History of the Sabbath

by Mark Swarbrick

When was the Sabbath Given?

Seventh Day Adventists, along with other non-Christian cults who believe in salvation by works, claim that the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) was instituted at creation and that Adam and Eve, and all righteous people after that, kept Saturday observance. However, no such case can be made from Holy Scripture. This teaching comes from the imagination of Ellen G. White (1827-1915), a woman who claimed she had received over 2,000 visions and dreams from God and who fancied herself a prophetess. Adventists consider her writings to be inspired by God.

While Genesis does teach that God created the earth in six days and rested on the 7th day after creation, there was no command given to Adam and Eve, or anyone else for that matter, to observe the day God rested on. The law of the Lord was not given until after the Jews left Egypt, so there was no written or spoken law to keep prior to that.

The first mention of a 7th day comes when God gave manna to the Israelites as they travelled in the wilderness. You can read about it in Exodus Chapter 16. On the first day that the manna appeared on the ground, Moses told the people to gather only enough for that day, and that each day they should do the same, but on the 6th day, they should gather enough for two days, for there would be none on the 7th day. And here we have the first appearance of the word Sabbath and commands regarding it:

“See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 16:29-30)

This is the very first mention of a Sabbath and this is when the Sabbath was given to the Jews. While the creation account in Genesis says that God hallowed the 7th day and rested on it, neither Israel, nor any other nation, was told anything about resting or doing any observance on that day. Those who postulate that He did so are conjuring that up out of thin air.

The first time the word Sabbath appears in the Bible is in Exodus Chapter 16, which was about 2,500 years after creation. The mention of a 6th and 7th day in chapter 16 is referring to when the manna was first given. The first day manna was found was referred to as the first day. The text does not say that the day correlates to the first day of creation. It may have been the same day, but there is no reason to think so. There is nothing in Scripture which say that is so. The context of the numbered days in chapter 16 is clearly in reference to the day when the manna was given by God. Nothing is said about it correlating in any way with creation week.

Sabbatarianism Not Commanded for Gentiles

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that anyone but the Jews were commanded to observe the same Saturday sabbath as the Jews. Even the Jews didn’t keep the Sabbath until 2,500 years after creation. The New Testament makes it clear that Gentile believers were not required to keep the Jewish Sabbath. In Acts Chapter 16 we read of the first Jerusalem council, which was convened to deal with the question of Jewish laws for Gentile believers. The council gave this directive:

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (Acts 15:28-29)

That would have been a perfect place to say “If Gentiles want to be saved, they need to observe the Jewish Sabbath.” We see no such instruction, not there, not anywhere.

The Early Church Kept Sunday

We do find evidence in the Scripture that the early church during the time of the apostles kept Sunday, the first day of the week, as a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ on that day. This was done, not by law or compulsion but out of love for Christ.  There is ample testimony in Scripture (1 Corinthians 16:2, Acts 20:7, John 20:19) and that Sunday was called the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10) because our Lord rose on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1).

Early church writings also testify that Saturday observance was not practiced by the gentile church, that they instead observed Sunday, not as in keeping the letter of the law to be saved, as the SDA does, but to keep the principle of the Sabbath, which is that the principle of resting one day in seven was implemented for man’s benefit, as Jesus said:

The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

And that now we are under…

“A new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)

Adventists make much of the idea that the Roman Catholic Church changed the Sabbath. It is all hogwash made up out of whole cloth. Here is what history tells us really happened, and it took place before the Catholic Church ever existed:

“If then, those who walk in the ancient practices attain to newness of hope, no longer observing the sabbath, but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s Day on which our life also arose through him, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our ·only teacher.”—Ignatius 30 AD – 107 AD.

“From the beginning Christians assembled on the first day of the week, called by them the Lord’s Day, for the purpose of religious worship, to read the scriptures, to preach and to celebrate the lord’s supper the first day of the week on which the Savior obtained the victory over death…therefore, it has the pre-eminence, first in rank, and is more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath .” – EUSEBIUS, Church Historian 265 AD – 340

The Encyclopedia Britannica under “Sabbath” and “Sunday” says this:

“In the early Christian church Jewish Christians continued to keep the sabbath, like other points of the law…on the other hand, Paul from the first days of gentile Christianity, laid it down definitely that the Jewish sabbath was not binding on Christians, controversy with Judaizes led in process of time to direct condemnation of those who still kept the Jewish day…in 321 AD, Constantine made the Christian sabbath, Sunday, the rest day for the Roman Empire, but it was observed by Christians for nearly 300 years before it became a law by Constantine .”

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