At first glance, the question “What is the Sabbath day?” seems fairly simple. According to Exodus 20:8–11, the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, on which the children of Israel were to rest, in remembrance that God created the universe in six days and then “rested” on the seventh day. However, due to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of some Christian groups, the meaning of the Sabbath day rest has been confused.
Some Christian groups, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, view the Sabbath as the day of worship, the day on which Christians should attend church/worship services. While these groups typically also teach that no work is to be done on the Sabbath, the concept of the “day of worship” is sometimes more emphasized than the “day of rest.” Originally, the Sabbath was a day of rest, and that purpose was retained in the Mosaic Law (Exodus 16:23–29; 31:14–16; 35:2–3; Deuteronomy 5:12–15; Nehemiah 13:15–22; Jeremiah 17:21–27). Under the Old Covenant, sacrifices were made daily at the tabernacle/temple. The “worship” was continual. And there were special commands given to Israel regarding a “sacred assembly” held on the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3; cf. Numbers 28:9). The keeping of the Sabbath was the “sign” of the covenant between Israel and the Lord (Exodus 31:13).
The New Testament records Jews and converts to Judaism meeting in synagogues on the Sabbath (Mark 6:2; Luke 4:31; Luke 13:10–16; Acts 13:14, 27, 42–44; 15:21; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4). Obviously, with no work being done on the Sabbath day, the Sabbath day would be the ideal day to have organized worship services. However, the New Testament does not command that the Sabbath be the day of worship. The church is not under the Mosaic Law.
The church is under the New Covenant, established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible nowhere describes Christians setting aside the Sabbath day as the day of worship. The only Scriptures that describe Christians in any sense meeting on the Sabbath are in fact pointing to evangelistic efforts at Jewish synagogues, which met on the Sabbath day. Acts 2:46 records the early Christians meeting every day. The Bereans studied the Scriptures every day (Acts 17:11). Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 both mention Christians meeting on the first day of the week. There is no evidence in the New Testament that the apostles or the early Christians in any sense observed the Sabbath day as the prescribed day of worship.
Traditionally, Christians have held their primary corporate worship services on Sundays, the first day of the week, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection, which occurred on a Sunday (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). It is important to understand, though, that Sunday is not the commanded day of corporate worship, either. There is no explicit biblical command that either Saturday or Sunday be the day of worship. Scriptures such as Romans 14:5–6 and Colossians 2:16 give Christians freedom to observe a special day or to observe every day as special. God’s desire is that we worship and serve Him continually, every day, not just on Saturday or Sunday. Please read our other articles on the Sabbath day and Sabbath keeping to explore this issue further.