Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Sabbath: Objection #3

Sabbath Study, Part 6

Colossians 2:16-17 is the last of the three major New Testament passages used to argue against the continuance of the Sabbath rest.

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. (Colossians 2:16, 17)

Let no one judge you.
“The apostle speaks here in reference to some particulars of the hand-writing of ordinances, which had been taken away, viz., the distinction of meats and drinks, what was clean and what unclean, according to the law; and the necessity of observing certain holydays or festivals, such as the new moons and particular sabbaths, or those which should be observed with more than ordinary solemnity; all these had been taken out of the way and nailed to the cross, and were no longer of moral obligation. There is no intimation here that the Sabbath was done away, or that its moral use was superseded, by the introduction of Christianity” (Adam Clarke).

“The word Sabbath in the Old Testament is applied not only to the seventh day, but to all the days of holy rest that were observed by the Hebrews, and particularly to the beginning and close of their great festivals. There is, doubtless, reference to those days in this place, as the word is used in the plural number, and the apostle does not refer particularly to the Sabbath properly so called. There is no evidence, from this passage, that he would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind. . . . No part of the moral law—no one of the ten commandments—could be spoken of as ‘a shadow of good things to come.’ These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation” (Albert Barnes).

“The passage does not refer to the Sabbath of the moral law, associated with the commands forbidding theft, murder, and adultery. This weekly Sabbath was never against men or contrary to them, but was always for them, and promotive of their highest good” (Justin Edwards).

“The weekly sabbath rests on a more permanent foundation, having been instituted in Paradise to commemorate the completion of creation in six days” (JFB).

“The observance of the ‘first day of the week’ cannot be justly included under the ‘sabbaths’ here referred to, as the primitive Christians, following the example of the New Testament Writers, scrupulously avoided calling it a ‘sabbath,’ preferring ‘Sunday’ as less objectionable, or better still, ‘the Lord’s Day’” (Robert Young).

A shadow of things to come.
That is, they comprised “an intangible outline caused by, and revealing the approach of, a solid reality” (J. A. Beet). As such, “they had no intrinsic worth in them and . . . they are now done away” (Matthew Henry). “We are to pay no attention to the shadows since Christ has come, but to observe what we find in him and the gospel” (B. W. Johnson). It should be obvious that the Ten Commandments, as moral and natural laws (and not ceremonial), constitute “substance” and not “shadow,” instituted to last and not pass away.

In addition to the above arguments—which by themselves are substantial—there is another reason why I believe these verses do not signal the end of the fourth commandment. That reason is the use of the Greek word translated as “festival.” This word refers to, among other things, the Passover. In fact, the Greek word used here is the same word used for the Passover feast in other Scripture passages.* While it is true that Christians do not observe the Passover as such, we do observe the Lord’s Supper, a sacrament instituted by Christ Himself during a Passover. The Passover as the Jews knew it may be over, but its progeny, the Lord’s Supper, remains. Likewise, while the Sabbath as the Jews knew it may be over, its progeny, the Sunday celebration, remains (a fact we will explore more in-depth once we get through the gospels). So, if this passage is saying that the Passover is null and void while leaving the Lord’s Supper unscathed, it is also saying that the Jewish Sabbath day (the seventh day of the week) is null and void while leaving the Lord’s Day—i.e., Sunday—intact.

Furthermore, J. A. Beet helps shed some light on how a Sabbath rest can still be in effect for the believer while these New Testament passages seem to paint a fairly negative view of Jewish festivals and holidays. “. . . the absence from the New Testament of any express teaching about the relation of the Lord’s Day [Sunday] to the Jewish Sabbath and the Fourth Commandment [is not] difficult to understand. Any such teaching in the Epistle before us would have seriously blunted, by inevitable misinterpretation, Paul’s resistance to the advocates of the Mosaic Law as still binding on Christians. Abundant proofs of this relation were stored in the sacred volume. The inference from these proofs was left to be observed, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the later ages of the Church. And in the meantime, by Christ and by the apostolic Church an unique honour was paid to the first day of the week which marked it out unmistakably as the Day of Days.”

In these last three posts, we have looked at the three major passages used to argue that the fourth commandment is null and void. What we have seen is that none of them provides a conclusive argument. Near the end of our study, we will delve more deeply into the difference between the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) and the Christian Sabbath (Sunday). But first, we will make our way through Scripture and see the various passages that speak on the issue of the Sabbath.

* For example: “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover” (Lk. 22:1); “Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near” (Jn. 6:4); “Now before the feast of the Passover . . .” (Jn. 13:1).

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay.
Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam ClarkeNotes on the New Testament, by Albert BarnesThe Family Bible Notes, by Justin EdwardsJamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
1898 Young’s Literal Translation, by Robert YoungCommentaries on Paul’s Epistles, by J. A. BeetAn Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by Matthew HenryPeople's New Testament Commentary, by B. W. Johnson

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Sabbath: Objection #2

Sabbath Study, Part 5

The second major New Testament passage used to dispute the continuance of the Sabbath is found in the book of Galatians.

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. (Galatians 4:9-11)

You observe days...and years.

There seem to be two possible interpretations of this passage. The first is that the observance of special holidays is outdated and unnecessary. If that is Paul’s meaning here, let us examine why the weekly Sabbath is not included.

“The days here referred to [in Gal. 4:10] are doubtless the days of the Jewish festivals. They had numerous days of such observances; and in addition to those specified in the Old Testament, the Jews had added many others, as days commemorative of the destruction and rebuilding of the temple, and of other important events in their history. It is not a fair interpretation of this to suppose that the apostle refers to the Sabbath, properly so called, for this was a part of the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments]. . . . It is a fair interpretation to apply it to all those days which are not commanded to be kept holy in the Scriptures; and hence the passage is as applicable to the observance of saints’ days, and days in honour of particular events in sacred history, as to the days observed by the Galatians” (Albert Barnes).

There is another possible interpretation of this passage, one that I think is more plausible. Paul’s main problem wasn’t with the special days the Christians were observing per se, but the underlying heart motivations involved. That is, the Galatians were acting as if their salvation hinged on their adherence to the law. If this is the case—if the problem wasn’t what they were doing but why they were doing it—then it matters little whether or not “days…and years” includes the weekly Sabbath.

“To regard the observance of certain days as in itself meritorious as a work, is alien to the free spirit of Christianity. This is not incompatible with observing the Sabbath or the Christian Lord’s day as obligatory, though not as a work (which was the Jewish and Gentile error in the observance of days), but as a holy means appointed by the Lord for attaining the great end, holiness. The whole life alike belongs to the Lord in the Gospel view, just as the whole world, and not the Jews only, belong to Him. But as in Paradise, so now one portion of time is needed wherein to draw off the soul more entirely from secular business to God” (JFB).

“Paul does not object to these observances for he kept them himself as a Jew. He objected to Gentiles taking to them as a means of salvation” (A.T. Robertson).

I am afraid for you.
What could make Paul afraid? Very little ever seemed to rattle his cage. This was a man who wasn’t afraid of shipwrecks, persecution, prison—even death.

The problem couldn’t merely be that the Galatians were practicing outdated Jewish customs. Paul himself had done that very thing: “to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, though not being myself under the law that I might win those who are under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20). Paul did this to advance the gospel: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake” (v. 22, 23; see also 10:33).

If all the Galatians were doing was the same thing Paul had done in the past, he would have no need to be worried. Instead, he expressed himself using incredibly strong terms: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). To attempt justification before God through one’s own efforts—whether those efforts are unnecessary, optional, or required—is to become estranged from Christ, to act as if grace is not needed. But to act as if grace is not needed is to act as if Jesus died for nothing (see 2:21). That’s how the Galatians were acting (whether they fully realized it or not)—and that is what troubled Paul.

So, we see that the problem was not observing “days and months and seasons and years” (even though some or all were no longer necessary); it was observing them legalistically, as if their salvation depended upon it. I would agree with Paul: as I have stated previously, I do not think observing the Sabbath is meritorious in any way, shape, or form. To do so would be to act contrary to the very gospel that saves us.

That being said, the question becomes, “Well, are we really sure that the fourth commandment is a moral law and not a ceremonial law?” We will begin to answer that question in more depth in the next post.

Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay. Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.

Commentaries Used
The Family Bible Notes, by Justin EdwardsNotes on the New Testament, by Albert BarnesJamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary
Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A.T. Robertson

The Sabbath: Objection #1

Sabbath Study, Part 4

The first of the three most popular Scriptural passages used to support the idea that the fourth commandment has ceased is found in Romans 14.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)
This passage deals with a common problem in New Testament times. As Gentile Christians joined the church, disputes arose as to the necessity—or lack thereof—of observing longstanding Jewish customs (festival days, dietary regulations, circumcision, etc.) What we find out from Paul (and other Scriptural passages) is that ceremonial Jewish laws do not apply to Christians—Jewish or Gentile. We are free from those requirements. However, our freedom in Christ also allows us to adhere to them (or some of them), should we so choose. Our conscience is to be our guide in such cases. A person convicted of, say, eating pork can very well abstain from eating pork.

That being said, it should be obvious that moral laws are not a matter of conscience. One cannot, for example, dishonor his father or mother if he feels no obligation to do so. God’s moral law is binding on all mankind. To break such a law is to offend God. And as we will see, the Ten Commandments are a part of God’s moral, natural law. As such, the fourth commandment is raised above the ceremonial law (and the other festivals and holidays—many of which were referred to as sabbaths).


NOTE: Because of Thanksgiving, the next blog entry will not be posted until Saturday.

Some Qualifying Statements

Sabbath Study, Part 3

There is a lot to be said about the Sabbath, but before we go any further I want to make clear a few things I will NOT say in this blog series.

First, I am NOT going to say that the true Sabbath is on Saturday. Later on in the study (when we get to the end of the gospels), we’ll look more in-depth at the “Saturday vs. Sunday” debate. Until then, I’ll just say that I think the Saturday Sabbath as the Jews knew it has ceased and that the Christian Sabbath rests (no pun intended) on Sunday.

Second, I am NOT going to say that God’s acceptance of us is influenced by how we observe (or neglect) the Sabbath. God accepts us solely because of Christ (Eph. 1:6), whose imputed righteousness is the only basis on which we have a right standing with God (Phil. 3:9). We can obtain God’s acceptance through observing the Sabbath no better than we can obtain God’s acceptance by obeying any of the other commandments in Scripture.

Finally, I am NOT going to say that we need to add an extra and unnecessary burden to our schedules. Granted, that may sound like a blatant contradiction to my main purpose—namely, to show that the fourth commandment is still in effect today, making the Sabbath observance a necessary aspect of the believer’s life. However, the reason I am not contradicting myself is that the Sabbath observance was created for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In other words, the fourth commandment was designed in part to relieve the very burden that we accuse it of creating.

It is one thing to take the premise of Sabbath rest as an occasion for forcing men into bondage (as the Pharisees did). It is quite another to adhere to certain divine ordinances so that we might partake of the wonderful provision of rest found in the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath, Biblically defined, is a liberating provision. Without it, we are tempted to live life in Fast Forward with no Pause button in sight. Indeed, true bondage belongs to the life dominated by a rigorous schedule with no room or hope for repose.

Let me conclude the introduction to this blog series with one more quote. In his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, Donald Whitney describes a life of observing the Sabbath. His conclusion on the matter is encouraging and inspiring.

Imagine living to age seventy and spending every Lord’s Day in the ways I’ve suggested. You’d experience ten years of worshiping the Lord with His people, reading great literature, playing with your children or grandchildren, taking walks, enjoying fellowship, and taking naps. Does this sound like a burden to you? Most people dream of a life like this. It’s the kind of life you can enjoy when you delight in the Lord’s Day.

As we progress through this series, I hope we can all grow to delight more in the Lord by delighting more in the Sabbath (Is. 58:13, 14).

Dead Men Tell Great Truths

Sabbath Study, Part 2

While studying the topic of the Sabbath, I found that I was not the only fish in this particular ocean. Indeed, a lot of great men from the past—dead fish, if you will—swam this current before me. Their insight and wisdom spurred me on. Below are just a few examples.

Jonathan Edwards believes it is the will of God that Christians set aside the Sabbath for the purpose of religious exercises and duties:

If the Christian Sabbath be of divine institution, it is doubtless of great importance to religion that it be well kept, and therefore, that every Christian be well acquainted with the institution.
A.W. Pink makes a pointed case for Sabbath observance:

It should thus be quite evident that this law for the regulation of man’s time was not a temporary one, designed for any particular dispensation, but is continuous and perpetual in the purpose of God. . . . The more faithfully we keep this Commandment, the better prepared shall we be to obey the other nine.
My favorite Puritan author, Thomas Watson, seeks to instill within his hearers a proper view of the Sabbath:

God not only appointed the seventh day, but he blessed it. It is not only a day of honour to God, but a day of blessing to us; it is not only a day wherein we give God worship, but a day wherein he gives us grace. On this day a blessing drops down from heaven. God himself is not benefited by it, we cannot add one cubit to his essential glory; but we ourselves are benefited. This day, religiously observed, entails a blessing upon our souls, our estate, and our posterity.
Charles Spurgeon uses part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to prove the permanence of the Sabbath day. When I looked up the catechism myself, I discovered that it spends a good bit of time delving into the meaning and purpose of each of the Ten Commandments. It poses three or four questions in relation to each commandment—the exception being the Sabbath, which gets six questions. Here are the final five (after the question, “Which is the fourth commandment?”):

Question 58
Q: What is required in the fourth commandment?
A: The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

Question 59
Q: 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.

Question 60
Q: How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A: The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

Question 61
Q: What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A: The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Question 62
Q: What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
A: The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the Sabbath-day.
What I learned from these examples—and many more like them—is that our Western non-observance of the Sabbath is far from the historical Protestant tradition. Instead, it seems that only in more recent years has the Christian community (with some rare exceptions) devalued the fourth commandment.

I won’t pretend to know why this is the case, but I’m fairly certain it’s not because ours is a more godly generation. In a time when Western Christianity is suffering more from seduction by the world rather than persecution from it, our neglect of the Sabbath may more likely be a sign of spiritual sickness rather then spiritual health.

The Sabbath: An Introduction

Sabbath Study, Part 1

Several months ago I began a study of the Ten Commandments with the idea that I would grow in my understanding of both God’s holiness and my sinfulness, thus bringing about a deeper appreciation for the gospel. It wasn’t long, however, before my study was hijacked. I arrived at the fourth commandment and quickly realized that I didn’t know what to do with it:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

How exactly had I violated the Sabbath? Was this commandment even active, or had it passed away? After all, the Western Christianity I’d grown up in seemed not to take much notice of the fourth commandment. Sure, church was always on Sunday, but that seemed to be about it. Was there more to a Sabbath rest? What did this commandment have to say to me today?

In an effort to find Biblical answers to my questions, I started researching online to see what other Christians—past and present—have said about the Sabbath rest. During my search, I came across an online sermon by Tim Keller. Entitled “Work and Rest,” it sought to answer three questions about the Sabbath:

1. Why do we need it?
2. Where do we get it?
3. How do we do it?

Dr. Keller’s message radically affected my view of the Sabbath. I started experiencing a conviction that I had been missing out on something special. This conviction wasn’t leading to a feeling of condemnation (which I had felt before when faced with my neglect of the fourth commandment), but to a sense of excitement; it was as if a special treasure was starting to be unearthed, and I was going to partake of the spoils.

I soon discovered that both the Old and New Testaments had a lot more to say about the Sabbath than I had realized. On numerous occasions, I would come to what I believed was the end of my search, only to find yet another Sabbath reference. During my study, I utilized my wonderful Online Bible* software, which gave me access to over 16 different Bible commentaries, helping my effort to better understand each text. Now, more than five months after starting this study, I have become convinced that the Sabbath is an astounding blessing given for both God’s glory and our good.

This is the beginning of a blog series that will detail what I have learned since beginning this study. Over the next forty days or so (I’m not quite sure how long it will take), we will look at specific Bible passages that deal with the Sabbath. While I will provide my own commentary on numerous verses, I will also rely heavily on the Bible commentaries I used during my initial study.

Here is a brief outline of what this series will look like. Things may change as we move along, but I won’t deviate much from the following path. After a couple more introductory posts, we will look at three New Testament passages commonly used to argue that the weekly Sabbath has ceased. Once we have addressed those, we will examine the fourth commandment in its entirety (as given in Exodus 20). Then we will go back to the book of Genesis and systematically work our way through the Old and New Testaments in order to come to a proper understanding of the doctrine of the Sabbath. After that, we will begin to wrap up our study by looking at a few New Testament passages that explain the ultimate rest a believer looks to (and the ultimate rest foreshadowed by the Sabbath): Heaven itself. Finally, we will spend a short time summarizing what we have read.

My wife and I are only beginning to explore how these truths should play out in our own lives, and while we have much to learn about the function and practical application of the Sabbath, I believe we have experienced God’s grace in the process. I hope this blog series is a means of grace for you as well.

UPDATE: Just so everyone knows, I will not be posting blog entries on Sunday. (I know, go figure.)

* Hall, Kay. Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.