What is the True Sabbath Day?
NCW 5, July 1993
Q. Is it not true that the weekly cycle has remained the same since the time of Christ even though the calendar was revised by Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII? This being so, we know which day the true Saturday is. This means that what you wrote in NCCW 3:37 isn't correct -- we do know the true Sabbath day.
The weekly cycle has indeed remained the same since the days of Christ but this was not the point being made in "A Dictionary of Teachings of the New Covenant Restoration", which was that nobody knows when the first Saturday was.
The Hebrew year was at first reckoned to begin with the autumn, in the seventh month of Tishri (Ex.23:16; 24:22), which was also the time of the commencement of the Sabbatical year (Lev.25:8-10).
But when the Hebrews were in Egypt they abandoned their lunar calendar (assuming they had kept it faithfully since the day of Creation, which is doubtful) and conformed to the Egyptian solar year of 12 months, each of 30 days + 5 additional days, i.e. 365 days (Herodotus, ii.4).
Later, a change was made after the Exodus and the first month of the year was fixed in the spring (Ex.12:2; Deut.16:1,6). Thereafter the Hebrew year followed the West Semitic Calendar with a year of 12 lunar months (1 Ki.4:7; 1 Chr.27:1.15).
No-one is certain whether the commencement of the year in the spring (Nisan) was only for use in the temple, since there is evidence that the civil authorities (as distinct from the temple) reckoned from the autumn month of Tishri.
The Hebrew calendar year was composed of lunar months, which began when the thin crescent of the new moon was first visible at sunset. The day of the new moon was thus considered to be holy. The month (from the Hebrew yerah, meaning "moon") was reckoned to consist of 29/30 days and, since the lunar year was about 11 days less than the solar year, it was periodically necessary to intercalate a thirteenth month in order that new year's day should not fall before the spring of the year (March-April). No precise details are known of the method used by the Hebrews to accommodate the agricultural with the lunar calendar. They may have interposed a second Adar (sixth month) within the lunar cycle of 3, 5, 11, 14, 17, or 19 years.
We have no way of knowing when exactly the first "day", Saturday, or "sabbath" was. There have been periods -- such as the captivity in Egypt -- when the calendar was not kept by the Hebrews at all. Since the Egyptians did not keep a lunar calendar, the first day chosen to be the "Sabbath" would have been a guess.
You must also remember that the Sabbath Law was given to a particular nation -- Israel -- living in a particular geographical space. To be strictly following the Hebrew Sabbath laws, an Israelite began his Sabbath observance on Friday evening at sunset, something quite impossible to do in extreme northern and southern latitudes where the sun doesn't set at all for 6 months and then doesn't rise for another 6.
But even this isn't really the point. What is it, in fact, that the Lord is interested in? Is the Sabbath a fixed 24 hour period of time which comes once every seven days? Is it the time -- relative to the first day of creation -- that is important, or the cycle of one day in seven?
If it is the former, then everyone is breaking the Sabbath at some time. For that which is "holy time" in Brazil won't necessarily be "holy time" in India.
Rocket travel will soon be available to us. Even now we can cross the International Date Line (IDL) and alter "time" relatively speaking. By selectively crossing the IDL I can make the Sabbath shorter or longer. I can even cross the IDL and skip the Sabbath altogether. By leaping back and forth over an imaginary line at a certain time I can change the day from Friday to Saturday, or from Saturday to Sunday.
God has never said that there was a specific 24 hour period, which can be calculated back to the Day of Creation, that we should observe. What He has is:
Just because our society calls a particular day "Saturday" doesn't make it a Saturday or the Lord's Sabbath. The fact that someone in one part of the world may be working on a Friday at the same time as someone in another part of the world is observing a Sabbath rest proves that the Sabbath is merely one day in seven. If you were to take a Saturday and calculate back to the first day (which happens to be impossible) it is quite likely it could turn out to be any one of the other six days of the week.
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: but the SEVENTH (in this cycle) day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God" (Ex.20:8-10).
Nothing is perfect in this fallen world. We observe customs -- mutually agreed labels for various times and seasons -- in order to organize and function. Jesus himself observed the "custom" of going to the synagogue each Saturday, because that happened to be the time that was used by the Jews as the result of historical (mis?)calculations (Luke 4:16). Were Jesus here now, and if all Christians congregated on "Sunday" (as the vast majority do), He would undoubtedly follow a custom of preaching in the churches on a "Sunday". He would not "strain out a gnat but swallow a camel" (Matt.23:24) but accept that any people observing a one-in-seven day Sabbath were being obedient to the commandment. Doubtless He would preach in churches holding "Saturday" and "Friday" "sabbaths" also.
If He returned He would undoubtedly affix a particular day as the Sabbath Day -- it could be any of the seven days of the week. Moreover, He would affirm the words of Paul who said:
Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). He will not change the principle of "1-in-7" but He could change the day in the week if He wanted to and call it "Saturday" or the "Sabbath".
"...do not let anyone judge you...with regard to...a Sabbath Day. THESE ARE A SHADOW OF THE THINGS THAT WERE TO COME; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Col. 2:16-17, NIV).
If the Lord came and told us to observe the day which is called "Saturday" at this particular "time" (1993) then we would do so. In the meantime we consider the evidence that present "Saturdays" are true Saturdays to be totally unprovable with a 6 in 7 chance of being wrong. The name "Saturday", we would maintain, proves nothing, no more than someone calling themselves a "Christian" necessarily makes them a Christian in the Biblical sense. Thus we would not judge a Christian for holding the Sabbath on any of the 7 days of the week so long as they maintained the 1-in-7 cycle and stuck to that day.
New Covenant Christians do not observe the Sabbath in the legalistic sense in which it was observed in the Old Covenant, but in the freedom of the New Covenant. We do so not to fulfil a legal requirement but as an act of adoring love. We spend this day with God because we love Him and because we know that He loves us. Thus for true New Covenant Christians the Sabbath Day becomes the happiest day of the week, and we claim the promised Sabbath blessings:
ADDENDUM ON THE SABBATH
"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My Holy Day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's Holy Day honorable, and if you honour it by not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it" (Isa.58:13-14, NIV).
In 1999 the New Covenant Church of God received a revelation commanding observance of the Saturday Sabbath, thus resolving this issue once and for all. The changeover was smooth and the Church has reaped many blessings as a result.
For further reading, we recommend the following excellent books:
- “From Sabbath to Sunday: An Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity” by Samuele Bacchiocchi (The Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome, 1977; Distribution: 230 Lisa Lane, Berrien Springs, Michigan 49103, USA* see ** below).
- “The Sabbath Under Crossfire: A Biblical Analysis of Recent Sabbath/ Sunday Developments” by Samuele Bacchiocchi (1998, Biblical Perspectives, 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, Michigan 49103, USA**)
- “Too Long in the Sun” by Richard M. Rives (1998, Partakers Publications, P.O.Box 23031, Charlotte, NC 28227, USA)
- “Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest” (1996, United Church of God, P.O.Box 661780, Arcadia, CA 91066, USA)
- “Shabbat Shalom: A Guide for Christians to Understand the Sabbath” by Richard Booker (1998, ISBN 0-9615302-6-X, Sounds of the Trumpet, 8230 Birch Glenn Lane, Houston, Texas 77070, USA).
We recommend our readers to begin with “The Sabbath Under Crossfire” which excellently summarises the whole scriptural-historical controversy. You will never look at the “Sunday Sabbath” again having read these materials!
Also see our series of articles on The Sabbath.
This page was created on 18 April 1998
Last updated on 23 July 1999
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