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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)

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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).

Part 2d What Are the Terms?

Summary.  Thus far, a variety of Sabbath institutions (Jewish, Christian, Creation, and Eternal) have been described, which are now listed in the below chart—a timeline since creation. Each camp should be able to articulate from Scripture the similarities and differences between each expression of the Sabbath as it occurs along the timeline. Christians are not the only ones who lack clarity about this. Jews are not consistent in their understanding of the Sabbath either. For example, Kaplan (SJ)[i] correctly states that the Sabbath, or Shabbos, is a Jewish ritual. It marks and distinguishes the Jews from other cultures.[ii] Yet when the Sabbath was given to Israel in the wilderness, he asks, “Who counted it from the time of Creation?” as if it were ongoing since creation but not observed. And at the same time, he correctly perceives that the Sabbath was initially celebrated during the Exodus with the giving of manna and has been practiced faithfully ever since.[iii] Jewish scholars may involve creation story as the paradigm for rest, so that Sabbath-keeping means relinquishing any mastery over the world by means of our intelligence or skill. “We must leave nature untouched”[iv] in emulation of God. Kaplan calls God’s seventh day rest the “Sabbath of creation.”[v] Klagsbrun says that the fourth commandment “does not actually decree that we imitate God’s abstention from work” but she does call God’s seventh-day a Sabbath.[vi] Meier, approaching that question more from a literal-historical perspective asserts, “There are good reasons to avoid calling the seventh day a Sabbath in Genesis 2.”[vii] Like most Jewish scholars, Raphael places the origin of the Sabbath to the Jewish history of receiving manna, prior to Sinai.[viii] Neusner provides a unifying voice for Judaism in labeling the seventh day of creation a Sabbath, even though the ritual was not given until the exodus. The reference to the creation rest is perceived as a pre-addendum that adds meaning to the ritual given to Israel much later. The presuppositions inherent in this are: 1) the Torah was written for Israel, not for Gentiles, 2) the Torah was to demonstrate the uniqueness of Israel as opposed to the heathen nations, and 3) the seventh-day of creation (that they’ll call a Sabbath) was set apart from the other days of the week in the same way that Israel is set apart from the nations.[ix] The logical inference from this is that the Sabbath was not given to the Gentiles, otherwise, pagans would be as set apart, sanctified, and holy as Israel. Of course, the Jewish Sabbath is the original Sabbath. While there are shortcomings with their observation of it, all other expressions are mere copycats or counterfeits.

Since what we know about the Sabbath comes exclusively from the Mosaic covenant, we have ample information to allow a comparison with its supposed administration under the new covenant. The Christian Sabbatarian bases both the Mosaic and Christian expression of Sabbath-keeping on the fact that the Sabbath is commanded in the Decalogue and inferring from this a universal moral obligation. Chantry couches the differences between the Mosaic and Christian Sabbath in the fact that NT saints have fuller revelation and the gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore, “the ways in which the moral law was applied and the ways in which it was enforced differ greatly when we compare the management of Moses and the management of Christ.”[x] Jesus apparently handled “the same Sabbath law in a different spirit” and tolerated his disciples when they picked grain on the Sabbath.[xi] Observe that Chantry proposes that Jesus tolerated the actions and beliefs of his disciples and gave them permission to deviate from a standard, but it is not clear whether it is a pharisaical standard or a Mosaic standard. Did Jesus tolerate their righteous, religious, or unrighteous behavior? Was taking grain on the Sabbath a violation of the moral law or not? If their actions were not a violation of moral law, then what was Jesus tolerating? If taking grain on the Sabbath was a violation of pharisaical legalities, then why would Jesus have to “tolerate” that? Chantry then asserts that Jesus “reminds us of God’s judgment but stipulates no civil reprisals for breaking the Sabbath.”[xii] This sounds as if Jesus overlooked the disciple’s violation of this moral law, and protected them from the threats and punishments of the Mosaic law before the new covenant was in place. On the other hand, VanGemeren states that “Jesus’ teaching on the law has clear lines of continuity with the law of Moses,” yet “Jesus gave a stricter interpretation of Moses than the rabbis.” He concludes that Jesus held people more accountable to the sanctity of the law, including the Sabbath. “Rather than setting his disciples free from the law, he tied them more tightly to it.”[xiii] The lack of agreement between these two Christian Sabbatarians is because they misunderstand the crux of the controversies that Jesus intended to convey (amongst other things). Christian Sabbatarians view the gospel conflicts as opportunities for Jesus to set the record straight about Sabbath-keeping, so that Sabbath law may finally be kept in the spirit of the law. Once the apostles comprehended this teaching, the church was now prepared to observe the Sabbath correctly, albeit on a different day. According to Ray, “Jesus blasted the Pharisaic Sabbath, but in doing so he did not harm the biblical Sabbath at all.”[xiv] In other words, the original, biblical Sabbath remains for the church to observe. According to Christian Sabbatarians, this conflict in the grain field is presented by the Synoptists to demonstrate the proper interpretation of Sabbath law—that under the law, gleaners could pick and eat grain on the Sabbath (despite the Pharisee’s objection). Jesus corrected their misapprehension and let us know that if we are hungry gleaners on the Sabbath, we may eat of the standing grain. Christian Sabbatarians then conclude that the spirit of the Sabbath is meant to alleviate human hunger, but not by going to a restaurant.

Camp Pre-Fall Post-Fall Patriarchs Moses Church Resurrection
SS Creation Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Eternal Sabbath
CS Creation Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Mosaic Sabbath Christian Sabbath Eternal Sabbath
LD God’s rest None None Sabbath Lord’s Day Eternal Rest
SJ God’s rest or “Sabbath” None None Sabbath, to this day Not really a Sabbath All is “Sabbath”

Putting aside the question whether one may properly call God’s seventh-day rest a “Sabbath,” the following questions are meant to inquire about the purported claim that by God’s rest, the Sabbath was decreed for mankind the day following their creation. That is, how did Adam and his posterity observe the Sabbath over the course of time?

  • Pre-Fall. What did Adam understand about the Sabbath commandment before the fall? Did he observe a day of rest the following week, and if so, what was he resting from? Was his work prior to the fall something from which to rest? Did Adam extend the work prohibition to working animals? Was he required to make sacrifices as part of Sabbath worship? Was substitutionary death required before the fall? Was he allowed to leave Eden before the fall? If he disobeyed the Sabbath commandment before he ate the fruit, would that have been cause for ejection from Eden? If Adam were to sin, must his first sin have necessarily been eating of the Tree of Knowledge? What work did Adam do on the day of his creation? Is that a paradigm for the kind of work that Sabbath-keepers should avoid, i.e., naming things and tending a garden? Or was Adam only to refrain from manipulating the natural world? Was the last day of God’s week the first day of Adam’s week, such that the Sabbath began his recurring week of rest and worship?
  • Post-Fall. Once Adam was banished, how did he observe the Sabbath? Did he stoke a fire on his Sabbath? Was the death-penalty in effect for Sabbath-breakers? If it was, are we to assume that Adam and Eve perfectly kept the Sabbath for over nine hundred years? Are we to assume that Cain and Abel kept the Sabbath? Was Cain a Sabbath-breaker? When did the Sabbath fall into disuse? Is there any evidence that societies observed a weekly rest prior to the existence of Judaism?
  • What patriarchs kept the Sabbath? Did they keep the Sabbath the same way as Adam did? Did they rest from Friday evening to Saturday evening, or did they keep it during a single 24 day? What Sabbath did the Jews keep during their enslavement to Egypt? Could the Sabbath exist without anyone observing it? Does the observation of the Sabbath make it holy, or is the day itself intrinsically holy? If the Sabbath was a forgotten commandment, then why, when reinstituting it, did God not demand “payback” for all the missed Sabbaths? Since the Sabbath principle requires a whole day of abstention from work and rendering proper worship, did Noah and his family stop tending the animals one day in seven? Did Joseph prohibit the collection of grain in Egypt one day in seven? Did Jacob encamp for a day of rest when his brother was in pursuit of him?
  • Why did God pronounce a death-penalty just for disobedient Jews; was it not as important in previous epochs? If the foundational reason for the Sabbath is creation, then why later associate it with their release from Egypt? Why are the Sabbath and New Moon often listed together? Why was a ritual law placed in the Ten Commandments? Who kept the Sabbath before the law, and how did they keep it? Does God keep the Sabbath in the same way that Jews keep the Sabbath, by refraining from any mastery over the environment? If the Sabbath is of universal obligation, then why does it appear that God gave the Sabbath only to the Jews? And why were not any of the pagan nations judged for failure to observe a Sabbath? Is the inclusion of animals in the Sabbath the result of natural law or ceremonial law?
  • If the death penalty conveyed the seriousness of this command under Moses, why would God “decriminalize” the Sabbath for Christians? Isn’t the Lord’s Day even more important than the Sabbath? For those who believe God moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, why would God break the rhythm of week if that rhythm is a moral structure of time? Did Jewish converts disobey the fourth commandment when they rested on the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, thereby working only 5 days in the week? Which Jewish Sabbath laws are in effect and which are not, and what is the biblical basis for making any distinctions?
  • If in eternity we observe a Sabbath continuously, will the righteous no longer work? Will we also be observing the New Moon celebration in heaven or on a new earth? Will time be measured by the movement of the sun and moon? If heaven is a place of perfection and God is continuing the maintenance of the cosmos, what work is there for us to do? Why would the Sabbath ceremony be re-instituted and none of the other Jewish rituals? If the fourth commandment only demands that we give God one day in seven, is God changing His mind by demanding worship every day in heaven? If He creates a new earth, will the inhabitants keep Sabbath again? If so, why? And on what day? What would they be resting from?

[i] This is a late-comer, but Jews are a subset of the Saturday Sabbath group, hence the new abbreviation SJ.
[ii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p.6
[iii] Ibid., p. 15.
[iv] Ibid., p. 19.
[v] Ibid., p. 18, 19, 20, 21.
[vi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 27.
[vii] Meier, Samuel A. “The Sabbath and Purification Cycles” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, p. 5.
[viii] Raphael, Chaim. The Festivals, p. 62.
[ix] Neusner, Jacob. Confronting Creation, p. 78-89.
[x] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 63.
[xi] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xii] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xiii] VanGemeren, Willem A., “The Law is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Strickland, p. 37-38.
[xiv] Ray, Bruce A. Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 72.

Part 2d: What are the Terms?

Part 2d: What are the Terms?

Glossary 4

Creation Sabbath. CS and SS camps: The institution of the Sabbath at creation, implied by God’s “rest” on the seventh day and His blessing of it. God’s “rest” then was not for Himself, but an example and illustration for the benefit of mankind, to be released from exertion for the purposes of worship. After all, God didn’t need rest and He doesn’t do self-worship. Interestingly, Campbell regards the seventh day as “God’s Sabbath-keeping,”[i] but of course, God did not resume creative works when “His Sabbath” was over. This Sabbath was instituted prior to the fall, therefore, it is an obligatory commandment for all mankind. The seventh day of creation was the beginning of a weekly Sabbath for Adam and all his posterity to rest from their labors as vice-regents of creation.[ii] JFB venture to claim that “the institution of the Sabbath is thus as old as creation; and the fact of its high antiquity, its being coeval with the existence of the human race, demonstrates the universality and permanence of its obligation.”[iii] JFB acknowledge that the word “Sabbath” is not to be found in the narrative, nor is the Sabbath actually commanded, but as the highest of the “primordial arrangements of the world, must be recognized as a law of nature no less than an ordinance of religion.”[iv] Given that the Sabbath is a law of nature, Sabbath keeping can be expected to promote the health and optimal constitution of body, mind, and spirit; whereas non-observance results in detriments to the mind and body, as well as punishments by God. This primeval Sabbath was observed by the patriarchs without the “peculiarities attached to it by the Jewish law.”[v] See Sabbath Principle and Creation Ordinance. LD: A “creation Sabbath” is fiction or a fable. From the standpoint of progressive revelation, Adam did not have the information to conceive God’s rest as a command, an example, or a suggestion for all mankind. The last he heard, he was banished from paradise and cursed to work by the sweat of his brow. No one had to tell him to get sleep at the end of the day or to take a break from a particularly arduous activity. From the standpoint of natural law, humans are not morally compelled to rest each evening or from their labors all day in a septimal pattern. “All defenders of the orthodox doctrine of the Church of England [in the 1630s] maintained that the Sabbath was not a creation ordinance, but an ordinance of Moses originating at Sinai. The Sabbath was unknown from Adam to Moses.”[vi] “God separated the seventh day; we interpret this in terms of an eschatological, proleptic sign indicating some future rest.”[vii] Of all the theological fancies which credulity has accepted as divine truths, not the least remarkable for the scantiness of evidence producible in support of it is the tenet, that a command was given to mankind at the creation to observe a seventh-day Sabbath.”[viii]

The argument that the Sabbath commandment was given to Adam before the fall is crucial to the doctrine that the Sabbath is a moral commandment applicable to all mankind. The corollary doctrine is that the presence of the Sabbath within the Decalogue implies universal morality. These two inferences are challenged by the absence of any historical Sabbatarian practice outside of Judaism or its influence. That is, if a recurring seven-day pattern of rest and worship of God was written on the heart of man and was a biological necessity, then the outworking of such a natural law would be evident through the annals of history and across most cultures. But this cannot be demonstrated. A creation Sabbath is also challenged by the theoretical reason for rest. God did not need to rest due to the demands of speaking things into existence, but we are expected to believe that the whole creation week was designed for the purpose of convincing mankind to rest on a weekly basis. Nor would sinless Adam require a weekly physical rest from perfect obedience in an un-cursed world. Yet Sabbatarians urge the necessity of weekly rest as a balm for the hardship of work. This is plausible only if the Sabbath was instituted after the fall of man. Lastly, if the Sabbath were given at creation, then the day itself is holy and cannot be changed, which is the logical conclusion of the SS advocates. If Sabbath observance was re-instituted for the Jews at Sinai, then it was the Lord who determined which day it was to begin, as it so happened with the miraculous provision of Manna. It would be preposterous to assume that the Lord lost track of the cycles of week from the beginning of creation when reestablishing such an important endowment for the human race. Nor can we assume that the Lord arbitrarily chose the day on which the Sabbath was to resume, as if He were more interested in getting that one-seventh of time regardless of the actual sanctity or holiness that imbued every seventh day since creation.

The mention of God’s rest on the seventh day within Genesis uses the literary technique of prolepsis, where the author is setting the stage for something yet to come (i.e., “foreshadowing”). When the Sabbath was ultimately given to Israel millennia later, they could look back to Genesis and see that God planned to give them the Sabbath from the beginning. That’s cool! However, to claim that the Sabbath was in existence before it was actually given is called prochronism, a literary error of placing something earlier in history than it could have been. In the movie “Gladiator,” the actor Russel Crowe is called the “Spaniard,” a term that didn’t come into existence until 1400 years later. In the movie “Braveheart,” actor Mel Gibson wears a kilt, a piece of clothing that didn’t come into existence until 400 years later. Prochronism is a laughable error, prolepsis is a brilliant technique. But the teaching that the Sabbath was given at creation is more than an anachronistic slip—whole bodies of doctrine are built upon it—so it is more than a little sad (1 Cor 15:12-19; 1 Tim 1:3-4; 2 Tim 4:3-4; Titus 1:14).

Eternal Sabbath. A metaphor used by all camps for the glorious experiences to be had in heaven when all is consummated (2 Ki 2:11; Dan 12:2-3; Jn 14:2-4; 2 Cor 5:1-2; Phil 3:20-21; Heb:13-15; Rev 11:12), such as the complete forgiveness of sin (2 Cor 5:3), resurrected bodies (1 Cor 11:39-44), freedom from pain and suffering (Rev 21:3-4), having the mind of Christ (1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2), and enjoying unbroken holy fellowship with God (1 Thes 4:17; Rev 21:7). Heaven is the place in which God resides now, and He provided the analogs on earth by which to conceive of it as a Garden, a Household, a Kingdom, a City, even an unending Sabbath.  “The best description of [heaven] is to say it is an ‘eternal Sabbath’”[ix] “The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious rest and eternal Sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be the temple, and the Lamb shall be the light of it.”[x] “All who have honoured the Sabbath on earth, shall enjoy a Sabbath without end in heaven.”[xi] “He has made this day the (Lord’s day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return, and having finished the judgment upon all His foes to the very last shall lead it to the rest of that eternal Sabbath, which God prepared for the whole creation through His own resting after the completion of the heaven and the earth.”[xii] “Genesis 1 is not merely a record of creation; it is also a typology [sic] of history, and the final Sabbath will be endless.”[xiii] Thus, heaven may be conceptualized as a re-creation of an unspoiled garden of Eden—a paradise to share in an unbreakable rest of God (Rev 2:7; Lk 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4). “Heaven is finally seen in terms of a new garden of Eden, to which the righteous are gathered, apparently at death.”[xiv] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Question 103, entertains the idea of actually experiencing the eternal Sabbath on earth by ceasing from carnal works, yielding to the Lord, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work on the inner man. Hmm.

While the concept of a heavenly eternal Sabbath is one Sabbath followed immediately by another, the Jews painstakingly moderated their calendar to avoid the observance of two consecutive Sabbaths on earth. As blessed as the Sabbath was, consecutive Sabbaths were incompatible with normal living. I prefer the more common term “eternal rest” as it better summarizes the benefits of our redemption, which is an ongoing experience of having ceased, not only from cursed and sin-affected daily works, but also from the false works aimed at securing our own redemption. The concept of an ongoing rest comes from Genesis, not from Exodus. That being said, the author of Hebrews described the balm of salvation as a “sabbatismos” or Sabbath-keeping, in that redemption is entering into God’s rest through faith (rest) and not by works. As McGee delighted to say, “I have a Sabbath day everyday—I rest in Christ.”[xv] But we must not miss the point of McGee’s tongue in cheek response—his “rest” is from working for salvation, not resting from any manner of labor. That which the Sabbath signified is that which the believer realizes now, yet in full measure when the Lord returns. If God’s rest is not present now, then those who believe could not enter into it (Heb 4:3). Besides, this understanding also corresponds to our concept of heaven when we will be continually working in some capacity for the continued glory of God. We will be working, yet in God’s rest (Jn 5:16-19). There will be no need to strive for rest or to perform a ritual of rest, because redemptive rest will be our full and complete experience. The fact that the Sabbath was a type and shadow of a completed redemption demonstrates the temporality of that institution as promulgated in Mosaic law.

Since most, if not all, believers regard heaven as the “eternal rest” and that unbelievers are not beneficiaries of that rest, it is plain that the eternal rest is a benefit of redemption. To be redeemed is to be accepted and welcomed into God’s rest, now and forever. Christian authors recognize the analogy between Christ’s work of redemption and His entering into rest and God’s work of creation and entering into His seventh day rest. “Jesus entered into Sabbath rest, just as God entered into Sabbath rest. And that is the rest that awaits us.”[xvi] What is the basis for the comparison? If God’s seventh day rest is merely to provide a pattern for all mankind to rest one day in seven, then how does that correlate with Christ’s three-year (or even three and a half year) ministry and crucifixion which only benefits those who put their trust in Him? However, if God’s rest is a type in which the seven days symbolize the perfections of Christ’s work of redemption and that the rest symbolizes the holy blessedness of being found in Him, then the correlation is rational and of a redemptive character.

[i] Campbell, Ian D., On the First Day of the Week, p. 19.

[ii] Gaffin, Calvin and the Sabbath, p. 154.
[iii] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 9.
[iv] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 28.
[v] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 30.
[vi] Dennison, The Market Day of the Soul, p. 92.
[vii] Dressler, Harold H. P., “The Sabbath in the Old Testament” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, D. A. Carson, ed., p. 29.
[viii] Domville, William. The Sabbath, Chapman and Hall:London, 1855, reprint; p. 47.
[ix] Barnes, Notes on Hebrews 4:9
[x] Watson, Thomas. The Ten Commandments, Banner of Truth Trust, (1692) reprinted 1999. p. 97.
[xi] Adams, W. “The Benefits of the Sabbath” in The Christian Sabbath (1862), reprint Forgotton Books: London;  p. 230.
[xii] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400. (Ex 20:8-11).
[xiii] Jordan, James B. Creation is Six Days, p. 102.
[xiv] Fretheim, Terence. “Heaven” in Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Donald E. Gowan, ed., Westminster John Knox:Louisville, KY, 2003; p. 202.
[xv] McGee, Thru the Bible, 5:532.
[xvi] Campbell, Ian D., On the First Day of the Week, p. 208.