Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
But… But… the Sabbath was on Saturday, not Sunday!
Any sabbatarian has heard this argument more than 30 times. There’s a valid question in there somewhere, but I hope to show it’s a biblically and historically indefensible position to assume that a Sunday Sabbath observance in some way invalidates the fourth commandment as binding on all mankind.
The work of Christ in redemption has transformed all of life, to include our weekly Sabbath. Christ’s saving work has transformed the weekly Sabbath, just like everything else! Not only do we celebrate on Sunday, we call it “The Lord’s Day” instead of the Sabbath. You’ll often hear Reformed Baptist’s talking about the “Lord’s Day,” but it is not some made up Baptist Language – it is the language of the Apostle John in Rev. 1:10: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” The language is significant, because it’s the same language of the Apostle Paul when referring to the Lord’s supper. It’s a supper belonging to the Lord. Likewise, the language of the Lord’s Day is intended to convey the reality that the entire day belongs to the Lord. What day is the Lord’s Day? For John and the early church, it was the first (or eighth) day of the week.
First things first – I am the first to admit that there are no explicit texts in the Bible which say, “Now the Lord’s Day is on Sunday, not the Sabbath on Saturday.” But as good Bible students, hopefully we don’t just deal with the explicit commands of Scriptures, we also have to deal with what’s implied. So if you don’t want the Lord’s Day to be a Christian Sabbath on the first day of the week, you have two problems to deal with: First, you may answer that the 4th commandment was ended in Christ completely, and if you’re a dispensationalist or adhere to new covenant theology, I assume this is your position. However, you then have the responsibility of proving your response from the Scriptures and, you will soon find, you will encounter the same problem you are seeking to point out in saying there is no explicit text “moving” to a first day. Second, you may believe Saturday is still the Sabbath, however you then need to deal with how it is to be observed today, so you’re either a Seventh-Day Adventist, or more than likely disobeying what you believe the Scriptures to explicitly teach, thus creating all sorts of other problems.
I don’t have the slightest problem with a particular command or doctrine not having a proof-text. The Bible teaches many things that are implied and exemplified throughout the text without having specific reference given, many of those things you believe already if you’re truly a Christian (e.g. the Trinity). What we do have to deal with is the scriptural evidence that points to the significant importance that is placed on the first day of the week in the New Testament. And please take note that the New Testament doesn’t just tell us that the Church was getting together to celebrate the resurrection on Sunday — there was much more going on. Furthermore, the day was given a specific name: the Lord’s Day. Identifying a specific day with a unique title is significant in and of itself.
There’s very little argument amongst Christians that the church’s meeting on the first day of the week has always been based on the resurrection of Christ (John 20:1; Mark 16:9-10). Jesus appeared to the disciples on the first (or eighth) day of the week after his resurrection (John 20:19; John 20:26). Pentecost was on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1; Leviticus 23:15-17). The first Christian sermon was on the first day of the week (Acts 2:14-15). The first baptisms were on the first day of the week (Acts 2:41).
Although Paul stayed seven days at Troas, Scripture does not mention any Christian meeting on the seventh day, but on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6-8). Could the Christians have met on Saturday? Certainly! However the text doesn’t say or imply a Saturday meeting, therefore it’s an argument from silence. Paul encourages the Christians of Corinth to set aside a sum of money to help the poor of Jerusalem on Sunday (1 Corinthians 16:2). The only way this text makes sense is that the Christians were meeting together on the first day of the week.
John had a vision on “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10). External sources written around the same time as Revelation indicate that the Lord’s Day was the first day of the week. The first century writing called the Didache says, “The day of the resurrection of the Lord, that is, the Lord’s day. And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”
The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr wrote in the “First Apology of Justin Martyr” (Translated from Greek):
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
In the writings of Ignatius, who was alive toward the end of the first-century, we read that “Christians no longer observe the Sabbath (he’s referring to seventh day observance), but direct their lives toward the Lord’s Day, on which our life is refreshed by Him and by His death.” The great Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield wrote, “Christ took the Sabbath to the grave with him and brought the Lord’s Day out of the grave with him on the resurrection morn.”
While this is only a sampling of what could be referenced regarding a Sunday Sabbath/Lord’s Day observance, this hopefully provides ample evidence to convince you of the legitimate practice of the Church today as we seek to apply God’s Law to our Christian lives.
In the next post we will look at specific New Testament texts that supposedly discredit the perpetuity of the fourth commandment.
(By: Nick Kennicott)