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Evaluating the Strength of Arguments in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day Controversy, Part 2b: What are the Motives?

Bruce Ray (CS-Puritan) asks an interesting question of his readers: What two motives do many people have for opposing a day set apart for rest, worship, and celebration? His answer to this question is paired with the fact that there exists conflicting opinions about this matter.

“Those seeking profit and pleasure have often been impatient with the Lord’s command to rest, and have chafed under it. People who think the world exists for their own personal peace and affluence have never embraced God’s command to abstain from work and to rest as he did. The prophet Amos exposed the greed and dishonest business practices of merchants in his day, who only tolerated the Sabbath, but never enjoyed it. . . Many people see the Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, as an infringement of their personal liberty—a day that God has taken from them instead of a gift that he has given to them for rest, worship, and celebration.”[1]

Ray surmises that the person is too busy with life “to give up one day in seven for God” and conflicts occur “when our will contradicts his (God’s).”[2]

I do not know what kind of persons Ray is thinking of. It appears that those who seek a profit on the day that he believes should be given to rest, are the employer and employee who are working. If someone works on Sunday, is it always because they think the world exists for their pleasure and affluence? Does Ray allow exceptions for people to work or manage a business on Sunday, even though financial gain is obtained thereby? It is also difficult to know just what “pleasures” in life Ray has in mind that conflict with his concept of a 24-hour rest. His mention of Amos seems to implicate religious people who actually attend church, but has he uncovered multitudes of them who just can’t wait for church to be over so they can tend to their occupations and avocations?

Perhaps Ray is speaking of Christians within his own circle who have expressed disagreement about appropriate Sabbath activities, or who sit in church with eyes half shut, or those who don’t return for the evening service. Perhaps Ray is addressing those Christians who object to calling the Lord’s Day a “Christian Sabbath.” He does mention churches that offer abbreviated Saturday night services so church members can attend secular events that are scheduled on Sunday.[3] And perhaps Ray is thinking of unbelievers who apportion no time for God and have no internal reason to attend church (but they probably won’t read his book either).

Regardless, this example of disparagement erects an “us versus them” mentality about Sunday/Sabbath behavior, and elevates those recommended behaviors as meritorious, obligatory, and/or conscionable. Those who comply with Ray’s concept of proper Sabbath-keeping apparently have the right attitude and motives, while others don’t. It does not appear that Ray has considered any other motives of those who “oppose” a day of rest.

Consider Paul’s motives when he confronted Peter about separating himself from Gentiles. Paul was interested in protecting the liberty of believers in Christ from bondage to Jewish cultural norms (Gal 2:4) and preserving the clarity and simplicity of the gospel (Gal 2:14). What some considered virtuous activities, i.e., circumcision or separation, Paul decried as anathema. Consider, too, Luther’s motives in posting his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. He eventually recognized that climbing “Pilate’s staircase” on his knees or selling indulgences to remit sins of those in purgatory was valueless. For Luther, protecting the conscience and liberty of believers was tantamount to protecting the message of the gospel.

“What, then, are we to think of the Sunday and like rites in the house of God? To this we answer that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church, not that thereby we should merit grace or make satisfaction for sins, or that consciences be bound to judge them necessary services, and to think that it is a sin to break them without offense to others.”[4]

Unless someone explains to you what motivates them to take or not take an action, we can only suppose. And in supposing, we can cast someone’s motivation in either a positive or negative light (1 Cor 13:7), hopefully taking account of the external and internal factors involved. Understanding motivation is certainly a topic for Christians to comprehend. We would like to think that our motives are always pure, but unfortunately we can deceive even ourselves (Jer 17:9). We can do the wrong thing with good intentions, and we can do the right thing with bad intentions. The matter is further complicated by the emotions and feelings people experience that subliminally influence or reinforce behavior. Let God’s word be the discerner of our motives, and may His Spirit help us understand ourselves better (Heb 4:12).

My suspicion is that whether you attend an LD, CS, or SS church, there is someone there who would rather be somewhere else; and there’s someone not there who could have or should have been there. That’s understandable. In a church that prioritizes attendance and exerts more control over church members, the above ratio leans to the first of these two groups. And in a church that emphasizes Christian liberty, the ratio leans to the second of these two groups. However, the majority of church-goers are favorably motivated to attend church services each week to worship the Lord, to give attention to God’s word, and to fellowship with like-minded believers. But are the motives of CS believers different than the motives of SS believers, simply because they worship on different days of the week? Does a LD believer attend church with a different motivation than a CS believer, even though they differ on how they spend their afternoon? Not really. But they have differing intellectual beliefs about the proper day for worship, the order of worship and style, the significance of it in their life, and how that is expressed in terms of their activities on that day. Most church-goers believe they are approaching this topic biblically; that is, they believe they are following God’s will. So, perhaps this is the ultimate question: What is God’s will on this matter? Again, this must be determined primarily by a thorough study of Scripture, motivated to pursue truth with intellectual honesty and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, while acknowledging the subtle, yet powerful, influence of our feelings, fears, and frustrations.

And what about those who do not attend church? Are they remaining home because they can’t decide what day of the week they should worship on or what activities they may or may not engage in? What importance do we place on the opinions of those who remain home while we attend church services? Whether those absent from the pews are believers or unbelievers, this does not affect the answers to any of the previous list of questions (Part 2a). Therefore, this is primarily an issue that must be determined by a thorough exegesis of Scripture. We shouldn’t be second-guessing other’s motivations (Pro 18:13; Rom 14:4; Jas 4:11-12) when it is really a theological matter. Furthermore, I hope our motivation is to properly understand the relationship of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day and to order our thinking and behavior accordingly.


[1] Chantry, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 4.

[2] Chantry, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 4, 5.

[3] This is an interesting side topic—a confounder—in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy. I do not hold to the CS position, but I agree that churches should keep their official congregational meetings on Sunday. Ray does discuss labor and recreation elsewhere in the book…

[4] Augsburg Confession, Article 28.

Evaluating the Strength of Arguments in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day Controversy, Part 2a: What are the Questions?

Was the Sabbath replaced with the Lord’s Day? Was the Sabbath transferred to the Lord’s Day? Is the Lord’s Day the Sabbath or is the Sabbath the Lord’s Day? Are the Sabbath and Lord’s Day two separate institutions for two disparate groups? These and other questions plague those who attempt to answer the question about the relationship between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. The number of possible questions is an indication of the complexity of this foundational enquiry. As such, it is not enough to simply restate your church’s official declaration on the matter. They may have landed on a particular answer, but you, as a noble Berean, must settle the matter for yourself after a thorough examination of the evidence. Whatever position you hold to, it must answer these questions with consistency, accuracy, rationality, and biblicity without self-contradiction.

Swartley noted that the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy is affected by the following considerations:[i]

  1. Whether Genesis 2:2-3 was written at the time of Moses or was known before through oral tradition.
  2. Whether the Sabbath was instituted at the time of Moses.
  3. Whether the creation Sabbath was given prior to the fall of Adam.
  4. Whether the Sabbath was moved from Saturday to Sunday following Christ’s resurrection.
  5. Whether Col 2:16, Gal 4:10, or Rom 14:5ff are critical texts and to what do they refer.
  6. Whether the practice of the church is more authoritative than the Scripture.
  7. Whether earlier church practices are more authoritative than later church practices.
  8. Whether the teachings of the church fathers contribute to a rational understanding of the topic.
  9. Whether the religious culture affects the interpreter.
  10. Whether the interpreter uses a method that frees Scripture from bias; i.e., the historical-critical method.
  11. How the interpreter understands the relationship between the two testaments.
  12. How to interpret opposing verses that on one hand seem to command Sabbath observance and others that do not.
  13. How to understand the teachings and practice of Jesus with respect to the Sabbath.

Swartley properly observes that interpreters diverge at least on these points. While the above list may seem nearly exhaustive, there are certainly many more that could be amassed.

The basic enquiry all positions attempt to answer has to do with the extent the fourth commandment informs the Christian’s day to gather for worship as the Lord commanded (Heb 10:24-25). It is not enough to simply read and take at face value the fourth commandment as presented in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11 (and the OT in general) and order your whole life around that verse and whatever it happens to mean to you. This should not be a “make-it-up-as-you-go” doctrine.

If you believe that the Sabbath is a moral commandment, then you should observe the Sabbath on Saturday as the Jews have done for millennia, by resting from all work from Friday evening to Saturday evening, taking care to avoid starting fires, traveling from your home, ensuring no animal or household relation or guest works, and cooking your meals the day before; not to mention having a priesthood that sacrifices two lambs in the evening, presents a grain and drink offering, and bakes showbread for the holy of holies. Perhaps you should also petition for civil laws that prohibit commerce on Saturday and Sunday (not to offend those who worship on the wrong day) and enforce capital punishment for egregious breaches of this moral commandment. However, since NO Christian advocates this, it is obvious that NO Christian really believes that the Sabbath as described and defined by the OT is fully and totally a moral commandment that must be obeyed with the same fortitude as the other nine. Even the Jews are not fully compliant with Sabbath law because they do not offer the requisite sacrifices and offerings. Instead, each position interprets the fourth commandment and other related passages through the glasses of larger hermeneutical structures. Are we not all agreed on this so far?

Whether your position is LD, CS, or SS,[ii] there are certain biblical texts that all positions must deal with (all quotes in NKJV). Your sabbatology must take into account and give a proper interpretation of all of the texts of Scripture before a plausible systematic doctrine is presented. The following verses (with their context) are among the most important in the debate.

Ge 2:2-3 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Ex 16:23 Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. 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.'”

Ex 20:8-11 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Ex 31:14-17 You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'”

Dt 5:12-15 ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Lev 23:2-3 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. ‘Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.”

Nu 28:9-10 ‘And on the Sabbath day two lambs in their first year, without blemish, and two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, with its drink offering—this is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering with its drink offering.

Ne 9:13-14 “You came down also on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven, And gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, And commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, By the hand of Moses Your servant.

Isa 58:13-14 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the Lord honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Hos 2:11 I will also cause all her mirth to cease, Her feast days, Her New Moons, Her Sabbaths — All her appointed feasts.

Mt 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Mk 2:24-28 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Lk 13:14-16 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound — think of it — for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”

Jn 5:10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”

Ac 20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.

Col 2:16-17 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Heb 4:3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,'” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Heb 4:9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.

Rv 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet…

Of course, there are more texts to consider, but these verses alone bring up an astonishing number of questions.

  • Was the creation week comprised of seven actual days?
  • What is the significance of God’s rest on the seventh day of creation, as opposed to the completion of each day’s work?
  • Why did God “rest” on the seventh day when He had no need to do so? And why six days of work as opposed to five or eight or ten?
  • How long did God’s rest last? Was it interrupted? Was His rest affected by Adam’s fall?
  • When did Adam’s fall occur?
  • What did God do on the eighth day that was different than what He did on the seventh day?
  • Why is the Sabbath not actually mentioned in Genesis? Why didn’t Moses call that seventh day a Sabbath?
  • What is the first mention of the Sabbath in the Bible? Is it plausible that this first mention of the Sabbath is when the Sabbath was first instituted?
  • What is the significance of this as it relates to the giving of manna?
  • Why is there a difference between the Exodic and Deuteronomic record of the fourth commandment? Is this a problem? How do you explain the difference?
  • What is the relationship between the Sabbath and the seventh day of creation?
  • What is the relationship between the Sabbath and Israel’s redemption from Egypt?
  • Does the mention of the creation week in Exodus establish a “creation ordinance” or is there some other plausible explanation?
  • What is the significance of the fourth commandment within the Decalogue?
  • What is the significance of its position within the Decalogue?
  • Is it really true that the Ten Commandments are all moral laws? How is that demonstrated?
  • What is a moral law? What are the characteristics of moral law?
  • How does the Sabbath stand up as a moral law?
  • Is it possible that the Ten Commandments contain a ceremonial law? If so, why would the Lord place a ceremonial law within the Ten Commandments?
  • Why were the priests required to work on the Sabbath?
  • Why did the Lord require that two lambs be sacrificed on the Sabbath?
  • Why did the Lord require that twelve loaves be cooked on the Sabbath?
  • Why was circumcision allowed to take place on the Sabbath?
  • Why did the Jewish Sabbath start on Friday evening instead of Saturday morning?
  • Why did the Lord specifically outlaw kindling a fire on the Sabbath, as opposed to many other possible works?
  • Why did the Lord require capital punishment for gathering sticks on the Sabbath?
  • Why does Sabbath justice require the life of the profane person?
  • Did the Sabbath require a congregational worship meeting? Where did it take place? Was that true for all of Israel’s history?
  • Why were animals required to rest on the Sabbath?
  • What is the significance of eighth-day ceremonies in the Law?
  • Why did the Lord end the ceremonial calendar with an eighth-day Sabbath?
  • What do the Sabbath, the Jewish calendar, the Temple, and Canaan have in common?
  • On this theme, what do Noah, Joshua and David have in common?
  • Why is the Sabbath included among the feasts of Israel, which are clearly ceremonial laws?
  • Why is the Sabbath called a sign? Are any other moral laws called signs? What other ceremonial commands are called signs?
  • What is/was the purpose of the ceremonial calendar laws?
  • How can it be demonstrated that any calendar law was abrogated?
  • Is it true that other nations observed the Sabbath? Can it be shown that other ANE societies observed a Sabbath?
  • Is the Sabbath going to be observed in the millennium or the future kingdom?
  • Are we going to observe the Sabbath in heaven? If so, how will it be observed? Will there be new rules?
  • Did Jesus provoke Sabbath controversies to restore its proper observance or to say something about Himself? Or both?
  • What was the significance of the Sabbath conflicts between the Pharisees and Jesus?
  • Does Jesus’ example of Sabbath keeping imply a duty of Christians to keep the Sabbath? Can the same be said of His obedience to all other Mosaic laws?
  • What is the significance of Christ being buried during the Sabbath and resurrected on the first day of the week?
  • What bearing do the Pastoral Epistles have with regard to understanding the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day?
  • What is a shadow-law and how are Christians to relate to them?
  • May Jewish and Gentile Christians relate to them in different ways?
  • What is the full range of legalism as presented in the NT? Is legalism only with respect to the theory that one can earn salvation by good works?
  • What term best describes requiring circumcision, not for salvation, but as a matter of Christian obedience? Or penance? Or two services on Sunday?
  • Did Paul teach that the church should observe the Sabbath? Did he allow certain Christians to observe the Sabbath? What were the guidelines and overriding principles with regard to Sabbath observance?
  • Was Paul referring to the weekly Sabbath in his letter to the Colossians?
  • What was the normative practice of the apostles?
  • How do we best explain the references in Acts to Sabbath preaching and first-day meetings?
  • How was the early church deceived on such a grand scale over what is believed to be a critical moral commandment?
  • Does the book of Hebrews state we are supposed to observe the Sabbath?
  • How do we tell whether an OT law is moral or ceremonial?
  • Did the Sabbath get transferred to the first day of the week?
  • What did John mean by the Lord’s Day? Is it Sunday, the Day of the Lord, or something else? Is there historical research that can shed light on this?

Even this list of questions could be dwarfed as other passages and verses are added to the discussion. And when it comes to actually applying the Sabbath on Sunday or Saturday, the following questions also come into the fray.

  • If the Sabbath was made for pre-fall Adam and his posterity, just what would mankind be resting from?
  • Similarly, do angels rest from their God-ordained labors?
  • If the Sabbath was instituted at creation, how is the Lord’s creation work different than His maintenance work, and how is man’s work apparently more similar to God’s creation work?
  • Where can it be shown that the Sabbath was moved or transferred to Sunday?
  • If the Sabbath is a moral command, how can the Sabbath be moved to the first day of the week?
  • On what basis are any OT laws considered abrogated?
  • How does one determine whether a Mosaic law is moral or ceremonial, or otherwise?
  • Define the relationship between the OT and NT in terms of their differences and similarities?
  • Is it helpful to understand the Law as comprised of moral, judicial (civil), and ceremonial laws? Is there a better understanding?
  • To what extent is the Sabbath to be applied to Christians? Or to non-Christians?
  • Is there a danger in prescribing certain behaviors that perhaps are not truly desired by God?
  • Is there a danger in underestimating the importance of gathering with believers on a day that God has set apart?
  • Are the Sabbath and Lord’s Day different in any way? If there is a difference, why?
  • What is the origin of the term “Christian Sabbath” and how is it to be understood?
  • What if it could be demonstrated that each facet of Sabbath law foreshadowed Christ’s redemptive work?
  • What did the early church teach about the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath? Can the changing views of this relationship be rationally understood in terms of the historical milieu? Or better as an early apostasy from the true religion?
  • Is there any significance to the “first day of the week” that connects the OT and NT?
  • Explain the authority of the apostles?
  • Where did the paradigm for the Christian assembly come from?
  • How closely did synagogal Sabbath meetings conform to Mosaic Sabbath laws?
  • Is the Lord’s Day a holy day, similar to Mosaic holy days, or is it different? If different, how so?
  • Is there a difference between the NT and OT concerning holy things?
  • How can a Christian tell if he is being urged to obey a man-made law?
  • When did the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day get confused with each other?
  • Why do Sabbatarians differ about what can and cannot be done on the Christian Sabbath?
  • May we buy on Monday what was labored over on Sunday?
  • Must machines or other objects be given a seventh-day rest?
  • How far can we drive on the Sabbath, if we can drive at all?
  • Why don’t Sabbatarians advocate capital punishment for breaking the Sabbath?
  • How can it be demonstrated with clarity that capital punishment is abrogated by the NT?
  • Why do Sabbatarians allow cooking on the Christian Sabbath?
  • How can it be demonstrated that some elements of OT sabbatic laws are abrogated while other elements are not?
  • Define the term “Sabbath principle.”
  • Was the Puritan’s effort to obey the Sabbath legalistic? If so, in what way(s)?
  • Why do Sabbatarians and non-Sabbatarians quote Calvin as their authority?
  • What did Calvin actually teach about the Sabbath and was he correct?
  • Is the correct spiritual meaning of rest that we are to rest from our sins?
  • When did seventh-day Sabbatarianism develop and why?
  • If the Sabbath command morally directs a pattern of six days work and one day rest, what authority do Christians have to take a vacation?
  • If it is a sin to work on the Sabbath, is it also a sin to rest on a work day?
  • May Christians rest more than one day per week if they complete all their work in the space of five days or less?
  • How true to God’s word are the Reformed standards with regard to their exposition of the fourth commandment?
  • Are Christians being offended by man-made laws in the name of Sabbatarianism? If so, what are the implications of this for the church?
  • Are non-Sabbatarian Christians sinning when they allow what a Sabbatarian denies?
  • Is recreation sinful on the Sabbath? Are there light, medium, and heavy recreations? Where does one draw the line for appropriate Sabbath behavior?
  • Do Christians have as much difficulty understanding and agreeing on the meaning and application of the other nine moral commandments? If not, why?
  • How did the apostles decide on first-day worship? Was first-day worship an empirical decision or a divine command?
  • Are two services required on the Lord’s Day? If so, on what Scriptural basis?
  • What is Christian worship most like: the OT Sabbath or the tradition of the synagogue?
  • May Christians really worship in corporate fashion on any day of the week?
  • Is it proper to observe the Lord’s Supper on Saturday night? How often should the Lord’s Supper be observed?
  • Is the Passover meal a sufficient basis for determining whether children may partake in communion?
  • Is the Lord’s Supper a “Christian Passover”? If so, what specific Paschal laws are still obeyed by Christians?
  • Can the institution of the Lord’s Day stand apart from the historical Sabbath?
  • What is the Christian’s relationship to circumcision? Is it literally obeyed or spiritually applied? Is it partially applied? Is there a moral component to it that still informs Christian morality?
  • Is the Sabbath a command given to Israel, a command for the whole world, or a tradition derived from earlier ANE cultures?
  • Do we view the Genesis record of creation as an historical account?
  • Is it possible that there is symbolism or typology within actual history?
  • Is God in control of history?
  • If ceremonial laws are “extensions of moral law”, then how can a ceremonial be abrogated?
  • What is your view of typology?
  • Are there any rules to making typological associations?
  • On what basis does the LD camp justify weekly church attendance if not on the Sabbath? Does Hebrews 10:24-25 form a sufficient basis for encouraging regular attendance at church?
  • How long did the church exist before some theologian suggested a moral impetus for church attendance with the Sabbath commandment?
  • How did the church come to abandon the Sabbath and to elevate in its place Sunday as the day of rest and worship?
  • Can the change from the Sabbath to Sunday be justified on really valid grounds?
  • Was the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Sunday a sufficient reason for abandoning the Sabbath and replacing it by Sunday as the day of rest and worship?

I am not the only one asking questions. Ratzlaff (LD-Evangelical) begins his book with these questions:[iii]

  • Why not do a thorough study of the Sabbath?
  • Why not keep the fourth commandment?
  • Is the Sabbath moral or ceremonial?
  • How should one observe the Sabbath?
  • How did Jesus relate to the Mosaic Laws?
  • Does Sabbath unity bring Christian unity?
  • Does the Sabbath promote gospel clarity?
  • How is a study of the Sabbath to be approached

The last question in particular is what this series hopes to answer by providing a framework for negotiating though the myriad voices competing for your countenance. As mentioned in Part 1b, Ray’s (CS-Puritan) Celebrating the Sabbath is a study book replete with questions, too numerous to repeat here. However, these are a representative offering:

  • Why do friendly discussions of the fourth commandment often become heated?
  • How do misinformation and a lack of information about the Sabbath fuel controversy within many churches and families?
  • What is legalism and what is lawlessness?
  • How does Jesus’ resurrection from the dead advance and improve our understanding of the Sabbath?
  • How is the Sabbath a picture of redemption in the Old Testament?
  • What categories of activities are appropriate to do on the Sabbath?
  • Does the fourth command require New Covenant believers to keep the Sabbath in the same way as believers who live under the Old Covenant? Why or why not?
  • What is recreation? Can any kind of recreation be appropriate to the Sabbath? Why or why not?

Everyone has their reasons for making their application of Sabbath law more or less stringent than what the OT texts obviously say. Begin answering the above questions and then you will begin your path toward understanding the relationship between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. Please endeavor to be consistent in your treatment of OT law and intellectually honest with your hermeneutics. It is not as simple as it may seem. Regardless, keep those questions coming.


[i] Swartly, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women, p. 65-95.
[ii] For sake of brevity, the following abbreviations stand for the three main views: Lord’s Day (LD), Christian Sabbath (CS), and Saturday Sabbath (SS).
[iii] Ratzlaff, Sabbath in Christ, p. 16-18.

Evaluating the Strength of Arguments in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day Controversy, Part 1b: What are the Positions?

With a wider view of the history of the controversy and the various expressions of belief, it is time to examine how each position develops its case. There are similarities among the three major positions and, of course, differences. Below, the three major positions will be briefly evaluated. While it is helpful to understand the basic positions as presented here, it becomes even more important to understand the terminology that allows discourse, the method each position uses to state their case, the relevance of cited materials, and finally, the rules of interpretation. These latter considerations will be discussed in following parts of this series.

A Concise Summary of Positions.[1]

The Lord’s Day (LD) position posits that the Sabbath is a ceremonial law that was fulfilled like other typological laws of the OT that pointed to Christ and His work of redemption. The Lord’s Day on Sunday memorializes the resurrection with an assembly of believers, but is different in character than the Sabbath.

The Christian Sabbath (CS) position holds that the Sabbath as presented in the Ten Commandments has a moral component to it that is still applicable today—but on Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection. The Sabbath is enjoined upon all humanity as a testimony of God’s creation and as a benefit to the social structures of life.

The Saturday Sabbath (SS) position asserts that the fourth commandment is a moral law of universal importance and that it is properly observed on Saturday, the same day which Jesus and the apostles observed. Sunday worship is an aberration from apostolic practice, or worse, a sign of apostasy from the true religion.

The CS position has in common with the LD position an appreciation for the fulfillment of ceremonial laws and validates the historical precedent of first-day worship of the church. The CS position has in common with the SS position an appreciation for the enduring morality of the fourth commandment and validates the application of sabbatic laws to the church and society at large. However, the divergence between the LD and SS positions is so obtuse as to make dialogue strained and wanting for a starting place of agreement. One might be tempted to think that the middle position is the correct position because it attempts to take a conciliatory place between the extremes,[2] but it is not the relationship of a position to the contrary positions that legitimizes that view—each view must be evaluated by the soundness and merit of its own argument. It is my opinion that the CS view is the most difficult position to defend because it holds in tension the contradictory propositions of the LD and SS views.

Within the LD camp, there are two major interpretive methodologies: the Dispensational approach and the Reformed approach. The CS camp is divided by two application methodologies: the Puritanical approach and the Modern or “Continental” approach. And the SS camp two authoritative methodologies at its disposal: the Historical approach and the Prophetic approach[3]. This informs us that at the heart of understanding the truth of Scripture, we must also deal with matters of authority, interpretive methodologies, and finally a rationale for deciding the applicability of Scripture. Each of the positions works within their own framework of understanding regarding these three matters. And while the chart below provides a general relationship of specific church denominations to these six positions, it is not unusual to find exceptions. Furthermore, some denominations simply do not have clearly defined position statements on this question.

Position Authority Interpretative Method Application    Denomination
LD Dispensational Bible, Historical Records Historical-critical; Dispensational Not applicable Evangelical Free

Baptist

Pentecostal

Charismatic

Reformed Bible, Historical Records Historical-critical; Covenantal Not applicable Eastern Orthodox

Lutheran

Anglican

CS Puritanical Bible, Historical Records Historical-critical; Ecclesiastic Strict Presbyterian

Orthodox Presbyterian

Christian Reformed Church

Reformed Baptist

Continental Bible, Historical Records Historical-critical; Ecclesiastic Less Strict Roman Catholic

Presbyterian Church of America

Methodist

Congregational

SS Adventist Bible, Historical Records, Prophet Ecclesiastic authority Strict Seventh Day Baptist

Seventh-day Adventist

Churches of God

Messianic Bible, Historical Records, Leader Pastoral authority Strict Assemblies of Yawweh

To make the LD case, proponents emphasize ceremonial commandments and typology, the meaning of Law, and the differences between OT and NT law. They hope to demonstrate how the Sabbath is best understood as a ceremonial law and how Christ is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is a ceremonial law, then it does not form a basis for the weekly assembly of believers. That behavior must be based on different premises.

To advance the CS case, proponents emphasize the nature and function of the Ten Commandments as a moral force and the association of the Sabbath with God’s rest on the seventh day. They hope to demonstrate how the Sabbath is of universal authority, yet on a different day of the week. If the Sabbath is of such moral importance, then proper applications must be defined and urged upon those under church authority, and perhaps society in general.

To develop the SS case, advocates emphasize the immutability of moral law, the history of Saturday Sabbath-keeping, and the apostasy of the early church from a critical doctrine. They hope to demonstrate the importance of the proper day for Sabbath-keeping and the authority of their leader(s). Application of Sabbath law is determined by the leadership.

There is perhaps a little overlap among the three major positions because they all agree that Christians should gather together on a weekly basis to worship the Lord who redeemed them, though the LD group hosts those who take a more relaxed view of this. Secondly, each position esteems the Bible as the source and justifier of their knowledge and practice; however, the SS group hosts those who may question the exclusive authority of the Bible. Thirdly, all positions believe in the existence of moral law and the abrogation of ceremonial law, but they differ, obviously, on how to classify the Sabbath. This is why it is crucial to develop a system for understanding how an OT law is classified as ceremonial.

Overview of Notable Books.

Given these general descriptions, one might think that each position begins with a point on which the divergent groups agree, but that is rarely the case. As is to be expected, each author expresses his thoughts in some form with an underlying motivation and an established trajectory for the purposes of persuasion.

Rordorf’s (LD) Sunday examines the history of the week, the Sabbath, and Sunday as presented not only in Scripture, but in the writings of the apostolic and patristic fathers and other early church documents, in order to answer the question how Sunday came to be the chief day of Christian worship. He presents his ratiocinations with care and caution, with no villain or cacodoxy in mind, but the subtle effects of industrialization and technologia on the Christian consensus and tradition. His one mention of the Seventh-day Adventists merely enforces his view that there is a lack of clarity about the relationship of the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Lord’s Day. Carson’s (LD-Reformed) anthology From Sabbath to Lord’s Day mentions Rordorf’s 1962 work as a precipitating factor for countless books and articles that followed. However, this topic was hotly debated four hundred years earlier between the LD and CS positions, and for the past one hundred years since the establishment of the SS position within Adventism. Indeed, Carson mentions Bacchiocchi (SS) whose book “stirred up most interest” in contemporary times with his theories about the demise of Sabbath-keeping within the early Christian community and his particular interpretations of critical passages of Scripture.[4] Bacchiocchi is often criticized for unconvincing interpretations and false reasoning, but acknowledged when his views are corroborated by the author.[5] This is perhaps the most scholarly effort to date on the topic, and very little criticism is directed at the CS or SS positions. Lincoln’s summary chapter evaluates the idea of transferring Sabbath principles to Sunday (the CS position) and finds it inconsistent.[6] Next, Ratzlaff (LD-Dispensational) writes from the perspective of one who separated from Adventism because his research pointed him to a differing understanding of the Sabbath in Christianity. Sabbath in Christ loosely follows the flow of biblical history to present his systematic understanding of the LD position and ends with four chapters on a personal level. Critical of the evangelistic methods of the SDA church, Ratzlaff exposes how the Sabbath is used to manipulate people to join their church.[7]

The CS position is well-supported by a host of articles, booklets, and books defending, investigating, and promoting this view. The Puritans were often ‘credited’ with innovating the sort of fierce Sabbath-keeping that was eventually ridiculed by modern Protestants. Dennison’s The Market Day for the Soul, Parker’s The English Sabbath, and Primus’ Holy Time explore the development of the Puritanical view of Sunday observance as influenced by the ongoing morality of the Sabbath. These are first-rate scholarly works produced in the 1980s.

For the church-goer, four additional books present the case for enjoying the Lord’s Day with a mind to the sabbatic structure of time. Chantry’s one hundred page book, Call the Sabbath a Delight, encourages readers to embrace a loftier view of the Sabbath and then moves on to explain how the Sabbath was moved to Sunday and guidelines for proper Sabbath conduct. Pipa’s The Lord’s Day advances the Christian Sabbath concept by reflecting on the benefits of Sabbath-keeping. He also explains how the Sabbath was moved to Sunday and how to prepare for and properly conduct oneself on Sunday. Ray composed his book, Celebrating the Sabbath, for study groups, and each of the eight chapters ends with plenty of review and introspective questions. Finally, On the First Day of the Week, by Campbell, presents a more thorough biblical study of the Sabbath/Lord’s Day connection as he moves from Genesis to the apostles, then from the Puritans to modern times.

These books bemoan a declining view of Sunday as Sabbath, increased business on Sunday, and the LD view that the Sabbath is an abolished ceremonial command. One would think that the CS camp is happy that a large contingent of Bible-believers continue to meet on Sunday as they do. But Chantry opens with a complaint against both pagans and evangelicals. “As you are on your way to Sunday School and public worship, you will have noticed that the highways are already filling with cars and trucks. However, you know that most of these do not have a church for their destination.” “You know that on your way home you will see church-goers lined up at the gas pumps and flocking to the restaurants.”[8] If Chantry were a real Sabbath-keeper, he would not be driving his car on Sunday, but he allows that exception for himself while decrying the exceptions that others allow themselves.

The CS camp assumes that if someone believes that the Sabbath is fulfilled, then it must mean that they do not faithfully attend church. The reason for this is that the CS camp bases its church attendance on the fourth commandment; therefore, if the LD camp thinks the fourth commandment is abrogated, then they must believe church attendance is not obligatory. To prove their case, CS advocates then state that LD individuals opt out of church in favor of other activities, as does Chantry. But the truth is that there are plenty of former CS believers who no longer go to church or who veered into liberalism. Their “high view” of the Sabbath has not been a preserving force against worldliness. Furthermore, if the LD ecclesiology endorsed a laizze faire approach to church attendance, then their congregations are not getting the message, because attendance at LD churches surpasses that of CS churches. The question that CS advocates need to ask is: On what basis does the LD camp justify weekly church attendance if not on the Sabbath? Does Hebrews 10:24-25 form a sufficient basis for encouraging regular attendance at church? How long did the church exist before some theologian suggested a moral impetus for church attendance with the Sabbath commandment?

For the Saturday Sabbath position, Bacchiocchi (SS-Adventist) authored several books about the Sabbath, beginning with From Sabbath to Sunday. While remaining staunchly a Saturday Sabbatarian, his research countered the historic position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in two critical areas. First of all, he proposed that anti-Semitism was at the root of Sunday worship instead of the Constantine and Roman Catholic Church connection. Secondly, he admits that Colossians 2:16 is a reference to the weekly Sabbath rather than a festival Sabbath.

Adventist literature strains the communication bridge by implicating both LD and CS positions as apostates and Jew haters. The LD position, Bacchiocchi states, comes “from the ‘Christian’ theology of contempt for Jews and their religion”[9] Besides this, anyone who teaches the ceremoniality of the Sabbath is accused of “attacking the Sabbath.”[10] This accusation would never be said of someone who teaches the ceremoniality of daily sacrifices or circumcision. It is not “attacking” circumcision to state that it was abrogated. This heightened rhetoric exposes the personal attachment the author has with this particular doctrine. On the other hand, Bacchiocchi is often approving of any Sunday Sabbatarian practice as a “resdiscovery” of the Sabbath, but alas, that is Sunday-keeping, not Sabbath-keeping.[11] And to his credit, Bacchiocchi also made efforts to reach out to other institutions to find common ground. Another Adventist book, In Granite or Ingrained?, by MacCarty, is a more recent contribution that proposes that the Decalogue is written on believer’s hearts obliging them to keep Sabbath on Saturday.

Starting Places.

For example, each position agrees that there are such things as ceremonial laws. The CS group asks the LD group, “If you state that the Ten Commandments represent God’s moral law, why don’t you observe the Sabbath?” The SS group properly asks the CS group, “If you believe that the Sabbath is a moral commandment, then how can the Sabbath be moved to Sunday?” The LD group properly asks the CS and SS groups, “If you believe that the Passover is fulfilled and no longer obligatory, why not the Sabbath?” These and other questions are a good starting place to probe into someone’s understanding of the relationship between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day.

For those who are interested in the topic, besides studying the Bible, it is wise to read the works of contrary positions. Listed above are a few representative books. Does the quoted text actually mean what the author says it means? Is there a logical connection from one point to another? Did the author make too much of something or are they ignoring critical information? In the end, is the author faithfully representing the scope of biblical and extra-biblical data and is the author presenting a cohesive and rational understanding of that information?

Finally, there are two books that present multiple viewpoints for further study. Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 Views, presents the SS, CS, LD-Lutheran, and LD-Reformed positions, each chapter followed by a single critic. The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions boasts additional contributions of Jewish and Catholic persuasions, and what I label CS-Optional, again with responses of other contributors.


[1] These summary descriptions concur with the brief summaries of Bacchiocchi (SS-Adventist), The Sabbath Under Crossfire, p. 262-263; Sproul (CS-Continental), “Defining the Debate,” Tabletalk, June 1, 2011; Ratzlaff (LD-Dispensational), Sabbath in Christ, p. 13-15; Swartley (CS-Heritage), Slavery, Sabbath, War & Women, p. 65-66;

[2] This statement suffers due to anachronism. Because the SS position did not fully develop until the nineteenth century, it cannot be said that the CS position developed as a response to the other two positions; i.e., to position itself between two extreme views.

[3] The historical approach is based on direct historical research and the prophetic approach is based on personally received revelation by a church leader, i.e., Ellen White. Interestingly, MacCarty’s contribution to the book, The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, does not cite her as an authority. Bacchiocchi quotes White only once in The Sabbath Under Crossfire.

[4] Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 15.

[5] De Lacey, “The Sabbath/Sunday Question and the Law in the Pauline Corpus,” p. 173, 182, 185.

[6] Lincoln, “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical and Theological Perspective,” p. 390-398.

[7] Ratzlaff, Sabbath in Christ, (2003), p. 381-385.

[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 8, 9.

[9] Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath Under Crossfire, p. 261.

[10] Ibid. p. 12, 59.

[11] Ibid. p. 263-269.

Booklet Review “Sabbath and Sunday Among the Earliest Christians” by David W. T. Brattston

sabbath-sunday-among-earliest-christians-when-was-day-david-w-t-brattston-paperback-cover-art

With a 2014 publication date, this 30 page booklet by a Canadian lawyer reviews the earliest literature that pertains to the practice of Christian worship and their attitudes about the relationship between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day. Without naming Seventh day Adventists in particular, the research was conducted in order to verify the claim that a mass apostasy occurred during 249-251 CE when Christians allegedly abandoned two centuries of Sabbath-keeping in favor of Sunday assembly during the rule of Constantine.

The historical resources are readily available to anyone who desires to conduct original research, and the author provides helpful advice to that end, as well as his bibliography.

Rather than simply cite the church fathers in chronological order, Brattston arranges them in eight brief chapters that answer specific questions or advance certain observations. These are:

  • Christians were essentially unified in Sunday worship.
  • The Sabbath was not moved to Sunday
  • They generally believed the Sabbath was abolished, like circumcision.
  • Sabbath-keeping was often discouraged.
  • The fourth commandment was never cited in ethical lists.
  • The apostles preached on the Sabbath in order to make converts.
  • The Lord’s Day differed from the Sabbath, yet encouraged spiritual activities.
  • Christians worked on Sunday and studied Scriptures throughout the week.

This succinct booklet is worth getting for the bibliography alone. His expanded list of citations demonstrates some ambiguity and changes in perspectives with some of the church fathers, so the author is not merely “cherry-picking” to skew history in his favor. The commentary is brief, sometimes awkward, but his thoroughness and level-headed approach adds another voice of reason to this ongoing debate.

The Sabbath/Lord’s Day Controversy: Part 1a Who Are The Players ?

Swartley’s book, “Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women” aimed at learning how exegetes tackle controversial topics. With respect to the Sabbath, he stated that he would “examine the scriptural support adduced by each position and then offer some hermeneutical observations and guidelines for proper interpretation (p. 67).[1] After discussing the benefits of the historical-critical method,[2] he determined that Nigel Lee provided a “weak interpretation” of Genesis 2:2-3 and that Martin’s assertion that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday could not be proved on textual grounds. I expected to see more analysis in his book, but it really offered little in terms of identifying the hermeneutical errors or biases when examining the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy. In my book review, I mused:

“That being said, with regard to the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy, it would be helpful to conduct a more thorough analysis of the hermeneutical grids that scholars use to support their case and to devise a list of questions to flesh out the presuppositions, biases, interpretive traditions, misuses of texts, and lack of thoroughness that affect their interpretation of supporting texts.”

Given the sweeping magnitude of Swartley’s endeavor, it is certainly understandable that he provided limited analysis. Even books dedicated to the subject fail to provide conclusive evidence, for as Yang assessed, “Most of the works…do not always treat the biblical data in sufficient depth, sometimes failing to provide any exegetical discussion of the biblical texts in question…”[3] Or as Timmer remarked about the “Sabbath frame” in Exodus: “Despite its historical, literary and theological significance, however, the sabbath frame has not received commensurate scholarly attention.”[4]

Swartley’s book provides a three-step approach to dealing with a controversial subject. First, assess the literature and formulate categories of the various positions. Often, these viewpoints are affected by theological traditions involving scholastic assumptions, hermeneutic styles, the use of extra-biblical resources, and particular church practices and patois—not to mention the historical movement of that theological concern in its geopolitical context. Having an overview of the controversy helps the researcher to better understand the work under scrutiny. Next, identify the points of contention where the various proponents diverge in their interpretation of specific biblical texts and the inferences drawn from their research. Devise questions to draw out the credibility of their interpretations or to separate what can be known from what is supposed. Critical to this step, at least for co-interpretation, is to have some guidelines or rules for interpretation that are generally accepted. Lastly, begin the tedious process of presenting the exegetical commentary of each scholar and comparing the pros and cons of their conclusions. As one should quickly assess, the complexity of dealing with this issue increases with each step.

Swartley identified three conflicting positions—categories that are generally well-accepted. These three positions are divided by their answer to the following question: How is the church to understand her relationship to the Sabbath commandment? The following chart provides the terminology various authors use to describe these three groups. For the sake of clarity and brevity within this series, I will abbreviate Swartley’s terminology within this series to identify the interpretative tradition of an author when necessary.

Position Swartley O’Hare Ratzlaff Williams Donato
4th C not binding Lord’s Day

[LD]

Sabbath-fulfilled Fulfillment/ Transformation Lord’s Day Evangelical
4th C partially binding Christian Sabbath [CS] Sunday Sabbatarianism Transfer/ Modification Sunday-Sabbath Lutheran
Calvinistic
4th C more fully binding Saturday Sabbath [SS] Saturday Sabbatarianism Reformation/ Continuation Seventh Day Adventist

The proponents of each category are not monolithic in their arguments and interpretations, so it is not unusual to discover differing understandings and varying conclusions about specific texts or questions. For example, within the Christian Sabbath [CS] camp, Bownde held that the 4th commandment was fully moral,[5] yet Turretin understood it to be partly ceremonial and partly moral.[6] Again, from the CS camp’s interpretation of Ex 16:23-26, Murray thinks it is unmistakable that the Jews already knew about the Sabbath, that it was practiced since the beginning of human history[7], but Douma disagrees, stating that there may be an impression of pre-knowledge, but upon examination of the full evidence it is actually erroneous to think that the Sabbath was given to Adam.[8] So, on these particular questions, Bownde takes a position similar to the SS camp, and Douma takes a position similar to the LD camp.

Building upon the accepted categories, I will expand on them to demonstrate the diversity even within these broad groups. I placed them in historical order, with dates referring to specific publications.[9]

Sabbath Fulfilled. Those who believe that the Sabbath did not originate at creation but was a ceremonial law for the Israelites and was abrogated by the redemptive work of Christ. The Sabbath has little to nothing to do with the Lord’s Day, which is celebrated on Sunday, the first day of the week. The Lord’s Day honors the resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  • Luke documents the growth of the Christian sect, from its initial Jewish milieu to the incorporation of Gentiles through missionary evangelism. The first day of the week, Sunday, attains significance for the church. Several Pauline epistles address the tension between Judaism and Christianity in the area of ritual practices. His letter to the Colossians specifically mentions the Sabbath as a shadow-law.
  • Church Fathers, namely Barnabas, Ignatius, ‘Mathetes’, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Eusebius, held that the Sabbath was fulfilled because Christ embodied what the Sabbath pointed to spiritually, a redemptive rest and the promise of eternal rest. The early Roman Catholic Church carried this torch through the first millennium, with the writings of Sylvester, Augustine, and Gregory the Great. The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that the Sabbath and Lord’s Day are two separate days—that the Sabbath was not transferred to Sunday. The Lord’s Day is symbolical of the new advent of Christ and is the primary day of worship, yet they allow certain religious rituals on the Sabbath and various sects “keep” both days.
  • Medieval to Reformation. Aquinas (1250) held that the Sabbath was a ceremonial commandment of the Jews, but that it was moral only in one respect: that man must give time to God. This view was adopted by early Reformers Luther (1520), Melanchthon (1530), Calvin (1536), and Bullinger (1566), while others resisted any application of the Sabbath to Christian conduct, like Volkelius (1630), the Anabaptists and Socinians (1800s), and as expressed in the Racovian Catechism (1818).
  • Modern advocates teach the discontinuity of the Sabbath between the old and new covenants by asserting that it was a ceremonial command given exclusively to Israel and fulfilled by Christ.
    • Evangelicals holding to or affected by dispensationalism, argue the fulfillment of the Sabbath primarily on the total replacement of the law of Moses with the law of Christ. The roots of this strand are in Luther. Later and modern authors who support this position are Torrey (1899), Riggle (1922), Putnam (1924), McGee (1970), MacArthur (1992), Schreiner (2010), Arand (2011). Some Evangelicals conclude that Sunday church attendance is not compulsory, or that Christians may worship on any day of the week. Former Saturday Sabbatarians tend to adopt this view after re-examining the issue, such as Canright (1889) and Ratzlaff (1990, 2003), who are former SDA pastors, and Morrison (2002), who is a former WCG member.
    • Reformed believers who deny the major tenets of dispensationalism, simply argue that the Sabbath be treated like other ceremonial laws that their Reformed brothers agree were abrogated. The roots of this view are more in line with Church Fathers than Calvin, yet more in line with Calvin than Ursinus. First day worship is significant and church attendance is important. Advocates of this position are Rordorf (1962-68), Carson (1982), Blomberg (1991, 2011), Yang (1997), Timmer (2009), and O’Hare (2011). Former Sunday Sabbatarians tend to adopt this view after re-examination of the evidence, such as Reisinger (2002).

Sunday Sabbatarianism. Those who hold that the morality of the Sabbath is in its one-day-in-seven frequency and the dual obligation to rest from normal activities and engage in public and private worship of the Lord. The Sabbath is a creation ordinance, like marriage; and it is a moral commandment because it is listed in the Decalogue. As a result of the resurrection, the Lord moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, which is now called the “Christian Sabbath” or Lord’s Day.

  • Civil Sabbatarianism. The Edict of Milan (316) was a civil law that encouraged citizens to rest on Sunday. While it cannot be demonstrated that this was motivated by Sabbatarian principles, Sunday rest promoted the association of the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day. The Council of Mâcon (585) and the Council of Rouen (c. 650) specifically drew upon OT sabbatic laws. The Decretals of Gregory IX (1234) legislated a 24 hour rest.[10]
  • Transitional Sabbatarianism. Medieval Roman Catholicism, as elucidated by Aquinas (1274), held that the Sabbath was replaced with (not moved to) the Lord’s Day. Early Reformers, such as Luther (1530) and Calvin (1536), held that the Sabbath commandment meant only that the church was accountable for giving time to God in worship. Modern Roman Catholics, like Harrington (1991), regard the Sabbath and Lord’s Day as distinct institutions, but allow ritualistic rest on Sunday. Ratzinger aka. Pope Benedict XVI (1995) and Pope John Paul II (1998), envision a Sabbath at creation, however this only loosely informs the Lord’s Day.
  • Developed Sabbatarianism. Later Reformers, such as Ursinus (1563) and Bownde (1595), developed the view that the Sabbath was a ‘creation ordinance,’ obligatory on all people from every nation. This view was highly influential, so there are innumerable literary pieces advancing this belief set. Any sect that developed in the 16th through 19th centuries adopted this viewpoint, with only minor variations in determining those moral features that demand specific behaviors. The Anglicans, Presbyterians, Puritans, Methodists, Congregationalists, and Baptists, adopted this posture to varying degrees. See Heidelberg (1563), WCF (1646), Shepard (1649), Owen (1668), Case (1674), Durham (1675), Turretin (1680) LBCF (1689), Schaff (1831), Boston (1853), Henry (1855), Gilfillin (1862), and Dabney (1878).
    • Modern Reformers may downplay the rule-making of the Puritans, yet strongly urge compliance with the fourth commandment, such as Murray (1953), Jewett (1971), Beckwith and Stott (1978) , Primus (1989, 1991), Williamson (1993), Douma (1996), Pipa (1997), Gaffin (1998), Robertson (2001), Duncan (2003), Campbell (2005), Dennison (2008), McGraw (2011), and McLaughlin (2014). McLaughlin distinguishes between European Sabbatarians and English Sabbatarians as I do between Transitional and Developed Sabbatarianism. Reformed Baptists, like Chantry (1991), Ray (2000), and Barcellos (2001) are strongly supportive of the London Confession (1689) a reiteration of the WCF (1646) position.
    • Theonomic Reformers, like Lee (1972) and Rushdooney (1973) differ in their applications of OT law to the church and society, such as applying the seventh year Land Sabbath to agricultural practices. Kline (2000) and Irons (2002) break ranks by limiting the 4th Commandment to the church as opposed to the world.
    • Heritage Sabbatarians. Because of their historical roots in Protestantism or their dabbling with Reformed theology, these authors may refer to Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, and they may engage in some Sabbatarian practices, but are not adamant about Sabbath-keeping per se; i.e., Swartley (1983) and Greear (2014).
  • Optional Sabbatarianism. Eusebius described the Ebionites as worshipers on both Saturday and Sunday. Various sects of the Eastern Orthodox Church will worship on Sunday, but observe sabbatarian practices on Saturday. Some contemporaneous Jewish believers worship with Jews on Saturday and Christians on Sunday. Evangelicals, with or without a Jewish heritage, who loosely agree that the Sabbath is fulfilled, yet adopt Sabbatarian practices as a means to enhance their Christian spirituality either on Sunday or Saturday; i.e., Dawn (1989), Bass (2000), Winner (2003), and Wirzba (2006).
  • Fringe Sabbatarianism. The Christian Identity movement has those who worship on Sunday largely adopting the above argument, like Ewing (1958) and Downey (2008), but some advocate Saturday worship. Weisman (1994) believes that the Jews erroneously moved the Sabbath from the first day of the week to the seventh day of the week during their Babylonian captivity. Jesus moved the Sabbath back to the first day of the week where it belongs. Within the SDA community, some believe that the calendar computations have been in error for centuries and that Sunday is actually the correct day to worship.

Saturday Sabbatarianism. Those who believe the Sabbath to be an unchanging moral commandment that cannot be moved to another day, hence they worship on Saturday, the day the Jews have celebrated as the Sabbath for millennia. The seventh-day Sabbath is the Lord’s Day.

  • Most Jews understand the Sabbath to be a Jewish institution that has both moral and ritual elements to it. It is not obligatory for Gentiles to observe it—sometimes it is even discouraged. The paradigm for the Sabbath is the creation week, which inspires the Jews to engage in personal reflection about their works during the week, as well as the works of God in creation and redemption. See Heschel (1951), Kaplan (1974), Goldenberg and Meier (1991), Muller (1999), Klagsbrun (2002).
  • The record of the apostles preaching on the Sabbath to the Jews indicates their commitment to obeying the fourth commandment. As the church apostatized from this position, their critiques of non-conformists—labeled “heretics”—evidence Christian groups that continued to esteem the Sabbath as the normative practice. Few records of such groups that observed the Sabbath exist and those that do, present them in the worst light.
  • Seventh Day Baptists organized in England in 1653. They proposed that Sunday worship arose as a result of Roman paganism, hence Saturday worship recaptures apostolic teachings. Gamble (1904).
  • Seventh Day Adventists hold that the Fourth Commandment is binding and cannot be altered, therefore, all that was required of the Jews is required of Christians. This view has been observed since Pentecost by Christians, but Constantine changed the day of worship for Christians from Saturday to Sunday in opposition to the Word of God. Notable authors are Andrews (1873), Bacchiocchi (1977-1991), Finley (1988), Shea (1991), DuPreez (2008), and McCarty (2011).
    • Early factions from Adventism, such as Church of God, Seventh Day Church of God, Church of God (7th Day), stress anti-trinitarianism and a Saturday resurrection.
    • Off-shoots of the SDA, such as Worldwide Church of God, propose that other observances of Jewish law are beneficial for the church, such as dietary laws and other calendar observances.
    • A fringe group of the SDA, Lunar Sabbatarians, believe that the Sabbath should fall on the 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th of each lunar month.
  • Messianic groups attempt to recapture early Jewish Christianity, McKee (2006). Some Anglo-Israelism groups believe Saturday is the proper day of the week for worship.

The purpose of this article is to begin with an expansive understanding of the players in this debate. Of course, each player brings certain presuppositions to the table, including myself.[11]

Indeed, perhaps the most important underlying presupposition has to do with authority, not merely the authority of Scriptures, but the authority of creeds and the commentary of chosen divines. The only common denominator for Catholics, Protestants, and Seventh-day Adventists is Scripture. So, unless Scripture alone informs us, then there can really be little truth-seeking dialogue between these various positions.

Protestants may boast in the fact that they hold to Scripture alone in contrast to Roman Catholics who also include as authoritative both Tradition and the Magisterium; or Seventh-day Adventists who submit to the teachings of Ellen G. White; but even Protestants may succumb to symbololatry, which Schaff defines as “a species of idolatry [that] substitutes the tyranny of a printed book for that of a living pope.”[12] That is, Protestants can hold to their confessional statements with the same unwavering commitment that they have for Scripture. But as the WCF admitted, “[creeds] are not made the rule of faith or practice; but to be used as a help in both.”[13]

Other sources outside of Scripture may be a help, but God’s word—as faithfully studied and respectfully understood as we can—must eventually be given the upper-hand.


[1] I would hope that all those who hold stock in this topic are determined to “properly” interpret the Scripture. If it were possible to agree upon sources of authority and interpretive methods then perhaps this controversy could be put to rest.
[2] See Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Klein, Blomberg, & Hubbard; Let the Reader Understand, McCartney and Clayton; How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, Fee; Exegetical Falacies, Carson; Knowing Scripture, Sproul.
[3] Yang, Yong-Eui. Jesus and the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel. Sheffield, England:Sheffield Academic, 1997, p. 15.
[4] Timmer, Daniel C. Creation, Tabernacle, and Sabbath: The Sabbath Frame of Exodus 31:12-17; 35:1-3 in Exegetical and Theological Perspective. Göttingen, Germany:Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009, p. 11.
[5] Primus, John H. Holy Time: Moderate Puritanism and the Sabbath. Macon, GA:Mercer University Press, 1989, p. 75.
[6] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. 3 vols. Dennison, ed., Musgrave, trans., Phillipsburg, NJ:P&R, 1994, p. 2:84.
[7] Murray, John. The Collected Writings of John Murray. 4 vols. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1976, p. 1:206, 208.
[8] Douma, J. The Ten Commandments. Kloosterman, trans., Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1996, p. 130.
[9] I may be inadvertently omitting some renowned proponents of these categories, and my category names are not intended to be authoritative. This is a work in progress.
[10] Bauckham, R. J. “Sabbath and Sunday in the Medieval Church in the West,” 300–309, In From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation, edited by D. A. Carson, 1982. Reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999, p. 303.
[11] Since this format invites comment, I welcome rational discussion, even pointing out places where I may have stated things incorrectly. In order to honor the Lord, please review your comments before posting and back up statements with references as applicable.
[12] Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom: With a History and Critical Notes. 3 vols. 1931. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996, p. 7.
[13] Westminster Confession of Faith. 1646. Reprint, Glascow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1997, p. 121.

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