Chapter 1: The Origin of the Sabbath
1.1 God establishes the
Sabbath at creation
the origin of the Sabbath is not a complicated matter. All we need to do is to
look in the Bible—the inspired word of God—with faith. It is there, within the
opening pages, that we learn of God’s creation work,
culminating in His establishment of this special day.
created the heavens and the earth in six days by the power of His command. The
Bible notes, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very
good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Gen 1:31). However,
there was one more element in the divine plan—something that would render it
perfect and complete. On the seventh day, God rested; He blessed the day and
made it holy.
heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the
seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh
day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and
sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created
Sabbath marked the end of His glorious creation work and, indeed, was the
pinnacle of the entire process. It had all the sense of a celebration—a time
when God took delight in all that He had accomplished. Moreover, in His company was a throng of heavenly hosts who praised His work
with a joyful chorus (Job 38:4–7).
1.2 Its significance
Sabbath was special on account of the fact that God set it apart from the other
days of the week through His actions of resting, sanctification and blessing.
surface, God’s resting is perhaps the most intriguing, for it is seemingly
incongruous with His omnipotent nature (Isa 40:28). However, when we piece
together the biblical picture, we realize that this action was never intended
to be for His own benefit; it was for man’s. God’s
inauguration of a seventh day rest was ultimately meant to be a gift to man, a
gracious invitation to enter into a rest that He first enjoyed. Hence, when
Jesus later came to the world, He reinforced this point by teaching that the
Sabbath was made for man (Mk 2:27–28).
next action was to bless the Sabbath day. It is perhaps easier for us to
comprehend His blessing of the creatures He had created, including man (Gen
1:22, 28), but what did His blessing of the seventh day mean? The answer is
revealed in the Book of Isaiah, which speaks of special blessings for the
people who honour this day (Isa 56:2–5; 58:13–14).
This leads us to understand that when God blessed the Sabbath, He intended for
that blessing to come upon those who enter into it. Pertinently, He chose only
to bless this particular day of the week, indicating there is no equivalent
blessing for those who choose to uphold another.
God sanctified the Sabbath day and, in doing so, showed that it belonged to Him
(Ex 31:13; Lev 23:3; Deut 5:14; Isa 56:4). It proved to be the start of an
on-going lesson on the concepts of holy and profane: things set apart for Him
versus the mundane. Later, God developed the lesson further when He told the
Israelites, “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and
you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who
sanctifies you” (Ex 31:13). From that point, the Sabbath became an important
sign, reminding God’s people that they were a holy nation, chosen by Him and
set apart for His glory.
1.3 The term Sabbath
1.3.1 Its occurrence in the
Old and New Testaments
recounting the origin of the day, the Book of Genesis makes no specific mention
of the term “Sabbath”. The latter first appears in Exodus 16, which records
God’s instructions through Moses for the Israelites to observe the day at the
start of their wilderness journey: “Then he said to them, ‘This is what the
Lord has said: “Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake
what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for
yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning” ’ ” (Ex 16:23).
God addresses the matter of the Sabbath again when He delivers the Fourth
Commandment on Mount Sinai:
the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
you shall labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In
it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your
daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor
your stranger who is within your gates.
six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in
them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day
and hallowed it.
these passages, the Hebrew word Shabbath is used. It derives from the
root shabath, meaning “to cease” or “to
rest”, first seen
in Genesis 2:3: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in
it He rested from all His work which
God had created and made.”
New Testament, the writers use the Greek words sabbaton
(singular) e.g. Lk 4:16, Mt 12:8, and sabbata (plural) e.g. Acts 17:2. In
the Book of Hebrews, we also come across the word sabbatismos
which refers specifically to the future heavenly rest (Heb 4:9).
1.3.2 Its meaning
is clear that the Sabbath entails a cessation of work. As mentioned previously,
the Book of Genesis shows that God set the precedent: after creating the
universe, He “ended His work which He had done, and rested on the seventh day”
(Gen 2:2). Moreover, because He did this, He would require man to follow His
example: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is
the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work…” (Ex 20:9–10).
From the exodus period onwards, God helpfully defined the nature of that “work”
for the Israelites through various regulations.
1.3.3 The naming of the days
of the week
Greek language of the New Testament, the days of the week are given in
reference to the Sabbath. Hence, Sunday is literally “the first of the
Sabbath”, i.e. “the first day after the Sabbath” e.g. Mk 16:9 (cf. Mt 28:1; Lk
24:1; Jn 20:1; Acts 20:7). Friday, aside from being the “Day of Preparation”
e.g. Mt 27:62; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54, is also called “the day before the Sabbath”
(Greek, prosabbaton) e.g. Mk 15:42.
Christian writings of the time, the names for the days of the week would have
been as follows:
ton sabbaton (“First of the Sabbath/week”)—the
first day of the week (Sunday).
• Deutera (“Second”)—the second day of the week (Monday).
(“Third”)—the third day of the week (Tuesday).
• Tetarte (“Fourth”)—the fourth day of the week (Wednesday).
• Pempte (“Fifth”)—the fifth day of the week (Thursday).
• Paraskeue (“Preparation”)—the sixth day of the week
• Sabbaton (“Sabbath”)—the seventh day of the week (Saturday).
from the latter half of the first century AD,
writers began referring to the first day of the week as Kyriake Hemera (“Lord’s Day”), which was later
rendered simply, Kyriake
Eviator Zerubavel, a sociologist,
of the days of the week were originally also named by the Church in accordance
with their temporal distance from the preceding Sabbath, following the Hebrew
practice. Monday was thus designated as the “second day after the Sabbath” (Secunda Sabbati, in Latin),
Tuesday as “the third day after the Sabbath” (Tertia Sabbati), and so on. (This archaic nomenclature is still
preserved, at least in part, in Armenian, Greek, Portuguese, and Icelandic).
Eviator Zerubavel, The Seven Day
in tandem with the spread of the gospel, Christians in many countries began
adopting the word “Sabbath” for the seventh day, such that it became ingrained
in their languages. Examples include:
• Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slovene—Sobota
1.4 The Sabbath existed
before the Mosaic Law
important point highlighted by the Book of Genesis is that God ordained the
Sabbath at the end of the creation week—two thousand years before He chose
Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, and two and a half thousand years
before He delivered the Law at Sinai. Also, we note that Moses led the people
to observe the Sabbath not long after their departure from Egypt, before their
arrival at Mount Sinai (see Ex 16:23–30). Together,
these facts reveal that the Sabbath predates both the emergence of the Jewish
race and the era of the Mosaic Law.
because the Bible does not record specifically that God’s people observed the
Sabbath prior to the exodus, some biblical commentators have concluded that
Sabbath-keeping was neither known nor practised
before then. However, one can argue that there is, in fact, evidence within the
Bible, albeit indirect, indicating that Sabbath-keeping was a possibility, at
the very least.
interesting piece of evidence is the existence of the seven-day cycle. In
Genesis, it is clear that God established it at the time of creation. Indeed,
there is no other plausible explanation: it tallies neither with the lunar
cycle nor any other natural cycle; and, outside of Scripture, has all the
appearance of a completely arbitrary marker of time. After creation week, the
seven-day cycle became the established way of reckoning time, as the Bible
repeatedly documents its use by the people of God, including Noah (Gen 7:4, 10;
8:10, 12); Job and his friends (Job 2:13); Jacob and Laban (Gen 29:27–28;
31:23); Joseph (Gen 50:10); Moses (Ex 7:25; 12:15, 18, 19; 13:6, 7; 22:30;
23:15; 29:30, 35, 37; 34:18). This evidence is particularly compelling, for a
seven-day cycle presupposes the existence of a significant day—the Sabbath
day—to provide demarcation.
piece of evidence is the direct and indirect biblical references to God’s
commandments prior to the era of the Mosaic Law. Sometimes, we overlook the
fact that God issued commandments to His people before that historical
juncture, but the Bible reminds us otherwise. In Genesis 26:5, for example, God
says, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My
commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” The charge, commandments and statutes
that He gave to Abraham would have defined what worshipping the one true God
entailed, including the requirement for offerings—a matter that was known even
in the time of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:3–4). They must therefore have been the basis
for the Bible’s assessment of those who were able to walk successfully with God
during their lives (Gen 5:22; 6:9) and whose characters warranted a description
of “just”, “perfect”, “blameless” and “upright” (see Gen 6:9; Job 1:1). If we
follow this line of thinking, we are naturally led to infer that God, who
ordained the Sabbath at creation, must surely have spoken to those whom He
loved about this monumental event and possibly even given instructions for its
observance. This would be a more logical position than assuming that He waited
2000 years to do so.
the afore-mentioned points do not constitute definitive proof that the people
of God observed the Sabbath prior to the exodus. Nevertheless, they do indicate
that it was more of a possibility than an impossibility.
Bible, we can trace the institution of the Sabbath to the time of creation. It
records that God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on
the seventh. He blessed this day and sanctified it. The Sabbath was part of the
divine plan from the beginning of time; it predates both God’s calling of the
Jewish nation and His institution of the Law at Sinai. Thousands of years
later, and in tandem with the spread of the gospel, Sabbath-keeping became a
way of life for God’s people around the world, such that the very term
“Sabbath” became ingrained in many languages and cultures.
© January 2012
True Jesus Church.