Summary. Thus far, a variety of Sabbath institutions (Jewish, Christian, Creation, and Eternal) have been described, which are now listed in the below chart—a timeline since creation. Each camp should be able to articulate from Scripture the similarities and differences between each expression of the Sabbath as it occurs along the timeline. Christians are not the only ones who lack clarity about this. Jews are not consistent in their understanding of the Sabbath either. For example, Kaplan (SJ)[i] correctly states that the Sabbath, or Shabbos, is a Jewish ritual. It marks and distinguishes the Jews from other cultures.[ii] Yet when the Sabbath was given to Israel in the wilderness, he asks, “Who counted it from the time of Creation?” as if it were ongoing since creation but not observed. And at the same time, he correctly perceives that the Sabbath was initially celebrated during the Exodus with the giving of manna and has been practiced faithfully ever since.[iii] Jewish scholars may involve creation story as the paradigm for rest, so that Sabbath-keeping means relinquishing any mastery over the world by means of our intelligence or skill. “We must leave nature untouched”[iv] in emulation of God. Kaplan calls God’s seventh day rest the “Sabbath of creation.”[v] Klagsbrun says that the fourth commandment “does not actually decree that we imitate God’s abstention from work” but she does call God’s seventh-day a Sabbath.[vi] Meier, approaching that question more from a literal-historical perspective asserts, “There are good reasons to avoid calling the seventh day a Sabbath in Genesis 2.”[vii] Like most Jewish scholars, Raphael places the origin of the Sabbath to the Jewish history of receiving manna, prior to Sinai.[viii] Neusner provides a unifying voice for Judaism in labeling the seventh day of creation a Sabbath, even though the ritual was not given until the exodus. The reference to the creation rest is perceived as a pre-addendum that adds meaning to the ritual given to Israel much later. The presuppositions inherent in this are: 1) the Torah was written for Israel, not for Gentiles, 2) the Torah was to demonstrate the uniqueness of Israel as opposed to the heathen nations, and 3) the seventh-day of creation (that they’ll call a Sabbath) was set apart from the other days of the week in the same way that Israel is set apart from the nations.[ix] The logical inference from this is that the Sabbath was not given to the Gentiles, otherwise, pagans would be as set apart, sanctified, and holy as Israel. Of course, the Jewish Sabbath is the original Sabbath. While there are shortcomings with their observation of it, all other expressions are mere copycats or counterfeits.
Since what we know about the Sabbath comes exclusively from the Mosaic covenant, we have ample information to allow a comparison with its supposed administration under the new covenant. The Christian Sabbatarian bases both the Mosaic and Christian expression of Sabbath-keeping on the fact that the Sabbath is commanded in the Decalogue and inferring from this a universal moral obligation. Chantry couches the differences between the Mosaic and Christian Sabbath in the fact that NT saints have fuller revelation and the gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore, “the ways in which the moral law was applied and the ways in which it was enforced differ greatly when we compare the management of Moses and the management of Christ.”[x] Jesus apparently handled “the same Sabbath law in a different spirit” and tolerated his disciples when they picked grain on the Sabbath.[xi] Observe that Chantry proposes that Jesus tolerated the actions and beliefs of his disciples and gave them permission to deviate from a standard, but it is not clear whether it is a pharisaical standard or a Mosaic standard. Did Jesus tolerate their righteous, religious, or unrighteous behavior? Was taking grain on the Sabbath a violation of the moral law or not? If their actions were not a violation of moral law, then what was Jesus tolerating? If taking grain on the Sabbath was a violation of pharisaical legalities, then why would Jesus have to “tolerate” that? Chantry then asserts that Jesus “reminds us of God’s judgment but stipulates no civil reprisals for breaking the Sabbath.”[xii] This sounds as if Jesus overlooked the disciple’s violation of this moral law, and protected them from the threats and punishments of the Mosaic law before the new covenant was in place. On the other hand, VanGemeren states that “Jesus’ teaching on the law has clear lines of continuity with the law of Moses,” yet “Jesus gave a stricter interpretation of Moses than the rabbis.” He concludes that Jesus held people more accountable to the sanctity of the law, including the Sabbath. “Rather than setting his disciples free from the law, he tied them more tightly to it.”[xiii] The lack of agreement between these two Christian Sabbatarians is because they misunderstand the crux of the controversies that Jesus intended to convey (amongst other things). Christian Sabbatarians view the gospel conflicts as opportunities for Jesus to set the record straight about Sabbath-keeping, so that Sabbath law may finally be kept in the spirit of the law. Once the apostles comprehended this teaching, the church was now prepared to observe the Sabbath correctly, albeit on a different day. According to Ray, “Jesus blasted the Pharisaic Sabbath, but in doing so he did not harm the biblical Sabbath at all.”[xiv] In other words, the original, biblical Sabbath remains for the church to observe. According to Christian Sabbatarians, this conflict in the grain field is presented by the Synoptists to demonstrate the proper interpretation of Sabbath law—that under the law, gleaners could pick and eat grain on the Sabbath (despite the Pharisee’s objection). Jesus corrected their misapprehension and let us know that if we are hungry gleaners on the Sabbath, we may eat of the standing grain. Christian Sabbatarians then conclude that the spirit of the Sabbath is meant to alleviate human hunger, but not by going to a restaurant.
|SS||Creation Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Eternal Sabbath|
|CS||Creation Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Mosaic Sabbath||Christian Sabbath||Eternal Sabbath|
|LD||God’s rest||None||None||Sabbath||Lord’s Day||Eternal Rest|
|SJ||God’s rest or “Sabbath”||None||None||Sabbath, to this day||Not really a Sabbath||All is “Sabbath”|
Putting aside the question whether one may properly call God’s seventh-day rest a “Sabbath,” the following questions are meant to inquire about the purported claim that by God’s rest, the Sabbath was decreed for mankind the day following their creation. That is, how did Adam and his posterity observe the Sabbath over the course of time?
- Pre-Fall. What did Adam understand about the Sabbath commandment before the fall? Did he observe a day of rest the following week, and if so, what was he resting from? Was his work prior to the fall something from which to rest? Did Adam extend the work prohibition to working animals? Was he required to make sacrifices as part of Sabbath worship? Was substitutionary death required before the fall? Was he allowed to leave Eden before the fall? If he disobeyed the Sabbath commandment before he ate the fruit, would that have been cause for ejection from Eden? If Adam were to sin, must his first sin have necessarily been eating of the Tree of Knowledge? What work did Adam do on the day of his creation? Is that a paradigm for the kind of work that Sabbath-keepers should avoid, i.e., naming things and tending a garden? Or was Adam only to refrain from manipulating the natural world? Was the last day of God’s week the first day of Adam’s week, such that the Sabbath began his recurring week of rest and worship?
- Post-Fall. Once Adam was banished, how did he observe the Sabbath? Did he stoke a fire on his Sabbath? Was the death-penalty in effect for Sabbath-breakers? If it was, are we to assume that Adam and Eve perfectly kept the Sabbath for over nine hundred years? Are we to assume that Cain and Abel kept the Sabbath? Was Cain a Sabbath-breaker? When did the Sabbath fall into disuse? Is there any evidence that societies observed a weekly rest prior to the existence of Judaism?
- What patriarchs kept the Sabbath? Did they keep the Sabbath the same way as Adam did? Did they rest from Friday evening to Saturday evening, or did they keep it during a single 24 day? What Sabbath did the Jews keep during their enslavement to Egypt? Could the Sabbath exist without anyone observing it? Does the observation of the Sabbath make it holy, or is the day itself intrinsically holy? If the Sabbath was a forgotten commandment, then why, when reinstituting it, did God not demand “payback” for all the missed Sabbaths? Since the Sabbath principle requires a whole day of abstention from work and rendering proper worship, did Noah and his family stop tending the animals one day in seven? Did Joseph prohibit the collection of grain in Egypt one day in seven? Did Jacob encamp for a day of rest when his brother was in pursuit of him?
- Why did God pronounce a death-penalty just for disobedient Jews; was it not as important in previous epochs? If the foundational reason for the Sabbath is creation, then why later associate it with their release from Egypt? Why are the Sabbath and New Moon often listed together? Why was a ritual law placed in the Ten Commandments? Who kept the Sabbath before the law, and how did they keep it? Does God keep the Sabbath in the same way that Jews keep the Sabbath, by refraining from any mastery over the environment? If the Sabbath is of universal obligation, then why does it appear that God gave the Sabbath only to the Jews? And why were not any of the pagan nations judged for failure to observe a Sabbath? Is the inclusion of animals in the Sabbath the result of natural law or ceremonial law?
- If the death penalty conveyed the seriousness of this command under Moses, why would God “decriminalize” the Sabbath for Christians? Isn’t the Lord’s Day even more important than the Sabbath? For those who believe God moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, why would God break the rhythm of week if that rhythm is a moral structure of time? Did Jewish converts disobey the fourth commandment when they rested on the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, thereby working only 5 days in the week? Which Jewish Sabbath laws are in effect and which are not, and what is the biblical basis for making any distinctions?
- If in eternity we observe a Sabbath continuously, will the righteous no longer work? Will we also be observing the New Moon celebration in heaven or on a new earth? Will time be measured by the movement of the sun and moon? If heaven is a place of perfection and God is continuing the maintenance of the cosmos, what work is there for us to do? Why would the Sabbath ceremony be re-instituted and none of the other Jewish rituals? If the fourth commandment only demands that we give God one day in seven, is God changing His mind by demanding worship every day in heaven? If He creates a new earth, will the inhabitants keep Sabbath again? If so, why? And on what day? What would they be resting from?
[i] This is a late-comer, but Jews are a subset of the Saturday Sabbath group, hence the new abbreviation SJ.
[ii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p.6
[iii] Ibid., p. 15.
[iv] Ibid., p. 19.
[v] Ibid., p. 18, 19, 20, 21.
[vi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 27.
[vii] Meier, Samuel A. “The Sabbath and Purification Cycles” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, p. 5.
[viii] Raphael, Chaim. The Festivals, p. 62.
[ix] Neusner, Jacob. Confronting Creation, p. 78-89.
[x] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 63.
[xi] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xii] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xiii] VanGemeren, Willem A., “The Law is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Strickland, p. 37-38.
[xiv] Ray, Bruce A. Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 72.