Was The Sabbath From Creation?

William J. Stewart

A visitor to our web site asked:

The Sabbath was given at creation Genesis 2:2-3 before God gave Moses the 10 commandments so why don’t the church keep the Sabbath?

Was the Sabbath really given at creation? Notice:

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 2:2-3)

This text is certainly the basis for the Sabbath law which would be given at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:9-11), but the text itself is not the Sabbath law. It tells us what God did on the seventh day. It does not command Adam and Eve to observe the Sabbath, nor does it infer that God Himself did this on any subsequent seventh day. In fact, Jesus, having just healed a man on the Sabbath stated of Himself and the Father, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). The LORD’s rest at the end of the creation week did not become a perpetual day of rest for Him, nor is there any evidence in the book of Genesis that it was given as a statute for man at that time.

The first time the Sabbath is mentioned in the Bible is in Exodus 16. There, God gave instructions to His people regarding the manna. They were told to gather twice as much on the sixth day (v 4-5), but not immediately told why. On the sixth day, some gathered twice as much (v 22), others did not (v 27). The Sabbath is declared for the first time in Exodus 16:23, 25, 26, 29. It is evident from reading the text that the Sabbath command was a new experience for the people. Shortly thereafter, it would be recorded into their law at Mount Sinai.

If the Sabbath command was given at creation, surely Moses would have written something about Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, etc. keeping it. He didn’t. in fact, in Deuteronomy 5, Moses wrote:

The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD… (Deuteronomy 5:2-5).

Seven verses later, as Moses reviewed the law with the people of Israel, he mentioned the command for them to keep the Sabbath day holy. It was given to them, not to their fathers before them.

Notice what is recorded in Exodus 31:

   Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ’Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it

   is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations … You shall keep the

Sabbath, therefore for it is holy to you … the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever…  (Exodus 31:13-17)

It is exceptionally clear that the Sabbath covenant was established between God and the Israelites, and began after they were brought up from Egypt. It did not begin at creation and was not established with all creation. The idea that the Sabbath had been from the beginning of creation and that it was to continue to be observed by the church was strongly contested by prominent Christians in the second century AD, about 100 years after the time of the apostles. Both quotes are from Christians discussion with the Jews:

Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned, though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God; and after them Abraham with all his descendants until Moses… And you were commanded to keep Sabbaths, that you might retain the memorial of God. For His word makes this announcement, saying, ’That you may know that I am God who redeemed you.’ (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pg. 204)

Let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day because of threat of death, teach us that the earliest times righteous men kept Sabbath or practiced circumcision, so were made friends of God … Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised, and inobservant of the Sabbath, consequently his offspring also, Abel, offering His sacrifices, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was by Him commended. …Noah also, uncircumcised —yes, and inobservant of the Sabbath—God freed from the deluge. For Enoch, too, most righteous man, uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, He translated from this world. …Melchizedek also, ‘the priest of the most high God,’ uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, was chosen to the priesthood of God. (Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews 2:10; 4:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, pg 153)

The church is not subject to the Old Testament law. It was given to Israel for them to observe. There is not a single command to keep the Sabbath given to Christians; in fact, after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, we find that the Law of Moses was removed (Romans 7:1-7; 2 Corinthians 3; Galatians 3:22-25; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 8:6-13).

Sabbatarians generally claim that the day of worship was changed from the Sabbath to the first day of the week by the Pope or Constantine. There are a host of quotes from antiquity (Eusebius, Ignatius, Origin, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and more) predating both the establishment of the Catholic Church and the rule of Constantine which clearly demonstrate that Christians were worshiping on the first day of the week. But the true authority is the Scripture itself. As mentioned above, there is no New Testament command for Christians to worship on the Sabbath. In fact, there is one text which specifically tells Christians not to feel compelled to keep the Sabbath (Colossians 2:14-17). When we look for direction about what day Christians worshiped, we find two texts explicitly mentioning the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

The Christians were meeting on the first day of the week, and on that day they were “breaking bread” (communion), sharing a “message” (preaching), and they gave “the collection for the saints.” This was the day upon which they were worshiping. It was not a “Christian Sabbath” as some have called it, it is never referred to as a Sabbath in the Bible. The Sabbath (seventh day) was commanded of Israel in the Old Testament, not Christians in the New Testament.

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