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In the forthcoming glossaries, I will discuss Covenants, the Law, Mosaic Law/Covenant, the Ten Commandments, Moral Law, Ceremonial Law, Noachide Law, the Gospel/NT and Continuity/Discontinuity. While I did (and am doing) my best to keep these glossary entries short, the topics are quite complex, and that alone necessitates more elaborate expositions. But even then, they are far shorter than other Bible encyclopedia entries. All of these topics bear on one’s understanding of the Sabbath and everyone refers to them as the larger context that frames their view of the Sabbath. So, each person brings their own understanding about these upcoming glossary terms into the Sabbath/Lord’s Day debate and make truth-claims that appear to be obvious to them. My hope is to inspire readers to consider writing out their own personal statement of understanding of each of the above topics based on a thorough review of the Bible. Read literature from differing viewpoints in order to gain an understanding where the points of contention are, to determine what presuppositions are behind the assertions, and what weight is given to certain texts in comparison to other texts. It’s easy to state your case, but then you also have to defend against opposing viewpoints. The net result is to build a coherent theological system based on a rational understanding of the texts (not saying more or less than the text allows), that has consistent internal agreement (not contradictory), and accounts for contextual clues (redemptive-historical analysis). Once I have finished the glossary, I will delve into hermeneutics—the rules for interpretation—and logic—the rules for arriving at valid conclusions. As a reminder, each glossary entry begins with a biblical summary of the topic followed by my discussion how that topic relates to the Sabbath/Lord’s Day discussion.
First-day and Seventh-day Sabbatarians are in general accord about their two main proofs for the continuity of Sabbath-keeping—its (supposed) origin in Genesis and its presence in the Decalogue—however, there is no consensus how to explain Paul’s reference to the Sabbath in Colossians. If the Sabbath is a moral law, does its attributes coincide with the attributes of other moral laws? Whenever the NT uses the word “commandments,” what defense do Sabbatarians have inferring this to mean the “Ten Commandments”? If Sabbatarians understand the concept of ceremonial law, why is it so difficult to see that Jesus’ claim to be the giver of rest is a statement of His fulfillment of the Sabbath? Where in the Bible is there any clear statement that the Decalogue is composed only of moral laws? Or, as Reisinger likes to ask, “Exactly what would a person in your congregation have to do before you would discipline him out of the church for breaking the Fourth Commandment?”[i]
Lord’s Day proponents are certain that the Sabbath is fulfilled based upon a few key texts—the NT treatment of the Sabbath as a shadow-law and the demise of the old covenant—however, they lack clarity about the authority by which first-day assembly came about or why Paul cites the OT as a theological authority if it is indeed abrogated. If Christian worship could have been on any day of the week, why has it remained on Sunday for nearly two millennia? Is there a distinction between the law of Moses and the law of God? If they believe that the Sabbath is fulfilled, why do they cite the Sabbath as a rationale for church worship? Why do they give sermons on the benefits of physical rest? Or why do they occasionally call the Lord’s Day a Sabbath?
In the introduction to my book, The Sabbath Complete, I mentioned that after reading many books and articles by Sunday and Saturday Sabbatarians, I noticed that they “were inconsistent in their analysis, varied in their interpretation of key passages, and derived a wide range of applications from Sabbath law.” Based on my extensive research on this topic, it became obvious that even among expositors of the same general viewpoint about the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy, it is challenging to find two of them who are in full agreement with each other. You the reader may adhere to a particular viewpoint, but you likely hold to some unchallenged biases, presuppositions, and inconsistencies. Give consideration to what I present. Feel free to comment or ask questions of me. Also, it’s alright to be skeptical, but please don’t reply with simplistic credos.[ii] My hope is that your study of the Scriptures will lead to a more accurate understanding of these topics. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Ti 2:15).
[i] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 97.
[ii] Like this statement: “Jesus kept the Sabbath and so should you.” Of course He kept the Sabbath; He kept the whole [Mosaic] law perfectly because He was born under the law. As such, He obeyed both moral and ceremonial laws faithfully and completely. But this statement assumes we agree that the Sabbath is moral; which we don’t. It also assumes that I am under the law in the same way Jesus was; which I am not. So the discussion should focus on the criteria by which Mosaic laws can be classified as either moral or ceremonial. Are there common features among moral laws? Are there common features among ceremonial laws? If the Sabbath is a ceremonial law, then His observance of it is no more instructional for NT believers than His observance of dietary laws, circumcision, feast-keeping, and paying the temple tax. What law/covenant are we under now? In what ways have things changed or are things different, and why? What elements are common between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ?
The Lord’s Day. From kyriake hemera in Revelation 1:10, the meaning of this hapax legomenon must be deduced first from the limited immediate context, then from the broader biblical context, and finally from the preponderance of extra-biblical data. Among CS and LD communities, the most common and defensible understanding is that kyriake hemera refers to the first day of the week, Sunday, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. “It was simply, by the normative custom of the apostolic church, the day on which Christians met to worship, and, for us, the use of its title, the Lord’s Day, in Revelation 1:10 gives that custom the stamp of canonical authority.”[i] It is to be distinguished from the “day of the Lord”—a yet future period when the Lord shall interrupt the plans of mankind to effect His promise to fully bless, redeem, and sanctify His people; to judge and punish those who rejected Him; and to re-fashion the astrophysical world into the fullness of His glorious kingdom. While the Sabbath was identified by the Lord as “His holy day” (Isa 58:13) the Israelites did not refer to it by anything other than shabbat. Hence, John’s singular use of this term is highly unlikely a reference to the Sabbath. In addition, the LXX does not use this adjectival form for “Lord” at all—not to describe the Sabbath or the Day of the Lord. Whether John’s term was a neologism for Sunday or the particular day on which he received the vision, we cannot know with certainty. However, the beauty of the term is that it assigns Lordly regality to a day—a day that is not the Sabbath. And because of the superiority of that day, it eventually became synonymous with Sunday as it gave due tribute to the victorious King over death and hades. We should not miss the likely association with the Lord’s Supper, which represented the body of believers in Christ who was present with them—“in the Spirit”—when they gathered together (Matt 18:20; ). Rordorf (LD) ably explains: “The name the ‘Lord’s Day’ does, therefore, derive less from the once-for-all historical event of the resurrection than from the experience of the weekly presence of the exalted Lord among the community assembled for the Lord’s Supper, and this practice originated in the appearance [of Jesus to the disciples] on Easter evening.”[ii] CS position: Holds that the term applies to Sunday but as a Sabbath. “I conclude that by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of Christ’s resurrection, the apostles changed Sabbath-keeping to the first day of the week.”[iii] SS Camp: “[The Lord’s Day] rather appears to be a variation of the expression ‘the day of the Lord’ which is commonly employed in the Scripture to designate the day of the judgment and of the parousia.”[iv] “Based on Scripture alone, John’s use of the term ‘the Lord’s Day’ more likely supports the perpetuity of the seventh-day Sabbath than the substitution of Sunday for Sabbath.”[v]
On the seventh day of each week the Jews observed a unique set of laws that the Lord gave them at Sinai. He called the seventh day the Sabbath, signifying complete or absolute rest. Following the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the church (mostly Jewish converts) began to assemble together on the first day of the week to hear the apostle’s doctrine, to participate in communion, to pray and fellowship together. By apostolic authority and inscripturated in Revelation, the first day of the week was called the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath occurred the day prior. In giving the first day of the week a title heralding the Lordship of Jesus Christ who arose victorious from the grave and who was mystically present when they gathered together, the apostles promoted the Lord’s Day over and against the Sabbath. The Jews did not have the promise of the Lord’s presence with them at their synagogue gatherings, and there, they remembered the typological redemption of Israel rather than the actual redemption of “Israel indeed” (Rom 2:29; 9:6; Col 2:11-12). The two days of the week stood side by side, and Jewish converts yielded to the one or the other. If they associated with the Christian sect, they were scorned at the synagogue; but if they forsook the Lord’s Day, they risked the displeasure of the Lord (Heb 10:24-29). Because CS believers anchor the rationale for weekly assembly on the Sabbath, they tend to avoid the term “Lord’s Day” in favor of the “Christian Sabbath.”[vi] This should be concerning since “The phrase [Lord’s Day] is clearly and consistently used of Sunday from the second half of the second century on…”[vii] “The idea that Rev. 1:10 implies a Christian observance of the Sabbath is the least likely alternative.”[viii] “Many people sincerely call Sunday ‘the Christian Sabbath,’ but Sunday is not the Sabbath Day. The seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, commemorates God’s finished work of Creation (Ge 2:1-3). The Lord’s Day commemorates Christ’s finished work of redemption, the ‘new creation.’ God the Father worked for six days and then rested. God the Son suffered on the cross for six hours and then rested.”[ix]
[i] Bauckham, R. J. “The Lord’s Day” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 240.
[ii] Rordorf, Willy. Sunday, p. 275.
[iii] Pipa, Joseph A. “The Christian Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, p. 165.
[iv] Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 130.
[v] MacCarty, Skip. “The Seventh-Day Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, p.39.
[vi] Lems, Shane. “The Dangers of Neglecting the Assembly” in Outlook Magazine (66:5), p. 8-11. Not once did the author call the day of Christian assembly the “Lord’s Day”. Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae. Besides his discussion of the term Lord’s Day among several paragraphs, he refers to the Christian’s day of worship as either the Sabbath or the Christian Sabbath.
[vii] Beale, G. K. NIGTC, The Book of Revelation, p. 203.
[ix] Wiesbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1. Colorado Springs: Cook Comunications (2001). p. 391 (John 20:19-31).
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).
Summary. Thus far, a variety of Sabbath institutions (Jewish, Christian, Creation, and Eternal) have been described, which are now listed in the below chart—a timeline since creation. Each camp should be able to articulate from Scripture the similarities and differences between each expression of the Sabbath as it occurs along the timeline. Christians are not the only ones who lack clarity about this. Jews are not consistent in their understanding of the Sabbath either. For example, Kaplan (SJ)[i] correctly states that the Sabbath, or Shabbos, is a Jewish ritual. It marks and distinguishes the Jews from other cultures.[ii] Yet when the Sabbath was given to Israel in the wilderness, he asks, “Who counted it from the time of Creation?” as if it were ongoing since creation but not observed. And at the same time, he correctly perceives that the Sabbath was initially celebrated during the Exodus with the giving of manna and has been practiced faithfully ever since.[iii] Jewish scholars may involve creation story as the paradigm for rest, so that Sabbath-keeping means relinquishing any mastery over the world by means of our intelligence or skill. “We must leave nature untouched”[iv] in emulation of God. Kaplan calls God’s seventh day rest the “Sabbath of creation.”[v] Klagsbrun says that the fourth commandment “does not actually decree that we imitate God’s abstention from work” but she does call God’s seventh-day a Sabbath.[vi] Meier, approaching that question more from a literal-historical perspective asserts, “There are good reasons to avoid calling the seventh day a Sabbath in Genesis 2.”[vii] Like most Jewish scholars, Raphael places the origin of the Sabbath to the Jewish history of receiving manna, prior to Sinai.[viii] Neusner provides a unifying voice for Judaism in labeling the seventh day of creation a Sabbath, even though the ritual was not given until the exodus. The reference to the creation rest is perceived as a pre-addendum that adds meaning to the ritual given to Israel much later. The presuppositions inherent in this are: 1) the Torah was written for Israel, not for Gentiles, 2) the Torah was to demonstrate the uniqueness of Israel as opposed to the heathen nations, and 3) the seventh-day of creation (that they’ll call a Sabbath) was set apart from the other days of the week in the same way that Israel is set apart from the nations.[ix] The logical inference from this is that the Sabbath was not given to the Gentiles, otherwise, pagans would be as set apart, sanctified, and holy as Israel. Of course, the Jewish Sabbath is the original Sabbath. While there are shortcomings with their observation of it, all other expressions are mere copycats or counterfeits.
Since what we know about the Sabbath comes exclusively from the Mosaic covenant, we have ample information to allow a comparison with its supposed administration under the new covenant. The Christian Sabbatarian bases both the Mosaic and Christian expression of Sabbath-keeping on the fact that the Sabbath is commanded in the Decalogue and inferring from this a universal moral obligation. Chantry couches the differences between the Mosaic and Christian Sabbath in the fact that NT saints have fuller revelation and the gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore, “the ways in which the moral law was applied and the ways in which it was enforced differ greatly when we compare the management of Moses and the management of Christ.”[x] Jesus apparently handled “the same Sabbath law in a different spirit” and tolerated his disciples when they picked grain on the Sabbath.[xi] Observe that Chantry proposes that Jesus tolerated the actions and beliefs of his disciples and gave them permission to deviate from a standard, but it is not clear whether it is a pharisaical standard or a Mosaic standard. Did Jesus tolerate their righteous, religious, or unrighteous behavior? Was taking grain on the Sabbath a violation of the moral law or not? If their actions were not a violation of moral law, then what was Jesus tolerating? If taking grain on the Sabbath was a violation of pharisaical legalities, then why would Jesus have to “tolerate” that? Chantry then asserts that Jesus “reminds us of God’s judgment but stipulates no civil reprisals for breaking the Sabbath.”[xii] This sounds as if Jesus overlooked the disciple’s violation of this moral law, and protected them from the threats and punishments of the Mosaic law before the new covenant was in place. On the other hand, VanGemeren states that “Jesus’ teaching on the law has clear lines of continuity with the law of Moses,” yet “Jesus gave a stricter interpretation of Moses than the rabbis.” He concludes that Jesus held people more accountable to the sanctity of the law, including the Sabbath. “Rather than setting his disciples free from the law, he tied them more tightly to it.”[xiii] The lack of agreement between these two Christian Sabbatarians is because they misunderstand the crux of the controversies that Jesus intended to convey (amongst other things). Christian Sabbatarians view the gospel conflicts as opportunities for Jesus to set the record straight about Sabbath-keeping, so that Sabbath law may finally be kept in the spirit of the law. Once the apostles comprehended this teaching, the church was now prepared to observe the Sabbath correctly, albeit on a different day. According to Ray, “Jesus blasted the Pharisaic Sabbath, but in doing so he did not harm the biblical Sabbath at all.”[xiv] In other words, the original, biblical Sabbath remains for the church to observe. According to Christian Sabbatarians, this conflict in the grain field is presented by the Synoptists to demonstrate the proper interpretation of Sabbath law—that under the law, gleaners could pick and eat grain on the Sabbath (despite the Pharisee’s objection). Jesus corrected their misapprehension and let us know that if we are hungry gleaners on the Sabbath, we may eat of the standing grain. Christian Sabbatarians then conclude that the spirit of the Sabbath is meant to alleviate human hunger, but not by going to a restaurant.
|SS||Creation Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Eternal Sabbath|
|CS||Creation Sabbath||Sabbath||Sabbath||Mosaic Sabbath||Christian Sabbath||Eternal Sabbath|
|LD||God’s rest||None||None||Sabbath||Lord’s Day||Eternal Rest|
|SJ||God’s rest or “Sabbath”||None||None||Sabbath, to this day||Not really a Sabbath||All is “Sabbath”|
Putting aside the question whether one may properly call God’s seventh-day rest a “Sabbath,” the following questions are meant to inquire about the purported claim that by God’s rest, the Sabbath was decreed for mankind the day following their creation. That is, how did Adam and his posterity observe the Sabbath over the course of time?
- Pre-Fall. What did Adam understand about the Sabbath commandment before the fall? Did he observe a day of rest the following week, and if so, what was he resting from? Was his work prior to the fall something from which to rest? Did Adam extend the work prohibition to working animals? Was he required to make sacrifices as part of Sabbath worship? Was substitutionary death required before the fall? Was he allowed to leave Eden before the fall? If he disobeyed the Sabbath commandment before he ate the fruit, would that have been cause for ejection from Eden? If Adam were to sin, must his first sin have necessarily been eating of the Tree of Knowledge? What work did Adam do on the day of his creation? Is that a paradigm for the kind of work that Sabbath-keepers should avoid, i.e., naming things and tending a garden? Or was Adam only to refrain from manipulating the natural world? Was the last day of God’s week the first day of Adam’s week, such that the Sabbath began his recurring week of rest and worship?
- Post-Fall. Once Adam was banished, how did he observe the Sabbath? Did he stoke a fire on his Sabbath? Was the death-penalty in effect for Sabbath-breakers? If it was, are we to assume that Adam and Eve perfectly kept the Sabbath for over nine hundred years? Are we to assume that Cain and Abel kept the Sabbath? Was Cain a Sabbath-breaker? When did the Sabbath fall into disuse? Is there any evidence that societies observed a weekly rest prior to the existence of Judaism?
- What patriarchs kept the Sabbath? Did they keep the Sabbath the same way as Adam did? Did they rest from Friday evening to Saturday evening, or did they keep it during a single 24 day? What Sabbath did the Jews keep during their enslavement to Egypt? Could the Sabbath exist without anyone observing it? Does the observation of the Sabbath make it holy, or is the day itself intrinsically holy? If the Sabbath was a forgotten commandment, then why, when reinstituting it, did God not demand “payback” for all the missed Sabbaths? Since the Sabbath principle requires a whole day of abstention from work and rendering proper worship, did Noah and his family stop tending the animals one day in seven? Did Joseph prohibit the collection of grain in Egypt one day in seven? Did Jacob encamp for a day of rest when his brother was in pursuit of him?
- Why did God pronounce a death-penalty just for disobedient Jews; was it not as important in previous epochs? If the foundational reason for the Sabbath is creation, then why later associate it with their release from Egypt? Why are the Sabbath and New Moon often listed together? Why was a ritual law placed in the Ten Commandments? Who kept the Sabbath before the law, and how did they keep it? Does God keep the Sabbath in the same way that Jews keep the Sabbath, by refraining from any mastery over the environment? If the Sabbath is of universal obligation, then why does it appear that God gave the Sabbath only to the Jews? And why were not any of the pagan nations judged for failure to observe a Sabbath? Is the inclusion of animals in the Sabbath the result of natural law or ceremonial law?
- If the death penalty conveyed the seriousness of this command under Moses, why would God “decriminalize” the Sabbath for Christians? Isn’t the Lord’s Day even more important than the Sabbath? For those who believe God moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, why would God break the rhythm of week if that rhythm is a moral structure of time? Did Jewish converts disobey the fourth commandment when they rested on the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, thereby working only 5 days in the week? Which Jewish Sabbath laws are in effect and which are not, and what is the biblical basis for making any distinctions?
- If in eternity we observe a Sabbath continuously, will the righteous no longer work? Will we also be observing the New Moon celebration in heaven or on a new earth? Will time be measured by the movement of the sun and moon? If heaven is a place of perfection and God is continuing the maintenance of the cosmos, what work is there for us to do? Why would the Sabbath ceremony be re-instituted and none of the other Jewish rituals? If the fourth commandment only demands that we give God one day in seven, is God changing His mind by demanding worship every day in heaven? If He creates a new earth, will the inhabitants keep Sabbath again? If so, why? And on what day? What would they be resting from?
[i] This is a late-comer, but Jews are a subset of the Saturday Sabbath group, hence the new abbreviation SJ.
[ii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p.6
[iii] Ibid., p. 15.
[iv] Ibid., p. 19.
[v] Ibid., p. 18, 19, 20, 21.
[vi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 27.
[vii] Meier, Samuel A. “The Sabbath and Purification Cycles” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, p. 5.
[viii] Raphael, Chaim. The Festivals, p. 62.
[ix] Neusner, Jacob. Confronting Creation, p. 78-89.
[x] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 63.
[xi] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xii] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xiii] VanGemeren, Willem A., “The Law is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Strickland, p. 37-38.
[xiv] Ray, Bruce A. Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 72.
Part 2d: What are the Terms?
Creation Sabbath. CS and SS camps: The institution of the Sabbath at creation, implied by God’s “rest” on the seventh day and His blessing of it. God’s “rest” then was not for Himself, but an example and illustration for the benefit of mankind, to be released from exertion for the purposes of worship. After all, God didn’t need rest and He doesn’t do self-worship. Interestingly, Campbell regards the seventh day as “God’s Sabbath-keeping,”[i] but of course, God did not resume creative works when “His Sabbath” was over. This Sabbath was instituted prior to the fall, therefore, it is an obligatory commandment for all mankind. The seventh day of creation was the beginning of a weekly Sabbath for Adam and all his posterity to rest from their labors as vice-regents of creation.[ii] JFB venture to claim that “the institution of the Sabbath is thus as old as creation; and the fact of its high antiquity, its being coeval with the existence of the human race, demonstrates the universality and permanence of its obligation.”[iii] JFB acknowledge that the word “Sabbath” is not to be found in the narrative, nor is the Sabbath actually commanded, but as the highest of the “primordial arrangements of the world, must be recognized as a law of nature no less than an ordinance of religion.”[iv] Given that the Sabbath is a law of nature, Sabbath keeping can be expected to promote the health and optimal constitution of body, mind, and spirit; whereas non-observance results in detriments to the mind and body, as well as punishments by God. This primeval Sabbath was observed by the patriarchs without the “peculiarities attached to it by the Jewish law.”[v] See Sabbath Principle and Creation Ordinance. LD: A “creation Sabbath” is fiction or a fable. From the standpoint of progressive revelation, Adam did not have the information to conceive God’s rest as a command, an example, or a suggestion for all mankind. The last he heard, he was banished from paradise and cursed to work by the sweat of his brow. No one had to tell him to get sleep at the end of the day or to take a break from a particularly arduous activity. From the standpoint of natural law, humans are not morally compelled to rest each evening or from their labors all day in a septimal pattern. “All defenders of the orthodox doctrine of the Church of England [in the 1630s] maintained that the Sabbath was not a creation ordinance, but an ordinance of Moses originating at Sinai. The Sabbath was unknown from Adam to Moses.”[vi] “God separated the seventh day; we interpret this in terms of an eschatological, proleptic sign indicating some future rest.”[vii] Of all the theological fancies which credulity has accepted as divine truths, not the least remarkable for the scantiness of evidence producible in support of it is the tenet, that a command was given to mankind at the creation to observe a seventh-day Sabbath.”[viii]
The argument that the Sabbath commandment was given to Adam before the fall is crucial to the doctrine that the Sabbath is a moral commandment applicable to all mankind. The corollary doctrine is that the presence of the Sabbath within the Decalogue implies universal morality. These two inferences are challenged by the absence of any historical Sabbatarian practice outside of Judaism or its influence. That is, if a recurring seven-day pattern of rest and worship of God was written on the heart of man and was a biological necessity, then the outworking of such a natural law would be evident through the annals of history and across most cultures. But this cannot be demonstrated. A creation Sabbath is also challenged by the theoretical reason for rest. God did not need to rest due to the demands of speaking things into existence, but we are expected to believe that the whole creation week was designed for the purpose of convincing mankind to rest on a weekly basis. Nor would sinless Adam require a weekly physical rest from perfect obedience in an un-cursed world. Yet Sabbatarians urge the necessity of weekly rest as a balm for the hardship of work. This is plausible only if the Sabbath was instituted after the fall of man. Lastly, if the Sabbath were given at creation, then the day itself is holy and cannot be changed, which is the logical conclusion of the SS advocates. If Sabbath observance was re-instituted for the Jews at Sinai, then it was the Lord who determined which day it was to begin, as it so happened with the miraculous provision of Manna. It would be preposterous to assume that the Lord lost track of the cycles of week from the beginning of creation when reestablishing such an important endowment for the human race. Nor can we assume that the Lord arbitrarily chose the day on which the Sabbath was to resume, as if He were more interested in getting that one-seventh of time regardless of the actual sanctity or holiness that imbued every seventh day since creation.
The mention of God’s rest on the seventh day within Genesis uses the literary technique of prolepsis, where the author is setting the stage for something yet to come (i.e., “foreshadowing”). When the Sabbath was ultimately given to Israel millennia later, they could look back to Genesis and see that God planned to give them the Sabbath from the beginning. That’s cool! However, to claim that the Sabbath was in existence before it was actually given is called prochronism, a literary error of placing something earlier in history than it could have been. In the movie “Gladiator,” the actor Russel Crowe is called the “Spaniard,” a term that didn’t come into existence until 1400 years later. In the movie “Braveheart,” actor Mel Gibson wears a kilt, a piece of clothing that didn’t come into existence until 400 years later. Prochronism is a laughable error, prolepsis is a brilliant technique. But the teaching that the Sabbath was given at creation is more than an anachronistic slip—whole bodies of doctrine are built upon it—so it is more than a little sad (1 Cor 15:12-19; 1 Tim 1:3-4; 2 Tim 4:3-4; Titus 1:14).
Eternal Sabbath. A metaphor used by all camps for the glorious experiences to be had in heaven when all is consummated (2 Ki 2:11; Dan 12:2-3; Jn 14:2-4; 2 Cor 5:1-2; Phil 3:20-21; Heb:13-15; Rev 11:12), such as the complete forgiveness of sin (2 Cor 5:3), resurrected bodies (1 Cor 11:39-44), freedom from pain and suffering (Rev 21:3-4), having the mind of Christ (1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2), and enjoying unbroken holy fellowship with God (1 Thes 4:17; Rev 21:7). Heaven is the place in which God resides now, and He provided the analogs on earth by which to conceive of it as a Garden, a Household, a Kingdom, a City, even an unending Sabbath. “The best description of [heaven] is to say it is an ‘eternal Sabbath’”[ix] “The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious rest and eternal Sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be the temple, and the Lamb shall be the light of it.”[x] “All who have honoured the Sabbath on earth, shall enjoy a Sabbath without end in heaven.”[xi] “He has made this day the (Lord’s day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return, and having finished the judgment upon all His foes to the very last shall lead it to the rest of that eternal Sabbath, which God prepared for the whole creation through His own resting after the completion of the heaven and the earth.”[xii] “Genesis 1 is not merely a record of creation; it is also a typology [sic] of history, and the final Sabbath will be endless.”[xiii] Thus, heaven may be conceptualized as a re-creation of an unspoiled garden of Eden—a paradise to share in an unbreakable rest of God (Rev 2:7; Lk 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4). “Heaven is finally seen in terms of a new garden of Eden, to which the righteous are gathered, apparently at death.”[xiv] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Question 103, entertains the idea of actually experiencing the eternal Sabbath on earth by ceasing from carnal works, yielding to the Lord, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work on the inner man. Hmm.
While the concept of a heavenly eternal Sabbath is one Sabbath followed immediately by another, the Jews painstakingly moderated their calendar to avoid the observance of two consecutive Sabbaths on earth. As blessed as the Sabbath was, consecutive Sabbaths were incompatible with normal living. I prefer the more common term “eternal rest” as it better summarizes the benefits of our redemption, which is an ongoing experience of having ceased, not only from cursed and sin-affected daily works, but also from the false works aimed at securing our own redemption. The concept of an ongoing rest comes from Genesis, not from Exodus. That being said, the author of Hebrews described the balm of salvation as a “sabbatismos” or Sabbath-keeping, in that redemption is entering into God’s rest through faith (rest) and not by works. As McGee delighted to say, “I have a Sabbath day everyday—I rest in Christ.”[xv] But we must not miss the point of McGee’s tongue in cheek response—his “rest” is from working for salvation, not resting from any manner of labor. That which the Sabbath signified is that which the believer realizes now, yet in full measure when the Lord returns. If God’s rest is not present now, then those who believe could not enter into it (Heb 4:3). Besides, this understanding also corresponds to our concept of heaven when we will be continually working in some capacity for the continued glory of God. We will be working, yet in God’s rest (Jn 5:16-19). There will be no need to strive for rest or to perform a ritual of rest, because redemptive rest will be our full and complete experience. The fact that the Sabbath was a type and shadow of a completed redemption demonstrates the temporality of that institution as promulgated in Mosaic law.
Since most, if not all, believers regard heaven as the “eternal rest” and that unbelievers are not beneficiaries of that rest, it is plain that the eternal rest is a benefit of redemption. To be redeemed is to be accepted and welcomed into God’s rest, now and forever. Christian authors recognize the analogy between Christ’s work of redemption and His entering into rest and God’s work of creation and entering into His seventh day rest. “Jesus entered into Sabbath rest, just as God entered into Sabbath rest. And that is the rest that awaits us.”[xvi] What is the basis for the comparison? If God’s seventh day rest is merely to provide a pattern for all mankind to rest one day in seven, then how does that correlate with Christ’s three-year (or even three and a half year) ministry and crucifixion which only benefits those who put their trust in Him? However, if God’s rest is a type in which the seven days symbolize the perfections of Christ’s work of redemption and that the rest symbolizes the holy blessedness of being found in Him, then the correlation is rational and of a redemptive character.
[i] Campbell, Ian D., On the First Day of the Week, p. 19.
[ii] Gaffin, Calvin and the Sabbath, p. 154.
[iii] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 9.
[iv] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 28.
[v] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 30.
[vi] Dennison, The Market Day of the Soul, p. 92.
[vii] Dressler, Harold H. P., “The Sabbath in the Old Testament” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, D. A. Carson, ed., p. 29.
[viii] Domville, William. The Sabbath, Chapman and Hall:London, 1855, reprint; p. 47.
[ix] Barnes, Notes on Hebrews 4:9
[x] Watson, Thomas. The Ten Commandments, Banner of Truth Trust, (1692) reprinted 1999. p. 97.
[xi] Adams, W. “The Benefits of the Sabbath” in The Christian Sabbath (1862), reprint Forgotton Books: London; p. 230.
[xii] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400. (Ex 20:8-11).
[xiii] Jordan, James B. Creation is Six Days, p. 102.
[xiv] Fretheim, Terence. “Heaven” in Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Donald E. Gowan, ed., Westminster John Knox:Louisville, KY, 2003; p. 202.
[xv] McGee, Thru the Bible, 5:532.
[xvi] Campbell, Ian D., On the First Day of the Week, p. 208.
To say that Sunday is the “Christian Sabbath” is to ignore and undermine the rationale for the early acceptance and use of the term “The Lord’s Day.”[i] The reason the term “Lord’s Day” arose within the Christian community was quite logically because the first day of the week became as significant as the seventh day of the week, if not more so. What were the first Christians to call the first day of the week since the last day of the week was already called the Sabbath (Matt 28:1)? At this time in history, the days of the week did not have distinct names, with two notable exceptions.[ii] The Graeco-Romans called the first day of the week Sunday or the Sun’s day. The Jews called the seventh day of the week Shabbos or Shabbat. Not until the third century is there any evidence of the naming of the days of the week that we are currently familiar with. In the Greek NT, the phrase “first day of the week” is translated from μια των σαββάτων, or “first of the Sabbath,” but it is properly understood as “first [day] of the week.”[iii] Not content to simply call the first day of the week by its Roman title “Day of the Sun”[iv] or by Jewish custom “first [day] of the week,” Christians came to ascribe their preferred day to assemble by the regal title: the Lord’s Day.[v] The name alone speaks of its superiority over the Sabbath. The Sabbath was about resting, but the Lord’s Day was, well, about the Lord! It was a day to render due praise to God and His Son whom the Father has made “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36). Faithful Jewish Christians could not help but recall Psalm 118 as they gathered together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord’s sacrifice in their stead (Acts 4:11; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-9). Entering through the “gates” of a home or gathering place they’d sing: “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord, Through which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
God is the Lord, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
(Ps 118:19-29, NKJV)
The only justification Jewish Christians had to forgo the Sabbath and go for the Lord’s Day, was the annulment of the Sabbath and the institution of the Lord’s Day by the authority and superiority of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.
Imagine what it would be like if Christians started calling January 2 “New Year’s Day.” Not only would it be confusing, it would make Christians out to be fools! And what if they waited a thousand years before calling it “the Christian New Year’s Day” in order to distinguish it from the historical New Year’s Day? In the same way, it would have been utterly confusing to refer to both Saturday and Sunday as the “Sabbath,” if indeed the Sabbath was shifted to Sunday. Perhaps one could counter: It was because the Sabbath was shifted, that the confusion ensued and that the term “Lord’s Day” was derived. But this admits that the early Christians didn’t have the wherewithal to simply call it “the Christian Sabbath” until 1500 years later.[vi] After all, this is the preferred term among some church denominations. The early Christians did not call the first day of the week “the new Sabbath” or the “the Christian Sabbath.” This is because they understood that the symbolism of Sabbath-keeping looked toward the redemptive rest that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, provided by His life, and death, and resurrection.
The old covenant celebrated the Sabbath with regulations affecting work, animals, travel, fire, and temple worship. The Sabbath looked back to the divine rest that was lost due to sin (Ex 20:11).[vii] At the same time, the ritual enactment of the Sabbath symbolized a day when believing mankind could be restored to an abiding relationship with God; but the Sabbath itself could never be the means to realize this. The Sabbath was “a foretaste of the blessedness into which the people of God are at last to enter, the blessedness of the eternal κατεπαυσεν απο των εργων αυτον [rest from our own works].”[viii] The Sabbath—like Canaan, the priesthood, the Mosaic covenant, the temple, and its sacrifices—could not provide what it symbolized (Heb 4:8; 7:11; 8:7; 9:8, 9, 13-14 ). In time, the day that the Sabbath anticipated found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ who embodied and provided redemptive rest. “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). “For we who have believed have entered into rest” (Heb 4:3). Paul asserted that the Mosaic laws regarding food and drink, festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths were predictive shadows of Christ (Col 2:16). Christ is the living Head and we live in Him (Col 2:19). Jesus, our Lord, no longer observes dietary laws or keeps Sabbath, therefore we should no longer subject ourselves to regulations that no longer matter (Col 2:20; Heb 9:9-10). With the Sabbath fulfilled in Christ, the seven-day week took on new meaning. The Sabbath represented the terminus of the old creation, but the Lord’s Day represents the first day light of a new creation (Jn 1:4-5; Rom 6:3-5; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:5-6; Col 2:9-13).
The earliest Christians, who were Jews by heritage, knew the Sabbath was on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Yet they began to assemble together on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2). They already had a religious name for Saturday, and it became imperative to advance a new term for the favored gathering day of Christians. Colson stated the rationale so well.
I see no reason to go outside Christian thought to account for the name Lord’s-day. As we find the Eucharist called by St. Paul the Lord’s Supper (κυριακον δειπνον), and as one of the chief purposes, indeed the chief purpose of the Christian meeting was to celebrate this, nothing seems to me more natural than that the day should also be called κυριακον.[ix]
By the time of the writing of Revelation (90-100 CE), Christians already understood that the first day of the week, or Sunday, was the “Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10). John did not invent the neologism; he was writing to those who were already acclimated to the term. The Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God gave to Him, was transmitted to John, the last living apostle (Rev 1:1) on the Lords’ Day (v. 1:10). The day chosen by the Lord for His final disclosure to John is consistent with His other post-resurrection appearances on the first day of the week (Matt 28:9; Lk 24:13-33; Jn 20:11-18; 19-23; 26-29) and the giving of the Holy Spirit on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1-4).[x] “Christians by apostolic tradition worship on Sunday in memory of the risen Lord, and are commanded never to forsake assembling together.”[xi]
An honest examination of Hebrews 10:24-25, taking into account the theme of the whole letter, will lead to the deduction that the faltering Hebrew-Christians were tempted to return to the “safety” of their traditional observation of the Sabbath and other familiar Jewish customs and laws. We cannot suppose that those absenting themselves from Christian assembly preferred nothing over the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath. That is, Jews were not forsaking both Christianity and Judaism—they were choosing either Christianity or Judaism. One could almost argue, from the perspective of a Christian Sabbatarian, that returning to the Sabbath on Saturday couldn’t be that bad. After all, those insecure Jews who professed Christ initially were still getting their 24-hour rest every seven days, not to mention avoiding commerce and recreation. But the apostle of Christ urges them to choose the higher and better road of gathering together instead on the Lord’s Day in respect for the blood of Christ, His bodily resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of God (Heb 10:26-29). The abstention from work on the Sabbath (i.e., rest) is a shadow cast from the Lord Jesus Himself (Col 2:16; Heb 4:3), who proclaimed to be the true and abiding rest that mankind yearns for (Matt 11:28-10). Look to the substance of Christ who provides true rest—not to the mere shadow of rest.
“Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), and after the completion of His work, He also rested on the Sabbath. But He rose again on the Sunday; and through His resurrection, which is the pledge to the world of the fruits of His redeeming work, He has made this day the κυριακὴ ἡμέρα (Lord’s Day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return.”[xii]
Therefore, the Lord’s Day is not a replacement, repositioned, or remodeled Sabbath, but a new experience of a different order, which is all the more reason to continue steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, the fellowship of the saints, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). Jesus accomplished much to bring Jews and Gentiles together as one body (Eph 2:11-18) on the first day of the week to remember Him. This could not have happened had He not abolished the law with its commandments and regulations (Eph 2:14-16; Col 2:20). He finished His great work of redemption on the cross and then rested in the grave over the Sabbath, thus fulfilling both the creation type and the Sabbath type. The Sabbath of His death is in the past; we now exult in the fact of His resurrected life on the Lord’s Day. This is why the first day of the week took on such a laudatory title. What name for our weekly day of worship could be better? The term “Christian Sabbath” boasts of the church’s ownership of the day and magnifies a shadow-command of the former covenant. Who in their right mind would prefer this instead of “the Lord’s Day?”[xiii]
[i] A search through the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers finds few references to meetings of the church. The earliest document reference is in the Didache (c. 100 CE) which urges the faithful to gather together on “the Lord’s own day.” The Epistle of Barnabas (c.100 CE) mentions “keeping the eighth day” in honor of the resurrection. Ignatius is more explicit, stating the non-observance of the Sabbath, but instead keeping the Lord’s Day “on which also our life has sprung up again.” Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE) describes the practice of Christians gathering weekly on Sunday to read Scriptures, for on the first day God created light and Jesus rose from the dead. Of course, there is no mention of a Christian Sabbath. The Post-Nicene Fathers mention the Lord’s Day about 480 times and Sunday about 150 times. Again, there is no mention of a Christian Sabbath.
[ii] Colson notes that Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE) mentions the “day of Saturn” and “day of the Sun.” As the pagan names for the days of the week became popularized from the third century on, the influence of Christianity made its impact on the calendar as well. In Southern and Eastern Europe Saturday is called Sabbata, and Sunday is called Domingo (or words to that effect) indicating the core belief that the Sunday was the Lord’s Day and Sabbath remained on Saturday.
[iii] Other possible translations are “at the dawning on the first (day) of the seven” or “day one of the Sabbaths.”
[iv] Christians were accused of Sun worship by their pagan peers, simply because they gathered together on Sunday.
[v] There were several Jewish calendar laws that referred to the day after the Sabbath (Lev 23:11, 15, 16, 36, 39; 25:22) or the day following a seven-period (Ex 22:30; Lev 12:3; 14:10, 23; 15:14, 29; 22:27; Num 6:10). So if the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, then the first day of the new week could also be understood as the eighth day. In the Epistle of Barnabas (Ch 15) the day of Christian assembly is described as taking place on the “eighth day” because the Lord was weary of Israel’s Sabbaths (Isa 1:13).
[vi] We have our own modern day example with the holiday season Kwanza. The holiday was devised in 1966 for the African-American community as an “oppositional alternative” to Christmas, but nowadays it stands side-by-side with Christmas and Hanukkah. It has already been called, rather inappropriately, a “Black Christmas” or “Black Hanukkah.” Two points come from this: 1) a new holiday deserves its own name, and 2) if a novel cultural expression of a holiday arises, it is immediately distinguished from the former holiday with a preceding adjective (i.e., “Black”). Christians gathering together on Sunday in view of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and that He rose from the dead on the first day of the week was a new thing and it deserved a new name. It was not based on the Sabbath, otherwise it would have been called the “Christian Sabbath” early in its development.
[vii] In the same way that God blessed the solitary seventh day of creation, God is now blessing the recurring seventh day of Jewish sabbatism. Their observance of the Sabbath does not make the day holy; God chooses to declare the day holy because of what it symbolizes. Even if the Jews observed it perfectly, it would not recapture what Adam and Eve lost. Sadly, the Jews believe that if they did observe it perfectly even once, then the Lord would return. Like the sacrificial system, this is a repetitive ceremony that cannot effect what it symbolizes. Furthermore, the Sabbath is ordained in remembrance of their physical deliverance from Egypt (Deut 5:15). Both their deliverance and the Sabbath are types. The reality is objectified in the Lord who gives both spiritual rest and spiritual redemption. In summary: 1) God declared every seventh day to be holy because He so blessed His seventh day of rest, and 2) God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath according to His prescription because He rescued them from Egypt.
[viii] Keil and Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 399.
[ix] Colson, F. H. The Week, p. 125. (Italics in the original)
[x] A variety of post-resurrection appearances appear in the gospel narratives and Paul provides a summary of such, including even himself while on the road to Damascus (1 Cor 15:3-8).
[xi] O’Hare, T. The Sabbath Complete, p. 243. Apostolic tradition is jure divino.
[xii] Keil and Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400.
[xiii] To the Christian Sabbatarian: The early Jewish Christians gave up their comfortable Sabbath observance and the acceptance of their Jewish community to assemble with Gentiles on the Lord’s Day in the belief that Jesus was the Messiah who was raised from the dead. That’s quite a paradigm shift! As Kaplan said, “Jewish law treats one who does not keep the Sabbath as one who abandons Judaism for another religion” (Sabbath Day of Eternity, p. 7). But you can’t stop calling the Lord’s Day by the misnomer “Christian Sabbath?”
Glossary of Terms. In order to communicate with one another, words and phrases must have consistent and comprehensible meaning, and theological terms must also be biblically derived and defensible. Quite simply, I would like to present some working definitions of key terms and phrases in this debate along with some comments how different camps understand the terms and what some of the potential issues are associated with these terms. This glossary is not meant to be exhaustive nor to replace your favorite theological dictionary; after all, whole books have been written on many of these topics.[i]
Jewish Sabbath. The Sabbath as commanded for and practiced by the Jews under the Mosaic covenant with or without all their additional rules added to it. LD: A term focusing the commandment and practice of Sabbath-keeping to Israel alone, which coincided with the Mosaic covenant and the theocracy of Israel. What other Sabbath is there than a Jewish Sabbath? “We shall therefore begin our effort to frame a theology of the Christian day of worship with a discussion and analysis of the Jewish Sabbath.”[ii] “Celebration of the first day of the week was in conscious opposition to the Jewish Sabbath, which had now been completely abandoned.”[iii] CS and SS: A term of differentiation from other classes of Sabbaths, such as rest periods practiced by other cultures; i.e., Babylonian shappatu,[iv] the Christian Sabbath,[v] the creation Sabbath,[vi] and the eternal Sabbath.[vii] Sometimes used to describe what the Sabbath had become under Pharisaism—a “Pharisaic Sabbath”—as opposed to an unadulterated or authentic Sabbath. “If superstition is dreaded, there was more danger in keeping the Jewish Sabbath than the Lord’s Day as Christians do now.”[viii] MacCarty (SS) objects to the term.[ix]
There are two underlying presuppositions to the use of the term “Jewish Sabbath.” The CS position regards the Jewish Sabbath as one of several Sabbaths and the LD position regards the Sabbath as peculiar to the Jews. The term is perhaps redundant for the LD position, but becomes necessary when distinguishing the so-called Christian Sabbath from the historical Sabbath as practiced within Jewish communities. It becomes unclear in the CS camp whether the Jewish Sabbath is how the Jews were supposed to observe it or how they actually observed it with their “mountains of laws” appended to it. With this in mind, CS asserts that the focus of Jesus’ conflicts with the rulers of His day was simply to correct mistaken views about the Sabbath. But with so many “mountains of laws” to correct, why did Jesus pick the specific ones He did? On the other hand, the LD camp believes those conflicts are indicative of Jesus’ self-revelation as the Messiah. Therefore, the conflicts were chosen specifically to proclaim His messiahship. Also, it is unclear in the CS camp how the creation Sabbath differs from the Jewish Sabbath. If MacCarty represents the SS camp, the use of the term is superfluous since there is really only one Sabbath, the one set at creation and obligatory upon Jew and Gentile alike.
Christian Sabbath. CS camp: Sunday or the Lord’s Day, the day of Christian worship and the ethical behaviors expected of Christians based on Sabbath law, because Sunday is really a Sabbath. As Reformed theologians explored the relationship of Sabbath law to the Christian assembly, this term became popularized in the seventeenth century with the publication of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) in 1646. The WCF states in Chapter 23, “As it is of the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which in Scripture is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath.” CS hold that the Christian Sabbath is the same as the Jewish Sabbath, but different. Instead of on Saturday, it is on Sunday. Instead of restricting it to the Jews, the law applies to all humanity. Instead of beginning the evening before the seventh day, it begins on the first day at midnight. Instead of burdening the day with midrashic legalisms, it is burdened with “Puritanical” legalisms. Instead of memorializing the Jew’s release from slavery, it now hails the resurrection of Jesus. Instead of a national, representative form of worship at the temple with sacrifices, it is now a local observation. Instead of a threatening death penalty for failing to observe it, it is now a topic for pastors to bluster about. Instead of restricting the use of fire and cooking the day before, Christians cook and prepare fellowship meals. SS avoids the term since they do not believe the Sabbath could be moved to another day.
Neologisms have one of two possible origins. They may identify ideas that have been around for centuries, thus it is a new term for an older, but commonly accepted, idea. Or they may arise concurrently with a novel concept. A new idea requires a new term. The term “Christian Sabbath” arose late in Christian history, during the early years of the Reformation, to describe the novel idea that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Of course, this novel idea took some time to develop. It came to fruition as a result of theological traditions from Roman Catholicism (Aquinian theology, church/state confluence; natural law) and theological conjectures on the part of Reformers (Ten Commandments epitomize moral law, applicability of OT law to the church, pietism). As Bauckham astutely observed, “Sabbatarian arguments have never succeeded in convincing all who sought to base their theology on the Protestant principle of sola Scriptura.”[x] That is, one cannot soundly demonstrate from Scripture alone that the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. The term “Christian Sabbath” has done nothing but promote confusion and biblical illiteracy. Despite this knowledge and understanding, Sabbatarians continue to promote the concept out of tradition, piety, and devotion to secondary standards.
[i] Resources consulted: The Theological Wordbook, Campbell, et.al.; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Harris, et.al.; New Englishman’s Greek Concordance, Wigram; Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words; The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Gowan, ed.; Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament; ISBE; and many others.
[ii] Jewett, Paul K. The Lord’s Day, p. 13.
[iii] Lohse, Eduard. “sabbaton” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 4, p.31.
[iv] Ray, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 64.
[v] Shepard, Theses Sabbaticae, p. 201.
[vi] Ray, Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 29.
[vii] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400. (Ex 20:8-11).
[viii] Calvin, Inst. 2.8.33.
[ix] MacCarty, “Responses to Craig L. Blomberg” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, Donato, ed., p. 360.
[x] Bauckham, “Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition,” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, Carson, ed., p. 312.