Sabbath keeping in the New Testament
By Let Us Reason Ministries
In the New Testament epistles there are only 2 references to the Sabbath (Col.2:16; Heb.4:4), both these passages the apostle Paul clearly explains that the day is not a required day to be observed by Christians. To the Hebrews in the Old Covenant they were under obligation in the New Covenant neither Jews nor gentiles are. There is no command after the death and resurrection for the Church to keep the Sabbath as an obligation to Christ.
If one is to keep the Sabbath day as law then they are under the obligation to also observe the Sabbath year Lev.25:17. The land is to be tilled for six years and the seventh year is the Sabbath year. Vs. 8-24 Israel is instructed to number seven times seven Sabbath years (49) and the following year is the Jubilee (50th year) which would be observed by no sowing or reaping. All slaves were to be released, and the land they purchased is to be returned to the original owner. All the debts were to be forgiven. For those who want to make the Sabbath day mandatory let them abide by the law and return the land they bought and forget all their debtors. Does anyone do this? Why not. Hosea 2:11: "I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, her Sabbaths-- all her appointed feasts." Here we have God himself saying these will come to an end, he is the cause of it. This is not an permanent end, and can be applied to Israel in her captivity or it can certainly fit in with the New Testament dispensation. Didn"t Jesus keep the Sabbath? Yes, but for what reason? He was born under the law and kept all the law, if He violated even the smallest point he would have been disqualified to be the messiah. He would have become a transgressor and a sinner like us. Gal.4:4 says, "God sent forth his son, made of a woman, born under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." Jesus was the only one who kept it perfectly. There are many who make an issue of Jesus being our example so we should imitate him in everything. Well, Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day, he observed all the feast days, He also kept the entire law of Moses (613 commands). He never married, never had a permanent home. He also was very bold standing up to those who challenged the Word and His teaching. In His miracles He walked on water, healed people of organic diseases instantly and resurrected many. Can we really use only the Sabbath as a means of following him and discard the rest. The point is that he kept all the law even the smallest parts including what is called the law of Moses that was applicable to him (ceremonial, civil, dietary, etc. Certain portions of the law Jesus was not under, such as sacrifices for sin). Do law keepers keep the 613 commands? The Jews did.
Didn't Paul keep the Sabbath? He went into the Jewish synagogues to preach to the Jews on their Sabbath day in Acts.13:14-43, 17:2, 18:4. He kept it as a custom to the Jews but it was not an obligation. We need to make a distinction of the reason why it was kept not just that it was observed. In Acts 13:42-43, They did not go to worship by obligation under the law but simply for the reason that this was the best means of reaching their brethren. Paul and Barnabas had the freedom to assemble any day they had wished. As they congregated together in the temple they invited Paul and Barnabas to come back the following Sabbath to speak to them more about the Gospel, many of the Jews and Gentile proselytes to Judaism followed them Paul and Barnabas admonished them to hold fast to the grace of God. Now where is grace found? In Christ, verses 44-52 Paul and Barnabas returned the following Sabbath to preach the Gospel to nearly all the inhabitants of Antioch, who were anticipating to hear their message. But they were met with stiff opposition from other Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism from the city. They became very jealous of their success with the people, so they expelled Paul and Barnabas from the area. It wasn"t the law Acts 13 that was being preached, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, grace, of which they began training them in. this is not any proof that they kept the Sabbath under the New covenant. Paul gives us the reason why he kept the law in 1 Cor.9:19-20: "For though I am free from all men, yet I have made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law (the Jews), as under the law, that I might win those under the law. To those who are without a law (not being without a law toward god but under the law toward Christ) I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."
Simple answer, he made it clear he was not under the law but purposely put himself under it to reach those who were. Paul placed himself in many different situations, as one under the law (including the Sabbath) so he could reach the Jews with the Gospel. He became all things to all men so that he could present the gospel of grace, the only means of salvation. Paul's model of evangelism was to the Jew first until they rejected his message; he then turned to the Gentiles.
There is no record of Christians congregating outside the temple of Jews on the Sabbath, only in the temple. This mix was those who believed and those who did not. Certainly believers do not worship along with those who do not. What makes this interesting is that there are no more references to keeping the Sabbath after Acts 18:4-7. This makes one wonder with the church becoming more Gentile than Jewish this fact would certainly be addressed in Acts 15 or the epistles if wrong, but it is not. Certainly it would have been presented as an opportunity for correction as the gentiles were entering the Church. Since they would not be familiar with worshipping on the Sabbath day as the custom of Judaism. In Acts 15 this letter is written to address the essential things required for the fellowship of Jewish and Gentile Christians together. The keeping of the weekly Sabbath, or the observance of any feast day, are not mentioned. There is no command of eating clean and unclean foods, only a command to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, food containing blood, and food resulting from animal strangulation. This letter to the Gentile Christians was written by the guidance of the Holy Spirit through Jewish Christian elders who counseled together in the Jerusalem Church.
Their conclusion was "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? Acts 15:9: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Vs.21 "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath (Acts 15:24-25) Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised and keep the law'-- to whom we gave no such commandment!"No such commandment, why? Because they were under a new covenant.
The epistles were mostly corrective letters reinforcing what was taught in person by the apostles and to add further revelation to what had already been taught. There was absolutely no warning against Sunday worship that would be construed as pagan worship. In fact we find it is the very opposite, they were given freedom where they did not have before. Col.2:16 mentions not to judge on days, and Romans 14:6 says that we can pick whatever day we want to observe to the Lord.
From the primordial Church there was a transition (Acts 20:7). The writings show the early Jewish Christians kept both without any conflict, not like there is today. There was no challenge on this, unlike circumcision and the law that became a huge issue.
They along with the apostle Paul believed Rom. 10:4: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." By trusting in Christ's work the law is fulfilled perfectly. Christ is the end Greek- telos meaning he is the goal of its intent. he completed it and we enter into what he did by faith. Some questions to ask yourself, who or what did the apostles preach, a day or the death and resurrection of the Savior? What saves someone? This is the message of the NT. There are three options, you can keep the Sabbath day and never be saved by Christ. You can be saved by Christ and never keep the Sabbath day or you can be saved and keep the Sabbath day by personal choice, but you cannot say for one to be saved they MUST keep the Sabbath.