9-2-2 The Sabbath And Sunday

Another passage which proves that the apostolic church held public worship on the first day of the week is 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.” The first thing to note regarding this passage is that Paul, speaking by the Holy Spirit, insists that the charitable donations for the poor brethren in Jerusalem be collected on the first day and no other. The fact that the Holy Spirit chose the first day of the week and no other day presupposes that for the Christian church there was something unique—of abiding religious significance—regarding that day. Otherwise, why would the Holy Spirit insist upon only the first day and not the seventh, or third, or fourth, etc.? Second, note that this was not just the practice of the church at Corinth but of all the churches in Galatia: “as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also.” Collecting tithes for the poor on Sunday was the universal practice of the Christian church in the days of the apostles. “The only explanation for this ‘catholic’ [i.e., universal] injunction to all Christians everywhere to lay by for the poor saints in Jerusalem specifically on Sunday, is that all Christians everywhere were in the habit of laying by for their own local poor brethren too.” It is not an accident that Paul’s injunction to give to the poor brethren on the Lord’s day immediately follows chapter 15, which focuses on the significance of Christ’s resurrection. Giving is an aspect of Lord’s-day public worship. We give unto God because He first gave Himself for us. “Elsewhere Paul speaks of this collection in terms that are full of theological content: ‘fellowship,’ ‘service,’ ‘grace,’ ‘blessing,’ and ‘divine service.’ All this together suggests that the ‘collection’ was not some mere matter of money, but was for Paul an active response to the grace of God that not only ministered to the needs of God’s people but also became a kind of ministry to God Himself.” Thus, this passage not only proves that the apostolic churches conducted their public worship services on the first day of the week, but also shows that giving to God is part of Christian worship. This is to be expected, for it was also the universal practice in the Jewish synagogues to receive tithes and offerings during their public worship services on Saturday. The New Testament church was patterned to a large extent after the Jewish synagogue.

Seventh-day Adventist apologists have attempted to circumvent the obvious implication of this passage by arguing that collections were made on Sunday, rather than on Saturday, because it would have been a violation of the Saturday sabbath to do bookkeeping, etc., on that day. Such reasoning is fallacious for three reasons: First, as already noted, the Jews collected tithes on Saturday and engaged in “bookkeeping” procedures related to charity on the Sabbath for centuries without divine disapproval. Second, Jesus Christ clearly taught that works of mercy were permissible—yes, even required—on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:12; Mk. 3:4). Third, works of mercy on the Sabbath are permitted and commended in the Old Testament as well (1 Sam. 21:6; 2 Kgs. 4:23). “If, as Seventh-day Adventists maintain, the post-resurrectional Christian Church held its weekly meetings and its sabbath on Saturday, it is more than probable that the entire collection would have been handed over to Paul on such an occasion, rather than ‘on the first day of the week.’”[2]

So we see here a clear statement that the Sabbath was observed on consecutive Sundays. Some will argue from this that the law then has changed, because the day has changed from the seventh to the first. They forget, however, that the commandment is not for what day of the week the seventh day of rest would fall on, but that there would simply be a pattern of six days of work and one seventh day of rest. The particular day on which that seventh day of rest falls might very well indeed depend upon the dispensation and is not a part of God’s eternal moral commandment.

Finally, some dispensationalists and others who believe only the NT law is truly applicable to us will argue that Jesus denies the Sabbath throughout the gospels by consistently breaking it. This is simply not true. Jesus never claims to break the Sabbath, but is simply correcting the foul interpretation that the Pharisees have given to the Sabbath. People will claim that Matthew 12:1-8 demonstrates that we no longer need to observe the Sabbath. What Jesus is doing here is informing the Pharisees of the proper application of the Sabbath not only today, but also under the old covenant, which the interpretation of the Pharisees had perverted. Christ is stating here that if David could violate the true ceremonial law of God, then certainly Christ and His disciples could disobey the traditions of mere men without guilt. The Pharisees classified taking grain as threshing and therefore unlawful work on the Sabbath day. This was, however, the Pharisees twisted interpretation, and nowhere does the Word of God ever state we cannot nourish ourselves on the Sabbath day (works of necessity). If Christ were disobeying a ceremonial law before His crucifixion, then Christ would have sinned in God’s sight and not been able to accomplish our perfect redemption.

When Christ informs the Pharisees that He is “Lord of the Sabbath” it is not stated in order to allow Him to break the Sabbath, but rather to define what the Sabbath always was, since God Himself is the best interpreter of His own Word. If Christ had used this excuse to break the Sabbath, then the people would have had something to say when Christ stood on trial and asked them “Which of you accuses me of sinning?” No one could answer Him a word of course, because He had not broken the Sabbath law according to the scriptures. While He has broken the tradition of the Pharisees, Christ did not break the scriptures, and to claim He did is entirely against the whole tenor of the word of God. Christ is informing us in Matthew 12 that works of necessity on the Sabbath day, like nourishing yourself on the Sabbath day when you are hungry, are not sins.

Some might argue that Christ is disobeying the Sabbath because it is only a ceremonial law. Nowhere does Christ argue that the Sabbath is a mere ceremonial law. Christ in no place argues that He is breaking the Sabbath to begin with, He is rather detailing what has always been lawfully and rightfully done on the Sabbath day. The oral tradition of the Pharisees held that threshing grain fell under a certain category of work, and they were effectively calling something unlawful work that God did not call unlawful work. Therefore, Christ set out in this passage to correct that errant tradition of the Pharisees and replace it with the true inspired interpretation. To thresh grain in order to nourish your body on the Sabbath day, Christ is clearly stating, is not a sin; no more than David getting the bread from the Temple. Christ also states in this passage that it is lawful for the priests or religious leaders to work on the Sabbath day, and therefore such are acquitted of any Sabbath violation when they work to preach and labour for God on that day. Christ is using examples of lawful work on the Sabbath day to justify the lawfulness of His activity with His disciples in Matthew 12. Christ is in no way advocating a violation of the law of God here. Brian Schwertley writes: “The Pharisees were the enemies of Christ; thus they were continually looking for a reason to accuse, condemn, and destroy Him. They seized the opportunity when they observed His disciples walking through a grain field, plucking the heads of grain and rubbing off the chaff between their palms to eat. Suddenly they confronted Christ, accusing Him of allowing His disciples to break the Sabbath. How were they breaking it? According to rabbinical tradition, their innocent activity was defined as reaping and threshing grain! “According to the Mishna that man is guilty of sabbath desecration who on that day ‘takes ears of grain equal to a lamb’s mouthful.’ “They based their whole case against the Lord and His disciples on the fact that He was allowing His disciples to transgress some of the merely traditional and anti-Scriptural thirty-nine ‘Azoth’ by ‘reaping’ (plucking the ears) and ‘threshing’ (rubbing them in their hands) on the sabbath day.”

In the face of this false accusation based on the false legalism of the Pharisaical oral traditions, Christ set forth the true meaning of the Sabbath. His explanation of the Sabbath is an implicit condemnation of the Pharisees’ interpretation of the fourth commandment and an explicit justification of His disciples’ behavior. “Over against their restrictive traditions, He posited the perfect freedom of the authoritative Word of God.” ”

[2] Schwertley, Brian “The Christian Sabbath: Examined, Approved, Applied” at www.reformed.com/pub/sabbath2.htm

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