Part 2d: What are the Terms?
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.