Posted Jan 01, 2013 by Michael L. Brown

Are followers of Jesus—speaking in particular of Gentile followers of the Lord—required to keep the Sabbath? And if so, should it be on Saturday, as originally given, or on Sunday, as it has been observed through much of church history? Is it more scriptural simply to set aside any one day as holy to the Lord, a day to rest from normal work? Or is this a completely wrong approach to the Sabbath question for a Christian, since in Jesus, every day is holy to the Lord and we have already entered into rest from our labors?

Here are some key points for consideration:

(1) The seventh-day Sabbath was sanctified at creation and, according to the prophetic Scriptures, it will be part of the future age. Normally, when we think of the Sabbath, we think of the Ten Commandments, but in reality, the Sabbath was sanctified at creation (see Genesis 2:2-3), although there is no command associated with it at that time, and the creation account forms the basis for the command to observe the Sabbath in Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

But these words in Exodus 20, spoken by the Lord at Mount Sinai, do not represent the first time that God spoke to Israel about the Sabbath. This took place in Exodus 16, before the Israelites arrived at Sinai, when God commanded His people not to gather manna on the seventh day (see Exodus 16:22-26).

So then, the Sabbath was established at creation and then given to the Israelites before Sinai, then commanded again at Sinai, and, according to Isaiah, it appears that the Sabbath will continue in the world to come:

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord (Isaiah 66:22-23).

In any case, it can be stated clearly that in the Hebrew Bible, the Sabbath precedes Mount Sinai and continues into the age to come.

(2) The seventh-day Sabbath was given as a special sign between God and Israel. According to Exodus 31:17, God said that the Sabbath was to be “a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” He reiterated this centuries later through the prophet Ezekiel: “I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us. . . . Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us” (Ezekiel 20:12, 20).

God did not call any other nation to observe the Sabbath, although he did open the door for Gentiles to join themselves to His covenant with Israel in Isaiah 56:4-7, which is addressed to “the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths.” So, the door was open for the Gentiles to enter into Israel’s covenant, but the specific covenantal, seventh-day Sabbath sign was given exclusively to the people of Israel.

(3) In the New Testament, Gentile believers are never called or required to observe the seventh-day Sabbath, and they become full-citizens along with Israel without having to observe the full requirements of the Law.

It is true that many of the first Gentile believers were actually “God-fearers” who heard the message of the Gospel in synagogues (see Acts 13:26; 17:4, 17), and they would have been familiar with the seventh-day Sabbath. In fact, they would have heard Paul preaching on the Sabbath. Nonetheless, the verdict of Acts 15 was clear: Gentile believers were not required to observe all the Torah laws.

(4) There is no biblical support for the view that after the resurrection of Jesus, the Sabbath was changed to Sunday. There is some evidence that as early as the late first or early second century, believers gathered before or after work on Sundays to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, but this was not related to the concept of the Sabbath, and strong arguments can be made against the Sabbath being changed to Sunday within the New Testament itself. It was not until the fourth century that the church formally declared that the Sabbath had been moved to Sunday, with the question begging to be asked, “By what authority did you do this?”

(5) On the other hand, since God never commanded Gentile believers to observe the seventh-day Sabbath—it is simply not stated in the New Testament—there is no reason why they cannot set Sunday aside as a special day of rest and worship for the Lord, thereby incorporating the principle of Sabbath into their lives. To the extent that Christians feel led to set aside Sunday as their Sabbath, there is nothing wrong with doing so, as long as they realize that they cannot judge others who do not share this conviction (see especially Romans 14).

(6) The Sabbath should be set aside as a day of delight in the Lord. This was clearly stated by the Lord in Isaiah 58:13-14, and Jesus also taught that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This means that however this day is observed, it should be done with joy and gladness, truly honoring the Lord and truly bringing liberation to others. In keeping with this, Jesus frequently healed the sick on the Sabbath.

(7) Our ultimate rest is found in a Person, not a day, so Sabbath observance should be both spiritual and practical. It is clear that God set up a system of weekly renewal in which we would rest from our daily labors and focus on Him. On a certain level, through the work of the Messiah, we have entered into a perpetual rest from our own labors (see Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 4:4-5; Hebrews 4:9-11). On another level, the demands and distractions of this life are ever upon us, so it is good to slow down and turn aside from these things every week, at the same time directing our attention to the Lord to find renewal in Him.

Some of these same principles apply to Jewish believers, but we must remember that the seventh-day Sabbathwas given as a special sign to Israel, and in keeping with that, it is especially appropriate for Messianic Jews to observe the seventh-day Sabbath, also worshiping as congregations on that day as well. Nonetheless, as we have stressed, this is a matter of conviction and calling, and other Jewish believers may sense a different calling and responsibility in the Lord, part of their being all things to all men so as to save some (1 Corinthians 9:20-22) and part of their liberty in the Lord. In that respect, we must always remember that, with the coming of the Messiah into the world, our relationship to the Torah was radically changed as well, and that includes our relationship to the Sabbath

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Vince Bush posted a comment · Oct 14, 2020
Thank you for your insight on this matter. Too many are attempting to place us under the Law. Give it a rest! :) Pun intended.
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Jeff F posted a comment · Oct 04, 2019
We are not to question Dr. Brown’s interpretation because . . .? To his credit - Dr. Brown invites comments not endorsements. Firstly, Hebrews 3,4 neither teaches nor discourages Sabbath observance. That is not the topic. “Sabbath” (actually, σαββατισμός, used once in the NT) is used as an analogy of rest in Christ. I would translate sabbatismos (4:9), a “sabbath-like rest.” It can be understand in one of two ways, or both. 1. We enter God’s rest spiritually as we express faith in Christ and in His righteousness, not resting on our merit. Jesus said, “Come to me . . . and I will give you rest.” This we are to do daily. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” 2. But, like “the kingdom of God,” the promise (4:1) is not simply spiritual. The author may have in mind the rest that comes after our life is over; therefore, he is speaking of a physical sense. As God entered “rest” after His work of Creation was completed, so we enter our eternal rest after our work in this life is completed. This is when we cease from our works (v10). Entering the “Promised Land,” the heavenly Canaan, is a future reality, and it is literal. Both aspects are certainly true. But the main point of Hebrews 3&4 is that of not “hardening your hearts” as Israel did in the exodus. They failed because of disobedience (v. 11). Observance of the 7th-day Sabbath is not the point. Imagine the controversy that would have resulted, as it did with circumcision, if the apostles had suggested the fourth commandment was no longer valid, was not necessary, or had been changed? The NT is silent on this. There was no such controversy because the Sabbath was never contested. No, the fourth commandment remains valid for Christians as are all of the ten commandments. Secondly, I would remind Dr. Brown, who seems to feel that the believer can take or leave the Sabbath as he or she chooses or observe another day (in which case it would not be Sabbath since by definition, Sabbath is the seventh day), I would remind him that God blessed and sanctified only the seventh day (Genesis 2:2,3). Where in Scripture did God rescind this blessing and act of transference of holiness?
Timothy Pia posted a comment · May 18, 2019
It amazes me to see all the comments from people who presume to correct Dr. Brown. Especially using Hebrews. Look at the context of Hebrews 3 & 4. It's obvious that it's not teaching a new testament observance of the Sabbath. But God will bring all of you along as you grow in your knowledge of the scriptures and your faith.
erniebluenose posted a comment · Jun 16, 2016
I couldn't go past this without comment I normally think you are very astute in your theology Dr but in this I think you are as unbiblical and unscriptural as you can makes the messianic movement look like a joke if one of its biggest proponents is saying "well Gentiles don't have to do the Shabbat,just keep your Sunday " how is this provoking our Jewish brethren to jealousy? So why bother doing any of the feasts ? Or food laws ? It's not "Jewish stuff" it's Gods word.....lets just go back to sitting on our hands and singing come by yah then ....,really??? we have a biblical mandate to provoke and have the two become one new man We as Gentiles are grafted into the olive tree,the commonwealth of Israel no? So how please tell can we have one father,one messiah,one baptism,one faith,and two sets of rules? I'm sorry but I think your well of the mark here Sir
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Kevin W. posted a comment · Jun 01, 2016
Dr. Brown, does the book of Hebrews in the New Testament apply to Jews and Gentiles alike? Hebrews 4 shows the example to us of God resting on the Sabbath. We shouldn't assume He needed a rest but did so as an example to man kind. Israel was not even a nation when God showed us obedience to the 4th Commandment. "9 So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His." It appears in Hebrews 4 there are 2 components of Sabbath rest. 1, Sabbath rest through faith in God. 2, resting in Christ through obedience to God in the 4th Commandment. 11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. Verse 11 shows that AFTER becoming a Christian we are to continue in entering a rest otherwise we will fall into disobedience. It is the 10 Commandments that show what disobedience is. Through example and proclamation of the Sabbath being "made for man..." we must assume it is a requirement for all man all through time. Did Christ preface his statement of the Sabbath with, "until I am resurrected". No, that did not happen. With no aberration of the Sabbath, no change to Sunday, and the continued observance of the church in the first century Christians why is the Sabbath not currently observed? It seems tradition sometimes trumps Biblical truth. We must remember what Daniel said and really contemplate the application to our times. "and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law;". If worship on Sunday is not Biblical and Sabbath observance is a requirement to enter in to Christ's rest through obedience then shouldn't we assume Sunday is the manifestation of Daniels prophecy? We, and most of the reformers, already believe the Papacy to be the Antichrist then we should know Sunday, "the first day", is a false Sabbath day.