Is Saturday the Sabbath?

The Sabbath July 9, 2013

Most everyone knows the story of Galileo, arguing in the 1600s that the earth moved around the sun, instead of vice versa. And, if you remember, for his trouble poor Galileo was in danger of getting thrown in the royal prison, if not worse.

Today, we all know he was right: it’s the earth moving around the sun, not the sun moving around the earth. Only a buffoon thinks otherwise.

However, if you put yourself in the position of people back then, the truth was not so obvious. For starters, the sun sure looks like it is moving across the sky, doesn’t it? Second, the earth sure feels stationary, right? And if the earth were really moving, why when birds fly are they not instantly blow in the opposite direction of the earth’s rotation?

No wonder that most people for almost all of human history thought it was the sun, not the earth, in motion.

All of which leads to an important point: how often the truth isn’t what it seems to be or what the majority often thinks it is.

Take, for instance, the fourth commandment, the Sabbath day. In most every country of the world, most Christian people go to church on Sunday, believing that Sunday, not Saturday, is the Sabbath day, or at least the day now recognized as special in the New Testament.

We humbly suggest, though, that this is another case of the majority getting it wrong.

The New Testament never talks about the Sabbath as anything other than Saturday, the seventh day, as seen in the fourth commandment (See Exodus 20: 8-11). It was the day that Jesus always kept, too. “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). Paul also had the same custom: “As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2).

The misconception about the Sabbath being changed from the seventh day to the first—or even being abolished—often comes from the battles Jesus had with the religious leaders over the Sabbath. But if one reads every account of those incidents, what is clear is that the issue of which day to keep never came up. Instead, in every case, the controversy was over how to keep the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday); it was never over whether it should still be kept or whether a new day (Sunday) should replace it.

For example, on one Sabbath Jesus entered a synagogue and approached a man with a withered hand, whom He promptly healed. Knowing that He would face opposition, Jesus said to the religious leaders: “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9). Jesus never hinted, either in this account, or in any other one (See Matthew 12:1-6; Luke 13:10-17; John 5:1-10), that the Sabbath was anything other than the seventh day, Saturday.

Indeed, why would He have bothered to teach the people what was proper or improper to do on the seventh-day Sabbath if His intention were to change it to another day or to abolish it altogether? The mere fact that He was accused of violating the Sabbath by healing shows how the commandment had been perverted because nothing in the Bible forbade doing good deeds on the Sabbath. The only thing Jesus wanted to change about the seventh day was how it was kept; nothing He said or did indicated that the day itself was to be replaced by another one.

Jesus, both by example and by command, showed that the seventh day, Saturday, is still the Sabbath. It’s a truth as obvious as the earth moving around the sun.

No, even more obvious, we think.