Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath? This is a
controversial topic that has divided Christian through the ages. There are a
few references to the Sabbath in the Bible. Most of the verses commanding us to
keep the Sabbath is found in the Old Testament.
Remember the sabbath
day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the
seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall
cease from labor in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of
your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.
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
Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded
You shall keep My
sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord.
The context of these verses is that it was given to the
Israelites to set them apart from the nations surrounding them, and to grow
them into the people of God that God intended. It was the custom of the Jews to
come together on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, cease work, and worship God.
Of the 10 commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, only nine of them were
reinstituted in the New Testament. (Six in Matthew 19:18, murder, adultery,
stealing, false witness, honor parents, and worshiping God; Romans 13:9,
coveting. Worshiping God properly covers the first three commandments). The one
that was not reaffirmed was the one about the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus said that
He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8).
With regards to the Sabbath in the New Testament, there
seems to be a difference in emphasis. No longer is it a particular day of rest
to be observed religiously but instead the concept of Sabbath-rest come into
One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.
Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.
Therefore let no one
act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a
new moon or a Sabbath day.
When it comes to the Sabbath, we have always fixate on a
particular day, usually a Saturday. However we never quite agree on when does
that Saturday begins. Does Sabbath begins on Friday sunset or Saturday midnight?
Other may think that for Christians, it is a Sunday. By Sunday, they usually
means the Sunday morning service after which they are free to do yard work,
read the papers or go shopping with the family. What seems is common to
different camps is that during the Sabbath, we should not do any work. Work here
refers to what we do the rest of the week in our workplace.
I believe we get this concept of resting from our work from
the Genesis account in chapter 1 and 2. “By the seventh day God has finished
the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work”
(Gen. 2:2 NIV). I am very curious about God being ‘tired’ after creating for
six days. Why would God get tired? He is after all God and should be tireless.
A word study of the Hebrew word for ‘rested’ is yiš·bōṯ'
which means ‘ceased’. This
seems to imply that God did not stop on the seventh day because he is tired but
that he stopped because he has finished what he set out to do. Genesis chapter
two seems to bear out the idea that God did not stop to rest on the seventh day
but instead he has completed/ceased his creation and wants to enjoy his
creation on the seventh day. God wants to celebrate with his creatures (which
includes human beings) and his created order. God delights, enjoys and meets
with his completed perfect creation in the Garden of Eden. This shalom
place, as distinct from the
chaotic state before creation, is a holy place; a place to enjoy and delight
with God in the completion of his creation. Unfortunately this perfect holy
place of rest became threatened by the Fall and the concept of Sabbath became
imprisoned by religiosity.
Therefore, since the
promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you
be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached
to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them,
because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed
enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They
shall never enter my rest.’ ”
And yet his work has
been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken
about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from
all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter
It still remains that some will enter that
rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in,
because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling
it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had
given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There
remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters
God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us,
therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by
following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged
sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrows; it
judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart. Nothing in all creation is
hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes
of him to whom we must give account.
day God chose for the Sabbath is ‘Today
’ (Heb. 4:7). The passage from Hebrews
4:1-13 is aptly entitled “A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God” (NIV). This sabbath rest (sabbatismós
) which remains for God’s people will be “the perfect
sabbath of heavenly blessing toward which the pilgrim community is moving and
which will mean cessation from its own labors”. 
The author of Hebrews implies that entering the Sabbath rest is not by doing or
by observing a special day but by faith and obedience to the revealed word of
God. This rest from work is not just rest from our workplace but also from
our struggles with our sinful natures. The tense of the Greek implies that this
rest is not only an eschatological rest but one in which we can experience in
the present time. Hence, today
, not only are we to rest from our labors but
also to celebrate, enjoy, and delight with God in his creation of which we are
a part of.
Kittel, G., Friedrich, G.
& Bromiley, G.W., 1985. Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament
Labels: Spiritual Disciplines