7. Did Our Saviour Change the Sabbath?
THERE is a general agreement among leading commentators and ministers of nearly all denominations that the Sabbath was kept in the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve. That it came down through the patriarchal age as an institution of Jehovah, unimpaired in its obligation, and that the commandment given on Mount Sinai simply repeats the events which occurred at the close of the first week of time. All Christians believe that the Israelites were under obligation to keep the seventh day till the resurrection of Christ; but concerning its obligation since that time, opinions widely differ. Many Christians believe that the seventh day ceased to be the Sabbath, and that the first day of the week, upon which Christ rose from the dead, took its place as the Sabbath, by divine appointment, to be kept throughout the new dispensation. Others believe that the Sabbath law was abolished, and that we have no sacred day of rest now binding upon us.
Before examining the evidence usually adduced in support of Sunday keeping, it may be well to look briefly to the probabilities of the case. Could we reasonably expect that the Sabbath day, which had been kept for four thousand years, would be set aside, and another day, hitherto used for secular purposes, substituted? This would indeed be an act requiring great changes both in the lives and in the habits of the people—one which would attract universal attention. No one claims that the first day of the week had ever been recognized as a sacred day in any sense whatever among the Jewish people before the crucifixion of Christ. The seventh day had always, from the Exodus up to that point, been recognized by them as a weekly Sabbath. All admit that there never was a period in their history when it was more universally and strictly regarded than during our Savior’s ministry. Indeed, they carried their strictness to a great extreme, till it had become a burdensome yoke.
This was the condition of things at the death of Christ: “And the disciples and early believers, for several years after the crucifixion, were every one of Jewish birth, trained from their infancy to the strictest observance of the seventh day Sabbath. No Gentile was converted till Cornelius received a visit from St. Peter about three and a half years after the ascension.” Acts 10. Now, are we to suppose that all these Jews who believed in Christ suddenly changed their Sabbath day from the one they had always observed, and yet no record whatever was made concerning it? No command whatever for them to do this is claimed by any one. We cannot conceive of anything more improbable. Within a short time after Christ’s ascension, many thousands of pious Jews accepted the gospel. These not only regarded the moral law as binding, but still continued zealous observers of the ceremonial law. Many of them went so far as to teach that Gentiles must be circumcised also, and thus caused the apostles Paul and Barnabas great trouble. They were great sticklers for the rites and services of the law of Moses. Acts 15:1, 5; 21:20, 21. This feeling affected some even of the apostles, so that they requested Paul himself to show his respect for these Jewish customs. They evidently considered every Jewish convert tinder obligation to treat the ceremonial law with deference.
Can we suppose, then, without evidence of the strongest kind, that all at once they would drop the observance of the day they had always regarded as the Sabbath, and commence to observe another which they had never kept? Consider what a great change this would imply. The Jewish people had complained bitterly of Jesus because he would not treat with respect their traditions concerning the Sabbath, and tried to make it appear that he was a Sabbath breaker. Because he healed several persons of disease on the Sabbath day, or permitted his disciples to rub out the wheat heads when they were hungry, they made a great outcry, and tried to effect his condemnation. What shall we think, then, of the position which supposes that thousands of his disciples openly broke the Sabbath they had always kept before, and began the observance of the first day of the week as another Sabbath, when no complaint on the part of the Jews can be cited? It is true that not a word of censure can be found in all the gospel history after Christ’s crucifixion because of the disciples’ breaking the Sabbath. When we consider that these very disciples were persecuted bitterly by the Jews, who were most glad to find any occasion against them, would not such an omission be indeed most marvelous if the apostles were not still keeping the seventh-day Sabbath? And is not this fact evidence most positive that they did continue to observe it as before?
A change in the observance of a weekly Sabbath from the one which is customary in any community, always marks as peculiar those who do so, If they rest while others are busy, it is quickly noticed; if they work while the great majority rest, they are still more conspicuous. Even in this age of lax Sunday observance, when so many pay but little regard to it, let a person begin to keep the seventh day as the Sabbath, and he will be marked for miles around. He will be watched, and his course commented upon. Ministers in their pulpits will warn their hearers against such an example. And in some instances he will be arrested, if the laws will permit of it, even while men fish and hunt openly and railway trains run regularly, and other business is transacted.
What, then, would have been the effect at such a time of Jewish strictness in observing the seventh day, had the disciples no longer kept it, but taken up another day, never before held sacred, as the Sabbath? Every one of them would have been arrested and brought before the magistrates, charged with Sabbath breaking, and most likely would have been either imprisoned or stoned. The law existing and at that time universally acknowledged as in full authority, would have been on the side of the Jews. But not a single instance of the kind occurred, proving most emphatically that all these disciples continued to observe the seventh-day Sabbath as they always had, and as the people around them did. Hence it is utterly improbable that any change in the practice of Sabbath-keeping on the part of the disciples occurred at the time of Christ’s resurrection.
Evidence in the Evangelists
What does the sacred record say concerning the Sabbath and first day during this time? All of the four Evangelists speak of the Sabbath and first day in close connection with Christ’s resurrection. If any change of the Sabbath was ever made by divine authority, it must have been done at that time. All believers in the sacredness of Sunday admit this. They claim that previous to Christ’s resurrection the seventh day was the Sabbath by divine appointment; but subsequent to that event, the first day of the week was to be observed by Christians. They teach that this change was by the authority and example of Christ himself.
The only historical record existing in our world of the events occurring in connection with our Lord’s life, is that given by the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are emphatically Christian historians. We depend on them for our knowledge of the facts concerning the life and incarnation of the Son of God. They wrote for the Christian world in all ages. They were devoted Christians themselves. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit; for Christ promised that it should bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever he had said unto them. John 14:26. These things they wrote for our instruction; and we must suppose they call things by their right names, and use language correctly, else their writings would not be reliable.
It is supposed by the best authorities that Matthew wrote his Gospel about six years after Christ’s ascension; Mark about ten years; Luke, about twenty-eight years; and John, about sixty-three years. These historians, then, being Christians, writing for the Christians of all ages, and writing, too, many years after the Christian dispensation had begun, must have given all the facts essential to a perfect understanding of the doctrines of the gospel. Do they give us to understand that any change of the Sabbath had occurred and that the first day of the week had now become the weekly Sabbath by Christ’s appointment, while the seventh day had ceased to be such? Had such a change occurred, they must have been aware of it; and if they do not mention it, we may be sure no such change had been made. We will now notice every instance in which they speak of these two days in connection with Christ’s resurrection.
Matthew says: “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulcher.” Matthew 28:1. Sunday-keepers claim that six years before this was written, the Sabbath was changed and the first day of the week made the Sabbath. But Matthew states that the day before the first day was the Sabbath, and that the first day of the week did not come till the end of the Sabbath. Did the Spirit of God, speaking through this Christian historian, tell the truth?” If so, the day before the first day of the Week, viz., the seventh day, was still the Sabbath. Surely, nothing is said by this Evangelist implying any change.
Mark gives this statement: “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the other of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.” “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” Mark 16:1, 2, 9. These words, written some ten years after the events recorded, state that the Sabbath was past before the first day of the week began. First-day writers tell us that Mark, with the other disciples, had been keeping the first day of the week as the Sabbath for ten years when he wrote this. Can we believe such a statement? Would he apply “Sabbath” to a day which he did not regard as such, and refrain from calling the one “Sabbath” which he did observe. This would be most surprising, yea, utterly unreasonable. We must conclude that Mark still acknowledged the ancient Sabbath as identical with the one he observed.
Luke speaks of these days as follows: “That day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on. And the women, also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulcher, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment. Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulcher, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.” Luke 23:54-56; 24:1.
More than twenty years after the supposed change of the Sabbath, this historian, perfectly conversant with the facts of gospel history (Luke 1:3), makes these statements:
(1) The day previous to the first day of the week was the Sabbath.
(2) It was the “Sabbath day according to the commandment.”
(3) The holy women, the affectionate companions of Christ, still kept it as such.
(4) They did things on the first day of the week they would not do on the Sabbath, i.e., came to do the laborious work of embalming a dead body, thus showing conclusively that they had not yet learned that any sacredness was attached to Sunday.
From these plain facts we must conclude, first, that Luke had not been keeping Sunday as the Sabbath during the twenty-eight years since Christ’s crucifixion, or he would have given it that title, and not called the day before it such.
Secondly, if the day before the first day of the week was the “Sabbath day according to the commandment,” as Inspiration says, then most certainly the commandment does not at the same time require or authorize us to keep Sunday. The same command does not require us to keep two different days.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” consequently Sunday is not the Sabbath according to the commandment.
Thirdly, this commandment does have an authoritative existence this side of the cross of Christ; for it still required these women to rest on the seventh day. It had not expired when Christ was crucified, nor had it been “nailed to the cross”; for an abolished commandment can require nothing. If it existed one day this side of the cross, it still exists; and no one claims it was abolished unless done at the cross. Therefore, the law requiring the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath still exists. Nothing whatever in this connection indicates any change of the Sabbath.
John speaks as follows: “The first day of the week comes Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and sees the stone taken away from the sepulcher.” “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and says unto them, Peace be unto you.” John 20:1, 19. These words were written by the “beloved disciple” more than sixty years after the resurrection of our Lord, after nearly all the other disciples who were personally acquainted with our Savior had passed away. If he had been keeping Sunday as the only true Sabbath, or giving it tiny divine honor during this time, who can believe he would not have indicated it in some way? But he does not; he simply calls it by its usual secular title—the one by which it had been known for four thousand years. He attaches no sacredness to it whatever. He does not call it the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day, and gives no command for its observance, not a hint of any superiority above the working days; nor do any of these writers.
There are certain claims put forth by first-day writers concerning this last-mentioned instance, which we will notice in due time. We know of no first-day advocate who claims to find any evidence of Sunday sacredness, or of a change of the Sabbath, in any of these six instances where the first day of the week is mentioned, except the one last quoted. If the Sabbath was changed, is this not surprising? If it was ever changed by divine authority, here is the point where all admit the change must have been wrought. Yet none of the Christian historians who give any record of the events where this change is supposed to have occurred, mention such a change, or give a single hint of it. They wrote at different periods for about two-thirds of a century, and give an account of all the events in Christ’s life and all of his teachings which the Holy Spirit thought necessary for the proper instruction of the generations to come, but failed entirely to mention or notice any change of the Sabbath. On the contrary, they state positively, over and over, that that day was still the Sabbath which had been since God instituted it.
The Law Honored by Christ
We may well inquire at this point, why should any person suppose the Son of God would desire to change the creation Sabbath? This day was a memorial of the Creator, given to man as he was made, to be kept, and was perpetuated through all the patriarchal ages. Placed in God’s moral law of Ten Commandments by the Creator himself, proclaimed by his voice and written by his finger in the imperishable tablets of stone. Deposited in the ark under the mercy-seat, the very center of that whole system of worship, in the most holy place of the sanctuary and temple: honored as God’s day for four thousand years. Why should Christ desire to change it for another day? Was there lack of sympathy and union between the Father and the Son? Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.” John 10:30. He prayed that his disciples might be one as he and his Father are. John 17:11, 21. This oneness is not in personality, but in purpose, in effort. They are perfectly united in all they do. Would the Son then set aside his Father’s memorial, and institute another to take its place?
The prophet declares that the Messiah “will magnify the law, and make it honorable.” Isaiah 42:21. The Sabbath was an important part of that law. Could he make the law honorable by abolishing the Sabbath, which was a part of it, or changing it to another day? Such changes would disgrace rather than honor it. It would be a strange way to make a thing honorable, by putting it out of existence.
When the Messiah came, he declared that he did not come to destroy the law. “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least [be of no esteem, as Whiting translates it] in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-18. Therefore every portion of the law shall continue till the heavens pass away. This must include the Sabbath which that law enjoins. Thus our Savior magnified every part of the law.
Christ declares he “kept his Father’s commandments.” John 15:10. Is not his example to be followed by all his disciples? He declares himself “the Lord of the Sabbath,” and says it was “made for man.” Mark 2:27, 28. The word “Lord” here must be used in the sense of protector or guardian, and not destroyer. Sarah called Abraham “lord” (I Peter 3:6); she certainly did not mean that he was her destroyer. We call Christ “our Lord”; we mean he has authority over us, cares for us, and looks after our welfare. This was what he intended to do for the Sabbath, according to this statement. Most assuredly, then, he did not abolish it, or change it for a secular day.
But would not Christ desire to change the Sabbath to the first day of the week, that he might have a memorial set apart to commemorate his own work? Many claim this. We reply: The seventh day Sabbath answered this very purpose. Who was the active agent in making this world, in calling into existence this creation?—The Son of God. He it was who “made the worlds”; “for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth.” Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16. God “created all things by Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 3:9. “All things were made by Christ, the Word.” John 1:3. Therefore the seventh-day Sabbath, which is a memorial of the work of creation, Christ himself taking six days in which to perform this grand origination, commemorates the work of the Son as much as that of the Father. We thus see beauty and propriety in the language of Jesus, when he calls himself the “Lord of the Sabbath.” The miserable perversion of the institution by Jewish traditions, from one of gratitude, mercy, and refreshment to a burdensome yoke, demanded such action from one of the founders of the Sabbath.
The Destruction of Jerusalem
One of the last instructions of our Lord to his disciples, about two days before his crucifixion, shows his interest in them and his solicitude for the Sabbath: “Pray you that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day.” Matthew 24:20. He was foretelling the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, and giving his disciples directions how to escape it. Eleven hundred thousand Jews, rejecting that instruction, miserably perished. He says, “When you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” Luke 21:20. Some little time previous to the final surrounding of Jerusalem by the Roman army under Vespasian and Titus, the sign was fulfilled. Cestius, another general, did compass Jerusalem with a Roman army, and according to Josephus (Jewish Wars, Book 2, Chapter 19) might easily have taken it; but “he retired from the city without any reason.” Whereupon, every Christian left the city, and fled away to Pella, sixty miles distant. When the Romans returned to invest the city, the disciples were in safety.
Christ foretold this event, and instructed his followers to pray that the time of this flight might not occur upon the Sabbath day or during the winter season. In the latter case it would have involved much suffering, as they were to go in the greatest haste. No other reason can be given why they were instructed to pray that their flight might not be on the Sabbath, than the Lord’s desire that they should not be compelled to break it in order to escape.
For nearly forty years, the disciples in Judea, as instructed by the Lord of the Sabbath, were to plead with God that their flight might not occur on the Sabbath. This proves: (1) That there was to be a Sabbath in the year A.D. 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed. (2) That this was certainly the Sabbath which was in existence when Christ spoke these words, viz., the seventh-day Sabbath, as it would be most absurd to suppose that Christ spoke of any other day than the one they were then keeping. (3) That we have here the strongest indication of the Savior’s desire that his disciples should keep the ancient Sabbath after the Christian dispensation had begun.
If he wished them to keep it, is not his desire just as great that we should keep it? Could such an injunction be found in the words of Christ, that the disciples should thus regard Sunday, how eagerly would first-day observers claim it as evidence in their favor!
In view of these considerations, we again ask, why should any one conclude that Christ had the remotest idea of instituting another Sabbath, and setting aside the ancient Sabbath of four thousand years’ standing? No intimation of it is given in a word of his or of his historians. That ancient Sabbath had answered all the wants of God’s patriarchs, prophets, and holy men for all these ages. He had told the Jews that if they would keep it sacred, their city should stand forever. Jeremiah 17:25. Christ himself had observed it all his life, as had all his disciples. What reason can be assigned for its being changed? Do not Christians as well as Jews need to keep in mind the great work of creation? We must conclude that no such change occurred.