Armstrong's Doctrine Of Sabbath-Keeping

Weldon E. Warnock
Xenia, Ohio

Yes, man is commanded to keep the Sabbath today, says Herbert W. Armstrong. But what does God say?

Sabbath Forever

Armstrong contends the Sabbath is a perpetual covenant that is to last forever.(1) He bases his position on Exodus 31:12-17 where God said to Moses: "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. . ." (vv. 16-17). You will notice that the covenant and sign were between God and national Israel - not man in general.

The words, "perpetual," "throughout your generations" and "forever" mean that the Sabbath would continue as long as national Israel was God's chosen nation. God's working through fleshly Israel ended when Jesus established His spiritual kingdom (Matt. 21:43; Jn. 18:36; Rom. 2:28-29; 9:8; 11:15).

This argument would also perpetuate many other Jewish ordinances, such as the passover, circumcision, incense, burnt offerings, etc. Observe that circumcision would be an everlasting covenant (Gen. 17:13), the passover was to be kept forever (Ex. 12:14), and that incense was to be a perpetual incense before the Lord (Ex. 30:8). Meat offerings (Lev. 6:18), oil for the lamps in the tabernacle (Lev. 23:3) and the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:41) were to be forever. It becomes obvious that "forever" denotes the Jewish dispensation, or throughout their generations. Armstrong's argument embraces more than he is willing to accept!

Sabbath For Man

Jesus said, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath" (Mk. 2:27-28). Armstrong wrote: "Notice Mark 2:27 again! It was not only one of those things that was made - it not only had a Maker - but it was made for someone. Now today the prevalent idea seems to be that it was made `for the Jews.' But what did Christ, Himself, say? He said it was made `for man'!"(2)

Of course, the Sabbath was made for man. It was not made for a horse, a cow or a dog, but it was made for man. A Jew is a man and it was made for that man - the Jew. God gave the law to Israel (Deut. 5:1-21). No other nation had a .law so good (Deut. 4:8). The Ten Commandments were a part of this law that no other nation had (Deut. 4:13). God, through Moses, set this law before Israel, not the Gentiles (Deut. 4:44). Paul said the Israelites had the law (Rom. 9:4), and that the Gentiles did not have the law (Rom. 2:14). Sounds like Mr. Armstrong is wrong again.

Sabbath Given At Sinai

The Bible teaches that God instituted the Sabbath at Mt. Sinai. However, Armstrong maintains that the Sabbath was kept from Eden. Armstrong wrote:

Now when did the Lord bless and hallow this seventh day? You will read, as explained before, in Genesis 2:3, that He did this blessing and hallowing on that seventh day of original CREATION WEEK. And this Sabbath Command says plainly, "The LORD blessed the sabbath day." He did this blessing and hallowing the very day after creation of Adam and Eve. And what He then blessed and hallowed, says Exodus 20:11, was THE SABBATH DAY. It was God's Sabbath day from the very original creation week. That is when the Lord made the Sabbath.(3)

But neither Genesis 2:3 nor Exodus 20:11 tells us when God sanctified or hallowed the seventh day. We learn this from other passages. Genesis 2:3 reads: "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." This passage does not say that God ordained the Sabbath on the seventh day of the creation week. Verse 2 states "he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done." Then, in verse 3, Moses wrote that "God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it." This took place at Mt. Sinai.

Harris Dark said: "The mentioning of the sanctification in Genesis 2:3 has been called a case of prolepsis, or joining together in statement two events that were separated in time. Other examples of prolepsis may be found in Genesis 3:20, 4:20, and Matthew 10:4. No one can show where God sanctified the seventh day, much less where he commanded anyone to keep it, until after the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt.

"The seventh day of the week is first called the sabbath in Exodus 16, in connection with the giving of the manna to the Jews in the wilderness. In anticipation of the law soon to be given at Sinai, God instructed the people to gather two day's supply on the sixth day and warned them not to expect any on the seventh day. The manner in which the sabbath is thus introduced shows that they were not accustomed to keeping it. In spite of these special instructions, some went out to gather manna on the seventh day and found none. This shows their lack of familiarity with the seventh day sabbath. The sabbath was a new institution soon to be established. Here it was first introduced. At Mt. Sinai a few days later it was made known" (God Hath Spoken, pp. 149-150).

Let us notice the following things that the Bible says, or does not say, about the Sabbath:

(1) The word "Sabbath" is never found till the time of Moses (Ex. 16:23).

(2) There is no record that the Sabbath was ever kept before the Jews kept it.

(3) The Sabbath was given to the Jews (Ezek. 20:12). In giving the Sabbath, God used the same day upon which He had rested, or ceased work of creation (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:17; Deut. 5:15).

(4) The covenant which included the Sabbath commandment was made to Israel only (Ex. 20:2; Deut. 5:2-3).

(5) The Sabbath was not given, or made known, until the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai (Ezek. 20:10-12; Neh. 9:13-14).

(6) The Sabbath was a sign between God and Israel, not all nations (Ex. 31:12-17; Ezek. 20:12, 30).

(7) Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath because they had been delivered from Egyptian bondage (Deut. 5:15).

(8) God calls the Sabbath, "her sabbath" (Hos. 2:11), meaning Israel's sabbath. Hence, it is the Jewish Sabbath.

There is no proof that the Sabbath was intended for anybody but the Jews.

Sabbath In The New Testament

Armstrong wrote: "Now briefly let us look through the commas or punctuation marks, all the translations, such as New Testament to find WHICH DAY Paul kept and the King James, American Standard, Revised Standard taught the Gentile converts to keep." To try to prove his and New American Standard, place the comma after assertion, he cites Paul's preaching in the Jewish "week," rather than after "risen." There is good reason synagogues on the Sabbath as proof-texts for Sabbath- keeping in the New Testament (Acts 13:14-15, 42-44; 17:2; 18:1-11).(4) Now, this is the best Mr. Armstrong has for proof (?) of Christians keeping the Sabbath in the New Testament - examples of Paul and others attending a Jewish synagogue on Saturday to preach the gospel to unbelieving Jews and Gentile proselytes to Judaism. Surely, Armstrong would not say that Paul was going to a Jewish synagogue to worship, to keep the Sabbath, with a group of religious people who did not even believe in the deity of Jesus? Yet, when you read what he writes, that is exactly what he says because that is all he has to offer. Paul went to the synagogues on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, because that was the day the Jews came together. What Armstrong needs to find is one passage where Paul and other Christians kept the Sabbath in an assembly of the Lord's church.

Was Jesus Resurrected On The Sabbath?

To try to further enhance his position of a New Testament Sabbath, Armstrong labors fervently to get Jesus resurrected on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, instead of Sunday, the first day of the week. For example, Armstrong changes the comma in Mark 16:9, thereby making the time of the resurrection indefinite as far as that specific text is concerned. The verse states:

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.

However, Armstrong moves the comma to make the verse read as follows:

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.(5)

Although the original Greek manuscripts did not have for this as Luke 24:1-21 plainly teaches that Jesus arose on the first day of the week.

Verse 1 of Luke 24 states: "Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre . . . ." In verse 13 Luke records: "And, behold two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus . . . ." The "same day" would be the "first day" of verse 1. Now then, in verse 21, we read: " . . . . and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done." "Today" is the "same day" of verse 13 and the "first day" of verse 1. Hence, the first day (Sunday) is the "third day" of verse 21 and Jesus said again and again that he would be raised the third day (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Lk. 24:46). This should settle the matter for honest hearts.

First-day Of The Week

In the Old Testament the seventh day stands out among the days of the week, but in the New Testament, the firstday of the week is given the emphasis. Observe the following:

(1) Jesus Christ arose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mk. 16:1-9; Lk. 24:1, 13, 21, 46).

(2) On the first day of the week He was thus declared to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:3-4).

(3) Between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus met with His disciples (several times) on the first day of the week (John 20:1, 19, 26). (4) Pentecost came on the first day of the week (Lev. 23:15). Hence, all the events of Acts 2:1-47 took place on the first day of the week.

(5) The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles on the first day of the week and began His mission of conversion (Acts 2:1-4, 38). (6) The first gospel sermon proclaiming Jesus as the Christ was preached on the first day of the week (Acts 2:22-36).

(7) Three thousand souls, the first fruits of the gopsel harvest (Lev. 23:17), were added to the church which began on that Pentecost, the first day of the week (Acts 2:41-47).

(8) The church assembled on the First day of the week to break bread and to worship God (Acts 20:7; 2:42; 1 Cor. 16:2; 1 Cor. 11:23, 33; Heb. 10:25).

(9) Yet, in the face of all these New Testament facts, modern Sabbatarians will cling to the seventh-day Sabbath and seek to bind its observances upon Christians.(6)

Armstrong, in commenting on these first-day of the week passages, tries to explain away their significance by miscontruing the texts and by asking for a text that puts sort of a Sabbath-day concept on the first-day of the week. He fails to see that the New Testament does not make a Sabbath out of Sunday.

Armstrong quotes Today's English Version on Acts 20:7 to try to establish that the disciples came together at Troas on Saturday night and that the "breaking of bread" was not the Lord's Supper but was only a common meal.(7) As to whether the disciples came together on Saturday or Sunday, Greek scholars tell us that the first day of the week is the correct translation. The Greek words are mia ton sabbaton. W.E. Vine states that "the first day after the sabbath" is signified (Vol. 3, p. 138). Thayer says it is "the first day after the week" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, p. 187). Arndt-Gingrich also say it means "on the first day of the week" (A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 231). Hence, Today's English Version is incorrect.

Concerning whether "breaking of bread" in Acts 20:7 means the Lord's Supper or a common meal, Vine states that "the breaking of bread became the name for this institution (Lord's Supper, WEW), Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:23" (Vol. 1, p. 146). Arndt-Gingrich tell us that bread (artos) in Acts 20:7 was "of the bread of the Lord's Supper" (p. 110). So, it is apparent that Herbert W. Armstrong is dead wrong about the significance of the first day of the week and that he, obviously, ignores the overwhelming evidence of noted scholars, both lexicographers and translators. Frankly, the man is grossly deceived or flagrantly dishonest, or both.


The first day of the week is the day that is important to Christians. It is the day of the resurrection of Christ. Because of its great significance, let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad!

The Sabbath was given to the Jews only and it was done away in Christ. Paul wrote: "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross . . . . Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days" (Col. 2:14, 16). Paul is saying that since the law has been annulled, let no man, including the man, Herbert W. Armstrong, judge you or impose upon you the Jewish ordinances, such as the Sabbath.


1. Herbert W. Armstrong, Which day is the Christian Sabbath?, p. 58.

2. Ibid., p. 23.

3. Ibid., p. 49.

4. Ibid., pp. 93-96.

5. Ibid., p. 84.

6. Homer Hailey, Let's Go Fishing for Men, pp. 165-166.

7. Herbert W. Armstrong, op. cit., pp. 87, 89. Note: Acknowledgment is also given to: D.M. Canright, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced; in the preparation of this article.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 11, pp. 331-333
June 2, 1983