How Do We Keep the Sabbath in Far Northern and Southern Regions Where the Sun Doesn’t Set Certain Times of the Year?
Since the beginning of the Bible, God has made it clear that we are to observe the Sabbath, for He re-created the surface of the earth in 6 days, after a catastrophe caused the earth to become void and empty, and He then rested on the seventh day – the Sabbath, which He created for mankind (Genesis 1:2-2:3; Mark 2:27-28). The Bible reveals in Genesis 1:5 that the days start and end at sunset, in the evening: “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening (sunset) and the morning were the first day.”
Many Scriptures associate the meaning of the word “evening” with “sunset” as for example in Leviticus 22:6-7: “The person who has touched any such thing shall be unclean until evening… And when the sun goes down he shall be clean.” We are also told in Leviticus 23:32 to keep God’s Sabbath “from evening to evening.”
The Bible is clear that days are to be counted from sunset to sunset, not midnight to midnight as society has it determined, and the Sabbath, which is the seventh and last day of the week, is to be counted from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, a 24-hour period.
We state in our booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days“:
“God has revealed in His Word exactly when the Sabbath starts and when it ends. God reckons each day, including the Sabbath, beginning at sunset and continuing through until the following sunset. Today, we would say that the Seventh-Day Sabbath starts Friday evening, when the sun sets, and lasts until Saturday evening, at sunset.
“We know from the Jewish people when to keep the Sabbath. It is the Jews to whom God committed His revelations or His ‘oracles,’ as Paul clearly explains in Romans 3:1–2. These ‘oracles of God’ included the Old Testament Scriptures, as well as the knowledge of the week and of the Sacred Calendar. The Jews preserved the knowledge of which day the seventh day of the week is. Without an understanding of when a week begins and ends, we would not have been able to tell, from the Bible alone, which day the seventh day of the week actually is. Today, the Jews keep the Sabbath on Saturday, beginning Friday evening, at sunset. Nobody questions today that the Sabbath, as preserved by the Jews, is the seventh or last day of the week. All understand that Sunday is the first day of the week—although there have been some attempts in Europe to actually change the calendar in order to deceitfully pretend as if Sunday, and not Saturday, was the seventh day of the week.”
This includes all Sabbath days, including God’s commanded Holy Days, which should be kept from sunset to sunset. Quoting from our Q&A “Can You Prove From Scripture That According to God’s Reckoning, Days Start and End With Sunset?”, we state the following:
“Leviticus 23:32 describes the annual Holy Day of Atonement, which the Jews today call Yom Kippur. It is stated: ‘It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest; and you shall afflict your souls [i.e., fast]; on the ninth day of the month at evening, FROM EVENING TO EVENING, you shall celebrate your sabbath.’ The New International Version renders this verse: ‘… From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.’
“But, this entire period, from the evening or sunset of the ninth day, until the evening or sunset of the tenth day, is defined as ‘the tenth day,’ as Leviticus 23:27 clearly shows: ‘Also the TENTH day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement.’ This proves that the Bible reckons days from evening or sunset to evening or sunset.”
With this background, how then would someone keep the Sabbath in areas of the world where there wouldn’t be a sunset-to-sunset time period during certain times of the year? For example, certain places in Alaska, Norway, Sweden, and other far northern or even southern areas would fall into that category. How is the Sabbath to be kept there?
Bibleask.org has this to say:
“Modern living provides some unique situations where keeping the Sabbath might have some questions. For example, keeping the Sabbath in space and the polar regions of the Earth like Alaska presents unique issues for Sabbath keepers. In the north of the Arctic Circle and south of the Antarctic Circle, a single period of daylight can last for a month or more during the summer, and the night lasts for a similar length of time in the winter.
“The Bible says, ‘It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest… from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath (Lev. 23:32).’ This means that the Sabbath should be kept from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
“Therefore, in the further regions of the earth and in countries where the sun doesn’t go down like the Polar zone, the timing of the Sabbath should be adjusted to the International Date Line. Example: permitting local rest-day adjustment, And believers may determine the Sabbath by the longitude that are further south or further north depending on which Polar zone they are in. Therefore, for those who live in Alaska, they can follow the time zone of Portland, Oregon. Thus, Sabbath keepers living in those areas can rely on the cycle of day and night in 24-hour periods. These periods are commonplace in most of the world.”
Someone from Sabbathtruth.com had this to say: “For the vast majority of the planet, we experience sunrise and sunset and that’s when you would start and end your Sabbath. I have friends who live up in Alaska and what they do is from 6:00 to 6:00. Six o’clock one day to six o’clock the other, and they don’t go by the sun. They go by that 12-hour division of time that everyone else enjoys, or 24-hour division of time rather. So they just time it like that.”
A letter was written back in the Worldwide Church of God days asking the question about keeping the Sabbath in the arctic. This is what was answered by the Personal Correspondence Department, Letter L163, which was included in a collection of the letters written under Herbert W. Armstrong, dated August 1, 1988:
“God has not made it impossible for His people to obey His laws. God’s law is spiritual and is intended for all people, wherever they live on earth. But His law is also practical and workable.
“In the far northern latitudes, the days are divided in the following manner: About the beginning of summer, the sun almost touches the horizon once every 24 hours. When it reaches its lowest point, one day ends and another begins. About the beginning of winter, the sun comes up to, or almost up to, the horizon once every 24 hours. This also divides the days. The effect is that near the beginning of summer the seventh day is from midnight to midnight. Over the next six months, the beginning of the days drops back rapidly until near the beginning of winter the seventh day is from noon until noon. The sun touching, or almost touching, the horizon corresponds to sunset in both cases.
“It should be noted, then, that God revealed the Sabbath commandment to people living in the temperate zone, where He defined the proper observance as being from evening to evening. But in extreme latitudes where farming is not a factor and thus daylight is not associated with work, this rule is not practical or reasonable. Jesus said, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27). For this reason, the Church has made a judgment based on the spirit of the law. Brethren living in areas crossed by or above the 60th parallel (parts of Alaska, Canada, and Sweden are examples) have been advised that it is proper to begin observance of the Sabbath at 6pm in cases where actual sunset time varies extremely.”
A helpful chart identifying the areas crossed by or above the 60th parallel can be found in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/60th_parallel_north .
The Church of the Eternal God and its international affiliates agree with and follow the answer of the Worldwide Church of God, as quoted before, as to how to observe the Sabbath in the above-referenced parts of the world. In other areas, “nearly” but not quite crossed by the 60th parallel, individual consultation with the ministry might be advisable.
Lead Writer: Michael Link