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Most dictionaries provide both first-day and seventh-day definitions for "Sabbath" and "Sabbatarian", among other related uses.
As shabath (rest), Sabbath was first described in the Biblical account of the seventh day of Creation (Gen. 2:2-3). Observation and remembrance of Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments (the fourth in the Eastern Orthodox and most Protestant traditions, the third in Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions). Most people who observe first-day or seventh-day Sabbath regard it as having been instituted as a "perpetual covenant [for] the people of Israel" and proselytes (Ex. 31:13-17, Ex. 23:12, Deut. 5:13-14), a sign in respect for the day during which God rested after having completed Creation in six days (Gen. 2:2-3, Ex. 20:8-11).
In the New Testament, Jesus debates the Jews about the topic of Sabbath observance and declares that the Son of Man is Lord of Sabbath (e.g., Mk. 2:21-28). Early Jewish Christians such as Paul the Apostle visit the synagogue on Sabbath (Acts 13:13-14). The New Testament epistles contain Sabbath teachings interpreted variously by Christians as affirming seventh-day rest, first-day worship, and/or freedom from legalistic requirements to observe days.
The following textual evidence for first-day assembly is usually combined with the notion that the rest day should follow the assembly day to support first-day Sabbatarianism. On the first day of the week (usually considered the day of Firstfruits), after Jesus has been raised from the dead (Mk. 16:9), he appears to Mary Magdalene, Peter, Cleopas, and others. "On the evening of that first day of the week" (Roman time), or the evening beginning the second day (Hebrew time), the resurrected Jesus appears at a meeting of ten apostles and other disciples (Jn. 20:19). The same time of the week "a week later" (NIV) or, more literally, "after eight days again" inclusive (KJV), Jesus appears to the eleven apostles and others (Jn. 20:26). After Jesus ascends (Ac. 1:9), on the feast of Pentecost or Shavuot (the 50th day from Firstfruits and thus usually calculated as the first day of the week), the Spirit of God is given to the disciples, who baptize 3,000 people into the apostolic fellowship. Later, on one occasion in Troas, the early Christians meet on the first day (Hebrew) to break bread and to listen to Christian preaching (Ac. 20:7). Paul also states that the churches of Corinth and Galatia should set aside donations on the first day for collection (1 Cor. 16:2). Didache 14:1 (AD 70-120?) contains an ambiguous text, translated by Roberts as, "But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving"; the first clause in Greek, "κατά κυριακήν δέ κυρίου", literally means "On the Lord's of the Lord", and translators supply the elided noun (e.g., "day", "commandment" (from 13:7), or "doctrine"). Gleason Archer regards this as clearly referring to Sunday. Breaking bread may refer to Christian fellowship, agape feasts, or Eucharist (cf. Ac. 2:42, 20:7). Other interpreters believe these references do not support the concept of transfer of the seventh-day rest, and some add that they do not sufficiently prove that Sunday observance was an established practice in the primitive New Testament church.
Though the majority observance of Christian Sabbath is as Sunday rest, this development was gradual. Theologian Samuele Bacchiocchi documented in his book, From Sabbath to Sunday, that there was a transition from the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday in the early Christian church due to pagan and political factors, and also the decline of standards for the Sabbath day. In the 2nd century, the observance of a corporate day of worship on the first day (Sunday, or Saturday night) had become commonplace as attested in the patristic writings. For such worshipers the term "Lord's Day" came to mean the first day or Sunday. From the 4th century onwards, Sunday worship has also taken on the observance of Sunday rest in some Christian traditions, such as the Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries. Among these "first-day Sabbatarians", Sunday worship and/or rest eventually became synonymous with a first-day Christian Sabbath.
In the 1st centuries, the first day, being made a festival in honor of Christ's resurrection, received attention as a day of religious services and recreation, but seventh-day Sabbath rest was still observed by "almost all churches". According to classical sources, widespread seventh-day Sabbath rest by Gentile Christians was also the prevailing mode in the 3rd and 4th centuries.
Early Christian observance of both spiritual seventh-day Sabbath and Lord's Day assembly is evidenced in Ignatius's letter to the Magnesians c. 110. Ambiguity arises due to textual variants. The only extant Greek parent manuscript of the letter, the Codex Mediceus Laurentius, says, "Those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbath, but living according to the Lord's life ..." (kata kyriaken zoen zontes). The expanded Pseudo-Ignatian version of Magnesians, possibly from the middle of the 3rd century, rewrites this passage to make "Lord's" refer to the first day (the variant textual reading of kata kyriaken zontes, "living according to the Lord's", is supported by the medieval Latin manuscript Codex Caiensis 395, "secundum Dominicam viventes"). Pseudo-Ignatius amplified this point by combining weekly observance of spiritual seventh-day Sabbath with the Lord's assembly: "Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness .... But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's [Day, Dominicam] as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days." If Pseudo-Ignatius dates as early as 140, its admonition must be considered important evidence on 2nd-century Sabbath and Lord's Day observance.
The 1st- or 2nd-century Epistle of Barnabas or Pseudo-Barnabas on Is. 1:13 regards "Sabbaths of the present age" as unacceptable in favor of one spiritual seventh-day Sabbath that ushers in "the eighth day" and commencement of a new world. By the mid-2nd century, Justin Martyr, who attended worship on the first day, wrote about the cessation of Sabbath observance and stated that Sabbath was enjoined as a temporary sign to Israel because of Israel's sinfulness, no longer needed after Christ came without sin. Tertullian (early 3rd century) also said "to [us] Sabbaths are strange" and unobserved.
The origin of Sunday worship in the 1st or 2nd century remains a debated point. Often first-day worship (Sunday morning or Saturday night) was practiced alongside observance of seventh-day Sabbath rest and was a widespread Christian tradition by the 2nd century; over time, Sunday thus came to be known as Lord's Day and, later, a rest day.
All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon the venerable day of the sun. Country people, however, may freely attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other days are better adapted for planting the grain in the furrows or the vines in trenches. So that the advantage given by heavenly providence may not for the occasion of a short time perish.
Some church authorities opposed widespread seventh-day Sabbath observance as a Judaizing tendency. For example, the Council of Laodicea (canon 29) required Christians to separate from Jewish laws and traditions, stating that Christians must not Judaize by resting on Sabbath, but must work that day and then, if possible, rest on the Lord's Day, and that any found to be Judaizers were declared anathema from Christ. This was consistent with Constantine's personal position towards Jewry, which has been described by the primitive Christianity movement as being anti-Semitic, antinomian, and persecution of seventh-day observers. Simultaneously Rabbinical Judaism was distinguishing itself from primitive Christianity.
Augustine of Hippo followed the early patristic writers in spiritualizing the meaning of the Sabbath commandment, referring it to eschatological rest rather than observance of a literal day. However, the practice of Sunday rest increased in prominence throughout the early Middle Ages. Thomas Aquinas taught that the Decalogue is an expression of natural law which binds all men, and therefore the Sabbath commandment is a moral requirement along with the other nine. Thus Sunday rest and Sabbath became increasingly associated.
According to Bauckham, the reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin repudiated the idea that Christians are bound to obey the Mosaic law, including the fourth commandment of the Decalogue concerning Sabbath, although they followed Aquinas's concept of natural law. They viewed Sunday rest as a civic institution established by human authority, which provided an occasion for bodily rest and public worship. In his work against the Antinomians, Luther rejected the idea that he had taught the abolition of the Ten Commandments. Another Protestant Reformer, John Wesley, stated "This 'handwriting of ordinances' our Lord did blot out, take away, and nail to His cross. (Colossians 2:14.) But the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, He did not take away .... The moral law stands on an entirely different foundation from the ceremonial or ritual law .... Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind and in all ages."
Sunday Sabbatarianism became prevalent amongst both the continental and English Protestants over the following century. A new rigorism was brought into the observance of the Christian Lord's Day among the 17th-century Puritans of England and Scotland, in reaction to the laxity with which Sunday observance was customarily kept. Sabbath ordinances were appealed to, with the idea that only the word of God can bind men's consciences in whether or how they will take a break from work, or to impose an obligation to meet at a particular time. Their influential reasoning spread to other denominations also, and it is primarily through their influence that "Sabbath" has become the colloquial equivalent of "Lord's Day" or "Sunday". Sunday Sabbatarianism is enshrined in its most mature expression, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), in the Calvinist theological tradition. Chapter 21, Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day, sections 7-8 read:
7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.
8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe a holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
The confession holds that not only is work forbidden in Sunday, but also "works, words, and thoughts" about "worldly employments and recreations." Instead, the whole day should be taken up with "public and private exercises of [one's] worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy."
Strict Sunday Sabbatarianism is sometimes called "Puritan Sabbath", often contrasted with "Continental Sabbath". The latter follows the continental reformed confessions, such as the Heidelberg Catechism, which emphasize rest and worship on the Lord's Day, but do not forbid recreational activities.
Though first-day Sabbatarian practice declined in the 18th century, the evangelical awakening in the 19th century led to a greater concern for strict Sunday observance. The founding of the Lord's Day Observance Society in 1831 was influenced by the teaching of Daniel Wilson.
In 1998 Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter Dies Domini, "on keeping the Lord's day holy". He encourages Catholics to remember the importance of keeping Sunday holy, urging that it not lose its meaning by being blended with a frivolous "weekend" mentality.
In the Western Catholic Church, "Sabbath" is a synonym of "Lord's Day" (Sunday), which is kept in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, and celebrated with the Eucharist (Catholic Catechism 2177). It is also the day of rest. Lord's Day is considered both the first day and "the eighth day" of the seven-day week, symbolizing both first creation and new creation (2174). Roman Catholics view the first day as a day for assembly for worship (2178, Heb. 10:25), but consider a day of rigorous rest not obligatory on Christians (Rom. 14:5, Col. 2:16). Catholics count the prohibition of servile work as transferred from seventh-day Sabbath to Sunday (2175-6), but do not hinder participation in "ordinary and innocent occupations".
Cardinal Gibbons affirmed Sunday Sabbath as a sign of the Roman Catholic Church's sufficiency as guide:
Now the Scriptures alone do not contain all the truths which a Christian is bound to believe, nor do they explicitly enjoin all the duties which he is obliged to practice. Not to mention other examples, is not every Christian obliged to sanctify Sunday and to abstain on that day from unnecessary servile work? Is not the observance of this law among the most prominent of our sacred duties? But 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.—Faith of Our Fathers, Cardinal Gibbons, p. 72 
Lutheran founder Martin Luther stated "I wonder exceedingly how it came to be imputed to me that I should reject the law of Ten Commandments...Whosoever abrogates the law must of necessity abrogate sin also." The Lutheran Augsburg Confession, speaking of changes made by Roman Catholic pontiffs, states: "They refer to the Sabbath-day as having been changed into the Lord's Day, contrary to the Decalog, as it seems. Neither is there any example whereof they make more than concerning the changing of the Sabbath-day. Great, say they, is the power of the Church, since it has dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments!" Lutheran church historian Augustus Neander states "The festival of Sunday, like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance".
Lutheran writer Marva Dawn keeps a whole day as Sabbath, advocating for rest during any weekly complete 24-hour period and favoring rest from Saturday sunset to Sunday sunset, but regarding corporate worship as "an essential part of God's Sabbath reclamation."
The Baptist Church Manual states "We believe that the law of God is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government."
The founder of the Moody Bible Institute states, "Sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since. This fourth commandment begins with the word 'remember,' showing that the Sabbath already existed when God wrote the law on the tables of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?"
Organizations that promote Sunday Sabbatarianism include Day One Christian Ministries.
In 1831, Joseph Smith published a revelation commanding his related movement, the formative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to go to the house of prayer, offer up their sacraments, rest from their labors, and pay their devotions on the Lord's day (D&C 59:9–12). Latter-day Saints believe this means performing no labor that would keep them from giving their full attention to spiritual matters (Ex. 20:10). LDS prophets have described this as meaning they should not shop, hunt, fish, attend sports events, or participate in similar activities on that day. Elder Spencer W. Kimball taught that mere idle lounging on Sabbath does not keep the day holy, and that Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts (Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 96–97).
Latter-day Saints are encouraged to prepare only simple foods on Sabbath (D&C 59:13, Is. 58:13) and believe the day is only for righteous activities. In most areas of the world, Latter-day Saints worship on Sunday, but in parts of the world where traditional Sabbath is on another day, such as in Israel or in Saudi Arabia, Latter-day Saints observe local Sabbath.
The Bible records that the followers of Christ kept the seventh-day Sabbath that immediately followed the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 23:52-56).
For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebaïs, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings they partake of the mysteries.
Assemblies are not held in all churches on the same time or manner. 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. There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings, and, although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries.
Seventh-day Adventist writer Ellen G. White upholds a doctrine of continuity of seventh-day Sabbath-keeping:
In every age there were witnesses for God ... who hallowed the true Sabbath. How much the world owes to these men, posterity will never know. They were branded as heretics, their motives impugned, their characters maligned, their writings suppressed, misrepresented, or mutilated. Yet they stood firm, and from age to age maintained their faith in its purity, as a sacred heritage for the generations to come.—The Great Controversy, p. 61
Seventh-day Sabbath was observed at least sporadically by a minority of groups during the Middle Ages. An Eastern body of Christian Sabbath-keepers mentioned from the 8th century to the 12th is called Athenians ("touch-not") because they abstained from uncleanness and intoxicating drinks, called Athinginians in Neander: "This sect, which had its principal seat in the city of Armorion, in upper Phrygia, where many Jews resided, sprung out of a mixture of Judaism and Christianity. They united baptism with the observance of all the rites of Judaism, circumcision excepted. We may perhaps recognize a branch of the older Judaizing sects.
Cardinal Hergenrother says that they stood in intimate relation with Emperor Michael II (AD 821-829), and testifies that they observed Sabbath. As late as the 11th century Cardinal Humbert still referred to the Nazarenes as a Sabbath-keeping Christian body existing at that time. But in the 10th and 11th centuries, there was a great extension of sects from the East to the West. Neander states that the corruption of the clergy furnished a most important vantage-ground on which to attack the dominant church. The abstemious life of these Christians, the simplicity and earnestness of their preaching and teaching, had their effect. “Thus we find them emerging at once in the 11th century, in countries the most diverse, and the most remote from each other, in Italy, France, and even in the Harz districts in Germany.” Likewise, also, “traces of Sabbath-keepers are found in the times of Gregory I, Gregory VII, and in the 12th century in Lombardy.”
Seventh-day Sabbatarianism was advocated in England by John Traske (1586–1636) and Thomas Brabourne, whose ideas gave rise to the Seventh-day Baptists.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church arose in the mid-19th century in America, having inherited seventh-day Sabbatarianism from the Seventh-day Baptists.
Fundamental Belief # 20 of the Seventh-day Adventist Church states:
The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God's unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God's kingdom. The Sabbath is God's perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God's creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)—Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Beliefs
Seventh-day Protestants regard Sabbath as a day of rest for all mankind and not Israel alone, based on Jesus's statement, "the Sabbath was made for man" (i.e., purposed for humankind at the time of its creation, Mark 2:27, cf. Heb. 4), and on early-church Sabbath meetings. Seventh-day Sabbatarianism has also been criticized as an effort to combine Old Testament laws, practiced in Judaism, with Christianity, or to revive the Judaizers of the Epistles or the Ebionites.
Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches distinguish between the "Sabbath" (Saturday) and the "Lord's Day" (Sunday), and both continue to play a special role for the faithful. Many parishes and monasteries will serve the Divine Liturgy on both Saturday morning and Sunday morning. The church never allows strict fasting on any Saturday (except Holy Saturday) or Sunday, and the fasting rules on those Saturdays and Sundays which fall during one of the fasting seasons (such as Great Lent, Apostles' Fast, etc.) are always relaxed to some degree. During Great Lent, when the celebration of the Liturgy is forbidden on weekdays, there is always Liturgy on Saturday as well as Sunday. The church also has a special cycle of Bible readings (Epistle and Gospel) for Saturdays and Sundays which is different from the cycle of readings allotted to weekdays. However, the Lord's Day, being a celebration of the Resurrection, is clearly given more emphasis. For instance, in the Russian Orthodox Church Sunday is always observed with an All-Night Vigil on Saturday night, and in all of the Eastern Churches it is amplified with special hymns which are chanted only on Sunday. If a feast day falls on a Sunday it is always combined with the hymns for Sunday (unless it is a Great Feast of the Lord). Saturday is celebrated as a sort of leave-taking for the previous Sunday, on which several of the hymns from the previous Sunday are repeated.
In part, Eastern Christians continue to celebrate Saturday as Sabbath because of its role in the history of salvation: it was on a Saturday that Jesus "rested" in the tomb after his work on the cross. For this reason also, Saturday is a day for general commemoration of the departed, and special requiem hymns are often chanted on this day. Orthodox Christians make time to help the poor and needy as well on this day.
The Ethiopian Orthodox church (part of the Oriental Orthodox communion, having about 40 million members) observes both Saturday and Sunday as holy, but places extra emphasis on Sunday. The Ethiopian Catholic Church practices likewise.
Justin Martyr, writing in the 2nd century, rejected the need to keep literal seventh-day Sabbath, arguing instead that "the new law requires you to keep the sabbath constantly." Similarly, Irenaeus wrote that the Christian "will not be commanded to leave idle one day of rest, who is constantly keeping sabbath", and Tertullian argued "that we still more ought to observe a sabbath from all servile work always, and not only every seventh-day, but through all time". This early metaphorical interpretation of Sabbath applied it to the entire Christian life. Augustine, Luther and Calvin taught that the Sabbath commandment of the Decalogue is not binding on Christians as a legal requirement. Other historical non-Sabbatarians from more recent times include the Anglicans Peter Heylin, William Paley and John Milton; the nonconformist Philip Doddridge; the Quaker Robert Barclay; and Congregationalist James Baldwin Brown.
By synecdoche the term "Sabbath" in the New Testament may also mean simply a "se'nnight" or seven-day week, namely, the interval between two Sabbaths. Jesus's parable of the Pharisee and the Publican describes the Pharisee as fasting "twice a week" (Greek dis tou sabbatou, literally, "twice of the Sabbath").
Seven annual Biblical festivals, called by the name miqra ("called assembly") in Hebrew and "High Sabbath" in English, serve as supplemental testimonies to Sabbath. These are recorded in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy and do not necessarily occur on Sabbath. They are observed by Jews and a minority of Christians. Three of them occur in spring: the first and seventh days of Passover, and Pentecost. Four occur in fall, in the seventh month, and are also called Shabbaton: Trumpets; Atonement, "Sabbath of Sabbaths"; and the first and eighth days of Tabernacles.
The year of Shmita (Hebrew שמיטה, literally, "release"), also called Sabbatical Year, is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel. During Shmita, the land is to be left to lie fallow. A second aspect of Shmita concerns debts and loans: when the year ends, personal debts are considered nullified and forgiven.
Jewish Shabbat is a weekly day of rest cognate to Christian Sabbath, observed from sundown on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night; it is also observed by a minority of Christians. Customarily, Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles shortly before sunset, at halakhically calculated times that change from week to week and from place to place.
The new moon, occurring every 29 or 30 days, is an important separately sanctioned occasion in Judaism and some other faiths. It is not widely regarded as Sabbath, but some Messianic and Pentecostal churches, such as the native New Israelites of Peru and the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church, do keep the day of the new moon as Sabbath or rest day, from evening to evening. New-moon services can last all day.
In South Africa, Christian Boers have celebrated December 16, now called the Day of Reconciliation, as annual Sabbath (holy day of thanksgiving) since 1838, commemorating a famous Boer victory over the Zulu.
Many early Christian writers from the 2nd century, such as pseudo-Barnabas, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Hippolytus of Rome followed rabbinic Judaism (the Mishna) in interpreting Sabbath not as a literal day of rest, but as a thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ, which would follow six millennia of world history.
Secular use of "Sabbath" for "rest day", while it usually refers to Sunday, is often stated in North America to refer to different purposes for the rest day than those of Christendom. In McGowan v. Maryland (1961), the Supreme Court of the United States held that contemporary Maryland blue laws (typically, Sunday rest laws) were intended to promote the secular values of "health, safety, recreation, and general well-being" through a common day of rest, and that this day coinciding with majority Christian Sabbath neither reduces its effectiveness for secular purposes nor prevents adherents of other religions from observing their own holy days.