[ HOME ][ TSS Magazine Index ]

January - February 2001 The Sabbath Sentinel

President's Message . . .

"The Universality of The Sabbath"

by Dr. Sidney Davis

The greatest testimony to the universality of the Sabbath are the words of Jesus himself which grace the covers of every issue of The Sabbath Sentinel, "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). The profundity of the statement is not only was it stated by Jesus, but by a Jew no less, the greatest Jew who ever lived! If ever there were the opportunity to make the Sabbath exclusively the "Jewish" Sabbath this would have been it. He did not say that the Sabbath was made for "Jews" only, but rather he said it was made for "man." The Greek word for "man" ANTHROPOS in this text lends more significance and meaning to the universality of the Sabbath. "Anthropos" (Strong's 444) means "mankind" without regard to gender, nation or race. "Anthropos" is where we get the word "anthropology" which means the study and science of man (mankind) as a species of being. This takes us back to find the origin of the Sabbath with the origin of man.

The Origin of the Sabbath

The teaching of the New Covenant Theology (NCT) makes much of the fact that there is no commandment to keep the Sabbath in the book of Genesis; neither do we have an example or record of any Sabbath observance in Genesis. The Hebrew word for Sabbath "SHABBATH" (Strong's 7676) is nowhere to be found in the creation narrative where we find the origin of man. In fact we do not find the first mention of "Sabbath" until the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 16:23) and the revelation of the Sabbath commandment at Sinai (Exodus 20:8). This is the basis of the NCT contention that the Sabbath is a Sinaitic or "Old Covenant" ordinance that was given as a covenant to the Jews and therefore not a creation ordinance given to man.

The rationale of the NCT is spurious for at least two reasons. First it invokes a fallacious generalization or a logical fallacy called argumentum a silentio, or argument from silence. Since there is no mention of "Sabbath" in Genesis, the lack of such evidence or "its silence" in Genesis is proof of its nonexistence as a divine creation ordinance. Second it ignores the meaning of "Sabbath" to escape its presence in the creation narrative. When we understand the meaning of "Sabbath" and recognize the nature of the Sabbath, we clearly see its presence in the creation narrative. We see the Sabbath in the creation made for mankind.

The meaning of "Shabbath"

The study of words is called "etymology". Much can be learned when we look at the etymology of the Hebrew word for Sabbath (see Strong's Hebrew Concordance 7676). The Hebrew language is a root word system. Each root consists of two or three consonants formed from a biliteral base or a triliteral base. By adding and changing the vowels, prefixes, infixes and suffixes to the root word bases, new words are formed, with each word being related to all the others. The biliteral base of the word Shabbath stems from two Hebrew letters bv (read from right to left as "shin" and "beta" pronounced as shaba or sheba) and the triliteral base of the word Shabbath stems from three Hebrew letters tbv (shin, beta, thav or shabath). Both root word bases for "Shabbath" reveal important and profound meanings that reveal sacred and profound truths. The triliteral primitive root base for "Shabbath" is "Shabath" (see Strong's Hebrew Concordance 7673). This is the word we find in the creation narrative (Genesis 2:2). It means, "to cease, desist, rest". Thus the idea of the Sabbath and "rest" are related. The biliteral primitive root base for "Shabbath" is "shaba" or "sheba". There are no vowels letters in the Hebrew alphabet except for "aleph" (or the letter "a") hence shaba is also rendered in triliteral form as abv (shin, beta, aleph or shaba). "Shaba" or "Sheba" means "seven" (see Strong's Hebrew Concordance 7614). The Sabbath does bear some etymological relationship to the Hebrew "sheaba" (seven), as it certainly bears strong material relationship thereto in its use in God's word.1 The intimate relationship between the words for "Sabbath" and "seven" is seen in the meaning of the name "Bathsheba" which means, "Daughter of the Sabbath."2

Gerhard Hasel shows the etymological relationship between the "Sabbath" and "seven". He says,

"The relationship between the noun Shabbat and the Hebrew verb shabat, to stop, cease, keep (sabbath) in the Qal, 'to disappear, be brought to a stop,' in the Nip`al 'to put to an end, bring to a stop,' in the Hip`il, remains disputed. Scholars have argued that the noun derives from the verb or that the verb derives from the noun. While there is no conclusive answer, it seems certain that the noun Shabbat cannot be derived from the Akkadian term shab/pattu. A possible connection of Shabbat with the number 'seven,' has been left open. In this case the Akkadian feminine form sibbitim, 'seventh,' may be considered as an ancestor of the Hebrew noun Shabbat, 'Sabbath,' also a feminine form, which, if the relationship holds, may have originally meant 'the seventh [day].' On this supposition 'the seventh day' in Genesis 2:2-3 would receive further light.3

"According to the Assyrian-Babilonian conception, the particular stress lay necessarily on the number seven...The whole week pointed prominently towards the seventh day, the feast day, the rest day, in this day it collected, in this day it also consummated. 'SABBATH' IS DERIVED FROM BOTH 'REST' and 'SEVEN'.4 " The Jewish sage Rabbi Jacob, called the Ba'al ha-Turim, points out that the Sabbath Commandment deals with the seventh day of the week, begins with the seventh verse in the Ten Commandments, begins with the seventh letter of the alphabet, and legislates rest for seven categories of creatures (Ex.20.8-11)."5

If rest(fullness) or "shabat" is the dominant characteristic of the word "shabbath", seven(ness) "shaba" or "sheba" is seen to be a secondary characteristic as regards the word's use in the Holy Scriptures. We rest in space the physical sense but seven relates to the element of time. The Sabbath is a function of what God did in space, "he rested" and what he did in time "blessed the seventh". The meaning of Sabbath as a function of physical rest in physical "space" (He rested) cannot be separated from it's function of holiness in "time" (the seventh day). The meaning of Sabbath in Scripture cannot be understood apart from it primary root meanings of "rest" and "seven" presented in the creation narrative.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made (Genesis 2:2&3).

The Sabbath as seen as a function of "rest" and "seven" cannot be overemphasized. Even though St. Thomas Aquinas acknowledges the universal nature of the Sabbath based on it's relationship to the number "seven"6 still, the Sabbath as a function of "seven" is the basis on which he sought to attached the "ceremonial" or temporary function of the Sabbath. He says, "The precept of the Sabbath observance is moral in one respect, in so far as it commands man to give some time to the things of God, according to Psalms 45:11: 'Be still and see that I am God.' In this respect it is placed among the precepts of the Decalogue: but not as to the fixing of the time [the seventh day], in which respect it is a ceremonial precept."7 (Brackets mine).

The Universality of the Sabbath In the Languages of Man

The universality of the Sabbath is seen in the languages of mankind. When we look at the languages of men-where we note the designations or names for the days of the week-we find some form or root of the Hebrew word for the Sabbath. Parallel to the designation of the seventh day of the week in the various languages is the number for seven in these languages. The comparison shows an unmistakable link of the Sabbath to seven that establishes it as the universal "seventh day".8

Universal Damnation and Death Decree

"It [the Roman Church] firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law . . . after our Lord's coming had been signified by them, ceased . . . but after the promulgation of the Gospel it asserts that they cannot be observed without the loss of eternal salvation."

"All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors."9

This same spirit of Christian anti-Judaism is evident in the Papal encyclical "Dies Domini" (May 31,1998) where the universality of the seventh-day Sabbath is denied by the contrasted expressions of "the Christian Sabbath" verses "the Jewish Sabbath". Thus seventh-day Sabbath observance becomes the means of stigmatization and eternal damnation or exclusion by the Vatican Holy See. What is perhaps most ironic is the same spirit that denies the universality of the Sabbath in the Papacy is also in Rabbinic Judaism.

Prior to the event of Christianity, Shabbat was promoted as a universal holiday for Jew and gentile alike. Philo of Alexandria describes how the Jewish observance of the Shabbat was well known and distinctive in the ancient world. Philo writes in his Life of Moses:

"For what man is there who does not honour that sacred seventh day, granting in consequence a relief and relaxation from labour, for himself and for all those who are near to him, and that not to free men only, but also to slaves, and even to beasts of burden; for the holiday extends even to every description of animal, and to every beast whatever which performs service to man, like slaves obeying their natural master, and it affects even every species of plant and tree; for there is no shoot, and no branch, and no leaf even which it is allowed to cut or to pluck on that day, nor any fruit which it is lawful to gather; but everything is at liberty and in safety on that day, and enjoys, as it were, perfect freedom, no one ever touching them, in obedience to a universal proclamation."10

By the end of the 4th century, the early Latin Church made Sunday into the Sabbath instead of Saturday-this was due to the anti-Semitic social climate and the overwhelming number of Gentiles who belonged to the Church. Since the Gentile Christians began to define themselves as the "New Israel" many of the rabbis felt that these Christians made the Shabbat into something that it was not meant to be (i.e. Sunday). Consequently, they taught that the Sabbath was made for the Jews and not for anyone else (Midr. Exodus 31.12 [109b]; Exodus Rab. 25.11; Deuteronomy Rab. 1.21). A Gentile who keeps the Sabbath, according to Rabbi Simeon b. Laqish (mid 3d century C.E.), "deserves death" (Sanh. 58b). The Christians under the Catholic Church and the Jews under the Talmudic Rabbis have made Sunday keeping synonymous with Christian identity and Sabbath-keeping synonymous with Jewish identity respectively. The Rabbinic Jews, the papacy and the "new covenant" theologians do make strange bedfellows indeed.

The Universal "Queen Sabbath"

The possible origin of the personification of the Sabbath as "Queen" in pre-Talmudic Jewish tradition may give cause for consideration on the question of it's universality: (Old English trans. from the Latin)

"The lewes who haue bene dispersed by God throughout the whole world, to confirme vs in the holie faith, entered into Ethiopia in the Queen of Sabas daies, in companie of a son that Salomon had by her, to the number (as the Abassins affirme) of twelue thousand, and there multiplied their generation exceedingly. In that they not onely filled Abassia, but spred themselues likewise all ouer the neighbour prouinces. So that at this day also the Abassins affirme, that vpon Nilus towards the west, there inhabiteth a most populous nation of the lewish stock, under a mighty K[ing]. And some of our moderne Cosmographers set downe a prouince in those quarters, which they call the land of the Hebrewes, placed as it were vnder the equinoctiall, in certaine vnknowne mountaines, betweene the confines of Abassia, and Congo. And likewise on the north part of the kingdome of Goiame, and the southerly quarter of the kingdome of Gorham there are certaine mountaines, peopled with Iewes, who there maintaine thernselues free, and absolute, through the inaccessible situations of the same. For in truth by this means, the inhabitants of the mountaines (speaking generally) are the most ancient, and freest people: in that the strong situation of their natiue soile secureth them from the incursions of forraine nations, and the violence of their neighbours."11

What is most impressive of Africanus' statement is his description of the "Queen of Sheba" as the "Queen of Sabas daies" or "Queen of Sabbath days"! Once again we see the association of "sheba" (seven) with the Sabbath in Africa no less. This is a theme that we will expand upon in a future edition of TSS that points to the universality of the Sabbath as a covenant given to "man" (mankind).

  1. Oehler: "Theology of the Old Testament", Clarke, Edinburgh, 1874,.II. p. 80
  2. See The Jewish Encyclopedia, "Bathsheba"
  3. Gerhard F. Hasel, "Sabbath," David Noel Freedman, et al, Editors, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York, Doubleday, 1992, p. 849, Vol 5
  4. Daglige Livi Norden, Vol.XIII, pp.54,55, See also Prof. A.H. Sayce's work Higher Criticism and the Monuments, pp.74,75
  5. http://www.jhom.com/topics/seven/sabbath.html
  6. "...for the number seven signified universality." Summa Theologica * Q 102 - The Causes Of The Ceremonial Precepts
  7. Ibid, Q 100 - The Moral Precepts Of The Old Law
  8. See The Number SEVEN in Afro-Asiatic and Se mitic Languages Showing Its Root Word Relation To SABBATH Source: The Metaverse at www.zompist.com 1996-2000 by Mark Rosenfelder.
  9. Pope Eugene IV, Papal Bull Cantate Domino, dated February 4th, 1442, from the Thirtieth Edition of Henry Denzinger's Enchiridion Symbolorum, published by B. Herder Book Co., Copyright 1957, p. 228
  10. The Life of Moses (De Vita Mosis) LCL, Philo, 6:273-595
  11. Leo Africanus, The History and Description of Africa , p.1004


January - February 2001 The Sabbath Sentinel