THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE
A Biblical Analysis of Recent
Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD
There has probably been not one person since the first apostles,
who has done more to investigate and promote the Sabbath/Sunday
issue, than Samuele Bacchiocchi. It is my great pleasure to
reproduce his entire book "The Sabbath Under Crossfire." Dr.Sam
(as he likes to be called) has 4 or 5 books on the Sabbath. You
can find him I'm sure through the Internet - Keith Hunt
Each of the fourteen books I have authored has a story
behind it. In most cases, it was a crossfire of controversy that
erupted regarding a certain biblical doctrine that compelled me
to research and write a book on that topic. This book is no
I had no plan to write a book in 1998. In fact, when
Immortality or Resurrection? came off the press on December 1997,
I solemnly promised my wife that I would not start another book
in 1998. The reason is simple. Whenever I become involved in a
biblical research project, I spend my seven-months
leave-of-absence from teaching at Andrews University buried in my
basement office from 5:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Having neglected my wife and many odd jobs around the house
during much of 1997, I felt that in good conscience I could not
undertake another major research project in 1998. However, two
important events mentioned below caused me to change my plans.
Thank God for an understanding wife who has accepted such changes
without much complaining during our 37 years of married life. She
deserves much of the redit for whatever good has come from my
ministry of biblical research. Without her loving support none of
my books would have ever seen the light of day.
The Pope's Pastoral Letter. The first event that compelled
me to write this book is the promulgation of the Pastoral Letter
Dies Domini by Pope Paul John II on May 31, 1998. This document
has enormous historical significance because in it the Pope makes
a passionate plea for a revival of Sunday observance by appealing
to the moral imperative of the Sabbath Commandment and to the
need of civil legislation to facilitate the observance of Sunday
as a Holy Day.
The Pastoral Letter raises two important issues that
urgently need to be addressed. The first is the Pope's defense of
Sunday observance as the embodiment and "full expression" of the
Sabbath. This view, as shown in Chapter 1, not only lacks
biblical and historical support, but also represents a
significant departure from the traditional Catholic teaching.
Historically, the Catholic church has taught that Sunday
observance is an ecclesiastical institution different in meaning
and function from the Sabbath. John Paul departs from the
traditional Catholic distinction between Sabbath and Sunday in
order to make Sunday observance a moral imperative mandated by
the Decalogue itself.
The second issue is the Pope's summons to Christians "to
strive to ensure that civil legislation respects their duty to
keep Sunday holy." 1 The justification for such a summons is the
Pope's assumption that Sunday-keeping is a moral imperative
"inscribed" in the Decalogue itself; 2 and consequently, it is
to be supported by civil legislation promulgated by the
international community of nations.
In view of the grave theological and legal implications of
the Pastoral Letter, I felt that a response was imperative. In
July 1998, I posted my initial analysis of "Dies Domini" in
various discussion groups on the Internet. The response surpassed
my fondest expectations. In a few weeks, over 5,000 people
subscribed to a "Sabbath Discussion" list where I examine
important Sabbath/Sunday developments. Several editors of
religious magazines who subscribe to the list requested
permission to publish my response to the Pastoral Letter.
Incidentally, anyone with Internet service interested in
subscribing to my new Endtime Issues list can do so simply by
emailing me a request at: email@example.com or
firstname.lastname@example.org. If you choose to subscribe to the Endtime
Issues list you will receive free of charge every couple of weeks
an essay where I examine significant religious developments of
our time in the light of biblical teachings. You are free to
unsubscribe at any time.
The surprising interest shown by people of different
persuasions in various parts of the world for an in-depth
analysis of recent Sabbath/Sunday developments compelled me to
take up my pen again and write this book. Thank God for a wife
who does not remind me of broken promises.
This book has afforded me the opportunity to examine in
greater depth some of the recent Sabbath/Sunday developments that
I have discussed in a summary way in cyberspace. For example, my
initial eight page analysis of the Pastoral Letter first posted
in the Internet, has been expanded into a 40-page chapter
entitled "Pope John Paul II and the Sabbath." This is the first
and, possibly, the most important chapter of the book because it
examines the biblical, moral, historical, and legal arguments
used by Pope John Paul to emphasize the "grave obligation" of
Sunday observance. 3
Debate With Dale Ratzlaff.
The second event that influenced the writing of this book is
the debate on the Sabbath that took place Monday, June 15, 1998,
between Dale Ratzlaff and myself on KJSL, a Christian radio
station in St.Louis, Missouri. Ratzlaff had served as a
Seventh-day Adventist Bible teacher and pastor before leaving the
church because of doctrinal differences. Ratzlaff claims that
several months of Bible study convinced him that the Sabbath is
not a creational institution for mankind, but a Mosaic, Old
Covenant ordinance for the Jews.
According to Ratzlaff, "New Covenant" Christians do not need
to observe the Sabbath because Christ fulfilled its typological
function by becoming our salvation-rest. Consequently, "New
Covenant" Christians observe the Sabbath spiritually as a daily
experience of salvation-rest, not literally as the observance of
the seventh day unto the Lord.
A major problem with Ratzlaff's interpretation, as shown in
Chapter 4 of this book, is the failure to recognize that the
spiritual salvation - rest does not negate the physical Sabbath
rest. On the contrary, God invites us to cease from our physical
work on the Sabbath in order to enter His spiritual rest (Heb
4:10). Physical elements, such as the water in baptism, the bread
and wine in the Lord's Supper, and the physical rest on the
Sabbath, are designed to help us conceptualize and internalize
the spiritual realities they represent.
Ratzlaff published his views in a 345-page book entitled
"Sabbath in Crisis," where he articulates his "New Covenant"
theology. He is actively promoting his anti-sabbatarian views
through radio talk shows and advertisements in local papers where
he offers his book free. KJSL invited me to respond to his
anti-Sabbath arguments on their radio talk show on June 15, 1998.
As you can imagine, we had an animated discussion. Unfortunately,
the one-hour time limitation, cut even shorter by frequent radio
advertisements, prevented a thorough discussion of the major
issues. We agreed to continue the discussion in cyberspace. Over
a four-month period, I posted twenty-one essays where I deal
systematically with Ratzlaff's major objections against the
continuity and validity of the Sabbath for "New Covenant"
Christians. The demand for these essays has been incredible as
thousands of people from many parts of the world requested them
The enormous demand for my Sabbath essays may be due in part
to the considerable influence exerted by Ratzlaff's book,
especially among Sabbatarians. A study paper entitled "The
Sabbath" released by the Worldwide Church of God in 1995, lists
the Sabbath in Crisis as one of the three sources used to support
their so-called "New Covenant" theology. 4
"New Covenant" Theology.
It is hard to estimate the farreaching influence of the "New
Covenant" theology championed among Sabbatarians by people like
Ratzlaff. The Worldwide Church of God has experienced a massive
defection of over 70,000 members who have refused to accept the
doctrinal changes demanded by the "New Covenant" theology.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church also has been affected by the
"New Covenant" theology promoted especially by Sabbath in Crisis.
One example is the book "New Covenant Christians" by Clay Peck, a
former Adventist pastor who currently serves as senior pastor of
the Grace Place Congregation in Berthoud, Colorado. In the
"Introduction" to his book, Peck acknowledges his indebtedness to
Ratzlaff, saying: "While I have read and researched widely for
this study, I have been most challenged and instructed by a book
entitled Sabbath in Crisis by Dale Ratzlaff. I have leaned
heavily on his research, borrowing a number of concepts and
Similar "Grace-oriented," independent congregations have
been established in various parts of America by former
Seventh-day Adventist pastors who have embraced the "New
Covenant" theology. This development is unique to our times
because never before in the history of Christianity has the
Sabbath come under the crossfire by those who once had championed
These developments made me forcefully aware of the need to
respond to the major attacks launched against the Sabbath not
only by the Pope and Sundaykeeping scholars, but also by former
Sabbatarians. Initially I tried to meet this challenge by posting
in cyberspace essays dealing with the anti-Sabbath arguments. I
soon realized that this effort was not enough.
The thousands of email requests from all over the world for
the Sabbath essays posted on the Internet alerted me to the need
to expand my research and publish it in book form. This book is
the result of this endeavor. During the last six months of 1998,
I have worked intensively on this project, hoping to produce a
compelling biblical analysis of recent Sabbath/Sunday
Objectives of This Book.
This book has two major objectives. The first is to provide
a comprehensive examination of the major arguments used to negate
the continuity, validity, and values of the Sabbath for today.
Each of the first six chapters addresses a major argument
commonly used against the Sabbath. The length of the chapters
(ranging from 40 to 55 pages) reflects my aim to be as exhaustive
as possible within the length limitation of each chapter.
Experience has taught me that simplistic answers do not satisfy
people with inquiring minds. Thus, I have endeavored to examine
each argument as thoroughly as possible. Christians who find
themselves caught in the crossfire of the Sabbath/Sunday
controversy should find these chapters a valuable resource to
deal with popular attacks launched against the Sabbath.
The second objective of this book is to help people discover
the Sabbath as a day of joyful celebration of God's creative and
redemptive love. A major contributing factor to the abandonment
of the Sabbath by an increasing number of Sabbatarians is most
likely their failure to experience the physical, mental, moral,
and spiritual benefits of the Sabbath.
Those who experience the Sabbath as an alienating imposition
and a day of gloomy frustration are apt to welcome a theology
that releases them from such an oppressing and depressing
experience. The solution to the problem, however, is found not in
fabricating a "New Covenant" theology that does away with the
Sabbath Commandment, but in discovering the Sabbath as a blessing
rather than a burden, as a day of joyful celebration rather than
a day of gloomy frustration.
This pastoral concern has motivated me to devote the final
chapter to the rediscovery of the Sabbath. The first part of
Chapter 7 briefly reports the rediscovery of the Sabbath by
scholars, religious organizations, and people of different
persuasions. This is the paradox of our times. While some
Christians are rejecting the Sabbath as an Old Covenant
institution nailed to the Cross, an increasing number of other
Christians are rediscovering the continuity and value of the
Sabbath for our tension-filled, restless lives.
The final section of Chapter 7 explores in a more personal
way how to make Sabbathkeeping a Christ-centered experience - an
experience of the awareness of the Savior's presence, peace, and
rest in our lives. At a time when many are seeking for inner rest
and release through pills, drugs, meditation groups, vacations,
and athletic clubs, the Sabbath invites us to find true inner
rest and peace not through pills or places, but in a right
relationship with a Person, the Person of our Savior, who says:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give
you rest" (Matt 11:28; NIV).
Method and Style.
This book is written from a biblical perspective. I accept
the Bible as normative for defining Christian beliefs and
practices. Because the words of the Bible contain a divine
message written by human authors who lived in specific historical
situations, every effort must be made to understand their meaning
in their historical context. My conviction is that an
understanding of both the historical and literary context of
relevant Biblical texts is indispensable in establishing both
their original meaning and their present relevance. This
conviction is reflected in the methodology I have followed in
examining those controversial biblical texts that relate to the
Law, in general, and the Sabbath, in particular.
Concerning the style of the book, I have attempted to write
in simple, nontechnical language. In some instances, where a
technical word is used, a definition is provided in parenthesis.
To facilitate the reading, each chapter is divided into major
parts and subdivided under appropriate headings. A brief summary
is given at the end of each chapter. Unless otherwise specified,
all Bible texts are quoted from the Revised Standard Version,
copyright 1946 and 1952. In a few instances, some key words of a
Bible text have been italicized for emphasis without footnoting
them, since the reader is aware that the English Bible does not
It is most difficult for me to acknowledge my indebtedness
to the many persons who have contributed to the realization of
this book. Indirectly, I am indebted to the scholars who have e
written articles, pamphlets, books, and dissertations on
different aspects of the Sabbath/Sunday question. Their writings
have stimulated my thi nki ng and broadened my approach to this
Directly, I want to express my gratitude to Joyce Jones and
Deborah Everhart from Andrews University, as well as Jarrod and
Eva Williamson from La Sierra University. Each of them has made a
significant contribu tion by correcting and improving the style
of the manuscript. They have worked many hours, reworking
sentences so they sound more English and less Italian.
Words fail to express my gratitude to Gregory and Annita
Watkins for designing a most attractive cover for the book.
Gregory and Annita are a young couple serving at this time as
student missionaries in China. They signed up for the "Sabbath
Discussion" list and were so impressed by the essays they
received in China via email, that they offered to design the
cover for the book. When I accepted their offer I never
anticipated that they would design such a splendid cover. The
cover conveys the message of the book in a masterful way. The
crossfire has attacked the Sabbath, but it has burned only the
superficial veneer. The Sabbath as well as the other moral
principles of the Decalogue are inscribed in the two granite
tables that remain unscathed by the crossfire of human
controversy. What a creative way to portray this fundamental
biblical truth brought out by the book! Thank you, Gregory and
Annita for designing such an attractive and suggestive cover.
Last but not least, I do express my special thanks to my
wife who has been my constant source of encouragement and
inspiration during the past thirty-seven years of our married
life. She saw little of me while I was researching and writing
this book. Without her love, patience, and encouragement, it
would have been most difficult for me to complete this project in
such a relatively short period of time.
I have written these pages with the earnest desire to help
Christians of all persuasions to discover the Sabbath as God's
gift of freedom to mankind. Freedom from work in order to be free
before Him and hear His voice. Freedom from the world of things
in order to enter into the peace of God for which we were
created. Freedom to look at the world through the eyes of
eternity and recapture some measure of Edenic delight. Freedom to
taste and know that the Lord is good. Freedom to sing the
Psalmist's Sabbath song: "Thou, O Lord, has made me glad by thy
work; at the work of thy hands I sing for joy!" (Ps 92:4-5-A Song
for the Sabbath).
NOTES TO THE INTRODUCTION
1. Dies Domini, paragraph 67.
2. Dies Domini, paragraph 47; emphasis supplied.
3. Dies Domini, paragraph 62.
4. The other two sources cited in the study paper on "The
Sabbath" released by the Worldwide Church of God in 1995, are the
special issue of Verdict (vol.4), entitled "Sabbatarianism
Reconsidered," published by Robert Brinsmead on June 4, 1981, and
the symposium "From Sabbath to the Lord's Day," edited by Donald
Carson and published by Zondervan in 1982.
5. Clay Peck, "New Covenant Christians" (Berthoud,CO,1998),p.2.
To be continued