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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.
This article is about the Christian day of rest. For the Sabbath in Judaism see Shabbat.
The Sabbath (Hebrew: שַׁבָּת‎ shabbat "the day to cease/rest") is a weekly religious day of rest as ordained 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 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)[1]

Sabbath Law instituted at Creation

The day was already a holy day, sanctified by God following the Creation:

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. Genesis 2:2-3 (KJV)

That the Sabbath was already known and observed as man's day of rest before it was "set in stone" in the Commandments is confirmed by events several weeks before God gave the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel, when they first entered the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. Within a matter of days the Israelites' food supplies, which were limited to all they could carry with them from Egypt, had been exhausted. They said to Moses: "Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (Exodus 16:3)[2] However, 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)[3] 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)[4] 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 importance of Sabbath observance to God

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] and Isaiah prophesied that it will be observed afterwards.[11]

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." Jesus Christ Himself pointed out that "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)[12] It was sanctified when mankind was made, with God creating Adam and Eve on the sixth day of Creation week and creating the Sabbath on the following day (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:1-3).

Immediately after repeating the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, God commanded the Israelites: "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).[13]

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;[14] Ezekiel 20:12[15]) 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[16])"[17] 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 many Christians erroneously assume that Sunday is therefore the Sabbath. However, Saturday is the seventh day of the week, and Sunday is the first day of the week. The seventh day according to God's calendar is, and always has been, the Sabbath day. 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.[18]

The Jewish people have observed this date for many millennia without interruption. 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.[19]

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. Some Christian denominations (usually referred to as Sabbatarians) still observe God's seventh-day Sabbath, but the majority were polluted by pagan Roman beliefs and the whims of the Roman church. The Roman religion of Mithraism observed Sunday as their day of religious 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 in the late 1800s and early 1900s, 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, John Murphy Company, Baltimore, 1917, p. 89).[21]

Jesus Christ, the apostles and Jewish and gentile members of the early Church alike observed the seventh-day Sabbath. This is the only day authorized in the Bible and specifically commanded by God Himself since the creation of Man.

The Sabbath and Jesus Christ

As shown above, neither the Sabbath nor the annual Holy Days are Jewish in origin, as the commands to keep them come directly from the mouth of God, and He never gives any indication of changing them. It could only be classified as Jewish if it had originated with the Jews. 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".[22]

Jesus observed the seventh-day Sabbath not because it was Judaic tradition or the culture of the time, and in fact He speaks out quite forcefully against following the "traditions of men" when they are at variance with the "commandments of God" (Matthew 15:3, 6;[23] Mark 7:7, 9, 13[24]) In the gospels, Jesus Christ has many disputes with the Jews, a number of which involve the Sabbath day. But they never disagree about which day is to be kept, only over what is acceptable for that day.[25]

Some passages of the gospels are misconstrued to imply that Jesus broke the Sabbath: "And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?" (Mark 2:23-24)[26]

The Pharisees were an excessively strict branch of Judaism holding considerable religious authority during Christ's time, and they were extreme in their interpretation of what was allowed on the Sabbath.[27] Jesus pointed out that their acts were perfectly acceptable according to the laws God had given the nation of Israel [28]. God even commanded His people to leave portions of their fields unharvested so the poor and travellers would be able to eat what was left.[29]. Jesus pointed out that King David and his hungry followers, when they were fleeing King Saul's armies, were given bread that was normally to be eaten only by priests, yet they were guiltless in God's sight (Mark 2:25-26)[30]. He also pointed out that even the priests serving in the temple worked on the Sabbath by conducting worship services and performing sacrifices, but God held them blameless (Matthew 12:5)[31].

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."[32]


  1. King James Version BibleGateway
  2. King James Version BibleGateway
  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. "And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD." Isaiah 66:23 King James Version BibleGateway
  12. King James Version BibleGateway
  13. King James Version BibleGateway
  14. King James Version BibleGateway
  15. King James Version BibleGateway
  16. King James Version BibleGateway
  17. Sabbath Smith's Bible Dictionary. Accessed 15 February 2008
  18. Which Day Is the Sabbath? UCG. Accessed 15 February 2008
  19. Has the Calendar been Changed? "Christian holy days: The weekly Sabbath: is it to be Saturday or Sunday?" Religuious Accessed 15 February 2008
  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. quoted in Which Day Is the Sabbath? UCG. Accessed 15 February 2008
  22. Jesus Christ's Example Accessed 16 February 2008
  23. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?...And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. King James Version BibleGateway
  24. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men... And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition... Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. King James Version BibleGateway
  25. Jesus Christ's Example op cit
  26. King James Version BibleGateway
  27. Halley, Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook (Zondervan; 1961) ISBN 0-3102-5720-4
  28. When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour's standing corn(Deuteronomy 23:25) King James Version BibleGateway
  29. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest... And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God... And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:9, 10; 23:22) King James Version BibleGateway
  30. And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? King James Version BibleGateway
  31. Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? King James Version BibleGateway
  32. Freedman, David Noel Sabbath "The Anchor Bible Dictionary" vol. v; pp 855-856 (Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; 1992) ISBN 0-3854-2583-X