Sabbath principle. CS camp: A foundational ethic, obligatory for all mankind, consisting of weekly rest and worship that unifies all expressions of Sabbath-keeping, regardless of the day of week on which it occurs. This principle existed prior to the Jewish (or Levitical) Sabbath commandment and continues into the new covenant on the Lord’s Day, which is also regarded as a Sabbath. “The principle is laid down that one day in seven is to be observed as a day holy to God.”[i] There are three components to this principle: 1) abstention from work, 2) engaging in prescribed worship, and 3) a recurring cycle of seven days. “You can appoint the day if you please to be Saturday, to be Creation Day, or Resurrection Day, or Pentecostal Day, but the thing you cannot trifle with is God’s gift, God’s command of rest.”[ii] Ceasing from work has value of its own. Since it is in our nature to rest, resting improves our constitution, and refraining from rest diminishes our sensibilities and capabilities. “Either body or mind can do more work by resting one day in seven, than by labouring all the seven days. And neither mind nor body can enjoy health and continued activity without its appointed rest.”[iii] To distinguish sabbatism from mere indolence or the pursuit of worldly diversions, various religious exercises are enjoined and other activities are prohibited. “By a close application of yourselves to the Lord’s day, you will find yourselves so well-employed, and so well-entertained by your religion, that you will look with a holy contempt upon the employments and entertainments of the world.”[iv] And finally, the Lord designed and decreed this sabbatism to occur with a septimal frequency from the beginning, and now on Sunday, since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “The Creator, who appointed the Sabbath, formed man’s frame; and all intelligent observers are now agreed that the latter was adapted to the former.”[v] LD camp: There is no enduring cross-cultural “Sabbath principle” as proposed by Sabbatarians. “Appeal as an ‘ordinance’ is based on Genesis 2:2-3. Yet these verses do not prescribe or command adherence to the Sabbath for rest. Thus the principle of weekly Sabbath rest cannot be based on the so-called creation ordinance.”[vi] This is not to deny that Christians are morally obligated to assemble with other believers on the Lord’s Day for specific religious obligations that are spiritually salubrious not only for the individual but for the body of Christ, for this is prescribed in the NT (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor 11:17-34; Heb 10:25). Neither is it denied that in doing one thing (going to church), something else is not done (attending a sporting event). However, it is denied that a 24-hour sabbatism is intrinsic to our nature or conscience, nor prescribed by any NT author, and therefore, it is not required of new covenant believers. SS camp: Calling the fourth commandment a “principle” is the means by which the morality of the commandment is downplayed in order to assuage one’s conscience about moving the Sabbath to another day.
A “principle” is a law or basic truth that is natural, collective, and fixed. An ethical or moral principle would be evident among many cultures and throughout history, such as treating others as you would be treated. Since this “Sabbath principle” is essentially connected with religious worship, then even in idolatry, a ritual 24-hour rest comprising a seventh part of one’s time should be unmistakably evident among the religions of the world. This has been asserted in the past by Sabbatarians, but has since been proven false. So, the onus is on supporters of this view to demonstrate the requirements of this ethic apart from Mosaic law and the history of national Israel. Without this evidence, Sabbatarians must concede that the Sabbath was given to Israel by revelation with the intent to foreshadow the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the “Sabbath principle” is not described or exemplified outside Mosaic law, then the “Sabbath principle” is synonymous with Sabbath law. A “Sabbath principle” must entail rest and the only source to define “rest” is Mosaic law. Under Mosaic law, Israel honored God not only on a weekly basis with a ritual rest, but with other annual sabbatic (rest) days. Therefore, a “Sabbath principle” should include annual rest periods as well. It is obvious that the Second-Temple tradition of synagogue gatherings on the Sabbath and the NT church on Sunday share a pattern of weekly assembly, therefore, one could surmise that there is a “weekly principle” or a “septimal principle” that guides or marks the people of God within those collective structures. The significance of the pattern of six days plus one is heightened by the example of God in the creation week; however, the creation week was not itself a recurring event and the earliest generations of man did not practice a weekly assembly or rest, nor did they conceptualize that given days were holy—not until the Mosaic law.
Calling the Sabbath command a “principle” is the means by which the pattern of six days plus one is elevated over the specific day of the week that God chose for Israel to rest or for the church to gather together. But no Jew would ever venture to change the day of the week that God Himself chose simply because some “principle” demands only a weekly pattern or cycle. For the Jews, a weekly principle would not supersede the institution and sanctification of the specific day that God commanded (Saturday, the 7th day of the week in Israel’s calendar). Emphasizing the “principle” actually diminishes the significance of the particular day of the week that God chose for Israel and the NT church. This mindset underpins the trend to move the Christian day of worship to other days of the week.[vii] That is, if the specific day of the week is not important, but only the cycle, then one could choose one of any seven days on which to worship so long as the cycle is maintained. So, consider what is most significant about the Christian’s day of worship—that it follows a pattern or that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week? What is most significant about the Sabbath: that it occurs weekly, or that it commemorated the giving of manna and the redemption of God’s people from servitude in Egypt?
Let’s assume that the principle is more important than the specific day, that a person must only rest every seventh day rather than on the specific seventh day of the week. Imagine a Gentile who never ordered his life by this principle, but then converts to Judaism. Does he begin his new life with a 24-rest or does he work six more days before taking a 24-rest? If he does neither, and assembles at the synagogue on the seventh day of the week, then he has demonstrated that the specific day is more important than a seventh-day principle. His Jewish teachers would have him observe the specific day, Saturday, which is the seventh day of the week from the time that God first gave the Sabbath command. The same goes for converts to Christianity. The specific day of the week is more important than, and overrides, any “every seventh day” principle.
As the following chart demonstrates, the high degree of legal or situational specificity of Israel’s Sabbath mitigates against discovering any unifying “principle” throughout human history. If anything, both Judaism and Christianity share in the appreciation for the recurring cycle of seven days because it is a symbol of their redemption.
Creation Patriarchs Israel Church Heaven Pattern of 6/1 Days
ⱷ ○ Designated as Holy
○ Recurs Weekly
○ Observed on Saturday ɵ
Home, Food, Fire laws
Assembly Commanded Ꚛ
Moral for all Humanity ✽
ɵ Whether the creation week seventh day corresponds to our present Saturday is unknowable.
• A “seven-period” or week was recognized on a sporadic basis, but no recurring sabbatism.
ⱷ God claims possession of “my Sabbaths” but He does not “rest” weekly. He rested long ago.
Ꚛ A convocation occurred in the temple arena, but outlying communities did not assemble.
○ Eternal realization of redemptive rest; unending holiness by virtue of the removal of sin.
✽ The eternal rest is an experience of the redeemed, not by their own doing, but by virtue of what Christ has done. This is not the experience of all humanity.
[i] Young, E. J.,“Sabbath” in The New Bible Dictionary. Ed. Douglas, Eerdmans, Grands Rapids, Reprint 1974, p. 1110-1111.
[ii] Parker, J. The Biblical Illustrator , Joseph Samuel Exell, ed., (2 Cor 4:18).
[iii] Dabney, Robert L. Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 396. (lecture 32 on the fourth commandment)
[iv] Henry, Matthew. “A Serious Address to Those That Profane the Lord’s Day” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry, Vol 1, p. 129.
[v] Dabney, Robert L. Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 396. (lecture 32 on the fourth commandment)
[vi] Strickland, Wayne G. “Response to Willem A. VanGemeren” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 81.
[vii] “House church meetings can circulate from one member’s house to another each week, or one person can open his home each week. Some house churches occasionally move to scenic outdoor spots when the weather is nice. The meeting time and place does not have to be Sunday morning, but anytime that best works for the members.“ http://www.inthebeginning.com/articles/house.htm (accessed Nov 27, 2016).