John R. Wible, Editor. Page 1
The Sabbath in the New Testament, by John R. Wible.1
The author of the Baptist Sunday School Lesson on this subject points out the following regarding Sabbath-
keeping in the church age.
When we Christians study about the Sabbath, we typically raise some questions. Are Christians
supposed to observe the Saturday Sabbath? Isn’t it part of the old covenant of law? Aren’t
believers under the new covenant of grace?
The New Testament has the answers. In the church’s early days, almost all believers were Jews.
They continued to observe the Saturday Sabbath and worshiped Christ on the first day of the week
(Sunday) with other believers. Later when Gentiles became believers, some Jewish Christians
[known as Judaizers,]2
thought the Gentiles also should observe the Saturday Sabbath along with
other requirements of the Law, such as circumcision.
Acts 15 tells about Christian leaders meeting in Jerusalem. We know this as the Jerusalem Council,
circa.50 AD. The council decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep
most of the Law of Moses, including the rules concerning circumcision of males. The Council did,
however, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals not
properly slain, and on fornication and idolatry. [Descriptions of the council are found in Acts 15
and possibly in Galatians 2.3
They concluded Jews and Gentiles alike are saved by grace, not by keeping the Law. Thus the
Gentiles were not bound by the Law’s ceremonial aspects. They sent a letter to Gentile believers
requesting them to be considerate of Jewish Christians who still observed the Old Testament food
laws. They also emphasized sexual morality and staying away from practices associated with
“The letter did not mention Saturday Sabbath observance at all. This indicates Christians are
not bound by Saturday Sabbath observance.”4
As I studied the scriptures, it dawned on me that when Jesus stated that He had come to fulfill the law and
when Paul was stating that Christians no longer were compelled to observe the Jewish regulations about
eating meat sacrificed to idols and about the mandatory celebration of certain days and feasts, I began for the
first time, to understood the extent to which Christians were free.
This represents original work by the author obviously except the quoted passages.
Editor’s note, some scholars dispute that Galatians 2 is about the Council of Jerusalem notably because Galatians 2 describes a
Thus ends the author’s extended quote. What follows are editor’s notes.
John R. Wible, Editor. Page 2
From a collective standpoint, we were and are free from the control of a law benevolently given to Jews to
show them that they were completely incapable of achieving Holiness, that is sinlessness, on their own.
From an individual standpoint, I began to understand for the first time that I was and am free from the taboos
and mores given by my Mother, handed to her by her Mother and so on for countless generations.
In short, we were and I am, ―free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!‖5
Let’s look at Acts and Galatians and apply the principle of interpretation called stare lexis, look at the Word.
Acts 15:1-5 Some men came down from Judaea and tried to teach the brethren, "If you are not
circumcised according to the practice of Moses you cannot be saved." When Paul and Barnabas had
a great dispute and argument with them, they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others to
go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders to get this question settled…When they arrived at
Jerusalem, they were received by the Church and the apostles and the elders and they told the story
of all that God had done with them. But some men of the school of the Pharisees, who were converts,
rose and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to enjoin them to keep the Law of Moses."
A meeting was called in Jerusalem and Peter responds:
6-12 The apostles and elders met together to investigate this question. After a great deal of
discussion Peter stood up and said, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made his choice
among us, so that through my mouth the Gentiles should hear the good news and believe. And God,
who knows men's hearts, bore his own witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he had
done to us too. He made no distinction between us and them for he purified their hearts by faith. So
why do you now tempt God by placing on the necks of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers
nor we had the strength to bear? But it is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we believe that we
have been saved in exactly the same, way as they too have been."
James, ―Ol’ Camel-Knees,‖ the Apostle and Brother of Jesus, then spoke for the church.
13-21 . . ."Brothers, listen to me. Symeon has told you how God first made provision for the Gentiles,
to take from them a people for his name, With this the words of the prophets agree, as it stands
written, 'After these things I will return and I will build again the tabernacle of David which has
fallen. I will build its ruins again, and again I will set it upright, so that the rest of mankind will seek
the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by my name'--this is what the Lord says, making these
things known from the beginning of the world.
From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” Speech quoting lines from “an old Negro Spiritual.”
Editor is using the Barclay translation.
John R. Wible, Editor. Page 3
Therefore for my part, it is my judgment that we stop making things difficult for the Gentiles who
turn to God, but that we send them a letter to keep themselves from the contaminations offered to
idols, from fornication, from things strangled and from blood. For Moses from of old has those who
proclaim his teaching in every city, for his works are read in the synagogues every Sabbath."7
This was followed up by a letter.
"The apostles and the elders, brethren, to the brethren from the Gentiles who are throughout Antioch
and Syria and Cilicia--greetings. We have heard that some who came from us have disturbed you
with their words in an attempt to upset your souls. They were not acting under our instructions. We
have therefore decided, when we were met together, to choose men and to send them to you, with our
beloved Barnabas and Paul, who are men who have devoted their lives for the name of the Lord
Jesus Christ. We have therefore despatched Judas and Silas to you to tell you the same things by
word of mouth. It was the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us to place no further burden on you
other than the rules which are necessary--that you should keep yourselves from things offered to
idols, from blood, from things strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these
things you will be doing well. Farewell."
Paul records this occasion or a later one in Galatians 2. Scholars cannot agree on which it was.
2:1-10 Fourteen years afterwards I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and I took Titus with
me too. It was in consequence of a direct message from God that I went up; and I placed before them
the gospel that I am accustomed to preach among the Gentiles. because I did not want to think that
the work which I was trying to do, and which I had done, was going to be frustrated. This I did in
private conference with those whose reputations stood high in the Church. But not even Titus, who
was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek. True they tried to
circumcise him to please false brothers who had been furtively introduced into our society and who
had insinuated themselves into our company to spy out the liberty which we enjoy in Christ Jesus,
because they wished to reduce us to their own state of servitude. Not for one hour did we yield in
submission to them. We took a stand that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Now from those who are men of reputation--what they once were makes no difference to me--there is
no favouritism with God those men of reputation imparted no fresh knowledge to me; but, on the
other hand, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the preaching of the gospel in the non-
Jewish world, just as Peter had been in the Jewish world--for he who worked for Peter. to make him
the apostle of the Jewish world, worked for me too to make me the apostle to the non-Jewish world--
and when they realized the grace that had been given to me, James, Cephas and John, whom all look
upon as pillars of the Church, gave pledges of partnership to me and to Barnabas. in complete
agreement that we should go to the non-Jewish world, and they to the Jewish world.
Barclay translation continues.
John R. Wible, Editor. Page 4
The one thing which they did enjoin us to do was to remember the poor--the very thing that I myself
was eager to do.
This follow on what Paul has said in Galatians 1 where he is giving his spiritual CV.
1:18-25. I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and I stayed with him a fortnight. I saw no other
apostle except James, the Lord's brother. As for what I am writing to you--before God I am not lying.
Then I went to the districts of Syria and Cilicia. But I remained personally unknown to the Churches
of Judaea which are in Christ. The only thing they knew about me was that they were hearing the
news--our one-time persecutor is preaching the faith which once he tried to devastate and they found
in me cause to glorify God.
Whether it was one trip or two, the outcome was the same. The Elders of the church, the very congregation
for which Paul had taken the offering, stated emphatically that Gentiles were completely free of the Law –
What does ―completely‖ mean? Taking the plain meaning, it means perfectly, totally and in every regard.
Where does that then leave us in regards to the Sabbath? I suggest that it is, like every jot and tittle of the
rest of the law, completely fulfilled in Jesus and holds no more sway on man, other than as guidance.
You might ask, ―Have you just abrogated all Ten of the Commandments?‖ As Paul would say, ―by no
means.‖ Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. In Mark 2:28 and Luke 6:5, Jesus
states that He is Lord of the Sabbath, referring to the Jewish Shabbat. The full passage in Mark is as follows.
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they
began to pick some heads of grain. 24
The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is
unlawful on the Sabbath?”
He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry
and in need? 26
In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the
consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28
So the Son of
Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”(NIV.)
Jesus’ use of ―even‖ in v. 27 should be noted. Another principle of interpretation is that each word should be
considered as intended to be there for a purpose. May I submit that the purpose here is to show emphasis.
Jesus is saying something quite radical, He is Lord (Kurios) even of the Shabbat. In His resurrection, Jesus
changed both its day and its meaning.
John R. Wible, Editor. Page 5
In fact, He subsumed all Ten Commandments in His affirmation of the Shema8
, ―thou shalt love the Lord thy
God . . . and thy neighbor as thyself.‖ Again applying the principle of stare lexis, let’s examine all the
Commandments and see what happened to them.
Barclay, in his Book on Matthew points out that the phrase, ―son of man,‖ while being one of Jesus’ favorite
self-titles, was a common way of merely saying ―man‖ or ―a man.‖ If one takes the whole passage as a unit,
it can be observed that Jesus has been speaking not of Himself, but of man in general. If that is the case,
Jesus is speaking in Hebrew parallel poetic structure, as quoted by Matthew, a Jew. Jesus is, then reiterating
that the Sabbath was made for man and man is the lord of it. While this is not the majority interpretation of
the passage, it certainly can be read in that manner. Interpreted either way, the passage diminishes the hold of
the slavery to the onerous Sabbath laws over the people, freeing them in the same manner as God freed them
from the slavery of Egypt.
Exodus 20:2-17 says in summary.
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself an image
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
5. Honor your father and your mother
6 You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8 You shall not steal.
9. You shall not [lie.]
10. You shall not covet.
It has been said that the Ten are in two groups; the first three are about relationship to God and the last 7
about relationship to man. It would seem that there is a third group composed only of Commandment
Number 4, Sabbath-Keeping. That Commandment appears to speak of proper relationship to one’s self.
Remember, Jesus said, ―love your neighbor as yourself?‖ How do you love yourself? By rest as the Sabbath
suggests, but also by taking care of your body.
The New Testament mentions the Sabbath no more than two times outside the Gospels, Acts and Galatians.
There is evidence that the Jewish believers continued to practice their Judaism on the Sabbath but that there
was really no connection between that and the honoring of the Lord on ―the Lord’s Day,‖ Resurrection
Sunday, on which, according to Acts 20:7, they met and broke bread together. This might have even been on
Saturday night, as to Jews, the new day began at sundown.
Deuteronomy 4:6-9; Leviticus 6:5.
John R. Wible, Editor. Page 6
Notably, Hebrews 4:9-10 is one of the Shabbat passages.
So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; 10
for whoever enters God’s rest also
ceases from his labors as God did from his.
Taken in the context of the preceding Chapter 3, that passage refers not to a day of the week but to a state of
final rest, IE. the blessing of God to which man aspires.
To the early Jewish church, our ―Sunday‖ would be named, Yom Reeshone¸ literally, ―First Day.‖ In the
Greek-influenced Roman world, the day was what we have transliterated as ―the Sun’s Day,‖ a veneration of
the Sun God. 9
The English language idea of naming the day after the Sun God goes back through ancient
Nordic mythology from which our English language is descended to the Greco-Roman idea of a day to
honor the Sun god.
It is interesting that in modern Greek, Sunday is named Κυριακή (Kuriake,) derived from the Greek Kurios
or Lord. Even in Russian, the name is Воскресенье (Voskreseniye,) meaning ―Resurrection.‖
But, let us not lose the point. I submit that there is a complete fulfillment of the Shabbat in the Resurrection
of the Lord and we are under no compunction to observe any vestiges of it. As Paul might say it, we are
slaves to a risen Lord whom we love, not to a day that must be observed with pomp and circumstance.
Do not hear me say that you don’t have to go to church. The writer of Hebrews teaches us:
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place[ a reference to the presence
of God, not to a particular Earthly place at a particular Earthly time]10
by the blood of Jesus, 20
new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21
and since we
have a great priest over the house of God, 22
let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of
faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is
and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25
our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another;. . . (Emphasis
The Greeks and Romans believed that the gods and the five observable planets were intertwined and that the planets, as physical
representations of the gods, ruled their lives. It is for that reason that they named the seven days of the week for the seven
observable heavenly bodies, the sun and moon and the five planets. Thus, they had first the Day of the Sun, then the Day of the
Moon, followed in order by the Day of Mars, the god of war; the Day of the “speedy” god, Mercury; the Day of the Big god, Jupiter;
the Day of the goddess of love, Venus; and finally, the Day of the Great god Saturn. These days were transposed in English-speaking,
Northern European Germanic inspired cultures by merely substituting their god of war, Tiu (Tuesday,) the fast god Oden or Woden
(Wednesday,) the Big god Thor (Thursday,) the goddess of love Frigga (Friday,) and keeping the Great god of the Romans, Saturn
John R. Wible, Editor. Page 7
D. Elton Trueblood, the great 20th
Century Quaker philosopher in his book, Foundations for Reconstruction,
Chapter 4 at p. 46, et seq., points out several things about the Jewish Shabbat. He states first that God made a
big deal out of the Shabbat when He proclaimed it in Exodus 20. It is the longest of the Commandments.
Secondly, keeping the Shabbat was a signal distinguishing point between the Jews and their Canaanite
neighbors. It was a mark of cultural distinction, a hallmark of their faith. It was important to their heritage as a
homogenious people that they meet once a week to worship God.
Thirdly, when the Babylonian Captivity of the 6th
Century BC took away their temple, they invented the custom
of the Synagogue, in which they met weekly on the 7th
Day and not only worshipped God, but also read the Law
and sustained teaching in righteousness. Taken with the previous paragraph, it can be said that the custom of the
Synagogue kept alive not only the meaning of the Shabbat, but the very cultural identity of the Jews.
It is one of the great mistakes of Jews of subsequent generations, that while they kept the form of the Shabbat,
they lost the meaning of it. Just as they did with the Scripture, they made the Shabbat, in effect, their god
thereby violating spirit of the first three Commandments. Having lost their concept of their relationship to God,
it was not at all a stretch for them to likewise, lose their concept of their relationship to each other and the man
in general. This spiritual blindness allowed them to misuse and abuse the poor, the widows, the orphans, the
sick, sore and lame. This blindness Jesus hated and these disadvantaged and marginalized people He so uplifted.
Trueblood holds that just as the original practice of the Shabbat served as a cultural rallying point for the
Jews, so the assembling together of the early Christians on the Lord’s Day gave and gives Christians a
central point of focus and community. It is, thus a practice not to be neglected.
While it can be said that it is not so important when 21st
Century Christians assemble together, IE, ―go to
church,‖ it is important that they assemble together. Paul ties it down in Romans 14:1-12.
14 As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. 2
believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. 3
Let not him who eats
despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has
welcomed him. 4
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master
that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.
One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let
every one be fully convinced in his own mind. 6
He who observes the day, observes it in honor of
the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who
abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7
None of us lives to himself, and
none of us dies to himself. 8
If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then,
whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9
For to this end Christ died and lived again,
that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living
John R. Wible, Editor. Page 8
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we
shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11
for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every
knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise]
So each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Emphasis added.)
What then, do you do on the Lord’s day? In my opinion, you may do or refrain from doing all things.
However, Paul says in Romans 6:12 that as a Christian, ―All things are lawful for me, but not all things are
helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.‖ Again, in verse 23 Paul
expresses the thought in the same formula. ―All things are lawful, but not all things build up.‖
Thus, we do those things on the Lord’s Day that are helpful and that build up. Philippians 4:8 enjoins us,
―Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.‖