Despite doctrinal differences on various other topics, most Christians agree that a day of rest is an integral part of the Christian life. But on which day are we to rest?
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2, 3). The very word “sabbath” means rest, and to rest implies that you have labored. It’s logical, then, for God to have designated the last day of the week a day of rest. “The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:10).
Language reflects the customs of the culture that speaks it. Nearly every culture, from Babylon through modern times, rested on the seventh day. As languages developed, the name for the seventh day of the week remained “rest day.” In the mid 19th century, Dr. William Meade Jones created this “Chart of the Week,” listing the name for the seventh day in 160 languages, including some of the most ancient (shown below). Babylonian, in use hundreds of years before Abraham or the giving of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, calls the seventh day of the week sa-ba-tu, meaning “rest day.”
Even today more than 100 languages worldwide, many of them unrelated to ancient Hebrew, use the word “Sabbath” for Saturday—and none of them designate any other day as a day of rest. Though the world’s language groups have evolved so as to be unintelligible from each other, the word for the seventh day of the week has remained fairly recognizable.
For the thousands of years since Judaism began, an entire nation of Jews has kept track of the weekly cycle and observed the seventh day Sabbath, sometimes even without a calendar. Nevertheless, many rationalize that it’s impossible to verify which day of the week is actually the biblical Sabbath because Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar. The Julian calendar, instituted by Julius Caesar around 46 B.C., calculated the length of the year as 365 ¼ days. In reality, the year is 11 minutes less than 365 ¼ days. So by the 1580s, the calendar and the solar cycle were ten days off. In 1582, Gregory changed the calendar so that Friday, October 5, became Friday, October 15, creating the Gregorian calendar we use today. But it did not confuse the days of the week; Friday still follows Thursday, Saturday still follows Friday, and so on and so forth.
Exodus 16 recounts a series of weekly Sabbath miracles over a period of forty years. God reiterated the Sabbath at Sinai (Exodus 20:8-11), and the Jews were still observing the seventh day when Jesus was born. Jesus kept the Sabbath (Luke 4:16; 23:54, 56; 24:1) until his death, which Luke indicates occurred on the day before the Sabbath: "Going to Pilate, [Joseph of Arimathea] asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin” (Luke 23:52-54). Luke goes on to describe the actions of the women who followed Jesus. “The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.
“Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb” (Luke 23:55, 56; 24:1). The women discovered that Jesus had risen on Sunday morning; Christians acknowledge this fact by celebrating Easter. The day on which the women rested between the preparation day (Friday) when Jesus died, and the first day of the week (Easter Sunday) when Jesus rose again, had to be Saturday. Scripture clearly portrays God designating the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, and throughout the centuries of history recounted in the Bible, His followers celebrated it as such. Unless it was changed, the seventh day is still the Sabbath. So why do so many people today honor Sunday, the first day of the week, instead of the seventh day? (Why do so many people worship on Sunday?)
Very few realize that the word "Sabbath" and the concept of resting from work on the seventh day of the week (Saturday) is common to most of the ancient and modern languages of the world. This is evidence totally independent of the Scriptures that confirms the biblical teaching that God's seventh-day Sabbath predates Judaism. The concept of a Saturday holy day of rest was understood, accepted, and practiced by virtually every culture from Babylon through modern times.
In the study of the many languages of mankind, you will find two important facts:
From these facts we may conclude that not only those people who called the last day of the week "Sabbath," but all other peoples and races, as far as they recognized any day of the week as "Sabbath," rested on the seventh day. In fact, it was recorded by the great historian Sozomen that in his time the whole known world, with the exception of Rome and Alexandria, observed the seventh day of the week.
"The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria" (Socrates, "Ecclesiastical History," Book 7, chap.19).
Another interesting fact is that the words in the original languages that are used to designate the seventh day of the week as the "Sabbath" have continued to be very similar while the other words have been so changed over time that they are unintelligible to people of other language groups. This is another proof that the Sabbath and the words used to designate the seventh day of the week as the "Sabbath day" originated at Creation in complete harmony with the biblical record found in Genesis 2:1–3.
- Emily Thomsen