Weekly and ceremonial Sabbaths
In some areas of Africa, weeks lasted four days; the ancient Greeks once had
a ten day week; the ancient Romans once used an 8 day week. Conservative Jewish
and Christians generally believe that the seven day week of the Hebrews was derived
from creation week where God is described as having rested on the seventh day
after six days of creation. Religious historians and religious liberals generally acknowledge that the Hebrews'
seven day week was derived from the nearby Pagan cultures -- mainly Babylon and
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 slavery in the Bible to be embarrassing.
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.
This raises the question of whether the holy day in Heaven is still
Saturday, or whether it was switched to Sunday in the
4th century CE.
- 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). However, only the Seventh Day Adventists and other
Sabbatarian denominations continue the practice today.
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
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
- 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
- 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
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.
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
The only similar animal sacrifices currently performed in significant numbers in North
America are by followers of Santeria and similar faiths. We have
heard rumors of the occasional orange or peach being sacrificed at some Wiccan and other Neopagan rituals. Rumors of rituals by Satanists at which infants and other humans are
sacrificed have been shown to be hoaxes or urban folk tales.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- The Bible Sabbath Association at: http://www.biblesabbath.org
- Extensive background material on the Saturday Sabbath is at the "Present
Truth" home page: http://www.present-truth.org
- Codex Justinianus, lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; translated into English by Philip Schaff in "History
of the Christian Church, Vol. III, P. 380, New York, NY, (1884)
- Quotations of the legitimacy of Saturday worship from many sources, including statements
by leaders of ten denominations, can be seen at: http://www.anet-dfw.com/
- The Seventh Day Baptists have an essay on the Sabbath at: http://www.seventhdaybaptist.org/
- SabbathTruth is a website devoted to a discussion of the Sabbath -- its
history, prophecy and purpose. See:
Copyright © 1997 to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUN-30
Author: B.A. Robinson