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Exodus 20:9–11 (ESV)
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

What is an overview of Protestant views on the Sabbath? (Caveat: I'm not interested in the Seventh Day Adventist position)

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Within Protestantism there are many views regarding the proper way to keep the Sabbath, even among those who generally agree that Sunday is the most appropriate day to observe it. I'll provide a brief overview of three of the main views: Spiritual Sabbath, Continental Sabbath, and Puritan Sabbath.

Spiritual Sabbath

This view is held by many Protestants across denominational lines, particularly among those influenced by dispensational theology. Proponents of this view, such as Michael G. Moriarty, argue that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance; that is, God resting on the seventh day of creation was not meant to be a binding law on all humanity. Instead, it first appears as a command in the Ten Commandments. Defenders of the Spiritual Sabbath contend that passages like Hebrews 4, which refer to an eternal Sabbath rest, and Christ's claim to be "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8) indicate that Christ is the fulfillment of the Sabbath decree:

Jesus Christ is the eternal Sabbath rest. [...] When we trust in Christ alone we close the doors to works-righteousness and enter God's rest. By our spiritual union with Christ, "we are already living in the seventh day, the eternal Sabbath of God."

Proponents of this view, holding that "every day is a Sabbath," suggest that "finding sufficient rest every day" can be seen as an implication of the New Testament Sabbath. They also argue that weekly corporate worship is essential, citing Hebrews 10:24-25, but may not tie this requirement specifically to Sabbath-keeping. Furthermore, recreation and other activities are permissible on the Lord's Day, as long as corporate worship is not neglected.

Continental Sabbath

The Continental Sabbath view, expressed by John Calvin and the Three Forms of Unity, sees two primary purposes of the command: ceremonial and moral. The ceremonial purpose, proponents say, has been fulfilled in Christ, and thus the Sunday Sabbath, in and of itself, is not a divine institution. However, the moral purpose remains, and requires us to set aside a day for corporate worship and rest from ordinary labor. The choice of a seven-day cycle, with Sunday the designated day, is a practical matter, not a divine decree. Recreation, so long as it does not hinder worship, is permissible. The view is summarized well in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?

A. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I diligently attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor. Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.

A number of denominations maintain a variant of this as their official view, such as the United Methodists and Southern Baptists. Some denominations specifically hold to the Three Forms of Unity, such as the Christian Reformed Church.

Puritan Sabbath

The Puritan Sabbath view is most comprehensively expressed in the Westminster Standards and is primarily held in conservative Presbyterian denominations like the PCA and RPCNA. It holds that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance (Genesis 2:2-3, cf. Exodus 20:11), and continues through both Old and New Testament periods, with the only change being that the day of its observance changes from the seventh day to the first day. It is a "positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages" (WCF, 21.7).

On that day, people are to turn from "their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations" (WCF, 21.8) and instead devote the day to holy rest:

The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, [...] making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercise of God's worship. (WLC, A. 117)


  • Frame, John, The Doctrine of Christian Life (2008), p516-27.
  • Moriarty, The Perfect 10 (1999), p94-104.
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The simple answer is that born again Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile, are under no obligation to observe such a commandment under the New Covenant.


The pronoun "you" in your passage refers directly to those whom YHVH "brought...out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exo. 20:2). YHVH was speaking to the Israelites in Exo. 20.

Elsewhere, we read that the Sabbath was a sign between the children of Israel and YHVH for ever (Exo. 31:17). You may then reason that, if the Sabbath was a sign for ever, then Jews, whether they be Christians or not, should still keep the Sabbath.

It is important to note that the Israelites agreed to obey those commandments by swearing an oath in a bilateral covenant (cp. Deut. 27:26). The covenant was between YHVH and the Israelites. A covenant no longer applies when one of the parties in the bilateral covenant has died, as so aptly illustrated by the apostle Paul when he describes the marriage covenant (Rom. 7:1-4).

In Romans 7:1-4, once the husband died, the wife was free to re-marry without being considered an adulteress. However, if the wife re-married while the husband was still living, the wife was considered an adulteress. As long as both parties were living, the covenant remained effective. If one party of the bilateral covenant died, the covenant was void.

Since a believing Israelite dies with Christ (the "old man is crucified with" Christ; cp. Rom. 6:6), he is born again, and he is no longer a party to the Old Covenant. Can the Law, the Old Covenant, apply to a dead person? No, it cannot, for a bilateral covenant is voided upon the death of one of the parties.

The new man is a party to the New Covenant (rather than the Old Covenant) which does not impose observance of the Sabbath upon the party, but rather, forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:31-34).

Indeed, born again Christians, as servants of Christ, must obey the commandments of their master, but keeping the Sabbath is no such commandment, as our rest is in Christ (Heb. 4:9-11).

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By "born again", you are referring to that group of Christians within Protestantism, right? – Matt Jan 13 '13 at 23:23
@Matt: Sure.......... – Simply a Christian Jan 13 '13 at 23:34
so, as "born again Christians", we are under no obligation to not steal, not murder, not commit adultery, not worship anyone other than God, etc? – warren Sep 5 '13 at 21:06
I disagree. Born again Christians are under the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). Christ said (John 13:34), "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another." Paul said (Rom. 13:8), "Owe no man anything but to love one another, for he who loves another another has fulfilled the law." And (Rom. 13:10), "Love works no ill to his neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." And (Gal. 5:14), "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" – Simply a Christian Sep 6 '13 at 21:30
Sin has the same definition in the New Testament: "Transgression of the Law". James specifically tells us that breaking one law is equal to breaking all 10. So a Christian should keep the commandments of God, just as Jesus kept them. What was done away at the cross was most definitely not the 10 commandments – One Face Feb 24 '15 at 17:25

Using the Westminster Confession of Faith to present a Reformed position, Chapter XXI, paragraph VIII states:

This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

This presents the Sabbath's purpose of getting people out of their self-satisfaction and self-importance ("own works, words, and thoughts") and directed toward God ("worship") while being godly in not neglecting needs of self or others ("necessity and mercy"--"duties of necessity" can be somewhat vague but I believe would include certain work of doctors, police, etc.).

(By the way, in paragraph VII, the writers of the WCF present the belief that Sunday is the post-resurrection/Christian Sabbath day.)

Even in cultures with 5-day work weeks (which at least some Reformed persons believe would also violate the 4th commandment, if two rest days are used), there are "slave-driver" employers and workaholics for which the imposition of a ceasing would be a mercy even from an atheistic perspective.

(By the way, the Exodus version draws on the creation relation--all mankind, all time (at least for some interpreters)--and presents it as a blessing; the Deuteronomy version relates it to salvation from slavery and as a covenant command as well as emphasizing likeness to the slave--reminiscent, to me, of Col. 4:1 "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven"(NIV).)

The Sabbath has several purposes, including: to reinforce trusting that God will provide (cf. Manna gathering in Ex. 16:19-30), to provide/enforce freedom from work (i.e., work is not to be the master), to provide/enforce rest, to have a dedicated regular (habitual) time to remember who God is and what God has done, to develop a future-oriented mindset (Sabbath requires preparation and is a guaranteed future time, perhaps hinting at anticipation of (and preparation for) the time of the new heaven and new earth with a sense of certainty, the fullness of rest is as certain as one day following another).

Even for Christians who reject Sabbath observance as a moral law (I think St. Augustine was one such, so this certainly appears to be a "disputable matter"), the principles of not abusing employees, of regularly remembering that God is God (Creator and Master), of depending on God, and of resting--these principles would still apply. In addition, such Christians might adopt the pattern of Sabbath (with its related purposes such as those mentioned above) as a practical aid toward sanctification much like a dedicated time of Bible study.

Given that entire books have been written on this subject, a StackExchange answer is not likely to be especially comprehensive.

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While the Sabbath was listed as one of the commandments it was actually instituted way before then when God had finished His creation.

Genesis 2:3

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.

The word sanctified here means "set apart" which shows that God places a special significance on the Sabbath day.

This sanctification of the Sabbath day occurs well before there was ever a nation of Israel and there are numerous places in the Holy Bible that show where all people will keep the Sabbath day.

Isaiah 66:23

And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me," says the LORD.

Some say that following the death of Christ there was no need to keep the Sabbath but the new testament is full of examples of the new testament church doing so and Jesus himself said that He came, not to do away with the Law but to magnify it. (Mat 5:17)

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Welcome to the site. As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? This is good information, but doesn't really address the question that was asked. – David Sep 5 '13 at 11:18
What translation are you using for Matthew 5:17 which has "magnify it"? (Your other quotes were KJV.) I am also curious about what denominational perspective this represents. Googling (Matthew 5:17 "magnify it") was not helpful in finding a translation and hinted that this might be coming from a Church of God (or perhaps Church of the Great God) perspective. Identifying perspective can be helpful in cases like this where doctrines differ between denominations. – Paul A. Clayton Sep 5 '13 at 21:10
Hi Paul, It does in fact say "Fulfill" and that until heaven and earth pass away the laws are all to be kept. I don't think that has happened yet. – CarlT Nov 19 '13 at 15:20
Many Protestants disagree that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, so this presents only a small piece of the picture. – Nathaniel Jul 28 '15 at 13:36

In the OT, the Hebrew people were to keep laws to cover (or make atonement) for their sin. All of these laws including the 10 commandments were expressly given to by Moses to the people of Israel. As revealed in Romans 2:14.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. - Romans 2:14

Born again Christians do not keep laws to make themselves righteous before God. We are made righteous by the gift of righteousness we receive by believing on Jesus.

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) - Romans 5:17

The law, while good in itself could never make men righteous or "right" before God. The scripture reveals that the law was a shadow of good things to come.

Hebrews 10:1 - For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

Well, good things did come and his name was Jesus.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. - John 3:16

All of what many Christians would call God's Moral Law can be summed up in one law.

A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. - John 13:34

If you love your neighbour, you won't steal from him. If you love him, you won't sleep with his wife. If you love him, you won't kill him. etc.

So then, what about the sabbath? Well, Jesus IS our sabbath rest.

So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. - Heb 4:9-10

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Hi Matt, in the Old Testament atonement was made through the blood sacrifice of the lamb, representing the future sacrifice of Jesus. "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt." (Romans 4:2-4) Paul here was stating that it was through the righteousness by faith that Abraham was justified. – HelloWorld Sep 6 '13 at 20:57
@HelloWorld - what's your point? I agree with what you're saying but I don't understand what point you're making specifically. – Matt Nov 26 '13 at 0:40

Since the 4th commandment does not specify where we are to keep the Sabbath Holy let it first be known that it is not in the Tabernacle/Temple/Synagogue or Church. There is no commandment in the Torah that says His people are to gather together for corporate worship in such a place. So that is the first issue.

As a member of the Covenant of Horeb (the Mosaic Covenant) you were to convocate “in all (many) your (personal) dwellings (plural)”. In Exodus they were directed not to go far from their homes…in fact in Exodus 16:29 it says let no man go out of his place on the Sabbath day.

Secondly though Jesus attended synagogue, as did Paul, they both did so as was their “custom” or tradition. The man made tradition of gathering together for corporate worship on the 7th day Sabbath was started during the Babylonian captivity and only was practiced by the Judah-ites that returned and any accepted Assyrian captives that returned in the time of Ezra/Nehemiah. Before then there is NO example of any of the children of Israel so gathering.

Now when Jesus came He gave us a deeper meaning to the commandments. In actuality God is so Holy that to even be angry with a brother is to murder, to think lustful thoughts is adultery…and as we see in many places He gives newer meaning to the 4th commandment as well.

But the point is really that when Jesus had completed all that He came to do, He said “it is finished”…He made one sacrifice for all and sat down….He fulfilled (not eliminated) all the law and now is sitting at the father’s right hand…we who are genuinely born of God are IN HIM…we have fulfilled the law in Him…we no longer obey because these words were written in stone we obey having the spirit of God in us…we are already seated with HIM in glory (justified, sanctified, redeemed, delivered, saved…) and do not have to do anything as He did it on our behalf…thus we being placed in Him have entered into His (the Lord) rest (Shabbat)…

Every day is a shabbat for us…we worship and walk with Him from new moon to new moon, from Sabbath to Sabbath, which means every day…

Brother Paul

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! I'm not voting on this answer either way and I agree that Jesus fulfilled but not eliminated the law and is sitting at the Father's right hand. But I do have one question/comment - If every day is a Shabbat for us that means we wouldn't work every day of the week and that wouldn't be holy that would be lazy :) Wouldn't that make sense? May the Lord bless us as we study His Word. – HelloWorld Sep 6 '13 at 20:52
The commandment clearly says "Six days shalt thou work". This is as much a part of the commandment as that part which asks us to rest on the seventh day @HelloWorld. – One Face Feb 24 '15 at 17:19
How does this answer connect to the teachings of Protestants? – Nathaniel Jul 28 '15 at 13:34

There is a very plain and clear answer in the Bible itself as to how to keep the Sabbath:

Isaiah 58:13,14 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

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Protestant here. I keep the sabbath by trying not to do work, but instead, very intentionally love God and love His people. What does that look like? Church, leading worship, praying, studying the scriptures, etc.

Now for sure, we are to do these things all the time, but work gets in the way and distracts. On the sabbath, I set things aside and try to be as intentional as possible in pursuing the Lord.

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Hi Tejas. We are looking for more general answers, not just your personal experience. Please have a look at the help pages to find out how we are different from most other forums. – DJClayworth Jul 29 '15 at 17:11
This answer would be acceptable if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? – David Aug 5 '15 at 2:38

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