The seventh day of the week, known as Saturday, has held major significance throughout history and in modern times. The practice of observing a seventh day of rest dates back to ancient history and is integral to several major religions. Understanding the origins and meaning behind the seventh day provides insight into traditions still honored today.
What is the seventh day of the week?
The seventh day of the modern week is Saturday. However, in some cultures and calendars, the numbering of days may differ.
Here are the seventh days in major calendar systems:
- Gregorian calendar – Saturday
- ISO 8601 calendar – Saturday
- Hebrew calendar – Shabbat
- Islamic calendar – Friday (Jumu’ah)
- Hindu calendar – Saturday
While the name and place of the seventh day changes, the significance as a day of rest remains in many faiths and cultures.
When did designating a seventh day originate?
The tradition of marking a seventh day for rest is ancient, dating back as far as the 23rd century BCE in ancient Mesopotamia.
In the region of Sumer, seventh days were set aside as “evil days” or “unlucky days.” These days were marked with prohibitions against certain activities. This early designation of the seventh day represents one of the first known uses of a seven-day cycle.
The Babylonians, inheritors of Sumerian culture, developed a seven-day week in which the seventh day was set aside in honor of their chief deity Marduk.
Some researchers also credit ancient Egypt’s 10-day week as instrumental to the seven-day week. An Egyptian Text from around 2700 BCE divides their 10-day cycle into three groups of 10 days, each having 36 days, plus five added days considered auspicious dates. This may have influenced the later seven-day weeks.
How did the Sabbath originate?
The most prominent modern use of the seventh day comes from Judeo-Christian Sabbath traditions revolving around the biblical Creation story in Genesis.
According to Genesis, God created the universe in six days, resting on the seventh:
And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Genesis 2:2-3)
This day was blessed and made holy, establishing the Jewish practice of Shabbat starting at sundown Friday evening and lasting through Saturday.
The holiness of the seventh day would become integral to Jewish cultural and religious identity. Violations of Shabbat prohibitions incurred harsh penalties, emphasizing its sacred status.
Early Christians continued honoring the seventh day Sabbath on Saturdays. However, Christianity also emphasized Sunday, the day of Jesus’s resurrection, as a holy day of worship.
By the 4th century CE, some church leaders advocated observing both Saturday and Sunday as Sabbath. Over the following centuries, Sunday became the predominant day of worship and rest in Christianity, although Saturday Sabbath traditions continue in Seventh-day denominations.
How did Saturday become the seventh day?
While throughout much of history the seventh day was tied to lunar or annual cycles, the seven-day week with Saturday as the seventh day took hold in Roman culture by the 1st century BCE.
Planetary hours dividing the time between sunrise and sunset into 24 hours became standardized in Hellenistic astrology. Each hour was ruled by a planet. This system designated Saturn as the ruler of the first hour of Saturday, lending its name as Saturday in English and similar names in other languages.
The Romans adopted a seven-day cycle, heavily influenced by the Jewish week, designating Saturday dies Saturni after Saturn. Saturday was upheld as the seventh day when Emperor Constantine made Sunday the official day of rest in 321 CE for the Roman Empire. The legacy of Saturday as the seventh day continued after Rome adopted Christianity.
How do other cultures use seventh days?
Beyond Jewish and Christian traditions, other cultures also uphold the significance of the seventh day.
In Islam, Friday is considered particularly blessed as Yaum al-Jumu’ah, the day of congregation when Muslims gather for prayer. Although Islam does not strictly prohibit work on Fridays, honoring the day spiritually takes precedence.
In Hindu and related Dharmic faiths, the seventh day is tied to Saturn and called Shaniwar or Shanichar in Hindi, Nepali, and Marathi. Observing spiritual disciplines and fasting for Shani on Saturdays is believed to appease Saturn and bring good fortune.
The ancient Maya also used a seven-day week in which the seventh day was set aside as a day for rest. Modern Mayan descendants continue this practice, avoiding strenuous work and honoring family on the seventh day.
What is the significance of the seventh day in modern times?
While seventh day traditions hold less strictly mandatory spiritual significance for some in modern times, several principles continue to uphold its legacy as a day of rest and reflection:
- It provides a regularly scheduled time for spiritual contemplation outside work and responsibility
- It facilitates gathering for religious community worship and fellowship
- It allows recovery from physically demanding labor and provision for personal health
- It enables quality family time free from work obligations
- It reduces economic demands on lower classes one day a week
These motivations underlie modern weekend culture and labor laws establishing Saturday and Sunday as standard weekend days of rest in many societies.
What major religions observe the seventh day?
The three major Abrahamic faiths uphold the significance of the seventh day in different ways:
Shabbat remains integral to Jewish cultural and religious identity. Shabbat observance begins Friday at sunset and lasts 25 hours until Saturday night. Practices include lighting Shabbat candles, making Kiddush over wine, avoiding work, and attending synagogue services.
Sunday became the primary day of worship and rest in Christianity beginning in the 4th century CE. However, Seventh-day Adventists and other Saturday Sabbatarian groups uphold Saturday observance. For most Christians, Sunday is treated as the Lord’s Day, a time for worship rather than complete prohibitions on work.
The Quran and Hadith affirm Allah completed creation in six days. Friday gathers special significance as Yaum al-Jumu’ah, a time for communal prayer. Although work is not prohibited, honoring Friday spiritually takes precedence.
How is the seventh day honored outside of religion?
Many non-religious people and secular groups continue to value the seventh day tradition of rest from work, community interaction, and personal health benefits. Practices include:
- Taking advantage of modern weekend culture for relaxation and free time
- Gathering for social and recreational community groups
- Volunteering to help others in the community
- Spending time learning and participating in cultural events
- Enjoying nature and quiet contemplation
Upholding these values helps maintain work-life balance and mental health.
The significance of the seventh day provides a cornerstone of rest and spiritual reflection across cultures and history. This tradition remains relevant today for religious adherents and secular people alike in making time for health, relationships, community, and personal growth amidst modern work culture. Whether as Sabbath, Saturdays, Sundays, or weekends in general, pausing on the seventh day renews the spirit and adds meaning to the other six.