The Sabbath Is a Creation Ordinance – Genesis 2:1-3

This article heavily utilizes The Christian Sabbath, by Robert Paul Martin.

Genesis 2:1-3 (NASB)

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. 2 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then ”’God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it”’, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

God Blessed and Sanctified the Seventh, or the Sabbath, Day

In Genesis 2:3, we see that “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it,” giving it a special status compared to the other six days. More specifically, we can conclude that this “seventh day” is the same as the Sabbath day—or, a special day of rest instituted for man— since Jesus says in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man.”

John Baylee writes that if this is not what Genesis 2:1-3 implies, then “the clearness and simplicity of the whole narrative is destroyed.”1

The Origin of the Seven-Day Week

The Seven-Day Week Is Not Natural

It is significant to note that Genesis 2:1-3 explains the origin of the seven-day week. The seven-day week is unique from other cycles in that it is not natural in origin.

  • A year is determined from the solar cycle of solstices and equinoxes.
  • Seasons are also determined from the cycle above.
  • For the Hebrews, months were determined from the cycles of the moon. A new moon would signify a new month.
  • Days are determined by the cycle of daylight and darkness.

In contrast, the seven-day week is not determined from any natural cycle. Thus, William Dana writes this:

the creator of the week, in creating a cycle so out of harmony with nature, must havea had in view an important end. That conclusion follows from the abnormal character of the period; unless it performed a high service, no excuse for the existence of the intruder could be found.

William B. Dana, ”A Day for Rest and Worship: Its origin, Development and Present Day Meaning” (Fleming H. Revell, 1911), 62.

The Seven-Day Week Is Not Based on Moon Phases

John McClintock and James Strong write, concerning the word “week”:

the week is a most natural and nearly an exact quadripartition of the month, so that the quarters of the moon may easily have suggested it.

McClintock, John and James Strong, ”Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Supplemental Volume, S.v.”.

Harold Dressler writes:

[The seven-day week] reflects a simple, observational calculation based on the moon-phases.

”From Sabbath to Lord’s Day”, 37, ”fn.” 31.

However, when we examine the phases of the moon, we see that it is very unlikely that they are the origin of the seven-day week. Robert Martin writes this:

The facts, however, weigh against the idea of a lunar connection. Neither the phenomenon in question nor the calculation are siomple. The moon phase (synodic) cycle is 29.53 days, while the sidereal month (calculated with reference to fixed stars) is 27.32 days. The calendrical month, calculated at 1/12 of the solar year is 30.42 days. This timing of the moon’s phases, therefore, shifts by an average of about one day for each successive month, so that the lunar year (354 days) differs markedly from the solar year (365 days). Further, the new moon, which figures so prominently in Israel’s calendar, does not occur every 28 days. In a word, the seven-day week may not be traced to any natural cycle.

Martin, Robert Paul, The Christian Sabbath: Its Redemptive-Historical Foundation, Present Obligation, and Practical Observance (Trinity Pulpit Press, 2016), 41.

Pagan Influences Upon the Seven-Day Week

The seven-day week that we have today is a combination of biblical and pagan ideas. For example, in the planetary week, the days are named after planets and Nordic deities (e.g., Saturn’s-day, Sun’s-day, Moon’s-day, Wodan’s-day, Thor’s-day).

However, Willy Rordoft writes this:

If we study its origins, we shall not be able to rid ourselves of the suspicion that the planetary week originated after the Jewish week and that it has impregnated the Jewish week with astrological ideas.

Willy Rordorf, ”Sunday: The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Early Centuries of the Christian Church”, trans. A. A. K. Graham (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968), 9.

Related Article: Why Are There Seven Days In a Week?

God Created in Seven Days for a Purpose

God did not need to create the universe in seven days. He could have created everything in a moment, or in one day. However, instead, God chose to create the universe in seven days to establish a pattern of six days of work, followed by one day of rest, for the benefit of humans.

Ralph Wardlaw writes this:

It is true that creation occupied a certain portion of time: but not because omnipotence required it. The same word that commanded into existence the successive parts could, with equal ease, by one ”fiat”, have commanded the whole. But there was a design in its being ordered otherwise; and the design related to man. It was to give commencement to such a division of time amongst the inhabitants of the new-formed world, as should connect the finished work of creation with a commemorative day.

Ralph Wardlaw, Discourses on the Sabbath (Glasgow: Archibald Fullarton & Co., 1832), 14.

Answers to Objections

Genesis 2:1-3 Is Unrelated to the Weekly Sabbath, Which Began at Sinai

The Argument

Dressler writes:

There is no direct command that the seventh day be kept in any way… we interpret this in terms of an eschatological, proleptic sign indicating some future rest. Thus the statement in Genesis 2:3 is to be understood not in terms of blessing the Sabbath (according to our understandint of Exod. 20:11 such a blessing accompanied the inauguration of the Sabbath at Sinai) but in terms of the ultimate rest for the people of God.

Dressler, Harold. ‘From Sabbath to Lord’s Day”, 28-29.

Likewise, Gerhard von Rad writes:

In the assertion made in Gen. II.2ff… ”an article of faith is set up”, as it were, in the place of God himself, affirming that there is a “rest” ”which has no immediate bearing whatever on human life”… The boldness of the statement at Gen. II.2 resides in the fact that the divine rest is not at this point made normative for the rhythem of human life, but is mentioned simply as a fact in its own right. Nothing is said here of the Sabbath law, and Israel learns of it only at Mt. Sinai.

Gerhard von Rad, “There Remains Still a Rest for the People of God: An Investigation of a Biblical Conception,” in ”The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays”, trans. E. W. Trueman Dicken (Ediburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1966), 100-102 (emphasis added).

God’s Example Was Meant to Be Imitated

In response to Dressler and von Rad, Martin writes this:

In the creation week, the pattern of God’s behavior was six days of labor followed by one day of holy rest. And in revealing this, the Lord was not just prefiguring an as yet undefined participation of man in his heavenly rest but establishing a pattern of life that man, his imagebearer, was to imitate. Here is not “an article of faith” that has no bearing on human life, but a pattern of behavior to be imitated. We would do well to recognize the morally-binding force of God’s example.

Martin, Robert Paul, The Christian Sabbath: Its Redemptive-Historical Foundation, Present Obligation, and Practical Observance (Trinity Pulpit Press, 2016), 43.

Similarly, Thomas Shepard writes this:

It can not be shown that ever God made himself an example of any act, but that in the present example there was and is a present rule, binding immediately to follow that example; if therefore, from the foundation of the world, God made himself an example in six days’ labor and in a seventh day’s rest, why should not this example then and at that time of innocency be binding, there being no example which God sets before us but it supposeth a rule binding us immediately thereunto? The great and most high God could have made the world in a moment or in a hundred years; why did he make it then in six days, and rested the seventh day, but that it might be an example to man? … Once the day was sanctified at creation, it became a moral duty to man to observe it after God’s example.

Thomas Shepard, ”Theses Sabbaticae”, in ”The Works of Thomas Shepard” (Boston: Doctrincal Tract and Book Society, 1853), 3:157-58.

Martin comments on Shepard’s writing above, saying:

Also, by taking six days to finish his work, the Lord illustrated the accomplishment of one’s work over time, in the way that man would have to accomplish his work. Thus the whole pattern of God’s acting was plainly exemplary.

Martin, 43.

At Sinai, the Sabbath Was Already Known

When the Sabbath was introduced at Sinai, it was not introduced as a new concept, nor was there any reference to a previous meaning for the seventh day related to future eschatological rest.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God… 11 ”’For (כִּי)”’ in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. ”’Therefore (עַל-כֵּן)”’ the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

In Exodus 20:8-11, we see that it is ”’because (כִּי)”’ of God’s example in working six days and resting on the seventh that the Sabbath day exists. We see the same conjunction in Genesis 2:3.

{{Quote|text=So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, ”’because (כִּי)”’ on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:3

The presence of כִּי in both Exodus 20:8-11 and Genesis 2:3 imply that they are essentially saying that same thing, namely, that humans should rest on the Sabbath, or the seventh day, because of God’s example in creation.

Dressler argues that the word “therefore” (עַל-כֵּן) means “consequently now,” or, in other words, “subsequently in time.” However, עַל-כֵּן can also be interpreted as “logically consequent.” We would argue that in Exodus 20:8-11, עַל-כֵּן means “logically consequent” (the Sabbath exists as a logical consequence of God’s example in creation), for both the reason above (the parallel between Exodus 20:8-11 and Genesis 2:3) and the next reason.

Grammatically, Both “made and rested” and “blessed and made it holy” Are Past Events

In both Exodus 20:11 and Genesis 2:3, we see that God “made,” then “rested” on, “blessed,” and “made holy” the seventh day/Sabbath. Grammatically, these are all past actions.

Martin writes this:

{{Quote|text=When the Hebrew language portrays completed actions as part of a continuous narrative (as at Exod. 20:11, ”i.e.”, Jehovah ”made” and ”rested”, and then ”blessed” and ”sanctified”), the ordinary way is with a perfect verb followed by an imperfect verb with a refixed ”waw consecutive”. The ”waw consecutive” is so named because it expresses the actions of the imperfect verb as the temporal or logical sequel to the action mentioned immediately before. The practical effect of this is that the imperfect verb conveys the same idea as the perfect verb, ”i.e.”, completed action. At Exod. 20:11 we find two sets of verbs with this pattern (”i.e.”, ”made” and ”rested”, then ”blessed” and ”sanctified”). See ”Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar”, ed. E. Kautzsch, rev. A E. Cowley (reprint ed., Exford: University Press, 1988), 309-310, 326. The perfect and the imperfect consecutive therefore both represent completed action, in the same way the aorist tense does in Greek (”cf.” LXX’s use of the aorist to translate all four verbs in this text).

Martin, 45.

At Creation, God “blessed” and “made holy” the Sabbath Day

Understanding now that God “blessing” and “making holy” the Sabbath day was something that occurred at the time that God “made” and “rested” during creation, we note that in Exodus 20:11, God “blessed” and “made holy” the Sabbath day. The text does not say that at creation, God “blessed” and “made holy” the seventh day, and only now, at Sinai, is he “blessing” and “making holy” a Sabbath day that is patterned after the seventh day.

This implies that when God “blessed” and “made holy” the Sabbath day at creation, it was at that time that the Sabbath was instituted for all humans.

Related to “Is the Sabbath a Burden or a Blessing?”

  1. John T. Baylee, ”History of the Sabbath, or, Day of Holy Rest” (London: C. F. Hodgson, 1857), 5. []

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