Dictionary A
Sabbath in the New Testament

      The sabbath appears in the teachings of Jesus, in his conflicts with religious leaders, and in the later NT church.
      1. Gospels. Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry in Galilee, "went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day" (Luke 4:16). The phrase "as his custom was" indicates that Jesus continued to worship on the sabbath. He remained a faithful disciple of OT scripture following his established custom of attending the synagogue each sabbath (cf. Mark 1:21, 29; 3:1; Luke 4:44; 13:10; etc.).
      The four Gospels record among eight sabbath incidents six controversies in which Jesus "rejected the rabbinic sabbath halakhah" (Jeremias 1973: 201), i.e., two are recorded in the three synoptics (Matt 12:1-8 = Mark 2:23-28 = Luke 6:1-5; Matt 12:9-14 = Mark 3:1-6 = Luke 6:6-11), one is recorded in two synoptics (Mark 1:21-28 = Luke 4:31-37) and the remainder are found in Mark (1:29-31), Luke (13:10-17; 14:1-6) and John (5:1-18; 9:1-41) only. The authenticity of these pericopes seems well established (Rordorf 1968: 54-74; Lohse TDNT 7: 21-30; Goppelt 1981: 94). Only Jesus' inaugural sabbath sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) and the healing of Peter's mother-in-law on the sabbath (Mark 1:29-31) are outside of explicit controversy contexts. All except two (Luke 4:16-30; Mark 2:23-28) of the nine sabbath pericopes involve sabbath miracles.
      After Jesus had started to preach in the synagogue in Capernaum a man with an unclean spirit interrupted him. Jesus drove the unclean spirit out of this demon-possessed man (Mark 1:21-28 = Luke 4:31-37). Subsequently, Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law from a fever on the sabbath (Mark 1:29-31). Jesus continued to preach in the Galilean synagogues presumably on the sabbath and cast out demons (v 39).
      At times Jesus is interpreted to have abrogated or suspended the sabbath commandment on the basis of the controversies brought about by sabbath healings and other acts. Careful analysis of the respective passages does not seem to give credence to this interpretation. The action of plucking ears of grain on the sabbath by the disciples is particularly important in this matter. Jesus makes a foundational pronouncement at that time in a chiastically structured statement of antithetic parallelism: "The sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). The disciples' act of plucking grain infringed against the rabbinic halakhah of minute casuistry in which it was forbidden to reap, thresh, winnow, and grind on the sabbath (Sabb. 7.2). Here again rabbinic sabbath halakhah is rejected, as in other sabbath conflicts. Jesus reforms the sabbath and restores it to its rightful place as designed in creation, where the sabbath is made for all mankind and not specifically for Israel, as claimed by normative Judaism (cf. Jub. 2:19-20, see D.3). The subsequent logion, "The Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath" (Mark 2:28; Matt 12:8; Luke 6:5), indicates that man-made sabbath halakhah does not rule the sabbath, but that the Son of Man, not man, is Lord of the sabbath. It was God's will at creation that the sabbath have the purpose of serving mankind for rest and bring blessing. The Son of Man as Lord determines the true meaning of the sabbath. The sabbath activities of Jesus are neither hurtful provocations nor mere protests against rabbinic legal restrictions, but are part of Jesus' essential proclamation of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in which man is taught the original meaning of the sabbath as the recurring weekly proleptic "day of the Lord" in which God manifests his healing and saving rulership over man.
      The seven miraculous sabbath healings of Jesus indicate once again that Jesus restores the sabbath to be a benefit for humankind against any distortions of human religious and/or cultic traditions. The healing of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6 = Matt 12:9-14 = Luke 6:6-11) brought about another confrontation with Pharisees and scribes, because healing on the sabbath was only permitted in case of danger to life (m. Yoma 8.6) which obviously was not the case here (cf. Luke 14:1-6) or elsewhere in sabbath healings (John 5:1-18; 9:1-41). Jesus maintained here as always, against the rabbinic position, that "it is lawful to do good on the sabbath" (Matt 12:12).
      In his eschatological discourse (Matthew 24), Jesus urged his followers to pray that their flight "may not be in winter or on the sabbath" (Matt 24:20; Mark 13:18 omits "on the sabbath"). Jesus anticipated that his followers would continue to regard the sabbath as holy in the future. His request for them was that they be spared from having to flee on the sabbath, but he presupposes that they would flee if they had to. Lohse maintains, "Mt. 24:20 offers an example of the keeping of the Sabbath by Jewish Christians" (TDNT 7: 29). A society governed by many rabbinic sabbath laws would make it rather difficult for Christians to flee on the sabbath.
      In short, Jesus declared himself Lord of the sabbath. He consistently rejected man-made sabbath halakhah. He freed the sabbath from human restrictions and encumbrances and restored it by showing its universal import for all men so that every person can be the beneficiary of the divine intentions and true purposes of sabbath rest and joy. Carson has concluded, "There is no hint anywhere in the ministry of Jesus that the first day of the week is to take the character of the Sabbath and replace it" (1982: 85).
      2. Acts. Aside from two casual references to the sabbath (Acts 1: 12; 15:21), the sabbath is mentioned in connection with the establishment of' churches in Pisidian Antioch (13:13-52), Philippi (16:11-15), Thessalonica (17:1-9), and Corinth (18:1-4). The Western text includes Ephesus (18:19). Paul, as Jesus before him, went to the synagogue on sabbath "as his custom was" (Acts 17:2; cf. 24: 14; 28:17).

There is silence on the subject of sabbath abolition at the Jerusalem Conference (15:1-29). There is also no evidence for the abrogation of the sabbath after the Jerusalem Council in the apostolic age or by apostolic authority in the early church (Turner 1982: 135-37). Early Jewish and non-Jewish Christians continued to worship on the seventh day as far as the evidence in the book of Acts is concerned.


29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.


18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

Dictionary B

     NT 1. The Gospels. The Palestinian attitude to sabbath observance is in evidence in the Gospels. Christ's conflicts with the Jews, mentioned in all four Gospels, centre on the question of what was or was not permissible on the sabbath. In each case Jesus or his disciples are challenged over this. In all but one of these it is a question of healing on the sabbath day. The other occasion is when the disciples plucked the ears of corn as they passed through the field.
      Taking the six recorded confrontations with the Jews over the sabbath question, the replies of Jesus will offer some clues as to whether he was in fact abrogating a day of rest or merely challenging the restrictions which in their traditions the rabbis had imposed.
      (a) Mk. 2:23-26; Matt. 12:1-8; Lk. 6:1-5. These particular accounts relate the incident of the plucking of the ears of corn on the sabbath day. According to the
Pharisees, this was breaking the law. In Matt.'s account the reason given is that the disciples were hungry. This is not mentioned in Mark, though the answer seems to assume it. Jesus claims that, as in the case of David and his men (I Sam. 21:1-6; cf. 2 Sam. 8:17; Deut. 23:25), human need overrides the ritual law, in this case the sabbath law (cf. Exod. 23:12; Deut. 5:4). The law itself is not challenged, but Jesus claims an overriding factor.
      (b) Mk. 3:1-6; Matt. 12:9-14; Lk. 6:6-11. These passages describe the healing of the man with the withered hand. In this case, before healing him, Jesus asks the Jewish leaders whether it is lawful on the sabbath day, "to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" Again there is no challenge to the law itself; in fact the wording assumes its relevance. The right use of the law, the salvation, the making whole of man, is the great object behind that law and therefore the healing is justified.
      (c) Lk. 13:10-17 relates the story of a woman bowed down with infirmity. She came into the synagogue and Jesus restored her. This roused the anger of the ruler of the synagogue. Jesus' reply includes two points. What he had done was an act of mercy such as they themselves would have allowed to an animal. It was also the destruction of a work of Satan. There is no hint that the principle of a day of rest was being questioned, but merely the right use of the day.
      (d) Lk. 14:1-6. In this case Jesus again opens the discussion by asking the Pharisees whether it is right to heal on the sabbath day or not. To this they offered no reply. This is a particularly important incident, as the question was addressed to those who were expert in the law (nomikous). Jesus proceeded to heal the man and then explained that healing the sick is in fact just as much an act of mercy as the pulling out of an animal from a well. The fact that the experts could offer no reply suggests that they agreed that Jesus was not challenging the sabbath law.
      (e) Jn. 5:1-9, 16, 17; 7:22. Here the man who had been infirm for thirty-eight years was healed by Jesus on the sabbath day and told to take up his bed and walk, possibly a part of the complete healing. The Jews persecuted Jesus. He replied, "My Father is working up till now and I am working." In other words, he is continuing, in the healing, the work that the Father has all the while been doing. The Jews then plotted to kill him, because he was breaking the sabbath and making himself equal to God. Some commentators take this as being the view of the author that Jesus was in fact annulling the sabbath (E. Lohse, TDNT VII 27); but it seems best, after what has been said in the other controversies, to take it that it was the view of his accusers. This is confirmed by the words in Jn. 7:22, where Jesus explains that the law of circumcision overrides the law of the sabbath. Had he been annulling the sabbath law, he would hardly have argued in this way, and again the words "until now [heos arti]" suggest that, all the while that the sabbath command was in force, God was in fact working. In other words, the sabbath command does not mean doing nothing (argia), but the doing of the work of God. This was in fact what Christ had been doing in the healing of the infirm man.
      (f) Jn. 9. In the case of the man born blind, no words are spoken by Christ to defend his action, but in the answer to the disciples' question in v. 2, Christ claims the sabbath healing was "that the works of God might be made manifest."
      (g) In addition to these incidents there is the reference in Lk. 4:16 to Jesus' attendance at the synagogue "as was his custom."  The natural meaning of this expression is that Jesus followed the ordinary habits of Jewish worship on the sabbath day. This

certainly had been the pattern of his boyhood (Lk. 2:22, 41). It may be significant that, at his trial before the Sanhedrin (Matt. 26:57-68 par. Mk. 14:53-65; Lk. 22:54-71; Jn. 18:13-24), while the accusation of destroying the temple is included, there is no mention of an annulling of the sabbath law.
      (h) In Matt. 24:20, Christ's followers are told to pray that in the coming destruction of Jerusalem their flight should not occur in the winter or on the sabbath day. This need not imply that Christ foresaw his followers continuing to observe the sabbath, but merely that it would be impossible to get help or buy what was needed in the emergency on a sabbath day in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
      We may conclude then, that though Jesus broke through the rabbinic traditions about the sabbath, there was no annulling of the observance of the day.
      (i) Turning now to Mk. 2:27, there is a positive statement of Christ's about the sabbath. Here its institution is stated to have been made for man's good and it would seem that there is at least an indirect reference to the account in Gen. 2:1, 2 (J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology, I, 1971, 208). It would then imply that the ordinance was not merely for Israel, but had a pre-Israelite, worldwide, humanitarian, implication. This is followed by the claim, mentioned in the other two Gospels, that Jesus was "Lord of the sabbath." In other words, he has the authority to decide about its observance. Far from suggesting that, though a benefit to man, it was to be annulled, it would suggest that the manner of its observance was under the control of Christ Himself.
      2. The Acts of the Apostles. Turning to the Acts of the Apostles, we find that in the decrees of the Jerusalem Council in ch. 15 no mention is made of the sabbath. This would imply that it was not a point of disagreement between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Paul on his missionary journeys seized the opportunity to preach as occasion arose in the synagogues on the sabbath day and this was his custom (Acts 13:5, 14, 44; 14:1; 16:13; 17:2, 17; 18:4; 19:8).

Dictionary C

      In the NT. - A. Jesus in the Gospels. On the one hand, it appears that Jesus kept the sabbath faithfully by attending the synagogue and by teaching (Mk. 1:21; 6:2; Lk. 4:16, 31). On the other hand, Jesus was involved in sabbath conflicts with the Pharisees. Mark recounts two such incidents. In the first (Mk. 2:23-38) Jesus defends His disciples for plucking grain on the sabbath (cf. Mt. 12:1-8; Lk. 6:1-5). The Pharisees apparently interpreted this activity as reaping, which was one of the thirty-nine "main tasks" prohibited on the sabbath. In good pharisaic fashion, Jesus responds by citing Scripture. He recalls that David broke the law by eating the bread of the presence (1 Sam. 21:1-6), and He concludes that the "sabbath was made for man" (Mk. 2:27) and that the "Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath" (v. 28). The parallel in Matthew is an expanded version. Here Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the priests in the temple regularly work on the sabbath, and He tells them that "something greater than the temple is here" (Mt. 12:6). A further allusion to Hos. 6:6 suggests that mercy shown on the sabbath outweighs sacrifice (Mt. 12:7). In a second Markan episode Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the sabbath (Mk. 3:1-6; cf. Mt. 12:9-14; Lk. 6:6-11). The pharisaic tradition generally permitted healing on the sabbath only in cases where life was in danger. The question that Jesus posed to the Pharisees effectively broadened this principle by permitting the doing of any good act on the sabbath (Mk. 3:4). Again, the parallel in Matthew is expanded by a typical rabbinic argument "from lesser to greater;" if a sheep can be rescued from a pit on the sabbath (an act permitted by at least some witnesses to the pharisaic tradition), then it should be lawful to do good to human beings (Mt. 12:11f.).
      Luke includes two additional instances of Jesus healing on the sabbath (Lk. 13:10-17; 14:1-6). In both cases Jesus again argues "from lesser to greater?": if animals can be tended and rescued, then human beings can lawfully be healed (Lk. 13:5f.; 14:5). John also offers two additional sabbath healing episodes (Jn. 5:2-19; 9:1-41). The sabbath controversy is almost incidental in Jn. 9 (vv. 14, 16), but it is central in ch. 5. The attention of the Pharisees ("the Jews," vv. 10, 15, 18) is attracted by a man carrying a pallet, an act in violation of the prohibition of carrying objects. The healed man informs the Pharisees that Jesus had commanded him to carry his pallet and walk. This offended the Pharisees, as did the healing itself, since the man had been lame for thirty-eight years and no mortal danger was involved. Jesus' response touches upon an issue debated in the pharisaic tradition, the question of whether God observes the sabbath. Contrary to the book of Jubilees, Jesus affirms the pharisaic view and then goes beyond it by saying, "My Father is working still, and I am working" Jn. 5:17). In short, Jesus claims the prerogative of working on the sabbath by claiming identity with God. In a continuation of the healing episode in ch. 5, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that they permit circumcision on the sabbath and then argues that He should thus lawfully be permitted to heal the whole body (7:22f.).
      The sabbath conflicts are difficult to evaluate. Jesus observed the sabbath. He never broke any regulations found in the Torah. He used pharisaic methods of argument, and He agreed with the Pharisees on several points. Considering that the pharisaic tradition itself was diverse and was still developing in the early 1st cent A.D., it seems unlikely to some scholars that Jesus' view of the sabbath would have provoked from the Pharisees the vehement hostility described in the Gospels. Thus, some have suggested that the sabbath conflict accounts may reflect the growing rift between Church and synagogue that occurred after A.D. 70, during the time in which the Gospels were written. The final form of the conflict accounts thus presents Jesus as "Lord even of the sabbath" (Mk. 2:28). This view does not necessarily imply that the Church had stopped observing the seventh day by the end of the 1st cent. A.D., but it suggests that the Church had begun to view the sabbath christologically and to observe it in ways that departed from the practice of emerging Rabbinic Judaism.

Clergy opinions on the true sabbath.

   Why do most Christian churches in the world currently teach observance of Sunday as a day of rest and worship, while it is generally known and freely admitted that the Hebrew nation and the early Christians observed Saturday, the seventh day of the week?
   It was prophesied by the seer Daniel long ago that an attempted change in the laws and times of the Creator would be effected and by whom Daniel 7:25. History, both secular and ecclesiastical, bears out that it was a politico-religious system which decreed the observance of the first day of the week in place of the seventh, under the penalty of severe persecution for noncompliance.

The papacy freely acknowledges "changing the Sabbath."

   The Cathechismus Romanas was commanded by the Council of Trent and published by the Vatican Press, by order of Pope Pius V, in 1566. This catechism for priests says: "It pleased the church of God, that the religious celebration of the Sabbath day should be transferred to 'the Lord's day.' -Cathechism of the Council of Trent (Donovan's translation 1867), part 3, chap. 4, p. 345. The same, in slightly different wording, is in the McHugh and Callen translation (1937 ed.), p. 402.
   "Ques. - How prove you that the Church hath power to command feasts and holy days?
   "Ans. - By the very act of changing the Sabbath into Sunday, which Protestants allow of; and therefore they fondly contradict themselves, by keeping Sunday strictly, and breaking most other feasts commanded by the same Church." -Henry Tuberville, An Abridgement of the Christian Doctrine (1833 approbation), p. 58. (Same statement in Manual of Christian Doctrine. ed., by Daniel Ferris (1916 ed.] p. 67).
   "Ques. - Have you any other way of proving that the Church has power to institute festivals of precept?
   "Ans. - Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her; - she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday the seventh day, a change for which there is no Scriptural authority." -Stephen Keenan, A Doctrinal Catechism (3rd ed.), p. 174.

   "The Catholic Church, virtue of her divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday." -The Catholic Mirror, official organ of Cardinal Gibbons, Sept. 23, 1893.
   "1. Is Saturday the 7th day according to the Bible and the 10 Commandments?
   "I answer yes.
   "2. Is Sunday the first day of the week and did the Church change the 7th day - Saturday - for Sunday, the 1st day:
   "I answer yes.
   "3. Did Christ change the day?
   "I answer no! Faithfully yours, J. Card. Gibbons" -Gibbons' autograph letter.
   "Ques. - Which is the Sabbath day?
   "Ans. - Saturday is the Sabbath day.
   "Ques. - Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
   "Ans. - We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday." - Peter Geiermann, The Convert's Catechism of Catholic Doctrine (1946 ed.), p. 50. Geiermann received the apostolic blessing" of Pope Pius X in his labors. Jan. 25, 1910.

Catholic authorities acknowledge that there is no command in the Bible for the sanctification of Sunday.

   "You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify." -James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers (1917 ed.), pp. 72, 73.
   "Nowhere in the Bible is it stated that worship should be changed from Saturday to Sunday. The fact is that the Church was in existence for several centuries before the Bible was given to the world. The Church made the Bible, the Bible did not make the Church. [CCCInc. Note: this is arrogant garbage. GOD gave Moses the Bible's first five books 3500 years ago.]

   "Now the Church ... instituted, by God's authority, Sunday as the day of worship. This same Church, by the same divine authority, taught the doctrine of Purgatory long before the Bible was made. We have, therefore, the same authority for Purgatory as we have for Sunday." -Martin J. Scott, Things Catholics Are Asked About (1927 ed.), p. 136.

   "If we consulted the Bible only, we should still have to keep holy the Sabbath Day, that is, Saturday." -John Laux, A Course in Religion for Catholic High Schools and Academies, vol. 1 (1936 ed.), p. 51. Quoted by permission of Benziger Brothers, Inc., proprietors of the copyright.

from Kraemer...

   "Regarding the change from the observance of the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Sunday, I wish to draw your attention to the facts:
   "1) That Protestants, who accept the Bible as the only rule of faith and religion, should by all means go back to the observance of the Sabbath. The fact that they do not, but on the contrary observe the Sunday, stultifies them in the eyes of every thinking man.
   "2) We Catholics do not accept the Bible as the only rule of faith. Besides the Bible we have the living Church, the authority of the Church, as a rule to guide us. We say, this Church, instituted by Christ to teach and guide man through life has the right to change the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament and hence, we accept her change of the Sabbath to Sunday. We frankly say, yes, the Church made this change, made this law, as she made many other laws, for instance, the Friday abstinence, the unmarried priesthood, the laws concerning mixed marriages, the regulation of Catholic marriages and a thousand other laws.
   "3) We also say that of all Protestants, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination is the only major Protestant denomination that reasons correctly and is consistent with its teaching. It is always somewhat laughable, to see the Protestant churches, in pulpit and legislation, demand the observance of Sunday, of which there is nothing in their Bible. -Father Peter R. Kraemer    Catholic Church Extension Society Chicago, ILL.

from Enright...

   "My brethren, look about you upon the various wrangling sects and denominations. Show me one that claims or possesses the power to make laws binding on the conscience. There's but one on the face of the earth - the Catholic Church that has the power to make laws binding upon the conscience, binding before God, binding under pain of hell fire. Take, for instance, the day we celebrate - Sunday. What right have the Protestant churches to observe that day? None whatever. You say it is to obey the commandment, 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' But Sunday is not the Sabbath according to the Bible and the record of time.
   "Every one knows that Sunday is the first day of the week, while Saturday is the seventh day, and the Sabbath, the day consecrated as a day of rest. It is so recognized in all civilized nations. I have repeatedly offered $1,000 to any one who will furnish any proof from the Bible that Sunday is the day we are bound to keep, and no one has called for the money. If any person in this town will show any scripture for it, I will tomorrow evening publicly acknowledge it and thank him for it. It was the Holy Catholic Church that changed the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, the first day of the week. And it not only compelled all to keep Sunday, but at the Council of Laodicea, A.D. 364, anathematized those who kept the Sabbath and urged all persons to labor on the seventh day under penalty of anathema.
   "Which church does the whole civilized world obey? Protestants call us every horrible name they can think of -antichrist, the scarlet colored beast, Babylon, etc., and at the same time profess great reverence for the Bible, and yet by their solemn act of keeping Sunday, they acknowledge the power of the Catholic Church.
   "The Bible says: 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, ' But the Catholic Church says, 'No, keep the first day of the week,' and the whole world bows in obedience." -Father T. Enright Roman Catholic Priest Kansas City. Mo.

[All of the above quotations are from Catholic authors and/or published by Catholic publishing houses.]

GOD thru the Bible...

   The apostle Paul also warned concerning the apostasy that was to rise after his death Acts20:29,30 2Thess2:1-8 and indicated eternal damnation for those who follow the traditions and commandments of men 2Thess2:9-12. The Eternal's standard of righteousness is found in the Ten Commandments, the law by which all will be judged Rom1:18; 2:7-16 James 2:8-12.

   Will you follow the traditions of man or the Commandments of GOD?