Are Christians Required to Keep the Sabbath?

The Sabbath Day was a weekly memorial given to Israel as part of God’s covenant with the nation. (Exodus 31:15-16) The command to keep the Sabbath is the fourth and longest of the ten commandments. Breaking the Sabbath was in effect breaking the covenant with God and suffered the harshest of punishments. Surely this command must be taken seriously by all who study the Bible.

Traditionally Christianity has viewed Sunday as the New Testament Sabbath. Christians were taught to observe Sunday as a day of rest, doing nothing but the most necesary work and attending church services. This shaped American business practices for many decades. Though observing a Sunday sabbath has long been the teaching of churches few Christians today see a need to keep a Sabbath of any kind.

Uncertainty about the requirement of a Sabbath can be traced to the way the New Testament views the law of Moses. After the death and resurrection of Jesus certain of the Mosaic laws were recognized as no longer necessary. This included the dietary restrictions (Acts 10:11-16), circumcision (Galatians 2:3) and the sacrificial system (Hebrews 10:2, 14, 18). Most of the ten commandments are repeated in the New Testament, but it contains no assertion of an obligation to observe the fourth commandment.

The pattern of the church during the apostolic era was to meet together on Sunday. The day of Pentecost, the day on which the New Testament church began, was a Sunday. Initially the church met daily, but within a few years the church began to set aside the first day of the week for the regular gathering of believers. (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2)

The Jewish believers probably continued to observe the Sabbath day. They continued to keep the law of Moses but did not require Gentile Christians to become observant Jews. Acts 15 records the discussion about Gentile obligation to keep the law of Moses. The only requirements the church in Jerusalem placed on Gentile believers was to avoid fornication and idolatry and to abstain from eating blood or animals strangled. The first pair of commands were universal commands and the second pair were things that would have hindered the preaching of the gospel because of their offensive to the Jews. They apostles and believers in Jerusalem say nothing about keeping a sabbath. The New Testament does not give any command to Christians to observe a sabbath day.

The New Testament leaves sabbath observance up to the individual Christian. The clearest statement of this is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He says “let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17) The special days, special diets and religious feasts of the law were but shadows of Jesus. Now that Jesus has come the foreshadowings are no longer necessary. Those who keep the sabbath were never rebuked, but the New Testament clearly teaches there must be no insistence on the keeping of the sabbath. There must be no condemnation because someone does or does not observe the sabbath. Sabbath observance is a matter of personal preference and conscience to be kept or not unto the Lord.

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