Ad Gloriam Dei

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"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Perpetual Obligation of the Weekly Sabbath

Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?

A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week, ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Traditionally orthodox Christianity has affirmed with the Westminster Catechisms that the 4th Commandment has a perpetual obligation and that we, as Christians, observe the first day of the week as a Sabbath, or day of cessation from work, called the Lord’s Day.

Some have disagreed with this opinion, especially since the dawn of Dispensationalism, and have asserted that either the 4th Commandment, being part of the Mosaic Law, does not oblige the Church, or that it was a merely ceremonial law pointing to the rest that there is in Christ, and thus terminated in his Resurrection. Let me look at the latter view held by some Covenantalists. (Dealing with the Dispensationalist argument would involve a long refutation of a whole system of hermeneutics.)

1. The Sabbath was Instituted before the Fall

I believe that one of the reasons that there is still a weekly Sabbath is that it was instituted at Creation before the Fall and was not part of the ceremonies introduced in the Mosaic economy; neither was it connected to the sacrifices and other bloody ceremonies introduced between the Fall and Moses. How would something instituted as unconnected to Christ's death be abrogated by that death?

2. The Sabbath is in the Context of the Ten Commandments as a Complete Unit

The Ten Commandments were a summary of the complete obligation of man to God (a.k.a. the Law). Each commandment was an archetypal law that represented a class of obligations to God under them, e.g. the commandment not to commit adultery contained much more under it, such as the commandment not to lust, and the commandment not to kill included the commandment not to be angry. This is well expressed in the historic confessions and catechisms of the British non-conformists, esp. the Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 91 to 152.

Similarly, we are obliged to keep all those days special that God has set aside at any moment in time. If it were merely ceremonies, then that would be included under the archetypal commandment concerning worship (the Second). God wanted to emphasise the observance of the Sabbath as a perpetual obligation.

3. The Problem in the Early Church was the Festival Sabbaths, not the Weekly Sabbath

The NT period was one of transition from a Jewish congregation (εκκλησια) to a global one. The difficulties with this transition are apparent throughout this period and various approaches are used depending on the circumstances. Paul circumcised Timothy on one occasion, but refused it for Titus on another. Another problem was the observance of the various days that God had given in the Mosaic Law, most of which were Sabbaths, or days of cessation from work to engage in religious duties. This is the context in which Paul said the following:

“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” (Rom. 14:5,6a)

“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

Note the following:
  • Both of these are in the context of the eating of various foods, etc., i.e. we're talking about the ceremonial law instituted under Moses.
  • Although I originally believed that there was a distinction in the use of the plural form of the word 'sabbath' (σαββατα/των), I remembered afterwards that there was something special about the word 'sabbath' in the Greek. Consultation of my lexicons and grammar showed that this was the case and that the plural form of 'sabbath' can refer to either 'sabbaths' in the plural or 'sabbath' in the singular. However the lack of the characteristic definite article (e.g. τα/των) would tend to indicate that it is not the Weekly Sabbath, although this is not conclusive.
  • The Festival Sabbaths were a shadow of Christ given after the Fall, but the Weekly Sabbath was not a shadow of Christ’s work because it was given prior to the Fall. The Festival Sabbaths involved more than rest and worship; they were intimately connected to figurative ceremonies and especially sacrifices, which were shadows of Christ as Hebrews tells us.
  • Since the beginning of the Church, one day in seven has been observed as a day of rest from labour and for the convocation of God’s people for worship. We see this weekly observance and assembly for worship on the Lord’s Day. The day of rest (or Sabbath) then quickly made the transition from the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Lord’s Day. In my opinion, the dispute in the Early Church was not one over the observance of a weekly day of rest and convocation of God’s people, but the observance of the Festival Sabbaths.
  • It may also be the case that the problem was like that experienced with Seventh Day Adventists in modern times, and some were insisting on observing a day of rest and worship on the seventh day of the week.

4. Christ’s Commandments on the Sabbath Made Irrelevant by the Antisabbatarians

My last argument against the view that there is no weekly Sabbath for the Christian is that Christ’s discussions about the Sabbath in Matthew 12:1-14 and Mark 2:23 – 3:6 become a bit redundant under this view of the Sabbath (i.e. that there is no weekly day of rest and worship). What are we to make of Christ’s Lordship of the Sabbath? It seems that there is no Sabbath over which He is Lord. The statement that the “Sabbath was made for man” indicates that it was not merely a ceremony that was to terminate in Christ’s Resurrection, but was designed for man’s perpetual good. Why bother to teach us more about Sabbath observance when the Sabbath was about to disappear forever?

In summary, I reject the case for Covenantalists rejecting the Weekly Sabbath for the following reasons:

1. The Sabbath did not terminate in Christ’s death because the Sabbath was instituted before the Fall, i.e. before Christ’s death was necessary.
2. It makes the inclusion of the 4th Commandment in the Ten Commandments incongruous, and destroys the completeness of the unit as the summary of God’s Law enscripturated as archetypal commandments.
3. The chief text used by the Antisabbatarians would appear to refer to the Festival Sabbaths, not the Weekly Sabbath, because they were part of the festivals and sacrifical system that foreshadowed the death of Christ.
4. Christ’s teachings on the Sabbath do not seem to be consistent with the imminency of the abrogation of the Weekly Sabbath.

(See also these articles on the Blue Banner website.)

Read the rest...

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16 Comments:

Blogger David Shedden said...

Tim, sorry for posting this on the Lord's Day (Sabbath?) I'm taking a break from finishing off prep for a sermon later this morning.

I just want to comment on 3 of your 4 final points. (I don't understand the first one - some might argue that Christ's death has always been necessary anyway, Rev 13:8, perhaps?.)

Point 2 - the 4th commandment remains incongrous among the Ten under the Lord's Day as Sabbath view - because it refers to the last day of the week not the first day, and because there is no affirmation of it in the NT epistles - I believe all the other commandments are affirmed in NT teaching.

Point 3 - even if I agreed with your exegesis, I think this point is redundant - antisabbatarians, as far as I can see, tend to argue that there is no direct command to make the Lord's Day a Christian Sabbath - a perfectly good use of the regulative principle.

Point 4 - Can I suggest that Christ's lordship of the sabbath includes power to either abrogate it, or, perhaps better, transform it into something altogether more restful - a perennial sabbath that believers experience all the time, in so far as they anticipate the final sabbath rest of God's people?

Hope your Lord's Day rest is sweet.

Dave

Sunday, August 20, 2006 12:34:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

David,

I appreciate your comment. My blog isn’t a place for me to pontificate, but a place (I hope) of mutual edification where ‘iron sharpens iron’ and my errors are corrected.

I also appreciate your sensitivity towards the Sabbath, as some have a mistaken view that the Internet cannot be used on the Sabbath. You are using it for spiritual edification, so that is a legitimate use. Now to the main points…

1. The Sabbath was Instituted before the Fall
Covenantalists believe that if God has instituted something, then it remains until it is abrogated by Him, usually as it is fulfilled in Christ’s death. This is why your argument that the Sabbath is not mentioned in the NT Epistles is actually a Dispensationalist argument. (When do you join the Brethren? ;) The Sabbath is mentioned in the NT. The people assembled once a week on the Lord’s Day to worship God, just as the OT Church was called to have a convocation of the Saturday. Admittedly the aspect of rest from work wasn’t mentioned, although this doesn’t mean that it didn’t take place. Again it was a period of transition, which must not be forgotten, so it may be that the complete transition from the seventh day to the first day as the Sabbath hadn’t taken place. (There was also the question of slavery, where believing slaves were not in a position to rest.)

The Sabbath was instituted prior to the Fall for the benefit of man as a day of rest and as a day of worship. It was not like the sacrifices performed by Abel after the Fall, which were a response to the Fall and which pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. If the Sabbath was not instituted after the Fall, then how could it be related to Christ’s death, and thus be abrogated by it due to its fulfilment as a shadow of Christ?

Some may argue that Christ’s death was decreed in eternity, and as the Sabbath was instituted after this decree, then it can be abrogated. However, the acts of the History of Redemption that occur in time have reference to other acts in time, e.g. sacrifices didn’t happen until after the Fall. Therefore how could the symbolism of the Sabbath have been intended as pointing to Christ? This would be against all other symbolic and ceremonial acts in the History of Redemption. Under this argumentation of the Antisabbatarians, we could have the absurdity of God instituting the Temple prior to the Fall!

2. The Sabbath is in the Context of the Ten Commandments as a Complete Unit
Admittedly there are a few details which have changed in regards to the Sabbath, but this is the nature of Scripture. Under the administration of the New Covenant, there is general continuity, but a change in some details, e.g. the Lord’s Supper replaced the Passover, and the general idea of a celebration of salvation due to a sacrifice continues, but the blood was replaced with wine. It was inappropriate for blood to continue to be spilt because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. (So also circumcision could not continue as a sign of cleansing and of entry into God’s people because of the blood, so baptism replaced it. It also distinguished those who were cut off from the olive tree that continued, from those who did continue or were grafted in.)

The incongruity of ripping out a whole commandment is in stark contrast to a change of day! Again we see the continuity of the Lord’s Day replacing the Jewish Sabbath.

3. The Problem in the Early Church was the Festival Sabbaths, not the Weekly Sabbath
Antisabbatarians do use these verses a lot, so this point is very relevant.

4. Christ’s Commandments on the Sabbath Made Irrelevant by the Antisabbatarians
Believers in the OT still enjoyed the blessing of their sins forgiven (cf. Psalm 51, etc.) and anticipated the rest of the true Promised Land, so your argument doesn’t hold as there is no difference in this regard from NT believers.

Do you believe that the first day of the week is the Lord’s Day and we are to rest from our normal labours (except so much as is to be taken up with works of necessity and mercy), and are to use the day for the worship of God, esp. congregational worship? If so, then on what basis? Do you believe in the continuity of the 4th Commandment?

Sunday, August 20, 2006 6:23:00 pm  
Blogger David Shedden said...

Thanks for this, Tim. I've got real problems with the Lord's Day/Sabbath question, I've only started thinking about it seriously over the last two or three years.

My issues are basically perspicuity of Scripture and following what the Scriptures plainly teach. The New Testament does not (clearly) teach that the Lord's Day is now the Sabbath.

I find it strange that you label my argument Dispensational - I'm simply trying to work out what the NT says about the subject. I think it says next to nothing. (I'm not sure I buy into what you call Covenantalism - it's a strange framework that is most commonly applied to these thorny/difficult issues - why don't we just let the Scriptures speak!)

I believe that the 4th commandment has been fulfilled in Christ, as have all the commandments. I'm still working out how the Ten Commandments are applied in the Christian life - basically, I believe that we now live a New Testament ethic - work in progress...

Sunday, August 20, 2006 10:14:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

The Scriptures speak when we interpret them aright. To interpret them aright, we need rules of interpretation. Interpretation does not involve taking a Scripture in isolation, but interpreting it in the light of the rest of Scripture. In doing so one develops a systematic theology, part of which in Calvinistic circles is called Covenantalism.

I've just read lots of Calvin and Turretin on the subject. I suggest that you read Turretin.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 10:28:00 pm  
Blogger Custard said...

The usual antisabbatarian arguments I hear use Heb 4 too in the context of Christ fulfilling the Sabbath.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 10:54:00 pm  
Blogger David Shedden said...

'The Scriptures speak when we interpret them aright.'

Tim, this is an incredible thing to write! Are you saying that the interpretative framework that we construct or use is more important than the Scripture itself? That it is the interpretation that is the true word of God?

I don't think you really really believe that. It is no different in principle to traditional Roman Catholic arguments about the role of the church in overseeing right use of the Scriptures. Who has the key to interpreting the Scriptures correctly?

Monday, August 21, 2006 11:55:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

I guess more accurately, it is not enough that Scripture speaks. We need to hear and understand what it is saying, just as with all communication. We hear Scripture wrongly if we don't interpret it aright.

E.g. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus".

If we take this text on its own, we could conclude that Jesus was just a man. Scripture spoke, we heard it, but we interpreted it wrongly and came to the wrong conclusion.

However if we take the text in the light of the whole of Scripture we see that although Jesus is a man, He is more than a man: He is the eternal Son of the Father, and is very God Himself, as well as being a man.

"Sacra scripture sui interpres" as the Reformers would say. "Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter."

You have constructed your own interpretive framework, when you say, "I believe all the other commandments are affirmed in NT teaching." You are inferring that the commandment must be repeated in the NT, specifically the NT Epistles, for it to have continuity. This is by definition Dispensationalist.

Monday, August 21, 2006 12:46:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Custard John,

Yes, I've been thinking about this text, but I didn't mention it as I'm trying to get a firmer grasp on the author's line of argument.

Monday, August 21, 2006 12:50:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

Timothy D.,
I do appreciate your work and presentation, but how do you get to point 1? Where do we find this in Scripture that the commandments were given before the Fall?
Blessings

Monday, August 21, 2006 9:42:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

The work and presentation are thrown together, but I'm glad you find it profitable. (It is basically an edited copy of a letter to a friend.) Sometimes I'm embarrassed by the lack of perfection, but I'm not a professional and don't have the time.

The argument I'm presenting is the standard "creation ordinance" argument, except with the important "twist" of pointing out that it is not just a creation ordinance, but it was also prior to the Fall. This is important when refuting the assertion that the Sabbath was a shadow of Christ.

"And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made." (Gen. 2:2,3)

It literally says that God "sabbathed" on the seventh day, and blessed and set it apart as holy from the other days. This was prior to the Fall. God set it apart as a holy day for a purpose: this is the command.

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it." (Exod. 20:8-11)

Exod. 20:11 says that we are to keep one day in seven holy and cease from our labours "for" (i.e. here comes the reason!) God had already set-up the observance in the beginning when he worked for 6 days, and rested on the 7th and hallowed it.

We already see the observance of the Sabbath prior to the formal statement of the command in Exod. 16.

Where are we commanded not to commit adultery prior to the Mosaic Law, etc.? Does that mean that these things weren't law without an explicit, enscripturated statute?

Monday, August 21, 2006 10:03:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

Timothy D.,
Yes, Elisa and I were talking about it over dinner and remembered where God did set it apart before the fall. Makes all the sense in the world in that light.

One of the things that was pointed out by John Currid in his commentary on Genesis is that there are clean and unclean animals on the ark, which shows that they knew of the sacrifices needed for sin even before the Mosaic law was given. I'm taking it that they knew a lot more than is revealed to us in the Law. This entire discussion on the Sabbath has been most profitable.

Blessings

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 2:46:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy said...

BTW, I gave a heads up to this post on my post today. I don't expect those who totally reject the Sabbath observance to be swayed in the least. But those silent observers will be encouraged...
Blessings

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 3:47:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Glad it helped you, Tim.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 6:08:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Of course, 'creation ordinance' means "at creation, before the Fall", but i was making it more explicit.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 6:10:00 pm  
Blogger David Shedden said...

You have constructed your own interpretive framework, when you say, "I believe all the other commandments are affirmed in NT teaching." You are inferring that the commandment must be repeated in the NT, specifically the NT Epistles, for it to have continuity. This is by definition Dispensationalist.

Tim, the 4th command is the one command that needs to be repeated and explained in the NT if the Lord's Day is the Sabbath - it's the only command where there is a significant change in its application! I don't think this explanation can be found on a plain reading of the NT.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 3:30:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

Generations of Christians have taken the 'plain reading' of Scripture from the beginning.

All that needs stated is the change, which is plainly stated. The people of God always assembled on the Sabbath to worship as a corporate body. In the NT they meet on the first day of the week, ergo they changed the day of worship, i.e. the Sabbath.

"The Lord's Day" is a phrase that is only stated once in the NT and is unexplained. To understand this term we need to turn to Early Church documents, which do tell us what it means.

The only other instance is in the Septuagint, where the Sabbath is referred to as the "Lord's Day".

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 5:52:00 pm  

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