Are the Sabbath laws binding on New Testament Christians?

You’re probably reading through the Bible and wondering what is the Sabbath day in the New Testament. Some questions come to mind:

Are the Sabbath laws binding on Christians?
If so or not, how are we to practice Sabbath?

What is the Sabbath day in the New Testament?
How do we as followers of Jesus practice Sabbath?

I will answer all these and more.

In short, the Sabbath laws are not binding for New Testament Christians. While the laws are not binding, the spirit of the what the Sabbath was intended to create happily applies to us. Sabbath is a day to rest and be recreated in God’s presence.

Let’s break that down.

Sabbath Day in the Old Testament

You are probably somewhat familiar that Sabbath was a big deal in the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, from a simple eye test, one could recognize what a Jewish person was – they were circumcised and they practiced the Sabbath.

In order to understand how it applies in the New Testament, we have to take a walk in the Old Testament from where it originated.

Our first introduction to the Sabbath is in Exodus 16 where God, through Moses, is instructing the people concerning eating manna in the desert:

Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none."

Ex 16:25–26

From then on, we find a dizzying array of commandments and guidances surrounding the Sabbath day.

Table of Sabbath Passages in Old Testament

ReferencePassageCommentary
Exo 16:25“Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning”God continues the first instruction on Sabbath regarding Manna
Exo 31:14You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.
This is when the Sabbath is codified and the punishment of not obeying is death
Lev 16:31It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.God is giving priestly instructions. The spirit of Sabbath is implemented in a unique way here.
Lev 23:11and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.There begins rituals and habits that coincide with the timing of the Sabbath.
Lev 23:15“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. Here there is calendaring involving the Sabbath. A people’s cultural footprints is slowly revolving around this day.
Deut 5:12-14 ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as youThe codified version of Sabbath is reiterated in Deuteronomic law. It is stretched not just for the Israelites, but for foreigners as well. Their entire economy was to recognize the Sabbath.
Deut 5:15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
One of the few times where the instruction of Sabbath is tied to their time in Egypt. Walter Bruggeman explains this very well.

Check out his book on Amazon.

As you can see the content ranges from commandment, to rhythms, to coincidences.

As we transition into the New Testament, the question becomes: What do we do with the laws of Sabbath for Jesus followers?

Transitioning to the New Testament

Transitioning to the New Testament, new believers have to reconcile the tension that for much of our faith, it is socioculturally located within the Hebraic tradition.

If you’re reading this, there’s a small chance you are of Hebraic descent. Yet marvel at the thought that for almost all of the Old Testament, this was a pretty mono-cultural location of faith.

When Jesus arrived and the family of God suddenly expanded beyond Jewish people, a big question was asked, “How do we reconcile the fact that the people of God are not Jewish in which most of the laws are culturally and nationally located?”

As you remember in Acts, they held a famous counsel in the middle where they tried to reconcile this tension. They were, like we readers today, are reconciling: What do we do with Old Testament law?

Their conclusion was that they should adapt the laws to fit the current context.

What it means is that as we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, while we do not and cannot enact the codified laws given to Moses (because the people of God are not a nation anymore, but a people), we carry on in the spirit of the law.

This principles applies to almost all thinking regarding the Old Testament law and as it comes to Sabbath

Sabbath Day in the New Testament

Knowing that, we can start fleshing out what Sabbath day is meant to be in the New Testament.

Let’s see how Jesus reiterates this command. When the Pharisees were nitpicking his disciples about Sabbath laws, Jesus says to them:

Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Mark 2:27

Read more about what the Sabbath was made for man means

In short, Jesus is saying:

The laws were meant to help people. So the Sabbath was meant to help people. Don’t get tripped up about the logistics of the law. Rather, understand the spirit of the law and apply it in a way that serves its original purpose.

I think what Jesus is offering is both incredible freedom and responsibility.

It’s freedom because you are not bound to the Sabbath laws in the Old Testament and there is no Sabbath day in the New Testament.

But it’s responsibility because you now have to own what Sabbath means and figure out how to practice it in a way that honors the spirit of the law.

So, is there a sabbath day in the New Testament?

Not really.

But, rather it’s more important to understand the spirit of Sabbath and apply it appropriately for your situation such that you reap the full benefits.

The Sabbath was always meant to be a day of re-creation and restoration.

Phil’s Encouragement: Are you practicing Sabbath?

Sabbath is always meant to provide restoration and re-creation for believers.

The question of whether Sabbath laws are binding on New Testament are moot compared to the important thing to remember:

I’ve demonstrated that while the laws are not binding, the spirit of Sabbath is meant to serve you and help your life grow.

We shouldn’t get caught up in legalism that the Pharisees had when they thought about Sabbath. Rather, we should take Sabbath as a gift that God gave to us so that we could be restored.

Read about how Sabbath was made for man.

Are you currently practicing Sabbath? Are you resting and allowing you to take a break from the busyness of life to spend time with God?

If you are a busy Christian and are not practicing Sabbath, I think you are really missing out on something that’s amazing and powerful!

I encourage you to live a life of healthy rhythms such that you can live a life you won’t regret.

Going Deeper

My joy and the aim of this site is to help readers go deeper in their Christian faith.

If you haven’t heard, I’m writing a book on the Sabbath coming out in 2021.

If this topic is of interest to you, make sure to head over there to get news of when it’s coming out. In the book, I dive into the heart of what Sabbath is in such a way that will bring powerful transformation to your life.

Author avatar
Phil Chan
Phil has been writing for over 15 years. His passion is to help people see God and to live a life that matters.

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