Biblical proof that the Sabbath starts at sunset, not sunrise.


By William Jackson

Center for Tanakh Based Studies

When many of us gravitated closer to Torah, we found that those ahead of us on this journey started their Sabbath worship on Friday night instead of the morning of Shabbat. It did seem a little odd at first.  But, there were a lot of changes, for example, we were now dedicating a full 24-hour period to worshiping God verses just an hour church service. Still, we return back to that nagging question, “why the Sabbath starts at dusk instead of dawn?”.

The easy answer can be found in the first chapter of the Torah.  The answer is repeated six times.  As God was creating the earth He put the first full days into motion:

“… it was evening and it was morning, one day” – Genesis 1:5.  This is said five more times for each of the preceding days (Genesis 1:8, 13,19, 23, 31).  As each day is marked, each begins with an evening.   

Still the average “Joe” sees dawn as the beginning of a day. Yet, if you really thought about it, the secular world does not.  Case in point, when we move from one block on the calendar to another block that line we cross which brings us into a new day is directly after midnight. Some might say that this is considered morning. They are right, but it is still night. So why is midnight that magical phase line that brings us into the next day? It all started with the development of that first “hour”, as we know it.  In truth, this first hour led to the 24-hour day.  It was developed by the Egyptians about the time of Israel’s Exodus 1. Later, the concept of midnight would be developed by the Romans. It was these Romans who would create the concept that midnight marked the beginning of a new day. Interestingly, when Rome occupied Israel, Romans in Israel adhere to God’s concept of the new day starting at evening. Also we should note that Israel was not the only nation to follow the new day starting at dusk concept, Ancient Greece did as well 2 .

So, history backs up the idea that the day starting at midnight was a later concept adapted for Rome’s civil purposes such as guard duty. However, if we dig deeper into the Tanakh (Old Testament).  We find more evidence of the day starting at dusk.  For example, Leviticus 23:32:

“It is a *complete day of rest for you, …from evening to evening, you shall observe your rest day.

Yes, this is talking about Yom Kippur, but Yom Kippur is a *Shabbat and like all other Sabbaths it starts on an evening and ends on an evening.  Shabbat starting in the evening is further reaffirmed in Nehemiah 13:19:

“Now it came to pass when the gates of Jerusalem *cast shadows before the Sabbath, that I commanded, and the doors were closed, and I said that they should not open them until after the Sabbath, and I stationed some of my youths over the gates so that no load should enter on the Sabbath day.”

Here, around 432 BCE, Nehemiah was quite desperate.  He was trying to keep temptations from his people, the Israelites.  He did not want a repeat of the Babylonian captivity which was the result of Israel continuing to sin (Isaiah 5:13, 52:3, Jeremiah 7:15). So, he posted guards at the gates right before Sabbath, so the Israelites could not trade with the merchants.  As the verse says he shut the gates of Jerusalem when *shadows were cast before the Sabbath.  It is not too hard to figure out this would imply right before dusk.


Many of us studied ourselves out of other religions, but the studying should never end.  Do not blindly go into a 24-hour Sabbath starting at dusk without knowing why.  We are so much different than the rest because we choose not to put men between us and God. Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line and the clearest message comes straight from the source.  Be true yourself and the study of His Word.



  1. Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum, History of the Hour, University of Chicago Press, 1996.


  1. Michael Petrus Josephus van den Hout, Marcus Cornelius Fronto, A commentary on the Letters of M. Cornelius Fronto, Page 83, 1999.


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