The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
The 39 Prohibited Sabbath Activities
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. ~God, Exodus 20:8

The Sabbath is a weekly holy day of rest and prayer as ordained by the third or fourth of the Ten Commandments. The Hebrew word "šabbāth" means "the [day] of rest (or ceasing)," as it entails a ceasing or resting from labor. The institution of the Old Testament Sabbath was a perpetual covenant for the people of God.

The 39 Prohibited Sabbath Activities

The Sabbath denotes Saturday, the seventh day of the week, or, more precisely, the time period from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.

The Hebrew word shabbat comes from the Hebrew verb shabat, which  literally means "to cease", or shev which means "sit".

Although shabbat or its anglicized version "Sabbath" is almost universally translated as "rest" or a "period of rest", a more literal translation would be "ceasing", with the implication of "ceasing from work". Thus, shabbat is the day of ceasing from work; while resting is implied, it is not a denotation of the word itself.

This clarifies the often-asked theological question of why God needed to "rest" on the seventh day of Creation, as related in the Genesis account. When it is understood that God "ceased" from his labor rather than "rested" from his labour, the usage is more consistent with the Biblical view of an omnipotent God who does not need "rest."

Prohibited Activities

Jewish law prohibits doing any form of melachah ("work", plural "melachot") on Shabbat. Melachah does not closely correspond to the English definition of the term "work", nor does it correspond to the definition of the term.

Rather, it refers to the 39 categories of activity that the Talmud prohibits Jews from engaging in on Shabbat; are exegetically derived or based on juxtaposition of corresponding Biblical passages, from the kinds of work that were necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle.

Many religious scholars have pointed out that these labors have something in common -- they prohibit any activity that "creates" or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.

The 39 Prohibited Activities

As based on the Mishnah Tractate Shabbat 7:2, the 39 activities are:

Binding sheaves
Shearing wool
Washing wool

Beating wool
Dyeing wool
Making two loops
Weaving two threads
Separating two threads
Sewing stitches

Scraping hide
Marking hides
Cutting hide to shape
Writing two or more letters
Erasing two or more letters
Extinguishing a fire
Kindling a fire
Putting the finishing touch on an object
Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain.


The 39 categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat can be divided into four groups.

The first 11 categories are activities required to bake bread.
The next 13 categories are activities required to make a garment.
The next 9 categories are activities required to make leather.
The final 6 categories are activities required to build a structure or building.

Permitted Activities

The following activities are encouraged on Shabbat:

Spending Shabbat together with one's own immediate family;
Temple attendance for prayers;
Visiting family and friends (within walking distance);
Hosting guests (hachnasat orchim, "hospitality");
Singing zemirot, special songs for the Shabbat.
Reading, studying and discussing Torah and commentary, Mishnah and Talmud, learning some Halakha and Midrash.

According to Reform Judaism "one should avoid one's normal occupation or profession on Shabbat whenever possible and engage only in those types of activities that enhance the joy, rest, and holiness of the day."

Jesus and the Sabbath

In the New Testament, Jesus declared that he was the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28), and that it was made for man's good (Mark 2:27).

Jesus, in his teachings, rebuked the Jews, and taught that it was right to do good on the Sabbath (Mark 3:4, Luke 6:9). The Sabbath continued to be a time of communal gathering for Christians (Hebrew 10:25), as well as study and learning the will of God (Acts 15:21). Christians continued to observe the seventh day as holy for centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus.

Jesus states in Matthew 24:20, "And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath." Sabbatarians maintain that this indicates Christ expected the Sabbath to be kept subsequent to His death.

Also, on the weight of Hebrews 4:8-11, the Sabbath remains a Christian Holy Day, and Sabbath-keeping is an abiding duty as prescribed in the fourth commandment. The gospel of Luke states in 23:56 that when the body of Christ was being prepared by His followers, they rested on the Sabbath before finishing their work.

While a clear mandate is given for the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the closest passage to a command for Sabbath- keeping in the New Testament is found in Hebrews 4:9.

In that passage is found the word "sabbatismos". The Authorized Version (King James Version of 1611) and New King James Version and several others render that word as "rest".

However, in regard to taking Sabbatismos literally, Professor Andrew T. Lincoln, in his symposium From Sabbath To The Lord's Day, states "The use of sabbatismos elsewhere in extant Greek literature gives an indication of its more exact shade of meaning.

In each of these places the term denotes the observance or celebration of the Sabbath. A day to reflect, meditate, study, fast and to pray. It is a day to "Be Holy." This usage corresponds to the Septuagint usage of the cognate verb sabbatizo.

Thus the writer to the Hebrews is saying that since the time of Joshua an observance of the Sabbath rest has been outstanding." The literal translation then of Hebrews 4:9 is "Therefore a Sabbath observance has been left behind for the people of God."

Biblical references to the Sabbath Day

Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23-29; Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 31:12-17; Exodus 35:2-3; Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 19:3; Leviticus 19:29-30; Leviticus 23; Leviticus 24:8; Leviticus 25:2-6; Leviticus 26:2; Leviticus 26:34-35; Leviticus 26:43; Numbers 15:32-36; Numbers 28-29; Deuteronomy 5:12-14; 2 Kings 4:23; 2 Kings 11:5-9; 1 Chronicles 9:32; 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 2 Chronicles 8:13; 2 Chronicles
23:4-8; 2 Chronicles 31:3; 2 Chronicles 36:21; Nehemiah ; Nehemiah 10:31-33; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Psalms ; Isaiah 1:13; Isaiah 56:2-7; Isaiah 58:13-14; Isaiah 66:22-23; Jeremiah 17:21-27; Lamentations 2:6; Ezekiel 20:12-24; Ezekiel 22:8; Ezekiel 22:26-31; Ezekiel 23:38; Ezekiel 44:24; Ezekiel 45:17; Ezekiel 46:1-12; Hosea 2:11; Amos 8:5; Matthew 12:1-12; Matthew 24:20-21; Matthew 28:1; Mark 1:21; Mark 2:23- 28; Mark 3:2-4; Mark 6:2; Mark 15:42; Mark 16:1; Luke 4:16; Luke 4:31; Luke 6:1-9; Luke 13:10-16; Luke 14:1-5; Luke 23:50-24:1; John 5:9-18; John 7:22-23; John ; John 19:31; Acts 1:12; Acts 13:14; Acts 13:27; Acts 13:42-43; Acts 15:21; Acts 16:13; Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4; Romans 14:5-6; Galatians 4:10-11; Colossians 2:14-17; Hebrews 4:1-11

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