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Common Questions: What Made You Go To The Sabbath?

February 1, 2017

This one's going to be a long one--You are warned!

Common Questions Asked of Messianic/Hebraic Ministries

What made you go to the Sabbath?

 

As a Baptist, we love to call ourselves, “People of the Book” meaning the Scriptures.  We like to champion the Bereans from Acts who searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true.  These Bereans were hearing new teaching, but it had to be consistent with what had already been revealed—right? 

 

In other words, if Paul could not make the case from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ, that Yeshua is the Messiah, they would be right in rejecting what Paul taught. 

 

Thankfully, Paul was consistent with what was written.  Despite what many people think or teach today, the Apostle Paul did not invent or reinvent faith in Yeshua.  He did not contradict or conflict with Yeshua's teachings. 

 

But if he did, the Bereans wanted to know it and they went to the Scriptures to test him.  The Scriptures were the standard, Paul was not.  What Paul taught had to be submitted to the Scriptures.

 

Keep in mind that at this time, the only Scriptures they had was what we call the Old Testament, the Torah made up of the Prophets and the Writings--what is called the Tanakh.  The Bereans had the Scriptures and new how to search them.

 

We like to claim to be like them.  So two questions that have become helpful to me in searching the Scriptures and comparing what we do and teach today are:

  • If something is in the Bible—a command to do—and we are not doing it—we need to ask why aren’t we doing it and when did we stop?

  • If something is not in the Bible—or a command not to do something—and we are doing it—we need to ask why are we and when did we start?

​Bereans ask those kinds of questions because they want to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.  I hope you do too.

 

Here's the problem.  If someone wants to change something from the Scriptures—to not do something it says to do, or do something it says not to, to change some teaching or doctrine—the standard should be high.

 

If we are examining the Scriptures for guidance on a subject—the answer, reason or justification shouldn’t be something ambiguous, it shouldn’t be something questionable or debatable or just a description of something that happened—it should be a clear and definitive command. 

 

Because we know that God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  We know He is the LORD and He changest not.  At least we claim to believe this.

 

So if something is going to change, if a command is going to change-- from what He says in the Bible—it has to be explicit.  Previously you did this, now I want you to do this.

 

Everything we do as believers in our day should be found, should have a basis in the Scriptures.  I hope you agree. 

 

And if anything is going to change from life and practice in the OT, to the Church in the NT, it should be explicit.

 

I am now leading a congregation that meets on the Sabbath.  From time to time I get asked the question why we meet on Saturday and not Sunday?  Isn’t Sunday the Lord’s Day?

 

I'll be honest, I didn’t set out to leave Sunday and go to the Sabbath.  I have been on a journey for the last 10 years, only the last couple of which did He deal with me on the Sabbath.  If He had started out with that issue, I probably would have rejected it and not gone much further because I was not really examining the Scriptures to see if what I had been taught and practiced was true.  So I thank Him for His patience and wisdom.

 

Since it took me that long, I realize that this one article is not likely to convince you to agree with me, but perhaps it is the start of a larger conversation on some of our assumptions.

 

We must apply the Berean standards to this issue.  In the OT, the Tanakh, we are commanded to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”—we are told it is a sign, a distinguishing mark for God’s people that is to last for all the generations to come—a perpetual and lasting ordinance.  The 7th Day Sabbath is to be a day of rest, of assembly, of discussing the Scriptures and passing on the blessing and legacy of faith to the younger generations.  This is God’s declaration, established on His Authority and His Word.

 

So IF... in the post resurrection era, the day of assembly has changed to Sunday or the “Lord’s Day”—then it can only be changed by the same authority that established it.  Only God has the authority to change this command—not any man, not any leader in the church or government—Only God has the authority to change the day of meeting—and such a change must to be explicit, must be clear.

 

​Think of it like this—when you are sick, who sets the date and time of the appointment, you or the doctor? Typically the Doctor sets the time and date. And if you want to see the Doctor, then you show up to that appointment. If you don't, it may be a while before another one is rescheduled. We don't have the authority to set the appointment for the doctor.

 

When it comes to the day of worship, the question becomes, do we see any such explicit and clear commands from Jesus or the NT telling His people to change to Sunday worship?  I’ve read through the NT many times, as have most of you and the answer is no—there is no passage in the NT that explicitly or clearly says the church is to change from the Sabbath to Sunday, the first day of the week, as a day of worship.

 

Let's look at passages and concepts in the New Testament.

 

We observe that Jesus rose on the first day of the week—but is that a command or a description?  It is a description.

 

We see some of the apostles meeting on “the first day of the week” in Acts—and for the moment, I’ll give you that this is a correct translation and interpretation of that phrase—but again, at best, it is an observation and not a command. 

 

These Describe a situation, they do not Prescribe a new practice.  It describes that they met on a certain day, but doesn’t say—and you should meet on that day too.

 

To come to this conclusion from such verses is to make the same mistake Mormons have made about polygamy.  Just because the Bible doesn’t hide the descriptions of some of the Patriarchs practicing polygamy doesn’t mean God approves of it nor does it suggest that we have permission to practice it ourselves. 

 

Description is not Prescription.  These passages do not pass the necessary test to warrant making a change to and established and explicit command of God. 

 

Again, if God was of a mind to change an established and repeated command like the Sabbath, He would, by His nature, have to be explicit to His people so there could be no confusion.  That’s because no mere man, no prophet, nor any church leader like a Pope, has the authority to make such changes. 

 

Deuteronomy 13:1—“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, 2 and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ 3 do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. 4 You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him.”

 

No one but the Father, the King, has the authority to change the command. 

 

Now don’t get me wrong… It’s not that we are not allowed to worship on Sunday—of course we can.  We can and should worship on any or all days. 

 

The biggest problem is not that the Church began worshiping on Sunday, but rather that we stopped worshiping on the Sabbath to the extent that doing so on the Sabbath became wrong and forbidden.

 

In moving to Sunday, the Church didn’t change the Sabbath, it remains the 7th day.  They didn’t say “We are going to worship on Sunday,” and the Sabbath is still OK. 

 

No, the move to Sunday was done as a replacement of the Sabbath.  It wasn’t a change made that allowed anyone to continue worshiping on Saturday either.  Rather, the Roman Catholic Church made keeping the Sabbath illegal within the Roman empire for anyone claiming the name of Jesus.  This officially occurred at the Council of Laodicea in 335 AD.

 

Though some had argued for the change in the 2nd & 3rd centuries, such writings apparently were not universally persuasive or accepted.  Not everyone who claimed Jesus as their Savior had moved to Sunday worship, even after 3 centuries of practice and development. 

 

After all, why would a decree and enforcement be needed in 335 if by this time everyone in the body of Christ had accepted Sunday worship? 

 

No, apparently, a significant portion of the believing community still practiced the 7th day Sabbath.  After all the only reason to make a new law is to try and stop an ongoing behavior. 

 

Why make a speed limit if no one is driving exceedingly fast?  Why pass a voter fraud initiative if no one is trying to vote illegally.

 

No, such a decree from the Roman church only makes sense if they are trying to put a stop to believers meeting on the Sabbath throughout the Empire’s reach.  So the idea that the church had already, universally accepted Sunday worship doesn’t fit with the behavior we see.

 

We should also know that many of these efforts to distance the church from the Sabbath were closely tied to a rising antisemitism within the church.  Even in Paul’s day there was growing tension between the Jewish believers in Yeshua and the Gentile believers. 

 

Much of Romans is written to address those tensions.  Some of the early church fathers—who are often quoted as authorities in the Sabbath debate—also had very atrocious things to say about the Jews, things we would be loathe to associate ourselves with.  A list of their quotes is not hard to find.

 

The push to remove Jewish vestiges from Christianity came after the 1st century and the death of the last of the apostles.  The Apostles were all Jewish as were all but one of the writers of the New Testament, however, the Church became increasingly hostile toward anything that reminded them of Judaism and the Jews.  Antisemitism rose up and reminders of the foundation of Christianity were being forced out. 

 

By the Laodicean Council in 335 and the declaration on the Sabbath it is clear that:

  • Antisemitism fueled it

  • The Roman Church ordered it

  • The Emperor’s Authority enforced it.

    All three factors went in to making the change from Sabbath to Sunday.

     

  • Were these factors applied to a debate today and we witnessed that one side using anti-Semitic reasoning to support their position, I believe we would reject it.
     

  • If it came as an authoritative decree from the Roman Catholic Church, I suspect most in the Protestant traditions would say we are not bound to their decrees.
     

  • If the Government was used to strong arm compliance on the decision, we would not go along with the decision. We would actively work against it and defend everyone’s right to be a non-conformist.
     

  • If the Scriptural justification for making a change was so weak, we would question their interpretation.

Now, these reasons should cause any good Baptist at least a moment of pause. 

  1. In modern times, we claim to love the Jewish people and typically support the modern state of Israel.  We wouldn’t knowingly be anti-Semitic, but we don’t realize how it has permeated our theology and assumptions.  And yet, as we stand and practice worship exclusively on Sunday, we are operating in a decision that had antisemitism at its core.
     

  2. Secondly, we consider ourselves firmly rooted in the Protestant tradition and hold no allegiance to the Roman Catholic church—and yet we unquestioningly accept this Catholic rule and canon law.  We still live and operate with it—a decision decreed with papal authority but no clear Scriptural authority command.
     

  3. Thirdly, we believe in the Separation of Church and State—at least what that used to mean at our nation’s founding—and yet the decree that embedded Sunday as the day of worship was enforced by the government’s power.  Those still practicing the Sabbath were dealt with or pushed to the edges of the Empire as heretics.  The very uniting of Church & State that so many of us fear is exactly how this change became so universal across Christendom.

I would expect our Baptist forebearers to have resisted such a decree in 325 had they been there.  They would be disappointed to know that centuries later, their descendants would not even take up the issue for consideration, but instead, blindly accept it. 

 

We have lost the Berean spirit on this issue.

 

To that end, I want to revisit some of the Scriptural (particularly New Testament) supports used to justify the change the day of meeting and worship to Sunday. 

 

First, we call Sunday “the Lord’s Day”.  But I challenge you to find any verses of Scripture that actually calls it that.  We impose that name because we have accepted the position already, not because Scripture clearly makes this declaration.

 

But what about Revelation 1:9-10—“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of God’s word and the testimony about Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet 11  saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

 

For much of my adult life, I have considered this a passage supporting Sunday worship—because it mentions the “Lord’s Day”.  However I ask, how do I know the Lord's Day is referring to a Sunday?  The Scripture does not define that, my assumption does.  And that's a problem.  

 

Another question is the setting for John's vision.  Would any Sunday be appropriate for this vision or is it a specific one? 

 

Keep in mind, that the New Testament as we know it would not have existed, not be codified until decades later.  So when John thought of the Scriptures, he would be thinking of the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament made up of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.

 

And those Scriptures define for John what is the Lord's Day. 

 

Rather than indicating that John’s vision occurred on a Sunday, this passage is referring to a specific event in future history that the OT Scriptures refers to frequently.  It is the same subject that John is writing about.  Revelation is all about the return of Yeshua to establish His Kingdom on earth and to judge the nations. 

 

The OT calls that day, the “Day of the LORD”.  It is a day of judgment and righteousness, when His authority is established and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, Yeshua the Messiah is Lord of all. 

 

John is seeing the time of the end and it is that day that John is taken to by the Spirit.  He is no longer on a Sunday in the past, rather the Spirit has taken him to see what is to come—it is that day, the Lord’s day, the Day of the Lord that John sees.

 

But again, even if this is a Sunday, it is not a command for his followers to forgo the Sabbath and begin meeting on Sunday.  At best, that is an interpretation applied to the text, not what the text is saying for itself. 

 

I remember my hermeneutics class at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that taught, when we have unclear passages of Scripture, rather than try to speculate or impose an interpretation (eisegesis), it is best to search the Scriptures for other texts that might interpret it for us. 

 

In other words, it is best to let Scripture interpret Scripture.

 

So if there is no Scripture that clearly calls Sunday the Lord’s Day, and the passage is Revelation is really talking about the Day of the LORD, are there any passages of Scripture that do clearly define the “Lord’s day” in some other way? 

 

I would say yes, there is.  In fact, Jesus’ own words define it, but we have ignored the clear passage and not applied it to this issue.  The 3 synoptic Gospels share the statement.

 

Matthew 12:8—“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 

 

Mark 2:27-28--" Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

 

It's also in Luke 6:5 and almost explicit in John 5:1-23

 

Here we see Jesus clearly defining what He is Lord of.  This is not to say He is not Lord on the other days, but His own words declare He is Lord of the Sabbath.  By Scripture’s own usage, the Lord’s Day is best defined as the Sabbath.

 

So by the rule that Scripture best interprets Scripture--the definition of what "the Lord's Day" is not referring to Sunday, but Saturday, the Sabbath.  To insist it really means Sunday is to impose a meaning that the text never makes on its own.

 

But wait!  Wasn’t Jesus raised on Sunday and doesn’t that fact justify moving our day of worship to Sunday? 

 

Again, there is no command, only an observation.   Even this truth is not explicit and clear enough to change an explicit command of God.

 

Yes, Yeshua was raised on the first day of the week (FYI, Jews didn’t call it Sunday, instead they counted the days from the Sabbath), but what made this moment significant, and why this day was chosen as opposed to any other was not that it was a Sunday. 

 

Being a Sunday did not set the date of the Resurrection.  God’s calendar of Feast days from Leviticus 23 did.

 

We know that Jesus is our Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.  As Yeshua fulfilled the Passover, He also fulfilled the other spring feasts as well.  All of the Spring Feasts: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Weeks (Shavuot or what the church calls Pentecost) pointed to and were fulfilled in the first coming of the Messiah. 

 

Today we tend to call them the “Feasts of the Jews”, but that is not what Scripture calls them.  Scripture calls them “the Feasts of the LORD”.  They are His Feasts.

 

Leviticus 23:1—“The Lord spoke to Moses: 2  “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: These are My appointed times, the times of the Lord that you will proclaim as sacred assemblies.”

 

They are appointed times—yearly appointments where the LORD wants to meet with His people and show what He is going to do in the life of the Messiah.  They all foreshadow and are prophetic toward the Messiah and what He will do on our behalf. 

 

 

He is the Passover Lamb, and He is the Spotless (or sinless) lamb in fulfillment of Unleavened Bread—the Matzah that has no leaven (sin) and is pierced and broken during the meal. 

 

Regarding the Resurrection—that happened exactly on one of the Father’s Feast days.  Yeshua was raised on the first day of the week, not because it was a Sunday, rather it happened in fulfilment of Firstfruits which takes place the day after the weekly Sabbath of Passover week.

 

Leviticus 23:11—“He will wave the sheaf before the Lord so that you may be accepted; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath.”

 

He was raised as the Firstfruits from among the dead.  The first person raised in a glorified body of the Kingdom. 

 

Paul knew this and expressed it in 1 Corinthians 15:20—“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

 

The firstfruit of the first harvest of the year is a picture of the future harvest.  It is the expectation and trust that God will provide the full and future harvest and provide all their needs and fulfill His promise. 

 

That is what Yeshua’s resurrection says as Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 15:23—“But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ.”

  • Sunday was not why this day was chosen for Yeshua’s resurrection.  It was chosen because it was Firstfruits.

Therefore, it makes no sense to use the truth of Yeshua being raised on this day as justification for a church practice that changes God’s Word. 

 

Only when we understand God’s Word and the fulfillment of Firstfruits do we understand that this moment was not telling the church to change its day of worship but rather it was showing the faithfulness of the Father to fulfill His promise. 

 

Yeshua’s resurrection on the first day of the week, when properly understood in God’s calendar is not a valid reason to change the command of God, i.e. the Sabbath.

 

So if Revelation is not a passage clear enough to justify the change to Sunday and neither is the Resurrection, then surely the passages in Acts 20:7 & 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 clearly demonstrate that the early church was meeting regularly on Sunday.

 

Once again it needs to be pointed out that at best, these verses offer a description of an event and not a command. 

 

Even in this observation, it is not possible to make the claim that this meeting on the first day of the week was an every week event or regular church practice.  They are meeting to take a special offering that Paul can take on to Jerusalem.  That is all we can say with certainty.  We cannot say they met the week before or the week after because it was a special collection only for when Paul was in town.  Once he left to continue his journey, what reason would they have to meet?

 

That is assuming the translation “first day of the week” is correct.

 

There is another possible explanation for this behavior by the believers, one that would provide a reason for them to be already meeting the weeks before and forever after.  This is another example of our ignorance of the biblical calendar.

 

We know that Paul regularly met in the synagogues on the Sabbath and many believers participated where they would regularly hear the Torah (see Acts 15:21). 

 

Most English translations say “first day of the week” but that is not the best rendering of the Greek phrase “mia ton sabbaton”. 

 

First, notice that the word Sabbath is a part of this sentence, and while “week” is a possibility for the plural form, the more straightforward translation is “Sabbaths”.  Not just one sabbath, but multiple sabbaths.

 

I should also note that the word “day” is not in the text at all, but merely included for clarity based on the translator’s choice. 

 

Second, “Mia” is not the normal Greek word to say “first”.  In most circumstances, the ancient world would use “protos” like in Mark 16:9.  “Mia” is most commonly translated as “one” or “one of” (55 times) as opposed to “first” (only 9 times).

 

So a more straightforward translation would say, “one of the Sabbaths”.  But this does not make sense to our minds so we reasonably try to adjust our translation. 

  • But what if it did make sense in their culture?  What if it doesn’t make sense to us because we do not know how the Jewish world practiced the biblical calendar and the Feasts.

To establish this, let me ask you a question. 

 

Do you know what time of year it is in the Acts 20 and 1 Corinthians 16 passages? 

 

The Scriptures tell us.

 

Acts 20:6—“but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread. In five days we reached them at Troas, where we spent seven days.”

 

From this verse we learn it is shortly after the Feast of Unleavened Bread which is in the spring.

 

Acts 20:16 lets us know that it is the time between Firstfruits and Pentecost (Shavuot) because Paul was hurrying to make it back to Jerusalem as the Torah commanded.  “For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so he would not have to spend time in Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, for the day of Pentecost.”

 

Likewise, 1 Corinthians 16:7-8 confirms the same time of year, “I don’t want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord allows. 8  But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost,”

 

So what?  What difference does this make to this issue?  Much actually, if you know the biblical calendar and God’s instructions. 

 

In the time between Unleavened Bread and Shavuot, the Israelites are instructed to Count the Omer on 7 consecutive Sabbaths or 49 days, with the celebration being on the 50th day (i.e. Pentecost).  This mirrors on a smaller scale the Jubilee year cycle of 50 years.

 

Leviticus 23:15—“You are to count seven complete weeks starting from the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the presentation offering. 16 You are to count 50 days until the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.”

 

This is the 7 week Counting of the Omer that was practiced in the Jewish culture, but that we have lost track of in the modern church because we have distanced ourselves from the biblical calendar and the feasts. 

 

Given the specific time of year mentioned in both Acts and 1 Corinthians, the fact they are supposed to be keeping track of the sabbaths, the phrase “one of the Sabbaths” makes the best sense. 

 

That sets the stage for Paul's meeting to collect the offering to occur on one of the 7 Sabbaths between Unleavened Bread and Shavuot (Pentecost).  The believers met after Firstfruits and before Pentecost and took a collection for Paul to take to Jerusalem.  This was serving as a sort of wave offering from the believers to be presented at the Temple.

 

This fits the context of the times and culture better than “first day of the week”, but it is only seen when the biblical calendar is considered. 

 

Given this better understanding of the phrase describing a Sabbath in the Omer cycle, it is likely that the church was not meeting on a Sunday like we’ve always been taught. 

 

Instead they were meeting on a regular weekly Sabbath.

 

If that is the case, then these verses cannot be used to justify moving the church’s worship from Saturday to Sunday, nor in continuing the practice today.

 

Once again, I need to state that our goal as believers and ministers is to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.  The truth is found in the Scriptures where the Father tells His people how to live, what is and is not acceptable worship, and the things that offend Him.  He commands us, as His people to stand apart from the nations and not worship like them, but only as He prescribes. 

 

Because the Scriptures clearly state that there is worship that He hates, even when it is directed toward Him. 

 

In other words, He doesn’t want it. 

 

That is what He warned the Israelites about when they were going into the Promised Land—be careful how the people of God worship Him. 

 

Deuteronomy 12:29—“When the Lord your God annihilates the nations before you, which you are entering to take possession of, and you drive them out and live in their land, 30 be careful not to be ensnared by their ways after they have been destroyed before you. Do not inquire about their gods, asking, ‘How did these nations worship their gods? I’ll also do the same.’ 31 You must not do the same to the Lord your God, because they practice every detestable thing, which the Lord hates, for their gods. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 You must be careful to do everything I command you; do not add anything to it or take anything away from it."

 

We must be careful—because the ways of the nations are enticing and ensnaring, they can be appealing.  We must not look to how the nations worship their gods and try to incorporate those practices into how we worship ours.  He finds it detestable. 

 

Instead, we must not add or subtract anything from what He tells us to do in His Torah, in His Word. 

 

If He says to do it, we should do it, even if an important person or religious leader says we should stop. 

 

If His Word says don’t do it, we shouldn’t do it, no matter how appealing it may be, or no matter who says we should. 

 

Remember the standard.  If anything is going to change and deviate from God’s revealed Word found in the Scriptures—whether we add to or subtract from—the standard must be extremely high and very specific. 

 

It cannot come from the announcement of a church leader centuries after the Apostles.  It cannot come by read into or inferring, from unclear Scriptures.

 

Because of these reasons, if I am to make a decision as a Berean and a lover of Scripture more than the pronouncements of the past, then the move by the early church away from the Sabbath and on to Sunday fails to be biblically justified. 

 

We should not unquestioningly live under a decision made centuries ago just because of tradition. 

 

I’ll be the first one to admit, this was a difficult conclusion to come to.  It took a long time for me to get here and be willing to break from the tradition of my upbringing and denomination. 

 

I also had to consider what it would cost me.  And it has. 

 

The church I pastored for over 3 years asked me to step down in part because of my position on the Sabbath.  I could talk about it, even preach about it in the context of the 10 Commandments, but as soon as I began to suggest the Sabbath was a particular day, or worse, begin to actually practice the Sabbath, then I had to go.

 

However, which is more important, keeping a position, satisfying the opinion of people or living and worshiping in Spirit and Truth in the eyes of God.  I will gladly choose God, every time.

 

We must live by the command of the Scriptures to meet together and worship God on the day He assigned and chose for us, to the pattern He set all the way back in Genesis 1—the Sabbath. 

 

The Sabbath is the day we are to commanded to remember because it is so easy to listen to all the voices of history trying to get us to forget about it.

 

May we all begin to walk in His ways—the ways He has clearly instructed us.  May we all be Bereans and see if what we teach and practice is consistent with our authority, which is the Word of God.

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