The Bible’s answer
What is the Sabbath?
The word “sabbath” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to rest; to cease.” It first appears in the Bible in commands given to the nation of ancient Israel. (Exodus 16:23) For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments says: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it sacred. You are to labor and do all your work for six days, but the seventh day is a sabbath to Jehovah your God. You must not do any work.” (Exodus 20:8-10) The Sabbath day ran from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. During that time, the Israelites could not leave their locality, light a fire, gather wood, or carry a load. (Exodus 16:29; 35:3; Numbers 15:32-36; Jeremiah 17:21) Violating the Sabbath was a capital offense.—Exodus 31:15.
Some other days in the Jewish calendar, as well as the 7th and 50th years, were also called sabbaths. In Sabbath years, the land was to lie uncultivated and Israelites could not be pressed to repay debts.—Leviticus 16:29-31; 23:6, 7, 32; 25:4, 11-14; Deuteronomy 15:1-3.
Why doesn’t the Sabbath law apply to Christians?
The Sabbath law applied only to the people subject to the rest of the Law given through Moses. (Deuteronomy 5:2, 3; Ezekiel 20:10-12) God never required other people to observe a sabbath rest. In addition, even the Jews were “released from the Law” of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (Romans 7:6, 7; 10:4; Galatians 3:24, 25; Ephesians 2:15) Rather than adhere to the Law of Moses, Christians follow the superior law of love.—Romans 13:9, 10; Hebrews 8:13.
Misconceptions about the Sabbath
Misconception: God instituted the Sabbath when he rested on the seventh day.
Fact: The Bible says: “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:3, King James Version) This verse contains, not a law to man, but a statement of what God did on the seventh creative day. The Bible does not mention anyone observing a sabbath rest before the days of Moses.
Misconception: The Israelites were under the Sabbath law before they received the Law of Moses.
Fact: Moses told the Israelites: “Jehovah our God made a covenant with us in Horeb,” the area around Mount Sinai. This covenant included the Sabbath law. (Deuteronomy 5:2, 12) The Israelites’ experience with the Sabbath shows that it was new for them. If the Israelites had been under some Sabbath law earlier, while they were in Egypt, how would the Sabbath have reminded them of their deliverance from Egypt as God said it would? (Deuteronomy 5:15) Why did they have to be told not to pick up manna on the seventh day? (Exodus 16:25-30) And why did they not know how to handle the case of the first recorded Sabbath breaker?—Numbers 15:32-36.
Misconception: The Sabbath is a perpetual covenant and is therefore still required.
Fact: Some Bible translations do refer to the Sabbath as a “perpetual covenant.” (Exodus 31:16, King James Version) However, the Hebrew word translated “perpetual” can also mean “lasting into the indefinite future,” not necessarily forever. For example, the Bible uses the same word to describe the Israelite priesthood, which God ended about 2,000 years ago.—Exodus 40:15; Hebrews 7:11, 12.
Misconception: Christians must keep the Sabbath, since Jesus kept it.
Fact: Jesus observed the Sabbath because he was a Jew, obliged from birth to obey the Law of Moses. (Galatians 4:4) After Jesus died, this Law covenant—including the Sabbath—was taken away.—Colossians 2:13, 14.
Misconception: The apostle Paul observed the Sabbath as a Christian.
Fact: Paul entered synagogues on the Sabbath, but not to join the Jews in their observance. (Acts 13:14; 17:1-3; 18:4) Instead, following the custom of the time, he preached the good news in synagogues, as visiting speakers could be invited to address those gathered for worship. (Acts 13:15, 32) Paul preached “every day,” not just on the Sabbath.—Acts 17:17.
Misconception: The Christian Sabbath is on Sunday.
Fact: The Bible contains no command for Christians to devote Sunday, the first day of the week, to rest and worship. For early Christians, Sunday was a workday like any other. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: “It was not until the 4th cent[ury] that Sunday began to take on sabbath characteristics, when [the pagan Roman emperor] Constantine decreed that certain types of work should not be done on Sunday.” *
What, though, of passages that seem to indicate that Sunday was a special day? The Bible says that the apostle Paul shared a meal with fellow believers “on the first day of the week,” Sunday, but this was only logical, since Paul was leaving the next day. (Acts 20:7) Similarly, some congregations were told to set aside funds on “the first day of every week,” Sunday, for relief work, but this was just a practical suggestion for personal budgeting. The contributions were kept at home, not turned in at a place of meeting.—1 Corinthians 16:1, 2.
Misconception: It is wrong to set aside one day every week for rest and worship.
Fact: The Bible leaves such a decision to each Christian.—Romans 14:5.
^ par. 21 See also the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Volume 13, page 608.