death. However, Israel not only served one day in seven as their sabbath but the seventh year in field was to lay fallow as it rested. And seven sabbaths was celebrated on the fiftieth year when all debts were voided during the year of Jubilee.

Colossian 2:16-17 says we no longer celebrate days but Christ as our sabbath. See John 9:13-16. I have already referred you to Brother Vanell's tract about the sabbath on the BMA website. I like this sermon on by a Baptist pastor on the sabbath called "The Lord of the Sabbath". I hope this helps you consider what the sabbath really means and how we keep this ONE of ten commandments. We should observe it and all the other commands and laws of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.



MARK 2:23-28

Introduction: Do you remember the old blue laws? When I was a child, most stores were closed on Sunday. If a store did happen to be open, like the old Lawson stores in our neighborhood were, many sections of that store would be covered over with sheets of cloth or paper to restrict or limit purchases to only necessities. Sundays were special. Sunday was viewed as equivalent to the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath Day. It was to be a day of rest and worship. In many homes, Sunday was observed with almost the same rigidity as the Pharisees forced upon the Jews. Today the pendulum has swung almost to the opposite extreme where not only in our society but also in many Christian homes there is almost no importance placed on the Lord's Day. There are some questions we should ask ourselves.

(1) What was the purpose of the Sabbath?
(2) Is the Christian commanded to observe the Sabbath?
(3) Is the Lord's Day the Sabbath?
(4) What should our attitude be toward the Lord's Day?

To help us answer these questions let's look at Mark 2:23-28.

Jesus and His disciples were walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath in route to worship at the synagogue. The disciples were hungry and decided to pluck some of the grain. While the Old Testament law regarding the keeping of the Sabbath in no way prohibited picking a handful of grain to satisfy one's immediate hunger, the traditional law added many rules and regulations that were nothing more than man made traditions. These traditions were rigid concerning Sabbath observance. The Talmud, the book of Jewish traditions has 24 chapters listing various Sabbath laws. On the Sabbath, you could not travel more than 3,000 feet from your house. You were not allowed to carry anything that weighed more than a dried fig. You couldn't carry a needle for fear you might sew something. Taking a bath was forbidden. Water might splash on the floor and wash it. Women were not to look in a mirror; they might pull a gray hair. Having been observed by the Pharisees, the disciples were charged by the Pharisees with violating two of man's traditional Sabbath laws - plucking the grain and rubbing them in their hands. Christ addresses the charges levied by the Pharisees by stating that...

I. The Sabbath was not meant to restrict necessities (verse 25-26)
     A. David in fleeing from Saul (I Samuel 21:1-6) took five loaves of the showbread that was to be eaten only by the priests and gave them to his men.
     B. The man of God, David was justified in breaking the ceremonial law because his need for sustenance was greater than keeping the ceremonial law. (He broke the ceremonial law not to indulge a lust but to meet a genuine need)
     C. Meeting true human need and compassion takes precedence over custom, ritual, ceremony and tradition.
     D. Hosea 6:6 "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."

II. The Sabbath was made to serve man not man serve the day. (verse 27)
     A. The extreme warping of the original intent of the Sabbath by tradition is seen in history when Antiochus Epiphanes massacred a group of Jews under the command of Judas Maccabaeus as the Jews refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath.
     B. Sabbath - transliteration of Shabath - to cease or desist - hence rest or cessation from labor.
     C. Exodus 20:9-11 "Six days shalt thou labor, 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, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day. Wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it."
     D. In Deuteronomy 5:12-15) the Lord reminds His people that they had been slaves in Egypt and that He had brought them out from there. In commanding them to observe the Sabbath, the weekly rest would remind them of a time when as slaves they were unable to rest. The association between Israel's slavery in Egypt and the Sabbath is restated in Ezekiel 20:5-12.
     E. Two of the greatest needs of man are for rest and worship - neither, of which Israel was free to do in Egypt.
     F. Leonardo Da Vinci - Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment
     G. Psalms 37:7 "Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him..."
     H. God's original intent was for the Sabbath to be a blessing not a burden.
     I. Matthew 23:4 "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."
     J. The Sabbath was to benefit man to help him gain rest and to have a revived sense of God's presence.

III. The Sabbath is not the Lord's Day.
     A. No where in Scripture is the Christian commanded to observe the Sabbath.
     B. The Sabbath was essentially Jewish, which explains, its absence in New Testament instructions to Christians.
     C. The Sabbath was the sixth day - began at sunset Friday and ran through sunset Saturday. The Lord's Day is the first day of the week corresponding to our Sunday.
     D. J. Vernon McGee tells this story about a man who wanted to argue about the Sabbath. The man said, "I'll give you $100 if you will show me where the Sabbath day has been changed." McGee answered, "I don't think it has been changed. Saturday is Saturday, it is the seventh say of the week, and it is the Sabbath day. I realize our calendar has been adjusted, and can be off a few days, but we won't even consider that point. The seventh day is still Saturday, and it is still the Sabbath day." He got a gleam in his eye and said, "Then why don't you keep the Sabbath day if it hasn't been changed?" McGee answered, "the DAY hasn't changed, but I have been changed. I've been given a new nature now, I am joined to Christ; I am a part of the new creation. We celebrate the first day because that is the day He rose from the grave." That is what it means that the ordinances have been nailed to the cross in Colossians 2:14
     E. The early church set aside the Lord's Day as a day of rest, worship, and celebration of Christ's resurrection.
     F. Acts 20:7 "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."
     G. 1 Corinthians 16:2 "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."
     H. Revelation 1:10 "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,"

IV. Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath and every other day!
     A. Jesus is the great Creator of the universe. All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made. He created the heaven and earth and all things in six days. He sanctified the seventh day and made it the day of rest. He is the Lord of the Sabbath.
     B. In affirming His Deity, Christ declares He is Lord and is greater than the Sabbath. He therefore has the right to overrule man-made rules and tradition.
     C. Colossians 2:16-17 "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: [17] Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."
     D. Romans 14:5-6 "One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. [6] He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it. He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks."
     E. Colossians 3:17 "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him."

V. The Principle of setting aside a portion of the week to rest and worship is biblically sound.
     A. The important thing is that we set aside time for rest and worship. These are two things we desperately need. As human beings, our Creator did not design us to work seven days a week. Our bodies and souls both need rest, and taking off one day out every seven is good for us. Those of us with workaholic tendencies may find it difficult to get into the habit of a regularly scheduled day off, but we need it. It should always be something to which we look forward.
     B. Every day as believers we should take time to read the Bible, pray, and express our praise to God. But, it is important to have at least one day in seven, which we set aside so that we can have an extended time to worship and focus upon the Lord both corporately and individually.
     C. Hebrews 10:25 "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."
     D. Mark 6:31 "And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat."
     E. Warren Wiersbe - The ability to calm your soul and wait before God is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life. Our old nature is restless...the world around us is frantically in a hurry. But a restless heart usually leads to a reckless life. >p>VI. Christ as Lord of the Sabbath offers true rest to whoever comes to Him.
     A. Matthew 11:28-30 "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] 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. [30] For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
     B. As the Sabbath gave Israel the opportunity to celebrate the freedom and rest from slavery in Egypt; so the Lord's day provides an opportunity to celebrate the freedom and rest from the slavery of sin that comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.


'Deception': Christians war over worship day
Centuries-old clash continues over disputed commandment

By Joe Kovacs
© 2010 WorldNetDaily

Two thousand years after Jesus walked the Earth, Christians are at war with each other concerning – as strange as it may sound – a day of the week mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

The issue boils down to: "When is God's Sabbath?" In other words, what is His holy day of rest?

Most Christians today think it's Sunday, when the majority of churches hold services.

But others confidently say it's Saturday, calling Sunday worship "the most flagrant error of mainstream Christianity," believing Sunday-keepers are victims of clever deception.

Some high-profile evangelical pastors such as California's Greg Laurie say it's simply "wrong to set Saturday apart as a special day for worship."

Whether it's the Sabbath or what the Bible says is the true, glorious destiny for mankind, find out what some don't want you to know in the No. 1 best-seller, "Shocked by the Bible: The Most Astonishing Facts You've Never Been Told" -- autographed only at WND!

Today, some high-school sports teams refuse to play in state tournaments for the sole reason the events are held on Saturday – what they say is God's Sabbath.

Scottish sprinter Eric Liddell

Conversely, the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire" was based on the true story of Eric Liddell, a Scottish sprinter and Christian missionary who disqualified himself from his best event at the 1924 Olympics because the race was on Sunday – the Sabbath in his view.

Christians seem irreparably split, as this issue goes back to the beginning of time itself.

In the beginning ...

There are seven days in a week, but historians have no consensus about the cycle's origin, since it has no basis in astronomy.

The Bible, though, indicates God created the Earth and its life forms in six days, and then rested on the seventh.

"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." (Genesis 2:2-3)

Biblically speaking, the first six days of the week had no special name. They were simply identified by ordinal numbers, such as the first, second and third day. But the seventh day was given a unique name. In Hebrew, it's "shabbat," meaning "rest." In English, the word is "Sabbath," and it's detailed in the Fourth Commandment.

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 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 ... . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day." (Exodus 20:8-11)

In many languages, the word used for the seventh day of the week – what we call Saturday – is actually the same word used for "Sabbath." In Greek, it is sabbaton; Italian, sabato; Spanish, sábado; Russian, subbota; Polish, sobota; and Hungarian, szómbat. Even the French "samedi" is from the Latin "Sambata dies," for "day of the Sabbath."

Names of days in today's English come from ancient paganism, where they were originally associated with celestial objects and heathen gods.

Table traces the seven days of the week from their pagan Latin origin
through the names of Norse gods to their current names in English

In the King James Version of the Bible, the word "Sabbath" appears 137 times. The word "Sunday" is absent, though its equivalent, the first day of the week, occurs eight times – nine if the "first day" of creation is counted.

Some examples of the use of Sabbath include:

"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. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant." (Exodus 31:15-16)

"But pray ye that your flight be not in winter, neither on the sabbath day." (Matthew 24:20)

"Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." (Mark 2:28)

Most biblical scholars have little disagreement when asked what day the Bible specifically calls the Sabbath.

"The seventh day, Saturday," says Richard Bauckham, professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "No other day is called the Sabbath in Old or New Testaments."

In 2001, Jan Marcussen, a Seventh-Day Adventist from Thompsonville, Ill., was so sure there was no Bible verse declaring the first day to be the Sabbath, he offered up to $1 million for clear, Scriptural proof.

"I didn't get even one response claiming the $1 million from any theologian, bishop, cardinal, pope or anyone else," Marcussen, author of "National Sunday Law," told WND. "Why not? Because they can't. [Observing Sunday as the Sabbath] is the biggest hoax the world has ever seen."

Prof. Richard Bauckham

But while the Bible never calls the first day of the week a Sabbath, the vast majority of Christians today gather for worship then. Many think Sabbath-keeping was either abolished or moved to Sunday once Jesus rose from the grave.

"There's not a simple answer," said Dr. Roger Felipe, a Baptist preacher from Marco Island, Fla., who is also director of programs for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, part of Trinity International University. "From [today's] Christian point of view, the Sabbath is Sunday."

There is little, if any, argument Jesus and His fellow Jews observed the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, as the Bible states, "as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read." (Luke 4:16)

But it's what took place after His death and resurrection that's key.

The rising of the Son

One reason many Christians provide for gathering on Sunday is the belief Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week.

"It's a powerful symbol," says Felipe.

An angel informs women that Jesus is not in the tomb, but has already risen.

His sentiments echo a 1998 writing by Pope John Paul II in which the pontiff referred to the origins of Sunday-keeping.

"In the weekly reckoning of time, Sunday recalls the day of Christ's Resurrection," the pope stated.

But the idea Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday is not universal.

The Bible is actually silent on the precise moment of resurrection. Jesus' followers came to His tomb before dawn on the first day of the week (Sunday), but they did not witness Him coming back to life. They merely found an empty tomb.

A tomb with a view

"Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen," is what an angel told the women. (Luke 24:5-6)

"Christ was already gone!" exclaims John Pinkston, a retired Air Force navigator who is founder and president of the Congregation of God Seventh Day in Kennesaw, Ga. "So that shoots in the foot the belief that He was raised on Sunday."

Pinkston is typical of many Sabbath-keepers, believing Jesus was neither killed on a Friday, nor raised on Sunday. He believes Jesus was actually put to death on a Wednesday, and remained in the grave 72 hours until Saturday evening. When the women came to the tomb early Sunday, they found it empty, indicating Jesus arose prior to their arrival.

Even the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Sunday-keeper and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., agreed with that timetable, telling WND in 2001, "I personally believe He was crucified on Wednesday evening ... and rose after 6 p.m. Saturday evening."

Most Christians today think Jesus died on a Friday and rose on Sunday. They point to Scriptures indicating a Sabbath day followed Jesus' execution. But Sabbath-keepers claim it was not the weekly Sabbath of Saturday approaching. Rather, they say it was an annual Sabbath, a "high" holy day in the Hebrew calendar known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which supposedly occurred on a Thursday the week Jesus was killed. The Gospel of John mentions that Sabbath was the annual type.

"The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) ... ." (John 19:31)

In other words, Sabbatarians say there was more than one day of rest that week. Their timeline has Jesus slain on Wednesday – the day before the "high day" annual Sabbath on Thursday. They believe Jesus was in the grave for a full three days and three nights, finally arising Saturday evening, the second Sabbath of the week.

The mention of "three days and three nights" is important for many, as Jesus used that phrase to prove His divine identity:

"For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so I, the Son of Man, will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights." (Matthew 12:40, New Living Translation)

There's disagreement if that phrase means a full three days and three nights – 72 hours – or merely parts of three days and three nights, leading many to stick with the Friday-evening-to-Sunday-morning timeline.

The last shall be first?

Beyond the resurrection issue, there are several Bible references to "the first day of the week," none of which are clear on the Sabbath issue.

The New Testament evidence is not conclusive, and nowhere 'ordains' or instructs [Sunday-keeping]," said Margaret M. Mitchell, professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Mitchell says the "evidence is, historically speaking, tantalizing but not absolutely clear."

She notes the apostle Paul, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, "calls on the Corinthians to treasure up on the first day of the week."

"He does not explicitly say there whether the envisioned context is a gathering of the assembly, or if this refers to what people do in their own homes," Mitchell said.

Another mention of the first day is in Acts 20:7, as Paul is shown breaking bread with fellow believers in ancient Troas, a peninsula in modern-day Turkey: "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them ... ."

Mitchell told WND: "This text appears to show a particular Sunday eucharistic gathering, but it does not tell us if this replaced the Sabbath observance or stood alongside it, [i.e., people observed both]."

Interestingly, while most Bible versions use the phrase "first day of the week" in Acts 20:7, a 1990 word-for-word translation of the same Scripture by Greek experts Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort in the New Greek English Interlinear New Testament from Tyndale House Publishers, actually renders it as "one of the Sabbaths."

Their version reads: "And on one of the Sabbaths having been assembled us to break bread, Paul was lecturing them ... ."

If the Tyndale translation is accurate, it could heighten the Saturday-vs.-Sunday controversy, since this alleged evidence for Sunday worship may not have been a Sunday at all, but the usual Saturday Sabbath.

'The Lord's Day' – or is that 'Day of the Lord'?

And then there's something called "the Lord's Day." Though mentioned just once in the Bible, many today assume it means Sunday.

The Scripture, written by the apostle John on the Greek island of Patmos, says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet." (Revelation 1:10)

Depiction of John on Patmos by Pat Marvenko Smith

Some Sabbatarians like Pinkston believe the term has no connection to the first day of the week.

"It's not talking anything about Sunday," he said. "It's talking about the 'Day of the Lord' mentioned in the Old Testament. It's prophecy about when Christ comes back. The Book of Revelation reveals the events of the 'Day of the Lord.' It has nothing to do with a worship day."

Others think it is indeed a worship day, but not Sunday. They suggest "the Lord's Day" is actually a Saturday Sabbath, noting Jesus called himself "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28) and that God referred to the Sabbath as "my holy day." (Isaiah 58:13)

Thus, according to this reasoning, if any day of the week were really "the Lord's Day," it's the seventh-day Sabbath, not Sunday.

However, Prof. Bauckham in Scotland believes there's good evidence from early Christian sources the phrase does indeed refer to Sunday.

"John probably means that his visionary experience happened during the time when other Christians were gathered for worship," he said.

"The other interpretation [equating it with the 'Day of the Lord'] doesn't really make sense because the earlier parts of the vision are not placed temporally at the end of history. That is only approached over several chapters [into Revelation]."

The Encyclopedia Britannica equates Sunday with "the Lord's Day" in Christianity, stating, "The practice of Christians gathering together for worship on Sunday dates back to apostolic times, but details of the actual development of the custom are not clear."

The New Testament, penned within the first century, never specifically mentions a Sabbath change.

"From a logical point of view," says Pinkston, "if the New Testament had intended for us to start worshipping on the first day of the week, then we'd find ample evidence for it. Yet, it's not in there."

One example Sabbatarians point to is when Paul is shown preaching to both Jews and Gentiles (non-Hebrews) on a Sabbath, and not Sunday. He's then asked to preach again on the following 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. ... And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God." (Acts 13:42-44)

The argument is, if there were some kind of worship on the first day of the week, then Paul would have just told the people – especially those with no connection to Jewish customs – to simply come back tomorrow (Sunday) to learn more, rather than wait an entire week for the next Sabbath to arrive.

Man of the Sabbath

A well-known expert on the Sabbath is Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, a retired theology professor at Andrews University in Michigan.

Bacchiocchi earned his doctorate in Church History at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was awarded a gold medal by Pope Paul VI for his summa cum laude class work and dissertation, "From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity."

Bacchiocchi, a Seventh-Day Adventist, believes there's no Scriptural mandate to change or eliminate Sabbath-keeping, and he singles out the Catholic Church for its role in changing the day.

"The Church of the capital of the empire, whose authority was already felt far and wide in the second century, appears to be the most likely birthplace of Sunday observance," he writes.

In the 1876 book, "The Faith of Our Fathers," James Cardinal Gibbons, the Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, agreed the shift to Sunday was not based on the Bible, but was solely the work of the Catholic Church.

"You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify," Gibbons wrote.

Bacchiocchi also told WND: "Anti-Judaism caused the abandonment of the Sabbath, and pagan sun worship influenced the adoption of Sunday."

He says evidence of anti-Judaism is found in the writings of Christian leaders such as Ignatius, Barnabas and Justin in the second century. He notes these three "witnessed and participated in the process of separation from Judaism which led the majority of the Christians to abandon the Sabbath and adopt Sunday as the new day of worship."

Bacchiocchi also explains the influence of pagan sun worship provides a "plausible explanation for the Christian choice of Sunday" over the day of Saturn. Its effect wasn't just limited to Sunday. It apparently led to the placement of Jesus' birth in late December.

"The adoption of the 25th of December for the celebration of Christmas is perhaps the most explicit example of sun worship's influence on the Christian liturgical calendar," Bacchiocchi writes. "It is a known fact that the pagan feast of the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – the birthday of the Invincible Sun, was held on that date."

Christian fact, pagan Mithra

One of the Roman names for this "Invincible Sun" god in the days of the apostles was Mithra. There are striking similarities between the ancient worship of Mithra and today's Christianity, leading some to think early Christians adopted Sunday worship from heathen customs.

The pagan sun god Mithra, also known as 'the Invincible Sun'

For instance, Mithraism's sacred day of Sunday was said to be called "the Lord's Day."

Donald Morse, a retired professor at Temple University, wrote a 1999 essay comparing the tenets of Mithraism to modern Christianity, explaining Mithra was worshipped on Sunday; was born of a virgin known as the "mother of God" on Dec. 25; was part of a holy trinity; and had a "Last Supper" with his 12 followers before his death and resurrection at Easter time near the spring equinox.

Mithraists were also taught they had immortal souls that went to a celestial heaven or an infernal hell at death.

"All of these religions intermingled in those days," Morse, who is Jewish, told WND. "There's no way to know who stole from whom."

On the change from Sabbath to Sunday, Morse suggested early Christian leaders including Paul felt "the best way to convert pagans was to not have them change too much. Just accept their [pagan] holidays, as long as they accepted Jesus as Messiah. They didn't really have to do much more than that."

There's no place like Rome

As Christianity spread through the pagan Roman Empire, it was finally given official toleration in the year 312 by Emperor Constantine, who purportedly had a vision that prompted his soldiers to fight under a "symbol of Christ," leading to a key military victory. The emperor then restored confiscated church property and even offered public funds to churches in need.

Roman Emperor Constantine sees a symbol of Christ
in the sky before the battle at Milvian Bridge
outside Rome in A.D. 312

Sunday observance received a historic boost when Constantine – himself a pagan who is said to have adopted Christianity at least nominally – established Sunday as the first day of the week in the Roman calendar and issued a mandatory order prohibiting work on that day, in honor of the sun god.

On March 7, 321, he decreed, "On the venerable Day of the Sun, let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed." Farmers were given an exception.

"The importance of the actions of Constantine cannot be overstated," says author Richard Rives in "Too Long in the Sun." "During his reign, pagan sun worship was blended with the worship of the Creator, and officially entitled 'Christianity.'"

Before the end of the 4th century, Sunday observance prevailed over Saturday.

At the Council of Laodicea in 363, the Church of Rome – today known as the Roman Catholic Church – declared: "Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord's Day [Sunday]; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ."

In 380, Emperor Theodosius made Sunday-keeping Catholic Christianity the official religion of the empire, outlawing all other faiths:

We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that the shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics.

While some went along with the decrees, others apparently did not. A letter from Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, reveals differences in Sabbath practices in his own city from those in Rome. It led to the well-known proverb, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Once Sunday had the imperial power of the Roman Catholic government behind it, Saturday Sabbath-keepers became less visible, though some Sabbatarian websites have documented mentions of seventh-day observers through the centuries.

For example, the Catholic Church persecuted Sabbath-keepers in the 15th century. At the Catholic Provincial Council of Bergen, Norway, in 1435, it was said:

We are informed that some people in different districts of the kingdom, have adopted and observed Saturday-keeping.

It is severely forbidden – in holy church canon – [for] one and all to observe days excepting those which the holy pope, archbishop, or the bishops command. Saturday-keeping must under no circumstances be permitted hereafter further that the church canon commands. Therefore we counsel all the friends of God throughout all Norway who want to be obedient towards the holy church to let this evil of Saturday-keeping alone; and the rest we forbid under penalty of severe church punishment to keep Saturday holy.

The Catholic Encyclopedia even refers to Sabbath-keeping as "the superstitious observance of Saturday," noting it was forbidden by that council.

Coming to America

As Christianity headed west, the earliest settlers to America included both Sunday-keepers – such as the Puritans who landed at Plymouth, Mass., in 1620 – and Sabbath-observers like the Seventh Day Baptists, whose first church was founded in Newport, R.I., in 1671.

When the Puritan Christians used the word Sabbath, they would mean Sunday – "the Lord's Day" – and passed rules enforcing its observance from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday.

Connecticut's so-called Blue Laws of the 1650s had strict codes of conduct said to include:

- No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from meeting.

- No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave, on the Sabbath day.

- No one shall read Common-Prayer, keep Christmas or saints-days, make minced pies, dance, play cards, or play on any instrument of music, except the drum, trumpet, and the Jews-harp.

- Adultery shall be punished by death.

Instructions for colonists in New Haven, Conn.,
drafted in 1655 and published in London in 1656
became known as blue laws.

In her 1909 book, "The Sabbath in Puritan New England," historian Alice Morse Earle documented "lists of arrests and fines for walking and travelling unnecessarily on the Sabbath," regarded here from Saturday evening to Sunday evening:

A Maine man who was rebuked and fined for "unseemly walking" on the Lord's Day protested that he ran to save a man from drowning. The Court made him pay his fine, but ordered that the money should be returned to him when he could prove by witnesses that he had been on that errand of mercy and duty. As late as the year 1831, in Lebanon, Conn., a lady journeying to her father's home was arrested within sight of her father's house for unnecessary travelling on the Sabbath; and a long and fiercely contested lawsuit was the result, and damages were finally given for false imprisonment.

Spring of 1642: Puritan settlers in New England observe the Sabbath on Sunday,
Courtesy the Stamford Historical Society, Stamford, Conn.

Christians observing the Sabbath on Saturday also spread throughout America, but in fewer numbers than Sunday-keepers.

The teachings of the Seventh Day Baptists are said to be instrumental in the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church – which claims a membership today of 15 million – and the Church of God (Seventh Day) – which has more than 200 congregations in the U.S. and Canada and a worldwide fellowship of more than 300,000.

Other Christians promoting Saturday rest include many offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God, such as the United Church of God, Living Church of God, Church of God International, Philadelphia Church of God , Christian Biblical Church of God and Intercontinental Church of God.

Messianic Jews, including Dallas-based Zola Levitt Ministries, are also seventh-day proponents.

Some Sabbatarians, such as Richard Ames of the Living Church of God, produce TV shows like "Tomorrow's World," asking, "Which day is the Christian Sabbath?"

On one program, Ames points to Luke 4:16 in the Bible and says, "It was Jesus' regular custom to worship on the Sabbath, and since that time, and centuries before, the Jewish community has very carefully documented their observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, Saturday. In other words, history demonstrates that time has not been lost, that the seven-day cycle has been accurately recorded to this day."

In another episode, Ames' colleague, Roderick C. Meredith, calls Sunday observance "the most flagrant error of mainstream Christianity" and "the most obvious deception of all."

"Do you realize that this deception is blinding millions of people from knowing God?" asks Meredith.

Despite such rhetoric, many Catholic and Protestant Sunday-keepers reject Sabbath-keeping on Saturday.

Greg Laurie, a WND columnist and senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., one of the eight largest Protestant churches in America, maintains it's wrong for Christians to observe Saturday, claiming Jesus and the apostles never taught anyone to keep the Sabbath. He says it's the only one of the Ten Commandments not specifically repeated in the New Testament.

"Of all the New Testament lists of sins, 'breaking the Sabbath' is never mentioned," Laurie said. "That is because it was given to the Jews, not the non-Jews."

Back in Florida, Sunday-keeper Roger Felipe thinks God is not overly concerned with the Sabbath issue.

"Paul is very clear that we Christians don't use [one particular day] as a determining factor if someone is right with God," Felipe said.

At the same time, though, the minister supports the idea of resting one day each week to stay on track with God.

"Humanity has forsaken the importance of Sabbath rest," he said. "God desires us to be renewed spiritually. We should observe a day ... to be consecrated and to be devoted to God, to be renewed and refreshed. In terms of affecting the human quality of life, it would do us very well to observe a Sabbath rest."

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