This essay discusses the weekly Sabbath and other religious ceremonies of the Jewish and early Christian believers. Also covered are the reasons why they were abandoned by the Christian church, and remain abandoned today within most denominations.
Religious ceremonies in ancient Israel:
The ancient Jewish people celebrated religious ceremonies at four separate times:
Daily sacrifices in the temple, as specified in Numbers 28:1-8
The "Weekly Sabbath was the one day of each week set aside for special religious services.
Ceremonial Sabbaths were each celebrated annually, in remembrance of important events in the history of the Jewish people
Special ceremonies were conducted at each new moon.
In modern times, Jews refer to the weekly Sabbath as the Shabbat; other holy days are called festivals, feasts, holy days or holidays.
The following quotes are from the American Standard Version (ASV) unless indicated:
Genesis 2:2-3: This passage describes how God rested on the seventh day, Saturday, after having spent the previous six days creating the world, its life forms and the rest of universe. He apparently did not rest because he was tired. As Isaiah 40:28 implies, God is regarded as all-powerful. He is recorded as blessing the day and making it holy. It was apparently created as a day of rest for all mankind, forever.
Exodus 16:23-30: God is recorded as telling Moses that the people are to rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath. He later criticized the people who went out to collect manna from the ground on Saturday.
Exodus 20:8-11: The Ten Commandments command everyone to preserve the seventh day, Saturday, as a day of rest:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: (in it) thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."
The "servants" which are referred to in so many English translations of the Bible are in fact male and slaves. Many Christians find the casual acceptance of human slaveryin the Bible to be embarrassing. Terms are often used to obscure the meaning. For example, in 2004-JUN, an episode of Focus on the Family's "Odyssey" program, slaves were translated as butlers and maids.
"Strangers" presumably means any non-Jewish person in your home. Note the lack of tolerance for the stranger's religion; even though they were not Jewish, they would be required to follow the Saturday Sabbath. For example, if a foreigner were caught collecting firewood on the Sabbath in order to keep his family from extreme discomfort due to cold weather, he would be tried and probably executed if found guilty.
Leviticus 23:3: God is said to have told Moses that the seventh day is a day of rest. "...it is a Sabbath to the Lord." (NIV)
Isaiah 58:13-14: Isaiah speaks for God:
"If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, (and) the holy of Jehovah honorable; and shalt honor it, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking (thine own) words: then shalt thou delight thyself in Jehovah; and I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it."
Isaiah 66:23: This verse states that the weekly Sabbath is to be observed in heaven.
Matthew 24:14-20: This passage, referred to as the "Olivet Prophecy", describes the second coming of Christ. Jesus recommends in Verse 20 that everyone pray: "...that your flight be not in the winter, neither on a sabbath" . Presumably, he believed that the sabbath would still be observed at time of the second coming.
Mark 2:23-28: Jesus and his disciples plucked ears of corn from the fields on the Sabbath day, and was severely criticized by the Pharisees. Jesus replied that when King David was hungry, he ate the shewbread in the temple. Jesus concludes by saying that the Sabbath was made for man; man was not made for the Sabbath. i.e. personal needs come first.
Mark 3:1-5: In this and many other Gospel passages, Jesus was severely criticized by the Pharisees because he collected food and healed people on the Sabbath. Jesus observed the Sabbath, but criticized the Pharisees' overly strict rules and regulations concerning the day of rest. He emphasized throughout his ministry a different purpose for the Sabbath: a day to be enjoyed by the believer, and a time when many normal activities -- particularly those which help others -- were quite permissible.
Luke 4:16: Jesus is describing as entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, and teaching there, as was his custom. Similar messages appear in Mark 1:21, Mark 6:2, Luke 4:31, Luke 6:6, Luke 13:10, and John 5:14.
Luke 23:56: The women followers of Jesus "rested according to the commandment" on the Sabbath following Jesus' death. In Mark 16:1, three of Jesus' female followers waited until the Sabbath was over at sundown on Saturday before bringing spices to anoint Jesus' body.
Acts 13:14: Paul and Barnabas observed the Sabbath in the synagogue in Antioch. See also Acts 16:13, Acts 17:2, Acts 18:4
Jews have carefully kept the Saturday Sabbath for many millennia. Since the ancient Israelites defined sundown as the end of a day, the Sabbath runs from local sundown on Friday night until sundown on Saturday.
With all of these references to the observance of the Saturday Sabbath found in the history of the Jewish people, the life of Christ, and the practices of disciples and other followers of Christ, one would naturally assume that Christian churches would have continued with the Jewish Sabbath. So tightly linked is Saturday to the Sabbath that in over 100 languages (one source says 160) the name for Saturday is some variation of the word "Sabbath." (English is one exception; Saturday is named after the Roman Pagan god Saturn).
In fact, the early Church switched to Sunday for reasons which will be explained below.
These were celebrated annually by the Jewish people, as described in Leviticus 23:5-32, and in Numbers 28:11-40.
In order to interpret Leviticus and Numbers, we have to differentiate between conservative and liberal Christian interpretations of the Bible:
Conservative theologians generally believe that God inspired all of the authors of the Bible and that the entire Bible is inerrant (without error). Unless otherwise indicated, it is generally to be interpreted literally, as the text is written. The book of Leviticus was written by Moses under inspired from God. The authorship is not open to question, since there are many verses in the Bible which plainly state that Moses is the author. Leviticus was written after the Israelite's exodus from Egypt, but before they entered Canaan. This would date the writing circa 1450 BCE.
Liberal theologians generally believe in the Documentary Hypothesis: that Leviticus was written by three authors or groups of authors: "J" (who used Jehovah as the name for God). "E" (who used Elohim); and "P" who wrote the "priestly" sections which deal with ritual, liturgy and the dates and genealogical passages. The 5 books were assembled circa 950 BCE by "J", 750 BCE for "E" and 539 BCE for the P source.
The Ceremonial Sabbaths are:
Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread: These were held on the 14th day and 15th day of the first month of the year. The Jewish people followed the Persian/Babylonian calendar and started each year with the Spring Equinox circa March 21. Conservative theologians generally believe that these observances were initiated by God as described in Leviticus 23:5-14. Most liberals believe that the Passover was an ancient pre-Israelite Pagan ritual practiced by wandering shepherds. The feast of unleavened bread was a traditional Canaan agricultural harvest adopted by the Israelites. It marked the start of the barley harvest; barley was the first crop to ripen. Because they occurred at about the same time each year, they became associated with each other. They also became associated with the Exodus from Egypt.
The Feast of Weeks: As described in Leviticus 23:15-22, this festival was held 50 days after previous feast. It was timed to occur at the time that the wheat crop ripened. This time of celebration became known as Pentecost, which is the Greek term for 50. Conservatives believe it to be a festival specified by God. Liberals generally believe it to be a harvest festival common to Pagan religions worldwide.
The New Year: Leviticus 23:23-25 fixes this Sabbath at the first day of the seventh month, in the fall. It was a day of rest, followed by the blowing of trumpets and public offerings of animal sacrifices. This festival was also called "Feast of Trumpets." The ancient Israelites adopted the calendar of the Babylonians following their exile in that country. Thus this festival which was originally intended to celebrate the new year was celebrated during the 7th month.
The Day of Atonement: Leviticus 23:26-32 locates this day on the 10th day of the seventh month. Its purpose was to purify the temple sanctuary. The people were instructed, on pain of death, to not work on that day and to rejoice that their sins had been forgiven. Verse 31 states that this is to be observe forever. Conservatives believe it to be a ritual day specified to Moses by God circa 1450 BCE. Many Liberals believe it to be a ritual probably created by the Hebrews after the period of Babylonian captivity.
The Feast of Booths: Leviticus 23:33-44 specifies that this feast be celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month. It was also called the "Feast of Ingathering," or the "Feast of Tabernacles," or "Feast of the Lord", or simply (because of its great importance) "The Feast".
In Leviticus 23:32, the Day of Atonement is defined as a sabbath. In Leviticus 23:24, the Feast of Trumpets is defined as a sabbath in the original Hebrew and in the King James Version; other translations obscure the meaning of the original text by calling it a "sacred assembly" or "memorial". In Leviticus 23:38, the text emphasizes that the ceremonial Sabbaths are in addition to the "sabbaths of Jehovah" or "Lord's Sabbaths" (the weekly Sabbaths).
Again, considering the repeated admonition in Leviticus 23 that these Sabbaths were to be observed forever, one would assume that the Christendom would still be celebrating them. However, for a number of reasons, these Sabbaths are only recognized today by a few Christian groups.
New Moon sacrifices:
Numbers 28:11-15 defines the special animal sacrifices to be made at the time of each new moon. Some translations refer to these sacrifices as a monthly burnt offering. Isaiah 66:24 records that the new moon observances will continue to be celebrated in heaven. These sacrifices, and those of the daily, weekly, and ceremonial Sabbaths were performed up until the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in 70 CE.
During the period 30 CE to 313 CE, Christians lived in a predominately Pagan world. There was a mosaic of Pagan religions in the Roman Empire:
The long established, official religion of the Roman Empire was Pagan. It involved worship of -- or at least nominal sacrifices to -- a pantheon of Roman deities, both Gods and Goddesses.
A strong competitor to Christianity in those days was a third religion: Mithraism. This faith involved the worship of a Persian God Mithra, and was popular among the Roman civil service and military.
There were many other smaller religions, including the Pagan religions of Greece and Egypt, and the mystery religions.
The Roman religion and Mithraism reserved Sunday as their day of religious observance. Many Christians were probably tempted to follow suit.
The Christians were also motivated to change the Sabbath day as a method of distancing themselves from the Jews. Two reasons were:
The Government intermittently persecuted the Jews at this time; it was safer for Christianity to be considered as a separate religion rather than as a sect of Judaism.
Relations between the Jews and Christians was hostile at this time. The early Christian church had suffered much persecution from the Jews.
In 321 CE, while a Pagan sun-worshiper, the Emperor Constantine declared that Sunday was to be a day of rest throughout the Roman Empire:
"On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for gain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost."
The Church Council of Laodicea circa 364 CE ordered that religious observances were to be conducted on Sunday, not Saturday. Sunday became the new Sabbath. They ruled: "Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday, but shall work on that day." There are many indicators in the historical record that some Christians ignored the Church's ruling. Sabbath observance was noted in Wales as late as 1115 CE. Francis Xavier was concerned about Sabbath worship in Goa, India in 1560 CE; he called for the Inquisition to set up an office there to stamp out what he called "Jewish wickedness". A Catholic Provincial Council suppressed the practice in Norway in 1435 CE.
Texts used to support a Sunday Sabbath
There are 8 references in the Christian Scriptures to the "first day of the week", as Sunday was referred to in those days.
Five of them refer to events during Resurrection Morning -- the day when the tomb where Jesus was laid was found to be empty. The other three are:
John 20:19 describes events on what we would call Sunday evening. The disciples were gathered together. Some have speculated that this might have been the first Sunday worship service. Others suggest that the text seems to imply that they were gathered together for their own protection, out of fear of attack by the Jews.
Acts 20:7: Paul is described as preaching on a Sunday evening. It was evening, because the passage refers to lamps being lit. Some Christians promote this text as demonstrating that Paul held a religious service on a Sunday. Others suggest that he gave the teaching on what he would call Sunday evening but we would call Saturday evening; the first day of the week started at sundown on Saturday in 1st century CE Palestine. If Paul considered Sunday to be the Sabbath then he would not have set out on foot to Assos on Sunday morning.
1 Corinthians 16:2: Paul instructs the Christians at Corinth that each of them is to lay aside some money every Sunday that would later be collected for the Christians at Jerusalem. Some interpreters believe that this might refer to a collection of money at a Sunday religious service. Others suggest that the text implies that the money was to be laid aside by each believer separately and privately, and to be saved up by each person independently.
Two texts have been cited as support for moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday:
Colossians 2:16-17: Paul writes: "...do no let anyone judge you...with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (NIV). Some people interpret the reference to "Sabbath" in this passage as authorizing Christians to celebrate (or not celebrate) the weekly Sabbath in any way that they wish. Others suggest that the "Sabbath" in this passage apparently refers to the Ceremonial Sabbaths, not the Weekly Sabbaths. The verse in Colossians duplicates the text of Ezekiel 45:17 which reads: "...at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths - at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel."
Romans 14:5: Paul writes: "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." Some people interpret this passage as allowing Christians to either recognize or ignore the Sabbath, - or perhaps to select any day as the Sabbath. But others suggest from a reading of the subsequent verses that Paul is discussing fasting here, not religious observance. They would suggest that verse 1 of this chapter indicates that the passage relates to " disputable" matters (such as when or if to fast); the day of the Sabbath was not a disputable matter; it was a commandment from God. The phrase "considering every day alike" might means that every day from Sunday to Friday were treated the same, as in the passage describing the collection of manna in Exodus 16:4
There appears to be no consensus on whether Jesus, his disciples, or apostles celebrated the Lord's Day on Sunday. There seems to be no internal evidence that would justify the Christian church changing the day from that commanded in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). However, in later centuries, moving from Saturday to Sunday certainly was beneficial if for no other reason than to improve the security of Christians by distancing Christianity from Judaism in the eyes of the government.
Has the Calendar been Changed?
The Jewish people have observed this date for many millennia without interruption. When the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1582 CE, ten days were deleted in order to bring the calendar in synchronism with the seasons. But the sequence of the days remained the same. Thus, 1582-OCT-4 (a Thursday) was followed by 1582-OCT-15 (a Friday), and the Sabbath of 1582-OCT-16 happened exactly 7 days after the previous Sabbath of OCT-9.
Most conservative theologians believe thatGod created the world in 6 days and rested on the seventh. But there is no evidence that Adam and Eve actually celebrated the Sabbath. The first instruction from God to the Jewish people to observe the Sabbath appears in Exodus 16:27, when the Jewish people were wandering in the desert after having escaped from Egyptian captivity. God provided manna as a food source every day, except for the seventh day. A double portion was supplied on the 6th day, Friday, so that the people would not have to work, collecting manna on the Sabbath. The second command from God is seen in Exodus 23:12. Both passages were written by Moses circa 1491 BCE. Presumably, the Sabbath has been observed without interruption ever since that date.
Liberal theologians generally believe that the creation stories in Genesis are fables, picked up from Pagan religious in the neighborhood of Palestine. The earth, its life forms and the rest of the universe evolved over a period of billions of years. The story of the creation of the Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3 was written by the "J" author(s) circa 950 BCE. Exodus 16:27 was probably written by the "P" authors circa 539 BCE . Exodus 23:12 was also written by "J" using a fragment of an ancient ritual code that perhaps dated from the 14th-13th century BCE. There is thus no reason to believe that there was a seventh day of creation or that there was any continuous celebration of the Sabbath until the 10th century BCE. It is probable that some Jewish official made an arbitrary selection of the day for the first Sabbath about 3 millennia ago. There is no record in the Bible showing who did this or when he did it. So, the present Jewish Sabbath observance can be traced back, through the discontinuity of 1582 CE into ancient times to an arbitrary choice of day by person or persons unknown.
Who are the Sabbath-keepers?
The main Sabbatarian faith groups (religious groups that currently worship on Saturday) are:
I would like to take this
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other words, everyone
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