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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).

Part 2d: What are the Terms? Sabbath Principle

Glossary 5

Sabbath principle. CS camp: A foundational ethic, obligatory for all mankind, consisting of weekly rest and worship that unifies all expressions of Sabbath-keeping, regardless of the day of week on which it occurs. This principle existed prior to the Jewish (or Levitical) Sabbath commandment and continues into the new covenant on the Lord’s Day, which is also regarded as a Sabbath. “The principle is laid down that one day in seven is to be observed as a day holy to God.”[i] There are three components to this principle: 1) abstention from work, 2) engaging in prescribed worship, and 3) a recurring cycle of seven days. “You can appoint the day if you please to be Saturday, to be Creation Day, or Resurrection Day, or Pentecostal Day, but the thing you cannot trifle with is God’s gift, God’s command of rest.”[ii] Ceasing from work has value of its own. Since it is in our nature to rest, resting improves our constitution, and refraining from rest diminishes our sensibilities and capabilities. “Either body or mind can do more work by resting one day in seven, than by labouring all the seven days. And neither mind nor body can enjoy health and continued activity without its appointed rest.”[iii] To distinguish sabbatism from mere indolence or the pursuit of worldly diversions, various religious exercises are enjoined and other activities are prohibited. “By a close application of yourselves to the Lord’s day, you will find yourselves so well-employed, and so well-entertained by your religion, that you will look with a holy contempt upon the employments and entertainments of the world.”[iv] And finally, the Lord designed and decreed this sabbatism to occur with a septimal frequency from the beginning, and now on Sunday, since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “The Creator, who appointed the Sabbath, formed man’s frame; and all intelligent observers are now agreed that the latter was adapted to the former.”[v] LD camp: There is no enduring cross-cultural “Sabbath principle” as proposed by Sabbatarians. “Appeal as an ‘ordinance’ is based on Genesis 2:2-3. Yet these verses do not prescribe or command adherence to the Sabbath for rest. Thus the principle of weekly Sabbath rest cannot be based on the so-called creation ordinance.”[vi] This is not to deny that Christians are morally obligated to assemble with other believers on the Lord’s Day for specific religious obligations that are spiritually salubrious not only for the individual but for the body of Christ, for this is prescribed in the NT (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor 11:17-34; Heb 10:25). Neither is it denied that in doing one thing (going to church), something else is not done (attending a sporting event). However, it is denied that a 24-hour sabbatism is intrinsic to our nature or conscience, nor prescribed by any NT author, and therefore, it is not required of new covenant believers. SS camp: Calling the fourth commandment a “principle” is the means by which the morality of the commandment is downplayed in order to assuage one’s conscience about moving the Sabbath to another day.

A “principle” is a law or basic truth that is natural, collective, and fixed. An ethical or moral principle would be evident among many cultures and throughout history, such as treating others as you would be treated. Since this “Sabbath principle” is essentially connected with religious worship, then even in idolatry, a ritual 24-hour rest comprising a seventh part of one’s time should be unmistakably evident among the religions of the world. This has been asserted in the past by Sabbatarians, but has since been proven false. So, the onus is on supporters of this view to demonstrate the requirements of this ethic apart from Mosaic law and the history of national Israel. Without this evidence, Sabbatarians must concede that the Sabbath was given to Israel by revelation with the intent to foreshadow the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the “Sabbath principle” is not described or exemplified outside Mosaic law, then the “Sabbath principle” is synonymous with Sabbath law. A “Sabbath principle” must entail rest and the only source to define “rest” is Mosaic law. Under Mosaic law, Israel honored God not only on a weekly basis with a ritual rest, but with other annual sabbatic (rest) days. Therefore, a “Sabbath principle” should include annual rest periods as well. It is obvious that the Second-Temple tradition of synagogue gatherings on the Sabbath and the NT church on Sunday share a pattern of weekly assembly, therefore, one could surmise that there is a “weekly principle” or a “septimal principle” that guides or marks the people of God within those collective structures. The significance of the pattern of six days plus one is heightened by the example of God in the creation week; however, the creation week was not itself a recurring event and the earliest generations of man did not practice a weekly assembly or rest, nor did they conceptualize that given days were holy—not until the Mosaic law.

Calling the Sabbath command a “principle” is the means by which the pattern of six days plus one is elevated over the specific day of the week that God chose for Israel to rest or for the church to gather together. But no Jew would ever venture to change the day of the week that God Himself chose simply because some “principle” demands only a weekly pattern or cycle. For the Jews, a weekly principle would not supersede the institution and sanctification of the specific day that God commanded (Saturday, the 7th day of the week in Israel’s calendar). Emphasizing the “principle” actually diminishes the significance of the particular day of the week that God chose for Israel and the NT church. This mindset underpins the trend to move the Christian day of worship to other days of the week.[vii] That is, if the specific day of the week is not important, but only the cycle, then one could choose one of any seven days on which to worship so long as the cycle is maintained. So, consider what is most significant about the Christian’s day of worship—that it follows a pattern or that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week? What is most significant about the Sabbath: that it occurs weekly, or that it commemorated the giving of manna and the redemption of God’s people from servitude in Egypt?

Let’s assume that the principle is more important than the specific day, that a person must only rest every seventh day rather than on the specific seventh day of the week. Imagine a Gentile who never ordered his life by this principle, but then converts to Judaism. Does he begin his new life with a 24-rest or does he work six more days before taking a 24-rest? If he does neither, and assembles at the synagogue on the seventh day of the week, then he has demonstrated that the specific day is more important than a seventh-day principle. His Jewish teachers would have him observe the specific day, Saturday, which is the seventh day of the week from the time that God first gave the Sabbath command. The same goes for converts to Christianity. The specific day of the week is more important than, and overrides, any “every seventh day” principle.

As the following chart demonstrates, the high degree of legal or situational specificity of Israel’s Sabbath mitigates against discovering any unifying “principle” throughout human history. If anything, both Judaism and Christianity share in the appreciation for the recurring cycle of seven days because it is a symbol of their redemption.

Creation Patriarchs Israel Church Heaven
Pattern of 6/1 Days

X

X

X

God Rests

X

Designated as Holy

X

X

Recurs Weekly

X

X

People Rest

X

Observed on Saturday ɵ

X

Home, Food, Fire laws

X

Showbread, Sacrifices

X

Assembly Commanded

X- locally

Moral for all Humanity

ɵ Whether the creation week seventh day corresponds to our present Saturday is unknowable.
• A “seven-period” or week was recognized on a sporadic basis, but no recurring sabbatism.

ⱷ God claims possession of “my Sabbaths” but He does not “rest” weekly. He rested long ago.

Ꚛ A convocation occurred in the temple arena, but outlying communities did not assemble.

○ Eternal realization of redemptive rest; unending holiness by virtue of the removal of sin.

The eternal rest is an experience of the redeemed, not by their own doing, but by virtue of what Christ has done. This is not the experience of all humanity.

[i] Young, E. J.,“Sabbath” in The New Bible Dictionary. Ed. Douglas, Eerdmans, Grands Rapids, Reprint 1974, p. 1110-1111.
[ii] Parker, J. The Biblical Illustrator , Joseph Samuel Exell, ed., (2 Cor 4:18).
[iii] Dabney, Robert L. Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 396. (lecture 32 on the fourth commandment)
[iv] Henry, Matthew. “A Serious Address to Those That Profane the Lord’s Day” in The Complete Works of the Rev. Matthew Henry, Vol 1, p. 129.
[v] Dabney, Robert L. Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 396. (lecture 32 on the fourth commandment)
[vi] Strickland, Wayne G. “Response to Willem A. VanGemeren” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 81.
[vii] “House church meetings can circulate from one member’s house to another each week, or one person can open his home each week. Some house churches occasionally move to scenic outdoor spots when the weather is nice. The meeting time and place does not have to be Sunday morning, but anytime that best works for the members.“ http://www.inthebeginning.com/articles/house.htm (accessed Nov 27, 2016).

Part 2d What Are the Terms?

Summary.  Thus far, a variety of Sabbath institutions (Jewish, Christian, Creation, and Eternal) have been described, which are now listed in the below chart—a timeline since creation. Each camp should be able to articulate from Scripture the similarities and differences between each expression of the Sabbath as it occurs along the timeline. Christians are not the only ones who lack clarity about this. Jews are not consistent in their understanding of the Sabbath either. For example, Kaplan (SJ)[i] correctly states that the Sabbath, or Shabbos, is a Jewish ritual. It marks and distinguishes the Jews from other cultures.[ii] Yet when the Sabbath was given to Israel in the wilderness, he asks, “Who counted it from the time of Creation?” as if it were ongoing since creation but not observed. And at the same time, he correctly perceives that the Sabbath was initially celebrated during the Exodus with the giving of manna and has been practiced faithfully ever since.[iii] Jewish scholars may involve creation story as the paradigm for rest, so that Sabbath-keeping means relinquishing any mastery over the world by means of our intelligence or skill. “We must leave nature untouched”[iv] in emulation of God. Kaplan calls God’s seventh day rest the “Sabbath of creation.”[v] Klagsbrun says that the fourth commandment “does not actually decree that we imitate God’s abstention from work” but she does call God’s seventh-day a Sabbath.[vi] Meier, approaching that question more from a literal-historical perspective asserts, “There are good reasons to avoid calling the seventh day a Sabbath in Genesis 2.”[vii] Like most Jewish scholars, Raphael places the origin of the Sabbath to the Jewish history of receiving manna, prior to Sinai.[viii] Neusner provides a unifying voice for Judaism in labeling the seventh day of creation a Sabbath, even though the ritual was not given until the exodus. The reference to the creation rest is perceived as a pre-addendum that adds meaning to the ritual given to Israel much later. The presuppositions inherent in this are: 1) the Torah was written for Israel, not for Gentiles, 2) the Torah was to demonstrate the uniqueness of Israel as opposed to the heathen nations, and 3) the seventh-day of creation (that they’ll call a Sabbath) was set apart from the other days of the week in the same way that Israel is set apart from the nations.[ix] The logical inference from this is that the Sabbath was not given to the Gentiles, otherwise, pagans would be as set apart, sanctified, and holy as Israel. Of course, the Jewish Sabbath is the original Sabbath. While there are shortcomings with their observation of it, all other expressions are mere copycats or counterfeits.

Since what we know about the Sabbath comes exclusively from the Mosaic covenant, we have ample information to allow a comparison with its supposed administration under the new covenant. The Christian Sabbatarian bases both the Mosaic and Christian expression of Sabbath-keeping on the fact that the Sabbath is commanded in the Decalogue and inferring from this a universal moral obligation. Chantry couches the differences between the Mosaic and Christian Sabbath in the fact that NT saints have fuller revelation and the gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore, “the ways in which the moral law was applied and the ways in which it was enforced differ greatly when we compare the management of Moses and the management of Christ.”[x] Jesus apparently handled “the same Sabbath law in a different spirit” and tolerated his disciples when they picked grain on the Sabbath.[xi] Observe that Chantry proposes that Jesus tolerated the actions and beliefs of his disciples and gave them permission to deviate from a standard, but it is not clear whether it is a pharisaical standard or a Mosaic standard. Did Jesus tolerate their righteous, religious, or unrighteous behavior? Was taking grain on the Sabbath a violation of the moral law or not? If their actions were not a violation of moral law, then what was Jesus tolerating? If taking grain on the Sabbath was a violation of pharisaical legalities, then why would Jesus have to “tolerate” that? Chantry then asserts that Jesus “reminds us of God’s judgment but stipulates no civil reprisals for breaking the Sabbath.”[xii] This sounds as if Jesus overlooked the disciple’s violation of this moral law, and protected them from the threats and punishments of the Mosaic law before the new covenant was in place. On the other hand, VanGemeren states that “Jesus’ teaching on the law has clear lines of continuity with the law of Moses,” yet “Jesus gave a stricter interpretation of Moses than the rabbis.” He concludes that Jesus held people more accountable to the sanctity of the law, including the Sabbath. “Rather than setting his disciples free from the law, he tied them more tightly to it.”[xiii] The lack of agreement between these two Christian Sabbatarians is because they misunderstand the crux of the controversies that Jesus intended to convey (amongst other things). Christian Sabbatarians view the gospel conflicts as opportunities for Jesus to set the record straight about Sabbath-keeping, so that Sabbath law may finally be kept in the spirit of the law. Once the apostles comprehended this teaching, the church was now prepared to observe the Sabbath correctly, albeit on a different day. According to Ray, “Jesus blasted the Pharisaic Sabbath, but in doing so he did not harm the biblical Sabbath at all.”[xiv] In other words, the original, biblical Sabbath remains for the church to observe. According to Christian Sabbatarians, this conflict in the grain field is presented by the Synoptists to demonstrate the proper interpretation of Sabbath law—that under the law, gleaners could pick and eat grain on the Sabbath (despite the Pharisee’s objection). Jesus corrected their misapprehension and let us know that if we are hungry gleaners on the Sabbath, we may eat of the standing grain. Christian Sabbatarians then conclude that the spirit of the Sabbath is meant to alleviate human hunger, but not by going to a restaurant.

Camp Pre-Fall Post-Fall Patriarchs Moses Church Resurrection
SS Creation Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Eternal Sabbath
CS Creation Sabbath Sabbath Sabbath Mosaic Sabbath Christian Sabbath Eternal Sabbath
LD God’s rest None None Sabbath Lord’s Day Eternal Rest
SJ God’s rest or “Sabbath” None None Sabbath, to this day Not really a Sabbath All is “Sabbath”

Putting aside the question whether one may properly call God’s seventh-day rest a “Sabbath,” the following questions are meant to inquire about the purported claim that by God’s rest, the Sabbath was decreed for mankind the day following their creation. That is, how did Adam and his posterity observe the Sabbath over the course of time?

  • Pre-Fall. What did Adam understand about the Sabbath commandment before the fall? Did he observe a day of rest the following week, and if so, what was he resting from? Was his work prior to the fall something from which to rest? Did Adam extend the work prohibition to working animals? Was he required to make sacrifices as part of Sabbath worship? Was substitutionary death required before the fall? Was he allowed to leave Eden before the fall? If he disobeyed the Sabbath commandment before he ate the fruit, would that have been cause for ejection from Eden? If Adam were to sin, must his first sin have necessarily been eating of the Tree of Knowledge? What work did Adam do on the day of his creation? Is that a paradigm for the kind of work that Sabbath-keepers should avoid, i.e., naming things and tending a garden? Or was Adam only to refrain from manipulating the natural world? Was the last day of God’s week the first day of Adam’s week, such that the Sabbath began his recurring week of rest and worship?
  • Post-Fall. Once Adam was banished, how did he observe the Sabbath? Did he stoke a fire on his Sabbath? Was the death-penalty in effect for Sabbath-breakers? If it was, are we to assume that Adam and Eve perfectly kept the Sabbath for over nine hundred years? Are we to assume that Cain and Abel kept the Sabbath? Was Cain a Sabbath-breaker? When did the Sabbath fall into disuse? Is there any evidence that societies observed a weekly rest prior to the existence of Judaism?
  • What patriarchs kept the Sabbath? Did they keep the Sabbath the same way as Adam did? Did they rest from Friday evening to Saturday evening, or did they keep it during a single 24 day? What Sabbath did the Jews keep during their enslavement to Egypt? Could the Sabbath exist without anyone observing it? Does the observation of the Sabbath make it holy, or is the day itself intrinsically holy? If the Sabbath was a forgotten commandment, then why, when reinstituting it, did God not demand “payback” for all the missed Sabbaths? Since the Sabbath principle requires a whole day of abstention from work and rendering proper worship, did Noah and his family stop tending the animals one day in seven? Did Joseph prohibit the collection of grain in Egypt one day in seven? Did Jacob encamp for a day of rest when his brother was in pursuit of him?
  • Why did God pronounce a death-penalty just for disobedient Jews; was it not as important in previous epochs? If the foundational reason for the Sabbath is creation, then why later associate it with their release from Egypt? Why are the Sabbath and New Moon often listed together? Why was a ritual law placed in the Ten Commandments? Who kept the Sabbath before the law, and how did they keep it? Does God keep the Sabbath in the same way that Jews keep the Sabbath, by refraining from any mastery over the environment? If the Sabbath is of universal obligation, then why does it appear that God gave the Sabbath only to the Jews? And why were not any of the pagan nations judged for failure to observe a Sabbath? Is the inclusion of animals in the Sabbath the result of natural law or ceremonial law?
  • If the death penalty conveyed the seriousness of this command under Moses, why would God “decriminalize” the Sabbath for Christians? Isn’t the Lord’s Day even more important than the Sabbath? For those who believe God moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, why would God break the rhythm of week if that rhythm is a moral structure of time? Did Jewish converts disobey the fourth commandment when they rested on the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, thereby working only 5 days in the week? Which Jewish Sabbath laws are in effect and which are not, and what is the biblical basis for making any distinctions?
  • If in eternity we observe a Sabbath continuously, will the righteous no longer work? Will we also be observing the New Moon celebration in heaven or on a new earth? Will time be measured by the movement of the sun and moon? If heaven is a place of perfection and God is continuing the maintenance of the cosmos, what work is there for us to do? Why would the Sabbath ceremony be re-instituted and none of the other Jewish rituals? If the fourth commandment only demands that we give God one day in seven, is God changing His mind by demanding worship every day in heaven? If He creates a new earth, will the inhabitants keep Sabbath again? If so, why? And on what day? What would they be resting from?

[i] This is a late-comer, but Jews are a subset of the Saturday Sabbath group, hence the new abbreviation SJ.
[ii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p.6
[iii] Ibid., p. 15.
[iv] Ibid., p. 19.
[v] Ibid., p. 18, 19, 20, 21.
[vi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 27.
[vii] Meier, Samuel A. “The Sabbath and Purification Cycles” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, p. 5.
[viii] Raphael, Chaim. The Festivals, p. 62.
[ix] Neusner, Jacob. Confronting Creation, p. 78-89.
[x] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 63.
[xi] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xii] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 64.
[xiii] VanGemeren, Willem A., “The Law is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Strickland, p. 37-38.
[xiv] Ray, Bruce A. Celebrating the Sabbath, p. 72.

Part 2d: What are the Terms? Creation Sabbath

Part 2d: What are the Terms?

Glossary 4

Creation Sabbath. CS and SS camps: The institution of the Sabbath at creation, implied by God’s “rest” on the seventh day and His blessing of it. God’s “rest” then was not for Himself, but an example and illustration for the benefit of mankind, to be released from exertion for the purposes of worship. After all, God didn’t need rest and He doesn’t do self-worship. Interestingly, Campbell regards the seventh day as “God’s Sabbath-keeping,”[i] but of course, God did not resume creative works when “His Sabbath” was over. This Sabbath was instituted prior to the fall, therefore, it is an obligatory commandment for all mankind. The seventh day of creation was the beginning of a weekly Sabbath for Adam and all his posterity to rest from their labors as vice-regents of creation.[ii] JFB venture to claim that “the institution of the Sabbath is thus as old as creation; and the fact of its high antiquity, its being coeval with the existence of the human race, demonstrates the universality and permanence of its obligation.”[iii] JFB acknowledge that the word “Sabbath” is not to be found in the narrative, nor is the Sabbath actually commanded, but as the highest of the “primordial arrangements of the world, must be recognized as a law of nature no less than an ordinance of religion.”[iv] Given that the Sabbath is a law of nature, Sabbath keeping can be expected to promote the health and optimal constitution of body, mind, and spirit; whereas non-observance results in detriments to the mind and body, as well as punishments by God. This primeval Sabbath was observed by the patriarchs without the “peculiarities attached to it by the Jewish law.”[v] See Sabbath Principle and Creation Ordinance. LD: A “creation Sabbath” is fiction or a fable. From the standpoint of progressive revelation, Adam did not have the information to conceive God’s rest as a command, an example, or a suggestion for all mankind. The last he heard, he was banished from paradise and cursed to work by the sweat of his brow. No one had to tell him to get sleep at the end of the day or to take a break from a particularly arduous activity. From the standpoint of natural law, humans are not morally compelled to rest each evening or from their labors all day in a septimal pattern. “All defenders of the orthodox doctrine of the Church of England [in the 1630s] maintained that the Sabbath was not a creation ordinance, but an ordinance of Moses originating at Sinai. The Sabbath was unknown from Adam to Moses.”[vi] “God separated the seventh day; we interpret this in terms of an eschatological, proleptic sign indicating some future rest.”[vii] Of all the theological fancies which credulity has accepted as divine truths, not the least remarkable for the scantiness of evidence producible in support of it is the tenet, that a command was given to mankind at the creation to observe a seventh-day Sabbath.”[viii]

The argument that the Sabbath commandment was given to Adam before the fall is crucial to the doctrine that the Sabbath is a moral commandment applicable to all mankind. The corollary doctrine is that the presence of the Sabbath within the Decalogue implies universal morality. These two inferences are challenged by the absence of any historical Sabbatarian practice outside of Judaism or its influence. That is, if a recurring seven-day pattern of rest and worship of God was written on the heart of man and was a biological necessity, then the outworking of such a natural law would be evident through the annals of history and across most cultures. But this cannot be demonstrated. A creation Sabbath is also challenged by the theoretical reason for rest. God did not need to rest due to the demands of speaking things into existence, but we are expected to believe that the whole creation week was designed for the purpose of convincing mankind to rest on a weekly basis. Nor would sinless Adam require a weekly physical rest from perfect obedience in an un-cursed world. Yet Sabbatarians urge the necessity of weekly rest as a balm for the hardship of work. This is plausible only if the Sabbath was instituted after the fall of man. Lastly, if the Sabbath were given at creation, then the day itself is holy and cannot be changed, which is the logical conclusion of the SS advocates. If Sabbath observance was re-instituted for the Jews at Sinai, then it was the Lord who determined which day it was to begin, as it so happened with the miraculous provision of Manna. It would be preposterous to assume that the Lord lost track of the cycles of week from the beginning of creation when reestablishing such an important endowment for the human race. Nor can we assume that the Lord arbitrarily chose the day on which the Sabbath was to resume, as if He were more interested in getting that one-seventh of time regardless of the actual sanctity or holiness that imbued every seventh day since creation.

The mention of God’s rest on the seventh day within Genesis uses the literary technique of prolepsis, where the author is setting the stage for something yet to come (i.e., “foreshadowing”). When the Sabbath was ultimately given to Israel millennia later, they could look back to Genesis and see that God planned to give them the Sabbath from the beginning. That’s cool! However, to claim that the Sabbath was in existence before it was actually given is called prochronism, a literary error of placing something earlier in history than it could have been. In the movie “Gladiator,” the actor Russel Crowe is called the “Spaniard,” a term that didn’t come into existence until 1400 years later. In the movie “Braveheart,” actor Mel Gibson wears a kilt, a piece of clothing that didn’t come into existence until 400 years later. Prochronism is a laughable error, prolepsis is a brilliant technique. But the teaching that the Sabbath was given at creation is more than an anachronistic slip—whole bodies of doctrine are built upon it—so it is more than a little sad (1 Cor 15:12-19; 1 Tim 1:3-4; 2 Tim 4:3-4; Titus 1:14).

Eternal Sabbath. A metaphor used by all camps for the glorious experiences to be had in heaven when all is consummated (2 Ki 2:11; Dan 12:2-3; Jn 14:2-4; 2 Cor 5:1-2; Phil 3:20-21; Heb:13-15; Rev 11:12), such as the complete forgiveness of sin (2 Cor 5:3), resurrected bodies (1 Cor 11:39-44), freedom from pain and suffering (Rev 21:3-4), having the mind of Christ (1 Cor 13:12; 1 Jn 3:2), and enjoying unbroken holy fellowship with God (1 Thes 4:17; Rev 21:7). Heaven is the place in which God resides now, and He provided the analogs on earth by which to conceive of it as a Garden, a Household, a Kingdom, a City, even an unending Sabbath.  “The best description of [heaven] is to say it is an ‘eternal Sabbath’”[ix] “The Sabbath on earth is a shadow and type of the glorious rest and eternal Sabbath we hope for in heaven, when God shall be the temple, and the Lamb shall be the light of it.”[x] “All who have honoured the Sabbath on earth, shall enjoy a Sabbath without end in heaven.”[xi] “He has made this day the (Lord’s day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return, and having finished the judgment upon all His foes to the very last shall lead it to the rest of that eternal Sabbath, which God prepared for the whole creation through His own resting after the completion of the heaven and the earth.”[xii] “Genesis 1 is not merely a record of creation; it is also a typology [sic] of history, and the final Sabbath will be endless.”[xiii] Thus, heaven may be conceptualized as a re-creation of an unspoiled garden of Eden—a paradise to share in an unbreakable rest of God (Rev 2:7; Lk 23:43; 2 Cor 12:4). “Heaven is finally seen in terms of a new garden of Eden, to which the righteous are gathered, apparently at death.”[xiv] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Question 103, entertains the idea of actually experiencing the eternal Sabbath on earth by ceasing from carnal works, yielding to the Lord, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work on the inner man. Hmm.

While the concept of a heavenly eternal Sabbath is one Sabbath followed immediately by another, the Jews painstakingly moderated their calendar to avoid the observance of two consecutive Sabbaths on earth. As blessed as the Sabbath was, consecutive Sabbaths were incompatible with normal living. I prefer the more common term “eternal rest” as it better summarizes the benefits of our redemption, which is an ongoing experience of having ceased, not only from cursed and sin-affected daily works, but also from the false works aimed at securing our own redemption. The concept of an ongoing rest comes from Genesis, not from Exodus. That being said, the author of Hebrews described the balm of salvation as a “sabbatismos” or Sabbath-keeping, in that redemption is entering into God’s rest through faith (rest) and not by works. As McGee delighted to say, “I have a Sabbath day everyday—I rest in Christ.”[xv] But we must not miss the point of McGee’s tongue in cheek response—his “rest” is from working for salvation, not resting from any manner of labor. That which the Sabbath signified is that which the believer realizes now, yet in full measure when the Lord returns. If God’s rest is not present now, then those who believe could not enter into it (Heb 4:3). Besides, this understanding also corresponds to our concept of heaven when we will be continually working in some capacity for the continued glory of God. We will be working, yet in God’s rest (Jn 5:16-19). There will be no need to strive for rest or to perform a ritual of rest, because redemptive rest will be our full and complete experience. The fact that the Sabbath was a type and shadow of a completed redemption demonstrates the temporality of that institution as promulgated in Mosaic law.

Since most, if not all, believers regard heaven as the “eternal rest” and that unbelievers are not beneficiaries of that rest, it is plain that the eternal rest is a benefit of redemption. To be redeemed is to be accepted and welcomed into God’s rest, now and forever. Christian authors recognize the analogy between Christ’s work of redemption and His entering into rest and God’s work of creation and entering into His seventh day rest. “Jesus entered into Sabbath rest, just as God entered into Sabbath rest. And that is the rest that awaits us.”[xvi] What is the basis for the comparison? If God’s seventh day rest is merely to provide a pattern for all mankind to rest one day in seven, then how does that correlate with Christ’s three-year (or even three and a half year) ministry and crucifixion which only benefits those who put their trust in Him? However, if God’s rest is a type in which the seven days symbolize the perfections of Christ’s work of redemption and that the rest symbolizes the holy blessedness of being found in Him, then the correlation is rational and of a redemptive character.

[i] Campbell, Ian D., On the First Day of the Week, p. 19.

[ii] Gaffin, Calvin and the Sabbath, p. 154.
[iii] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 9.
[iv] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 28.
[v] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 1, p. 30.
[vi] Dennison, The Market Day of the Soul, p. 92.
[vii] Dressler, Harold H. P., “The Sabbath in the Old Testament” in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, D. A. Carson, ed., p. 29.
[viii] Domville, William. The Sabbath, Chapman and Hall:London, 1855, reprint; p. 47.
[ix] Barnes, Notes on Hebrews 4:9
[x] Watson, Thomas. The Ten Commandments, Banner of Truth Trust, (1692) reprinted 1999. p. 97.
[xi] Adams, W. “The Benefits of the Sabbath” in The Christian Sabbath (1862), reprint Forgotton Books: London;  p. 230.
[xii] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400. (Ex 20:8-11).
[xiii] Jordan, James B. Creation is Six Days, p. 102.
[xiv] Fretheim, Terence. “Heaven” in Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, Donald E. Gowan, ed., Westminster John Knox:Louisville, KY, 2003; p. 202.
[xv] McGee, Thru the Bible, 5:532.
[xvi] Campbell, Ian D., On the First Day of the Week, p. 208.

Why the Term “Christian Sabbath” is Absurd

To say that Sunday is the “Christian Sabbath” is to ignore and undermine the rationale for the early acceptance and use of the term “The Lord’s Day.”[i] The reason the term “Lord’s Day” arose within the Christian community was quite logically because the first day of the week became as significant as the seventh day of the week, if not more so. What were the first Christians to call the first day of the week since the last day of the week was already called the Sabbath (Matt 28:1)? At this time in history, the days of the week did not have distinct names, with two notable exceptions.[ii] The Graeco-Romans called the first day of the week Sunday or the Sun’s day. The Jews called the seventh day of the week Shabbos or Shabbat. Not until the third century is there any evidence of the naming of the days of the week that we are currently familiar with. In the Greek NT, the phrase “first day of the week” is translated from μια των σαββάτων, or “first of the Sabbath,” but it is properly understood as “first [day] of the week.”[iii] Not content to simply call the first day of the week by its Roman title “Day of the Sun”[iv] or by Jewish custom “first [day] of the week,” Christians came to ascribe their preferred day to assemble by the regal title: the Lord’s Day.[v] The name alone speaks of its superiority over the Sabbath. The Sabbath was about resting, but the Lord’s Day was, well, about the Lord! It was a day to render due praise to God and His Son whom the Father has made “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36). Faithful Jewish Christians could not help but recall Psalm 118 as they gathered together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord’s sacrifice in their stead (Acts 4:11; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-9). Entering through the “gates” of a home or gathering place they’d sing: “This is the day that the Lord has made.”

Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord, Through which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.
God is the Lord, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
(Ps 118:19-29, NKJV)

The only justification Jewish Christians had to forgo the Sabbath and go for the Lord’s Day, was the annulment of the Sabbath and the institution of the Lord’s Day by the authority and superiority of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.

Imagine what it would be like if Christians started calling January 2 “New Year’s Day.” Not only would it be confusing, it would make Christians out to be fools! And what if they waited a thousand years before calling it “the Christian New Year’s Day” in order to distinguish it from the historical New Year’s Day? In the same way, it would have been utterly confusing to refer to both Saturday and Sunday as the “Sabbath,” if indeed the Sabbath was shifted to Sunday. Perhaps one could counter: It was because the Sabbath was shifted, that the confusion ensued and that the term “Lord’s Day” was derived. But this admits that the early Christians didn’t have the wherewithal to simply call it “the Christian Sabbath” until 1500 years later.[vi] After all, this is the preferred term among some church denominations. The early Christians did not call the first day of the week “the new Sabbath” or the “the Christian Sabbath.” This is because they understood that the symbolism of Sabbath-keeping looked toward the redemptive rest that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, provided by His life, and death, and resurrection.

The old covenant celebrated the Sabbath with regulations affecting work, animals, travel, fire, and temple worship. The Sabbath looked back to the divine rest that was lost due to sin (Ex 20:11).[vii] At the same time, the ritual enactment of the Sabbath symbolized a day when believing mankind could be restored to an abiding relationship with God; but the Sabbath itself could never be the means to realize this. The Sabbath was “a foretaste of the blessedness into which the people of God are at last to enter, the blessedness of the eternal κατεπαυσεν απο των εργων αυτον [rest from our own works].”[viii] The Sabbath—like Canaan, the priesthood, the Mosaic covenant, the temple, and its sacrifices—could not provide what it symbolized (Heb 4:8; 7:11; 8:7; 9:8, 9, 13-14 ). In time, the day that the Sabbath anticipated found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ who embodied and provided redemptive rest. “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). “For we who have believed have entered into rest” (Heb 4:3). Paul asserted that the Mosaic laws regarding food and drink, festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths were predictive shadows of Christ (Col 2:16). Christ is the living Head and we live in Him (Col 2:19). Jesus, our Lord, no longer observes dietary laws or keeps Sabbath, therefore we should no longer subject ourselves to regulations that no longer matter (Col 2:20; Heb 9:9-10). With the Sabbath fulfilled in Christ, the seven-day week took on new meaning. The Sabbath represented the terminus of the old creation, but the Lord’s Day represents the first day light of a new creation (Jn 1:4-5; Rom 6:3-5; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:5-6; Col 2:9-13).

The earliest Christians, who were Jews by heritage, knew the Sabbath was on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Yet they began to assemble together on Sunday, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2). They already had a religious name for Saturday, and it became imperative to advance a new term for the favored gathering day of Christians. Colson stated the rationale so well.

I see no reason to go outside Christian thought to account for the name Lord’s-day. As we find the Eucharist called by St. Paul the Lord’s Supper (κυριακον δειπνον), and as one of the chief purposes, indeed the chief purpose of the Christian meeting was to celebrate this, nothing seems to me more natural than that the day should also be called κυριακον.[ix]

By the time of the writing of Revelation (90-100 CE), Christians already understood that the first day of the week, or Sunday, was the “Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10). John did not invent the neologism; he was writing to those who were already acclimated to the term. The Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God gave to Him, was transmitted to John, the last living apostle (Rev 1:1) on the Lords’ Day (v. 1:10). The day chosen by the Lord for His final disclosure to John is consistent with His other post-resurrection appearances on the first day of the week (Matt 28:9; Lk 24:13-33; Jn 20:11-18; 19-23; 26-29) and the giving of the Holy Spirit on the first day of the week (Acts 2:1-4).[x] “Christians by apostolic tradition worship on Sunday in memory of the risen Lord, and are commanded never to forsake assembling together.”[xi]

An honest examination of Hebrews 10:24-25, taking into account the theme of the whole letter, will lead to the deduction that the faltering Hebrew-Christians were tempted to return to the “safety” of their traditional observation of the Sabbath and other familiar Jewish customs and laws. We cannot suppose that those absenting themselves from Christian assembly preferred nothing over the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath. That is, Jews were not forsaking both Christianity and Judaism—they were choosing either Christianity or Judaism. One could almost argue, from the perspective of a Christian Sabbatarian, that returning to the Sabbath on Saturday couldn’t be that bad. After all, those insecure Jews who professed Christ initially were still getting their 24-hour rest every seven days, not to mention avoiding commerce and recreation. But the apostle of Christ urges them to choose the higher and better road of gathering together instead on the Lord’s Day in respect for the blood of Christ, His bodily resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of God (Heb 10:26-29). The abstention from work on the Sabbath (i.e., rest) is a shadow cast from the Lord Jesus Himself (Col 2:16; Heb 4:3), who proclaimed to be the true and abiding rest that mankind yearns for (Matt 11:28-10). Look to the substance of Christ who provides true rest—not to the mere shadow of rest.

“Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), and after the completion of His work, He also rested on the Sabbath. But He rose again on the Sunday; and through His resurrection, which is the pledge to the world of the fruits of His redeeming work, He has made this day the κυριακὴ ἡμέρα (Lord’s Day) for His Church, to be observed by it till the Captain of its salvation shall return.”[xii]

Therefore, the Lord’s Day is not a replacement, repositioned, or remodeled Sabbath, but a new experience of a different order, which is all the more reason to continue steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, the fellowship of the saints, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). Jesus accomplished much to bring Jews and Gentiles together as one body (Eph 2:11-18) on the first day of the week to remember Him. This could not have happened had He not abolished the law with its commandments and regulations (Eph 2:14-16; Col 2:20). He finished His great work of redemption on the cross and then rested in the grave over the Sabbath, thus fulfilling both the creation type and the Sabbath type. The Sabbath of His death is in the past; we now exult in the fact of His resurrected life on the Lord’s Day. This is why the first day of the week took on such a laudatory title. What name for our weekly day of worship could be better? The term “Christian Sabbath” boasts of the church’s ownership of the day and magnifies a shadow-command of the former covenant. Who in their right mind would prefer this instead of “the Lord’s Day?”[xiii]


[i] A search through the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers finds few references to meetings of the church. The earliest document reference is in the Didache (c. 100 CE) which urges the faithful to gather together on “the Lord’s own day.” The Epistle of Barnabas (c.100 CE) mentions “keeping the eighth day” in honor of the resurrection. Ignatius is more explicit, stating the non-observance of the Sabbath, but instead keeping the Lord’s Day “on which also our life has sprung up again.” Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE) describes the practice of Christians gathering weekly on Sunday to read Scriptures, for on the first day God created light and Jesus rose from the dead. Of course, there is no mention of a Christian Sabbath. The Post-Nicene Fathers mention the Lord’s Day about 480 times and Sunday about 150 times. Again, there is no mention of a Christian Sabbath.
[ii] Colson notes that Justin Martyr (c. 150 CE) mentions the “day of Saturn” and “day of the Sun.” As the pagan names for the days of the week became popularized from the third century on, the influence of Christianity made its impact on the calendar as well. In Southern and Eastern Europe Saturday is called Sabbata, and Sunday is called Domingo (or words to that effect) indicating the core belief that the Sunday was the Lord’s Day and Sabbath remained on Saturday.
[iii] Other possible translations are “at the dawning on the first (day) of the seven” or “day one of the Sabbaths.”
[iv] Christians were accused of Sun worship by their pagan peers, simply because they gathered together on Sunday.
[v] There were several Jewish calendar laws that referred to the day after the Sabbath (Lev 23:11, 15, 16, 36, 39; 25:22) or the day following a seven-period (Ex 22:30; Lev 12:3; 14:10, 23; 15:14, 29; 22:27; Num 6:10). So if the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, then the first day of the new week could also be understood as the eighth day. In the Epistle of Barnabas (Ch 15) the day of Christian assembly is described as taking place on the “eighth day” because the Lord was weary of Israel’s Sabbaths (Isa 1:13).
[vi] We have our own modern day example with the holiday season Kwanza. The holiday was devised in 1966 for the African-American community as an “oppositional alternative” to Christmas, but nowadays it stands side-by-side with Christmas and Hanukkah. It has already been called, rather inappropriately, a “Black Christmas” or “Black Hanukkah.” Two points come from this: 1) a new holiday deserves its own name, and 2) if a novel cultural expression of a holiday arises, it is immediately distinguished from the former holiday with a preceding adjective (i.e., “Black”). Christians gathering together on Sunday in view of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah and that He rose from the dead on the first day of the week was a new thing and it deserved a new name. It was not based on the Sabbath, otherwise it would have been called the “Christian Sabbath” early in its development.
[vii] In the same way that God blessed the solitary seventh day of creation, God is now blessing the recurring seventh day of Jewish sabbatism. Their observance of the Sabbath does not make the day holy; God chooses to declare the day holy because of what it symbolizes. Even if the Jews observed it perfectly, it would not recapture what Adam and Eve lost. Sadly, the Jews believe that if they did observe it perfectly even once, then the Lord would return. Like the sacrificial system, this is a repetitive ceremony that cannot effect what it symbolizes. Furthermore, the Sabbath is ordained in remembrance of their physical deliverance from Egypt (Deut 5:15). Both their deliverance and the Sabbath are types. The reality is objectified in the Lord who gives both spiritual rest and spiritual redemption. In summary: 1) God declared every seventh day to be holy because He so blessed His seventh day of rest, and 2) God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath according to His prescription because He rescued them from Egypt.
[viii] Keil and Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 399.
[ix] Colson, F. H. The Week, p. 125. (Italics in the original)
[x] A variety of post-resurrection appearances appear in the gospel narratives and Paul provides a summary of such, including even himself while on the road to Damascus (1 Cor 15:3-8).
[xi] O’Hare, T. The Sabbath Complete, p. 243. Apostolic tradition is jure divino.
[xii] Keil and Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol 1, p. 400.
[xiii] To the Christian Sabbatarian: The early Jewish Christians gave up their comfortable Sabbath observance and the acceptance of their Jewish community to assemble with Gentiles on the Lord’s Day in the belief that Jesus was the Messiah who was raised from the dead. That’s quite a paradigm shift! As Kaplan said, “Jewish law treats one who does not keep the Sabbath as one who abandons Judaism for another religion” (Sabbath Day of Eternity, p. 7). But you can’t stop calling the Lord’s Day by the misnomer “Christian Sabbath?”

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