The seventh day Sabbath of the fourth Commandment is the only part of the Ten Commandments that is held in contention by the majority of the Christian world.
Most believe that the Sabbath remains in principle, but the day has been changed from the seventh day to the first day, i.e. Sunday, calling it the Christian sabbath.
A minority of Christians observe the seventh day Sabbath, claiming that there is no Scriptural authority for Sunday sacredness.
This study concentrates on the seventh day Sabbath of the fourth Commandment. The claims that there is scriptural evidence in support of Sunday sacredness are examined in study: ‘First day (Sunday) in scripture’.
Note. In Scripture, there are two types of Sabbath: the weekly Sabbath of the Lord, and the annual (ceremonial) Sabbaths. This study focuses on the weekly Sabbath, and briefly addresses the annual Sabbaths.
2. The weekly seventh day Sabbath of the Lord
2.1 The fourth (Sabbath) commandment
Ex 20:8-10 Remember the sabbath [Strong’s H7676, the Sabbath] day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Repeated in Deuteronomy chapter 5:
De 5:12-15 Keep the sabbath [Strong’s H7676, the Sabbath] day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.
13 Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work:
14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.
15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
2.2 The Sabbath a memorial of God
In Ex 20:11 (above) we see that the Sabbath is a memorial of God as Creator.
In De 5:15 (above) we see that the Sabbath is a memorial of God as Deliverer.
Thus the seventh day Sabbath of the Lord reminds us of the One who both created us and delivers us from sin.
2.3 The seventh day Sabbath was instituted before sin
The seventh day sanctified before sin entered
Ge 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
God declared the seventh day to be His Sabbath
Exo 20:11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
This text confirms that the seventh day that God blessed and sanctified at the close of Creation week was named by Him as the Sabbath day - the Sabbath was thus instituted before sin entered.
This point is addressed further in section 5.
2.4 The Sabbath celebrated from ‘even unto even’
From Genesis chapter 1 we know that the Biblical day begins and ends at evening (sunset). The Bible divides the day into evening (the dark part) and morning (the light part). The midnight start to the new day is inherited from pagan Rome.
We see the Biblical day confirmed in the instruction on the observance of the annual ceremonial sabbaths (see study: ‘The seven feasts of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year’), which are presented in detail in Leviticus chapter 23, for example:
Le 23:32 It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.
There is no record in Scripture of a change to the even-to-even reckoning of the day.
2.5 The Lord’s day: Christ is Lord of the Sabbath
Mt 12:8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. (Also Mk 2:28 and Lk 6:5)
If Christ is Lord of the Sabbath, then the Lord’s day must be the Sabbath day. Clearly Christ was talking about the seventh day Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment (this was before the Cross).
Christ never changes
He 13:8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
Thus Christ is Lord of the seventh day Sabbath today.
2.6 The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath
Mk 2:27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
Thus, as the Sabbath is made especially for them, Man (Mankind) is obliged to keep the seventh day Sabbath of the Lord.
3. The necessity of keeping the seventh day Sabbath
All the scriptures quoted in this section are from the Old Testament. While there is no contention over the Sabbath in the Old Testament, a correct understanding will influence the appreciation of the Sabbath teaching in the New Testament.
3.1 Sabbath keeping blessed
Is 56:2 Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.
Is 58:13,14 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Note. The seventh day Sabbath of the Lord is sanctified, blessed, and commanded. Sunday (first day) sacredness, on the other hand, is never sanctified, never blessed, and never commanded.
3.2 The Sabbath a sign
A sign of God’s perpetual covenant
Ex 31:16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual [Strong’s H5769, ‘eon’: vanishing point, time out of mind] covenant.
The seventh day Sabbath is to continue such a vast distance into the future that the human mind cannot conceive.
The Sabbath is the sign of God’s everlasting saving Covenant (see study: 'The Covenant of Grace',4.2) - by Sabbath observance mankind acknowledges that God is Saviour.
A sign that God sanctifies
Eze 20:12 Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them.
Note, the plural (Sabbaths) refers to its weekly re-occurrence.
A sign that He is Lord
Eze 20:20 And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.
A sign for ever, that God is Creator
Ex 31:17 It [the Sabbath] is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
Keeping the seventh day Sabbath is a sign of allegiance to God. God has no other sign by which we may show Him allegiance. Yet many believe that the solemnity of the seventh day Sabbath has today been transferred to Sunday, which they call the ‘Christian’ sabbath.
However, there is not a single scripture in the New Testament that supports this contention. Similarly, there is not a single scripture in the Old Testament stating that the seventh day Sabbath was temporary.
4. The Sabbath was observed by Christians after the Cross
To support Sunday sacredness, it is argued by some that Sunday was observed by the Christian converts immediately after the cross. However, Scripture does not bear this out:
Ac 13:42,44 And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.
44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.
Act 14:1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.
Ac 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
In these texts we see that after the Cross both Jews and Gentiles worshipped on the seventh day Sabbath together, and many were converted to Christ. The Sabbath here must be the seventh day because it was kept by the Jews, who keep the seventh day Sabbath to this day.
There is no record in Scripture that the converts abandoned Sabbath for Sunday observance.
Confirmation in Galations
Additionally, Paul’s letter to the Galations confirms that there was no Sabbath/Sunday contention after the Cross. In Galations, Paul admonishes the Judaizing converts who persuaded the Galations to return to the old Jewish practices that ended at the Cross.
If the Jewish Christian converts had been observing Sunday, the Judaizers, (who were promoting the old system that required rigorous Sabbath observance) would certainly have demanded a return to the Sabbath - yet in Galations the Sabbath is never mentioned.
Thus all were observing the seventh day Sabbath.
5. The Sabbath was known before Sinai
Many hold that the weekly Sabbath was not known before the Law was given by God at Sinai. However, scripture teaches otherwise.
We have already seen in section 2.3 that the seventh day Sabbath was instituted even before sin entered the world. Nevertheless many maintain that the Sabbath was not known before Sinai - thus we must examine the question in detail.
5.1 Moses made the people rest (before Israel left Egypt)
Ex 5:5 And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest [Strong’s H7673, Shabath: repose] from their burdens.
Note. The present tense is used here. Thus it was something they were actually doing, and not something Moses wanted them to do after they had left Egypt (as some teach).
5.2 The incident of the manna, a month before even arriving at Sinai
Arriving at the wilderness
The incident of the manna occurs in Exodus chapter 16. It begins when Israel arrived at the wilderness on the fifteenth day of the second month after Israel left Egypt:
Ex 16:1 And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.
Arriving at Sinai
Israel arrived at Mount Sinai on the fifteenth day of the third month after they left Egypt:
Ex 19:1,2 In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai [i.e. the fifteenth day].
2 For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.
The process of receiving the commandments did not begin until the third day after arriving at Sinai (Ex 19:11).
The Sabbath had already been given at the time of the manna incident.
Ex 16:29 See, for that the LORD hath given [Strong’s H5414, give] you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days…
Note. The Hebrew verb ‘give’ (Strong’s H5414) is in the Perfect (qatal) form, which refers to something completed. Thus God had already given the Sabbath.
Also, Abraham kept God’s commandments, statutes and laws - long before Sinai:
Gen 26:5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
It is clear that the weekly Sabbath was known and observed a month before the Hebrews even arrived at Sinai.
If indeed the Sabbath was not known before Sinai (as many teach), how could God exhort His people to observe something that He had not yet given them?
6. Annual ceremonial sabbaths
The question of what was abolished at the Cross is a critical question.
Many believe that the Ten Commandments were nailed to the Cross, and therefore the seventh day Sabbath is no longer binding. Others again believe that the Ten Commandments are still binding, but the fourth (Sabbath) commandment is no longer to be understood literally - they replace it with Sunday (First-day) sacredness, not realizing that they are changing God's Law.
However, a study of the seven feasts of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year make it clear that there are annual (ceremonial) sabbaths that are entirely ‘beside’ the weekly Sabbaths of the Lord (Le 23:37,38) - see study: ‘The seven feasts of the Hebrew ecclesiastical year’,3.
Along with the earthly Sanctuary itself, these feasts were rendered unnecessary by the Cross, to which they pointed. Thus it was the annual sabbaths that were abolished at the Cross.
7. Sabbath and Sunday sacredness
We have seen that the seventh day Sabbath is sanctified, blessed and commanded. The First-day (Sunday), on the other hand, is never sanctified, never blessed, and never commanded.
There is therefore no justification in Scripture for Sunday sacredness, and thus the weekly Sabbath of the Lord, the Sabbath of the fourth Commandment, remains unchanged to this day.
The origin of Sunday sacredness is addressed in study: 'The Mark of the Beast and the Seal of God',4.
This study has shown that scripture is abundantly clear: God is jealous for His seventh day Sabbath - He has established it as a sign between Himself and His people that He is LORD.
Thus none dare knowingly make it of none effect nor alter it.
Indeed, if any break just one of the Ten Commandments they are guilty of breaking the whole Law (Ja 2:10). Any who tamper with God’s Law do so at their extreme peril.
The Sabbath contention will become more intense as we get closer to Christ’s second coming - its significance in that context is addressed in the study: ‘The Mark of the Beast and the Seal of God’.