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Out of the kindness of Wipf and Stock, I received a preview digital file in response to my interest in the topic of biblical rest. In this book, he provides insights into the varied themes of the Former Prophets, a study that follows his survey of the Pentateuch entitled, “Waiting for the Land” (2010).
The idea that “rest” is an organizational theme within the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings is one that I explored in The Sabbath Complete, published in 2011. Indeed, both “land” and “rest” occupy the minds of the authors of much of OT literature. Not surprisingly, the Lord instituted multiple ritual ordinances related to these significant eschatological themes. But Israel, having never realized in fullness the possession of the land and the resultant rest from enemies, must ponder how the Lord will ultimately accomplish His promises with such a notoriously disobedient people. These themes must also be considered by new covenant believers since they are reminded in Hebrews to be diligent to enter that rest (Heb 4:11).
In preparation for his insights into the Former Prophets, Leder reviews canonical considerations, hermeneutical views, and presuppositions that affect how one is to read and derive meaning from the books of the Bible. “Scripture speaks to its committed readers today as it did to those of old because the intended audience is that divinely shaped community which accepts this Scripture as God’s word and therefore authoritative and definitive for faith and conduct” (p. 9). Following this, Leder continues to prepare his readers with the backdrop of Genesis and the historical trajectories that set the stage for Joshua and beyond. These are worthwhile instructional chapters. The remaining chapters investigate the theme of rest in each book of the Former Prophets. I was intrigued with his discoveries of parallelism and repetition. If you decide to read this book, I suggest beginning with his appendix/word study on nuach and menuhah in Genesis.
As mentioned above, the theme of rest is of great importance to members of the NT church. The book title derives its name from Hebrews 4:9: “There remains therefore a rest (sabbatismos) for the people of God.” Hebrews 3:7-4:11 draws on passages in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Kings, and Psalms to provide relevant assurances, advice, and warnings to the people of God. The overall thrust of Leder’s book considers “rest” to be a redemptive and eschatological theme to be fulfilled in Christ. But If Christ indeed provides rest for the people of God, this necessarily invalidates the “divine instructions” to overthrow the enemies, to take possession of the land, and to physically rest at appointed times. Instead, these themes are reimagined as spiritual realities and experiences. Leder astutely observes that “fundamentally, completing the conquest was not a territorial matter but a profoundly spiritual battle against the powers and principalities that ruled Canaan” (p 86). This understanding, guided by the NT interpretation of the OT, pictures new covenant believers as also awaiting the promised land and its rest, while concurrently engaged in spiritual warfare.
Depending on one’s view of fulfillment and its affect on ceremonies of land and rest, Hebrews 4 may become a bit of an interpretive battleground. Hebrews 4:9 is used in Reformed literature to advocate the continuation of a weekly rest, à la the fourth commandment. However, Leder does not directly advocate “keeping the Sabbath” and mentions it but a few times. Once, he uses the Sabbath as a metaphor for the hope of peaceful rest with God (p. 171). His focus is on the relationship of the experience of daily rest from enemies and peaceful fellowship with God while in the land. The Sabbath is merely a weekly duty to rest from work, during which God expects “nothing less than rigorous keeping of the covenant vows” (p. 86). Also, Leder only adverts to Matt 11:28-29 a few times, where Christ promises rest to those who exchange their burdens for his easy yoke—presumably a daily experience of rest. But the sense of rest proposed in Leder’s studies is that our time awaiting the complete fulfillment of rest is our burden. “The burden of waiting for the rest that still remains is the waiting, the incompleteness, the brokenness, the temptation to surrender to the pain of bodily incoherence, and the never ending discerning the spirit behind the conflict (p. 182). There is no denying the hardships that challenge our sense of rest in Jesus Christ. “For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Cor 7:5-6). But at the same time, this idea of waiting for the rest that remains must take into account that “we who have believed do enter that rest” (Heb 4:3). Clarke wonderfully expressed the truth of this verse:
“The meaning appears to be this: We Jews, who have believed in Christ, do actually possess that rest-state of happiness in God, produced by peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit—which was typified by the happiness and comfort to be enjoyed by the believing Hebrews, in the possession of the promised land.”Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary, 6:710
The New Testament does not support the idea that Sabbath-keeping is a required law for Christians. Sabbatarians tend to maximize their attention on the idea of waiting for the rest that remains—the shared hope of faithful Israel—while minimizing the present possession of salvation rest of those who believe. Since the focus is on waiting, the church, they say, must continue to observe the Sabbath which sustains that future hope. Scripture does present a parallel between the Jews awaiting the (land) rest that remains and the Christian awaiting the (heavenly) rest that remains. We may admit this even though the concept of that rest is slightly different—the Jews expecting national occupation of the land promised to Abraham, and Christians expecting the inheritance of a new heavens and earth, also expected by Abraham (Heb 11:13-16). However, the parallel between the Jew’s occasional and temporary rest from enemies is profoundly different than the present and unshakeable redemptive rest that every Christian enjoys in covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. This truth obviates Sabbath-keeping because our soulical experience of complete rest in Jesus Christ is the down-payment and guarantee of our full inheritance in the promised eschaton. There is no wondering whether our perfect obedience is instrumental in securing or maintaining the present possession of rest. As Leder says, “Israel’s rest from its enemies all around is no longer dependent on its compliance with divine instruction as in the days of Joshua, but on the Lord’s covenant with David and his descendants” (p. 143). While our ultimate salvation is sure, not directly dependent on our obedience, we are still urged to be diligent to enter that rest lest any succumb to the disobedience of disbelief (Heb 4:11).
This was first published in 1984, so it has been around for a while. I read a 2001 reprint by Wipf and Stock, and I understand that there is a 2nd edition of 2010 available through Logos. It really is a timeless book, a book for new students of the Bible as well as young pastors preaching for the first time from Genesis. Because this book has persisted on the shelves of bookstores, many favorable reviews have already been written. I’ll especially give a nod to David Schrock for his 2011 review: (https://davidschrock.com/2011/01/02/reading-genesis-1-11/). I will not summarize the book as others have done so well already.
Gage’s book was a new discovery for me. I’ve been collecting a number of commentaries on Genesis to evaluate their interpretation of the seventh day in the creation narrative. Gage’s thesis that the beginning of God’s revelation of His person and power sets up reverberations of thematic content that continues through the ages and finds its ultimate expression in the first and second advents of Christ. Thus, the things that came first (protology) anticipate things that are future (eschatology). This is not just a literary technique, but the outworking of God’s plan for the world revealed in type and antitype. This is not an entirely new idea, but the terseness and reverence of this book, along with a delightful writing style, makes this a superb introduction to the greatest themes of the Bible.
My interest, and the focus of this analysis, is on the author’s concept of the seventh day of the first week: God’s day of rest or ceasing from the act and process of creation. Notice that I did not call it a Sabbath. But Gage does on occasion. Commenting on Israel’s eventual occupation of Canaan as a place of rest following their inception out of the “chaos” of Egypt, he sees a correlation to the “creative sabbath,” the culmination of God’s power over chaos (p. 21, 67, 77, 84). The thematic correlation of work and rest is discernable and repetitive in Scripture, as the author of Hebrews demonstrates, but Gage’s word choice here is inaccurate. God did not observe the Sabbath. Hebrews correlates creation and Canaan but refers to God’s day of rest as “the seventh day,” a day of “ceasing from works,” or “my rest” (Heb 4:3-10), but not a “Sabbath.” Israel’s ritual of observing the Sabbath is patterned after the creation week, but the creation week was not patterned after the Sabbath. And the genesis of national Israel as a process leading to their Canaan rest was entirely the work of God and not of human effort. There is a significant difference between the divine rest of creation or redemption that man must enter into by faith, and the creaturely commemorative and repetitive sabbatism enjoined upon Israel. Yet Israel was commanded to observe a commemorative rest called the Sabbath, prior to entering Canaan. Of course, this redemptive theme of work and rest is iterated in the redemption of Jesus Christ, as Gage explains: “In conclusion, Christ, the last Adam, is the true image of God… who works redemption and who rests from work in victory” (p. 33).
The Sabbath was a law of the Mosaic covenant with Israel. Gage helpfully distinguishes the law of Moses and the law of Christ, or the relationship between the old and new covenants. He makes five assertions:
- [The law of] Moses is not a covenant of promise.
- [The law of] Moses was a covenant of bondage.
- [The law of] Moses was not a covenant of rest.
- [The law of] Moses was a covenant of condemnation.
- [The law of] Moses was a covenant of shadow.
Gage explicitly emphasizes the futility of Sabbath observance due to its repetitive characteristic, the same feature of the sacrificial system. “It was likewise a great irony that the covenant of Moses, which taught so particularly about sabbath and sacrificial rest could realize neither” (p. 37). Following this admirable observation, Gage makes another inaccurate reference to the Sabbath. “It is instructive that Moses can only see from a distance the sabbath rest typified by Canaan. Moses leads the people to the land of promise but he himself cannot enter it.” If Gage meant “sabbath rest” as a metaphor for salvation rest, then I would that he put it in quotes or used “sabbatismos” for clarity. On the same page, Gage is quite precise: “The true Moses, however, is likewise the true Joshua, and Christ leads his people not only victoriously from bondage but also triumphantly into their consummatory rest in paradise” (p. 37). Noting the existence of an unrealized rest in Psalm 95, David does not allude to the weekly Sabbath, but to the Canaan rest that emulates God’s rest at creation. Canaan is frankly a better type of our final empyrean because it was meant to be a continuous (“Today”) and holistic experience of peace with God and freedom from enemies. The Sabbath was but a weekly taste of this as its own type of redemptive rest. Therefore, Canaan rest did not typify Sabbath rest, it typified redemptive or consummative rest. In the same way, Sabbath rest did not typify Canaan rest. All of the rituals and laws of the old covenant involving rest look back to the God’s rest at creation (an unrealized rest) and look forward to the promised rest with God at the consummation of the ages. Moses, who was supposed to lead Israel into rest, was disqualified and prevented from entering the typic Canaan rest. However, since neither Canaan occupancy nor Sabbath observance were the ultimate reality, but only shadows of it, this was no great loss to Moses. Instead, Moses was assured of God’s continuing presence that transcended the rest of Canaan (Ex 33:14). Moses was denied exposure to the face of God, though he knew it was glorious (Ex 33:20). Likewise, Moses could see the promised land but was denied entrance. Moses would die and then rest with the fathers (Deut 31:16). All this typifies the paradisiacal rest of redemption that we by faith have now while awaiting the final revelation of it (Heb 4:3).
One final inaccuracy to mention regards the final stages of the flood. The ark came to rest on Mount Ararat in the seventeenth day of the seventh month. After the waters declined over the next month and a half, mountain tops eventually became visible in the tenth month. Waiting another 40 days, he let a raven out and then a dove. The dove returned, having “found no resting place for her feet.” He waited seven more days before sending out the dove again, but this time the dove did not return to the ark. Noah and his cohabitants remained in the ark up to the first day of the first month of a new year. But not until the twenty-seventh day of the second month did the Lord give Moses command to open the doors to the ark. There is no weekly pattern in this pericope. Commentators often remark about the fact that Noah waited seven days to send the dove out again, and Gage is no exception. “Noah’s sabbatical wait in the issue of the dove reveals his faith that God alone, who created the first world in six days, can deliver the earth from such an overflow” (p 130). Earlier, Gage sees in the Lord’s warning to Moses a correlation with creation. “God had established the old world in seven days. In seven days he will destroy it. This last sabbath will issue into the destruction of all terrestrial life, and the world will return to darkness and deep. Once again the earth will be waste and void” (p. 122). Just because something takes seven days, does not mean that it is sabbatical. And this does not imply that the seventh day was a Sabbath. There is a thematic correlation between the beginning of creation and the result of the flood, but the creation week was seven days long and the destruction of the earth coursed forty plus days.
Notwithstanding the above remarks, Gage’s observations are a delight to take in. There are many notable insights and meditations on the text and it exalts the glory of God and His son, Jesus Christ. Make this a part of your library.
Zerubavel presents his thorough research into the phenomenon that we call a “week.” While most understand the week as a seven-day period, Zerubavel introduces his readers to alternative day-periods. As such, he defines the week as a recurring sequence of days that is independent of the planetary measure of time that provides order for society. This book was enjoyable to read as he reviews the different “weeks” that are or have been in use throughout the world and through the centuries. Of course, he acknowledges the ubiquitous seven-day week as the contribution of the Judeo-Christian religion to the world. But French and Russian attempts to remove this particular sequence from society, with the aim to remove a theistic religion from contributing to the societal management of time, proved futile and short-lived.
Having read multiple books on this topic, the strength of this book is in the comprehensive coverage of the concepts of “weeks” as defined above and “quasi-weeks” that attempt to relate a sequence of days to lunation. He discusses the multiple issues involved in time accounting and surmises that the week is a human invention designed to give people and the societies in which they live, a shorter, recurring period of time management that purposely stands apart from natural phenomena. He suggests that the impetus for this is in the subliminal need for humans to assert their independence from the cosmos.
Since the author is obviously Jewish, I delighted to read about the incidentals of Jewish life surrounding the week; however, to him, the creation story is but a myth. This includes (obviously) the historical occurrence of Jesus’ resurrection of on the first day of the week. In his opinion, the Sabbath was not of divine origin, given to the Jews as they approached their wilderness wandering, but an artifact of Jewish minds assisted by the surrounding cultures in the 6th century BCE. He does admit that the seven-day week is specifically Jewish in origin—an incontrovertible fact of history—and that Christianity took this weekly concept across the globe. However, he omits the impact of Constantine in this regard, not even mentioning his name, and simply states that the Romans were favorable toward the seven-day week. He notes the philosophical and political regimes will often control society via the calendar, and that Christianity “deliberately modified the internal structure of the Jewish week” (p. 27). Though as I see it, Christianity lived in the Jewish week, since, as he noted, the early Christians were Jewish. The Sabbath remained the Sabbath and the first day of the week continued to be the first day of the week. Christians did abrogate the observance of Shabbat for themselves (p. 23), but they did not prohibit it or interfere with its observation by Jews (except during brief periods of persecution). Instead, Christians gave more significance to the day following the Sabbath as a weekly commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This book brings up an interesting question for Christians: In view of the previous attempts in history by totalitarian regimes hostile to Christianity to eliminate the seven-day week as we know it, would Christians resist or acquiesce to such attempts in the future? Most Christians are unaware of past trends to establish “world calendars” that ignore the seven-day week.[i] Less significantly, the concept of B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (anno domini) has already changed to BCE (before the common era) and CE (common era).[ii] So what if a new world calendar is adopted that compels us to work four days and allows us to rest on the fifth, hence, making the “week” a repetition of five days? In this scenario, the culture demands that you work on what was formerly called Sunday. You would have to decide whether to assemble every fifth day of this new week or to meet in the evenings on what was formerly called Sunday.
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What if a calendar is introduced that maintains the seven-day week, but at the end of the year, an intercalary or “blank” day is added to the month that does not receive the weekly nomenclature of the other seven days? That is, a Monday (a workday) would last two days and Tuesday would occur 48 hours later. This calendar was proposed in order to maintain exactly 30 days in every month, but 5-6 days during the year would assigned special names.
Sunday the following week would be delayed by one day; that is, the weekend would be offset by one day. Eventually, there would be a two-day Saturday and a two-day Sunday. But as a Christian, you would have to decide whether to gather together on Saturday (7 days after the previous Sunday) or on the delayed Sunday (8 days after the previous Sunday).
Zerubavel described several totalitarian attempts to disrupt the Judeo-Christian adherence to a seven-day week. These usurpations could have been successful were it not for the resistance of Jews and Christians to conform to the new calendar systems. If Christians don’t know why they observe a seven-day week and why the first day of the week in particular is significant to religious life, then the stage could be set for apostasy. If the seven-day week is merely a human invention and the events associated with the week are merely mythic and reminiscent of agrarian days, then there is no reason why Christians (or Jews) should object to a change. Would the resolve of Christians be as unshakeable if our habit of weekly worship were based on mere tradition, as opposed to biblical instruction? Since some Christians already believe that the church could meet on any day of the week, and some are now comfortable replacing Sunday worship with Saturday evening worship or staying at home altogether for individualistic worship, one would expect little resistance to such a calendar change from this crowd.
Interesting, Seventh-day Adventists believe that in some future end-world scenario, they will be compelled by the government to work on their Sabbath. One would think this situation would affect Jews as well, but they seem to limit the purported impact on their church alone. This expresses a fear among SDAs that the Christianized state would no longer tolerate them and begin to persecute them specifically for their abstinence from work on Saturday, even to the excess of threatening their lives. Writing in response to Ellen White’s prophecy, and with the background as a former minister with the SDA, Canright debunked the notion as an impossibility.[iii] The same could be said for the instauration of new world calendar—it will never happen. But this does not reduce the Christian’s obligation to understand the meaning and importance of Sunday congregational assembly for ministry and worship.
[i] This was a more popular idea in the early 20th century.
[ii] This is not a critical remark. Calendars and time-accounting are somewhat in the control of heads of state. The BC/AD system arose during the rule of Constantine, who desired that the Eastern and Western churches celebrate Easter at the same time. The move away from using overtly Christian terminology for naming the context of events developed in the eighteenth century and is now the established norm in technical writing.
This brief look at the development of and the practices on Sunday, and its meaning for Christians is the work of a retired octogenarian Methodist minister. Amazing. At 150 pages, this book is easily readable, enjoyable, and informative.
His purpose is to inspire Christians to maintain this badge of Christianity with hope and perseverance much like the early Christians who esteemed their time of instruction and fellowship on Sunday despite difficulties, rejection, and persecution from the world. It is as if González looks at the broad history of Sunday worship and anticipates, perhaps, coming days that echo the early Christian experience.
To do this, he examines the relevant literature and presents it succinctly, methodically, didactically, and for the most part, with integrity. Most of what he presents was already familiar to me, including his assessments of the historical data and competing viewpoints. But again, his focus is on history, not ironing out any theological arguments for the day of the week on which Christian should worship. Yet he does provide the evidence that Christians met on the first day of the week prior to the close of the first century, that the Sabbath on Saturday and the Lord’s Day on Sunday were two different religious institutions, and that Sabbatarianism was a later development in the sixteenth century. The earliest Christians continued to meet on the Sabbath as they transitioned to the Lord’s Day, but he casts this transition as an ad hoc development as opposed to a divinely inspired “tradition.” But at the same time, he notes the relationship to Christ’s resurrection, the new creation, and the symbolism of the number eight. These are the same features that characterize the God-given calendar ceremonies of Israel. If you want to think more deeply about the theological issues brought up in his book, then read my book. His mission is to just tell the story how Sunday began, how it was modified and adapted by extrinsic and ecclesiastic forces, and then came to compete with another day of worship (Saturday/Sabbath). He finishes with the hope of returning to the ideals that hallmarked the Lord’s Day in the earliest centuries.
There were many times that I wish he provided references for some of his statements. In his section for further reading, he did not mention From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, D. A. Carson, ed., which is a seminal work on this topic. As is common nowadays, even Christians attribute the seven-day week to ANE cultures other than the Jews and that it somehow evolved and became acculturated within Judaism, rather than believing what the Bible relates: God gave the Jews the Sabbath. To me, that’s history. And nothing he cited comes close to refuting this claim.
The Lord compelled Israel to record their history, rather His history with them: the highs and the lows, so they could avoid past mistakes and have hope for the future. Likewise, it is beneficial for believers to understand the history of the Christian day of worship for the same reasons. Unfortunately, not many Christians can articulate why they meet on Sunday and the theological importance of this particular day, the first day of the week. I heartily recommend this book to help Christians rethink their Sunday experience and recommit to this essential practice. Another good book review is here: https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2017/07/10/book-review-brief-history-sunday-new-testament-new-creation, but the comments are not helpful.
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:
- Emphasize the unity of the
covenants of God in general and the similarity of the Mosaic and new covenants
- 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
- Adam must have known it
- It is in the Ten Commandments
- It was Important for Israel to observe
- The church observes it on Sunday
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
•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
•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
•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
•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
•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
•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.
“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.