Rev. Dr. Ezamo Murry
Each of these two holy days is important to the two Judeo - Christian faiths – Judaism and Christianity. The command to observe Sabbath is one of the Decalogue. It was given as a day of complete rest, a day of no work and no travelling. It was to make the seventh day a day of rest even as God worked creating the world for six days and rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath observance was also one of the memory aids of the Jews’ covenant with God.
The Sabbath duration covered, from the sunset of our Friday to the sunset of Saturday. The number seven was very important number for the Jews. The Sabbath lamp itself had a seven points on which seven candles were burnt. The Rabbis intensified the Sabbath laws to the extent one should not travel more than 2000 paces, carry weight no heavier than a dried fig, and eat no eggs laid on Sabbath. On Sabbath the women should not look into the mirror, for she may find a white hair on her head requiring to pull it out which will break the Sabbath law. Interestingly, Victor Buksbazen points out that the Jewish Rabbis had always thought of the Sabbath as the Israelites prerogative, being a privilege of Israel only, based on Exodus 31:12-17. The following words support that idea:
“A gentile who employs himself in the law is guilty of death. Thus a gentile who keeps the Sabbath, though it be on one of the week days, if he make it to himself a Sabbath, he is guilty of death. Either let the Gentile become a proselyte of righteousness (a convert to Judaism) and take upon him the whole law: or let him remain in his own law, and neither add or diminish. But if he employs himself in the law, or keeps Sabbath, or makes any innovation, he is to be beaten and punished, and informed that he for this is guilty of death, but he is not to be killed.” Hilchoth Melachim, chapter 10:9.
The Sabbath was one of the cardinal laws of Jewish identity as God’s people, the other important laws being circumcision and food laws. The Pig was a forbidden animal food because it did not chew the cud though it has a divided hoof. Imposition of these laws to the Christians would have made the Christians uncomfortable. It has also been observed that the basic elements of the Decalogue are reinforced in the New Testament but not the Sabbath. There is no enforcement to observe the Sabbath in the New Testament. While on earth Jesus and his disciples also went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath as it was the only gathering where they could present their case (Luke 4:16). However, neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers made Sabbath observance a necessity. For a new day of significance was downing for those gathered around the Day of Resurrection.
What we call Sunday today is the Resurrection day. It was the first day of the week, a day after the Sabbath. The repeated visits of the resurrected Lord to thefollowers on the same day, made the followers call that day ‘the day of the Lord’ or ‘the Lord’s Day’. On the first day of the week the disciples came together to break bread during which Paul preached for a long time (Acts 20:7). It might help also to cite one or two historical evidences supporting Christians worship on the first day of the week, the Lord ’s Day:
Bishop Ignatius in 110 A.D. “Those who walk in the ancient practices attain unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths, but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s Day, on which our lives also rose through Him, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our only teacher.”
Justin Martyr in 135 A.D. “Sunday is the day on which we all hold 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 Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. And on the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits.”
This worship day was later endorsed by the Romans as the official holiday but it does not mean the day was created that time. We do not argue why some of the Christian symbols and terms have non Christian background. If the Romans found our Sunday as their day of the Sun Jesus is also in a sense the Sun of Righteousness who will rise with healing on His wings (Malachi 4:2). Sunday by any other name will radiate the same beam of inspiration to the hearts of the followers of the Resurrected Lord, Jesus. This does away the argument that Sunday emerged in the fourth century only while Sabbath was there from the time of the giving of the Decalogue. Many of the media of God’s revelation before Christ were types or shadows to be confirmed by the coming of Christ who is the perfect revelation of God. When Jesus appeared he became the Lord of everything including the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8).
To make things clearer we may turn to Buksbazen, to distinguish between the two holy days:
- The Sabbath, the seventh day of the week commemorates a completed physical creation (Genesis 2:1-3).
- Sunday, the first day of the week is the day of resurrection and signifies a competed redemption (Matthew 28:1-6).
- The Sabbath is a covenant sign between God and God’s people, Israel (Exodus 31:13).
- Sunday, the first day of the week signifies the fellowship between the Church and her Lord (Acts 20:7).
- The Sabbath observance was commanded by the Law. The punishment for non- compliance was death (Exodus 31:14).
- The Lord’s Day is a day of voluntary, spontaneous worship without any commandment – a day of witness and labor for the Lord.
- The Sabbath is an essential part of the covenant of works.
- The Lord’s Day is representative of the covenant of grace.
- The Sabbath is the crowning day of the week which rewards humans for their toil.
- The Lord ’s Day emphasizes what God has done for humans through God’s only begotten Son.
The debate on difference between Sabbath and Sunday has been as old as Christianity. Beside historical and theological arguments there is also deliberate use of these holidays to suit one’s own point of arguments. This happens especially when someone’s religiosity fails to catch up with the reality and thus opt for reverting to the lower state of religiosity. One may suddenly give importance to fasting, Sabbath, circumcision, sacred days, some mysterious powers, visions, and various food laws. King Saul in his unstable mental state was accused of such reversion to the bygone status of religion. King Saul wanted to prolong his influence on the people but God had withdrawn His favour with him. Saul had to resort to such inferior state of divinity, witchcraft but failed. Similarly, there are also Christians, lay or clergy who often feel the lack of influence on others and resort to such powers and practices, to proclaim having divine power in their messages. For such leaders phrases like, “after all today is Sabbath; after all God forbade us not to eat or drink such food; after all Christians should fast; after all dreams are God’s means of talking to us as it was in the past” etc., are frequent.
In the presence of Christ Christians should obey Christ and follow his leading through the Holy Spirit. Christians have a kind of rest other than the Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9-11). Christians do have circumcision but it is a spiritual one, not of fleshly ritual Colossians 2:11). Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath is the fulfilment of all the laws and the prophets. Jesus did not condemn the Law but made it easier for people to obey it. He was the best example of obeying and living the law of God. Sabbath was important for the Jews to remember their covenant with God. Sunday is important for the Christians to remember how Jesus died for them and resurrected to become the everlasting Lord for them. Sunday is not a taboo day to remain inactive. It is a day for rejoicing, praising and worshipping God. Sunday is a day off working to save lives.
- Carter, W.N. The People of the Book and their Land, London: The Olive Press, 1964.
- Buksbazen, Victor. The gospel in the feasts of Israel, Philadelphia: The Friends of Israel Missionary and Relief Society, 1954.
This is the fourth article of the Sabbath/ Sunday Series, an initiative of Oriental Theological Seminary.