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Book Review of “Continuity and Discontinuity,” Part 3: Focusing on the Sabbath


This last part of my review of the book “Continuity and Discontinuity” will compare the sabbatology of Covenantalism and Dispensationalism. The name assigned to each system establishes the primacy of that defining term, that is, whether one believes that covenants or dispensations (as defined by them) best describe the organization and history of God’s kingdom work among men. In this regard, I place myself within Covenantal Theology, but I do not grant as a consequence the idea that the Sabbath is a moral law. The following graph illustrates the logical sequences generally advanced by Covenantal and Dispensational theologians with respect to the fourth commandment.

While these systems present a hierarchy of beliefs, it eventually becomes obvious that ancillary beliefs do not necessarily follow as logical consequences. Given the statement that the Ten Commandments are all moral laws, as advocates of this viewpoint work out the implications of it, they are quite varied in their theological analysis and practical application of a moral Sabbath commandment. While this would be an intriguing matter for study by itself, I will restrict myself to the particular nuances that Chamblin sets forth as representative of Covenantal theology.

Sabbatology. Law is designed to affect the behavior of people within a system, often carrying penalties for non-compliance (Rom 3:19). So, in one sense, law controls us. After all, we do need to be told what to do or not do (or to have confirmed what we already know internally to be right or wrong). And if a certain law delineates behavior in specific ways, then its effect on the group leads to uniformitarianism. There is nothing inherently wrong with sameness; and the church is expected to maintain a certain unity of thought and practice (1 Cor 1:10; 2 Th 3:6). While the opposite of a system of laws is antinomianism, there are no serious Christians who are truly law-less (Matt 7:23; 1 Cor 9:21). While laws do pronounce the guilt of law-breakers, one can be a sinner without subscribing or submitting to the [Mosaic] law (Rom 2:12).

The church is expected to learn from Israel, but the church is not Israel (after the flesh). The church has more liberty in the Spirit than Israel had under the [Mosaic] law. Some [Mosaic] laws are simply null for the church, while others continue as “righteous requirements of the law” (Rom 2:25-29). Paul sees a distinction within the [Mosaic] law between laws like circumcision and laws against stealing, adultery, and idolatry. Because of the change in covenants, there is a new terminology, a new relationship with the [Mosaic] law, new ideas about motivation for obedience, and new concepts when dealing with ongoing sin (non-compliance to the law of God). Holding these views in balance is not an easy task. The presence of divergent views evidences the effect of attributing more weight to some ideas than others. The differences between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism with regard to the law, the Ten Commandments, and the Sabbath, can be summarized as follows:

Covenantalists

  • Emphasize the unity of the covenants of God in general and the similarity of the Mosaic and new covenants specifically
    • All laws of the Mosaic covenant are moral in some respect
  • Emphasize the necessity of the law to direct the life of the church, just as it did for Israel
    • The church will use the law to convict sinners (evangelical), to restrain evil (civil), and to guide one’s life (personal sanctification)
  • Believe that the Ten Commandments transcend the covenant with Israel, and are universally obligatory
    • The commandments epitomize those laws given to Adam and the world
  • The law teaches us everything we need to know
  • Don’t disobey because you will be punished
  • The Sabbath is a moral commandment
    • Adam must have known it
    • It is in the Ten Commandments
    • It was Important for Israel to observe
    • The church observes it on Sunday

Dispensationalists.

  • Emphasize the obvious NT contrasts between the Mosaic and new covenants
    • The law characterizes the [Mosaic] covenant; grace and truth epitomize the new covenant in Christ
  • Emphasize the liberty of the Christian guided by the Holy Spirit
    • Obedience is less of a legal matter, and more about “fruit” resulting from love, edification, and Christ’s teachings
  • Believe that the Ten Commandments are the signature document that summarizes the covenant with Israel
    • The commandments are understood through the lens of fulfillment
  • We know a lot from the law, but not everything
  • Don’t disobey because you are taking advantage of God’s grace
  • The Sabbath is a ceremonial commandment
    • It was not practiced by anyone prior to the liberation of Israel
    • It is in the Ten Commandments to foreshadow the redemption of Christ
    • The reality of redemptive rest is fully ours in Christ
    • The church has no warrant to observe or keep Sabbath

The Sabbath is a law of the Mosaic covenant. Its importance is demonstrated by its inclusion in the covenant written in stone. And since the Mosaic law commands Sabbath-keeping, both authors (Chamblin and Moo) mention it in their articles dealing with the law.

Chamblin. 

Matt 12:1-14 relates to the fourth commandment. That mercy is a weightier matter than sacrifice (v. 7, quoting Hos 6:6a) is already evident in Exod 20:8-11 (in that the command provides respite from labor but says nothing about offering sacrifices) and confirmed in 1 Sam 21:1-6 (where David, by securing food for himself and his companions, upholds the sixth commandment). As “Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 8),  Jesus abrogates existing Sabbath ceremonial (the disciples are “innocent,” v. 7, for the prohibition against harvesting ceases to apply with the dawn of the end) and underscores the primacy—and the abiding validity—of the law’s moral dimension. He quotes Hos 6:6; he declares his disciples “innocent” (for they, like David and his men, were hungry, v. 1); and he heals an affliction (vv. 9-13).

In the first paragraph, Chamblin condenses a hodgepodge of ideas into a somewhat convoluted statement to establish his conviction that there is an abiding morality to the Sabbath as it is presented in the Decalogue. It is almost disingenuous to state that Exodus 20 describes the moral aspect of the Sabbath (because it doesn’t mention sacrifices) and other texts that he picks describe the ceremonial aspects. I cannot imagine any Christian Sabbatarian relying on Exodus 20:8-11 alone to make their case for a moral Sabbath. The Westminster Confession of Faith cites thirteen other passages to elucidate the multiple obligations of Sabbath-keeping for Christians. Most advocates of a Christian Sabbath do not allow buying or selling on the Sabbath, but that supporting text is found outside the law of Moses (Neh 13:15). The death penalty for gathering sticks on the Sabbath is often cited as evidence for the primacy of the Sabbath, but that event happened before the giving of the law (Ex 15:32ff). And surely, no contemporary Christian Sabbatarian campaigns for capital punishment for working on the Sabbath (or the Lord’s Day, or any other rest-day of one’s choosing).

Chamblin’s citation of David and his men eating the holy bread totally misses the point that Jesus was making—that He has kingly authority to sidestep the lesser laws of the covenant (even though He did not break any laws). Chamblin avoids Jesus’ citation of the priests who work on the Sabbath and are guiltless, because that also demonstrates that Jesus has priestly advantages over the law, and that ultimately, Jesus and his men were not guilty of transgressing the law at all. While the text hints at what we call ceremonial law (His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath), Jesus was not overtly overturning Sabbath ceremonials at that time as Chamblin affirms.

Matthew 11-12 comprises a distinct unit with several themes connecting the various pericopes. Yang’s in-depth analysis of Matthew 11-12 uncovers two central themes: 1) unbelief and Jesus’ invitation to believe in Him, and 2) multiple Messianic claims. Both of these clearly put our focus on who Jesus is and what He teaches. Concerning the relationship between Matt 11:28-30 and Matt 12:1-14, Yang says, “We may then conclude with some confidence that, for Matthew, understanding our text in the light of its immediately preceding pericope (11:25-30) is imperative.”[i] So Jesus was clearly teaching that He is the ultimate fulfillment of the Mosaic Sabbath laws (i.e., working for our rest), not merely scrapping the sacrifices made on that day! Yang concludes that the real issue behind the Sabbath controversies is not how to interpret Sabbath law, but for Jesus to proclaim His lordship of the Sabbath “since he has fulfilled the Sabbath by providing the eschatological rest (i.e., redemption) which is the ultimate goal of the Sabbath.”[ii]

Chamblin did not mention the text immediately preceding these two conflicts with the Pharisees in which Jesus positions Himself as the true giver of rest (Matt 11:28-30). Matthew’s gospel intentionally put the Sabbath conflicts in contrast with Jesus being the sole provider of rest. The Pharisees were intent on observing the Sabbath, and their focus on the details of correctly observing it made it difficult for them to see that Jesus would fulfill the twofold legal duty to abstain from work and to rest. In addition to reducing these conflicts to mundane matters about eating and healing, rather than Jesus’ kingly authority and His continuously functioning priesthood, Chamblin makes a confusing connection between these Sabbath conflicts and the abrogation of minor ceremonial laws attached to the moral Sabbath. He claims that the disciples were innocent by virtue of the abrogation of the ceremonial law against harvesting on the Sabbath. But Jesus is not abrogating Mosaic laws before He suffers and dies, and He is not admitting that His disciples actually disobeyed laws against “reaping.” They gleaned grain from a field, and this was absolutely permitted under the law (Lev 19:9-10). Chamblin erroneously suggests, in agreement with the Pharisees, that the disciples were “harvesting” on the Sabbath against the law of Moses. Again, Jesus testified that they were truly guiltless of any Sabbath violation. If Jesus intended to instruct them about the legality of gleaning, He could have and would have answered differently.

Of Matt 11:28, Hendrickson pronounces, “It is clear from this passage that ‘coming’ to Jesus means ‘believing’ in him.”[iii] It is also clear that rest for one’s soul is the consequence of believing in Jesus. That is the “benefit” to be had from believing in Jesus as the fulfillment of sabbatic types. This is a salvation matter that Jesus is addressing—not getting three square meals a day. One does not have to belief in Jesus to get “respite from labor,” but one does have to believe in Jesus to be born again and find rest for their soul. Again, Chamblin minimizes the proclamation of the saving power of Jesus and His divine authority—via the theme of sabbatic rest—in preference for a six-day workweek and a full stomach.

Chamblin continues.

Romans 14:1-8 also speaks to the fourth commandment. The same person who “considers one day more sacred than another” (v. 5a) is a Jewish Christian who observes special days (including the Sabbath) as prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The person who “considers every day alike” (v. 5b) is a Gentile Christian. Paul identifies such persons as “weak” and “strong” respectively (14:1-2; 15:1). Paul recognizes that the Jewish Christian keeps the day “to the Lord” (v. 6a). Yet his faith, although genuine and sincere, “is weak” (v. 1). The “strong” understand more fully than the “weak” that OT Sabbath regulations are a shadow pointing to the reality that is Christ (Col 2:16-23), and that Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom marks the dawn of the great sabbath age to which all prior history had painted. Such insight makes it possible to “consider every day alike” (Rom 14:5). The hallowed character once reserved for the Sabbath is now extended to all other days of the week. Yet the Sabbath age, though truly inaugurated, is only inaugurated. While the present order of creation continues, and until the eschatological tension is finally resolved, the creation ordinance of the Sabbath rest remains in effect. One can esteem all days alike and at the same time honor the Sabbath principle which human beings as creatures require for their well-being. As to the day, Sabbath rest must not be riveted to a particular day, as though the efficacy of the rest depended on its being observe on this day instead of that. (p. 196)

Next, Chamblin believes Romans 14:1-8 is relevant to the Sabbath in the church age. He makes the following statements of fact.

  • The faith of the Hebrew-Christian is weak if he observes Jewish holy days, including the Sabbath
  • The faith of the Gentile-Christian is strong if he considers every day alike
    • If he understands that Christ is the reality to which Sabbath regulations pointed
  • Jesus’ kingdom inaugurates the great Sabbath age
    • The hallowed nature of the Sabbath is placed on every day, yet
  • The creation ordinance of the Sabbath remains in effect for all humanity
    • [Because we are not experiencing the complete fulfillment of the Sabbath]
    • [One day in seven remains holy]
  • So now, one can consider every day alike and at the same time give esteem to the [Christian] Sabbath or Sabbath principle
  • Yet the Sabbath can be observed on any day of your own choosing

In Romans 14:1-8, Paul does not use the word “holy” or “sanctified” to describe the character of any of the days in question. There are simply those who esteem, give regard to, or keep certain days and those who regard all days the same as any other (they do not esteem, give regard to, or keep certain days in the same manner as their weaker brethren). Paul has diffused the Mosaic concept that certain days are holy to the Lord, and set apart from ordinary days by the required duties or “mitzvahs” to be performed on those days. There are no holy days since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those Hebrew Christians who are weak in the faith have a difficult time letting go of the concept of holy days. Chamblin is correct in identifying believing Jews as those who still feel compelled to order their lives according to the calendar laws of the Mosaic covenant (including the Sabbath, he says). Paul asks the Gentile Christians to be especially understanding of their Jewish brothers and sisters, and to treat them in a loving fashion. This is because they more fully understand that the calendar laws pointed to Christ—and He is the substance of them (Col 2:16). One would think that if Christ fulfilled the Sabbath and that He presently affords rest for our soul (Heb 4:3), then we would be free from the external observation of the Sabbath. But Chamblin thinks he can weave in ideas that allow the Sabbath to continue as a holy day even though all days are now alike. Remember, he must demonstrate his thesis that the Ten Commandments are all moral laws and that Christians must continue to observe the [moral] Sabbath. This requires the introduction of new terms (the great Sabbath age) and new rules (ceremonial commands continue until they are fully realized).

The first term is the “great Sabbath age.” Obviously, this is not a biblical term, but Jews did view the future kingdom as a kind of ongoing Sabbath—not because of resting from labors pro forma, but from the expected experience of utter peace and well-being consonant with eternal life. From the other Hebrew word for rest—“menuhah”—Heschel explains that it “became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life.”[iv] The Sabbath was a foretaste or “type” of the future holy relationship between man and God—life eternal. Chamblin explains that Christ fulfilled the Sabbath as He inaugurated His kingdom, but as Chamblin continues, he cannot have a completely fulfilled type. It may be fulfilled enough that at this present time every day is alike—alike in a shared hallowedness; but at the same time, the Sabbath cannot be completely fulfilled, so we, like the Jews, must continue to observe the Sabbath by abstaining from work for 24 hours. There are nuances to this theory. The Sabbath is only partly fulfilled because Jesus only fulfilled Sabbath “regulations,” not the Sabbath “principle.” Chamblin alludes to three such regulations that are abolished: 1) offering sacrifices, 2) the prohibition against harvesting,[v] and 3) the specific day of the week on which the Sabbath occurs. And given his statement that we will ultimately abandon Sabbath-keeping when the full inauguration of the Sabbath-age comes in, we may conclude that resting one day in seven is still a type to be fulfilled. So, on the surface, it does not appear that Christ accomplished very much in terms of abrogating the Sabbath. And if Christ was consistent in fulfilling the other feast-days and new moon celebrations, then only the sacrifices on those days have been fulfilled in Christ, leaving the command to rest from labor intact on all other feast days while we await the consummation.

The second and third terms are presented as a pair by Chamblin: a “creation ordinance” and a “Sabbath principle.” Again, neither are discernibly biblical terms, but they are part of the package that underlies Chamblin’s rule that partial fulfillment necessitates the continuation of [Mosaic] laws until the full disclosure of Christ’s kingdom. This is where the confusion comes in. It is true that the Mosaic Sabbath requires rest from labor, but the Jewish Sabbath, according to Chamblin, is really a continuation of a Sabbath principle enacted from the beginning. The Mosaic Sabbath has “regulations” attached to it. It appears that Chamblin wishes to separate these regulations (that Christ can effectively annul) from the command to rest (which Christ does not annul, but He will later).

This leads to many questions. Is resting from all manner of work every seven days for a 24 hour period a moral law or a ceremonial law? What is the nature of a creation ordinance in relationship to a compelling Mosaic law that has consequences for disobedience? Is the effect of Christ’s fulfillment of moral laws the same as the effect of His fulfillment of ceremonial laws? Leaving these questions unanswered for now, let us turn to Chamblin’s casuistry. He asserts that, “The hallowed character once reserved for the Sabbath is now extended to all other days of the week.” I understand this to mean that by fulfilling the Sabbath regulation (presumably a regulation that had its origin in the Mosaic covenant) the holiness of the Sabbath is now shared among all days. I say “presumably” because Chamblin also introduces a “Sabbath principle” that pre-dates the [Mosaic] law and is therefore unaffected for the time being by Christ’s redemptive work. If this is the case, then the creational Sabbath principle should not carry the connotation of “hallowedness” in contradistinction to the Mosaic Sabbath regulation that does, otherwise Christ’s death and resurrection would be able to affect it. However, Chamblin believes Exodus 20:8-11 captures the essence of the Sabbath principle which assigns sacredness and sanctity to the seventh day of creation, the source and beginning of the moral Sabbath principle that obligates all humanity to rest one day in seven. So, if there was one day of the week that was sacred for all humanity before the giving of the law, and then the Jews were told that hallowed day was Saturday, how is it that since Christ’s death that sanctity or hallowedness is “extended to all other days of the week”? Yet at the same time, Christians are to “keep one day in seven holy unto Him as a Sabbath.”[vi] Chamblin goes on to state that this need not be “riveted to a particular day;” however, the Westminster Confession of Faith states affirmatively that “since the resurrection of Christ [the Sabbath] has been changed to the first day of the week.” His statement that “one can esteem all days alike and at the same time honor the Sabbath principle” appears nonsensical in light of the holiness that God ascribed to the Sabbath. It is not simply whether we esteem days or honor principles, but whether God has hallowed a particular day of the week as He did in the [Mosaic] law, and whether He commands us to keep it sacred by our attention to particular laws attendant to that day.

These are the benefits to believers, according to Chamblin, as the result of the fulfillment of the Sabbath by Jesus Christ—a fulfillment that is limited in scope, for sure, but…

  • Allows us to harvest on the Sabbath (but not work) to avoid hunger
  • Allows us to do more good on the Sabbath, like miraculous healings, (remember Jesus said the Jews already did good things like pulling a trapped animal from a pit),
  • Eliminate sacrifices on the Sabbath (which only the priesthood could do anyway).
  • Call any day of the week our Sabbath, because hallowedness is extended to all days of the week (even though God moved it to the first day of the week).

What I find interesting, is that Covenantalists have a strong theological background in classifying the laws of the covenant with Israel as either moral, ceremonial, or civil. It is this very framework for understanding the individual laws of the Mosaic covenant that should lead them to acknowledge the ceremonial design of the Sabbath. The Westminster Confession describes ceremonial laws as those that “pertain to worship and foreshadow Christ, His grace, actions, suffering, and the benefits to be had from believing in Him.”[vii] The question should be: Is the Sabbath a ceremonial law according to this definition? Does it pertain to worship? Does it foreshadow Christ, His grace, actions, suffering, and the benefits to be had from believing in Him? This can be answered in the affirmative at every level and at every point. If the ‘great Sabbath age’ has begun, as Chamblin states, and that ‘great Sabbath age’ represents eternal life, then do not believers in Jesus Christ presently possess and experience eternal life? “He who has the Son has life” (1 Jn 5:12). “Come unto me…and I will give your rest to your soul” (Matt 11:29). Any covenant theologian would and should answer affirmatively.

Citing Colossian 2:16, Chamblin acknowledges that “Sabbath regulations are a shadow pointing to the reality that is Christ.” Note that he associates Christ’s reality to shadowy “regulations” alone—not to the supposed Sabbath principle itself. But really, what is the Sabbath but a list of regulations? Rest on the seventh day from all manner of work; you and your family and working animals (Ex 20:10). Do not cook or make a fire, do not reap and set aside, do not buy and do not sell, and do not go out. (Ex 16:23; Neh 13:16-19). Instead, sanctify the day to the Lord as opposed to doing your own works, finding your own pleasures, and speaking your own words (Isa 58:13). Anyone who despises the Sabbath is worthy of death (Ex 31:14-15) which makes necessary the additional sacrifices on that day (Num 28:9-10). In addition, the showbread must be prepared every Sabbath (Lev 24:5-9). Is Jesus Christ the reality of these regulations or is He not? If so, in what way did the regulations foreshadow Christ, His grace, actions, suffering, and the benefits to be had? Rather than exploring this in detail, the following chart[viii] summarizes the proposed fulfillment of the seven major features of Sabbath-keeping.

Duty

Fulfilled Answer

•Day and Frequency

•Time to begin and end

•Perfection of Lord’s work in His own time; Lord’s work will surely be completed; Redemption as promised will be fulfilled eternally

•God’s work begins in midst of man’s darkness; Man awakens to the promised rest (enlightened to salvation, resurrected to glory)

•In Your Dwellings

•Holy Convocation

•Presence of and fellowship with God in us, the personal temple; Communion with family of God

•Christ, our representative, makes the requisite propitiation before God in heaven

•Consider Creation

•Remember slavery

•The creation events and pattern are redemptive types; God’s rest was disrupted by sin, yet it was only a shadow of a future eternal glory; That rest is only provided by the work of God through the Seed

•Redemption of man implies a previous master: Sin is the bondage from which man must be redeemed

•Do no work

•Rest

•Salvation not by works and not for purchase; not of yourself or the laurels of others; redemption not only for man but the whole world, and not only for Israel, but strangers to their land; the redeemed are not burdened with the guilt of their sin

• Relational rest in Jesus Christ, the sum of all rest figures; a present soulical rest in salvation by grace through faith; an expected bodily resurrection rest at the end of the ages; the death-rest of Jesus Christ which fulfilled the Sabbath

•Light no fire

•Prepare beforehand

•Free from the eternally severe judgment of God for our sins; made acceptable to God by Christ

•Our redemption was foreordained before the creation of the world and therefore, forever sure

•Official Sacrifices

•Official Showbread

•Sin-payment exacted for Adam and Eve through whom the promised Seed should come

•Heavenly bread is sufficient for the life of all the redeemed; All the redeemed are one before the face of God

•Cut Off from Israel

•Exact Death Penalty

•Living death of unregenerate souls apart from God

•Second death of the wicked (who do not obtain eternal rest)

The fourteen (2×7) laws specifically relate to the redemption provided by Jesus. In fact, they tell the gospel story from beginning to end. If the Westminster Confession means anything, then adherents should prayerfully consider its assertion that “All of these ceremonial laws are now nullified under the New Testament.”[ix] That includes the Sabbath—in its entirety.

Moo.

“In practical terms, this means that the Christian must always view the whole law only under the condition of its fulfillment. No commandment, even those of the Decalogue, is binding simply because it is part of the Mosaic Law. In saying this, I am running smack up against a cherished and widely taught tradition. The singling out of the Decalogue as basic and eternal ‘moral law,’ to be distinguished from the ceremonial and civil law and thereby to be seen as an eternally valid ethical authority, has a long and respected history. Even within this tradition, however, there has been considerable discussion about that to do with the Sabbath command which, at least for the great majority of those who have advocated this approach, has not been applied or obeyed in the form in which it was first given (e.g., as requiring rest on the seventh day). A further difficulty was the question of how to determine what was ‘moral’ law and what not. But the basic difficulty, of course, is that the NT does not approach the matter this way. The whole law, every ‘jot and tittle,’ is fulfilled in Christ and can only be understood and applied in light of that fulfillment. In actual ethical practice, very little is lost. For the NT clearly takes up all the Decalogue, except the Sabbath, as part of ‘Christ’s law’ and thereby as authoritative for believers. But considerable difference in theological construct is involved, and the difference in approach is therefore not at all insignificant.” (p. 217-218)

Moo’s succinct paragraph is targeted at the very ideas presented by Chamblin. While Chamblin’s endorsement of the Sabbath is not strictly aligned with other Reformed expositors, it is nonetheless a cherished tradition involving—as Moo kindly described it—a [less than credible] “theological construct” that does not share much in common with Lutheranism, or for that matter, Evangelicals holding to dispensationalism. Moo’s approach to understanding the relationship between the two covenants includes the following points:

  • The whole law must be evaluated in terms of fulfillment
  • No commandment is binding simply because it is stated in the Mosaic law
    • This includes the Ten Words of the covenant
  • The NT does not evaluate laws on the premise of what is moral or not
  • But on the premise that every jot and tittle is fulfilled
  • Yet, ethically, little change is evident

And Moo’s critique of the Sabbatarian model includes the following points:

  • Those who do believe the Decalogue to contain only moral commands cannot attain consensus concerning the Sabbath command
  • Those who advocate Sabbath-keeping do not keep it on the day it prescribes [he does not acknowledge some Christian sects that do]
  • The theological construct of Sabbatarians prevents them from recognizing the obvious fulfillment of the Sabbath by Jesus

Beginning with the idea that the whole Mosaic law/covenant is fulfilled in Christ, Moo proposes that every Mosaic law must be examined in light of that fulfillment. This may be a tall order because not every Mosaic law is examined by the new covenant with this rationale in mind. One of the earliest writers is James, and his first citations from the Mosaic law are from Lev 19:18 and Ex 20:13-14. Carson’s assessment of James’ thinking at verse 2:8 lends credence to Moo’s construct.

What James is saying, then, might be paraphrased thus: If you really keep the royal law, the law of the dawning kingdom, the law which is according to Scripture—Scripture as it has been magnificently fulfilled in all that Christ has taught and effected, and that is rightly summarized in ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—you are doing well. In other words, it appears that James, even while quoting Lev. 19:18, simultaneously uses a number of Gospel categories that remind us of Jesus’ own instruction on the centrality of the first and second commandment, which had substantive impact on how early Christians understood the relationship of their new covenant obligations with respect to the OT law.[x]            

James seems to understand the law in the same way that any Jew would understand the law when he mentions the commandments against adultery and murder (Jas 2:11). However, James’ singling out Lev 19:18 as the “royal law” portrays the impact of Christ on his approach to the OT. This may reflect a shift from the traditional Jewish thinking that gave greater esteem to the Ten Words. James is not saying that the only commandment is to love, but neither is he saying that the Decalogue must be rigidly obeyed as a summary of God’s ethical demands. Instead, two commandments expounded by Jesus (Matt 5:21-30) demonstrate that love must come from a heart motivated by the Spirit of Christ.

This is why Moo could state that “in actual ethical practice” there is little difference between the Jew and the Christian. Moo must be thinking of the moral standards that are commonly held by Judaism and Christianity, such as respect for life (contra murder) and commitment in marriage (contra adultery). But Sabbath-keeping is an exception. Moo did not explain how the Sabbath is excepted, so his approach may seem too free and loose to those who are obliged to categories and systems, cherished traditions, and denominational standards.

Sabbatarians tend to hear only two points by Moo: Christ fulfilled the law, therefore, the Sabbath is not binding. However, unstated is Moo’s belief that the NT corpus gives no reason to conclude that the Sabbath is anything but a fulfilled ceremonial law. As important as the Sabbath was to the Jews, its fulfillment in the heart of believers rendered it useless as an external tradition.  

Below are two logical streams that finish with the same conclusion: Nine of the Ten Commandments summarizing God’s covenant with Israel are consistent with the ethical norms of new covenant believers. The corollary conclusion is that not all of the Ten Commandments are moral laws.


[i] Yang, Yong-Eui. Jesus and the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel, p. 145.
[ii] Yang, Yong-Eui. Jesus and the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel, p. 302.
[iii] Hendrickson, William. New Testament Commentary, Matthew; Vol. 1, p. 503.
[iv] Heschel, Abraham. The Sabbath, p. 23.
[v] The prohibition against harvesting is a case example of work. If that specific kind of work is annulled, then the prohibition against all work is annulled.
[vi] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, para. 7.
[vii] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 19, para. 3.
[viii] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, Appendix Two: “Summary of Sabbath Law” (modified). The demonstration of Christ’s fulfillment of these laws is presented in Chapter 4, of The Sabbath Complete.
[ix] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 19, para. 3.
[x] Carson, D.A. “James” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. Beale and Carson, p. 1000.


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