Hebrew Roots/Neglected Commandments/Sabbath/Apologetics/Basis
THE BASIS OF SABBATH KEEPING
Due to the fact that the "Church" has come under the influence of Hellenestic and Roman philosophy and has lost contact with its Hebraic roots, another 'gospel' has been spawned that is based on misconceptions about the practises of the early assembly.
When the New Testament was being written, the entire "Christian Church" throughout the known world of that time was part of the established structure of Judaism and was regarded as a sect of Judaism, and observed the Sabbath day. As late as the 80's and 90's of the first century, when the last words of the New Testament were being written, the New Testament assembly universally observed the seventh day Sabbath.
The Hebraic Roots of the Early Assembly The believers in Messiah had all grown up attending synagogue and had learned to read the Scriptures in synagogue schools. The Sabbath was the fourth of the Ten Commandments. It was the heart and core of the nation's covenant with Yahweh (Exodus 20:8-11).
For the Jewish believers of those days, the Sabbath lay at the very heart of the identity of their God. The Sabbath, then, was not merely a sign of who the Jews were, but the sign that identified who their God was - by name. "Verily my Sabbaths you shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am Yahweh." Exodus 31:13
For a Jew in that time and place, changing the Sabbath was unthinkable. It would be tantamount to changing his God. The Sabbath was not going away. It was a perpetual covenant to last forever. It even carried the penalty of death for a presumptuous violation. For a Jew of the first century, the Sabbath could not be taken lightly. They all knew from Ezekiel's prophecies that the failure to keep the sign of the Sabbath was a direct reason why they had spent 70 years in Babylonian exile. So they had no questions about the Sabbath or when it was. It was perhaps the most crucial of all their laws and customs.
When Y'shua walked onto the scene, the seventh day, Sabbath was an established and honored tradition in every sect of Judaism. There were Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and others and they were divided on many issues, but they were not divided on the importance of the Sabbath day or on the observance of the Sabbath on the day appointed, as the identifying sign that they were worshiping Yahweh and not another deity.
Keeping the Sabbath had been drilled into the conscience of every Jew, it was woven into their faith. It was not a mere "doctrine" that could be changed. The new covenant was a fulfillment of the promises made to them by the prophets, so rather than a change to the basic foundations of their faith, the new covenant was built upon the foundation of the apostles of Y'shua and the prophets of old. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ephesians 2:20
So there was no change - that was the whole basis of the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost and later Stephen to their brethren, that "this is that" of which the prophets spoke. Acts 2:22-36; 3:19-26; 7:51-53
For over twenty years after the ascension of Messiah, the 'Church' was still composed entirely of Jews and proselytes (Gentile converts to the Jewish religion). There was no wholesale conversion of Gentiles until Paul and Barnabas went on their first missionary journey in Acts 13. With their preaching to the non-Jews in each place, after the Jews had either received or rejected the message, the first 'Gentiles' began to come into the kingdom. This was the commencement of 'Gentiles' being admitted into the faith without becoming proselytes and converting to Judaism. Note that with their entrance, there is no instructions making obsolete the Torah of Judaism (and hence Sabbath-keeping), excepting that which was done away by the sacrifice of Y'shua, which applied both to Jew and to Gentile. This silence is highly significant.
At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, they were given four mandatory things from which they were told to abstain, on the understanding that they would learn the Torah (Yahweh's instructions) as they continued to hear Moses preached in the synagogue wherever they lived, week by week on the Sabbath day. Acts 15:20-21
Everywhere, especially in the East of the Roman Empire, there were Jewish Messianic believers whose outward way of life would not be markedly different from that of the Jews. They took for granted that the gospel was continuous with Judaism; for them the new covenant, which Y'shua had set up at the last supper with his disciples and sealed by his death, did not mean that the covenant made between Yahweh and Israel was no longer in force. They still observed the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; they also continued to keep the weekly Sabbath and the Mosaic regulations concerning food. (W.D. Davies, "Paul and Jewish Christianity", 1972, p. 72)
Preaching/Evangelism on the Sabbath When Paul in his unconverted state was persecuting the believers, it was to the synagogues that he went to take hold of them. See Acts 9:1-2. This is proof, that as they were attending the synagogue, they were still keeping the Sabbath. When Paul was himself arrested, he made a revealing remark - ".. I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on you." Acts 22:17- 19
And we see the pattern after he was converted that it was to the synagogues that he went to preach the gospel.
As Paul and Barnabus went preaching from place to place that they continued to do so on the Sabbath and there is no record of it being done on another day - "But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and you that fear God, give audience." (Acts 13:14- 16)
The Gospel had to go to the Jew first, and naturally on the Sabbath. There is no indication of a change to the Sabbath, if there had been there would have been an outcry against Paul with something as fundamental as the sabbath being violated, and there is no such record, whereas we do have recorded accounts of the Jews rejecting Paul's message regarding Messiah.
"And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Acts 13:42-45 (This uproar was not because of a change in the day of assembly and worship. This was on the Sabbath day)
"Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his custom was, went in unto them, and for three sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating, that the Messiah had to suffer, and rise again from the dead; and saying, this Y'shua, whom I preach unto you, is the Messiah." Acts 17:1-3 NKJ (At this late date, it was still Paul's "manner," to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Acts 17:2). The word is the same as the word used for Y'shua of His "custom" to go to the synagogue on the sabbath. (Luke 4:16) Yes, Paul went to the synagogue, because that was where the Jews were, so he could preach to them. But that is not why Luke says he went there. Luke says that going to synagogue on the Sabbath was still Paul's custom.)
Misconceptions of Sunday Worship Many have understood that in the instances where "the first day of the week" is mentioned that this refers to Sunday and that the disciples were meeting for worship on that day.However , this is incorrect.
In Hebrew, days of the week were not identified in that manner. The Hebrew manner of designating Sunday was to call it "the morrow after the Sabbath", and not the first day of the week. That is not what is used in the text in these verses.
Second, in every case, the word used for "week" is "Sabbaths" in the plural, and the word "day" is missing altogether - in every one of these eight instances. So, it is an erroneous translation as "first day of the week".
The New Testament was written in Greek, but there is no Greek word for "week" in any of those eight scriptures. In fact, there is no Greek word for "week" found in the New Testament at all. In every case where the word "week" is found in the English translation, the word for it in Greek is derived from SABBATON, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word, Sabbath. The very idea of "week," to a Jew, was based on the Sabbath and all the other days related to it.
There are eight occasions where this phrase "first of the weeks" occurs in the new covenant scriptures, and six of them refer to the one occasion. This is how the first instance of this phrase reads in the NKJV: "Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb." ( Matt. 28:1)
And here is how it reads literally translated from the Greek: "Now after the Sabbath, as the first of the Sabbaths (plural) began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb."
What does the expression "first of the Sabbaths began to dawn" mean seeing it was a Sunday morning?
If we understand the plural of the word "Sabbath" as used here to refer to "weeks" (not the singular "week"), then what we are looking at is "The first day of the weeks." (it is probably correct to insert the word "day" in this passage)
There are seven weeks, seven Sabbaths between this day and the Feast of Pentecost (Lev. 23:14-15). The day that is being referenced here is the first day of the 50 day countdown leading to Pentecost. So this was not merely a day of the week. It was a special day of the year - the day that began the early harvest. It was the day when the firstfruits were offered to God (Lev. 23:10-11). The day of Y'shua' presentation to the Father as the first of the firstfruits from the dead, was we suppose, close to the the end of the Sabbath or the commencement of the next day (Saturday night). (John 20:17) They cut the sheaf on the eve of the Sabbath - i.e. Saturday afternoon near sunset.
Six of these eight scriptures refer to the same events on the same day - this day of Y'shua's first appearance to His disciples after His resurrection. Mark 16: 1-2, 9; Luke 14: 1 John 20: 1, 19 Interpreting this phrase from a western mindset, a misleading idea has formed, that the believers were meeting on the first day of the week. However, they were gathering together more because of fear of the hostile Jewish element than otherwise.
There are only two references left with which to establish a new day of worship on the first day of every week. The two other passages that use this expression "first day of the week" in our translations are 1 Corinthians 16: 2, and Acts 20: 7.
Analysing the two occasions No.1 - "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you. Upon the first day of the weeks, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings (collections) when I come." 1 Corinthians 16:2
There are a couple of important things to notice here. First, this is precisely the same idiom we saw in the previous six instances. It is a reference to the first day of the seven weeks of harvest, and therefore is the first opportunity they will have to store up grain for the "collection for the saints." This was famine relief for the saints in Jerusalem. Notice the instruction that each of them was to "lay by" himself "in store" his offering of food so it would be ready to go when Paul got there. This would be in accord with the pattern followed in the land of Israel of storing an offering from the produce of the harvest to be given to the poor when the harvest was over, at the feast of Pentecost.
It was not a collection of money given as a tithe on a day of worship, as our western mindset would interpret it.
Seeing business activities and money matters were not engaged in on the Sabbath, such offerings which may even involve the carrying of a heavy load (produce of grain etc.), would have been delegated to another occasion, the believers would probably meet first thing in the evening after Shabbat and thus “do these things on the first day of the week” (Saturday night was the commencement of the first day of the week, from sundown to sundown on Sunday)
We know in fact that they did meet after the sabbath (Saturday night) to discuss the Synagogue readings of the day.
No.2 - "And upon the first day of the weeks, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight." Acts 20:7
This is the only passage in the New Testament that suggests the possibility that the believers met on the first day of the week, and even here it is Saturday night, not Sunday, because in those times, days began at sunset, not midnight and also the daylight portion of Sunday would have been a work-day - it was only through Constantine that Sunday was made a day of rest and a holiday, a non-work day.
It became a practice for the believers to meet after the Sabbath was finished to share the teaching from the synagogue, and here Paul is preaching to them before departing. Also it is the same idiom as used in the other instances and it is clear that it was the same time of the year. Paul had been in Phillipi for the days of Unleavened Bread and then left to go to Troas (Acts 20:6) where he stayed seven days. After he left Troas he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost travelling by ship to get there. (Acts 20:16) [the time of the feast here in Troas would fall about a week after the Days of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem as the harvest had to begin later in Asia Minor [modern-day Turkey] because of the latitude]
Misconception of Worship Changed to His Resurrection Day The writers of the New Testament did not anticipate our problem of understanding a Sunday resurrection as a reason to abandon the Sabbath, so they didn't validate the continuance of Sabbath in the light of this. Rather, the Sabbath was such an integral part of the faith that no one considered the possibility of such a change.
But although we have no direct teaching on it, we do have a basis to establish that Y'shua did not rise from the dead on the Sunday as later tradition would tell us.
Y'shua stated that He would be three days and three nights in the earth as a sign (Matthew 12:40)
Counting from the time He was put in the tomb, there is simply no way to get three days and three nights between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, which is the traditional belief regarding His death and resurrection. If you accept what Y'shua said, then you have to start with the time He was buried. They rushed to get Him in the tomb, so the count starts at the end of the day of his death. (John 19:40-42) This alone indicates that the resurrection should have been about sundown, not morning. Y'shua was placed in the tomb late Wednesday afternoon and lay there Wednesday night, Thursday, Thursday night, Friday, Friday night, and all day Saturday, but not Saturday night - three days and three nights.
A Wednesday and not Friday for the 14th Nisan, is established by astronomical calculations for 30 AD. (i.e. Tuesday sundown to Wednesday sundown). Tradition places the crucifixion on Friday because the Scriptures say that Y'shua was crucified on the preparation day, the day before the Sabbath (John 19:42) To those not understanding Hebrew idiom, that means Friday. But that isn't a correct interpretation. John makes it clear that this was not the preparation for the weekly Sabbath when He was buried, but the "Preparation of the Passover." (John 19:14)
The first day of the Passover season (the "Days of Unleavened Bread") was a high day - a Sabbath - as well (Lev. 23). Y'shua was crucified on the day before the Sabbath, but that Sabbath was a high day - the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That year, that particular 'Sabbath' was a Thursday.
On the Friday, after the High Sabbath, the women bought spices and prepared them, and then on the "first day of the week" they went to the sepulchre (Mark 15:47- 16:2), after having rested on the weekly Sabbath. (Luke 23:55-56) They bought the spices after a Sabbath. They prepared those spices before a Sabbath (Mark 16:1 & Luke 23:56. There had to be two Sabbaths that week with a day in between (Thursday and Saturday). So if Y'shua was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, then He left the tomb Saturday evening after sunset, not Sunday morning.
One of the most dramatic of all Y'shua's miracles was the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (John 11:1) What makes it so dramatic is that Y'shua was determined that everyone should be certain that Lazarus was really dead. When Y'shua told them to take away the stone covering the tomb, "Martha, the sister of him that was dead, said unto him, Lord, by this time he stinks: for he hath been dead four days." John 11:39
The New International Version Study Bible says that "Many Jews believed that the soul remained near the body for three days after death in the hope of returning to it. If this idea was in the minds of these people, they obviously thought all hope was gone - Lazarus was irrevocably dead." It was important that Y'shua be in the grave three days and three nights to prove that He had not merely revived, but was really dead. So, theories that portions of a day were sufficient to give a three day and three night count are invalid, as it could have been argued that He had not really died, but that point was never raised at that time.
Because of these misconceptions, many “Christians,” now think of the first day of the week as “The Christian Sabbath.” However, this change was never authorised in scripture at any time. According to many traditions, Y'shua appeared (after His resurrection) to His disciples on four occasions, which were on the first day of the week, today’s Sunday. This became one of the major reasons for calling the first day the “Lord's Day,” and believing that it replaces the Sabbath. However the scripture, His Word, is silent on this. The changes came in through the influence of sun-worship (hence Sun-day), identifying the Resurrection of the Son with the rising of the sun, and incorporating the pagan practices of honouring the sun by meeting together before dawn to greet the rising sun on its day - Sunday. This was somewhat motivated by the desire to differentiate themselves from the Jewish sector from 70-135 AD onwards and establish a different identity.
Constantine brought in many changes, one of which was abolishing Sabbath-keeping and any identification that remained of the believers with their Hebraic/Jewish roots. But in spite of this many still adhered to Sabbath-keeping accepting martyrdom rather than the violation of their conscience toward God.