How Far Was A Sabbath Day's Journey?
According to the Mosaic law every Israelite was forbidden to
travel on the Sabbath day.
Exodus 16:29 "See, for 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
But there is also evidence
that the Israelites were permitted to go a certain distance
on that special day. For example they could visit the
tabernacle and temple from any distance within the
encampment or city.
Over the centuries the
authorities within the rabbinical circles of Judaism found
ways, from examining the miniscule details of the law, to
increase the distance that an Israelite may travel on the
Sabbath day. In ancient times they determined that one may
travel on the Sabbath from within the city boundaries and
this distance was fixed at 2,000 cubits. They based this on
"And they commanded the
people, saying, When you see the ark of the covenant of the
Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then
ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there
shall be a space between you and it, about 2,000 cubits by
measure; come not near it, thay ye may know the way by which
ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore."
Then after some time the
rabbis interpreted "place" to mean city so that it would be
acceptable to travel 2,000 cubits outside his city limits on
the Sabbath day. Then again later the Pharisees doubled the
distance that one might travel by yet another minute detail.
They inserted a rule that if one placed food preparations at
another location, then that place figuratively became his
abode and he may travel to there up to 2,000 cubits and then
another 2,000 cubits which made the whole journey 4,000
cubits, or about 6,000 feet or a little over a mile. A cubit
was around 18 inches (from forefinger to elbow), although
the measurement differed during different periods of Hebrew
In New Testament times and
soon after, the Pharisees found another legal fiction and
stretched the distance for traveling on the Sabbath a little
farther. They theorized that if a person was to travel 4,000
cubits on the Sabbath day, then he would also need to return
and thus they allowed 8,000 cubits as the standard.
There are some mentions in
the New Testament alluding to the Sabbath day's journey such
Matthew 24:20: "But pray
that your flight may not be in the winter, nor on the
Acts 1:12: "Then they
returned to Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, which is
from Jerusalem a Sabbath day's journey."
Jesus continually taught that
the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath,
and thus the authorities in Judaism were reproved by Jesus
for misunderstanding the heart of the law and laying a heavy
burden upon the people. He spoke with the authority of
heaven when He said "The Son of man (apocolyptic redeemer of
Daniel 7) is Lord of the Sabbath.