SABBATH (sAb'bath). The original word shab-bawth'), signifies simply rest, cessation from labor or employment.
The term, however, became appropriated in a specific religious sense, to signify the dedication of a precise portion of time to cessation from worldly labor, and a peculiar consecration by virtue of which a sanctity was ascribed to the portion of time so set apart.
(1) Sabbath Before the Law. IVas there any Sabbath before the Law? This is a question which lies at the root of all the differences of opinion which have been entertained. For the affirmative it is alleged on the authority of Gen. ii :3 that the Sabbath was instituted by God in commemoration of his resting on the seventh day from the work of creation, and given to our first parents.
This text has indeed usually been regarded as conclusive of the whole question ; but those who hold that the institution of the Sabbath originated under the Law observe that this passage contains no express command, addressed to any parties, nor any specific mention of the nature of such implied solemnization ; still less any direct allu sion to rest from labor, or to religious worship.
It is also urged that some of the ablest divines, even of older times, regard the passage (Gen. ii :3) as proleptical or anticipatory, and referring to the subsequent institution recorded in Exodus.
The early Christian writers are generally as silent on this subject of a primitive Sabbath as on that of primitive sacrifice (see SACRIFICE). Such examination as we have been able to institute has disclosed no belief in its existence, while some in dications are found of a notion that the Sabbath began with Moses. Thus, Justin Martyr says that the patriarchs 'were justified before God not keeping the Sabbaths ;' and again, 'from Abraham originated circumcision, and from Moses the Sab bath, and sacrifices and offerings,' etc. (Dial. con. Tryph., 236, 261). Irermus observes, 'Abraham. without circumcision, and without observance of Sabbaths, believed in God,' etc. (iv :3o). And Tertullian expresses himself to the same effect (Adv. Jud. ii, 4). While. on the other hand, they
regard the institution as wholly peculiar to the Israelites. Justin Martyr, in particular, expresses himself pointedly to the effect that 'it was given to them on account of their lawlessness (dvomfav) and hardness of heart' (Dial. cum Tryph., 235).
(2) The Jewish Sabbath. Under the Mosaic law itself the case is perfectly free from all doubt or ambiguity. The Sabbath, as consisting in a rigid cessation from every species of labor, was enjoined expressly 'for a perpetual covenant,' and as 'a sign between God and the children of Israel forever' (Exod. xxxi :16). And the same idea is repeated in many other passages, all showing both the exclusive announcement and peculiar object and application of the institution to the people of Israel, as particularly Ezek. xx :to ; Neh. ix :14, etc. And this is further manifest in the constant association of this observance with others of the like peculiar and positive nature, as with rever encing the sanctuary (Lev. xix :30), keeping the ordinances (Ezek. xlv :r7), solemnizing the new moons (Is. i :13; lxvi :23), and other feasts (Hos. ii :II). And obviously with the same view it was expressly made one of the primary obligations of proselytes who joined themselves to the Lord, as 'taking hold of the covenant' thereby (Is. lvi :6).
The degree of minute strictness with which it was to be observed is laid down in express literal precepts, as against kindling fire (Exod. xxxv :3) or preparing food (xvi :5, 22). A man was put to death for gathering sticks (Num. xv :32). Buy ing and selling were also unlawful (Neh. x:31).
To these a multitude of more precise injunctions were added by the traditions of the Rabbis, such as the prohibition of traveling more than twelve miles, afterwards contracted to one mile, and called a Sabbath day's journey, and not only buying and selling, but any kind of pecuniary transaction, even for charitable purposes, or so much as touching money (see Vitringa, De Syna gogd, translated by Bernard, p. 76).