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Book Review of “A Brief History of Sunday” by Justo Gonzàlez


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:, but the comments are not helpful.

Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Judaizer


Glossary 22 Judaizer

Judaizer. Paul described a situation wherein Peter refused to eat with Gentile believers (Gal 2:11-21). Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, was severely rebuked for communicating to Gentile believers that they were not fully accepted in Christ unless they “live like Jews.” Hence, Paul concluded that Peter, by practicing table separation, was compelling Gentiles to “Judaize,” that is, to behave like Jews. The error, by one in authority, had the potential to create two separate churches—one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles—an outcome inimical to Christ’s goal of reconciling both Jew and Gentile into one body (Eph 2:14-18). The partition was taken down by Christ; yet Peter’s actions could potentially re-erect it. The implication of Peter’s actions with respect to the sufficiency of faith alone in Jesus Christ warranted the public challenge and was called by Paul “playing the hypocrite” (Gal 2:13). After all, Peter had fellowshipped with Gentiles before (Gal 2:12, 14).

So, “Judaizer” is a biblically derived term from Paul’s animadversion of Peter who attempted to bring Gentile Christians under the spell of bygone Jewish laws (i.e., separation, circumcision). Hendrickson, elaborating on the above event, believes that a Judaizer is a Jew “who had indeed confessed Jesus but insisted that in order to attain salvation—at least complete salvation—it was necessary for all, Gentile as well as Jew, to keep the law of Moses, with special emphasis on circumcision.”[i] But the reality is that Peter did not believe for a moment that Gentiles were not saved by faith in Christ or that they had to keep the laws of Jewish identification, as these matters were settled in congress before this (Acts 15:7-11). Instead, he lapsed under pressure and reverted to Jewish law that accentuated the difference between Gentile and Jewish believers. Or, as Bruce apprehends this, it was as if, for Gentile Christians, their faith in Christ was not enough, they needed to go a step further in “conformity to Jewish law or custom: they must, in other words, ‘judaize’.”[ii] From this context, a Jewish believer who compels a Gentile to live like a Jew is a Judaizer, and the Gentile who adopts those behaviors peculiar to Judaism is Judaizing. Peter and the other elders were violating the conscience of Gentile believers by intimating, with subtle judgmentalism, that their participation in the commonwealth of Israel (i.e., now the church) required more than the bond of faith.

The meaning of this term has widened to embrace situations where non-Christian Jews, in their association with the church, attempt to convince Christians, both Jew and Gentile, that certain Jewish laws are required either for complete salvation or as a necessary component of pleasing God, such as circumcision (Acts 15:1; Gal 6:12) and the observance of holy days, including the Sabbath (Gal 4:9-10; Col 2:16). Paul also refers to these infiltrators as “false brethren” (Gal 2:4) and “dogs” (Phil 3:2), motivated by “a show of the flesh” (Gal 6:12). So, Peter and other Jews, were swayed and carried away, by a false doctrine. “At one point, the Judaizers opposed and briefly affected Peter.”[iii] Hence, “Judaize,” which comes from Ioudaizeïn, “to live like Jews” (Gal 2:14), is to obey laws specific to the Jewish religion,[iv] or to assimilate to the Jewish culture, with the belief that this obedience or assimilation is necessary for salvation, meritorious for sanctification, or simply that the exterior rites of Judaism are beneficial or optimal—a mindset that is essentially antithetical to salvation by grace through faith. “Calvin undoubtedly was correct that from Paul’s point of view, first-century Judaism, and the Judaizers in particular, had a faulty understanding of the role of the law in justification.”[v] “The Jewish customs and manners that are meant are religious ones, observances that are prescribed by the Torah (circumcision, Sabbath and festival, abstention from pork, etc.).”[vi] “What was formerly obedience to the law is now mere Judaism.”[vii]

“Judaize” is sometimes used even more generally to describe the compulsion of Christians to perform religious rites or traditions without reference to Judaism; that is, to conform to a set of rules that define a sectarian culture, usually without biblical authority, such as abstention from meat on Friday, preventing priests from marrying, and declaring a day to be holy. “They prescribe observances which are in a great measure useless, and are sometimes absurd; secondly, by the vast multitude of them, pious consciences are oppressed, and being carried back to a kind of Judaism, so cling to shadows that they cannot come to Christ.”[viii]

Cohen distinguishes between the original intent of “ioudaizeïn” (to be like a Jew) and the later use of the term by Clement (to become a Jew).[ix] Moo disagrees.[x] Cohen further notes that “Judaizing” is a pejorative label most often used in situations where actual Jews are not integral to the debate, and so advises against the current use of the term. However, he does not take into account the influence of Messianic Jews and the Jewish Roots Movement within the Christian community which practice Jewish customs and laws for various spiritual, physical, or social reasons.[xi] Yet, it is not only a direct connection with Judaism that leads to Judaizing, but the indirect influence of emerging theological concepts bolstered by contemporary values. For example, the development of Seventh Day Baptist congregations in the seventeenth century followed the intensifying emphasis on a direct relationship between the Sabbath and Lord’s Day;[xii] but the result would have been the same if a Jewish believer led the movement. At present, the Western focus on health and diet has caused many Christians to adopt the dietary laws of the OT; and again, the result is no different than if a Jewish Christian led the movement. As such, the term is properly used to describe the practice, by non-Jews, of cultic OT laws that were clearly abrogated by the NT. One should not claim to be a beneficiary of the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ and then practice the abrogated laws of the old covenant as if they conveyed or merited some spiritual benefit.

Judaizing is a pejorative term, and rightly so, because it describes a mindset or behavior that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It can be supposed that Peter was not intending to divide the church nor did he did he feel ill-will toward Gentiles, but the fruit of his Judaizing (compelling Gentiles to behave like Jews—You are not accepted unless you get circumcised) would lead to division, judgmentalism, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy.

Regarding the Sabbath, the LD camp would view most forms of Sabbath-keeping to be Judaizing. Keeping a Sabbath is keeping a Jewish law, and to obey it as if it were a required activity or spiritually beneficial is Judaizing. Keeping the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday, with the misapprehension that only the day of the week was ceremonial, is still Judaizing. Calling Sunday or the Lord’s Day the “Christian Sabbath” is certainly a misnomer, for what is a “Christian Sabbath” but a modified Jewish Sabbath observed on the wrong day. If a Christian mom wants to keep her Sunday afternoon free of ordinary duties (or any other day of the week), that is her prerogative, but it is not the same as keeping the Sabbath. And she does not have to invoke Sabbath law to give her afternoon rest an air of spirituality. But the moment she becomes proud of her chosen expression of personal piety and looks down on those who do not share her enthusiasm, or, worse, she criticizes others as Sabbath-breakers, then she is a Judaizer.

The history of the development of Sabbatarian thought has been thoroughly documented.[xiii],[xiv],[xv] Parker correctly relates that the early Reformers (1520-1530) questioned the Catholic Church’s stance that Sunday church attendance was based on the fourth commandment, but within forty years, subsequent Reformers began to “reassert the divine imperative to observe one day in seven.”[xvi]As one would expect, the emphasis on the Sabbath as a paradigm for Christian worship would inevitably lead to controversy. In the 1580s, the Dedham Classis considered the same matters that are under discussion here: whether Christian worship on Sunday is of divine decree, what is expected of believers on this day, and how to enforce compliance. The latter point is only necessary if the State has the power to compel its subjects to attend church services, which it did at the time. As Sabbatarian practices increased during this time, it became known to King James I, in 1617, that magistrates in Lancashire had ordered “rigorous restrictions” and “a total prohibition of Sunday recreations,”[xvii]and in response issued the first “Book of Sports” in 1618 that would allow the populace, should they desire, to perform “lawful” recreations, such as piping, dancing, archery, vaulting, and rushbearing, while continuing to prohibit “unlawful” pastimes, such as bearbaiting.[xviii] Heylyn noted the King’s Declaration “occasioned much noise and clamor” causing Sabbatarian ministers to urge even more seriousness for the Christian Sabbath; for example, teaching that to make a feast or wedding dinner on the Lord’s Day was as great a sin as for a father to take a knife and cut his child’s throat.[xix] The obvious inconsistency is that the State would not be willing to execute Sabbath-breakers like murderers—but they did levy fines. Should a butcher kill an animal and sell the meat, his fine would be about $150 in today’s currency. A person who drives a herd (a drover) or uses a wagon would be fined the equivalent of $200 for doing so on the Christian Sabbath.[xx]

800px-J. Traske -pilloried_300dpi

Building upon the Sabbatarian doctrines of the Precisionists (Puritans), John Traske came to believe the Sabbath should be kept on Saturday just as the fourth commandment requires, a teaching that earned him the pillory at Westminster and then  three years in prison before he recanted.[xxi] So strict were the Puritans, that King Charles I republished the Declaration of Sports in 1633 hoping to prevent the Puritans from punishing those who practiced archery, danced, or gathered for May-games or wakes (dedications of a church). But when the Puritans took power in 1643, they ordered the burning of this document.[xxii] This is but a glance at the plague of controversies aroused by Judaizing the Lord’s Day.

Even though we experience more liberty to worship according to our beliefs, North observed palpable judgmentalism within Sabbatarian churches:  “They [Sabbatarians with few rules] think of the others [Sabbatarians with many rules] as ‘legalists,’ while extremists [Sabbatarians with many rules] who follow the implications of their position naturally view their weaker brethren [Sabbatarians with few rules] as ‘latent antinomians.’”[xxiii] This is the inevitable outcome of Judaizing: judging those who do not adhere to your set of rules. But any good Sabbatarian must defend what they do or not on their Sabbath day as a spiritual necessity derived from good and necessary inference intended to obey the fourth commandment. How one keeps the Sabbath cannot be neutral or optional because it is a moral imperative apparently based on the most faithful interpretation of God’s word. One would expect all good Christians to agree 98% on what is required by the fourth commandment, but the topic is given to disputation and discombobulation. Is it sinful to sleep late the night before Sabbath? When does the Christian Sabbath begin and end? Is it a violation of the fourth commandment to wear a watch, celebrate a wedding, use the microwave, write a check, bake a roast, go to a restaurant, play or watch sports, play a musical instrument, read the newspaper, buy Monday’s newspaper, study for school, milk a cow, buy some aspirin or some bread, repair a broken fence, or dress in your best clothes on your Saturday or Sunday Sabbath? All of these were considered Sabbath-breaking by some Christian Sabbatarians at some point in history. Furthermore, may the “magistrate” punish those who do not go to church on Sunday or Saturday, or otherwise break the Sabbath?

Has any other moral commandment produced the same fruit of discord, disharmony, and disunity as Judaizing the Lord’s Day? Where are the books written during past 400 years attempting to define whole doctrines about what constitutes adultery or stealing, bearing false witness or coveting? Are there ongoing controversies about whether tête-à-têtes between a married man and a female co-worker are a violation of the seventh commandment—ultimately leading to church divisions? Have any new denominations been established due to a hullabaloo over the propriety of claiming a tax deduction given to a charity that has yet to obtain a 501(c)(3) non-profit status? What churches have decided to withdraw fraternal relations because of different opinions about the motivations behind those who gossip, or because some church said in their statement of faith: “It’s not gossip if you pray about it”? What large church faction developed after a brouhaha over the pastor exclaiming at a car show, “I’d love to get my hands on that 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe”? Churches get embroiled about a good number of things, but not about divergent understandings of moral commandments.

Past centuries and this present age demonstrate that the attempt to apply the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Lord’s Day has only stirred up strife, controversy, judgmentalism, confusion, and division in God’s church. This is not the fruit of the Spirit; it is of the flesh.

[i] Hendrickson, William. Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians, 1962 (NTC, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007, 4th Printing) p. 150.
[ii] Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians (NIGTC, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) p. 133.
[iii] Rushdooney, Rousas John. Romans and Galatians (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997), p. 331.
[iv] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Jew(s)” p. 616. Wilson, M. R., “Judaizers” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed, p. 638, Ed. Elwell; Baker, Grand Rapids, 2001.
[v] Silva, Moisés. “Galatians” in Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, p. 803.
[vi] Cohen, Shaye J. D. “Judaizing” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 847. Eds. Collins and Harlow; Grand Rapids, 2010.
[vii] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Bible Commentary, Vol 3. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008) p. 379 (Gal 2:14).
[viii] Calvin, Institutes, 4.10.11. (p. 421)
[ix] Cohen, Shaye J. D. “Judaizing” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 847-848.
[x] Moo, Douglas. Galatians (BECNT, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 151.
[xi] These comments should not be interpreted as anti-Semitic. I went to a church with a Hebrew-Christian emphasis, and participated in paschal seders and the Purim play. These were done to introduce goyim, like me, to the rich history and traditions of Judaism. This is entirely different from compelling goyim to perform rituals, as a Jew would do, for the betterment of one’s spiritual life.
[xii] Bauckham, R. J. “Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 332-334.
[xiii] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath 1636, 2nd ed. (updated by Stuart L. Brogden, 2018).
[xiv] Carson, D. A., ed. From Sabbath to Lord’s Day.
[xv] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete.
[xvi] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1988), p. 24.
[xvii] Ibid. p. 150-151.
[xviii] Rushbearing was an annual resurfacing of church floors on the anniversary of the church’s dedication. Following a religious ceremony, the event turned into a festival with games, sports, drinking, and dancing. Bearbaiting was a spectator event during which a bear was tethered to a pole and tormented by viscious dogs, which also suffered during the contest.
[xix] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath; 1636, 2nd ed. (updated by Stuart L. Brogden, 2018) p. 435, 427. Note Chantry’s observation of this same phenomenon of “authoritarian oversight” in today’s Sabbatarian churches: “Elders are determined to insist that church members keep the Sabbath in detailed specific application” (p. 80).
[xx] Ibid., p. 442.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 434.
[xxii] Cox, Robert. The Literature of the Sabbath Question, Vol. 1; 1865, (repr USA), p. 163.
[xxiii] North, Gary. “The Economics of Sabbath-keeping” in The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 828.

Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Continuity/Discontinuity

Glossary 21 Continuity/Discontinuity (of the Law)

Continuity/Discontinuity.  This is an important theological discussion point—indeed, a Gordian knot—that addresses the relationship between the old and new testaments. “The first question in the interpretation of Scriptures after acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ is how to relate the Hebrew Scriptures to the ‘New’ Testament.”[i] “Any true biblical theology must recognize the centrality of the relationship between the testaments.”[ii] The answer to this question will ultimately affect your understanding of an array of key biblical concepts and topics, such as soteriology, the law and the gospel, Israel and the church, and eschatology.

There are several contemporary systems of thought that attempt to define the relationship between the testaments, the prevailing views being covenant theology and dispensationalism.[iii] These systems have developed over time and as a result of continuing biblical studies and dialogue a considerable variety of thought exists within each hermeneutical structure.[iv],[v] Both camps agree that certain aspects of the OT are discontinued and other aspects do continue; however, they may have different rationales behind any agreement. And, of course, the differences are preserved because the adopted systems 1) color the interpretation of key verses, 2) affect how biblical terms are conceived (i.e., “commandment,” “new,” “law,”), and 3) introduce constructs that delimit more freedom of thought (i.e., “covenant of grace,” “church as a parenthesis”). Covenant theology claims a position that favors “continuity” and dispensationalism adopts a position tending toward “discontinuity,” but these terms are rarely defined. What does continuity or discontinuity look like?

  • Continuity describes something that changes little or not at all over time. There is a connection or succession in its state over time. Its state is uninterrupted, while at the same time, there may be progression and improvement, even arriving at a state of completeness or wholeness. Unbroken, consistent. The office of the President of the United States demonstrates continuity, though different individuals have held that office with differing political goals.
  • Discontinuity embraces the idea that breaks or gaps occur, that a loss of cohesion takes place. Something comes to an end or arrives at its termination, often to be replaced by something new and different. There are jumps, intervals, separation, or breaches that upset the status quo. Things change in significant or radical ways, or something revolutionary appears for the first time. The Declaration of Independence marked the end of the colonial period and the beginning of the autonomous rule of the United States.

From these definitions, it is apparent that God is best described under the rubric of continuity, for He does not change or vary (Heb 13:8; Jas 1:17). Yet He introduced discontinuity into His eternal state with a six-day creation-fest. He didn’t change, but there was something strikingly other. Next, the fall of Adam marked an early and significant discontinuity in the perfection of God’s creation, yet God remained true to His holy character. The fact that we recognize the covenant with Noah and the covenant with Abraham as significant events is because of the discontinuities with what went before them. Heating water demonstrates a continuity that can be measured in degrees, but upon reaching its boiling point, a discontinuity occurs even though it is still dihydrogen oxide (water).[vi] When something significant happens in history, it often marks a discontinuity because of the radical changes that follow. The promulgation of the Law of Moses was a discontinuity for the life of the Israelites who previously were subject to Egyptian rule (Deut 4:34). The enthronement of King David was a discontinuity in the regime of Israel, replacing the period of judges. Jeremiah prophesied a new covenant, “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” (Jer 31-31-32), that conveys the sense of a radical change. While there is a premise of continuity as it pertains to God’s gracious character and the progression of biblical history, there is at the same time marked discontinuities evident in the outworking of His will for His people and mankind.

The ideas of continuity and discontinuity are also discussed in psychological theories dealing with the maturation of a person from birth to adulthood. The viewpoint of continuity is likened to a positive incline—a wheelchair ramp—whereas discontinuity is likened to steps. As an outsider to the theories of developmental psychology, it would appear that the maturation of the individual contains elements of both continuity and discontinuity. Many biblical scholars would admit the same seemingly bipolar relationship of the OT and NT. Interestingly, the NT describes Israel’s relationship to the law as a temporary tutelage or guardianship that would be changed at the point of maturity (Gal 3:23-25). And now that Christ has come as the mediator of a new covenant, the language of Scripture employs the metaphors of human growth, health, status, and maturation to describe the redemption of souls effected by the work of Jesus Christ. Salvation is likened to a new birth (Jn 3:3), a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), or the adoption into a new family (Gal 4:5); vision being restored to the blind (2 Cor 4:4) or a debilitating defect being healed (1 Pet 2:24); freedom being granted to the enslaved (Gal 4:7, 31), the release from the oversight of a pedagogue (Gal 3:25); the attainment of great spiritual riches (2 Cor 8:9) and indeed, coming to spiritual life (Col 2:13). None of these metaphors can be compared to an adjustment of but a few degrees or a simple change of administration. These describe sweeping, monumental changes, and markers of discontinuity with what went before. Clearly, it would be a distinct step, or discontinuity, for a Jew to adopt the phrase “the law of Christ” in favor of “the law of Moses,” or to subscribe to the conditions of the new covenant while relinquishing the demands of the Sinaitic covenant. It is doubtful anyone can be a member of both covenants simultaneously (Gal 4:8-14; Heb 2:1-4; 10:29). If Peter stumbled at this, then we can be assured that this was not a smooth transition for the Jews.[vii] Hendrickson, commenting on this passage noted, “The clear revelation of God’s love revealed in the birth, teaching, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Christ and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to bring about a mighty change on earth… Compared to the rivulet of grace during the old dispensation there was a mighty stream now.”[viii] Whenever something “new” happens there is some discontinuity with whatever came before. “We do not have a situation in which a variety of new perspectives are added to the staple of old things that constitute Judaism, causing only minor readjustment. On the contrary, the new that comes is an eschatological turning point in the ages, of such great consequence that we must be prepared for dramatic shifts.”[ix] Calvin is even more direct in delineating the discontinuity of the law: “Paul compares this law first to a prison, and next to a schoolmaster. Such was the nature of the law, as both comparisons plainly show, that it could not have been in force beyond a certain time.”[x]

Baxter wisely begins his commentary affirming the unity of Scriptures—“one in the progressiveness of the revelation which they collectively unfold, one in the harmony of the structure which they collectively constitute, one in the spiritual unity of the message which they collectively declare.”[xi] But the unity of Scripture does not necessarily mean the operational continuity of every legal aspect of the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant. “The new covenant has some similarities to the old, but it is a new covenant.”[xii] Nor does it mean that the promises of God in the OT will be fulfilled precisely as they were understood in their given context.[xiii] Because scholars maintain different concepts about the OT/NT relationship, they vary in their approach to identify the basis for Christian morality, ethical norms, church life, and holy living. The following chart displays four models regarding the relationship of the Mosaic covenant to the new covenant in terms of God’s commands (Mosaic law). Each model takes on a different hue when answering the question: “How should we then live?” The focus of this discussion is how the [Mosaic] law/covenant is affected by the introduction of the new covenant.

A.      The Mosaic covenant continues concurrently with the new covenant, either in full force or to a modified extent. For example, the promises to national Israel are still in effect literally, which will impact the future of the church. Jews are still bound by the Mosaic covenant if they are not in the new covenant.

B.      The Mosaic covenant comes to an end; however, aspects of it continue in force as part of the new covenant (or alongside the new covenant), such as the Ten Commandments, civil laws, all moral laws, or the promises to Israel.

C.      The Mosaic Covenant, all preceding covenants, and the new covenant are all parts of the construct called the Covenant of Grace and are therefore continuous with one another and essentially the same, except for their “administration.”

D.      The Mosaic covenant comes to an end when the new covenant is established; however, there are features of commonality between the covenants because they are consistent with God’s holiness and His eternal and gracious plan of redemption. The new covenant will draw upon the OT as it conforms to the law of Christ.

Besides the above concepts, there are two other factors that impact our understanding of the relationship between these two covenants: typology/fulfillment and the categorization of the laws and precepts. Various laws foreshadowing Christ, His work, and His people were fulfilled with His advent, and therefore are no longer required because they possess no spiritual value (i.e., circumcision). See Ceremonial Laws. Fulfillment, then, must be examined to determine its effect on Mosaic law(s), not only cultic, ceremonial, or external laws, but moral injunctions and the covenant as a whole. See Fulfillment.

The other important factor is how the laws of the Mosaic covenant are classified—if they are to be classified at all. Brogden does not find the terms of the tripartite division helpful because they imply the non-morality of so-called ceremonial and civil laws[xiv]: “A Jew obeyed the law of God in its entirety. He did not make sure to keep certain laws because they were on the moral list, while not worrying too much about observance of other laws because they were on the ‘ceremonial’ list.”[xv] While acknowledging that the [Mosaic] law should be recognized as a unity and infused with the righteousness of God (Rom 7:12), it is apparent that certain laws are of a different character than others; i.e., not eating shellfish (Lev 11:10) compared with not having sex with your granddaughter (Lev 18:10).[xvi] “Assigning priority to the moral aspect of the law over both its civil and ceremonial aspects can be observed in a plethora of passages found in the prophets.”[xvii]

Some would also distinguish civil laws and induce from them societal norms and values incumbent on every culture.[xviii],[xix] For example, the law of the parapet (Deut 22:8), literally understood, positively commands the building of a parapet, or fence, on the habitable roof of one’s dwelling in order to prevent accidental injury or death. Maimonides inferred from this law that homeowners are responsible to ensure the safety of their guests by removing any object that could potentially cause injury.[xx] Some Christians advocate “continuity” of this law, albeit as a principle. Others would argue that this particular law is discontinued because the whole law has been upstaged, but that the royal law of love requires the same thing, and this particular law is merely an example of the love for neighbor contained in the [Mosaic] law. As this example shows, the terms continuity and discontinuity are meaningless if both groups end up agreeing on the practical application for the church. “Christians have long debated about what parts of the OT law, if any, carry over into the NT. Many in the past have categorized the law into three parts: ceremonial, civil, and moral. Although this has no exegetical basis, it is a broadly helpful way to conceive of the law. Many scholars disagree with such a tripartite classification of the law and see it as being overly simplistic. The attempt to fit the law into these three categories is indeed a complex issue, and it needs more nuanced argumentation…”[xxi]

Lastly, the primary reason for studying this topic is practical—How should the NT shape and define the normal Christian life and what laws from the Mosaic covenant appear to apply and if so, in what way and to what extent? The New Testament validates the practical necessity to engage the narratives of the Old Testament (Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Tim 3:15-17; Heb 4:11), therefore, a “New Testament Christian” should be well-grounded in Old Testament history. Indeed, the Christocentric motif of the OT is able to effect spiritual renewal (Matt 4:4; Jn 5:39-47; cf. 2 Ki 23:2-3). In addition, Jesus repeated two Mosaic laws (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18) that epitomize our spiritual duties to God and fellow man. These laws were for the nation Israel while they were in the land, and obedience to them would bring personal and national blessings, but they are authoritative even for [believing] Gentiles. James claimed that believers would also reap blessings contingent on their obedience to this “royal law” (Jas 2:8). But equally significant is that the apostles did not urge obedience to laws such as: the prohibition against mixing materials in clothing, scourging a man for having sex with someone else’s concubine, the prohibition against eating the fruit of a new tree for three years, the prohibition against shaving or making tattoos, keeping the Sabbath and reverencing the sanctuary, standing in the presence of an old man, and the like. Certainly, for the follower of Christ, the relationship to Mosaic law is profoundly different. There is a picking and choosing of OT material as it suits the mission and goals of the new covenant, and there is a right way and a wrong way to relate to the law. Paul reminded Timothy that the purpose of the commandment is to “love from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith,” and that some supposed teachers of the law fail to understand it and focus their attention on unedifying topics. Furthermore, the law (as a moral mirror) still identifies sin so that the gospel may save sinners (1 Tim 1:3-16), yet Gentiles may still be saved without its use (Rom 2:12-16). “Nevertheless, the Gospel is a glorious superseding of and advancement over the Mosaic administration with its ceremonial ordinances.”[xxii]

Most outward Christian activities are affected by the answer to the earlier question, either consciously or subconsciously. Should a Christian vote, join the military service, or promote Israel? Should the church baptize infants, organize denominations, make religious art, or build elaborate structures for worship? May a Christian own a slave? Are Christians required to pay a tithe to the church? Are there roles for men and women both in church and in their community? Should children be present during the sermon? May our children marry at age 14? And, of course, are Christians required to abstain from all manner of work on the seventh day of the week? “As sure as it was His (Jesus’) to win and ascend the throne, it is His to prove His dominion in the individual soul. It is He, the Living One, who has divine power to work and maintain the life of communion and victory within us. He is the Mediator and Surety of the Covenant—He, the God-man, who has undertaken not only for all that God requires, but for all that we need too.”[xxiii]

In the context of continuity/discontinuity discussions, covenant theology (Reformed) generally favors the continuation of the Sabbath while dispensational theology (Evangelicals) does not. However, there are exceptions in both camps. The point is that neither system logically compels its supporters to adopt a particular view about the Sabbath. However, once someone identifies with a system, they are generally obliged to embrace the consensus or doctrinal position of that system. In other words, people accept the historic position of their denomination as a settled matter, assuming that its position is consistent within that theological framework and with the teaching of the Bible.

One argument for the continuity of the Sabbath comes from the maxim that OT laws continue into NT times unless they are specifically abrogated. For example, Bahnsen contends, “Indeed, the Bible teaches that we should assume continuity between the ethical standards of the New Testament and those of the old, rather than abbreviating the validity of God’s law according to some preconceived and artificial limit.”[xxiv] Of course, the Bible doesn’t explicitly teach us to assume this rule. It is merely a man-made rule to bolster the position of covenantal theology. If anything, one could reason that because God is a moral being who does not change, we should not expect His definition of morality to change from one covenant to another. Additionally, one could reason that if God commands anything, it would always be a moral command. Therefore, none of the laws of the OT should change with the institution of the NT. However, the Bible does teach us that the NT introduces phenomenal changes respecting laws of the OT, leading others to advise, “When we read a command given to the Jews, we do not assume that we must do it, too.”[xxv]

Bahnsen restates his position, “Our attitude must be that all Old Testament laws are presently our obligation unless further revelation from the Lawgiver shows that some change has been made.”[xxvi] Of course, were it not for the explicit NT teaching that the OT law of circumcision is now nothing, we would not be faced with the idea that any OT [formally considered moral] laws could change. In fact, it became immoral to require circumcision of Gentiles. This paradigm shift requires believers in Jesus Christ to redefine “morality,” so that even Jews could be free from laws that were previously considered moral obligations for a holy people. To explain this change, the earliest Christian apologists recognized that a parcel of OT laws were prophetical or eschatological in nature and were fulfilled/abrogated with the coming of Christ. So, our attitude must be to recognize at least two classes of Mosaic law: those that reflect God’s holy will from the beginning (i.e., moral, universal, or natural) and those that were introduced on a temporary basis to foreshadow Christ (ceremonial, cultic, or Jewish). The apostles distinguished between “royal” (Jas 2:8), “righteous” (Rom 8:4; Php 3:6), and “spiritual” laws (Gal 5:22-23), and another breed of ”fleshly” (Heb 7:16), “partitioning” (Eph 2:14-15), “weak and beggarly” (Gal 4:9), and “shadowy” (Heb 10:1) laws. For a first century Hebrew-Christian this realization must have been a jaw-dropping experience.

McKay reiterates, “The laws of the Old Testament are to be assumed to be fully in force unless there is a specific indication in the New Testament to the contrary.”[xxvii] In other words, would it not be wise and pious to err on the side of observing all OT laws that are not specifically annulled by a doctrinal argument in the NT? But those who state this rule cannot live with its application because great specificity is required to remove the force of a Mosaic law. None of the theologians who regurgitate this rule wear tassels with a blue cord even though great spirituality is associated with this law (Num 15:38-39). They don’t let the land lay fallow one in seven years even though the Lord punished Israel severely for ignoring this law (Ex 23:10-11). And they have no qualms about lighting a fire or driving for miles on their “Christian Sabbath,” let alone finding a NT teaching specifically moving the Sabbath to Sunday.

“Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Heb 7:11-12). The people received the Mosaic law under the authority of the Levitical priesthood, and the church received a “changed” or new law under the priesthood of Jesus Christ. “This text may suggest that in the mind of the author the law as a whole is bound up with the priesthood.”[xxviii] “The priority of priesthood over law is thus clearly affirmed.”[xxix] Indeed, Christ was not eligible under the [Mosaic] law to act as a priest for Israel. God the father appointed Jesus Himself, as High Priest for the new covenant (Ps 109:4). Whether the Levitical priesthood was the condition necessary for the giving of the law, or the law itself was the source of authority for the Levitical priesthood, the relationship is inseparable, such that the imperfection of the priesthood implies the imperfection of the law,[xxx],[xxxi] which in turn necessitates a change of law. “The best that the old covenant could offer was not good enough.”[xxxii] The end point or goal of the [Mosaic] law was the perfection of the people, but being unable to achieve that, a new priesthood and law were necessary. “With the appointment of the new order, the old is abrogated.”[xxxiii]

[i] Peterson, Rodney. “Continuity and Discontinuity: The Debate Throughout Church History” in Continuity and Discontinuity, ed. John S. Feinberg; p. 17. The ‘New’ Testament is also “Hebrew Scriptures.”
[ii] Osborne, G. R. “New Testament Theology” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. ed. Walter A. Elwell, p. 835.
[iii] To these very broad categories could be added the distinctives of Catholicism, Lutheranism, Messianic Theology, New Covenant Theology, Federal Vision Theology, Reconstructionism, Covenanters, Hyper- and Ultra-dispensationalism, and who knows what else.
[iv] Blaising, C. “Dispensationalism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. ed. Walter A. Elwell, p. 344.
[v] Karlberg, Mark W. Covenantal Theology in Reformed Perspective, p. 341-352.
[vi] And yes, science nerds, I know about super-heating. This illustration relates to the ordinary physical properties  that people can observe and measure when boiling water.
[vii] Kruze, C. G. “Law” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology; T. Desmond Alexander, et. al., eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000) p. 635.
[viii] Hendrickson, William. Commentary on the New Testament, Vol 9, p. 147. (Gal 3:24)
[ix] Hagner, Donald A. “Paul as a Jewish Believer—According to His Letters” in Jewish Believers in Jesus, p. 118.
[x] Calvin’s Commentaries (repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), Vol 21, p. 106-107 (Gal 3:23).
[xi] Baxter, J. Sidlow. Explore the Book, p. 12.
[xii] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2002) p. 40.
[xiii]Berding, Kenneth and Jonathan Lund, eds., Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
[xiv] A moral law is not ceremonial or civil; a ceremonial law is not moral or civil; a civil law is not moral or ceremonial.
[xv] Brogden, Stuart L. Captive to the Word of God, (United States: Parables, 2016), p. 105.
[xvi] I was going to say “sex with your daughter” only to discover that Mosaic law does not explicitly condemn it. It may be inferred, with good reason, but at the same time, it is not specifically proscribed.
[xvii] Kaiser Jr., Walter C. “God’s Law as the Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness” in in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 189.
[xviii] Bahnsen, Greg L. “The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, pp. 93-143.
[xix] Rushdooney, Rousas J. Law and Society (vol. 2 in Institutes of Biblical Law; Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982)
[xx] Sandberg, Ruth N. Development and Discontinuity in Jewish Law, Lanham, MD: University Press of America 2001, p. 144-145.
[xxi] Beale, G. K. A New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), p. 871.
[xxii] Bahnsen, Greg L. “Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 99.
[xxiii] Murray, Andrew. The Two Covenants and the Second Blessing, London: James Nesbit & Co., 1899, p. 91.
[xxiv] Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard, p. 2. (emphasis in the original).
[xxv] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2002), p. 9.
[xxvi] Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard, p. 3. (emphasis in the original).
[xxvii] McKay, David. The Bond of Love: God’s Covenantal Relationship with His Church, p. 192.
[xxviii] Moo, Douglas. “The law of Christ as the fulfillment of the law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, Wayne G. Strickland, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 374.
[xxix] Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews, NIGTC, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 373.
[xxx] Ebrard, John H. A. Biblical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, John Fulton, trans., 1853 (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008), p. 227.
[xxxi] Johnson, Luke Timothy, Hebrews (New Testament Library) (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006) p. 185.
[xxxii] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2002), p. 52.
[xxxiii] Macaulay, J. C. Expository Commentary on Hebrews (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978) p. 105.

Part 2d What Are the Terms? Liberty.

Glossary 20 Liberty

Liberty. Liberty is not freedom from God (1 Pet 2:16); and true liberty is not what the State grants (Jn 8:36). When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, they were not free. The matter is not whether there is relative freedom to live as one chooses, but that one’s choices are not free of a sinful nature (Rom 7:15-24). “In the NT it is evident that freedom is not absent because there is inadequate control of existence but because there is no control of it at all.”[i]

The Exodus bible story  from 1880 journalThis is the grand lesson of the OT pictured in the lives of the patriarchs and the life of national Israel. The sons of Jacob fell into Egyptian slavery (Gen 46:3) and when they had fully gestated as a nation of slaves, they were ready to be delivered from bondage (Deut 4:34). Free from the grasp of a human taskmaster, they entered into covenant as treasured priests of the divine liberator (Ex 19:5), who, though forbearing and merciful (Ex 34:6-7), was also to be feared for His anger (Deut 4:24-26; Lev 26:14ff; Heb 10:26-31). Unfortunately, but predictably, the ensuing history of Israel is filled with one breach of covenant after another (Ps 78:10, 37; Josh 7:11; Jdg 2:1-2; 2:20-22; 1 Ki 11:1 1; 19:10; 2 Ki 17:15; Ez 10:2-3; Neh 13:29; Jer 11:10; Ez 16:59; Hos 6:7; Mal 2:8, 10). But why? Because they were still slaves to their sinful nature (Hos 4:11); their hearts were uncircumcised (Jer 9:26; Acts 7:51), inclined toward spiritual harlotry (Num 15:39) and in stubborn pursuit of their own interests (Jdg 2:19). “The main idea is always the same: God exercises his right of ‘recovery’ and the Hebrews, previously under the rule of alien tyrants, return into the hands of their true sovereign.”[ii]

The Mosaic covenant was designedly inadequate to deal with the sinful nature of Israel, but preparatory for the new and better covenant to come through Jesus the Messiah (Isa 42:6-9; 49:8-9; Jer 31:31-33; Lk 1:68-75; 22:20; Heb7:22). Jesus claimed that He is the source of this new spiritual freedom in an exchange with professing Jewish ‘believers.’ “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32). But some of them believed they possessed all the freedom they needed as descendants of Abraham (Ex 4:22; Lev 25:39-43). The contrarians were mistaken on several levels (Deut 9:5; Ezek 33:24-26; Isa 64:6; Ez 9:6-9; Mal 3:13-15; Jn 8:33-34;). Ignoring for a moment their national history of subjugation to other nations, not all descendants of Abraham are children of promise (Gen 21:12-14; Gal 4:21ff.) and even those who were could fall in the Lord’s displeasure (2 Ki 17:20; 1 Cor 10:12). These self-satisfied disciples would not believe what Jesus was teaching but preferred to cling to a false hope that masqueraded as truth. God takes pleasure in a clean and contrite heart (Ps 51: 10, 17), a circumcised and grateful heart (Deut 10:16-22), a trusting and believing heart (Ps 22:4-5; 27:13-14). “In short, Jesus resorts to a moral and ethical notion of descent as being of far more importance than merely physical descent, and as being already supported by Scripture.”[iii]

While these spiritual truths are present in the OT, the new covenant was still necessary to provide complete and eternal redemption (Gal 4:5). Jesus instituted the new covenant through His blood sacrifice (Heb 9:15), and then gave commission to the Twelve to bring the good news of this covenant first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16). God provides an amplified liberty concomitant with the exceeding glory of His new covenant (Rom 6:22; 2 Cor 3:9-10), as conveyed through the message of the gospel (Eph 3:1-7). So monumental is the freedom to come through Christ, that even the law is pictured as binding and ruling over Israel (Rom 7:6; 2 Cor 3:14-17; Gal 3:23-24; 4:3-10; 5:1).[iv] Yet, the disciples of Christ are not without a law (Matt 28:19-20). The law associated with this new covenant is variously called “the law of love,” “the royal law,” “the perfect law of liberty,” or “the law of Christ” (Jn 13:34-35; Gal 5:13-14; 6:2; Jas 1:25; 2:8, 12; 2 Jn 5). But at the same time, certain accounts (1 Pet 3:1-6; Jas 5:16b-17), OT laws (1 Cor 9:9; Heb 10:28), or theological statements (Rom 9:15) are cited as ethical or doctrinal norms. At the same time, many commands of the NT are without parallel in the OT (Rom 12:9-18; 1 Cor 8; Titus 1:5-9). God is bound by His new covenant to write His law on the believer’s heart. Given the uniqueness of the Christian standard of conduct, the law written on the heart cannot be simply the Ten Commandments.

The believer in Christ is free indeed because he continues in Christ’s word and truth. Obviously then, the liberty of a Christian could be undermined by the entrapments of false teachers (Gal 2:4), submission to sin (Gal 5:13, 1 Pet 2:16), an inconsiderate heart (Rom 14:15, 1 Cor 8:9), or failing to apply God’s word (Jas 1:25). “[Paul’s] task now is, first, to guard his God-given liberty against any who would tell him that faith in Christ alone is not enough to save him and, second, to put his liberty to the best use by letting the Spirit lead him into responsible fulfillment of the law of love.”[v] Freedom in Christ allows one to live fully in truth with the caveat that the freedom it gives is not used to offend a brother in Christ whose conscience has not yet been fully informed by truth (Rom 14:1, 13, 19-23; 1 Cor 10:23-33). Paradoxically, our freedom is to be as a slave motivated by love to love, to the glory of God, just as Jesus was a servant to all (Gal 5:13; 1 Cor 10:31; cf. Isa 42:3; Lk 17:2).

Liberty is contrasted with slavery and imprisonment, which, at least metaphorically, preceded the freedom of redemption. Hence, Christ inaugurated His ministry as a proclamation of fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1, “to preach deliverance to the captives” (Lk 4:18). The liberty of Christians is foremost to be found in the benefits of redemption, to wit, freedom (Gk. eleutheria) from the guilt and condemnation of sin (Rom 6:18-23; 8:1-2), from the domination of Satan and this world (Eph 2:1-5; Col 1:3), from the sting of death and the grave (1 Cor 15:54b-57),[vi] and instead gaining freedom through the gift of the Holy Spirit to access God’s throne, to address Him as Father (Rom 8:16-21), and to have the hope of the resurrection and the restoration of the creation (Rom 8:21-23). “This is full liberty—that Christ has by his blood not only blotted out our sins, but every hand-writing which might declare us to be exposed to the judgment of God.”[vii] Liberty is also the consequence of seeing and knowing the truth as found in Jesus Christ, a truth that can set one free from darkness and falsehood and give a better understanding about the Old Testament (Jh 8:31-36; 2 Cor 3:17).

Liberty for a new covenant believer also involves freedom from obeying Jewish ceremonial laws.[viii] Paul describes his visit to Jerusalem where false brothers “came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (Gal 2:4). At issue was whether the Gentile Titus should submit to circumcision.[ix] On this, Paul would not yield. “Paul has not changed religions, but he now has a new center—the crucified and resurrected Messiah, who has inaugurated a new era in salvation history and brought a new dynamic to his existence. He could no longer have felt comfortable in his former Judaism.”[x] “Under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected.”[xi]

Paul has grave concerns for the church at Galatia. “How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. (Gal 4:9-11)

“Let us not grow weary in well-doing” (Gal 6:9) and “Stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free” (Gal 5:1) express two prongs of Christian obedience. On the one hand, a Christian must obey in faith the law of Christ to love one another by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:18-6:2), and on the other hand, he must protect himself from doing anything unnecessary or compromising, even though some minister or authority proclaims its importance (Gal 2:11-16). Christians, therefore, are as obligated to disobey the commandments and traditions of men as they are to obey the law of the Lord. History and experience convince us that this level of obedience is not that easy to attain. “Men still insist on the right of making that sin which God does not forbid; and that obligatory which God has not commanded.”[xii] In view of the power some have over others and the willingness of some to submit to their demands, Paul’s advice is crucial to living life as a new creation and as the [new or true] Israel of God (Gal 6:12-16).

Paul mentioned the motivations and behaviors behind those Jews who attempted to compel Galatian believers to get circumcised (Gal 6:12-13): 1) they wanted to avoid the disparagement of other Jews for associating with uncircumcised Gentiles, 2) they wanted to be able to boast that they were instrumental in achieving a perceived good, 3) their focus was on the flesh, 4) they are unable themselves to keep the law, and 5) they misunderstood the radical nature of the new creation. “Circumcision signifies the intention to put oneself under the law of Moses and therefore to seek to secure one’s status with God in terms of that law.”[xiii] Worse is the effect of agreeing to circumcision (Gal 5:1-5): 1) it entangles one with a new yoke of bondage, 2) Christ will longer be a profit to them, 3) it obligates one to keep the whole law, 4) it estranges one from Christ as they seek another source for justification, and 5) sowing to the flesh will reap corruption. “The more mercy God has shown to any, in bringing them into an acquaintance with the gospel, and the liberties and privileges of it, the greater are their sin and folly in suffering themselves to be deprived of them.”[xiv]

Sabbatarianism casts its demands in terms of well-doing—behaviors that all humanity (or the church) is morally obligated to perform—and to object to them is “antinomian.” Non-Sabbatarianism considers those demands unnecessary, even to be avoided, and to teach them is legalistic, Judaizing, or even heretical. As such, there is no middle ground that the various interpretive camps can agree upon. A Sabbatarian will do all he can to comply with what he believes is morally binding, and a non-Sabbatarian will do all he can to be free of what he believes are fruitless obligations. One would have to make a paradigmatic shift to adopt a different view. This can happen when people ask themselves the right questions and study the Bible for the answers. Colleen Tinker was faced with the disparity between what she had been taught as an Adventist and what she observed as reality.[xv]

I knew “Sunday Christians” who believed in Jesus and lived godly lives, but they felt no conviction about worshiping on Sabbath. I saw in the New Testament that God said He would write His law on the hearts of His people and that when He did, they wouldn’t have to teach each other to know God. I could see that “Sunday Christians” were convicted of nine commandments out of the Ten. They loved God and despised idolatry, and they would never defame His name. They honored their parents, would never kill, commit adultery, or steal. They even had soft hearts that believed they should not covet. Yet one thing puzzled me: these earnest, sincere, godly “Sunday Christians” had no heart conviction that the Sabbath was holy. They had to be TAUGHT that Sabbath was holy. This fact confused me. If the law was written on their hearts, where was the fourth commandment?

Her observations about people, confirmed by biblical and familiar history, evince that the Sabbath was not and is not written on the hearts of the Jews nor the rest of the Gentile world. Was the supposed Sabbath switch from Saturday to Sunday something that the whole world wholly welcomed? Of course not, otherwise all Jews would have felt the internal struggle to reassign synagogue meetings to Sunday. Likewise, the Lord’s Day on Sunday is not written on the heart of Christians. The Jews were given a novel ceremony (Sabbath) by God as a sign of the Mosaic covenant by resting on the seventh day (Ex 16:29; 20:2, 8-11; 35:1-3; Deut 5:14-15). And Christians were given a novel ceremony (Lord’s Day Sunday assembly) by God as a sign of the new covenant by gathering together to proclaim to the world the gospel of Christ with unity and love (Jn 13:35; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:7-34; Heb 10:25). It is merely incidental, but understandable, that these two ceremonies share a weekly pattern, after all, the Lord thought of them both, and endowed both with the symbolism of creation—the former as a rest in the work of God for Israel and the latter as a new creation for the church. But Christian Sabbatarianism—both Sunday and Saturday expressions of it—is the new kid on the block. Christianity was fine without it for 1500 years and Christians may rightfully stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free.

[i] TDNT “ἐλενθερόω” p. 496.
[ii] Daube, David. The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, p. 273.
[iii] Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John (PNTC, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 351.
[iv] Johnston, Wendell G. “Freedom” in The Theological Wordbook (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2000), p. 132.
[v] Packer, J.I. “Liberty” in The New Bible Dictionary, p. 734.
[vi] Due to the association of sin and the law, and the victory in battle that earned freedom.
[vii] Calvin, Commentaries, Vol 21, Col 2:14, p. 190.
[viii] There may be a subtle implication that the reason for ignoring the food and diet laws contained in the Mosaic covenant (1 Cor 10:23-33) is because they fit in a class of commands that by (my) definition are no longer valid having been fulfilled by Christ. But the context of Paul’s argument here is different. Under the new covenant, the earth is the Lord’s and all (edible) foods are legitimate to consume. The old covenant is undone. Also, under the new covenant, the law of liberty compels him to consider the conscience of believers in order to bring glory to God and salvation to the world. Paul does not ground his freedom from Mosaic regulations on the “fulfillment” of those typic regulations in Christ. However, he does elsewhere (Col 2:16). Also note that when a Jewish contingent attempts to derail the faith of Gentile converts, it is not because they are advising Gentiles to refrain from stealing or to honor their parents; it seems to always focus on cultic laws that separated national Israel from the other nations, i.e., circumcision, dietary laws, and calendar laws.
[ix] Moo, Douglas. Galatians (BECNT, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 127.
[x] Hagner, Donald A. “Paul as a Jewish Believer—According to His Letters” in Jewish Believers in Jesus, p. 102.
[xi] WCF (1646), reprint Free Presbyterian Publications, 1997, (Ch. 20, para. 1), p. 84-85.
[xii] Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Vol 3, p. 263. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1968.
[xiii] Moo, Douglas. Galatians (BECNT, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 325.
[xiv] Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 6, p. 536 (Gal. 4:8-11).
[xv] Tinker, Colleen. “Knowing the Covenants Puts the Sabbath in its Place” online (accessed March 19, 2020)

Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Abrogation

Glossary 19 Abrogation

Abrogation. To formally annul or nullify a legal agreement or parts thereof. Laws, treaties, provisions, stipulations, jurisdictions, institutions, ordinances, and the like, are usually the subject of abrogation. This is fundamentally an authoritative act, for instance, when a new regime invalidates or overrules laws of a predecessor. Abrogation removes the authority and power of a law to effect or hold accountable, “For where there is no law, there is no transgression” (Rom 4:15). A variety of Greek words convey the idea to cancel or dismiss, to do away with or abolish, to revoke or repeal, to bring to nothing or make void. Examples: The Pharisees nullified [Gk. akurro “no authority”] God’s commandment by [the authority of] their own traditions (Matt 15:6). God’s promises cannot be disannulled, repealed, or made void [Gk. atheteo “to set aside”, Gk. akurro “unauthorized”, Gk. katargeo “rendered useless”] by men (Gal 3:15, 17). Faith does not invalidate [Gk. katargeo “make void” or “destroyed”] the law (Rom 3:31).[i] Christ made peace between Jew and Gentile by His death, having abolished [Gk. katargeo “rendered useless”] the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Eph 2:15). The glory of the Ten Commandments is done away with [Gk. katargeo “abolished”] by the exceeding glory of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6-14). The law that was delivered through the Levitical priesthood is changed [Gk. metathesis] and annulled [Gk. athetisis “to set aside”] by the oath of God to establish Jesus as a priest forever with His new covenant (Heb 7:12, 18). Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant intimated that the Mosaic covenant would become old and disappear [Gk. aphanismos “vanish away”] (Heb  8:13).

Abrogation is the net effect of Christ’s fulfillment of the OT, by means of His incarnation, lifetime, death, resurrection, and ascension, on both the [Mosaic] law as a whole and specifically on the legal ceremonies and rituals of the law. Personal types (such as Joshua foreshadowing Christ) may be fulfilled, but these are not subject to abrogration, annulment, or abolishment—only legal types that constrained the Jewish nation to act out prefigurations of the person, work, and benefits of Christ’s redemption. “He says, therefore, that it is not in the power of men to make us subject to the observance of rites which Christ has by his death abolished, and exempts us from their yoke, that we may not allow ourselves to be fettered by the laws which they have imposed.”[ii] By the authority of Him who once gave those laws, they are now abrogated or done away with and rendered inoperative. Jesus intimated as much by claiming to be the Lord of the Sabbath—He may say what may or may not be done on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees have no such authority (Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5). As Calvin eloquently reasoned, something must be rendered void, either the ceremony or Christ: “Hence, the man that calls back the ceremonies into use, either buries the manifestation of Christ, or robs Christ of this excellence, and makes him in a manner void.”[iii] “The ceremonies, by which the distinction [between Jew and Gentile] was declared, have been abolished through Christ.”[iv] “The author here, as indeed everywhere throughout the epistle [Hebrews], designs to impress upon his readers the consciousness that the new covenant is not worse than the old, that Christianity is not something superfluous, something with which, at any rate, they might despise if only they have their beloved Judaism, but that the latter [the old covenant] rather has be made dispensable by Christianity.”[v] The fact that God abolished the old covenant and replaced it with the new gives us assurance that we belong to God as his children and that he accepts us in Christ.”[vi] The key to the relationship again is “fulfillment”—bringing to completion everything that was originally intended by God. The sacrifices will clearly be abolished, fulfilled once and for all in Christ’s death, while many moral principles will equally clearly remain unchanged.”[vii]

The fact that the Sabbath commandment is contained in the [Mosaic] law and/or in the Ten Commandments leads some to claim most emphatically that the Sabbath could not be abrogated by the new covenant. For example: “If Christ came to fulfill, and not to destroy, the law, then the commandment of the Sabbath is not abolished by Christ’s coming.”[viii] “Jesus’ New Covenant was not a completely new beginning. God did not send his Son to rescind all former covenants. Messiah did not entirely demolish the Old Testament and start afresh.[ix] “Jesus, therefore, does not abrogate the careful observance of the Sabbath but lays down principles by which we may properly keep the Lord’s Day holy.”[x]

Jesus said He did not come to destroy the law [Gk. kataluo, “break down” or “dissolve”] but to fulfill it [Gk. pleerosai, “fill up completely”]. Christ was not at odds with the law of God that He must bring it low. He is its author, not an illegitimate usurper; He is the Living Word, not an outside contrarian; He is its foremost interpreter and exemplar, not a foreign rebel and combatant; therefore, He must make it full, take it to completion, and achieve its intended goal. Jesus did not use any of the words that Paul used to describe the effect His death had on the law of Moses. His death did not destroy the law, but it did render aspects of it useless, since he fulfilled those parts. “It seems best to understand Jesus’ statement about coming to fulfil the law to mean his bringing into being of that which the law foreshadowed.”[xi] The following chart demonstrates the difference between destruction (what Jesus said He would not do) and fulfillment (what Jesus said He would do).

It is the viewpoint of non-Sabbatarians that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath laws by His life, death, and resurrection, and this in turn made Sabbath-keeping of no effect. This is not antinomianism—a decision to shun legitimate laws for self-gratification or self-promotion—but anti-Judaizing, a decision to shun illegitimate laws for the glory of Christ. For all that “rest” is, as presented in the OT, is to be found in perfection in Christ, who assured all who come to Him to find in full measure for their soul. Jesus makes full and brings to completion all that the Sabbath entailed for the Jews. As it was given in Exodus and described throughout their history, the Sabbath institution is entirely ceremonial and foreshadowing in its design. This is the only way that such a law can be fulfilled typologically (and annulled), and only Christ has the authority to do so. One may fulfill the requirements of a law in a legal sense (Ex 5:3; 1Chr 22:13; Jas 2:8), meaning observing it properly, but this “fulfillment” at the human level has no power to annul. Only by bringing in true redemptive rest can the ceremonial Sabbath be divinely fulfilled and authoritatively abrogated.

[i] Our faith is not an act of authority that gives us power to decide for ourselves how to live before God, but an act of submission to the authority and faithfulness of God. Our assent that Christ has fulfilled the law, and that we do, by God’s grace, follow Christ, we are in fact establishing the law. The defensive statement nearly echoes Jesus who asserted that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. So, the sense of “establishing” the law must carry the idea of the primacy of faith as a response to the faithful outworking of God’s will as recounted through the whole law; and that by virtue of our union with Christ, His relationship to the law is our relationship. This verse hardly gives the impression that Paul is holding up the works of the law and the work of faith on equal footing.
[ii] Calvin, Commentaries. Vol 21, Col 2:16, p. 193.
[iii] Calvin, Commentaries. Vol 21, Col 2:17, p. 193.
[iv] Calvin, Commentaries. Vol 21, Eph 2:15, p. 237.
[v] Ebrard, John H. A., Biblical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews in Continuation of the Work of Olshausen, John Fulton, trans., (1853), Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock (2008) reprint, p. 141-142.
[vi] Brown, Michael G. “Dawn of the New Creation:The New Covenant” in The Outlook, 68:3 (May/Jun 2018), p.20.
[vii] Blomberg, Craig L. “Matthew” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds. () p. 20.
[viii] Thomas Shepard. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 153.
[ix] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 63.
[x] Pipa, Joseph A. “The Christian Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, John Donato, ed., (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), p. 144.
[xi] Kruse, C. G. “Law” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Desmond Alexander, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000) p. 634.

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