Most Sabbatarians fail to comprehend the implications of the belief system they embrace. Much of what they ‘know’ about their beliefs is a highly sanitized version that is promoted by their church and pastors, and errors they learned from other churches. Few bother to read and understand what is written in the Bible or think critically about what the doctrine implies, or even understand history, writings of early Christians, church fathers, and Jewish culture and practice.
Communal worship in Israel
If we are to understand attending worship services for a Jew in its context, we have to know something about the manner of communal worship in Israel under the old covenant. The national corporate worship had to occur in the place that God designated as a central worship site. Originally, this was at the Tabernacle, and after Solomon’s time, at the Temple in Jerusalem. We can see an explicit instruction about the place to worship in Deuteronomy:
“You are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go…” (Deuteronomy 12:4).
This command to worship only at a designated location is also seen in Deuteronomy 16, which lists the annual festivals. See verses 5, 7, 11, and 16, among others.
The reasons for this were numerous. One consideration was that Israel should not alter the worship format and purpose that God had given the nation; otherwise they would easily lapse into worship that was directed to pagan deities. We can see how this happened in the wilderness when Moses left the people to receive the stone tablets (Exodus 32), and when Israel broke politically from Judah and set up its own religious system, including new worship formats, places and times (1 Kings 12:25-33).
What made Sabbath “holy”?
The essence of Sabbath-keeping was physical REST.
Ex 20:8-10 ”Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it HOLY, Six days you shall LABOR, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall NOT DO ANY WORK“
In Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the Sabbath command specifies rest from labor as the way to keep the day “holy.” There is no COMMAND or mention of going to a worship service each Sabbath for worship.
Other passages in the Old Testament also define the Sabbath by rest (ceasing from labor), not by attendance at worship services. See Exodus 31:12-17, Numbers 15:32, Nehemiah 13:15-22 and Jeremiah 17:19-27. The latter two passages, though they refer to Jerusalem, do not mention anything about failure to attend worship services, but only work on the Sabbath as a desecration of this day.
An interesting study is to look up the word “Sabbath” in a concordance, find all the Old Testament references and then read those passages to see how this day was kept “holy.”
The conclusion will be that rest from labor is what made the Sabbath sacred time, not attendance at a worship service.
Most Israelites lived too far from the tabernacle to attend a worship service every Sabbath – and there is no evidence in the Old Testament that they did. And the law did not allow them to assemble anywhere else for worship. Nor do we find commands even for people near the Tabernacle that they had to gather for worship. The Sabbath was kept at home, by resting or ceasing from all activity.
Leviticus 23:3 ”Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your DWELLINGS‘.
Hence, there is no indication in Scripture of Israelite’s going to worship services of one kind or another in their local towns and villages.
Ex. 16:29, ”Understand that the LORD has given you [Israel] the Sabbath. Each of you stay where you are; no one is to leave his place on the seventh day.”
They could travel to worship services at the Tabernacle only for the annual festivals. But they were COMMANDED by God to cease from labour in their living places, and EVERYONE was to not leave their place on the ritual Sabbath day.
When did the Synagogue system come?
One might point to the New Testament and say, “But Jesus and Paul attended the synagogue on the Sabbath. Doesn’t this indicate that worship services were an essential part of God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy?”
Based on Scripture or Jewish history, there was no national system of Sabbath-day worship sites or places of communal instruction throughout Israel’s history in the Promised Land up to the captivity of Judah in the 530s B.C. and the return of a remnant to Judea a few decades years later.
There were no synagogues before the exile; there were no local meeting places in Israel before the exile, because there was no command for weekly meetings.
According to Jewish Encyclopedia, ‘The synagogue as a permanent institution originated in the period of the Babylonian captivity, when a place for common worship and instruction had become necessary‘.
The synagogue system allowed Jews to meet together in local towns and villages for prayer, the reading of the Holy Scriptures and for fellowship. The synagogue became a miniature sanctuary to replace the loss of the Jerusalem Temple.
Hence, Jews added the synagogue worship system, not based on biblical command, but on a sociological need, due to the loss of the Temple and the scattering of the people far away from the Promised Land. Nowhere in the Old Testament will you find a command to have local worship sites.
Now, there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with the Jews setting up synagogues. They became an important center of fellowship and instruction in the Jewish faith. The New Testament does not condemn the practice; it is taken for granted. However, it is nowhere commanded, and no Sabbatarian group should command attendance at worship services as a way to keep Sabbath holy.
For instance, even Christ did not consider it was important to have weekly meetings on the Sabbath while he was in the wilderness for 40 days (Matthew 4:2).
So, when Jesus, Paul went to synagogues on Sabbath, it was actually out of a tradition of man (a custom that came about), and not a command of God.
Hence, the Old Testament does not indicate that the Sabbath is kept holy through a meeting. Rather, it was kept as holy through rest (ceasing from labor and activity) by remaining in their dwellings.
Are modern day Sabbath keepers really Sabbath keepers?
God is very specific about His Sabbath commandments and how to keep it holy. If anyone claims to observe the Sabbath ritual, they must comply with His specific commandments. If they don’t, they are Sabbath breakers. The following Sabbath commandments must be observed from ‘Friday sunset to Saturday sunset‘ (Leviticus 23:32) in order to claim holy Sabbath observance.
1. No work done at all (Ex. 20: 10; Lev. 23: 3; Jer. 17:21-22): By law if a person did not stop all types of activity in honor of the Sabbath, he was breaking the law. In Numbers 15:32-36 a man was caught collecting sticks on the Sabbath, and He was condemned as one who broke the Sabbath law.
2. Work shall be done for six days (Exod. 35:2): Do you or your congregation work for 6 days? Or 5? The actual whole command is to work 6 days with only the 7th observed as a rest day. Many Sabbatarian’s observe Sunday just like Saturday except for the gathering in Church (which there is no command to do). So if you are not working for six days (meaning you have a holiday on sunday too), you’re still breaking the Sabbath law that God specified.
3. Your servants, and friends must rest with you: “In it you shall not do any work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:12-14). If you have any friends over that are not Christian they must observe the rest day also. You can’t ask your servants to cook or sweep the floor on the Sabbath.
4. No cooking or baking: SDA ‘prophet’ Ellen White wrote: “The command is, “Bake that ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seethe; for tomorrow is the rest day of the holy Sabbath (Ex. 16:23)” That day is not to be given to the cooking of food…to keep the Sabbath according to the commandment — Bible Echo, February 13, 1899).
5. No kindling of a fire (Ex. 35:3). No fellowship cookouts or barbecues. Adventists for instance annually meet up for camp meetings and cook food every Saturday for the entire congregation. They break the Sabbath law as a congregation at least once annually.
6. No traveling stay at home (Ex. 16:29). Later the Jews added to this law, allowing only a half mile of travel on the Sabbath but the Jehovah given pure law says “stay at home.” Actually, If you kept this part of the law, you could not travel to your church gathering away from home.
7. No buying and selling (Neh. 10:31; 13:15,19; Amos 8:5). Which means no eating out from restaurants or shops. Make sure you do no shopping whatsoever. If you run out of food or drink at home you failed to prepare for Sabbath.
8. No carrying any sort of loads from your houses: ”This is what the Lord says: not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy (Jeremiah 17:21,22)
9. No ironing of clothes: This goes out to Adventists specifically. These are the inspired words of their prophet, Ellen White. She was apparently ‘inspired by God’ to include ironing clothes as part of DO NO WORK: ‘See that all the clothing is in readiness, and that all the cooking is done. Let the boots be blacked, and the baths be taken [EGW, the inspired prophet of God of the remnant Adventist church says you can’t bathe on the Sabbath – most of my SDA friends take baths on Satudays. If you ask them they say they don’t have to be legalistic about it. That’s how loosely they take God’s word, picking and choosing what they want]. It is possible to do this. If you make it a rule, you can do it. The Sabbath is not to be given to the repairing of garments (no stitching or ironing clothes on Sabbath), to the cooking of food, to pleasure seeking (TV? playing in the park with children?), or to any other worldly employment. Before the setting of the sun, let all secular work be laid aside, and all secular papers be put out of sight. Parents, explain your work and its purpose to your children, and let them share in your preparation to keep the Sabbath according to the commandment — Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 355, 356 (1901).
If you insist on the Jewish ceremonial Sabbath law as binding on new covenant Christians, do YOU my friend understand what the law says? Are you who claim to observe the Sabbath, really a Sabbath keeper or a Sabbath breaker according to the God’s commandments? You decide. Remember to break one commandment, is to break all (James 2:10).
In the Adventist human definition of Sabbath keeping, Sabbath keeping is primarily going to church on Saturday, refraining from paid employment, and doing some good works, but that is not what the Lord commanded from the 4th commandment or Jewish Sabbath, unfortunately.
By their Sabbath keeping definition, even my Catholics friends who attend church on Saturday evening must be Sabbath keepers as most catholic churches are now open for church services on Saturday. My catholic friends do not work on Saturday or Sunday, instead they go visiting their grand parents, and do acts of kindness. Even other Christians who attend worship services on Saturday or Friday evening would qualify for observing the Sabbath ritual. Yet that is not Sabbath keeping as per the 4th commandment.
No one kept the Sabbath before Exodus 16 – the Bible is clear. The rest of Genesis 2 is God’s rest, not man’s (Heb. 4:4).The old covenant including the Sabbath was given only to literal Israel (Deut. 4:6–45; 5:26; 7:6–11; Rom. 9:4; Neh. 9:14; Ps. 103:7; 147:19,20). The Ten Commandments are the actual words of the covenant (Ex. 34:28; 31:18; Deut. 4:13; 9:9–15; 1 Kg. 8:9,21) while the other laws are expansions, explanations, and applications of those laws (Deut. 29:1–9; Ex. 24:7). Importantly, the new covenant is not a continuation or a modification of the old; instead, it declares the the old covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:7–9; 13; 10:9; 2 Cor. 3:7–11; Gal. 3 and 4). We are not literal Israel, we are spiritual Israel whom God has a made a new covenant with, and we are not commanded to follow everything that literal Israel was commanded. The moral principles of the Ten Commandments that are relevant to believers in the new covenant are well–restated in the epistles, and Sabbath, circumcision, dietary laws are not among them (Rom. 13:9, 1 Tim. 6:1; 1 Jn. 5:21; Acts 17:29).
Sabbath law or ceasing from labor in the new covenant
The concept of “rest” is important in Scripture, and it has a deep spiritual meaning for Christians.
As Christians, we understand that our rest is in Christ, who is our Sabbath; He is the reality (Col 2:17). We enter this Sabbathismos today, daily, not on any particular day any longer. God’s ‘seventh-day rest’ (Hebrews 4:4), was ‘ready since He made the world’ (Hebrews 4:3), and the ‘time for entering his rest is today’ (Hebrews 4:7), not Saturday or Sunday.
When we rest spiritually in Christ, we present ourselves as the people of God before his presence in continuous sacred assembly. We are always the church, in his presence every day of the week, not just one.
For Israelites, the Sabbath was a day to rest at home, not a day to travel long distances and attend a worship service. The annual harvest festivals were the time for Israelites to enjoy communal worship and fellowship. Here is what the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (volume 2, page 623) says about Leviticus 23:3:
There is an emphasis here that the Israelite rested at home. There were special offerings given in the tabernacle (e.g., a double burnt offering), but the ordinary Israelite and his whole family rested. Presumably here was an opportunity for family worship and instruction in the law of God, but this is not specifically enjoined. What a boon a weekly rest must have been to the ancient laborer and farmer in his weary round of toil!
As did the Jews in their synagogue system, Christians find that regular fellowship and communal instruction is an important foundation of their religious life.
As Christians, we are free to meet together at any time of the day, any day of the week, and any season of the year (Romans 14:5) under the instruction given to the new testament church.
We are also free to rest on any day, and one in seven days is a good principle. However, the Jewish Sabbath ritual was fulfilled in Christ, and is not longer a requirement or a command for new covenant Christians (Col. 2: 16,17),
We are not limited to meeting on just one day, since no day has been specifically set aside by God for Christian fellowship and worship. This was the case in the old testament as well. This is the case in the new testament too. We are always in the presence of God and worship him continually because Christ resides in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. At the same time, we can gather weekly (Saturday, Sunday, Monday etc) and seasonally in small groups or in larger communal situations to praise God, to recall Christ’s work of salvation and to fellowship in the Spirit.
A brief outline of Sunday meetings from the Bible and History:
Lord’s day – Neither from Pagan or Catholics but from the Bible!
1 Century evidence:
Jewish Sabbath no longer a Christian obligation:
Col. 2:16, 17 ”Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day”
Christians can treat every day alike or consider some days sacred:
Rom. 14:5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
A.D. 53 – Weekly giving commanded on Sundays for all the churches of Galatia:
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 ‘Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
A.D. 60 – Christian met every day for worship, also gathered for communion on Sunday, the first day:
Acts 20:7 “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread”
Early Christians, church fathers met on Sunday for worship, communion, fellowship. Never on the Jewish Sabbath (No Christian Sabbath keeping in Acts) for it was abolished (see also: Sabbath is ceremonial!)
Sunday is not a Christian Sabbath or a day of rest, or a holy day to be kept. No more holy days, but Christians met for assembly on the first day since the time of the apostles before there was Constantine or Roman Catholic church. Sunday is not a pagan day for pagans didn’t have a weekly worship day:
2nd to 3rd century evidence
AD 140 – Justin Martyr(Rome) wrote:
“Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly … Jesus Christ on the same day rose from the dead” (Apology, I.67).
AD 110 – Ignatius (Antioch) wrote:
”Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week. (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, chp 9. Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, pg. 62-63.)
Early Christians understood Sunday as the Lord’ day. John wrote:
Revelation 1:10 ‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’
AD 180 – Bardesanes, Edessa (Asia) wrote:
“On one day the first of the week, we assemble ourselves together.” Book of the Laws of Countries.
AD 194 – Clement of Alexandria (Egypt) wrote:
He does the commandment according to the Gospel and keeps the Lord’s day, whenever he puts away an evil mind . . . glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself. (Vii.xii.76.4)
AD 200 – Tertullian in Africa:
“We solemnize the day after Saturday in contradiction to those who call this day their Sabbath.” Apology, Chapter XVI. “We however, just as we have received, only on the day of the Lord’s resurrection, ought to guard not only against kneeling, but even posture and office of solicitude, deferring even our business.” On Prayer, Chapter XXIII.
The New Testament does not give a single example of Christians conducting their religious services on the Sabbath after the resurrection of Christ because Sabbath is abolished (See: No Sabbath in Acts).
For the first several centuries of the church’s existence, the written testimony is uniform that Christians met for worship on Sunday. Dr. Schaff says: “The universal and uncontradicted Sunday observance in the second century can only be explained by the fact that it had its root in apostolic practice.” History of the Christian church, Vol. I, page 478.
There have always been a few sabbatarians, but never the mainstream. They have always been fringe groups and considered heretical or cultic by the main church. Most of them were rooted in Judaism (Jewish converts to Christianity) and not gentile churches. The Ebiionites are an example. Then, Sabbatarians began to be resurrected in England in the time of the Reformation, over five hundred years ago. Yet, they (likes of the SDA’s, church of God) remain outside of mainstream today.
However, they have grown their numbers through the spread of false information (such as sunday is pagan, catholic church changed the Sabbath day in the 3rd century, Sabbath law is universal), conspiracy theories (sunday law etc), and a false understanding of the doctrine of law (see: Decalogue examined, Covenants).
Jesus, the apostles, the early church fathers, Luther, Calvin, all understood that Sabbath was ceremonial. None of these believed that the Pope or Roman Catholic church changed the Sabbath. Instead they saw that it was abrogated as clearly stated in the new testament and by the apostles (see: Did they teach Sabbath is ceremonial?)
Part of the above articles have been adapted from GCI