Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians?
- Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The early roots of the Lord's Day are verified by the universal practice of the Lord's Day in Gentile churches in the second century.3 It is not surprising that many Jewish Christians continued to observe the Sabbath as well. One segment of the Ebionites practiced the Lord's Day and the Sabbath. Their observance of both is instructive, for it shows that the Lord's Day was not viewed as the fulfillment of the Sabbath but as a separate day.
Most of the early church fathers did not practice or defend literal Sabbath observance (cf. Diognetus 4:1) but interpreted the Sabbath eschatologically and spiritually. They did not see the Lord's Day as a replacement of the Sabbath but as a unique day. For instance, in the Epistle of Barnabas, the Sabbaths of Israel are contrasted with "the eighth day" (15:8), and the latter is described as "a beginning of another world." Barnabas says that "we keep the eighth day" (which is Sunday), for it is "the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead" (15:9). The Lord's Day was not viewed as a day in which believers abstained from work, as was the case with the Sabbath. Instead, it was a day in which most believers were required to work, but they took time in the day to meet together in order to worship the Lord.4 The contrast between the Sabbath and the Lord's Day is clear in Ignatius, when he says, "If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death" (To the Magnesians 9:1). Ignatius, writing about a.d. 110, specifically contrasts the Sabbath with the Lord's Day, showing that he did not believe the latter replaced the former.5 Bauckham argues that the idea that the Lord's day replaced the Sabbath is post-Constantinian. Luther saw rest as necessary but did not tie it to Sunday.6 A stricter interpretation of the Sabbath became more common with the Puritans, along with the Seventh-Day Baptists and later the Seventh-Day Adventists.7
Believers are not obligated to observe the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant and the Sabbath as the covenant sign are no longer applicable now that the new covenant of Jesus Christ has come. Believers are called upon to honor and respect those who think the Sabbath is still mandatory for believers. But if one argues that the Sabbath is required for salvation, such a teaching is contrary to the gospel and should be resisted forcefully. In any case, Paul makes it clear in both Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16-17 that the Sabbath has passed away now that Christ has come. It is wise naturally for believers to rest, and hence one principle that could be derived from the Sabbath is that believers should regularly rest. But the New Testament does not specify when that rest should take place, nor does it set forth a period of time when that rest should occur. We must remember that the early Christians were required to work on Sundays. They worshiped the Lord on the Lord's Day, the day of Jesus' resurrection, but the early Christians did not believe the Lord's Day fulfilled or replaced the Sabbath. The Sabbath pointed toward eschatological rest in Christ, which believers enjoy in part now and will enjoy fully on the Last Day.
1. What is the strongest argument for continued observance of the Sabbath?
2. What evidence in Paul suggests that the Sabbath is no longer required?
3. How does Hebrews contribute to our theology of the Sabbath?
4. What is the relationship between the Sabbath and the Lord's Day?
5. What is your view on observing the Sabbath today?
1. John M. G. Barclay, "‘Do We Undermine the Law?' A Study of Romans 14.1-15.6," in Paul and the Mosaic Law, WUNT 89 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996), 287-308.
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