Do the Sabbath Requirements of Old Testament Law Carry Over to Sunday?

The Christian church came into existence during a time when the Gentile world did not recognize a day of rest or worship. Pagans observed holidays and times of religious celebration, but they had no weekly day of rest or worship. Consequently, Christians in the Roman Empire had to carry on with their normal occupations even while taking time to worship and fellowship on Sunday. Most people couldn’t set Sunday aside as a “day of rest” or substitute Sabbath. These circumstances continued until Constantine, the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, made Sunday a special day of rest and worship (early fourth century).

Some people, both in the present and the past, have mistakenly transferred some Old Testament Sabbath restrictions to the first day of the week. The New Testament offers no clear support for this. It simply declares that Sunday was the day on which believers met to commemorate Christ’s resurrection. In this age of grace, the New Testament actually requires no special day for worship or rest (Romans 14:1-6; Colossians 2:16). The Sabbath was given to Israel as a symbol of their special relationship with God (Exodus 31:13-17), but was not given to the church or to Gentiles.

Even though some Sabbath restrictions were transferred to Sunday for the wrong reasons, a strong case could be made that setting Sunday aside in the West as a day for worship and rest was a blessing for most people. The “Sabbath rest” principle may transcend even Old Testament Law (Genesis 2:2-3). In The Lost World of Genesis One, Old Testament Professor John H. Walton shows how after 6 days of setting creation in order and establishing its functions, 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.

When we “rest” on the Sabbath, we recognize [God] as the author of order and the one who brings rest [stability] to our lives and world. We take our hands off the controls of our lives and acknowledge him as the one who is in control. Most importantly this calls on us to step back from our workaday world—those means by which we try to provide for ourselves and gain control of our circumstances. Sabbath is for recognizing that it is God who provides for us and who is the master of our lives and our world. We are not imitating him in Sabbath observance, we are acknowledging him in tangible ways (p. 146).

A day of worship and rest shouldn’t be coerced by “blue laws” or the kinds of Mosaic or puritanical rules that limit spontaneity and Christian liberty.1 But setting aside the day that the apostles gathered for worship as a special day will make it a time of unique joy and spiritual refreshment.

  1. 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). Back To Article
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