Worship on the Sabbath? Did that Change?

Q. I have been told that the original church worshiped on the Sabbath day and that the Catholic church changed the day of worship to Sunday. Is this correct?

The answer to both of your questions is “No.”

The first thing we should determine is the meaning of the word “Sabbath.” According to the 1915 edition of the I.S.B.E. “the root shabhath in Hebrew means “to desist,” “cease,” or “rest.” The word Sabbath primarily carries with it the idea of “rest,” or the cessation from activity. Sabbath does not mean “seventh,” although it was assigned as the seventh day of the week. Consider Exodus 20:10-11:

Exodus 20:10-11
10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
11 "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

We should not confuse Sunday with the Sabbath day. There is no such thing as “the Christian’s Sabbath.” The first day of the week is Sunday (Mark 16:1-2) and Vine tells us:

“For the first three centuries of the Christian era the first day of the week was never confounded with the sabbath; the confusion of the Jewish and Christian institutions was due to declension from apostolic teaching." (Vine, III:312).

In order to understand this important subject we must go back to the beginning of the Sabbath law. The Sabbath law was first given to the Jews at Mt. Sinai:

Neh. 9:13-14

13 "Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments.
14* "So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, And laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, Through Your servant Moses.

These verses tell us about the establishment of the Sabbath law. God “made known to them (the Jewish nation) Your holy sabbath.” Until this time the Jews had not been given a Sabbath law. With this the rest of the Old Testament agrees:

Exodus 16:25-30
25 Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field.
26 "Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none."
27 It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.
28 Then the LORD said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?
29* "See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day."
30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

The purpose of this Sabbath observance was to cause the Jewish nation to trust and obey God. “How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and My instructions?” (verse 28) God’s instructions for the seventh day are seen in verse 29. It is quite clear that this instruction was new to the nation of Israel, it was a command that was first given directly to Moses (Exodus 20:8-11) and then repeated in Deut. 5:1-3, 12-15. This was NOT A LAW THAT WAS GIVEN AT CREATION. Many groups who observe the Sabbath as the day of worship assert this but without any Biblical proof.

What the Bible tells us is that God rested on the seventh day of Creation (Gen. 2:2) NOT MAN. In Exodus 20:11 God uses His rest after creation as an illustration of the Sabbath rest he commanded of Israel.

Exodus 20:11
11 "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

When did God establish this sabbath rest? At the giving of the Law of Moses at Mt. Sinai to the nation of Israel.

Exodus 31:13-18
13* "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.
14* 'Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.
15 'For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.
16* 'So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.'
17* "It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed."
18* When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

Notice carefully that this Law was given to the Nation of Israel, and the Nation of Israel ONLY (Deut. 5:2-3). It was not given to all men including gentiles(Ezek. 20:9-12;Eph. 2:11-12).

It was given as a sign between God and Israel (Ex. 31:13,17; Ezek. 20:9-12). It was for the purpose of reminding the Israelites of God’s love and provision, and it was established as a “Memorial” to help Israel to remember their deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Deut. 5:15).

It was to be a “memorial” to ISRAEL “throughout your generations” (Ex. 31:13). As long as the Law of Moses was to be in force the Jewish Nation was obligated to keep the Sabbath Law. They were to keep it “throughout your generations” (Ex. 31:13; “as a perpetual covenant,” (Ex. 31:16); “forever,” (Ex. 31:17).

Some people have trouble with this word “forever.” In the Hebrew it is a word which means “age-lasting.” The nation of Israel were to establish the sons of Aaron as Levitical priests “throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant.” (Ex. 40:15). Yet we know that the Priesthood was changed at the giving of the New Covenant:

Heb. 7:11-12
11* ¶ Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?
12* For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.

Therefore we know, according to the teachings of the Scriptures that “throughout your generations, and perpetual, and forever,” had an end. When the Old Testament Law was taken away the command to observe the sabbath was taken away.
(Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 1:1,2; 8:13).

Or as Paul puts it in Romans 7:6:


Rom. 7:6
6* But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Or consider Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth:

2 Cor. 3:12-18
12* ¶ Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,
13* and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.
14* But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;
16* but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17* Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18* But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

The Law of Moses was taken of the way (Col. 2:14), abolished (Eph. 2:15), Christians are no longer under it requirements (Gal.3:25). There is not a person on the earth today that is required to keep the sabbath because the Law commanding it is no longer binding:

Colossians 2:14-17
14* having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
15* When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
16* ¶ 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–
17* things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

It was NOT the Catholic church that established the first day of the week as the day of worship, it was the first century church following the teaching of the Apostles. We come together for a much different “memorial.” The memorial we observe is the Death, Burial and Resurrection of our Lord. We come together on the first day of the week to observe this memorial in the form of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:6-7). It is not a day of rest from labor but a day of worship and spiritual exercise (1 Cor. 14:26; 16:2).

Finally, remember the words of Paul to the church at Galatia:

Gal. 5:3-7
3* And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.
4* You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
5* For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
6* For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
7* You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

If we wish to keep part of the Law (i.e. the sabbath day) we are obligated to keep it all. If we keep the Law of Moses we are severed from Christ.

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