It’s not my intention to belittle my brothers and sisters in Christ that think we are still under obligation to observe the Sabbath. Still, I feel the need to defend the stance of those of us who don’t hold to this doctrine. I hope we can disagree amicably. There is something lost, I think, if we lose respect for one another. Without respect for someone we effectively close the door to any avenue of blessing that God may want to give us through that person. If it turns out they are His, and God wants to use them in our life, well… that would be a shame.
Maybe you have seen this post and wondered is it true? Did the Early Church (among the Gentiles) keep the Jewish Sabbath? I believe the Biblical and historical evidence says no. Long before Constantine, the church met on Sunday and did not observe the Sabbath. Ignatius, who was a disciple of the Apostle John and was martyred around 98 to 117 A.D. wrote –
No longer observing the Sabbath but living in observance of The Lord’s Day.
The Lord’s Day is what Sunday was called by the believers.
While not scripture, this points to what the early church believed… did I mention he was John the Apostle’s disciple?
Justin Martyr (lived around 100-165 A.D.) also wrote ..
But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses (from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people’s hearts), along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren. Dialogue Of Justin With Trypho , A Jew
There are other quotes I could mention, but let’s turn our attention to the guidance scriptures give us.
- In Acts 15:19-20, when addressing what obligations were laid on the Gentiles, the keeping of the Sabbath never makes the list.
- In Galatians 4:9-10, Paul says observance of days is bondage.
- In Romans 14:4-6, Paul warns against the one who esteems one day above the other, not to judge the one who doesn’t (and vise versa). Also, he said something similar in Colossians 2:16.
- In Colossians 2:17, he calls the Sabbath The shadow of things still to come. Hebrews 4 speaks of the Sabbath that we are to enter into.
Hebrews 4:10-11 KJV
(10) For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
(11) Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
- What instances we have of believers meeting together, it was on the First Day of the week (Acts 20:7-1Cor 16:2) (though in it’s earliest days the church met everyday).
Also, what Constantine did was pass a civil law and made Sunday the official day of rest. He decreed..
“On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed” ( It Is debatable if Constantine was a Christian). He was emperor not Pope.
And though the Catholic Church may claim they changed the Sabbath to Sunday, that doesn’t make it so. The Catholic Church wrongly claims that the Apostle Peter was the first Pope (biblical and historical evidence doesn’t support this), so why would we accept their claims concerning a Sunday Sabbath? The early church, long before what we would call the Catholic church was organized, chose Sunday to meet. As Justin Martyr said
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.
Having said all of this– do I raise Sunday to the same status as the Jewish Sabbath? No. It is good to set aside time to meet and gather in the name of Jesus but it’s not the day that is special… but the purpose for which we gather. There are no works, ceremonies, or customs that will make us Holy— Only the Blood and Grace of Jesus Christ.
What do I mean by works, ceremonies and customs? Well, not every law mention in the Bible is of the same sort. Christian scholars tend to classify law under three headings. ceremonial, civil, and moral. For our purposes let’s compare ceremonial (custom of the nation), and moral law. While the ceremonial law is not binding for everyone, for example circumcision, animal sacrifice,food prohibitions etc, the moral law is. The question, it seems to me, is the Sabbath a ceremonial, or moral law. If a moral law we would expect it to be part of any moral persons makeup. Yet there was no Sabbath law until Moses at Sinai and the Jews don’t teach that a Gentile need keep the Sabbath to be righteous (just google– Noahide Law). Though honoring God (commandments 1 & 2 & 3), honoring your parents, not stealing , no murder, no lies, no sexual immorality and not coveting were always a part of a moral life. Moral laws are generally considered timeless, eternal, and universal as someone said. But it is easy to see that the Sabbath doesn’t fall into this category. Then is the Sabbath a ceremonial law? I believe so. For one thing it is left out of the list of things that will keep you from inheriting the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21, 1Cor 6:9). Also In Matthew 12:3-8 Jesus talks about David eating the sacred bread and the priest violating the Sabbath. Both are ritualistic laws and can be broken at need…the same can’t be said of a moral law.
So if the Sabbath laws are a ceremonial law, then the enforcement of them on us Gentiles would lead to bondage. The letter of Galatians was written to combat this. Paul did not want us to be bound to ceremonial law. So using Abraham as an example of righteousness by faith, shows us God’s purpose for the law, and what true righteousness is.
Some of his points are:
(not necessarily in order)
- Law won’t perfect you (Gal 3:3–)
- The law is not based on faith ( Gal 3:12)
- The reliance on ceremony is bondage. (Gal 4:9-10)
- The law was to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24)
- Abraham was found righteous long before the law…so we can be righteous without the law. (Gal 3:6–Gal 3:17)
So… what is the conclusion we should reach if we consider these facts. We are saved through faith in Christ and while our faith doesn’t exempt us from the moral law it does from the ceremonial. In view of the law we are all sinners under bondage and Christ came to set us free. The moral law condemned us and said we should reap the wage of death for our sins. But Jesus paid that debt for those who believe on him. The moral law is still binding though, and followers of Jesus honor these by keeping them by His Grace. The ceremonial law was given to the Hebrew’s to give them cultural identity and to point to something yet to come. A shadow, to show the shape of what was yet not seen. These were not meant to be binding on us Gentiles.(I would like to add that we owe a great debt to the Jewish people. They honored the scriptures entrusted to them. And the scriptures cast a light on what we are, and who He is…and for that I am grateful.)
Be free His people! Let us strive for the unity of the faith. A good way to do this is by loving and talking to one another.
Your brother in Christ:
Lamon Napper Jr.