Sabbath

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Sunday or Saturday?[edit | hide | hide all]

Nothing in the New Testament requires that Christians meet on Sunday rather than Saturday. According to John Calvin in 'Instruction in Faith' the change from Saturday to Sunday was made to avoid legalism by Jewish Christians. To quote Calvin, "As our human weakness does not allow such assemblies to meet every day, the day observed by the Jews has been taken away (as a good device for eliminating superstition) and another day has been destined to this use. This was necessary for securing order and peace in the Church."[1] However, such a practice is not based upon any explicit New Testament teaching.

Purpose of the Sabbath: Protecting the Poor[edit | hide]

Setting aside the Sabbath was originally done to ensure a day of rest for the poor, that they would not be overworked. It was specifically intended to stop employers from mistreating the poor, and allowing a day of rest to focus on God.

This is consistent with other Biblical commandments requiring that farmers leave a portion of their harvests for the poor including widows, orphans, and immigrants (Lev. 19:9-10), feed said poor every three years (Deut. 14:28-29), and not charge the poor interest (Ex. 22:25).

The Sabbath, or seventh day, was used also for years, to free the poor from their debts every 7th and 49th year, and to let the land itself rest (what is called crop rotation) with any food produced available to the poor.

A New Covenant[edit | hide]

However, Israel did not abide by God's just commandments, so God said He would bring in a new Covenant, or agreement, with the nation of Israel.

For this reason, Old Testament restrictions under the Old Covenant were largely replaced with spiritual commandments that fulfilled the original intent of the Law.

As such, the New Covenant or New Testament does not do away with the Old Testament Law, it fulfills it. (Matthew 5:17-18; Romans 3:31)

Jesus' Teachings About the Sabbath[edit | hide]

Jesus in the New Testament was attacked by the Pharisees, who focused on the strict wording of the Old Testament laws while ignoring the context and purpose for which they were given. The Pharisees attacked Jesus over:

  • Healing sick people on the Sabbath day. (Mt. 12:9-13; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 14:1-6; John 5:8-17)
  • Freeing those possessed by demons on the Sabbath day. (Lk. 13:10-17)
  • Allowing His disciples to harvest food on the Sabbath day so they wouldn't go hungry. (Mt. 12:1-8)

Jesus responded by pointing out that David, when he and his soldiers were hungry, ate the shewbread reserved for the priests, and allowed his soldiers to do so as well. (Mt. 12:2) Jesus also pointed out that the priests in the temple were themselves ignoring the Sabbath and were not held accountable for centuries. (Mt. 12:5) The Pharisees would rescue one of their livestock which fell in a hole on the Sabbath, yet they condemned Him for healing a woman on the Sabbath who had been demon-possessed for 18 years. People should be considered more valuable than animals, and if it is alright to help an animal on the Sabbath, it should be alright to help a person as well. (Lk. 13:16)

As Jesus pointed out, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mk. 2:27) It was intended to protect the poor for their benefit, not burden them with onerous regulations as the Pharisees were using it to do. Jesus also pointed out that God the Father does not stop working on the Sabbath (meaning that otherwise all Creation would probably stop functioning every Sabbath otherwise) so He works as well. (Jn. 5:18) He further observed that the Pharisees practiced circumcision on the Sabbath, a medical procedure, so healing others should be permissible on the Sabbath. (Jn. 7:23) Ultimately, Jesus' retort essentially came down to "I made the Sabbath in the first place. I can decide how it's applied." (Mt. 12:8; Mk. 2:28;

Overlooked Context[edit | hide]

First of all, the commandment was intended for the good of the poor. Secondly, it was the "sabbath of the Lord." Jesus, as the Old Testament Angel of the Lord who gave such commandments to the Israelites in the first place, had every right to declare Himself "Lord of the Sabbath day."

The New Testament Teaching[edit | hide]

The New Testament discourages legalistic regulation of certain days (including the Sabbath day). Ultimately we should be focusing on and worshiping God every day, not just the Sabbath day. What ultimately matters is that the poor are resting at least one day a week, regardless of which day it is; that is the underlying principle; and that we are spending at least one day a week to focus on God. Furthermore, it is alright to do good on the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath was intended to protect the poor from overwork, not create onerous regulations that govern what everyone can do on a certain day of the week (as the Pharisees viewed it). The Old Testament Covenant, including its rules on the Sabbath, was not kept properly by the Israelites for thousands of years, which is why Jesus brought in the New Covenant which emphasizes the underlying spiritual principles the Sabbath was intended for; protecting and helping mankind while focusing on God.

The New Testament calls us to a higher view of the Sabbath, where we are to worship God constantly, not just one day a week, doing everything for God's glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are called to constantly focus on the good of others, as the Sabbath was intended for.

Conclusion[edit | hide]

American Atheists want to focus on the Sabbath rules under the Old Covenant, not the New Covenant which Christians are under; ignoring the context of the Sabbath for which it was given, as the Israelite Pharisees did. In doing so, they ignore the principles emphasized in the New Testament by Jesus about the Sabbath, that it was intended primarily for the good of people, not as a burden. (Mk. 2:27) What matters is that the Sabbath be used to do good for others. (Mt. 12:12)

Sources[edit | hide]

  1. Calvin, J. (1537). "Instruction in Faith." pp. 31-32. Westminster/John Knox Press.