Must Sunday be the church’s weekly day of worship? Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath? This article all-too-briefly surveys numerous passages that have been used to answer these questions in different ways. This article gives my own response to these difficult questions, one response that differs from others who seek to be faithful to Scripture.
God created all things in six days and ceased His creative work on the seventh (Gen 2:1–3). There is no mention of worship, but this rest is used as a picture of the eternal rest that we have entered through salvation and will experience in full when our lives our over (Heb 4:8–11).
Shortly before the formal giving of the Mosaic Law, Israel was commanded to rest every seventh day (Ex 16:23, 25–26), likely following the pattern God Himself had given in Gen 2:1–3. When Israel did receive the Mosaic Law, the fourth commandment expressly commanded Israel to set aside every seventh day (the Sabbath) for the purpose of rest, an act in keeping with God’s example in Gen 2:1–3 (Ex 20:8–11). The Mosaic Law added that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic Covenant that God had made with Israel (Ex 31:13, 16), spoke to her release from slavery in Egypt (Deut 5:12–15), and reiterated that the Sabbath’s purpose was for rest (Ex 31:15, 17; 34:21). Israel likely worshipped God each Sabbath, and the nation gathered for feasts and worship that coincided with Sabbath days as well (Lev 23:3; cf. 16:31; 23:24, 32; 25:4). Because of the significance of this command, violators would be executed (Ex 31:14–15; cf. Num 15:32–36).
In the NT, Jesus regularly frequented synagogues on the Sabbath to preach the gospel (Luke 4:14–16). After Jesus’ resurrection, Paul did the same (Acts 17:2; 18:4). However, apart from these types of references to the Sabbath, it is clear that the NT church did not keep the Sabbath as a whole. Individuals were to keep the Sabbath if they were convinced in their own minds that they were to do so (Rom 14:5–6), but they were forbidden to pass judgment on others who did not (Col 2:16–17). To require others to observe the Sabbath yields no spiritual value and implies a rejection of God’s inward rule and a return to the externals of the Mosaic law (Gal 4:9–11).
Similar to Israel’s habit of worship on the seventh day (and this is no more than similarity), the church regularly met on the first day of the week to worship, a gathering not to be neglected (Heb 10:24–25). Just as Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1–2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19), so also do we see the example of a church assembling on the same day (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor 16:2). This pattern was true of “the churches of Galatia” (1 Cor 16:1) and likely all the churches in the NT. John worshipped on “the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10), a term that many Christians use to refer to this day.
God’s rest on the seventh day of the creation week is an example for us today. Resting one day out of seven day is part of God’s created order. Along with this, Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath, but the local church should follow the example of the early church and gather every first day of the week for worship when the church is best able to do so.
- Old Testament
- God ceased His work on the seventh day of the creation week (Gen 2:1–3).
- This rest pictures our eternal rest to come (Heb 4:8–11).
- For Israel, the seventh day became the Sabbath, a day of rest (Ex 20:8–11), a sign of the Mosaic covenant (Ex 31:13, 16), a sign of release from slavery (Deut 5:12–15), and coincided with feasts (Lev 23), and likely involved weekly worship.
- New Testament
- Honoring the Sabbath is a matter of personal conviction (Rom 14:5–6).
- Those who abstain from honoring the Sabbath are not condemned (Col 2:16–17).
- Requiring others to honor the Sabbath yields no spiritual value (Gal 4:9–11).
- From those three texts, I fail to see the Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. I do see, however, a day of rest each week in that God’s rest was part of the created order.
- As for worship on Sundays, the early church met on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), a pattern for us today (1 Cor 16:1–2), a meeting not to be neglected (Heb 10:24–25). From Rev 1:10, some call this “the Lord’s day.”