Saturday, April 8, 2017

Are Christians to Observe the Sabbath or the Lord's Day? Saturday or Sunday?

In the "New Covenant" made by our Creator God with humanity (Jeremiah 31:31-34) every person can know God from within - because the Holy Spirit is revealing our Creator to all who are willing to know the Lord and trust in Him. We can still help each other along the way; so may you be pleased to find here a variety of helps to the life of faith in God through Jesus Christ. G.S.

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Should Christians Keep the Sabbath or Celebrate the Lord's Day?       Tim Staples            April 04, 2017

One of the most appealing teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination is their insistence that Christians must obey the Ten Commandments . . . all ten of them. They rightly expose the errant thinking among many Protestant Christian sects that claims, “We don’t have to keep the Ten Commandments for salvation anymore.” Of course, as Jesus reminds us:

And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And [Jesus] said to him… “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16-17).

Given our agreement on this point, the Seventh-day Adventist commonly asks: “If you believe we have to keep the fourth (our third) commandment, why aren’t Catholics obliged to attend Mass on Saturdays instead of Sunday?”

Why not Saturday?

We can draw our first source from the the Catechism, which declares: Since they express man’s fundamental duties towards God and towards his neighbor, the Ten Commandments reveal, in their primordial content, grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable, and they oblige always and everywhere. No one can dispense from them. The Ten Commandments are engraved by God in the human heart (2072).

Thus, the third commandment is “fundamentally immutable” because it’s one of the Ten Commandments which Jesus said we must follow to attain everlasting life. However, the Catholic Church teaches the particular day we celebrate in keeping the third commandment to be ceremonial, or an accidental component of the law that is changeable. Here’s how the Catechism puts it:

Sunday is expressly distinguished from the Sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the Sabbath. In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish Sabbath . . . Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord's Day. . . .  The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship. . . .  Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people (CCC 2175-76).

Is there biblical data that concurs with this teaching of the Church? Absolutely! St. Paul tells us that the ceremonial aspect of the old law—the Sabbath day itself—is no longer binding for the Christian faithful: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in regard to food or drink or in respect to 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 (Col. 2:16-17).

Clearly, the Sabbath is “a mere shadow,” that is, fleeting by nature. And “shadow” (Greek: skian) is the same word used by the inspired author of Hebrews for the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant—also no longer binding on Christians. For the law, having but a shadow (Greek: skian) of the good things to come, and not the exact image of the objects, is never able by the sacrifices which they offer continually, year after year the same, to perfect those who draw near (Heb. 10:1).

Moreover, it is important to note how St. Paul uses the same division of “festivals” (annual holy days), “new moons” (monthly holy days), and “Sabbaths” (the weekly holy days) that the Old Testament uses in I Chr. 23:31, II Chr. 2:4, 8:12-13, 31:3, and elsewhere, when referencing Jewish holy days. Clearly, along with the yearly and monthly holy days—which no Christian today claims binding upon believers in Christ—the Sabbath is included in what St. Paul calls a mere shadow.

When St. Paul teaches Christians do not have to keep the Sabbath, he speaks of the holy days that were specific to the Jews. He is not saying—and does not say—that we do not have to keep any holy days at all. In context, St. Paul is dealing with Judaizers who were telling Gentile Christians they had to be circumcised and keep the Old Covenant law that had passed away, which would include the Sabbath and other holy days, in order to be saved. Some overlook this fact when they use St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans against the necessity of keeping the third commandment.

As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. . . . One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord (14:1-6).

During the first few decades of Church history, the question of Jewish/Gentile relations to the Church and the law was a hot topic. As long as the Temple was standing, Christians of Jewish descent were free to attend the Temple and keep certain aspects of the Old law, as long as they did not teach these things to be essential for salvation.  

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath rest

Many will claim the Catholic is in grave error here because Hebrews 4:9 declares: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” And I must say that a surface reading here does appear to bind Christians to the seventh day. However, the context within verses 4-8 greatly clarifies things for us:

For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this place he said, “they shall never enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day. So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest ceases also from his labors as God did from his (emphasis added).

The context makes clear the Jewish “seventh day” has been superceded, or more properly, fulfilled, in “another day,” “a certain day,” that is a new “Sabbath rest for the people of God.” What day is this? In Hebrews, it is not so much a day at all as it is a person—Jesus Christ. In fact, the entire discussion of “the Sabbath rest” disappears into the discussion of our “great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (4:14ff). It is Jesus Christ himself who actualizes the actual “rest” that was merely foreshadowed by the Sabbath.

The Church connection

“End of discussion,” say our Protestant friends. “There is no longer any such thing as a day that binds Christians in the New Covenant. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath, not some day we have to go to church.” And they are actually correct, but only partially. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath rest in the sense that only he can actualize the “rest” the Sabbath symbolized.

In Hebrews 10:1-26 we see movement toward tagging on the Church as fulfillment of all which was merely shadow in the Old Covenant and not just Jesus Christ in the abstract. And this only makes sense when we understand that “the Church” is the body of Christ, or, Christ himself extended into the world (cf. Eph. 1:22-23).

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come, instead of the true form of those realities, it can never . . . make perfect those who draw near.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in the full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water . . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some . . . For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:1; 19-22; 25-26).

As Christians, we “enter into the sanctuary” through baptism—bodies washed with pure water—and the Eucharist—his flesh—thus enters the necessity of the church.

 

The Lord’s day

So if Christians are bound to keep the third commandment and it involves “meeting together,” but not on the Sabbath, what day are we commanded to meet?

In Scripture, whenever we see Christians meeting to worship the Lord, receive communion, to take up collections—apart from the Synagogue—it is either “daily,” or especially, it’s “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2). It is true that you often see St. Paul entering into the synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 13:14-44, 16:13, 18:4). However, in each instance his purpose was to proclaim the truth about Christ to the Jews. These are not specifically Christian gatherings. But notice what we find in Acts 2:46:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.

St. Paul and his companions attended the temple, but “the breaking of bread” occurred in the house “churches” of Christians. “The breaking of bread,” by the way, is a Eucharistic phrase in St. Luke’s writings. For example, when St. Paul was in Troas in Acts 20:7, we read: “On the first day of the week, when we gathered together to break bread…” Luke 24:30-31 records Cleopas and an unnamed disciple’s “eyes were opened” and they recognized Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.” And according to Luke 24:1, 13, this encounter was also on the first day of the week! St. Paul never says, “On the Sabbath, when we gathered to break bread.” Instead, the “breaking of bread” in Luke 24 and in Acts 20 occurs on the first day of the week.  

It’s important to remember that when we talk about biblical “churches” we mean the designated homes for “church” gatherings and specifically for “the breaking of bread.”

For, in the first place, when you assemble as a church… it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God…For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it. (I Cor. 11:18-23)

So those “homes” were actually house “churches” in which “the breaking of bread” happened, and it happened on the first day of the week: Sunday.

 

Sabbath or Sunday?                                       CATHOLIC ANSWERS

Some religious organizations (Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-Day Baptists, and certain others) claim that Christians must not worship on Sunday but on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. They claim that, at some unnamed time after the apostolic age, the Church "changed" the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. 

However, passages of Scripture such as Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2, Colossians 2:16-17, and Revelation 1:10 indicate that, even during New Testament times, the Sabbath is no longer binding and that Christians are to worship on the Lord’s day, Sunday, instead. 

The early Church Fathers compared the observance of the Sabbath to the observance of the rite of circumcision, and from that they demonstrated that if the apostles abolished circumcision (Gal. 5:1-6), so also the observance of the Sabbath must have been abolished. The following quotations show that the first Christians understood this principle and gathered for worship on Sunday. 

The Didache

"But every Lord’s day . . . gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned" (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]). 

The Letter of Barnabas

"We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead" (Letter of Barnabas 15:6–8 [A.D. 74]). 

Ignatius of Antioch

"[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e. Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death" (Letter to the Magnesians 8 [A.D. 110]). 

Justin Martyr

"[W]e too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined [on] you—namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your heart. . . . [H]ow is it, Trypho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us—I speak of fleshly circumcision and Sabbaths and feasts? . . . God enjoined you to keep the Sabbath, and imposed on you other precepts for a sign, as I have already said, on account of your unrighteousness and that of your fathers . . ." (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 18, 21 [A.D. 155]). 

"But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead" (First Apology 67 [A.D. 155]). 

Tertullian

"[L]et him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day . . . teach us that, for the time past, righteous men kept the Sabbath or practiced circumcision, and were thus rendered ‘friends of God.’ For if circumcision purges a man, since God made Adam uncircumcised, why did he not circumcise him, even after his sinning, if circumcision purges? . . . Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, consequently his offspring also, Abel, offering him sacrifices, uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, was by him [God] commended [Gen. 4:1–7, Heb. 11:4]. . . . Noah also, uncircumcised—yes, and unobservant of the Sabbath—God freed from the deluge. For Enoch too, most righteous man, uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, he translated from this world, who did not first taste death in order that, being a candidate for eternal life, he might show us that we also may, without the burden of the law of Moses, please God" (An Answer to the Jews 2 [A.D. 203]). 

The Didascalia

"The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the holy scriptures, and the oblation [sacrifice of the Mass], because on the first day of the week [i.e., Sunday] our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven" (Didascalia 2 [A.D. 225]). 

Origen

"Hence it is not possible that the [day of] rest after the Sabbath should have come into existence from the seventh [day] of our God. On the contrary, it is our Savior who, after the pattern of his own rest, caused us to be made in the likeness of his death, and hence also of his resurrection" (Commentary on John 2:28 [A.D. 229]). 

Victorinus

"The sixth day [Friday] is called parasceve, that is to say, the preparation of the kingdom. . . . On this day also, on account of the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, we make either a station to God or a fast. On the seventh day he rested from all his works, and blessed it, and sanctified it. On the former day we are accustomed to fast rigorously, that on the Lord’s day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks. And let the parasceve become a rigorous fast, lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews . . . which Sabbath he [Christ] in his body abolished" (The Creation of the World [A.D. 300]). 

Eusebius of Caesarea

"They [the early saints of the Old Testament] did not care about circumcision of the body, neither do we [Christians]. They did not care about observing Sabbaths, nor do we. They did not avoid certain kinds of food, neither did they regard the other distinctions which Moses first delivered to their posterity to be observed as symbols; nor do Christians of the present day do such things" (Church History 1:4:8 [A.D. 312]). 

"[T]he day of his [Christ’s] light . . . was the day of his resurrection from the dead, which they say, as being the one and only truly holy day and the Lord’s day, is better than any number of days as we ordinarily understand them, and better than the days set apart by the Mosaic law for feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths, which the apostle [Paul] teaches are the shadow of days and not days in reality" (Proof of the Gospel 4:16:186 [A.D. 319]). 

Athanasius

"The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation" (On Sabbath and Circumcision 3 [A.D. 345]). 

Cyril of Jerusalem

"Fall not away either into the sect of the Samaritans or into Judaism, for Jesus Christ has henceforth ransomed you. Stand aloof from all observance of Sabbaths and from calling any indifferent meats common or unclean" (Catechetical Lectures 4:37 [A.D. 350]). 

Council of Laodicea

"Christians should not Judaize and should not be idle on the Sabbath, but should work on that day; they should, however, particularly reverence the Lord’s day and, if possible, not work on it, because they were Christians" (Canon 29 [A.D. 360]). 

John Chrysostom

"[W]hen he [God] said, ‘You shall not kill’ . . . he did not add, ‘because murder is a wicked thing.’ The reason was that conscience had taught this beforehand, and he speaks thus, as to those who know and understand the point. Wherefore when he speaks to us of another commandment, not known to us by the dictate of conscience, he not only prohibits, but adds the reason. When, for instance, he gave commandment concerning the Sabbath— ‘On the seventh day you shall do no work’—he subjoined also the reason for this cessation. What was this? ‘Because on the seventh day God rested from all his works which he had begun to make’ [Ex. 20:10-11]. . . . For what purpose then, I ask, did he add a reason respecting the Sabbath, but did no such thing in regard to murder? Because this commandment was not one of the leading ones. It was not one of those which were accurately defined of our conscience, but a kind of partial and temporary one, and for this reason it was abolished afterward. But those which are necessary and uphold our life are the following: ‘You shall not kill. . . . You shall not commit adultery. . . . You shall not steal.’ On this account he adds no reason in this case, nor enters into any instruction on the matter, but is content with the bare prohibition" (Homilies on the Statutes 12:9 [A.D. 387]). 

"You have put on Christ, you have become a member of the Lord and been enrolled in the heavenly city, and you still grovel in the law [of Moses]? How is it possible for you to obtain the kingdom? Listen to Paul’s words, that the observance of the law overthrows the gospel, and learn, if you will, how this comes to pass, and tremble, and shun this pitfall. Why do you keep the Sabbath and fast with the Jews?" (Homilies on Galatians 2:17 [A.D. 395]). 

"The rite of circumcision was venerable in the Jews’ account, forasmuch as the law itself gave way thereto, and the Sabbath was less esteemed than circumcision. For that circumcision might be performed, the Sabbath was broken; but that the Sabbath might be kept, circumcision was never broken; and mark, I pray, the dispensation of God. This is found to be even more solemn than the Sabbath, as not being omitted at certain times. When then it is done away, much more is the Sabbath" (Homilies on Philippians 10 [A.D. 402]). 

The Apostolic Constitutions

"And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent him to us, and condescended to let him suffer, and raised him from the dead. Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day . . . in which is performed the reading of the prophets, the preaching of the gospel, the oblation of the sacrifice, the gift of the holy food" (Apostolic Constitutions 2:7:60 [A.D. 400]). 

Augustine

"Well, now, I should like to be told what there is in these ten commandments, except the observance of the Sabbath, which ought not to be kept by a Christian. . . . Which of these commandments would anyone say that the Christian ought not to keep? It is possible to contend that it is not the law which was written on those two tables that the apostle [Paul] describes as ‘the letter that kills’ [2 Cor. 3:6], but the law of circumcision and the other sacred rites which are now abolished" (The Spirit and the Letter 24 [A.D. 412]). 

Pope Gregory I

"It has come to my ears that certain men of perverse spirit have sown among you some things that are wrong and opposed to the holy faith, so as to forbid any work being done on the Sabbath day. What else can I call these [men] but preachers of Antichrist, who when he comes will cause the Sabbath day as well as the Lord’s day to be kept free from all work. For because he [the Antichrist] pretends to die and rise again, he wishes the Lord’s day to be held in reverence; and because he compels the people to Judaize that he may bring back the outward rite of the law, and subject the perfidy of the Jews to himself, he wishes the Sabbath to be observed. For this which is said by the prophet, ‘You shall bring in no burden through your gates on the Sabbath day’ [Jer. 17:24] could be held to as long as it was lawful for the law to be observed according to the letter. But after that the grace of almighty God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has appeared, the commandments of the law which were spoken figuratively cannot be kept according to the letter. For if anyone says that this about the Sabbath is to be kept, he must needs say that carnal sacrifices are to be offered. He must say too that the commandment about the circumcision of the body is still to be retained. But let him hear the apostle Paul saying in opposition to him: ‘If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing’ [Gal. 5:2]" (Letters 13:1 [A.D. 597]). 


NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827 permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

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In the "New Covenant" made by our Creator God with humanity (Jeremiah 31:31-34) every person can know God from within - because the Holy Spirit is revealing our Creator to all who are willing to know the Lord and trust in Him. We can still help each other along the way; so may you be pleased to find here a variety of helps to the life of faith in God through Jesus Christ. G.S.

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© 2006-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2006-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
 

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