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Book Review of “Continuity and Discontinuity,” Part 3: Focusing on the Sabbath


This last part of my review of the book “Continuity and Discontinuity” will compare the sabbatology of Covenantalism and Dispensationalism. The name assigned to each system establishes the primacy of that defining term, that is, whether one believes that covenants or dispensations (as defined by them) best describe the organization and history of God’s kingdom work among men. In this regard, I place myself within Covenantal Theology, but I do not grant as a consequence the idea that the Sabbath is a moral law. The following graph illustrates the logical sequences generally advanced by Covenantal and Dispensational theologians with respect to the fourth commandment.

While these systems present a hierarchy of beliefs, it eventually becomes obvious that ancillary beliefs do not necessarily follow as logical consequences. Given the statement that the Ten Commandments are all moral laws, as advocates of this viewpoint work out the implications of it, they are quite varied in their theological analysis and practical application of a moral Sabbath commandment. While this would be an intriguing matter for study by itself, I will restrict myself to the particular nuances that Chamblin sets forth as representative of Covenantal theology.

Sabbatology. Law is designed to affect the behavior of people within a system, often carrying penalties for non-compliance (Rom 3:19). So, in one sense, law controls us. After all, we do need to be told what to do or not do (or to have confirmed what we already know internally to be right or wrong). And if a certain law delineates behavior in specific ways, then its effect on the group leads to uniformitarianism. There is nothing inherently wrong with sameness; and the church is expected to maintain a certain unity of thought and practice (1 Cor 1:10; 2 Th 3:6). While the opposite of a system of laws is antinomianism, there are no serious Christians who are truly law-less (Matt 7:23; 1 Cor 9:21). While laws do pronounce the guilt of law-breakers, one can be a sinner without subscribing or submitting to the [Mosaic] law (Rom 2:12).

The church is expected to learn from Israel, but the church is not Israel (after the flesh). The church has more liberty in the Spirit than Israel had under the [Mosaic] law. Some [Mosaic] laws are simply null for the church, while others continue as “righteous requirements of the law” (Rom 2:25-29). Paul sees a distinction within the [Mosaic] law between laws like circumcision and laws against stealing, adultery, and idolatry. Because of the change in covenants, there is a new terminology, a new relationship with the [Mosaic] law, new ideas about motivation for obedience, and new concepts when dealing with ongoing sin (non-compliance to the law of God). Holding these views in balance is not an easy task. The presence of divergent views evidences the effect of attributing more weight to some ideas than others. The differences between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism with regard to the law, the Ten Commandments, and the Sabbath, can be summarized as follows:

Covenantalists

  • Emphasize the unity of the covenants of God in general and the similarity of the Mosaic and new covenants specifically
    • All laws of the Mosaic covenant are moral in some respect
  • Emphasize the necessity of the law to direct the life of the church, just as it did for Israel
    • The church will use the law to convict sinners (evangelical), to restrain evil (civil), and to guide one’s life (personal sanctification)
  • Believe that the Ten Commandments transcend the covenant with Israel, and are universally obligatory
    • The commandments epitomize those laws given to Adam and the world
  • The law teaches us everything we need to know
  • Don’t disobey because you will be punished
  • The Sabbath is a moral commandment
    • Adam must have known it
    • It is in the Ten Commandments
    • It was Important for Israel to observe
    • The church observes it on Sunday

Dispensationalists.

  • Emphasize the obvious NT contrasts between the Mosaic and new covenants
    • The law characterizes the [Mosaic] covenant; grace and truth epitomize the new covenant in Christ
  • Emphasize the liberty of the Christian guided by the Holy Spirit
    • Obedience is less of a legal matter, and more about “fruit” resulting from love, edification, and Christ’s teachings
  • Believe that the Ten Commandments are the signature document that summarizes the covenant with Israel
    • The commandments are understood through the lens of fulfillment
  • We know a lot from the law, but not everything
  • Don’t disobey because you are taking advantage of God’s grace
  • The Sabbath is a ceremonial commandment
    • It was not practiced by anyone prior to the liberation of Israel
    • It is in the Ten Commandments to foreshadow the redemption of Christ
    • The reality of redemptive rest is fully ours in Christ
    • The church has no warrant to observe or keep Sabbath

The Sabbath is a law of the Mosaic covenant. Its importance is demonstrated by its inclusion in the covenant written in stone. And since the Mosaic law commands Sabbath-keeping, both authors (Chamblin and Moo) mention it in their articles dealing with the law.

Chamblin. 

Matt 12:1-14 relates to the fourth commandment. That mercy is a weightier matter than sacrifice (v. 7, quoting Hos 6:6a) is already evident in Exod 20:8-11 (in that the command provides respite from labor but says nothing about offering sacrifices) and confirmed in 1 Sam 21:1-6 (where David, by securing food for himself and his companions, upholds the sixth commandment). As “Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 8),  Jesus abrogates existing Sabbath ceremonial (the disciples are “innocent,” v. 7, for the prohibition against harvesting ceases to apply with the dawn of the end) and underscores the primacy—and the abiding validity—of the law’s moral dimension. He quotes Hos 6:6; he declares his disciples “innocent” (for they, like David and his men, were hungry, v. 1); and he heals an affliction (vv. 9-13).

In the first paragraph, Chamblin condenses a hodgepodge of ideas into a somewhat convoluted statement to establish his conviction that there is an abiding morality to the Sabbath as it is presented in the Decalogue. It is almost disingenuous to state that Exodus 20 describes the moral aspect of the Sabbath (because it doesn’t mention sacrifices) and other texts that he picks describe the ceremonial aspects. I cannot imagine any Christian Sabbatarian relying on Exodus 20:8-11 alone to make their case for a moral Sabbath. The Westminster Confession of Faith cites thirteen other passages to elucidate the multiple obligations of Sabbath-keeping for Christians. Most advocates of a Christian Sabbath do not allow buying or selling on the Sabbath, but that supporting text is found outside the law of Moses (Neh 13:15). The death penalty for gathering sticks on the Sabbath is often cited as evidence for the primacy of the Sabbath, but that event happened before the giving of the law (Ex 15:32ff). And surely, no contemporary Christian Sabbatarian campaigns for capital punishment for working on the Sabbath (or the Lord’s Day, or any other rest-day of one’s choosing).

Chamblin’s citation of David and his men eating the holy bread totally misses the point that Jesus was making—that He has kingly authority to sidestep the lesser laws of the covenant (even though He did not break any laws). Chamblin avoids Jesus’ citation of the priests who work on the Sabbath and are guiltless, because that also demonstrates that Jesus has priestly advantages over the law, and that ultimately, Jesus and his men were not guilty of transgressing the law at all. While the text hints at what we call ceremonial law (His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath), Jesus was not overtly overturning Sabbath ceremonials at that time as Chamblin affirms.

Matthew 11-12 comprises a distinct unit with several themes connecting the various pericopes. Yang’s in-depth analysis of Matthew 11-12 uncovers two central themes: 1) unbelief and Jesus’ invitation to believe in Him, and 2) multiple Messianic claims. Both of these clearly put our focus on who Jesus is and what He teaches. Concerning the relationship between Matt 11:28-30 and Matt 12:1-14, Yang says, “We may then conclude with some confidence that, for Matthew, understanding our text in the light of its immediately preceding pericope (11:25-30) is imperative.”[i] So Jesus was clearly teaching that He is the ultimate fulfillment of the Mosaic Sabbath laws (i.e., working for our rest), not merely scrapping the sacrifices made on that day! Yang concludes that the real issue behind the Sabbath controversies is not how to interpret Sabbath law, but for Jesus to proclaim His lordship of the Sabbath “since he has fulfilled the Sabbath by providing the eschatological rest (i.e., redemption) which is the ultimate goal of the Sabbath.”[ii]

Chamblin did not mention the text immediately preceding these two conflicts with the Pharisees in which Jesus positions Himself as the true giver of rest (Matt 11:28-30). Matthew’s gospel intentionally put the Sabbath conflicts in contrast with Jesus being the sole provider of rest. The Pharisees were intent on observing the Sabbath, and their focus on the details of correctly observing it made it difficult for them to see that Jesus would fulfill the twofold legal duty to abstain from work and to rest. In addition to reducing these conflicts to mundane matters about eating and healing, rather than Jesus’ kingly authority and His continuously functioning priesthood, Chamblin makes a confusing connection between these Sabbath conflicts and the abrogation of minor ceremonial laws attached to the moral Sabbath. He claims that the disciples were innocent by virtue of the abrogation of the ceremonial law against harvesting on the Sabbath. But Jesus is not abrogating Mosaic laws before He suffers and dies, and He is not admitting that His disciples actually disobeyed laws against “reaping.” They gleaned grain from a field, and this was absolutely permitted under the law (Lev 19:9-10). Chamblin erroneously suggests, in agreement with the Pharisees, that the disciples were “harvesting” on the Sabbath against the law of Moses. Again, Jesus testified that they were truly guiltless of any Sabbath violation. If Jesus intended to instruct them about the legality of gleaning, He could have and would have answered differently.

Of Matt 11:28, Hendrickson pronounces, “It is clear from this passage that ‘coming’ to Jesus means ‘believing’ in him.”[iii] It is also clear that rest for one’s soul is the consequence of believing in Jesus. That is the “benefit” to be had from believing in Jesus as the fulfillment of sabbatic types. This is a salvation matter that Jesus is addressing—not getting three square meals a day. One does not have to belief in Jesus to get “respite from labor,” but one does have to believe in Jesus to be born again and find rest for their soul. Again, Chamblin minimizes the proclamation of the saving power of Jesus and His divine authority—via the theme of sabbatic rest—in preference for a six-day workweek and a full stomach.

Chamblin continues.

Romans 14:1-8 also speaks to the fourth commandment. The same person who “considers one day more sacred than another” (v. 5a) is a Jewish Christian who observes special days (including the Sabbath) as prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The person who “considers every day alike” (v. 5b) is a Gentile Christian. Paul identifies such persons as “weak” and “strong” respectively (14:1-2; 15:1). Paul recognizes that the Jewish Christian keeps the day “to the Lord” (v. 6a). Yet his faith, although genuine and sincere, “is weak” (v. 1). The “strong” understand more fully than the “weak” that OT Sabbath regulations are a shadow pointing to the reality that is Christ (Col 2:16-23), and that Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom marks the dawn of the great sabbath age to which all prior history had painted. Such insight makes it possible to “consider every day alike” (Rom 14:5). The hallowed character once reserved for the Sabbath is now extended to all other days of the week. Yet the Sabbath age, though truly inaugurated, is only inaugurated. While the present order of creation continues, and until the eschatological tension is finally resolved, the creation ordinance of the Sabbath rest remains in effect. One can esteem all days alike and at the same time honor the Sabbath principle which human beings as creatures require for their well-being. As to the day, Sabbath rest must not be riveted to a particular day, as though the efficacy of the rest depended on its being observe on this day instead of that. (p. 196)

Next, Chamblin believes Romans 14:1-8 is relevant to the Sabbath in the church age. He makes the following statements of fact.

  • The faith of the Hebrew-Christian is weak if he observes Jewish holy days, including the Sabbath
  • The faith of the Gentile-Christian is strong if he considers every day alike
    • If he understands that Christ is the reality to which Sabbath regulations pointed
  • Jesus’ kingdom inaugurates the great Sabbath age
    • The hallowed nature of the Sabbath is placed on every day, yet
  • The creation ordinance of the Sabbath remains in effect for all humanity
    • [Because we are not experiencing the complete fulfillment of the Sabbath]
    • [One day in seven remains holy]
  • So now, one can consider every day alike and at the same time give esteem to the [Christian] Sabbath or Sabbath principle
  • Yet the Sabbath can be observed on any day of your own choosing

In Romans 14:1-8, Paul does not use the word “holy” or “sanctified” to describe the character of any of the days in question. There are simply those who esteem, give regard to, or keep certain days and those who regard all days the same as any other (they do not esteem, give regard to, or keep certain days in the same manner as their weaker brethren). Paul has diffused the Mosaic concept that certain days are holy to the Lord, and set apart from ordinary days by the required duties or “mitzvahs” to be performed on those days. There are no holy days since the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those Hebrew Christians who are weak in the faith have a difficult time letting go of the concept of holy days. Chamblin is correct in identifying believing Jews as those who still feel compelled to order their lives according to the calendar laws of the Mosaic covenant (including the Sabbath, he says). Paul asks the Gentile Christians to be especially understanding of their Jewish brothers and sisters, and to treat them in a loving fashion. This is because they more fully understand that the calendar laws pointed to Christ—and He is the substance of them (Col 2:16). One would think that if Christ fulfilled the Sabbath and that He presently affords rest for our soul (Heb 4:3), then we would be free from the external observation of the Sabbath. But Chamblin thinks he can weave in ideas that allow the Sabbath to continue as a holy day even though all days are now alike. Remember, he must demonstrate his thesis that the Ten Commandments are all moral laws and that Christians must continue to observe the [moral] Sabbath. This requires the introduction of new terms (the great Sabbath age) and new rules (ceremonial commands continue until they are fully realized).

The first term is the “great Sabbath age.” Obviously, this is not a biblical term, but Jews did view the future kingdom as a kind of ongoing Sabbath—not because of resting from labors pro forma, but from the expected experience of utter peace and well-being consonant with eternal life. From the other Hebrew word for rest—“menuhah”—Heschel explains that it “became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life.”[iv] The Sabbath was a foretaste or “type” of the future holy relationship between man and God—life eternal. Chamblin explains that Christ fulfilled the Sabbath as He inaugurated His kingdom, but as Chamblin continues, he cannot have a completely fulfilled type. It may be fulfilled enough that at this present time every day is alike—alike in a shared hallowedness; but at the same time, the Sabbath cannot be completely fulfilled, so we, like the Jews, must continue to observe the Sabbath by abstaining from work for 24 hours. There are nuances to this theory. The Sabbath is only partly fulfilled because Jesus only fulfilled Sabbath “regulations,” not the Sabbath “principle.” Chamblin alludes to three such regulations that are abolished: 1) offering sacrifices, 2) the prohibition against harvesting,[v] and 3) the specific day of the week on which the Sabbath occurs. And given his statement that we will ultimately abandon Sabbath-keeping when the full inauguration of the Sabbath-age comes in, we may conclude that resting one day in seven is still a type to be fulfilled. So, on the surface, it does not appear that Christ accomplished very much in terms of abrogating the Sabbath. And if Christ was consistent in fulfilling the other feast-days and new moon celebrations, then only the sacrifices on those days have been fulfilled in Christ, leaving the command to rest from labor intact on all other feast days while we await the consummation.

The second and third terms are presented as a pair by Chamblin: a “creation ordinance” and a “Sabbath principle.” Again, neither are discernibly biblical terms, but they are part of the package that underlies Chamblin’s rule that partial fulfillment necessitates the continuation of [Mosaic] laws until the full disclosure of Christ’s kingdom. This is where the confusion comes in. It is true that the Mosaic Sabbath requires rest from labor, but the Jewish Sabbath, according to Chamblin, is really a continuation of a Sabbath principle enacted from the beginning. The Mosaic Sabbath has “regulations” attached to it. It appears that Chamblin wishes to separate these regulations (that Christ can effectively annul) from the command to rest (which Christ does not annul, but He will later).

This leads to many questions. Is resting from all manner of work every seven days for a 24 hour period a moral law or a ceremonial law? What is the nature of a creation ordinance in relationship to a compelling Mosaic law that has consequences for disobedience? Is the effect of Christ’s fulfillment of moral laws the same as the effect of His fulfillment of ceremonial laws? Leaving these questions unanswered for now, let us turn to Chamblin’s casuistry. He asserts that, “The hallowed character once reserved for the Sabbath is now extended to all other days of the week.” I understand this to mean that by fulfilling the Sabbath regulation (presumably a regulation that had its origin in the Mosaic covenant) the holiness of the Sabbath is now shared among all days. I say “presumably” because Chamblin also introduces a “Sabbath principle” that pre-dates the [Mosaic] law and is therefore unaffected for the time being by Christ’s redemptive work. If this is the case, then the creational Sabbath principle should not carry the connotation of “hallowedness” in contradistinction to the Mosaic Sabbath regulation that does, otherwise Christ’s death and resurrection would be able to affect it. However, Chamblin believes Exodus 20:8-11 captures the essence of the Sabbath principle which assigns sacredness and sanctity to the seventh day of creation, the source and beginning of the moral Sabbath principle that obligates all humanity to rest one day in seven. So, if there was one day of the week that was sacred for all humanity before the giving of the law, and then the Jews were told that hallowed day was Saturday, how is it that since Christ’s death that sanctity or hallowedness is “extended to all other days of the week”? Yet at the same time, Christians are to “keep one day in seven holy unto Him as a Sabbath.”[vi] Chamblin goes on to state that this need not be “riveted to a particular day;” however, the Westminster Confession of Faith states affirmatively that “since the resurrection of Christ [the Sabbath] has been changed to the first day of the week.” His statement that “one can esteem all days alike and at the same time honor the Sabbath principle” appears nonsensical in light of the holiness that God ascribed to the Sabbath. It is not simply whether we esteem days or honor principles, but whether God has hallowed a particular day of the week as He did in the [Mosaic] law, and whether He commands us to keep it sacred by our attention to particular laws attendant to that day.

These are the benefits to believers, according to Chamblin, as the result of the fulfillment of the Sabbath by Jesus Christ—a fulfillment that is limited in scope, for sure, but…

  • Allows us to harvest on the Sabbath (but not work) to avoid hunger
  • Allows us to do more good on the Sabbath, like miraculous healings, (remember Jesus said the Jews already did good things like pulling a trapped animal from a pit),
  • Eliminate sacrifices on the Sabbath (which only the priesthood could do anyway).
  • Call any day of the week our Sabbath, because hallowedness is extended to all days of the week (even though God moved it to the first day of the week).

What I find interesting, is that Covenantalists have a strong theological background in classifying the laws of the covenant with Israel as either moral, ceremonial, or civil. It is this very framework for understanding the individual laws of the Mosaic covenant that should lead them to acknowledge the ceremonial design of the Sabbath. The Westminster Confession describes ceremonial laws as those that “pertain to worship and foreshadow Christ, His grace, actions, suffering, and the benefits to be had from believing in Him.”[vii] The question should be: Is the Sabbath a ceremonial law according to this definition? Does it pertain to worship? Does it foreshadow Christ, His grace, actions, suffering, and the benefits to be had from believing in Him? This can be answered in the affirmative at every level and at every point. If the ‘great Sabbath age’ has begun, as Chamblin states, and that ‘great Sabbath age’ represents eternal life, then do not believers in Jesus Christ presently possess and experience eternal life? “He who has the Son has life” (1 Jn 5:12). “Come unto me…and I will give your rest to your soul” (Matt 11:29). Any covenant theologian would and should answer affirmatively.

Citing Colossian 2:16, Chamblin acknowledges that “Sabbath regulations are a shadow pointing to the reality that is Christ.” Note that he associates Christ’s reality to shadowy “regulations” alone—not to the supposed Sabbath principle itself. But really, what is the Sabbath but a list of regulations? Rest on the seventh day from all manner of work; you and your family and working animals (Ex 20:10). Do not cook or make a fire, do not reap and set aside, do not buy and do not sell, and do not go out. (Ex 16:23; Neh 13:16-19). Instead, sanctify the day to the Lord as opposed to doing your own works, finding your own pleasures, and speaking your own words (Isa 58:13). Anyone who despises the Sabbath is worthy of death (Ex 31:14-15) which makes necessary the additional sacrifices on that day (Num 28:9-10). In addition, the showbread must be prepared every Sabbath (Lev 24:5-9). Is Jesus Christ the reality of these regulations or is He not? If so, in what way did the regulations foreshadow Christ, His grace, actions, suffering, and the benefits to be had? Rather than exploring this in detail, the following chart[viii] summarizes the proposed fulfillment of the seven major features of Sabbath-keeping.

Duty

Fulfilled Answer

•Day and Frequency

•Time to begin and end

•Perfection of Lord’s work in His own time; Lord’s work will surely be completed; Redemption as promised will be fulfilled eternally

•God’s work begins in midst of man’s darkness; Man awakens to the promised rest (enlightened to salvation, resurrected to glory)

•In Your Dwellings

•Holy Convocation

•Presence of and fellowship with God in us, the personal temple; Communion with family of God

•Christ, our representative, makes the requisite propitiation before God in heaven

•Consider Creation

•Remember slavery

•The creation events and pattern are redemptive types; God’s rest was disrupted by sin, yet it was only a shadow of a future eternal glory; That rest is only provided by the work of God through the Seed

•Redemption of man implies a previous master: Sin is the bondage from which man must be redeemed

•Do no work

•Rest

•Salvation not by works and not for purchase; not of yourself or the laurels of others; redemption not only for man but the whole world, and not only for Israel, but strangers to their land; the redeemed are not burdened with the guilt of their sin

• Relational rest in Jesus Christ, the sum of all rest figures; a present soulical rest in salvation by grace through faith; an expected bodily resurrection rest at the end of the ages; the death-rest of Jesus Christ which fulfilled the Sabbath

•Light no fire

•Prepare beforehand

•Free from the eternally severe judgment of God for our sins; made acceptable to God by Christ

•Our redemption was foreordained before the creation of the world and therefore, forever sure

•Official Sacrifices

•Official Showbread

•Sin-payment exacted for Adam and Eve through whom the promised Seed should come

•Heavenly bread is sufficient for the life of all the redeemed; All the redeemed are one before the face of God

•Cut Off from Israel

•Exact Death Penalty

•Living death of unregenerate souls apart from God

•Second death of the wicked (who do not obtain eternal rest)

The fourteen (2×7) laws specifically relate to the redemption provided by Jesus. In fact, they tell the gospel story from beginning to end. If the Westminster Confession means anything, then adherents should prayerfully consider its assertion that “All of these ceremonial laws are now nullified under the New Testament.”[ix] That includes the Sabbath—in its entirety.

Moo.

“In practical terms, this means that the Christian must always view the whole law only under the condition of its fulfillment. No commandment, even those of the Decalogue, is binding simply because it is part of the Mosaic Law. In saying this, I am running smack up against a cherished and widely taught tradition. The singling out of the Decalogue as basic and eternal ‘moral law,’ to be distinguished from the ceremonial and civil law and thereby to be seen as an eternally valid ethical authority, has a long and respected history. Even within this tradition, however, there has been considerable discussion about that to do with the Sabbath command which, at least for the great majority of those who have advocated this approach, has not been applied or obeyed in the form in which it was first given (e.g., as requiring rest on the seventh day). A further difficulty was the question of how to determine what was ‘moral’ law and what not. But the basic difficulty, of course, is that the NT does not approach the matter this way. The whole law, every ‘jot and tittle,’ is fulfilled in Christ and can only be understood and applied in light of that fulfillment. In actual ethical practice, very little is lost. For the NT clearly takes up all the Decalogue, except the Sabbath, as part of ‘Christ’s law’ and thereby as authoritative for believers. But considerable difference in theological construct is involved, and the difference in approach is therefore not at all insignificant.” (p. 217-218)

Moo’s succinct paragraph is targeted at the very ideas presented by Chamblin. While Chamblin’s endorsement of the Sabbath is not strictly aligned with other Reformed expositors, it is nonetheless a cherished tradition involving—as Moo kindly described it—a [less than credible] “theological construct” that does not share much in common with Lutheranism, or for that matter, Evangelicals holding to dispensationalism. Moo’s approach to understanding the relationship between the two covenants includes the following points:

  • The whole law must be evaluated in terms of fulfillment
  • No commandment is binding simply because it is stated in the Mosaic law
    • This includes the Ten Words of the covenant
  • The NT does not evaluate laws on the premise of what is moral or not
  • But on the premise that every jot and tittle is fulfilled
  • Yet, ethically, little change is evident

And Moo’s critique of the Sabbatarian model includes the following points:

  • Those who do believe the Decalogue to contain only moral commands cannot attain consensus concerning the Sabbath command
  • Those who advocate Sabbath-keeping do not keep it on the day it prescribes [he does not acknowledge some Christian sects that do]
  • The theological construct of Sabbatarians prevents them from recognizing the obvious fulfillment of the Sabbath by Jesus

Beginning with the idea that the whole Mosaic law/covenant is fulfilled in Christ, Moo proposes that every Mosaic law must be examined in light of that fulfillment. This may be a tall order because not every Mosaic law is examined by the new covenant with this rationale in mind. One of the earliest writers is James, and his first citations from the Mosaic law are from Lev 19:18 and Ex 20:13-14. Carson’s assessment of James’ thinking at verse 2:8 lends credence to Moo’s construct.

What James is saying, then, might be paraphrased thus: If you really keep the royal law, the law of the dawning kingdom, the law which is according to Scripture—Scripture as it has been magnificently fulfilled in all that Christ has taught and effected, and that is rightly summarized in ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—you are doing well. In other words, it appears that James, even while quoting Lev. 19:18, simultaneously uses a number of Gospel categories that remind us of Jesus’ own instruction on the centrality of the first and second commandment, which had substantive impact on how early Christians understood the relationship of their new covenant obligations with respect to the OT law.[x]            

James seems to understand the law in the same way that any Jew would understand the law when he mentions the commandments against adultery and murder (Jas 2:11). However, James’ singling out Lev 19:18 as the “royal law” portrays the impact of Christ on his approach to the OT. This may reflect a shift from the traditional Jewish thinking that gave greater esteem to the Ten Words. James is not saying that the only commandment is to love, but neither is he saying that the Decalogue must be rigidly obeyed as a summary of God’s ethical demands. Instead, two commandments expounded by Jesus (Matt 5:21-30) demonstrate that love must come from a heart motivated by the Spirit of Christ.

This is why Moo could state that “in actual ethical practice” there is little difference between the Jew and the Christian. Moo must be thinking of the moral standards that are commonly held by Judaism and Christianity, such as respect for life (contra murder) and commitment in marriage (contra adultery). But Sabbath-keeping is an exception. Moo did not explain how the Sabbath is excepted, so his approach may seem too free and loose to those who are obliged to categories and systems, cherished traditions, and denominational standards.

Sabbatarians tend to hear only two points by Moo: Christ fulfilled the law, therefore, the Sabbath is not binding. However, unstated is Moo’s belief that the NT corpus gives no reason to conclude that the Sabbath is anything but a fulfilled ceremonial law. As important as the Sabbath was to the Jews, its fulfillment in the heart of believers rendered it useless as an external tradition.  

Below are two logical streams that finish with the same conclusion: Nine of the Ten Commandments summarizing God’s covenant with Israel are consistent with the ethical norms of new covenant believers. The corollary conclusion is that not all of the Ten Commandments are moral laws.


[i] Yang, Yong-Eui. Jesus and the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel, p. 145.
[ii] Yang, Yong-Eui. Jesus and the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel, p. 302.
[iii] Hendrickson, William. New Testament Commentary, Matthew; Vol. 1, p. 503.
[iv] Heschel, Abraham. The Sabbath, p. 23.
[v] The prohibition against harvesting is a case example of work. If that specific kind of work is annulled, then the prohibition against all work is annulled.
[vi] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, para. 7.
[vii] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 19, para. 3.
[viii] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, Appendix Two: “Summary of Sabbath Law” (modified). The demonstration of Christ’s fulfillment of these laws is presented in Chapter 4, of The Sabbath Complete.
[ix] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 19, para. 3.
[x] Carson, D.A. “James” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. Beale and Carson, p. 1000.


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? 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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