Keeping Sabbath - A New Testament Perspective

shabbatSeveral years ago the Lord led me and my family into the practice of obeying the fourth commandment: remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. In the teaching that I shared on the subject, I only addressed the "whys" and not very many of the modern churches' "why not(s)" or reasons given for not keeping the commandment of the Lord under the New Covenant. In the brief explanation which follows, I would like to touch upon a few of the New Testament scriptures submitted as reasons why new covenant believers object to keeping the Sabbath at the time originally designated rather than Sunday, the first day of the week.

As I began to prepare this short message, I found that it had a great potential to become a very long message. After all, churchmen haven't celebrated Sabbath as Sunday for nearly two millennia without a great deal of very serious (and brilliant) considered reasoning of the scriptures and historical separation of the new covenant believers from the Jewish roots of our faith. Since the scriptures record how the Jews came against Paul, the gentile apostle, it is not surprising that the gentile believers were not desirous of fulfilling the edict of the first Jerusalem council where they were encouraged to learn the laws of Moses: (Acts 15:21) For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.

But, I have resisted the temptation to go intellectual as I realize that with such a large body of exegesis (biblical critical analysis) material regarding Sabbath, it can only be by faith through the revelation of the Holy Spirit that one can "prove" to himself the correctness of keeping the Lord's Day on the day the Lord originally designated rather than on the day He was resurrected and subsequently supped with the disciples.

My original teaching regarding Sabbath gave some very sound evidence from historical records of how we came to worship on a heathen holy day. History records how Emperor Constantine brought a greater control and harmony to his kingdom by legislating a formal edict changing Sabbath to "the Lord's day" (Lord Kurios, the sun-deity) in 321. The church officially adopted this edict in 336 (officially acknowledged at the council of Laodicea).[1]

In spite of this factual history and political purpose, churchmen attempt to justify the change by New Testament scriptures. In most instances we will discover that it is modern day believer's unfamiliarity with Jewish traditions or the practices of the first century "church" that leads to potential misinterpretation of the scriptures. However, as we shall see by the most convincing scripture given, by the end of the apostles' lives there seems to have been more and more separation from the synagogue by some of the gentile converts. Thus, like most controversial theologies, there can be no finality of intellectual proof, but rather only "the preponderance of proof" by shear weight and reasonable explanation.

There are three primary scriptural references used to justify Sunday Sabbath worship.

The objections:

1. (1 Cor 16:2,3 NIV) On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.

Although the scriptures are clear that following Christ's resurrection, the apostles first met on the traditional Jewish observed Sabbath, some would say that this scripture proves that they met on Sunday. Unfortunately, this "proof" demonstrates a lack of understanding of Hebraic customs and even temple worship.

Although the temple entrance and treasury was lined with several boxes for the collection of tithes and offerings, it was unthinkable that one would bring "their offerings unto the Lord" on a holy day of Sabbath. Collection of tithes and offerings were received every other day, but not on Shabbat. The Jews were quite pious (on the outside) and observed the law about mixing of the Holy (Sabbath) with the profane (mammon/money). Additionally, there is a second highly probable explanation which relates to the second scripture used as proof.

2. (Acts 20:6 KJV) And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. (Acts 20:7 KJV) 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. (Acts 20:8 KJV) And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. (Acts 20:9 KJV) And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. (Acts 20:10 KJV) And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. (Acts 20:11 KJV) When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. (Acts 20:12 KJV) And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted. (Acts 20:13 KJV) And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot.

Notice the circumstances and sequence of events as we will come back to them in just a minute. Here is Paul on the far northwestern tip of what is now Turkey, directly opposite Macedonia, in a major city called Troas, speaking to a group of assembled believers. The sequence seems to be Paul preached with the intention of departing the next morning (as they would not sail on Sabbath, if at all possible). He preached until midnight when Eutychus fell out of the window and was raised up again by Paul. They broke bread (communion) and ate, then talked some more until the break of the day. Then he departed.

Now let us consider when that was. Most bible translations say "on the first day of the week," which of course we think is Sunday. However, let us determine if this was daylight Sunday as our Western mindset would think, or was it another time – a time that is traditional from a Hebraic perspective.

Before we consider this Hebraic perspective, I want to first consider the Greek from which the English is translated. Then, I want to refer to the Hebrew translation and interpretation.

The phrase translated as "the first day of the week" originates from only two Greek words, "mia" (G3391[2]) meaning "one or first" and "sabbaton" which of course means Sabbath. So in the Greek language, the biblical reference to the "first day of the week" or "first" was traditionally listed in relationship to the Sabbath. Since this sentence structure is nearly proprietary to biblical references and not common writings of the era, might we speculate that it was translated or influenced by a preponderance of Jewish authors? The only difficulty with that assumption is that the book of Acts was written by Luke, "the beloved physician" who was a gentile! Thus, if a gentile wrote about days of the week in the same manor as the Jews, we have to at least consider that there is a reason for the form – a relationship to the Jewish Sabbath.

Now let us look at this same phrase from the Hebrew Bible and a Hebrew perspective to see if it makes contextual sense. "On Motz'ei-Shabbat, when we gathered to break bread, Sha'ul (Paul) addressed them."

In Jewish culture is was/is traditional to work very hard at living/surviving – six days a week. So on the seventh day or Sabbath, the Jews day of rest was cherished and enjoyed with relational associations that carried far beyond the close of Shabbat. Remember, the Shabbat day was from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday (now often observed from 6PM to 6PM). So when Saturday evening came, the fellowship often lasted long into the hours of darkness just to stretch out the pleasure of the rest.

My Hebrew linguist and resident (in Israel) Jew, Rimona Frank tells me that the Hebrew word Motz'ei stems from the root which is "to go out, leave, exit". Thus "motza'ei Shabbat" is the going out of the Sabbath, which is Saturday night. Thus, according to Hebraic understanding, the believers mentioned in Acts 20:7 probably met for what is called havdalla, the time (and closing prayers of Shabbat) which separates Shabbat from the rest of the new week. So in the context of the verse is it no wonder they went on until midnight – or even until the next morning.

So a Hebraic understanding of the sequence of the subject verse might go something like this: The believers may have either rested or gone to synagogue during the day Saturday and came together for communion and fellowship Saturday evening. The meeting went on far into the evening; Eutychus fell out of the window and was raised up again by Paul around midnight. They then broke bread (communion) and ate, talked some more until the break of the day. Then Paul departed by foot and the others by boat in daylight on Sunday.

3. One last scripture that is used to attempt to negate the keeping of OT commands to observe Sabbath, holy days etc. is one that has been twisted to mean exactly the opposite of what it says by the "new covenant mindset." It is:

(Col 2:15 KJV) And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col 2:16 KJV) 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: (Col 2:17 KJV) Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Some look at this verse and say, "See, since Jesus' triumph over principalities and powers, we don't have to observe Sabbath, Holy Days, etc." Huh? What does the one have to do with the other? In contrast, it would seem to say, "Look brethren, since Jesus, our Lord is so powerful to have triumphed over the principalities and powers (and He is in us) we don't have to be ashamed and receive the judgment of those who ridicule us for our faith and obedience to His commands.

But the proof, and I believe proof positive, of the correct interpretation would be apparent if there were another scripture that tells us that we should observe a holy day, Sabbath, etc. Since we have been trying to show you that with Sabbath, anything more on that subject would simply leave it up for further challenge. So let us look at a passage regarding holy days as represented by the Festivals (Feasts) of the Lord. While they are all considered holy days, I want to use a high holy day taken from Paul's directions to the Corinthian believers. Remember, that the general theme for

I Corinthians is Christian conduct. So what should we do?

(1 Cor 5:7 KJV) Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: (1 Cor 5:8 KJV) Therefore let us keep the feast (obviously, Paul is referring to the feast of Passover), not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Is this a direction for our lives as the rest of the book is, or simply a metaphor as some would have us understand in order to twist the scriptures – again?

Now the issue that we must resolve in our hearts, with the Holy Spirit's leading is this:

Are these few problematic scriptures specific enough to negate the preponderance/weight of the scriptures about our

- eternal covenant i.e. all the OT "forevers"

- prophecy about the laws being written on our hearts

(Heb 8:10, 10:16, Jer 31:33)

- the disciples continuing temple worship on Sabbath – after Christ's Resurrection

- Paul's continuance to observe the laws of Moses e.g. (Acts 21:21-24)

- A multitude of recorded Sabbath meetings among Jews and gentiles, e.g. (Acts 13:44 KJV) And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.)

- The Lord's declaration that He is the Lord of the Sabbath

And finally, John's book of Revelation is ascribed to be the oldest record of the NT. In it he says: (Rev 1:10 KJV) I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,.....

That John could possibly mean "Sunday" in Revelation 1:10 is nothing but pure speculation and justification in my opinion. While Sunday has become known through tradition as the Lord's day to us (actually, lord Kurios/sun diety day), scripture does not designate it as such. In contrast, Jesus said in reference to Friday/Saturday Sabbath:

Mat 12:8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. Mark 2:28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. Luke 6:5 And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

In the above verses it is quite clear that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath day, referring to the biblical Sabbath, the Sabbath instituted at creation and written on tables of stone by the finger of God (Exo. 20:8-11). The only day of the week John would have considered to be "the Lord's day" was not Sunday, but the biblical seventh day Friday/Saturday Sabbath spoken of by Jesus Himself.

Some people say that Jesus taught against the Sabbath and the keeping of the law. This is a huge topic, but I would like us again to remember the words of our Lord right in the middle of the sermon on the mount. In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says 17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Heaven and earth have not passed away - so neither has the law.) 19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The Sabbath thread is woven throughout the Scriptures – it started in the beginning and now I would like to show you that when Jesus establishes His Millennial Kingdom we will be observing Sabbath. Both Ezekiel 46:1-3 and Isaiah 66:23 show us that. Isaiah 66:23 states 23And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. Sabbath in the Millennial Kingdom – and beyond (see vs. 22) – the thread continues to be woven!

Malachi 3:6 says 6For I am the LORD, I change not; and James 1:17 17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Yesterday, today and tomorrow - He changes not. But, the church has formally decreed that it has the right to change his laws, times and seasons. Just who is it that changes God's laws and times – like Sabbath and holy days? (Dan 7:25) I believe that behind the earthly power (the "horn") described in Daniel is the Spirit of anti-Christ that has worked to destroy the Word and the believer down through church history.

My prayer is that the "Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13)

Remember the scriptures:

(Isa 58:13 KJV) If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: (Isa 58:14 KJV) Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

May His Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, (2 Pet 1:2 KJV)

Shabbat Shalom,

Gateway To Freedom Ministries

Randy Schroeder