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Sabbath

This article is about the weekly observance, the Sabbath, in Christianity. For other uses see Sabbath (disambiguation)


The Sabbath (Hebrew "Shabbat") is a religious day of rest that comes once a week. The Hebrew word may translate as "the seventh day" or as "the day of rest"; we're not sure. The first Sabbath was the day during which God rested after having completed the creation in six days, as described in Genesis 2:2-3.

The Sabbath is observed in both Judaism and Christianity; this article will focus on the Sabbath in Christianity.

The first Christians were Jews, and apparently continued to honor the Sabbath on Saturday, at least until the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE. The Christians also came together on the first day of the week to break bread and to listen to Christian preaching (Acts 20:7) and to gather collections (1 Cor. 16:2). It was on that day that, according to the Christians, Jesus was raised from the dead (Mt. 28:1, Mk. 16:2, Lk. 24:1, Jn. 20:1). The disciples of Jesus also claimed that on that same evening, called the first day of the week, the resurrected Christ came to them while they were gathered in fear (Jn. 20:19). Eight days later, on the first day, Jesus is said to have appeared to them a second time (Jn. 20:26). The writer called Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, writes that "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." At the end of forty days, the Christians believe that Jesus ascended into heaven while the disciples watched (Acts 1:9). Ten days later, the first day is the day of the feast of Pentecost (See: Shavuot) on which the Christians say that the Spirit of God was given to the disciples of Christ, establishing the Christian Church.

These events are cited by Christian teachers and historians, believed to have written very early, as the reason that Christians gathered on the Lord's Day, the first day of the week, including Barnabas (AD 100), Ignatius (AD 107), Justin Martyr (AD 145), Tertullian (AD 180), Victorinus (AD 280), Bardaisan (AD 154), Cyprian (AD 200), Irenaeus (AD 178) [Note: dates are traditional]. The early Christians believed that the resurrection and ascension of Christ signals the renewal of creation, a day analogous to the first day of creation when God made the light. However, these writers do not call the day a Sabbath. It is believed by many that, at least the Jewish Christians continued to meet on the Sabbath, even if they also met on Sunday, perhaps even after the Edict of Laodicea (320 AD) officially made the first day the uniform day of meeting for the Catholic Church. The Emperor Constantine the next year (AD 321), established the first day as a "venerable day", distinct from the Jewish Sabbath (See Blue law).

Eastern Orthodox churches distinguish between "the sabbath" (Saturday) and "the Lord's day" (Sunday). Catholics put little emphasis on that distinction and most of them, at least in colloquial language, speak of Sunday as the sabbath. Protestants regard Lord's Day, Sabbath, and Sunday as synonymous terms for the Christian Sabbath (except in those languages in which the name of the seventh day is literally equivalent to "Sabbath").

Acts 20:17 says that, "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread", where Paul preached until midnight. One must remember, however, that according to Jewish tradition (and as described in the Bible), 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 (Acts 20:17) 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. 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. It is not generally debated that Paul did keep the Jewish Sabbath, although some doubt that this is an instance of it, 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 Acts 2:46, 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 Mark 2:1-2 another is Luke 19:47-20:1, where it clearly indicates that Jesus himself taught and preached daily. There is no significance given to the day, the breaking of bread, nor the preaching, they are merely mentioned as events that might take place on any day of the week.

Paul writes in Colossians 2:16, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day." For this reason among others, latitude with regard to the keeping of a particular day has generally prevailed among Christians. A practical distinction sometimes arose then, between The Lord's Day and The Sabbath. Toleration of Saturday observance became common, for example in the United States, in deference to Jews and other seventh-day sabbatarians, whose conscientious keeping of Saturday is mandated by a literal reading of the Law of God. This is often distinguished from Sunday observance, "first day sabbatarianism", or "eighth day sabbatarianism", according to which Sunday is kept because it is the "day of light", the first day of the new creation, and the traditional day on which Christians have met - only in rare case a complete reproduction of Sabbath ordinances on a different day.



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