What Is the Bible’s View?
Is It Wrong to Work on the Seventh Day of the Week?
THE fourth of the Ten Commandments that God gave to the nation of Israel states: “Remembering the sabbath day to hold it sacred, you are to render service and you must do all your work six days. But the seventh day is a sabbath to Jehovah your God. You must not do any work.”—Ex. 20:8-10.
The term “sabbath” comes from a Hebrew root word meaning “to rest, cease, cease from labor.” The Bible specified that no Israelite should cook or bake, gather wood, bear burdens or conduct business on the sabbath day. (Ex. 16:23, 29; Num. 15:32-35; Neh. 13:15) Any Israelite working on the sabbath day would “positively be put to death.”—Ex. 31:15.
Many claim that God’s law to keep a weekly sabbath is still in force. Some say that this requirement was observed by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and, in fact, goes all the way back to the garden of Eden.
What is the Bible’s view of this matter? Is it still wrong to work on the seventh day of the week?
An honest examination shows that the Scriptures do not say that weekly sabbath observance goes back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. And, while Abraham observed certain “commands,” “statutes” and “laws” of God, nowhere does the Bible mention him keeping a weekly sabbath.—Gen. 26:5.
It was not until immediately before giving the Mosaic law covenant at Mr. Sinai, some 2,500 years after the creation of Adam and Eve and centuries after Abraham’s death, that God first commanded observance of a weekly sabbath. According to Exodus, chapter sixteen, God told the Israelites to pick up the miraculously provided manna six days a week but not on the seventh day. This was to be “a holy sabbath to Jehovah.”—Ex. 16:23.
Indicating that the sabbath law was something new, Moses remarked: “It was not with our forefathers that Jehovah concluded this covenant. . . . And you must remember that you became a slave in the land of Egypt and Jehovah your God proceeded to bring you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why Jehovah your God commanded you to carry on the sabbath day.”—Deut. 5:3, 15.
Was the weekly sabbath to continue in force forever? The Bible does not indicate that, but explains that Jesus Christ came ‘to fulfill the Law.’ (Matt. 5:17) Therefore we read: “By means of his [Christ’s] flesh he abolished . . . the Law of commandments consisting in decrees.”—Eph. 2:15; see also Romans 6:14; 7:4, 6.
Some object that these texts apply only to “the ceremonial law” with its special sabbaths such as the Passover, the festival of Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, the seventh year and the Jubilee or fiftieth year. They hold that the Ten Commandments, with their requirement of a weekly sabbath, are distinct from the “ceremonial law” that passed away. Others say that, since the command to observe a seventh-day sabbath was given shortly before the Mosaic law, this command did not pass away with that Law. Does the Bible support these views?
Interestingly, when Jesus was discussing the Law that he came to fulfill, he included the sixth and seventh of the Ten Commandments, those against murder and adultery. (Matt. 5:17, 21, 22, 27, 28) The apostle Paul included the tenth of these commandments as part of the Law from which Christians “have been discharged,” saying: “Really I would not have come to know sin if it had not been for the Law; and, for example, I would not have known covetousness if the Law had not said: ‘You must not covet.’” (Rom. 7:6, 7; compare James 2:10, 11.) As for the weekly sabbath law being given before the Law, so was circumcision; but the Bible shows that circumcision too is not binding on Christians.—Gen. 17:9-14; 1 Cor. 7:19.
This does not mean, however, that Christians are under no moral law. The Christian Scriptures strongly encourage respect for parents and avoidance of such things as idolatry, murder, adultery, stealing and covetousness. (Eph. 4:28; 6:2; 1 John 5:21; 1 Pet. 4:15; Heb. 13:4; Col. 3:5) Nowhere, though, do the books of the “New Testament” say that Christians must keep a weekly sabbath.
Why, then, did Jesus himself keep the sabbath and encourage his hearers to observe all of God’s “commandments”? (Matt. 5:19) Because, while Jesus was alive on earth, both he and his disciples were, as Israelites, subject to the Mosaic law covenant. (Gal. 4:4) It was not until Jesus’ death and resurrection, when he had given his “flesh” in sacrifice, that the Law was abolished, being replaced by a “new covenant.”—Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:13.
Because the entire Law covenant, including the command to keep a weekly sabbath, came to its end in Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul could write to Christians: “Let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.” (Col. 2:16, 17) Earlier, Paul expressed fear that he had “toiled to no purpose” with respect to certain Christians of the province of Galatia, for they were still “scrupulously observing days and months and seasons and years.”—Gal. 4:10, 11.
What, though, do the Christian Greek Scriptures mean at Hebrews 4:9 when they say: “There remains a sabbath resting for the people of God”? Does this indicate that it is wrong for Christians to work on the seventh day of the week?
No, for the context shows that the “sabbath resting” means that Christians must cease from an attitude of unbelief such as prevented the majority of Israelites who went out of Egypt from entering ‘God’s rest’ in the Promised Land. (Heb. 3:12, 18, 19; 4:3) Also, Christians must rest from “works” of unbelief, especially efforts to justify themselves before God simply by doing good or charitable deeds. (Heb. 4:10; Rom. 3:20) According to the Bible, a right standing with God comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. (Rom. 3:28) Christians must observe such a sabbath rest, not one day a week, but every day.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking one day out of seven for a rest period. This can provide needed physical refreshment, opportunity to study God’s Word and for other spiritually stimulating activities. It is up to each individual to decide which, if any, day he will set aside for special purposes.
But if someone now wishes to work on the seventh day of the week, there is no Scriptural objection to doing so. As the apostle Paul expressed it: “One man judges one day as above another; another man judges one day as all others; let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.”—Rom. 14:5.