From Sunday to Sabbath

31 Dec 2017
From Sunday to Sabbath
Photo Credit: 4maksym—iStock

When you think of Pentecostals, what characteristic pops into your mind? Speaking in tongues, right? When someone mentions Baptists, you probably think of baptism by immersion. When you hear the name Catholic, you may think of the virgin Mary or the Mass. Denominations are generally known for their distinct teachings or practices.

So when you hear the name Seventh-day Adventist, what teaching pops into your mind? Many people will say, “Ah, the Sabbath!”

Of course, most Christians believe in keeping the Sabbath. However, Adventists are somewhat unique in that they celebrate the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, Saturday, rather than on Sunday, as most other Christians do.

I haven’t always believed that the seventh day of the week was the Sabbath. Even though I’m half Jewish by birth, when I first heard the claim that the Sabbath was on the seventh day, I was still observing Sunday and didn’t want to believe that Saturday was the Sabbath. I wondered, How could so many people be wrong and so few be right?

So what convinced me to keep the Sabbath on the seventh day? Several things.

Adequate evidence?

One important factor was that Christians seemed to disagree on the reasons for keeping Sunday. Some said one thing, others said another, but none of these reasons seemed to be supported by adequate evidence. See if you think they stack up.

1. The Sabbath is Jewish

Some people claim that the seventh-day Sabbath is strictly a Jewish day. But the Bible says that the Sabbath was one of the things God made at Creation. Genesis 2:2, 3 says that “on the seventh day God rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

So how many Jews were there in the world back then? None. So God made the Sabbath for the entire human race. That’s why Jesus said that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). God made the Sabbath for everyone, not just for the Jews.

2. The calendar was changed

Other Christians protest that the calendar has been changed so many times that we can’t know which day of the week is the Sabbath. And they are correct that the calendar has been changed several times. However, these changes never affected the days of the week. They only affected the numbering of the days of the month.

The most recent calendar change occurred in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII ordered that Thursday, October 4, should be followed by Friday, October 15. The calendar was changed, but the weekly cycle wasn’t affected.

Furthermore, Jews have been keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day for thousands of years. Everybody has had the experience of waking up one morning and thinking it’s a particular day of the week only to discover that it’s a different day. However, it’s inconceivable that an entire nation of people scattered all over the globe might all become confused at the same time about which day of the week was the seventh.

And there’s one more thing: if Adventists have the wrong Sabbath in honour of Creation, then everyone else has the wrong Sunday in honour of the resurrection.

3. Sunday honours the resurrection

And that brings up another reason many people offer for observing Sunday. “It’s in honour of Jesus’ resurrection,” they say. There’s just one problem with that reasoning. There isn’t a single Bible text that says the Sabbath was changed from the seventh day to the first in honour of Jesus’ resurrection.

Some people point to the fact that the disciples met together on Resurrection Sunday, which is true. But they weren’t meeting to celebrate the day. They were huddled together “for fear of the Jewish leaders” (John 20:19). It’s also true that Jesus met with them that evening. But you’ll search the Gospel accounts of that meeting in vain for any evidence that Jesus told them this was the new Sabbath (see Mark 16:12–14; Luke 24:36–49; John 20:19–30).

4. The Commandments are void

Then there are those Christians who claim that they observe Sunday instead of Sabbath because the Ten Commandments, which include the Sabbath, have been abolished. I find that reason quite strange, because I’ve never met a believer who supported breaking any of the other nine Commandments. And now many of these very same Christians, in the US anyway, would like to see the Ten Commandments posted in public places in order to get the nation back to its moral roots!

The apostle Paul was a firm be­liever in the Ten Commandments. He said that “through the law we become conscious of our sin,” and, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law” (Romans 3:20; 7:7). And James, another New Testament writer, called the Ten Commandments “the perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25). So according to Paul and James, God still wants Christians to keep the Ten Commandments, and that includes the fourth, the Sabbath Commandment.

5. Early Christians met on Sunday

Some people suggest that the early New Testament church changed the Sabbath to Sunday. I’ve found eight references to the first day of the week (Sunday) in the New Testament, but none of them says anything about God changing the Sabbath to Sunday. Six of the eight Sunday references point out that the first day of the week was the day of Jesus’ resurrection—a simple fact of historical record. That leaves two references to Sunday elsewhere in the New Testament.

The first is in Acts 20:7–12, which says that Paul preached to a group of Christians in Troas on the first day of the week. Some people claim this as evidence of Sunday observance in the New Testament church. But it’s more likely that Luke, the author of Acts, described this gathering in extra detail because it was an unusual all-night meeting, held because Paul was leaving the next morning. Even back then, I don’t think people attended all-night church services on a regular basis!

Note also that in Jewish reckoning a day begins at sunset, so this lamp-lit meeting likely began on Saturday night, not Sunday. And this also means Paul was preparing to travel, not worship, on Sunday morning.

The second New Testament reference to the first day of the week (apart from those in the Resurrection story) is in 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2. Paul had written and asked all the churches in Greece and Asia Minor (now Turkey) to help with a famine-relief fund-raiser for the Jewish Christians in Judea. He then made a tour of all those churches, picking up their contributions, which he delivered in person to Jerusalem.

Here’s what Paul instructed the Christians in Corinth: “Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” Advocates of Sunday observance suggest that Paul was referring to the collection of an offering at church.

However, the words “each one of you should set aside” fit better with a recommendation from Paul that each person or family should save up his or her contribution week by week at home, not at church.

Evaluating . . .

When I looked at all the evidence, it became clear to me that, while no-one is saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, that code of laws is still God’s standard of morality for humanity. They aren’t called the Ten Recommendations or the Ten Suggestions. And there’s no evidence that God changed His mind about the Sabbath in the New Testament. The Bible says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV*). So I’ve decided to keep the Sabbath the way the Bible says, not as a duty but because I want to honour my heavenly Father. And I’ve received a blessing from it ever since.

And that’s why I keep the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week.

* Bible verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.