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Question and Answer

Sabbath Day Change - Part 2


I have always wondered how the Sabbath day was changed to Sunday. As Reformed and Presbyterian, I do worship on Sunday, but have always wanted to know specifics of the change.

Obviously, Sunday was the day of our Lord's resurrection, but I was curious to know your position and specific scripture references to back this up.

I have been asked this question by a Seventh-Day Adventist.


Last week we observed the continuity from old covenant to new in the continued authority of the Fourth Commandment. But there is also discontinuity. The new covenant is new! That discontinuity appears in two ways:

1. Old covenant features are removed. (We'll look at that this week.)

2. The day is changed from the 7th to the 1st day of the week. (We'll look at that next week.)

First, there is discontinuity in that old covenant features are removed for the Christian.

From Acts 2:46, 3:1, 9:1,2, and other passages it is evident that the first Christians, who were Jewish, did not immediately abandon the ancient practices given through Moses, but continued to meet in the temple and synagogue for worship on the Jewish Sabbath while at the same time observing the first day of the week as the Lord's Day (see below). The word "Sabbath" did not become attached to the Lord's Day because it continued to be associated with the ongoing Jewish system zealously adhered to by those who rejected the Messiah and His followers.

As Gentiles became Christians tension arose over the authority of old covenant law in the church. Are Gentile believers in Christ obligated to assume "the yoke of the law" in order to be truly God's people? This issue was very broad in its effects, touching on dietary rules (Acts 10:9-28, Galatians 2:11-14), the practice of circumcision (Acts 15:1, Galatians 2:1-5, etc.), and other matters.

Among the "other matters" is the question of the observance of the Jewish Sabbath, which Paul addresses in Colossians 2:16 and Romans 14:4-12. In these passages Paul affirms the Christian's liberty from ordinances of the old covenant which were merely the shadows of the glorious reality which has now come in Christ (Col.2:17). The 7th day Sabbath, with its old covenant ceremonies prefiguring Christ and his work, has been superseded by the fullness that has come. Jewish Christians who wish to continue in the old practices have liberty to do so, so long as they do not suppose that they are under obligation from God to do so or that there is any merit in so doing (Romans 9:31-10:4). No one should condemn them; and even Paul exercised such liberty when it was useful for the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:20; Acts 16:3, 18:18, 21:20-26). By the same token, Jewish Christians are not to condemn Gentile believers who disregard the old Sabbaths, feast days, and new moons (Col. 2:16).

Under the Sinaitic covenant the simple creation ordinance of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3, which preceded the later Mosaic covenant and did not expire with it) was greatly expanded. The Lord ordained various legal and ceremonial elaborations of the Sabbath, ordinances which were of a temporary nature, looking forward to the coming of Christ and the new covenant.

(1). The Sabbath idea was expanded to include Sabbath years (every 7th year), during which the land was to be given rest and the oppressed were to be liberated (Leviticus 25:1-8, 6:34f., 43, 2 Chronicles 36:21).

(2). Special Sabbaths, days of "holy convocation", were added: the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of First Fruits (Leviticus 23:2, 16:31, 23:11-16, 24, 32, 38f.).

(3). Special ceremonies and sacrifices were appointed for the weekly Sabbaths along with new moons and festival days (1 Chronicles 23:21, 2 Chronicles 2:4, 8:13, 31:3, Nehemiah 10:33, Isaiah 1:13f., Hosea 2:11, Leviticus 24:8, Numbers 28:9,10, 1 Chronicles 9:32; cf. Colossians 2:16).

It is this conjunction of Sabbaths with new moons and festival days that is emblematic of the distinctively Mosaic order as Paul refers to it in Colossians 2:16. He is not saying that believers in Christ may now disregard the Fourth Commandment, but that they are not bound to the distinctively Jewish (old covenant) observances associated with that Command under Moses.

Next week we will (finally!) deal with the second discontinuity, i.e., that the day is changed from the 7th to the 1st day of the week.

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