When Does Your Sabbath Begin?

I have been car pooling to work each day. A fellow worker and I take turns driving to work. Late last fall, I needed to tell him about the Sabbath. On Fridays I would have to get to work by 7:00 AM and leave at 4:00 PM, so we would have to drive separately on Fridays.

My friend is a zealous Protestant. Several days later he wanted to know why I keep the Sabbath, so I gave him an article to read on the subject. Later he began discussing the Sabbath issue. As an "honest" student of the Bible, he admitted that Sunday is not the Bible Sabbath. The first issue he was concerned with was exactly WHEN the Sabbath begins. "When does your Sabbath begin?" I replied that the Bible indicates that Friday sunset is the beginning of the Sabbath. He said, "do you mean that at the exact split second of sundown, the Sabbath begins, and that if you are working after this time, it is sin, but if you are working before the exact moment of sundown, it is not sin?"

Sabbath No Different Than Other Commandments

I replied that such a hairsplitting view was Pharisaical and contrary to the spirit of love and obedience to the Creator. The Sabbath is no different than any other Biblical law. There are definite, explicit dividing lines between obedience and disobedience. It is the natural human tendency to attempt to get as close to the dividing line as possible. On the other hand, some want to say that there is no dividing line, but instead they say there is a large grey area, which gives them a great deal of latitude to do as they please. Like any other Biblical law, the Sabbath law has to be rightly interpreted, that is, applied, to our personal lives.

Let's look at another of the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." If adultery is the act of illicit sexual intercourse, suppose I get in bed with my neighbor's wife and caress her, but don't complete the sexual act. Would I have committed adultery? Of course.

The Messiah came to magnify -- expand to the full spiritual intent and purpose -- the law. He said that even to lust after another woman is the same as committing adultery.

The Sabbath is no different. To go right up to the edge is NOT keeping the Sabbath in its spiritual intent.

Are You Consistent?

That is why I try to leave work at 4:00 PM on Fridays when sundown is at 4:30 PM. I want to be on the safe side, and be home by sundown. I don't always make it as a result of busy highway traffic, but that could happen even if I left work at 3:30 PM. I do NOT want to be at work a few minutes before sundown Friday. It is typical in our office for a "crisis" to occur on Friday afternoons. Some "crash project" simply "has" to be done. It must be Satan who causes this to happen. It is often difficult to get off work early in the midst of critical work. Nobody said the Christian life was easy. To go right up to the edge is tempting, but to do so would lead to occasionally going over the edge, and this would destroy the credibility of my religious beliefs in the eyes of my employer.

You see, "unconverted" people are often very logical. They can instantly spot religious inconsistencies and contradictions, "phonies." Suppose I did once work a half hour after sunset to help out because of a truly critical need. The next time I wanted to leave before the Sabbath, my employer would say "But you worked past sundown last time." If I worked past sundown for a big crisis why wouldn't I do it for a crisis almost as big? The road to compromise is easy to take, but there is no turning back. Non believers usually respect believers who are totally consistent, even if they do ridicule their beliefs. A believer who is unsure of himself will earn no respect.

"When does your Sabbath begin?" My Protestant friend wanted to know. The underlying, unasked question was really, "Does your belief make logical sense, and are you consistent in doing what you say?"

The Sabbath and Sunset

Recently, the issue of when the Sabbath begins was addressed by Desmond Burke in his article "Sunset," which appeared in the September-October 1985 issue of The International News, published by Church of God, International, led by Garner Ted Armstrong. Mr. Ted Armstrong has recently written that "Sabbath breaking is a sin." Supposedly he keeps the Sabbath, so the article on Sunset would tell us what Sabbath breaking is so we would know how not to sin. One of the major functions of the ministry is, and should be, to show God's people their sins.

Mr. Burke states that the Bible does not say a new day begins at sunset. He says this is a false assumption that has been preached by a Pharisaical dictatorial ministry "born out of an insatiable lust to be correct to the letter no matter what the cost in human blood, sweat and tears." The Bible does say the Sabbath is "from even to even," Leviticus 23:32. According to Mr. Burke, "Evening is an undefinable period of time during which one day fades into history and a new one begins." Also, he says that it is a "satanically -inspired Pharisee-propagated lie that the day ends at sunset." Mr. Burke says that Jesus died "as the sun was setting." For him, "sunset" could be anywhere from 3:00 PM to some time after dark. Burke concludes that if you have the right attitude, God will honor you, and there is no reason to lose your job for refusing to work a little past sundown. Sarcastically, Mr. Burke says that a person that insists in getting off work prior to sundown will lose his job and no longer have to worry about being off by sundown. He would not be able to provide for his household, and as a result is now worse than an infidel, I Timothy 5:8. All because of heeding a Pharisaically inspired lie.

Let us honestly look at the Bible.

A Lesson in Bible Time

If Sabbath breaking is a sin, punishable by eternal death as Garner Ted Armstrong says, then certainly in the Bible we ought to be able to find when the Sabbath begins.

Exodus 31:12-18 shows that the death penalty was administered to Israelites who broke the Sabbath. They didn't have electronic watches nor computerized sunset tables. They had the sun to go by. Would it make sense to administer the death penalty for a nebulous law? It wouldn't be possible for anyone to tell who was breaking the Sabbath according to Mr. Burke, because for him the Sabbath is "an undefinable period of time."

Genesis 1:3-5, 14-18 says that the Eternal uses the sun and moon to divide day and night, light from darkness. Does it usually begin to get dark at 3:00 PM in the afternoon? No. The "evening and the morning" differentiate each day.

When the sun went down, it was dark, Genesis 15:17. This began a new day, verse 18. Jacob stayed for the night at a place, because the sun was set, and he lay down to sleep, Genesis 28:11. A priest who became unclean by touching a creeping thing was "unclean until even." He was to wash himself "and when the sun is down, he shall be clean, and shall afterward eat of the holy things," Leviticus 22:5-7. An unclean person had to stay out of the camp, wash himself when evening comes on, and when the sun was down he could come into the camp again, Deuteronomy 23:11. Time and again, when the sun is down (sunset) is a distinct Biblical demarcation of time.

A hanged dead body was to be buried as soon as the sun was down, Joshua 8:29. Samson gave his thirty wedding guests seven days to guess his riddle. On the seventh and last day the men came to him "before the sun went down" with the answer to the riddle that they had gotten from his wife, Judges 14:12-18. At the news of Abner's death at the hands of Joab, David fasted until sundown, II Samuel 3:35. He fasted for dead Saul and Jonathan until evening, II Samuel 1:12.

The morning is when the sun is up, Judges 9:33. In darkness the young lions stalk and at sunrise, they go to their dens while man gets up and goes to his labor until evening, Psalms 104:19-23. Thus, man is designed to work by day.

During Jesus' day, many Jews thought it was wrong for Him to heal on the Sabbath. They came to Him just after sunset Saturday night to be healed, Mark 1:32, Luke 4:31,40. We are not to hold grudges, or let our anger build up to the explosion point. This is expressed in the verse "let not the sun go down on your wrath," Ephesians 4:26-27. Don't let the day pass without getting rid of your anger. We are to use the lights God created to divide time, to differentiate between day and night. In the New Heavens and New Earth, there will be no need for the sun and moon, Revelation 21:23, 22:5.

Based on the above scriptures, it is evident that according to the Bible, sunset divides one day from another. Far from being a Pharisaical Satanic lie, the Sabbath does begin on Friday sunset and ends on Saturday sunset.

When Did Jesus Die?

Jesus did NOT die as the sun was setting, nor did He die when the evening sacrifice was being given. The evening sacrifice was given "at even," Numbers 28:4. The margin explains "between the two evenings." the Hebrew phrase here is ben ha erevim, which means after sundown and before dark. Detailed proof of this is given in our free article, "Passover: 14th or 15th?" The evening sacrifice was given at sundown.

The Savior died just after "the ninth hour," Matthew 27:45-50. During the time of the spring equinox, sunrise is about 6:00 AM. Counting from sunrise, the ninth hour would be about 3:00 PM. Jesus said "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" John 11:9-10. There are twelve hours of daylight around the time of the equinoxes. During the summer, there are more than twelve hours of daylight. During the winter there are less than twelve hours of daylight. Twelve hours of daylight is the median.

Some have concluded that days begin and end at 6:00 PM. Joseph Bates and other early Adventists in the 1850's observed Sabbath all during the year from 6:00 PM Friday to 6:00 PM Saturday. To do this is to use Roman time, which disregards sunrise and sunset. The context of John 11:9-10 disproves such an observance. The day, Jesus said, is when there is light, and the night is when there is darkness. Jesus clearly stated that sunset divides day and night.

Did Jesus Relax The Sabbath?

Matthew 5, 6, and 7 gives the account of the so-called Sermon on the Mount. Jesus made the laws of the Old Testament much more binding and expanded the law to its full spiritual intent. Jesus said even to look lustfully at a woman is adultery, 5:27-28. Rather than relax or water down the laws, He made them stricter. Those who "break [Greek luo, relax or loosen] one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of heaven," 5:19. Unless our righteousness exceeds -- goes far beyond -- that of the Pharisees, we will not be in the Kingdom of Heaven, verse 20.

Does it sound like Jesus relaxed the Sabbath? NO! The Pharisees had added false traditions to the Sabbath, such as the prohibition of healing on the Sabbath. The Bible tells when the Sabbath begins: on sunset of the end of sixth day. The Savior went beyond this to the spiritual intent of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, He demonstrated by His own actions that we must not just rest physically on the Sabbath, but we must also perform spiritual work of helping others. Yes at times even attending to human needs. Yet to Mr. Burke, we can now "relax" and not worry about working past sundown on the Sabbath. He has totally and completely missed the intent of the Sabbath.

Will You Lose Your Job Because of the Sabbath?

Some people ask the question "What if my employer tells me he will fire me if I do not work past sundown, or on Saturday? Jobs are hard to find. Should I keep the Sabbath regardless, and trust God for another job?"

According to Mr. Burke, the answer is "Relax. Don't throw away your livelihood over 'mint, anise and cumin'."

"How am I going to support my family?" you may ask. It takes real courage and faith to obey God. Time and time we have the promise in His Word that if we obey Him, He will bless us. Have you ever seen the righteous begging bread? See Psalms 37:25.

Here are two cases of Sabbath-keepers who faced the problem of not working on the Sabbath. One man I know is very strong and healthy, although he is lazy. He continually showed up late for work. When he asked not to work on the Sabbath he was fired. Another man was diligent, a real go-getter. "Why, you do the work of two men," he was told. When it came time to ask for time off early for the Sabbath, what do you suppose was the response? You're right! He was allowed to get off.

Somebody may indeed lose their job because of the Sabbath. God may give you a different, or even better job. Even if there is a period of trial and hardship, the Eternal will never leave nor forsake you. If you seek His kingdom first, all other blessings will be added unto you, Matthew 6:31-33.

I make this a challenge to anyone: step out in faith, be a diligent worker, keep the Sabbath day holy, without compromising, and see if the Eternal doesn't bless you.

You may lose your job because of the Sabbath and suffer temporary economic hardship. But in the long run, the Eternal guarantees to bless you. To lose your job because of the Sabbath does not make you guilty of being an infidel and denying the faith, as Mr. Burke twists I Timothy 5:8.

As Wise As Serpents, Harmless as Doves

Over the years that I have observed the Sabbath, I have had many different bosses. Some have ridiculed my beliefs. I still loathe when the time comes that I must inform my supervisor of my need for time off early for the Sabbath, or for a Holy Day. My palms sweat, and my knees quake.

One time I made the mistake of talking too much religion. The arrogant, demanding, self-righteous approach in discussing your need to obey God's Sabbath will not work well. Pray for wisdom to say the right thing, and not too much. Be calm, soft spoken, firm and to the point: "My religious beliefs forbid me from working from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. I would be glad to work extra hours at other times if needed." If your work record, no matter how brief, has been outstanding, there will seldom be any problem.

We need to stand up for our convictions without being offensive. Pray for wisdom to be as wise as serpents, as harmless as doves, Matthew 10:16.

Altitude and Fowls Roosting

Alfred Edersheim, in The Temple, page 179, states "Formally, the Sabbath commenced at sunset on Friday, the day being reckoned by the Hebrews from sunset to sunset . . . the Rabbis mention that the inhabitants of a low-lying city, like Tiberias, commenced the observance of the Sabbath half an hour earlier, while those who lived on an eminence, such as at Sepphoris [near Nazareth], continued it half an hour later than their brethren. If the sun were not visible, sunset was reckoned from when the fowls went to roost. But long before that the preparations for the Sabbath had commenced."

Thus, it is apparent that altitude and mountainous obstructions can affect when the Sabbath begins and ends in your area. Sheridan, Wyoming lies up against the east side of the lofty Big Horn Mountains. Sunset is earlier in Sheridan than in towns on the west side of the mountains, even though separated by scarcely 50 miles.

We have raised chickens and have noticed how each evening they all go to roost like clockwork, at or even a little before sundown. The phrase, "to go to bed with the chickens" means to retire around sundown, before dark. Chickens go to roost at about the same time each day, regardless of whether the sun is visible. They are like a natural sunset clock.

The Sabbath on a Round World

How can one observe the Sabbath in polar regions during periods of continuous daylight or continual darkness? Doesn't this invalidate the sunset to sunset doctrine? Not whatsoever.

An interesting book on this subject is The Lord's Day on a Round World, by Robert Odom (Seventh Day Adventist). During the winter at the Arctic Circle and further north, as well as in southern polar regions, there are times when the sun is invisible for 24 hours, and other times when it is visible for 24 hours or longer. During the time of complete darkness, Sabbath-keepers should observe the Sabbath from Friday approximately at noon to Saturday noon because that time was when the sun rose and set in Arctic midwinter. That is, before the sun disappeared, it both rose and set at noon. Conversely, during the period of complete light, the Sabbath is observed from midnight Friday to midnight Saturday, because the sun is at its lowest point around midnight during the time of the "Midnight sun." The rule is clear: at whatever time the sun went down before the period of total darkness or total light is the time to initiate the Sabbath.

In regions below the Arctic Circle, there is never a period of 24 hour darkness nor 24 hour sunshine, and whenever the sun sets on Friday is the beginning of the Sabbath. The Antarctic region works the same way. So the skeptic who says the Sabbath cannot be observed in polar regions does not have a leg to stand on. We can be glad that the Creator did indeed make it possible for His Sabbath to be kept, worldwide!

Another question involves the International Dateline. This is an imaginary line west of the Hawaiian Islands, in the central Pacific Ocean. When one crosses this "line" going west, it suddenly becomes the next calendar day! Imagine that it is Friday near sunset and you cross the Dateline going west. Now it is suddenly Saturday sunset. You have "missed" the Sabbath altogether! If you crossed the line from west to east, you could end up with two consecutive Sabbaths! Since the Sabbath-keeper would not normally be making a boat or plane trip over the International Dateline around Friday sunset, this situation should rarely, if ever, come up. When traveling, you should always stop and keep the Sabbath where you are, not where you have been.


It is the natural, carnal human approach to either split hairs and come up to the edge of sin, or to believe there are no boundaries. On the one hand, we have those who will work until 4:29 when sunset is 4:30. On the other hand, we have those who will work up until or even after dark and still claim to be keeping the Sabbath. Neither are in reality keeping the Sabbath.

How you keep the Sabbath is a direct reflection of your relationship with your Creator. "It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed," Exodus 31:17.

When man observes the Sabbath, he is imitating his Creator and commemorating the creation itself. You keep the Sabbath and the Eternal will keep you! Observing the Sabbath, especially with others in fellowship, promotes spiritual health and well being so one can remain in the proper relationship with the Heavenly Father the other six days of the week. The Sabbath is a natural law without which man spiritually deteriorates.

Just like the soil in many parts of the world is seriously eroding, so those who pollute the Sabbath by watering it down and corrupting it have deep spiritual gullies. We need to repent of our polluting the Sabbath. See Ezekiel chapter 20.

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 . . . ."

Psalm 92, the Sabbath Psalm, is a helpful Sabbath meditation. It points us back to the Sabbath of Creation, and forward to the Age of the Eternal Sabbath. The wicked will perish like the grass. The righteous will flourish like the cedars of Lebanon, noted for their vigorous growth, longevity, usefulness, fragrance and beauty. Even in old age we should still be green and fruitful, proclaiming that the Eternal is upright, our Rock, with no unrighteousness.

Let us keep the Eternal Sabbath now, and for all eternity.

Additional Articles:

Why the Sabbath is Important, Part 1
Keeping the Sabbath in a Non-Sabbath World
The Sabbath and Ecology
How to Keep the Sabbath Holy
The Sabbath and Service
The Truth About Sabbath and Sunday
The Good News of the Sabbath
Sabbath Facts
Jubilee and the Sabbath Year
The Sabbath: A Divisive Issue?
A History of the Saturday Resurrection Doctrine Among Sabbath-Keepers
Chronology of the Crucifixion and Resurrection According to Ancient Texts
A Look at The Pope’s Pastoral Letter, "Dies Domini"
Review: The Sabbath Under Crossfire
Sabbath Quiz

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Written by: Richard C. Nickels
Giving & Sharing
PO Box 100
Neck City, MO 64849
United States of America

This material distributed on the Web by the Giving & Sharing site at: http://www.giveshare.org

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