Sabbath Trouble — When is Sabbath?

“When is Sabbath?” We hear this question every now and then. So is it Sunday or Saturday? Does it start on sunset or 12am?

I don’t mind what the answer is — that’s because the whole concept of Sunday or Saturday (or any other day of the week) is a local notion; it cannot be defined globally. See the man at the North Pole in Figure 1; what day is it for him? Should he consult the local time of Jerusalem to determine whether it is morning or evening? Who set the International Date Line and said the date will change as one crosses that line?

Why Sabbath Day is ill-defined.
Figure 1. Sunday (or any other day of the week) is not well-defined. It can be defined at most locally, not globally. Can you tell the man on the North Pole what day it is for him?

Moreover, the concept of “evening” and “morning” are also local notions. Thanks to Einstein, we also know that the concept of time is a local one. Thus, technically speaking, we don’t even know what “literal 24 hours” mean since that depends on the observer.

I think that Genesis is not a myth; but the proponents of ‘6 literal 24 hours creation’ are very likely to be under the classical notion of space and time which is a myth. Therefore, discussions on “When is the Sabbath Day?” will only “breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Then do I believe the 4th Commandment is still relevant to us? Of course! Sabbath commandment is a creation ordinance. However, notice the following:

  1. Consider the following description of the first day in Genesis 1:2–5; “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” This is even before the Earth was formed, before the Sun and the Moon was created. (That happened on the 3rd and the 4th day.) So there is no reason to believe that the evening and morning mentioned here is the the evening and morning we see today, and there is no ground to believe that the “day” (the Hebrew word “yom”) written here indicates 24 hours.
  2. As Jesus told us1, God didn’t stop working after the creation. So by “resting” on the 7th day (Genesis 2:1) means that He rested “from creation”.
  3. Sabbath is “to the Lord” (Exodus 20:10). That doesn’t mean God rests on that day, because Jesus said “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Thus, as we already got some hint from the meaning of “resting” in Genesis 2:1 above, we can see that “Sabbath to the Lord” means that we cease from our daily chores, so that we can, with gratitude, dedicate a whole day “to the Lord”.
  4. And note the commandment itself: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath” (Exodus 20:9–10) Notice that it says “Six days” not “The first six days”. So the 7th means “the day that comes after working 6 days” not necessarily “the 7th day of the week” — the last highlighted words are human addition to the scripture. And remember, ‘the 7th day of the week’ (call it Saturday if you wish) is ill-defined.

Therefore our conclusion is that the Sabbath commandment is not just about “resting”, but rather “spending” the day as closely as we would on the day of eternal rest, dedicating ourselves entirely to God.

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. (Colossians 2:16)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

  1. “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)  

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