Tuesday, November 29, 2005

If the Bible is our sole authority…

…then why aren’t we observing the Sabbath?
Furthermore, why are we observing our “religious day” on Sunday?

I’ve become very interested in this topic and have been doing a bit of research. I’ve used mostly Messianic Jewish sites for reference, and of course, the Bible, ultimately. Here’s what I’ve noted:

Which day is the traditional Sabbath?
Observant Jews, historically and today, observe Sabbath starting Friday evening at sun-down through Saturday morning. (Coming from the seventh day of creation – a day would be the evening and the morning, rather than the morning and evening. Example: Genesis 1:5 - God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Why change the holy day to Sunday?
John 20:19 – So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."

We see the early followers of Jesus gathered together on the first day of the week, ie. Sunday, or rather Saturday night, actually, come to think of it (as Saturday evening is the evening of the first day, Sunday morning being the rest of the first day). However, it seems clear from the text that they were gathering out of fear, not for a religious observance. So I’ll move on to the next mention of the first day.

Acts 20:7-8, 11-13 - On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together… When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. They took away the boy [who fell off the roof] alive, and were greatly comforted. But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for so he had arranged it, intending himself to go by land.

This one is a bit more convincing, unless you look at it more closely. I’m not about to get all confusing on purpose – we have to remember that to the readers of the time, this made perfect sense and probably would not have been questioned at all.

It was the first day of the week, and it was evening because the lamps were lit and Paul spoke until midnight. So it is actually Saturday night. But no matter about that. He clearly is teaching and holding a religious service. However, was it a Sabbath? I think we can safely assume he was not administering a Sabbath service because if the Sabbath were changed to Sunday, Paul would not have sailed for Assos that morning (still being a Jewish Sunday) as that would be to break the Sabbath. So either Paul broke the Sunday Sabbath or observed the Saturday Sabbath. Since we know that Paul at least continued to preach in the synagogue every Sabbath (see book of Acts), and it is generally accepted by many that Paul still observed the Sabbath, he most likely would not have broken it. You remember how much Jesus (who kept the Sabbath, too,) got flack for “breaking the Sabbath” (even though what he did was lawful, only breaking the Pharisees’ Sabbatical laws)? Paul, who was everything to everyone would not likely break the Sabbath. Remember – keeping the Sabbath day holy was a law from God, it was one of the Ten Commandments. Jews took this law very seriously, unlike modern day Christians. Paul would’ve taken it seriously unless Jesus had abolished it, which we have no evidence to support.

This may not convince you, but at any rate, it’s the only Scripture I’ve found so far that actually seems to have any credit for a Sunday Sabbath, and I don’t find it too convincing. But onwards.

1 Corinthians 16:1-4 - Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.

Some may interpret this as a weekly collection like a church offering passing-the-plate sort of thing we do today. However, there is no mention here that everyone is gathering together to do this. They are just told to set aside money on the first day of the week, assumably to keep from spending it, just as we are told to give of the first fruits, not the leftovers. There is no reason to believe they are joined together as a group on the first day. (My first thought was that people did give money on the Sabbath because of the widow’s coins story (Luke 21), but not so. Apparently money matters weren’t handled on the Sabbath.)

There are a few verses in the Gospels that talk of the disciples meeting on Sunday, but let us remember that was Resurrection morning – not your typical Sunday morning service! I did a search for other occurrences at Bible Gateway of meeting together on the first day of the week, but I couldn’t find any others.

What does it matter which day we celebrate on?
Immediately, the verse about regarding one day over another comes to mind. Romans 14:5-6 - One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. This is interesting to me. I’ve always taken it to mean the same thing – like a person may or may not celebrate Christmas, big deal, or they may celebrate the holy day on Saturday or Sunday, big deal. But actually, this whole chapter is talking about food and what people feel like they can eat. So is it really talking about all days, including the Sabbath? Reading it in context, I’m not so sure.This gives an interesting option: “Some people interpret this passage as allowing Christians to either recognize or ignore the Sabbath, - or perhaps to select any day as the Sabbath. But others suggest from a reading of the subsequent verses that Paul is discussing fasting here, not religious observance. They would suggest that verse 1 of this chapter indicates that the passage relates to "disputable" matters (such as when or if to fast); the day of the Sabbath was not a disputable matter; it was a commandment from God. The phrase "considering every day alike" might means that every day from Sunday to Friday were treated the same, as in the passage describing the collection of manna in Exodus 16:4.” Me not being Jewish, I wouldn’t have thought of that. But it’s an interesting thought.

Then there is Colossians 2:16-17 - 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--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Again, we are not familiar with Jewish customs or festivals and holidays. Again, the same site points out this possibility: “Some people interpret the reference to ‘Sabbath’ in this passage as authorizing Christians to celebrate (or not celebrate) the weekly Sabbath in any way that they wish. Others suggest that the ‘Sabbath’ in this passage apparently refers to the Ceremonial Sabbaths, not the Weekly Sabbaths. The verse in Colossians duplicates the text of Ezekiel 45:17 which reads: ‘...at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths - at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel.’”
So again, does it matter? Well, considering that there are no real mandates to change the Biblical Sabbath and only dubious loopholes for changing the Sabbath, we don’t see any real Biblical reason for it. And I won’t go into all the pagan history of worship on Sundays, as we’ve all heard it before, but it was Constantine, not Jesus, Paul or the early Church, who officialised Sunday as the day of rest, and Constantine was in quite a crap position when it came to Christianising his empire, with all the pagans he had to keep happy, and it also ought to be noted that the anti-Judaism attitude that the Gentile believers adopted encouraged new Christians to separate themselves completely from all things Jewish (early Replacement Theology, which clearly did not grasp Ephesians or Romans 11). But more interestingly, and maybe more importantly, is this question – what is the Sabbath anyway? Is it just a day to come together and rest from a week’s work, or is there more to it? The Sabbath represented the seventh day of Creation when God rested. This website states about the purpose of Sabbath:
“Many people today do not believe in G~d or creation, choosing instead theories of evolution. Such wrong beliefs would disappear if people remembered the Sabbath. The Sabbath continually focuses our attention back to our Creator and his re-creative power in our lives. In the tempestuous turmoil of our lives, the Sabbath is a refuge where man may enter. The Sabbath is a time of detachment from the world and an attachment to the Spirit of G~d.
“The Sabbath is the catalyst that keeps mankind’s relationship with the Creator a priority. All the frustrations of this present world would be dispelled if man would find fellowship with the G~d of the Sabbath, who made the Sabbath for man’s spiritual renewal.3 It is a time for communion between the Creator and his creation.”
As were all parts of the law, the Sabbath was implemented for the good of the people. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The law required that the Sabbath was kept holy by resting. Take a look at this passage from Isaiah (58:13-14) –

”If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, and honor it, desisting from your own ways, from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word, then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

In fact, lest we forget, it was one of the Ten Commandments. Any reason we religiously (no pun) follow the other nine but toss out number four as archaic? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I really don’t know where we got the idea that the Sabbath is dead. And it leads to my last question…

Why don’t we keep the Sabbath day holy?
Even if it doesn’t matter whether we celebrate on Saturday or Sunday (we are mostly Gentiles so some may argue the Torah, ie. the Law, wasn’t written for us, though I find that highly disputable), shouldn’t we still be keeping whichever day holy? As in, not work? It used to be common amongst Christians to not go to our work places to work on a Sunday, but even then, meals were prepared, the house was cleaned, travelling took place, all things that most certainly did not make the day restful. And now, why Sunday is just another day. Why aren’t we keeping the Sabbath? Jesus apparently expected us to, for while talking about the end times he says, "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. (Matthew 24:20). Why? Because on a Sabbath, even in the end times, we ought to be resting.

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