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Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Sabbatarianism

Glossary 24 Sabbatarianism

Sabbatarianism. A term restricted to the teaching and practice of Christians to apply Sabbath law in some respect to their weekly behavior and conduct. As such, Jews are not “Sabbatarians” even though they are Sabbath observant according to their community history and traditions. The extent of application of Sabbath law can vary among Christian sects and Bible-based cults; however, the most common application is to regard the chosen day of community worship as a day of rest. In the strictest sense, Christians are Sabbatarians if they practice any Sabbath law or appeal to Sabbath law as a basis for Christian assembly. Sabbatarianism is “the view which insists that one day of each week be reserved for religious observance as prescribed by the OT sabbath law.”[i] Harm differentiates between strict Sabbatarianism which holds that humankind is morally responsible to rest from all labor on Saturday and semisabbatarianism, which merely transfers this demand to Sunday.

Alexander Johnston (1816-1891) “The Sabbath Eve”

A Sabbatarian doctrine is a nuanced position because it developed over several centuries to arrive at a state of strict observance in the English commonwealth during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and then to ultimately to lose its national prominence while maintaining its variable relevance in Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, and Seventh-day sects.

The earliest Christian traditions did not associate the Christian Lord’s Day on Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday and only minor doctrinal connections involving rest were taught during medieval times. Skarsuane evaluates the dialogue of Justin and Trypho, a second century Christian apologetic, and concludes: “The main point is that the ritual commandments [circumcision and Sabbath keeping] were understood to be temporary measures until the coming of the Messiah. To continue with them after his coming would amount to a practical denial of the efficacy of his coming. It could well be that if Justin knew (as we know he did) Jewish believers who nevertheless kept on observing the ritual commandments due to ‘instability of will,’ he also knew Jewish believers who did not, i.e., who drew the full and logical consequences of this theory concerning the law and abandoned all or most of the ritual observances.”[ii] Historically, the development of a Sabbatarian theology began within the Roman Catholic Church which allegedly claimed to have moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday by the authority of the church, which is an instrument of Christ. Aquinas later popularized the idea that all of the Jewish feasts were replaced with Christian feasts.[iii] These teachings aggrandized the power and authority of the Roman church to hold the populace accountable to consistent Sunday observance, to declare certain days to be holy, and to legitimize ritualistic practices. Protestants could not accept the rationale for Sunday worship in terms of papal authority and began to emphasize that Sunday worship was simply a practical decision during the early years following the resurrection. And so they initially denied the historical claim of the Roman Catholic Church to have moved the Sabbath, to decree holy days, or to demand the practice of religious ceremonies, but within a century came to view Sunday as a “Christian Sabbath”—the expression of mature Sabbatarian thought.[iv]

The early Reformers, Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564), distanced themselves from claiming that the fourth commandment was the basis for Christian gatherings on the first day of the week or that it was to be fully observed like the Jews, but they employed the fourth commandment, like Aquinas, to defend the notion that “some time” is necessary for the worship of God and that Sunday should be treated more reverently than other days.[v] Even though Calvin understood the typical intent of physical rest was to encourage believers “to cease from their own works and allow God to work in them,” he posited the idea that servants were to be “indulged with a day of rest.”[vi] By undermining his own understanding of the typical meaning of rest—to perpetually rest from our works—he employed the literal rest to serve his pastoral desire to have the commoners and laborers attend church to be fed by God’s word. The contradiction did not go unnoticed by his peers who complained that “Christian people are trained in Judaism because some observance of days is retained.” He denied the accusation, stating that “we do not celebrate it with most minute formality, as a ceremony by which we imagine that a spiritual mystery is typified, but we adopt it as a necessary remedy for preserving order in the Church.” While this was not called “Sabbatarianism” at the time, the foundation was laid for the progressive development of Sabbatarian thought. This seemingly innocent application of the Sabbath to the Christian economy encouraged increasing calls to transfuse the Lord’s Day with sabbatic rules, or as Parker observes, “the evolving rigorism of judaizing Christians.”[vii]

With this foundation and the later development of a creational rationale for a weekly rest, in the early sixteenth century Glait (1490-1546) and later Traske (1585–1636), both seventh day Anabaptists, argued that the Sabbath could not be moved to Sunday if the fourth commandment is a moral command emanating from creation; and so their followers gathered on Saturday. The initial use of the term “Sabbatarian”—along with “Saturdarian” and “Sabbatary Christians”—was used by Sunday-observant Christians (who believed the Sabbath was transferred to Sunday) to describe Christian assembly on Saturday (who believed the Sabbath could not be moved). “Traskites were to become important as examples of the extremes that could result from precisionist attitudes.”[viii] Ironically, the term invented to describe the aberrancy of Christians observing a Sabbath on Saturday came to describe those who first employed the term.

The Sunday Sabbatarian culture prevailed and was able to curtail commerce and control conduct through civil law. During the Great Awakening in the United States, other seventh day sects developed. This led to the distinction between “Saturday Sabbatarianism” and “Sunday Sabbatarianism” because both endeavor to apply the fourth commandment to their chosen day of worship, as opposed to non-Sabbatarians who do not consider Sabbath law to have any force for Christians. With the rise of evangelicalism, the Sabbath was increasingly regarded as a ceremonial law or simply an outdated law of the old covenant and therefore without moral relevance for Christians. “We are convinced that there is no theological connection between Sabbath and Sunday.”[ix] This decrease of support for Sabbatarian practices and the loss of a national Christian consensus eventually led to the desuetude of business closure laws and penalties for breaking the Sabbath. “Sabbatarianism was also to burden Christian liberty with human traditions”[x]


The moral state of this present age is no different than that of the twelfth through twentieth centuries, but Sabbatarians no longer appeal to the State to control the behavior of the populace on Sunday (or Saturday). While a few Sabbatarian authors opine about the loss of significance that Sunday worship commands compared to former years, they are unable to do anything except at the ecclesiastic level.

Following the Reformation, the magnification of Sabbath obligations was only possible because of the working relationship of church and state. Having acknowledged the danger of such a relationship and admitting a need to alter confessions,[xi] the idea of the moral obligation of all humanity to rest for 24 hours on a weekly basis is no longer defensible. Sabbatarians continue to proclaim the morality of the Sabbath but the lack of enforceability erodes confidence in this doctrine. Nowadays, the appeal to observe a sabbatic rest is conditioned on the individual decision to apply this law for personal benefit, which is grounded not on the authority of God’s word, but on a person’s internalization of what the command means to them at any given time.[xii]

Sabbatarianism is a difficult doctrine to defend because of the presuppositions that undergird it, the internal contradictions, and the inconsistencies in application. During the sixteenth century, the heightened state of Sunday Sabbatarianism gave birth to Saturday Sabbatarianism which in turn diminished the solidarity and enforceability of Sunday Sabbatarianism. What Sunday Sabbatarianism logically generated came to weaken the arguments for Sunday Sabbatarianism. For example, the first Saturday Sabbatarians were Anabaptists who believed that the State did not have authority over church matters, but unfortunately for the earliest Saturday Sabbatarians, they were persecuted for their faith for the reason that if Sunday Sabbatarianism is the only proper day for Christians to worship and the church has the support of the State to enforce Sunday Sabbatarian laws, then they could condemn and persecute Saturday Sabbatarians. However, if Sunday Sabbatarians argue that the fourth commandment means that people are only obligated to rest every seventh day, then they could not condemn Saturday Sabbatarians for worshipping on Saturday. Ultimately, this gave civil government the power to sit as judge and settle the theological conundrum facing the church (which is also undesirable).

The development of Sabbatarianism gave rise to internal theological contradictions. Sunday Sabbatarianism caused a schism centered on the significance of the day of Christ’s resurrection and the authority of God to freely appoint another day of worship for Christ followers. Initially, with the alignment of the state, they were able to persecute Saturday Sabbatarians on the premise that God moved the Sabbath to Sunday. But with the loss of the state’s favor, Sunday Sabbatarians now must tolerate the existence of Saturday Sabbatarianism. “We are taught that a Sabbatarian has the right to observe the seventh day if he so wishes; that is, if he believes that God wants him to.”[xiii] Barnhouse, writing this in the twentieth century, could not have said this in the early sixteenth century. Observe that the sequence of rest every seventh day is more important than the actual day God chose for Christians to worship. Giving theological superiority to the sequence (one in seven days) in order to summon the authority of the fourth commandment results in the loss of significance of first day congregational gatherings.[xiv] “Those who celebrate Saturday are clearly the most consistent Sabbatarians but fail to do justice to the newness of the eschatological situation brought about by God’s actions in Christ… the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, and to the attitude of the New Testament… to the Mosaic Law.”[xv]

The question then arises, “If Christians meet weekly and the Sabbath occurred weekly, then isn’t this an adaptation or continuance of Sabbath law?” Not necessarily. What marks Sabbatarianism is rest, which is the meaning of shabbat, not its hebdomadal attribute. The Sabbath was not only a weekly occurrence but was occasioned on the New Moon and several annual festival days. What made it a Sabbath was the prohibition from work (and other associated laws). The introduction of the Sabbath in the wilderness as a weekly observance gave that day of the week its name because the Jews would rest from their labors every seventh day as commanded from that point forward, but the fact that other days were called Sabbaths implied that Sabbath observance was not strictly a weekly event. Otherwise, any observance that occurs on a weekly basis is sabbatical—if Sabbath means weekly.  

Lincoln (LD) addresses the fact that the Sabbath and Lord’s Day share the seven-day sequence and sees this as an analogy. “Even if it is agreed that Sunday is the new Christian day for worship and that the Sabbath commandment is not to be applied to it, there remains an analogy between the two institutions of the Old Testament Sabbath and the New Testament Lord’s Day.”[xvi] It is undeniable that the Sabbath occurs weekly on Saturday (and still does) and the Lord’s Day occurs weekly on Sunday (and still does). Both had a distinct beginning, a distinct etiology, a distinct nomenclature, and a distinct covenantal duty.  They are treated as separate institutions in the NT, i.e., the Sabbath and the first day of the week, and they were treated as disparate institutions by the church fathers.[xvii]

Giving the Sabbath to the liberated Jews was a sign of the Mosaic covenant that obligated them to a recurring weekly observance. The Sabbath occurs on what is now called Saturday, but the specific day of the week was designated by God as the Sabbath. Had not the Romans control over the calendar and given celestial names to the days, we would have continued to call the seventh day of the week by the Jewish name “Sabbath.”[xviii] The Jews were given other recurring observances that coincided with the celestial rhythms of the day, months, seasons, and years, but the Sabbath was unique in that it was not related in any way to the natural rhythms of the planet. Its rhythm was of divine decree. Neither the OT nor the NT give any indication that the weekly Sabbaths could be instantly shifted to a different day of the week. With the establishment of the new covenant, the former observance of days was nullified, and in their place the Lord assigned the first day of the week and all that followed as a day for believers in Jesus Christ to assemble to remember their Redeemer through a new communal ritual. The new covenant was a new beginning for the new creation based on the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week in fulfillment of the Feast of Firstfruits which shadowed forth His resurrection. Having fulfilled the Sabbath as His body lay lifeless in the tomb, He rose in power over the grave on the first day of the week.

The week as a unit (and later as a recurring pattern) is unique to the Judeo-Christian mindset because it was a divine measure of days established at creation. Since God is the source of this measure of days and of His desire to mark His people by a weekly observance, He is free to use it however He wants. The weekly character of Jewish and Christian meetings identifies them with the God of the Bible. Even Muslims adopted a weekly pattern for worship.

If God desires His covenant people to meet together, is He not free to choose a frequency and appoint a starting day? Just because the Sabbath is nullified, it doesn’t mean the Lord can’t ask His children to assemble together on the first day of the week to hear the preaching of His word and to enjoy joyful fellowship in acknowledgement of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lincoln and others propose that first day assembly and worship was simply a practical matter for Christians—they couldn’t meet daily until the Lord returned and they couldn’t meet with the Jews on the Sabbath—but this bypasses the possibility that the Lord Himself ordained the day and set the frequency for Christians to meet through apostolic authority.

The Sabbath was not instituted at creation, but the model for a week of seven days was. The weekly pattern of rest did not apply to the community of Israel until they were a community in covenant with God. The church as a new community of God demonstrates their association and fellowship with God by a hebdomadal tradition, not on the last day of the week but on the first day, which accentuates the loss of continuity with ritual calendar laws of the old covenant.


[i] Harm, F. R. “Sabbatarianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell, ed. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001) p. 1045.

[ii] Skarsaune, Oskar. “Evidence for Jewish Believers in Greek and Latin Patristic Literature” in Jewish Believers in Jesus, Skarsaune and Hvalvik, eds. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), p. 512.

[iii] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, p. 267.

[iv] González, Justo L. A Brief History of Sunday (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), p. 113.

[v] Bauckham, R. J., “Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day,p. 317.

[vi] Calvin Institutes (2:8:28), p. 339. Following references in order (2:8:33), p. 342

[vii] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath p. 162.

[viii] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath, p. 164.

[ix] Shead, A. G. “Sabbath” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Desmond Alexander, et. al. eds. (Downers Grover, IL: IVP, 2000), p. 749.

[x] Bauckham, R. J. “Sabbath and Sunday in the Protestant Tradition” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 329.

[xi] Barker, William S. “Lord of Lords and Kings of Commoners: The Westminster Confession and the Relationship of Church and State” in The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, Ligon Duncan, ed., repr. 2004 (Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2003) p. 413-428.

[xii] Wirzba, Norman. Living the Sabbath. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007).  See my review at https://sabbathcomplete.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/book-review-living-the-sabbath-by-norman-wirzba/

[xiii] Barnhouse, Donald Grey. Romans: Expositions of Bible Doctrines (Rom 14:5,6).

[xiv] See https://blog.lifeassuranceministries.org/2018/03/26/three-reasons-adventists-dont-celebrate-easter/.

[xv] Lincoln, A. T. “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical and Theological Perspective” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 401.

[xvi] Lincoln, A. T. “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical and Theological Perspective” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, p. 398.

[xvii] González, Justo L. A Brief History of Sunday (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), p. 18-39.

[xviii] In countries where the early Christian terminology persisted, Saturday is known as Sabato (Italian), Sabado (Spanish and Portuguese), Subbota (Russian), Sobota (Polish and Czech), and Szombat (Hungarian).

Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Legalism

Glossary 23 Legalism/Legalistic 

Legalism. While Judaizing is a biblical term, legalism is a newly adopted term, often used pejoratively, to describe a range of beliefs and behaviors considered to be either theologically flawed or personally aberrant from the normal Christian life of obedience and sanctification. Obedience is compliance with a set of standards, instructions, or laws established by the one in authority, hence, the focus on the legitimacy of one’s beliefs or the legality of one’s behaviors. So, legalism represents a variety of ways in which there can be a breakdown in the proper understanding of and relationship to authority, the right application of the law, and the appropriate kind of obedience. Yet, legalism applies not only to biblical law (Mosaic law, Christic law, law of love) but more generally to any legal/ethical system that a person, group, denomination, movement, or society comprehends to be necessary for life or life beyond (Gal 4:9; 5:1). Hence, both the Jews under Mosaic law and Gentiles under the elements of the world (στοιχεῖα τον κόσμον) are enslaved to a lifestyle of legalism.[i] Baugh objects here to the term legalism by restricting its definition to “an unhealthy attitude or an empty performance of external regulations;”[ii] however, whether one’s commitment and dedication to that system is zealous or perfunctory, it remains their system of hope even though it cannot provide true liberty (Rom 10:1-3).  Also, Reisinger limits the use of the term legalism to justification and sanctification: “It is also sinful to label a person a ‘legalist’ for believing and seeking to obey all ten of the laws. . . when that person affirms and teaches that such obedience neither saves him nor keeps him saved.”[iii] While I agree with the sentiment, the term “legalism” now has a broader range of meaning.

The following illustration demonstrates the complexity and variables of law-keeping as a disciple of Christ, a citizen of God’s kingdom, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul summarized the above for Titus with these words: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:11-15). Peter assures us that God “has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Pe 1:2-3). And Paul commended the obedience of the Philippians with these words: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Php 2:12-13). Grudem advocates a two-pronged approach to sanctification, which guards against passivity on one hand and pride on the other: “It is important that we continue to grow both in our passive trust in God to sanctify us and in our active striving for holiness and greater obedience in our lives.”[iv]

As the term implies, legalism is an inordinate or improper focus on law with respect to 1) eternal justification before God, exclusively or partially by obedience to the requirements of some law(s); 2) sanctification of one’s life before God and man by adherence to some law(s); 3) requiring Gentiles to obey now-abrogated cultic OT laws that were designed to foreshadow Christ; and 4) declaring man-made laws or traditions—either obligations or prohibitions—to be conscionable. Let us describe these in order with the understanding that there can be some overlap of these conceptual categories and that these categories reflect a speciation of Judaizing.

“In the broadest general terms, ‘legalism’ may be defined as an improper use of the law.”[v] “The legalistic use of ‘law’ refers to the attempt to utilize the works of the law as a basis for saving merit: this is an unlawful use of the law …”[vi] “Legalism (or Neonomianism) errs by either (1) requiring complete and perfect obedience to the commands of Scripture or (2) lowering the demands by substituting either imperfect obedience or more accessible rules for Christian behavior.”[vii] “’Legalism’ is a term that may appropriately describe at least three errors addressed in Scripture: justification by the works of the law, adding to or taking away from the law of God, and sanctification by the works of the law.”[viii] I would agree with Bahnsen’s frustration that “some would rather effortlessly dismiss the idea [of desiring to obey or live by God’s law] by blindly attaching the label ‘legalism’ to it.”[ix] As such, it is inappropriate to use this term as an aspersion for anyone who simply has a positive view about God’s law, as if they were denying God’s grace, without first learning the greater context and meaning of that expression.

Justification. Justification is the legal declaration by God that the sinner is free of guilt.[x] The biblical record is absolutely clear: justification is solely by grace through faith, without the doings (works) of the law (Rom 3:28; 4:5; 10:3; Gal 2:16, 21; 5:3). A “legalist” is someone who believes they may earn redemption by their own works, or that their works are instrumental causes, along with God’s grace, for salvation.

Sanctification. Like justification, one’s sanctification is also a work of God through faith (Php 2:12-13; Col 2:20). “Legalists” are those who believe they maintain their salvation by their works (Gal 3:3). This may be theologically driven due to Scriptures that appear to contradict the position that a believer can undo the spiritual regeneration effected by the Lord. Christian obedience is a must (Jn 15:4-12; ; Jas 2:20), but it must be in accordance with a knowledge of God’s will and for His glory (Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 10:31; Col 1:9-10; 1 Thes 5:21-22). Problems with internal attitudes and motivation for obedience can lead to legalistic behaviors. A low view of self-worth may motivate the legalist to base their acceptance with God and others on their spiritual performance (Matt 6:5; 1 Cor 9:25). Pride in and recognition of one’s impeccable presentation or ascetic practices is motivation enough for the obedience of some legalists (Lk 13:14; Matt 7:21-23; Col 2:18-19).  A legalist’s obedience may also be motivated simply by the self-satisfaction of accomplishment without consideration of its spiritual value (Isa 29:13; 1 Cor 10:29).

Abrogation. This applies to ritual laws contained in the OT that were obligatory for the Jews until the advent of Christ. This kind of legalism is identical to Judaizing. The apostles specifically excluded Gentiles from the obligation to perform cultic/ritual laws of the Mosaic covenant (Act 15:24-29; Eph 2:11-18; Col 2:16). If a law is no longer important or essential, then there is little benefit in keeping it (Gal 5:1-6). “Paul [argued] that the mark of the people of God was no longer circumcision and law observance, but faith in Jesus Christ and participation in his Spirit.”[xi] A “legalist” requires Gentiles to perform laws that were meant only for the Jews while they were under the Mosaic covenant. In addition, should a Gentile submit to circumcision, they are actually making a commitment to perform all that the law demands (Gal 5:3). If a Jew can be saved in the same manner as a Gentile, then their circumcision or Sabbath-keeping no longer provides any advantage (Act 15:11). A “legalist” is also a Jewish Christian who returns to the performance of cultic rites as if they had spiritual value (Gal 4:9). Lastly, a Christian may be labeled legalistic if they determine that it is necessary to obey an abrogated law on non-exegetical grounds, such as guilt, thoughtless compliance, health, novelty, self-satisfaction, or camaraderie. They are merely using the law to justify their behavior, lifestyle, or abstention that they could perform anyway without citing the law.

Tradition. By extension, any ecclesiastic, formative, or pietistic rules, policies, or practices can become legalistic if they become equated with divine commands that bind the conscience (Isa 29:13) or promote ill-will among the saints (Gal 5:16-26). These practices have questionable value, yet require considerable time and attention to observe them, and often create an unnecessary distinction among believers. To be fair, it is not that someone is particular about the way they do things or has an obsessive-compulsive personality; it’s that the activity or avoidance of an activity diverts the person from a balanced view of righteousness or prevents them from being an integral part of the life of the church. Differences of opinion are met with intolerance. Legalists are dogmatic and prideful about how their church service is conducted with regard to manner, music, message, or ministry. Najapfour recognizes the effect this can have on church membership: “We unconsciously become legalistic in the way we deal with the life and ministry of our church. We become more concerned with our traditions than with the Scriptures.”[xii] People are pressured (externally or internally) to conform to an exterior behavior while their inner character and the fruit of ministry is undervalued. “And therefore, we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever.”[xiii] Some of these practices may have been well-intentioned and motivated by a spiritual goal, based on “sound inference” and accepted for generations, but when those who question or refuse to comply with those practices are excoriated or disfranchised, legalism is afoot.[xiv] “In the end, a heavy-handed legalism will do more to drive people away from Sabbath observance than it will do to preserve the day.”[xv]

Is it legalistic for a Christian to observe the Sabbath?

Justification. Sabbath-keeping is legalistic if it is integral to the salvation message; that is, no one can be assured of eternal life unless faithful Sabbath keeping can be demonstrated on the right day and in the right manner.[xvi] The NT doctrine of justification negates the possibility that works of any kind are instrumental in redemption, yet Paul’s arguments about justification through faith alone are primarily against the Jewish belief that the outward ritual of circumcision was necessary to attain full acceptance before God. Paul asserted that circumcision is nothing under the new covenant (1 Cor 7:19). If the ceremonial law (circumcision) given to Abraham was no longer profitable, then the ceremonial laws (calendar, priesthood, food, dress) given to Israel through Moses were less than unprofitable. And if this is true in the case of justification, then it is also true in sanctification, abrogation and traditionalization. In the showcase of religious sects today, Seventh-day Adventism and Armstrongism teach the necessity of keeping the Saturday Sabbath as a requirement for salvation.[xvii] They believe that Sunday worship condemns its practitioners to hell. “Sunday observance—this is the Mark of the Beast… you shall be tormented by God’s plagues without mercy.”[xviii] “The sign, or seal, of God is revealed in the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath…The mark of the beast is the opposite of this—the observance of the first day of the week.”[xix]

 

Sanctification. Sabbath-keeping is legalistic if it is part of the sanctification message. Christians should obey the commandments of God, the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the apostolic traditions—all of which articulate the obligation/command to assemble on the first day of the week to worship the Triune God in spirit and in truth. From the formidable warning against ceasing to gather together (Heb 10:24-25) we can conclude the relative importance of weekly worship in the spiritual life of a disciple of Christ. So, “going to church” on Sunday is a component of Christian sanctification, but there is a significant difference between keeping Sabbath and going to church (i.e., Christian assembly; gathering together; church meeting). The latter routine marks a time for fellowship, hearing God’s word, offering praise in prayer and song, giving to the poor, communion, and other functions. Sabbath-keeping on the other hand, as defined by the Sinaitic covenant, is to refrain from all manner of work from Friday evening to Saturday evening. It is legalistic to redefine the normative practice of church worship by adding the requirement to show piety through a twenty-four hour rest. According to Ray, “That final rest will only be obtained by those who… remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”[xx]

 

Abrogation. Sabbath-keeping is legalistic if the motivation comes from the belief that it is a moral law, which is contrary to the theology of the NT. The abrogation of the Sabbath, perspicuously taught by Paul (Col 2:16), is ignored or explained away simply because the Sabbath can be used by the clergy to cajole church attendance. The Mosaic law and its threats for breaking the Sabbath are advanced to motivate Christians to appear every Sunday for the sermon that the pastor worked assiduously to deliver. Rather than appealing to the grateful heart to join together in Christ’s presence to comprise His mystical body (Eph 1:3-2:22) and to be better equipped to serve God through the teaching of His word (Eph 3:1-6:20), a nullified law is given preeminence over the Spirit. While Sabbatarian pastors also appeal to a Christian’s desire to please God as the motivation to keep the Sabbath holy, they are essentially diverting the focus of the congregation from loftier ideals (Hos 6:6) to a non-essential law (Hos 2:11). It is legalistic to “call back the ceremonies into use,” as Calvin asserted, because it eventually diminishes Christ.[xxi]

Traditionalization. Sabbath-keeping is legalistic if a traditional mode of observation (i.e., not directly stated in Scripture) is determined to be critical for proper Sabbath-keeping, especially at the denomination level. Ceremonial laws are prone to legalism because the proper level of obedience must be legally defined. Yet, Sabbatarians do not want to fall into this Pharisaical trap. Chantry (SS) carefully avoids enumerating acceptable and unacceptable exterior behaviors: “All attention must not be to external details and endless regulations” and “He did not place elders in leadership so that they might dictate what specific course to follow in every particular.”[xxii] Admonishing Sabbath observance in general terms, Chantry at one point provided these guidelines: to avoid pursuing wealth, going fishing, watching television, and talking of sports or vacations.[xxiii] Ray (SS) tries to place the definition of work on the individual because everyone should know what constitutes work. “We don’t need 1,500 rules to keep. We all have a way of recognizing work when it comes our way.”[xxiv] He continues to identify our jobs as work, and adds housework, homework, and yardwork, to which I would add busywork and make-work. Even intellectual pursuits are think-works. Pipa (SS) is less abashed and lays out guidelines to prepare for Sabbath observance, advises giving rest to animals and working machines, and legislating business closures.[xxv] As Ratzlaff (LD) astutely observes, “As is true of any required legalistic observance, one never knows when his observance is ‘good enough’.”[xxvi]

Campbell (SS) states that the Sabbath principle is a moral one, but assures his readers that it is “quite out of biblical character for anyone… to draw up a list of prohibitions.” He quips that sportsmen arrive on the field and drivers appear on the roads knowing the well-defined rules, but “there is no list of prescribed or proscribed duties” for the Sabbath. He repeats the dictum that Sunday Sabbath is for works of mercy and necessity, but then states that “what is ‘necessary’ may vary from person to person, place to place, or even culture to culture.” He recounts that during his collegiate years, students studied night and day all through the week, but he refused to use the day for secular study. What was apparently a moral duty for him was not for the other students. One could reason, quite properly, the legitimacy of seminarians to study religion religiously and guiltlessly on their Christian Sabbath. These conflicting statements and the latitude he propounds can only be true if Sunday is not the Sabbath. Finding enjoyment and blessings and encouragement during Sunday worship is normal, but it’s not because it’s the Sabbath. Knowing that Sunday worship is good for a Christian’s sanctification is doctrinally correct, but it’s not because the Sabbath was shifted to the first day of the week. Stopping what you are doing to meet with other like-minded believers is obviously a necessity, but it is not observing the Sabbath. Freeing up your afternoon for additional Bible study, visiting the elderly, sharing a meal with company, and returning for the evening sermon is wonderful, but it is not keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was fulfilled and annulled, and now off the table for Christians. However, Christians are obligated to assemble weekly on the first day of the week for worship at such time the community of believers determines, but they are free to spend the rest of their time as they choose. Under this scenario, Campbell’s statements make more sense: “Not everything that is necessary for me to do on the Sabbath [the Lord’s Day] is necessary for my brother Christian to do” and “I cannot pass judgement on their decision [to do things that I don’t do on the Lord’s Day].”[xxvii]


[i] Bruce, F. F. Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 202-203.
[ii] Baugh, S.M. “Galatians 5:1-6 and Personal Obligation” in The Law is Not of Faith; Estelle, Fesko, VanDrunen, eds. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009), p. 267-268.
[iii] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 124. (Here, Reisinger limits the term to justification and security. The person in question may be legalistic in other ways.)
[iv] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP/Zondervan, 1994), p. 755.
[v] McGraw, Ryan M. The Day of Worship, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011) p. 123.
[vi] Bahsen, Greg L. By This Standard (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), p. 183.
[vii] Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), p. 664.
[viii] McGraw, Ryan M. The Day of Worship, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011) p. 127.
[ix] Bahsen, Greg L. By This Standard (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), p. 175-176.
[x] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) p. 723.
[xi] Kruse, C. G. “Law” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Desmond Alexander, et.al., eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000) p. 635.[xii] Najapfour, Brian G. “2 Main Reasons Why Members Leave and Join Another Church” The Outlook (70:2, Mar/Apr 2020), p. 38.
[xiii] Belgic Confession, Art. 32.
[xiv] Sproul, R. C. “When to Stop, When to Go, When to Slow Down” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/when-stop-when-go-when-slow-down/ (accessed June 20, 2020).
[xv] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), p. 107.
[xvi]  The Jews associate Sabbath-keeping with the arrival of the Messiah, teaching that if all of Israel should obey the Sabbath (perfectly) just once, then the Messiah would come (Hertzberg, Judaism, p. 117). This essentially makes God’s will subservient to the collective behavior of countless Jews, in which case, the expected Messiah should never come. Christian Sabbatarians are not far off in mimicking this sentiment by proposing Messianic age blessings on the world in exchange for proper Sabbath-keeping. “Only as God’s people return to the habit of engaging in systematic spiritual exercises for an entire day each week, then will the moral fabric of our age begin to be strengthened” (Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 12).
[xvii] Ratzlaff, Dale. Truth About Adventist “Truth”, (Glendale, AZ: LAM Publications, 2007) p. 33. See also, Ratzlaff, Dale. Sabbath in Christ, (Glendale, AZ: Life Assurance Ministries, 2003), p. 371-395.
[xviii] Armstrong, Herbert W. “The Mark of the Beast” (Pasadena, CA: Ambassador College Press, 1957), p. 10-11.
[xix] White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 8 (1904), p. 117. See also The Great Controversy, p. 605.
[xx] Ray, Bruce A. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) p. 50-51. This statement might very well fit the category of works-justification.
[xxi] Calvin. Commentaries, 21:193 (Col 2:17)
[xxii] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), p. 37, 105.
[xxiii] Ibid. p. 39.
[xxiv] Ray, Bruce A. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) p. 107.
[xxv] Pipa, Joseph A. The Lord’s Day (Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1997) p. 197-207, 48-52
[xxvi] Ratzlaff, Dale. Truth About Adventist “Truth”, (Glendale, AZ: LAM Publications, 2007) p. 36.
[xxvii] Campbell, Iain D. On the First Day of the Week, 2005 (repr: 2011, Leominster, UK: Day One Publications), p. 191.

 

Part 2d: What Are The Terms? New Covenant

New Covenant.  The concept of covenants is part and parcel of the OT, and this includes the “new covenant.” Within the historical context of the Mosaic covenant, Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant the Lord would establish with Israel (Jer 31:31-40). The writings comprising the NT describe the events leading up to the inauguration of the new covenant/testament and its significance for Israel and the world.

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the Lord, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the city shall be built for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever.”

The Lord acknowledges the sinfulness of Israel (v. 37) and even though they are undeserving, the Lord God is absolutely unwavering in His commitment to them and the land. But the Mosaic covenant is not enough, there must be a new covenant that supersedes it, loftier in its attributes and consequences. When God choses to enact the new covenant, a faithful Jew would be a fool not to enter into it through a new blood vow. In other words, a Jew could not hope to continue in the former [Mosaic] covenant and please God when the better covenant is placed into effect. The benefits of the new covenant clearly lay in the relationship between God and His people. They will have an inward compulsion to assent to and obey God’s law [What law would that be?]. There will be a new means of knowledge and understanding of who God is [What means would that be?]. The people of the covenant will encompass all classes [Who can they be?]. Sadly, the people will continue to sin yet find complete forgiveness [How can this be?]. Finally, the people of God will dwell in a larger region of holiness untouched by human warfare [How can that be?]. Because this covenant will remain forever, there is no covenant that could ever surpass it. In other words, the new covenant is the final and fullest covenant that God will make with His people, surpassing and completing all the covenants that have come before. At the telling of this prophecy, God determined that a new covenant is necessary for Israel; however, He would wait until a particular time to ordain it [When would that be?]. The Jewish sages could only wonder about the answers to these questions and hope in their God until he brought it to pass. However, when the Lord did enact the new covenant, the years of speculation and expectation made it difficult for law-entrenched Jews to comprehend the simplicity, grandeur, and grace that characterized it.

The four gospel narratives of the NT joyfully proclaim the events leading up to the institution of the new covenant and the remaining literature describes the implications and outworking of the new covenant for the people of God living in the world. The gist of Jeremiah’s prophecy is one of contrast: “not according to the covenant made at Sinai.” However, since concepts contained in the Mosaic covenant appear to remain constant—such as Israel (the people of God), God’s law, sinfulness and the need for forgiveness, holiness (by virtue of God’s presence) and the land—the difference appears to be a contrast of superiority. But even then, the eventual revelation of the new covenant was strikingly different than what the Jewish people had expected (Rom 16:25-26; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Eph 3:8-11; Col 1:24-27). So it is no surprise that even Christians arrive at differing conclusions about the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the Christic covenant.[i] Furthermore, Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant is specifically contrasted with the covenant made with Israel, and seems to leave intact and unaffected the covenants with (Adam), Noah, Abraham, and David. As such, the NT teaches that the new covenant 1) makes full the covenant with Abraham, “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14), and 2) makes obsolete the Sinaitic covenant, “Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8:13).

The term “new covenant” occurs in six NT texts (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8; 9:15; 12:24) and it is clearly addressed by Paul in Galatians (Gal 4:19-31). Allusions to the prophecy of Jeremiah have also been acknowledged by commentators in Matt 26:26-30; Mk 14:22-26 (institution of Lord’s Supper); Jn 6:45 (Jesus as teacher); Jn 8:37-47 (knowledge of God); Jn 16: 7-14 (gift of the Holy Spirit); Acts 5:31 (forgiveness of Israel); Rom:11:27 (forgiveness of sins) Gal 3:14 (gift of Holy Spirit); Heb 7:22 (better covenant); Heb 9:16-22 (related to first covenant); Heb 10:16-17; Heb 13:20 (blood of everlasting covenant); and 2 Thess 2:1 (future gathering). These and other NT passages help answer the questions that derive from Jeremiah’s prophecy.

OT Concepts

Question for the New Covenant

Answer/Fulfillment

Israel: a nation Who can they be? The nature of the people of God. Church comprising both Jew and Gentile
Matt 16:18 I will build my church
Jn 18:36 My kingdom is not of this world
Rom 1:16 to the Jew first and also to the Greek
Rom 11:7 Israel has not received, but a remnant has
Gal 3:28 you are all one in Christ
1 Pet 2:9 you are a holy nation
Torah: written law What law would that be? The nature of the law Law of Christ/ Liberty/Love
Jn 8:36 Son makes one free indeed
2 Cor 3:6 not of letter but spirit
2 Cor 3:17 liberty with the Spirit
Heb 12:25 speaks from heaven
Gal 2:4 liberty in Christ from circumcision
Gal 5:14 loving neighbor is epitome of law
Gal 5:1 stand fast in liberty
Gal 6:2 loving neighbor is Christ’s law
Jas 2:8 loving neighbor is royal law
Heb 7:28 appointed by oath after the law
1 Jh 3:11 Christian gospel begins with love
Prophets/
Annointing: ad hoc human ministers speaking for God
What means would that be? The nature of knowing God. Christ the Prophet and Mediator/
Annointing of the Holy Spirit
Lk 4:18 Christ anointed by prophecy
Jn 6:41-51 To know God is to know Jesus
Jn 8:31 Jesus speaks truth from the Father
Jn 14:9-10 Jesus has authority from God
Jn 16:7-14 The Spirit of God takes Jesus’ place
Gal 3:14 receive the promised Spirit through faith
Eph 4:20-24 new man in learning Christ with Spirit
Heb 7:25 come to God through Him
Heb 9:15 He is the Mediator
1 Jn 2:20-27 believers anointed with Holy Spirit
Forgiveness: by blood atonement How can this be? The nature of fellowship with God. Blood of Christ
Lk 22:20 covenantal blood
Acts 5:31 Jesus gives repentance and forgiveness
1 Cor 11:25 both priest and sacrifice
Heb 7:27 sacrificed once for all
Heb 10:18-18 no more offerings, boldness to enter
Heb 13:20 complete through the blood
Land/Holiness: specific boundaries and place worship How can that be? The nature of the kingdom of God. Spiritual/ Eternal Kingdom
Jn 4:23 day coming of decentralized worship
Jn 18:36 My servants would fight if worldly kingdom
2 Cor 3:11 more glorious
Heb 9:8 way into Holiest revealed
Heb 11:16 a better country, a heavenly one
Heb 12:28 receiving a kingdom
Gal 4:26 Jerusalem above is free
Restoration When would that be? The nature of eschatology. Two Advents/Already and Not Yet
Rom 8:30 predestined to glorified
1 Cor 11:28 til He comes
Eph 2:5-6 we are raised and sit in heavenly places
1 Thes 4:14 Christ died and rose, and will come again
2 Thes 2:1 man of sin first, then Christ will appear
Heb 9:28 He will appear a second time

There is a new balance and emphasis when it comes to the concept of “law.” The OT Scriptures are cited to reinforce the ethic that derives from Christ’s ultimate sacrifice not just for sin, but for people. This sacrifice is founded on the love of God in sending His Son (Jh 3:16) and the love of the Son for His friends and brethren (Jn 15:13). And this love should also extend to enemies, for even we were once enemies of God (Col 1:21). The law of Christ begins with love, and just in case the pious Jew is confused by this, there are examples of godly love commanded in the Mosaic law that are consistent with the new emphasis now that Christ has come (Ex 23:4-5, 9; Lev 19:18, 34; Deut 10:18; 32:35). It is not just an external commandment in a code book that we are to obey, but now we are internally compelled to demonstrate love because we have experienced first-hand the ultimate expression of love. The Israelite was told to reflect on the fact that he was once a slave in Egypt, but this mindset reaches its pinnacle in the Christian’s reflection that he was once a slave to sin and now made free to serve Christ. This new covenant freedom far outshines the freedom of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.

The institution of the nation Israel is one-upped by the institution of the church of Christ. There is still a nation called Israel,[ii] but even in its best times and highest glories, it could never attain the status of “true Israel” which is the church, comprised of both Jew and Gentile under a new covenant and a heavenly kingdom. Israel brought in a few Gentiles through circumcision, but it has been overshadowed by a more encompassing community called the church. Also, there was no nation or international community of God before the calling of Israel, so it is not beyond the intent of God to call into existence something radically different than Israel to become the people of God (Hos 2:23; Rom 9:21-24). From the beginning, the Lord’s elect were traced through faithful individuals and their families (like Adam, Seth, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, and Abraham); then it progressed to a select nation from Jacob (Israel)—but now it comprises people of faith throughout the whole world. In times past, there was always a remnant, a pocket of those who trusted in God (1 Ki 19:18; Isa 1:9); but now, the yeast of His calling has blossomed to produce a wholesome loaf of children of God (Hos 1:10; Matt 13:33; Rom 9:22-29)—not born from the physical lineage of Jacob, but born again by the Spirit through belief in Jesus as Messiah. Israel gestated within a pagan land and was released from servitude to live and rule in their own land. But members of the church are gestated by the telling of the gospel and freed from sin; released to serve God wherever they are, endeavoring to live at peace within their host nation guided by the law of love (Rom 12:18-13:10).[iii]  See Continuity/Discontinuity.

“[The new covenant] is the fulfillment of the promises of the old covenant and is better by degrees than that former covenant by virtue of its clearer view of Christ and redemption, its richer experience of the Holy Spirit, and by the greater liberty which it grants to believers.”[iv] “The old dispensation was temporary and preparatory; the new is permanent and final.”[v] “The entirety of Paul’s theology is a juxtaposition of old and new, just as Paul is a unique combination of old: rabbinically trained Jew; and new: Christian apostle and witness of the resurrected Jesus.”[vi] “That is, the use of the word “new” implies that the one which it was to supersede was “old.” New and old stand in contradistinction from each other. . . The object of the apostle is to show that by the very fact of the arrangement for a new dispensation differing so much from the old, it was implied of necessity that that was to be superseded, and would vanish away.”[vii] “As far as Christianity is preferable to Judaism, as far as Christ is preferable to Moses, as far as spiritual blessings are preferable to earthly blessings, and as far as the enjoyment of God throughout eternity is preferable to the communication of earthly good during time; so far does the new covenant exceed the old.”[viii] “If, therefore, God proclaimed a new covenant which was to be instituted, and this for a light of the nations, we see and are persuaded that men approach God, leaving their idols and other unrighteousness, through the name of Him who was crucified, Jesus Christ, and abide by their confession even unto death, and maintain piety. Moreover, by the works and by the attendant miracles, it is possible for all to understand that He is the new law, and the new covenant, and the expectation of those who out of every people wait for the good things of God.”[ix] “From the fact of one covenant being established, he infers the subversion of the other; and by calling it the old covenant, he assumes that it was to be abrogated; for what is old tends to a decay. Besides, as the new is substituted, it must be that the former has come to an end; for the second, as it has been said, is of another character. But if the whole dispensation of Moses, as far as it was opposed to the dispensation of Christ, has passed away, then the ceremonies also must have ceased.”[x] The first covenant demanded obedience, and failed because it could not find it. The New Covenant was expressly made to provide for obedience.”[xi]

The controversy about the applicability of the Sabbath under the new covenant is between the beneficiaries of the new covenant. That is, Christians who entered into the new covenant with God by grace through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ differ as to whether the Sabbath must be observed.[xii] The Christian’s view of the new covenant appears to hold a uniformly lofty position whether one is a Seventh-day Sabbatarian, a Sunday Sabbatarian, or a non-Sabbatarian. So, are these different approaches Sabbath observance related at all to one’s understanding of the new covenant?  That is, is there something about the new covenant that directly affects one’s view of the Sabbath?

This question would appear to take on two paths. 1) If the new covenant doctrine itself has no impact on the matter, then the argument for or against the Sabbath would not begin with the new covenant or the relationship between the old and new covenants. The arguments would be based on a separate rationale that only loosely ties into one’s understanding of the covenants. 2) If there is some subtle understanding about the new covenant that separates the various positions, then we would expect the argument for or against Sabbath-keeping to center on this difference. So, when Sabbatarians or non-Sabbatarians address this topic, do they count on their understanding of the new covenant to frame their argument or some other reference point? Where a proponent of each viewpoint begins can be telling.

Ratzlaff is a former SDA (SS) writing from the LD position. He begins his book “Sabbath in Christ” with discussions about the old and new covenants. The relationship between the covenants is central to his thesis that the Sabbath has been abrogated.[xiii] O’Hare’s (LD) “Sabbath Complete” surveys the topic as it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation. While the various covenants are discussed throughout these pages, it is not until the new covenant is established with the death and resurrection of Jesus that the rationale for a fulfilled Sabbath is presented.[xiv] Morrison’s (LD) argument in “Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing” also follows the biblical timeline to present the Sabbath as one of many calendar observances of the Mosaic covenant that were rendered obsolete by the new covenant.[xv] On the other hand, Ray (CS) begins with the Fourth Commandment in “Celebrating the Sabbath” and his enlarged concept of the Sabbath gets transferred to the Lord’s Day by the new covenant.[xvi] To escape the effect of the new covenant on ceremonial laws, the Sabbath is claimed to be a commandment for all mankind since creation. Pipa’s (CS) “The Lord’s Day” begins with the Sabbath commandment and an argument against “anti-sabbatarians” who on the basis of their understanding about the new covenant believe it has been set aside.[xvii] Acknowledging the fact that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic covenant and contains ceremonial aspects, Pipa simply asserts that the Sabbath is still morally binding. Bacchiocchi (SS) presents his thesis via an historical analysis, yet he sets up the Sabbath as an enduring commandment despite its symbolic and typological meaning—“not the literal abrogation but the spiritual valorization of the commandment.”[xviii] Observance of the fourth commandment, he posits, was lost to Christianity by the co-opting of pagan Sun-day worship. A more historically oriented work by Heylyn (LD, 1636) recounts the history of Christianity up to his time to demonstrate that after looking through the annals of Christian history no Sabbath observance was found, not until “forty years ago, no more, some men began to introduce a Sabbath thereunto, in hope thereby to countenance and advance their other projects.”[xix]

By this brief review and my awareness of the arguments, it appears that CS and SS theologians assign certain values and interpretive rules to the Sabbath before the new covenant comes into the discussion, and these notions insulate it from the effects of the new covenant. The heightened Sabbath of the CS position is preserved but shifted to Sunday by virtue of the new covenant. Some in this camp would agree that certain ceremonial aspects enjoined only during the Mosaic covenant were done away with by the new covenant. Sunday Sabbatarians (CS) give credence to the historical practice of the church to gather on the first day of the week but they deny the historical findings of Heylyn. On the other hand, the esteemed Sabbath of Saturday Sabbatarians (SS) is unchangeable, so first-day worship must be a theological error introduced early in the history of the church.

What are the values and interpretive rules assigned to the Sabbath by SS and CS advocates that in the end prevent them from recognizing or comprehending the nullifying effect of the new covenant on the Sabbath that the LD community believes? This is the same question as: what principles or facts are the LD failing to comprehend that makes it difficult for them to accept a moral and eternally obligatory Sabbath, which they must ultimately observe on Saturday or Sunday?

  • The Sabbath was instituted at creation. Because this predates the Mosaic covenant, the new covenant cannot undo it. It is not a ceremonial law but a creation mandate.
  • The Sabbath is in the Ten Commandments. God placed it in the Decalogue because it is a moral command, and therefore, the new covenant cannot annul it. The new covenant only put an end to the ceremonies tied to the Sabbath under Moses.
  • Jesus obeyed the Sabbath and corrected misunderstandings about it. Jesus would not approach the Sabbath in this way unless it was an enduring commandment.
  • Sure, the Sabbath is symbolic and typologic, but since the final rest has not yet occurred, the practice of it must continue through the church age. Marriage is also moral and symbolic of a future reality, and it is unchanged by the new covenant.
  • The Sabbath cannot be abrogated by the new covenant except by explicit instruction, which is denied. The mention of the Sabbath in Colossians must not be referring to the weekly Sabbath.
  • The resurrection was of such importance that it is the reason for moving the Sabbath to the first day of the week.


[i] Can there be alternative names for the new covenant? It is the covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ. As the preceding covenants were named eponymously, I think it can be called either the Christic or Messianic covenant.
[ii] There was no Jewish “nation” from 73 to 1948 CE. Israel was not a nation (1,865 years) longer than it was a nation (about 1,382 years, not counting the past 70 years).
[iii] The history of the church demonstrates its struggle with the concept of living in the world as a “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9) of a different order or character.
[iv] Rayburn, R. S. “Covenant, New” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Ewell, ed., p. 301.
[v] Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, p. 377.
[vi] Hagner, Donald A. “Paul as a Jewish Believer—According to His Letters” in Jewish Believers in Jesus, p. 118.
[vii] Barnes, Albert.  Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Hebrews, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1861), p. 181. (Heb 8:13).
[viii] Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Bible, (Heb 8:6). Biblesoft Electronic Library.
[ix] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch 11 (ANF 1:200).
[x] Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, p. 193 (Heb 8:13)
[xi] Murray, Andrew. The Two Covenants and the Second Blessing, London: James Nesbit & Co., 1899, p. 115. Italics in the original.
[xii] On the fringes, it is also a conflict between believers and pseudo-Christian cults.
[xiii] Ratzlaff, Dale. Sabbath in Christ. LAM, 2010.
[xiv] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, Wipf and Stock, 2011.
[xv] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing. Writers Club Press, 2002.
[xvi] Ray, Bruce A. Celebrating the Sabbath. P&R, 2000.
[xvii] Pipa, Joseph A. The Lord’s Day. Christian Focus, 1997.
[xviii] Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 69.
[xix] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath, ed. Stuart Brogden (2018), p. 379.

Book Review of “Theses Sabbaticae” by Thomas Shepard

While reading this book, I decided to learn more about the author and came upon an autobiography published posthumously from his dairy and notes. The author of a book wants to know his audience, but a book reviewer wants to know the author. The editors of his biography remarked that Shepard had a “simple, childlike confidence in God, [a] heartfelt and earnest piety, and . . . an unaffected devotional spirit.”[i] After his death, mourners lauded his treatise, Theses Sabbaticae, “wherin (sic) he hath handled the morality of the Sabbath with a degree of reason, reading, and religion which is truly extraordinary.”[ii] The title of his publication expresses his affinity for Latin which he sprinkles throughout his dissertation on the Sabbath.

Thomas Shepard was born on November 5, 1605, the day it was rumored that supporters of the Roman Catholic Church were to “blow up” the Protestant-controlled English Parliament. His father could not believe that such an act could be done in the name of the church and so named his son Thomas after the incredulous apostle of Jesus Christ. His father, William, married a grocer’s daughter and had three sons and six daughters, but only four of them were alive at the time of his writing. His unnamed mother died when he was four and his father’s second wife died when he was ten. His father took a third wife, who did not like Thomas at all, and she succumbed to sickness as well. Shepard eventually studied at Cambridge University, earning his Master of Arts, and took up ministry in Essex. He eventually married in 1632 “the best and fittest woman in the world” amidst the religious conflicts of the day. Parker mentions Shepard in his book about the parliamentary conflicts about the Sabbath roughly during 1560-1630. Shepard is described as a crypto-papist[iii] who made arguments before the parliament in 1621 that were not well-received. He was but sixteen years of age. Parker summarizes, “Other members attacked Shepard for his abuse of God’s word, and the Commons passed a resolution that he should be ‘cast out of the House as an unworthy member’.”[iv]

In October 16, 1634, he took steps to leave old England with his wife and first son, Thomas, to New England to escape religious turmoil possibly related to his Separatist beliefs. His son died early in the travels before leaving England. His wife bore a second son, whom he also named Thomas. The journey continued in August 1635 through the seas with various terrors and they finally landed in New England in October. His journey was part of the “Great Migration” of Puritans from England during this time providing continued growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His wife, Margaret, died shortly after arriving in 1636. He married a second time in October, 1637. Their first son died. Their second son Samuel was alive during his final years, but his third son, John, died in infancy. Another son was born in April 1646, living but three years. So tender a heart he maintained, that in all these deaths he seemed to believe they were provoked by his own sin.[v] He married a third time in 1647 and had a son who would later become a minister. Thomas Shepard died August 25, 1649 at the age of 44. He was then pastor of the Church of Christ, at Cambridge. His life was brief and full of hardship, yet he served the Lord with all his might and mind.

This great man was familiar with arguments antagonistic to the Sunday Sabbath viewpoint from such authors as Primrose,[vi] Heylin,[vii] Ironside,[viii] Wallæus,[ix] Traske,[x] Gomarus,[xi] Brabourn,[xii] Broad[xiii], and others. These men and their works are described in Robert Cox’s (1865) The Literature of the Sabbath Question. So Shepard determined to defend the Westminster (1632) idea that the Sabbath of the Decalogue is in continuing force not only for the church, but for the world, and that this day was divinely selected to be the first day of the week since the resurrection of Jesus. His writing was also occasioned by King Charles I, who republished in 1632 King James’s 1618 Book of Sports, that conveyed the King’s desire that the populace are at liberty to engage in Sunday pastimes after church, notwithstanding the judgmentalism of Puritans.[xiv]

This may have been a well-respected work in the 17th century, but it makes for difficult reading today. His sentences are long and convoluted, some of them filling nearly a whole page. An example follows.

“The Familists and Antinomians of late, like the Manichees of old, do make all days equally holy under the gospel, and none to be observed more than another by virtue of any command of God, unless it be from some command of man to which the outward man they think should not stick to conform, or unless it be pro re nata, or upon several occasions, which special occasions are only to give the alarums for church meetings and public Christian assemblies—an audacious assertion, cross to the very light of nature among the blind heathens, who have universally allowed the Deity whom they ignorantly worshiped the honor of some solemn duties; cross to the verdict of Popish schoolmen and prelatists, whose stomachs never stood much toward any Sabbath at all; cross to the scope of the law of the Sabbath, which, if it hath any general morality, (not denied scarce to any of Moses’ judicials,) surely one would think it should lie in the observation of some day or days, though not in a seventh day, for which now we do not contend; cross also to the appointment of the gospel, foretold by Isaiah and Ezekiel, (Is. lvi. 4, 6; Ezek. xliii. 27,) made mention of by our Saviour to continue long after the abolishing of all ceremonies by his death, (Matt. xxiv. 20,) who therefore bids them pray, that their flight may not be in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day, which, whether it be the Jewish or Christian Sabbath, I dispute not; only this is evident, that he hath an eye to some special set day, and which was lastly ordained by Christ, and observed in the primitive churches, commonly called the Lord’s day, as shall be shown in due place, and which notion, under pretense of more spiritualness, in making every day a Sabbath, (which is utterly unlawful and impossible, unless it be lawful to neglect our own work all the week long, and without which there can be no true Sabbath;) doth really undermine the true Sabbath, in special set days; and look, as to make every man a king and judge in a Christian commonwealth would be the introduction of confusion, and consequently the destruction of a civil government, so to crown every day with equal honor unto God’s set days and Sabbath which he hath anointed and exalted above the rest, this anarchy and confusion of days doth utterly subvert the true Sabbath; to make every day a Sabbath is a real debasing and dethroning of God’s Sabbath.”[xv]

There were times that I followed his logic and agreed with his conclusions, and sometimes he asked good questions, but didn’t always answer them. Yet conversely he made outrageous statements and non sequiturs. Overall, his arguments for the morality of the Sabbath were barely understandable. He spent little time on the relationship of the Sabbath to ceremonial law, typology, and eschatology. He provided no detailed research regarding the expression of sabbatical natural law in primitive peoples or earlier cultures, and he failed to explain how the Christian church missed this critical doctrine until his time.

“Because the express words of the commandment do not run thus, viz., “Remember to keep holy that seventh day,” but more generally, “the Sabbath day;” it is in the beginning, and so it is in the end of this commandment, where it is not said, that God blessed that seventh day, but the Sabbath day; by which expression the wisdom of God, as it points to that particular seventh day, that it should be sanctified, so it also opens a door of liberty for change, if God shall see meet, because the substance of the commandment doth not only contain that seventh day, but the Sabbath day, which may be upon another seventh, as well as upon that which God appointed first; and that the substance of the command is contained in those first words, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,: may appear from the repetition of the same commandment, (Deut. v.12,) where these words, “As the Lord thy God commanded thee,” are immediately inserted before the rest of the words of the commandment be set down, to show thus much, that therein is contained the substance of the fourth command; the words following being added only to press the duty, and to point out the particular day, which at that time God would have them to observe.”[xvi]

It was hard not to recall in his biography his recollection of former times as a student. “The third yeare wherin I was Sophister (at Cambridge) I began to be foolish & proud, to show myselfe in the public schooles there to be a disputer about things which now I see I did not know then at all but only prated about them.”[xvii] While only occasionally did he mock the ignorance of those with whom he disagreed, he was generally methodical and studious in discussing the multitude of considerations in this debate.

His work is divided into four sections. First, he determines to prove by many infallible proofs, termed “theses,” that a religious rest every seven days is a moral commandment from the beginning of creation. This section is comprised of 207 propositions in which he lays out his powers of deduction and induction. His main argument for the morality of the Sabbath is its presence within the Decalogue. While he discusses the fact that moral and ceremonial laws are often listed side by side in the OT and that how laws are listed is no way to determine the difference between them, he simply asserts that it is not so in the Decalogue—they are all moral. This is a logical fallacy in itself as he assumes to be true what he seeks to prove. He expends considerable ink on the relationship of the morality of the Sabbath to the law of nature, whether the morality is abstract or concrete, general or particular, primary or secondary, moral-moral or moral-ceremonial, private or public, internal or external, and direct or indirect. This was difficulty reading to be sure and offers little for Sabbatarians to draw upon for the defense of the morality of the Sabbath. As he considers the creation week, he makes the outlandish statement that “God never made himself an example of any ceremonial duty, it being unsuitable to his glorious excellency to do so.”[xviii] He states this as if it were a well-known fact, and then claims that this is the reason why the weekly Sabbath is moral and the yearly Sabbath of the Land is not. Shepard fails to observe that God’s seventh day rest was not a recurring Sabbath nor described as such, so His example doesn’t actually demonstrate the weekly Sabbath. Shepard also fails to notice that God gave Adam an example of a bloody sacrifice (Gen 3:21), the foremost of all ceremonial laws. So it certainly is acceptable for God to demonstrate a behavior that has ceremonial implications. The manna was provided in the wilderness at the set times that He willed to provide it, doing so for six days and refraining on the seventh. His example provided the experience necessary to initially teach the Israelites the rules about Sabbath-keeping and He continued to provide manna in the same manner week after week for forty years. The Lord tutored Israel in Sabbath law and He directly involved Himself in the sanctification and sanction of it. God most certainly made Himself an example of ceremonial law.[xix] On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus provided an example during the annual seder of the new covenant meal—the Lord’s Supper—which is not moral but a ceremonial institution, because it had a beginning that very night and will come to a conclusion when Christ comes into his kingdom.

The second focus of his book is in defending the change of the day of week on which the Sabbath occurs, from the seventh day of the week to the first. As a Lord’s Day advocate, I agree with him that the Christians are obligated to assemble on Sunday and that the authority for it came through the apostles and the ground for it due to the resurrection, but I disagree that the Sabbath itself was reassigned to Sunday. I agree that assembling together (“going to church”) is not a matter of Christian liberty, otherwise there would be no sin in forsaking the assembly. So Shepard attempts to explain why the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday is ceremonial and the Christian Sabbath on Sunday is moral. According to Shepard there was a moral Sabbath practiced by the patriarchs and then the Jews were given their Sabbath which is only “accidentally typical”; that is, it was assigned typological attributes specific to the Jews which are not essentially moral. Those typical features may be done away with—and he assures us they were abrogated—but the force of the fourth commandment continues. He asks, “What type is affixed and annexed to the Sabbath?” and answers, “I think it difficult to find out.” Of interest here is that he does not think that by shifting the Sabbath one day that the morality of it is undermined. He explains that the Jews celebrated their Sabbath at the end of six days work and Christians celebrate their Sabbath at the beginning of the week, thus both give the Lord one-seventh of their time, which is the moral requirement. If this is the case, then the Lord required the observation of two consecutive Sabbaths (which disrupted the rhythm of the universe) and He altered the concept of rest as a prelude to work instead of the completion of work. Well, few there be (Sabbatarians included) that can’t help but think of the Sabbath as something to work toward, the fruit of the labor. It remains a rest for having worked. For example, Pink asserts “He who never works is unfitted for worship…Work is to pave the way for worship…The more diligent and faithful we are in performing the duties of the six days, the more shall we value the rest of the seventh.”[xx] But some Sabbatarians disagree. Plonk argues that Adam began his week with worship. “What needs to be emphasized here is that worship comes before work, both in connection with creation and redemption. The day of rest precedes the days of toil.”[xxi] So it is unclear whether Sabbatarians are following the example of God or Adam. Shepard sees the analogy between God’s creation rest coming at the end of His work and Christ’s rest coming at the end of His work, only Christ’s rest was not in the grave on the Sabbath but on the first day of His resurrection. Since “man’s sin spoiled the first rest . . .the day of it might be justly abrogated,” he avers. Taking what he says all together: God’s rest was the last day of the week, but for Adam his rest began the week, and since Adam ruined the last day of the week Sabbath, the Jews were made to follow the example of God by observing the Sabbath on the last day of the week; and this was typological and could be abolished (only that would make God an example of a ceremony); so Christ having paid for sin and completed the work of redemption, rested on the first day of the week and restored the original intent that man begin the week with a Sabbath (even though the Creator’s perfect rest was on the last day of the week).[xxii] The more he babbles, the more the incongruities accrue.

Thirdly, he evaluates various opinions about the timing of the observation of the Sabbath; that is, when it ought to begin and end. This was a fiercely debated aspect of Sabbath-keeping in his day and so the English Parliament in 1656 defined the Lord’s Day as the time between midnight Saturday night to midnight Sunday night.[xxiii] In opposition to this act, Shepard ably demonstrates that the Jewish Sabbath was from “even to even” and deduces that the proper observation of the Christian Sabbath should encompass the same timeframe. “If therefore the Jewish Sabbath ended at even, the Christian Sabbath must immediately succeed it, and begin it then, or else a moral rule is broken.”[xxiv] For Shepard, this is a moral issue, and it is a sin to think otherwise. He is but a step away from seventh-day Sabbatarianism, which incidentally got its first church in England in 1653, less than five years after the publication of his book. And the first Seventh-day Baptist Church was formed in the colonies in 1671.

Lastly, he engages the reader with his thoughts about the manner in which the Sabbath is sanctified. As a preacher at least influenced by Puritanism, he is aghast at the libertarian attitude of Roman Catholics who make Sunday a “dancing Sabbath.” To keep the Sunday Sabbath holy, one must look to the Jewish legislation. “Whatever holy duties the Lord required of the Jews, which were not ceremonial, the same duties he requires of us upon this day.”[xxv] Most readers of Exodus think the Jews were not permitted to cook, make a fire, or gather sticks on the Sabbath—but according to Shepard, these are permissible on the Christian Sabbath, not because these were ceremonial laws now abolished or antiquated civil laws, but because they were never legal restrictions in the first place. He has an entirely different take on these three supposed prohibitions. His exploration of these topics in Theses 6-8 should make Reformed exegetes cringe. He cites Numbers 11:8, which states, “The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil,” and concludes that it was lawful to do this on the Sabbath. He sees in this passage a daily activity. However, Exodus 16:23 states that the Jews were to gather on the sixth day the quantity for two days, only they should “Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.” So it is quite clear that the Lord did not allow them to prepare the manna on the Sabbath. After all, they tried to put God to the test (cf. Ex 17:7), but He turned it around and put them to the test (Ex 16:4). What sort of test would it be if they could go out every day and gather manna every day and cook it every day? The consensus of three thousand years of Judaism and nearly two thousand years of Christianity mean little to Shepard on this matter. Klagsbrun (JSS) says, “Laws regulating the preparation of food for the Sabbath ahead of time would be based on the manna that anticipated the Sabbath.”[xxvi] Kaplan (JSS) states that the use of fire is a prototype of work because it is “one of the prime ways in which man demonstrates his mastery over nature.”[xxvii] Commenting on this passage, Henry (CS) states, “On that day they were to fetch in enough for two days, and to prepare it, v. 23. The law was very strict, that they must bake and seeth, the day before, and not on the sabbath day.”[xxviii] Regardless, Shepard is not so strict about work restrictions, restricting the work restriction only to servile works that are “done for any worldly gain, profit, or livelihood, to acquire and purchase that things of this life by weekday labor… hence buying, selling, sowing, reaping, which are done for worldly gain, are unlawful on this day, being therefore servile work; hence also worldly sports and pastimes.”[xxix] But it is permissible to cook, build a fire, and gather sticks on the Christian Sabbath. However, it is an open question whether presumptuous Sabbath-breakers should be put to death. He addresses the fact that God performs works of maintenance in His good providence, but Shepard disallows sweeping the house, washing clothes, or watering horses. It is interesting to me how the Puritans despised the ceremonies of Judaism, the legalisms of the Pharisees, the superstitions of Roman Catholics, and the doctrinal inventions of Popery, yet their views about the Christian Sabbath are blood kin to them all.

[i] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p.3.
[ii] Ibid., p. 104.
[iii] I could find no actual denominational association for Shepard. He seems aligned with Puritan beliefs, but does not hold to the strictness they are known for regarding the Sabbath; and in his writings, “Puritan” is a pejorative term. There were dissenters, and separatists, and non-conformists at the time, so I gather that he was a Congregationalist.
[iv] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath, p. 171.
[v] Six epidemics of smallpox affected the Boston area from 1636-1698 (Campbell, American Disasters). At this time, the prevailing belief was that calamities were brought on by the will of God.
[vi] Alt. Primerose, David. Minister at Rouen. Authored A Treatise of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in 1636, supportive of the Declaration of Sports.
[vii] Alt. Heylyn; Sub-dean of Westminster and Chaplain to Charles I; Wrote The History of the Sabbath in 1636 with a preface to the king “to show them how much they deceived not only themselves and others, in making the old Jewish Sabbath of equal age and observation with the Law of Nature, and preaching their new Sabbath doctrines in the Church of Christ, with which the Church hath no acquaintance.” He denies that the Sabbath was instituted any earlier than in the wilderness as described in Exodus and that the Lord’s Day is not a Sabbath at all, nor had it ever been during the long history of the church, not until after the Reformation.
[viii] Ironside, Gilbert. Bishop of Bristol; His 1637 book answers seven questions regarding the Sabbath dispute; denies that Adam was given the Sabbath; that the 4th commandment obliges Christians to observe the Sabbath; that devoting one day a week to worship is not natural, nor moral.
[ix] Wallæus, Anthony. Professor of Divinity at Leyden; authored a dissertation on the Sabbath in 1628.
[x]Traske, John. In 1620 published curiously titled “A Treatise of Liberty from Judaism” in which he takes the morality of the Sabbath to its logical end, and advocated Saturday Sabbatarianism, in addition to Jewish food laws. According to Cox, Heylin wrote about Traske, telling of his public whipping and 3 year incarceration, afterward he recanted his “rather humorous than hurtful” opinions and died in obscurity (Cox, p. 153).
[xi] Alt. Gomar, Francis; his 1628 investigation into the origin of the Sabbath denies that the Sabbath was instituted at creation, neither does the 4th commandment oblige all men to religious rest one day in seven.
[xii] Alt. Brabourne, Theophilus; a Puritan minister; reasons that if the 4th commandment is moral, then that affirms the Saturday Sabbath as obligatory upon the church; and further denies the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Those of this theological bent were called “Sabbatarians” for holding to a Saturday Sabbath, but his followers (and of Traske) are now called 7th Day Baptists. Cox states that Brabourne was brought under pressure by a Commission of Charles I, and submitted to orthodox doctrines (p. 162).
[xiii] Broad, Thomas. Issued a tract regarding the 4th Commandment in 1621, advising that the Lord’s Day be kept as it has been since the resurrection of Jesus, without the formalities of the Sabbath.
[xiv] Cox states (p. 163) that when the Puritans got the legislative advantage, “in 1643 it was ordered by the Long Parliament to be burned by the hands of the common hangman… and all having copies of it were required to deliver them up to be thus disposed of.”
[xv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae (1649), reprinted 2002, Dahlonega, GA: Crown Rights Book Company, p. 73-74.
[xvi] Ibid., p. 135.
[xvii] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p. 20.
[xviii] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 38-39.
[xix] This is similar to the statement: “Don’t require of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”
[xx] Pink, Arthur W. The Ten Commandments, p. 28
[xxi] Pronk, Cornelis. “Worship Comes Before Work” March 1995 (Reprinted in “Keeping the Christian Sunday”).
[xxii] The view that the patriarchal Sabbath was on the first day of the week is mentioned in the JFB Commentary on Exodus 16:23-26.
[xxiii] Cox, Robert. The Literature of the Sabbath Question,  p. 254.
[xxiv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 241.
[xxv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 254.
[xxvi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 28.
[xxvii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p. 35.
[xxviii] Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 1 p. 271 (Ex 16:22-31). However, Henry relaxes this law for Christians: “This does not now make it unlawful for us to dress meat on the Lord’s day, but directs us to contrive our family affairs so that they may hinder us as little as possible in the work of the sabbath.”
[xxix] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 257.

Part 2: What are the Terms? The Lord’s Day

Glossary: 6

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.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Wiesbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 1. Colorado Springs: Cook Comunications (2001). p. 391 (John 20:19-31).

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