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- This article concerns the Sabbath in Christianity. For the Sabbath in Judaism, see Shabbat. For other uses see Sabbath (disambiguation)
In both Judaism and Christianity, the Sabbath (Hebrew "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 , Yom Kippur, First Day of the Feast of Tabernacles , and the Eighth Day of the Feast. The Hebrew word means "the [day] of rest." The institution of the Sabbath was in respect for the day during which God rested after having completed the Creation in six days, (Genesis 2:2-3).
Primitive Christian observance of the Sabbath
The first Christians were Jews, and continued to honor the Sabbath on Saturday, which extended from Friday's sunset to Saturday's sunset, 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.
According to many church scholars, Gentile Christians openly observed the seventh-day Sabbath in conjunction with Sunday worship until the time of the Council of Laodicea. Prior to the Laodicean council, observing Saturday as a Sabbath and Sunday as a day of worship was primarily seen in Palestine, and after the Laodicean Council, Saturday observance was forbidden. This is often considered an attempt of the early Christian church to distance itself from Judaism.
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 () and to gather collections () for the succor of others. It was on the first day, according to all Christians, that Jesus was raised from the dead (, , , ). 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 (). Eight days later, on the first day of the week, Jesus is said to have appeared to them a second time (). 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 (). 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 and generally fail to acknowledge that God blessed and hallowed the seventh day.
The Catholic Church declares no scriptural bases for first day observance: "Q; Have you any other way of proving that the [Roman] Church has power to institute festivals? A: Had she not such power she could not have instituted one in which all modern religionists agree with her - she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh day of the week. A change for which there is no Scriptural authority" [Keenan's Doctrinal Catechism]
"Nowhere in the bible do we find that Jesus or the apostles ordered that the Sabbath be changed from Saturday to Sunday. We have the commandment of God given to Moses to keep holy the Sabbath day, that is, the seventh day of the week, Saturday. Today, most Christians keep Sunday because it has been revealed to us by the [Roman] church outside the bible." Catholic Virginian, Oct. 3, 1947
In 321, the former sun worshipper, 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 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 Protestants 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 20:7 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 20:7) 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. Sabbatarians often claim that 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. Those opposed to a Sabbath claim that the practice had been abolished by this time, and thus would have no impact on Paul's actions.
Some doubt that this is an instance of Paul keeping the Sabbath, 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. Christians who accept the practice of Sunday worship suggest these actions are indicative of a new reverence for Sunday in connection with strictly Christian ceremonies.
Sabbath in the New Testament
Some Christian theologians use Colossians 2:14-17 to show that Sabbath observance for Christians has been abolished — "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; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." This is often cited as a direct parallel to Numbers 28-29, where the Sabbath is described alongside burnt offerings and new moons; all things which are claimed to have been made obsolete with the coming of Christ. In conjunction with this, a second Pauline epistle is often quoted, namely Romans 14:5-6, which states "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth [it] unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard [it]." In other words, the non-Sabbatarian argument is founded upon the concept that anything which does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Ritual observance of a weekly Sabbath is thus not required. Nevertheless, if one believes they are sinning when they break the Sabbath, they are condemned, however if their conscience does not condemn them, they have done no wrong. To further support this idea, 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 is often used, "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." Hence, the idea is that Christians no longer follow a law written "in tables of stone" (that is, the 10 Commandments), but follow a law written upon "fleshy tables of the heart." Finally, the cumulative argument often continues with 2 Corinthians 3:7 and 11, "But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious,...which glory was to be done away... For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." Non-sabbatarians claim this is a direct reference to the 10 Commandments, namely that New Covenant Christains are no longer under the law, and thus Sabbath-keeping is no longer required. The New Covenant "law" is based entirely upon love, and love is considered the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). Finally, Galatians 4:9-11 is used as justification that a Sabbath is no longer in effect under the New Covenant: "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Essentially, non-Sabbatarians suggest Paul's claim here is that ritual observance of days, including the weekly Sabbath, is no longer prescribed under the New Covenant. Sabbatarians often point to the fact that Paul may have been referring to the Jewish festivals rather than the weekly Sabbath, or that perhaps Paul was targeting Gnostic heresy which had infiltrated the church.
A practical distinction sometimes arises between The Lord's Day and The Sabbath. Saturday observance has become common, for example in the United States, among Jews and other seventh-day sabbatarians, whose conscientious keeping of Saturday is considered mandated by 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 many Christians have met. Alternatively, many Christians suggest that on the weight of Biblical evidence such as the aforementioned, Sabbath-keeping is not a prescribed duty for Christians under the New Covenant and thus worshipping on Sunday is acceptable.
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. Though no Biblical justification can be made for this nature of observance outside the seventh-day.
However, in many cases, there are those who keep the seventh-day as the Sabbath day of rest. From Mark 2:28, for example, the statement made by Jesus, "the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath," indicates that Sabbath keeping is central to following Christ. In other words, since Christ kept the seventh day Sabbath, this is the true Lord's day, according to Him. Further, in reference to the future destruction of Jerusalem, Christ states in Matthew 24:20, "And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath." Sabbatarians maintain that this indicates Christ expected the Sabbath to be kept subsequent His death. Also, on the weight of Hebrews 4:8-11, the Sabbath (that is, Saturday) remains a Christian Holy Day, and Sabbath-keeping is an abiding duty as prescribed in the fourth commandment of Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Since the Sabbath was blessed and hallowed as a memorial of creation in Genesis 2:3 and was therefore established even before the fall of Adam, it is the day of rest, given by God, for all humanity, for all time. Generally the religious festivals, new moons, and accompanying high sabbaths of Leviticus 23, Numbers 28-29, Isaiah 1:13-14, Hosea 2:11 and Colossians 2:16-17 are not observed, as these are understood to have been fulfilled by the coming of Christ and their misused practice condemned by Isaiah and Hosea.
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 Lord’s 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.
The 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 Biblical 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. The Worldwide Church of God, which (after 1934) descended from a schism in the Seventh-day Church of God, was founded as a seventh-day Sabbath-keeping church, but in 1995 renounced sabbatarianism and moved toward the Evangelical "mainstream."
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; Romans 14:5-6; Galatians 4:10-11; Colossians 2:14-17; Hebrews 4:1-11
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