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Part 2d: What are the Terms? Jewish Sabbath

Glossary of Terms. In order to communicate with one another, words and phrases must have consistent and comprehensible meaning, and theological terms must also be biblically derived and defensible. Quite simply, I would like to present some working definitions of key terms and phrases in this debate along with some comments how different camps understand the terms and what some of the potential issues are associated with these terms. This glossary is not meant to be exhaustive nor to replace your favorite theological dictionary; after all, whole books have been written on many of these topics.[i]

Glossary 3

Jewish Sabbath. The Sabbath as commanded for and practiced by the Jews under the Mosaic covenant with or without all their additional rules added to it. LD: A term focusing the commandment and practice of Sabbath-keeping to Israel alone, which coincided with the Mosaic covenant and the theocracy of Israel. What other Sabbath is there than a Jewish Sabbath? “We shall therefore begin our effort to frame a theology of the Christian day of worship with a discussion and analysis of the Jewish Sabbath.”[ii] “Celebration of the first day of the week was in conscious opposition to the Jewish Sabbath, which had now been completely abandoned.”[iii] CS and SS: A term of differentiation from other classes of Sabbaths, such as rest periods practiced by other cultures; i.e., Babylonian shappatu,[iv] the Christian Sabbath,[v] the creation Sabbath,[vi] and the eternal Sabbath.[vii] Sometimes used to describe what the Sabbath had become under Pharisaism—a “Pharisaic Sabbath”—as opposed to an unadulterated or authentic Sabbath. “If superstition is dreaded, there was more danger in keeping the Jewish Sabbath than the Lord’s Day as Christians do now.”[viii] MacCarty (SS) objects to the term.[ix]

There are two underlying presuppositions to the use of the term “Jewish Sabbath.” The CS position regards the Jewish Sabbath as one of several Sabbaths and the LD position regards the Sabbath as peculiar to the Jews. The term is perhaps redundant for the LD position, but becomes necessary when distinguishing the so-called Christian Sabbath from the historical Sabbath as practiced within Jewish communities. It becomes unclear in the CS camp whether the Jewish Sabbath is how the Jews were supposed to observe it or how they actually observed it with their “mountains of laws” appended to it. With this in mind, CS asserts that the focus of Jesus’ conflicts with the rulers of His day was simply to correct mistaken views about the Sabbath. But with so many “mountains of laws” to correct, why did Jesus pick the specific ones He did? On the other hand, the LD camp believes those conflicts are indicative of Jesus’ self-revelation as the Messiah. Therefore, the conflicts were chosen specifically to proclaim His messiahship. Also, it is unclear in the CS camp how the creation Sabbath differs from the Jewish Sabbath. If MacCarty represents the SS camp, the use of the term is superfluous since there is really only one Sabbath, the one set at creation and obligatory upon Jew and Gentile alike.

Christian Sabbath. CS camp: Sunday or the Lord’s Day, the day of Christian worship and the ethical behaviors expected of Christians based on Sabbath law, because Sunday is really a Sabbath. As Reformed theologians explored the relationship of Sabbath law to the Christian assembly, this term became popularized in the seventeenth century with the publication of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) in 1646. The WCF states in Chapter 23, “As it is of the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath.” CS hold that the Christian Sabbath is the same as the Jewish Sabbath, but different. Instead of on Saturday, it is on Sunday. Instead of restricting it to the Jews, the law applies to all humanity. Instead of beginning the evening before the seventh day, it begins on the first day at midnight. Instead of burdening the day with midrashic legalisms, it is burdened with “Puritanical” legalisms. Instead of memorializing the Jew’s release from slavery, it now hails the resurrection of Jesus. Instead of a national, representative form of worship at the temple with sacrifices, it is now a local observation. Instead of a threatening death penalty for failing to observe it, it is now a topic for pastors to bluster about. Instead of restricting the use of fire and cooking the day before, Christians cook and prepare fellowship meals. SS avoids the term since they do not believe the Sabbath could be moved to another day.

Neologisms have one of two possible origins. They may identify ideas that have been around for centuries, thus it is a new term for an older, but commonly accepted, idea. Or they may arise concurrently with a novel concept. A new idea requires a new term. The term “Christian Sabbath” arose late in Christian history, during the early years of the Reformation, to describe the novel idea that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Of course, this novel idea took some time to develop. It came to fruition as a result of theological traditions from Roman Catholicism (Aquinian theology, church/state confluence; natural law) and theological conjectures on the part of Reformers (Ten Commandments epitomize moral law, applicability of OT law to the church, pietism). As Bauckham astutely observed, “Sabbatarian arguments have never succeeded in convincing all who sought to base their theology on the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura.”[x] That is, one cannot soundly demonstrate from Scripture alone that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. The term “Christian Sabbath” has done nothing but promote confusion and biblical illiteracy. Despite this knowledge and understanding, Sabbatarians continue to promote the concept out of tradition, piety, and devotion to secondary standards.

[i] Resources consulted: The Theological Wordbook, Campbell,; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Harris,; New Englishman’s Greek Concordance, Wigram; Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words; The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Gowan, ed.; Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament; ISBE; and many others.
[ii] Jewett, Paul K. The Lord’s Day, p. 13.
[iii] Lohse, Eduard. “sabbaton” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 4, p.31.
[iv] Ray, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 64.
[v] Shepard, Theses Sabbaticae, p. 201.
[vi] Ray, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 29.
[vii] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400. (Ex 20:8-11).
[viii] Calvin, Inst. 2.8.33.
[ix] MacCarty, “Responses to Craig L. Blomberg” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, Donato, ed., p. 360.
[x] Bauckham, “Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition,” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, Carson, ed., p. 312.

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