God said remember - The Ten Commandments

The Sabbath

The book of Acts provides us with an inspired history of the early Christian church. During the period of time covered by this record, the apostles and those closely associated with them were the driving force within the new church. Under their direction the churches were largely preserved in purity of doctrine. The early Christian church of this time is, therefore, set forth as an example for all time to come. But, when we leave the apostolic period, we find that a great change came over the church. Gibbon describes this change very well. He pointed out that the task of the theologian to describe religion as it was in its original purity was a rather pleasant one compared to the duty that fell to the historian. The historian had the unpleasant task of describing the corruption and error that through the weakness and degeneracy of humanity, had entered the church over the long years since its beginning. (See The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. 15.)

Paul, in addressing the elders of the church at Ephesus said: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Acts 20:29–30

Grievous wolves were to enter the church of God, and from among them—leaders of the Christian church—men were to arise teaching perverse things. It follows from this testimony that we are not safe in accepting the teaching of those men who followed the apostles on the stage of action as teachers and leaders, except as they acted according to the teachings of the apostles.

An Apostasy in the Church Foretold

In writing to the church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul also wrote: “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [the Lord’s return] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, 7–8 (NKJV)

To Timothy, in like manner, he wrote: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2 Timothy 4:2–4

In these texts a great apostasy in the church is explicitly foretold. The apostle not only pointed to this condition as an event future to his time, but stated that even then, at the time he was writing, apostasy had already begun its baleful work within the church.

No Scripture for Sabbath Change

Though no statement asserting the change of the Sabbath can be found in the writings of the Fathers produced during the first three hundred years, many claim that their testimony furnishes decisive proof that the first day of the week is the Lord’s day of Revelation 1:10. A search of the Scriptures, however, reveals that there is only one day that both the Father and the Son claim as, in a peculiar sense, belonging to them, and that is the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. This evidence is set aside without answer, however, and the first day is claimed to have this honor.

The argument for Sunday sacredness rests on the argument that the term “Lord’s day,” as a name for Sunday, can be traced back to the disciples of John, and that it is the name by which it was familiarly known in John’s time. Even if we were to allow this to be the case, which we cannot, Sunday sacredness would still be revealed as purely a human institution. The facts are, however, that Scripture does not recognize Sunday as the Lord’s day. Seven times the writers of the sacred Scriptures, before John’s vision upon Patmos, refer to the first day of the week, and twice John mentions it in his Gospel, which he wrote after his return from that island. Never in a single instance is it called by any other name than “first day.” There are also references to the first day of the week some sixteen times by ecclesiastical writers of the second century before A.D. 194, but never in a single case is it called the Lord’s day.

When in A.D. 96 John said, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” clearly, he was speaking of the day which the Lord has set apart for Himself, which He claimed as His. This was true of the seventh day, but could not in any respect be claimed for Sunday. John could not, therefore, call the first day by this name, for it was not such. If the Spirit of God designed at this point to create a new institution and to call a certain day the Lord’s, which until this time He had never claimed, it was necessary that he should specify this as being the case. He did not, however, define the term, which all clearly proves that He was not giving a sacred name to some new institution. Instead, he was speaking of a well-known, divinely-appointed day. It was after John’s return from Patmos that he wrote the Gospel that bears his name. In that Gospel, John twice refers to the first day of the week. In both instances he followed the manner of the other sacred writers, making no mention of it having received a new sacred name, but only as the “first day”

The Early Church Kept the Sabbath

The early Christians observed the Sabbath in the most conscientious manner—otherwise, they would have been stoned. Instead of this, we learn from the book of Acts that at times they even received the grudging respect of their unbelieving nation. See Acts 5. To suppose that the keeping of Sunday had begun among them is to accept a supposition for which there is no probability. The Sabbath was a strong tie that united them with the life of the whole people. In keeping the Sabbath holy they followed not only the example, but also the command of Jesus.

For centuries, the Oriental churches in the east continued to keep the Sabbath. It was in the West that we find the change to Sunday first introduced.

“In many of the Oriental churches the Sabbath (Saturday) was still observed like Sunday, while in the West a large number, by way of opposition to Jewish institutions, held a fast on that day.” George Park Fisher, History of the Christian Church, (New York: Scribner, 1900), 118; quoted in Bible Students’ Source Book, (Washington D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1962), 866

Neander, a distinguished church historian, says, regarding the origin of Sunday observance:

“The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance, and it was far from the intentions of the apostles to establish a divine command in this respect, far from them, and from the early apostolic church, to transfer the laws of the Sabbath to Sunday. Perhaps at the end of the second century a false application of this kind had begun to take place; for men appear by that time to have considered laboring on Sunday as a sin.” Neander’s Church History, quoted in J. N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath, (Battle Creek, Michigan: Review and Herald Publishing Company, 1887), 231

Eusebius, a bishop during the time of Constantine, and a church historian, wrote concerning these we have transferred to the Lord’s day.” Commentary on the Psalms; quoted in A. T. Jones, The Great Empires of Prophecy, (Battle Creek, Michigan: Review and Herald Publishing Company, 1898), 479

Tradition versus Obedience

While it is true that Christ arose on Sunday, it does not follow that one should give up and forsake the Sabbath which God Himself has commanded, nor that we should seek to transfer that which marked the Sabbath to another day of the week, though that day may be memorable. To do this would require an equally definite command from God, abolishing the former command. But for such a command, there can be found no evidence. Neither the Saviour nor His followers ever broke the Sabbath. Had the Jews been able to sustain their charge against Him as a Sabbath breaker, as they tried to do, they would have had no need to bring false witnesses in order that they might secure His condemnation and death. It was because no fault could be found with Him, it was necessary that men should perjure their souls by testifying to a lie.

Christ has given no hint that the seventh-day Sabbath has ever been or ever could be changed, and no apostolic example for the change from the seventh to the first day of the week can be cited. The custom of observing the first day of the week instead of the seventh day of divine appointment has no authority save that of tradition and popular custom.

Very early in the history of the kings of Israel, the prophet Samuel came to Saul, charging him to carry out a mission appointed him by the Lord. In carrying out that assigned work he was to slaughter all the people of the Amalekites and their livestock.

Saul deviated somewhat from the command of the Lord, as given him by the prophet. Besides saving the king alive, a common practice carried out by victorious commanders of that day, he saved the best of the livestock. These animals were saved for the purpose of making sacrifices to the Lord.

The Lord revealed to Samuel what had taken place, and upon Saul’s return, Samuel went out to meet him, inquiring why he had done as he had. When the wayward king revealed the purpose in saving the best of the animals, instead of words of commendation from the prophet, words of strong rebuke fell upon his ears.

“And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” 1 Samuel 15:22–23

While on earth, Jesus addressed the folly of following church tradition, as opposed to the plain word of God. “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. . . . And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Mark 7:6–7, 9

When in ignorance we have transgressed God’s law, He is very understanding of that fact and accepts our best intentions, however wrongly they may have been expressed. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” Acts 17:30. When, however, the truth of His will is revealed to us, it then becomes a testing matter, the outcome of which reveals our true attitude toward God and His authority.

◄List of Tracts