What is a…

Hebrew and Greek

Hebrew noun: שַׁבָּת —transliteration: shabbath (meaning: rest from labor / sabbath). This word occurs 111 times in the Old Testament—in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, Chronicles 1 and 2, Nehemiah, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Hosea and Amos.

Hebrew noun: שַׁבָּתוֹן —transliteration: shabbathon (meaning: day of rest, sabbath observance, sabbatism). This word occurs 11 times in the Old Testament.

Hebrew noun: שַׁבְּתֹתַ֖י —transliteration: (meaning: my Sabbaths)—occurs 14 times

Greek variations of the word “sabbath” occur 68 times in the New Testament:


The Sabbath is first mentioned as having been instituted in Paradise on the last day of the Creation week, when man was in innocence (Genesis 2:2). “The sabbath was made for man,” as a day of rest and refreshment for the body and of blessing to the soul.

It is next referred to in connection with the gift of manna to the children of Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16:23); and afterwards, when the law was given from Sinai (20:11), the people were solemnly charged to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Thus it is spoken of as an institution already existing.

In the Mosaic law strict regulations were laid down regarding its observance (Exodus 35:2, 3; Leviticus 23:3; 26:34). These were peculiar to that dispensation.

In the subsequent history of the Jews frequent references are made to the sanctity of the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:2, 4, 6, 7; 58:13-14; Jeremiah 17:20-22; Neh. 13:19). In later times they perverted the Sabbath by their traditions. Our Lord rescued it from their perversions, and recalled to them its true nature and intent (Matthew 12:10-13; Mark 2:27; Luke 13:10-17).

The Sabbath, originally instituted for man at his creation, is of permanent and universal obligation. The physical necessities of man require a Sabbath of rest. He is so constituted that his bodily welfare needs at least one day in seven for rest from ordinary labor. Experience also proves that the moral and spiritual necessities of men also demand a Sabbath of rest.

“I am more and more sure by experience that the reason for the observance of the Sabbath lies deep in the everlasting necessities of human nature, and that as long as man is man the blessedness of keeping it, not as a day of rest only, but as a day of spiritual rest, will never be annulled. I certainly do feel by experience the eternal obligation, because of the eternal necessity, of the Sabbath. The soul withers without it. It thrives in proportion to its observance.

The Sabbath was made for man. God made it for men in a certain spiritual state because they needed it. The need, therefore, is deeply hidden in human nature. He who can dispense with it must be holy and spiritual indeed. And he who, still unholy and unspiritual, would yet dispense with it is a man that would fain be wiser than his Maker” (F. W. Robertson).


The ancient Babylonian calendar, as seen from recovered inscriptions on the bricks among the ruins of the royal palace, was based on the division of time into weeks of seven days. The Sabbath is in these inscriptions designated Sabattu, and defined as “a day of rest for the heart” and “a day of completion of labor.” This echoes the system begun by God at end of Creation, as recorded in Genesis.

Other 7-based periods of great importance in ancient Israel

In addition to the Hebrews’ weekly Sabbath (Leviticus 23:1-3; Exodus 19:3-30; 20:8-11; 31:12, etc.), they had special festivals related to the number 7…

  1. The 7th new moon, or the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 28:11-15; 29:1-6).

  2. The 7th year (the Sabbatical year) (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:2-7).

    “You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, 11 but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” —Exodus 23:10-11 NASB

  3. The year of jubilee (Leviticus 23-35; 25:8-16; 27:16-25).

The change of the day by most Christians

Originally at Creation, the seventh day of the week was set apart and consecrated as the Sabbath. The first day of the week is now observed as the Sabbath. Has God authorized this change? There is an obvious distinction between the Sabbath as an institution and the particular day set apart for its observance. The question, therefore, as to the change of the day in no way affects the perpetual obligation of the Sabbath as an institution. Change of the day or no change, the Sabbath remains as a sacred institution the same. It cannot be abrogated.

If any change of the day has been made, it must have been by Christ or by his authority. Christ has a right to make such a change (Mark 2:23-28). As Creator, Christ was the original Lord of the Sabbath (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:10). It was originally a memorial of Creation. A work vastly greater than that of Creation has now been accomplished by him, the work of redemption. We would naturally expect just such a change as would make the Sabbath a memorial of that greater work.

True, we can give no text authorizing the change in so many words. We have no express law declaring the change. But there are evidences of another kind. We know for a fact that the first day of the week has been observed from apostolic times, and the necessary conclusion is, that it was observed by the apostles and their immediate disciples. This, we may be sure, they never would have done without the permission or the authority of their Lord.

After his resurrection, which took place on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1), we never find Christ meeting with his disciples on the seventh day. But he specially honored the first day by manifesting himself to them on four separate occasions (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:34, 18-33; John 20:19-23). Again, on the next first day of the week, Jesus appeared to his disciples (John 20:26).

Some have calculated that Christ's ascension took place on the first day of the week. And there can be no doubt that the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost was on that day (Acts 2:1). Thus Christ appears as instituting a new day to be observed by his people as the Sabbath, a day to be henceforth known amongst them as the “Lord's day.” The observance of this “Lord's day” as the Sabbath was the general custom of the primitive churches, and must have had apostolic sanction (compare Acts 20:3-7; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2) and authority, and so the sanction and authority of Jesus Christ.

The words “at her sabbaths” (Lam. 1:7, King James Version) ought probably to be, as in the Revised King James Version, “at her desolations.”

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Sabbatical Years

Daniel was told [in Daniel 9:24-27] explicitly that Messiah would come 69 ‘sabbaths’ (that is, 69 sabbatical years—a total of 483 years) after the decree was given to rebuild Jerusalem, which at that time lay in ruins after Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had destroyed it.” —Henry Morris and Martin Clark, The Bible Has the Answer (Master Books, 1987)

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Article Version: December 30, 2017