SabbathHebrew "Shabbat") is a religious day of rest that usually occurs on the seventh day of the week, though is also ascribed to the annual Holy Days, also called High Day Sabbaths (John 19:31): First and Last Day of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Eighth Day of the Feast. The Hebrew word means "the [day] of rest." The first Sabbath was the day during which God rested after having completed the creation in six days, as described in Genesis 2:2-3.
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2 Sabbath in the New Testament
3 Protestant sabbatarianism
4 Biblical References to the Sabbath day
Primitive Christian observance of the Sabbath
The first Christians were Jews, and continued to honor the Sabbath on Saturday, at least until the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. Evidence indicates that some Gentile Christians also continued to celebrate the Sabbath many centuries into the Christian Era. At the same time the widespread Christian tradition, from early on, was to meet for worship on the first day of the week.
Basis of first day observance
It is explicit in two instances in the New Testament that the first Christians came together on the first day of the week to break bread and to listen to Christian preaching (Acts 20:7) and to gather collections (1 Cor. 16:2). It was on the first day, according to all Christians, that Jesus was raised from the dead (Mt. 28:1, Mk. 16:2, Lk. 24:1, Jn. 20:1). The disciples of Jesus also claimed that on that same evening, called the first day of the week, the resurrected Christ came to them while they were gathered in fear (Jn. 20:19). Eight days later, on the first day of the week, Jesus is said to have appeared to them a second time (Jn. 20:26). The writer called Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, writes that "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." At the end of forty days, the Christians believe that Jesus ascended into heaven while the disciples watched (Acts 1:9). Ten days later, at the onset of the feast of Pentecost (See: Shavuot) the Christians say that the Spirit of God was given to the disciples of Christ, establishing the Christian Church, on the first day of the week.
These events are cited by some Christian teachers and historians, believed to have written very early, as the reason that Christians gathered on the Lord's Day, the first day of the week, including Barnabas (AD 100), Ignatius of Antioch (AD 107), Justin Martyr (AD 145), Bardaisan (AD 154), Irenaeus (AD 178), Tertullian (AD 180), Cyprian (AD 200), Saint Victorinus (AD 280), and Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 324) [Note: dates are traditional]. These early Christians believed that the resurrection and ascension of Christ signals the renewal of creation, a day analogous to the first day of creation when God made the light, making the first day like the seventh day when God's creating work attained to its goal. Reasoning this way, some wrote of the first day as a greater day than the Sabbath, an "eighth day" on which, through Christ, mankind was redeemed out of futility and brought into the Sabbath-rest of God. However, these writers do not call the day a Sabbath.
Sunday vs Saturday
In 321, The Emperor Constantine established the first day as a "venerable day", distinct from the Jewish Sabbath (See Blue law). It is believed by many that, at least the Jewish Christians, and some Greek and Asian Christians, continued to meet on the Sabbath, even if they also met on Sunday, perhaps even after the Council of Laodicea (a local council in Asia, held in 364, which rejected those who kept the Jewish Sabbath). It is certain that seventh day observance was eventually eliminated in the Catholic and Orthodox church, but it survived in some cases outside of that communion.
Eastern Orthodox churches distinguish between "the sabbath" (Saturday) and "the Lord's day" (Sunday), and both continue to play a special role for the believers (such as, the church allowing some leniency during fasts on both of them, and having special Bible readings different from those allotted to weekdays), though the Lord's day with the weekly Liturgy is clearly given more emphasis. Catholics put little emphasis on that distinction and most of them, at least in colloquial language, speak of Sunday as the sabbath. Many Protestantss have historically regarded Lord's Day, Sabbath, and Sunday as synonymous terms for the Christian day of worship (except in those languages in which the name of the seventh day is literally equivalent to "Sabbath" -- such as Spanish, Italian, Russian, Modern Greek, and of course Hebrew). For most Christians the Lord's Day is distinct from the Sabbath, which they view as non-binding for Christians; thus, they observe Sunday as a day voluntarily set aside for worship, which they do not regard as the same thing as a Sabbath. A minority of Protestants keep Saturday, the seventh day, as the Lord's Day and the Christian Sabbath.
Acts 20:17 says that, "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread", where Paul preached until midnight. One must remember, however, that according to Jewish tradition (and as described in the Bible, Leviticus 23:32), a day begins when the sun goes down and this meeting apparently gathered in the evening, at dinner time. So, those who have believed that the Christians kept the Sabbath on the seventh day argue that this meeting (Acts 20:17) would have begun on Saturday night. Paul would have been preaching on Saturday night until midnight and then walked eighteen miles from Traos to Assos on Sunday. He would not have done so, if he had regarded Sunday as the Sabbath, much less boarded a boat and continued to travel to Mitylene and finally on to Chios. Biblical evidence suggests that Paul was a lifelong Sabbath keeper for the sake of the Jews, and if Sunday was now the Sabbath, then this journey would have been contrary to his character.
It is not generally debated that Paul did keep the Jewish Sabbath, although some doubt that this is an instance of it, although it may be if it shows him waiting until the morning of the first day to continue his work. The focus of the story is about Eutychus, his accident, and his resurrection, not the changing of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week.
Also in Acts 2:46, they went to the Temple in Jerusalem and broke bread from house to house "daily". There is no mention of the Sabbath, and it is debatable whether this is a reference to Communion. There are many instances of the Gospel being taught and preached on non-specific days as well as daily. One example is in Mark 2:1-2 another is Luke 19:47-20:1, where it clearly indicates that Jesus himself taught and preached daily.
Christians who reject the religious observance of the first day, argue based on the reasons given above that, there is no significance given to the first day, the breaking of bread, nor the preaching; they are merely mentioned as events that might take place on any day of the week.
Sabbath in the New Testament
There is no commandment to keep the Sabbath, in the New Testament. In fact, some Christian theologians use Colossians 2:16 to show that Sabbath observance for Christians has been abollished — "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day." For this reason among others, latitude with regard to the keeping of a particular day has generally prevailed among Christians. A practical distinction sometimes arose then, between The Lord's Day and The Sabbath. Toleration of Saturday observance became common, for example in the United States, in deference to Jews and other seventh-day sabbatarians, whose conscientious keeping of Saturday is mandated by a literal reading of the Law of God. This is often distinguished from Sunday observance, "first day sabbatarianism", or "eighth day sabbatarianism", according to which Sunday is kept because it is the "day of light", the first day of the new creation, and the traditional day on which Christians have met.
To be non-sabbatarian does not necessarily equate to making all days alike. A member of a non-sabbatarian church may nevertheless be very conscientious about avoiding certain kinds of activities, and doing others, because it is the day for the church to gather, a day for prayer and for works of mercy.
However, in some cases, there are those who keep Saturday together with many of the ordinances of Shabbat. From Mark 2:28, for example, the statement made by Jesus, "the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath," indicates to them that the question of when and how the Sabbath should be kept, is an issue basic to following Christ. And on the weight of Hebrews 4:8, they may argue that the Sabbath (that is, Saturday) remains a Christian Holy Day, and sabbath-keeping is an abiding duty as proscribed in the fourth commandment. These groups usually do not keep the religious festivals, new moons, and accompanying sabbaths of Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29; as these are understood to have been fulfilled by the coming of Christ.
A new rigorism was brought into the observance of the Christian Lord's Day with the Protestant reformation, especially among the Puritans of England and Scotland, in reaction to the laxity with which Sunday observance was customarily kept. Sabbath ordinances were appealed to, with the idea that only the word of God can bind men's consciences in whether or how they will take a break from work, or to impose an obligation to meet at a particular time. Their influential reasoning spread to other denominations also, and it is primarily through their influence that "Sabbath" has become the colloquial equivalent of "Lord's Day" or "Sunday". The most mature expression of this influence survives in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, "Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day". Section 7-8 reads:
- 7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the LordÒs day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.
- 8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe a holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
Seventh-day sabbatarianismThe Socinian churches of Eastern Europe and Holland more rigorously equated the Christian sabbath with the Jewish Shabbat. Sunday observance was abandoned in favor of a more literal and rigorous observance of the Sabbath, leading to a revival of seventh-day sabbatarianism. The influence of the Socinians was felt among the Anabaptists in Holland. A small number of them adopted Saturday as the day of worship. This small Seventh-day sect finally abandoned Christianity for orthodox Judaism. Seventh-day sabbatarianism did not become prevalent to any degree among Protestants, until it was revived in England by several groups of English Baptists, and through them the doctrine spread to a few churches in other denominations. Unitarian and seventh day leaders and churches were persecuted as heretics by the Trinitarian and Sunday-observing establishment, in England.
The Seventh Day Baptists arrived at the height of their direct influence on other sects, in the middle of the 19th century, in the United States, when their doctrines were instrumental in founding the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Seventh-day Church of God.
Also, the direct influence of the Socinians continues to be felt, as will be found anywhere that Unitarianism and Saturday observance appear together in a non-Jewish sect. Some modern sects, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, have a similar doctrine.
[Note: there is technical distinction between the doctrine of Unitarians and Unitarianism. Unitarians, among other distinctives, typically deny the miraculous birth of Christ, but this is not true of all adherents to Unitarianism, and it was not true at all of the Socinians. Although, perhaps this distinction is confusing in this context, it is important.]
Biblical References to the Sabbath day
Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23-29; Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 31:12-17; Exodus 35:2-3; Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 19:3; Leviticus 19:29-30; Leviticus 23; Leviticus 24:8; Leviticus 25:2-6; Leviticus 26:2; Leviticus 26:34-35; Leviticus 26:43; Numbers 15:32-36; Numbers 28-29; Deuteronomy 5:12-14; 2 Kings 4:23; 2 Kings 11:5-9; 1 Chronicles 9:32; 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 2 Chronicles 8:13; 2 Chronicles 23:4-8; 2 Chronicles 31:3; 2 Chronicles 36:21; Nehemiah 9:14; Nehemiah 10:31-33; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Psalms 92:1; Isaiah 1:13; Isaiah 56:2-7; Isaiah 58:13-14; Isaiah 66:22-23; Jeremiah 17:21-27; Lamentations 2:6; Ezekiel 20:12-24; Ezekiel 22:8; Ezekiel 22:26-31; Ezekiel 23:38; Ezekiel 44:24; Ezekiel 45:17; Ezekiel 46:1-12; Hosea 2:11; Amos 8:5; Matthew 12:1-12; Matthew 24:20-21; Matthew 28:1; Mark 1:21; Mark 2:23-28; Mark 3:2-4; Mark 6:2; Mark 15:42; Mark 16:1; Luke 4:16; Luke 4:31; Luke 6:1-9; Luke 13:10-16; Luke 14:1-5; Luke 23:50-24:1; John 5:9-18; John 7:22-23; John 9:14-16; John 19:31; Acts 1:12; Acts 13:14; Acts 13:27; Acts 13:42-43; Acts 15:21; Acts 16:13; Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4; Colossians 2:14-16; Hebrews 4:1-11