The question of whether Christians should keep the Sabbath is very controversial today. The historic, Reformed position is that the Sabbath, along with the other nine commandments of the Ten Commandments, are still binding for Christians to obey today.
Arguments for the Necessity of Christians Keeping the Sabbath Today
Mark 2:23-28 – The Sabbath Was Made for Man
Full Article: The Sabbath and Mark 2:23-28 – “The Sabbath Was Made for Man”
23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of[a] Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And 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.”
In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus does not say that the Sabbath was made for the Israelite nation, but rather that it was made for man. This suggests at least two things:
- Jesus is saying that the origin of the Sabbath was not Sinai, which was only for the Israelite nation, but rather creation—for Adam and all of his descendants.
- The purpose of the Sabbath is humanitarian in nature, and is thus more general and universal than merely a ceremonial ordinance given in a temporary covenant.
The Sabbath Is a Creation Ordinance
One argument for why the Sabbath is still a relevant command for Christians today is that it is a creation ordinance, which means that it existed even during Adam’s pre-fallen state and did not begin with the Mosaic covenant at Sinai.
To read more about the Sabbath as a creation ordinance, see Is the Sabbath a Creation Ordinance?
Genesis 2:1-3 – The Sabbath Is a Creation Ordinance
Full Article: The Sabbath Is a Creation Ordinance – Genesis 2:1-3
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.Genesis 2:1-3
From Genesis 2:1-3, we learn and observe the following:
- In creation, God worked for six days and rested on the seventh.
- As God’s image-bearers, we are to imitate God’s pattern of working and resting.
- The Sabbath would have been known and practiced by Adam as either an explicit command or a law written upon his heart in the same way that all of the Ten Commandments were written on man’s heart from creation. Adam would have been aware of the Sabbath pattern through knowledge of God’s pattern of working and resting during creation.
- A person does not need an explicit command to know that he ought to do something. For example, Cain knew that murdering his brother was wrong, even though we do not see an explicit command against murder in the creation account (Cain lied to God to try to cover it up [Genesis 4:9]).
Genesis 4:3-4, Exodus 16:4-30 – The Sabbath Before Sinai
Full Article: The Sabbath Existed Before Sinai – Exodus 16:4-30, Genesis 4:3-4
Genesis 4:3-4 – “In the course of time”
3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,
The literal translation of the phrase, “in the course of time,” is, “at the end of days.” The most likely and reasonable meaning of this phrase is, “at the end of the seven-day week,” which strongly suggests that the pattern of the Sabbath was known about and practiced long before Sinai. For a more comprehensive defense of this position, see The Sabbath Existed Before Sinai – Exodus 16:1-30, Genesis 4:3-4.
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”
23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” 24 So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”
27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
The most reasonable interpretation of this passage is that the Sabbath was an institution that the Israelites would have already been familiar with, which demonstrates that the Sabbath was known about and practiced long before Sinai. For a full defense of this position, see The Sabbath Existed Before Sinai – Exodus 16:1-30, Genesis 4:3-4.
Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15 – Sinai and the Fourth Commandment
Was the Sabbath a New Command?
Full Article: Was the Sabbath a New Command at Sinai? (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, Ezekiel 20, Nehemiah 9) (p. 84)
Are the Ten Commandments Ceremonial and Temporary, or Eternal and Universal Moral Laws?
Full Article: Are the Ten Commandments Ceremonial and Temporary, or Eternal, Universal Moral Laws?
Is the Sabbath “Positive Law”, Different from the Other Nine Commandments?
Full Article: Is the Sabbath “Positive Law”, Different from the Other Nine Commandments?
Answers to Objections
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Full Article: The Sabbath and Colossians 2:16-17 – “Sabbath” vs “Sabbaths”
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Some argue that Colossians 2:16-17 teaches that the “Sabbath” was merely “a shadow of things to come.” However, the Sabbath referred to in Colossians 2:16-17 is different from the Sabbath instituted in the Ten Commandments, or the moral law. The “Sabbath” referred to in Colossians 2:16-17 is grouped with other ceremonical, typological, and temporary parts of the Old Testament law such as “new moons” and “appointed feasts. Colossians 2:16-17 simply does not say anything about the Sabbath that is part of the Ten Commandments.
The Sabbath Is a Burden
Full Article: Is the Sabbath a Burden or a Blessing?
Some argue that it makes sense that the Sabbath is no longer a command that Christians must obey because it is burdensome to obey the Sabbath. However, Scripture teaches that the Sabbath was designed by God to be a blessing, or a delight, not a burden.
Scriptures on the Sabbath
This is a list of Scripture passages that either support, or are related to, the Sabbath: 17 Bible Verses About Sabbath (ESV)
More Resources on Christians Keeping the Sabbath
To read more about the Reformed position concerning the Sabbath, check out the following resources: