Should You Observe the Sabbath?
“WHO cares about the Sabbath?” So say many people today who regard it simply as an opportunity to enjoy themselves. But for Jews and members of certain religions of Christendom the Sabbath is a serious matter. To illustrate: In Jerusalem Jews have recently been stoned for driving cars on the Sabbath (Saturday) by other more strict Jews who claim that combustion or fire in car engines is against sabbatical law.
Some Protestants still have great respect for Sunday, which they view as the Sabbath. For example, many people in South Africa piously refrain from such things as sports and disapprove of swearing on Sundays. However, they see nothing wrong in driving cars to church nor for their servants, often fellow Protestants, to work hard preparing a Sunday dinner. Generally speaking, Catholics take a lenient view. Pope John said that sports after Sunday church services can be good for body and spirit.
Obviously there are very divergent views about the Sabbath. Is it Saturday or Sunday? And should Christians observe it? To answer, let us go back to the origin of the Sabbath as told in the most reliable history book of all time—the Bible.
In the year 1513 B.C.E. the Israelites were on trek in the wilderness en route to Mount Sinai and were running out of food. So God provided manna for them for six consecutive days but none on the seventh. (Ex. 16:22-30) For the first time Jehovah made it a law for his people to rest on the seventh day.
Later, at Mt. Sinai, this law was incorporated into the Ten Commandments, the fourth of which stated: “Remembering the sabbath day to hold it sacred, . . . do all your work six days. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Jehovah your God.” It also applied to servants and domestic animals. (Ex. 20:8-11) It was to be a day of complete rest, no wood was to be gathered or fires lit, and the penalty for breaking it was death. (Ex. 35:1-3) Moreover, it was an arrangement only for Israel: “Between me and the sons of Israel it is a sign to time indefinite.”—Ex. 31:16, 17.
Was all of this just a lot of ritual? No, the Sabbath was very beneficial for the Israelites. Physically the weekly rest was good for them. More importantly, the Sabbath provided an opportunity for activities that renewed the spirit, such as reading and discussing God’s Word. The Sabbath was good for families as well, affording opportunity for parents to teach their children about God.
Did Israel keep the Sabbath? Sometimes. However, after their return from exile in Babylon (537 B.C.E.), the Jewish religious leaders imposed many added man-made restrictions. They even made it unlawful to catch a flea on the Sabbath! With such a petty, fanatical attitude on their part, it is no wonder that Christ offended the religious leaders of his day. Because he did not uphold their concept of the Sabbath they were “beside themselves with anger,” and planned to murder Jesus.—Matt. 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11, The New English Bible.
After Jesus’ death profound changes took place. Under the guidance of God’s spirit the early Christians realized that they were no longer under the Law and that “Christ is the end of the Law.” (Rom. 10:4; 6:14, 15) Hence, they were no longer bound to make animal sacrifices, pay tithes, be circumcised or keep the Sabbath. The apostle Paul wrote: “By means of his flesh he [Christ] abolished . . . the Law of commandments.”—Eph. 2:15.
Again and again the Bible makes it clear that Christians are not under the Law, that it was ‘taken out of the way,’ nailed to Christ’s torture stake. “Therefore let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a festival . . . or of a sabbath.”—Col. 2:13-16.
Of course, the apostles did use the Sabbath as an occasion to preach to the Jews assembled in their synagogues. But they were no longer under obligation to keep the Sabbath. When Gentiles became Christians they were not put under any sabbatical law; nevertheless, they did receive holy spirit. (Acts 10:44, 45) Interestingly, at a council in Jerusalem to discuss the requirements for Gentiles, some believers who had been Pharisees wanted Gentile converts “to observe the law of Moses,” which included both circumcision and the Sabbath. But the decision of the apostles included neither. (Acts 15:1, 2, 5, 28, 29) Hence, Paul wrote to both Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome: “One man judges one day as above another; another man judges one day as all others; let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.”—Rom. 14:5.
In the second century C.E., the foretold apostasy crept in among Christians. Later, in 321 C.E., the Roman emperor Constantine, anxious to favor the already corrupted Christianity of his day, made a law that Sunday should be observed. He insisted that the day was sacred to the sun. This was pagan, not Christian. Apostate Christendom today, with flagging zeal and varying views, still recognizes dies solis, the day of the sun!
From a careful study of the Bible these important points clearly emerge: that if a day should be observed it would be Saturday, the seventh day;* that the Sabbath law was only for ancient Israel; that it was never repeated or given to Christians (as was the law concerning sanctity of blood—Acts 15:19, 20); and that “Christ is the end of the Law,” including the Sabbath. (Rom. 10:4) Hence, for those “scrupulously observing days and months,” the apostle Paul wrote: “I fear for you, that somehow I have toiled to no purpose respecting you.”—Gal. 4:10, 11.
But the Sabbath was admittedly a beneficial law. If Christians don’t have to keep it, are they not going to miss out on the benefits? Not at all.
For example, in areas where Sunday church attendance is popular, people complain about “Sunday Christians.” By this they mean persons who feel that going to church on what they consider the Sabbath makes up for a week of conduct that is anything but Christian. Such persons are not fooling God, are they? They have missed the point of the Sabbath.
What was the point of the Sabbath?
By stopping their other activities on the Sabbath, God’s ancient faithful people showed that His worship was the most important thing in their lives. As they read and discussed God’s Word on that day they showed their belief that “man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.”—Matt. 4:4.
Really, shouldn’t Christians show they believe these things every day of their lives? If a Christian refuses to let his secular job interfere with his service to God, is he not keeping the spirit of the Sabbath? How about the Christian who buys out time every day to read God’s Word and apply its principles to his daily conduct?
Jesus healed people on the Sabbath as well as on other days, so isn’t every day a good day to apply the exhortation, “Really, then, as long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all”? (Gal. 6:10) Sincere Christians doing these things may not keep a special day—but they truly honor God’s Sabbath!
Christ was resurrected on the first day of the week (Sunday); but the Bible contains absolutely no instruction to set aside that day of the week as sacred.
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Not ‘Desecrating the Sabbath’
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES visit people in their homes to discuss the Bible every day of the week. In this they imitate Jesus Christ and the apostles.
From time to time local communities have charged the Witnesses with ‘desecrating the Sabbath,’ because they make house-to-house calls on Sunday. How have the courts viewed this matter? Typical are the following quotes from the Iowa Supreme Court:
“We are not prepared to hold that the calling at private homes in the middle of the Sabbath day, however unwelcome the caller may be, in itself, constitutes a desecration of the Sabbath.”
How about the leaving of Bible literature for a nominal contribution? Is that ‘selling on the Sabbath’? In this regard the court continued:
“[The Witnesses] were teaching and spreading their religious views without compensation and at their own expense. . . . The commercial aspect of sales was absent. We do not think the statute contemplates that the distribution of booklets of this nature and under these particular circumstances constitutes desecrating the Sabbath.”—Supreme Court of Iowa, State v. Mead et al., 1941.