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Home » Controversy Series » Evaluating the Strength of Arguments in the Sabbath/Lord’s Day Controversy, Part 2d: What are the Terms?

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

Glossary: Introduction

Terms and Definitions. The entry from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) for “shabbāt” (i.e., Sabbath) says “Everything God made, as recorded in Genesis, he called good. Only the Sabbath, however, he sanctified, indicating perhaps that the climax of creation was not the creation of man, as is often stated, but the day of rest, the seventh day.”[1] Read this quote again for understanding. What is the author affirming, implying, or speculating? Really. Read it again and assess what the author is concluding from the text and the context. Give this some thought.

The author (contributor Victor P. Hamilton) apparently believes that the sanctification of a day—just that one day—overshadows God creating man and woman after His own image. Sure, he said “perhaps”, but this is supposed to be a scholarly reference work of the highest caliber. This is to be contrasted with Watts who asserts that “Gen. 1:27 accords the creation of humanity a special status (as indicated by being last in the ascending order, the exceptional divine jussive ’let us,’ and the threefold use of bārā’.)”[2] The questionable nature of the statement from the TWOT comes from the fact that the creation ended on the sixth day; therefore, the sanctification of the seventh day cannot be the climax of creation. The climax of creation would be the last thing that God created, that is, man and woman on the sixth day.[3] Lisle states the obvious, “[The seventh day] isn’t a ‘creation day’ as Ross falsely labels it.”[4]

“So God created (bārā’) man in his own image, in the image of God created (bārā’) he him; male and female, created (bārā’) he them” (Gen 1:27).

This is the last sentence in the creation narrative that thrice uses the word “bārā’” (i.e., create). God sanctified (not created) the seventh day because “in it he had rested (or ceased) from all his work which God created and made” (Gen 2:3). The day of ceasing cannot be a day of creating. Creation was complete before the seventh day. The seventh day was not “created” in the same sense as the things described on days one through six.

Furthermore, though Exodus later links the newly instituted Sabbath with the seventh day of creation, the word “shabbāt” is not used in Genesis. Hamilton’s assumption that God’s rest (shābath) on the seventh day is identical to the Sabbath (shabbāt) is not supported by the text. However, building upon this assumption, Hamilton further asserts that “The Sabbath is thus an invitation to rejoice in God’s creation, and recognize God’s sovereignty over our time.” Again, this conclusion is unsubstantiated. Nowhere in the Bible does Sabbath law mandate rejoicing in creation or recognizing God’s sovereignty over our time. Not that there’s anything wrong with these spiritual disciplines—you can do them any day of the week—but the Sabbath does not expressly and/or exclusively lead to that conclusion. If Paul can assert that “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20), then why would God limit the obvious to one day in a week? Psalm 92, designated for the Sabbath day, does not reflect on God’s creation or the value of time, rather it focuses on God’s favor toward the redeemed (hint, hint). That is, the impetus for Sabbath worship is redemption, not creation. Psalm 148, which specifically urges praise for God the creator, does not invoke the Sabbath for motivation. It is a song of awe and wonder for any day of the week, and finds its motivation through the simple act of observation and the a priori belief that God is the creator of the observable universe. Psalm 90, which considers the seventy year lifespan of man on earth and the eternality of God, gives no nod to the Sabbath.

While many theologians attempt to infuse the Sabbath with some sort of wonder for time and creation, this association is not directly demonstrable from Scripture. Modern Jewish writers also capitalize on these two aspects—the holiness of time and of space—to add value to the Sabbath command.

“Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time.”[5]

“Unlike the Day of Atonement, the Sabbath is not dedicated exclusively to spiritual goals. It is a day of the soul as well as of the body; comfort and pleasure an integral part of the Sabbath observance. Man in his entirety, all his faculties must share its blessing.”[6]

If this is what makes the Sabbath special, then Sabbath is a geocentric and anthropocentric ritual. Without Jesus, Jews practically deify the Sabbath. “For where can the likeness of God be found?” Heschel queries. He rejoins, “…the likeness of God can be found in time, which is eternity in disguise.”[7] Heschel continues, “The Sabbath preceded creation and the Sabbath completed creation; it is all of the spirit that the world can bear.” [8] But the New Covenant theology is clear: Jesus preceded creation and He completed creation. Jesus, the Messiah, is the true and complete image of God. The Lord’s Day, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, is quite different in essence than the Sabbath. It is Christocentric.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Col 1:15-17, NKJV)

Hamilton’s statements likely resonated with those of the CS and SS positions,[9] but they epitomize the kind of rhetoric that predominates the literature. And his comments are uncomfortably comparable to the Jewish infatuation for the Sabbath. He is a Bible scholar, who for the moment, let hermeneutics lapse while reciting a church catechism or something that just sounded good to him. Hamilton offered no conclusive argument that the seventh day when God rested was of the same species as the Sabbath when Israel was commanded to rest—he merely assumed identity based on the reference to the creation week in the fourth commandment (Ex 20:11). Christian theologians and pastors better serve the church by proclaiming the first-day light of Christ’s resurrection and His supremacy over the Sabbath.

Based on this reference to creation in Exodus, we may ask: What is the nature of the relationship between God’s rest and the Sabbath? Is there a plausible reason why the Lord associated the creation week with Israel’s weekly Sabbath? In what ways are the Lord’s rest and Israel’s rest similar? In what ways are they different? What do the specific Sabbath laws that Israel was enjoined to obey have to do with God’s rest? In the same way, we may ask, based on the reference to redemption in Deuteronomy 5:15: What is the nature of the relationship between Israel’s redemption and the Sabbath? Is there a plausible reason why the Lord associated Israel’s redemption from Egypt with Israel’s weekly Sabbath? In what ways are Israel’s redemption and Israel’s weekly rest similar? In what ways are they different? What do the specific Sabbath laws that Israel was enjoined to obey have to do with their redemption? Lastly, given the association of both the creation rest and Israel’s redemption with the Sabbath, how are these two events related? In what ways are the Lord’s solitary day of rest following creation similar to Israel’s (apparent) release from the grip of Egypt? Is one of these reasons for the Sabbath—creation or redemption—more important than the other? And if so, why? Does this mean that there is a “creation Sabbath” for a perfect humanity, but a “redemption Sabbath” for imperfect Israelites? How are these two types of Sabbath different and alike?

[1] TWOT, p. 903.

[2] Watts, Rick E. “Mark” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, Beale and Carson, eds., p. 197.

[3] Though the Creator likely made the Garden of Eden shortly following the creation of Adam and Eve. The Garden of Eden was made for man; “there he put the man whom he had formed” (Gen 2:8).

[4] Lisle, Jason. Understanding Genesis, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015, p. 223.

[5] Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 8. (Italics in the original).

[6] Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 19.

[7] Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 16.

[8] Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 21. Heschel also likens the Sabbath to Adam. “It is not good that the spirit should be alone, so Israel was destined to be a helpmeet for the Sabbath.” p. 52.

[9] For sake of brevity, the following abbreviations stand for the three main views: Lord’s Day (LD), Christian Sabbath (CS), and Saturday Sabbath (SS).

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