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The Sabbath (Hebrew "Shabbat") is a religious day of rest that comes once a week. The Hebrew word means "the [day] of rest." 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. See also: Shabbat. For other uses see Sabbath (disambiguation).

Table of contents
1 Earliest Christian observance
2 Sabbath in the New Testament
3 Protestant sabbatarianism
4 Other Sabbatarian disputes

Earliest Christian observance

The first Christians were Jews, and apparently continued to honor the Sabbath on Saturday, at least until the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70.

Sunday observance

The first 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 of Antioch (AD 107), Justin Martyr (AD 145), Bardaisan (AD 154), Irenaeus (AD 178), Tertullian (AD 180), Cyprian (AD 200), Victorinus (AD 280), and Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 324) [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.

Sunday vs Saturday

In AD 321, The Emperor Constantine established the first day as a "venerable day", distinct from the Jewish Sabbath (See Blue law). 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 Council of Laodicea (a local council in Asia, held in 364 AD, which rejected those who kept the Jewish Sabbath).

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. Protestantss 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"); a minority of Protestants keep Saturday, the seventh day, as the Lord's Day and the Christian 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.

Sabbath in the New Testament

There is no commandment to keep the Sabbath, in the New Testament. In fact, on the contrary, 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.

To be non-sabbatarian does not 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. However, in some rare cases a complete reproduction of Sabbath ordinances on a different day is attempted. And in other cases, Saturday is kept together with many of the ordinances of Shabbat.

Protestant sabbatarianism

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:

7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lordís day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe a holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

Seventh-day sabbatarianism

The Socinian churches of Eastern Europe and Holland more rigorously equated the Christian sabbath with the Jewish Shabbat. Sunday observance was abandoned in favor of a more literal and rigorous observance of the Sabbath, leading to a revival of seventh-day sabbatarianism. The influence of the Socinians was felt among the Anabaptists in Holland. A small number of them adopted Saturday as the day of worship. Already persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics, this small Seventh-day sect added even the Anabaptists to their list of enemies, and finally abandoned Christianity for orthodox Judaism. Seventh-day sabbatarianism did not become prevalent to any degree among Trinitarian 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. These leaders and churches were persecuted as heretics by the Trinitarian and Sunday-observing establishment, in England.

The Seventh Day Baptists arrived at the height of their direct influence on other sects, in the middle of the 19th century, in the United States, when their doctrines were instrumental in founding the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Seventh-day Church of God. Also, the direct influence of the Socinians continues to be felt, as will be found anywhere that Unitarianism and Saturday observance appear together in a non-Jewish sect.

[Note: there is technical distinction between the doctrine of Unitarians and Unitarianism. Unitarians typically deny the miraculous birth of Christ, but this is not true of all adherents to Unitarianism, and it was not true at all of the Socinians; confusing in this context, perhaps, but important.]

Other Sabbatarian disputes

Sabbatarianism is usually considered by Christians to be a hazardous doctrine, which provides easy access to bizarre legalistic imbalance, even though the intention of all sabbatarians is simply to worship God when and how He has commanded.

How much can be lifted, before lifting is work? How far is a day's journey, in the jet age? Is it a work of necessity to make public transportation available on the Sabbath? On and on, the questions go, to the exasperation even of sabbatarians themselves, because to get worked up over these details misses the point of the Sabbath, they say. This point is made in countless sabbatarian tracts and sermons, sometimes immediately preceding long lists of "do" and "don't". The formulaic response to extremes is the old one, "let no man judge you", and "let each be convinced in his own mind", and on the other hand, "whatever is not of faith, is sin." Regardless, the tension between ordinance and conscience is recognized as being inevitable, unless one believes that God has not commanded that He should be worshipped anytime or anywhere.