Jesus Christ and the apostles lived and taught in a Sabbath-keeping society. The confrontations Jesus had with the Pharisees were over how to observe the Sabbath, never whether it should be observed.
The Ten Commandments are the basic guide for living, outlining how to have a proper relationship with our Creator and our fellow man. However, the most universally misunderstood and misapplied commandment is God’s command to observe the Sabbath.
The Fourth Commandment states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates:” (Exodus 20:8-10).
Many view the Sabbath as a quaint relic of history which is impractical in today’s busy world. Some think the Sabbath is Sunday and that spending an hour or two at church on Sunday morning fulfills the intent of the Sabbath commandment. Others are convinced Jesus did away with a specific day of rest and worship, and that whatever time we choose to revere God is holy. The Bible, however, is clear. God commanded that the seventh day be observed as the Sabbath.
A brief glimpse into history reveals the change from Sabbath to Sunday was made long after the writing of the New Testament. Observance of Sunday as the primary day of worship appears to have solidified in the reign of Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-135), who persecuted the Jews throughout the Roman Empire, specifically prohibiting ‘Jewish practices’ including observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.
This approach was strenuously supported by the Catholic Church which claimed authority to establish its own times of worship and alter biblical instructions. Protestant churches generally justified Sunday observance on the grounds that the seventh-day Sabbath was replaced in the New Testament by worship on Sunday in honor of Christ’s resurrection.
James Cardinal Gibbons, Catholic educator and archbishop of Baltimore in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was blunt about this change to Sunday: “You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.” (The Faith of Our Fathers, John Murphy Company, Baltimore, 1917, p. 89).
And so, within a few centuries Sabbath observance by most professing Christians was virtually eliminated and replaced by Sunday.
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