You may think in looking at the title of this message: “Why is he wasting his time on this? Of course it’s not. Anyone who reads a Bible knows this is true and those who are convinced otherwise will probably never figure out the truth.” In some ways I might agree. In other ways I want to set the record straight despite knowing many others have tackled this issue many times over and most Christians still persist that Sunday is some type of “Christian Sabbath” (an idea that has absolutely no Scriptural basis). I do understand, however, that no matter how much truth you hit some people with the blinders don’t seem to come off.
Aside from all that, and regardless of having already put out several messages about The Sabbath Day, I feel led to address this topic once again with a study focused on several points:
- Worship on The Sabbath Day is never an actual commandment in Torah or anywhere else in The Bible.
- Worship gatherings held on Sunday or any other day of the week besides The Sabbath Day are neither keeping nor breaking The Sabbath.
- You can only keep The Sabbath on The Sabbath.
- Sunday is NOT The Sabbath Day.
Think about that last point for a minute. I will get into it in more detail later, but isn’t it interesting that this needs to be said? Yet there are those today who hold an almost right view of The Sabbath as a day to do no ordinary work and rest both physically and mentally from the labors and stresses of life, but believe that you have some sort of freedom—found nowhere in The Bible—to keep The Sabbath on whatever day fits your schedule. Even as a child in the Baptist Church I knew a lady who actually prepared all her meals for Sunday on Saturday because she genuinely believed Sunday—the first day of the week—was The Sabbath.
The list of books by mainstream Christian authors presenting Sunday as The Sabbath is a long one. Some time ago I read Pat Robertson’s book The Ten Offenses: Reclaim The Blessing Of The Ten Commandments, where he seeks to call Christians to renew a focus on the Ten Commandments. In chapter seven, subtitled Commandment Four: Observe a Sabbath Rest, he makes these statements:
The original Sabbath of the Hebrews of the Bible was Saturday. The Orthodox Jews still celebrate a Sabbath that begins at sundown on Friday and continues twenty-four hours until sundown on Saturday.
Sunday in biblical times was called “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Since this was the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the early Christians—most of whom were Jewish—held their meetings on Sunday rather than Saturday. As custom developed, the Christian Sabbath, or day of rest and worship, became Sunday, and this was the day established by law in America. There was a time not so long ago when Sunday was a very special day.
Of course, Robertson is completely wrong in his statements. There is not “a Sabbath” whenever you want it to be and, as we will see later in this message, the earliest followers of Yeshua more likely met as a congregation on Saturday evening after sunset immediately following their Sabbath observance, not Sunday.
Another example is a book I picked up intending to read through prior to writing this message titled Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, And Delight In Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. But I quickly become so utterly disgusted and set the book aside less than 30 pages in after the author quoted both the famous Hindu leader Gandhi and the 13th Century Muslim scholar and theologian Rumi. Some might say that truth can be found everywhere, and while that may be a valid point I will counter it by saying that if we believe we have the ABSOLUTE TRUTH in The Bible we do not need to validate that biblical truth with quotes from the leaders of demonic false religions.
Muller seemed to be saying good things when I read the statement: “Like a path in the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find out way back to our center.” But then on the very next page he says: “Sabbath is time for sacred rest; it may be a holy day, the seventh day of the week, as in the Jewish tradition, or the first day of the week, as for Christians.” It may be a holy day? No! It absolutely is a holy day and it is solely the seventh day of the biblical week that holds the honor of being called The Sabbath!
It all sounds so good. We live in a culture that in general does not adhere to a biblical Sabbath and many job fields operate outside of the traditional workweek. As a result, some may find themselves with a job that requires someone to work on The Sabbath. How do we get around that? Change the rules and let people keep The Sabbath whatever day their job allows them as their “day off”.
Of course, the major problem with this line of thinking is that it just simply is not biblical. We’ll look at supporting passages in a moment, but the simply reality is that nowhere in The Bible is The Sabbath defined as anything other than the seventh day. Additionally, according to ancient Hebrew/Jewish tradition based on Scripture, days are changed over at sunset. Thus the true Sabbath begins at sunset on the day we call “Friday” in our modern culture and concludes at sunset on our modern “Saturday”.
I was listening to a pastor and his wife recently talking to their church and they brought up keeping The Sabbath. The wife mentioned how she was currently, at the time of their little discourse, reading Rabbi Heschel’s famous book on the subject, titled The Sabbath. But then they proceeded to allude to Sunday as The Sabbath. I was completely perplexed by this. I mean, I get that many of these Christian pastors honestly believe that Sunday, the first day of the week, is The Sabbath despite Scripture plainly declaring from cover to cover that The Sabbath is the seventh day. But once a person gets to a place where they are reading Heschel on the subject you would think they have figured out that Sunday is NOT The Sabbath.
Stop Submitting To Pharaoh
Before we really dig into this message, I want you to consider that God is a God of Sabbath. We see this very plainly early in the Genesis record as the final act of God during the Creation week is documented in Genesis 2:1-3 where He both instituted and Himself kept The Sabbath. Consider what Walter Brueggemann, Th.D., Ph.D., says in his book Sabbath As Resistance: Saying NO To The Culture Of Now:
YHWH is a Sabbath-keeping God, which fact ensures that restfulness and not restlessness is at the center of life. YHWH is a Sabbath-giving God and a Sabbath-commanding God. Israel, for that reason, is always again to choose between “life and death” (Deut. 30:15-20), between YHWH and “the gods of your ancestors” (Josh. 24:14-15), between YHWH and Baal (1 Kgs. 18:21), between the way of the Torah and the way of sinners (Ps. 1). Sabbath becomes a decisive, visible way of opting for and aligning with the God of rest.
Brueggemann’s argument, to which I agree, throughout his book is that keeping The Sabbath is an act of defiance to the man-made and humanist-driven systems of this world. He constantly notes that the ways of God are contrary to the ways of Pharaoh, drawing on the exodus record and the giving of The Torah (which includes the commandment to remember The Sabbath Day and keep it holy).
Some time ago I put out an article titled Out Of Egypt → Into Babylon where I detail the system of the world and how it stands in stark opposition to the ways and will of Yahweh our Father and Creator God. The Sabbath truly stands at the heart of the opposition we should have toward the world’s system.
Patience is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatian 5:22-23). The way of this world is one of never being satisfied. There is always more to be achieved; there is always that brass ring to strive for. And when you attain a goal, a new one presents itself so that you can never find a place of fulfillment and rest. The worldly person touts: “I want a new car,” “I want a million dollars,” “I want a mansion,” and should they ever get those things there is a new want to replace them. The mantra of this world is found in such demonically inspired rock songs as Queen’s I Want It All, which includes the lyric “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now”. With such an attitude instilled in you there will never be a place of peace in your life because you will forever be chasing what you cannot have: ALL.
Why do Christians beat on the doors of Pharaoh’s court seeking more, more, more? What is so difficult about walking out of Egypt and dwelling in the peace of God’s presence? Even just one day a week, The Sabbath? Consider what these passages from Scripture’s Apostolic Writings tell us:
I am not saying this because I am in need—for whatever circumstance I am in, I have learned to be content. I know what it is to live with humble means, and I know what it is to live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment—both to be filled and to go hungry, to have abundance and to suffer need.
Philippians 4:11-12 (TLV)
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, So we cannot take anything out of it. But having food and clothing, with these things we shall be content.
~1 Timothy 6:6-8 (TLV)
Keep your lifestyle free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.
~Hebrews 13:5 (TLV)
A proper reading of The Bible in context reveals that this contentment is at the heart of the whole message. God did not create us to rape and pillage the Earth, He set us here with the charge to care for and steward His Creation. Contrast the above passages with these two:
“Do not covet your neighbor’s house, your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
~Exodus 20:17 (TLV)
Then He said to them, “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the material goods he possesses.”
~Luke 12:15 (TLV)
Scripture charges us to live content with what God provides us and not be greedy and covetous. Some of today’s most popular preaching comes from what has been labeled the “prosperity gospel”. While there are some valid points made by proponents of this genre of ministry there are also a lot of abuses and even potentially heretical views stemming from it. I have been pleased to see recently, perhaps within the past year, at least two of the biggest promoters of this doctrinal view rejecting the larger “prosperity gospel” message and repenting for what they have taught in the past. This is hopeful, but there is still a long way to go.
Am I saying that God does not want us to be blessed? Of course not! And I certainly am not saying that it is God’s will for you to live in poverty. As I said, there are good points that have come out of the “prosperity gospel”. When the abuses are removed—and many they are—there is still quite a bit of sound doctrine that has come through this type of ministry.
Despite all of that, however, The Bible is very clear that we are to be content with what God provides for us. Remember, what is promised in Scripture is that God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). Whatever may be supplied above and beyond your needs is the blessing of God and is meant not to give you a higher status among the cultures and societies of the world but for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.
Obedience Is Better
In 1 Samuel 15 we find an interesting story. It’s the record of king Saul’s quest, at the commandment of God, to annihilate the Amalekites. But Saul thought that he had a better idea than God and decided to spare the king along with the best of the livestock animals. Later in the story we find out that Saul’s reasoning was that they could use these choice animals to offer a sacrifice to Yahweh.
As they returned the Prophet of God uttered the words, “What is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Then after Saul gives his excuses the Prophet says: “Does Adonai delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Adonai? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.”
Think about that for a moment. It probably wouldn’t be so bad if he merely said that to obey is better than sacrifice. For that would leave us with options—obedience is better, but if you sacrifice, even through some act of disobedience, you are still making an offering to God and that’s OK. But that is not where the Prophet stopped. He continued and said that rebellion is like witchcraft and stubbornness like iniquity and idolatry. This changes things because now you don’t have options. If your sacrifice is born in rebellion than even your offering to God is a wicked abomination provoking further His wrath as you would dare have the audacity to tell God: “Hey, it’s not so bad, sure you told me to do that one thing, but look what I brought you instead.”
I’ve been invited at times to help a ministry do some type of work on a Saturday in preparation for some upcoming event, their Sunday morning service, or just to do things that needed to be done around the ministry when nobody was there. (Incidentally, the fact that Sunday churches are void of people on Saturdays is an indication of just how easy it would be for them to transition to actually keeping the Sabbath—more on that later.)
I have seen large ministries preparing to host a conference have a ministry-wide “work party” on Saturdays. I always chuckle to myself when I see this, apparently they are totally oblivious to the fact that their big day of preparation is literally breaking the fourth commandment, the only of the Ten Commandments we know for certain was instituted during the very week of Creation. I mean, the only actual commandment related to The Sabbath is to do not work on that day, the seventh day according to the biblical reckoning of time.
I heard the Pastor of one Church doing this confess that he believed the reason behind a major health battle he went through was because he was not keeping The Sabbath. This Pastor often says that whatever gets in the head, will make its way into the body, indicating that as Church leadership embraces biblical truths the congregation will ultimately embrace those truths too. Well, wouldn’t the reverse also be true? If the reason behind the Pastor’s health battle is attributed to breaking The Sabbath, why would you then lead your congregation to break The Sabbath—even to “prepare for a ministry event”—and risk bringing that same curse on the parishioners who are just following the misguided direction of the leadership?
In another instance not so long ago a pastor friend invited me to join a group of men to do some work around the church he is connected with (he has more of an associate or staff pastor position and is also a Bible College professor). This, of course, was going to be on a Saturday. Mind you, I have not known him all that long but he’s a great guy with a clear love for the Word of God. I joked that he hasn’t figured me out yet, and when he asked how so I told him that I don’t work on The Sabbath.
What’s that bleating of sheep in my ears? What’s that rumble of lawnmowers in my ears? What’s that squealing of vacuum cleaners in my ears? What’s that pounding of nails in my ears?
Obedience is better than sacrifice and rebellion is like witchcraft. Think about this. You gather together, even at a church, to do work on the Sabbath because it’s quiet and nobody is around. How do you think God sees this? If “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy” is the commandment of God and you decide that’s it’s OK, it’s ministry work, you’re doing it for God and the advancement of the Kingdom. That is literally rejecting obedience to offer a sacrifice!
What’s that bleating of sheep in my ears? “Oh, it’s OK, we’re going to win all sorts of souls for the Kingdom at the big crusade so God won’t mind if we take advantage of the Sabbath when folks aren’t around to prepare the church, mow the grass, plant the flowers, wash the windows, sweep the floors, and clean the bathrooms.”
What’s that bleating of sheep in my ears? “God won’t mind, we gathered the men together in fellowship and God wants us—even commands us—to gather together in fellowship. So we got the men of the church together on a Saturday to clean out the ministry storage facility.”
What’s that bleating of sheep in my ears? REBELLION IS AS THE SIN OF WITCHCRAFT AND STUBBORNNESS IS LIKE IDOLATRY.
The Sabbath Established In Creation
God completed—on the seventh day—His work that He made, and He ceased—on the seventh day—from all His work that He made. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for on it He ceased from all His work that God created for the purpose of preparing.
~Genesis 2:2-3 (TLV)
What day did God sanctify? The seventh day. What day of the modern week is Sunday? The first day.
I realize this is not rocket science here but there are millions, perhaps billions, of professing Christians who do not seem to know this. Though, I really don’t know the percentages of those who believe Sunday is The Sabbath and those who believe The Sabbath is completely abolished, but the indication is that the vast majority of Christians think Sunday is some kind of “Christian Sabbath”. Where’s that in The Bible? (It’s not!)
The Sabbath appears to be the crown placed on the top of the Creation. It is the one and only thing in all of the Creation record that God sanctified and called holy. I mentioned a moment ago Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s famous work The Sabbath. In this great work the Rabbi says:
One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word qadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?
It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.
I thoroughly enjoy the passion with which the Rabbi expresses in his description of The Sabbath throughout this work, and this segment is certainly a prime example of his love for the day God called holy. To follow on this consider what is stated in the book Remembering For The Future: The Holocaust In The Age Of Genocide, a compilation of works from nearly 200 scholars edited by John K. Roth and Elisabeth Maxwell:
The creation story has man and woman being created on the sixth day. They are created like all other parts of creation. But creation does not end on the sixth day. It is on the seventh day that the Sabbath is created, and it is the Sabbath, which is the chief end of God and creation. It is the crown of God’s creation. The Sabbath does not come into being because God is tired. It comes into being because this is what God intended for all creation – the Shalom of the Sabbath. The goal of restoring imagio dei in human beings may be based on the sixth day, but it is not the ultimate goal of creation. The ultimate goal is for creation to dwell in God’s Sabbath.
Take a moment to pause and contemplate that last sentence: The ultimate goal is for creation to dwell in God’s Sabbath. Can you imagine if the 2.2 billion people on this planet who profess Christian faith could grasp this?
The Sabbath And The Lord’s Day Are Different!
It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit.
~Revelation 1:10 (NLT)
This single statement, not even an entire verse of Scripture, seems to cause much controversy between Sunday Church Christians and anyone who may consider themselves to be Seventh-Day Sabbath-Keepers (and to clarify, this latter view is not exclusive to the Seventh-Day Adventist sect that holds a number of very questionable doctrines, though they would fit under the overall banner of Seventh-Day Sabbath-Keepers). The issue in this controversy or debate is whether or not worship services should be conducted on The Sabbath or on Sunday. The Sunday Church crowd argues that the referenced “Lord’s Day” in Revelation—the only place in The Bible where this term appears—refers to Sunday or the first day of the week (when Messiah rose from the grave), while the Seventh-Day Sabbath crowd contends that it must refer to The Sabbath as Yeshua declared Himself Lord of The Sabbath and so if corporate worship is conducted on The Sabbath then Revelation 1:10 must be referring to the same.
The reality is that it would appear that the Sunday Church crowd is actually correct in their view that the “Lord’s Day” referred to by John in Revelation 1:10 is indeed a reference to the first day of the week, the day in which Messiah rose from the grave. While there is but one reference in Acts to a corporate gathering on the first day of the week, which we will take a closer look at in a moment, there appears to be at least some evidence that the Nazarene Jews of the first and second century began to have post-Shabbat meetings (what we today call Saturday evening) on a weekly basis. This is not out of line with Scripture either, as we know the Believers in Acts met daily and we have that record in Acts 20 of just such a meeting.
Raymond Robert Fischer—a Messianic Jewish Believer who has participated in archaeological studies of historical sites in Israel believed to have been utilized by Nazarene Jews—states in his book The Ways Of The Way: Restoring the Jewish Roots of the Modern Church: “Members of The Way met each day in their homes and every Motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) as a congregation.” He goes on a few pages later to elaborate on this with the following paragraph:
Drawn together into the intimacy of a mishpakha (family) by their shared adoration of Yeshua, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:42-43). They celebrated their Lord in this manner when they gathered together for a Motzei Shabbat congregational service immediately after nightfall each Shabbat (Saturday) evening. This was, according to their calendar, the beginning of the first day of the new week. Each time they came together, they worshiped the Lord in adoration and praise as they sang together the new, Spirit-filled praise songs of their own composition, known today as the Odes of Solomon, and also the Hodayoth (Hymns of Thanksgiving).
Fischer presents a variety of claims that are unique to anything I have studied, and his claim here that the first century Believers who identified themselves as “The Way” (see Acts 24:14) held regular weekly congregational meetings on Motzei Shabbat—what we today would call Saturday evening after sunset—is one of them. That said, there is the record of Acts 20 that does line up with this claim. Let’s take a closer look at what it says:
Now on the first day of the week, we gathered to break bread. Paul was talking with them, intending to leave the next day, so he prolonged his speech till midnight.
~Acts 20:7 (TLV)
Many translations, likely because of cultural misunderstanding of the original language used, replace “the first day of the week” with “Sunday”. But upon closer scrutiny it appears this is wrong. The Greek phrase here is μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων (mia tōn sabbatōn). Now, many have looked just at the word “sabbatōn”, which clearly is referring to The Sabbath, and are quick to say that the passage is referring to an event that took place on Shabbat. But that is not actually the case.
The word “sabbatōn” means both “Sabbath” and “a week”. The key to properly understanding this phrase is knowing what “mia tōn” means. The translation “first day of the week” is technically correct. However, with the cultural context of the first century Nazarene Jewish Believers of The Way considered, a better way to say it for clarity sake would be: The first day until The Sabbath. You see, in the cultural understanding of the time the week was all about reaching the next Sabbath. And this looking forward to The Sabbath began immediately on Motzei Shabbat, as soon as The Sabbath had concluded. Could you imagine if Christians revered The Sabbath in this way, where the moment The Sabbath concluded they were thinking about the next Sabbath?
In ancient Hebraic culture The Sabbath was the only day of the week with a name. All other days were simply numbered. Many times in Scripture we read things like: “the first day of the week”, “the second day of the week”, “the fifth day of the week”, and so on. What these phrases mean in the context of Scripture is: “the first day until Shabbat”, “the second day until Shabbat”, “the fifth day until Shabbat”, etc.
After scrutinizing this passage, considering that in Hebraic culture days change over at sunset, many scholars have now concluded that this reference (Acts 20:7) is to what we today call Saturday evening. This also makes sense because it is doubtful that Paul started speaking at a “Sunday morning Church service” (something that didn’t even exist at the time) and go all the way until midnight. But placing the event on “Saturday evening” makes a more logical timeframe for Paul to speak until midnight. It seems then that the popular Messianic translation of Scripture The Complete Jewish Bible may provide the most accurate rendering of the text in saying: “On Motza’ei-Shabbat, when we were gathered to break bread, Sha’ul addressed them. Since he was going to leave the next day, he kept talking until midnight.”
Another interesting statement is found in an ancient text known as The Gospel of Peter. This document is considered pseudepigraphal, meaning that despite it being attributed to the Apostle Peter as the author it is believed it was written by an anonymous author who used Peter’s name. This is the same reason books like Enoch and Jasher are categorized as pseudepigrapha. Writings in this category should not be treated as divine Scripture, but they often provide value as historical references to beliefs and customs of the time period they were written. It is generally believed that this Gospel of Peter was written anywhere from later in the first century (when Peter would have still been alive) to the middle of the second century (this can be traced by a reference from the fourth century church historian Eusebius referring to a late second century writer named Serapion of Antioch who refers to The Gospel of Peter in 190 A.D.). In this controversial document it is written, from the translation by Andrew Bernhard:
When the Sabbath morning dawned, a crowd came from Jerusalem and the surrounding area that they might see that the tomb had been sealed. But during the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, while the soldiers were stationed in pairs to keep watch, a great voice came from heaven. And they saw the hea[v]ens open and two men descend from there, having a great radiance and approaching the tomb. Then, the same stone which had been put in the entrance rolled away from it and gave way partially. And the tomb was opened and both young men went in.
Notice that in this statement the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day are clearly distinct from each other. The crowd gathered to see the sealed tomb in the morning of The Sabbath, while the resurrection took place that night, after The Sabbath had concluded, prior to the dawn on the Lord’s Day. It is an undeniable fact that this historical record that may have even been written during the lifetime of the Apostles and speaks of the Gospel message distinguished The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day as being two totally different days of the week.
So when we put all of this together it becomes very clear that the early Believers—those Nazarene Jews of The Way and even the Gentile converts who joined their ranks—well into the second century regarded The Sabbath on The Sabbath but also celebrated the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week in harmony with the Resurrection. It should also be noted, again, that these earliest Christians likely met not on “Sunday morning” but on Motzei Shabbat, which makes more sense than the next morning as all indication, even from Scripture, is that Yeshua’s Resurrection occurred during the night, clearly “before the dawn”, and some even believe this event would have happened during this evening period called Motzei Shabbat—between sunset and midnight on what we today call “Saturday”, which harmonizes with the Motzei Shabbat gathering we read about in Acts 20.
It’s The Fourth Commandment
“Remember Yom Shabbat, to keep it holy. You are to work six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat to Adonai your God. In it you shall not do any work—not you, nor your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your cattle, nor the outsider that is within your gates. For in six days Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Thus Adonai blessed Yom Shabbat, and made it holy.
~Exodus 20:8-11 (TLV)
I know I already asked this question earlier in this message, but it bears repeating: What day did God bless and make holy? The seventh day!
Sunday is NOT the seventh day of the week on any calendar. Sunday is NOT Shabbat. Sunday is NOT The Sabbath.
Let’s take a moment to look at this in other languages around the world. As my wife is from the Dominican Republic, I know a little bit of Spanish (probably not nearly as much as I should—like, I know a few words and phrases here and there). I do know the names of the days of the week in Spanish (though for some I need to think for a minute most times). The Spanish word for Saturday is Sábado, and the Spanish word for Sunday is Domingo. So let’s take a quick look at the Fourth Commandment from a Spanish translation of Scripture (it doesn’t matter if you can read Spanish, I just need you to notice this one word in the text):
“Acuérdate del día sábado para santificarlo. Seis días trabajarás y harás toda tu obra, pero el séptimo día será sábado para el SEÑOR tu Dios. No harás en él obra alguna, ni tú, ni tu hijo, ni tu hija, ni tu esclavo, ni tu esclava, ni tu animal, ni el forastero que está dentro de tus puertas. Porque en seis días el SEÑOR hizo los cielos, la tierra y el mar, y todo lo que hay en ellos, y reposó en el séptimo día. Por eso el SEÑOR bendijo el día sábado y lo santificó.”
~Éxodo 20:7-11 (Reina Valera Actualizada-2015)
The Reina Valera is the most widely used translation in Spanish and it is sort of the equivalent of the King James Version in English. Notice what it says here. Let me help you by using English while retaining the highlighted word sábado:
Remember the day sábado, to keep it holy. … Thus Adonai blessed the day sábado, and made it holy.
~Exodus 20:8, 11
The Spanish word for “Saturday” (which is also the Spanish word for Sabbath, incidentally) is used in Exodus 20:8 and 20:11 where Shabbat or The Sabbath Day. Now look at this list of “Saturday” in many other languages and notice how they, much like Spanish, show similarity to the Hebrew Shabbat.
Arabic: Yawm Alsabt
(NOTE: Translations and transliterations taken using the online Google Translate tool.)
As you can see, Saturday and The Sabbath have a connection across many languages around the world. Pair this with Scripture that always connects The Sabbath with the seventh day and it becomes increasingly clear that Sunday is NOT The Sabbath. Sunday may be the Lord’s Day, but it is not the Sabbath. And really, the Lord’s Day is probably more realistically sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday much like The Sabbath is sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
Sabbath In The New Covenant
So there remains a Shabbat rest for the people of God.
~Hebrews 4:9 (TLV)
It’s difficult to discuss The Sabbath in regard to new covenant faith without considering this powerful statement in the Book of Hebrews. In a message I put out some time ago titled A Celebration Of Creation I discussed how Hebrews, contrary to previous conclusions, may actually have been written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as a consolation to mourning Believers. The significance in this is that it may lead to a very different interpretation of the text, where the author of Hebrews is basically telling the Messianic Jewish communities: Don’t be dismayed, we may have lost our Temple but they cannot take away our Sabbath. I’ll not take time here to go into detail on this point as it is covered in my previous article.
The simple fact of the matter is that the point in history where the Sabbath was “changed” (which is technically impossible, God made the seventh day holy and no human can actually change that) was under the rule of the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. In the Creed of Constantinople one of the statements made, after leading “Christian converts” to essentially renounce all things Jewish, calls worshipers under Constantine’s “New Roman Religion” (what is the basis for all Roman Catholicism and most Protestant Christianity) to embrace Roman customs including the ‘New Sabbath’, Sol Dei (The Day of the Sun).
There are 58 references to Shabbat in the “New Testament” using the Tree of Life Version of The Bible. 56 of these references are in the Gospels, including the Book of Acts (which I consider to be part of the Gospels, as it is generally considered a continuation of Luke’s Gospel and essentially is a part of the story of Yeshua’s life and ministry going forward after His ascension). The other two mentions of Shabbat are the above passage from Hebrews 4 and what is stated in Colossians 2:6 where it says: “Therefore, do not let anyone pass judgment on you in matters of food or drink, or in respect to a festival or new moon or Shabbat.” This passage in Colossians is covered in great detail in a message I put out some time back titled Living Under The Shadow, so I’ll not take time to discuss here how this verse is actually in favor of keeping The Sabbath.
So, apart from the plethora of verses stating that it was the custom of both Yeshua and all of His disciples (the Apostles in the Book of Acts) to attend services at the Synagogues on The Sabbath, we must turn to later sources to see what the views of keeping The Sabbath were among the earliest Believers. For this I will turn first to Ignatius of Antioch from his Epistle to the Magnesians, a writing dated to the early second century:
But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week].
While I do not necessarily agree wholly with how Ignatius says The Sabbath is to be kept, we have here a very clear record, once again, of a distinction between The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. But even more than that, we have this man, credited as a Bishop and an Anti-Nicene Early Church Father by the Roman Catholic Church, saying to keep both The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. He very plainly says, “And after the observance of the Sabbath…”
It’s one thing to have The Bible where no change in The Sabbath is indicated. But here we have a record well after the Apostolic period (all of the original Apostles had certainly passed from this world by the time this letter was written) saying undoubtedly that, as it is stated in Hebrews, there remains a Sabbath for the people of God. Now let’s turn to a third century writing, To Fidus, On The Baptism Of Infants by Cyprian of Carthage, dated 253 A.D.:
For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us.
Once again we see very plainly that The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day are two completely different things. And this record is from probably over a hundred years after what Ignatius stated on the matter.
Now, let me be clear, I am not arguing that the Roman Gentile Christians were keeping The Sabbath this late in the history. Indications are that by this time at least some of the predominantly Gentile Churches had completely abandoned what they had deemed “the Jewish Sabbath”. But, despite that, it seems very clear that well into the third century and likely into the beginning of the fourth century they fully recognized that The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day were two totally different things. Some have tried to argue that The Sabbath was changed prior to Constantine, but as I have poured over the records this is not what I see. Instead, I have observed people who knew that The Sabbath has always been the seventh day of the week but mistakenly believed that The Sabbath was the primary day to gather in corporate worship within the Jewish communities and that the “Christians” just stopped gathering on The Sabbath and only met on the Lord’s Day. As I have pointed out in the past, there is no commandment anywhere in Scripture, including The Torah, to gather in corporate worship on The Sabbath.
This error carries on to the present day when modern preachers use the fourth commandment to try and guilt parishioners into attending their Sunday Church Services lest they break the fourth commandment. Well, there are obviously several problems with that. The biggest of which are that there is no commandment to gather for corporate worship on The Sabbath and Sunday is NOT The Sabbath. You cannot break The Sabbath or violate the fourth commandment on a Sunday because Sunday is NOT The Sabbath. You can only break The Sabbath on The Sabbath and The Sabbath is the seventh day—sunset Friday evening to sunset Saturday evening by the Hebrew reckoning of time.
While I do not necessarily agree with the details Ignatius gives regarding how to keep The Sabbath, one thing I completely agree with him on is that we, as new covenant Believers, should be keeping both The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. This seems to be a practice that is in harmony with what we read in the Apostolic Writings of The Bible and was at least held into the second century when Ignatius wrote his epistle.
Another place we find an early reference to The Lord’s Day is in The Didache, a very early document that is believed to be the oldest known non-canonical Christian writing. Most date this document between 70 A.D. and 100 A.D., claiming that it was developed by the Apostles. In it the statement is made: “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” Regarding this statement Raymond Fischer comments in his aforementioned book:
The Didache … was most likely written and distributed circa 74. At this time Shabbat, the biblically ordained Sabbath, had not yet been replaced by “the day of the Sun,” which it was much later by the Church Council of Laodicea. Thus, the “Day of the Lord,” referred to in other translations as “the Lord’s Day” and “the Lord’s Own Day,” could not in the understanding of The Way have referred to Shabbat, which to them was a day set aside to rest rather than for congregational gatherings.
The Way met on the first day of the week, Sunday, which commenced Shabbat evening after sunset, which was technically, as determined by Jewish tradition, the moment when the third star became visible in the heavens. Hence, The Way conducted their main gathering of the week at this time in a service known as Motzei Shabbat, meaning “farewell to the Sabbath.” Motzei Shabbat was and remains for some groups today a full congregational worship service centered on the Lord’s Supper, which is served from a centrally located table, as it was during the time of The Way.
As you can see, all indications are that these earliest followers of Yeshua continued to keep the biblical Sabbath as the day to not do any work. Additionally, they gathered on a day they termed The Lord’s Day that was established based on Messiah’s rising from the grave early on the first day of the week, possibly as early as the Motzei Shabbat gatherings that developed soon after the resurrection.
A Catholic Bishop’s Challenge
There is an interesting record of a Roman Catholic Bishop, the late Father T. Enright, C.S.S.R., offering a reward in the sum of $1,000 to anyone who could prove from The Bible and only The Bible that The Sabbath was ever changed to Sunday. I want to offer two statements that are attributed to Enright and his challenge, the first from a lecture he delivered on February 18, 1884 in Hartford, Kansas and the second from a lecture he delivered in 1893.
“I have repeatedly offered $1,000 to anyone who can prove to me from the Bible alone that I am bound to keep Sunday holy. There is no such law in the Bible. It is a law of the holy Catholic Church alone. The Bible says, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.’ The Catholic Church says: ‘No. By my divine power I abolish the Sabbath day and command you to keep holy the first day of the week.’ And lo! The entire civilized world bows down in a reverent obedience to the command of the holy Catholic Church.”
“There is but one on the face of the earth which has the power, or claims the power, to make laws binding upon the conscience, binding before God, binding under penalty of hell fire; for instance, the institution of Sunday. What right has any other church to keep this day? You answer by virtue of the third commandment [the Papacy renamed the fourth commandment, calling it the third], which says, ‘Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.’ But Sunday is not the Sabbath. Any schoolboy knows that Sunday is the first day of the week. I have repeatedly offered $1000 to any one who will prove by the Bible alone that Sunday is the day we are bound to keep, and no one has called for the money. It was the holy Catholic Church that changed the day of rest from Saturday, the seventh day, to Sunday, the first day of the week. Which church does the whole civilized world obey? The Bible says, ‘Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day,’ but the Catholic Church says, ‘no, keep the first day of the week,’ and all the world bows down in reverent obedience to the mandates of the Catholic Church.”
It appears that nobody ever did claim the Bishop’s reward. This is something I can relate to as I have repeatedly offered the same, a $1,000 award, to anyone who can prove me wrong about the standing biblical requirement to keep the food laws found in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. To date, apart from a few people who think they can throw out a single Bible verse out of context, like the Bishop no one has called me for the money.
Some time ago I was listening to a minister I have come to respect speaking out against the celebration of Halloween. He was also bold enough to rebuke Christians for celebrating Christmas, and this particular person is not even part of the controversial Hebrew Roots crowd, he’s a mainstream Christian who still identifies under the banner of “Protestant” (I don’t have space in this message to tell you why Protestantism is just as wrong as Catholicism, though the above statements of Father Enright sure do give some indications of why both are wrong). One of the things that this minister said in refuting Christian celebration of Halloween was that any religious connection to “Christianity” in general comes out of the Roman Catholic All Saint’s Day, and since he is Protestant and not Catholic then that alone should be enough to prevent any sincere non-Catholic Christian from celebrating Halloween.
The same is true in regard to The Sabbath. The notion that The Sabbath is now Sunday is a Roman Catholic institution. While I do not believe Protestantism is correct, I most certainly do not think Roman Catholicism contains truth. The point I am getting to here is that if a valid argument against Halloween is that it is based in Roman Catholicism, then treating Sunday as The Sabbath is also wrong for that same reason (and certainly many others). Whatever is right about Protestantism is at least based in its splitting from Roman Catholicism. It’s pretty hypocritical for Protestants to claim they are Protestants and still embrace the blatant lies of Roman Catholic doctrines.
The “Sunday Sabbath” is the invention of the Roman Catholic Church, plain and simple. Even if some Christian groups were deviating from keeping the biblical Sabbath by the third century, there appears to be no record of a formal changing of the timing of The Sabbath until Constantine issued his decree and forced all converts to his brand of “Christianity” to renounce all things Jewish and embrace the “new Sabbath” of the “New Roman Religion” on “Sol Dei (the Day of the Sun)”.
The Sabbath At The First Century Synagogue
Is it wrong to gather in worship on Sunday? Of course not! So long as it is properly treated as the Lord’s Day and not The Sabbath. As noted, Believers even into at least the second century both kept the biblical Sabbath and gathered on the Lord’s Day, which they considered to be to completely different things. In fact, if there is any day that would seem ideal to gather in a larger assembly it might be the first day of the week, be it the modern Sunday morning services or the Saturday evening Motzei Shabbat gatherings that appear to be the custom of the first century.
Because modern Church gatherings, something that doesn’t even seem to have existed for the first several hundred years of Christian history, require a great deal of work to carry out. And the actual commandment regarding keeping The Sabbath is to do no work. So it would not really be ideal to gather in a larger setting on The Sabbath in a larger corporate setting, contrary to what many Sabbath-keeping folks believe.
Really, the indications appear to be that any meetings conducted on The Sabbath among followers of The Way, those Nazarene Jews led by Paul, would have been small groups meeting in homes or the custom of going to the local Synagogues we see throughout the Gospels (including the Book of Acts). Synagogues were much different prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Unlike the Synagogues of today that act in many ways like a Christian Church, those of the earlier part of the first century when Yeshua and the Apostles were ministering in them served more as schools, meeting places, and even courtrooms. They were, perhaps, for lack of a better example, something more like a community clubhouse that anyone in the area could reserve and use. Look at how the first century Synagogue is described by Bradley W. Root in his book First Century Galilee: A Fresh Examination of the Sources:
By the first century CE, the synagogue had become the most important communal institution in most Judean (broad sense) settlements. It served as a town hall, a community center, and a place for worship and study. Since synagogues almost certainly increased the frequency with which Galileans engaged in communal religious activities, these new institutions probably helped to standardize religious customs within each community.
It wasn’t until after the loss of the Temple in 70 A.D., which up to that time was the center of Hebraic worship, that the Synagogue evolved into a more church-like building.
The Shabbat gatherings at the Synagogues of Yeshua’s time consisted primarily of reading from the scrolls of the Torah and the Prophets and the reciting of prayers and blessings. This is what we see Yeshua doing in Luke 4 where He was handed the scroll of Isaiah and began to read. Rabbi David Zaslow says in his book Jesus: First-Century Rabbi, regarding Luke 4:16, “Jesus was a reader of the weekly prophetic section of the Bible in a synagogue where he attended services.” Yeshua was a Jewish Rabbi, it was not out of the ordinary for Him to be appointed to read from the Torah or the Prophets at one of these Shabbat gatherings in the Synagogue. This is often missed by those who place too much into His negative interactions with certain religious leaders of the time.
The point is that, unlike modern Church services that require a great deal of work to accomplish them, the first century Synagogue Sabbath Day gatherings we read about in the Gospels and Acts were times when people gathered to hear the Torah and the Prophets read, recite blessings (like the Shema), and pray. They didn’t need people working as ushers, door greeters, worship leaders, or people washing the windows and cleaning the bathrooms. And they most certainly did not have paid staff pastors, something that didn’t develop until the establishment of the corporate Christian Churches hundreds of years later (a topic for another time, though there is some fascinating information on this in the book Pagan Christianity? Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna).
What I am getting at here is that if there is any usefulness of the modern corporate “Church service”—something I often wonder about as there is nothing in The Bible that requires a corporate Church to accomplish—such a weekly gathering is best done on any day other than The Sabbath, because of the amount of work that must go into these gatherings. I have heard Pastors worry that they are somehow breaking The Sabbath because the basically “work on Sunday”. That’s absurd and shows the height of ignorance of Christianity. Sunday is NOT The Sabbath.
You cannot break The Sabbath on Sunday anymore than you can keep The Sabbath on Sunday. But neither of those points mean that it is somehow wrong to gather corporately on Sunday either. In fact, it’s probably the best day to have such a gathering in modern society where the standard workweek is Monday through Friday. Seeing as both Saturday and Sunday are “the weekend” (despite Sunday being the first day of the week… which I always thought was weird that it is also part of “the weekend” for that reason), and Sunday is not The Sabbath, it makes logical sense to utilize Sunday for the main gathering day. It’s what our society is accustomed to and it’s simply not wrong to gather on Sunday, regardless of the wild theories people in the Hebrew Roots fringe groups say in calling Sunday Church Services “sun god worship”.
Now, I will say that I would love it if Churches began to offer Torah-positive and Spirit-Filled (in good, classic Pentecostal fashion) services on Motzei Shabbat. I can honestly say some of the most powerfully anointed services I have attended in years past took place on a Saturday evening. There is something to be said about that. Especially if authors like Raymond Robert Fischer are correct in their conclusions on this matter.
A Final Word
People on all sides of the Sabbath Day issue are in error because many do not seem to know when The Sabbath is and others do not know what The Sabbath is. This study has focused primarily on the when, and clearly we can see that Sunday is NOT The Sabbath. It is unanimous throughout the record of The Bible and beyond that The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, not the first day, and by a Hebraic understanding of days and weeks this coincides with sunset Friday to sunset Saturday on modern calendars.
But many in the Messianic Jewish, Hebrew Roots, and other Torah-positive Christian groups today are wrong about what The Sabbath is. Too often The Sabbath is today treated by many as the primary day to gather in corporate worship. While it is not wrong to gather in a traditional corporate worship setting on Shabbat, we must be careful not to cross the line of speaking in a condemning manner toward those who do so on Sunday morning or any other day of the week outside of The Sabbath. This has become an issue in some groups and we need to identify this error and root it out. As I have noted, in regard to larger gatherings we see in modern religion this practice might be best done on a day apart from The Sabbath.
I like the approach Pastor Larry Huch of New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas takes on this issue. He adamantly declares, as he did in addressing his congregation during a Wednesday Evening Service, February 6, 2019. But in stating that Sunday is not The Sabbath, and correctly declaring The Sabbath as sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, he says that even Rabbi friends he has in Israel encourage him to not change from meeting on Sundays. Why? Apart from there being nothing wrong with Sunday Services, in his words “it’s fishing day.” Sunday is the day, culturally, that Christians go to Church. Just because people are waking up to Torah doesn’t mean they can handle a major culture shock—especially when what they are doing isn’t even necessarily wrong.
Too much of the time I hear ignorant statements about the Sunday Church crowd, accusing them of worshiping the “sun god” and of breaking The Sabbath. As far as the “sun god” nonsense, I have covered this fully in a message titles Sun God: Is Sunday Church Pagan? In regard to the latter, I have often pointed out that you cannot break The Sabbath on a day that is not The Sabbath, and Sunday is NOT The Sabbath. But there is a little more to it than that. Considering what I have pointed out about the way it takes work to host a corporate gathering—a Church service—today, whether it be held on Shabbat or on Sunday or on any other day of the week, it could easily be argued that it is the Synagogues, Messianic Congregations, and Hebrew Roots Fellowships that are actually breaking The Sabbath. That may not sit well with a lot of people, but really think about that before the next time you try to accuse the mainstream Christians for breaking The Sabbath. If they are hosting large services on Sunday and doing no work on the actual biblical Sabbath, and you are working hard to host a “Shabbat Service” and throwing accusations at the mainstream Christians, who do you think is the one in the wrong?
Sunday is NOT The Sabbath. That is an undeniable fact that most of Christianity has lost sight of. But Sunday appears to have clearly been viewed as the Lord’s Day very early in the history of Messianic/Christian biblical faith. There is no commandment to gather in corporate fellowship on The Sabbath. In fact, there is not one commandment in Scripture that requires you to attend a Church, Synagogue, or any other similar large fellowship hall to keep. That doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself from religion, most people I have seen doing that are very confused. It just means that you don’t need “The Church”, it needs you, and if everyone realized that the Churches of the world would lose their stronghold over people’s lives and corporate bodies would truly be free to worship God in spirit and in truth.
The sooner both sides of this issue can come together and gain a proper understanding of The Sabbath the sooner we will be able to truly see the full development of the One New Man—Jew and Gentile coming together as the true body and the great cultivated olive tree—that Scripture speaks of (see Ephesians 2:11-22 and Romans 11:17-24). I hope that this message has brought at least some clarity to this issue and will help many on both sides to appreciate what The Sabbath is and stop making it something it is not.
~Blessings and Shalom~
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