Sabbath (Shabbat) is a Hebrew word meaning “seventh.” The seventh day, for both Jewish and Christian people, is Saturday. Sabbath, the seventh day, is the day of rest for observant Jews.
The early Christian day of worship was Sunday, the day of the resurrection and new creation. In the New Testament and early church documents, we see Christians gathering for Christian worship on the day named as either “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7) or “The Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10).
Early Christians varied in whether they kept Sabbath. Jewish Christians may have observed the Sabbath as part of their continuing participation in Judaism and would also have gathered with fellow Christian believers for worship on Sunday. But, as Paul noted, Sabbath was not to be seen as a requirement for non-Jewish Christians (Colossians 2:16).
Sunday was a workday in the time of the Roman Empire. Roman law recognized Judaism as a legal religion and so recognized Saturday as a day on which Jewish people could not be legally compelled to work. Because Sunday was a workday, Christians in many places did not gather mid-morning as is typical today. They would instead gather on Saturday evening after sundown, very early on Sunday morning, or on Sunday evening, so that those who had to work could gather with the whole community for worship.
When Christianity was declared a legal religion in the Roman Empire in 315 AD, the law did not reset “Sabbath” as Sunday. Sabbath remained Saturday for the Jewish people. Instead, it said that because Christianity was also a legal religion, its day of worship (the Lord’s Day, Sunday) should be recognized as having the same status as the Sabbath in Judaism.
Over time, some Christians conflated Sabbath (Saturday) and Lord’s Day (Sunday), replicating some aspects of a day of rest and borrowing Sabbath language from Judaism to do so.
For United Methodists and other Christians, Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the day of Christian worship. Sabbath remains, as it has always been, the seventh day, the day of rest for observant Jews.
This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.