A Sabbath Day's Journey

Acts 1:12: "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day's journey."

"which is ... a Sabbath day's journey"

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 day."

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 Joshua 3:4-5:

"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 history.

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 as in:

Matthew 24:20: "But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day"

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 (apocalyptic redeemer of Daniel 7) is Lord of the Sabbath.

Bibliography on Ancient Customs

The Art of Ancient Egypt, Revised by Robins, 272 Pages, Pub. 2008