Did the Sabbath change for Christians? A typical response from an evangelical might be: “Yes, the old covenant Sabbath on Saturday was an ordinance of the old creation. Sunday, which is the Lord’s Day, is the Sabbath of the new creation because Jesus rose from the dead.”
Is this biblical? Are there any passages from Scripture that justify the Sabbath being changed from Saturday to Sunday after Jesus rose from the dead? Let’s take a look at the most common arguments in favor of Sabbath change and whether this theological viewpoint can hold under scrutiny.
Remember, all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, showing mistakes, for correcting and for training character (2 Tim. 3:16). Whatever view you take, it must pass the litmus test of biblical veracity. Therefore, do not trust in your denominational heritage or preconceived notions about the Sabbath. Instead, follow the Bereans, who received the word of God with great eagerness, searching the Scripture with due diligence (Acts 17:11).
Some argue that 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 defend the position that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday because Paul discusses meeting on the first day of the week, Sunday, to collect an offering for the saints. However, the expression “laying aside” in the Greek comes with the connotation of putting something aside at home. Thus, there was no religious meeting held on the first day of the week and no collection plate passed at church on Sunday. Instead, they were to gather and store up their donations at home on that day.
If there was no religious meeting on Sunday, then why did Paul specifically suggest this work be done on Sunday? Simply put, the letter would have been shared with the church on the Sabbath when they were all gathered for worship, and the first opportunity for them to do the work would be the next day–the first day of the week.
But one might object further, saying, “What do you do with all the other references to “the first day of the week?” Let’s examine Acts 20:6-7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2-3 that is often used in support of the Sabbath being changed to Sunday, the first day of the week.
“But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days. On the first day of the week, we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” – Acts 20:6-7
Look up Acts 20:7 on greekbible.com. This is interesting. The verse actually states μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων, or “one of the Sabbaths,” not first day of the week. So what does one of the Sabbaths mean?
In the context, verse 6 mentions the Feast of Unleavened Bread. So what were they doing in verse 7? They were counting the Sabbath weeks. They were at “one” μιᾷ or first sabbath. How do we know that?
Leviticus 23:4-6;15 ‘These are the LORD’s appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.”
Now verse 15: “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD.”
Why did the Lord want His people to count off 7 Sabbaths or weeks? Because the day after the 7th Sabbath is Shavuot, which is “Pentecost.” That’s why the Pentecost is always 50 days after the resurrection of Christ.
The same Greek phrase is used in 1 Corinthians 16:2-3: κατὰ μίαν σαββάτου. The wording here in Greek is similar, but the context makes all the difference. Notice that Paul will be taking the collections and sending their gifts to Jerusalem. This offering was once again alluding to Pentecost.
Deuteronomy 16:16: “Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed.”
Moreover, other passages that attempt to argue special days and seasons are referring to the Sabbath. For instance, Galatians 4:8-10 states: Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!”
Does this verse represent the Sabbath or feasts of God? No. Paul is speaking with Gentiles who never observed God’s ways. Verse 8 says at one time you did not know God. Moreover, verse 9 says they are turning back. Back to what? Back to their pagan celebrations, not back to observing the Sabbath.
Romans 14:5-6: One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
The word Sabbath is not mentioned here in this text.
Colossians 2:16: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
First, it’s important to note that Paul isn’t confronting the pharisaic Judaism like he was in Galatians. Instead, Paul is confronting an eastern mysticism known as Gnosticism, which maintained that secret knowledge can enhance one’s religion. That’s why he says to beware of philosophy according to the tradition of men, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8).
These pagan philosophies were attempting to persuade the Colossians, who were mostly Gentile, that perfection could be achieved through self-denial and abstinence from pleasure (Col. 2:20-23). It was, therefore, the Gnostics who were condemning the believers for eating meat, drinking wine, and enjoying food and fellowship when observing God’s Sabbath and festivals.
The irony here is that some people would argue Paul is talking to legalistic Judaizers who were trying to enforce the Sabbath, new moons, and festivals upon them. But the opposite is true. The Gnostic ascetics, who thought they could obtain salvation through self-denial and self-mutilation (Col. 2:21-22), we’re telling the believers to stop enjoying these religious festivals. Therefore, Paul says, “Believers, do not let anyone judge you as in regard to food, drink, new moon, and Sabbaths.”
1 John 5:2 says, “This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” Observing the Sabbath is an opportunity to rest from your labor and enjoy God. The goal of the Sabbath was never a “yoke or burden.” In fact, it’s a time of refreshment and renewal. Jesus enjoyed life!
Let me comment on an important passage from Mark 2:33. “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain-fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. So the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Was this unlawful? Deuteronomy 23:25 states, “If you enter your neighbor’s grain-field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.”
The Pharisees were wrong. God never said you couldn’t pick grain and eat, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation on the Sabbath. Enjoying food. Eating when hungry. What the law was against is being covetous that day. Taking all the grain, storing it in your house, and attempting to make a profit.
The question one must ask is this: Did Paul teach that the law was burdensome? Did he teach that it was a yoke of slavery, as some would suggest from Galatians 5:1? Or, is Paul talking about the oral tradition of the law, which has been misapplied by the religious leaders? If you look at the Talmud, the Jewish ceremonial laws, they add many more commandments than what the Bible teaches.
If you believe Paul is talking about the law and the Sabbath as a burden and yoke, then your hermeneutical framework might look at keeping the Sabbath and the new moons and festivals as what Paul was against in Colossians as legalistic and done away with under the dispensation of grace in Christ.
However, Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. This verse is not saying, the law is the shadow and now it’s done away. The shadow is still there. In fact, it says these are a shadow of the things “to come.” This is talking about the future “rest”, not a fulfillment of the law that is now abolished in Christ. Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matt. 5:18).
Finally, some theologians argue that Jesus changed His Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday because that was the day He rose again from the dead. This is called the Lord’s Day. So whenever the verbiage Lord’s day is used, proponents suggest the apostles were referring to Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
A few concerns. First, nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that the Lord’s day is Sunday. Theologians falsely conclude, from their own presuppositions, that because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday and appeared to His disciples on the same day, this somehow transferred the Old Covenant Sabbath to the New Covenant Sunday. However, Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5 do say: “Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.” Wouldn’t that, therefore, make the Sabbath the Lord’s day, which is Saturday?
This topic is of enormous importance because Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Jesus didn’t say to obey 9 out of the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai. He told us to obey them all. And of course, the greatest command is to “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” And when we obey God’s commands, we fulfill the greatest command. Thoughts?