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Part 2d: What Are the Terms?

Glossary 9

Mosaic Law (Covenant). Also called the Sinaitic covenant. The law and covenant given to Moses at Mount Sinai for the Jewish people by direct revelation from God (Ex 12:41; Deut 5:2, 3; Jn 1:17; 7:19; Gal 3:17; Heb 7:11). Rarely in the plural and when used in such a way is combined with other similar nouns to refer to the collection of individual provisions; i.e., “statutes and judgments and laws” (Lev 26:36) or “precepts, statutes and laws” (Neh 9:14). Otherwise, it is singular, referring to whole system of Jewish legislation discoverable in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Similarly, it is a single covenant between God and Israel, even though He refers to a few particular laws as covenants: e.g., 1) the ordinances insuring the priesthood their portion is a “covenant of salt” (Num 18:19), 2) keeping the Sabbath is a “perpetual covenant” (Ex 31:16), and 3) the showbread an “everlasting covenant” (Lev 24:8). And of course, the Ten Commandments is a condensation or compendium of the covenant (Deut 4:13). God made a single covenant with Israel and it is called “the law.” Since Israel as a nation was in covenant with the Lord, they were duty-bound to avoid making covenant with any other nations (Ex 23:32; Deut 7:2). The covenantal relationship between God and Israel was unique and exclusive. Of this law, the Jews have discovered 613 commandments or “mitzvot” to obey.[i]

In this respect, Mosaic law is “the law” and Mosaic law is “covenant law.”[ii] The Mosaic law is perfect because God is the author of it and it reflects the perfection of His will, but this does mean aspects of this law could not be temporary or have imposed limitations. “Of divine laws there are some that are eternal and unchangeable; whilst there are others that are changeable; yet only by God himself, who has instituted them.”[iii] Besides being synonymous with the “law of Moses” used in Bible 21 times, the use of the modifier “Mosaic” reflects the attempt to clarify and improve communication about the Pauline use of the word “law,” which he uses 123 times. Paul makes his own distinctions with references to the “law of Moses” (1 Cor 9:9), the “law of God” (Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7), and the “law of Christ” (Rom 8:2; 1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2), but generally, he refers to “the law.” Luke uses the “law of Moses” and the “law of the Lord” interchangeably (Lk 2:22-24). Longenecker informs us that “No distinctions, however, can be made in Paul’s letter between the anarthrous and articular forms of νόμος [nomos] with respect to the Mosaic law.”[iv] Paul states that the [Mosaic] law was designed to be a custodian to bring us (Jews) to faith in Christ, but once that purpose has been realized, we (Jews) are no long under its tutelage (Gal 3:19-25). Yet, it is the [Mosaic] law that points out that all humanity is enslaved to sin (Gal 3:22; Ps 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; Isa 59:7-8) and that justification comes by faith (Gal 3:11, 22, 24, 25; Gen 15:6). The NT view of [Mosaic] law is both positive and negative, not out of ambiguity, but in view of the exceeding glories of the new covenant and the law of Christ (2 Cor 3:12-18). The [Mosaic] law is contrasted with the covenant of promise made with Abraham (Gal 3:18) because the [Mosaic] law [covenant] cannot undo an earlier promise [covenant] that brought justification by faith for both Jew and Gentile. Yet the [Mosaic] law also teaches justification by faith (Hab 2:4) and the salvation of the Gentiles (Isa 60:3). The terminus of the [Mosaic] law occurred while Jesus, the Son of God, suffered on the cross and experienced the judgment for sin and separation from God that the [Mosaic] law demanded. Sixteen hundred years of living under the [Mosaic] law did not keep Israel from demanding the crucifixion of their Messiah. “Go to the law,” says DeHaan, if you want to be saved by your own work and righteousness, but if you realize the impossibility of that, then you must go to the cross of Calvary. There, Christ’s death showed two things: 1) the law kills—He’s dead and 2) the law’s terminus—to reset to the covenant of grace with Abraham.[v] “And since any power to fulfill the law can reach the sinner only through Grace—of which the law knows nothing—it follows, lastly, that to be ‘under the law’ is to be shut up under an inability to keep it, and consequently to be the helpless slave of sin.”[vi] “[The author of Hebrews provides] a robust defense of the Christian dismissal of the purely ritual and cultic features of the Mosaic law.”[vii] “I think the Mosaic law as a whole was given to Israel for a limited time and purpose and is no longer immediately authoritative for the Christian.”[viii] “The Ten Commandments [which summarizes the Mosaic Covenant] came to a functional end at the cross.”[ix] “For Paul is not reasoning here as to mere ceremonies, but shows how much more powerfully the Spirit of God exercises his power in the gospel, than of old under the [Mosaic] law.”[x] See The Law.

Paul may give the appearance of contradicting himself, but the problem more often than not is one which we are erecting in our own minds—by taking what he says out of context, extrapolating what he says to a degree he did not intend, adamantly holding to an either/or mindset, or bringing to the text our denominational presuppositions. [xi] Be content with some paradoxes.

For example, Paul contrasts the Jews under the [Mosaic] law [that regulates their outward behaviors] and [Gentiles] without the [Mosaic] law [because they have their own customs and sensibilities]. But to avoid being misunderstood, Paul clarified that he was not lawless [in his actions] because his conscience was still bound by God’s or Christ’s law that transcends [Mosaic] law (1 Cor 9:21). Yet, it was the [Mosaic] law that informed him to live with integrity and to which he appealed to both Jew and Gentile for the support of his ministry (1 Cor 9:9-14). Paul appealed to the “law of Moses” (Deut 25:4; Lev 6:16-18) to explain that “God’s law” endorses the principle that those who labor in ministry for others have the right to expect subsistence in return.[xii] “It is necessary to stress at this point that the New Testament teaching about the law is first, and most basically, teaching about the Mosaic law.”[xiii] The Reformed and Adventist mindset has difficulty understanding that the concept of the abrogation of the Mosaic law as a covenant structure and system does not necessarily imply that Christians have no moral compass to guide their life.[xiv] They see as a contradiction the claim that the new covenant replaces the Mosaic covenant while at the same time resorting to the Mosaic covenant to underscore moral behaviors or ethical norms. But that is what Paul did.

Calvin tends to relate the phrase “Mosaic law” (which he does not use very often) to the ceremonies that bound Jews to certain behaviors, like circumcision, sacrifices, washings, and abstentions. For example, “He [the author of Hebrews] then intimates that all the rites of the Mosaic Law were a part of the old covenant, and that they partook of the same ancientness, and were therefore to perish.”[xv] This may have led to the misapprehension that there is a difference between the law of Moses and the law of the Lord, the former concerned with ceremonies, offerings, and the like, while the latter is reflected in the Ten Commandments. “However, the law of Moses and the law of God are one, and to state that the law of Moses was fulfilled and abolished at Calvary, and the not the law of the Lord, is a complete misunderstanding of the Bible.”[xvi]

Just as the rainbow is a sign (Heb. owth) of God’s covenant with Noah to never flood the earth again, so is Israel’s keeping of the Sabbath a sign of their covenant with the Lord (Ex 31:13-18; Ezek 20:12, 20). A sign is a visual cue or symbol of some other fact, condition, or quality. The sign is not greater than what it signifies, identifies, or designates. The covenantal bond between Israel and God was enacted after their deliverance from Egypt, and Israel assented to the historical reality of that event by their Sabbath-keeping. The meaning of the sign finds its context in an historic event. No other nation was chosen to be redeemed from such slavish circumstances, and so no other nation performed this unique, symbolical ritual; and this cemented into the Jewish mind that they were the only nation so covenanted with the Lord. “It is impossible for the Sabbath day to be at the same time ‘for all mankind’ and also to be a unique sign of the God’s old covenant with national Israel.”[xvii] Interestingly, in “The Christ of the Covenants,” Robertson (CS) does not mention the above Scriptures (Ex 31 or Ezek 20) in his discussion of the Sabbath or the Mosaic covenant.[xviii] However, Rushdooney understands the meaning of a sign. “But the sabbath is a sign of the covenant; it is not a law for a humanistic state, and has no meaning for it, nor can it be required of it. In a Christian state, it cannot be made anything resembling the sabbath of Israel. It must be a day of rest, and of peace and quiet, but the basic emphasis is on the authority of God, knowledge of Him, and rest in His government and salvation. The shifting of emphasis from the meaning of the Sabbath to quibbling about regulations for the Sabbath is certainly no honor to the Sabbath.”[xix]



[i] It appears that all of the laws are taken from Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, with the exceptions to be fruitful and multiply from Gen 1:28, and to not eat the “sinew which shrank” from Gen 32:32. Circumcision is based on both Gen 17:12 and Lev 12:3.
[ii] Clements, Ronald E. p. 289.
[iii] Ursinus, Zacharias. The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 490.
[iv] Longenecker, Richard N. (NIGTC) The Epistle to the Romans, p. 631. Meaning “law” or “the law.”
[v] DeHaan, M.R. Law or Grace, p. x.
[vi] JFB, Bible Commentary, Vol 3, p. 227. (on Rom 6:14)
[vii] Clements, Ronald E. p. 293.
[viii] Moo, Douglas. “Response to Willem A. VanGemeren” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 84.
[ix] Ratzlaff, Dale. “The Covenants” Proclamation 17:3, p. 13.
[x] Calvin, Commentaires. Vol 20, p. 179 (2 Cor 3:7).
[xi] Moo, Douglas. “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 319-320.
[xii] My assessment here conforms with Bahsen in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 105-108.
[xiii] Moo, Douglas. “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 321.
[xiv] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 97, 113.
[xv] Calvin, Commentaries, Vol 22, p. 195 (Heb 9:1).
[xvi] DeHaan, M. R. Law or Grace, p. 19.
[xvii] Kelly, Russell Earl. “Who Changed the Sabbath” in Proclamation! Vol. 18, No. 1. (Spring 2017) p. 10.
[xviii] Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants, p. 68-74; 167-199.
[xix] Rushdoony, R. Institutes of Biblical Theology, p. 154. (emphasis mine). I would differ from Rushdooney in this: that even “resting” as a required weekly physio-spiritual exercise is not required of the NT church.

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Part 2d: What Are the Terms?

Glossary 8

The Law. In general, “the law” or Torah,[i] refers to the comprehensive covenant between God and Israel when He “[took] for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation” (Deut 4:34) as elucidated in the Pentateuch (Ex 24:7, 12; Deut 4:33-40; 5:3). The law [Pentateuch] originated from God, was conveyed to Moses via direct revelation (Ex 3:4; 24:3; 31:18; 34:32; Deut 5:5; Jn 7:19; Gal 3:19) and existing historical documents (“toledoth” as in Gen 5:1), then transmitted to Israel both orally and in written form (Ex 34:32; Num 33:2; Deut 31:9; Rom 3:2), and bore upon the origin, mission, and conduct of Israel until the time of Christ (Gen 49:10; Deut 5:1-3; Rom 2:12; 5:12-13; Gal 3:17). That is, the law had a beginning and it had an end (Matt 11:13; Rom 5:20-21; Gal 3:19; Heb 8:13). The first reference to “torah” is the establishment of the Passover with Israel prior to their exodus (Ex 12:48-49). This “one law” from God demanded the circumcision of foreigners should they desire to join with Israel in participation of the Pascal meal. To become circumcised was to be considered as one born in the land. The second use of “torah” is associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 13:9) which is a sign, a memorial, and an ordinance. The third use of “torah” is with the institution of the Sabbath (Ex 16:4), a test of their obedience (Ex 16:28). The fourth use of “torah” is in association with Moses adjudicating matters between the Israelites and teaching them statutes, ordinances, and laws. The fifth use of “torah” is in its association with the writing of the “law and commandments” on tablets of stone (Ex 24:12).

Within the law [Pentateuch] is a record of the origin of the nations (Gen 10) from a single couple (Gen 3:20) so Israel would know that all people are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26) and have the same problem with sin (Ex 20:18-20; Lev 26:40-42; Num 32:13-14; cf. Isa 1:4); yet they alone were chosen to enjoy a special relationship with the creator (Deut 4:39-40; 7:6) and to be a light to the world (Ex 9:16; Deut 10:18; Josh 2:9; 4:23-24). However, their privileged status rested on the promise of God to faithful Abraham to bless him with a multitude of heirs and an exceptional expanse of land (Gen 12:1-3; 13:14-17; Deut 4:37-38). The law [the covenant between Israel and the Lord] is distinct from the promise [the covenant the Lord made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] (Gen 26:3-4; Deut 4:31; 5:3), yet it is inseparably connected (Ex 6:2-8), if not subservient. For example, Israel’s obedience to the law [the commandments and ordinances of the covenant] was a necessary condition to enter and remain in the land promised to Abraham (Deut 5:33; Num 14:11; 32:10-13, 22-23; cf. Gen 26:5; Heb 8:8-9). And by all rights, the nation should have been utterly destroyed and abandoned by God for her sin (Lev 26:13-39). However, for the sake of His word of a promised seed to Abraham, He ensured that a remnant of faithful Israelites remained, so the nation—and bloodline—could be preserved (Lev 26:42-46; Num 14:26-38; 2 Ki 13:23 cf. Isa 11:16; 29:22; 41:8; Jer 31:35-36; 1 Cor 10:5). Furthermore, the promise to Abraham was confirmed in David (2 Sam 7:8-16; Ps 89:3-4; Isa 11:1-2; cf. Gen 49:20). Again, even in the face of Israel’s division and idolatry after King Solomon, God ensured a remnant would survive for David’s sake (2 Ki 11:32-39; 15:1-6). The content of the law grew to include histories, psalms, and prophetic literature.

So, even though Israel had a special status, they could not assume their covenant was primus inter pares, that is, first among equals, and this became especially obvious when Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant to be made with the house of Israel (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:13). Furthermore, while the “feel” of the law is that it is a demanding, threatening system, the real issue was whether Israel believed the Lord as did their father Abraham (Num 14:11-12; Deut 1:32; 9:23; Ps 78:22; 106:24). As such, despite the fact that Israel received the law, they were no different than Gentiles with respect to personal righteousness (Rom 3:9).

The law is also the covenant between Israel and the Lord. Before the law was summarized by God on tables of stone (Deut 4:13), Moses had already written down a fair amount of legislation, called the “book of the covenant” (Ex 24:7), which understandably would have included his account of God’s recitation of the Ten Words (Ex 20:1; 21:1). With the covenant established by the oath of the people to the words Moses read to them and confirmed by blood (Ex 24:6-8), God informed Moses of his plan to provide a written summary Himself on stony tablets (Ex 24:12). While the law is a covenant, Paul does not refer to it as a covenant (though inferred in Gal 4:21-31); however, it is described as such in Hebrews (Heb 8:7, 9; 9:1, 15, 18). This “Book of the Law” is synonymously called the law of the Lord (2 Ch 31:3; Neh 9:3; Ps 19:7) and the law of Moses (Josh 8:30-35; Dan 9:11-13; Mal 4:4; Lk 2:22-24), and to depart from its instruction and theology is a sinful transgression of the law (2 Ki 10:31; Rom 4:15; 5:13). It is shortsighted to think of the law as merely dictates and legislation, because it also includes poetry, narratives, and prophecy. Yet to add color to the body of legislation, individual instructions are termed laws, statutes, rules, commandments, ordinances, testimonies, judgments, precepts, words, promises, and decrees, each with its own nuance and semantic range. For the Jews, Torah came to mean not only the biblical texts but the oral traditions as well. “The Torah understood as Pentateuch eventually assumed an exclusive, canonical, and privilege status with rabbinic Judaism, but the interpretive traditions (Oral Torah) continued to be considered part of what is understood to be Torah.”[ii] “The Pentateuch’s emphasis upon torah as the law of the covenant between Israel and the Lord God ensure that it controls the understanding of all the remaining books of the OT.”[iii] While the Oral Torah is not cited in the NT as sola scriptura, the interpretive methodologies are evident in the Gospels and letters of Paul.[iv]

The temporary nature of the law (Gen 49:10; Ps 110:4; Jer 31:31; Dan 9:27) does not mean that no moral standards preceded or follow it (Rom 5:12-14; 1 Jn 2:7-8; Rev 15:3-4); nor does it mean that the OT Scriptures are of no value for those covenanted with God through the blood of Jesus Christ; i.e., under the New Covenant (Matt 22:37-40; Rom 7:7; 1 Cor 9:9; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 3:2). In the NT, “the law” is generally and favorably understood as the law given to Moses from God (Rom 10:5; Heb 9:19); however, by its own merits was unable to bring complete and absolute justification to any soul (Act 13:39; Rom 3:19-20, 28; Gal 2:16, 21; 3:10-11, 13, 21; Heb 7:19; 9:9, 13; 10:1-4). Paul’s use of the word “law” (Gk. nomos) displays a wider range of meaning but with regard to the law of Moses, he conveys a tension between respect for the authority of the law [Scriptures] (Rom 3:31; 7:7, 22-25; 13:8-9; 1 Cor 10:6, 11; 2 Tim 2:14-15; 3:14-17) and its limitations in view of Christ’s advent (Rom 6:14; 7:1-6; 8:2-3; 2 Cor 3:6-9; Eph 2:15). More importantly, the law (as well as the other prophetic, historic, and poetic Scriptures) conveys previews and prefigurements of the forthcoming Messiah (e.g., Gen 3:15; 5:29; 14:18-20; 37:1-3; 49:10; Num 21:4-9; Deut 18:15-19; cf. Matt 5:17-18; Lk 24:44-47; Act 28:23; Rom 3:21; Heb 1:1-2;). As a result of this new understanding, Christians generally categorize the commandments of the law as either moral or ceremonial,[v] but maintain differences of opinion about the implications of this, such as whether “the law” remains binding on Christians (Jn 1:17; Acts 15:5-11; Gal 2:19; 4:1-7; Eph 2:14; 7:12). “It is possible to say that in some respects the Christian is free from the law of God… There is another sense, however, in which the Christian is not free from the law.”[vi] “Nevertheless, the law cannot do anything more than remind us of our duty. Only the gospel promises can move us to grateful obedience.”[vii] “The true believer in Christ in this dispensation is not under the law as a paidogogos or taskmaster, but is a son of God under grace.”[viii] “We have already stressed that every commandment in the Old Testament does still apply in some way to Christians.”[ix] “Christians are freed from the law as the covenant to which they are obligated.”[x] “The beginning and ending of the law covenant has nothing to do with the source or endurance of the ethical standards that reveal God’s unchanging character.”[xi] See Mosaic Law. See Continuity/Discontinuity.

Biblical scholars recognize that Paul’s discussion of the law can appear contradictory at times or simply difficult to understand. It is reasonable then to expect that as we try to formulate our own understanding of the topic, we may not be as lucid and perspicacious as we would hope. This theological tension regarding the law (Torah) is the backdrop for the connotation theologians assign to it—whether it is an instrument of grace or opposed to grace, whether it advances the gospel or negates the gospel, whether we are to obey it or not, and whether it is partially or entirely rendered inoperative for the church. The two views do not need to be odds with one another. Christians should endeavor to be specific in their use of the term “law” by clarifying what they mean and/or what they don’t mean. For example, here is a recent statement: “The law reveals to us that sin is not merely an external matter but an inner reality, helping us see that we are far more depraved than we would like to imagine.”[xii] The author makes it plain earlier that he is referring to the “moral law,” so it would be a mistake to interpret his use of the word “law” as referring to the Pentateuch or the law-covenant with Israel; the Ten Commandments or the OT in general. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the range of definitions for a particular word and to choose (or use) the best one depending on the context. Also, the alternate terms mentioned above may have some overlap of meaning, but they are not synonyms. And even synonyms can have subtle differences of meaning. “Often the exact point and pith of a passage will be missed by failing to make the proper discrimination between synonymous expressions.”[xiii] Our mental picture of “the law” is usually Moses holding the Ten Commandments, but this is inadequate when the full range of the term is understood. “The law” is best envisioned as a covenant agreement between God and the Israelites (with their children and Gentile converts). See the following illustrations.

Three Meanings of Law Expanded

With regard to Israel, disobedience to the law (meaning the laws of the covenant) brought her under condemnation and judgment regardless whether the specific law was moral (Ex 23:1-9; Hos 4:1-2) or ceremonial (Lev 26:43; 2 Chr 36:21; Jer 25:12). Thus, failing to observe even one commandment of the law made one a law-breaker (Rom 2:25; Gal 3:10; Jas 2:10). Commenting on Galatians 3:10 and Paul’s quote of Deut 27:26, Silva notes the link between “works” (ergo) and “to do” (poieō), and suggests that Paul is saying that “works of law and faith are opposing principles with regard to the reception of the Abrahamic promise.”[xiv] From the Jewish perspective of the law, “God ‘does’ the Sabbath, and man ‘does’ the sanctuary…Man is not saved by what he believes, but by what he does.”[xv] In this sense, Paul contrasts law and grace (Rom 6:14), the former as a covenant that granted life only on condition of perfect obedience—the implication of which is that the law condemned those who were participants in it—and grace as the benefit of having believed the gospel of Christ—who’s righteousness becomes our own by imputation. “Owen clearly saw that there was grace in ‘the law’ when ‘law’ is understood as the Old Testament Scriptures but there was no grace in ‘the law’ when it is viewed as the terms of the Old Covenant.”[xvi] The author of Hebrews describes the scenario of Israel facing the promised land as a presentation of the gospel because it required faith to enter into it (Heb 4:22). Paul sees Christ as graciously leading and feeding Israel in the wilderness, but rejected for idols (I Cor 10:1-7). And Jesus explained that He was the hope of sinners by His own death just as Israelites found healing when they confessed their sin and gazed upon the bronze serpent in faith (Jn 3:14-15; Num 21:7-9). But all of these examples of personal and eternal redemption are typological interpretations of the OT, previously obscured by the Lord God (Lk 10:21-24; 2 Cor 4:3-6; Eph 3:8-9; Col 1:26).

During Christ’s public ministry, He revealed the true character and intention of the law [Mosaic covenant][xvii] and just prior to His crucifixion, He instituted in its place a new covenant (Matt 26:26-28). None of the OT covenants after Adam’s fall were called “new covenants.” A new covenant would supplant a preceding covenant, unless the “new” were a mere addendum or amendment.[xviii] The author of Hebrews rationally concluded, “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete” (Heb 8:13). Consider this: the temporary nature of the law [i.e., the “first” or “old” covenant in Heb 8:7, 13] and the specificity of the law [i.e., “with them” in Ex 6:4; 19:3-6; Eze 37:26-28; Heb 8:8] disallow any thought that the law (meaning the entire covenant God made with Israel) is of universal and continuing obligation. And if the whole law-covenant was made with Israel, then Israel was obligated to obey it in all its parts (Gal 5:3). This is how the Jews understood it; that is, the [Mosaic] law is/was for the Jews. Of course, the law allowed for the conversion of Gentiles—males were to be circumcised (Ex 12:48-49)—so the law was not limited to the physical descendants of Jacob. But even then, the basis for this inclusion of the Gentiles was in the promise to Abraham prior to the giving of the law [the law-covenant with Israel] (Gal 3:6-9). This is why the early church (Christ-believing Jews) had a difficult time with Gentiles converting to Christianity (Act 21:20-25; Gal 2:12). It would seem that if the new covenant were merely another covenant in the progression of previous ones, then Gentiles should be circumcised and “keep the law” (v. 24). But this was not required of them because the law [Mosaic covenant] was replaced with a new covenant that included both Jew and Gentile as equals, based on faith in Christ (Rom 1:16; 4:11-12; Gal 3:28; Eph 1:10-14; Col 3:11). Circumcision was the outward sign of belief in God’s promise to bless many people through the Seed of Abraham, but it was only required until that Seed should come. Now that Jesus Christ has come, ritual laws are now viewed as useless (Gal 4:9-11; 5:6), and this would include the Sabbath.

From the perspective of the New Covenant, a specific narrative (Gen 18:12; cf. 1 Pet 3:6; Num 16; cf. Jude 11), maxim (Prov 3:34; cf. Jas 4:6), or commandment (Lev 19:11-18; cf. Gal 5:14) within the law may have contemporary ethical application, but this does not make the whole law [the covenant with Israel] a universal legal system. Though there are multiple covenants mentioned in the OT, the emphasis from the perspective of the NT is the distinction between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. They are not equal, yet care must be taken in clarifying the relationship between them. See chart under Continuity/Discontinuity. See Covenant.

While the Lord God may replace one covenant with another, yet He remains as holy as He was from the beginning. Since humankind is made in His glorious image, each person’s life is measured by and held accountable to God’s immutable standard of holiness, which is revealed in the law [of Moses, both moral and ritual laws; of the Pentateuch; of the OT in general, by expression of His will in commands and actions] and now in the person of Jesus Christ (Ps 98:9; Acts 17:32; 2 Tim 4:1). So there is a consistent standard of holiness that we should expect to exist in both covenants, which we classify as “moral law.” Paul mentions “the righteous requirements of the law” (Rom 2:26; cf. Isa 51:6); it is to this law that Paul commands both Jew and Gentile to live by (Rom 2:12-15; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19; 9:9; Gal 5:13-14), while enlarged upon by the example of Christ or in relation to Christ (1 Cor 6:15-20; Eph 5:25; 6:1-4; Phil 1:27; 2:5; 1 Pet 2:18-21). Kelly illustrates this with the Constitution of the United States. “The United States was no longer subject in any respect to the laws of Britain. They had a completely new law that applied only to them, even though this new law contained elements common to Britain’s law.”[xix] See Moral Law.


[i] Properly translated, torah means “instruction” or “guidance.” Clements, Ronald E. “Law, Command, Commandment, Ordinance, Statute” in The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, p. 285.
[ii] Najman, Hindy. “Torah and Tradition” in The Eerdman’s Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 1317.
[iii] Clements, Ronald E. p. 289.
[iv] Daube, David. The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism.
[v] Some also add “civil” laws, referring to commandments respecting the government of Israel.
[vi] Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology, p. 613-614.
[vii] Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith, p. 680.
[viii] DeHaan, M. R. Law or Grace, p. 97.
[ix] Blomberg, Craig. “The Sabbath As Fulfilled in Christ” in Five Views on the Sabbath, p. 348.
[x] Blomberg, Craig. “The Sabbath As Fulfilled in Christ” in Five Views on the Sabbath, p. 329.
[xi] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 105.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Terry, Milton S., Biblical Hermeneutics, Zondervan (1969), p. 191.
[xiv] Silva, Moisés. “Galatians” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, p. 804.
[xv] Bakon, Shimon. “Creation, Tabernacle and Sabbath” in The Jewish Bible Quartlerly (Vol. 25:2), p. 84.
[xvi] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 45.
[xvii] Briefly, Jesus’s references to the law involve what we call moral [marital faithfulness (Matt 19:4-6), honesty (Matt 5:33-37)], ceremonial [cleanliness (Matt 8:1-4); proper attitude in rendering worship (Matt 5:23), holy day observance (Matt 26:17-20)], and civil laws [Temple tax (Matt 17:24-27)]. He clarified the meaning of laws with respect to traditions that interfered with true obedience (Matt 15:1-20; 19:1-10). He also discussed historical events (Matt 12:3-4) and theological principles (Matt 22:22-33, 34-40). He heightened the moral excellence of the law against our tendency to explain away or make excuses for our substandard approach to obedience (Matt 5:43-48). He identified Himself as the fulfillment of the law (Matt 11:28-30; 12:6), both in His perfect obedience to it even to His death (keeping the Passover and holding no malice in His heart) and in the realization of the prophetic and typological referents to Himself [Jonah (Matt 12:40); Solomon (Matt 12:42); David (Matt 22:41-46). And He predicted the fall of the Temple (Matt 24:1-2) and the end of the law-covenant (Matt 26:26-29).
[xviii] The new covenant is not merely a restatement of the old covenant with the ceremonial laws removed.
[xix] Kelly, Russell Earl. “Who Changed the Sabbath” in Proclamation! Vol. 18, No. 1. (Spring 2017) p. 10. Also Reisinger, Tablets of Stone, p. 123-124.

Part 2d: What are the Terms?

Glossary 7

Covenant.  The etymology for the Hebrew word “covenant” (נריא , berit) is disputable,[i] however, it carries the idea of a bond between two parties in order to secure and protect the nature of a relationship.[ii] It can also convey the idea of a sworn pledge (1 Sam 18:3) or promise to carry out a strategy (Gen 31:44). Marriage is described as a covenant (Hos 2:18-20; Mal 2:4). While the identification of marriage as a covenant came late in OT revelation, it easy to see that in the beginning, God’s relationship with Adam and Eve (as one humanity) is mirrored in Adam’s union with Eve (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6). In other words, as God is true to Adam and Eve (and their posterity), so should Adam and Eve be true to each other (and their children). This idea is bolstered by the NT witness that reveals God’s typic intention that human marriage was to represent Christ’s marriage to His bride under the New Covenant (Eph 5:31-32). Paul relates the sanctity of marriage to a pledge that ends only at the death of a spouse; that is, one cannot be in two marriage covenants simultaneously (1 Cor 7:39; cf. Ex 23:32). Furthermore, Paul uses this imagery to inform believers in Jesus Christ that they are no longer under the law-covenant administered by Moses, because they are “married to another” (Rom 7:1-6; cf. Jer 31:31-32), i.e., in a blood-bond covenant with Christ. The Greek word used to translate berit in the Septuagint is (διαφἠκης , diatheekees), and it is translated “covenant” [23 times] or “testament” [13 times] in the NT, the better half in Hebrews alone. The Greek concept of a testament includes the “last will” which is a sworn agreement to dispose of an inheritance according to a predetermined plan (Heb 9:16-17). “[The Sinai Covenant] reflects the marriage and adoption formulas, implying that the covenant relationship between God and Israel mirrors the strong bond of matrimony…”[iii]

Between people or nations, a covenant is an agreement, contract, or treaty which lays out the terms, conditions, and penalties of the covenant; such as when Abraham covenanted with Abimelech to deal fairly with each other for the benefit of their families (Gen 21:22-32). Similarly, God’s covenants with individuals or groups have a view to future generations (Gen 17:7-9; Ex 6:5; 31:16; Deut 7:9).

Of interest is the Hebrew idiom to “cut a covenant,” which implies that whoever breaks the covenant is subject to the penalty of death (Gen 15:9-10; Jer 34:18-19).[iv] Several of the covenants that God made with mankind involve the letting of animal blood to portray the seriousness of the covenant [Noah (Gen 8:20-21), Abraham (Gen 15:9-18), Israel (Ex 20:24; 24:3-8)]. The metaphor is literal in the case of Abraham, as he was directed to dissect a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram. However, it was a theophany of God that passed between the pieces, and not Abraham. God is the initiator of His covenants and understandably will not be the undoing of any of any of them (Hos 6:6-7). Of the seven covenants, most are unilateral, that is, God will make good on the bond despite the untrustworthiness of man, yet even if man fails on his part, God remains obligated to His part. (Jdg2:1; Jer 14:21). The surety of the new covenant alludes to the enduring covenant with Noah (Jer 31:35-37) that man can no more undo God’s covenantal plans than they can alter the course of the heavenly bodies. The covenant with Israel was breakable on condition of disobedience (Lev 16:15ff; Deut 31:16ff) and many an Israelite fell to the sword because of it (Lev 25:26; Jer 11:1-19, 22; Ezek 16:58-59; Heb 8:9), but God preserved a remnant of faithful souls (Isa 1:9; Ezek 6:8). Even the Abrahamic covenant was breakable if circumcision—the sign of the covenant—was refused, leading to inevitable judgment from God (Gen 17:14). But again, God is disposed to show mercy where none is deserved for the sake of His promise to Abraham (Mic 7:18-20; Rom 11:5).

Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, and from the perspective of the NT, evidence of Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:11-12). Passover was a sign of the Mosaic covenant (Ex 12:13-14), yet male participants were required to be circumcised, indicating their participation in God’s covenant with Abraham. “The law and promise aspects of God’s covenant relationship with his people do not violate each other.”[v] As signs, circumcision and Passover had a secondary meanings (Deut 30:6; 1 Cor 5:7; Col 2:11). God’s covenant with David was an addendum to the Mosaic Covenant, and it reaffirmed—and provided additional revelation about—the promised “seed” mentioned in the Adamic and Abrahamic covenants. The hope of an everlasting kingdom seems to come to an end at the destruction of Jerusalem in 598 BCE (2 Chr 36:14-21), but reignited seventy years later by the proclamation of King Cyrus (2 Chr 36:22-23). This demonstrated the sovereignty of God to bring about whatever He desires. “The Mosaic covenant was a conditional covenant, which was fulfilled and abolished by the death of Christ.”[vi]

Finally, the new covenant was made directly between Jesus—as diety—and the apostles—as representatives of the church (Matt 26:28; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 7:22; 9:15). The Lord’s Supper is a sign of that covenant enactment made the night before His crucifixion (1 Cor 11:23-26). “That nation, or people (alternative translation), can be none other than the Christian church which is now God’s covenant community.”[vii] At each stage, though millennia apart, God nurtured hope and faith in His chosen people by progressively revealing His redemptive plan through covenantal measures. The significant covenants that God made with man are as follows:

With Whom Man’s obligations God’s promises Sign
1 Adam at creation:

Representing the human race

Representing the obedient man

Don’t eat of the tree

Be fruitful and take dominion

[Faith that God’s will is good]

Don’t and live

Eat and die

Presence of Tree of Life
Because Adam and Eve “broke the covenant,” God justly brought curses of sweat, pain, separation, and death to the human race. Mankind does multiply and takes dominion, but does so sinfully and is subject to death. Righteous seed and unrighteous seed will be enemies.
2 Adam after sinning:

Representing people of faith

[Faith that God accepted him on the basis of animal sacrifice] Seed to crush the head of Satan Animal Sacrifice
By accepting the animal skins, forgiveness of sin was assured. The promised Seed would be born within the righteous family line. With Abel’s death, it would appear that the righteous line would terminate, but God gave Adam and Eve another son, Seth.
3 Noah, a righteous man:

Representing the Seed to bring in true Rest

[Faith in God’s word] Won’t flood earth again;

But man continues to sin

Rainbow
Noah’s initial obedience and his sacrificial offerings upon exiting the ark evinced his faith. This was like a new beginning, but Noah’s lapse proved him unworthy to bring ultimate rest to mankind. God repeats the creation mandate.
4 Abraham, a friend of God:
Representing people of faith
[Faith in God’s promise to multiply his posterity] Multiply his seed

Provide a land

Strangers and servants first for 400 years

Circumcision
Abraham prepared divided animals, and God passed through them, accepting them and confirming His word. Circumcision represented cleansing. Non-Israelites could become Israelites through circumcision. Circumcision is the seal of the righteousness Abraham had through faith. The righteous shall live by faith, but not due to their own righteousness.
5 Israel, a chosen people:

Representing a people of faith

Moses representing the mediator and prophet of God

Joshua representing one who should bring rest

Do all the things written in the book

[Faith in the goodness of God’s will; Faith in God’s promise to Abraham; Faith in atonement of sin]

Obey and He will be their God, He will preserve them in the land

Disobey and suffer curses

Circumcision

Passover

Sabbath

[And a host of other distinctive ritual laws]

The covenant was instituted with a priesthood and bloody sacrifices. It contained a law that performed two functions: to reveal the holiness of God and to foreshadow the work of the Messiah.
6 David, a heart toward God:

Representing the deity and kingship of the Seed

Representing one who should bring rest

[Faith in God’s presence and word] Establish Kingdom Temple/House
David’s heart alone was enough to foreshadow the type of kingly lord anticipated from the time of Adam. David’s son will have the honor of building a house for God—the Temple of Rest, because David was unworthy. The “Seed” will be a king with an everlasting kingdom.
7 Jesus the Messiah: embodies the “New Covenant”

Fulfilling the prior covenants:
· Undoing the curse on Adam
· Purifying the people of faith
· A truly righteous man
· A unique relationship with God and His people
· The chosen One
· The Rightful King inclined toward God

The church: the culmination of the people of God

Jesus: Always does God’s will; the High Priest and the sacrifice; the Word made flesh; the provider of true Rest; the gatherer of people from all nations

Church: [Faith in Christ’s death in their stead]

To cleanse us from all sin

To indwell us by the Holy Spirit so we would know His word

To build a mansion for us in heaven

To bring eternal rest to our souls

To make one people of God from every nation

Baptism

Lord’s Supper

The faith of Adam in receiving the slain animal skin; the faith of Noah in building an ark; the faith of Abraham that merely believed God’s promise; the faith of Israelites who did not bend the knee to false gods; the faith of David in the accessibility of God—all these are representative of the faith of those who entrust their eternal life to the giver of life. Everything that happened in world history, and specifically in biblical history, was designed to culminate in the advents of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the Seed who would crush the head of Satan; He is the Seed who will bring blessings upon people from every nation; He is the truly righteous man who can provide abiding rest; He is the God who befriends and justifies those who put their trust in Him; He is last Prophet of the Mosaic covenant and the King above all kings whose heart is inclined only to please God the Father. By analogy with the Mosaic covenant, the New covenant was instituted by a new priesthood and a perfect sacrifice. Since the new covenant is what the old covenant looked forward to, it is certainly related because it makes full and brings to completion the covenantal themes of previous ages. But at the same time, the new covenant is the terminus of all previous covenants, and stands alone as the only covenant by which anyone has hope of eternal life.

Because these covenants come at critical junctions in the biblical storyline, it seems proper to view the covenants as a unifying structure of biblical history. “It should be remembered that the covenants are explicit scriptural indicators of divine initiatives that structure redemptive history.”[viii] The most important themes of Scripture are presented repetitively throughout these covenants: a person to come, a people of God, and their posterity; kingdoms and temples and houses, priesthoods and sacrifices, forgiveness and redemption, chosen-ness and righteousness, rest and restoration, faith and obedience, symbolism[ix] and patterns of God’s modus operandi; disillusionment and triumph, life and death. “[A covenant is the] divine bestowal of grace by which God took chosen people into fellowship, telling them that God would be their God and they should live as God’s people.”[x] All of the covenants demonstrate the inadequacy of people to fully trust and completely obey God—yet, Adam’s pre-fall experience was unique. The perfection of the world was catastrophically disturbed by Adam’s self-determination, but immediately, God determined to restore the world with another “Adam” (Gen 3:15; Gen 4:1, 25; Gen 5:1-3; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22, 45).[xi] All of the named covenants demonstrate God’s graciousness to mankind, specifically the redeemed; and they include promises that engender hope in God who works all things according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph 1:11). All of the covenants are called an “everlasting covenant” [Noah (Gen 9:16); Abraham (Gen 17:7, 13, 19); Mosaic (Lev 24:8; 1 Ch 16:17; Isa 24:5); Davidic (2 Sam 23:5); and new (Jer 32:40; Ezek 37:26; Heb 13:20)] because the end to which they looked will become an everlasting reality. The new covenant embraces the former covenants and keeps their memory alive by bringing fulfillment to them. And while the covenants provide a framework for assessing and understanding God’s redemptive plan, the ultimate goal of the covenants is to give Jesus Christ preeminence in all things (Isa 49:8; Col 1:15-19). That is, the promised “obedient man,” the “triumphant man,” the “renewing man,” the “sacrificial man,” the “perfect man,” and the “kingly man” are all to be found in Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever. All of Scripture points to Him.The idea that covenants provide the basis for understanding biblical history and revelation is called Covenant Theology (CT). “Covenant theology… puts all biblical revelation in the covenant framework.”[xii] A formal outworking of this theological interest developed in the seventeenth century, eventually leading to its approved form in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1648).[xiii] The WCF proposes a “covenant of works” with Adam at his creation and a “covenant of grace” after his fall. This “covenant of grace” can be divided into two “administrations,” one encompassing the OT and the other the NT.[xiv] But there are detractors of these theologically invented terms.[xv] While the two “covenants” with Adam are not designated as such in Scripture, they do have elements of covenantal language, as intimated by Hosea, “like man [Adam], they have transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6:7), and the federal impact of Adam’s sin on his posterity (Rom 5:12-14). “[The new covenant] is the basis for the salvation of all who are saved from Adam to the last person saved. It is therefore similar to the theological concept of the covenant of grace, which God promised in eternity past.”[xvi]There are various theological systems designed to provide an understanding of the relationship between the old and new testaments. These systems influence our beliefs about the Mosaic law and the New Covenant, Israel and the church, and therefore about the place the Sabbath should have in the life of the church. It is obvious that covenants are a major leitmotif in biblical revelation and that redemption through Jesus Christ is the overarching theme. While theological systems may condition one’s view of the Sabbath, I personally don’t think the general idea of a covenantal structure to biblical history necessitates certain conclusions about the Sabbath.Without the constraints of Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and New Covenant Theology, the Ante-Nicene fathers expressed their beliefs in a straightforward way. Justin Martyr complained that the Jews reject the new covenant in favor of the law to their own harm. But the law of the new covenant requires them to be circumcised a second time and to keep a perpetual Sabbath, clearly indicating his belief that these were Jewish ceremonies that pointed to Christ and His beloved. “The new law requires you to keep perpetual sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious.”[xvii]A twenty-four hour religious rest was mere ceremonial piety.Irenaeus taught that the Mosaic law was abrogated, but that did not mean people were without “natural law.” Circumcision and Sabbath were ceremonial or signal laws of the Mosaic covenant. “These things, then, were given for a sign; but the signs were not unsymbolical, that is, neither unmeaning nor to no purpose, inasmuch as they were given by a wise Artist; but the circumcision after the flesh typified that after the Spirit.” And Sabbath meant serving God continually in a state of rest. “These things, therefore, which were given for bondage, and for a sign to them, He cancelled by the new covenant of liberty.”[xviii]Cancelled laws of the Mosaic covenant have no authority over members of the new covenant.Justin Martyr continued in his dialogue asserting that “circumcision began with Abraham, and the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts with Moses.”[xix] The biblical text is clear in this respect as both Moses and Ezekiel state emphatically that the Sabbath was given as a sign to Israel (Ex 31:13, 17; Ezek 20:12, 20). And regarding the timing of the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Israel, Paul ascribes priority to the covenant/promise made with Abraham. “And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect (Gal 3:17). The superiority of the covenant with Abraham over the covenant with Israel is also apparent in the Mosaic law itself because the Sabbath could be broken in order to circumcise a child on the eighth day following his birth. Jesus baffled the Pharisees with His knowledge of Scripture, “Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath (Jn 7:22). If the Sabbath were given to mankind at creation, then circumcision could never occur on a Sabbath. When would the obligations of a ceremonial law ever override a moral law? But the Sabbath was given to Israel four hundred years after circumcision was given to Abraham—so circumcision has priority. And if circumcision is abrogated with the institution of the new covenant, then more so the Sabbath. Jesus even drew attention to the fact that the Sabbath yielded to temple service (Matt12:5-6). The argument of lesser to greater and the analogy between the priests and Himself can only lead to one conclusion: Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath who gave it to Moses and He may do as He pleases on that day. It is not Covenantalism or Dispensationalism that leads to this conclusion, but the plain sense of Scripture.“God did well in giving the promise so many years before the Law, that it may never be said that righteousness is granted through the Law and not through the promise. If God had meant for us to be justified by the Law, He would have given the Law four hundred and thirty years before the promise, at least He would have given the Law at the same time He gave the promise. But He never breathed a word about the Law until four hundred years after. The promise is therefore better than the Law. The Law does not cancel the promise, but faith in the promised Christ cancels the Law.”{xx]


[i] Smick, Elmer B. “berît” TWOT, p. 128. Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 45.
[ii] Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants, p. 4-6.
[iii] Scott, James M. “Covenant” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 492.
[iv] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 169-170.
[v] Smick, Elmer B. “berît” TWOT, p. 129.
[vi] Walvoord, John F. “Covenants” in The Theological Wordbook, p. 73.
[vii] Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 46.
[viii] Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants, p. 226.
[ix] Such as, light and dark, separation, evening (night) and morning, number 3, 7, 10, 12,
[x] Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 45.
[xi] As one follows the narrative, the sequence is that Adam sinned and then God deals with that sin. However, the simple command to refrain from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil gives us the expectation that that is exactly what Adam will do. God knows this. As the storyline continues, the reader quickly comes to understand that God is not surprised by what happens in history and He is not forever reacting to some formidable force of mankind’s will, but that He is fully in control and is determining the march of history to bring about particular outcomes. This is possible only because He is sovereign and knows the end from the beginning (Matt 25:34; 1 Pet 1:20). Before the creation of the world, God had already determined to bring about the redemption of man (His elect) by the blood of Jesus Christ. I could have written “The perfection of the world was catastrophically disturbed by Adam’s self-determination, but immediately, God determined to do what He predetermined to do in eternity past to restore the world with another ‘Adam’.” But that seemed unnecessarily complicated.
[xii] Smick, Elmer B. “berît” TWOT, p. 129.
[xiii] Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 45. Brown, Michael G. “I Will Be Your God: The Covenant of Grace,” The Outlook, Vol. 67: 3 (May/Jun 2017), p. 16-17.
[xiv]Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7, Free Presbyterian Publications, Glascow, reprint 1997, p. 41-45.
[xv] Brogden, Stuart L. Captive to the Word of God, p. 125-126. Lutherans acknowledge the historicity of covenants, but focus on the law-grace dichotomy and Christ who is the true theme of Scripture. Dispensationalists acknowledge the existence of covenants, but instead order the timeline of history with “dispensations” and a focus on eschatology.
[xvi] Walvoord, John F. “Covenants” in The Theological Wordbook, p. 74.
[xvii] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, para 12. ANF, Vol 1, p. 200.
[xviii] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, para 16. ANF, Vol 1, p. 480-482.
[xix] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, para 43. ANF, Vol 1, p. 216.
[xx] Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians (Gal 3:17)

Another Introduction

In the forthcoming glossaries, I will discuss Covenants, the Law, Mosaic Law/Covenant, the Ten Commandments, Moral Law, Ceremonial Law, Noachide Law, the Gospel/NT and Continuity/Discontinuity. While I did (and am doing) my best to keep these glossary entries short, the topics are quite complex, and that alone necessitates more elaborate expositions. But even then, they are far shorter than other Bible encyclopedia entries. All of these topics bear on one’s understanding of the Sabbath and everyone refers to them as the larger context that frames their view of the Sabbath. So, each person brings their own understanding about these upcoming glossary terms into the Sabbath/Lord’s Day debate and make truth-claims that appear to be obvious to them. My hope is to inspire readers to consider writing out their own personal statement of understanding of each of the above topics based on a thorough review of the Bible. Read literature from differing viewpoints in order to gain an understanding where the points of contention are, to determine what presuppositions are behind the assertions, and what weight is given to certain texts in comparison to other texts. It’s easy to state your case, but then you also have to defend against opposing viewpoints. The net result is to build a coherent theological system based on a rational understanding of the texts (not saying more or less than the text allows), that has consistent internal agreement (not contradictory), and accounts for contextual clues (redemptive-historical analysis). Once I have finished the glossary, I will delve into hermeneutics—the rules for interpretation—and logic—the rules for arriving at valid conclusions. As a reminder, each glossary entry begins with a biblical summary of the topic followed by my discussion how that topic relates to the Sabbath/Lord’s Day discussion.

First-day and Seventh-day Sabbatarians are in general accord about their two main proofs for the continuity of Sabbath-keeping—its (supposed) origin in Genesis and its presence in the Decalogue—however, there is no consensus how to explain Paul’s reference to the Sabbath in Colossians. If the Sabbath is a moral law, does its attributes coincide with the attributes of other moral laws? Whenever the NT uses the word “commandments,” what defense do Sabbatarians have inferring this to mean the “Ten Commandments”? If Sabbatarians understand the concept of ceremonial law, why is it so difficult to see that Jesus’ claim to be the giver of rest is a statement of His fulfillment of the Sabbath? Where in the Bible is there any clear statement that the Decalogue is composed only of moral laws? Or, as Reisinger likes to ask, “Exactly what would a person in your congregation have to do before you would discipline him out of the church for breaking the Fourth Commandment?”[i]

Lord’s Day proponents are certain that the Sabbath is fulfilled based upon a few key texts—the NT treatment of the Sabbath as a shadow-law and the demise of the old covenant—however, they lack clarity about the authority by which first-day assembly came about or why Paul cites the OT as a theological authority if it is indeed abrogated. If Christian worship could have been on any day of the week, why has it remained on Sunday for nearly two millennia? Is there a distinction between the law of Moses and the law of God? If they believe that the Sabbath is fulfilled, why do they cite the Sabbath as a rationale for church worship? Why do they give sermons on the benefits of physical rest? Or why do they occasionally call the Lord’s Day a Sabbath?

In the introduction to my book, The Sabbath Complete, I mentioned that after reading many books and articles by Sunday and Saturday Sabbatarians, I noticed that they “were inconsistent in their analysis, varied in their interpretation of key passages, and derived a wide range of applications from Sabbath law.” Based on my extensive research on this topic, it became obvious that even among expositors of the same general viewpoint about the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy, it is challenging to find two of them who are in full agreement with each other. You the reader may adhere to a particular viewpoint, but you likely hold to some unchallenged biases, presuppositions, and inconsistencies. Give consideration to what I present. Feel free to comment or ask questions of me. Also, it’s alright to be skeptical, but please don’t reply with simplistic credos.[ii] My hope is that your study of the Scriptures will lead to a more accurate understanding of these topics. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Ti 2:15).


[i] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 97.
[ii] Like this statement: “Jesus kept the Sabbath and so should you.” Of course He kept the Sabbath; He kept the whole [Mosaic] law perfectly because He was born under the law. As such, He obeyed both moral and ceremonial laws faithfully and completely. But this statement assumes we agree that the Sabbath is moral; which we don’t. It also assumes that I am under the law in the same way Jesus was; which I am not. So the discussion should focus on the criteria by which Mosaic laws can be classified as either moral or ceremonial. Are there common features among moral laws? Are there common features among ceremonial laws? If the Sabbath is a ceremonial law, then His observance of it is no more instructional for NT believers than His observance of dietary laws, circumcision, feast-keeping, and paying the temple tax. What law/covenant are we under now? In what ways have things changed or are things different, and why? What elements are common between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ?

Book Review of “Theses Sabbaticae” by Thomas Shepard

While reading this book, I decided to learn more about the author and came upon an autobiography published posthumously from his dairy and notes. The author of a book wants to know his audience, but a book reviewer wants to know the author. The editors of his biography remarked that Shepard had a “simple, childlike confidence in God, [a] heartfelt and earnest piety, and . . . an unaffected devotional spirit.”[i] After his death, mourners lauded his treatise, Theses Sabbaticae, “wherin (sic) he hath handled the morality of the Sabbath with a degree of reason, reading, and religion which is truly extraordinary.”[ii] The title of his publication expresses his affinity for Latin which he sprinkles throughout his dissertation on the Sabbath.

Thomas Shepard was born on November 5, 1605, the day it was rumored that supporters of the Roman Catholic Church were to “blow up” the Protestant-controlled English Parliament. His father could not believe that such an act could be done in the name of the church and so named his son Thomas after the incredulous apostle of Jesus Christ. His father, William, married a grocer’s daughter and had three sons and six daughters, but only four of them were alive at the time of his writing. His unnamed mother died when he was four and his father’s second wife died when he was ten. His father took a third wife, who did not like Thomas at all, and she succumbed to sickness as well. Shepard eventually studied at Cambridge University, earning his Master of Arts, and took up ministry in Essex. He eventually married in 1632 “the best and fittest woman in the world” amidst the religious conflicts of the day. Parker mentions Shepard in his book about the parliamentary conflicts about the Sabbath roughly during 1560-1630. Shepard is described as a crypto-papist[iii] who made arguments before the parliament in 1621 that were not well-received. He was but sixteen years of age. Parker summarizes, “Other members attacked Shepard for his abuse of God’s word, and the Commons passed a resolution that he should be ‘cast out of the House as an unworthy member’.”[iv]

In October 16, 1634, he took steps to leave old England with his wife and first son, Thomas, to New England to escape religious turmoil possibly related to his Separatist beliefs. His son died early in the travels before leaving England. His wife bore a second son, whom he also named Thomas. The journey continued in August 1635 through the seas with various terrors and they finally landed in New England in October. His journey was part of the “Great Migration” of Puritans from England during this time providing continued growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His wife, Margaret, died shortly after arriving in 1636. He married a second time in October, 1637. Their first son died. Their second son Samuel was alive during his final years, but his third son, John, died in infancy. Another son was born in April 1646, living but three years. So tender a heart he maintained, that in all these deaths he seemed to believe they were provoked by his own sin.[v] He married a third time in 1647 and had a son who would later become a minister. Thomas Shepard died August 25, 1649 at the age of 44. He was then pastor of the Church of Christ, at Cambridge. His life was brief and full of hardship, yet he served the Lord with all his might and mind.

This great man was familiar with arguments antagonistic to the Sunday Sabbath viewpoint from such authors as Primrose,[vi] Heylin,[vii] Ironside,[viii] Wallæus,[ix] Traske,[x] Gomarus,[xi] Brabourn,[xii] Broad[xiii], and others. These men and their works are described in Robert Cox’s (1865) The Literature of the Sabbath Question. So Shepard determined to defend the Westminster (1632) idea that the Sabbath of the Decalogue is in continuing force not only for the church, but for the world, and that this day was divinely selected to be the first day of the week since the resurrection of Jesus. His writing was also occasioned by King Charles I, who republished in 1632 King James’s 1618 Book of Sports, that conveyed the King’s desire that the populace are at liberty to engage in Sunday pastimes after church, notwithstanding the judgmentalism of Puritans.[xiv]

This may have been a well-respected work in the 17th century, but it makes for difficult reading today. His sentences are long and convoluted, some of them filling nearly a whole page. An example follows.

“The Familists and Antinomians of late, like the Manichees of old, do make all days equally holy under the gospel, and none to be observed more than another by virtue of any command of God, unless it be from some command of man to which the outward man they think should not stick to conform, or unless it be pro re nata, or upon several occasions, which special occasions are only to give the alarums for church meetings and public Christian assemblies—an audacious assertion, cross to the very light of nature among the blind heathens, who have universally allowed the Deity whom they ignorantly worshiped the honor of some solemn duties; cross to the verdict of Popish schoolmen and prelatists, whose stomachs never stood much toward any Sabbath at all; cross to the scope of the law of the Sabbath, which, if it hath any general morality, (not denied scarce to any of Moses’ judicials,) surely one would think it should lie in the observation of some day or days, though not in a seventh day, for which now we do not contend; cross also to the appointment of the gospel, foretold by Isaiah and Ezekiel, (Is. lvi. 4, 6; Ezek. xliii. 27,) made mention of by our Saviour to continue long after the abolishing of all ceremonies by his death, (Matt. xxiv. 20,) who therefore bids them pray, that their flight may not be in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day, which, whether it be the Jewish or Christian Sabbath, I dispute not; only this is evident, that he hath an eye to some special set day, and which was lastly ordained by Christ, and observed in the primitive churches, commonly called the Lord’s day, as shall be shown in due place, and which notion, under pretense of more spiritualness, in making every day a Sabbath, (which is utterly unlawful and impossible, unless it be lawful to neglect our own work all the week long, and without which there can be no true Sabbath;) doth really undermine the true Sabbath, in special set days; and look, as to make every man a king and judge in a Christian commonwealth would be the introduction of confusion, and consequently the destruction of a civil government, so to crown every day with equal honor unto God’s set days and Sabbath which he hath anointed and exalted above the rest, this anarchy and confusion of days doth utterly subvert the true Sabbath; to make every day a Sabbath is a real debasing and dethroning of God’s Sabbath.”[xv]

There were times that I followed his logic and agreed with his conclusions, and sometimes he asked good questions, but didn’t always answer them. Yet conversely he made outrageous statements and non sequiturs. Overall, his arguments for the morality of the Sabbath were barely understandable. He spent little time on the relationship of the Sabbath to ceremonial law, typology, and eschatology. He provided no detailed research regarding the expression of sabbatical natural law in primitive peoples or earlier cultures, and he failed to explain how the Christian church missed this critical doctrine until his time.

“Because the express words of the commandment do not run thus, viz., “Remember to keep holy that seventh day,” but more generally, “the Sabbath day;” it is in the beginning, and so it is in the end of this commandment, where it is not said, that God blessed that seventh day, but the Sabbath day; by which expression the wisdom of God, as it points to that particular seventh day, that it should be sanctified, so it also opens a door of liberty for change, if God shall see meet, because the substance of the commandment doth not only contain that seventh day, but the Sabbath day, which may be upon another seventh, as well as upon that which God appointed first; and that the substance of the command is contained in those first words, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,: may appear from the repetition of the same commandment, (Deut. v.12,) where these words, “As the Lord thy God commanded thee,” are immediately inserted before the rest of the words of the commandment be set down, to show thus much, that therein is contained the substance of the fourth command; the words following being added only to press the duty, and to point out the particular day, which at that time God would have them to observe.”[xvi]

It was hard not to recall in his biography his recollection of former times as a student. “The third yeare wherin I was Sophister (at Cambridge) I began to be foolish & proud, to show myselfe in the public schooles there to be a disputer about things which now I see I did not know then at all but only prated about them.”[xvii] While only occasionally did he mock the ignorance of those with whom he disagreed, he was generally methodical and studious in discussing the multitude of considerations in this debate.

His work is divided into four sections. First, he determines to prove by many infallible proofs, termed “theses,” that a religious rest every seven days is a moral commandment from the beginning of creation. This section is comprised of 207 propositions in which he lays out his powers of deduction and induction. His main argument for the morality of the Sabbath is its presence within the Decalogue. While he discusses the fact that moral and ceremonial laws are often listed side by side in the OT and that how laws are listed is no way to determine the difference between them, he simply asserts that it is not so in the Decalogue—they are all moral. This is a logical fallacy in itself as he assumes to be true what he seeks to prove. He expends considerable ink on the relationship of the morality of the Sabbath to the law of nature, whether the morality is abstract or concrete, general or particular, primary or secondary, moral-moral or moral-ceremonial, private or public, internal or external, and direct or indirect. This was difficulty reading to be sure and offers little for Sabbatarians to draw upon for the defense of the morality of the Sabbath. As he considers the creation week, he makes the outlandish statement that “God never made himself an example of any ceremonial duty, it being unsuitable to his glorious excellency to do so.”[xviii] He states this as if it were a well-known fact, and then claims that this is the reason why the weekly Sabbath is moral and the yearly Sabbath of the Land is not. Shepard fails to observe that God’s seventh day rest was not a recurring Sabbath nor described as such, so His example doesn’t actually demonstrate the weekly Sabbath. Shepard also fails to notice that God gave Adam an example of a bloody sacrifice (Gen 3:21), the foremost of all ceremonial laws. So it certainly is acceptable for God to demonstrate a behavior that has ceremonial implications. The manna was provided in the wilderness at the set times that He willed to provide it, doing so for six days and refraining on the seventh. His example provided the experience necessary to initially teach the Israelites the rules about Sabbath-keeping and He continued to provide manna in the same manner week after week for forty years. The Lord tutored Israel in Sabbath law and He directly involved Himself in the sanctification and sanction of it. God most certainly made Himself an example of ceremonial law.[xix] On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus provided an example during the annual seder of the new covenant meal—the Lord’s Supper—which is not moral but a ceremonial institution, because it had a beginning that very night and will come to a conclusion when Christ comes into his kingdom.

The second focus of his book is in defending the change of the day of week on which the Sabbath occurs, from the seventh day of the week to the first. As a Lord’s Day advocate, I agree with him that the Christians are obligated to assemble on Sunday and that the authority for it came through the apostles and the ground for it due to the resurrection, but I disagree that the Sabbath itself was reassigned to Sunday. I agree that assembling together (“going to church”) is not a matter of Christian liberty, otherwise there would be no sin in forsaking the assembly. So Shepard attempts to explain why the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday is ceremonial and the Christian Sabbath on Sunday is moral. According to Shepard there was a moral Sabbath practiced by the patriarchs and then the Jews were given their Sabbath which is only “accidentally typical”; that is, it was assigned typological attributes specific to the Jews which are not essentially moral. Those typical features may be done away with—and he assures us they were abrogated—but the force of the fourth commandment continues. He asks, “What type is affixed and annexed to the Sabbath?” and answers, “I think it difficult to find out.” Of interest here is that he does not think that by shifting the Sabbath one day that the morality of it is undermined. He explains that the Jews celebrated their Sabbath at the end of six days work and Christians celebrate their Sabbath at the beginning of the week, thus both give the Lord one-seventh of their time, which is the moral requirement. If this is the case, then the Lord required the observation of two consecutive Sabbaths (which disrupted the rhythm of the universe) and He altered the concept of rest as a prelude to work instead of the completion of work. Well, few there be (Sabbatarians included) that can’t help but think of the Sabbath as something to work toward, the fruit of the labor. It remains a rest for having worked. For example, Pink asserts “He who never works is unfitted for worship…Work is to pave the way for worship…The more diligent and faithful we are in performing the duties of the six days, the more shall we value the rest of the seventh.”[xx] But some Sabbatarians disagree. Plonk argues that Adam began his week with worship. “What needs to be emphasized here is that worship comes before work, both in connection with creation and redemption. The day of rest precedes the days of toil.”[xxi] So it is unclear whether Sabbatarians are following the example of God or Adam. Shepard sees the analogy between God’s creation rest coming at the end of His work and Christ’s rest coming at the end of His work, only Christ’s rest was not in the grave on the Sabbath but on the first day of His resurrection. Since “man’s sin spoiled the first rest . . .the day of it might be justly abrogated,” he avers. Taking what he says all together: God’s rest was the last day of the week, but for Adam his rest began the week, and since Adam ruined the last day of the week Sabbath, the Jews were made to follow the example of God by observing the Sabbath on the last day of the week; and this was typological and could be abolished (only that would make God an example of a ceremony); so Christ having paid for sin and completed the work of redemption, rested on the first day of the week and restored the original intent that man begin the week with a Sabbath (even though the Creator’s perfect rest was on the last day of the week).[xxii] The more he babbles, the more the incongruities accrue.

Thirdly, he evaluates various opinions about the timing of the observation of the Sabbath; that is, when it ought to begin and end. This was a fiercely debated aspect of Sabbath-keeping in his day and so the English Parliament in 1656 defined the Lord’s Day as the time between midnight Saturday night to midnight Sunday night.[xxiii] In opposition to this act, Shepard ably demonstrates that the Jewish Sabbath was from “even to even” and deduces that the proper observation of the Christian Sabbath should encompass the same timeframe. “If therefore the Jewish Sabbath ended at even, the Christian Sabbath must immediately succeed it, and begin it then, or else a moral rule is broken.”[xxiv] For Shepard, this is a moral issue, and it is a sin to think otherwise. He is but a step away from seventh-day Sabbatarianism, which incidentally got its first church in England in 1653, less than five years after the publication of his book. And the first Seventh-day Baptist Church was formed in the colonies in 1671.

Lastly, he engages the reader with his thoughts about the manner in which the Sabbath is sanctified. As a preacher at least influenced by Puritanism, he is aghast at the libertarian attitude of Roman Catholics who make Sunday a “dancing Sabbath.” To keep the Sunday Sabbath holy, one must look to the Jewish legislation. “Whatever holy duties the Lord required of the Jews, which were not ceremonial, the same duties he requires of us upon this day.”[xxv] Most readers of Exodus think the Jews were not permitted to cook, make a fire, or gather sticks on the Sabbath—but according to Shepard, these are permissible on the Christian Sabbath, not because these were ceremonial laws now abolished or antiquated civil laws, but because they were never legal restrictions in the first place. He has an entirely different take on these three supposed prohibitions. His exploration of these topics in Theses 6-8 should make Reformed exegetes cringe. He cites Numbers 11:8, which states, “The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil,” and concludes that it was lawful to do this on the Sabbath. He sees in this passage a daily activity. However, Exodus 16:23 states that the Jews were to gather on the sixth day the quantity for two days, only they should “Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.” So it is quite clear that the Lord did not allow them to prepare the manna on the Sabbath. After all, they tried to put God to the test (cf. Ex 17:7), but He turned it around and put them to the test (Ex 16:4). What sort of test would it be if they could go out every day and gather manna every day and cook it every day? The consensus of three thousand years of Judaism and nearly two thousand years of Christianity mean little to Shepard on this matter. Klagsbrun (JSS) says, “Laws regulating the preparation of food for the Sabbath ahead of time would be based on the manna that anticipated the Sabbath.”[xxvi] Kaplan (JSS) states that the use of fire is a prototype of work because it is “one of the prime ways in which man demonstrates his mastery over nature.”[xxvii] Commenting on this passage, Henry (CS) states, “On that day they were to fetch in enough for two days, and to prepare it, v. 23. The law was very strict, that they must bake and seeth, the day before, and not on the sabbath day.”[xxviii] Regardless, Shepard is not so strict about work restrictions, restricting the work restriction only to servile works that are “done for any worldly gain, profit, or livelihood, to acquire and purchase that things of this life by weekday labor… hence buying, selling, sowing, reaping, which are done for worldly gain, are unlawful on this day, being therefore servile work; hence also worldly sports and pastimes.”[xxix] But it is permissible to cook, build a fire, and gather sticks on the Christian Sabbath. However, it is an open question whether presumptuous Sabbath-breakers should be put to death. He addresses the fact that God performs works of maintenance in His good providence, but Shepard disallows sweeping the house, washing clothes, or watering horses. It is interesting to me how the Puritans despised the ceremonies of Judaism, the legalisms of the Pharisees, the superstitions of Roman Catholics, and the doctrinal inventions of Popery, yet their views about the Christian Sabbath are blood kin to them all.

[i] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p.3.
[ii] Ibid., p. 104.
[iii] I could find no actual denominational association for Shepard. He seems aligned with Puritan beliefs, but does not hold to the strictness they are known for regarding the Sabbath; and in his writings, “Puritan” is a pejorative term. There were dissenters, and separatists, and non-conformists at the time, so I gather that he was a Congregationalist.
[iv] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath, p. 171.
[v] Six epidemics of smallpox affected the Boston area from 1636-1698 (Campbell, American Disasters). At this time, the prevailing belief was that calamities were brought on by the will of God.
[vi] Alt. Primerose, David. Minister at Rouen. Authored A Treatise of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in 1636, supportive of the Declaration of Sports.
[vii] Alt. Heylyn; Sub-dean of Westminster and Chaplain to Charles I; Wrote The History of the Sabbath in 1636 with a preface to the king “to show them how much they deceived not only themselves and others, in making the old Jewish Sabbath of equal age and observation with the Law of Nature, and preaching their new Sabbath doctrines in the Church of Christ, with which the Church hath no acquaintance.” He denies that the Sabbath was instituted any earlier than in the wilderness as described in Exodus and that the Lord’s Day is not a Sabbath at all, nor had it ever been during the long history of the church, not until after the Reformation.
[viii] Ironside, Gilbert. Bishop of Bristol; His 1637 book answers seven questions regarding the Sabbath dispute; denies that Adam was given the Sabbath; that the 4th commandment obliges Christians to observe the Sabbath; that devoting one day a week to worship is not natural, nor moral.
[ix] Wallæus, Anthony. Professor of Divinity at Leyden; authored a dissertation on the Sabbath in 1628.
[x]Traske, John. In 1620 published curiously titled “A Treatise of Liberty from Judaism” in which he takes the morality of the Sabbath to its logical end, and advocated Saturday Sabbatarianism, in addition to Jewish food laws. According to Cox, Heylin wrote about Traske, telling of his public whipping and 3 year incarceration, afterward he recanted his “rather humorous than hurtful” opinions and died in obscurity (Cox, p. 153).
[xi] Alt. Gomar, Francis; his 1628 investigation into the origin of the Sabbath denies that the Sabbath was instituted at creation, neither does the 4th commandment oblige all men to religious rest one day in seven.
[xii] Alt. Brabourne, Theophilus; a Puritan minister; reasons that if the 4th commandment is moral, then that affirms the Saturday Sabbath as obligatory upon the church; and further denies the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Those of this theological bent were called “Sabbatarians” for holding to a Saturday Sabbath, but his followers (and of Traske) are now called 7th Day Baptists. Cox states that Brabourne was brought under pressure by a Commission of Charles I, and submitted to orthodox doctrines (p. 162).
[xiii] Broad, Thomas. Issued a tract regarding the 4th Commandment in 1621, advising that the Lord’s Day be kept as it has been since the resurrection of Jesus, without the formalities of the Sabbath.
[xiv] Cox states (p. 163) that when the Puritans got the legislative advantage, “in 1643 it was ordered by the Long Parliament to be burned by the hands of the common hangman… and all having copies of it were required to deliver them up to be thus disposed of.”
[xv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae (1649), reprinted 2002, Dahlonega, GA: Crown Rights Book Company, p. 73-74.
[xvi] Ibid., p. 135.
[xvii] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p. 20.
[xviii] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 38-39.
[xix] This is similar to the statement: “Don’t require of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”
[xx] Pink, Arthur W. The Ten Commandments, p. 28
[xxi] Pronk, Cornelis. “Worship Comes Before Work” March 1995 (Reprinted in “Keeping the Christian Sunday”).
[xxii] The view that the patriarchal Sabbath was on the first day of the week is mentioned in the JFB Commentary on Exodus 16:23-26.
[xxiii] Cox, Robert. The Literature of the Sabbath Question,  p. 254.
[xxiv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 241.
[xxv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 254.
[xxvi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 28.
[xxvii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p. 35.
[xxviii] Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 1 p. 271 (Ex 16:22-31). However, Henry relaxes this law for Christians: “This does not now make it unlawful for us to dress meat on the Lord’s day, but directs us to contrive our family affairs so that they may hinder us as little as possible in the work of the sabbath.”
[xxix] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 257.

Part 2: What are the Terms?

Glossary: 6

The Lord’s Day.  From kyriake hemera in Revelation 1:10, the meaning of this hapax legomenon must be deduced first from the limited immediate context, then from the broader biblical context, and finally from the preponderance of extra-biblical data. Among CS and LD communities, the most common and defensible understanding is that kyriake hemera refers to the first day of the week, Sunday, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. “It was simply, by the normative custom of the apostolic church, the day on which Christians met to worship, and, for us, the use of its title, the Lord’s Day, in Revelation 1:10 gives that custom the stamp of canonical authority.”[i] It is to be distinguished from the “day of the Lord”—a yet future period when the Lord shall interrupt the plans of mankind to effect His promise to fully bless, redeem, and sanctify His people; to judge and punish those who rejected Him; and to re-fashion the astrophysical world into the fullness of His glorious kingdom. While the Sabbath was identified by the Lord as “His holy day” (Isa 58:13) the Israelites did not refer to it by anything other than shabbat. Hence, John’s singular use of this term is highly unlikely a reference to the Sabbath. In addition, the LXX does not use this adjectival form for “Lord” at all—not to describe the Sabbath or the Day of the Lord. Whether John’s term was a neologism for Sunday or the particular day on which he received the vision, we cannot know with certainty. However, the beauty of the term is that it assigns Lordly regality to a day—a day that is not the Sabbath. And because of the superiority of that day, it eventually became synonymous with Sunday as it gave due tribute to the victorious King over death and hades. We should not miss the likely association with the Lord’s Supper, which represented the body of believers in Christ who was present with them—“in the Spirit”—when they gathered together (Matt 18:20; ). Rordorf (LD) ably explains: “The name the ‘Lord’s Day’ does, therefore, derive less from the once-for-all historical event of the resurrection than from the experience of the weekly presence of the exalted Lord among the community assembled for the Lord’s Supper, and this practice originated in the appearance [of Jesus to the disciples] on Easter evening.”[ii] CS position: Holds that the term applies to Sunday but as a Sabbath. “I conclude that by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of Christ’s resurrection, the apostles changed Sabbath-keeping to the first day of the week.”[iii] SS Camp: “[The Lord’s Day] rather appears to be a variation of the expression ‘the day of the Lord’ which is commonly employed in the Scripture to designate the day of the judgment and of the parousia.”[iv] “Based on Scripture alone, John’s use of the term ‘the Lord’s Day’ more likely supports the perpetuity of the seventh-day Sabbath than the substitution of Sunday for Sabbath.”[v]

On the seventh day of each week the Jews observed a unique set of laws that the Lord gave them at Sinai. He called the seventh day the Sabbath, signifying complete or absolute rest. Following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the church (mostly Jewish converts) began to assemble together on the first day of the week to hear the apostle’s doctrine, to participate in communion, to pray and fellowship together. By apostolic authority and inscripturated in Revelation, the first day of the week was called the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath occurred the day prior. In giving the first day of the week a title heralding the Lordship of Jesus Christ who arose victorious from the grave and who was mystically present when they gathered together, the apostles promoted the Lord’s Day over and against the Sabbath. The Jews did not have the promise of the Lord’s presence with them at their synagogue gatherings, and there, they remembered the typological redemption of Israel rather than the actual redemption of “Israel indeed” (Rom 2:29; 9:6; Col 2:11-12). The two days of the week stood side by side, and Jewish converts yielded to the one or the other. If they associated with the Christian sect, they were scorned at the synagogue; but if they forsook the Lord’s Day, they risked the displeasure of the Lord (Heb 10:24-29). Because CS believers anchor the rationale for weekly assembly on the Sabbath, they tend to avoid the term “Lord’s Day” in favor of the “Christian Sabbath.”[vi] This should be concerning since “The phrase [Lord’s Day] is clearly and consistently used of Sunday from the second half of the second century on…”[vii] “The idea that Rev. 1:10 implies a Christian observance of the Sabbath is the least likely alternative.”[viii] “Many people sincerely call Sunday ‘the Christian Sabbath,’ but Sunday is not the Sabbath Day. The seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, commemorates God’s finished work of Creation (Ge 2:1-3). The Lord’s Day commemorates Christ’s finished work of redemption, the ‘new creation.’ God the Father worked for six days and then rested. God the Son suffered on the cross for six hours and then rested.”[ix]


[i] Bauckham, R. J. “The Lord’s Day” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 240.
[ii] Rordorf, Willy. Sunday, p. 275.
[iii] Pipa, Joseph A. “The Christian Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, p. 165.
[iv] Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 130.
[v] MacCarty, Skip. “The Seventh-Day Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, p.39.
[vi] Lems, Shane. “The Dangers of Neglecting the Assembly” in Outlook Magazine (66:5), p. 8-11. Not once did the author call the day of Christian assembly the “Lord’s Day”. Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae. Besides his discussion of the term Lord’s Day among several paragraphs, he refers to the Christian’s day of worship as either the Sabbath or the Christian Sabbath.
[vii] Beale, G. K. NIGTC, The Book of Revelation, p. 203.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Wiesbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1. Colorado Springs: Cook Comunications (2001). p. 391 (John 20:19-31).

Part 2d: What are the Terms?

Glossary 5

Sabbath principle. CS camp: A foundational ethic, obligatory for all mankind, consisting of weekly rest and worship that unifies all expressions of Sabbath-keeping, regardless of the day of week on which it occurs. This principle existed prior to the Jewish (or Levitical) Sabbath commandment and continues into the new covenant on the Lord’s Day, which is also regarded as a Sabbath. “The principle is laid down that one day in seven is to be observed as a day holy to God.”[i] There are three components to this principle: 1) abstention from work, 2) engaging in prescribed worship, and 3) a recurring cycle of seven days. “You can appoint the day if you please to be Saturday, to be Creation Day, or Resurrection Day, or Pentecostal Day, but the thing you cannot trifle with is God’s gift, God’s command of rest.”[ii] Ceasing from work has value of its own. Since it is in our nature to rest, resting improves our constitution, and refraining from rest diminishes our sensibilities and capabilities. “Either body or mind can do more work by resting one day in seven, than by labouring all the seven days. And neither mind nor body can enjoy health and continued activity without its appointed rest.”[iii] To distinguish sabbatism from mere indolence or the pursuit of worldly diversions, various religious exercises are enjoined and other activities are prohibited. “By a close application of yourselves to the Lord’s day, you will find yourselves so well-employed, and so well-entertained by your religion, that you will look with a holy contempt upon the employments and entertainments of the world.”[iv] And finally, the Lord designed and decreed this sabbatism to occur with a septimal frequency from the beginning, and now on Sunday, since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “The Creator, who appointed the Sabbath, formed man’s frame; and all intelligent observers are now agreed that the latter was adapted to the former.”[v] LD camp: There is no enduring cross-cultural “Sabbath principle” as proposed by Sabbatarians. “Appeal as an ‘ordinance’ is based on Genesis 2:2-3. Yet these verses do not prescribe or command adherence to the Sabbath for rest. Thus the principle of weekly Sabbath rest cannot be based on the so-called creation ordinance.”[vi] This is not to deny that Christians are morally obligated to assemble with other believers on the Lord’s Day for specific religious obligations that are spiritually salubrious not only for the individual but for the body of Christ, for this is prescribed in the NT (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor 11:17-34; Heb 10:25). Neither is it denied that in doing one thing (going to church), something else is not done (attending a sporting event). However, it is denied that a 24-hour sabbatism is intrinsic to our nature or conscience, nor prescribed by any NT author, and therefore, it is not required of new covenant believers. SS camp: Calling the fourth commandment a “principle” is the means by which the morality of the commandment is downplayed in order to assuage one’s conscience about moving the Sabbath to another day.

A “principle” is a law or basic truth that is natural, collective, and fixed. An ethical or moral principle would be evident among many cultures and throughout history, such as treating others as you would be treated. Since this “Sabbath principle” is essentially connected with religious worship, then even in idolatry, a ritual 24-hour rest comprising a seventh part of one’s time should be unmistakably evident among the religions of the world. This has been asserted in the past by Sabbatarians, but has since been proven false. So, the onus is on supporters of this view to demonstrate the requirements of this ethic apart from Mosaic law and the history of national Israel. Without this evidence, Sabbatarians must concede that the Sabbath was given to Israel by revelation with the intent to foreshadow the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the “Sabbath principle” is not described or exemplified outside Mosaic law, then the “Sabbath principle” is synonymous with Sabbath law. A “Sabbath principle” must entail rest and the only source to define “rest” is Mosaic law. Under Mosaic law, Israel honored God not only on a weekly basis with a ritual rest, but with other annual sabbatic (rest) days. Therefore, a “Sabbath principle” should include annual rest periods as well. It is obvious that the Second-Temple tradition of synagogue gatherings on the Sabbath and the NT church on Sunday share a pattern of weekly assembly, therefore, one could surmise that there is a “weekly principle” or a “septimal principle” that guides or marks the people of God within those collective structures. The significance of the pattern of six days plus one is heightened by the example of God in the creation week; however, the creation week was not itself a recurring event and the earliest generations of man did not practice a weekly assembly or rest, nor did they conceptualize that given days were holy—not until the Mosaic law.

Calling the Sabbath command a “principle” is the means by which the pattern of six days plus one is elevated over the specific day of the week that God chose for Israel to rest or for the church to gather together. But no Jew would ever venture to change the day of the week that God Himself chose simply because some “principle” demands only a weekly pattern or cycle. For the Jews, a weekly principle would not supersede the institution and sanctification of the specific day that God commanded (Saturday, the 7th day of the week in Israel’s calendar). Emphasizing the “principle” actually diminishes the significance of the particular day of the week that God chose for Israel and the NT church. This mindset underpins the trend to move the Christian day of worship to other days of the week.[vii] That is, if the specific day of the week is not important, but only the cycle, then one could choose one of any seven days on which to worship so long as the cycle is maintained. So, consider what is most significant about the Christian’s day of worship—that it follows a pattern or that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week? What is most significant about the Sabbath: that it occurs weekly, or that it commemorated the giving of manna and the redemption of God’s people from servitude in Egypt?

Let’s assume that the principle is more important than the specific day, that a person must only rest every seventh day rather than on the specific seventh day of the week. Imagine a Gentile who never ordered his life by this principle, but then converts to Judaism. Does he begin his new life with a 24-rest or does he work six more days before taking a 24-rest? If he does neither, and assembles at the synagogue on the seventh day of the week, then he has demonstrated that the specific day is more important than a seventh-day principle. His Jewish teachers would have him observe the specific day, Saturday, which is the seventh day of the week from the time that God first gave the Sabbath command. The same goes for converts to Christianity. The specific day of the week is more important than, and overrides, any “every seventh day” principle.

As the following chart demonstrates, the high degree of legal or situational specificity of Israel’s Sabbath mitigates against discovering any unifying “principle” throughout human history. If anything, both Judaism and Christianity share in the appreciation for the recurring cycle of seven days because it is a symbol of their redemption.

Creation Patriarchs Israel Church Heaven
Pattern of 6/1 Days

X

X

X

God Rests

X

Designated as Holy

X

X

Recurs Weekly

X

X

People Rest

X

Observed on Saturday ɵ

X

Home, Food, Fire laws

X

Showbread, Sacrifices

X

Assembly Commanded

X- locally

Moral for all Humanity

ɵ Whether the creation week seventh day corresponds to our present Saturday is unknowable.
• A “seven-period” or week was recognized on a sporadic basis, but no recurring sabbatism.

ⱷ God claims possession of “my Sabbaths” but He does not “rest” weekly. He rested long ago.

Ꚛ A convocation occurred in the temple arena, but outlying communities did not assemble.

○ Eternal realization of redemptive rest; unending holiness by virtue of the removal of sin.

The eternal rest is an experience of the redeemed, not by their own doing, but by virtue of what Christ has done. This is not the experience of all humanity.

[i] Young, E. J.,“Sabbath” in The New Bible Dictionary. Ed. Douglas, Eerdmans, Grands Rapids, Reprint 1974, p. 1110-1111.
[ii] Parker, J. The Biblical Illustrator , Joseph Samuel Exell, ed., (2 Cor 4:18).
[iii] Dabney, Robert L. Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 396. (lecture 32 on the fourth commandment)
[iv] Henry, Matthew. “A Serious Address to Those That Profane the Lord’s Day” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry, Vol 1, p. 129.
[v] Dabney, Robert L. Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 396. (lecture 32 on the fourth commandment)
[vi] Strickland, Wayne G. “Response to Willem A. VanGemeren” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 81.
[vii] “House church meetings can circulate from one member’s house to another each week, or one person can open his home each week. Some house churches occasionally move to scenic outdoor spots when the weather is nice. The meeting time and place does not have to be Sunday morning, but anytime that best works for the members.“ http://www.inthebeginning.com/articles/house.htm (accessed Nov 27, 2016).