The Sabbath in the Bible
Author: Kim Mung
Co-author: Hakeem Brown
Christian readers often get confused about the use of the term “Sabbath” in the New and Old Testaments. In Leviticus 23:32, God speaks to Moses about the Day of Atonement saying, “It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” This is evidence that there were holidays throughout the year that the Jews referred to as sabbaths because they were days of rest in their culture. Below are seven of these holidays as referenced by the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists:
15th day, 1st month—1st day of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:6-7);
21st day, 1st month—7th day of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:8);
50th day after “the Sabbath” (of Unleavened Bread)—Pentecost (Lev 23:16-21);
1st day, 7th month—Day of Trumpets (Lev 23:24-25);
10th day, 7th month—Day of Atonement (Lev 23:28-32);
15th day, 7th month—1st day of Tabernacles (Lev 23:34-35);
22nd day, 7th month—8th day, right after Tabernacles (Lev 23:36).
However, are these sabbaths the same as the Sabbath spoken about in Genesis and Exodus when God said, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8)? No.
There are certain distinctions that are important to note when comparing the Sabbath. First, notice the language used to describe the seventh-day Sabbath in comparison to the ceremonial sabbaths. Speaking of the one hallowed Sabbath day, the Bible says, “…God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:3). The seventh day is the same day referred to as “the Sabbath” in the ten commandments. Notice the use of the word “the” stressing that it is a particular day. The same language is used in the following verses:
“Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none” (Exodus 16:26)
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words…” (Isaiah 58:13)
This language is much different from the sabbaths mentioned in Leviticus or in the New Testament when Paul says, “let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16). These sabbaths are always referred to plurally, meaning they happened different times throughout the year. They did not even have to fall on Saturday. As was stated earlier, the Day of Atonement was a holiday considered as a Sabbath, and that date will not always fall on the same day In contrast, THE Sabbath is not a date, but a special time set aside for God and it will always fall from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
The other big difference between the seventh-day Sabbath and the ceremonial sabbaths is that God’s holy Sabbath was created in the beginning before sin, while the ceremonial sabbaths were created afterwards as reminders of God. While ceremonial sabbaths such as the Day of Atonement can be changed or discarded as the holidays of man, no one can take away God’s seventh-day Sabbath because it was instituted before sin just like marriage.
Anyone who would want to do away with the seventh-day Sabbath would also have to be okay doing away with marriage between a man and a woman. While this is fine for Atheists, most Christians fight very strongly for the Bible defense of same-sex marriage. Therefore, they should fight just as strongly for the seventh-day Sabbath as a perfect institution in Eden for humanity.
We are not making this argument to say that Seventh-day Adventists are the most holy people and that they keep the Sabbath better than everyone else. We are simply saying that this is the day that the Bible prescribed. It is the same way that Adventists support marriage, and yet their marriages are not always perfect (many even get divorced). The point is that God prescribed marriage and so Christians support it. It is the same with the Sabbath.