Home > Theology > Are Christians Required to Keep the Sabbath?

Are Christians Required to Keep the Sabbath?

I recently received a question from a friend who believes that Christians are required by scripture to keep the Sabbath, which he believes has been changed to Sunday. He asked, “Do you believe that the Christian has no Sabbath day that brethren may gather together for worship?” Here was my response:

Dear J—,

I reject the assumptions inherent in the question. It’s a bit like asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” I suppose the technical answer is no, but only because I cannot stop doing something that I have never started to do. Similarly, your question assumes that gathering together for worship requires a Sabbath day. I affirm, with you and most scholars, that the church from the New Testament times has generally met on Sunday mornings for worship. There is, however, no scripture that requires this. Hebrews 10.25 commands us not to forsake our own assembling together.

Both of our views, your (so-called) Sabbatarianism and my non-sabbatarianism, can be held consistently with scripture. What I mean is that both you and I have plausible theological explanations for verses that the other would use to support his respective position. (By contrast, for instance, anti-trinitariansim cannot be held consistently with scripture.) However, there are stronger reasons to accept non-sabbatarianism.

First, if my position is true, we would expect to find verses that say that Christians are not bound to keep the Sabbath. In fact we have such verses in Col 2.16 and Rom 14.5. If the sabbatiarian position is true, we would not expect to find these verses at all. Perhaps, as others who hold your position have suggested, these verses are referring to the ritual demands of the Sabbath. But if such was the case, we would expect Paul to make this explicit in these verses. After all, it would behoove Paul to warn those in his charge that failure to keep the Sabbath is sin, especially when the verses as they stand seem to indicate otherwise.

Second, if your position is true, we would expect to find to find strongly worded commands in the New Testament to keep the Sabbath. But such explicit commands are nowhere to be found. Certainly in a book like 1 Thessalonians, written to a city without a synagogue and without a population of Jewish converts, it would be important to instruct them in Sabbath observance as part of his moral exhortation. Or else we would expect at least a passing reference in one of Paul’s other epistles. After all, every single epistle contains Paul’s moral exhortations on what it means to live as a Christian. It is significant that not one of them contains a command for Christians to keep the Sabbath.

Third, since we know that Christians met on Sunday instead of Saturday, then either God altered the Sabbath to Sunday, or the Christians met on a different day than the Sabbath. But Jesus said that the Law cannot be altered, not even the smallest “jot or tittle” (Matt 5.18). Therefore, the Sabbath cannot have changed to Sunday. We must conclude that the early Christians did not keep the Sabbath.

Fourth, the Hebrew word Sabbath seems to be etymologically connected to the word “Seventh,” meaning the seventh day = Saturday. It would be strange for God to command that we keep the Saturday (=Sabbath) on Sunday.

What do you think? Was my answer sufficient? How would you have responded?

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  1. September 10, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I think it was N.T Wright who mentioned Sunday being the Christian Sabbath as part of the New Creation. The old sabbath was, of course, part of the old creation. Christ’s resurrection marks the beginning of the new creation, which has, among other things, a new time, and therefore a new Sabbath.

  2. September 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Hmm. I don’t recall this discussion anywhere. “New creation” is a classic Wright mantra, but I can’t think of anywhere where he ties it together with Sabbath.

  3. September 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I can’t remember if I read it or heard it. I’m most likely to have heard it from the lectures here: http://ntwrightpage.com/, but it has been a long time and I can’t remember.

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