Sabbath Throughout History

Church in a field

Have you ever wondered why different churches worship on different days? Some churches worship on Sunday and others worship on Saturday. Which day is the true Sabbath?

Without understanding the historical context of the Sabbath, it can be really confusing to know which day is the right day to worship!

Who changed the day of worship? Is keeping the Sabbath still important today? And how do you keep the Sabbath holy anyway?

These are great questions!

Let’s look at the history of the Sabbath and learn how we can keep the Sabbath the way God intended from the very beginning.

Bronze statue of Roman emperor, Constantine

How the Sabbath Came About

4004 BC1: When the Sabbath was Established

If we really want to know what God says about a subject, the Bible is the best source for information! In fact, God never leaves us wondering. He tells us the truth in His Word!

If we go back to the very first week of creation, we find that on the seventh day, God rested from His work of creating.

It’s interesting because God didn’t really need to rest. And yet, He rested from His work as an example to all mankind.

Genesis 2:2,3 says, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

You see, God doesn’t grow weary the way we do. After a full week of working, our bodies are tired and ready for a break. Who doesn’t love the weekend!?

But God isn’t like us. He doesn’t grow weary. He doesn’t need sleep and rest like we do.

“The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary…” Isaiah 40:28

God knew in His infinite wisdom that we would need a day set apart. And that’s exactly what He gave us on the seventh day of creation.

The Sabbath was Set Apart as Holy

God spent six days creating our world and everything in it. He thought of every detail. He’s such a good Father!

Do you ever look around at the world and wonder at how miraculous even the smallest creature is? God thought of everything. In fact, as He created this world, you were on His mind. He chose you before the foundation of the world.

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Ephesians 1:4 NASB

The Sabbath was not created for God’s benefit. Remember, He doesn’t grow weary. God’s gift of the Sabbath was for all of mankind from the very beginning. He wanted us to have a special day to rest and spend time with Him.

Since the time of creation, the Sabbath has been a day for God’s people to rest and worship. The weekly cycle of working six days and resting on the seventh day was instituted by God.

What is the Weekly Cycle?

If you look at our calendar, you’ll note the weekly cycle is the only part of our calendar not dictated by astronomy.

  • The 24-hour day is based on the rotation of the earth on its axis.
  • The month is based on the lunar cycle or rotation of the moon around the earth.
  • The year is based upon the earth’s rotation around the sun.

The seven-day week is unique in that it has no basis other than the fact that God created the weekly cycle at the very beginning of time! There’s no mystery about where the Sabbath originated. We just need to look at Scripture.

The Sabbath day is the perfect time to find refreshment for our weary hearts and our weary minds. Our minds are made clearer and our faith made stronger when we dwell on the things of God.

Having one day set apart for holy use means we can leave behind the stress of this world and rest without guilt!

An old book on an old wooden background

The Sabbath in Bible Times

1950 > 1775 BC

Did people keep the Sabbath in early Biblical times? We don’t know how many people were keeping God’s laws before the exodus, but the Bible tells us that Abraham was faithful to keep God’s laws.

“…Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Genesis 26:5

Which laws did Abraham keep?  The Bible tells us God’s laws are eternal.

God’s laws are pure, eternal, just.” Psalm 19:9

God eternal laws are found in the Ten Commandments. The Fourth Commandment tells us:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

So, while we don’t know how many people were keeping the Sabbath, it’s apparent that some people, like Abraham, were faithfully keeping God’s moral laws.

The Bible tells us that God’s commandments are eternal. Unfortunately, people don’t always follow God’s Word or keep His commandments.

Sabbath Observance in Israel

1450 BC

When the Hebrew people fled from Egypt into the wilderness, God commanded them to keep the seventh day Sabbath. They were hungry and worried they would die in the wilderness.

God performed a miracle and gave them manna from heaven to eat. They were to gather just enough manna to eat each day. If they gathered more than they could eat in one day, it would rot. On the sixth day the people were to gather twice as much manna so they would have enough to eat on the seventh day as well.

In not gathering manna on the seventh day, they were able to rest from their labor, keeping the Sabbath day holy.

“On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 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 16:27-30 ESV

Keeping the Sabbath became a regular practice for the Jewish people. Later, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on top of Mount Sinai.

The Ten Commandments were so important God wrote them in stone with His own finger!

The 4th commandment says:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11

The Sabbath law begins with the word “remember.” God didn’t want us to forget to observe the Sabbath. To this day, the “Shabbath” or Sabbath is an important part of living a faithful life in Christ.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:9-11

Hands praying in a church service

Jesus’ Teachings about the Sabbath

27 AD

Jesus was raised in a Jewish household. He grew up attending Sabbath services in the synagogue. It was Jesus’ custom to keep the Sabbath day and He would often go into the synagogue to worship.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.” Luke 4:16

Jesus observed the Sabbath each week and never changed the day of worship to Sunday. In fact, the Lord’s day is the seventh day Sabbath – not Sunday.

“So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” Mark 2:28

Because Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, we can believe Him when He said:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:17

Sometimes people think the seventh day is the Jewish Sabbath. However, Jesus said the Sabbath was made for all mankind!

Jesus explained very clearly, He never came to destroy the law.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

Early Christians Kept the Sabbath

31 AD

After Jesus’s ascension into heaven, early Christians continued to observe the Sabbath. Their faith was on fire and the message of the gospel spread far and wide.

Paul exhorted faithful Christians to meet together to worship and encourage one another. Small house churches popped up everywhere and early Christians gathered as a regular practice.

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Hebrews 10:25

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” Acts 2:46

“As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath.” Acts 13:42

Paul knew God’s people needed to worship and pray together if they were going to stay faithful to the cause of Christ.

Asian man standing with arms raised outdoors. Concept about freedom, faith and celebration.

The Sabbath Challenged

321 AD

Have you ever wondered who changed the Sabbath to Sunday? It’s interesting to note the seventh day is still God’s holy Sabbath day. However, people began worshiping on Sunday a long time ago.

In 321 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine issued a decree declaring Sunday as the day of worship for Christians. The Edict of Constantine2 which stated the Christians were to rest on the “venerable day of the sun.”

Constantine called Sunday the “venerable day of the sun” because pagan people worshiped the sun. His acceptance of Christianity was nominal. He continued to worship the sun3 and wasn’t baptized until years later on his deathbed.

Hand with pen writing on calendar page closeup

The Council of Laodicea

343 >381 AD

As time went on, there were more challenges against the commandment of God. At the Council of Laodicea the Catholic church decreed:

Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday (Sabbath), but shall work on that Day: but the Lord’s Day, they shall especially honour; and as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.

Council of Laodicea4

Incredibly, the attempt to change the Sabbath was foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Daniel.

“He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law…” Daniel 7:25

Daniel told us there would be a kingdom that would try to change God’s law. How do we know which law Daniel was talking about?

Whenever we have a question like this, the safest approach is to look to the Bible for answers.

“God’s laws are pure, eternal, just.” Psalm 19:9-11

The Ten Commandments are God’s eternal law. There are many laws in the Old Testament but only the Ten Commandments are eternal. The Mosaic laws were ceremonial laws and “a shadow of things to come.”

But how do we know?

In the book of Exodus, we find two types of laws. The Moral Law and the Mosaic Law. These two types of laws were different from each other:

The Ten Commandments

  • God’s eternal law (Psalm 19:9)
  • Written by God’s own finger (Exodus 31:18)
  • Kept inside the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:16)
  • Commanded by God (2 Kings 21:8)

The Mosaic Law

  • A shadow of things to come (Hebrews 10)
  • Written down by Moses (Deuteronomy 31:9)
  • Kept outside the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 31:26)
  • Commanded by Moses (2 Kings 21:8)

Daniel prophesied there would be a kingdom who would rise up and think to change God’s law. If we look at the Ten Commandments today, which one of the ten is the only one that’s been changed?

The Sabbath Commandment!

You see, Jesus didn’t change the day of worship. You won’t find any verse in the Bible that suggests we should keep the first day of the week holy.

The day of worship was not changed by God. It was changed by man!

Faithful Sabbath Keepers in History

400s AD

Despite the attempt to change the day of worship to Sunday, there remained faithful people all through history who kept the true Sabbath. The early Celtic Church kept the Sabbath and St. Patrick of Ireland5 kept the seventh day Sabbath.

It seems to have been customary in the Celtic churches of early times, in Ireland as well as Scotland, to keep Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a day of rest from labor. They obeyed the fourth commandment literally upon the seventh day of the week.

James C. Moffatt, D.D. The Church in Scotland p.140

You may know of St. Patrick because of St. Patrick’s Day. But did you know he was a Sabbath keeper? He was a faithful servant of God!

St. Patrick was born around 387 AD and his real name was Maewyn Succat. He was captured from his home in Scotland at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. After escaping, he felt called to return to Ireland and preach the gospel.

Silhouette of man kneeling and praying at sunset

The Sabbath in the Dark Ages and Reformation

The Waldenses6 kept the Sabbath in France and Italy in the 12th century. And some Anabaptists7 kept the Sabbath in the 16th century.

Sabbath keepers were scattered all over Europe during the dark ages and into the reformation age. History shows us there have always been faithful people who have kept the seventh day Sabbath!

So why do most Christians worship and attend church on Sunday today?

The Change of the Sabbath Day

How did Sunday Become Known as the Day of Rest?
How did Sunday Become Known as the Day of Rest?

More and more church leaders rejected what they called the “Jewish Sabbath.” Despite the fact Jesus said the sabbath was made for “man” and not just for the “Jews,” more and more Christians wanted to separate themselves from the Jewish people.

Judaizing on the Sabbath was frowned upon. “Judaizing” means to follow Jewish customs or practices. Ignatius of Antioch was a bishop of Antioch and early Christian writer. He wrote:

Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness …. let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival.

Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians8

Unfortunately, the Christian practice of keeping Sabbath declined. Christians began to call Sunday the Lord’s Day and claimed that because Jesus was resurrected on Sunday they were to worship on that day.

But the Bible never tells us to worship on Sunday as a memorial of Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, the Bible tells us we are to be baptized in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ.

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4

The close up shot of the planner. Close up on Saturday

Who Officially Changed the Sabbath Day?

You’ll find lots of different opinions on why Christians attend church on Sunday. The fact remains, the Bible does not tell us to worship on the first day of the week.

However, the Roman Catholic Church claims to have changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday.

The Catholic Church for over one thousand years before the existence of a Protestant by virtue of her divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday.

The Catholic Mirror, September 23, 1894

“If Protestants would follow the Bible, they should worship God on the Sabbath Day. In keeping the Sunday they are following a law of the Catholic Church.” Albert Smith, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, replying for the Cardinal in a letter, February 10, 1920

As God’s people, do we want to follow God’s Word or the commandments of men? Jesus said:

“…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:9

Amazing foggy landscape in the morning sun.

The Sabbath Today

Sabbath keeping continued to decline around the world, but in the 1800s the Sabbath was once again discovered by a group of faithful believers.

During that time, there was a religious revival known as the Great Awakening. The movement was led by a group of Baptist and Methodist pastors and spread quickly through their congregations.

These faithful people expected Jesus to return on the Day of Atonement in 1844. In their study of the cleansing of the sanctuary they misunderstood the meaning of the prophecies. Thousands of people were disappointed when Jesus did not return.

Joseph Bates, a retired sea captain and follower of the Millerite movement, went back to study the Bible for himself and discovered the truth about the seventh day Sabbath. He wrote a Bible tract about the Sabbath in 1846.

Later that same year, Ellen and James White read the tract written by Bates. They were convinced about the seventh day Sabbath and began observing the Sabbath.

Ellen and James White led the Adventist movement. In 1863 the Seventh-day Adventist church was officially established and now has more than 21 million members today.

Every Saturday morning around the world you’ll find Adventists attending church, worshipping, and resting on God’s holy day.

Landscape of a field at sunset with a town in the background

How Is the Sabbath Regarded Today?

Today there is still much confusion among Christians about which day is the Sabbath. In fact, many Christians have never heard the history of the Sabbath. They have no idea the day of worship was changed by man and has no basis in the Bible.

Millions of Christians attend church on the seventh day Sabbath. But main-stream Christianity still worships on Sunday.

The question is, do you want to follow the Bible or man?

Learning Bible truths that are new can be exciting and scary all at the same time. What’s important is that we always strive to follow God’s Word.

Woman worshiping god, close up on hands

How Should We Keep the Sabbath Today?

Today, we can keep the Sabbath just like Jesus did during His earthly ministry. When you observe the seventh day Sabbath you are following in the footsteps of many faithful Christians throughout history. Isn’t that exciting?

Remember, God has chosen you.

He wants to have a relationship with you and the Sabbath provides the perfect opportunity for you to build your relationship with Him. 24 hours of time dedicated to rest and worship.

“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9 NKJV

If you’ve never kept the Sabbath before, you may be wondering where to start.

Just like with anything new, keeping the Sabbath gets easier with practice! So, let’s talk about a few ways you can start keeping the Sabbath today.

When does the Sabbath begin?

The Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday evening and ends at sundown on Saturday night. This is because during the first week of Creation, God said:

  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:5
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” Genesis 1:8
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” Genesis 1:13

See the pattern? The evening came before the morning. Simple!

How do you keep the Sabbath holy?

The Fourth Commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath holy. This means you can refrain from all work and secular activities like:

  • Take the day off from your place of employment.
  • Don’t use the day to do housework or yard work.
  • Prepare your food ahead of time.
  • Don’t buy and sell on Sabbath.
  • Fill your gas tank before sundown on Friday evening.
  • Refrain from secular entertainment.

The Sabbath isn’t simply a long list of “don’ts” or rules. There are a lot of wonderful activities you can participate in that help you keep the day holy.

  • Enjoy a special Sabbath meal on Friday evening.
  • Attend Sabbath School and Worship at your local Adventist Church.
  • Study the Bible.
  • Enjoy the day out in nature on a walk, hike, or even camping.
  • Invite friends over for worship on Friday or Saturday evening.
  • Rest from all your work and even take a nap!

Keeping the Sabbath today can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. The blessings of the Sabbath are too numerous to count! In fact, God tells us when we “call the Sabbath a delight” He will bless us! (Isaiah 58:13)

Are you ready to follow in the footsteps of faithful Christians throughout history? Decide today to keep the Sabbath holy.

  1. According to Ussher’s Chronology[]
  2. Constantine and the Sabbath Change by Professor Walter J. Veith, PhD[]
  3. Was the Emperor Constantine a True Christian or Was He a Secret Pagan? by Natalia Klimczak[]
  4. Rev. Charles Joseph Hefele, Henry N. Oxenham (trans.), A History of the Church Councils from 326 to 429 Volume 2 (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1896): 316.[]
  5. ST. PATRICK AND THE SABBATH by Curtis Rittenour[]
  6. The Great Controversy, Ellen White, Chapter 4[]
  8. Sabbath in Christianity[]