What Does the Bible Teach Us About Sunday (Sabbath) Observance?
I often get asked what I believe about Sunday, or Sabbath observance. So let’s start with making a clear distinction between the Sabbath instructions in the Old Testament and the Sunday, commands, or practices in the a New Testament.
3 “‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.” - Leviticus 23:3
The only thing God required of the Israelites was that they not work on the Sabbath. No synagogue worship, no singing, no offerings. Nothing. They did this on Saturday in our calendar, the last day of the week, because God rested on the last day of his creation. However, there is an interesting phrase in that verse which we often over look, “a day of sacred assembly.” What is that?
If you read on in Leviticus 23 God describes some of them, like Passover and Harvest Feasts, but none tied to Sabbath observance. So what is a “sacred assembly” on the Sabbath when you do not assemble with others? Theologians have assumed rightly, I think, that God is referring to the assembly of your family to remember the kindness of God in freeing them from slavery in Egypt. But there is no clear command for from God about how that works.
But that was the Old Testament given to Israel, for Israel. When we get to the New Testament there are almost no descriptions for what we are to do on Sunday. The early Christian church chose Sunday as their Holy Day as opposed to Saturday because Jesus rose from the dead on that day. But no command from either Jesus, or God on that.
Jesus Sabbath Practices
However, the gospels repeatedly mention Jesus personal attendance at synagogue services. Mind you nowhere in the Bible does God command Israel or us in the New Testament to attend synagogue service weekly. That was a practice which began when the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. They were fearful if they did not meet regularly to read Torah and worship God they would forget him. No, "Thus sayeth the Lord," yet Jesus picked up the habit himself.
35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. - Matthew 9:35
15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, - Luke 4:15-16
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? - Mark 6:1-2
It could every well have been that Jesus went to the synagogue to teach during the week, not to worship. Not all those verses say he went every Saturday. However the early church began meeting at first daily, then weekly on Sunday, why? We don’t really know for sure. It could be that Jesus taught them to do that. Just because because a command doesn’t appear in the four gospel books doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t have something to say about it. Jesus’ ministry lasted about three years. For sure there were all kinds of things Jesus talked about that are not recorded in our Bible.
But more importantly, if every Christian’s goal is to be more like Jesus, and Jesus did in fact regularly attended an assembly of Jewish people, then that should be a good enough reason for Christians.
Pauls Sabbath Practices
Paul went to synagogues regularly, wherever he went. The Bible isn’t always clear why he did it either. It could have been to worship but most theologians believe he went primarily to teach Jews who were already meeting on the Sabbath, predisposed to believe in God and who expected a Messiah. They were what we often call “low hanging fruit” evangelisticly. In any case the Bible says it was his custom.
When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, - Acts 17:1-2
The only two verses we have in the New Testament that may be about Sunday worship are these;
25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:25 Note; The phrase “meeting together,” does say how often or when.)
2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. - I Corinthians 16:2 (This verse just instructs Christians to save an amount weekly for a gift for other Christians.”
The Bottom Line
I believe that regularly attending a worship service weekly is a good discipline and is wise for the reasons the Jewish people in captivity met- to read Scripture, hear a message from their rabbi, pray and worship, so they would never forget. Sunday worship is a wisdom choice, not a command. We should do so out of love for God and because we want to spend time with others who love him as well.