The Sabbath and the Christian (Exodus 20:8), Part 1


“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (I Timothy 1:8)

Picture yourself sitting in my office at God’s Bible School & College listening to a sincere student ask the following question. “Dr. Brown, I am caught in a dilemma. I go to a church that does not feel there are special rules that apply to Sunday. For example, many of the people go out to eat after the services and no one thinks anything about it. Now that I have come to Bible College, I am being told by various students and teachers that Sunday is a special day and one is not to ‘buy or sell’ on God’s holy day. Who is right?”

Again, picture yourself being asked by a sincere student, “Colossians 2:16 says, ‘Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.’ Further, Romans 14:5, 6 says, ‘One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.’ I have been taught that God no longer requires His people to treat Sunday like the Old Testament believers were to treat their Sabbath. We are simply to keep our conscience clear about whatever we choose to do on Sunday. In other words, ‘Let your conscience be your guide.’ Is this true?”

What would you say? I have a copy of a sermon preached by an acquaintance of mine who asserted the following:

  1. “The Sabbath” is the seventh day of the week, not Sunday (the first day of the week).
  2. Sunday is not the Sabbath.
  3. The Bible does not change the Sabbath to Sunday.
  4. The Bible does not give commandments about not “desecrating Sunday” or the “Lord’s day” as Sunday is also called. There is nothing in the Bible that says there are things that can not be done on Sunday that are all right to do on other days.
  5. Teaching the commandments of men” about Sunday is false doctrine and displeasing to God.

Was my acquaintance correct in his/her teaching? What does the Bible teach about the “Sabbath” and the Christian? I submit the following information for your serious and prayerful consideration.1

1. God instituted the Sabbath during the first week of creation, long before He gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Therefore Sabbath observance predates the giving of the Mosaic Law, and is not to be classified as only or primarily “Mosaic law,” and thus dismissed with the statement, “in this dispensation we are not under law, but under grace.”

Sabbath observance predates the giving of the Mosaic Law, and is not to be classified as only or primarily “Mosaic law.”

2. The Sabbath was instituted before the fall of man (before mankind sinned) and is part of God’s eternal design and plan for mankind.

3. God deliberately created the heavens and earth and all that is in them in six days and then rested on the seventh day. He did this to establish His design for mankind’s week. A week is to be seven days consisting of six days for work and one day for rest and worship (Gen. 2:2; Exo. 20:8-11).

4. The word “Sabbath” (Hebrew: shabbat) means “to rest, to cease from working.” It does not mean “seventh” (Hebrew: shebi‘i) as in “seventh” day. The word “Sabbath” does not mean “Saturday.” The word “Sabbath” does not inherently contain in itself an indicator of a specific day of the week. God told mankind which day of the week he wanted them to rest (keep as the Sabbath). If he had not said the “seventh” day (Saturday), they would not have known on which day to rest.

5. At the end of this age, when God destroys this present world and creates the new heavens and the new earth, Sabbath observance remains part of God’s plan for mankind in eternity and is mandatory for everyone in the coming new world.  “For as the new heaven and the new earth, which I make, remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name continue. And it shall come to pass from month to month, and from sabbath to sabbath, that all flesh shall come to worship before me in Jerusalem, saith the Lord” (Isa. 66:22-23).

Sabbath observance remains part of God’s plan for mankind in eternity and is mandatory for everyone in the coming new world.

6. Since God instituted Sabbath observance at the creation of the world, required it of His people during the duration of the Old Covenant, and requires it of all people in the future on the new earth, does it seem reasonable to assume that God does not care whether or not a person honors the Sabbath during this New Testament age? In my opinion, the answer is, “No.” God presently expects everyone to keep the Sabbath day holy.

7. Sabbath observance is so important in God’s plan that He placed it in His moral code (the Ten commandments — Exo. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12).  Moral standards, unlike the changing aspects of a culture, do not fluctuate. “My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips” (Psa. 89:34). When the Lord speaks, His word stands firm forever. His standards of right and wrong do not change from age to age: “All His precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness” (Psa. 111:78).

8. On the Sabbath no one is to buy or sell (Neh. 10:31; 13:15-21).

9. No secular work is to be done on the Sabbath. For example, God did not allow the Israelites to collect manna on the Sabbath. They were to work (collect food) six days, and then rest and worship on the seventh (Exo. 16:23-27)

10. Both the animals and the human work force were to rest on the Sabbath. No one was to hire another person to work for him on the Sabbath (Exo 23:12; 31:15; Deut. 5:14). This rule applies even during the harvest season (Exo. 34:21).

11. Anyone who did work on the Sabbath was to be put to death. This teaches us how strongly God feels about Sabbath desecration! “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death” (Exo. 31:15). There were not many sins for which the penalty was physical death. When God did require capital punishment, it was to teach that His standard for that particular area of life was inflexible. Thus it seems incredible to me that people teach that God no longer cares in this New Testament dispensation whether or not we honor one day out of seven as a “Sabbath” unto the Lord.

12. The Sabbath is to be a day of rest from our normal pursuits. It is not to be a day of idleness. We are to employ ourselves in religious exercises. And we are to keep the whole day holy, not just a few hours during church. “On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation [worship service]; you shall do no laborious work” (Num. 28:25).

The Sabbath is to be a day of rest from our normal pursuits.

13. The Lord Jesus, who is our example, kept the Sabbath. However, He explained that there are three classes of deeds which do not violate the universal principle of Sabbath observance:

  1. Deeds of mercy, such as healing, or feeding animals, are permissible (Mat. 12:10-12; Mark 3:2-5; Luke 6:6-10; 13:10-17).
  2. Deeds of necessity, such as the proper care of animals, are permissible (Mat.12:1-12; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:2-5).
  3. Deeds associated with worship, such as priests offering sacrifices, are permissible (Mat. 12:5). The priests had to kill the animals for sacrifice, skin them, cut them up as prescribed by God, and place them on the altar. This involved work on the Sabbath. But it was not “secular” work for personal financial gain. It was work associated with God’s requirement for worship.

14. The basic principle that is to guide one’s activities on the Sabbath is given in Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Interestingly, the only place where God directly tells us how to delight ourselves in Him is here in Isaiah 58:13-14. The Lord is saying that when we take pleasure in the day He has set aside for rest, then we will be delighting in Him. When we look at the Sabbath from the perspective that it reflects God’s loving provision for rest and refreshment, should we not thank Him for the blessing of a whole day set aside to spend time drawing near to Him?

The Sabbath reflects God’s loving provision for rest and refreshment.

15. Jesus is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:8). This means He has the authority to tell us which day of the week He wants His people to set apart as the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not like a person’s “birthday” that never changes. It is a designated day of the week that God tells us to treat in a special, holy way.

16. The Apostles were led by “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:8) to change the day of worship to the first day of the week in honor of Jesus’ resurrection. This is why Sunday is called “the Lord’s Day,” as well as the Christian’s Sabbath day. This occurred in the first century and Christian worship on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, has been the practice of the Church throughout the last two millennia.

  1. In Acts 20:7, Luke writes, “And upon the first day of the week, (Sunday) when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight (Acts 20:7). Sunday observance for worship is being practiced at this time.
  2. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul says, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” Paul is indicating that the churches were now meeting for service on the Christian “Sabbath,” which was the “first day of the week” (Sunday).
  3. In Revelation 1:10, John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” expecting that his readers would understand what he was talking about. In other words, by A.D. 95-100, the term “Lord’s Day” must have been in common usage among the churches, otherwise John would have explained what he meant. Other early examples of the use of “the Lord’s day” to refer to Sunday worship are found in Ignatius’s Epistle to the Magnesians 9 (c. A.D. 110), the Didache 14 (c. A.D. 120), and the Epistle of Barnabus 15 (c. A.D. 70-130).
  4. These references serve as early indications that the Church of Jesus Christ began having Christian worship services on Sunday, “the Lord’s day,” during the first century AD. The evidence that the church recognized the “Lord’s day” to be the Christian “Sabbath” and applied the Old Testament principles of Sabbath observance to Sunday, will be given in “Part Two” of this message.



Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

  1. I have chosen to use a listing instead of paragraph form to make it easier to follow the logical progression of thought.
Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.