Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Are we to rest on the Sabbath, or from the Sabbath?

In "resting from the Sabbath,"
America has rejected rest from
non-stop labor, and has embraced
non-stop rebellion against God. 
by Steve C. Halbrook

Are we to rest on the Sabbath, or from the Sabbath?

For too long, the American church’s answer has been the latter.  Largely due to the influence of dispensational theology—a doctrine based on the traditions of men, invented by John Nelson Darby in the 1800s—the typical attitude about the Sabbath by professing Christians is, “That was just for the Jews.” 
But the Sabbath was given to man long before the nation of Israel existed.  In fact, it was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—and remember, Adam and Eve were no more Jewish than they were Gentile: 
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Genesis 2:3). 
If Adam and Eve were to keep the Sabbath, it logically follows that their descendants are also to keep it.
We must also keep in mind that since the Sabbath was instituted in the Garden of Eden, it is a creation ordinance, and creation ordinances are perpetually binding on all men.  For instance the Bible appeals to creation to justify perpetual rules of male/female relationships (Matthew 19:3-9; 1 Corinthians 11:8, 9; Ephesians 5:31; 1 Timothy 2:12-14). 

And so, if everyone is obligated to the same rules of male/female relationships given at creation, then by implication everyone is obligated to keep the one-day-in-seven Sabbath, since the Sabbath was likewise given at creation. 

Moreover, in Exodus, Sabbath-keeping is explicitly justified on the basis of it being a creation ordinance:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).
And then, the Bible also teaches that “The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27b).  Notice how it does not say, “The Sabbath was made for Jews,” but that “The Sabbath was made for man”—that is, “man” in the generic sense—all mankind. 

Just as woman was created “for man” (1 Corinthians 11:9) in the Garden of Eden—and thereby all men and women everywhere are to observe this fact—so was the Sabbath “made for man” in the Garden of Eden—and thereby all men and women everywhere are likewise to observe this fact.  And this applies to all men at all times, since “man” (or mankind) is no less “man” in the New Covenant era than it was prior to it. 

Implicit in the “The Sabbath was made for man” is the fact that that the Sabbath was made for man’s wellbeing.  The nature of man hasn’t changed since the New Covenant era, and so man needs the Sabbath today just as much as he did in the Older Testament era.

(Some think that man can do whatever he wants to on the Sabbath because Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man. But this statement no more means that man is free to break the Sabbath than man is free to abuse his wife because woman was made for man.)

We must not forget that the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments. Brian Schwertley writes, 

The morality, universality and perpetual nature of the weekly sabbath are also demonstrated by its location in the decalogue, or ten commandments. Did God place a temporary, purely Jewish ceremonial law in the midst of the summary of His moral precepts? Absolutely not! The number ten in the holy Scriptures signifies completeness and perfection. The idea that God has really only given His people nine commandments is absurd. The fact that the fourth commandment is part of the decalogue proves that it is of the same kind or nature as the other nine precepts; that is, it is moral. As part of the ten commandments, the Sabbath received the same special, awesome introduction (Ex. 19:16 ff.), dignity and honor as the other nine commandments.
The ten commandments were spoken directly to the people by Jehovah Himself from the mount (Ex. 20:1, 19). They were written on tablets of stone by God Himself to signify their importance and perpetual nature (Ex. 24:12; 32:16). They were taken and placed within the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:16). None of these “privileges were conferred upon the ceremonial law.” [1] “And if these and other prerogatives did put a difference, and show a difference to be put between the other nine commands, and all other judicial or ceremonial laws, why not between them, and this also?” [2] Furthermore, the wording of the fourth commandment reveals its universal nature, because the heathen and even the animals were required to rest. “The sabbath was not only enjoined to be observed by the Israelites, who were in covenant with God, together with their servants, who were made proselytes to their religion, and were obliged to observe the ceremonial and other positive laws; but it was also to be observed by the stranger within their gates, namely, the heathen, who dwelt among them, who were not in covenant with God, and did not observe the ceremonial law.” [3] “To see the convincing force of this fact the reader must contrast the jealous care with which the ‘stranger,’ the pagan foreigner sojourning in Jewry, was excluded from all share in the Levitical worship. No foreigner could partake of the passover; it was sacrilege. It was at the peril of his life that he presumed to enter the inner courtyard of the temple, where the bloody sacrifice was offered. Now, when this foreigner is required to keep the Sabbath along with the families of Israel, does not this prove that rest to be no ceremonial, no type like the passover and the altar, but a universal moral institution designed for all nations and times?”[4] [5]

Moreover, the book of Isaiah refers positively to Sabbath-keeping in the New Covenant era:  

 Thus says the LORD:"Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come,
   and my deliverance be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
   and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
   and keeps his hand from doing any evil."

 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
   "The LORD will surely separate me from his people";
and let not the eunuch say,
   "Behold, I am a dry tree."
For thus says the LORD:"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
   who choose the things that please me
   and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
   a monument and a name
   better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
   that shall not be cut off.

 "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
   to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
   and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,

   and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
   and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
   will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
   for all peoples."

The Lord GOD,
   who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
"I will gather yet others to him
   besides those already gathered." (Isaiah 56:1-8)

The day of the Sabbath’s observation has changed from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week (John 20:1, 26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2), but, as we have seen, God still requires all men to rest on the Sabbath, and to keep the day holy to the Lord (cf. Isaiah 58:13, 14). Thus it should not surprise us that the New Testament, specifically the book of Revelation, recognizes a special day in making reference to the Lord's day (Revelation 1:10). Jesus Christ is still indeed the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8).    

NOTE: For a comprehensive biblical defense of the abiding validity of the Sabbath, as well as the Sabbath day change, see Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1997); Joe Morecraft III, “Did Paul do away with the Fourth Commandment?,” in How God Wants Us to Worship Him (San Antonio, TX: The Vision Forum, Inc., 2004); and Brian Schwertley, The Christian Sabbath: Examined, Proved, Applied (Lansing, Michigan: Brian Schwertley, 1997). 

     [1] James Fisher, ed., The Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained by Way of Questions and Answers [Fisher’s Catechism] [Philadelphia: A. Walker, 1765], 2:61

     [2] James Durham, “The Fourth Commandment,” in Christopher Coldwell, ed., Anthology of Presbyterian and Reformed Literature (Dallas: Naphtali Press, winter, 1989), p. 6. 

     [3] Thomas Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism (Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1993 [1731]),  2:343. 

     [4] Robert Lewis Dabney, “The Christian Sabbath: Its Nature, Design, and Proper Observance” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1967], 1:507. [Editor’s disclaimer: we do not endorse Dabney’s views on race]

     [5] Brian Schwertley, The Christian Sabbath: Examined, Proved, Applied (Lansing, Michigan: Brian Schwertley, 1997). Retrieved May 25, 2011, from

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