In Christianity, the Sabbath is generally a weekly religious day of rest as ordained by one of the Ten Commandments (the third by Roman Catholic and Lutheran numbering, and the fourth by Eastern Orthodox and usual Protestant numbering). The practice is inherited from Judaism, the parent religion of Christianity; shabbat (šhabbat) meaning "the [day of] rest" and entailing a ceasing or resting from labor. The institution of the Old Testament Sabbath, taken as a "perpetual covenant ... a sign for ever" by the people of Israel (-NRSV), was in respect for the day during which God rested after having completed the creation in six days ().
Originally denoting a rest day on the seventh day of the week (in Judaism, the period from Friday sunset to Saturday nightfall), the term "Sabbath" has acquired the connotation of a time of communal worship and now has several meanings in Christian contexts:
Both those who observe a seventh-day Sabbath, and those who adhere to a Puritan Lord's-Day Sabbath, have laid claim to the name Sabbatarians; the term is less frequent for those who hold a different rest day.
According to Exodus, God liberated the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and brought them to Mount Sinai where He revealed the Law to them. Among the ten commandments given at Sinai was a command to remember to observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, as a memorial of creation. Prior to this, the Israelites had been commanded not to gather manna on the seventh day (). In , the Sabbath is called a "sign forever" between God and Israel, as well as a "perpetual covenant"; breaking the Sabbath would incur the death penalty (see List of capital crimes in the Torah). The Sabbath command reappears several times in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. In , the commandment relating to the Sabbath is reiterated, but instead of commemorating creation it now symbolizes the redemption of Israel from Egypt.
In New Testament times (the first century and second century A.D. or Apostolic Age), Saturday was observed as the Sabbath by Jesus Christ and his followers. Controversy arose when Jesus was accused of desecrating the Sabbath, to which he responded that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" and that "the son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath" (). He also taught that it was right to do good on the Sabbath (). Some have argued that Jesus' teachings abrogated the laws of Sabbath, while others maintain that his teachings state the Pharisaic position on Sabbath observance. Some Christian churches observe Saturday as the Sabbath (eg Seventh-day Adventists).
After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Saturday observance continued and was a time of communal gathering for early Christians, both Jew and Gentile (). This situation continued for some time. At the same time, worship on the first day of the week, or Sunday (also called the Lord's Day) appeared very early in the Christian Church (perhaps or Ignatius' Epistle to the Magnesians 9.1) many Christian denominations consider it an ordinance instituted by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles for the celebration of the day of the Lord's resurrection. In Rome, Carthage, Alexandria and the Eastern churches, the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath gradually ceased, and in some respects was condemned as a Jewish or Judaizing practice; by the early 4th century Sunday worship was common, though not universal.
The keeping of a seven day week recalls creation by God in six days and its completion on the seventh day, when God rested. The custom of refraining from work on the Sabbath for the purpose of worship, to hear the word of God, to celebrate the Eucharist, and to perform works of mercy, commemorates Redemption and its completion with the Resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
A practical distinction sometimes arises between the Lord's Day (Sunday) and the Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday). Some Christians insist on Sunday observance (sometimes referred to as "first day Sabbatarianism", or "eighth day Sabbatarianism") because it is the "day of light", the first day of the new creation, and the traditional day on which many Christians have met. Alternatively, many Christians suggest that on the weight of Biblical evidence Sabbath-keeping is not a prescribed duty for Christians under the New Covenant and thus worshiping on Sunday is acceptable, see also Biblical law in Christianity.
Today, Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrine maintains that Sunday observance was instituted by the authority of the Holy Spirit acting in the church, and is attested in Scripture rather than commanded.
Some Christians have revived observance of Sabbath on the seventh day, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Seventh-day Churches of God and Seventh Day Baptists. Such groups have existed at various times throughout the Christian era.
At the same time, a widespread early Christian tradition was to meet for worship on the first day of the week (Sunday) in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus; Sunday thus came to be known as the Lord's Day. For example, the Corinthian church probably met on Sunday, since Paul expected them to gather their collection for the saints on the first day of the week. Early observance of Sunday in place of the Sabbath is attested to in patristic writings of the late 1st century and early 2nd century (see Apostolic Fathers).
It is known that some (perhaps many) early Gentile Christians openly observed the seventh-day Sabbath; some of these early Christians kept the seventh-day Sabbath in conjunction with a first-day Sunday worship. The Council of Laodicea around AD 365 attempted to put a stop to the practice. Some conjecture, then, that prior to the Laodicean council Saturday was observed as a Sabbath and Sunday as a day of worship, primarily in Palestine; but after the Laodicean Council, resting on the Sabbath was forbidden. This is often considered an attempt of the early Christian church to distance itself from Judaism which had become unpopular in the Roman Empire after the Jewish-Roman wars (see also Constantine and the Jews and Homilies against the Jews (Chrysostom)).
The 59 decrees of the Council of Laodicea are part of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers collection: Number 16 states the Bible is to be read on the Sabbath, No. 29 states Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath but must work that day and then if possible rest on the Lord's Day and any found to be Judaizers are anathema from Christ; Number 49 and number 51 state that the Sabbath and Lord's Day are to be excepted from Lenten restrictions.
In the 5th century, Socrates Scholasticus Church History book 5 states:
Nor is there less variation in regard to religious assemblies. 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.
Also in the 5th century, Sozomen Church History book 7 states:
Assemblies are not held in all churches on the same time or manner. 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.
In that passage is found the word "σαββατισμός" (sabbatismós). The Authorized Version (King James Version of 1611) render this word as "rest". Modern translations, including all those whose name begins with the word "New" have either "Sabbath rest" or "rest".
The Darby translation simply transliterates the word as "Sabbatism". The Scriptures, translated by The Institute For Scripture Research, renders it as "Sabbath observance", while The Bible in Basic English gives "Sabbath keeping". Professor Andrew T. Lincoln, on page 213 in his symposium From Sabbath to Lord's Day, states: "The use of sabbatismos elsewhere in extant Greek literature gives an indication of its more exact shade of meaning. It is used in Plutarch, De Superstitione 3 (Moralia166A) of Sabbath observance. There are also four occurrences in post-canonical literature that are independent of Hebrews 4:9. They are Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 23:3; Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 30:2:2; Martyrium Petri et Pauli 1; Apostolic Constitutions 2:36:2. In each of these places the term denotes the observance or celebration of the Sabbath. This usage corresponds to the Septuagint usage of the cognate verb sabbatizo (cf. ; ; ; ). Thus the writer to the Hebrews is saying that since the time of Joshua an observance of the Sabbath rest has been outstanding."
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible has the following: "It is evident, that there is a more spiritual and excellent sabbath remaining for the people of God, than that of the seventh day, or that into which Joshua led the Jews. This rest is, a rest of grace, and comfort, and holiness, in the gospel state. And a rest in glory, where the people of God shall enjoy the end of their faith, and the object of all their desires. The rest, or sabbatism, which is the subject of the apostle's reasoning, and as to which he concludes that it remains to be enjoyed, is undoubtedly the heavenly rest, which remains to the people of God, and is opposed to a state of labour and trouble in this world. It is the rest they shall obtain when the Lord Jesus shall appear from heaven. But those who do not believe, shall never enter into this spiritual rest, either of grace here or glory hereafter. God has always declared man's rest to be in him, and his love to be the only real happiness of the soul; and faith in his promises, through his Son, to be the only way of entering that rest."
Non-Sabbatarians see indications in the New Testament of a special Sunday observance on the part of Christians. The work involved in gathering together and preparing this observance after the Sabbath rest ended at sunset on Saturday would not scandalize the Jews, whether Christian or non-believers in Jesus. tells of an occasion when, on the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday), the Christians in Troas gathered "to break bread" and Paul continued his preaching until midnight. According to Jewish tradition, however (and as described in ), a day begins when the sun goes down and this meeting apparently gathered in the evening. So, those who have believed that the Christians kept the Sabbath on the seventh day argue that this meeting would have begun on Saturday night. Paul would have been preaching on Saturday night until midnight and then walked eighteen miles from Traos to Assos on Sunday. He would not have done so, if he had regarded Sunday as the Sabbath, much less boarded a boat and continued to travel to Mitylene and finally on to Chios. Sabbatarians often claim that Biblical evidence suggests that Paul was a lifelong Sabbath keeper for the sake of the Jews, and if Sunday was now the Sabbath, then this journey would have been contrary to his character. Those opposed to a Sabbath claim that the practice had been abolished by this time, and thus would have no impact on Paul's actions.
Some doubt that this is an instance of Paul keeping the Sabbath, although it may be if it shows him waiting until the morning of the first day to continue his work. The focus of the story is about Eutychus, his accident, and his resurrection, not the changing of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week. Also in , they went to the Temple in Jerusalem and broke bread from house to house "daily". There is no mention of the Sabbath, and it is debatable whether this is a reference to Communion. There are many instances of the Gospel being taught and preached on non-specific days as well as daily. One example is in another is , where it clearly indicates that Jesus himself taught and preached daily. , written in about the year 57, does not mention meeting together, but does speak of the first day of the week as a day in which the apostle wanted them to lay aside their offering for a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem. uses the expression "the Lord's day" as one that would be familiar to its readers. Non-Sabbatarians see this as indicating a day different from the Sabbath and indeed the first day of the week, as indicated in the other two New Testament passages mentioned and as quite explicitly in later writings. Sabbatarians say instead that the expression refers to the Sabbath, and quote in this regard , which speaks of the Sabbath as "the holy day of the LORD". speaks of Sabbath observance as on the same level as the observance of new moon festivals and rules about food and drink, merely "a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ." Nevertheless, even if such observance was seen as non-essential, Christians did continue to observe Old Testament festivals, as seen in , , , , and , and, until they were excluded, often attended the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath. Non-Sabbatarians see them as holding their specifically Christian celebrations after the Sabbath had ended.
For many Sabbatarians, keeping the seventh day is about worshipping God as Creator. For non-Sabbatarians, it is principally about celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, which occurred on the first day.
A split from Unitarianism in Central Europe to adopt Mosaic law and customs, including the Judaic Shabbat. It was founded in Transylvania at the end of the 16th century by a Eössi András. The Unitarian Church condemned Sabbatarianism as innovation (forbidden by the Transylvanian law on religious toleration) in 1618. The last Sabbatarian congregation in Transylvania disappeared in the 19th century and the remaining Sabbatarians, who were known as "Somrei Sabat" (the Hungarian transliteration of the Hebrew words for "Sabbath observers") joined the existing Jewish communities, which they were eventually absorbed into. Sabbatarianism also expanded into Russia, where its adherents were called Subbotniks, and from there, the movement expanded into other countries. Some of the Russian Subotniki maintained a Christian identity doctrinally speaking, whereas others also formally converted to Judaism and assimilated within the Jewish communities of Russia. Some of the latter, however, who had become Jewish, although they and their descendants practiced Judaism and had not practiced Christianity for nearly two centuries, still retained a distinct identity as ethnic Russian converts to Judaism until recent times. It was also practiced among the English Dissenters under the leadership of John Traske (1586-1636).
The Socinian churches of Eastern Europe and the Netherlands were emphatically anti-Sabbatarian. However, a small number of them adopted Saturday as the day of worship. This small Seventh-day sect finally abandoned Christianity in favor of orthodox Judaism. Seventh-day Sabbatarianism did not become prevalent to any degree among Protestants, until it was revived in England by several groups of English Baptists, and through them the doctrine spread to a few churches in other denominations. Unitarian and seventh day leaders and churches were persecuted as heretics by the Trinitarian and Sunday-observing establishment, in England.
The Seventh Day Baptists originated in the 17th century and arrived at the height of their influence on other sects in the middle of the 19th century, in the United States. Their doctrines were instrumental in the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Seventh-day Church of God.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest modern seventh-day Sabbatarian denomination, with about 15 million members. Seventh-day Adventism grew out of the Millerite movement in the 1840s, and its founders were converted to Sabbatarianism under the influence of Rachel Oakes Preston, a Seventh Day Baptist. They have traditionally taught that the Seventh-day Sabbath will be a test, leading to the sealing of God's people during the end times, though there is little consensus about how this will play out. The church has traditionally taught that there will be an international Sunday law enforced by a coalition of religious and secular authorities; all who do not observe it will be persecuted and killed. This is taken from Ellen G. White's interpretation of and , Revelation 7; Ezekiel 20: 12, 20; Exodus 31:13, where the subject of persecution in prophecy is thought to be about the Sabbath commandment.
The Worldwide Church of God, which (after 1934) was descended from a schism in the Seventh-day Church of God, was founded as a seventh-day Sabbath-keeping church, but in 1995 it renounced Sabbatarianism and moved toward the Evangelical "mainstream." Its move away from Sabbatarianism, and other doctrines, caused more schisms, with large groups splitting off and continuing to observe the Sabbath as new church organizations. See the list of Sabbath keeping Churches of God. The largest breakaway group is the United Church of God which rejected the 1990s doctrinal changes, and which still keeps the Sabbath. In 2005 its flagship magazine had a circulation of 400,000.
The Seventh Day Baptist World Federation represents over 50,000 people worldwide.
Other minor Sabbatarian churches include:
There are two instances in the New Testament where the first Christians are said to have come together on the first day of the week to break bread, to listen to Christian preaching and to gather collections for the financial assistance of others. However, some argue that these references are not sufficient to prove that Sunday observance was an established practice in the primitive New Testament church.
The Didache (AD 70-120?) uses the term κυριακήν (kyriaken), which literally means "the Lord's," with the word ἡμέρα hemera ("day") being ellided. In extrabiblical Christian literature, κυριακήν always refers to Sunday except for two early instances where textual readings have given rise to questions of proper translation. The use of κυριακήν in the Didache is one of those instances. The Greek expression normally translated as "On the Lord's day" in the Didache is κατά κυριακήν δέ κύριος (Holmes M. The Apostolic Fathers - Greek Texts and English Translations), which literally would be rendered in English as "On the Lord's [day] of the Lord". Consequently, Didache 14 has often been translated as "On the Lord's own day, gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks," apparently a reference to the weekly Sunday Eucharist (cf. Acts 2:42; 20:7). Some who dispute this translation argue that it should be translated "according to the Lord's commandment gather yourselves together to break bread...".
The Epistle of Barnabas (120-150) uses to suggest that the "eighth day" marks the resurrection, and as such denotes the completion of God's work of saving mankind from sin. Although there is dispute over whether this is a correct interpretation of Isaiah, it is a good indication that Sunday observance was a common practice in Christianity at that time.
Ignatius of Antioch in Letter to the Magnesians 9.1 is another very early writer (100-115) who teaches that Sabbath keeping had been replaced by observance of the Lord's Day. This comes as part of a larger attack against Judaizers.
Although the epistles of Ignatius are almost universally accepted as authentic, they have been disputed by several Seventh-day Adventist scholars (Samuele Bacchiocchi. From Sabbath to Sunday; Lewis A.H. A Critical History of the Sabbath and Sunday in the Christian Church) due to the existence of textual variants.
Justin Martyr (mid 2nd century) wrote in his apologies about the cessation of Sabbath observance and the celebration of the first (or eighth) day of the week in its place. He argued that the Sabbath was not kept before Moses, and was only instituted as a temporary measure because of Israel's sinfulness (Dialogue with Trypho chapters 21, 23). Curiously he also draws a parallel between the Israelite practice of circumcision on the eighth day, and the resurrection of Jesus on the same day.
Tertullian (early 3rd century), writing against Christians who participated in pagan festivals (Saturnalia and New-year), makes reference to the celebration of Sunday and also states that the Jewish Sabbath is no longer kept.
Though some Christians use the decree in support of the move of the Sabbath day to Sunday, in fact the decree was in support of the worship of the Sun-God (see Sol Invictus). In any event, the decree did not apply to Christians or Jews. It was part of the Roman civil law and religion and not an edict of the Church.
Although this does not indicate a "change" of the Sabbath, it does favor a different day for rest, in the cities at least, over the Jewish Sabbath day. The dominant religions in the regions of the world where Christianity was developing were pagan, and in Rome, Mithraism, specifically the cult of Sol Invictus, had taken hold. Mithraism met on Sunday. Some theorize that, because the practice favored the Christian day by coincidence, it also helped the church to avoid implicit association with the Jews. Jews were being persecuted routinely at this time, because of the Jewish-Roman Wars, and for this reason Constantine's edict, and Christian reception of it, is sometimes labelled anti-semitic. On a closely related issue, the Quartodeciman, Eusebius in Life of Constantine, Book III chapter 18, claims Constantine stated: "Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way."
A new rigorism was brought into the observance of the Christian Lord's Day with the Protestant reformation, especially among the Puritans of England and Scotland, in reaction to the laxity with which Sunday observance was customarily kept. Sabbath ordinances were appealed to, with the idea that only the word of God can bind men's consciences in whether or how they will take a break from work, or to impose an obligation to meet at a particular time. Their influential reasoning spread to other denominations also, and it is primarily through their influence that "Sabbath" has become the colloquial equivalent of "Lord's Day" or "Sunday". The most mature expression of this influence survives in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, "Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day". Section 7-8 reads:
In part, the reason Orthodox Christians continue to celebrate Saturday as the Sabbath is because of its role in the history of salvation: it was on a Saturday that Jesus "rested" in the tomb after his work on the cross. For this reason also, Saturday is a day for general commemoration of the departed, and special requiem hymns are often chanted on this day.
Latter-day Saints prepare only simple foods on the Sabbath (D&C 59:13, Is. 58:13) and believe the day is only for righteous activities, such as:
Doctrine teaches that, though there may be times when one is required to work on the Sabbath, one should avoid it whenever possible, and, when work is absolutely necessary, one should instead maintain the spirit of Sabbath worship in one's heart as much as possible.
Marva Dawn, who is from the Lutheran tradition, keeps a whole day as a Sabbath. In the book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly she emphasizes the four themes of ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting, which also form the subtitle of the book. She does not argue for a specific day of the week, but simply a complete 24-hour period. However she believes "corporate worship" is "an essential part of God's Sabbath reclamation."
In conjunction with this, a second Pauline epistle is often quoted, namely , which states "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth [it] unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard [it]." Ritual observance of a weekly Sabbath is thus not required, but is optional according to the conscience of each individual Christian. is used as further justification that a Sabbath is no longer in effect under the New Covenant: "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." Essentially, non-Sabbatarians suggest Paul's claim here is that ritual observance of days, including the weekly Sabbath, is no longer prescribed under the New Covenant. (Sabbatarians often counter-argue that Paul may have been referring to the Jewish festivals rather than the weekly Sabbath, or that perhaps Paul was targeting Gnostic beliefs which had infiltrated the church.)
To further support these ideas, is often used, "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." Hence, Christians no longer follow a law written "in tables of stone" (that is, the Ten Commandments), but follow a law written upon "fleshy tables of the heart." The argument continues with , , "But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious,...which glory was to be done away... For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." Non-Sabbatarians claim this is a direct reference to the 10 Commandments; therefore New Covenant Christians are no longer under the Mosaic law, and thus Sabbath-keeping is no longer required. The New Covenant "law" is based entirely upon love, and love is considered the fulfillment of the law ().
In addition to the Pauline teachings which appear to rescind the Sabbath, Jesus himself is recorded as redefining the Sabbath law. Some examples of this include , , and . As Jesus proclaimed Himself to be "Lord of the Sabbath" who has "fulfilled the Law", this has been interpreted by many Christians to mean that those who follow Him are no longer bound by the Sabbath.
Finally, non-Sabbatarians frequently use the epistle to the Hebrews 3:7-4:11 to argue that the seventh-day Sabbath is no longer relevant as a regular, literal day of rest, but instead is a symbolic metaphor for the eternal "rest" that Christians enjoy in Christ, which was in turn prefigured by the promised land of Canaan.
To be non-Sabbatarian doesn't necessarily equate to making all days alike. A member of a non-Sabbatarian church may nevertheless be very conscientious about avoiding certain kinds of activities, and doing others, because it is the day for the church to gather, a day for prayer and for works of mercy.