Does the Sabbath Apply to Christians?

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

-Exodus 20:8-11

Along with the commandments not to murder, steal, or commit adultery, lies this fourth commandment.  It has often been overlooked, but if context is key, I think this issue is one that must be dealt with thoroughly.  Our first step is to dispel some common misconceptions about the Sabbath.

1. The Sabbath was not primarily given as a day of worship

The Israelites were given the Sabbath primarily as a day of rest, not as a day of special worship.  In the Old Testament, every day was to be used to worship the LORD.  The same applies to us today (Colossians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31).  Every day is to be used to worship and serve God, the Creator of all days.  The main reason the Sabbath was commonly used in New Testament times for religious gatherings was because it was the most convenient.  What better day to have service than the day you’re not allowed to do anything?

The word Sabbath also sheds light on the meaning of the day.  Pronounced in Hebrew shab·bäth’, the word comes from shä·vath’, which means “to cease” or “to rest”.  Once we have established that, we can move on to dispelling the next common misconception.

2. The Sabbath was not moved from Saturday to Sunday

Many people believe that the Sabbath was moved from Saturday to Sunday at the resurrection of Christ.  Not only is there absolutely no Biblical evidence for this, but it breaks from God’s reasoning behind the institution of the Sabbath in the first place (Exodus 20:11).

On the contrary, Sunday was chosen by the early church as a set apart day to dedicate to fellowship, learning, and corporate worship.  The day was chosen because it was the day Jesus rose from the dead, giving physical evidence that His sacrifice had been accepted by the Father.  John MacArthur says, “Saturday is a perpetual witness to God as Creator.  Sunday, on the other hand, is a perpetual witness to God as Redeemer.”

3. The Sabbath given to Israel was a sign

The Sabbath was not given to Israel as a fancy holiday.  It was given to Israel as a sign, a sign of their sanctification.  It is not uncommon for God to use signs when He institutes a new covenant.  Remember the rainbow?  It was a sign of the Noahic Covenant.  Remember circumcision?  It was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant.  So is the Sabbath a sign of the Mosaic Covenant.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.  Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.  Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.  Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.

-Exodus 31:12-17

Back to the Question

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t even begin to answer the original question.  Does the Sabbath apply to Christians or not?  Well let’s look at Christ’s example.  Let’s see how Jesus dealt with the Sabbath.

  • In Matthew 12:1-8, Jesus and His disciples are confronted by the Pharisees for plucking and eating ears of corn on the Sabbath.  Jesus replies by asking them if they’ve read certain passages in the Old Testament.  He then says, “But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.  But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.”  It may be interesting to read the verses immediately preceding this account, at the end of chapter 11.  See how they relate to the topic of the Sabbath.  Context it key.
  • In Matthew 12:9-14, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.  When confronted, he gave an analogy about a sheep falling into a pit on the Sabbath.  What kind of a shepherd wouldn’t rescue the sheep?  “How much then is a man better than a sheep?  Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.”  It was here that the Pharisees began planning how to destroy Him.
  • In Mark 2:23-28, a nearly identical account is given to the one in Matthew 12:1-8.  The only major difference is the addition of this phrase spoken by Jesus in verse 27: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
  • In Mark 3:1-5, the same account of the healing of the man with the withered hand is given.  This time an addition is made to Jesus’ words.  In verse 4 he says, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil?  To save life, or to kill?
  • The same two accounts are also found in Luke 6:1-11 with minimal additions.
  • In Luke 13:10-17, Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath day.  As usual, this is met with condemnation from the religious rulers.  Jesus responds by saying, “Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?  And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
  • Jesus once again heals on the Sabbath in Luke 14:1-6.
  • In John 5:1-18, Jesus heals an infirm man on the Sabbath.  His answer to the Jews, when they sought to slay Him, was: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
  • John 7:21-24 says, “Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel.  Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man.  If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?  Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
  • In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath day.

Jesus ended the traditional Sabbath system.  Just as He obliterated the sacrificial system with His death on the cross, he intentionally ignored the traditional Sabbath practices because He can.  He is God.  This must not make you think that He violated God’s moral law.  He never did.  He never could!  This is where Exodus 31 really makes a difference.  Jesus voided the symbolic law, not the moral law.


It is not wrong to hold to a Sabbath, but it is not necessary.  It is not morally binding.  I personally think a day of remembering God specifically as Creator would benefit my spiritual growth.  What better way to do that than spending time in His creation?  It may be completely different for someone else though, someone who easily falls into dry symbolism and religion.  Holding to a “Sabbath” might cause that person to stumble.

“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.  He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.”

-Romans 14:5-6a

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

-Colossians 2:16-17

We must see the difference between signs of God’s Mosaic Covenant and facets of God’s moral law.  Although the Sabbath is not  binding, it points to something else.  It points to Christ.  Jesus is our Sabbath rest!

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

-Hebrews 4:9-11


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