http://whatissabbath.net/ E E Cleveland answers the question, which day is the Lord’s day in the New Testament? For more music and sermons visit http://whatissabbath.net/
SABBATHKEEPING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A PERSONAL NOTE: Historically most Christians have believed that that the Sabbath was either abrogated by Christ or transferred to Sunday by the Apostolic Church. I examine these views in my book The Sabbath in the New Testament, where I submit four basic reasons for believing in the permanence of the principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping in the New Testament. This essay presents my fourth reason and is found in chapter 5 of the book.
My fourth reason for believing in the permanence of the principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping is found in the New Testament allusions to the fact and manner of its observance.
This chapter briefly examines both the implicit and explicit indications of the practice of Sabbathkeeping in New Testament times. It will be shown, perhaps to the surprise of some who believe otherwise, that New Testament believers observed the Sabbath, though with a new meaning and in a new manner.
I. THE FACT OF SABBATHKEEPING
Implicit Indications. The New Testament provides both implicit and explicit indications of the existence of Sabbathkeeping in the Christian communities. Implicitly, it is suggested by the unusual coverage given by the Evangelists to the Sabbath ministry of Jesus.
It is generally recognized today that the Gospels were composed not as mere biographies of Christ’s life but as theological handbooks to help promote the Christian faith. The selection that the Evangelists made of what Jesus said and did was determined by the prevailing concerns of their time.
The fact that the Evangelists report no less than seven Sabbath healing episodes in addition to the ensuing controversies1 indicates the great importance attached to Sabbathkeeping in their respective communities at the time they wrote their Gospels. The Sabbath example and teaching of Jesus received ample coverage because they provided for those young Christian communities the norm by which to determine the new meaning and manner of Sabbath observance.
Explicit Indications. Several explicit indications of Sabbathkeeping can be seen in the Gospels. Matthew, for example, explains that the “disciples were hungry” (12:1) on the Sabbath when they plucked ears of corn. The Evangelist’s concern to explain that the disciples did not carelessly break the Sabbath suggests that, as Gerhard Barth writes, “in Matthew’s congregation the Sabbath was still kept, but not in the same strict sense as in the Rabbinate.”2
Christ’s Warning Regarding the Sabbath. Another indication of Sabbathkeeping is found in Christ’s unique warning regarding the destruction of Jerusalem: “Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (Matt 24:20). The fact that the Sabbath is here mentioned not polemically, but incidentally as a factor unfavorable to a flight of Christians from Jerusalem, implies on the one hand that Christ did not foresee its substitution with another day of worship, and on the other hand that, as stated by A. W. Argyle, “the Sabbath was still observed by Jewish Christians when Matthew wrote.”3
The Example of the Women. Luke provides a significant indication of Sabbathkeeping in his Passion narrative. He describes how the women followed their Lord to the Cross at the risk of their lives. After seeing their Lord laid in the tomb, they hastened home to “prepare spices and ointments” because “the sabbath was beginning” (Luke 23:54-55).
It is noteworthy that in spite of their devotion to their Master, the women felt they could not proceed to embalm His body, because this would have meant violating the Sabbath. Thus “on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56) and then at early dawn on the first day of the week they went to the tomb to continue their work. The fact that Luke takes pains to report that the women felt that they could not violate the Sabbath even to give honor to their dead Master, is indicative of the high regard in which the Sabbath was held at the time of his writing.
The Example of Paul. Luke refers repeatedly to Paul’s custom of teaching and worshiping on the Sabbath in the synagogue. After the martyrdom of Stephen, Paul went searching for Christians in the Synagogues of Damascus (Acts 9:2; 22:19), which would imply that they still attended Sabbath services.
In his later ministry Paul “as was his custom” (Acts 17:2) met regularly on the Sabbath in synagogues or open air, not only with the Jews (Acts 13:14; 17:2; 18:4) but also with the Gentiles (Acts 13:44; 16:13; 18:4). This indicates that no radical Christian separation had yet occurred from Jewish places and times of worship.