When Does the Sabbath Begin?

James Durham
A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments
pp. 188-192

It remains here to be inquired what is the beginning of the sanctification of this day (which belongs to the quando) or where from we are to reckon it, seeing it is granted by all to be a natural day [i.e. 24 hours]. Now it is questioned mainly, whether its beginning is to be reckoned from evening about sun-setting or darkness, to sun-setting the next day, or if it be to be reckoned from morning, that is (as we fix it) when the Sun begins to ascend towards us after midnight, which is morning largely taken, as it is evening largely taken when the Sun begins to decline after mid-day.

In this debate then, we take morning and evening largely, as they divide the whole natural day, so the morning is from twelve at night to twelve in the day, and the evening from twelve in the day to twelve at night: And it must be so here, for:

1. Moses in Genesis 1 divides the natural day in morning and evening, which two put together, make up the whole day. And these six days made up of morning and evening are natural days, the whole week being divided into seven of them. And that reckoning from God’s example is no doubt proposed for our imitation in this. Hence the morning watch was before day, and the morning sacrifice was about nine o’clock, so the evening sacrifice was about three in the afternoon, and the evening watch about nine at night. 

2. It is granted by all, and is clear from this command, that as we account the six working days of the week, so must we account the seventh, for one must begin where another ends. And if one of them begins in the evening or morning, all the rest must do so likewise. 

3. We suppose the sanctifying of the ordinary Sabbath was from morning to evening. I say of the ordinary Sabbath because for extraordinary Sabbaths, as of the Passover (Ex. 12), and of the Atonement (Lev. 23), there were special reasons. And though otherwise they were to be sanctified as Sabbaths, yet that they were to begin in the evening before, was added as a special solemnity of these solemn times. And therefore the example or instance of these will not be concluded here to the prejudice of what we assert, but rather to the contrary, seeing there is a particular excepting of them from the ordinary rule, and the particular intimation of their beginning in the evening, will rather confirm our assertion, that the ordinary Sabbaths did begin in the morning.

4. It is not questioned, if on the evening before, people should be preparing for the Sabbath following. We said that this is included in the word remember. But if we speak of the Sabbath to begin at the evening before, then it will be comprehended as a part of the very day, and so it will conclude the work or observation of the day to close at the next evening.

We conceive, especially to us Christians, the day is to begin in the morning, as is said, and to continue till the next morning, for which we reason thus:

Argument 1.

As other days begin, or as days began at the first, so must this, but days ordinarily begin in the morning, ergo, etc.

If the first six of Moses’s reckoning begin so, then this begins so also, but they do begin so, which may be cleared from Genesis 1 where the evening and the morning make the first day after the Creation.

1. If there the morning and the evening do fully divide the natural day, then the morning must go before the evening, every morning being for its own evening. But they do divide the natural day, all being comprehended under six days, ergo, etc. The consequence is clear to natural sense, for the forenoon, which is the morning must be before the afternoon, which is the evening. The ascending of the Sun is surely before its declining, and seeing the morning natural (to speak so) of the natural day, is from the twelfth hour at night, this must be the beginning of the day.

2. Again, the question then being only whether to reckon the evening or the morning first, it would seem necessary to reckon the morning first. For if the evening be first, that evening must either be:

(1). The evening of a day preceding morning, seeing every evening supposes a morning to go before it in proper speech (and I suppose the history of the Creation, Genesis 1 is not set down in metaphorical terms).

(2). Or it must be an evening without a morning, and that in proper speech (here used) is absurd, and seems also to be as impossible in nature, to wit, that there should be a consequent and posterior evening or afternoon, without a preceding morning or forenoon, as that there should be an effect without a cause.

(3). Or it must be the evening following its own morning, and so that morning must be last preceding the first evening recorded (Gen. 1: “the evening and the morning were the first day”), which to affirm would not only be absurd, but would also manifestly fasten the loss of a day’s time on the Scripture’s calculation. And it seems hard in all speech and Scripture phrase, to put the evening before its own morning, seeing there must be both morning and evening in each day. Neither does the Scripture speak any way of evening, but when it is drawing towards night, which still supposes the morning of that same day to be passed. Or else we must divide the day in the middle of the artificial day, and make the natural day begin at twelve of the noon day, which will be as much against the Scripture phrase that reckons still the whole artificial day as belonging to one natural day, the artificial day and night being the two parts of one whole natural day.

All the force of the opposite reason is this: the evening is first named, ergo it is first.

Answer. Moses’ scope is not to show what part of one day is before another, but to divide one day from another, and to show what goes to make a whole day, to wit, an evening and a morning. Not a morning alone, but an evening added to the morning which preceded, that made the first, second, third day, etc. as one would reckon thus: there is a whole day, because there is both evening and morning. In this account it is most suitable to begin with the evening because it presupposes the morning, and being added to it, cannot but be a day. Whereas it is not so proper to say morning with the evening, as evening now added to its morning completes the first day. And evening now being past as the morning before God did put a period by and with the evening to the first day, it being the evening that completes the day, and divides it from the following day, and not the morning. As one would say, the afternoon with the forenoon makes a complete day. And the afternoon or evening is first named, because 1. the day is not complete without it, seeing it completes it. 2. Because the day cannot be extended beyond it, now the first day is closed, because the evening of it is come.

Argument 2.

What time of the day God began his rest, we must begin ours, but he began his in the morning of the seventh day, the artificial night having intervened between that and the sixth, which is clear. For 1. God’s resting this day is more than his resting in the other nights of the six days, it being granted by all that he made nothing in the night. 2. There had not otherwise been any intermission between his labour and his rest, which is yet supposed by distinguishing the days.

Again, if by virtue of the command of a day to be sanctified, we should begin the night or the evening before, then these two or three absurdities would follow: 1. Then we would confound the preparation by the word remember, and the day together. 2. Then we Christians might also, by virtue of the concession of six days for work, begin to work the night before Monday, as the Jews on this supposition might have begun their work the night before Sunday. 3. Then we were almost no sooner to begin the sanctifying of the day, then to break it off for rest, and when its sanctification is closed, as soon to fall to our ordinary callings.

Argument 3.

If by this command a whole natural day [i.e. 24 hours] is to be employed for duties of worship, as another day is employed in our ordinary callings, then is it to begin in the morning. The antecedent will not be denied, the consequent is thus made good: If men account all the labour of their working time from one night’s rest to another to belong to one day, then must they begin in the morning. Or else they must account what they work after the first evening to belong to another day. But that way of reckoning was never heard of, the twelfth hour belonging to that same day with the first hour.

Again, if by this command a whole artificial day together (that is, our waking and working time between two nights) is to be employed for God’s worship, then its beginning must be in the morning. For if the latter or following evening belong to this natural day before sleeping time come on, then the evening before cannot belong to it, for it cannot have both. But by this command a whole waking day, or an artificial day is to be sanctified together, and the evening after it before waking time ends as well as the morning. Therefore it must begin in the morning, and not on the evening before.

Further, if by virtue of the concession of six working days we may not work the evening after, then the day begins in the morning. For the week day following must begin as the Sabbath did. But the former is true, ergo, etc. These things will make out the minor:

1. It can hardly be thought consistent with this command to work immediately, when it grows dark before folks rest.

2. It is said of the women that stayed from the grave till the first day of the week (Luke 23:56; 24:1), that they rested according to the commandment on the Sabbath day, and early in the morning came to the sepulcher.

3. Because Christ accounts a whole natural day that which lasts till men cannot work [John 9:4; cf. Ps. 104:23].

4. God’s working days (to say so) were such that he made not anything in the evening before the first day.

5. The ordinary phrase, “To morrow is the holy Sabbath” (Ex. 16.23) shows that the day present will last till tomorrow come, and tomorrow is ever by an intervening night. So if on the forbidden day men may not work till tomorrow, then that evening belongs to it by this command. And if on the sixth day the seventh be not come till tomorrow, that is, after the night intervenes, then it does not begin at evening. But so it is in these places and phrases.

Yet again, it is clear that in all the examples of ordinary Sabbath keeping and sanctifying in Scripture, they began in the morning. For instance, it is said some of the people went out to gather on the seventh day (Ex. 16.27), no doubt in the morning, for they knew well there was none of it to be found any day after the Sun’s waxing hot. They might have dressed of it the night before, and not been quarreled with, they being forbidden gathering on the Sabbath. The proofs of the former argument give light to this also.

There are yet two arguments to be added, which do especially belong to us Christians, for clearing the beginning of our Lord’s Day to be in the morning. The first is taken from Christ’s resurrection thus:

Argument 1.

That day, and that time of the day, ought to be our Sabbath, and the beginning of it when the Lord began to rest after finishing the work of redemption, and arose. But that was the first day in the week, in the morning, ergo, etc. This binds us strongly who take that day on which he arose to be our Christian Sabbath.

Argument 2.

The second is taken from the history of Christ’s passion and resurrection together, wherein these things to this purpose are observable:

1. That he was laid in the grave on Friday night, being the preparation to the great Sabbath, which followed.

2. That the women who rested and came not to the grave till Sunday morning (to use our known names) are said to rest according to the commandment—as if coming sooner had not been resting according to it.

3. That his lying in the grave must be accounted to be some time before the Friday ended. Otherwise he could not have been three days in the grave, and therefore a part of Friday’s night is reckoned to the first day, then the whole Sabbath or Saturday is the second, and lastly a part of the night, to wit, from twelve o’clock at night, belonging to the first day or Sunday, stands for the third. And so he arose that morning, while it was yet dark, at which time, or thereabouts, the women came to the grave, as soon as they could because of the Sabbath, and therefore their seventh day Sabbath ended then, and the first day Sabbath began.


See also the numerous Puritan and Reformed quotes on this subject compiled by the Virginia Huguenot: Midnight to Midnight (Part 1); Midnight to Midnight (Part 2).

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