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The spirit of the Sabbath is joy, refreshment and mercy, arising from remembrance of God's goodness as Creator and as the Deliverer from bondage.
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This article is about the primarily Jewish day of rest. For the Christian day of rest and worship, see Lord's Day.
The Sabbath (Hebrew: שַׁבָּת‎ shabbat "the day to cease/rest"), is the seventh day of the week, the day being counted from sunset to appearance of three stars, that is, from Friday evening to Saturday night. The Sabbath was instituted to provide God's people with an interruption in their work and ambitions so as to turn their hearts and minds to their Maker. It is a [weekly] 'refreshing' statement to reaffirm, strengthen in the hearts, the faith in God the Creator

The Greek term for it, "σάββατον", is used almost exclusively in the Gospels and has an Aramaic as well as a Hebrew origin.

The Sabbath is introduced in the creation week when God ceases for 24 hours from His work of creating time, space and matter,
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 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."

Christians kept the Sabbath on the seventh day as instructed by the Torah and by the practices of Jesus during his life and by the first century Jerusalem church. The change from Sabbath to Sunday was gradual, beginning in the second to fourth centuries. Great controversy accompanied both the keeping or denying of the Sabbath to the changing of the meaning or the day of keeping of the Sabbath. Sabbath-keeping on the seventh day became a minority Christian practice until the present day, however, the nationwide and international return to Saturday Sabbath keeping is growing.


The Israelites are reminded to keep the Sabbath before the giving of the Ten Commandments when God promised to send manna, a miraculous substance to nourish and sustain them, but He would provide it only for six days out of every seven. On the sixth day there would be twice as much as usual, but none on the seventh day. Moses explained that "Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none." (Exodus 16:26):[1]
"And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them, this is that which YHVH [the LORD] hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto YHVH [the LORD]" (Exodus 16:22-23)[2]
God considered that the Sabbath observance was already His law: some of the Israelites disobeyed Moses and went out looking for manna on the seventh day "but they found none" (Exodus 16:27)[3] God's Word regarding this disobedience, and that seventh-day Sabbath observance was already a commandment was unequivocal:

And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. Exodus 16:28-29 (KJV)

The Sabbath command is reiterated by God in the Ten Commandments:
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 YHVH [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)[4]
In Leviticus, God reaffirmed to Moses the sanctity of the seventh-day Sabbath:
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. (Leviticus 23:3)[5]
The prophet Isaiah said of the importance of the Sabbath as God's Word and Law:
If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:13-14)[6]

Through the prophet Jeremiah God warned men to "bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers." (Jeremiah 17:21-22)[7] "But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched." (Jeremiah 17:27)[8]

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God said:
Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols.(Ezekiel 20:12, 13, 16)[9]

Matthew, in his Olivet Prophecy, reaffirms that Christians at the Second Coming should still observe God's commanded seventh-day Sabbath.[10]

The purpose of the Sabbath

On the Sabbath all members of a household were to rest from labor, including servants, guests and even animals. All were to "cease" from their normal, routine work, and should spend much of the Sabbath with other family members as a family or household. God's Law was not directed merely to the Israelites: it applied even to the "stranger that is within thy gates", "it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings." Christ Himself pointed out that "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)[11]

The Sabbath is a day for teaching and learning of God's wondrous acts and laws, and God's great miracles are to be remembered on this day. "Thus the spirit of the Sabbath was joy, refreshment and mercy, arising from remembrance of God's goodness as Creator and as the Deliverer from bondage. The Sabbath was a perpetual sign and covenant, and the holiness of the day is collected with the holiness of the people; "that ye may know that I am Jehovah that doth sanctify you." (Exodus 31:12-17;[12] Ezekiel 20:12[13]) Joy was the key-note Of their service. Nehemiah commanded the people, on a day holy to Jehovah Mourn not, nor weep: eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared. (Nehemiah 8:9-13[14])"[15] This also shows that the Sabbath is a day to focus on charity to the less fortunate.

Seventh day

Many churches observe Sunday as their day of rest and worship, and most Christians celebrate the Lord's Day on Sunday. It is common for megachurches, though, to offer Saturday evening services, but the purpose is not to practice Sabbath keeping as it is to provide an option to members/attendees who must work on Sunday (as well as to handle the large numbers of those who attend).

However, according to Jewish tradition Saturday is the seventh day of the week, and Sunday is the first day of the week. Despite many modifications of calendars through the centuries, the seven-day weekly cycle has remained intact throughout history. The days of the week have always remained in their proper order, with Sunday as the first day of the week and Saturday as the seventh.[16]

When the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1582 AD, ten days were deleted in order to bring the calendar in synchronism with the seasons. But the sequence of the days remained the same. Thus, 1582-OCT-4 (a Thursday) was followed by 1582-OCT-15 (a Friday), and the Sabbath of 1582-OCT-16 happened exactly 7 days after the previous Sabbath of OCT-9.[17] Even in the 21st century Judaism still observes the seventh-day as the Sabbath - from sunset (the end of the day) Friday until sunset on the end of Saturday.

The Sabbath and Jesus Christ

That the Jews of Christ's time and today observe the biblically-commanded seventh-day Sabbath makes it no more a "Jewish tradition" than their observing the commandment against adultery makes marital fidelity a "Jewish tradition".[18]

Jesus observed the seventh-day Sabbath not because it was Judaic tradition or the culture of the time. Jesus' teaching in these verses is summarized by Freedman: "At times Jesus is interpreted to have abrogated or suspended the Sabbath commandment on the basis of controversies brought about by Sabbath healings and other acts. Careful analysis of the respective passages does not seem to give credence to this interpretation. The action of plucking ears of grain on the Sabbath by the disciples is particularly important in this matter. Jesus makes a foundational pronouncement: "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). The disciples' act of plucking grain infringed against the rabbinic halakhah of minute casuistry in which it was forbidden to reap, thresh, winnow, and grind on the Sabbath. Jesus reforms the Sabbath and restores it to its rightful place as designed in creation, where the Sabbath is made for all mankind and not specifically for Israel, as claimed by normative Judaism. It was God's will at creation that the Sabbath have the purpose of serving mankind for rest and [to] bring blessing."[19]


Despite that the majority of Christian denominations still observe the tradition by third-century Christians of practicing the spirit of the Sabbath on Sunday, some Christian denominations (usually referred to as Sabbatarians) practice it on the actual seventh day of the week.

The Christian tradition of practicing the spirit of the Sabbath on Sunday may have begun as a means by the third-century Christians of separating themselves as a community from the Jews who were under Roman persecution after the Zealot Revolt. But, it is likely that the motive of first-century Christians for chosing Sunday as the day of rest and celebration was largely because of their interpretation of particular New Testament passages regarding on what day of the week Christ died and on what day of the week he rose from death. Since the Roman religion of Mithraism observed Sunday as their day of religious observance, converts to Christianity before the fourth century AD from that religion may have also contributed to the popularity of a Sunday observance. In 321 AD, while still a pagan sun-worshipper, the Emperor Constantine declared that Sunday was to be the day of rest throughout the Roman Empire:
On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for gain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.[20]

James Cardinal Gibbons, Catholic educator and archbishop of Baltimore 1877-1921, was blunt about the change: "You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify. The Catholic Church correctly teaches that our Lord and His Apostles inculcated certain important duties of religion which are not recorded by the inspired writers... We must, therefore, conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith."[21]

The Seventh Day Adventists

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is a Protestant denomination, founded in America in the 1860s during the Second Great Awakening, which interprets those passages differently, and which believes that God always intended for the day of the week on which rest and celebration was taken to be the seventh, or final, day of the week ("Saturday"). So, the Seventh Day Adventist Church opposes laws that make Sunday the Sabbath.

"Seventh-day" means that the observance of the original Sabbath, on "Saturday", still is a sacred obligation. Adventists argue that just as the other nine of the original Ten Commandments had not been revised, so also the injunction to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" remained in full force. This theological point in the late 19th century turned the young group into a powerful force for religious liberty. Growing into its full stature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these Adventists opposed Sunday laws on every side. Many were arrested for working on Sunday. In fighting against the real threat of a legally established National Day of worship, these Sabbatarians had to fight for their liberty on a daily basis. Soon, they were fighting for religious liberty on a broader, less parochial basis. The fear that other Protestants would establish a Christian Sunday expanded into opposition to the establishment of a "Christian" identity for the otherwise pluralistic secular nation, and, thus, opposition to state-sanctioned school prayer. This led, naturally, to certain alliances with secularists in the American political spectrum who opposed state enforcement of any form of theistic religion.[22]

In holding to a perpetuation of the literal seventh day for rest and celebration, Seventh Day Adventists, as such, do not equate its observance with legalism. They argue, rather, that, though legalism is possible in regard to any law, God was not being a legalist for having given, commanded, and enforced the seventh-day rest upon His own nation any more than for having given, commanded, and enforced the primary law (to have no other Gods but God). They further argue that the seventh day, in being the first thing which God called sacred in the human realm, is comparable to Adam's own first words toward woman; such that the focus of the human creature's life is not toward law at all, but toward what human life was made to be at its most joyous times; and, that, only by such extended and deep violations of the truths of these joys is even God Himself (like his wisely initiatived, humble representatives) finally induced to impose commands and enforcements concerning keeping them,[23] lest the whole Earth be destroyed by the natural consequences of their violation [24]

Impact, reminder in languages

Due to the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish Sabbath [SHABBAT שבת], the following are interesting testimonials:

In Latin languages, such as in Italian and in Spanish, the Jewish Sabbath day (Saturday) is called Sabato, Sabado. (Respectively).

In Greek: Sávvato.

In Russian: Subbota.

In Czech: Sobota.

In Armenian Shabat’ ory.

In Goergian: Shabati.

See also

Further reading

  • Bechtel, Florentine. "Sabbath." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. (1912). online
  • Slater, Thomas. "Sunday." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 14. (1912) online
  • Bacchiocchi, Samuel. "From Sabbath to Sunday" A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity. 1977
  • Bacchiocchi, Samuel. "The Sabbath Under Crossfire" 1998
  • Bacchiocchi, Samuel. "Divine Rest for Human Restlessness" A Theological study of the Good News of the Sabbath for Today. 2001
  • Essay: The Nature of the Sabbath


  1. King James Version BibleGateway
  2. King James Version [1]
  3. King James Version BibleGateway
  4. King James Version BibleGateway
  5. King James Version BibleGateway
  6. King James Version BibleGateway
  7. King James Version BibleGateway
  8. King James Version BibleGateway
  9. King James Version BibleGateway
  10. "But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day" Matthew 24:14-20 King James Version BibleGateway
  11. King James Version BibleGateway
  12. King James Version BibleGateway
  13. King James Version BibleGateway
  14. King James Version BibleGateway
  15. Sabbath Smith's Bible Dictionary. Accessed 15 February 2008
  16. Which Day Is the Sabbath? UCG. Accessed 15 February 2008
  17. Has the Calendar been Changed? "Christian holy days: The weekly Sabbath: is it to be Saturday or Sunday?" Religuious Accessed 15 February 2008
  18. Jesus Christ's Example Accessed 16 February 2008
  19. Freedman, David Noel Sabbath "The Anchor Bible Dictionary" vol. v; pp 855-856 (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; 1992) ISBN 0-3854-2583-X
  20. Why and When the Weekly Sabbath was Moved "The weekly Sabbath: is it to be Saturday or Sunday?" ReligiousTolerance,org. Accessed 15 February 2008
  21. The Faith of Our Fathers, (1917), (p. 89) quoted in Which Day Is the Sabbath? UCG. Accessed 15 February 2008
  22. Douglas Morgan, Adventism and the American Republic: The Public Involvement of a Major Apocalyptic Movement. (2001)
  23. ’’Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Daniel 3:16’’
  24. Revelation 11:18