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Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?
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Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?

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Should Christians Keep The Sabbath?

Origin of the Sabbath
History of the Sabbath
Views of the Christian's Obligation To Keep The Sabbath
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A. Teaching of the Bible

1. Sanctification of the seventh day of creation.

The Hebrews did not claim to be the creators of this unique institution. They affirmed that God Himself was its creator. The record of its origin which they preserved for us is in the Bible. The divine origin of the sabbath is described in the opening chapters of Genesis. The first two chapters describe God's creative activity during six days and His sanctification of the seventh day by His cessation from His creative work (Gen 1:1-2:3). The word "sabbath" is not employed, but it is certain that the author meant to assert that God blessed and hallowed the seventh day as the sabbath.

The grouping of the creation narrative into six periods called days, followed by a seventh day of rest, seems to have been done purposefully to establish a weekly sacred day. Later scriptural teaching on the sabbath seems to corroborate this. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue, as recorded in Exodus, gives as the reason for the Israelites' observance of the sabbath the fact that God "in six days . . . made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it" (Exod 20:11). The words of Jesus, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27), point back beyond the Mosaic command to the original purpose and will of God. They indicate that the sabbath came into being when man came into being.

It seems clear, therefore, that the divine origin and institution of the sabbath took place at the beginning of human history. At that time God not only provided a divine example for keeping the seventh day as a day of rest, but also blessed and set apart the seventh day for the use and benefit of man. There is no mention of the observance of the sabbath by the patriarchs, although a period of seven days is mentioned several times in the account of Noah and the Flood (Gen 7:4, 10; 8:10, 12), and a week is mentioned in the story of Jacob and Rachel (29:27). Whether the patriarchs had knowledge of or observed the sabbath does not matter; the revelation of God to Moses was that He had instituted the sabbath at the close of creation.

2. The ordinance concerning the manna.

The first mention of the word "sabbath" is in Exodus 16:23 which gives certain regulations concerning the gathering and preparation of the manna, when the Israelites were in the wilderness of Sin. At the command of the LORD, Moses told the people to gather and prepare twice as much manna on the sixth day as on other days (Exod 16:5). When the leaders of the congregation reported to Moses that the people had done so, Moses replied, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD'" (16:22, 23). The next day Moses commanded the people to eat what had been kept over, and added, "Today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none" (16:25, 26). Some of the people, notwithstanding this explicit command, went out to gather manna on the seventh day (16:27). At this point the LORD said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days; remain every man of you in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (16:28, 29).

This passage shows that the sabbath was certainly made known to Israel before the giving of the law at Sinai. The Israelites did not arrive at Sinai until the following month (16:1; 19:1). This passage also shows that this was not the first institution of the sabbath. The incidental manner in which the matter is introduced and the remonstrance of the LORD for the disobedience of the people both imply that the sabbath had previously been known. The LORD'S inquiry, "How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?" sounds as if it had long been in existence. In fact, the equation of the sabbath with the seventh day, the statement that the LORD gave the Israelites the sabbath, and the record that the people, at God's command, rested on the seventh day, all point unmistakably to the primeval institution of the sabbath.

3. The fourth commandment of the Decaloque.

The fourth commandment itself does not purport to be the first promulgation of the sabbath. Its introductory words, "Remember the sabbath day" (Exod 20:8), suggest that the sabbath had been previously known but either forgotten or neglected. The reason given in the commandment for the sanctification of the sabbath day was the example of God at the close of creation (20:9-11). The commandment pointed back to the original institution of the sabbath.

The fourth commandment made the sabbath a distinctive Hebrew institution. It formed an integral part of the covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai. The covenant consisted of "the ten commandments" uttered by the LORD Himself from the mount (Deut 4:13; 5:2-21). The fourth commandment has a central place in that covenant, serving as the connecting link between those commandments having to do with duties toward God and those having to do with duties toward man.

The Ten Commandments are prefixed by a declaration that God had brought Israel out of the land of Egypt (Exod 20:2; Deut 5:6). These words can apply in their literal sense only to the children of Israel. The wording of the commandments themselves also indicates that they were given specifically to the Israelites. The fifth commandment contains a promise of long life in the land which the LORD was about to give to Israel (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16). Similarly, the Deuteronomic version of the fourth commandment gives the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt as the primary reason for the observance of the sabbath (Deut 5:15). The keeping of the sabbath is elsewhere declared to be the sign of Israel's allegiance to God (Exod 31:13; Neh 9:14). It served to distinguish Israel from the other nations. There can be no doubt that in its original setting and application the sabbath command was a law intended only for the people of Israel.

At the same time it is evident that the fourth commandment contains principles which are applicable to all people. It recognizes the moral duty of man to worship his Creator, for which stated times and places for worship are needed as well as the ceasing from the ordinary employments of life. It recognizes also the basic need of man for a weekly day of rest. Man's history has demonstrated his need for the recuperation of his physical and mental energies once in every seven days as well as his need for a day of the week set apart for spiritual devotion and instruction. The sabbath command provided for these needs of the ancient Israelites.


A. The sabbath of the Mosaic legislation.

The regulations for the observance of the sabbath in the Mosaic legislation are relatively simple. The sabbath was to be observed on every seventh day; it was to be observed by all: the servants, the humble beasts of burden, the members of the Hebrew household, and the guests who were staying within their gates were all commanded to cease from labor on that day (Exod 20:8-11; Deut 5:12-15). The humanitarian aspect of this freedom from toil on the sabbath is especially emphasized in Deuteronomy, where the deliverance of Israel from the oppressive bondage of Egypt is given as the reason for the keeping of the sabbath (Deut 5:14, 15). The gathering of manna on the seventh day had been expressly forbidden (Exod 16:27-29). Likewise, the kindling of it fire on the sabbath was forbidden (35:3). The penalty for profaning the sabbath by doing any work on it was death (31:14). A man who was found gathering sticks on the sabbath day was stoned to death. (Num 15:32-36). The sabbath, however, was not a day of total inactivity. The priests carried on their duties about the Tabernacle. The bread of the Presence was to be set on the table in the holy place on the sabbath day (Lev 24:8). A special sacrifice, in addition to the ordinary daily sacrifice, was to be offered on the sabbath day (Num 28:9, 10). The rite of circumcision was performed on the sabbath if that was the eighth day after the child's birth (Lev 12:3; John 7:22). The sabbath is listed among the sacred festivals, "the appointed feasts of the LORD" (23:1-3). It, like them, was proclaimed to be "a holy convocation" (23:3). This can only mean that it was regarded as a day for the calling together of the congregation of Israel to worship. In the early history of the Israelites, the sabbath was a day of welcome rest from labor and of solemn worship at the sanctuary of God.

B. The sabbath in the historical and prophetical books of the Old Testament.

The first mention of the sabbath in the historical books is in 2 Kings 4:23, which contains a question uttered by the husband of the Shunammite woman at whose home Elisha had been entertained. She had asked for one of the servants and one of the donkeys that she might go to see the prophet (4:22). Her husband expressed surprise at her request and said, "Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath" (4:23). His mention of the sabbath was incidental, but his remark plainly infers that it was customary to suspend work and to visit the prophet on the sabbath.

Visiting a prophet on the sabbath would necessarily he limited to the few. There is evidence that visiting the Temple on the sabbath was a more widespread custom. There are a number of references in Chronicles to the ritual performed in the Temple on that day (I Chron 9:32; 23:31; 2 Chron 2:4; 8:13; 23:4; 31:3). The prophet Isaiah, in his condemnation of the hypocrisy of the worshipers, seems to indicate that assemblies took place in the Temple on that day (Isa 1:13).

Isaiah denounced the formalistic sabbath observance of his time (1:12, 13), and defined true sabbath-keeping as turning from one's own ways and from one's own pleasures, and taking delight in the LORD (58:13, 14). Other prophets raised their voices in protest against the abuse of the sabbath (Jer 17:21, 22; Ezek 22:8; Amos 8:4). They regarded the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the Jews as due, at least in part, to the desecration of the sabbath (Jer 17:27; Ezek 20:23, 24). Hosea predicted that God would make Israel's sabbaths to cease because of her unfaithfulness (Hos 2:11); but that this cessation of sabbath observance was not meant to be permanent is made clear by Isaiah and Ezekiel (Isa 66:23; Ezek 44:24).

During the period of the Exile, the sabbath rose in prominence as compared to the other religious festivals of the Jews, since it was independent of the Temple in Jerusalem, whereas the other festivals were in part dependent on that religions center. In the period of the return from exile, sabbath observance was revived in Palestine, in large measure through the reforms of Nehemiah. On his return to Palestine, he was shocked to see the widespread desecration of the holy day. People labored in the fields, gathered the harvests, and bought and sold publicly on the sabbath day. Nehemiah rebuked the nobles of Judah and ordered the gates of Jerusalem closed during the sabbath (Neh 13:15-22). His vigorous efforts were largely responsible for the establishment of the sabbath as a day of universal rest among the Jews of Palestine.

C. The sabbath in the inter-testamental period.

In the years following the reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra, their successors, the scribes, developed an elaborate code of regulations and restrictions governing sabbath observance. These were intended to safeguard and preserve the spirit of the sabbath, just as the shell protects the kernel. They were an attempt to "hedge in" the law so that its proper observance would be guaranteed. The discussion of actual or hypothetical cases led to the formulation of thirty-nine articles which prohibited all kinds of ordinary agricultural, industrial, and domestic work, unless it was by its nature, or in the circumstances of the case, necessary (G. F. Moore, "Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era," pp. 27-30).

The efforts of the scribes to promote a regard for the Hebrew sabbath were successful. The sabbath became so deeply rooted in Jewish consciousness and so treasured by individual Jews, that in the days of the Maccabees many chose to die rather than desecrate it. The Jews refused to engage in battle, even in self-defense, on their holy day. Later, however, Mattathias, the leader of the revolt against the tyranny of Antiochus IV, ruled that it was permissible to take up arms in self-defense on the sabbath.

The ruling of Mattathias is significant because it was the first of many such rulings designed to liberalize the restrictions of sabbath observance. Many ways were found to get around the letter of the law. The motive for the extended casuistry on the sabbath was undoubtedly to make the law more practicable, but it led to many fanciful and far-fetched interpretations. For example, from the rabbinical interpretation of the command in Exodus 16:29 to "remain every man of you in his place" on the sabbath day, it was determined that a sabbath day's journey might not exceed two thousand cubits beyond one's dwelling. However, if a man had deposited at that distance on the day preceding the sabbath enough food for two meals, he thereby constituted it his dwelling, and hence might go on for another two thousand cubits. Similarly, if families living in private houses which opened into a common court deposited food in the court before the sabbath, thereby establishing a "connection" between the houses and making them one dwelling, they were permitted to carry things from one house to another without breaking the law (A. Edersheim, "The Life and times of Jesus the Messiah," Vol. II, p. 777).

One of the outstanding features of this period was the rise of the synagogue. The synagogue became the center of the religious life of Judaism, not only in those places which were far removed from Jerusalem, but also alongside the Temple in Jerusalem. Attendance at the synagogue became customary on the sabbath day (Luke 4:16). The Hebrew sabbath became distinctively a day of worship, a worship connected largely with the synagogue.

D. The sabbath in the New Testament period.

1. Jesus and the sabbath.

At the beginning of the New Testament period, the true meaning of the sabbath had been obscured by the multitudinous restrictions laid upon its observance. Sabbath observance had largely become external and formal. Men had become more concerned for the punctilious observance of a day than for the poignant needs of human beings. It was inevitable that Jesus should come into conflict with the Jewish leaders over the sabbath. It was Jesus' custom to attend the synagogue on the sabbath (Luke 4:16; Mark 1:21; 3:1; Luke 13:10). In His teaching He upheld the authority and validity of the Old Testament law (Matt 5:17-20; 15:1-6; 19:16-19; 22:35-40; Luke 16:17) His emphasis, however, was not on an external observance of the law, but on a spontaneous performance of the will of God which underlay the law (Matt 5:21-48; 19:3-9). Jesus sought to clarify the true meaning of the sabbath by showing the original purpose for its institution: "The sab. bath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

On six different occasions Jesus came into direct conflict with Jewish prejudices in regard to the sabbath. He defended His disciples for plucking grain on the sabbath by alluding to the time when David and his men ate the bread of the Presence (Matt 12:1-4; Mark 2:23-26; Luke 6:1-4). By so doing, Jesus placed the sabbath commandment in the same class as the ceremonial law which prohibited the eating of this sacred bread by others than the priests, and taught that human need had precedence over the legal requirements of the sabbath. He also reminded His critics that the priests in the Temple profaned the sabbath and were guiltless (Matt 12:5). He no doubt referred to the practice prescribed by the law of circumcising a male child on the sabbath if that were the eighth day after his birth (Lev 12:3; John 7:22, 23). Thus the ceremonial law requiring the circumcision of the child on the eighth day took precedence over the law of the sabbath. It was on this same occasion that Jesus said that the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath (Mark 2:27), indicating that He regarded the sabbath as a provision for man's need and welfare and not as a burdensome legal requirement. It was also on this occasion that Jesus asserted His lordship over the sabbath (Matt 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).

Jesus expressed anger over those Jews at the synagogue in Capernaum who showed more concern for the punctilious observance of the sabbath than for a human being who was deprived of the use of a hand, and proceeded to heal the man before them all (Mark 3:1-5). On another occasion, when the ruler of the synagogue became indignant because Jesus healed a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years, He defended His action by appealing to the common practice of untying one's domestic animals to lead them to water on the sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). Again, when Jesus, under the critical eye of the Pharisees, healed a man on the sabbath who had dropsy, He defended His action by asking if His critics would not rescue an ox or a donkey that had fallen into a well on that day (14:1-6).

The remaining two occasions when Jesus' action on the sabbath brought Him into conflict with the Jewish leaders are recorded by John. One was the healing of the sick man at the pool of Bethzatha (John 5:1-18); the other was the healing of the man born blind (9:1-41). On the first of these occasions Jesus defended His right to heal on the sabbath on the grounds that His Father did not suspend His beneficent activity on that day (5:17) and on the second occasion He condemned the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees (9:40, 41).

In all of these instances, Jesus showed that He placed human need above the mere external observance of the sabbath. Jesus never did or said anything to suggest that He intended to take away from man the privileges afforded by such a day of rest. On the other hand, it cannot be said that Jesus intended to perpetuate the Hebrew sabbath or extend its application to all men. As far as the record of the gospels is concerned, He never made mention of the fourth commandment. By emphasizing the principles which lay back of the law, the spirit and purpose of the law instead of its formal and external regulations, He prepared the way for the abolishing of all the external laws and ordinances of the Old Testament.

2. Paul and the sabbath.

The early Christians were loyal Jews. They worshiped daily in the Temple at Jerusalem (Acts 2:46; 5:42). They attended services in the synagogue (Acts 9:20; 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 2, 10; 18:4). They revered the law of Moses (21:20). The Jewish Christians undoubtedly continued to observe the sabbath. When Gentiles were brought into the Christian community, a problem arose with regard to their relation to the Jewish law. There were those who insisted that it was necessary for them to submit to the rite of circumcision and keep the law of Moses, which would, of course, include the sabbath command (Acts 15:1, 5; Gal 2:3-5). Others, of whom Paul became the leader, affirmed that it was not necessary for the Gentile converts to accept the religion of Judaism. Paul argued that, since they had received the Spirit without observing Jewish law, they were not obligated to adopt Jewish ceremonial [laws] in order to live righteously (Gal 3:2-3; Acts 15:7-10).

The Apostle Paul regarded the law as a yoke of bondage from which the Christian had been set free (Gal 5:1). In his "revolt against external law" (P. Cotton, "From Sabbath to Sunday," p. 11), Paul made no distinction between moral and ceremonial law. It was all a part of that old covenant which was done away in Christ (2 Cor 3:14). The sabbath is definitely included in "the bond which stood against us with its legal demands," which, Paul declares, God canceled and set aside, "nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:14). It is mentioned along with festivals and new moons, all of which are declared to be "only a shadow of what is to come" (2:16, 17). To "observe days, and months, and seasons, and years" is to be slaves to "the weak and beggarly elemental spirits" (Gal 4:9, 10; Col 2:20). The observance of days is a characteristic of "the man who is weak in faith" (Rom 14:1-15).

Paul provides no grounds for imposing the Hebrew sabbath on the Christian. The Christian is free from the burden of the law. The Spirit of Christ enables him to fulfill God's will apart from external observance of the law's demands. The author of Hebrews likewise speaks of the Hebrew sabbath only as a type of "God's rest," which is the inheritance of all the people of God (Heb 4:1-10). He does not tell his readers to keep the sabbath, but rather urges them to "strive to enter that rest" (4:11).

E. The sabbath in the post-New Testament period.

The Early Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd Christian centuries were practically unanimous in their view of the Hebrew sabbath. Some insisted that it was completely abrogated; others emphasized its typical character; but all agreed that it was not binding on the Christian. Ignatius, the disciple of the Apostle John, and the bishop of Antioch, wrote to the Magnesians in the early years of the 2nd century: "Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace"; and then goes on to categorize his readers as "those who were brought up in the ancient order of things" but who "have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath" ("The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. I, pp. 62, 63).

Justin Martyr, the first great Christian apologist around the middle of the 2nd century, explains in his "Dialogue with Trypho" why the Christians do not keep the law of Moses, submit to circumcision, or observe the sabbath. He asserts that

(1) True Sabbath observance under the new covenant is the keeping of a perpetual sabbath which consists of turning from sin.

(2) The righteous men of old, Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the like, pleased God without keeping sabbath.

(3) God imposed the sabbath upon the Israelites because of unrighteousness and hardness of heart

("The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. I, pp. 199, 200, 204, 207).

Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons during the latter part of the 2nd century, viewed the sabbath as symbolical of the future kingdom of God, "in which the man who shall have persevered in serving God shall, in a state of rest, partake of God's table" ("Against Heresies, Book IV, Chap. 16, The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. I, p. 481). He cites Abraham as an example of one who believed God "without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths" (ibid.).

Clement of Alexandria, writing in "The Stromata" around the close of the 2nd century, says: "The sabbath, by abstinence from evil, seems to indicate self-restraint" (Book VII, Chap. 12, "The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. II, p. 545).

Tertullian, at the beginning of the 3rd century, says: "We have nothing to do with Sabbaths or the other Jewish festivals, much less with those of the heathen" ("On Idolatry," Chap. 14, "The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. III, p. 70). In another work he says that those who would contend for the continued obligation of sabbath-keeping and circumcision must show that Adam and Abel, Noah and Enoch, and Melchizedek and Lot also observed these things. He goes on to say that the sabbath was figurative of rest from sin and typical of man's final rest in God. It, together with the other ceremonial regulations of the law, was only intended to last until a new Lawgiver should arise who should introduce the realities of which these were shadows ("An Answer to the Jews," Chap. 2, "The Ante-Nicene Fathers," Vol. III, pp. 153, 155, 156).

The Hebrew sabbath has, of course, continued to be observed by non-Christian Jews to the present time. During the first centuries some Jewish Christians also continued the practice of observing the seventh day of the week as well as the assembly for worship on the first day of the week. But their influence on Christianity, though discernible for several centuries, especially in the East, dwindled rapidly after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (P. Cotton, "From Sabbath to Sunday," pp. 58-63). The testimony of the ante-Nicene fathers is that for the vast majority of Christians, the sabbath was a Jewish institution which was not binding on Christian believers.


A. The "Christian sabbath" view.

This view holds that Sunday is the Christian sabbath, the observance of which is a moral obligation based on the fourth commandment of the Decalogue. Philip Schaff, the church historian of England, calls it the "Anglo-American theory" because it has been so widely held in Great Britain and the United States. He traces its origin to the Puritans at the close of the 16th cent. (P. Schaff, "History of the Christian Church," Vol. VI, p. 494).

This view emphasizes the divine institution of the sabbath at the close of creation. God's blessing and sanctification of the seventh day is taken to mean that He intended one day in seven to be observed by all men in all ages as a sacred day of rest and worship. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue, which alludes to the primeval institution of the sabbath, is regarded as a moral command, and therefore of universal and perpetual obligation. It is argued that the day of the week on which the sabbath is to be kept was not of the essence of the law, but rather the observance of one day in every seven. Jesus affirmed that He was "Lord even of the sabbath" (Mark 2:28) and therefore had the authority to change the day of its observance. It usually is held that this change took place during the forty days between Christ's resurrection and ascension, when He spoke to them concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

Sabbatarians insist that Jesus intended to perpetuate the sabbath and extend its application to all men. Much stress is laid on the statement of Jesus, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27), as evidence that Jesus regarded the sabbath as an institution which is grounded in the very constitution of man, and which was instituted by God from the very beginning not only for Israel but for the whole human race (W. F. Crafts, "The Sabbath for Man," p. 366). The teachings of Paul regarding the sabbath are taken to refer only to the Jewish sabbath and not to the "Christian sabbath."

This view has appealed to many Christians because it seeks to establish a firm Scriptural basis for the observance of Sunday by grounding its observance on the fourth commandment. The Bible does teach that God instituted the sabbath at the close of creation (Gen 2:3). The sabbath is identified as "the seventh day" (Gen 2:3; Exod 16:29; 20:10; Deut 5:14), not as one day in seven. There is a moral element in the fourth commandment, for it provides for the worship of God. There are, however, also ceremonial elements in the commandment which applied only to the Israelites. While this command is included among the moral laws of the Decalogue, it is also included among those civil and religious observances which were obviously temporal and provisional. Jesus Himself treated the sabbath law as ceremonial when He defended His disciples for plucking grain on the sabbath. A moral law could never be suspended by circumstances of hunger or by the requirements of a merely ceremonial regulation. Paul made no distinction between ceremonial and moral laws when he declared that all external law is abrogated for the Christian.

The basic weakness of this theory is the teaching that a change was made in the day of the week to be observed as the sabbath. There is not the slightest hint in the New Testament that Jesus transferred the sabbath to another day of the week, nor that anyone else did so. Furthermore, if one insists on the perpetual and universal obligation of the fourth commandment, and at the same time recognizes that there is no New Testament ground for a change in the day of its observance, the only logical position to which he is forced is to maintain that the seventh day of the week, and not the first day, should be observed as the sabbath, as the fourth commandment stipulates. This is precisely the position which is taken by the Seventh-day sabbatarians.

B. The seventh-day sabbath view.

This view, held by the Seventh-day Baptists who originated in England in the 17th century, and by the Seventh-day Adventists who originated in America in the 19th century, insists that Christians are obligated to keep the seventh day of the week as the sabbath. In support of this position, they appeal largely to the Old Testament, especially to the language of the fourth commandment, which, they point out, clearly states that the seventh day is the sabbath, appointed by God to commemorate His work of creation. The Ten Commandments are referred to as "the law of God," to be distinguished from the ceremonial and civil laws which are called "the law of Moses" (A. L. Baker, "Belief and Work of Seventh-Day Adventists," p. 74).

The seventh-day sabbatarians also find evidence for the observance of the seventh day in the New Testament. They appeal to the practice of Jesus and the apostles of attending the synagogue on the sabbath (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14, 42; 16:13; 17:1-2; 18:4). They appeal to Jesus' prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and His exhortation that His disciples pray that their flight should not be on the sabbath (Matt 24:20). They even contend that the reference in Revelation 1:10 to "the Lord's day" is a reference to the seventh-day sabbath (ibid., pp. 73, 74).

Since, according to the Seventh-day Adventists, it is useless to search for the change from seventh day observance to first day observance in the New Testament, they assert that this change was made by the Roman Catholic Church. They teach that, during the early centuries of the Church, a great apostasy set in, in which the pagan festival of Sunday was gradually substituted for the ancient sabbath by "unconsecrated leaders of the Church" and by the half-pagan emperor Constantine (E. G. White, "The Great Controversy," pp. 58, 59).

The insistence of seventh-day sabbatarians on the wholly moral character of the fourth commandment and on its perpetual and universal obligation is based upon statements which find no support in the Bible. They ignore the clear statements that the fourth commandment was addressed to the Israelites whom the LORD had delivered from Egypt. Moreover, the distinction which they make between "the law of God" and "the law of Moses" is not supported by Scripture. Likewise, their interpretation of the words of Christ and of Paul which are quoted in defense of the perpetuity of the sabbath command, if pressed to its logical conclusion, proves too much. The word "law" as used by Jesus and Paul refers to more than just the Ten Commandments. Seventh-day sabbatarians do not insist that all the laws of the Mosaic legislation are meant to be observed by Christians in this age. But, they fail to see that Paul definitely included the sabbath command among those ordinances which were done away in Christ. Their claim that the Roman Catholic Church changed the sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week is without foundation. In spite of some Roman Catholic writers that claim that such a change was made by "the Catholic Church," the evidence from the Early Church Fathers is conclusive that these early church leaders did not regard Sunday as a continuation of the Hebrew sabbath.

While later writers came to think of Sunday as bearing some analogy to the Hebrew sabbath, and others called the Christian holy day a sabbath (Eusebius, "Commentary on the Ninety-first Psalm," quoted by J. A. Hessey, "Sunday," pp. 299, 300; Alcuin, "Homily 18, post Pentecost," quoted by A. E. J. Rawlinson, "The World's Question and the Christian Answer," p. 78; P. Alphonsus quoted by Hessey, "Sunday," p. 903), they grounded its observance more on the authority of the Church than on the fourth commandment. The Reformers, although they advocated the Christian observance of Sunday, did not base its observance on the sabbath command.


R. L. Dabney, "The Christian Sabbath: Its Nature, Design and Proper Observance" (1882)

W. F. Crafts, "The Sabbath for Man" (1985)

W. W. Everts, "The Sabbath: Its Permanence, Promise and Defence" (1885)

A. E. Waffle, "The Lord's Day: Its Universal and Perpetual Obligation" (1885)

J. A. Hessey, "Sunday: Its Origin, History and Present Obligation" (1889)

W. D. Love, "Sabbath and Sunday" (1896)

H. R. Gamble, "Sunday and the Sabbath" (1901)

A. A. Hodge, "The Day Changed and the Sabbath Preserved" (1916)

E. G. White, "The Great Controversy" (1926)

B. S. Easton, "Lord's Day," ISBE (1930)

J. R. Sampey, "Sabbath," ISBE (1930)

G. F. Moore, "Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era," Vol. II (1932)

P. Cotton, "From Sabbath to Sunday" (1933)

J. P. Hutchison, "Our Obligations to the Day of Rest and Worship" (1942)

A. E. Miligram, "Sabbath: The Day of Delight" (1944)

A. E. J. Rawlinson, "The World's Question and the Christian Answer" (1944)

G. H. Waterman, "The Origin and History of the Christian Sunday" (Unpublished Master's thesis, Wheaton College, 1948)

W. Rordorf, "Sunday: The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church" (1968)


The preceding historical account of the sabbath was taken from the book Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible edited by M. C. Tenny. Copyright 1975, 1976 by the Zondervan Publishing House. Used by Permission. Entered into electronic media by Bible Bulletin Board, Shreveport, LA.

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