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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #2

Answers to Ojectors of Creation Sabbath


Continued from previous page:

1. Objections and Ojectors to Creation Sabbath

     Why, one wonders, have so many over the centuries rejected
the matter-of-fact account of the Edenic origin of the Sabbath
given several times in the Pentateuch (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:11; Ex.
31:17)? The reasons differ. Brief consideration will now be given
to the principal ones.

Identity crisis. 

     The strong desire to preserve a Jewish identity, at a time
when Hellenistic forces were pressing for the abandonment of the
Jewish religion, apparently led Palestinian Rabbis to reduce the
Sabbath from a creation ordinance established for mankind to a
Mosaic ordinance given exclusively to Israel. Such a development
was encouraged especially by the determined efforts of the Syrian
king Antiochus Epiphanes to implement a program of radical
Hellenization of the Jews through the prohibition of sacrifices
and Sabbathkeeping (175 B.C.). The result was that many Jews fell
away, "sacrificed to the gods and desecrated the Sabbath" (1
Macc. 1:43). Pious Jews resisted passionately against such
Hellenization, preferring to be slaughtered rather than
desecrating the Sabbath (1 Macc. 2:32-38). The need to preserve a
Jewish identity at that critical time inspired an exclusivistic
and nationalistic view of the Sabbath. Some Rabbis taught that
the privilege of Sabbathkeeping was denied to the Gentiles and
reserved exclusively to Israel. As stated in the book of
Jubilees, "He [God] allowed no other people or peoples to keep
the Sabbath on this day, except Israel only; to it alone he
granted to eat and drink and keep the Sabbath on it" (2:31). If
the patriarchs are sometimes mentioned as keeping the Sabbath,
this is regarded as an exception "before it [the Sabbath] was
given" to Israel."
     The notion of the Sabbath as an exclusively Jewish
institution, established not at creation for all mankind but by
Moses for Israel alone, makes God guilty, to say the least, of
favoritism and discriminatory practices. It must be said,
however, that such a view represents a late secondary development
rather than an original tradition. This is borne out by the fact
that in Hellenistic (Greek) Judaism the Sabbath was viewed as a
creation ordinance for mankind. Moreover, even in Palestinian
literature (both apocalyptic and rabbinic) frequent mention is
made of God, Adam, Seth, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph as
scrupulously observing the Sabbath.

Apologetic need. 

     The notion of the Mosaic origin and exclusive Jewish nature
of the Sabbath was adopted by some of the early Fathers to
challenge those Christians who defended the binding obligations
of the Sabbath commandment in the Christian dispensation. The
standard and frequent argument is that the patriarchs and
righteous men before Moses did not observe the Sabbath, and thus
the day must be regarded as a temporary ordinance, deriving from
Moses, and enjoined exclusively on the Jews on account of their
unfaithfulness. The reduction of a creation ordinance to an
infamous sign of Jewish disobedience may reflect the need for
short-term apologetic arguments, but it lacks a comprehension of
the permanent and lofty values placed upon the Sabbath by the

Absence of "Sabbath."    

     In Genesis 2:2-3 there is a threefold reference to the
"seventh day" but no mention is made of the Sabbath. To some,
this absence indicates that the Sabbath as an institution
originated not at creation but later at the time of Moses. It is
true that the name "Sabbath" does not occur in the passage, but
the cognate verbal form sabat (to cease, to stop, to rest) is
used and the latter, as noted by U. Cassuto, "contains an
allusion to the name 'the Sabbath day.' Moreover, as the same
author sagaciously remarks, the use of the name seventh day
rather than Sabbath may well reflect the writer's concern to
underline the perpetual order of the day, independent and free
from any association with astrological "sabbaths" of the heathen
nations. By pointing to a perpetual order, the seventh day
strengthens the cosmological message of the creation story,
precisely that God is both Creator and constant controller of
this cosmos. In Exodus, however, where the seventh day is given
in the context of the genesis not of this cosmos but of the
nation of Israel, the day is explicitly designated "sabbath,"
apparently to express its new historical and soteriological
function. This new dimension of the Sabbath will be considered in
chapters III and V.

Absence of command.      

     The absence in Genesis 2:2-3 of any explicit command to
observe the seventh day is also interpreted as added indication
that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance, a moral law binding
on all mankind, but a temporary institution which Moses
introduced for Israel alone and justified by grounding it on the
creation week. This argument makes Moses guilty of distortion of
truth or, at least, a victim of gross misunderstanding. He would
have traced back the Sabbath to creation when in reality it was
his own new creation. Such a charge, if true, would cast serious
doubts on the integrity and/ or reliability of anything else
Moses or anyone else wrote in the Bible.
     What is it that makes any divine precept moral and
universal? Do we not regard a law moral when it reflects God's
nature? Could God have given any stronger revelation of the moral
nature of the Sabbath than by making it a rule of His divine
conduct? Is a principle established by divine example less
binding than one enunciated by a divine command? DO not actions
speak louder than words? "God's mode of operation," as noted by
John Murray, "is the exemplar on the basis of which the sequence
for man is patterned. There can be little doubt that in Genesis
2:3 there is at least an allusion to the blessing of the seventh
day in man's week." The fact that the Sabbath is presented in the
creation story as a divine example rather than a commandment for
mankind could well reflect what God intended the Sabbath to be in
a sinless world, namely, not an alienating imposition but a free
response to a gracious Creator. By freely choosing to make
himself available to, his Creator on the Sabbath, man was to
experience physical, mental and spiritual renewal and enrichment.
Since these needs have not been eliminated but heightened by the
fall, the moral, universal and perpetual functions of the Sabbath
precept were repeated later in the form of a commandment.

(As a child of 6 years of age, I was sent by my parents to a
Church of England School. We were given a Bible, and the first
1/2 hour of each school day was reading the Bible. I can well
remember reading Genesis chapter one and two. There was no doubt
in my child's mind that the blessing of the 7th day, the
sanctifying of that day, the example by God of resting on that
day, was clearly stating that all mankind should follow his
example, no greater example in all the universe could possibly
be, than for the Eternal God of creation to lead the way in
wanting mankind to rest and keep holy the 7th day of the week. As
Jesus said, unless you become as a child you will not enter the
Kingdom of God. 
Furthermore, this excuse that some cling to in rejecting the 4th
of the great Ten Commandments, is theologically blown away by the
verses of Romans 5:12-14 and 1 John 3:4. Sin was in the world
even from Adam to Moses, and sin is interpreted for us by the
inspiration of the Lord Himself, as transgressing the law; the
law that has points, which leads us to Romans 7:7 and James 2:10-
12. Now that is putting Scripture with Scripture, and confounds
and smashes to bits the ideas of carnal men - Keith Hunt)

Absence of example. 

     The oldest and perhaps the strongest argument against the
Edenic antiquity of the Sabbath is the absence of explicit
reference to Sabbathkeeping after Genesis 2 for the whole
patriarchal period, that is until Exodus 16. The sources outside
the Bible, as we noticed earlier, provide us (for the pre-Mosaic
period) only faint and inconclusive indications of a primeval
type of "Sabbath" among the Semitic people of ancient
Mesopotamia. However, considering the nature of the Sabbath, one
could hardly expect to find clear evidences of its observance
among heathen nations, but one would anticipate finding such
evidence among the faithful patriarchs. How can we account for
this apparent silence? Could it be that between Adam and Moses,
for some unexplainable reason, the Sabbath, though instituted,
was not observed? The non-observance of the feast of the booths
between Joshua and Nehemiah, a period of almost a thousand years,
would provide a parallel situation (Neh. 8:17). Or could it
rather be that the custom of Sabbathkeeping is not mentioned
because it was simply taken for granted? The latter explanation
seems more plausible for a number of reasons.

     First, we have a similar example of silence regarding the
Sabbath between the books of Deuteronomy and 2 Kings. Such
silence can hardly be interpreted as non-observance of the Sab-
bath, since when the first incidental reference occurs in 2 Kings
4:23, it describes the custom of visiting a prophet on the Sab-
     Second, Genesis does not contain laws like Exodus, but
rather a brief sketch of origins.  Since then no mention is made
of any of the other commandments, the silence regarding the
Sabbath is not exceptional. 
     Third, there are throughout the book of Genesis, and the
early chapters of Exodus circumstantial evidences for the use of
the seven-day week, which would imply the existence of the
Sabbath as well. The period of seven days is mentioned four times
in the account of the Flood (Gen. 7A, 10; 8:1-12). The "week" is
also apparently used in a technical way to describe the duration
of the nuptial festivities of Jacob (Gen. 29: 27) as well as the
duration of mourning at his death (Gen. 50: 10). A like period   
was observed by the friends of Job, to express their condolences
to the patriarch (Job. 2:12). Probably all the mentioned
ceremonials were termnated by the arrival of the Sabbath.
     Lastly, the Sabbath is presented in Exodus 16 and 20 as an
already existing institution. The instructions for the gathering
of the double portion of the manna on the sixth day presuppose a
knowledge of the significance of the Sabbath: "On the sixth day,
when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as
they gather daily" (Ex. 16:5). The omission of any reason for
gathering a double portion on the sixth day would be quite
unaccountable, if the Israelites had no previous knowledge of the
Sabbath. Similarly in Exodus 20, the Sabbath is presupposed as
something already familiar. The commandment does not say "know
the Sabbath day" but "Remember the Sabbath day" (Ex. 20:8), thus
implying that it was already known. Furthermore, the commandment
by presenting the Sabbath as rooted in creation (Ex. 20:11)
hardly allows a late Exodus introduction of the festival.
     To speculate on how the patriarchs kept the Sabbath would be
a fruitless endeavor since it would rest more on imagination than
on available information. Considering, however, that the essence
of the Sabbath is not a place to go to fulfill rituals, but a set
time to be with God, ourselves and others, it seems entirely
possible that the patriarchs spent the Sabbath holy hours within
their household, engaged in some of the acts of worship described
in Genesis, such as prayer (Gen. 12:8; 26:25), sacrifice (Gen.
12:8; 13:18; 26:25; 33:20), and teaching (Gen. 18:19).

(Again the verses I cited in Romans proves sin, the breaking of
the law of God, existed from Adam to Moses. The true people of
the Lord, be it Abraham and others, would most certainly have
known the laws of the Ten Commandments. I prove in another study
on this Website that the Ten commandments did exist before the
time of Moses - see "The Ten Commandments before Moses" - Keith

Legalistic tendencies. 

     The objections against the creation Sabbath which we have
briefly considered are generally raised by Christians who rightly
react against the excessively legalistic and literalistic manner
in which the Sabbath has often been observed by those who defend
it as a creation ordinance. Such a reaction is indeed justifiable
but it does not also justify the doing away with a precept
because some pervert it. Legalists unfortunately tend to forget
that by His actions and words, the Savior made the Sabbath a day
of "mercy" rather than of "sacrifice" (Matt. 12:8), a time to
love God and one's fellow beings rather than to parade one's
righteousness by fulfilling rituals. A correct understanding and
experience of the Sabbath can prove to be powerful antidotes
against legalism. Why? Because the Sabbath teaches us not to work
for our salvation (legalism), but to cease from all our works, in
order, as Calvin so well expressed it, "to allow God to work in

Conflict with modern science. 

     In concluding this survey of objections against the
creation-Sabbath, mention should be made of those who reject this
Biblical teaching because they are unable to reconcile it with
modern scientific theories of origin. The current prevailing
theory assumes that it took millions of years for the surface
layers of the earth to be formed and that life originated
"spontaneously," evolving from simple, one-celled "ancestors." To
reconcile such a theory with the creation account, some
well-intentioned theologians have interpreted the creation week
as meaning not six literal days, but rather six ages of geologic
time. Others prefer to view the creation week primarily as a time
during which God's creative activities and goodness were revealed
to man. Obviously these interpretations do away with the
creation-Sabbath, simply because they imply that God did not
actually rest and sanctify a literal seventh-day.
     The problem with scientific logic, as wisely stated by
Herold Weiss, is that it "refuses to allow theology to inform
it." When a person insists on believing only what can be
demonstrated in a laboratory, he chooses to trace his roots
downward from biological specimens rather than upward from the
image of God. Ultimately, this leads a person to believe in
nothing else but himself. The tragic consequence of such a
philosophy is that it empties life and human history of ultimate
meaning, leaving both life and history with no divine beginning
or destiny. Life is reduced to a biological cycle which by chance
alone determines its own beginning and end. Thus the ultimate
reality is not God but matter, which historically has been viewed
as eternal or as evil. The creation story with its
Sabbath-memorial challenges this nihilism, urging each
generation, whether burdened with scientific facts or with
mythological fantasies, to acknowledge that this world is a
creation and a gift of God entrusted to man, whose life is
meaningful because it is rooted in God.
     Is it really necessary to be able to explain the creation
week in the light of modern scientific theories in order to
accept the Sabbath as a creation ordinance? Has modern science
the know-how and the instruments to test and explain how long it
takes to "create" a solar system such as ours with its multiform
life? We seem to forget that science can observe and measure only
the ongoing processes of conservation and disintegration. In
fact, modern science by assuming that these ongoing processes
have always functioned in the past essentially as in the present
(uniformitarianism) excludes the possibility of a divine fiat
(spoken-into-existence) process. Thus, ultimately the problem is
not how to reconcile the creation-week with modern theories of
origin, but how to conciliate the Biblical teaching of a Divine
creation with the prevailing scientific view of spontaneous
generation. Is it possible to harmonize the two? Obviously not,
since the two views rest on entirely different premises. The
latter accepts only natural causes while the former acknowledges
God as the Supernatural Cause: "By faith we understand that the
world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was
made out of things which do not appear" (Heb. 11:3).

     If we accept by faith that God created this world, then why
should we disbelieve what He has revealed to us about the time He
took to accomplish it? Someone could object that the notion of
God creating and resting according to the limitations of a
seven-dav human week militates against His very eternal and
omnipotent nature. It is evident that Almighty God did not need
geological ages nor literal days to create our world but only the
will to call it into existence (Ps. 33:6). But does not the fact
that in His revelation God tells us that He chose a human rather
than a divine time-schedule to create our world point to another
equally important quality of His divine nature: love? Is not
God's willingness to enter into the limitations of human time at
creation a reflection of His concern to give a divine example or
perspective to the work-and-rest week of His creatures? Is not
this also a prefiguration of God's willingness to enter, if the
need should arise, into human flesh in order to become
"Emmanuel," "God with us"? This dimension of the Sabbath will be
the subject of later considerations. For the present, we conclude
that to question the creation-origin of the Sabbath in order to
harmonize the creation-week with modern theories of origins,
means to reject not only the message of Genesis 1:1-2:3, but also
its commentary given in the Fourth Commandment, which speaks of
six literal days of creation and one literal day of rest,
sanctified by God when this world was created (Ex. 20 :1 1).

2 Creation-Sabbath in Scripture

     This brief survey of objections against the creation-Sabbath
has dealt primarily with references found in the first two books


To be continued

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