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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature

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The original word signifies simply rest, cessation from labor or employment.

The term, however, became appropriated in a specific religious sense, to signify the dedication of a precise portion of time to cessation from worldly labor, and a peculiar consecration by virtue of which a sanctity was ascribed to the portion of time so set apart.

Was there any Sabbath before the Law? This is a question of great importance; for Paley distinctly admits that, 'if the divine command was actually delivered at the creation, it was addressed, no doubt, to the whole human species alike, and continues, unless repealed by some subsequent revelation, binding upon all who come to the knowledge of it.' The mention made of the Sabbath in , would seem to decide this question in the affirmative. The meaning of the passage admits of no dispute. To sanctify the seventh day clearly means, to set it apart for a sacred use. An attempt has been made to evade the force of this passage by assuming it to be an anticipation of an event which took place upwards of 2000 years afterwards. That God did not then bless and sanctify the Sabbath, but that when He did so, it was for the reason mentioned in the text. But this argument proceeds on the assumption that the book of Genesis was not written till after the giving of the law from Sinai. Of this there is not the slightest evidence, and it is in itself exceedingly improbable; besides this interpretation does evident violence to the context.

The division of time into periods of seven days of which mention is made in the account of the deluge, and which is found among all ancient nations, Egyptians, Arabians, Greeks, Romans, and even among the American Indians, furnishes a strong confirmation of the opinion that the Sabbath is coeval with the creation. Besides, there is evidence that the Sabbath was known and observed by the Israelites before the law was delivered on Mount Sinai. This did not occur until the third month after the departure out of Egypt, whereas we are informed that in the second month the people of their own accord gathered a double portion of manna on the sixth day, because the seventh day was the Sabbath (). This is corroborated by the language of the fourth commandment, 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy'—a mode of expression which is not used in reference to the Passover or any other festival which Moses had instituted. It is unnecessary to dwell on the fact that its position in the midst of the moral law distinctly points to its perpetual and universal obligation, while the circumstance that it had a peculiar relation to the Israelites did not alter its relation to other nations, or take it out of the class of laws to which it originally belonged.

That the Sabbath was binding under the Mosaic law, all are agreed, but some affirm that it is conclusively proved by that the obligation ceased when the Jewish economy was abolished. 'The truth, however,' saith Bishop Horsley, 'is, that in the apostolical age, the first day of the week, though it was observed with great reverence, was not called the Sabbath-day, but the Lord's day; that the separation of the Christian church from the Jewish communion might be marked by the name as well as by the day of their weekly festival; and the name of the sabbath-days was appropriated to the Saturdays and certain days in the Jewish church which were likewise called Sabbaths in the law, because they were observed with no less sanctity. The sabbath days, therefore, of which St. Paul in this passage speaks, were not the Sundays of the Christians, but the Saturday and other sabbaths of the Jewish calendar. The Judaizing heretics, with whom St. Paul was all his life engaged, were strenuous advocates for the observance of these Jewish festivals in the Christian church; and his (St. Paul's) admonition to the Colossians is, that they should not be disturbed by the censures of those who reproached them for neglecting to observe these sabbaths with Jewish ceremonies.'

The transfer of the day on which the Sabbath is observed from the seventh to the first day of the week, is justified on the ground that the change was made under the authority of the Apostles. Some divines of great authority are of opinion that the day itself was not an essential part of the original enactment, which ordains not necessarily every seventh day, but one day in seven, as holy time. In the primitive ages of man, the creation of the world was the benefaction by which God was principally known, and for which he was chiefly to be worshipped. The Jews, in their religious assemblies, had to commemorate other blessings—the political creation of their nation out of Abraham's family, and their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Christians have to commemorate, besides the common benefit of the creation, the transcendent blessing of our redemption—our new creation to the hope of everlasting life, of which our Lord's resurrection on the first day of the week was a sure pledge and evidence. Thus in the progress of ages, the Sabbath acquired new ends, by new manifestations of the divine mercy; and these new ends justify corresponding alterations of the original institution. Horsley, and those who agree with him, allege that upon our Lord's resurrection, the Sabbath was transferred in memory of that event, the great foundation of the Christian's hope, from the last to the first, day of the week. 'The alteration seems to have been made by the authority of the Apostles, and to have taken place the very day in which our Lord arose; for on that day the Apostles were assembled; and on that day sevennight they were assembled again. The celebration of these two first Sundays was honored by our Lord's presence. It was, perhaps, to set a mark of distinction upon this day in particular, that the intervening week passed off as it would seem, without any repetition of his first visit to the eleven Apostles. From that time, the Sunday was the constant Sabbath of the primitive church. The Christian, therefore, who devoutly sanctifies one day in seven, although it be on the first day of the week, not the last, as was originally ordained, may rest assured, that he fully satisfies the spirit of the ordinance' (Horsley, i. 334, 335; compare Holden's Christian Sabbath, pp. 286, 287).

In justification of the change, it has also been well remarked, that the same portion of time which constituted the seventh day from the creation could not be simultaneously observed in all parts of the earth, and that it is not therefore probable that the original institution expressed more than one day in seven—a seventh day of rest after six days of toil, from whatever point the enumeration might set out or the weekly cycle begin. If more had been intended, it would have been necessary to establish a rule for the reckoning of days themselves, which has been different in different nations; some reckoning from evening to evening, as the Jews do now; others from midnight to midnight, etc. Even if this point were determined, the difference of time produced by difference of latitude and longitude would again throw the whole into disorder; and it is not probable that a law intended to be universal would be fettered with that circumstantial exactness which would render difficult and sometimes doubtful astronomical calculations necessary in order to its being obeyed according to the intentions of the lawgiver.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Sabbath'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​s/sabbath.html.
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