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Gospel Q&A: Why Do We Observe the Sabbath on Sunday Instead of Saturday?

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Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “Why do we observe the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday?”

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The commandment to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy comes from the time of Moses revealing the ten commandments to the children of Israel. In Exodus 20:8-11, we read the following:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Every “seventh day” would fall seven days after the last “seventh day.” If one started the count on a different day of the week, then the sabbath would fall on a different “seventh day.” Essentially, every seven days from the starting point would be the Sabbath.

So, how did we get a starting point?

The Israelites in the wilderness were told to gather manna every morning except for the Sabbath. No manna would be available on the Sabbath and instead the Israelites were instructed to collect a double portion on the day before the Sabbath. Having no manna to collect would make a very clear distinction as to which day was the Sabbath day.

Throughout Judaism, the Sabbath has been remembered as what our modern calendar would call Saturday (more specifically from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday). The religious leaders who put Jesus through the trial that led to His Crucifixion held to their own code of conduct. Among their rules was to not let a crucified body remain on the cross over the Sabbath day. Death by crucifixion, however, could take quite a long time, which is why the practice of breaking the victim’s legs became the norm for speeding up the process. This is explained in John 19:31: “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.”

We know, therefore, that Jesus died on what would now be called Friday (before sundown). Counting Friday as the first day, Saturday (the Sabbath) as the second day, and Sunday as the third day (though obviously, a full 72 hours did not pass), Jesus fulfilled His promise and prophecy that He would rise “the third day.”

Among the Jews were many who believed in Jesus and worshipped Him. Obviously, however, there were many who were angry with Jesus and rejected Him as the Messiah. Rabbi Richard Sarason wrote, “To distinguish themselves from the Jews, Christians began to celebrate Sunday as the Lord’s Day (the day Christ arose from the dead) rather than celebrating the Jewish Sabbath (although some Christian groups persisted in observing the [original, Jewish] Sabbath).”

Changing the Sabbath day to honor Christ’s Resurrection meant that from that point forward, every seventh day would continually land on a Sunday.

Does it break the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” if we worship God on a day different than the original Sabbath?

Not at all.

“The Sabbath has eternal significance. The Old Testament declares the Sabbath is to be observed as a “perpetual covenant” (see Ex. 31:13–17), which does not necessarily mean that it should be forever on the same day, but rather that the Sabbath is a covenant for eternity—that is, of eternal significance—and is needed by mortals in every generation for their frequent spiritual rejuvenation,” wrote Robert J. Matthews, who served as chairman of the department of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. The context of the passage seems to make that point clear. It is evident from the Bible that the sacred day was the seventh day of the week during Old Testament times, whereas in the New Testament it was observed on the first day of the week by the church after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.”

The commandment is that one day in seven (or every seventh day) is used to worship the Lord. “The significant fact seems not to be which day is observed so much as how and why the day is observed.”

Remembering Christ’s sacrifice and Atonement, culminating in His Resurrection is the true purpose of honoring the Sabbath day. Thus Sunday—every seventh day­­—is a perfect time to remember Him, honor Him, and worship Him.

Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.

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Rebecca Wright
Rebecca Wright
Becca loves audiobooks, dark chocolate, singing, hiking, walking,  going out with her husband, and raising their chickens and children. She still wants to meet her hero Sheri Dew, see flowing lava and a blue whale in person, and uplift others with her words.

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