The Sabbath

This law of the sabbath day, the fourth commandment of the Decalogue was written upon tables of stone, and given to the nation of Israel while they were in the wilderness, by the hands of Moses, their leader. We find it in Exodus 20:8-11.

Vs 8     “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Vs 9     “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:”
Vs 10     “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:”
Vs 11     “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20:8-11

Notice carefully what God has to say in this passage, concerning this sabbath:

  1. This sabbath always fell on the seventh day of the week, corresponding to our Saturday. It began at 6 o'clock or sundown, and ended at sunset the next evening. As we reckon days now, it would be from about 6 P.M. Friday to 6 P.M. on Saturday.

  2. It was a day of absolute rest for everyone, both man and beast. The entire family, parents, children, servants and guests, even the animals were to refrain from every sort of physical labor and work, and to observe a day of complete and uninterrupted rest.

  3. The pattern for this sabbath was creation, in which God after He had completed His work in six days rested on the seventh day. The sabbath given later to the nation of Israel was based on the principle that one day in seven is for resting, for the benefit of humanity.

  4. The principle of the sabbath is that one day in seven is to be set aside for rest from physical labor.


Everyone who believes the Bible will agree to the four foregoing facts. From the record of the Old Testament, it is also apparent that no other day than the seventh day was ever observed as a sabbath from Moses to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fifteen hundred years after the law was given to Israel, the sabbath was still in effect, and no change in the day is even mentioned in the entire Bible.

Today, however, the great majority of Christendom does not observe the seventh – day sabbath, but instead observes the first day of the week instead of the seventh, and call this the Christian sabbath. The questions therefore arise: “Who changed the sabbath? When was it changed? and Why was it changed from the seventh to the first day of the week? “These then are the three issues which should be answered. Now there are at least three views held by three different schools of thought, concerning this sabbath in answer to these questions which are asked over and over again.

There are those who teach that the sabbath was changed by man without any Scriptural authority whatsoever. These people teach and claim that the church some three centuries after the Cross of Christ, changed the sabbath from the seventh to the first day, contrary to the Word of God. Those who make this charge, however, hold that man and the church had no right to change the sabbath day, and it is therefore binding upon us today just as it was upon Israel, and all of its rules and regulations still apply. Some go so far as to make the observance of the seventh day sabbath a condition of salvation, an indispensable condition for salvation. Those who observe the seventh-day sabbath are said to have the seal of the living God, while those who observe the first day as the New Testament sabbath constitute the mark of the beast. This is a false view.


The second school of thought concerning the sabbath question teaches that after the resurrection of Christ the sabbath was changed to the first day in commemoration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. These call the first day of the week the “Christian” sabbath. They assert that the sabbath was changed to the first day by the Lord and His apostles. The laws, rules, regulations, and restrictions of the sabbath are transferred and applied to the first day of the week, although a strict observance of all of its details and practice is not followed by them. This is a false view.


The third group of Believers hold that the sabbath was given to Israel sixteen hundred years before Calvary, that it was only a shadow of things to come, and was completely fulfilled by Christ, and ceased as a sabbath day at His resurrection. Today, these Believers claim the Church has no sabbath, but instead by common precedent and example rather than by specific commandment, we observe the first day of the week as a day of commemoration and worship, assembling together, preaching of the Word, and ceaseless activity in spiritual things. This day, it is claimed by those who hold this view, is not a matter of legal duty, but a glorious privilege under grace, a voluntary service in gratitude to God. It is not observed because it is commanded but because they delight in gathering together to remember the Lord's death and celebrate His resurrection. This view is in harmony with the Scriptures.


We want to present the basic facts concerning this sabbath day. These basic facts are:

1.     The meaning of the word, “sabbath.”

2.     The various sabbaths mentioned throughout the Scriptures.

First of all then, notice the meaning of the word itself. The first time the word “sabbath” as such occurs anywhere in the Bible is Exodus 16:23. The word, “sabbath” is an untranslated Hebrew word which was carried over literally without translation from the Hebrew and from the Greek. The Hebrew word is “shabbath,” and the Greek word is “sabbaton.”  It means simply “a cessation, an intermission, a resting.”  It means to “cease” or to “stop” with special reference to physical labor, and therefore means to “rest” after a period of activity. If the word has been translated into the English language, it would read like this:

“Remember the REST day, and keep it holy.” (All Bible authorities are agreed on this point.)

Now the second thing to remember is that God gave to Israel under the law a number of sabbath days of which the weekly sabbath is only one. A few references will suffice to show this. In Leviticus 16, God gave Israel the ordinances for the Feast of Trumpets, which fell on the first day of the seventh month, and it is called a “sabbath.”

“In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein.”  Lev. 23:24-25

You will notice that this is called a sabbath, but it was not the seventh-day, weekly sabbath. Again, the next feast, the Day of Atonement, is called a sabbath as we read in Lev. 16:29, 31

“In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you.”  Lev. 16:29, 31

Again concerning the Feast of Atonement, we read in Leviticus, “Ye shall do no manner of work. . .  Lev. 23:31

“…from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.”  Lev. 23:31-32

Then again concerning the Feast of Tabernacles, we read the following:

“Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eight day shall be a sabbath.”  Lev. 23:39
Here the Feast of Tabernacles was called a sabbath, though it had nothing to do with the weekly sabbath. The seventh year in Israel was also called a sabbath, for God says in Lev. 25:2 “then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord.”

Every seventh year the land was to rest. From these and other passages it becomes clear that the word, sabbath, means “rest”, and a sabbath could be any day of the week, not necessarily the seventh day. Only the weekly sabbath must always be on this day, which corresesponds to our Saturday. The important thing was not the DAY, but the REST, which the Lord commanded. It is the Spirit, and not the day  which is most important.
Now the question is, Do these laws apply to us today? Is the Believer under the law of the sabbath? If the law applies, must he then keep all the sabbath days, or only the one weekly sabbath. Where does the Bible say that we need to keep the sabbath of unleavened bread, or the sabbath day of the tabernacles, or the atonement? Are we required to observe the seventh-day weekly sabbath? Where does the Bible teach that there is a difference between the ceremonial laws and the moral laws given upon tables of stone?  It does not.


The word “sabbath,” as it occurs in the Bible means simply, “rest.”  All of the sabbaths, including the weekly, seventh-day sabbath, were REST days, the main thing being a strict command to refrain from all manner of physical labor. And so we come now to the question, When did the sabbath begin? The first mention of the word “sabbath” is found in Exodus 16:23, in connection with the giving of the manna. It is definitely given as the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11.

  1. The sabbath was a commandment given by the Lord God Himself, and ordained in the beginning of Israel's history, as binding upon them during their entire national existence.

  2. It was to be the seventh day of the week.

  3. It was to be a day of absolute rest.

  4. It was to begin at sundown, and end at sundown on the following day.

  5. It was to be binding upon everybody in the nation of Israel, even including the animals.

  6. It was addressed to Israel, only after their deliverance from the land of Egypt.

Now the simple answer to the question, When was the sabbath changed to the first day of the week? is simply this: The sabbath never has been changed at all by Almighty God. It still is and remains the seventh day of the week, and calling any other day the sabbath is completely without Scriptural proof, and the result of a confusion concerning the Christian's place under the grace of God, and his relationship to the law. The only one who can change the sabbath is the One who gave it, even Jehovah. The first day of the week therefore cannot be the sabbath day. Calling it a sabbath, or a Christian sabbath, does not of necessity make it so. The Scriptural evidence shows that the sabbath still remains the seventh day of the week, corresponding to our Saturday, and so the Christian does not observe a sabbath at all when he observes it on the first day of the week. Remember also that it must be from sundown to sundown, and unless the details are observed, then there is no use in observing the day. If the day has been carried over from the seventh to the first, then, of course, all of the requirements and legal restrictions and limitations of the sabbath day as they appear in the Old Testament, would have to apply to our first-day sabbath. It would mean that no work of any kind was to be performed in any manner from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday, by either man or beast, and of course, in this highly technological age in which we are living, such an arrangement would disrupt the entire economy of the nation, and of the world. To apply all the legal restrictions and laws governing the Old Testament sabbath to the world today, would make everyone in the world a sabbath breaker, and since the penalty of a broken law was death, it would mean that all of us would be under the sentence of death, and no one could possibly be saved.

The issue therefore becomes very simple. It is not a matter of the sabbath at all, but is a question of law or grace. If we are under the law, then by all means we are bound to keep the sabbath as the seventh day of the week, but we must be sure that we keep all of its restrictions and commandments. If, however, we are under grace, we have no sabbath by way of commandment; but under the grace of God, we count every day sacred as Lord's day. The first day is a special memorial after the custom and example (not the commandment) of the early church, but merely as precedent and example. It is a memorial feast, a privilege to assemble with God's people, remember His death, study His Word, engage in prayer and receive courage, strength and power to make the other six days all day long, to His praise and glory, an dedicated to His service.

If we are under the law, then of course we are under the entire law. If we are under grace alone then we can be saved because grace excludes the law. Romans 3:28. If we are still under the sabbath then we are under the entire law and cannot be saved. No one has ever been saved by the law. Galatians 2:16. If we are under grace we are saved apart from the law.  By studying carefully the Book of Acts, we find that the Believers invariably met on the first day and never once on the seventh day. Their weekly day of worship was always the first day. In Acts 20, verse 7, we read a conclusive statement, which alone, and standing by itself, without any other support, should establish the fact that the first day was the customary day of assembling of Believers.
“And upon the FIRST DAY of the week, when the disciples came to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” Acts 20:7
Notice very carefully these clear statements:

1. It was the custom of the disciples to gather together on the first day of the week.

2. It was the occasion for the breaking of bread and the remembering of the Lord.

3. It was the day on which they gathered for their preaching services.

Now these three things are perfectly evident to anyone who is willing to read the verse carefully. In complete harmony with this is Paul's admonition to the Corinthian Believers.

“Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.” I Cor. 16:1-2

If we are under the law, then we are also under the law of the sabbath. If the Believer is under the law in any sense, then the seventh day sabbath is binding on him, and vice versa. If the sabbath is for the Christian, then he is also a debtor to do the whole law. We may not, we dare not, and we shall not lift the fourth commandment out of the tables of the entire body of the law. They are one. We do not read of the “laws” of God, but the “law” of God. If any part of the law is for us, then all of the law is for us, and he that offends in one point is guilty of all. It is impossible to break one commandment, and not break the entire law, for it is a unity as given by Almighty God. And so the issue is one of law or grace, and not a question of the sabbath day at all. Look up James 2:10. Breaking the law in one point makes you guilty of breaking all the law.  The Scofield reference Bible has an excellent footnote on the sabbath which summarizes what we have said. This note is invaluable in the study of the sabbath question. Please read this Scofield note very carefully.

     The sabbath (“cessation”) appears in Scripture as the day of God's rest in the finished work of creation (Gen. 2. 2, 3). For 2500 years of human life absolutely no mention is made of it. Then the sabbath was revealed (Ex. 16.23; Neh. 9. 13, 14); made a part of the law (Ex. 20. 8-11); and invested with the character of a “sign” between Jehovah and Israel, and a perpetual reminder to Israel of their separation to God (Ex. 31. 13-17). It was observed by complete rest (Ex. 35.2,3), and by Jehovah's express order a man was put to death for gathering sticks on the sabbath day (Num. 15. 32-36). Apart from maintaining the continued burnt-offering (Num. 28. g) ,and its connection with the annual feasts (Ex. 12. 16; Lev. 23. 3,8; Num. 28. 25), the seventh-day sabbath was never made a day of sacrifice, worship, or any manner of religious service. It was simply and only a day of complete rest for man and beast, a humane provision for man's needs. In Christ's words, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” '(Mk. 2. 27). Our Lord found the observance of the day encrusted with rabbinical evasions (Mt. 12. 2) and restrictions, wholly unknown to the law, so that He was Himself held to be a sabbath-breaker by the religious authorities of the time. The sabbath will be again observed during the kingdom-age (Isa. 66. 23).  The Christian first day perpetuates in the dispensation of grace the principle that one-seventh of the time is especially sacred, but in all other respects is in contrast with the sabbath. One is the seventh day, the other the first.  The sabbath commemorates God's creation rest, the first day Christ's resurrection. On the seventh day God rested, on the first day Christ was ceaselessly active. The sabbath commemorates a finished creation, the first day a finished redemption. The sabbath was a day of legal obligation, the first day one of voluntary worship and service. The sabbath is mentioned in Acts only in connection with the Jews, and in the rest of the New Testament but twice (Col. 2. 16; Heb. 4. 4). In these passages the seventh-day sabbath is explained to be to the Christian not a day to be observed, but a type of the present rest into which he enters when “he also ceases from his own works” and trusts Christ. [Scofield reference Bible Note on Matthew 12:1]

Remember that a person is saved by faith alone in Christ alone. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Acts 16:31.