Do the Sabbath requirements of Old Testament Law carry over to Sunday?

In an effort to obey the Bible’s teachings about worship and rest, some Christians have transferred many of the Old Testament Sabbath[1] requirements to Sunday. For those of us who are wondering whether such a practice is necessary or even advisable, it might help to think about the historical differences between Israel and the Church.

The Sabbath was given to Israel as a symbol of their special relationship with God[2]. When the Christian church came into existence, Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians had no weekly day of rest or worship. Because of work and societal demands, most early Christians couldn’t set Sunday aside as a “day of rest” or substitute Sabbath. Further, the New Testament offered no support for transferring Sabbath practices or regulations to Sunday. It simply declared Sunday as the day the followers of Christ meet in honor of His resurrection.[3]

Consequently, Christians in the Roman Empire carried on their normal occupations even while setting time aside for worship and fellowship on Sunday. These circumstances continued until the beginning of the 4th century when Constantine, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, made Sunday a special day of rest and worship.

Even though Sabbath restrictions together with the broader Law of Moses were not passed on to the Church (Galatians 3:24–25), some principles of dedicated times of rest and worship may still apply. Many followers of Christ believe that setting aside the day that the apostles gathered for worship—Sunday—as a special day for spiritual refreshment is a God-honoring practice.[4]

[1] To this day Jewish people worship on the 7th day of the week—Saturday. Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (niv)

[2] Exodus 31:13–17

[3] Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and other church fathers attribute Sunday worship to the fact that Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week. This isn’t surprising, not only because of the symbolism involved with the day of our Lord’s resurrection, but because the Lord himself emphasized Sunday rather than the Sabbath by choosing it as the day in which he met with his disciples in his post-resurrection appearances (John 20:19–29; Luke 24; Mark 16). Further, Sunday was the day the Holy Spirit manifested himself and the Church was born (Acts 2).

[4] In The Lost World of Genesis One, Old Testament Professor John H. Walton describes how after 6 days of setting creation in order, God took up residence in His cosmic temple on the 7th day. God is now “resting,” enthroned in His rightful place (Psalm 132:7-8,13-14) as the active Lord and governor of the universe.

“If we have to be reminded or coerced to observe it, it ceases to serve its function. Sabbath isn’t the sort of thing that should have to be regulated by rules. It is the way that we acknowledge that God is on the throne, that this world is his world, that our time is his gift to us. It is ‘big picture’ time. And the big picture is not me, my family, my country, my world, or even the history of my world. The big picture is God. If the Sabbath has its total focus in recognition of God, it would detract considerably if he had to tell us what to do. Be creative! Do whatever will reflect your love, appreciation, respect and awe of the God of all the cosmos. (This is the thrust of Isaiah 58:13-14.)”  The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 146.

 

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