Table of Contents
- 1 Common reasons why Adventists continue to keep the Sabbath:
- 1.1 Sabbath observance is one of the Ten Commandments:
- 1.2 Jesus kept the Sabbath:
- 1.3 The Sabbath was created in Eden before the Fall of mankind:
- 1.4 The Sabbath will be kept in the New Earth by all mankind:
- 1.5 The disciples of Jesus kept the Sabbath:
- 1.6 The Early Christian Church kept the Sabbath:
- 1.7 Historians on Sabbath Observance by Early Christians:
- 1.8 Early Attempts to Remove the Sabbath from Christianity:
- 1.9 Sabbath vs. Sunday:
- 1.9.1 Emperor Constantine (274-337 AD):
- 1.9.2 Gregory of Nyssa (335-394):
- 1.9.3 Spain – Council of Elvira (A.D.305):
- 1.9.4 Persia (335-375 AD):
- 1.9.5 John Chrysostom (349-407 AD):
- 1.9.6 The interpolater of Ignatius (4th Century):
- 1.9.7 Apollinaris Sidonius (430-489 AD):
- 1.9.8 Athanasius (~366 AD):
- 1.9.9 Timotheus (381-385 AD):
- 1.9.10 Epiphanius (380 AD):
- 1.9.11 Sozomen (400-450 AD):
- 1.9.12 Socrates Scholasticus (380-440 AD):
- 1.9.13 Apostolic Constitutions (375-380 AD):
- 1.9.14 Didascalia (300s AD):
- 1.9.15 Eastern Orthodox Church:
- 1.9.16 6th-7th Century Scotland and Ireland:
- 1.9.17 8th Century India, China, and Persia:
- 1.9.18 10th Century Kurdistan:
- 1.9.19 11th Century Scotland:
- 1.9.20 12th Century Wales:
- 1.9.21 16th Century Germany:
- 1.10 Summary:
- 2 Why Don’t All Christians Observe the Sabbath?
- 2.1 The short story of Sabbath and the Early Church:
- 2.1.1 Sabbath first observed alongside Sunday:
- 2.1.2 Hadrian’s Anti-Jewish Laws suppress Sabbath observance:
- 2.1.3 Constantine’s Sunday Law enhanced Sunday observance:
- 2.1.4 Eusebius:
- 2.1.5 Ephraem Syrus:
- 2.1.6 Long decline of Sabbath observance:
- 2.1.7 Socrates and Sozomen:
- 2.1.8 Counsil of Laodicea (363–364 AD):
- 2.1.9 Third Synod of Orleans (538 AD):
- 2.1.10 Second Synod of Macon (585 AD):
- 2.1.11 King Guntram’s Decree (585 AD):
- 2.1.12 Walter W. Hyde:
- 2.1.13 Seventh-day Sabbath remnants:
- 2.1.14 Sunday as the new Sabbath:
- 2.2 The Catholic Argument:
- 2.3 The Orthodox Argument:
- 2.4 The Protestant Argument:
- 2.5 Common arguments against Sabbath observance:
- 2.5.1 Colossians 2:
- 2.5.2 No Distinction Between any of the Old Testament Commandments:
- 2.5.3 Romans 14:5 and “The New Covenant”:
- 2.5.4 Nine of the Ten Commandments still Binding:
- 2.5.5 The Ten Commandments are Not Eternal:
- 2.5.6 The Ten Commandments are not “All Encompassing”:
- 2.5.7 The Ten Commandments are not Perfect:
- 2.5.8 The Sabbath Commandment is Ceremonial:
- 2.5.9 Jesus broke the Sabbath to undermine its authority:
- 2.5.10 Every day should be treated like a Sabbath:
- 2.5.11 Jesus Fulfilled All of the Laws:
- 2.5.12 Sabbath given only to the Jews:
- 220.127.116.11 Jewish Perspective:
- 18.104.22.168 Book of Jubilees and Mishneh Torah:
- 22.214.171.124 Seven Laws of Noah:
- 126.96.36.199 Ten Commandments Incorporate Laws of Noah:
- 188.8.131.52 Philo: Universal Sabbath was made for all of mankind:
- 184.108.40.206 Patriarchs before Moses kept the whole Torah:
- 2.5.13 Circumcision tied to the Sabbath Commandment:
- 2.5.14 Isreal not to make friends with other nations:
- 2.5.15 The Greeks have always hated Jewish laws and customs:
- 2.5.16 The Seventh-day Sabbath is ceremonial:
- 2.5.17 Creation week Sabbath as a “Prolepsis”:
- 2.5.18 The word “Sabbath” is not used in Genesis:
- 2.5.19 The Sabbath as a “Propitiation”:
- 2.5.20 The Lunar Sabbath (The Sabbath is not Saturday):
- 2.5.21 Ignatius in his Epistle to the Magnesians (107 AD):
- 2.5.22 Ignatius in his Epistle to the Trallians:
- 2.5.23 Epistle of Barnabas (140-150 AD):
- 2.5.24 Review of “Lying for God” by Brendon Knudson:
- 2.5.25 Review by Kerry Wynne (principle author of Lying for God):
- 2.5.26 Anti-Sabbatarian views of Dr. Clinton Baldwin:
- 2.1 The short story of Sabbath and the Early Church:
- 3 Summary Video:
- 4 Summary Power Point Presentation:
Last update: May 15, 2017
Most Christian denominations today worship on Sunday, or the first day of the week, rather than on the Sabbath, or the seventh day of the week. Yet, Seventh-day Adventists and other Sabbatarians continue to observe the Sabbath as a “holy day” – along with practicing Jews. Why? What is so important about Sabbath observance for Seventh-day Adventists? And, is it even biblical?
Common reasons why Adventists continue to keep the Sabbath:
Sabbath observance is one of the Ten Commandments:
Perhaps the primary reason why Adventists continue to observe the 7th-day Sabbath is that it is one of the Ten Commandments written by God’s own finger in stone (Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). God does very little writing with His own finger – and only once in stone (Deuteronomy 5:22). This suggests the permanent nature of the Ten Commandments as a written expression of the Royal Law of Love toward God and toward one’s neighbor (James 2:8; Galatians 5:14; Matthew 22:37-40). Added to this is the fact that only the Decalogue, written by the Finger of God, was placed inside of the Ark of the Covenant. All of the other Mosaic laws were placed on the outside of the Ark “as a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26).
Jesus kept the Sabbath:
Another common reason cited for Sabbath observance for the Christian is that Jesus kept the Sabbath. It was His custom to worship in the local synagogue on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16).
And, when accused of breaking the Sabbath, He cited Jewish law that allowed for the breaking of the Sabbath in certain situations – to include a direct service to God (Matthew 12:5) or to relieve the suffering of man or even beast (Luke 13:15; Luke 14:5; Matthew 12:11). Jesus concluded with the argument: “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:12).
Of course, since this was in fact right in line with Jewish law, there wasn’t much that could be said to contradict this conclusion on the matter. However, just to drive His point home a bit more, Jesus added, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). Here Jesus claimed that He had Himself originally created the Sabbath to be a blessing for all of mankind (“anthropos” in the original Greek text) – not just for the Jews. Also, as the Creator of the Sabbath, Jesus claimed to be able to appropriately define the meaning of the day as the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). It is in this way that Jesus could accurately claim that He truly kept all of the Laws of God perfectly as God actually intended them to be kept (John 15:10).
Even during His own time in the grave, Jesus paid respect to the Sabbath by staying in the tomb over the Sabbath hours. The same is true for His followers during this time. “Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes, but they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56). This clearly indicates that neither Jesus nor His followers saw any change in Sabbath sacredness following the crucifixion.
Beyond this, Jesus predicted that future Christians would continue their observance of the Sabbath after His time – explaining that His followers should pray that their future flight from the Roman armies, armies that would destroy Jerusalem (some 40 years later in 70 AD), not take place in the winter or on the Sabbath day (Matthew 24:20). The usual counter to this argument is that Jesus said this for practical reasons, not because His disciples would be keeping the Sabbath as a holy day, but so that they could more effectively flee if their flight were not on a Sabbath day (given that the gates of the cities would be closed on the Sabbath).
The problem with this argument, however, is that, according to Josephus, everything was left wide open for the Christians to flee from Jerusalem. Even the gates of the temple itself were miraculously opened as a sign of God’s departure (Link). Also, the Roman armies initially retreated and the Jewish soldiers chased after them – leaving the city and the countryside undefended and wide open for the Christians to escape (Link). Numerous historians have commented on this miraculous situation:
“This counsel [of Matthew 24:16] was remembered and wisely followed by the Christians afterwards. Eusebius and Epiphanius say, that at this juncture, after Cestius Gallus had raised the siege, and Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished (see Matthew 24:13).”
Adam Clarke (1837) Commentary On Matthew 24
“How exactly the several passages of story in Josephus agree with these predictions will easily be discerned by comparing them, particularly that which belongs to this place of their flying to the mountains. For when Gallus besieged Jerusalem, and without any visible cause, on a sudden raised the siege, what an act of God’s special providence was this, thus to order it, that the believers of Christian Jews being warned by this siege, and let loose (set at liberty again) might fly to the mountains, that is, get out of Judea to some other place! Which that they did accordingly appears by this, that when Titus came some months after and besieged the city, there was not one Christian remaining in it”
Henry Hammond (1659), vol. 3, p. 160
“It is a remarkable but historical fact that Cestius Gallus, the Roman general, for some unknown reason, retired when they first marched against the city, suspended the siege, ceased the attack and withdrew his armies for an interval of time after the Romans had occupied the temple, thus giving every believing Jew the opportunity to obey the Lord’s instruction to flee the city. Josephus the eyewitness, himself an unbeliever, chronicles this fact, and admitted his inability to account for the cessation of the fighting at this time, after a siege had begun. Can we account for it? We can. The Lord was fighting against Jerusalem Zechariah 14:2: ‘For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city: The Lord was besieging that city. God was bringing these things to pass against the Jewish state and nation. Therefore, the opportunity was offered for the disciples to escape the siege, as Jesus had forewarned, and the disciples took it. So said Daniel; so said Jesus; so said Luke, so said Josephus”
Foy Wallace (1966), The Book of Revelation, p. 352
Clearly then, there would have been no physical issue regarding Christian escape if it had been a Sabbath day. So, this doesn’t seem to be the reason why Jesus reminded the Christians to pray that their flight not take place on the Sabbath day. Rather, fleeing on the Sabbath day would be less desirable because it would mean that they wouldn’t be able to actually enjoy the Sabbath if they had to flee on that day.
The Sabbath was created in Eden before the Fall of mankind:
At the end of the creation week described in Genesis, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:3).
It seems, then, that Jesus originally created the Sabbath day as a special social day of rest from the usual activities of life to have an entire day to spend with especially with God. This was a gift from God for all of humankind – originally given back in Eden before sin had even entered the world. Why then would such a gift be discarded by the Christian?
The Sabbath will be kept in the New Earth by all mankind:
“As the new heavens and new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:22-23)
The disciples of Jesus kept the Sabbath:
It seems as though the disciples of Jesus continued to keep the Sabbath, as Jesus kept it, even after His death and resurrection. There are many mentions of the disciples and other followers of Jesus coming together to worship on the Sabbath day – as was their custom (Acts 17:2). The Book of Acts alone gives a record of Paul holding eighty-four worship meetings upon that day (Acts 13:14, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4-11). In fact, the best interpretation of John’s phrase “the Lord’s Day” is that John was talking about the Sabbath (Revelation 1:10). After all, up until that point in the history of the early Christian Church, only the Sabbath had ever been referred to as “the Lord’s Day” (Mark 2:28 and Isaiah 58:13). This is right in line with the fact that the Christians continued to worship in the temple and in their synagogues, as they had always done (Acts 3:1). No significant changes to their customs of worship are described in the Bible.
There was also never any dispute between the Christians and the Jews about the Sabbath day. This is good evidence that the early Christians still observed the same day that the Jews did.
The Early Christian Church kept the Sabbath:
Historians are in general agreement that the early Christians, Jews and gentiles, continued to observe the Sabbath as a holy day – as well as Sunday in celebration of the resurrection. This is despite the fact that a number of early church fathers favored Sunday observance over the Sabbath – especially starting the second century during the anti-Jewish laws of Emperor Hadrian.
Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – 50 AD):
Philo, who was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt. He noted that the seventh day was to be a festival, “not of this or that city, but of the universe” – not to be reserved for the Jews only:
The seventh day is the completion of creation, “for it is the festival, not of a single city or country, but of the universe, and it alone strictly deserves to be called ‘public’ as belonging to all people and the birthday of the world.”
“Every seventh day is sacred, which is called by the Hebrews the sabbath; and the seventh month in every year has the greatest of the festivals allotted to it, so that very naturally the seventh year also has a share of the veneration paid to this number, and receives especial honour.”
“The fourth commandment has reference to the sacred seventh day, that it may be passed in a sacred and holy manner. Now some states keep the holy festival only once in the month, counting from the new moon, as a day sacred to God; but the nation of the Jews keep every seventh day regularly, after each interval of six days; and there is an account of events recorded in the history of the creation of the world, comprising a sufficient relation of the cause of this ordinance; for the sacred historian says, that the world was created in six days, and that on the seventh day God desisted from his works, and began to contemplate what he had so beautifully created; therefore, he commanded the beings also who were destined to live in this state, to imitate God in this particular also, as well as in all others, applying themselves to their works for six days, but desisting from them and philosophising on the seventh day, and devoting their leisure to the contemplation of the things of nature, and considering whether in the preceding six days they have done anything which has not been holy, bringing their conduct before the judgment-seat of the soul, and subjecting it to a scrutiny, and making themselves give an account of all the things which they have said or done; the laws sitting by as assessors and joint inquirers, in order to the correcting of such errors as have been committed through carelessness, and to the guarding against any similar offences being hereafter repeated.”
Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155 AD):
Polycarp personally knew the Apostle John, and was his disciple. All of his life he was devoted to the teachings of John and the other Apostles and was considered to be a Nazarene. The 15th-century Jewish historian, sometimes called Rabbi Ifaac wrote:
“Polycarp…Born late in the reign of Nero, he became a Nazarene.”
Hoffman , David. Chronicles from Cartaphilus: The Wandering Jew. Published by , 1853. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized Sep 7, 2007, p. 636
Being a Nazarene meant, of course, that Polycarp continued to observe the Sabbath as a holy day of worship – as did the Apostle John before him since Polycarp was John’s disciple.
As late as the eleventh century, Cardinal Humbert of Mourmoutiers still referred to the Nazarene sect as a Sabbath-keeping Christian body existing at that time (Strong (1874), Cyclopedia, I, New York, p. 660). Modern scholars believe it is the Pasagini or Pasagians who are referenced by Cardinal Humbert, suggesting the Nazarene sect existed well into the eleventh century and beyond (from the Catholic writings of Bonacursus entitled “Against the Heretics“). It is believed that Gregorius of Bergamo, about 1250 AD, also wrote concerning the Nazarenes as the Pasagians.
The argument by some that the Nazarenes followed the floating “Lunar Sabbath” is based largely on John Keyser’s book, “From Sabbath to Saturday“ where a statement by Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) is referenced as follows:
“Neither worship as the Jews; for they, thinking that they only know God, do not know Him, adoring as they do angels and archangels, the month and the moon. And if the moon be not visible, they do not hold the Sabbath, which is called the first; nor do they hold the new moon, nor the feast of unleavened bread, nor the feast, nor the great day.” (Stromata, Chap. 5)
Lunar Sabbatarians commonly interpret this statement as follows:
This clearly indicates that at this time the weekly Sabbath was still dictated by the moon’s course (Link).
Well, not quite. Certainly, this passage does not trump the numerous statements from many authors concerning the regular weekly cycle of seven fixed days followed by the early Christians (including the Nazarenes) – along with a fixed Sabbath day every 7th day. Therefore, what Clement is most likely talking about here is one of the annual sabbaths – like the “Feast of Trumpets” (which happens to fall on “the first” day of the month of Tishrei).
For a more detailed discussion of the whole notion of a “Lunar Sabbath” see: Link
The same appears to be true of those who followed the teachings of the Apostle Paul – including the gentile Nazarenes up into the fourth and fifth centuries. They were sometimes derisively referred to as “Minim” by some of the Jews:
“In fact some Minim of gentile stock, following St. Paul, taught that the Law had been abolished with the exception of the Decalogue…”
Bagatti (Catholic Scholar). The Church from the Circumcision, p. 108
Irenaeus on Polycarp:
This devotion to the teaching of the Apostles was carefully noted by those around him and by those who came after. For example, Irenaeus, a contemporary of Polycarp (130-220 AD), spoke of Polycarp as follows:
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time
Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4.
It is also interesting to note that Irenaeus and Eusebius both record how the Apostles Philip and John, as well as faithful church leaders and martyrs such as Polycarp and Melito, kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan in accordance with the gospel and would not deviate from it.
Besides observing the Passover exactly on the 14th of Nisan, not always on the Sunday following, Polycarp also observed the Sabbath – as did the Nazarenes in general. Irenaeus, on the other hand, was known as a “peacemaker” and so adopted weekly Sunday observance as well as Easter Sunday observance (not usually on the 14th of Nisan). He also downplayed Sabbath observance, giving it a metaphysical meaning similar to the Gnostics – despite the influence of Polycarp.
Roman supporters ultimately did largely eliminate the Christian observance of the Passover on the 14th of Nisan – by the decree of the pagan Emperor Constantine in 325 AD.
In any case, while Irenaeus commended Polycarp for blasting the “heretic” Marcion (who tried to do away with the Old Testament, the law, and the Sabbath), he apparently did not think that changing the date of the Passover to Sunday (as some Roman bishops did) or the day of worship to Sunday (as Justin advocated) was heretical.
The account of Polycarp’s death at the stake also appears to cite Sabbath observance by his followers. According to the letter “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” by the Smyrnaeans:
“On the day of the preparation, at the hour of dinner, there came out pursuers and horsemen” and Polycarp was killed “on the day of the great Sabbath at the eighth hour.”
The encyclical epistle of the church at Smyrna, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole’s 1885 translation
Note: The margin says, “The great Sabbath is that before the passover.”
The use of these two expressions (“day of the preparation” and “the day of the great Sabbath”) strongly indicates that those in Polycarp’s area were still keeping the Sabbath as well as Holy Days, like the Passover, in the latter portion of the second century. Otherwise, since Asia Minor (including Smyrna) was a Gentile area, the terms “preparation day”, which was generally used in reference to the Friday preceding the weekly Sabbath day (since food preparation could be done on the annual sabbaths, but not on the weekly Sabbath), and “great Sabbath” would not have been relevant.
Vita Polycarpi (3rd to early 4th century):
This work is attributed to Pionius and is dated anywhere from the 3rd to the early 4th century A.D. Many historians view the Vita Polycarpi as a book of legends and fantastic supernaturalism, quoting non-existent documents, and not of any real historical value beyond what was taking place during the 3rd or 4th centuries. However, many historians view this document as having some historical value, such as in its descriptions of the life and liturgy of the 3rd-century church in Smyrna – as well as Christian interactions with the Jews and pagans. Specifically relevant to this discussion, the Christian community in this region of Smyrna is specifically described, in the Vita Polycarpi, as keeping the Saturday Sabbath in the same manner the Jews – and gathering for Biblical instruction and to celebrate Sabbath as a feast day with their brethren.
Polycrates of Ephesus (125-196 AD):
In the closing decades of the second century, Polycrates, a faithful church leader who had been personally trained by Polycarp, took over a leadership position (and was eventually crucified). He remained prominent Christian leader who was faithful to the example of the Apostles of the Jerusalem Church. Polycrates taught the true Gospel of the literal establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the unconscious state of the dead awaiting the resurrection, and the importance of keeping God’s Law.
Toward the end of the second century, Victor, bishop of Rome, had begun labeling Polycrates and those who followed his teachings as heretics—sources of discord and schism in the church. Polycrates remained faithful despite increasing pressure and isolation as well as persecution and hostility from fellow Christians as well as the surrounding pagan society.
Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (120-190 AD):
And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create…Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the “Sabbath,” is translated into Greek the “Seventh” (ebdomas), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation.
Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapters XI, XII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight
In the fifteenth chapter of this book, Theophilus compares those who “keep the law and commandments of God” to the fixed stars, while the “wandering stars” are “a type of the men who have who wandered from God, abandoning his law and commandments.”
In short, Theophilus bears testimony to the validity and binding nature of the commandments of the Decalogue, including the Sabbath, and says not one word concerning the observance of Sunday or the “Lord’s Day” as a holy day.
Historians on Sabbath Observance by Early Christians:
Edward Brerewood (1565-1613):
“It is certain that the ancient Sabbath did remain and was observed (together with the celebration of the Lord’s day) by the Christians of the East Church, above three hundred years after our Saviour’s death.”
A learned treatise of the Sabbath, written by Mr Edward Brerewood professor in Gresham Colledge, London. (1631)
T. H. Morer (1701):
“The primitive Christians had a great veneration for the Sabbath, and spent the day in devotion and sermons. And it is not to be doubted but they derived this practice from the Apostles themselves, as appears by several scriptures to the purpose.”
Dr. T. M. Morer, Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, p. 189. London: 1701
Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667):
“The primitive Christians did keep the Sabbath of the Jews;…therefore the Christians, for a long time together, did keep their conventions upon the Sabbath, in which some portions of the law were read: and this continued till the time of the Laodicean council.”
“The Whole Works” of Rev. Jeremy Taylor, Vol. IX, p. 416 (R. Heber’s Edition, Vol XII, p. 416).
Dr. Theodor Zahn (1838-1933):
“[The early Christians] observed the Sabbath in the most conscientious manner: otherwise, they would have been stoned. Instead of this, we learn from the book of the Acts that at times they were highly respected even by that part of their own nation that remained in unbelief….
That the observance of Sunday commenced among them would be a supposition which would have no seeming ground for it, and all probability against it….
The Sabbath was a strong tie which united them with the life of the whole people, and in keeping the Sabbath holy, they followed not only the example, but also the command of Jesus.
Geschichte des Sonntags, pp. 13, 14.
Lutheran Bishop Grimelund of Norway (1912-1896):
“The early Christians were of Jewish descent, and the first Christian church in Jerusalem was a Jewish- Christian church. It conformed, as could be expected, to the Jewish law and Sabbath-custom; it had no express instruction from the Lord to do otherwise…
But, one could reason, that for all this it does not follow that one should give up and forsake the ‘Sabbath’ which God Himself has commanded, nor that we should transfer this to another day of the week, even if that is such a memorable day. To do this would require an equally definite command from God, whereby the former command is abolished, but where can we find such a command? It is true, such a command is not to be found.”
“Sondagens Historie,” p. 13-18. Christiania, Norway: Den norske Lutherstiftelses Forlag, 1886.
Johann Gieseler (1792-1854):
The well-known Protestant church historian, Johann Gieseler, explains the situation as follows:
“While the Jewish Christians of Palestine, who kept the whole Jewish law, celebrated of course all the Jewish festivals, the heathen converts observed only the Sabbath, and, in remembrance of the closing scenes of our Saviour’s life, the Passover, though without the Jewish superstitions. Besides these, the Sunday, as the day of our Saviour’s resurrection, was devoted to religious worship”
Church History, Apostolic Age to A.D. 70, Section 29. See also: A Compendium of Ecclesiastical History,” Vol. I, chap. 2, see. 30, p. 92. Edinburgh: 1846.
Peter Heylyn (1599-1662):
And, during the first few hundred centuries, “Sabbath keeping was the practice generally of the Easterne Churches; and some churches of the West… For in the Church of Millaine [Milan]; … it seemes the Saturday was held in a farre esteeme … Not that the Easterne Churches, or any of the rest which observed that day were inclined to Iudaisme [Judaism]; but that they came together on the Sabbath day, to worship Iesus [Jesus] Christ the Lord of the Sabbath.”
Augustine of Hippo, a devout Sunday keeper, attested that the Sabbath was observed in the greater part of the Christian world (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1, pp. 353-354) and deplored the fact that in two neighbouring Churches in Africa, one observed the seventh day Sabbath, while another fasted on it.
Dr. Peter Heylyn, History of the Sabbath, London 1636, Part 2, para. 5, pp. 73-74, 416) original spelling retained)
Moses B. Stuart (1780-1852):
Professor Stewart, in speaking of the history of the Christian Church during the period from Emperor Constantine to the Council of Laodicea, says:
“The practice of it [the keeping of the Sabbath] was continued by Christians who were jealous for the honor of the Mosaic law, and finally became, as we have seen, predominant throughout Christendom. It was supposed at length that the fourth commandment did require the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath (not merely a seventh part of time). And reasoning as Christians of the present day are wont to do, viz., that all which belonged to the ten commandments was immutable and perpetual, the churches in general came gradually to regard the seventh day Sabbath as altogether sacred.”
Appendix to Gurney’s History, etc., of the Sabbath, pp. 115, 116.
So, after Constantine’s time, there seems to have been in a measure a revival of interest in, and reverence for, the Sabbath in the minds of most Christians throughout the Christian world – especially in the Eastern churches, where the influence of the Western Roman Church was less powerful.
Early Attempts to Remove the Sabbath from Christianity:
Hadrian (76-138 AD):
It is well documented that the early Christian church continued to keep the Sabbath throughout Christendom for a very long time. However, in Rome and Alexandria Sabbath did observance first started to wane in the early second century. Under Vespasian (69-79 AD) both the Sanhedrin and the high priesthood were abolished, and under Hadrian, the practice of the Jewish religion and particularly Sabbathkeeping were outlawed (around 135 AD). There was, in fact, a growing sentiment against anything resembling Jewishness during this time that was widespread – to include the Christian world as well as the pagan world.
Writers such as Seneca (65 AD), Persius (34-62 AD), Petronius (66 AD), Quintilian (35-100 AD), Martial (40-104 AD), Plutarch (46 AD), Juvenal (125 AD), and Tacitus (55-120 AD), who lived in Rome for most of their professional lives, reviled the Jews racially and culturally. Particularly were the Jewish customs of Sabbathkeeping and circumcision contemptuously derided as examples of degrading superstitions.
Clearly then, Hadrian’s laws were not targetted at Christians, per se, but against the Jews in particular – largely because of the very bloody and costly Jewish revolts. Jerusalem was completely destroyed and then rebuilt as a Roman city with Roman temples. Jews were barred from even entering this city – while Christians were still allowed to enter. The Christians themselves largely got around the anti-Sabbath laws by “doing good deeds” and being generally active on the Sabbath – citing the activity of Jesus Himself on the Sabbath and how doing such activities for God was “lawful” to do on the Sabbath – as Jesus Himself point out. Fairly quickly, however, the leadership of the Christian churches, especially in the west, saw the expediency of viewing Sabbath observance in a more and more spiritual sense rather than in the literal sense that it had previously been observed.
Research has shown that during the second and third centuries various prominent leaders of the Christian communities endeavored, by being busy doing “divine work” on the Sabbath and allegorizing the meaning of the Sabbath to lessen its status as compared to Sunday or “The Lord’s Day”, to cope with Roman laws against Sabbathkeeping – to include Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), Irenaeus (130-202 AD), Pothinus (87-177 AD), Tertullian (160-220 AD), Clement (150-215 AD), and Origen (185-254 AD).
Justin Martyr (100-165 AD):
Of course, many started to allegorize the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath – according to the teachings of the Gnostics which heavily influenced those in Rome and Alexandria beginning within the 2nd Century. For example, Justin Martyr wrote:
“The Lawgiver is present, yet you do not see Him; to the poor the Gospel is preached, the blind see, yet you do not understand. You have now need of a second circumcision, though you glory greatly in the flesh. The new law requires you to keep perpetual sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you: and if you eat unleavened bread, you say the will of God has been fulfilled. The Lord our God does not take pleasure in such observances: if any one has impure hands, let him wash and be pure; if there is any perjured person or a thief among you, let him cease to be so; if any adulterer, let him repent; then he has kept the sweet and true sabbaths of God. “
Dialogue with Trypho the Jew Chapter XII.
For we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined you,—namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts. For if we patiently endure all things contrived against us by wicked men and demons, so that even amid cruelties unutterable, death and torments, we pray for mercy to those who inflict such things upon us, and do not wish to give the least retort to any one, even as the new Lawgiver commanded us: how is it, Trypho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us, —I speak of fleshly circumcision, and Sabbaths, and feasts?
Dialogue with Trypho the Jew Chapter XVIII.
“Wherefore, Trypho, I will proclaim to you, and to those who wish to become proselytes, the divine message which I heard from that man. Do you see that the elements are not idle, and keep no Sabbaths? Remain as you were born. For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham. For when Abraham himself was in uncircumcision, he was justified and blessed by reason of the faith which he reposed in God, as the Scripture tells. Moreover, the Scriptures and the facts themselves compel us to admit that He received circumcision for a sign, and not for righteousness…
As, then, circumcision began with Abraham, and the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts with Moses, and it has been proved they were enjoined on account of the hardness of your people’s heart, so it was necessary, in accordance with the Father’s will, that they should have an end in Him who was born of a virgin, of the family of Abraham and tribe of Judah, and of David; in Christ the Son of God, who was proclaimed as about to come to all the world, to be the everlasting law and the everlasting covenant, even as the forementioned prophecies show.”
The Second Apology of Justin for the Christians, Addressed to the Roman Senate. Chapter XXIII and XLIII
As an aside, if Sunday was known as the “Lord’s day” during the last of the first and the early part of the second century, how can we explain the fact that the two strongest advocates of Sunday observance in the second century, Barnabas and Justin Martyr (in fact, the only ones who actually denounced Sabbath observance and urged the observance of Sunday in that period – most of the rest of the church leaders and members during this time clearly continued to observe the Sabbath day as a day of worship) never referred to Sunday as “the Lord’s day”? Although they were trying to find a reason for observing Sunday, yet they always referred to it simply as the first day, or the eighth day; and in one instance Justin used the heathen expression, “he tou heliou hemera,” the day of the sun, in referring to it. If Sunday was then known as “The Lord’s Day,” and these men were urging the observance of it as a replacement for the Sabbath, why did they not use that title, and cite the apostle John as their example? All this seems to indicate that these men and their associates knew nothing about Sunday as “The Lord’s Day.”
In any case, it is quite evident that the idea of being able to keep the Sabbath without actually being “idle,” as were the Jews, was rather widespread among the early second century Christians – despite those like Justin Martyr who wanted to give up the concept of Sabbath observance altogether. Christians during this time faced the constant possibility that, because of some adverse event, the pagans would rise up against them and accuse them, yet again, of causing the gods to become angry. Thus, Christian leaders did what they could to demonstrate by their lives that they were upright, noble citizens – not at all like the unruly Jews.
All this taken into account sufficiently distinguished the Christians from the Jews regarding Sabbath observance in the eyes of the Romans who were, during Hadrian’s time, primarily targeting the Jews themselves. Also, Hadrian’s laws were not evenly enforced throughout the Roman Empire.
However, there is no doubt that the various attitudes of Christians relating to the Sabbath laws of Rome during the second and third centuries paved the way for the more drastic changes that took place in the fourth century, especially during the reign of Emperor Constantine.
Never the less, Sabbath-keeping, the original position of the Church, had already spread west into Europe from Palestine. It spread East into India (Mingana, Early Spread of Christianity, Vol. 10, p. 460) and then into China.
Irenaeus (130-202 AD):
Irenaeus also acknowledged that Christ did not do away with the Decalogue or the law of the Sabbath within the Decalogue.
“Perfect righteousness was conferred neither by any other legal ceremonies. The decalogue however was not cancelled by Christ, but is always in force: men were never released from its commandments.” (ANF, Bk. IV, Ch. XVI, p. 480)
He emphasized, in contrast to the common Jewish position, however, that Jesus said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12, NKJV). It followed, then, that humanity need not be idle on the Sabbath:
“And therefore the Lord reproved those who unjustly blamed Him for having healed upon the Sabbath-days. For He did not make void, but fulfilled the law. . . . And again, the law did not forbid those who were hungry on the Sabbath-days to take food lying ready at hand: it did, however, forbid them to reap and to gather into barns.”
Beyond this, however, Irrenaeus argued that Sabbath observance, on the 7th-day, was not really necessary – since, according to him, the Patriarchs before Moses did not observe the Sabbath.
“Abraham himself, without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths, believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. James 2:23 Then, again, Lot, without circumcision, was brought out from Sodom, receiving salvation from God. So also did Noah, pleasing God, although he was uncircumcised, receive the dimensions [of the ark], of the world of the second race [of men]. Enoch, too, pleasing God, without circumcision, discharged the office of God’s legate to the angels although he was a man, and was translated, and is preserved until now as a witness of the just judgment of God, because the angels when they had transgressed fell to the earth for judgment, but the man who pleased [God] was translated for salvation. Moreover, all the rest of the multitude of those righteous men who lived before Abraham, and of those patriarchs who preceded Moses, were justified independently of the things above mentioned, and without the law of Moses. As also Moses himself says to the people in Deuteronomy: The Lord your God formed a covenant in Horeb. The Lord formed not this covenant with your fathers, but for you.” Deuteronomy 5:2
Iranaeus, Against Heresies, (Book IV, Chapter 16 – Link)
Tertullian (160-220 AD):
Tertullian pointed out:
“It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:4) and went on to explain, “For when it says of the Sabbath-day, ‘In it thou shalt not do any work of thine,’ by the word thine it restricts the prohibition to human work—which everyone performs in his own employment or business—and not to divine work.”
However, Tertullian went on to attack Sabbath observance in more direct terms:
“[L]et him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation, and circumcision on the eighth day . . . teach us that, for the time past, righteous men kept the Sabbath or practiced circumcision, and were thus rendered ‘friends of God.’ For if circumcision purges a man, since God made Adam uncircumcised, why did he not circumcise him, even after his sinning, if circumcision purges? . . . Therefore, since God originated Adam uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, consequently his offspring also, Abel, offering him sacrifices, uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, was by him [God] commended [Gen. 4:1–7, Heb. 11:4]. . . . Noah also, uncircumcised—yes, and unobservant of the Sabbath—God freed from the deluge. For Enoch too, most righteous man, uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath, he translated from this world, who did not first taste death in order that, being a candidate for eternal life, he might show us that we also may, without the burden of the law of Moses, please God”
An Answer to the Jews Chapter II.
As far as Sunday observance, it was, according to Tertullian, all based on tradition – not on scripture:
We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the cross].
If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom, as their strengthener, and faith, as their observer. That reason will support tradition, and custom, and faith, you will either yourself perceive, or learn from some one who has.
Tertullian, De Corona, Sects. 3 and 4.
Then again, at times, Tertullian appears to actually give preference to the Sabbath – even over the observance of “the eighth day”:
For my own part, I prefer viewing this measure of time in reference to God, as if implying that the ten months rather initiated man into the ten commandments; so that the numerical estimate of the time needed to consummate our natural birth should correspond to the numerical classification of the rules of our regenerate life. But inasmuch as birth is also completed with the seventh month, I more readily recognize in this number than in the eighth the honor of a numerical agreement with the Sabbatical period; so that the month in which God’s image is sometimes produced in a human birth, shall in its number tally with the day on which God’s creation was completed and hallowed.
Tertullian, De Anima, chap 37.
In presenting such an argument Tertullian appears to show his faith in the Ten Commandments as the rule that should govern the Christian’s life – and even gives preference to the seventh day as the Sabbath, the origin of which is from God’s act of hallowing the seventh day at creation.
Occasionally, Tertullian also appears to put on equal footing the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day (or Sunday). In this treatise “On Fasting,” chapter 14., he terms “the Sabbath – a day never to be kept as a fast except at the Passover season, according to a reason elsewhere given.” And, in chapter 15., Tertullian exempts from the two weeks in which meat was not eaten “the Sabbaths” and “the Lord’s days.”
He next declares that Isaiah’s prediction respecting the Sabbath in the new earth (Isaiah 66:22, 23), was “fulfilled in the time of Christ, when all flesh – that is, every nation came to adore in Jerusalem God the Father… Thus, therefore, before this temporal Sabbath [the seventh day], there was withal an eternal Sabbath foreshown and foretold.”
In chapter 6, Tertullian repeats his theory of the “Sabbath temporal” [the seventh day], and the “Sabbath eternal” or the “Spiritual Sabbath,” which is “to observe a Sabbath from all ‘servile works’ always, and not only every seventh day, but through all time.” He says that the ancient law has ceased, and that “the new law” and the Spiritual Sabbath has come whereby every day is the Sabbath.
Yet, in a seeming backpeddle, Tertullian appears to claim that Jesus never actually broke the Sabbath nor did Jesus do away with the Sabbath:
In order that he might, whilst allowing that amount of work which he was about to perform for a soul, remind them what works the law of the Sabbath forbade – even human works; and what it enjoined – even divine works, which might be done for the benefit of any soul, he was called ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ because he maintained the Sabbath as his own institution. Now, even if he had annulled the Sabbath, he would have had the right to do so, as being its Lord, [and] still more as he who instituted it. But he did not utterly destroy it, although its Lord, in order that it might henceforth be plain that the Sabbath was not broken by the Creator, even at the time when the ark was carried around Jericho. For that was really God’s work, which he commanded himself, and which he had ordered for the sake of the lives of his servants when exposed to the perils of war.
Tertullian, Book iv. chap 12.
In this paragraph, Tertullian explains the law of God in the clearest manner. He shows beyond all dispute that neither Joshua nor Christ ever violated it. He also declares that Christ did not abolish the Sabbath. He further explains this seemly contradictory position as follows:
Now, although he has in a certain place expressed an aversion of Sabbaths, by calling them ‘your Sabbaths,’ reckoning them as men’s Sabbaths, not his own, because they were celebrated without the fear of God by a people full of iniquities, and loving God ‘with the lip, not the heart,’ he has yet put his own Sabbaths (those, that is, which were kept according to this prescription) in a different position; for by the same prophet, in a later passage, he declares them to be ‘true, delightful, and inviolable.’ [Isaiah 58:13; 56:2.] Thus Christ did not at all rescind the Sabbath: he kept the law thereof, and both in the former case did a work which was beneficial to the life of his disciples (for he indulged them with the relief of food when they were hungry), and in the present instance cured the withered hand; in each case intimating by facts, ‘I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it,’ although Marcion has gagged his mouth by this word.
Tertullian, Book iv. chap 12.
Here Tertullian shows that God did not hate his own Sabbath, but only the hypocrisy of those who professed to keep it. He also expressly declares that the Saviour “did not at all rescind the Sabbath.” He continues as follows:
For even in the case before us he fulfilled the law while interpreting its condition; [moreover] he exhibits in a clear light the different kinds of work, while doing what the law except from the sacredness of the Sabbath, [and] while imparting to the Sabbath day itself which from the beginning had been consecrated by the benediction of the Father, an additional sanctity by his own beneficent action. For he furnished to this day divine safeguards – a course which his adversary would have pursued for some other days, to avoid honoring the Creator’s Sabbath, and restoring to the Sabbath the works which were proper for it. Since, in like manner, the prophet Elisha on this day restored to life the dead son of the Shunammite woman, you see, O Pharisee, and you too, O Marcion, how that it was [proper employment] for the Creator’s Sabbaths of old to do good, to save life, not to destroy it; how that Christ introduced nothing new, which was not after the example, the gentleness, the mercy, and the prediction also of the Creator. For in this very example he fulfills the prophetic announcement of a specific healing: ‘The weak hands are strengthened’, as were also ‘the feeble knees’ in the sick of the palsy.”
Tertullian against Marcion, b. iv. chap 12.
Although Tertullian is mistaken here in his reference to the Shunammite woman (It was not the Sabbath day on which she went to the prophet: 2 Kings 4:23), he affirms many important truths here.
What we have then in the person of Tertullian is someone who very conflicting thoughts and statements. He often contradicts himself in the most extraordinary manner concerning the Sabbath and the law of God. He asserts that the Sabbath was abolished by Christ, and elsewhere emphatically declares that he did not abolish it. He says that Joshua violated the Sabbath, and then expressly declares that he did not violate it. He says that Christ broke the Sabbath and then shows that he never did this. He represents the eighth day as more honorable than the seventh, and elsewhere states just the reverse. He asserts that the law is abolished, and in other places affirms its perpetual obligation. He speaks of the Lord’s day as the eighth day, (the second of the early writers who makes an application of this term to Sunday, with Clement of Alexandria, A. D. 194, being the first). Also, like Clement, Tertullian uses the term “the eighth day” and teaches a “perpetual Lord’s day” – or, like Justin Martyr, a “perpetual Sabbath” in the observance of every day. He also promotes the bringing of “offerings for the dead” on the Lord’s day – and the perpetual use of the sign of the cross. However, Tertullian expressly affirms that these things rest, not upon the authority of the Scriptures, but wholly upon that of tradition and custom. And, although he speaks of the Sabbath as abrogated by Christ, he expressly contradicts this assertion by writing that Christ “did not at all rescind the Sabbath.” Beyond this, Tertullian argues that Jesus imparted an additional sanctity to the Sabbath day – which “from the beginning had been consecrated by the benediction of the Father.”
This strange mingling of truth and error plainly indicates the age in which Tertullian lived. He was not so far removed from the time of the apostles but that many clear rays of divine truth shone upon him. Yet, he was far enough advanced in the age of compromise with pagan concepts and secular civil laws against the Sabbath that he stood on the line between expiring day and advancing night.
See also the commentary of J. N. Andrews on Tertullian: Link
Clement (150-215 AD):
Clement of Alexandria wrote in a similar Gnostic manner regarding Sabbath observance for the Christian:
“For the teacher of him who speaks and of him who hears is one—who waters both the mind and the word. Thus the Lord did not hinder from doing good while keeping the Sabbath; but allowed us to communicate of those divine mysteries, and of that holy light to those who are able to receive them.”
Of course, so far this seems fairly straightforward. However, Clement goes on to argue more clearly along Gnostic lines as follows:
“The eight day appears rightly to be named the seventh, and to be the true Sabbath, but the seventh to be a working day.”
Rev. A.A. Phelps, in “An Argument for the Perpetuity of the Sabbath,” p. 159
Here Clement argues that Sunday is really the seventh day and that the seventh day (Sabbath) is really the sixth day – and goes on to explain that Sunday is a work day of ordinary labor while Saturday remains a day of rest. Clement proceeds at length to show the sacredness and importance of the number six – which for him is the Saturday the Sabbath. (Link)
It is also a striking coincidence that the first mention of Sunday as a mystic “eighth day” should be found in the Gnostic pseudo-Barnabas (Link), and that the first mention of the term “Lord’s Day” as a mystic day typifying the renewed life should be made by the Gnostic philosopher Clement of Alexandria – the very one who first endorsed this pseudo-epistle as valid scripture. He was also the first to forward the solar day of the Pagans as the mystical “eighth day” of the Lord (represented by Sunday and the resurrection with Christ into a new world and a new eternal age of light).
“And they purify themselves seven days, the period in which creation was consummated. For on the seventh day the rest is celebrated; and on the eighth, he brings a propitiation, as it is written in Ezekiel, according to which propitiation the promise is to be received.”
Clement, Book iv. chap 25.
Again, the following quote is the first instance in the writings of the Christian fathers in which the term “the Lord’s day” is expressly applied to Sunday. However, Clement does not say that he inherited this concept from Saint John or any other apostle of Christ. Rather, he finds authority for this in the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato, of all people, whom Clement thinks spoke of this concept prophetically!
And the Lord’s day Plato prophetically speaks of in the tenth book of the Republic, in these words: ‘
And when seven days have passed to each of them in the meadow, on the eighth day they are to set out and arrive in four days,’
By the meadow is to be understood the fixed sphere, as being a mild and genial spot, and the locality of the pious; and by the seven days each motion of the seven planets, and the whole practical art which speeds to the end of the rest. But after the wandering orbs the journey leads to Heaven, that is, to the eighth motion and day. And he says that souls are gone on the fourth day, pointing out the passage through the four elements.”
Clement, Book v. chap 14.
By the “eighth day” to which Clement here applies the name of the “Lord’s Day” is no doubt intended the first day of the week. However, having presented arguments in favor of the eighth day, Clement, in the very next sentence, tries to establish, from the Greek philosophers no less, the sacredness of that seventh day. This shows that whatever regard he might have for the eighth day, he certainly thought of the seventh day as sacred as well…
But the seventh day is recognized as sacred, not by the Hebrews only, but also by the Greeks; according to which the whole world of all animals and plants revolves.
Hesiod says of it:-
‘The first, and fourth, and seventh days were held sacred.’
And again: ‘And on the seventh the sun’s resplendent orb.’
And Homer: ‘And on the seventh then came the sacred day.’
And: ‘The seventh was sacred.’
And again: ‘It was the seventh day, and all things were accomplished.’
And again: ‘And on the seventh morn we leave the stream of Acheron.’
Callimachus the poet also writes: ‘It was the seventh morn, and they had all things done.’
And again: ‘Among good days is the seventh day, and the seventh race.’ And: ‘The seventh is among the prime, and the seventh is perfect.’
And: ‘Now all the seven were made in starry heaven, In circles shining as the years appear.’
The Elegies of Solon, too, intensely deify the seventh day.
Clement, Book v. chap 14.
See also the review of J.N. Andrews: Link
Origen (185-254 AD):
Likewise, Origen (a disciple of Clement of Alexandria) argued that Christian Sabbath observance should be different from Jewish Sabbath observance:
“It is fitting for whoever is righteous among the saints to keep also the festival of the Sabbath. Which is, indeed, the festival of the Sabbath, except that concerning which the Apostle said, ‘There remaineth therefore a sabbatismus, that is, a keeping of the Sabbath, to the people of God [Hebrews 4:9]’. Forsaking therefore the Judaic observance of the Sabbath, let us see what sort of observance of the Sabbath is expected of the Christian. On the day of the Sabbath nothing of worldly acts ought to be performed…”
Homily on Numbers 23, para. 4, in Migne, Patrologia Græca, Vol. 12, cols. 749, 750
Beyond this, however, Origen argued that the Christian should live as if every day were holy to God, and clearly indicated that Sunday was considered a day of worship by Christians in his day – along with the Sabbath:
“If it be objected to us on this subject that we ourselves are accustomed to observe certain days, as for example the Lord’s day, the Preparation, the Passover, or Pentecost, I have to answer, that to the perfect Christian, who is ever in his thoughts, words, and deeds serving his natural Lord, God the Word, all his days are the Lord’s, and he is always keeping the Lord’s day.”
Origen Against Celsus. Book 8 Chapter XXII.
This wasn’t the only issue with Origen’s efforts to harmonize Christianity with Gnostic philosophy.
“In his attempt to reconcile the gospel and his philosophy he miserably compromises some of the most important truths of Scripture… [Origen] maintained the pre-existence of human souls, he held that the stars are animated beings; he taught that all men shall ultimately attain happiness; and he believed that the devils themselves shall eventually be saved.”
Killen, “Ancient Church,” second period, sec. 2, chap. I.
It is no wonder then that Origen wrote in such mystical terms regarding the Sabbath adn the “Lord’s Day” – as well as many other Christian Doctrines.
“There are countless multitudes of believers who. . .are most firmly persuaded that neither ought circumcision to be understood literally, nor the rest of the Sabbth, nor the pouring out of the blood of an animal, nor that answers were given by God to Moses on these points.”
Origen, De Principiis, b. ii. chap 7 (Link)
Origen continually asserts that the spiritual interpretation of the Scriptures, whereby their literal meaning is set aside, is something divinely inspired. But, when this notion is accepted as the truth who can tell what is actually intended by the author? Truth starts to become what anyone wants it to be – kind of like interpreting modern art. And, this is how Origen interpreted the concept of the Sabbath in Scripture as well. He seem to recognize the origin of the Sabbath at the beginning of creation, but still gives it a hidden mystical meaning:
“For he [Celsus] knows nothing of the day of the Sabbath and rest of God, which follows the completion of the world’s creation, and which lasts during the duration of the world, and in which all those will keep festival with God who have done all their works in their six days, and who, because they have omitted none of their duties, will ascend to the contemplation [of celestial things], and to the assembly of righteous and blessed beings.”
Origen, Book vi. chap. 1xi. TFTC 86.4
Here we get an insight into Origen’s mystical Sabbath. It began at creation and will continue while the world endures. To those who follow the letter it is indeed only a weekly rest, but to those who know the truth, it is a perpetual Sabbath enjoyed by God during all the days of time and entered by believers either at conversion or at death.
This is true with regard to Sunday-observance as well – or the “Lord’s Day”. Origen divided his brethren into two classes. In one class are the imperfect Christians who content themselves with the literal day while in the other class are the “perfect Christians” whose Lord’s day embraces all the days of life.
Undoubtedly, Origen reckoned himself one of the perfect Christians since his own observance of the Lord’s day did not consist in the elevation of one day above another – for he counted them all alike as constituting one perpetual Lord’s day. This is the same doctrine promoted by Clement of Alexandria, who was Origen’s teacher in his early life. The keeping of the Lord’s day with Origen (as with Clement) embraced all the days of his life and consisted, according to Origen, in serving God in thought, word, and deed, continually. Or, as expressed by Clement, one “keeps the Lord’s [Day], when he abandons an evil disposition and assumes that of the Gnostic.”
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD):
Augustine of Hippo, regarding why the Christian no longer needed to observe the Sabbath wrote:
So, when you ask why a Christian does not keep the Sabbath, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, my reply is, that a Christian does not keep the Sabbath precisely because what was prefigured in the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ. For we have our Sabbath in Him who said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Augustine of Hippo: Reply to Faustus the Manichæan. Book XIX.-9
Sabbath vs. Sunday:
Emperor Constantine (274-337 AD):
The increase in references about the Sabbath in early Christian church literature, both for and against, indicate that some sort of struggle was beginning to manifest itself on a rather widespread basis. The controversy wasn’t so much about Sunday observance, for that had long been established in most Christian communities throughout the Christian world. The problem was over continued Sabbath observance, which was also just as widespread throughout Christendom for the first several centuries. Some thought that a Sabbath fast should be imposed while others strongly rejected burdening the seventh-day Sabbath with fasting. Some wanted everyone to work on the Sabbath “doing good” and others wanted to maintain the Sabbath as a day of complete rest and idleness – similar to the way the Jews observed the Sabbath. And, of course, there were those who wanted to do away completely with Sabbath observance in order to get rid of all traces of Judaism.
However, the controversy over Sabbath observance increased significantly within the fourth and fifth centuries and expanded well beyond Rome and Alexandria. What could have triggered this conflict on such a wide scale in the fourth and fifth centuries? Undoubtedly, one of the most important factors is to be found in the activities of Emperor Constantine the Great in the early fourth century – and subsequently by other “Christian Emperors.”
Not only did Constantine give Christianity a new status within the Roman Empire (from being persecuted to being honored), but he also gave Sunday a “new look.” By his civil legislation, he made Sunday an official rest day of the state. His famous Sunday law of March 7, 321, reads:
“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 so suitable for grain–sowing or for vine–planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.”
Codex Justinianus, iii., Tit. 12.3, trans. in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 5th ed. (New York, 1902), Vol. 3, p. 380, note 1.
This was the first in a series of steps taken by Constantine, and by later Christian Emperors, in regulating Sunday observance according to national civil laws. It is obvious that this first Sunday law was not particularly Christian in orientation (note the pagan designation “venerable Day of the Sun”). However, Constantine, on political and social grounds, was ever endeavoring to merge together heathen and Christian elements of his constituency by focusing on a common practice.
“Constantine’s decrees marked the beginning of a long though intermittent series of imperil decrees in support of Sunday rest.”
A History of the Councils of the Church, volume 2, page 316.
“What began as a pagan ordinance, ended as a Christian regulation; and a long series of imperial decrees, during the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, enjoined with increasing stringency abstinence from labor on Sunday.”
Hutton Webster, Rest Days, 1916, pp. 122-123, 270. [Webster (1875-1955) was an anthropologist and historian at the University of Nebraska].
In 386 AD, Theodosius I and Gratian Valentinian extended Sunday restrictions so that litigation should entirely cease on that day and there would be no public or private payment of debt. Laws forbidding circus, theater, and horse racing also followed and were reiterated as felt necessary.
Theodosian Code, 11.7.13, trans. by Clyde Pharr (Princeton, N.J., 1952), p. 300.
Constantine enacted several Sunday laws during his reign (306-337 A.D.) followed by at least fifteen additional Sunday decrees within the next few centuries after his death – including Governmental decrees in the years 365, 386, 389, 458, 460, 554, 589, 681, 768, 789, and onward and church council decrees in 343, 538, 578, 581, 690 and onward. These laws restricted what could be done on Sunday and forbade Sabbath keeping. Each law became more and more strict, each penalty more and more severe. This, in itself, is strong evidence of the continued desire by many Christians, throughout the Christian world, to continue to keep the 4th Commandment of the Decalogue of God. In fact, in the centuries following Emperor Constantine, there was a significant revival in Sabbath observance within the majority of Christian Churches throughout Christendom.
Gregory of Nyssa (335-394):
Still, the concept of the Sabbath as a holy day held on in the Christian world.
Gregory of Nyssa, also known as Gregory Nyssen, was bishop of Nyssa from 372 to 376 and from 378 until his death. He is venerated as a saint in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism. Yet, even during this time, following the decrees of Constantine, Gregory wrote about the equality of the Sabbath day with the “Lord’s Day”, or Sunday worship:
With what eyes can you behold the Lord’s day, when you despise the Sabbath? Do you not perceive that they are sisters, and that in slighting the one, you affront the other?
Expostulation of Gregory of Nyssa, 372 AD, Dialogues on the Lord’s day, p. 188; Hessey’s Bampton Lectures, pp. 72, 304, 305.
Spain – Council of Elvira (A.D.305):
Canon 26 of the Council of Elvira reveals that the Church of Spain at that time kept Saturday, the seventh day.
“As to fasting every Sabbath: Resolved, that the error be corrected of fasting every Sabbath.”
This resolution of the council is in direct opposition to the policy the church at Rome had inaugurated, that of commanding Sabbath as a fast day in order to humiliate it and make it repugnant to the people.
Persia (335-375 AD):
“They despise our sun-god. Did not Zorcaster, the sainted founder of our divine beliefs, institute Sunday one thousand years ago in honour of the sun and supplant the Sabbath of the Old Testament. Yet these Christians have divine services on Saturday.”
O’Leary, “The Syriac Church and Fathers,” pp.83, 84.
Pope Innocent (402-417):
Pope Sylvester (314-335) was the first to order the churches to fast on Saturday, and Pope Innocent (402-417) made it a binding law in the churches that obeyed him (in order to bring the Sabbath into disfavor):
“Innocentius did ordain the Saturday or Sabbath to be always fasted.”
Dr. Peter Heylyn, “History of the Sabbath, Part 2, p. 44.
John Chrysostom (349-407 AD):
John Chrysostom, a contemporary of Gregory and Asterius and Archbishop of Constantinople, was strongly opposed to anything Jewish, including Sabbath observance. Yet, Sabbath observance was so common in his day that he said:
“There are many among us now, who fast on the same day as the Jews, and keep the sabbaths in the same manner; and we endure it nobly or rather ignobly and basely.”
Comment on Galatians 1:7 in Commentary on Galatians (The Nicene and Post–Nicene Fathers [NPNF], 1st Series, Vol. 13, p. 8).
“Wherefore dost thou keep the sabbath, and fast with the Jews? Is it that thou fearest the Law and abandonment of its letter? But thou wouldest not entertain this fear, didst thou not disparage faith as weak, and by itself powerless to save. A fear to omit the sabbath plainly shows that you fear the Law as still in force; and if the Law is needful, it is so as a whole, not in part, nor in one commandment only; and if as a whole, the righteousness which is by faith is little by little shut out. If thou keep the sabbath, why not also be circumcised? and if circumcised, why not also offer sacrifices? If the Law is to be observed, it must be observed as a whole, or not at all.”
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians 2:17
The interpolater of Ignatius (4th Century):
“If any one fasts on the Lord’s Day or on the Sabbath, except on the paschal Sabbath only, he is a murderer of Christ.”
Pseudo–Ignatius, To the Philippians, ch. 13 (ANF, Vol. 1, p. 119).
Apollinaris Sidonius (430-489 AD):
Apollinaris Sidonius (430-489 AD) also agrees (Speaking Of King Theodoric Of The Goths):
“It is a fact that it was formerly the custom in the East to keep the Sabbath in the same manner as the Lord’s day and to hold sacred assemblies: while on the other hand, the people of the West, contending for the Lord’s day have neglected the celebration of the Sabbath.” (Apollinaris Sidonii, Epistolæ, lib. 1,2; Migne, 57).
Athanasius (~366 AD):
According to Athanasius, chief Egyptian (Hellenistic, not Coptic) delegate at Nicea and the 20th Bishop of Alexandria, in his writings around 366 AD:
“On the Sabbath day we gathered together, not being infected with Judaism, for we do not lay hold of false sabbaths, but we come on the Sabbath to worship Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath,”
Athanasius, Homilia de Semente, Sec. 1, in MPG, Vol. 28 Col. 144, Greek.
Timotheus (381-385 AD):
Timotheus, Bishop of Alexandria in 381-385 AD, speaks of the necessity of abstaining from sexual relations on “the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day [Sunday] . . . because on these days the spiritual sacrifice [the eucharist] is offered to the Lord.”
Responsa Canonica, Migne, op. cit., XXXIII, 1305
Epiphanius (380 AD):
Epiphanius of Salamis (Cyprus) also bears witness to the special place of the Sabbath alongside Sunday as a day of Christian gathering-see his “Exposition of the Faith” at the end of his Panarion (380 AD).
Sozomen (400-450 AD):
The fact remains though that, outside of Rome and Alexandria, the rest of the Christian world continued to observe the Sabbath as a memorial of creation. Of course, gradually, Sunday observance also became popular early on within many Christian churches as a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. The mid-5th Century historian Sozomen reported,
“The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.”
Sozomen. The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen. Comprising a History of the Church, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 425. Book VII, Chapter XIX. Translated from the Greek. Revised by Chester D. Hartranft, Hartford Theological Seminary, Under the editorial supervision of Philip Shaff, D.D., LL.D. and Henry Wace, D. D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Principal of King’s College, London. T&T Clark, Edinburgh, circa 1846
Socrates Scholasticus (380-440 AD):
The 5th-century historian Socrates Scholasticus of Constantinople noted:
“For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this.”
Apostolic Constitutions (375-380 AD):
Consider the testimony of the Apostolic Constitutions from the early Christian era:
The Apostolic Constitutions or Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (Latin: Constitutiones Apostolorum) is a Christian collection of eight treatises which belongs the Church Orders, a genre of early Christian literature, that offered authoritative “apostolic” prescriptions on moral conduct, liturgy and Church organization. The work can be dated from 375 to 380 AD. The provenance is usually regarded as Syria, probably Antioch.
Of the Apostolical Constitutions, Guericke’s Church History says:
“This is a collection of ecclesiastical statutes purporting to be the work of the apostolic age, but in reality formed gradually in the second, third, and fourth centuries, and is of much value in reference to the history of polity, and Christian archaeology generally.” – Ancient Church, p. 212.
Here are a few passages relevant to the Ten Commandments and the keeping of the Sabbath as holy:
“Have before thine eyes the fear of God, and always remember the ten commandments of God, – to love the one and only Lord God with all thy strength; to give no heed to idols, or any other beings, as being lifeless gods, or irrational beings or demons. Consider the manifold workmanship of God, which received its beginning through Christ. Thou shalt observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from his work of creation, but ceased not from his work of providence: it is a rest for meditation of the law, not for idleness of the hands…
O Lord Almighty, thou hast created the world by Christ, and hast appointed the Sabbath in memory thereof, because that on that day thou hast made us rest from our works, for the meditation upon thy laws…
Thou didst give them the law or decalogue, which was pronounced by thy voice and written with thy hand. Thou didst enjoin the observation of the Sabbath, not affording them an occasion of idleness, but an opportunity of piety, for their knowledge of thy power, and the prohibition of evils; having limited them as within an holy circuit for the sake of doctrine, for the rejoicing upon the seventh period…
On this account he permitted men every Sabbath to rest, that so no one might be willing to send one word out of his mouth in anger on the day of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is the ceasing of the creation, the completion of the world, the inquiry after laws, and the grateful praise to God for the blessings he has bestowed upon men.
Testimony of the Apostolical Constitutions (375-380 AD), Book ii. sect. 4, par. 36.
Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbath day and the Lord’s day let them have leisure to go to church for instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is on account of the creation, and the Lord’s day, of the resurrection.”
Testimony of the Apostolical Constitutions, Book viii. sect. 4
See also the review of JN Andrews: Link
Didascalia (300s AD):
The Greek form of the Didascalia tradition, which probably dates from the 4th century (probably from Syria), exhorts the people not to forsake the daily assemblies, especially the Sabbath and Sunday days of rejoicing.
Various other sources supplement this material by giving us a more precise picture of what was (or was not) involved in “Sabbath observance.” The 29th canon of the Synod of Laodicea (c. 380) argues against a “Judaistic” manner of keeping the Sabbath-i.e., in idleness: “For it is not necessary that Christians Judaize and have leisure on the Sabbath, but let them work on that day, and give precedence to the Lord’s Day – if indeed they are able to have leisure as Christians.”
But the same Synod prescribes that, “the Gospels along with other scriptures be read on the Sabbath” (Canon 16), and recognizes the special nature of the two days, Sabbath and Lord’s Day, during Lent (Canons 49, 51). A similar attitude is attested by the Christian editor (possibly from Antioch in Syria) who expanded the Ignatian Epistles at about the same time:
Therefore let us no longer observe the Sabbath in a judaistic way and rejoice in idleness. . . . But each of you should observe Sabbath in a spiritual way, rejoicing in study of laws. . . . And after keeping the Sabbath, let every lover of Christ celebrate the festival of the Lord’s Day – the resurrection day, the royal day, the most excellent of all days.
Pseudo-Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, 9.3-4 (ed. Funk-Diekamp)
Finally, if we are allowed for the moment to treat the Apostolic Constitutions as somewhat of a unity representing 4th-century Hellenistic Egyptian Christianity, we will find that it not only refers to the Sabbath and Sunday festal gatherings which commemorate creation and resurrection respectively, and advocates rest from usual labors on these two days, but it also guards against leaving the impression that a person should be idle on the Sabbath – “for creature as for creator, Sabbath rest means study of the laws, not idleness of hands.”
The Apostolic Constitutions and related literature are also quite clear that one is not to fast on the Sabbath (the Jews also never fasted on the Sabbath, but viewed it as a day of celebration – a feast day), except at Passover/Easter time in memory of the Lord’s death and burial – an attitude which is widely attested by other contemporary witnesses such as Basil of Cappadocia, John Chrysostom of Antioch and even Augustine of Hippo.
Now, it is quite clear that Sabbath observance, along with Sunday observance, was a widespread practice among Coptic Christians at this time. But this practice was not limited to the Coptics. Both Hellenistic Egypt and the rest of the Hellenistic Christian East knew of and practiced the dual observance of Sabbath and Sunday in the 4th century.
See also: Kraft, Robert A.. “Some Notes on Sabbath Observance in Early Christianity.” Andrews University Seminary Studies (AUSS) 3.1 (1965): 18-33. (Link)
XXXVI. O Lord Almighty Thou hast created the world by Christ, and hast appointed the Sabbath in memory thereof, because that on that day Thou hast made us rest from our works, for the meditation upon Thy laws…Thou didst give them the law or decalogue, which was pronounced by Thy voice and written with Thy hand. Thou didst enjoin the observation of the Sabbath, not affording them an occasion of idleness, but an opportunity of piety, for their knowledge of Thy power, and the prohibition of evils; having limited them as within an holy circuit for the sake of doctrine, for the rejoicing upon the seventh period…On this account He permitted men every Sabbath to rest, that so no one might be willing to send one word out of his mouth in anger on the day of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is the ceasing of the creation, the completion of the world, the inquiry after laws, and the grateful praise to God for the blessings He has bestowed upon men.
Apostolic Constitutions – Didascalia Apostolorum Book VII, Section II)
This is from the seventh book of the Apostolic Constitutions, the Didascalia, which contains seventeen Sabbath blessings in six prayers that are identical to the Jewish “Amidah of the Sabbath”. This is pre-rabbinic liturgy put together by Ezra the Scribe.
Eastern Orthodox Church:
Zeger-Bernard van Espen writes that, “Among the Greeks the Sabbath was kept exactly as the Lord’s day except so far as the cessation of work was concerned [since the Apostolic Constitutions allowed for ‘good works’ to be done on Sabbath].”
The Canons of the Synod of Laodicea, NPNF2 14:133, notes by van Espen
This difference between the Western and Eastern Church was over the original determination of the Eastern Church to follow the Apostolic Constitutions – which conflicted with the determination of the Western Church, during later centuries, to distance itself from anything remotely resembling Judaic practices.
Council of Trullo (692 AD):
In the Eastern churches, it was a general rule that there should be no fasting on Saturday and, specifically, that Saturday, as well as Sunday, should be exempt from fasting in the period before Easter. The Council in Trullo (692 AD) strongly reacted against the proposed changes of Rome (to include making the weekly Sabbath a day of fasting). The decisions of the Council of Trullo was confirmed in five canons, four directly, that the Sabbath (Saturday) remained a feast day for the Church. In Canon 55 issued by the Council of Trullo, a portion of the Apostolic Constitutions was referenced which said, “If any cleric shall be found to fast on a Sunday or Saturday (except on one occasion only [during the Easter Weekend]) he is to be deposed; and if he is a layman he shall be cut off.”
In this canon, the fathers of the Council in Trullo reacted against the noncanonical practice of fasting by the church in Rome on Saturdays and Sundays during Lent and throughout the year. At the end of the Apostolic Constitutions, “Ecclesiastical Canon” no. 64 states:
“If any one of the clergy be found to fast on the Lord’s day, or on the Sabbath-day, excepting one only [Easter weekend], let him be deprived; but if he be one of the laity, let him be suspended.”
On the basis of this statement, the Eastern church adopted, as a general rule, that there should be no fasting on Sabbath, and that Sabbath and Sunday should be excluded from the period of fasting before Lent. The one exception in the whole liturgical year was the Sabbath just before Easter.
In fact, there was only one Sabbath during the year when, according to the Council in Trullo (late 7th century), the faithful should fast: the “Great Sabbath of Lent”. The Apostolic Constitutions 7.23 describe this as the Sabbath of “our Lord’s burial, on which men ought to keep a fast, but not a festival. For inasmuch as the Creator was then under the earth, the sorrow for him is more forcible than the joy for the creation.” It is clear that for the Eastern churches the Sabbath day, as well as Sunday, had to be set apart not just as a special day of nonfasting, but also as a day of worship on which the faithful should experience both the joy of the creation and the resurrection of Jesus.
As an aside, the practice of fasting on Sabbath became a popular way to undermine Judaism. The Church of Rome became the first champion of the Sabbath fast and soon became eager to impose it on other Christian communities. This is well attested by the historical references from Bishop Callistus (A.D. 217-222), Hippolytus (c. A.D. 170-236), Pope Sylvester (A.D. 314-335), Pope Innocent I (A.D. 401-417), Augustine (A.D. 354-430), and John Cassian (c. A.D. 360-435). The fast was designed not only to express sorrow for Christ’s death but also, as Pope Sylvester emphatically states, to show ‘contempt for the Jews’ (execratione Judaeorum) and for their Sabbath ‘feasting’ (destructiones ciborum).
Nicetas Stethatos (1000 – 1090 AD):
Around the same time another learned theologian from the East, Nicetas Stethatos, wrote a booklet Libellus Contra Latinos, in which he accused the Roman church of breaking the rules of the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles against fasting on the Sabbath, as well as of being disobedient to the Scriptures and the canons of other church councils, which had forbidden this practice.
Nicetas Stethatos, “Libellus Contra Latinos,” (PG 120:1011-1022).
Pope Leo IX (1002 – 1054 AD):
Pope Leo IX believed that he inherited absolute power over all Christian people and institutions from Peter himself. Pope Leo XI said that a donation of the Patriarch of Constantinople proved that “the Holy See possessed both an earthly and a heavenly imperiam, the royal priesthood”. He said that “only the apostolic successor to Peter possessed primacy in the Church.”
Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 143, pgs. 744-769.
However, the Eastern church primarily claims to be successors of Saint Andrew (the first Apostle) and of Saint John.
The Great Schism began with an open letter written by the Bishops Leo and Michael Ceralarius of the Eastern church, to Bishop John of Trani of the Western church in southern Italy. It was addressed, received and replied to several times by several Bishops. This letter as was written originally by Eastern aligned Bishops and Archbishops. In the last replies, they called the Pope “brother” rather than “most holy father” or “reverend Pope”. However the first letter was addressed, “to all the chief priests, and the priests of the Franks, and the monks, and the peoples, and to the most reverend Pope himself.”
The two biggest issues in the letter were in regard to the Sabbath not being a day of fasting, but a festal day, and regarding Rome’s use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist.
Pope Leo IX in his letter accused Constantinople of historically being the source of heresy. He claimed in emphatic terms that the Bishop of Rome held primacy even over the Constantinople. Of course, the Eastern Orthodox Church did not take very kindly to this. The response of Patriarch Michael of Constantinople, who took the title of “Ecumenical Patriarch”, was none too subtle in that he addressed Pope Leo as “brother” rather than “father.”
Eventually, Pope Leo IX decided, early in the year of 1054, to send a group of theologians to Constantinople to discuss further the contended issues. This group consisted of three papal legates: Cardinal Humbert; Frederic, deacon and chancellor of the Church of Rome; and Peter, archbishop of Amalfi. However, Cerularius refused to meet with Cardinal Humbert and kept him waiting with no audience for months. When they were eventually granted an audience, the papal legates discussed the disputed issues with the patriarch, the emperor, and publicly, with Nicetas Stethatos, in the presence of the emperor, his court, and other persons of high rank in affairs of state and church. Patriarch Michael Cerularius was offended by the letter brought to him by the legates and responded to the accusations concerning the Sabbath observance by saying: “For we are commanded also to honour the Sabbath equally with [Sunday] the Lord’s [day], and to keep and not to work on it.”
Cerularius, “Letter I,” (PG 120:777, 778) – – Humbert, “Brevis et Succincta Commemoratio,” (PL 143:1001, 1002).
Again, the three main Schism letters from the “Patriarch of Constantinople”, Michael Cerularius and his representative Archbishop Leo of Achrida, were focused primarily on keeping the Sabbath holy, and not turning it into a day of fasting or of work. These included the decrees of earlier church councils that the Orthodox Church should not fast on Sabbaths which occur during Lent.
“[Christians are] commanded to honor the Sabbath . . . to keep [it] and not to work on it.”
Patriarch Michael Cerularius, 1054
There were several replies by the Pope Leo IX primarily reverting to slander against Constantinople and exerting primacy of Rome (which the east never fully recognized). He said he had a right to enforce the fasting on Sabbath across all the lands of Christendom (East and West). However, the Eastern (Orthodox) church maintained the same position in all of the replies. Before, during and after the breakup, the church affirmed that they cannot and will not relent on the Sabbath commandment, in order to appease Rome. Rome had long been trying to sneak in a breaking of the Sabbath in regards to keeping Lent (when it lands on the Sabbath). However, again the Eastern Church reiterated its claim since the first century, and in every century, the official doctrine to not fast on the Sabbath. (Link)
Excommunication of the Eastern Orthodox Church (1054 AD):
After these unsuccessful discussions and other attempts to bring the Eastern church into submission to the Church of Rome, there occurred one of the most dramatic and most devastating events in the history of Christianity. On July 16, 1054, the Sabbath day (Link; Link), when preparations had been made for the liturgy on that day, the three papal legates entered the Church of St. Sophia and laid the bull of excommunication on the altar and walked away, toward Rome, shaking the dust from their feet.
Patriarch Michael Cerularius, in turn, excommunicated the Cardinal and the Pope and subsequently removed the Pope’s name from the diptychs, starting the East-West Schism.
From that day on, the fracture between Constantinople and Rome has never been completely healed. The key problem being that the Eastern churches continued to observe the weekly Sabbath in a way that was much too similar to the way the Jews observed the weekly Sabbath…
As an aside, consider that the Divine Liturgy is held on the weekly Sabbath here. This is interesting because, although weekday liturgies are common in the Greek Orthodox tradition, only monasteries or convents have liturgical services every single day. The time of the Great Lent may be an exception since during this time there are typically many liturgical days (since many Orthodox Churches have “Pre-Sanctified Liturgies” at least once a week in addition to the other feast-day-related celebrations).
Cardinal Humbert (1015-1061 AD):
In his work, Adversus Calumnis Graecorum (Against the Calumnies of the Greeks), Cardinal Humbert wrote (11th century):
“Therefore, in such observance of the Sabbath, where and in what way do we [Latins] have anything in common with the Jews? For they are idle and keep a holiday on the Sabbath, neither ploughing nor reaping, and by reason of custom do not work, but they hold a festivity and a dinner, and their menservants, maidservants, cattle, and beasts of burden rest. But we [Latins] observe none of these things, but we do every [sort of] work, as on the preceding five days, and we fast as we fast on the sixth day [Friday] next to it. However, you [Greeks], if you do not judaize, tell (us) why do you have something in common with the Jews with the similar observance of the Sabbath? They certainly observe the Sabbath, and you observe (it); they dine, and always break the fast, on the Sabbath. In their forty day period they break the fast every Sabbath except one, and you [Greeks] in your forty day period break the fast every Sabbath except one. They [the Jewish Christians] have a twofold reason for observing the Sabbath, obviously by reason of the precept of Moses, and because the disciples were saddened and heavy (of heart) on this (Sabbath) day on account of the death of the Lord, whom they did not believe to be about to be resurrected. Wherefore, because you observe Sabbath with the Jews and with us Sunday, [the] Lord’s day, you appear by such observance to imitate the sect of the Nazarenes, who in this manner accept the Christianity that they might not give up Judaism.”
Here we see that Cardinal Humbert argued, as late as the 11th century, that the Christians from the East continued to celebrate the Sabbath in a similar way as do the Jews and Nazarene Christians (“why you have something in common with the Jews in a similar observance of the Sabbath?”; “They certainly observe the Sabbath, and you observe [it]”). He also states that the Jews and by analogy the Christians from the East “are idle and keep a holiday on the Sabbath, neither ploughing nor reaping, and by the reason of custom do not work.” Further, he explains the theological reasons why the Jews and the Christians from the East observe the Sabbath: observing “the precept of Moses,” according to the revelation given to humanity through the prophet Moses in the Pentateuch and more specifically the Ten Commandments, and (2) the fasting of the Orthodox Church on only one Sabbath during the year—the day when Christ was in the tomb and “the disciples were saddened and heavy (of heart) . . . on account of the death of the Lord.” Cardinal Humbert concludes that since the Christians from the East “observe the Sabbath with the Jews” and the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with the Latin church, they must be designated as a sect, not fully in line with the teachings of the Western Churches – which, according to Humbert, defined full and complete Christianity at that time.
At least equally important, if not more so, is the response given by Patriarch Michael Cerularius, in which he states that Christians are “commanded also to honour the Sabbath equally with the [Sunday] the Lord’s [day], and to keep [it] and not to work on it.”
Consequently, Cerularius did not deny the accusations made by Humbert, but argued instead that Christians are “commanded,” by biblical revelation and the apostolic tradition, to honor, worship, and not work on the Sabbath – even as on Sunday.
6th-7th Century Scotland and Ireland:
“It seems to have been customary in the Celtic churches of early times, in Ireland as well as Scotland, to keep Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a day of rest from labour. They obeyed the fourth commandment literally upon the seventh day of the week.”
Professor James C. Moffatt, D.D., Professor of Church History at Princeton, The Church in Scotland, p. 140.
Ironically St. Patrick himself evidently kept Saturday as a day of rest, (A.C. Flick, The Rise of Medieval Church, pp. 236-327).
The monks sent to England [in 596 A.D.] by Pope Gregory the Great soon came to see that the Celtic Church differed from theirs in many respects… Augustine himself [a Benedictine abbot] . . . held several conferences with the Christian Celts in order to accomplish the difficult task of their subjugation to Roman authority… The Celts permitted their priests to marry, the Romans forbade it. The Celts used a different mode of baptism from that of the Romans… The Celts held their own councils and enacted their own laws, independent of Rome. The Celts used a Latin Bible unlike the [Catholic] Vulgate, and kept Saturday as a day of rest.”
Alexander Clarence Flick, The Rise of The Mediaeval Church, 1959, pp. 236- 327 [Dr. Flick (1869-1942) was professor of European history in Syracuse University and author of an important historical work].
The Catholic historian Alphons Bellesheim (1839-1912) comments regarding the Sabbath in Scotland:
We seem to see here an allusion to the custom observed in the early monastic Church of Ireland, of keeping the day of rest on Saturday, or the Sabbath.
Bellesheim, History of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Vol. 1, p 86
In Scotland, until the tenth and eleventh century, it was asserted that:
“They worked on Sunday but kept Saturday in a Sabbatical manner … These things Margaret abolished.”
Andrew Lang, A History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation, Vol. I, p. 96; see also Celtic Scotland, Vol. 2, p. 350
The Scots were Sabbath-keepers up until Queen Margaret (reigned from 1503-1513), according to Turgot:
It was another custom of theirs to neglect the reverence due to the Lord’s day, by devoting themselves to every kind of worldly business upon it, just as they did upon other days. That this was contrary to the law, she (Queen Margaret) proved to them as well by reason as by authority. ‘Let us venerate the Lord’s day,’ said she, ‘because of the resurrection of our Lord, which happened on that day, and let us no longer do servile works upon it; bearing in mind that upon this day we were redeemed from the slavery of the devil. The blessed Pope Gregory affirms the same.’
Turgot, Life of Saint Margaret, p. 49
8th Century India, China, and Persia:
“Widespread and enduring was the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath among the believers of the Church of the East and the St. Thomas Christians of India, who never were connected with Rome. It also was maintained among those bodies which broke off from Rome after the Council of Chalcedon namely, the Abyssinians, the Jacobites, the Maronites, and Armenians.”
Philip Schaff-Herzog, The New Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, art. Nestorians; also Realencyclopaedie fur Protestantische Theologie und Kirche, art Nestorianer.
10th Century Kurdistan:
“The Nestorians eat no pork and keep the Sabbath. They believe in neither auricular confession nor purgatory.”
Philip Schaff-Herzog, The New Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, art. Nestorians.
11th Century Scotland:
“They held that Saturday was properly the Sabbath on which they abstained from work.”
Celtic Scotland, Vol. 2, p. 350.
12th Century Wales:
“There is much evidence that the Sabbath prevailed in Wales universally until A.D. 1115, when the first Roman bishop was seated at St. David’s. The old Welsh Sabbath-keeping churches did not even then altogether bow the knee to Rome, but fled to their hiding places.”
Lewis, Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, Vol. 1, p. 29.
16th Century Germany:
Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein von Karlstadt, better known as Andreas Karlstadt or Andreas Carlstadt or Karolostadt, was a German Christian theologian during the Protestant Reformation.
Carlstadt, a co-worker with Martin Luther in the Sixteenth Century German Reformation, accepted the Bible Sabbath as correct, and published his belief:
“When servants have worked six days, they should have the seventh day free. God says without distinction, ‘Remember that you observe the seventh day’ . . . Concerning Sunday it is known that men have instituted it . . . It is clear however, that you should celebrate the seventh day.”
Andres Carlstadt, Von dem Sabbat und gebotten feyertagen (Concerning the Sabbath and Commanded Holidays), 1524, chap. 4, pp. 23-24 [Karlstadt (1480-1541) joined Luther at Wittenberg in 1517, and later taught at Bazel from 1534 onward].
So, what did Luther say of Carlstadt’s Sabbath views?
“Indeed, if Carlstadt were to write further about the Sabbath, Sunday would have to give way, and the Sabbath, that is to say, Saturday, must be kept holy.”
Martin Luther, in his pamphlet, “Against the Celestial Prophets,” quoted in Life of Martin Luther in Pictures, page 147.
It seems at least a little bit rather strange, then, that Luther never did accept the Sabbath as his friend Carlstadt did. In fact, it is because of Luther’s inconsistency regarding the Sabbath that his claim that Protestantism was based “on the Bible and the Bible only” or “sola scriptura” was successfully challenged during his famous 1519 debate with Dr. John Eck. Dr. Eck was the most staunch defender of the catholic faith at the time. During the course of the debate, both men were coming down to their final appeals to the people. Martin Luther’s final argument was essentially that, “Dr. Eck doesn’t know a thing about Scripture and isn’t willing to listen to a thing about Scripture.“
Dr. Eck’s refutation of Luther’s accusation was so devastating that it rendered Luther speechless and ultimately caused him to lose the debate. What he said is a matter of historical record as follows:
“If you turn from the church to the Scriptures alone, then you must keep the Sabbath with the Jews, which has been kept since the beginning of the world.”
Dr. John Eck, Enchiridion, pp. 78-79
Martin Luther was accusing Dr. Eck of not knowing anything about Scripture. He was accusing the Catholic Church of going in the wrong direction by not following him in the reformation based on a clear biblical foundation for everything. But as Dr. Eck pointed out, Luther himself was not keeping the Sabbath. And if he really wanted to go by “sola scriptura“, then he needed to start keeping the Sabbath.
Needless to say, Martin Luther lost that debate… in no small part, I believe, because of Luther’s strong personal antisemitism.
So, a fairly clear picture emerges from the testimony of numerous historical sources regarding the practice of the early Christian churches. It seems incontrovertible that the early Christians continued to keep the Sabbath as a very common practice in most areas all over Asia, Africa, and Europe for hundreds of years – and in some places, like Ethiopia, until modern times. It is also telling that over 100 languages refer to the 7th day as the “Sabbath” (Link). Clearly, the concept of the Sabbath became very widespread around the world and in many many cultures due to the influence of Christianity. There is simply no rational way to deny such facts of history by citing a few cases (primarily in Rome and Alexandria) where Christian leaders spoke out against Sabbath observance and gradually more and more in favor of Sunday observance alone as a day of worship.
See also the notes of Robert Kraft regarding Sabbath observance in the early Christian Church: Link
Why Don’t All Christians Observe the Sabbath?
Of course, this begs the question as to why there are so few Sabbatarians now? Why do most Christians around the entire world observe Sunday, rather than the Sabbath, as their day of worship? What happened to the original respect for Sabbath observance by Christians over the centuries?
The short story of Sabbath and the Early Church:
Sabbath first observed alongside Sunday:
For several hundred years the early Christian Church continued to observe the Sabbath day every seven days. Of course, very quickly Sunday observance also became popular, taking on the name “The Lord’s Day” in honor of the resurrection of Christ. So, for a long time both days were observed as holy days by most Christians throughout the early Christian world.
Hadrian’s Anti-Jewish Laws suppress Sabbath observance:
However, the anti-Jewish decrees of Emperor Hadrian in the second century put additional pressure on Sabbath observance, thereby favoring Sunday observance – especially in the regions of Rome and Alexandria.
Constantine’s Sunday Law enhanced Sunday observance:
By the time Emperor Constantine came along in the fourth century, Christianity became the official state religion – which was a mixed blessing. Sunday became the official day of rest for the state governemnt and Sabbath fasting was promoted by the Western Church.
It is interesting to note that even Constantine did not intend to reflect the Sabbath commandment of the Decalogue in his Sunday law, since he specifically exempted agricultural work from being limited by his Sunday law. However, the laws that he did enact regarding Sunday as a day of rest still had an effect.
Now, there is no evidence that Constantine’s Sunday laws were ever specifically made the basis for Christian regulations of the day, but it seems clear that the leaders of the Christian Church at that time felt increaing pressure to support Constantine and justify his laws. After all, Constantine had just handed the Church a great benefit of official status and many of the leaders of the Church felt obligated to be as cooperative as possible. So, Sunday worship was emphasized even further – along with references to the Sabbath commandment in the Old Testament now being applied to forms of Sunday observance.
Consider, for example, the work of early church historian Eusebius, who was also Constantine’s biographer and his keen admirer. In his commentary on Psalm 92, “The Sabbath Psalm,” Eusebius writes that Christians would fulfill on the Lord’s day all that in this Psalm was prescribed for the Sabbath – including worship of God early in the morning. He then adds that through the new covenant the Sabbath celebration was transferred to “the first day of light [Sunday].”
Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 23, Col. 1169.
“The day of his [Christ’s] light . . . was the day of his resurrection from the dead, which they say, as being the one and only truly holy day and the Lord’s day, is better than any number of days as we ordinarily understand them, and better than the days set apart by the Mosaic law for feasts, new moons, and Sabbaths, which the apostle [Paul] teaches are the shadow of days and not days in reality.”
Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 4:16:186.
Later in the fourth century Ephraem Syrus suggested that honor was due “to the Lord’s day, the firstborn of all days,” which had “taken away the right of the firstborn from the Sabbath.” Then he goes on to point out that the law prescribes that rest should be given to servants and animals. The reflection of the Old Testament Sabbath commandment is obvious.
S. Ephraem Syri, hymni et sermones, ed. by T. J. Lamy (1882), Vol. 1, pp. 542–544.
Long decline of Sabbath observance:
With his sort of Sabbath-style worship being placed more and more on Sunday, along with giving Sunday the title “The Lord’s Day”, it was inevitable that the Sabbath day itself (Saturday) would eventually take on lesser and lesser importance in the eyes of more and more Christians over the generations. And, the controversy that is evident in the literature of the fourth and fifth centuries between those who would debase the Sabbath and those who would honor it reflects this struggle – a struggle that would continue on for many more centuries…
Socrates and Sozomen:
As already mentioned, the fifth–century church historians Socrates Scholasticus and Sozomen provide a picture of Sabbath worship services alongside Sunday worship services as being the pattern throughout Christendom in their day, “except in Rome and Alexandria.”
It seems, then, that the “Christian Sabbath” of Sunday as a replacement for the Biblical Sabbath was mainly a development of the sixth century and later. For the Eastern Orthodox Church this change took place even later – well beyond the 11th century.
Counsil of Laodicea (363–364 AD):
The earliest church council to officially deal with the Sabbath debates was a regional eastern conference in Laodicea about 364 AD. Although this council still manifested respect for the Sabbath, as well as for Sunday, in the “special lections” (Scripture readings) designated for those two days, it nonetheless stipulated the following in its Canon 29:
“Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honour, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.”
Charles J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, trans. Henry N. Oxenham, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1896), p. 316. Canon 16 (ibid., p. 310) refers to lections; and the fact that Saturday as well as Sunday had special consideration during Lent, as indicated in Canons 49 and 51 (ibid., p. 320), also reveals that regard for the Sabbath was not entirely lacking.
The regulation with regard to working on Sunday was rather moderate in that Christians should not work on that day if possible! However, more significant was the fact that this council reversed the original command of God and the practice of the earliest Christians with regard to the seventh–day Sabbath.
God had said, “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 to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8–10, RSV). In contrast, the Laodicean council said:
“Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday but shall work on that day.”
So, the command not to work on Sabbath was transferred, instead, to Sunday.
Of course, the smaller council of Laodicea was never universally accepted – especially among the Eastern Orthodox Church which still continued to observe the Sabbath as they always had. This small regional council of Laodicea was not even included as one of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The local Laodecian council was held in a time of war with much political upheaval. However even within the text of the canons decided there, it also specifies and endorses Saturday Sabbath observance – indicating the very slow progressive loss of the Sabbath as a holy day in the minds of most Christians. Most Orthodox Churches do not even embrace five out of the seven ecumenical councils. So even if one of the big seven ecumenical councils disregarded Sabbath it would still be a moot point.
Even the Seventh Ecumenical Council (or Second council of Nicea), which also was strongly politically motivated, did not outright reject the Sabbath. It merely says that people keeping the Sabbath exclusively in the Jewish way should be shunned – while the Sabbath was still considered to be a Holy day.
Third Synod of Orleans (538 AD):
The Third Synod of Orleans, though deploring Jewish Sabbatarianism, forbade “field labours” so that “people may be able to come to church and worship” – on Sabbath!
Charles J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, trans. Henry N. Oxenham, Vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1896), pp. 208, 209.
Second Synod of Macon (585 AD):
Half a century later, the Second Synod of Macon in 585 and the Council of Narbonne in 589 AD stipulated strict Sunday observance.
Charles J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, trans. Henry N. Oxenham, Vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1896), pp. 407, 422.
King Guntram’s Decree (585 AD):
The ordinances of the former “were published by King Guntram in a decree of November 10, 585 AD, in which he enforced careful observance of the Sunday.”
Charles J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, trans. Henry N. Oxenham, Vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1896), pp. 409.
Walter W. Hyde:
Finally, during the Carolingian Age, a great emphasis was placed on “The Lord’s Day” observance – ironically according to the “Sabbath commandment.” Walter W. Hyde, in his “Paganism to Christianity in the Roman Empire“, has well summed up several centuries of the history of Sabbath and Sunday up to Charlemagne:
“The emperors after Constantine made Sunday observance more stringent but in no case was their legislation based on the Old Testament… At the Third Synod of Aureliani (Orleans) in 538 rural work was forbidden but the restriction against preparing meals and similar work on Sunday was regarded as a superstition.
“After Justinian’s death in 565 various epistolae decretales were passed by the popes about Sunday. One of Gregory I (590–604) forbade men ‘to yoke oxen or to perform any other work, except for approved reasons,’ while another of Gregory II (715–731) said: ‘We decree that all Sundays be observed from vespers to vespers and that all unlawful work the abstained from.’ …
Charlemagne at Aquisgranum (Aachen) in 788 decreed that all ordinary labor on the lords day be forbidden, since it was against the Fourth Commandment, especially labor in the field or vineyard which Constantine had exempted.”
W. W. Hyde, Paganism to Christianity in the Roman Empire (Philadelphia, 1946, p. 261).
Clearly, God’s Sabbath commandment was never quite forgotten – just molded a bit over a few hundred years. And, eventually, after enough time had elapsed, Sunday came to be the Christian rest day as a substitute for the Sabbath day.
Seventh-day Sabbath remnants:
However, in some areas around the world the true seventh-day Sabbath was not entirely forgotten. This was true in scattered areas around Europe itself and elsewhere. For example, particularly in Ethiopia, groups of Christians could be found who kept both Saturday and Sunday as “Sabbaths,” not only in the early Christian centuries but down into modern times.
“A Further Note on the Sabbath in Coptic Sources,” AUSS Vol. 6 (1968), pp. 150–157. For the reference mentioning both Saturday and Sunday as being “named Sabbaths,” see p. 151. The source is Statute 66 in G. Horner, The Statutes of the Apostles (London, 1904 and 1915), pp. 211, 212. A number of sources deal with the Sabbath in later Ethiopian history.
The Ethiopians received the Eastern form of Christian doctrine in the fourth century. The Sabbath had not then been discarded as the day of rest, though the Sunday festival was observed. In the seventh century, the rise of the Saracen [Mohammedan] power cut Abyssinia [Ethiopia] off from the knowledge of the world.
Gibbon says: ‘Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Ethiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten’ (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. 47, par. 37).
And when discovered by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, they were found making the seventh day, as well as Sunday, a day of rest, not having known of its being set fully aside in the course of apostasy. Gibbon relates how the Jesuits never rested until they persuaded the Abyssinian king (A.D. 1604) to submit to the pope, and to prohibit Sabbath observance.
Bible Students Source Book, p. 895.
Sunday as the new Sabbath:
Nevertheless, for a good share of Christendom, the Sabbath had, by the sixth through eighth centuries, been changed to Sunday. For most Christians, God’s rest day of both Old Testament and New Testament times had, through a very gradual process, become a workday and had been supplanted by a substitute rest day – a substitute Sabbath if you will.
However, all Christians who consider the Bible itself as the God-given guide for their lives, rather than the decisions of human beings over hundreds of years of time, should ask themselves whether the worship day of Christ and His apostles (Sabbath, the seventh day of the week) should not still be observed today.
The Catholic Argument:
So, what reason do Catholics themselves give for observing Sunday rather than the Sabbath day? They have a ready explanation. They observe Sunday, rather than the Sabbath, based on the God-given authority of the Church. In the sixteenth century, a papal council plainly declared:
“Let all Christians remember that the seventh day was consecrated by God, and hath been received and observed, not only by the Jews, but by all others who pretend to worship God; though we Christians have changed their Sabbath into the Lord’s Day.”
Thomas Morer (1651-1715), Kyriake hemera, Discourse in Six Dialogues, London: printed for Tho. Newborough, 1701, pages 281, 282
Subsequently, T. Enright, a Catholic Priest in Kansas City writing in the late 1800s argued:
“It was the holy Catholic Church that changed the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, the 1st day of the week. And it not only compelled all to keep Sunday, but at the Council of Laodicea, AD 364, anathematized those who kept the Sabbath and urged all persons to labor on the 7th day under penalty of anathema.”
Clearly, the authority of the Church is considered to be greater than that of the Bible itself:
“The [Catholic] Church is above the Bible, and this transference of the Sabbath observance is proof of that fact.”
– Catholic Record (September 1, 1923)
Letter from C.F. Thomas, Chancellor of Cardinal Gibbons on October 28, 1895:
“Of course the Catholic Church claims that the change was her act…And the act is a mark of her ecclesiastical power and authority in religious matters.”
“The Church changed the observance of the Sabbath to Sunday by right of the divine, infallible authority given to her by her Founder, Jesus Christ. The Protestant claiming the Bible to be the only guide of faith, has no warrant for observing Sunday. In this matter, the Seventh-day Adventist is the only consistent Protestant.”
“The Question Box,” The Catholic Universe Bulletin (August 14, 1942): 4:
But since Saturday, not Sunday, is specified in the Bible, isn’t it curious that non-Catholics, who claim to take their religion directly from the Bible and not from the Church, observe Sunday instead of Saturday? Yes, of course, it is inconsistent; but this change was made about fifteen centuries before Protestantism was born, and by that time the custom was universally observed. They have continued the custom even though it rests upon the authority of the Catholic Church and not upon and explicit text in the Bible. That observance remains as a reminder of the Mother Church from which the non-Catholic sects broke away—like a boy running away from home but still carrying in his pocket a picture of his mother or a lock of her hair.
John A. O’Brien, The Faith of Millions: the Credentials of the Catholic Religion, Revised Edition (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1974): 400-401:
In the Catholic Catechism of Christian Religion, in answer to a question as to the day to be observed in obedience to the fourth commandment, this statement is made:
“During the old law, Saturday was the day sanctified; but the church, instructed by Jesus Christ, and directed by the Spirit of God, has substituted Sunday for Saturday; so now we sanctify the first, not the seventh day. Sunday means, and now is, the day of the Lord.”
Catholic Catechism of the Christian Religion
Sunday – fulfillment of the Sabbath: Sunday is expressly distinguished from the Sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the Sabbath…
The Sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which recalls the new creation, inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ…
In respecting religious liberty and the common good of all, Christians should seek recognition of Sundays and the Church’s holy days as legal holidays.
Q. Which is the Sabbath day?
A. Saturday is the Sabbath day.
Q. Why Do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
A. We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic . .. …..Church transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.
The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine (1957): 50:
Question: Have you any other way of proving the Church has power to institute festivals of precept?
Answer: Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her, she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday the 1st day of the week, for the observance of Saturday the 7th day, a change for which there is no Scriptural authority.
Stephen Keenan, Catholic—Doctrinal Catechism, 3rd Edition: 174:
Beyond this, the Catholic Church declares that:
“The observance of Sunday by the Protestants is an homage they pay, in spite of themselves, to the authority of the [Catholic] Church.”
Louis Gaston Segur, Plain Talk about the Protestantism of To-Day (London: Thomas Richardson and Son, 1874): 213:
“If Protestants would follow the Bible, they should worship God on the Sabbath day by God is Saturday. In keeping the Sunday, they are following a law of the Catholic Church.”
Chancellor Albert Smith for Cardinal of Baltimore Archdiocese, letter dated February 10, 1920:
The Orthodox Argument:
“In the tradition of our Church [Greek Orthodox], Saturday like Sunday is considered a festal day. Even during the Great Lent the rules of fasting are relaxed on Saturdays and Sundays”.
Father Alkivia dis Calivas, Professor Emeritus of Liturgics Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. 2002-2003 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
“It would behoove Orthodox Christians to rekindle within themselves the zeal of the Christians of the first centuries and be truly dedicated to the Lord on the seventh day by going to church and taking holy Communion. By doing this, they will attract to themselves the blessing of the Lord, and their other activities will become more profitable.”
Bishop Alexander (Mileant), of The Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission, published July 4th 2005
“St. Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, honored the Church’s practice of celebrating the Lord’s Resurrection every Sunday by decreeing, in AD 321, that every Sunday would be a holy day. For Orthodox Christians, Saturday is still the Sabbath, the day on which the Church especially remembers the departed, since Christ rested in the tomb on Great and Holy Saturday.”
St. Sophia, Greek Orthodox Church in Bellingham Washington, from their statement of beliefs, last accessed 4/22/17 (Link)
“We still observe Saturday as the Sabbath. Saturday (except Holy Saturday) is never a fast day (although abstinence continues) and the Liturgy is always allowed to be celebrated. Saturday is the Sabbath, the day of rest remembering the day the Lord rested after Creation and the day the Lord rested in the tomb after the Crucifixion. Sunday is the Lord’s day, celebrating his Resurrection and we rest on this day as well as we would for any Holy Day. Under Christian Emperor’s we were afforded the ability to rest on both days. In secular society we often only get one and Sunday trumps Saturday, but Saturday does not cease being the Sabbath because of it…
Saturday is the Sabbath because it has always been so. If one can go to Liturgy and refrain from work on both Saturday and Sunday one should, but since the end of the Byzantine Empire this has not been possible. Sunday, Resurrection day, remains our primary day of worship because this is what was handed down to us from the Apostles.
Fr. Deacon Lance Weakland, Greek Byzantine Catholic Church, 2008 (Link)
In conclusion, Saturday is still the Sabbath. Like the Jews, we can still understand this Seventh Day to be as a day of participation in God’s rest after creation and the recognition of the goodness of all of God’s works. It is a day that should be spent quietly, with God, in the reading of Scripture and in prayer, or doing Christian works of mercy and love towards our neighbors.
We must see beyond the historical manipulation of Sunday into a “Christian Sabbath” and return to the fact that Sunday is truly the eschatological Lord’s Day, which manifests itself in the eucharistic Liturgy. It is a day that fills us with joy in knowing that when this cycle of time ends in this age, the new age will dawn, and it is then that we will find our ultimate rest in Jesus Christ in the “unending day” of His Kingdom.
Dr. Paul Meyendorff, Is Sunday the Orthodox Christian Sabbath?,
Liturgical Theology 342 – The Church Year and Its Hymnography, Fall 1999 (Link)
Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches distinguish between the “Sabbath” (Saturday) and the “Lord’s Day” (Sunday), and both continue to play a special role for the faithful. Many parishes and monasteries will serve the Divine Liturgy on both Saturday morning and Sunday morning. The church never allows strict fasting on any Saturday (except Holy Saturday) or Sunday, and the fasting rules on those Saturdays and Sundays which fall during one of the fasting seasons (such as Great Lent, Apostles’ Fast, etc.) are always relaxed to some degree. During Great Lent, when the celebration of the Liturgy is forbidden on weekdays, there is always Liturgy on Saturday as well as Sunday. The church also has a special cycle of Bible readings (Epistle and Gospel) for Saturdays and Sundays which is different from the cycle of readings allotted to weekdays. However, the Lord’s Day, being a celebration of the Resurrection, is clearly given more emphasis. For instance, in the Russian Orthodox Church Sunday is always observed with an all-night vigil on Saturday night, and in all of the Eastern Churches it is amplified with special hymns which are chanted only on Sunday. If a feast day falls on a Sunday it is always combined with the hymns for Sunday (unless it is a Great Feast). Saturday is celebrated as a sort of afterfeast for the previous Sunday, on which several of the hymns from the previous Sunday are repeated.
In part, Eastern Christians continue to celebrate Saturday as Sabbath because of its role in the history of salvation: it was on a Saturday that Jesus “rested” in the cave tomb after the Passion. For this reason also, Saturday is a day for general commemoration of the departed, and special requiem hymns are often chanted on this day. Orthodox Christians make time to help the poor and needy as well on this day.
Wikipedia, Sabbath in Christianity, Eastern Christianity and Saturday vs. Sunday observances (accessed 4/30/17 – Link).
The Protestant Argument:
So, why then to almost all protestant churches continue to observe Sunday? – in apparent acquiescence to the authority of the Catholic Church? It isn’t that protestant denominations are unaware of the apparent inconsistency in their practice of Sunday observance. Consider a few of the following commentaries along these lines:
“And where are we told in the Scriptures that we are to keep the first day at all? We are commanded to keep the seventh; but we are nowhere commanded to keep the first day …. The reason why we keep the first day of the week holy instead of the seventh is for the same reason that we observe many other things, not because the Bible, but because the church has enjoined it.”
Isaac Williams, Plain Sermons on the Catechism, vol. 1, pp.334, 336.
“There is no word, no hint, in the New Testament about abstaining from work on Sunday …. into the rest of Sunday no divine law enters…. The observance of Ash Wednesday or Lent stands exactly on the same footing as the observance of Sunday.”
Canon Eyton, The Ten Commandments, pp. 52, 63, 65.
We have made the change from the seventh day to the first day, from Saturday to Sunday, on the authority of the one holy Catholic Church.”
Bishop Seymour, Why We Keep Sunday.
“There was and is a commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day, but that Sabbath day was not Sunday. It will be said, however, and with some show of triumph, that the Sabbath was transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week …. Where can the record of such a transaction be found? Not in the New Testament absolutely not…
To me it seems unaccountable that Jesus, during three years’ intercourse with His disciples, often conversing with them upon the Sabbath question . . . never alluded to any transference of the day; also, that during forty days of His resurrection life, no such thing was intimated…
Of course, I quite well know that Sunday did come into use in early Christian history . . . . But what a pity it comes branded with the mark of paganism, and christened with the name of the sun god, adopted and sanctioned by the papal apostasy, and bequeathed as a sacred legacy to Protestantism!”
Dr. Edward T. Hiscox, a paper read before a New York ministers’ conference, Nov. 13, 1893, reported in New York Examiner, Nov.16, 1893.
“It is quite clear that however rigidly or devotedly we may spend Sunday, we are not keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was founded on a specific Divine command. We can plead no such command for the obligation to observe Sunday …. There is not a single sentence in the New Testament to suggest that we incur any penalty by violating the supposed sanctity of Sunday.”
Dr. R. W. Dale, The Ten Commandments (New York: Eaton &Mains), p. 127-129.
“The Christian Sabbath [Sunday] is not in the Scriptures, and was not by the primitive Church called the Sabbath.”
Timothy Dwight, Theology: Explained and Defended (1823), Ser. 107, vol. 3, p. 258.
Disciples of Christ:
“‘But,’ say some, ‘it was changed from the seventh to the first day.’ Where? when? and by whom? No man can tell. No; it never was changed, nor could it be, unless creation was to be gone through again: for the reason assigned must be changed before the observance, or respect to the reason, can be changed! It is all old wives’ fables to talk of the change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day. If it be changed, it was that august personage changed it who changes times and laws ex officio – I think his name is Doctor Antichrist.’ “The first day of the week is commonly called the Sabbath. This is a mistake. The Sabbath of the Bible was the day just preceding the first day of the week. The first day of the week is never called the Sabbath anywhere in the entire Scriptures. It is also an error to talk about the change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. There is not in any place in the Bible any intimation of such a change.”
Alexander Campbell, First Day Observance, pp. 17, 19. and The Christian Baptist, Feb. 2, 1824,vol. 1. no. 7, p. 164
“We have seen how gradually the impression of the Jewish sabbath faded from the mind of the Christian Church, and how completely the newer thought underlying the observance of the first day took possession of the church. We have seen that the Christians of the first three centuries never confused one with the other, but for a time celebrated both.”
The Sunday Problem, a study book of the United Lutheran Church (1923), p. 36.
“They [Roman Catholics] refer to the Sabbath Day, as having been changed into the Lord’s Day, contrary to the Decalogue, as it seems. Neither is there any example whereof they make more than concerning the changing of the Sabbath Day. Great, say they, is the power of the Church, since it has dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments!”
Augsburg Confession of Faith art. 28; written by Melanchthon, approved by Martin Luther, 1530; as published in The Book of Concord of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Henry Jacobs, ed. (1 91 1), p. 63.
“The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance, and it was far from the intentions of the apostles to establish a Divine command in this respect, far from them, and from the early apostolic Church, to transfer the laws of the Sabbath to Sunday.”
Dr. Augustus Neander, The History of the Christian Religion and Church Henry John Rose, tr. (1843), p. 186..
“But they err in teaching that Sunday has taken the place of the Old Testament Sabbath and therefore must be kept as the seventh day had to be kept by the children of Israel …. These churches err in their teaching, for Scripture has in no way ordained the first day of the week in place of the Sabbath. There is simply no law in the New Testament to that effect.”
John Theodore Mueller, Sabbath or Sunday, pp. 15, 16
“Take the matter of Sunday. There are indications in the New Testament as to how the church came to keep the first day of the week as its day of worship, but there is no passage telling Christians to keep that day, or to transfer the Jewish Sabbath to that day.”
Harris Franklin Rall, Christian Advocate, July 2, 1942, p.26.
“But, the moral law contained in the ten commandments, and enforced by the prophets, he [Christ] did not take away. It was not the design of his coming to revoke any part of this. This is a law which never can be broken …. Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind, and in all ages; as not depending either on time or place, or any other circumstances liable to change, but on the nature of God and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other.”
John Wesley, The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., John Emory, ed. (New York: Eaton & Mains), Sermon 25,vol. 1, p. 221.
Dwight L. Moody:
The Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since. This fourth commandment begins with the word ‘remember,’ showing that the Sabbath already existed when God Wrote the law on the tables of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?”
D. L. Moody, Weighed and Wanting (Fleming H. Revell Co.: New York), pp. 47, 48.
“The Sabbath is a part of the decalogue — the Ten Commandments. This alone forever settles the question as to the perpetuity of the institution . . . . Until, therefore, it can be shown that the whole moral law has been repealed, the Sabbath will stand . . . . The teaching of Christ confirms the perpetuity of the Sabbath.”
T. C. Blake, D.D., Theology Condensed, pp.474, 475.
Common arguments against Sabbath observance:
Perhaps the most common passage cited with regard to the lack of Sabbath observance by protestant Christians is Colossians 2:16-17. For example, the anti-Sabbatarian writers of “Lying for God” quote this passage as one of their foundational Scriptures:
“Let no man therefore judge you in food, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, 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 passage is cited as proof that Jesus did away with the Law at the cross, to include the weekly Sabbath, as no longer binding for the Christian. It is usually argued that Jesus fulfilled the shadowy Law so that the Christian need not live under the Law, but under grace. After all, it was Paul himself who explained, “You are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14).
What many fail to understand, however, is that the weekly Sabbath does not foreshadow a future event, but past events. Yet, here in Colossians, Paul specifically explains that he is talking about the laws that were put in place to foreshadow the coming of Christ. There were ceremonial laws, animal sacrifices, and yearly sabbaths that pointed toward the life and death of Jesus. Obviously, these met their reality in Jesus Himself. However, the weekly Sabbath does not point forward, but backward. It is not a “shadow of things to come.” It is for this reason that it was written in stone and placed inside of the Ark of the Covenant with the rest of the eternal moral laws of the Decalogue. You don’t write a temporary “shadow” on stone. And, you don’t place a “shadow” on equal footing with other eternal moral laws – moral laws that were and are and will forever be binding for all of humanity. Even among anti-Sabbatarians, most recognize that at least nine of the Ten Commandments are still binding upon the Christian. Why then was a temporary “shadow law” placed among these nine permanent non-shadowy laws written in stone by His own finger? That conclusion simply makes no sense. It is inconsistent with the idea of a rational God.
But what about the order of words used in Colossians 2:16? Aren’t there parallels to other passages within the Old Testament? – confirming Paul’s intention to include the weekly Sabbath in this particular passage?
In Col 2:16 the word sabbaton is mentioned along with two other terms – heortes “religious festival” and neomenias “new moon celebration.” If we want precedents for Paul’s usage, it is not enough to find examples of the third term. We must find examples of all three terms used together in comparable ways. Three-part groupings of terms similar to the list Paul uses occur in Num 28:1-29:40; 1 Chr 23:30-31; 2 Chr 2:4; 8:12-13; 31:3; and Neh 10:33-34; Ezek 45:13-17, and 46:1-15. Of the eight, Ezek 45:13-17 comes closest and might be said to provide a parallel, but it is not the best parallel because there is one better, and besides, Ezekiel includes terms not in Paul’s list. But the sequence is right. The other seven passages give the references to time in ascending order (Sabbaths, monthly festivals, yearly festivals), rather than descending order (yearly festivals, monthly festivals, Sabbaths) as Paul has them. In other words, in the other seven passages the sequence is backwards. There is one other thing to notice. In all eight passages the context is positive, i.e., the biblical writer is talking about what should be done on the Sabbaths, New Moon celebrations, and festivals referred to (or in the case of Ezek 45:13-17, the festivals, New Moon celebrations, and Sabbaths). In Colossians Paul is not speaking positively, nor is the writer he draws on in writing what he does. The wording found in Col 2:16 comes not from any of the above eight passages, but from Hos 2:11.
I will stop all her celebrations [Hebrew kolmsosa]: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days — all her appointed feasts. (Hos 2:11)
Here there are only three terms (in Greek translation heortas, noumenias, and sabbata), the sequence of the terms is identical to Paul’s, and the intent is negative. Each of these facts strengthens present hypothesis that Col 2:16 is modeled on Hos 2:11.
Hosea’s wording is a bit odd, however, for two reasons. He says “all her celebrations,” but then uses a term that only refers to part of them. Not all of the annual convocations were festive. So how could the term “celebrations” (masos), or “festivals,” to refer to “all” of them? On the other hand, since he uses the term hag (haggah) to refer to “yearly festivals,” why would he leave out both Trumpets and Day of Atonement, which are never called hag? At this point something in Hosea’s choice of words doesn’t seem to add up.
There were two distinct groupings of annual convocations in ancient Israel. One group (group A: Passover, Pentecost) is called úag “festival” (Hosea’s term above), the other (group B: Trumpets, Day of Atonement) is never called úag. Trumpets and Day of Atonement are called “sabbaths,” Passover and Pentecost are never called “sabbaths.” Tabernacles occupies middle ground, since in Lev 23:39 it is called both hag and “sabbath” (thus we could say [+hag, +”sabbath”]), but Passover and Pentecost are consistently [+hag, -“sabbath”], while Trumpets and Day of Atonement are consistently [–hag, +”sabbath”]. The first group (plus Tabernacles) are joyous, the last two solemn. The first group (plus Tabernacles) are pilgrim festivals, the last two solemn “rest” times. Group B events (plus Tabernacles) are called “sabbaths,” group A events are never called “sabbaths.” Hosea was carefully aware of such distinctions.
Thus our first assumption should be that, even if his choice of words remains puzzling to us, he knew what he wanted to say and used his words correctly.
Consider one additional fact. The Sabbath was not intended to be somber, but joyful. Through Isaiah God says we should call the Sabbath “a delight [oneg]” (Isa 58:13). That would fit with Hosea’s word masos “celebration.” But bear in mind that the people Hosea was writing to had gotten some things wrong. That’s why he was writing to them. For them the Sabbath was not a time of joy, as intended, but a bother (see Amos 8:5). So why does the prophet use the term sabbat (w-sabbatah) in Hos 2:11? Answer: He wasn’t referring to the weekly Sabbath…
What Paul says, based on the above passage from Hosea, is best understood as being laid out in chiastic form (ABA’). The convocations referred to are respectively yearly (group A), monthly, and yearly (group B). It would be possible to claim that the arrangement is linear (ABC) rather than chiastic, and that the occasions referred to are respectively yearly (groups A and B), monthly, and weekly. But is this really possible? Group B convocations are never called hag “festival.” They were not festive. Paul was not creating a paragraph out of thin air. He was drawing inspiration from an Old Testament passage. If so, the passage in question has got to be Hos 2:11. This is the only [biblical passage] which lists the convocations in the same order Paul uses and speaks of them negatively. The real point to notice, however, is that if Paul has Hos 2:11 in mind, he’s not talking about the weekly seventh-day Sabbath when he uses the word sabbaton in Col 2:16.
Dr. Frank W. Hardy, The Sabbath in Colossians 2, p. 7-8 (2010) – Link
No Distinction Between any of the Old Testament Commandments:
That there is a moral-ceremonial separation in Biblical laws is a bedrock premise of Sabbatarians, used in defense of the Sabbath. However, as almost all SDA Bible scholars know, it is comprehensively a faulty conclusion, again, derived from the Proof-text approach to scripture. Ancient peoples, including the Israelites knew of no such distinctions of laws, neither does the Bible give any formula for identifying which laws were ceremonial and which laws were moral. The Hebrew word for law used in the OT is Torah, and the Greek equivalent is Nomos. These are umbrella terms used to designate all laws, not segmentations of law.
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 8 (Link).
The problem with this argument is, of course, that in many places the authors of the Bible show a very clear distinction between the Ten Laws of God written with His own finger on stone and the other Mosaic laws. It is clear that Paul himself was well aware of this distinction. For example, it was Paul who wrote, to the Corinthians no less:
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. – 1 Corinthians 7:19
In this passage, Paul argues that one of the most revered laws of Moses, the law regarding circumcision, didn’t matter for the Christian. However, Paul goes on to add that only keeping the commands of God matter. Which commands of God are these? – of circumcision isn’t one of them? Well, Paul explains in his book to the Romans:
What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” … So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. – Romans 7:7-13
Clearly then, Paul does not consider the commandments of the Decalogue to be no longer binding on the Christian. He certainly does not consider the command against coveting to be in the same category as circumcision. He draws a very clear distinction here between the decalogue and the other Mosaic laws.
Likewise, James, writing after the time of Jesus, calls the Decalogue the “Law of Liberty”:
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:25
For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. – James 2:11-12
Here James is being very clear that the Christian will be judged by the Decalogue – a set of God’s Laws that James describes as the Law of Liberty. Again, this is a very clear distinction. Even though we are saved by God’s Grace, the Christian is still subject to the Decalogue and is enabled to keep it through the power of God. Paul himself argues, “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15). Again, sin is defined by the Law – which was not done away with by any means. Rather, the Law becomes irrelevant for the Christian once the Christian accepts the grace and power of God as the only means to overcome sin – the continual breaking of the Law.
And, as previously mentioned, a clear distinction between the Decalogue and the other Mosaic laws was drawn during the time of Moses in that the Decalogue, written on stone by the Finger of God, was placed inside of the Ark of the Covenant while the other Mosaic laws were placed on the outside in a separate compartment (Deuteronomy 31:26). If that isn’t a clear distinction I don’t know what is?
Now, remember that the temple service was a copy or replica of what was in heaven – including the Ark of the Covenant. What is interesting here is that this Ark was described by John as still being in heaven after Jesus had already died and gone back to heaven:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. – Revelation 11:19
So, it would seem as though the Ark of the Covenant wasn’t just for the Jews, but is the eternal home of the Decalogue in heaven – within the Temple of God Himself. This strongly points out the eternal nature of the Decalogue, while, at the same time, confirms the temporary nature of the sacrificial system and laws associated with it that pointed toward, or foreshadowed, the Messiah.
Again, such shadow laws are quite different and distinct from the Laws of the Decalogue, which are not a mere “shadow” of future realities, but are themselves eternal in nature – set up from the beginning of human existence on this planet.
Romans 14:5 and “The New Covenant”:
“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (Romans 14:5)
Therefore, it is argued by anti-Sabbatarians, the Sabbath is no longer an obligation for the Christian who lives by God’s grace and faith the victory of Christ on our behalf… according to the “New Covenant” of grace set up by Jesus at the time of His death and resurrection.
Of course, when challenged on this position, most will agree that it is still wrong to murder, steal, commit adultery, covet, etc… In fact, most will agree that nine of the ten commandments of the Decalogue are still good for the Christian to continue to observe – only that under the New Covenant Jesus explained that even if you hate your brother your are guilty of murder or even if you lust after a married woman in your heart you are guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:28). However, when honestly and carefully considered, none of these ideas are really “new”. After all, the Ten Commandments themselves point out the underlying problem of internal motives. Paul himself explains that he would not have known the problem with his own motives if the Law had not pointed out the problem with coveting something that belongs to someone else:
What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” – Romans 7:7
Even the concept of murder, mentioned in the Ten Commandments, implies pre-existing hate for one’s neighbor. That is why Paul boils it all down, like Jesus did, as concludes:
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Romans 13:9
Really, then, the “New Covenant” is simply a restatement of the “Old Covenant” since the Ten Commandments were simply a written expression of what true love for one’s neighbor would look like…
The real question then, for most people, ultimately, boils down to Sabbath observance alone – not any of the other commandments of the Decalogue…
Nine of the Ten Commandments still Binding:
So, why is the Sabbath the only commandment “nailed to the cross” while the rest of the nine commandments of the Decalogue remain intact? Well, most who are presented with this question tend to argue that the “New Covenant” commandments presented by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and elsewhere during His lifetime, never mentions Sabbath observance as still binding, but does mention all of the other commandments within the Decalogue as being “written on the heart” (Jeremiah 31:33 and Romans 2:15,29). In fact, some go so far as to argue that Jesus deliberately broke the Sabbath commandment in order to demonstrate its temporary nature. The fact is, however, that God didn’t change His moral Law when Jesus died on the cross. Rather, Jesus death created a change in us…
The change that took place at the cross is not a change in God. He is still holy now just as He always was before. Nor is it a change in His law. That’s holy too (see Rom 7:12). It’s a change in us, giving us a new relationship with both God and His law. This change is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we would all be lost. God did not send His Son into the world so He could justify changing His attitude toward us, but so we could have a different attitude toward Him. He does not change. His law does not change. These things in and of themselves were never the problem, so how could changing them be a solution?
Dr. Frank W. Hardy, The Sabbath in Colossians 2, p. 6 (2010) – Link
The Ten Commandments are Not Eternal:
Less commonly, the argument is forwarded that none of the Ten Commandments are eternal in nature. Recently, Clinton Baldwin (a New Testament theologian and former Adventist) made this argument as follows:
Eternity has to do with existence prior to the creation of our planet, and existence subsequent to the 2nd advent. The Sabbath came at the end of creation week, therefore, it could not have been a requirement in heaven. The commands “You shall not commit adultery,” “Honor your mother and your father so that you may enjoy long life in —- Canaan, or “Have no other gods beside me,” would not have been relevant in eternity before sin; neither will we need a Sabbath in the new earth where we will live in the intimate presence of God forever, and where we shall count no time by years. The decalogue is certainly not eternal. It was given within the context of Israel’s escape from Egyptian slavery, and was conditioned and colored by that mighty covenantal act of God (Exo 19: 1-5; 20:1-18; Deut 5: 1-5)
The main problem here is that Baldwin doesn’t seem to recognize that the Ten Commandments are simply an expression of the underlying “Royal Law” – the Law of Love (James 2:8). Since God “is love” (1 John 4:8), the Law of Love forms the basis of His government. This has always been true and it always will be true. This Law expresses itself in different ways depending upon different circumstances. Humans may have different needs and abilities with respect to say, angels. We have fathers and mothers, whereas they do not. We are sexual creatures whereas they are not. Therefore, laws tailored to our unique characteristics would be called for as far as what it would take to remain in line with the Law of Love.
Does this, therefore, mean that such laws are not “eternal”? – as Baldwin claims? Well, as long as the unique features of humanity remain, such laws would be eternal in nature going forward because any violation of such laws would be a violation of the underlying eternal and universal Law of Love. Yet, Baldwin claims that such laws would have been “irrelevant” before sin.
Of course, the Law is irrelevant if it is not being broken – if it is naturally being obeyed. But, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist. Even in Eden before the fall it would have been wrong to dishonor father or mother or to commit adultery – or to break any of the other of the Ten Commandments. After all, the Law is what defines sin itself since sin is “the transgression of the Law” (1 John 3:4). Without the pre-existence of a moral Law, sin cannot exist – not even in theory.
Baldwin is also mistaken in his notion that the New Earth will not have any semblance to the original Earth made for Adam and Eve – with the Sun, moon, and stars being used to mark the passing of seasons like days, weeks, months, and years. Baldwin claims, without any apparent biblical basis that, “In the very presence of God, where we will count no time by years, it will be perpetual holiness at all times.” However, the solar system and universe don’t just pass away just because the Earth will one day be remade as it was originally intended to be. Yes, God will live with us here on Earth and we will no longer be dependent on the light of the Sun, moon, or stars (Revelation 22:5). However, this does not mean that they will no longer exist or be useful to humanity for marking the passage of time. Times and seasons will continue to exist in the New Earth as things were originally intended to be (Isaiah 66:22-23).
The Ten Commandments are not “All Encompassing”:
There are some who claim that the Ten Commandments simply don’t cover enough when it comes to the fallen human condition – that there are ways to sin which the Ten Commandments simply don’t cover:
The Ten Commandments are very limited both in terms of specific principles and precepts. There are no stipulations regarding, anger, malice, benevolence, humility, long-suffering; loving of one’s enemies and forgiveness (Matt 5-7; Phil 2:1-8; Rom 12: 1-21). There are no laws to avoid deceit, hypocrisy, envy or slander (1Pt 2:1-5 ). There are no regulations to be merciful, to be a peacemaker, to be patient, kind, not jealous, not to brag, or not to be arrogant (1Cor 13:1-13) and the list continues.
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 5 (Link).
This argument is based on a misunderstanding of the basis of the Ten Commandments. Again, this basis is the Royal Law of Love towards God and towards our neighbors – a Law upon which hang all other moral laws (James 2:8 and Matthew 22:37-40).
It is interesting, then, that the Ten Commandments actually do cover, either directly or indirectly, everything that Baldwin cites here as not being covered. For example, the command against murder implies that one cannot hate one’s brother – for murder pre-supposes that hate for one’s neighbor existed prior to the actual act of murder. In other words, the Ten Commandments highlight the problem with the underlying motive of a person that is the thing that is actually responsible for wrong actions against one’s neighbor. And, if there were still any real confusion along these lines, the 10th commandment against coveting anything that isn’t yours, in particular, removes all doubt as to the fact that motive is the real issue here since coveting or selfishness is the basis of all sin.
How so? Well, if one isn’t coveting something that rightfully belongs to someone else, there isn’t going to be any “deceit, hypocrisy, envy or slander”. The necessity of selfless love in order to achieve a pure level of motivation this is strongly implied in the Ten Commandments. The fact that Jesus had to spell it out in even greater detail only speaks to the self-deceptive nature of the human heart. Clearly though, the Ten Commandments are, by themselves, able to convict fallen human beings that they need help. As Paul himself explained,
I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” – Romans 7:7
And, the Law remains the basis for defining sin as sinful (1 John 3:4). Without any law, there is no sin. That means that murder is still sinful as is idol worship or dishonoring father or mother or coveting – or breaking the Sabbath.
The Ten Commandments are not Perfect:
Some also argue that the Ten Commandments contain errors with respect to the highest levels of morality – that they do not reach Divine perfection. While it is true that the language of the Ten Commandments was addressed to men (in line with the culture of the day) it is not true that a careful reading of the Ten Commandments, in context, will fail to reveal the underlying Law of Love upon which it is based. Of course, a perfect revelation of Love to humanity can only be found in the person of Jesus. This does not mean, however, that the Ten Commandments became irrelevant once Jesus was revealed. Jesus simply demonstrated what living according to the Royal Law of Love really meant. Breaking any one of the commands of the Decalogue would still be a violation of the underlying Law of Love against God or against one’s neighbor. Jesus came to demonstrate the beauty of the Law. He didn’t come to undermine it or to do away with it. Yet, there are those who actually propose to find errors in the Decalogue – in order to undermine its authority for the Christian:
Of course, a perfect revelation of Love to humanity can only be found in the person of Jesus. This does not mean, however, that the Ten Commandments became irrelevant once Jesus was revealed. Jesus simply demonstrated what living according to the Royal Law of Love really meant. Breaking any one of the commands of the Decalogue would still be a violation of the underlying Law of Love against God or against one’s neighbor. Jesus came to demonstrate the beauty of the Law. He didn’t come to undermine it or to do away with it. Yet, there are those who actually propose to find errors in the Decalogue – in order to undermine its authority for the Christian:
Yet, there are those who actually propose to find errors in the Decalogue – in order to undermine its authority for the Christian:
Allowed for Slavery:
The Sabbath command allowed the Israelites to keep slaves – It states: “You shall not do any work, you nor your man servant or your maid servant.” The Hebrew word translated “servant”– ebed, means slave. Here as in several other places in the OT, the Israelites were allowed to keep slaves, just that they were supposed to be kind in allowing them to rest while they also rested on the Sabbath (Exo 20:10). A perfect law does not allow for slavery.
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 5 (Link).
The Hebrew word “ebed” can mean either “slave” or “servant” depending on context (Link). In fact, this word, as used in the Old Testament, usually refers to a subordinate social position. For example, Abraham had “servants” (ebed) – yet was not reprimanded by God for this.
Certainly then, it is not morally wrong to hire or maintain servants. Clearly, the background context of the use of the term “ebed” in the Ten Commandments is God’s anger with Pharoah with regard to turning the entire Israelite nation into a nation of true slaves – slaves who were mistreated and who were not allowed to leave and go elsewhere. God had just freed Isreal from such servile bondage and repeatedly warned them against doing likewise to others (Deuteronomy 24:21-22). Rather strong language was used against those who thought to capture and force another human being into slavery:
Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession. – Exodus 21:16
This is one of the reasons why God specifically spoke to how even servants were to be treated – that servants and strangers (non-Jews within one’s influence) and even animals should be given the Sabbath rest every single week (a sign of moral worth before God). The concept of slavery, such as that witnessed in America against the negro, was very much contrary to God’s expressed wishes.
If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner; he shall serve with you until the year of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God. – Leviticus 25:39-43
The Bible is in fact quite clear that all humans stand on equal footing before Him.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. – Acts 17:26
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28
Command against Murder limited to fellow Jews:
“Thou shall not kill,” (Exo 20:13) in the primary context this meant, do not kill your fellow Israelite under certain circumstances. However, pertaining to the Canaanites and certain disobedient Israelites, it was perfectly OK to kill them (See Deut 20:16; 7:1-2,16; Josh 10:40; 11:11). This is certainly not a perfect expression of God’s will.
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 5 (Link).
The Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:13 is “ratsach” – which is primarily translated as “murder” – not just any form of killing (Link). From within the context of the Ten Commandments, the word ratsach almost definitely means “murder” – which is the reason why most translations of the Bible render it in this way. Premeditation and hate for one’s neighbor as the basis of killing is considered in the Bible to be the type of killing that is morally wrong:
Now if the avenger of blood pursues him, then they shall not deliver the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand.” – Joshua 20:5
Now, consider that “murder” is a specific type of killing. Not all killing is defined as murder. For example, killing during war in the heat of battle is not the same thing as murder – and is not forbidden in the Ten Commandments or anywhere else in the Bible. However, murder is forbidden – and not just against the Jews. To suggest that the Jews thought that murdering non-Jews was “perfectly Ok” or that God intended it to be Ok to murder non-Jews is absolute nonsense and hardly worth discussing.
After all, the “Cities of Refuge” were not set up by God just for the Isrealites, but for those non-Jewish resident aliens or those who were simply passing through the country as well:
These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there. – Numbers 35:15
Clearly then, God valued the lives of all human beings as well as the Isrealites – and made provision for the welfare of non-Jews as well as Jews in the laws He gave to Isreal.
Command against Adultery Defines Women as Property:
Exegetically, the command that forbids adultery (Exo 20:14), applied only to Israelite males committing adultery against another man’s property. Whereas, contextually the woman was the property of the man, and the man was free to marry more than one wife, or even have concubines along with his wife, adultery was never an act committed against a woman, but against the property of another man. A man could not commit adultery against a woman. He did such only against another man, that is, by violating the man’s property. How can we designate a law that denies such a basic right to women as completely perfect or moral for that matter (whatever we define morality to be)?
When a man and woman get married, they are each other’s property – they both belong to the other. The Bible is quite clear in this regard.
My darling, I am yours, and you are mine. – Song of Solomon 2:16
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. – Mark 10:7-9
That is why taking another man’s wife or another woman’s husband is equivalent to stealing something that belongs to someone else.
Yes, the language of the Ten Commandments is addressed to men as per the culture of the times in which it was given, but this does not mean that women are therefore not thought of as independent and equal moral beings (Galatians 3:28). As equal moral beings before God, women are just as subject to the Decalogue. This is why Jesus Himself told the woman who was caught in the act of adultery to “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11).
Also, it was never God’s will that any man marry more than one wife and live in a polygamous relationship. This was not the original design for the marriage relationship in Eden since God only made one wife for Adam. In Genesis 2:23,24 we read that “a man is to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.” God did not say here that man was to be joined to his “wives”. God also specifically warned against marrying multiple wives (Deuteronomy 17:17) and that a Godly man should be the husband of just one wife (Titus 1:6). Jesus also explained that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:3-9). Jesus spoke here of one man and one woman marrying and becoming “one”.
Still, God works with people where they are and with the cultural background they come from – which may not be ideal. Yet, the original ideal that God had in mind, which is clearly stated in the Bible, should not be forgotten here.
Other Gods Acknowledged:
The statement, “You shall have no other gods beside me,” (Exodus 20:2) acknowledged the physical existence of other divine beings like Baal, Marduk, Ea, Enlil and the thousands of other deities in the ancient world. This law simply required that they should not worship them, despite their ontological existence. This practice is called henotheism. It pervades most of the early OT. This is certainly not the most perfect expression of God’s knowledge base. Thus, the Ten Commandments is not a perfect law of God. It was given as a limited set of laws designed to regulate the behavior of a young nation consisting of a group of ex-slaves. Again, it emerged from God’s mighty covenantal act of liberating Israel from slavery and is hence colored by that context.
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 5-6 (Link).
The claim that God Himself acknowledged the actual existence of other Divine beings is simply not a correct exegetical reading of this passage in the context of what the rest of the Old Testament has to say. The Old Testament writers were very clear that the idols that were worshiped were not Divine beings at all – that there was only one God.
There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. – Isaiah 45:21
There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. – Deuteronomy 4:28
The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. – Psalms 135:15
Clearly then, the passage in Exodus 20:3 referring to “other Gods” does not mean that God is suggesting the actual existence of other Divine beings. Rather, God is simply acknowledging the existence of idols and the temptation for human beings to actually worship the works of their own hands – and even to convince themselves that these works actually do represent Divine beings. God is warning His people not do be sucked into this particular temptation because, as explained throughout the Bible, there is in fact only one God in existence (James 2:19).
Only Negative Commandments:
A law that for the most part tells you what you must not do, but does not tell you what you ought to do, is certainly not the best expression of God’s will. We do not do good by not doing bad. Again, contextually, this law was designed for a group of recently released ex-slaves. It formed the hub of the Old Covenant. A code which Paul called “the ministry of death” (2Cor 3:7). Later we will see that, in Jesus, God raised the bar, and declared – you have heard that it was said, but I (Jesus) am now saying to you (Matt 5-).
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 6 (Link).
Again, in context, it is not too hard to tell that the basis of the Decalogue is the Royal Law of Love. In fact, the Old Testament writers clearly spell this out. Right in the Torah itself the Divine command is given to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Subsequently, Jesus Himself included this particular command in His reference to the Decalogue, highlighting the underlying basis of love behind the Decalogue:
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man asked. Jesus answered, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Matthew 19:17-19
The rich young man clearly understood what Jesus was talking about here. He understood that the Law was based on love for one’s neighbor – which really is a positive command. If love is in play, no negative commands would be needed – they would be irrelevant. Negative commands are only needed once the Royal Law of Love is broken. At this point, the negative commands come into play to point out this fact – that one is not acting lovingly toward one’s neighbor if one is doing any of the negative things listed against one’s neighbor.
Paul refers to the Decalogue as something that brings death (Romans 7:10 and 2 Corinthians 3:7) because living against the Royal Law of Love, living in sin, eventually results in death (Romans 7:5) – for sin is the transgression of the Law (1 John 3:4).
In this line, if Jesus “raised the bar” as Dr. Baldwin claims, then it would be even harder to keep the Law – it would be even more a “Law of Death” as Paul puts it. Raising the bar doesn’t make keeping the Law any easier, but harder. Of course, the fact of the matter is that the Law was always impossible to kept outside of the power of God in one’s life. The reason for this is because humanity became naturally selfish after the Fall. And, for one who is naturally selfish, any law based on Love will be impossible to keep without Divine help from the One who is Love. In short, “the bar” has always been set at perfect selfless love. Nothing has changed in this regard except for a better understanding of the underlying motive behind the Decalogue – which was highlighted in the life, deeds, and words of Jesus. Salvation has always been based on the unmerited grace of God made possible by the selfless sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. And, it is only by God’s power acting on our behalf that we can actually love our neighbors as ourselves.
Consider also that limiting the Ten Commandments to a handful of things that one cannot do is rather liberating – for it means that everything else that is in line with the Royal Law is open and lawful for the follower of God.
The Sabbath Commandment is Ceremonial:
Exo 31:13; Ezk 20:12 explicitly state that the Sabbath command is a sign. A sign naturally demands a ceremony for its expression. Thus, the Sabbath is “ceremonial.” i.e., in terms of commemorating a reality. It points backwards to creation and forwards to the cross (Exo 20:8-11; Col 2:14-16). It was the chief sacrificial day of the week. Twice as many sacrifices were offered on Sabbath as on week days (Num 28:1-10). The Sabbath is also inseparably linked to the sanctuary and its services (Exo 25-31:18; Lev 19:30 & 26:2) See, Jesus: God’s Obligatory Sabbath, Chapter 4.
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 6 (Link).
Baldwin is correct in noting that the weekly Sabbath points backward in remembrance of a historical event – creation week. However, Baldwin is mistaken in his suggestion that the Sabbath is like the ceremonial laws of the temple service and sacrificial system which foreshadowed the coming Messiah. The citation of Colossians 2:14-16, as discussed above, is commonly given to support this particular argument. But, as is also commonly done, Baldwin forgets to include verse 17 – which provides the key qualifier to the previous verse:
Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. – Colossians 2:16-17
Notice here that Paul specifically points out that he is speaking of specific shadow laws that were intended to foreshadow the coming of the Messiah. This excludes the weekly Sabbath which was given in the Garden of Eden before the Fall as an eternal reminder of Creation and an eternal gift to mankind – an entire day that God Himself wishes to spend especially with us and where we set aside all secular activities to spend an entire day with God.
It is for this reason that the weekly Sabbath commandment was included with the Decalogue, written on stone and placed within the Ark of the Covenant, while none of the other temporary ceremonial laws, laws specifically foreshadowing the coming Messiah, were included. A sharp distinction was made in the Torah regarding these laws and Paul also recognizes this distinction – as would all of the other Jews of his day.
“The Gospel writers clearly stated that Jesus broke the Sabbath. Since Jesus did actually break the Sabbath, the heresy that the Ten Commandments equal God’s Law would make Him a sinner, which is an impossibility because Jesus was 100% God when He appeared to human beings in human form.”
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 102 (Link)
The problem with this argument is, of course, that Jesus Himself claimed that everything that He did was actually “lawful” for everyone to do according to God’s Law – and always had been lawful. He explained that God had originally designed that the Sabbath commandment could be “broken” under certain conditions – such as the work of the priests in the temple who consistently “broke” the Sabbath commandment, but in a lawful manner:
Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? – Matthew 12:5
Jesus also explained that it had also always been “lawful” to do good on the Sabbath when it came to relieving the suffering of human beings or even animals:
So Jesus asked the experts in the law and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. – Luke 14:4
And He asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” But they were silent. – Mark 3:4 and Luke 6:9
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” – Luke 14:15
“You hypocrites!” the Lord replied, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it to water? – Luke 13:15
Jesus concluded by pointing out the obvious:
How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. – Matthew 12:12
And, it wasn’t just Jesus saying this. The teachers of the Law in Jesus’ day knew full well that this was, in fact, the case according to their own laws. According to their own teachings, it had always been lawful to “break” the Sabbath commandment in situations where one could relieve the suffering man or beast. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, here are some lawful reasons for “breaking” the Sabbath:
The technical term for suspensions of the Sabbath is “doḥin et ha-Shabbat” (push aside or set back the Sabbath). For a higher duty, that of observing the Sabbath was held in abeyance. A priest might violate the Sabbath in the discharge of his sacerdotal work at the altar, or while performing the sacrificial rite, or any other function, assigned to him. For “en Shabbat ba-miḳdash” the Sabbath law is not applicable to the service in the Temple (Pes. 65a). Acts necessary for the Passover are not affected by the prohibitions (Pes. vi. 1, 2). The blowing of the shofar is permitted (R. H. iv. 1). A Levite may tie a broken string on his instrument while performing in the Temple (‘Er. x. 13). Circumcision also takes precedence of the Sabbath, though whatever preparations for this rite can be completed previously should not be left for the Sabbath (Shab. xviii. 3, xix. 1-3). But wheneverthere was danger to life, or where a Jewish woman was in the throes of childbirth, the Sabbath law was set aside (Shab. xviii. 3). In the case of one dangerously sick, whatever was ordered by a competent physician might be done regardless of the Sabbath; but it had to be done by pious and prominent Jews, not by non-Jews (“Yad,” l.c. ii. 1-3). It was forbidden to delay in such a case, for it was intended that man should live by the Law, and not die through it (Yoma 85a, b; Sanh. 74a; ‘Ab. Zarah 27b, 54a; Mek., Ki Tissa). Water might be heated and the lamps lighted. In accidents, too, every help might be extended…
It was permissible to take animals to water, provided they carried no load (“Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ,” p. 74, where it is explained that covers necessary for the comfort of the animal are not considered a load). Water might be drawn into a trough so that an animal might go and drink of its own accord (‘Er. 20b). If an animal has fallen into a well, it is provided with food until Sabbath is over, if this is possible; but if it is not, covers, cushions, and mattresses are placed under it so that it may get out without further aid; the pain of the animal is sufficient excuse (“ẓa’ar ba’ale ḥayyim”) for this Sabbath violation…
In view of the spirit of philanthropy that, as Maimonides constantly asserts (“Yad,” l.c. ii. 3), underlies the Law, it is difficult to understand the controversies with Jesus attributed to the Pharisees in the New Testament.
Emil G. Hirsch, Joseph Jacobs, Executive Committee of the Editorial Board., Julius H. Greenstone, Sabbath, Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 (Link)
Clearly then, it was because the Jews already knew that what Jesus was doing was in line with the Law that they refused to answer His questions regarding the requirements of Law and what it said when it came to acting, on the Sabbath, to help a person or animal who was in need.
At this point, of course, Jesus went on to explain that the Sabbath had originally been made, by Him, as a gift for all of mankind, not just for the Jews:
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. – Mark 2:27
The term Jesus used here for “man” was “anthropos” in the original Greek. Clearly, this indicates the intended universal nature of the gift of the Sabbath for the benefit of all of mankind back in Eden – when Adam and Eve were still in their innocence.
Every day should be treated like a Sabbath:
At this point, a new argument is often forwarded:
“Honoring God results in making that day a delight [in reference to the Sabbath discussion of Isaiah 58:13-14]. Realistically, would not honoring God make every day a delight?
If we judge righteous judgment, looking to the heart and intent of heart, a Christian meets the requirements of Isaiah 58:13-14 cited above. A Christian seeks to honor God every waking moment. A Christian’s life focus is on serving God and dedication to God. A Christian’s actions or works are not geared to the self, but done in the furtherance of serving and honoring God. A Christian’s life is hidden in Christ. The “old man of sin” has been crucified; that old self that was self-serving and living a life devoid of God in their life. The Sabbath for the believer now transcends any one specific “day” of rest or cessation of labor that was previously in vain, eventually ending in death. This one enters into God’s rest He entered into on that seventh day of Creation through faith.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 103-104 (Link)
In other words, God doesn’t really care about honoring one day over another, and never really did, because everyone should have been doing the will of God every day – not just on the Sabbath. In this way, the Sabbath was, and is, no more special or honorable than any other day of the week should be before God.
The problem with this argument is, of course, that Sabbath observance was intended as a special time entirely devoted to God, free of secular activities or individual pursuits for personal gain. It simply doesn’t follow then that God never really intended to set aside a particular day of the week as unique or “holy” – a day devoted to spending “quality time” with Him.
But why observe a particular day of the week? – one particular day in seven? It seems rather arbitrary since it appears to be independent of any external physical phenomenon (such as the rotations of the Sun or the moon). Of course, that’s just the point. Are we willing to do what God says without a need for any other reason? Sabbath observance can, therefore, be viewed as a sign or symbol of our love for God – of our willingness to do whatever He says just because He said so.
But isn’t motive of primary importance to God?
A work is good or evil based on its own merits, and not according to what day it is performed. One looks to the intent of heart. One does not look to the day it was performed, which again is to judge according to appearance.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 104 (Link)
While a person’s motive is indeed most important to God, and God does look upon the heart of a person (1 Samuel 16:7) once one has a conscious understanding of a command of God, one cannot disregard such a command while still maintaining the motive of love toward God. An act may be otherwise innocent and even good in and of itself, but if it knowingly goes contrary to a direct command of God, it is evidence of a disrespectful unloving attitude toward God. Secular work to maintain one’s self and one’s family is not in and of itself a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. However, when God asks us to set aside even good things for a time or asks us to selectively do one thing, in particular, among several seemingly good options, it would be a bad thing to knowingly disregard God’s request.
A good example of this is the story of Cain and Abel where Cain thought it perfectly reasonable and good to bring the best produce of his garden to offer on the altar before God – and so it would seem if God had not specifically asked for a lamb to be sacrificed. God rejected Cain’s offering because Cain knowingly acted contrary to God’s clear direction in this matter – despite the fact that Cain brought God the very best produce from his garden. (Genesis 4:3-7)
What’s wrong with bringing your very best to God? Nothing – unless God has asked for something specific that you knowingly aren’t doing.
A similar thing happened to King Saul. God told Saul that he was to utterly destroy the Amalekites – even the animals. Yet, Saul disobeyed with the excuse that he had saved the best of the animals to sacrifice to God. That seems like a lovely motive, except that this action was in direct violation of a very clear command of God. It was Samuel who explained the importance of careful obedience to the commands of God regardless of any rationalizations for why one might try to do something “better” than what God has actually requested of us:
“To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)
The same is true for the Christian today. If someone is truly ignorant of a particular command or request on the part of God, and that person is honestly acting according to the very best knowledge and motivations that are currently available, then God accepts this person and their actions. Jesus Himself pointed out that there is no “sin” where there is honest ignorance of the will of God.
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” – John 9:41
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. – John 15:22
However, when additional knowledge is gained, one cannot simply continue as one did before, but must modify one’s actions accordingly if one wishes to maintain pure motives before God.
This is true when it comes to a knowledge of the Sabbath. There are many who honestly do not know what God has commanded regarding the Sabbath day. There are those who honestly observe a different day as holy, and God accepts their honest sincerity before Him. There are even those who have never even heard the name of God or of Jesus, yet they can be saved if they are living according to the best light and knowledge that they have available to them.
For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. – Romans 2:13-16
So, God does indeed value honest and sincere motives and love above everything else. Again, however, such pure motives cannot exist within someone who has additional knowledge of God’s wishes that they simply aren’t willing to follow.
Jesus Fulfilled All of the Laws:
A related argument is that Jesus fulfilled all of the Laws, and therefore none of them are binding on the Christian.
Since Jesus fulfills all the laws of the OT, it therefore means that He also fulfills the Sabbath. The fact that the Sabbath occurred in the Ten Commandments cannot, and does not place it outside of the range of Jesus to fulfill it. In fact, if Jesus is not the fulfillment of the Sabbath, then it has absolutely no meaning and should not be observed.
Clinton Baldwin (2017), The Sabbath Issue in a Nutshell: An Exegentical and Theological Approach, p. 16 (Link).
What is, again, interesting about this argument is that most Christians will still admit that nine of the original Ten Commandments are still binding on the Christian and were made part of the “New Covenant” – even though they were “fulfilled” by Jesus. How can that be? Where is the consistency here in challenging the persistence of just one of the Ten Commandments due to the argument of being “fulfilled” by Jesus?
The fact is that Jesus kept the moral Law, as our example, and was the final offering for sin – doing away with the need for the sacrificial system and sanctuary service that pointed forward, or foreshadowed, the coming of the Messiah. After the death of Jesus, there simply was no further need for such reminders of His coming sacrifice. Once this event happened, in reality, such sacrifices and ceremonies became meaningless.
However, honoring father and mother or being faithful to one’s wife didn’t become meaningless at the death of Jesus. Why not? Because, these Laws were not meant to foreshadow the life and death of Jesus, but were set in place from the very beginning of human existence on this planet as eternal moral laws regarding how the universal Royal Law of Love (James 2:8) would make us act toward each other and toward God.
In this line, the weekly Sabbath was also set in place, from the very beginning of Earth’s history, as a gift to humanity, a reminder of creation and the Creator, and as a sign of our love and devotion to God as our Creator and, after the Fall, as our Redemer. The weekly Sabbath was included with the rest of the moral laws of the Decalogue and placed inside of the Ark of the Covenant – clearly distinguishing it from all of the other laws of Moses, including the laws relating to the sanctuary services which did, in fact, foreshadow the coming of the Messiah.
Sabbath given only to the Jews:
But, what about the argument that, according to ancient Jewish laws and customs, the Sabbath was only given to the Jews? – that no Gentile could observe the Sabbath on pain of death? As cited in the book, “Lying for God“, the Jewish Encyclopedia explains this perspective:
Resh Laish (d. 278) said, “A Gentile observing the Sabbath deserves death” (Sanh. 58b). This refers to a Gentile who accepted the seven laws of the Noachidæ, inasmuch as “the Sabbath is a sign between God and Israel alone,” and it was probably directed against the Christian Jews, who disregarded the Mosaic laws and yet at that time kept up the observance of the Jewish Sabbath…
In a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to Seder Olam (pp. 32b-34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to
convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law— which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath.
The Book of Jubilees (a Jewish pseudepigraphal work of the second century BC) says that “the Creator of all things.., did not sanctify all peoples and nations to keep Sabbath thereon, but Israel alone”
“The Book of Jubilees,” in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, ed. R.H. Charles, vol. 2, Pseudepigrapha [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913], p. 15
The Creator of all blessed it, but he did not sanctify any people or nations to keep the Sabbath thereon with the sole exception of Israel. He granted to them alone that they might eat and drink and keep the Sabbath thereon upon the earth’
Jubilees 2:31, James Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, [New York: Doubleday, 1985], vol. 2, p. 58
Book of Jubilees and Mishneh Torah:
First off, the Book of Jubilees, written in the mid-second century by some unknown author, is not canonical and contains various discrepancies compared to the Bible. Beyond this, the Jubilees is not consistent regarding its testimony on Sabbath observance. Consider, for example, the following passage where Enoch is said to have kept the Sabbath – even before the Flood. And, according to the Jubilees, even the angels originally kept the Sabbath from the beginning of time – and were circumcised as well:
“[Enoch] recounted the weeks of the jubilees, and made known to them the days of the years, and set in order the months and recounted the Sabbaths of the years…”
Jubilees 4:18, in R. H. Charles’, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, Vol. II, p. 18. (Link)
“And all the angels of the presence, and all the angels of sanctification, these two great classes, He hath bidden us to keep the Sabbath with Him in heaven and on earth.
Jubilees 2:18 (Link)
“And every one that is born, the flesh of whose foreskin is not circumcised on the eighth day, belongs not to the children of the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham, but to the children of destruction; nor is there, moreover, any sign on him that he is the Lord’s, but (he is destined) to be destroyed and slain from the earth, and to be rooted out of the earth, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord our God. For all the angels of the presence and all the angels of sanctification have been so created from the day of their creation, and before the angels of the presence and the angels of sanctification He hath sanctified Israel, that they should be with Him and with His holy angels.”
Jubilees 15:26-27 (Link)
Interesting how the angels were created already circumcised – even though Jesus explained that the angels “do not marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).
However, the concept of the Sabbath being exclusive to the Jews is also found in the “Mishneh Torah” (written between 1170 and 1180 AD), and does seem to represent the understanding of many of the Jews during certain times in history.
The Mishneh Torah (Hebrew: מִשְׁנֵה תּוֹרָה, “Repetition of the Torah”), subtitled Sefer Yad ha-Hazaka (ספר יד החזקה “Book of the Strong Hand”), is a code of Jewish religious law (Halakha) authored by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as “Rambam”), one of history’s foremost rabbis. So, while not exactly canonical, it would seem to reflect the thinking of Jews, at times, as follows:
A gentile who studies the Torah is obligated to die. They should only be involved in the study of their seven mitzvot.
Similarly, a gentile who rests, even on a weekday, observing that day as a Sabbath, is obligated to die. Needless to say, he is obligated for that punishment if he creates a festival for himself.
The general principle governing these matters is: They are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions. They may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot or retain their statutes without adding or detracting from them.
– Mishneh Torah, chapter 10 (Link)
This is indeed pretty harsh language against anyone thinking to observe Jewish laws and customs, including the Sabbath, without first becoming full converts to Judaism. In fact, Judaism holds that gentiles (goyim; “non-Jews,” literally “nations”) are not obligated to adhere to all the laws of the Torah (indeed, they are forbidden to fulfill some laws, such as the keeping of the Sabbath in the exact same manner as Israel). Rabbinic Judaism and its modern-day descendants actually discourage proselytization. The Noahide Laws (as listed below) are regarded as the way through which non-Jews can have a direct and meaningful relationship with God or at least comply with the minimal requisites of civilization and of divine law.
Seven Laws of Noah:
The Seven Laws of Noah:
- Do not deny God.
- Do not blaspheme God.
- Do not murder.
- Do not engage in incest, adultery, pederasty, or bestiality, as well as homosexual relations.
- Do not steal.
- Do not eat of a live animal.
- Establish courts/legal system to ensure law and obedience.
New World Encyclopedia (Link)
The “Ten Commandments” of the Bible (though in some ways quite different) were, according to the Talmud, simply added in addition to these pre-existing Laws of Noah:
Ten Commandments Incorporate Laws of Noah:
“Surely it has been taught: The Israelites were given ten precepts at Marah, seven of which had already been accepted by the children of Noah, to which were added at Marah social laws, the Sabbath, and honouring one’s parents.”
Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 56 (Link)
This might sound as though the additional laws mentioned in the Ten Commandments were not known before they were given to Moses. However, this isn’t a correct understanding of Jewish beliefs. There seems to be a bit of inconsistency, actually, in how the Jews viewed the Sabbath. On the one hand, during times of severe persecution, they appeared to view the Sabbath in more exclusive terms. Yet, in relatively peaceful times, they tended to view the Sabbath in more universal terms. Samuel Bacchiocchi (Adventist author and theologian) explains:
The Jewish attempt to reduce the Sabbath from a creation ordinance established for mankind to a Mosaic ordinance given exclusively to Israel, was developed by Palestinian rabbis to preserve a Jewish identity, at a time when the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes implemented a program of radical Hellenization of the Jews through the prohibition of sacrifices and Sabbathkeeping (175 B.C.). The result was that many Jews fell away, “sacrificed to the gods and desecrated the Sabbath” (1 Macc. 1:43). Pious Jews resisted passionately against such Hellenization, preferring to be slaughtered rather than desecrating the Sabbath (1 Macc. 2 :32-38).
The need to preserve a Jewish identity at that critical time inspired an exclusivistic and nationalistic view of the Sabbath. Some Rabbis taught that the privilege of Sabbathkeeping was denied to the Gentiles and reserved exclusively to Israel. As stated in the book of Jubilees, “He [God] allowed no other people or peoples to keep the Sabbath on this day, except Israel only; to it alone he granted to eat and drink and keep the Sabbath on it” (2 :31).69…
It must be said, however, that such a view represents a late secondary development rather than an original tradition. This is borne out by the fact that even in Palestinian literature there are references to the creation origin of the Sabbath. For example, the Book of Jubilees (about 140-100 B.C.), while on the one hand it says that God allowed “Israel only” to keep the Sab-bath (Jub. 2:31), on the other holds that God “kept Sabbath on the seventh day and hallowed it for all ages, and appointed it as a sign for all His works” (Jub. 2:1).
In Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish literature the Sabbath is un-mistakably viewed as a creation ordinance designed for all people. For example, Philo, the famous Jewish philosopher, not only traces the origin of the Sabbath to creation, but also delights to call it “the birthday of the world.” Referring to the creation story, Philo explains: “We are told that the world was made in six days and that on the seventh God ceased from his works and began to contemplate what had been so well created, and therefore he bade those who should live as citizens under this world-order to follow God in this as in other matters.” Because the Sabbath exists from creation, Philo emphasizes that it is “the festival not of a single city or country but of the universe, and it alone strictly deserves to be called public, as belonging to all people.”
Bacchiocchi / Ratzlaff Sabbath Debate: Part 2 (Link)
The fact of the matter is that Bacchiocchi is right – as Isaiah, Philo, Jesus, and even the Talmud testify.
Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, is fairly clear that non-Jews who wished to serve God and keep His Laws, including the Sabbath commandment, would be accepted by Him:
And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:6-7)
Also, many Jews believe that the Sabbath was universal in nature, created for all of mankind. Consider, for example, the thoughts of Philo along these lines…
Philo: Universal Sabbath was made for all of mankind:
Philo of Alexandria, living at the same time of Christ (20 BC – 60 AD), argued that the Sabbath was made for all of mankind as a “universal festival” – a time of holy celebration that isn’t limited to the Jews only since God created the Sabbath to be celebrated as “the birthday of the world”.
This echoes the words and sentiments of Jesus Himself who said that He had in fact personally made the Sabbath as a gift for all of humankind/anthropos (Mark 2:27).
Even according to the Talmud, the patriarchs who lived before Moses came on the scene knew of and obeyed the laws of the Torah – before they were written down by Moses.
Patriarchs before Moses kept the whole Torah:
Talmud and Midrash (or Medrash):
In the Talmud (Tractate Yoma 28b) it is written that Abraham kept the entire Torah. This includes both the “Written Law” (the five books of Moses) and the “Oral Law” (the explanations of how to carry out that Written Law).
The Medrash (Beraishis Rabba 95:3) tells us that Jacob studied the Torah just as his fathers had done – and that he sent Judah to Egypt to establish a House of Study before Jacob’s family arrived to settle there. Apparently, according to the Talmud anyway, Jacob had the Torah, in some form or another, as well.
The Medrash explains that Abraham knew the Torah on his own. But how could this be? Who gave Abraham this information? Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Aderes, the “Rashba” (Spain, 1235-1310) in his classic Responsa (Responsa #94) explained this idea:
The Torah is not merely a book. It is an abbreviation of the entire mass of spiritual wisdom. Because of our own inability to grasp these concepts in their totality, let alone to figure them out on our own, we were given the Torah at Sinai with 613 commandments instructing us to do, or abstain from, particular physical actions. Additionally, the Torah has practically infinite textual references to the concepts of spiritual wisdom. The Torah, as we were given it, is our key to these concepts. In our time we’ve seen the great discoveries that mankind has made in medicine, technology, the arts, and other areas of the physical world. Our forefathers, in their tremendous wisdom, were able to tap into the discoveries of the spiritual world. They didn’t need to be given the Torah to discover it; they discovered it on their own. (Link)
The “Medrash” or Midrash (Beraishis Rabba, 1:2) states,
“He [God] looked at the Torah and created the world.”
First of all, this means that the Torah preceded God’s creation of the world. This suggests that it is not merely a book – it is a body of wisdom. It also means that God used the Torah as a type of blueprint for the universe. We now can understand how the Patriarchs could tap into the knowledge of the Torah. With their intense level of consciousness they could see the principles of the Torah in the world around them; in the world that was built following the Torah’s blueprint.
Of course, this includes knowledge of an obedience to the command of God to keep holy the weekly Sabbath on the seventh day…
The Shemot Rabbah, a Midrash on Exodus dating to the 10th to 12th centuries, offers this comment for when Moses “looked upon their burdens”, while he was considered a naturalized Egyptian:
“And he saw his brothers, with their burdens. He saw that they had no rest, so he went to Pharaoh and said: ‘If one has a slave and he does not give him rest one day a week he dies; similarly, if you will not give your slaves rest one day a week, they will die’. Pharaoh replied: ‘Go and do with them as you wish’. And Moses ordained for them the Sabbath for rest.” (Shemot Rabbah, 1:28)
In this Hebrew commentary, the Sabbath is seen as early as predating the Exodus. The Sabbath becomes an issue of contention while in slavery in Egypt. The conflict comes to a head when Moses returns to deliver Israel.
Exodus 5:5, 9 – “And Pharaoh said, ‘Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest (šaḇaṯ) from their burdens (seḇālāh)!’ … ‘Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.'”
“This is to teach us that the Israelites possessed scrolls with the contents of which they would expect deliverance, every Sabbat, assuring them that the Holy One Blessed be He would redeem them. Thus, because they rested on the Sabbath, Pharaoh said to them: ‘Let heavier work be laid upon the men and let them not expect deliverance from false words. Let them not expect deliverance, or be refreshed on the Sabbath day.” (Shemot Rabbah, 5:18)
Here we can see that the issue of the burdens (seḇālāh) of the Israelites has been resumed and Moses has been teaching that they should rest (šaḇaṯ) from their labours. Thus we have another example that in the Hebrew teachings, the Sabbath predated the giving of the Manna.
In this line, the Breshith Rabbah (Genesis Rabbath) tells a story about the miracle of Sarah’s Sabbath lamp as follows:
In Sarah’s tent, a special miracle proclaimed that the Divine Presence dwelled therein: the lamp she lit every Friday evening, in honor of the divine day of rest, miraculously kept burning all week, until the next Friday eve. When Sarah died (1676 BCE), the miracle of her Shabbat lamp ceased. But on the day of Sarah’s passing, Rebecca was born. And when Rebecca was brought to Sarah’s tent as the destined wife of Sarah’s son, Isaac, the miracle of the lamp returned. Once again, the light of Shabbat filled the tent of the matriarch of Israel and radiated its holiness to the entire week. (Bereishit Rabbah 60)
Genesis Rabbah (Hebrew: בְְּרֵאשִׁית רַבָּה, B’reshith Rabbah) is a religious text from Judaism’s classical period, probably written between 300 and 500 CE with some later additions. It is a midrash comprising a collection of ancient rabbinical homiletical interpretations of the Book of Genesis (B’reshith in Hebrew).
At a minimum, then, it seems as though the Laws of God, to include the weekly Sabbath, were known and followed before the time of Moses (according to the understanding of the Jews). But, were these Laws only give to the patriarchs? – and not the rest of the world? Well, Sabbath observance, in particular, would have been seen, by the Patriarchs before the time of Moses, as a memorial of creation. And, as a memorial of creation, established in Eden before the Fall of mankind, would have been originally intended for all of humankind for all eternity.
This is actually very much in line with the comment of Jesus Himself who said that He created the Sabbath as a gift for all of mankind / anthropos (Mark 2:27) – not just the Jews.
As far as the Greek term “anthropos”, consider that it can be used in a singular or plural sense. So, context is important to understand here. As used in Mark 2:27, the meaning is very clear in the original Greek:
καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς τὸ σάββατον διὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐγένετο οὐχ ὁ ἄνθρωπος διὰ τὸ σάββατον
The translation is as follows:
And he said to them, The Sabbath was made for the man, and not the man for the Sabbath:
Now, look in the very next sentence where Jesus referred to Himself as “the son of man” (Mark 2:28). The word Greek word for “man” here is the same word “ἀνθρώπου” or “anthropos”. Certainly then, this would not be suggesting that Jesus was claiming to be the Son of the Jews? – right? Rather, Jesus is clearly claiming to be the Son of mankind – of Adam in particular. He is, in fact, the “second Adam” (1Co 15:45-48) and is, therefore, the representative of all of mankind – not just one particular special group of human beings. In fact, other passages also use the term “anthropos” to refer to “mankind” as well. As another example of this, consider the passage in Matthew 4:4 where Jesus says, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The word for “man” here is “anthropos”. Yet, it is very clear that Jesus is not suggesting that this only applies to Jews or to any one particular “man”. Clearly, in context, Jesus is saying that this applies to all of mankind. The same thing is true for John 2:25 where John writes, “He needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” Again, the term used here is “anthropos” – clearly extending to all of mankind rather than being limited to the Jews or any one particular individual.
So, understood in proper context, the Greek used in Mark 2:27 is quite clear. Jesus is obviously saying that the Sabbath was made, originally, for humanity at large, not just for the Jews. It must, however, be pointed out that another interpretation is very probable – which adds additional emphasis and insight into the origin of the Sabbath at the beginning of creation. As noted above, the literal reading of Mark 2:27 says, “The Sabbath was made for the man, not the man for the Sabbath.” Notice how the article “the” precedes the word “man” in this passage. The term “the man” is the characteristic designation of Adam in the creation account found in Genesis. These very same words “ho anthropos” occur repeatedly with reference to Adam (Gen 1:27; 2:7-8, 15, 18 in the LXX). Given the cumulative evidence for a reference to creation already noted, it seems clear that Christ was saying, and was clearly understood by His listeners as saying, that the Sabbath was originally made for Adam – and through extension for all of humankind that descended from him.
This reasonable conclusion, that Adam kept the Sabbath before the Fall while still in his innocence in Eden, is held by many Jewish writers. Solomon Goldman (1893-1953) says:
“Both Philo and the Rabbis assumed that the first man emulated his Maker and rested on the Sabbath.”
Solomon Goldman, The Book of Human Destiny, Vol. 2, “In the Beginning,” p. 744.
It seems, then, that many of the Jews, especially the leaders, lost sight of their original purpose – which was to spread the knowledge of the one true God and His love (which is embedded in His Laws) to the entire world of peoples who had lost the knowledge of God over time. Instead of following this commission, the Jews became more and more exclusive in their thinking and proud of their privileged position in being given special knowledge of God and His Laws. They saw no need to share these gifts abroad – and ended up not recognizing the Lawgiver Himself when He came to this world to live among us as one of us.
Dr. Martin Luther, even though a Sunday (not a Sabbath) keeper, argued that the Sabbath was originally created for all of humankind in Eden, before the Fall. Yet, ironically, he personally felt that the particular day of the week chosen for rest and religious contemplation no longer mattered for the Christian since “no one day was better than another” – as long as at least one day a week was set aside. He thought that since, by his day, Sunday had long been accepted as the common day of worship, that this practice should be maintained – “so that things may be done in an orderly fashion and no one creates disorder by unnecessary innovation.” Still, mysteriously given this perspective, Luther believed that the Sabbath had in fact originally been created by God at the very beginning of time for all of mankind to enjoy:
“God blessed the Sabbath and sanctified it to Himself. It is moreover to be remarked that God did this to no other creature. God did not sanctify to Himself the heaven nor the earth nor any other creature. But God did sanctify to Himself the seventh day. This was especially designed of God, to cause us to understand that the ‘seventh day’ is to be especially devoted to divine worship….
It follows therefore from this passage, that if Adam had stood in his innocence and had not fallen he would yet have observed the ‘seventh day’ as sanctified, holy and sacred…. Nay, even after the fall he held the ‘seventh day’ sacred; that is, he taught on that day his own family. This is testified by the offerings made by his two sons, Cain and Abel. The Sabbath therefore has, from the beginning of the world, been set apart for the worship of God…. For all these things are implied and signified in the expression ‘sanctified.’
Although therefore man lost the knowledge of God by sin, yet God willed that this command concerning the sanctifying of the Sabbath should remain. He willed that on the seventh day both the word should be preached, and also those other parts of His worship performed which He Himself instituted.”
Martin Luther, The Creation, A Commentary on Genesis,” Vol. I, pp. 138-140, (Originally published in 1554 – Link) translation by Professor J. N. Lenker, D. D., Minneapolis: 1901; and also “Copious Explanation of Genesis,” Vol. I, pp. 62, 68. Christiania: 1863. (Link)
Philip Melanchthon, also a Sunday (not a Sabbath) keeper, said pretty much the same thing as Luther regarding the pre-existence, before Moses, of the entire Decalogue:
“The chief features of the moral laws have been brought together in one small table, which is called ‘The Decalogue.’ As these are the external rules of the Divine mind, they sounded at all times in the Church even before Moses, and will always remain and pertain to all nations.”
Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes, 1521 AD
Johann Peter Lange:
Consider also the conclusions of Johann Peter Lange, a German Calvinist theologian (1802-1884):
“If we had no other passage than this of Genesis 2:3 there would be no difficulty in deducing from it a precept for the universal observance of a Sabbath, or the seventh day, to be devoted to God, as holy time, by all of that race for whom the earth and its nature were especially prepared. The first man must have known it. The words ‘He hallowed it,’ can have no meaning otherwise. They would be a blank unless in reference to some who were required to keep it holy.”
Johann Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, D. D., Vol. I, pp. 196, 197. New York: 1884.
Ten Commandments equivalent to rest of the Mosaic Laws:
Israel viewed the Law of Moses as one integrated and inseparable body of 613 equally important “covenant” points of law. You break one of these 613 laws, and you have violated the covenant. The Decalogue was only a part of the Law of Moses, and it was strikingly incomplete.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 109 (Link)
Of course, this isn’t true since the Ten Commandments were given a special status by God Himself since only the Decalogue was placed inside of the Ark of the Covenant right under the “Mercy Seat”. All of the other Mosaic laws were placed in a compartment on the outside of the Ark “as a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26).
In response to this point, I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why this might have been done while still keeping intact the notion that all of the Mosaic laws were considered “equal” to the Decalogue. One person even suggested to me that perhaps the Ark of the Covenant had been made “too small” to hold all but ten of the laws of Moses…
The reality of the situation, however, is that the Decalogue was written by God’s own finger in stone as eternal unchangeable moral Laws – while the rest of the Mosaic laws were largely “ceremonial” foreshadowing the coming Messiah and the meaning of His life and death for the salvation of a lost world.
Circumcision tied to the Sabbath Commandment:
Another argument is occasionally made that the Mosaic law concerning circumcision was equal if not superior to the Sabbath commandment – since circumcision must take place on the 8th day after birth even if this day happened to be on the Sabbath day (thereby trumping the Sabbath commandment). So, if circumcision is not required for the Christian (according to Acts 15), why then would the Sabbath be required?
“The biblical understanding of circumcision as taught in Scripture and Jewish rabbinical writings is close to absolute proof that Sabbath-keeping ended at the cross and was officially put to rest at the Council of Jerusalem.”
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 110 (Link)
There are several problems with this conclusion. Fist off, the practice of circumcision started with Abraham due to his own efforts to help God out with human efforts by taking things into his own hands, so to speak. God then gave him the rite of circumcision in order to remind him, and his children after him, that God is not dependent upon human effort to accomplish His own purposes. Before this time, obviously, there simply was no Divine command regarding circumcision. Therefore, this “law” is not an eternal moral Law set for all times and all places. That is why it wasn’t included in Decalogue or written with the finger of God in stone. Also, although the observance of the other commandments of the Decalogue, including the Sabbath commandment, preceded Abraham, according to the Jews themselves, the practice of circumcision did not. This particular practice and law truly did begin with the father of the Israelite nation.
Beyond this, considering how much of an uproar the issue of circumcision by itself caused for the Jerusalem counsel (described in Acts 15), if the Sabbath issue had also been on the table, much would have been said of it as well. However, absolutely nothing was said of Sabbath observance. Why not? Because, obviously, it simply wasn’t an issue. The non-Jewish Christian converts were already observing the weekly Sabbath without any problem. This is confirmed by the historical records noted above where Sabbath observance was widespread throughout the early Christian world – and remained so for many hundreds of years and in some places well over a thousand years and into modern times.
Isreal not to make friends with other nations:
The Israelites were a stubborn and stiff-necked people according to God’s own assessment. He knew the Hebrews would easily be corrupted by associating with the Heathen. The ordinances of the Sabbath, circumcision, and the Jewish dietary laws placed a high wall of social separation between Israel and the Gentiles. If people don’t eat together, they are less likely to become friends. Along similar lines, the ordinance of circumcision made it a very painful process for the head of a Gentile household to make a decision to join an Israelite community and to live as a proselyte. Contrast this with God’s expressed New Covenant purpose to tear down this barrier between Jews and Gentiles after the cross. St. Paul was God’s specially designated ambassador of the Gospel to the Gentiles according to Scripture…
The Sabbath was a ceremonial law designed to keep Israel and the Gentiles separate, and that barrier must come down if Jews and Gentiles are to be united in the Gospel.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 113 (Link)
So, God created all of the burdensome laws as walls for Isreal, not to keep them safe and give them practical advantages when living in this world, but to keep everyone else out? – to make things very difficult for the Jews to make friends with the surrounding nations? To make their way of life as distasteful as possible for anyone to want to follow Jehovah? Really? That was the reason for the Sabbath and the Ten Commandments and the other Mosaic Laws? – like the dietary laws?
Come on now. It couldn’t be that these laws were actually a blessing to the Israelites? that they had objective advantages compared to all the other nations around them as far as general health and longevity is concerned (in a day and age before the concept of germs and the benefits of hygiene was scientifically understood)? It couldn’t be that the ceremonial laws regarding the coming of the Messiah were intended to lead to the mind to carefully contemplate what God Himself would have to sacrifice to accomplish His plan of salvation? – to help to establish a closer relationship and love for Him? It couldn’t be that a weekly day of rest has any practical advantage or that humans are actually tuned to a weekly circadian biological cycle. Yet, as it turns out, pretty much every living thing, to include humans beings, experiences a seven-day, or “circaseptan” biological cycle. (Link, Link)?
Yet, all these advantages were really intended to be seen as very unattractive for the surrounding nations? I guess God simply didn’t understand what He was saying when He suggested that the Sabbath should be viewed as a “delightful” day (Isaiah 58:13)? After all, how could it be “delightful” if it was actually intended as a “wall” to keep the heathen away?
The Greeks have always hated Jewish laws and customs:
As we mentioned in another chapter, Bacchiocchi seemed to be unaware that the Greek hatred of the Sabbath, circumcision, and the Jewish Food Laws continues unabated until this day. His is an odd “Judeo-centric” view of the conflict found in the Book of Maccabees. Adventism has fewer than 1,000 members in Greece today, and Greece has the lowest rate of circumcision in the Western World (less than 2 percent). Had not the Apostles swiftly abandoned the Sabbath, Circumcision and the Jewish Food laws at the Council of Jerusalem, Christianity would have quickly shriveled into an obscure sect of Judaism localized around Jerusalem. Simply put, Adventism is a non-starter in Greece because of the Sabbath and its adoption of the Jewish Food laws. The Greeks hate those Jewish traditions just as passionately today as they did 2,000 years ago…
That NONE of the Ecumenical Councils discussed the Sabbath, or issued canons on the subject, strongly indicates that there simply was no controversy on the subject. It suggests, instead, that Christians had abandoned Sabbathkeeping immediately after the Resurrection, which is the avowed position of the 300 million member Eastern Orthodox Church. Adventist leadership has been aware of Eastern Christianity’s unequivocal-position on this issue since no later than 1915, and has never acknowledged that fact; let alone addressed the contention; let alone disputed the Eastern Church’s contention; let alone refuted it. They simply ignored it all.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 114, 129-130 (Link)
Clearly, the author(s) of this argument haven’t done their homework since, as shown above, the split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church was, in no small part, due to disagreements over Sabbath observance (Link). The Eastern Church had been observing the Sabbath “in the Jewish manner” for over 1000 years and the church leadership in Rome didn’t like that one little bit. Yet, the Eastern Orthodox Church leadership would not give up on the “apostolic traditions” that they inherited directly from the apostles of Christ. So, they refused to give up on their Sabbath observance… and the rest is history.
Even before the Christian era, the Greeks showed an actual fondness for Jewish laws and customs. Consider the commentary of Josephus along these lines. Josephus was a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who was born in Jerusalem. Regarding the popularity of Jewish laws and customs, including the Sabbath, he wrote:
“We have already demonstrated that our laws have been such as have always inspired admiration and imitation into all other men; nay, the earliest Grecian philosophers, though in appearance they observed the laws of their own countries, yet did they, in their actions, and their philosophic doctrines, follow our legislator, and instructed men to live sparingly, and to have friendly communication one with another. Nay, further, the multitude of mankind itself have had a great inclination of a long time to follow our religious observances; for there is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day hath not come, and by which our fasts and lighting up lamps, and many of our prohibitions as to our food, are not observed; they also endeavor to imitate our mutual concord with one another, and the charitable distribution of our goods, and our diligence in our trades, and our fortitude in undergoing the distresses we are in, on account of our laws; and, what is here matter of the greatest admiration, our law hath no bait of pleasure to allure men to it, but it prevails by its own force; and as God himself pervades all the world, so hath our law passed through all the world also.”
Flavius Josephus, Against Apion (English – Link)
In short, it is a clear historical fact that the Greeks did, in fact, continue to observe the Sabbath “in the Jewish manner” for over 1000 years after Christ – a popular practice that only dwindled subsequent to the split with Rome over the course of the succeeding centuries.
The Seventh-day Sabbath is ceremonial:
Jesus viewed both the Sabbath and circumcision to be ceremonial in nature. He did not condemn the Jews for breaking the Sabbath to circumcise a child on the 8th day following his birth according to the laws of Moses. The Weekly Sabbath is listed in Leviticus 23 as one of many ceremonial ordinances…
It should be clear, now, that the Adventist interpretation that only the “ceremonial” laws were nailed to the cross is not possible for a number of reasons. The Sabbath was a ceremonial law designed to keep Israel and the Gentiles separate, and that barrier must come down if Jews and Gentiles are to be united in the Gospel. The Old Testament, as well as Jewish traditional theology, views the TORAH as absolutely inseparable covenant. No Jewish Scholar recognized a distinction between the “moral” and “ceremonial” components of the Mosaic Law, nor did any of them recognize a distinction between the “Ten Commandments” and the rest of the 613 Mosaic Commandments.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 104 (Link)
While the weekly Sabbath has an arbitrary component to it and while it is a ceremonial celebration of creation and liberation from slavery (to include slavery to sin), this does not mean that its inclusion in the Ten Commandments that were written by God’s own finger on stone means that it is on the same level as all of the other Mosaic laws that were placed outside fo the Ark of the Covenant in a separate box – nor does it mean that the Sabbath is temporary in nature. Also, just because circumcision could take place on the Sabbath doesn’t mean that if the requirement for circumcision goes away that the Sabbath command goes away along with it. These arguments simply don’t follow for several reasons.
First off, the Sabbath existed before circumcision existed (according to the Bible and the Talmud). It was instituted by God during the creation week and declared to be “holy” at the very beginning of time (Genesis 2:3) – and observed by the patriarchs before Moses came along. Circumcision, on the other hand, was given to Abraham to remind him of his failure in trying to fulfill God’s promises through human power. It wouldn’t have been required if Abraham hadn’t tried to take things into his own hands and simply sat back and trusted God to fulfill His own promises. However, once circumcision was put in place for Abraham and his offspring after him, there are practical medical reasons why circumcision should take place on the 8th day – and the Sabbath commandment always makes room for the practical needs of man and even of animals. Again, this is because the Sabbath was made as a gift of rest for all of humankind from the very beginning of time (Mark 2:27). It was never intended to be a burden or an ugly “wall of separation” between Jews and gentiles. It was always intended to be something beautiful and attractive and delightful for all of humankind for all generations.
But what about the ceremonial and arbitrary aspects of the weekly Sabbath? – on the 7th day in particular? Is God not allowed to make an arbitrary day of rest and assign it to a particular day just because He said so? – and insert it into His own moral Law written for all eternity in stone? Also, just because God cites its origin in the creation week and its use as a reminder of delivery from slavery doesn’t mean that it is therefore somehow temporary. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have included it with the other commandments that He wrote with His own finger in stone.
There is a reason why the laws dealing with the temple service are temporary – because they are in fact “shadows of things to come.” (Colossians 2:17). These shadows were cast backward in time by something in the future – by Jesus Himself and His life and death on the cross. The weekly Sabbath, in comparison, was not cast as a shadow by something in the future. According to God Himself, the weekly Sabbath is a reminder of past events – to include creation week and delivery from slavery. There is, therefore, no reason for there ever to be an end to this particular shadow. There was a beginning, but no end to it.
So, there is a very clear difference between the “shadows” that Paul is talking about in Colossians 2 that meet their reality in Jesus compared to the Sabbath commandment that never has an end – since it references past events. It is for this reason that the weekly Sabbath is included along with the other eternal moral Laws as part of the Ten Commandments written in stone – because all of them are permanent nature.
Creation week Sabbath as a “Prolepsis”:
An example of literary prolepsis would be something like, “I was a dead man as soon as the murderer walked into the room with an assault weapon.” In a prolepsis, the event is said to have taken place before it actually does.
Some scholars have proposed the idea that since Moses wrote about both the events of Creation and the Exodus, that in his mind, he was thinking about the events of the 7th day of Creation as a flash-forward to the giving of the Sabbath commandment at the time of the Exodus, and that his view of the whole story is why he worded things in such a way that could even tempt a few people to think they saw a Sabbath ordinance in the Creation story. While this concept, called prolepsis, makes a lot of sense, Sabbatarian apologists do not like it.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 19 (Link)
So, since Genesis clearly states that the 7th-day was created as Holy day of rest by God before the Fall (Genesis 2:3), somehow that must not really be true, but only a prophetic statement as to when the Sabbath day would actually be created at the time of Moses? – even though God Himself wrote in stone that He did, in fact, create the Sabbath day in memorial of creation with added significance as a symbol of His releasing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery (and from slavery to sin)? Again, one cannot have a real “prolepsis” here when God Himself clarifies that the origin of the Sabbath was at the time of creation and remains as a memorial to that event (Exodus 20:11). Just to add emphasis, Jesus reiterated this fact noting that the Sabbath was originally made for all of humankind (Mark 2:27).
The word “Sabbath” is not used in Genesis:
Some say that since the Seventh-day in the Genesis account is not explicitly called the Sabbath by Moses, that the Sabbath did not exist at that time. This fails to understand something very important in the Hebrew.
There is some debate as to whether the noun šabbāṯ (שָׁבּת) derives from the verb šaḇaṯ (שַׁבת) or vice versa (note that the verb šaḇaṯ (שַׁבת) means “to rest” and is used in Genesis to describe God “resting” on the 7th-day). Moses, however, clearly sees that the meaning of the Sabbath derives from the act of God’s resting on the Seventh day of creation. Therefore whether the noun or verb came first, in the mind of Moses, it is clear that the action precedes that name.
This is confirmed in a very powerful way by the choice of words used in the two accounts (Genesis and Exodus) which not only reveals that it was understood the verbal action of God’s “šaḇaṯ” formed the basis of the noun šabbāṯ, but confirms that the meaning of the verb šaḇaṯ in Genesis 2 means “Rested” – as opposed to simply “Stopped” or “Ceased”.
To add additional force to this conclusion, there is a word in the Exodus dealing with the Sabbath commandment which is foreign to the Genesis account – the word “nûaḥ” (נוַּח). This word simply does not have a semantic range which could allow it to mean “stop” or “cease”. Rather, its meaning is limited, forcing one to interpret it as “to rest”, “to repose”, “to remain”, “to settle down”, “to be quiet”. This gives a final blow to those who would deny that šaḇaṯ in Genesis 2:2-3 means simply “stopped” or “ceased”. Had God wished to convey this, there were other synonyms which would have retained that semantic overlap, yet nûaḥ excludes this meaning altogether.
The real question, though, is why, with all the identical terms used in both Genesis 2:1-4 and Exodus 20:8-11, did God not choose to break the pattern by exchanging nûaḥ for šaḇaṯ. The reason is simple and seals the fact that the Sabbath existed from Creation. The noun šabbāṯ in Exodus was already the equivalent of the verb šaḇaṯ and it appears a deliberate choice to have these two words be linked up. Had the verb šaḇaṯ been used, it would have more naturally been linked through comparison to the šaḇaṯ in Genesis 2. However, by using the word nûaḥ, it is made certain that the proper name for the day in Exodus would be linked to the action of God in Genesis.
Those who say that the seventh day of creation was not the same as the Sabbath do so in ignorance of the deliberate association of the name of the day by the time of Moses to the original action of God. The Hebrew makes it clear that the seventh day of creation was the first Sabbath by the presence of the verb from which the name takes its meaning.
The Sabbath as a “Propitiation”:
The term “propitiation” is defined as the action of appeasing a god, spirit, or person. In Christianity, it is generally tied in with the atonement of Jesus through His life and ultimately His death on the cross. The argument made by some, such as the authors of the book “Lying for God“, is that the Sabbath is specifically tied to this concept of atonement or “propitiation”:
The Greek word (sabbaton) is translated from the Hebrew word for “Sabbath.” The root meaning of the word, sabbaton, has a distinct connotation of propitiation. Propitiation is a concept foreign to the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall, and there is no mention of anything that could even be construed as a reference to the Sabbath between the account of the Fall and the Exodus. Therefore, the idea that there was a propitiating Sabbath ordinance prior to the Fall is theologically inappropriate.
It is also mentioned, in the Encyclopedia Biblica, that “the Hebrew Sabbathon conveys the idea of propitiation or appeasement of divine anger and [it] is…the opinion [of Professor Jastrow] that the Hebrew Sabbath (i.e. CREATION Sabbath) was originally a Sabbathon― i.e. a day of propitiation and appeasement; marked by atoning rites…it was celebrated at intervals of seven days, CORRESPONDING WITH CHANGES IN THE MOON’S PHASES, and was identical in character with the four days in each month, i.e. 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th! (The MacMillan Company, 1899. P. 4180).
The concept of propitiation is not compatible with a Creation setting for the Sabbath ordinance. Sin had not yet entered the world, and there was nothing God had to do in the way of propitiation for mankind at that time. Since the days of the Jewish Sabbath system obtain their sacredness from the animal sacrifices that are offered upon it—sacrifices which pointed forward to the death of the coming Messiah on the Cross, we have good reason not only to view the choice of sabbaton to represent it’s Hebrew equivalent as accurate and to tend to disqualify the Sabbath as a Creation ordinance on the basis of its propitiation connotations alone. Additionally, we have another reason to accept the Hebrew linguistics that indicate that the 7th day of Creation is best characterized as merely a separator placed between the days of God’s creative activity and His days of non-creative activity.
Lying for God, 10th Ed., 2015, p. 269-270 (Link)
The origins of the terms “sabbatical” and the “Sabbath” trace to the Greek word “sabbaton”. However, the Greek word “sabbaton” itself traces to the Hebrew word shabbāth, meaning “rest.” (Link). The Hebrew word Shabbat may also mean meaning “cessation,” or “time of rest.”
There is, of course, the ancient Babylonian and Assyrian concepts of “evil days” that occurred within two months out of the year (discussed further below in the section on “The Lunar Sabbath“). Within these two months (the 13th month of Elul II and the 8th month of Marcheshvan) the “evil days” fell on the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th days. These were considered to be very special days where no work was done – in honor of the moon god “Sin” (Link). These were considered to be unlucky days unless the gods were appeased, or “propitiated” by acts of devotion (Link). The name given to these days by the ancient Babylonians was šabbattū (šapattū). The precise meaning of this expression is uncertain, but at least the concept of relaxation is implied by the limitation of various activities associated with these days. It also seems to be known as “the day of calming [the god’s] heart.” (Link).
In short, the argument that the Sabbath was originally a day for appeasing the Gods is based on the notion that the Hebrew Sabbath was originally derived from the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians. Certainly, most Jewish writers and even most protestant theologians do not accept this conclusion. Consider, for example, the entry for “Sabbath” in “The New International Dictionary of the Bible” which rejects any sort of Babylonian origin for Shabbat:
“Various attempts have been made by OT critics to find a Babylonian origin for the Jewish Sabbath. There is evidence that among the Babylonians certain things were to be avoided on the seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of the month; but the nineteenth day breaks the sequence of sevens, and there is no question that the Hebrew Sabbath is much older than this Babylonian observance. Among the Hebrews, moreover, the Sabbath was associated with the idea of rest, worship, and divine favor, not certain taboos.
Steven Barabas, “Sabbath,” in NIDB, 876.
The Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch is also highly pessimistic toward the seventh-day Sabbath originating from outside of the Biblical narrative and materials:
“Over the course of the twentieth century, scholars have made proposals regarding extrabiblical origins for the Israelite sabbath. For example, a number of scholars proposed an origin of the sabbath day in Mesopotamia. Such a theory often argues that the etymology of the Hebrew word šabbāt is found in the Akkadian word šapatu (or šabatu), which probably means ‘full moon’ or ‘the day of celebrating the full moon.’ In more recent years, G. Robinson has revived the theory that the Israelite sabbath was a relic of the Babylonian moon cult. He argues that only after the exile did the monthly festival become a weekly observance. But this is extremely unlikely. Hosea 2:11, a preexilic text, implies that sabbaths were weekly and sets them apart from the new moon festival. The Babylonian moon festival had set days in the month, a pattern that is not found in the OT or in weekly sabbath observance. Weekly sabbaths do not coincide regularly with a lunar cycle of twenty-nine days…Similar theories have also purported to find the sabbath origin in Assyrian calendars or in Arabian moon festivals. In the end, however, such theories remain speculative. There is no evidence that clearly connects these with the Israelite sabbath….
Finally, the number seven, it is argued, was significant in some ancient Near Eastern cultures, in particular, in Ugaritic texts and calendars…The original Canaanite seventh day was a taboo day, an evil day, and was associated with the pentecontad calendar in which the numbers seven and fifty were significant. However, despite [this] claim…[such a] thesis lacks supporting evidence for such an origin of the sabbath or for its alleged transformation from an evil or taboo day into a time of gladness.
The quest for an extrabiblical origin of the Israelite sabbath has failed thus far at least. All of these theories remain speculative; none is convincing. The origin of the Israelite sabbath must be found within the biblical record….”
P.A. Barker, “Sabbath, Sabbatical Year, Jubilee,” in T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), pp 698-699.
The standard liberal Bible encyclopedia of the 1990s and into the 2000s, the Anchor Bible Dictionary, while being careful to summarize the different theories of Sabbath origin for its entry, draws the conclusion as to how little reasonable support exists for an extra-Biblical or pagan Near Eastern origin, for Shabbat:
“In spite of the extensive efforts of more than a century of study into extra-Israelite sabbath origins, it is still shrouded in mystery. No hypothesis whether astrological, meological, sociological, etymological, or cultic commands the respect of a scholarly consensus. Each hypothesis or combination of hypotheses has insurmountable problems. The quest for the origin of the sabbath outside of the OT cannot be pronounced to have been successful. It is, therefore, not surprising that this quest has been pushed into the background of studies on the sabbath in recent years.”
Gerhard F. Hasel, “Sabbath,” in ABD, 5:851.
And, according to the Bible itself (and even sources like the Talmud, Midrash, Philo, Martin Luther, and many well-known biblical scholars – Link), the Sabbath was originally created in Eden and was to be observed as a day of celebration, rest, and joy in close communion with God and in remembrance of creation and Him as the Creator.
And again, Jesus Himself said that He personally created the Sabbath as a gift for all of humankind to enjoy (Mark 2:27). This wasn’t a day originally created to “appease the Gods.” Rather, it was God who created the day as a gift to mankind – as a blessing for us.
“‘Man’ (‘ādām), made in the imago Dei, ‘image of God,’ (Gen 1:26-28) is invited to follow the Exemplar in an imitatio Dei, participating in God’s rest by enjoying the divine gift of freedom from the labors of human existence and thus acknowledging God’s as his creator.”
Gerhard F. Hasel, “Sabbath,” in ABD, 5:851.
The Lunar Sabbath (The Sabbath is not Saturday):
The Lunar Sabbath Doctrine is a recent teaching that has become popular with many in the Hebraic-Roots movement. The Lunar Sabbath concept seeks to replace the repeating weekly seventh-day Sabbath with a floating Lunar-based Sabbath where the weekly cycle is reset each month and the Sabbath always occurs on the same day within the monthly cycle. In short, one begins counting the days of the first week of the month after each new moon so that the first “Sabbath” day would land on the 8th day of the month with subsequent Sabbath days landing on the 15th, 22nd and 29th days of the month.
Of course, this means that these “Sabbath” days would be floating relative to our modern calendar. This is because the number of days in a lunar cycle is 29.5306 (or between 29 and 30 days per month). And, as it turns out, this number of days is not evenly divisible by 7. So, after the Sabbath on the 29th day of the month, there will be a day or two left over between that Sabbath and the beginning of the next monthly cycle. This means, of course, that between the last Sabbath and the first Sabbath of the month more than 7 days will go by. These extra days are considered “non-days” – not part of any “week” that occurs within a given month.
So, how did this Lunar Sabbath concept start? Well, it started with the record producer and audio engineer Jonathan David Brown who is credited with being the first lunar sabbath keeper in this century to begin the practice of determining the Sabbath starting with the day of the New Moon each month – rather than using the modern continuously repeating seven-day week. Brown published the book Keeping Yahweh’s Appointments in 1998, which explained his Lunar Sabbath ideas – which have since gained a fairly substantial following (Link). Brown passed away in 2016 of an apparent heart attack.
As an interesting and ironic aside, Brown was an anti-Semite who was convicted for his connection to a 1990 Synagogue shooting. In 1992, Brown was sentenced to a 27-month federal prison term and fined $10,000 for accessory after the fact to a conspiracy to violate civil rights under 18 U.S.C. 3 and 241 (Hate-Crimes), and for perjury under 18 U.S.C. 1623a.
Why the lunar model rather than the set weekly cycle?
Those who support the Lunar Sabbath idea argue that the weekly cycle was originally determined in ancient human history by a rough division of the four phases of the moon. This is why The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia advanced a theory of Assyriologists like Friedrich Delitzsch (and of Marcello Craveri) that Shabbat originally arose from the lunar cycle in the Babylonian calendar containing four weeks ending in Sabbath, plus one or two additional unreckoned days per month (Link).
Of course, if one studies the lunar phases, one may wonder how ancient observers could derive a seven-day period by watching them? After all, between what is popularly called the “new moon” and the first quarter lunation, only about five days elapse on average. So, in order to get a seven-day interval, one must count back to the true new moon according to modern calculations, rather than visualizations, of the new moon. Further, nearly as many eight-day groups appear as seven-day periods. And, the number of days between the last quarter moon in a monthly cycle and the next “new moon” there will be nine or even ten days. Also, isn’t always easy to recognize, precisely, each phase of the moon. The thin crescent and the full moon seem fairly obvious, most of the time, but first and last quarters are not as easily recognized. How then could the ancient Assyrians/Sumerians/Babylonians have arrived at a seven-day week by watching the moon?
Well, there are various theories as to the actual origin of the seven-day week, with many suggesting that it was a combination of things – to include the even more ancient idea that the number 7 had mystical powers and was a symbol of perfection, favored by the gods. After all, several of the most prominent constellations are made up of seven stars, so this may have contributed to the idea that this number was favored by the gods.
In any case, although there are no ancient Assyrian or Babylonian records that explicitly define the seven-day week as a quarter of a lunation, there are ancient records that show that the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians did regularly observe specific days of certain months of the year (the 13th month of Elul II and the 8th month of Marcheshvan) as being special days where no work was done – in honor of the moon god “Sin” (Link). The moon god was clearly one of the most important deities in the wider pantheon of Mesopotamia. “An association with fertility may come from the moon god’s connection to cattle, and also, perhaps, from the clear link to the menstrual cycle, roughly similar to the timing of the moon’s transformations.” (Link)
This is probably one of the reasons why God, the God of the Bible, designed that the weekly Sabbath should not coincide with the cycles of the moon or any other celestial body or natural phenomenon — so as to keep His true worshipers and His own Sabbath distinct from the idolatrous worship of the Sun, moon, or stars by the surrounding heathen nations.
In any case, since twelve lunar months are approximately eleven days shorter than the solar year, the Babylonian calendar was intercalated (or evened out) every two or three years by the addition of a 13th month – the month of Elul II. During these special months the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st and 28th days were known as “evil days” that were unlucky days unless the gods were appeased by acts of devotion (Link). The prohibitions on these days included abstaining from chariot riding and the avoidance of eating meat by the King. On these days officials were prohibited from various activities. The priests couldn’t change their clothes or cook with fire. Common men were forbidden to travel, couldn’t consult a prophet, doctors could not treat the sick and the sick could not take their medicines, and fasting was enforced – among many other prohibitions.
Now, obviously there are 7-day “weekly” divisions here between the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days of these two months, but what about the 19th day? Why is it included among the “evil days”. Well, the 19th day falls on the 49th day as numbered from the beginning of the previous month – making it a “week of weeks”.
Some historians believe that the concept of seven-day weeks described in these ancient Assyrian and Babylonian texts initially arose, not according to cycles of the moon, but out of the concept that the number seven was sacred and favored by the gods. After all, to the number seven special significance has been independently applied by many peoples and cultures that were widely separated from each other by either space or time. And, from the earliest Babylonian records the number seven enjoyed a high degree of sanctity and reverence – thought to have been derived from the Sumerians and is found in written texts dating before 2200 BC (such as the Ebla Tablets).
Of course, other historians suggest that the ancient attraction to the number seven was originally derived from observing the Sun, moon, and five larger planets or from the seven stars of the Pleiades or from the seven stars found in several other prominent constellations. On the other hand, many historians argue that the 7-day week was simply a rough four-way division of the monthly cycle.
Which came first?
The question is, then, which came first? Did the concept of a seven-day week really begin with the ancient Sumerians who then passed the idea on to the Babylonians who then passed it on to the Jews? Or, was it the other way around? Was it, as the Bible claims, that the seven-day week started in Eden and was then maintained and modified and even lost by various cultures over time? – as groups of people dispersed around the world after the Flood and became isolated from each other?
Biorhythms and the origin of the 7-day week:
As it turns out, the very biology of life seems to support the claims of the Bible here. As previously mentioned, practically every living thing has within itself a biological clock that is “tuned” to a seven-day cycle or “biorhythm” known as a “circaseptan” rhythm. Secular scientists find it difficult to explain how such a seven-day cyclical pattern would arise or evolve in living things by any natural means.
“At first glance, it might seem that weekly rhythms developed in response to the seven day week imposed by human culture thousands of years ago. However, this theory doesn’t hold once you realize that plants, insects, and animals other than humans also have weekly cycles. . . . Biology, therefore, not culture, is probably at the source of our seven day week.”
Susan Perry and Jim Dawson, The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal, (New York: Rawson Associates, 1988), pp. 20-21
Campbell summarizes the findings of the world’s foremost authority on rhythms and the pioneer of the science of chronobiology:
“Franz Halberg proposes that body rhythms of about seven days, far from being passively driven by the social cycle of the calendar week, are innate, autonomous, and perhaps the reason why the calendar week arose in the first place… These circaseptan, or about weekly, rhythms are one of the major surprises turned up by modern chronobiology. Fifteen years ago, few scientists would have expected that seven day biological cycles would prove to be so widespread and so long established in the living world. They are of very ancient origin, appearing in primitive one-celled organisms, and are thought to be present even in bacteria, the simplest form of life now existing.”
Jeremy Campbell, Winston Churchill’s Afternoon Nap, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986), pp. 75-79.
What is especially interesting is that the circaseptan rhythm, among all the other circadian rhythms, appears to be the one rhythm by which all others are tuned or orchestrated.
“In Franz Halberg’s view, a central feature of biological time structure is the harmonic relationship that exists among the various component frequencies. A striking aspect of this relationship is that the components themselves appear to be harmonics or sub harmonics, multiples or submultiples, of seven…
Circaseptan and circasemiseptan rhythms are not arbitrary, even though they seem to lack counterpart rhythms in the external environment.”
Jeremy Campbell, Winston Churchill’s Afternoon Nap, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986), p. 30
And, from a more recent paper published in 2007 the author writes:
The endogenous nature of the about weekly (circaseptan) rhythms is shown by their occurrence in animals kept under laboratory conditions precluding circaseptan periodic input, their appearance as circaseptan reaction pattern after noxious stimuli, or introduction of an antigen, and in human subjects by the observation of their free running (rhythms that are not synchronized to environmental time cues) with a frequency different from the calendar week. It appear that our seven-day week, which is found in many ancient and modern civilizations including the three main monotheistic religions, may be an adaptation to an endogenous biologic rhythm rather than the rhythm being a societally impressed phenomenon.
Again, given the historical reliability of “higher” biblical critics compared to the fact that the Bible’s claims about history have proven true time and again, combined with the internal evidence for circaseptan rhythms within ourselves and many if not all living things, is it really such a stretch to imagine that the Bible might be right yet again regarding the Creation Week and the Sabbath rest? that they were both given to us by God from the very beginning of life on this planet?
Consider a situation where someone (the God of the Bible in this case) claimed to have created a given cyclical pattern of time specifically for our benefit (i.e., “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath – Mark 2:27). This is a testable claim. Given the truth of such a claim the implication is very direct and clear. Obviously, in such a situation one should actually expect to find some sort of biorhythm(s) that is tuned to this particular weekly pattern. One should also expect that if one did not follow God’s advice on following this pattern (given that God actually exists and is, in fact, our Maker), that one would be able to notice a physical difference in one’s general well being when in or out of line with God’s claimed ideal pattern for the weekly cycle. In other words, God has presented a testable hypothesis or claim to us that we can actually test in a scientific, potentially falsifiable, manner. Perhaps there is a reason why Seventh-day Adventists are the longest-lived ethnically diverse group of “blue-zone” people in the world (Link)?
It’s like being told to use a particular fuel for your car for optimal performance – by the car’s designer. You can expect some sort of actual physical difference if you don’t use the particular type of fuel you were told to use by the car’s creator. (Link)
Consider what happens when biological rhythms are disrupted. For example, how easy is it to travel to very different time zones very quickly in a jet? Or, how easy is it to switch between day and night shifts at work? Such rapid changes to biological rhythms are very disruptive to the body. The same would be true given the “lunar Sabbath” model. This model would clearly disrupt the body’s natural circaseptan (7-day) rhythm every single month. Such a disruption in a natural biological rhythm would not be healthy – and therefore would have been outside of God’s original design for humanity.
Beyond this, the Bible itself is filled with references to the 7-day week – well before Moses came on the scene. In Genesis 7:4, 7:10, 8:10-12 we see that Noah was acquainted with a seven-day week. In Genesis 29:27-28, we read that Jacob fulfilled a week for Rachel. Then, Jacob married Rachel one week after he had married Leah (Genesis 29:29-30). In Genesis 50:10, we find that Joseph mourned for his father Jacob seven days, that is, one week.Exodus 7:25 mentions a seven-day period in the time of Moses just before the Exodus. In Judges 14:10-18, we read that Samson’s marriage feast lasted for seven days, another reference to the week. In Job 2:13, we are told that Job’s three friends sat and grieved with him for seven days and seven nights.
So it is obvious that a seven-day week with the seventh-day Sabbath was familiar to the patriarchs – and even appears within our very DNA. Going against this “natural” cycle simply goes against our original biological design and simply isn’t healthy or in any way good for humanity at large.
Joshua and Hezekiah got rid of the Lunar Sabbath:
According to some, such as the authors of the book Lying for God:
There is mathematical evidence from the Bible that between the time of Creation and the Great Flood, a solar year was equal to about 360 days.
Lying for God, pre-11th Edition, The Lunar Sabbath, p 40 (Link)
This would mean, of course, that if the lunar month was exactly 30 days long, once upon a time, that the year would be exactly equal to 12 months! Wouldn’t that be nice? So, what happened? Why don’t things match up so nicely now?
Some theorists think they see evidence that the events surrounding Noah’s Flood altered that solar year a little… Then, there is the remarkable and abundant evidence that the sundial miracle of King Hezekiah caused the solar year to lengthen to approximately 365 days… Also, in Joshua 10 we have the story of how God prevented the sun from going down until a battle was won…
After the miracle of the sun dial retreating 10 degrees, the solar year mysteriously grew from about 360 days to about 365.25 days, and these same civilizations were forced to add more and more extra days to their lunar calendars to get them to sync with the expanded length of the solar year. These disruptive events recorded in the histories of ancient civilizations included these items:
Crazy weather patterns
Earthquakes and other natural catastrophes.
This is true of the calendars and histories of the Mayans in South America, the Chinese, and the civilizations of the Middle East. These facts are thoroughly documented by Velikovsky in his book, Collision of the Worlds.
The disruption of these world lunar calendars… strongly correlates with the facts that are gleaned through the study of the calendars, historical annals, and astronomical records of the major world civilizations of that age. Furthermore, there is a remarkable correlation between the records of these disruptive world events with the biblical record of the turning back of the sundial by 10 degrees as a sign requested by King Hezekiah…
Israel abandoned the exclusive use of the lunar-based weekly Sabbaths around the time of the building of the second temple in 586 BC… which would be within around two hundred years of the reign of Hezekiah.
Lying for God, pre-11th Edition, The Lunar Sabbath, p 40 (Link)
Interesting theory, but what is the basis for this theory?
This analysis comes from two different scientists, Velikovsky– who wrote in the early 1950’s– and Guy Cramer– a scientist who currently (as of 2015) researches the mathematical references of the Bible. The work of these two researchers appears to validate each other.
Lying for God, pre-11th Edition, The Lunar Sabbath, p 40 (Link)
Unfortunately, this isn’t the most solid basis upon which to build such a novel and fantastic proposal – however attractive and aesthetically pleasing it might otherwise appear to be. “Velikovsky’s ideas have been almost entirely rejected by mainstream academia (often vociferously so) and his work is generally regarded as erroneous in all its detailed conclusions. Moreover, scholars view his unorthodox methodology (for example, using comparative mythology to derive scenarios in celestial mechanics) as an unacceptable way to arrive at conclusions… Velikovsky would rebuild the science of celestial mechanics to save the literal accuracy of ancient legends… Velikovsky’s bestselling, and as a consequence most criticized, book is Worlds in Collision… The fundamental criticism against this book from the astronomy community was that its celestial mechanics were physically impossible, requiring planetary orbits that do not conform with the laws of conservation of energy and conservation of angular momentum.” (Link)
Specifically, with regard to Velikovsky’s notion that the Earth suddenly gained 5 extra days in the year around 700 BC, consider some of the arguments made:
The Egyptian year was composed of 360 days before it became 365 by the addition of five days. The calendar of the Ebers Papyrus, a document of the New Kingdom, has a year of twelve months of thirty days each.
Velikovsky, p. 336
However, when reading the actual Sharpe translation (In 1870 Sharpe originally translated the tablet that Velikovsky based his argument on), it becomes quite clear that Velikovsky is not accurately presenting what the tablet actually says. The actual purpose of the decree was to implement the practice of leap year, not to add five days to the 360-day year, for that was already being done. Velikovsky, on the other hand, mistakenly claimed that this marked the institution of adding five days to the 360-day year – – but he could do this only by quoting the passage in question out of context. Using Velikovsky’s approach, one could just as well claim that Julius Caesar’s addition of leap year was required by some change in the actual length of the year during his lifetime or that the 1582 Gregorian calendar reform was necessitated by a change that then occurred. Instead, both of these calendar reforms, along with the one that Velikovsky references, were required by earlier calendars that had failed to properly account for the true length of the year. The same is true for Velikovsky’s arguments regarding the Persian calendar changes. The Persians already knew that the year was 365 days long and that they added the extra five days to bring their twelve 30-day months into conformity with the actual year, as did the Greeks and Egyptians (Link).
In short, using Velikovsky’s approach, one could just as well claim that Julius Caesar’s addition of leap year was required by some change in the actual length of the year during his lifetime or that the 1582 Gregorian calendar reform was necessitated by a change that then occurred. Instead, both of these calendar reforms, along with the one that Velikovsky references, were required by earlier calendars that had failed to properly account for the true length of the year. (Link).
Although less well known, I’m afraid that Guy Cramer would then “be guilty by association” (Link)… not to mention the problem that the actual arguments presented are almost entirely speculative and not supported by solid empirical evidence. There is really no way to test them in a potentially falsifiable manner. Again, the most rational answer is that extra days were added to the year on occasion to make up the differences between the calendars and the actual 365.25-day yearly cycle of the Earth around the Sun during the time of Hezekiah – and before.
Beyond this, such arguments paint God in a bad light – as though He cannot move the Earth so that a sundial goes back 10 degrees or top the relative motion of the Earth for a day or so without causing chaos around the world and changing the actual rotational speed of the Earth once He sets it going forward again.
This argument also paints Jesus Himself in a bad light since He went right along with the Jews of His day worshiping on a set weekly Sabbath that wasn’t based on the cycles of the moon and didn’t say a thing about it. He didn’t say, “By the way, you’re all worshiping on the wrong Sabbath days.” This makes Jesus appear to be either ignorant or dishonest about the Divine purpose and meaning of the Sabbath and the Sabbath commandment as part of the Decalogue.
And, finally, it doesn’t follow that a change in the number of days in a year from 360 to 365 or the number of days in a month from 29.5 to 30 would have a significant impact on how the weekly cycle itself was determined – whether it is or isn’t dependent upon the lunar cycle. This is because a 30 day month is no more evenly divisible by 7 as compared to a 29.5 day month.
Passover and the Lunar Sabbath:
Adventists have long held that the year of Jesus’ crucifixion was 31 AD – primarily because of the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27. The seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy was from 27 to 34 AD, and Christ died in the middle of the final prophetic week – which was the spring of 31 AD. There is further New Testament evidence that shows that AD 27 was the year of the baptism of Jesus – which makes 31 AD (after three and a half years of ministry) the correct year of the crucifixion.
- Jesus died on a Friday, the 6th day of the week
- Jesus died on Passover
- Jesus died in the year 31 AD
Yet, as it turns out, the Passover in the year 31 AD landed on a Wednesday, the fourth day of the week in the Gregorian calendar – according to astronomical calculations. According to the astronomical data that available to us on the phases of the new moon and full moon in the year AD 31, the full moon (Passover always occurred during a full moon) in April that year was on Wednesday – in the Gregorian calendar.
Yet, Adventists also believe that Jesus died on a Friday, not on a Wednesday – because of the abundant Biblical evidence for a Friday crucifixion. In fact, the Biblical evidence for a Friday crucifixion is so strong that most Christian denominations hold that the crucifixion took place in the year 33 AD (when the Passover actually did take place on a Friday).
Yet, the lunar Sabbatarians do in fact argue for a Wednesday crucifixion based on the claim of Jesus that He would be in the belly of the Earth for “three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40). Of course, one cannot get three days and three nights from “Good Friday” to “Easter Sunday.” Friday and Saturday nights are two nights, and Saturday is one day. So, a Friday crucifixion would only provide one day and two nights. What about the other two days and one night? The conclusion seems clear that Friday cannot possibly be the day Jesus died.
The problem with this conclusion is in trying to use literal western thinking and applying it to the language Jesus was using – implying that there should be a “full 72 hours” between the crucifixion and the resurrection. But that is not the intent of Jesus’ language here. There are numerous passages where Jesus is quoted as claiming that He will be raised on the “third day” after His death (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19, Mark 9:31, etc…). It seems clear, then, that Jesus was resurrected on the third day after His death and burial (by Jewish reckoning); not after three literal 24 hour periods. If He rose after 72 hours, then all the above verses would read “on the fourth day” – by the Jewish reckoning of a day.
Now, those who advocate a Wednesday crucifixion must adhere to a Saturday afternoon resurrection, but the many verses (especially in Luke 24) contend that Jesus rose on the third day after His death which was, according to Mark (Mark 16:9) the “first day of the week” (i.e., what we now call “Sunday”).
So, Jesus had to have been raised back to life on Sunday – or what is now know as Easter Sunday. He could not have been raised on Sabbath afternoon before sundown (despite fairly common claims in the lunar Sabbatarian community to the contrary). Also, several places in the Gospels cite Jesus as dying on the “preparation day.” A preparation day was needed before the weekly Sabbath because no food could be prepared on the 7th-day Sabbath. However, food could be prepared on an annual feast sabbath – like the Passover. Also, nowhere in Jewish history does the latter appear as equal to the former in sanctity and dignity. All labor, except for servile labor, was lawful on the annual feast-day sabbaths, but not on the weekly Sabbath. The term “preparation” is never applied to any day preceding an annual feast day, but is applied by the Apostles of Christ, by Josephus, and by the Rabbis, to the day before the Sabbath. There seems, then, no good reason why any feast sabbath should have had its day of preparation; nor is there any good evidence in support of this claim.
To summarize, Sunday (or the 1st day of the week), as we have seen, actually began at sunset on Saturday evening, and by Jewish reckoning, any part of a day is counted as a day. So working backward:
– Sunday, was the third day, the day of the resurrection.
– Saturday (Sabbath) was the second day that Christ rested in the tomb.
– Friday (Preparation day) was the first day, the day of the crucifixion.
Jesus was crucified on Friday and died at 3 p.m. He rose from the dead somewhere between Saturday after sunset and sunrise on Sunday morning. There is absolutely no way to push the crucifixion back to Wednesday and still fit with the story found in scripture. A Wednesday crucifixion is clearly impossible.
Still, this leaves an apparent contradiction for the Adventist position since Passover was apparently on Wednesday, not on Friday, in the year 31 AD. How can this conundrum be resolved?
Well, there is a difference between calculating the phases of the moon and actually visualizing them…
The phases of the moon can indeed be predicted very accurately with modern technology and computation for any given month of any year. Going back to the year 31 AD the astronomical new moon in April clearly occurred on the 10th of April, at 11:32 a.m. However, this is the timing of the new moon “in conjunction.” A lunar conjunction is when the Earth, moon, and sun, in that order, are approximately in a straight line (Link). The biblical new moon, on the other hand, is the crescent new moon. So, the lunar Sabbatarians simply add one extra day to compensate for this to arrive at the first visible crescent to be viewed in the night sky on April 11th.
The key question here is, is the crescent new moon always visible one day after the conjunction? And, the clear answer to that question is no – it’s not. According to the United States Naval Observatory:
Although the date and time of each New Moon can be computed exactly (see, for example, Phases of the Moon in Data Services), the visibility of the lunar crescent as a function of the Moon’s “age” – the time counted from New Moon – depends upon many factors and cannot be predicted with certainty. In the first two days after New Moon, the young crescent Moon appears very low in the western sky after sunset, and must be viewed through bright twilight. It sets shortly after sunset…
The sighting of the lunar crescent within one day of New Moon is usually difficult. The crescent at this time is quite thin, has a low surface brightness, and can easily be lost in the twilight. Generally, the lunar crescent will become visible to suitably-located, experienced observers with good sky conditions about one day after New Moon. However, the time that the crescent actually becomes visible varies quite a bit from one month to another.
The United States Naval Observatory, Crescent Moon Visibility (Link)
And, according to Jewish reckoning of the New Moon, there were rules to follow. Declaring the new month by observation of the new moon, and the new year by the arrival of spring, could only be done by the Sanhedrin – according to various rules of observation. For example, if the crescent of the new moon was observed for just a minute or less before full dark and then disappears, it was considered too young to be a new moon. When this occasionally occurred, the declaration of the new moon was delayed until the following night.
The Karaite Jews say this about the sighting of the crescent moon:
The ancient Israelites would have been well aware of the Crescent New Moon. In ancient societies people worked from dawn to dusk and they would have noticed the Old Moon getting smaller and smaller in the morning sky. When the morning moon had disappeared the ancient Israelites would have anxiously awaited its reappearance 1.5-3.5 days later in the evening sky. Having disappeared for several days and then appearing anew in the early evening sky they would have called it the “New Moon” or “Hodesh” (from Hadash meaning “New”).
The Karaite Korner, The New Moon in the Hebrew Bible (Link)
So, it can take up to three and half days from the astronomical new moon conjunction before the crescent new moon can be visually verified! Why such a broad range? Because the speed of the moon varies due to the shape of its orbit. The United States Naval Observatory notes that sometimes even two days are too few to actually see the crescent new moon with the number of days before it becomes visible being dependent upon several factors. Also, the Karaite Jews tell us that conclusively visualizing the new moon could take up to three and a half days.
The Jewish month starts from the crescent new moon. The 14th day is the Passover (Leviticus 23:5). If the conjunction of the new moon in 31 AD was April 10th, then the addition of 3.5 days would bring us to April 14th. And, adding 14 days brings us to April 27th – a Friday in the Gregorian calendar (Link).
So, there really is no necessary discrepancy here for the Adventist perspective of a Friday crucifixion in the year 31 AD – a position that is most consistent with all of the claims of the Bible concerning the timing of the crucifixion (prophetic as well as eyewitness claims).
Joshua and the Battle of Jericho:
The Battle of Jericho is described as requiring the Israelites to march around Jericho for seven days in a row (Joshua 6:3-4 and Hebrews 11:30). The argument from the lunar Sabbatarians is that it would be inconceivable that God would have asked the Israelites to march on the Sabbath day around Jericho. Therefore, the only way to avoid this problem would be to have a lunar Sabbath situation where there were more than seven days between “Sabbaths”… which would allow for the Battle of Jericho to take place over seven days without marching on a Sabbath day.
With a perpetual seven day cycle, one day of the seven would have to be a Sabbath. It would seem strange if the Lord would have Israel keep Sabbath for forty years…and then have them break it as soon as they entered Canaan to defeat Jericho…but the anomaly is solved by reference to the succession of Lunar weekly Sabbaths…
According to the Book of Jasher the Jericho campaign began on the first day of the second month Lyar (Jasher 88:14-18). This was a New Moon day. So the Jericho victory was complete on the seventh day of the month, the day before the first lunar Sabbath of the month on day eight…
The Book of Jasher is mentioned twice in Holy Writ: Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:17-19…
We feel so much better about the nature of God’s character as we see that the presence of those extra days between the 4th lunar week and the first sighting of the new Moon make it possible to accommodate the idea that acts of war are not acceptable work on the Sabbath.
Lying for God, pre-11th Edition, The Lunar Sabbath, p 24 (Link)
First off, the reference here to “The Book of Jasher” and its mention by the Bible is more than a bit misleading. Now, it may be true that the Hebrew title is usually translated Sefer haYashar or “Book of the Correct Record” – or, in the English translation, “The Book of Jasher” (following English tradition). However, this particular book is named after the “Book of Jasher” that is mentioned in the Bible. Although it is sometimes presented as the original “Book of Jasher” in the various translations (such as that of Moses Samuel in 1840), it is not accepted as such in rabbinical Judaism, nor does the original Hebrew text make such a claim. The study of Joseph Dan, professor of Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the preface to his 1986 critical edition of the 1625 text, concludes, from the Hebrew used and other indicators, that the work was in fact written in Naples in the early sixteenth century. (Link).
Consider also that the first-century Jewish historian Josephus claimed that Joshua’s marches around Jericho began on the first day of the feast of Passover, on the 15th of Abib – a lunar Sabbath (Link).
Consider also that Tertullian himself (160-220 AD), and no friend of Sabbath observance, argued that Joshua clearly fought Jericho over at least one Sabbath day:
Joshua the son of Nun, at the time that he was reducing the city Jericho by war, stated that he had received from God a precept to order the People that priests should carry the ark of the testament of God seven days, making the circuit of the city; and thus, when the seventh day’s circuit had been performed, the walls of the city would spontaneously fall. Which was so done; and when the space of the seventh day was finished, just as was predicted, down fell the walls of the city. Whence it is manifestly shown, that in the number of the seven days there intervened a sabbath-day. For seven days, whencesoever they may have commenced, must necessarily include within them a sabbath-day; on which day not only must the priests have worked, but the city must have been made a prey by the edge of the sword by all the people of Israel. Nor is it doubtful that they “wrought servile work,” when, in obedience to God’s precept, they drave the preys of war. For in the times of the Maccabees, too, they did bravely in fighting on the sabbaths, and routed their foreign foes, and recalled the law of their fathers to the primitive style of life by fighting on the sabbaths. Nor should I think it was any other law which they thus vindicated, than the one in which they remembered the existence of the prescript touching “the day of the sabbaths.” Whence it is manifest that the force of such precepts was temporary, and respected the necessity of present circumstances; and that it was not with a view to its observance in perpetuity that God formerly gave them such a law.
Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chapter IV. “Of the Observance of the Sabbath,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, (Link)
Beyond this, the argument presented here from the lunar Sabbatarian perspective assumes that war, or military action of any kind, is always prohibited on the Sabbath. This simply isn’t the case. Again, when called for, any “good or necessary” action that would be beneficial to mankind was considered “lawful” to do on the Sabbath. As a relevant example, consider that Sabbath observance did not prevent the chief priest Jehoiada from organizing a palace coup on the Sabbath in order to remove queen Athaliah from the throne and replace her with Joash, a rightful heir to the throne. Athaliah had murdered all the other heirs to the throne upon the death of Ahaziah and usurped the throne of Judah for herself. Jehoiada’s wife had rescued young Joash, and Jehoiada had kept him hidden for six years while Athaliah reigned as queen over Judah. The priest Jehoiada used the occasion of the transfer of the guard on the Sabbath to proclaim Joash as king
As a relevant example, consider that Sabbath observance did not prevent the chief priest Jehoiada from organizing a palace coup on the Sabbath in order to remove queen Athaliah from the throne and replace her with Joash, a rightful heir to the throne. Athaliah had murdered all the other heirs to the throne upon the death of Ahaziah and usurped the throne of Judah for herself. Jehoiada’s wife had rescued young Joash, and Jehoiada had kept him hidden for six years while Athaliah reigned as queen over Judah. The priest Jehoiada used the occasion of the transfer of the guard on the Sabbath to proclaim Joash as king because, at that time, he could arrange twice the normal guard on duty at the temple of Yahweh. On that day, a covenant was made, Joash was proclaimed king, Athaliah was put to death, the temple of Baal was torn down, idols were smashed, and Mattan, the priest of Baal, was killed. (2 Kings 11; 2 Chronicles 22-23; R. Kittel, A History of the Hebrews Vol. II, Williams and Norgate, 1896, pp.286-287).
Also, the Sabbath did not prevent the Israelites from standing against the Philistines in Battle array as Goliath, the Philistine champion, challenged the armies of Isreal for forty days. (1 Samuel 17:16).
In this light, consider also that Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). So, whatever He commands someone to do on the Sabbath is “lawful’ – even if it would otherwise violate the Sabbath command. For example, the priests had to perform many functions on the Sabbath day, at the command of God, that were not lawful for the general population to perform. Jesus cited this example arguing, “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?” (Matthew 12:5).
So, if Jesus, the “Lord of the Sabbath”, provides an exception for a priest or anyone else to do something that would normally be a “violation” of the Sabbath, then they are “blameless” for doing what God Himself commanded them to do on the Sabbath. And even the Jews of Jesus day were fully aware of such exceptions regarding Sabbath observance.
Ignatius in his Epistle to the Magnesians (107 AD):
Of the fifteen Epistles to the Magnesians generally attributed to Ignatius of Antioch, eight of them are outright forgeries. But, that’s not all, of the remaining seven Epistles that Ignatius may have had a hand in writing, according to Eusebius, there are different versions – shorter and longer versions. And, now, it is generally accepted that the longer versions have been extensively corrupted and are clearly not reliable. Most historians question the credibility of the shorter versions as well as the longer versions – to include Lardner (Credibility of the Gospel History, 1743), Jortin (1751), Mosheim (1755), Griesbach (1768), Rosenmüller (1795), Neander (1826), and many others.
Now, the passage often quoted in the Epistle to the Magnesians is taken from the “longer form” of the text as follows:
“And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all the days.”
Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians (longer form), chap 9
This particular passage, although popular, was not actually written by Ignatius, but was written about the time that the Apostolical Constitutions from 375 to 380 AD. What is interesting here, however, is that even though this passage was written over 200 years after Ignatius, it still cites the fact that the Sabbath was being observed. This forged passage serves to highlight the transition from Sabbath to Sunday observance within the Christian church over time. Sunday, or the “Lord’s Day” as it was later called, was more and more often observed as a fun day, a “festival” day, while the Sabbath was more and more often observed as a day of fasting – not fun at all. No wonder, then, that Sunday became the more popular day over the centuries.
Ignatius in his Epistle to the Trallians:
The Letter to the Trallians is controversial – none of the controversies being in favor of those who oppose Sabbath observance. The most common citation appears to be a mix of the longer and shorter versions taken from “Verse 9” of the letter. The longer version is discounted by scholars as not authentic because it was modified and lengthened much later by someone else (Link). In other words, it’s a fake. Even according to Wikipedia it isn’t a reliable quote (Link). Now, consider that the shorter version says nothing about “the Lord’s Day.” It reads as follows:
“If, then, those who had walked in ancient practices [the prophets of old] attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbath [like the Jews], but living according to the Lord’s life [observing the Sabbath like Jesus observed the Sabbath]…”
The subsequently modified longer version, the clearly faked version, does define the “Lords’ Day” as Sunday, but also recognizes that the Sabbath was being observed by early Christians:
“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner… but let everyone keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God… and after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival.”
More significant still is the context. As Kenneth A. Strand concisely and incisively remarks:
“Regardless of what the “Lord’s Life” or “Lord’s Day” may have meant either in Magnesia or in Antioch and regardless of whether or not Ignatius intended a cognate accusative, the context reveals that it is not the early Christians who are pictured as ‘no longer sabbatizing,’ but that it is the Old Testament prophets who are described . . . Surely Ignatius knew that the Old Testament prophets observed the seventh day of the week, not the first! The contrast here, then, is not between days as such, but between ways of life—between the Jewish ‘sabbatizing’ way of life and the newness of life symbolized for the Christian by Christ’s resurrection.”
The “sabbatizing” then which Ignatius condemns, in the context of the conduct of the prophets, could hardly be the repudiation of the Sabbath as a day, but rather, as R. B. Lewis, asserts, “the keeping of the Sabbath in a certain manner—Judaizing.” This, in fact, is the sense which is explicitly given to the text in the interpolated long recension:
“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness . . . But let every one of you keep the Sabbath in a spiritual manner, rejoicing in the meditation on the law, not in the relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, nor walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them.”
The fact that pseudo-Ignatius here urges Christians to stop “practicing Judaism” (Magnesians 8:1) or “living like the Jews” (10:3) and to follow the example of the prophets in not Judaizing on the Sabbath, implies that many Christians were still following traditional Jewish customs, especially in the matter of Sabbath keeping. If such were the case, it would hardly seem reasonable to presume that Christians in Asia had already radically abandoned the Sabbath and were observing solely Sunday. (Link)
Epistle of Barnabas (140-150 AD):
Since, therefore, the days are evil, and Satan possesses the power of this world, we ought to give heed to ourselves, and diligently inquire into the ordinances of the Lord. Fear and patience, then, are helpers of our faith; and long-suffering and continence are things which fight on our side. While these remain pure in what respects the Lord, Wisdom, Understanding, Science, and Knowledge rejoice along with them. For He hath revealed to us by all the prophets that He needs neither sacrifices, nor burnt-offerings, nor oblations, saying thus, “What is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me, saith the Lord? I am full of burnt-offerings, and desire not the fat of lambs, and the blood of bulls and goats, not when ye come to appear before Me: for who hath required these things at your hands? Tread no more My courts, not though ye bring with you fine flour. Incense is a vain abomination unto Me, and your new moons and sabbaths I cannot endure.” He has therefore abolished these things, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation
The Epistle of Barnabas 1 Chapter II.
“And God made the works of his hands in six days, and finished on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.” Observe, children, what “he finished in six days” means. It means this: that in six thousand years the Lord will bring everything to an end, for with him a day signifies a thousand years. And he himself bears me witness when he says, “Behold, the day of the Lord will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, children, in six days–that is, in six thousand years–everything will be brought to an end. “And he rested on the seventh day.” This means: when his son comes, he will destroy the time of the lawless one and will judge the ungodly and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then he will truly rest on the seventh day…
Further, He says to them, “Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure.” Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.
The Epistle of Barnabas Chapter XV (3-9)
This is the first historical reference to the observance of Sunday by a professed Christian-probably between 140 and 150 A.D. However, scholars do not believe that the Apostle Barnabas wrote it nor was it written anywhere near the often claimed “74 AD.”
Joachim Neander (1650-1680):
Joachim Neander (a German Reformed Church teacher, theologian and hymn writer who lived from 1650 to 1680) said of the Epistle of Barnabas:
“It is impossible that we should acknowledge this epistle to belong to that Barnabas who was worthy to be the companion of the apostolic labors of St. Paul.”
Johann Mosheim (1693-1755):
Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (German Lutheran church historian who lived from 1693 to 1755) also speaks of the Epistle of Barnabas:
“As to what is suggested by some, of its having been written by that Barnabas who was the friend and companion of St. Paul, the futility of such a notion is easily to be made apparent from the letter itself; several of the opinions and interpretations of Scripture which it contains, having in them so little of either truth, dignity or force, as to render it impossible that they could ever have proceeded from the pen of a man divinely instructed.”
Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339 AD):
Even Eusebius, no fan of the Sabbath day, places the Epistle of Barnabas in the catalog of “spurious”, fictitious, books:
Among the spurious must be numbered both the books called “the Acts of Paul” and that called “Pastor,” and “the Revelation of Peter.” Besides these, the books called “the Epistle of Barnabas,” and what are called “‘the Institutions of the Apostles.”
Eusebius, The Order of the Gospels, Note D, p. 131 (Link)
In any case, “spurious” though he may be, it is no big surprise that the writer of Barnabas, writing well into the second century, endeavored to give the seventh day an allegorical interpretation (suggesting a Gnostic influence). After all, by that point in time, the pressure from Emperor Hadrian’s anti-Jewish laws was having its effect on Sabbath observance.
Review of “Lying for God” by Brendon Knudson:
Who’s “Lying for God”? – 2012 review by Brendon Knudson
Kerry Wynne (along with Larry Dean and David Haynes) has written a fairly extensive review of this article based largely on arguments that can be found in his book Lying for God:
Analysis by Kerry B. Wynne and Larry Dean
Ed. by David Haynes
My responses to a few of the arguments presented that are actually novel or have not already been extensively reviewed in the article above can be found in the comment section: Link
Anti-Sabbatarian views of Dr. Clinton Baldwin:
Dr. Clinton Baldwin has also written a 2012 book (The Sabbath: More Than a Day – A Person) as well as a summary article on why he believes that the Sabbath is no longer binding for the Christian:
Clinton Baldwin, Ph.D. (2017)
My response to several of the key points forwarded by Dr. Baldwin can be found in the above article starting at: Link
Interesting Video Reviewing Dr. Clinton Baldwin’s Main Arguments:
Summary Power Point Presentation:
Christians and the Sabbath (PPTX)
Christians and the Sabbath (Google Docs)