This continues a series on the Ten Commandments. In the last post we discussed the The 5th Commandment. With object of demonstrating that we base our laws upon the Bible, in this post we will discuss the relationship between the 4th commandment and government.

What is the 4th commandment?

Exodus 20:8-11 The New Revised Standard Version

8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Note that for reasons we discussed in PART 2 of this series Catholics consider the requirement to honour the Sabbath the 3rd commandment.

Also note we are making a transition. In the previous posts, we considered the fifth through the tenth commandments. Commandments six through 10 prohibit us from harming our fellows. The fourth commandment required us to honour our parents. The first through the third commandments require us to respect God.

What Is The Sabbath?

Here is what the Online Etymology Dictionary says about the Sabbath.

Sabbath (n.)

O.E. sabat “Saturday,” observed by the Jews as a day of rest, from L. sabbatum, from Gk. sabbaton, from Heb. shabbath, prop. “day of rest,” from shabath “he rested.” The Babylonians regarded seventh days as unlucky, and avoided certain activities then; the Jewish observance may have begun as a similar custom. From the seventh day of the week, it began to be applied early 15c. to the first day (Sunday), a change completed during the Reformation. The original meaning is preserved in Sp. Sabado, It. Sabbato, and other languages’ names for “Saturday.” Hung. szombat, Rumanian simbata, Fr. samedi, Ger. Samstag “Saturday” are from V.L. sambatum, from Gk. *sambaton, a vulgar nasalized variant of sabbaton.

Note the transition in meaning. Originally, the term referred to the Jewish Sabbath, but in a bit of linguistic confusion, Reformation Christians applied the term Sabbath to Sunday.

What Does The Bible Say?

Is Sunday the right day to celebrate the Sabbath? Should Christians celebrate the Sabbath? In Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday?, provides a good explanation for the change (See here, here, here and here for other articles.). Because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20) and told us to celebrate communion in memory of him (Matthew 26, Mark 14Luke 22, and 1 Corinthians 11), Christians observe communion on Sunday.

Whether changing the day the Sabbath is observed is appropriate or not is debatable, but the Apostle Paul did not think it particularly important.

Colossians 2:16-17 Good News Translation (GNT)

16 So let no one make rules about what you eat or drink or about holy days or the New Moon Festival or the Sabbath. 17 All such things are only a shadow of things in the future; the reality is Christ.

The word Sabbath occurs frequently in the Bible, and the celebration of the Sabbath is important to God, but the resurrection of Christ Jesus is central to Christianity. So Christians do not celebrate the Sabbath as Jews celebrate it (See Shabbat.). Because Christians believe Jesus is the savior, Christians celebrate Jesus.

How Does The 4th Commandment Affect Government?

There is a long history of government requiring citizens to respect the observance of the Sabbath. The Bible itself describes how the ancient Jews enforced the Sabbath.

Exodus 31:12-17 Good News Translation (GNT)

12 The Lord commanded Moses 13 to tell the people of Israel, “Keep the Sabbath, my day of rest, because it is a sign between you and me for all time to come, to show that I, the Lord, have made you my own people. 14 You must keep the day of rest, because it is sacred. Whoever does not keep it, but works on that day, is to be put to death. 15 You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a solemn day of rest dedicated to me. Whoever does any work on that day is to be put to death. 16 The people of Israel are to keep this day as a sign of the covenant. 17 It is a permanent sign between the people of Israel and me, because I, the Lord, made heaven and earth in six days, and on the seventh day I stopped working and rested.”

God made a national covenant with the Jewish people. He offered them salvation and national favor if they observed the Law, and so people suffered severe penalties if they broke the Law.

After Christians gained support of the government, they also used that power to prohibit work on Sabbath (Sunday).

It begins with an Edict of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who forbade judges to sit and townspeople to work on Sunday. He made an exception in favour of agriculture. (from here)

We would call such a law a Blue Law in our era. Our blue laws have been repealed in favor of religious freedom. Therefore, the primary effect of the 4th commandment today is the most obvious. Because Saturday and Sunday are the days different Christian sects and the Jews observe the Sabbath, most employers give their employees those days off. That includes the government. Unless an employer can show undue hardship, requiring employees to work on the Sabbath may be grounds for legal action (See Facts about Religious Discrimination.).