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What Does the Bible Say About the Sabbath?

Frequently Asked Questions

Old Testament

One of the Ten Commandments says,

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (NAS, Exodus 20:8-11)

The Sabbath day that the bible speaks about is Saturday, the seventh day of the week (Genesis 2:2-3, Leviticus 23:2-3). The Jews have always considered a day to be the interval from sunset to sunset, and they have always observed the Sabbath from Friday evening until Saturday evening. Modern Jews continue the tradition of observing a holy day of rest on the Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) from sunset Friday until nightfall Saturday. The Old Testament law prohibited doing any work on the Sabbath, and one could receive the death penalty for breaking this law (Numbers 15:32-36).

New Testament

Jesus observed the Sabbath (Luke 4:16) and never suggested a change to Sunday. He did, however, reject a strict legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament commandment. He said Sabbath observance was not a duty that mankind owed to God. Rather, God made the Sabbath as a day of rest for mankind's benefit (Mark 2:27). Jesus and His disciples did not observe the strict Jewish rules against doing any work on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14, Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6, Luke 6:1-11, 13:10-17, 14:1-6, John 5:1-18).

Why Don't Christians Observe the Biblical Sabbath?

Early Christians

The first Christians came from among the Jews. They continued to worship as Jews and continued to observe the Sabbath (Acts 13:14, 17:1-2, 18:1-4). But because Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, those early Christians called it the "Lord's Day" (Revelation 1:10), and also regularly met for their Christian worship on Sunday (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2).

The Council of Jerusalem

When Gentiles (non-Jews) began to convert to Christianity, disputes arose about whether the Gentile Christians had to observe the Jewish laws about circumcision, dietary restrictions, Sabbath observance, etc. In about 49 A.D., Paul, Peter, James and other Church leaders met at the "Council of Jerusalem" and decided, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that it was not necessary for Christians to observe the Sabbath rules and other aspects of Jewish law (Acts 15:28-29, Romans 14:5-6, Colossians 2:16). There is more information in this article on our website: What Does the Bible Say About the Old Testament Law?

Political and Religious Factors

In the early centuries of Christianity, all the Christian communities of the world were under control of the Roman Empire. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. In 321 A.D. he proclaimed Sunday a legal day of rest and ordered all judges, city-people and craftsmen to rest.

By this time, the Christian Church had lost contact with its Jewish roots, and there was much hostility between Christians and Jews. Jewish Christians had been expelled from the synagogues as heretics (John 9:22, 16:2, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). This hostility may have influenced Christians to abandon Sabbath observances. In about 363 A.D., a regional Church council in Asia Minor, the Council of Laodicea, declared that Christians must not rest on the Sabbath (Saturday), but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord's Day (Sunday).

Traditions

Today, most Christians follow the tradition of holding worship services on Sunday. But some believe that Saturday, the original Sabbath day, is the proper day for rest and worship.

Many Christians consider Sunday to be the new Sabbath day, and they believe the Old Testament rules against working on the Sabbath apply to Sunday. However, there is nothing in the Bible which prohibits doing work on Sunday.

Summary

The Biblical Sabbath day is Saturday, the seventh day of the week. The Ten Commandments prohibit doing any work on the Sabbath. The first Christians were Jews who continued to worship as Jews, but they also worshipped on Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. When Gentiles began to convert to Christianity, disputes arose about whether the Gentile Christians had to observe the Jewish laws. The Church "Council of Jerusalem" decided, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that it was not necessary for Christians to observe rules about circumcision, dietary restrictions, Sabbath observance and other aspects of Jewish law. Today, most Christians follow the tradition of Sunday worship.

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