Mark 2:27: Was the Sabbath
made for Adam and Eve?

Our opponents often challenge us by saying that there is no command anywhere in the book of Genesis where the Sabbath was given to Adam and Eve. “The one who rested on the seventh day,” they say, “was God, and not man.” Then, when we bring up what Jesus said in Mark 2:27, that the Sabbath was made for man, we’re accused of not reading in context, and that the word “man” here does not mean “all of mankind.” So let’s begin by tackling each one of these, beginning with…

The context of Mark 2:27.

We quote:

Mark 2:23-28
(23) And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
(24) And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
(25) And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
(26) How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
(27) And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
(28) Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

It’s clear that the Sabbath here is not the sabbath feasts, but the seventh day Sabbath of the fourth commandment. In the immediate context, the disciples begin picking corn on the Sabbath day, and the Pharisees are the first to accuse them of breaking it. How does Jesus defend their act? He reminds them of David and how he went into the temple and ate that which only the priests could eat. But why was David justified in this? Notice carefully:

Mark 2:25
(25) And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?

It was because he was in “need.” Jesus is teaching that to do things on the Sabbath which are needed is permitted. Although preparation day had passed, the disciples were following Jesus as he walked and preached through the streets for days. This preaching was a work that needed to get done, and they needed energy to continue doing it. It was a “need” for them to eat. All such work was permitted on the Sabbath. The fourth commandment did not prohibit works of necessity; it rather prohibited secular work:

Exodus 20:8-10
(8) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
(9) Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
(10) But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.

The Hebrew word translated “work” in verse 10 literally means “occupation, work, business” and being that animals are included in this law, it is not talking about missionary work. The act of picking corn to eat to continue in the work of the Lord was hardly secular.

Although the Jews made the Sabbath to be such a burden, it was always meant to be the very opposite:

Isaiah 58:13-14
(13) If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
(14) Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

The Sabbath was to be a “delight” unto the people of God.

In Matthew’s gospel, Matthew recounts this story as well, but he adds an extra detail; something Jesus said which helps us understand his point a bit more:

Matthew 12:12
(12) How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

Notice the definition of the word “well” that Strong’s Greek Definitions gives us:

Adverb from G2570; well (usually morally): - (in a) good (place), honestly, + recover, (full) well.

What Jesus is doing is answering the charge of the Pharisees who said that his disciples were doing something unlawful on the Sabbath day (verse 2). Jesus fires back with David's example (verses 3-4), and the example of the priests in the temple (verse 5, cf. Numbers 28:9-10), and tells them that actually that which was necessary for service or need is lawful to do on the Sabbath day. As David was in need and as the Priests were doing a service in the temple, so he and his disciples were engaged in service and at that moment were in need. Likewise as the priests working the temple on the Sabbath did not constitute Sabbath breaking, so his disciples fulfilling their needs while engaged in missionary work did not break the Sabbath either. Both are "blameless" (verse 5).

To further drive this point, Jesus then makes the following remark:

Mark 2:27
(27) And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.

Indeed the Sabbath was made “for” (or in favor of) man, for it was made for his benefit, not the other way around. If it was that man was made for the Sabbath, then those Pharisees would have had a point. But the Sabbath is to be a delight, not a burden. We were not made to serve it; it was made to serve us. Since it was made “for” us, then fulfilling our needs while engaged in missionary work is permissible.

Now that we have examined the context, and learned that the Sabbath was made for us, we will now exegete closely verse 27 to find out…

What is meant by “man?”

Let’s break verse 27 apart. Note first that when it says “sabbath” it is speaking of the Sabbath of creation week. This is important because it directs his audience’s attention back to creation week. The verse continues saying that the Sabbath was "made." These words are translated from one Greek word which literally means “to come, or cause into being or existence.” When was the Sabbath made? In Exodus 16 we are told that the Sabbath was "given" to the Israelites:

Exodus 16:29
(29) See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.

The language of this chapter speaks of it as an institution already in existence, even if they were not aware of it yet. It is likely that they were slowly being introduced to God's laws, including the Sabbath, as they came closer to the moment God speaks it from the top of Mount Sinai. We see this implication in the previous verse, where they are asked, "how long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?"

When the Sabbath was made is made crystal clear in the book of Genesis:

Genesis 2:1-3
(1) Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.

It was at this time when the seventh day was set aside as “blessed and sanctified” day. In fact, the word “sanctified” in the Hebrew literally means:

A primitive root; to be (causatively make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally): - appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, (be, keep) holy (-er, place), keep, prepare, proclaim, purify, sanctify (-ied one, self), X wholly.

Here we learn that the seventh day was “made” (or make) or pronounced, or observed as clean. The word “clean” holds a figurative meaning of holiness throughout the scriptures. It was in creation week when the seventh day was set aside as holy. Upon this day, God “rested” (verses 2-3). 

That the technical term "sabbath" is missing no more means the Sabbath did not exist anymore then the technical term "sun" is missing means that the sun did not exist. As in Genesis 1:16, with its use of the terms "greater light," alludes to the Sun (compare with Psalm 74:16), so the the word "rest" in Genesis 2:2-3 alludes to the "sabbath." As Samuele Bacchiocchi observed: "It is true that the name “Sabbath” does not occur in the passage, but the cognate verbal form shabat (to cease, to stop, to rest) is used and the latter, as noted by U. Cassuto, 'contains an allusion to the name ‘the Sabbath day.’'" (Samuele Bacchiocchi, “Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, page 28).

Moreover, Exodus 20:11 points to the Genesis 2:2-3 account and literally calls it the "Sabbath." Notice:

"For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the SABBATH day, and hallowed it."

Thus we see that the Sabbath has been in existence since creation week and it was there that the Sabbath was "made."

By saying that the Sabbath was “made” Jesus directs the people to creation week and since it was made for "man" then Jesus is speaking about mankind during that time. The name "Adam" represents both Adam and Eve (Genesis 5:2) and all of mankind (Acts 17:26). Jesus uses of the Greek word anthropos which according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions is a word whose primary definition is, "a human being, whether male or female, generically, to include all human beings."

Of course, critics appeal to context to claim that it does not mean mankind in general. But claiming that it means one individual man in nonsensical. Moreover, in the context, it was more then one man that was accused (disciples, plural -verse 23-24).

The fact of the matter is that the Sabbath was "made" for all of mankind at the time of creation. It is important for Jesus to appeal to creation as he did with marriage (Matthew 19:8) because he wants them to see the Sabbath's original intent. As marriage was created to serve man (see 1 Cor. 7:3-5) so also the Sabbath was made to serve man, and not the other way around. This adds force to his defence because their needs were being met while doing missionary work and the Sabbath should provide for those needs.

But the question may be asked…

Why doesn’t Genesis say that Adam and Eve rested?

The answer to this question is very simple. In the context of the description of creation (Genesis 1, 2:1-3) the focus is on God, and not man. He is the main character. “God made… and God created… God said… God created… etc” Now the Sabbath commandment specifically says that the person is to first work six days, and then rest the seventh day (see Exodus 20:9-10). How can Adam keep the seventh day as a Sabbath (or, how can he rest) when he did not work the first six days? He was created on day six!

On the other hand, God worked the first six days. He created all things; he worked, therefore he rests. That’s why it does not have to say that Adam kept the first Sabbath of that first week, because the first Sabbath was for God to rest. The focus is on God.

Now this does not mean that Adam and Eve did not observe that first seventh day along side with the creator. Although they were given work to do on the sixth day, its a bit speculative to say that they actually worked enough to have to rest on the next day. However it can be said that they observed the seventh day along side the Lord as he rested from all the work which he had performed. A specific command, therefore, is unnecessary, and an example by the Lord would suffice. As brother Bacchiocchi said,

"What is it that makes any divine precept moral and universal? Do we not regard a law moral when it reflects God’s nature? Could God have given any stronger revelation of the moral nature of the Sabbath than by making it a rule of His divine conduct? Is a principle established by divine example less binding than one enunciated by a divine command? Do not actions speak louder than words? “God’s mode of operation,” as noted by John Murray, “is the exemplar on the basis of which the sequence for man is patterned. There can be little doubt that in Genesis 2: 3 there is at least an allusion to the blessing of the seventh day in man’s week."

"The fact that the Sabbath is presented in the creation story as a divine example rather than a commandment for mankind could well reflect what God intended the Sabbath to be in a sinless world, namely, not an alienating imposition but a free response to a gracious Creator. By freely choosing to make himself available to his Creator on the Sabbath, man was to experience physical, mental and spiritual renewal and enrichment. Since these needs have not been eliminated but heightened by the fall, the moral, universal and perpetual functions of the Sabbath precept were repeated later in the form of a commandment." (See; Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, page 29)

That the days of creation week were 24 hour periods, and that therefore there was a weekly cycle, is made obvious by the context of Genesis 1 and 2 and has been proven elsewhere at this website (click here). First of all, if the week did not start all over after the first Sabbath, how could Adam have understood God when he gave him the following warning:

Genesis 2:17
(17) But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Here God mentions the word “day.” Adam could not have understood this, unless he had experienced more then one consecutive day, or better, a weekly cycle.

Furthermore, God made the “lights of heaven,” the Sun, Moon and Stars to be able to tell time:

Genesis 1:14
(14) And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.
Notice it says they were made to be able to read “days.” These heavenly elements did not cease to exist after God finished creating everything (as is evidenced today), therefore they continued to serve their purpose of helping to tell “days” (plural) even while Adam and Eve abode in the Garden.

The point is that Adam and Eve had to experience the weekly cycle, and since God had given them work to perform (remember, the Sabbath was made for him as proven already) they could therefore do as the commandment says, work six, and rest the seventh day. What do you suppose they did with the many Sabbaths which followed there after? They followed after the example of their creator and rested!

Hence we summarize with…

The conclusion.

-First, the context of Mark 2:27 is on the seventh day Sabbath of the fourth commandment.

-Second, Jesus directs us through his use of the word “made” to creation week, and thereby tells us that it was then made for “man.”

-Third, the only “man” at the time of creation week was Adam and Eve who represent all of mankind.

-Finally, although Genesis 2:1-3 says that it was God who rested, this was because the context is about God and his work, and not man who was created on day six. However Adam and Eve observed the first Sabbath along side the creator and, following his example, began working for six days and resting every seventh day thereafter.

Your Thought Questions Answered

Question 1: It might be true that there was a consecutive flow of “days” after the first created week, but why does it have to be a cycle? Couldn’t it have simply been a flow of days without it returning to a “weekly” seven day cycle? As in, day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5, day 6, day 7, and then day 8, day 9, day 10, and so on?

Answer: No, because it still reads that it was made “for” man. It does not make sense for it to have been made “for” Adam and Eve and yet Adam and Eve did not experience it. There must have been a weekly cycle so that the seventh day Sabbath could come around again for them to experience it in the fullest sense, by working for six days and resting on the seventh day as their divine exemplar did.

Question 2: But wasn’t the rest that they experienced a spiritual rest?

Answer: Yes, the Sabbath contains within it a spiritual rest which we believe Adam and Eve lived under. This connection is made in Hebrews 4:3-4. However this does not do away with the literal seventh day no more then having Jesus in us as the bread of life do away with the necessity to partake of literal bread during communion. The outward sign is a manifestation of the inward rest, and this is why Adam abide in spiritual rest while observing also the seventh day Sabbath on a weekly basis.

Question 3: How do you explain verse 28, which says that Jesus is Lord over the Sabbath?

Answer: In context the accused was Jesus. How does he prove he has authority to defend himself the way? By claiming to have authority to do so. He made this claim of authority by saying that he is “Lord even of (does not say over) the Sabbath.”

For further study, see: