Too many of us live at a frantic pace, trying desperately to stay on top of everything we need to get done. It’s no wonder we feel out of touch with our spouses, our families and even our Creator. But did you know that God offers a little-understood remedy for our hurried and harried lives?
Society has undergone astonishing changes in recent decades. Everyone, it seems, lives at a breakneck pace, constantly rushing here and there to get everything done. Technological advances that once promised more leisure time now seem only to push us further behind, making it ever more difficult to catch up.
So we frantically scramble. We feel out of touch—out of touch with our spouse, out of touch with our families, out of touch with the world around us and, perhaps most of all, out of touch with God.
This very Being who created the universe, including every one of us, did not leave us to grope in the dark to understand His intent for our lives. Rather, through inspiration, He caused His instruction and truth to be written down for us (2 Timothy 3:15-17; John 17:17). His revelation, the Holy Bible, tells us what we need to know about life’s purpose, why we are here and where we are headed. Most important, it tells us how to live.
It tells us that thousands of years ago gave a people a set of laws, promising the recipients that they would be blessed if they obeyed them. “You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you,” He told them (Deuteronomy 5:33, emphasis added throughout).
The law God revealed is summed up in the Ten Commandments. They are our basic guide for living, showing us how to have a proper relationship with our Creator and fellow man.
Among those commandments, the one most universally misunderstood and misapplied is God’s instruction to “remember the Sabbath
day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Many people view the Sabbath as a quaint relic of history, perhaps a nice idea at some time in the past but altogether impractical in today’s busy world. Some think the Sabbath is Sunday and that spending an hour or two at church on Sunday morning fulfills the intent of the Sabbath commandment.
Others think Jesus Christ did away with any specific day of rest, or the need to worship on a particular day, and that whatever time we choose to dedicate to God is holy.
The questions and opinions about this commandment, it seems, are endless. Did Jesus keep the Sabbath because He was Jewish, or did He actually break the Sabbath command to demonstrate our freedom from Old Testament law, leading the religious leaders of His day to want to kill Him? Did the apostle Paul, in writing more books of the New Testament than any other writer, show that the Sabbath is no longer necessary for Christians, or did he uphold it?
Was the Sabbath condemned and changed in the early New Testament Church, or was it confirmed? Did God sanctify the Sabbath at the time He created Adam and Eve, or did He first set it apart as holy time at the Exodus more than 2,000 years later? Was the Sabbath changed from the seventh day of the week to another day, and if so, when did this happen?
Why did God command a day of rest to begin with? Did He have a purpose for it, and if so, what is that purpose? Is the Sabbath at all relevant for humankind today? Does it make sense in today’s world? The questions go on and on.
Why should there be such confusion about one of the 10 basic guiding principles and laws God gave mankind? Why is there such controversy and confusion over this one commandment when most people, including religious leaders and their churches, have little quarrel with the other nine?
The SABBATH : In the BEGINNING
How and why did the Sabbath day originate? Who created it, and when? When is the Sabbath to be observed, and does it matter? Who is expect-ed to keep it? Despite the misconceptions many have, the Bible is quite clear on these important questions. You need to understand the answers!
“And on the seventh day God ended His work . . . and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3).
When we think of the Sabbath, we often think of the Ten Commandments, which God revealed when the ancient Israelites left Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The events of that period of Israel’s history—the Exodus—were extraordinary. The plagues on Egypt, the death of all Egypt’s firstborn, the parting of the Red Sea, manna coming from heaven for food in the desert and God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on stone tablets were all miraculous occurrences.
These events were dramatic testimony to the birth of a new nation. And in the midst of these incredible beginnings, God told His new nation to remember something. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” He commanded His people (Exodus 20:8).
He pointed them back to His role as Creator, reminding them that “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (verse 11).
The Sabbath commandment had an important spiritual purpose. It pointed God’s people to Him as the supreme Maker of all things. It was a required weekly remembrance that a higher power and authority is at work in our lives and the lives of all humanity. God intended that the Sabbath be observed as a reminder of that fact.
God revealed the Sabbath day by miracles
The significance of the Sabbath was evident before God gave the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel. For example, a few weeks earlier, after the crossing of the Red Sea, when the Israelites witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies, Israel entered the vast desert wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. Within a few days the Israelites’ food supplies, brought with them from Egypt, were exhausted. “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger,” they cried to Moses (Exodus 16:3).
However, God was already a step ahead of them. He promised to send manna, a miraculous substance to nourish and sustain them for as long as they were in the wilderness (verses 4, 15-18).
But God imposed a condition. He would provide the manna only six days out of every seven. On the sixth day there would be twice as much as usual, but none on the seventh day (verses 5, 22). Moses explained to the people what God had told him: “Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord . . . Lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning . . . Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none” (verses 23, 26). But some didn’t listen and “went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none” (verse 27).
What was God’s reaction? He said: “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day” (verses 28-29).
Here, several weeks before He spoke the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, God said the Israelites were refusing to keep His commandments and laws! He also said, “The Lord has given you the Sabbath.” He didn’t say “is giving” or “will give”; He had already given them the Sabbath, to be observed every seventh day!
When God commanded Israel, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), and told the Israelites they were refusing to keep His commandments and laws by violating the Sabbath before they arrived at Mount Sinai (Exodus 16:28), He pointed them back to the original creation week.
God set apart the Sabbath day
In the book of Genesis we read of God creating the earth, then filling it with plants and animals and forming it into a dazzlingly beautiful home for the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Here we read of the real origin of the Sabbath: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3).
This day was different from the other days of creation week. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. The word sanctify means to set apart as holy. God specifically set apart the seventh day, making it holy. We read three times in these two verses that God did not work on this day. The emphasis is that this was His day of rest. It was God’s Sabbath rest.
Some people dispute this interpretation, saying this was not the origin of the commanded day of rest, noting that the word Sabbath isn’t mentioned here. However, the Hebrew word translated “rested” is a form of shabath, the root word for “Sabbath.” Shabath means to cease, or rest, and it is from this that the Sabbath gets its meaning as “a day of rest.” To paraphrase the account in Genesis 2, “God sabbathed on the seventh day from all His work.” The Hebrew language is clear and unambiguous in its intent.
God made the Sabbath for humankind
Remarkably, some will still argue that this doesn’t prove the Sabbath existed from creation week, maintaining that it wasn’t instituted until given to Israel at Mount Sinai and that it was meant for the physical nation of Israel alone—and for only a limited time.
However, Jesus Christ Himself dispelled this notion. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” He explained to some who completely misunderstood its intent and purpose (Mark 2:27).
He clarified the great underlying principle of the Sabbath day that so many have missed through the centuries: The Sabbath, far from enforcing a tiresome bondage or sanctioning a list of forbidden activities, is something God made for man! It was sanctified—made holy—when mankind was made, with God creating Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation week and then creating the Sabbath on the following day by setting that day apart (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:1-3).
To Jesus Christ the Sabbath was positive and beneficial, not the oppressive burden some religious leaders had made of it in His day. Notice His choice of words. The Sabbath wasn’t something just for the nation of Israel; He said it was made for man—for all humanity—and observing it wasn’t a meaningless practice forced on people to bring only hardship and difficulty.
The seventh day was made for man, created expressly for mankind’s benefit and well-being! Several other translations bear this out: “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings,” says the Good News Bible. “The Sabbath was made for the sake of man,” reads the New English Bible. The Williams New Testament says, “The sabbath was made to serve man.” And the New Living Translation reads, “The Sabbath was made to benefit people.”
Jesus understood the purpose of God’s law, including the Sabbath—that God intended it to be a blessing and benefit to mankind. God, speaking through Moses, had earlier told Israel to “love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments.”
Why? “That you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:16).
Moses, after leading Israel for 40 years through the wilderness, summed up the Israelites’ experiences just before they entered the Promised Land. He understood how wonderful the law was that they had received from God and how it was unique. “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me . . . ,” he told them. “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’ . . . What great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).
A blessing for all who choose to obey
God clearly intended the Sabbath to be a blessing to those who would use it as He intended. The actual instructions God gave regarding the day were brief but give valuable insight into its intent. Let’s look at some of these instructions.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11).
On the Sabbath, we see that all members of a household were to rest from labor—even servants, guests and animals. All were to rest every seventh day from their normal, routine work. All family and household members were specifically listed, including parents, sons, daughters, servants and guests. If none did normal work on the Sabbath, presumably everyone would spend much of the day with other family members as a family or household.
The command to observe the Sabbath in all households is reinforced in Leviticus 23, where God lists the required religious observances He instituted—His feasts or festivals. He also makes it clear that the Sabbath is His holy time, not that of Moses or Israel: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: “The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings”‘” (verses 1-3).
The Sabbath was not just a religious ritual for the tabernacle; it was an observance for every individual home throughout the nation.
A reminder of deliverance from slavery
We can find more details of God’s intent where the Ten Commandments are reiterated in Deuteronomy 5:12-15: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
In this listing of the Commandments, another aspect of observing the Sabbath is added for God’s people—remembering that they had been slaves in Egypt and that “the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand.”
The Sabbath was a weekly reminder of Israel’s humble origins as slaves in Egypt and that God, by mighty miracles, had delivered His people into freedom and established them as a nation. Now that He had given them rest from their slavery, everyone throughout the nation was to rest and be refreshed on the Sabbath, and servants were specifically included in that command. As God had given the Israelites rest, they, too, were commanded to allow their servants to rest, an additional reminder of the blessing the Sabbath was to provide for everyone.
The Israelites were specifically told to remember those events in connection with the Sabbath. God, through Moses, frequently reminded the Israelites how far they had come and how He had miraculously intervened for them on many occasions.
In like manner, the Sabbath is an important reminder for Christians today of our deliverance and liberation. Through God’s mercy and Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, Christians are delivered from spiritual slavery to sin and death, set free now to serve God (Romans 6:16-23; 2 Peter 2:19).
God repeatedly warned His people to never forget what He did for them: “Only take heed to yourself . . . lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9). “Beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:12). “[Beware] when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 8:14).
A time for religious instruction, teaching and joy
Notice that God also told the Israelites to teach their children His laws and ways. Immediately after repeating the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, God instructed the Israelites: “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
The Sabbath, then, was intended to be a time for religious instruction, for teaching and learning of God’s wondrous acts and laws. Work was prohibited and God’s great miracles were to be remembered on this day. As Smith’s Bible Dictionary summarizes, “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 . . . On this day the people were accustomed to . . . give to their children that instruction in the truths recalled to memory by the day which is so repeatedly enjoined as the duty of parents; it was ‘the Sabbath of Jehovah’ not only in the sanctuary, but ‘in all their dwellings'” (1884, “Sabbath”).
Observed this way, the Sabbath truly would be the blessing and delight God intended, a day of rest and refreshment with one’s Creator—learning, contemplating and practicing His laws and ways.
WHEN IS SABBATH TO BE KEPT?
Our convention of starting a new day at midnight is an arbitrary, humanly devised practice. God, who created the heavenly bodies and set them in motion to mark the passage of time (Genesis 1:14), counts time differently—from evening to evening.
We see this indicated in the creation account in Genesis 1. After dividing day from night, God tells us that “the evening and the morning were the first day” (verse 5). “Evening” is mentioned first, followed by “morning.” God describes each day’s creation in similar terms (verses 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).
In the Bible, evening began when the sun went down (Joshua 8:29; 2 Chronicles 18:34; Nehemiah 13:19; Mark 1:32), and at that time a new day began. Regarding His Sabbaths, God commands that they be observed “from evening to evening” (Leviticus 23:32). This was the usual way at that time of calculating the beginning and ending of days (Exodus 12:18).
In New Testament times, days were calculated the same way. Mark 1:32 records that, after the sun had set, marking the end of one Sabbath, crowds brought many ailing people to Jesus to be healed, having waited until after the Sabbath to come to Him. The Gospel accounts also record that Joseph of Arimathea entombed Jesus’ body before evening to keep from working on an approaching annual high-day Sabbath (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-54; compare John 19:31).
God, Creator of the Sabbath, determines when the day begins and ends, and it was observed from sunset to sunset throughout the Bible. His Sabbath begins Friday evening at sunset and ends Saturday evening at sunset.
WHICH DAY IS THE SABBATH??
Which day is the Sabbath? Since most churches observe Sunday as their day of rest and worship, many people assume that Sunday is the Sabbath.
The Fourth Commandment states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work . . .” (Exodus 20:8-10, emphasis added throughout).
God commanded that the seventh day be observed as the Sabbath. A glance at almost any dictionary, encyclopedia or calendar will show you that Saturday is the seventh day of the week, while Sunday is the first day of the week. According to God’s calendar, the seventh day is—and always has been—the Sabbath day. Although man has modified 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.
Time has not been lost in this regard, as some assert. “The oracles of God”—His divine words and instructions—were entrusted to the Jewish people (Romans 3:1-2), and they have preserved the knowledge of the seventh-day Sabbath faithfully since well before Christ’s time to this day. Jesus repeatedly confirmed that the day the Jews observed as the Sabbath in His day was indeed the Sabbath. And since then the Jewish people, even scattered in many nations and in different sects, have all preserved the same day.
Moreover, the mainstream Christian churches, though rejecting the Sabbath, indirectly confirm when it is by maintaining their early tradition of worshipping on Sunday, which they acknowledge to be the first day of the week. Obviously that makes the previous day the seventh—the biblical Sabbath. (See also “Names for Saturday in Many Languages Prove Which Day Is the True Sabbath“.)
No biblical authorization for changing the Sabbath
So how did Sunday become the primary day of rest and worship for these churches? Although the concept of rest has largely disappeared today, most denominations continue to hold their worship services on Sunday. You can search throughout the Bible, but you will find no authority to alter the day of worship.
James Cardinal Gibbons, Catholic educator and archbishop of Baltimore at the turn of the 20th century, 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”(The Faith of Our Fathers, 1917, p. 89).
Did you grasp what he said? He admitted that Sunday observance is nowhere authorized in the Bible and that the seventh day is the only day sanctified by the Scriptures. His justification for changing the day of rest and worship assumes that authority exists apart from the Bible to define the necessary truths and practices for salvation—in other words, he says, human beings can change the commandments of God!
Change to Sunday was made after the New Testament was written
The change from Sabbath to Sunday is not found anywhere in the Bible. It was made long after the writing of the New Testament. So how and when was the change made?
Initially Christianity was viewed as simply a sect of Judaism. However, after Jewish revolts in Judea in A.D. 67-70 and 132-135, Jewish religious practices—many of which continued in the early Church—came to be viewed with hostility throughout the Roman Empire. Many among the Church began to abandon these practices, including observance of the biblical Sabbath and festivals.
No clear references to Sunday as a day of Christian worship are found until the writings of Barnabas and Justin, around A.D. 135 and 150, respectively. Observance of Sunday as the primary day of worship appears to have begun to solidify during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-135), who harshly persecuted Jews throughout the Roman Empire. Hadrian specifically prohibited practices of Judaism, including observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.
These oppressive measures apparently influenced many early Christians in Rome to abandon the seventh day and turn to Sunday, the day for honoring the sun god among the Romans and other peoples of the ancient world. When Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the process accelerated.
Constantine’s anti-Jewish prejudice
The Roman Emperor Constantine, although a worshipper of the sun, was the first emperor to profess belief in Christianity. But the “Christianity” Constantine endorsed was already considerably different from that practiced by Jesus and the apostles. The emperor accelerated the change by his own hatred of Jews and religious practices he considered Jewish.
For example, at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325), church authorities essentially banned the biblical Passover observance. Endorsing this change, Constantine announced: “It appeared an unworthy thing that . . . we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul . . . Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3, chapter 18, quoted in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1979, Vol. 1, pp. 524-525).
In a bid to unify his empire, he established the first laws making Sunday the official day of rest. His A.D. 321 law, for example, stated: “On the venerable Day of the Sun [Sunday] let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.”
Several decades later, the Council of Laodicea decreed: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s Day [Sunday]; . . . But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.”
Within a few centuries observance of the biblical Sabbath was driven underground within the confines of the empire, and most who professed Christianity embraced Sunday.
Although the Protestant Reformation brought some changes, observance of Sunday continued from the Roman Catholic Church into subsequent Protestant denominations. But whereas the Catholic Church claimed authority to establish its own times of worship, Protestant churches generally justified Sunday observance on the grounds that the seventh-day Sabbath was replaced in the New Testament by worship on Sunday in honor of Christ’s resurrection (see “Was Sunday the New Testament Day of Worship?“).
However, as confirmed by Cardinal Gibbons above, there is no biblical authority for changing the day of rest and worship from the seventh day to Sunday. As shown throughout this booklet, Jesus Christ, the apostles, and Jewish and gentile members of the early Church alike continued to observe the seventh-day Sabbath —the only day authorized in the Bible.
Names for Saturday in Many Languages Prove Which Day Is the True Sabbath
Which day of the week is the biblical Sabbath? Many are confused over the issue, but such confusion is unnecessary. Not only is the answer plain from history and the Bible, it is also clear from the names for the seventh day of the week, Saturday, in many languages.
For example, the Spanish word for the seventh day of the week, Saturday, is sabado—the same word for “Sabbath.” In fact, in more than 100 ancient and modern languages the seventh day of the week was named “Sabbath” or its equivalent. Following is a list of names for the seventh day of the week, Saturday, in 24 languages in which the root word Sabbath is still easily recognizable.
Such widespread use of forms of the word Sabbath for the seventh day of the week, Saturday, is clear evidence that speakers of these languages understood which day is the Sabbath.
Likewise, the fact that in no language do we see “Sabbath” similarly linked with Sunday, the first day of the week, is an obvious confirmation that this day never was considered the biblical Sabbath until later religious leaders tried to substitute Sunday for the true Sabbath day.
This page has the following sub pages.