Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath?

September 5, 2019
George T. Ferrier

In reply we must answer the following questions: who was given the Sabbath, what was its purpose, and is it necessary in the church age? The first mention of the Sabbath occurred in the wilderness when the Lord gave Israel manna from heaven (Ex. 16:23). He instructed them to gather daily and on the sixth day to gather twice as much because no bread would be provided the following day. He commanded them to remain home and rest on the seventh day.

Soon after God enshrined the Sabbath in the written Mosaic Law, commanding that it be kept holy, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). The word holy means separate, consecrated, or dedicated. To treat something as holy is to sanctify it and set it apart which is the opposite of common. God is holy, entirely separate from His creation. His character and all His attributes proclaim “who is like the Lord.” Israel was to reverence Him and everything He designated as holy. Being part of the Mosaic Law, the Sabbath was only for Israel.

God commanded them to follow His example in creation when He rested the seventh day. He did not need to rest but chose to set aside the seventh day as separate (holy) from the other six, testifying to the excellence of His creative work (Gen. 2:2-3). Israel was to be a holy or set apart nation from the rest of the world dedicated to worshipping and serving Jehovah, the true God (Ex. 19:6). They were to distinguish themselves from the nations, who worshipped many gods. The Sabbath was a sign of God’s covenant with them and their acknowledgement that He was the Creator God (Ex. 31:17).

The Sabbath was not only a command but also a gift. It brought to remembrance the redeeming God who delivered them out of Egypt (Deut. 5:12-15). In Egypt there was no rest but only hard toil with no break. The Sabbath was a gift of refreshment for the people (Mk. 2:27). With this gift God testified to the unique position this nation held with Him as a redeemed people.

The nature of the two days differs. For example, the Sabbath was a day of rest, while the Lord’s Day is a day of service when we gather together to worship and serve Him. The Sabbath was a holy day set apart from other days. Conversely, the believer should equally commit every day to the Lord. While it is needful to have times of rest, Scripture does not mandate the first day as a day of rest for believers.

God’s Word exhorts believers to gather together for mutual encouragement (Heb. 10:24-25). Since Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, it became the custom of the early church to meet then (Acts 20:7). Though there is liberty for a local church to meet any day, and more than once a week should they choose, the first day or the “Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10) has been the traditional time for worshipping God, remembering Christ, and encouraging one another. Yet it is not a replacement for the Sabbath which was part of the Mosaic Law. Christ fulfilled the Law by both upholding it and bearing its penalty (Mt. 5:17-18; Gal. 3:13). As a result, the coming of Christ has entirely rescinded the Law as a rule of life in the church age (Acts 15:1-35; Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:24). Therefore, the Sabbath was annulled and not replaced with another day.1 Instead we find our rest in Christ.

We are not compelled today to observe religious calendars or holy days (Gal. 4:9-10; Col. 2:16-17). It is not our adherence of days that sets us apart from the rest of the world. The righteousness of God’s eternal moral law is fulfilled in us as we walk in the Spirit by the power of the risen Lord (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 2:20; 5:16). It is the indwelling Holy Spirit and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that sets the church apart as a holy people that recognizes Christ as both our Creator and our Redeemer (Rom. 8:2).  •


1. The topic of feasts and observances under Millennial Law are beyond the scope of this question.

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