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.)


3 Answers 3


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), 516–27
  • Moriarty, The Perfect 10 (1999), 94–104
  • Feel like adding a section on Adventism? Then we could remove the caveat and make this a proper comprehensive overview question.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 26, 2018 at 13:33
  • @curiousdannii Hmm... can't say it would be high on my priority list, but I don't think it would be tough to pull together. I'll see what sources are available. Jun 26, 2018 at 13:38
  • Only if you actually want to, it's fine as is.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 26, 2018 at 13:41

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.


In my experience as a Born-Again Protestant (with a background from Pentecostal and Baptist congregations) and study, at first it seemed that Sunday was the Sabbath. Culturally where I'm from Sunday is seen as the family day, so it's a one-all for church, family fellowship, and rest. It's really impossible to rest when you're busy prepping to go somewhere then hang out with family afterwards.

However, Colossians 2 seems to put a damper on this:

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” – Colossians 3:13-19 [NKJV]

You see, the Colossian church mixed various religions (Essenism, Merkabah mysticism, Gnosticism, Judaism, and Greek paganism) along with Christianity. This included the false belief that you must strictly observe Jewish laws, festivals, and live a strictly dietary life - among others - to attain salvation.

And what did Paul have to say about them?

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 3:20-24 [NKJV]

Basically, these practices were not only wrong but completely useless in attaining salvation, which also applies to taking your rest day. Salvation is by faith alone, which = good works, not faith + good works. You take observe the Sabbath because you love God and want to obey Him first AND because you need a break.

Therefore, the Sabbath isn't a set day of the week for us since we're not Jews. A correct way of interpreting it is to just take one day off a week - be it a Monday, Tuesday, etc. - in order to honor that day of rest as different from the other 6 days that were really busy.

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