Sunday and the Sabbath

In the OT, observance of the Sabbath is instituted on the grounds that God rested on the seventh day (or, confusingly, in Deuteronomy 5, on the grounds that God delivered Israel from Egypt).

In the NT Jesus makes a virtual habit of Sabbath-breaking (at least in the eyes of the Pharisees), and declares the Sabbath is made for man and not the other way around, while the writer to the Hebrews suggests that the Sabbath is, symbolically, coming into God's inheritance.

The original idea of weekly rest from habitual work (let alone deliverance from Israel) seems already to be fading (in the teaching of Jesus and the NT believers).

At some point, possibly starting in Acts, believers (except Adventists...) took to meeting together on Sundays rather than Saturdays (certainly the Council of Jerusalem's recommendations say nothing about Sabbath observance).

Fast-forward a few millenia and at least in countries with Christian history, weekends still tend to be time off work and Sundays the traditional meeting day for Christians, aided by the fact that fewer of us are at work on that day. In the main, the idea of a weekly rest day seems to have been taken up by trade unions rather than by Christians.

So where does Sunday, and indeed a seven-day week, fit theologically these days? And in a post-Christian society, what's the rationale for having a national weekly rest day at all?
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Comments

  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Many Christians live in countries where the "weekend" is Friday or Friday and Saturday (or even Friday and Sunday) and the main "church" day is not Sunday.

    They seem to cope.
  • Of course they do. My question is about the underlying rationale.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited October 6
    The underlying rationale is that the Sabbath was made for man. The Sabbath provision of the OT Law was intended as a blessing to humanity. And even bondservants and beasts of burden were included in it.

    The Creation story of Genesis expresses a theology of both work and rest.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Yes, I know. I think it is just custom - one might think that in places where there are a lot of Christians they might insist on having the "main day" as Sunday. And yet if everyone else is organising their time in an alternative way, it's just easier to go along with it.

    I believe I'm correct that most main church services in Egypt on on Friday. What might appear weird to us is perfectly normal and accepted in that country where Christianity has obviously been around for a very long time.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited October 6
    Where this gets confusing for me is how several things overlap.

    Provision of Sabbath rest as a blessing to humanity, beasts, etc. sounds great, and the creation narrative provides an illustrative prop for that.

    The shifting of this rest to Sunday (in 'Christian' countries) doesn't, on the face of it, have much theological underpinning, though, does it? It's purely pragmatic. I have no idea when this shift happened.
  • Blahblah wrote: »
    And yet if everyone else is organising their time in an alternative way, it's just easier to go along with it.

    My prison chapel services are currently on a Monday and have historically been on Tuesdays, simply because that's the day I can get the relevant room, and I can completely identify with the above sentiment.

    Outside prison though, I'm quite committed to a Sunday meeting in a dedicated place of worship, because I think that's still quite culturally relevant where I live in terms of being an intelligible testimony. Long term, though, I'm wondering how I would justify it theologically. Meeting together regularly seems important to me, but that would be a whole lot more complicated if we didn't have weekends. Another way of putting my question would be: what would church look like without the institution of a weekend?
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    I don't believe that Sunday was ever really a day of "rest" in Western countries. People just stopped doing one kind of work and got on with doing another. It's quite unlike the Jewish understanding of Sabbath, which apparently involves doing absolutely nothing which can be considered work.

    But I think this has a lot to do with how Westerner organise time anyway. In many countries, work spreads out for a longer period but at lower intensity. Breaks are common, rest time and family time are often interspersed through the day.

    Islamic worship is more regular and more structured throughout the day and week, which seems to mean that Muslims seem more content to work and break when they need to on Friday or other days.

    To me, historically, the interesting question is about the emergence of leisure time. Of course "holidays" are very rare to a large number of people and even days where paid and other work is unnecessary is a relatively recent phenomena for most working people.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Sorry, that's a bit of a random collection of thoughts. I meant to say that the Middle Eastern understanding of daily work is different to a Westerner - possibly influenced by Islamic patterns (or possibly vice versa).
  • Eutychus: "The shifting of this rest to Sunday (in 'Christian' countries) doesn't, on the face of it, have much theological underpinning, though, does it? It's purely pragmatic. I have no idea when this shift happened."

    Didn't this shift happen very early? Due to a little thing called the Resurrection? That's enough theological underpinning for me, YMMV.

    This topic stirs an old memory. Many years ago a couple were on the Ship briefly. If my mind doesn't fail me they observed the Sabbath from sunset on Friday to sunset Saturday, but at the times these happened in Jerusalem. Does anyone else remember them and have I got it right?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    The clue as to origin is in the names of the days of the week. Sun. Moon. Mars. Mercury. Jupiter. Venus. Saturn. If the ancients had seen six or nine wandering stars, guess how many days of the week there's be?

    Sabbatarians such as I for 19 years (a Metonic cycle...) kept sunset to sunset. Never heard of anyone doing it by Jerusalem time. Except above the arctic circle in winter.
  • You would need to reach further into the Jewish Spirituality of the Sabbath to get the connection. The idea, to my understanding, is the Sabbath, is not a single day of rest in the week but the eternal rest of the Almighty once he had finished creation, which they seek to participate in one day a week. As such for Christians it naturally becomes connected with God's coming Kingdom and thus would fall on a Sunday, the day Jesus rose again.

    Personally, a day of rest is important, not just to remember the kingdom of God but also to remember that my achievements can only be used to bring about God's kingdom by God and not work towards it on their own. I am dependent on God and to that extent, I need to also participate in his rest and I do this by keeping a Sabbath.

    Yes, I suspect Christians started meeting on a Sunday long before they kept Sunday as a day of rest. I can remember my Latin teacher telling me that in the Roman Empire there were no weeks, rather there was a holiday every seven to ten days to commemorate some festival or other.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    The hardworking Romans were scandalised by the lazy Jewish people insisting on having a day of rest every week. In feudal China there was also no concept of a day of rest. But there were numerous festivals. And our holiday comes from holy day.

    Dr Zhivago describes how the communists tried to introduce a staggered system of workers having a day off every ten days, but had to give it up as unworkable.

    The OT Law represents a distillation of wisdom about what works for a healthy human life in community. Including a designated weekly Sabbath day of rest.

    We don't have it in the the UK any more. And society is becoming fractured.
  • Didn't this shift happen very early? Due to a little thing called the Resurrection? That's enough theological underpinning for me, YMMV.

    The shift in when people gathered for worship undoubtedly happened because of the Resurrection, but there's no suggestion (at least at first) that this shift was accompanied by anything much to do with rest from work.
    Rublev wrote: »
    We don't have it in the the UK any more. And society is becoming fractured.
    Indeed, and Sunday trading is nibbling away at French Sundays too. But how easy is it to make a New Testament argument for "keeping Sunday special"? Not very, I would suggest.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited October 6
    The idea of Sunday being the Lord's Day comes from John 20: 1.

    The Sabbath debate may begin as early as Paul's letters. He wrote to the Colossians that Sabbath observance was not required (Col 2: 16).

    Luke tells us that, 'Upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread Paul preached to them' (Acts 20: 7).

    The Letter of Barnabas AD74 says, 'We keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead' (Barnabas 15: 6-8).

    Ignatius of Antioch c100AD wrote, 'Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's Day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week' (Letter to the Magnesians 9).

    The Didache c70-140 AD says, 'On the Lord's own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks' (Didache 14). It also says, 'Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week. Rather fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday)' (Didache 8).

    Justin Martyr c150 AD wrote, 'On the day called Sunday all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read... Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God made the world and Jesus Christ on the same day rose from the dead' (First Apology 67).

    St Augustine of Hippo 412 AD wrote, 'I should like to be told what there is in these Ten Commandments, except the observance of the Sabbath, which ought not to be kept by a Christian' (The Spirit and the Letter 24).
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    The hardworking Romans were scandalised by the lazy Jewish people insisting on having a day of rest every week. In feudal China there was also no concept of a day of rest. But there were numerous festivals. And our holiday comes from holy day.

    Dr Zhivago describes how the communists tried to introduce a staggered system of workers having a day off every ten days, but had to give it up as unworkable.

    The OT Law represents a distillation of wisdom about what works for a healthy human life in community. Including a designated weekly Sabbath day of rest.

    We don't have it in the the UK any more. And society is becoming fractured.

    So we're worse off? We're living shorter, poorer, more violent lives?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited October 6
    Who benefits from the loss of a designated weekly day of rest? A few very wealthy people. And who suffers from it? The whole of the rest of society.
  • Afaik Sunday was set aside for the shared feast in which Christians got together to celebrate Christ, and over time servants were given some time off to see family on that day.

    I think that we are impoverished by not keeping it as a special day: firstly because we're less likely to rest on any day off if everything is open and we feel as if we must use the time to catch up, but rest is important; and secondly because families can't get together when days off are other than weekends.
  • But isn't it arsey-versey to say that we are losing a day of rest and society is fractured? The link of causation is likely to be the other way round.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    You could argue the case both ways. But certainly the loss of the day of rest exacerbates social fracturing. Families and friends can't arrange to meet up so easily, people have to go to work or else they treat it as any other day and go out shopping instead of resting.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    edited October 6
    I think Sunday as a corporate day of rest is a myth. For reasons I've explained above (working people have always had to work 7 days a week, the only difference on a Sunday is that one has to do ones own housework etc) and because there have been people around with a different Sabbath for thousands of years.

    I think the historical reasons why the Christian Sunday emerged in the way it did in Western countries has much more to do with class and privilege than anything else.

    The idea of "leisure" was for a very long time something only very rich people did. If you were rich enough, you did no work at all.

    When Christianity became associated with higher class and powerful people, it became a convenient fiction to enforce a "no-purchasing" moratorium on Sundays.

    Of course rich and powerful people don't have to work on Sundays and never did. Poor people did and do and continue to do.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Which, incidentally, I think is part of the "other-ness" of Jews in Europe in past centuries.

    If a group of religious people really could insist on doing absolutely no work at all one day a week, that offends all kinds of aspects of the European capitalist sensibility.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    There are different Sabbaths. But historically there have been culturally dominant ones according to the prevailing faith of the region. So Christians living in the UAE gather to worship together on a Friday.

    The plot of The Crucible describes Sunday ploughing by farmers as an infringement upon the Puritan ethos of the community of C17th Salem.

    UK Sunday trading laws were introduced in the Sunday Trading Act of 1994. Buying and selling on a Sunday had previously been illegal, with exceptions, under the Shops Acts of 1950.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    You could argue the case both ways. But certainly the loss of the day of rest exacerbates social fracturing. Families and friends can't arrange to meet up so easily, people have to go to work or else they treat it as any other day and go out shopping instead of resting.

    Well, I can put the reverse case, that the secularization of Sunday has been a benefit, as former restrictions have been removed. My mother remembered not being allowed to play noisy games on Sunday. Absurd really.
  • Blahblah wrote: »
    Of course rich and powerful people don't have to work on Sundays and never did. Poor people did and do and continue to do.
    The last church I served had been, in Victorian times, the poshest chapel in town, attended (and bankrolled) by proprietors and business-people of the merchant class. It was second only to the Parish Church, which attracted the Great and Good of the "county" set.

    Sunday morning services were packed out by the families of the well-to-do, who of course expected to return home to Sunday lunch in a warm, clean house. In the evening the servants got "time off" - but it would be noted if they were not in Chapel ...
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    When I worked over in Germany the shops all used to shut at midday on a Saturday and not reopen until Monday. And the local people explained to me that this was so that all the shop workers could enjoy a weekend being with their families too. Very sensible.
  • Yes indeed ... but when did the shop workers do their shopping?
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    There are different Sabbaths. But historically there have been culturally dominant ones according to the prevailing faith of the region. So Christians living in the UAE gather to worship together on a Friday.

    The plot of The Crucible describes Sunday ploughing by farmers as an infringement upon the Puritan ethos of the community of C17th Salem.

    UK Sunday trading laws were introduced in the Sunday Trading Act of 1994. Buying and selling on a Sunday had previously been illegal, with exceptions, under the Shops Acts of 1950.

    Restrictions on buying on a Sunday had the most effect on working people who were not able to shop at other times - because they were working.

    I'm not sure what 17th century America has to do with anything, but the Puritans have a streak of self-importance and imposing difficult religious regulations on other people. One of the reasons why Pennsylvania was different, I believe, was because William Penn recognised that people didn't want to live under other people's religious rules.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    The local custom was to get up at 7 am and go to the local market. I used to go there at 9 am and meet them all coming back.
  • Raptor Eye wrote: »
    Afaik Sunday was set aside for the shared feast in which Christians got together to celebrate Christ, and over time servants were given some time off to see family on that day.

    I think that we are impoverished by not keeping it as a special day: firstly because we're less likely to rest on any day off if everything is open and we feel as if we must use the time to catch up, but rest is important; and secondly because families can't get together when days off are other than weekends.

    I have quite a lot of sympathy with this view, but what's emerging for me here is that this is a pragmatic argument rather than a straightforward Sabbath-theological one.

    As in so many other areas, I find a lot of things I'd sort of lazily assumed were easily justified from Scripture turn out to be more about nineteenth-century British social mores.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Blahblah wrote: »
    Of course rich and powerful people don't have to work on Sundays and never did. Poor people did and do and continue to do.
    The last church I served had been, in Victorian times, the poshest chapel in town, attended (and bankrolled) by proprietors and business-people of the merchant class. It was second only to the Parish Church, which attracted the Great and Good of the "county" set.

    Sunday morning services were packed out by the families of the well-to-do, who of course expected to return home to Sunday lunch in a warm, clean house. In the evening the servants got "time off" - but it would be noted if they were not in Chapel ...

    There is a whole other story about control of course. Lots of denominational churches and chapels were built after the industrial revolution in Britain by industrialists in factory towns. And for a long time the only schools in these places were run on Sundays in the churches. Because the children worked the rest of the time.

    Of course things changed over 2000 years, but the practical reality for most working people for most of that period was that they worked 7 days a week for almost all the year. 6 days they worked for an employer, 1 day they worked on everything else.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    When I worked over in Germany the shops all used to shut at midday on a Saturday and not reopen until Monday. And the local people explained to me that this was so that all the shop workers could enjoy a weekend being with their families too. Very sensible.

    Bloody stupid if you are a Muslim. Bloody annoying if you work Monday-Saturday.

    Why should anyone get to tell other people how to organise their family lives whilst at the same time giving them no time to enjoy it?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited October 6
    The Muslim Sabbath is a Friday.

    I did work Monday to Friday, but I just got up early on a Saturday morning to do my shopping. And I noticed that in Germany there was a more healthy community life. People were not such workaholics as in the UK. They enjoyed their lives more and were able to spend time with their families and have leisure time. Because there were healthy boundaries in place to protect them.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    The Muslim Sabbath is a Friday.

    I did work Monday to Friday, but I just got up early on a Saturday morning to do my shopping. And I noticed that in Germany there was a more healthy community life. People were not such workaholics as in the UK. They enjoyed their lives more and were able to spend time with their families and have leisure time. Because there were healthy boundaries in place to protect them.

    Not everyone is you. Who do you think works in hospitals, in the past worked in mines and power stations. Who milked cows and so on.

    A large minority always had to work on Sundays. A majority had a day imposed upon them because of the piety of those who never had to work at all.

    People want to shop on Sundays. People want to live their lives free from the piety and pettiness of others.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    That was the argument behind the Sunday Trading Act of 1994. So now shop workers have to accept flexible working hours and not enjoy regular weekends with their families. It's the consumer argument that claims what makes people happy is to be able to buy what they want when they want.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    That was the argument behind the Sunday Trading Act of 1994. So now shop workers have to accept flexible working hours and not enjoy regular weekends with their families. It's the consumer argument that claims what makes people happy is to be able to buy what they want when they want.

    Is it? I thought it was a more libertarian argument. I don't think buying stuff brings happiness, but I can respect the argument that restrictions based on traditional religion impede freedom of choice. There is a point about shop workers, but I don't believe Christians who make that argument.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    That was the argument behind the Sunday Trading Act of 1994. So now shop workers have to accept flexible working hours and not enjoy regular weekends with their families. It's the consumer argument that claims what makes people happy is to be able to buy what they want when they want.

    Mate, many working people have multiple jobs. The idea that enforcing shop closures on Sundays ever lead to time with families is a pious myth.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    When your freedom of choice is depends upon the lack of freedom of choice of others, then it becomes selfish. This is why the OT Law included everyone within the provisions of the Sabbath rest: free, bond, non Hebrew and animals. More enlightened than the provisions of modern society.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    For a historical perspective on Christian Europe.

    I for one would love to work only 1850 hours annually.
  • Well, I'm no "Keep Sunday Special" person, but I did make that argument.

    However one could also argue that, as shopping has become as much a leisure activity as a commercial one, that Sunday opening actually allows some families to do something together!

    On the wider point I believe that, in a truly secular society, the Christian voice has a right to be heard and considered. But it is one of many, all making their claims - even in a country such as England, with its Christian tradition and a State Church, Christians cannot expect to be privileged above anyone else. (And, of course, there is no State Church in the rest of the UK),
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    There is something tragic and ridiculous about complaining about society no longer respecting pointless religious rules when it was the religious authorities themselves which bound up working people into such restrictive lives in the first place.

    My ancestors were farmers and soldiers and shopkeepers and miners and factory workers. What kind of family life do you think they had?
  • This is one of those diaphanous arguments, where Christians dredge up arguments for preserving traditional Sundays. For example, that people were happier with such restrictions. Mostly, this is pure assertion. The old Sundays were ghastly, well, I remember them from the 50s, everything closed, an atmosphere of gloomy repression. Strangely enough, I don't think we are going back to those days.
  • Dave WDave W Shipmate
    Practically everybody's ancestors were farmers and soldiers and shopkeepers and miners and factory workers. Why should you be presumed to have special insight into their lives?
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Dave W wrote: »
    Practically everybody's ancestors were farmers and soldiers and shopkeepers and miners and factory workers. Why should you be presumed to have special insight into their lives?

    I don't think many of them regularly had Sundays off work. As I say, I think the idea of Sunday as a corporate day off is a myth.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited October 6
    The traditional pattern of life in community has important human values. Where there is no common pattern of life then people feel alienated and isolated. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. The purpose of the Sabbath was not that it was a pointless religious rule but it respected human life and protected the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.
  • This is one of those diaphanous arguments, where Christians dredge up arguments for preserving traditional Sundays. For example, that people were happier with such restrictions. Mostly, this is pure assertion. The old Sundays were ghastly, well, I remember them from the 50s, everything closed, an atmosphere of gloomy repression. Strangely enough, I don't think we are going back to those days.
    That immediately makes me think of Tony Hancock: https://tinyurl.com/y6n3dchr

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    No one is saying that we have to return to life in the 1950s. The German families that I knew used to spend their weekends going out walking, cycling and camping together. They had the leisure time to be able to do it.
  • BlahblahBlahblah Shipmate
    Rublev wrote: »
    The traditional pattern of life in community has important human values. Where there is no common pattern of life then people feel alienated and isolated. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. The purpose of the Sabbath was not that it was a pointless religious rule but it respected human life and protected the rights of the most vulnerable members of society.

    There is no such thing as a "common pattern of work" and never has been. Workers work, the rich laze about.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    No one is saying that we have to return to life in the 1950s. The German families that I knew used to spend their weekends going out walking, cycling and camping together. They had the leisure time to be able to do it.

    This is a Golden Age argument. Actually, it's not an argument, it's an assertion. I don't understand where such assertions get you.
  • I do remember an elderly member of a church I served back in the 80s. He had first gone to church as a child c.1915 simply because he lived in a tiny house in a poor area; his mother was giving birth in the front room and wanted him out of the way.
  • Eutychus wrote: »
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    Afaik Sunday was set aside for the shared feast in which Christians got together to celebrate Christ, and over time servants were given some time off to see family on that day.

    I think that we are impoverished by not keeping it as a special day: firstly because we're less likely to rest on any day off if everything is open and we feel as if we must use the time to catch up, but rest is important; and secondly because families can't get together when days off are other than weekends.

    I have quite a lot of sympathy with this view, but what's emerging for me here is that this is a pragmatic argument rather than a straightforward Sabbath-theological one.

    As in so many other areas, I find a lot of things I'd sort of lazily assumed were easily justified from Scripture turn out to be more about nineteenth-century British social mores.

    We inherited the ten commandments along with Jesus, the principle of the Sabbath remains even though the practice doesn't - which often transgressed the 'love one another' commandment, hence Jesus's reminders.

    Whether Sunday or not, whether evening to evening or the 24 hour day, it is good for us to have a day off, and better for communities if it is the same day off, where possible. (There's no need for the usual 'what about nurses and firefighters' argument.)
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