There are many well meaning and sincere Christians, for whom the keeping of the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, is mandatory. Most of them also sincerely believe that other Christians who do not keep the "Seventh Day Sabbath", cannot be true Christians, and will be condemned eternally for their failure to obey!
On the other hand, many of those who do not keep a seventh day Sabbath, tend to label those who do, as amongst the "cults"!
It is obvious that this is a very important question.
If the Sabbath Keepers are right, many devout Christians who live otherwise clearly holy lives, are lost, because of their failure to obey on this one contentious issue. But, if they are wrong, they may themselves be in danger of rejection for their failure to recognise and welcome other brethren of Jesus. (Matthew 25:40, 45)
Where does the truth lie?
WHEN IS THE SABBATH FIRST MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE?
The first mention of a seventh day rest, is in Genesis 2:2-3. When God had completed the work of Creation, He rested.
DID GOD COMMAND AT CREATION, THAT THIS "GENESIS SABBATH" SHOULD ALSO BE KEPT BY MEN?
No!! It is not written anywhere in Genesis, that He did issue any such command!
WAS THE SABBATH KEPT BY THOSE WHO LIVED BEFORE THE TIME OF MOSES?
The Bible does not say either way , whether or not the Sabbath was kept at any time before Moses.
However, to support their claims, some Sabbath keepers speculate that it was kept by the faithful men mentioned in Genesis, and then turn that speculation into fact! (That is a dangerous way to formulate doctrine claimed to be essential to salvation!)
WHEN IS THE NEXT MENTION OF THE SABBATH AFTER GENESIS CHAPTER 2?
In the wilderness, the Children of Israel were commanded to gather twice as much manna on the sixth day. There would be none provided on the seventh day. The people were to remain in their place and rest. (Exodus 16:5 & 23 & 26 & 29-30)
WHEN WAS THE SABBATH FIRST COMMANDED AS A PERPETUAL DAY OF REST?
In Exodus 20:8-10, it was written into the Ten Commandments as a legal obligation binding on the Jewish nation, as a perpetual covenant. It was to be a sign (reminder) for ever , to the Jewish people that God had created heaven and earth, (and, we speculate , therefore also themselves) in six days, and then rested on the seventh. (Exodus 31:17)
No work was to be done. (Exodus 35:2 & Leviticus 23:3)
The penalty for disobedience was death . (Exodus 31:14-16 & 35:2)
WERE THERE ANY OTHER PERPETUAL "SABBATHS" BESIDES THE SEVENTH DAY?
Yes! There were a number of major religious festivals, which are also described as "Sabbaths".
These "extra" Sabbaths were also legally binding on the Jews as a perpetual covenant. (Exodus 12:14; Levit 16:31 & 23:14 & 21 & 41))
TO WHOM WAS THE SEVENTH DAY SABBATH LAW GIVEN?
It was given to the Jews . (Exodus 19:3-6)
WAS THE SABBATH LAW EVER COMMANDED TO GENTILES?
Yes ! ..... It was commanded that foreigners living in the land of Israel should also keep the Sabbath.
However ..... there is no direct command anywhere in the Bible, which binds foreigners not living in the land of Israel , to keep the seventh day Sabbath.
DID JESUS KEEP THE SABBATH?
Yes! As an obedient Jew, He kept the law perfectly! That must have included the Sabbath.
And we do know that it was His custom to go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath day. (Luke 4:16)
But it should be noted that His view of real Sabbath keeping differed markedly from that of the Pharisees. (Matthew 12:1-8 & 9-10)
DID JESUS LEAVE A DIRECT COMMANDMENT FOR HIS DISCIPLES TO CONTINUE KEEPING THE SABBATH?
No! He nowhere left or implied any such direct commandment.
It would appear from the Acts, that early Jewish Christians continued to attend the Synagogue (often with a fair amount of controversy and persecution). This attendance must, of course, have been on the Sabbath.
However, it was not long before Paul found it necessary to withdraw the disciples from the Synagogue in Ephesus. (Acts 19:9)
After that incident there is no further positive record that believers continued to worship on the Sabbath. On the contrary, they are recorded as meeting on the first day of the week.
IS MEETING ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK A DIRECT COMMAND?
It is certainly true that Christians are commanded to assemble together. (Heb 10:25)
It is also true that believers in Troas met with Paul on a first day (Acts 20:7) and that in Galatia and Corinth, the first day of the week was selected as the day to set aside money which was being collected for the poor in Jerusalem. (1 Cor 16:2) However, while these give an indication of what was being done, neither reference contains a direct command that Christians everywhere must meet on the first day of the week!
Early Christian historians, from the second century onwards, also testify to the traditional practice for Christians to meet for fellowship on the first day of the week.
However, it cannot be proved that meeting on the first day of the week is a direct command for Christians, any more than it can for the Sabbath. There is no such direct command for either day.
To insist otherwise, can only be based on mere speculation. Such speculation is a very poor foundation for anything which is claimed to be essential for salvation!
IS THERE ANY INDICATION IN THE NEW TESTAMENT OF A PROPER CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TO INSISTENCE ON SABBATH KEEPING AS A LEGAL OBLIGATION?
Yes, there are several useful references.
The first of these in Colossians 2:16-17.
" Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ ."
It is argued by Sabbath keepers that the Seventh day Sabbath is excluded from this verse!
That is another unreasonable speculation!
If it was sufficiently important to exclude the seventh day Sabbath from this verse, as a matter of salvation , it ought to say so plainly ..... and it does not!
It is much more reasonable to take the verse at face value. Sabbath keeping was only a part of the shadow which looked forward to the Christian reality. The real substance in Christ does not allow itself to be judged unworthy over food or drink, or celebrating special festivals. Nor does it submit to any such legalistic insistence on the keeping of any Sabbath (including the seventh day).
The second reference is found in Romans 14:1-6.
" As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions ......
One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord ..... while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God ."
Three things are worthy of note here.
Of course, Sabbath keepers are prone to argue that seventh day Sabbaths are excluded from the "days" discussed here. However, the same comment applies as that made above, about the verses in Colossians. It is much better to take these verses at face value also.
If we do that, these references actually oppose any claims that seventh day Sabbath keeping is a matter of salvation!
WHAT ABOUT HEBREWS 4:1-13?
This chapter does speak about Christians entering into a rest, in the context of that first day of rest at the creation.
The "rest" is twofold.
1. " Whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors, as God did from His " (Verse 10)
That this verse is NOT speaking about the seventh day Sabbath, is obvious in verse 8. "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day."
We see then that this chapter contains both a requirement that Christians should restnow from their own sinful works, and a promise of a future inheritance in the Kingdom of God. (see also V 1).
WHAT IS "REAL" SABBATH KEEPING?
Real Sabbath keeping is contrasted with false, in Isaiah Chapter 58.
Verses 6-7 "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"
Verses 13-14 "If you turn back your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD."
Those things are a Christian obligation seven days a week !
THE "JERUSALEM CONFERENCE"
At the "Jerusalem Conference" (Acts 15:1-32) important issues were raised about whether circumcision, and the keeping of the law of Moses, should be imposed on Gentiles, as a condition of Salvation.
For Jews, this was a very valid question. After all, circumcision predated the law of Moses as a perpetual obligation for all of Abraham's descendants. (Genesis 17:9-14)
And, circumcision and the keeping of the Law (which included both the Seventh day Sabbath, and all the other perpetual Sabbaths) were required of Gentile converts to Judaism. Why should that not also be required of Gentile Christians?
The conference concluded that circumcision was not to be required of Gentiles. It also decided that only three other ordinances from the Law of Moses, were important enough to be required of Gentile Christians.
These did not include Seventh Day Sabbath keeping ! If this is a matter of salvation, surely this is the place where it really ought to have been specially mentioned.
When others insist that Seventh day Sabbath keeping is an issue affecting salvation, and then reject us as eternally lost, because of our failure to agree, that in itself is a serious matter ..... for them ! Whatsoever is done to the least of the brethren of Jesus, is done to Jesus Himself! (Matt 25:40 & 45)
If we do the same to them solely on the ground of whether or not to keep the seventh day Sabbath, then we also are guilty of the same thing!
Therein lies the seriousness of this question.
No man who labels us as heretics, or who we label as heretics, can possibly be our brother in Christ.
The two terms are mutually exclusive!
"The kingdom of God is not food and drink." (Romans 14:17)
This statement by Paul is also valid for the other significant issue mentioned in the same context. Neither is the Kingdom of God about "esteem for special days".
Rather, The Kingdom of God is all about :-
"righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit".
CONSTANTINE AND THE OBSERVANCE OF SUNDAY
It is often claimed by Sabbath keepers, that the Roman Emperor Constantine was responsible for changing God's law of Sabbath observance, in favor of Sunday. This claim is then said to be a fulfilment of Daniel 7:25. The assumption is made that the times and seasons which were prophesied to be changed, included the forbidding of Sabbath keeping. The next step, of course, proceeds to make the Sabbath still binding on Gentile Christians!
This is a "one eyed" distortion of history, which results from the bias and wishful thinking of seventh day Sabbath keepers looking for support for their position.
Early Christian historians testify to the observance of Sunday as a day of worship and fellowship, dating back to the earliest Christian times. The ancient Church viewed Sunday as a new institution. It was not in any way, a continuation of, or replacement for the Jewish Sabbath.
However for the first three centuries, the Church had no civil legal support. For the pagan Romans, Sunday had no more significance than the Jewish Sabbath. This left Christians exposed to interruptions from the hostile pagans, and the world of commerce.
What Constantine did in AD321 did not set out to change or replace the Jewish Sabbath. It merely forbad the public desecration of Sunday by manual labor, judicial transactions, and military exercises. The effect was to give legality and the protection of the Empire to a practice that was already established by Church tradition. There is no mention in his law of either the fourth commandment, or the resurrection of Christ.
We must also remember that Constantine's law was enacted in a time of transition from the rule of paganism to that of Christianity. It was not designed exclusively for Christians. It also favored the many pagan Sunday observers in the Empire, as well as Christians. (And it also specifically exempted country districts where "non Sunday" paganism still prevailed.).
This information is summarised from :-
Philip Schaff - "History Of The Christian Church", Vol 3, pp378ff.
First published 1910 - reprinted by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. September 1989.