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Should Christians Keep the Sabbath

Does the Fourth Commandment apply today? Should Christians keep the Sabbath? In these times when so many are concerned about the moral deterioration of our nation, this recommendation is occasionally made: "We need to get back to the Ten Commandments as our code of conduct." Although the motive for such an admonition is doubtless honorable, it suggests a common, though erroneous, concept about the nature of the Ten Commandments.

In the first place, most of us (all who are non-Jews) have never been under the Decalogue. The Ten Commandments were a part of the Mosaic law, and that system was given to the Hebrews alone (Dent. 5:1-5). That does not suggest that the ancient Gentiles were exempt from religious and moral responsibility; it does mean that non-Israelites were never amenable to the Mosaic code per se.

That aside, it is a logical fact that if one argues for the re-institution of the Ten Commandments, he must, if consistent, contend that the Sabbath requirements are binding as well. This view, of course, is promoted by sabbatarians, but it does not reflect the Biblical perspective. The church of the first century, as directed by inspired leaders, did not observe the Sabbath. Let us pursue this line of thought.

Try as one might, he will search in vain for New Testament evidence that the primitive church observed the Sabbath with apostolic approval. Yes, it certainly was the case that the apostles frequented the synagogues on the Sabbath for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel. That is where the greatest concentration of Jews would have been (cf. Acts 13:14; 17:1-2, etc.), and the message regarding Jesus was to be spoken first to them (Rm. 1: 16). But where is the evidence that the early church, under divine guidance, came together to worship God on the Sabbath day?

1. The kingdom of Christ was established on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2: 1), which always fell on "the morrow after the Sabbath" (Lev. 23:15-16), hence, on Sunday. So the church started out meeting for worship on the first day of the week (cf Acts 2:42).

2. The disciples at Troas "were gathered together" [passive voice] upon "the first day of the week" to break bread, i.e., to worship (Acts 20:7). The specific day of meeting was no accident. Though Paul was anxious to get to Jerusalem (20:16), he waited seven days for the opportunity to assemble with the church. Moreover, the passive voice (see above) indicates that the assemblage was orchestrated by someone other than the disciples; it was of divine initiative.

3. The saints in Corinth were assembling, and contributing into the church treasury, "every first day of the week" (I Cor. 16:2, Greek text).

4. On the isle of Patmos, John was "in the spirit" on "the Lord's day" (Rev. 1: 10). The term for "Lord's" is kuriakos, which is defined here as "relating to the Lord." Thayer comments: "...the day devoted to the Lord, sacred to the memory of Christ's resurrection" (365).

The Gospel narratives, of course, make it clear that the resurrection occurred on Sunday. While Revelation 1: 10 would not be conclusive by itself the very fact that the day is specifically mentioned is significant.

adapted from Wayne Jackson
Glad Tidings of Good Things
Vol. 8/April 24, 2003
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