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The Sabbath under Crossfire #5

Sabbath - Creational or Ceremonial? Part One

                      THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE #5

by Samuele Bacchiocchi PhD



     The function of a tool or machine is largely determined by
its original design. An automobile designed for carrying
passengers is soon demolished if used to transport building
materials. What is true for man made tools or machines is also
true for divine institutions. Their functions are determined by
God's original design in instituting them.
     To understand the meaning and function of the Lord's Supper,
for example, we go back to the Last Supper and study how Jesus
instituted this ordinance and what function He intended it to
fulfill for the Christian Church. What is true for the Lord's
Supper is also true for the Sabbath. To understand its meaning
and function for the human family, we need to study how and why
God instituted it at the completion of His creation.
     Surprisingly, the matter-of-fact creation origin of the
Sabbath, which is repeated several times in the Pentateuch (Gen
2:1-2; Ex 20:11; Ex 31:17) and is acknowledged in the New
Testament (Mark 2:27; Heb 4:4), has often been rejected in Jewish
and Christian history. In recent years, the creation origin of
the Sabbath has been challenged by both critical minded scholars
and conservative Christians.
     Critical scholars have conjectured that the Sabbath derives
from factors such as the veneration of the planet Saturn, the
four phases of the moon, the need for a market day to buy or sell
produce, the seven-day periods of ancient Mesopotamia, and the
symbolic importance attached to the number seven by many ancient
Near Eastern people.1
     Conservative Christians have attacked the Sabbath by denying
its creation-origin and reducing it to a Mosaic institution given
exclusively to the Jews. Christ allegedly fulfilled the Sabbath
by replacing the literal observance of the day with the offer of
His rest of salvation. By rejecting the creation origin of the
Sabbath these Christians attach a negative, "Jewish" stigma to
seventh-day Sabbathkeeping, identifying it with the Jewish
dispensation allegedly based on salvation through legal
     Sundaykeeping, on the other hand, has been associated with
the Christian dispensation based on salvation by grace through
faith. Thus, Sabbathkeeping historically has been perceived as a
trademark of Judaism. Within Christianity itself, those
Christians who have retained seventh-day Sabbathkeeping have been
stigmatized as Judaizers, holding onto an outdated Jewish

     Among the conservative Christians who recently have rejected
the creational and universal function of the Sabbath are several
former sabbatarians churches, local congregations, and pastors.
Their basic argument is that the Sabbath is an Old Covenant
ordinance which was abolished by Christ and, consequently, is no
longer binding upon so-called "New Covenant" Christians.
     The leaders of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), who
championed Sabbathkeeping until 1994, have adopted the view that
the Sabbath is not a "creation" ordinance given to mankind, but a
Mosaic institution given to the Israelites together with the Ten
Commandments. They maintain that "two stumbling blocks confuse
Sabbatarians. First is the idea that the Sabbath is a 'creation
ordinance' commanded ever since creation. To understand the
fallacy in this concept, we must note the facts: Although Genesis
says the seventh day was declared holy at creation, there is no
biblical evidence it was a commanded rest until the time of
Moses.... The second stumbling block that confuses Sabbatarians
is the idea that the Sabbath is required because it is part of
the Ten Commandments. Many Christians think of the Ten
Commandments as a permanent law code for all humans for all time.
Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments were given to Israel as the
centerpiece of the Old Covenant, not to the whole world (Ex 20:2;
Lev 27:34)." 2

     The same view is passionately defended by Dale Ratzlaff, a
former Seventh-day Adventist Bible teacher and pastor who has
written an influential book "Sabbath in Crisis" (345 pages). This
book is often quoted by the WCG and other Sabbatarians who have
been influenced by its arguments to reject the continuity and
validity of the Sabbath for today. Ratzlaff argues that the
Sabbath is not a creational/moral institution for humans, but a
ceremonial/Old Covenant ordinance given to the Jews. Allegedly,
Christians no longer need to observe the Sabbath because Christ
fulfilled its typological function by becoming our Sabbath rest.
     Why has the creation origin of the Sabbath come under the
constant crossfire of controversy? The reason is plain. What
Christians believe about the origin of the Sabbath determines
what they believe about its validity and value for today. Those
who believe that the Sabbath was established by God at creation
for the benefit of human beings accept its observance as a
creation ordinance binding upon all, Jews and Christians. On the
other hand, those who hold that the Sabbath originated at the
time of Moses, or after the settlement in Canaan because of
socioeconomic or astrological-astronomic considerations, regard
the Sabbath as a Jewish institution not applicable to Christians.

     In view of these implications, it is important to briefly
examine how the question of the origin of the Sabbath has been
debated in Jewish and Christian history.

Objectives of This Chapter. 

     This chapter has three basic objectives. 

     The first is to survey the controversy over the origin of
the Sabbath both in Jewish and Christian history. This survey is
designed to provide a historical perspective which is much needed
to understand the recent attacks against the creation origin of
the Sabbath.
     The second objective is to examine the specific arguments
recently advanced against the creation origin by former
Sabbatarians. In most cases, their arguments are old, having
already been used in the past by those who have attempted to
negate the continuity and validity of the Sabbath. Yet these
arguments deserve a close examination because they are used today
to mislead many sincere people. 
     The third objective is to reflect on the human implications
of the creation origin of the Sabbath. Specifically, we consider
the significance of God's act of resting, blessing, and
sanctifying the seventh day for the human family. We shall note
that creation week is in a special sense a human week because all
that God did on that week was designed to have a lasting result
for the human family.
     The ultimate objective of this chapter is not to expose the
fallacies of the various arguments raised against the creation
origin and universal function of the Sabbath, but to encourage a
fresh appreciation for the Biblical account of the Sabbath origin
and meaning for today.



The Creation-Sabbath in the Old Testament. 

     The biblical view of the origin of the Sabbath is
unequivocal: the Sabbath, as the seventh day, originated at the
completion of the creation week as a result of three divine acts:
God "rested," "blessed," and "hallowed" the seventh day (Gen
2:23). Twice Genesis 2:2-3 states that God "rested" on the
seventh day from all His work. The Hebrew verb "sabat,"
translated "rested," denotes cessation, not relaxation. The
latter idea is expressed by the Hebrew verb "nuah," used in
Exodus 20:11, where the divine rest fulfills an anthropological
function as a model for human rest. However, in Genesis 2:2-3 the
divine rest has a cosmological function. It serves to explain
that God, as Karl Barth puts it, "was content to be the Creator
of this particular creation ... He had no occasion to proceed to
further creations. He needed no further creations." 4  To
acknowledge this fact, God stopped.
     Genesis 2:3 affirms that the Creator "blessed" (barak) the
seventh day just as He had blessed animals and Adam and Eve on
the previous day (Gen 1:22,28). Divine blessings in Scripture
are not merely "good wishes" - they are assurance of
fruitfulness, prosperity, and a happy and abundant life (Ps
133:3). In terms of the seventh day, it means that God promised
to make the Sabbath a beneficial and vitalizing power through
which human life is enriched and renewed. 5  In Exodus 20:11, the
blessing of the creation seventh day is explicitly linked with
the weekly Sabbath.
     Genesis 2:3 also affirms that the Creator "hallowed" (RV,
RSV) the seventh day, "made it holy" (NEB, NAB), or "sanctified
it" (NASB). Both here and in the Sabbath commandment (Ex 20:11),
the Hebrew text uses the verb "qiddes" (piel), from the root
"qds," holy. In Hebrew, the basic meaning of "holy" or "holiness"
is "separation" for holy use. In terms of the Sabbath, its
holiness consists in God's separation of this day from the six
working days. The holiness of the Sabbath stems not from man's
keeping it, but from God's choice of the seventh day to be a
channel through which human beings can experience more freely and
fully the awareness of His sanctifying presence in their lives.

The Importance of the Creation-Sabbath. 

     The great importance of the creation-Sabbath in the Old
Testament is indicated by the fact that it provides the
theological motivation for the commandment to observe the seventh
day (Ex 20:11) and the theological justification for serving as a
covenant sign between God and Israel (Ex 31:17).
     The theological reason given for the command to observe the
seventh day Sabbath "to the Lord your God" (Ex 20:10) is "for in
six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is
in them and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed
the Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Ex 20:11). The tie between the
creation-Sabbath and the Sabbath commandment is so close that the
former provides the basis for the latter. To keep the Sabbath
holy means (1) to follow the divine example given at creation,
(2) to acknowledge God as Creator, and (3) to participate in
God's rest and blessings for mankind.
     The creation-Sabbath serves also as "a sign" ('oth) of the
covenant relationship between God and His people: "It is a sign
for ever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the
Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and
was refreshed" (Ex 31:17). The very nature of a sign is to point
to something beyond itself, to mediate an understanding of a
certain reality and/or to motivate a corresponding behavior. 6
     As a covenant sign rooted in creation, the Sabbath mediates
an understanding of redemptive history (i.e., covenant history)
by pointing retrospectively and prospectively. Retrospectively,
the Sabbath invites the believer to look back and memorialize God
as the creator of an original, perfect creation (Gen 2:2-3; Ex
20:8,11; 31:17). Prospectively, the Sabbath encourages the
believer to look forward and trust God's promise to fulfill His
"everlasting covenant" (Ex 31:16; Heb 4:9) to restore this
world to its original perfection. Thus, the Sabbath stands as a
sign of an "everlasting covenant" between creation (Gen 2:2-3; Ex
20:11; 31:17) and redemption (Deut 5:15; Is 56:1-4). It directs
us to the past perfect creation and it points constantly to the
future, ultimate restoration.

The Creation-Sabbath in the New Testament. 

     The New Testament takes for granted the creation origin of
the Sabbath. A clear example is found in Mark 2:27 where Christ
refutes the charge of Sabbath-breaking levelled against the
disciples by referring to the original purpose of the Sabbath:
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Christ's
choice of words is significant. The verb "made - 'ginomai'"
alludes to the original "making" of the Sabbath and the word "man
- anthropos" suggests its human function. Thus to establish the
human and universal value of the Sabbath, Christ reverts to its
very origin right after the creation of man. Why? Because for the
Lord, the law of the beginning stands supreme.
     The importance of God's original design is emphasized in
another instance in reporting the corruption of the institution
of marriage, which occurred under the Mosaic code. Christ
reverted to its Edenic origin, saying: "From the beginning it was
not so" (Matt 19:8). Christ then traces both marriage and the
Sabbath to their creation origin in order to clarify their
fundamental value and function for humanity.
     Some authors interpret this famous pronouncement of Christ
as meaning the "well-being of man is superior to the Sabbath
rest" and since the Sabbath "no longer spelt blessings but
hardship, it had failed in its divine purpose, and as a
consequence rebellion against it or disregard of it was no sin."
     The least to be said of this interpretation is that it
attributes to God human short-sightedness for having given a law
that could not accomplish its intended purpose and which
consequently He was forced to abolish. By this reasoning, the
validity of any God-given law is not determined by its intended
purpose, but rather by the way human beings use or abuse it. Such
a conclusion would make human beings, rather than God, the
ultimate arbitrators who determines the validity of any
     Furthermore, to interpret this saying as meaning that the
"well-being of man is superior to the Sabbath rest" would imply
that the Sabbath rest had been imposed arbitrarily upon humans to
restrict their welfare. But this interpretation runs contrary to
the very words of Christ. "The Sabbath," He said, "was made on
account of (dia) man and not man on account of the Sabbath." This
means that the Sabbath came into being (egeneto) after the
creation of man, not to make him a slave of rules and
regulations, but to ensure his physical and spiritual well-being.
The welfare of man is not restricted, but guaranteed, by the
proper observance of the Sabbath. By this memorable affirmation,
then, Christ does not abrogate the Sabbath commandment but
establishes its permanent validity by appealing to its original
creation when God determined its intended function for the
well-being of humanity.

The Creation-Sabbath in Hebrews. 

     Another explicit reference to the creation-Sabbath is found
in the book of Hebrews. In the fourth chapter, the author
establishes the universal and spiritual nature of the Sabbath
rest by welding together two Old Testament texts, namely Genesis
2:2 and Psalm 95:11. Through the former, he traces the origin of
the Sabbath rest back to creation when "God rested on the seventh
day from all his works" (Heb 4:3; cf. Gen 2:2-3). By the latter
(Ps 95:11), he explains that the scope of this divine rest
includes the blessings of salvation to be found by entering
personally into God's rest (Heb 4:3,5,10). Our immediate concern
is not to understand the meaning of the rest mentioned in the
passage, 8  but rather to note that the author traces its origin
back to the time of creation when "God rested on the seventh day
from all His works" (Heb 4:4).
     The context clearly indicates that the author is thinking of
the "works" of creation since he explains that God's "works were
finished from the foundations of the world" (Heb 4:3). The
probative value of this statement is heightened by the fact that
the author is not arguing for the creation origin of the Sabbath;
rather, he takes it for granted in explaining God's ultimate
purpose for His people. Thus, in Hebrews 4, the creation origin
of the Sabbath is not only asserted but is also presented as the
basis for understanding God's ultimate purpose for His people.

The Creation-Sabbath in Jewish History. 

     Outside the biblical sources which should settle the matter,
one finds widespread recognition of the creation origin of the
Sabbath in both Jewish and Christian history. The Jews developed
two differing views regarding the origin of the Sabbath. Broadly
speaking, the two views can be distinguished linguistically and
     Palestinian (Hebrew) Judaism reduced the Sabbath to an
exclusive Jewish ordinance linked to the origin of Israel as a
nation at the time of Moses. 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). 9  If the
patriarchs are sometimes mentioned as keeping the Sabbath, this
is regarded as an exception "before it [the Sabbath] was given"
to Israel. 10
     This view represents not an original tradition but a
secondary development which was encouraged by the necessity to
preserve a Jewish identity in the face of Hellenistic pressures
(especially at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes - 175 B.C.) to
abandon the Jewish religion. This is indicated by the fact that
even in Palestinian literature there are references to the
creation origin of the Sabbath. For example, while, on one hand,
the Book of Jubilees (about 140-100 B.C.) says that God allowed
"Israel only" to keep the Sabbath (Jub 2:31), on the other hand,
it holds that God "kept Sabbath on the seventh day and hallowed
it for all ages, and appointed it as a sign for all His works"
(Jub 2:1).

     In Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish literature the Sabbath is
unmistakably viewed as a creation ordinance for all mankind.
Philo, for example, not only traces the origin of the Sabbath to
creation but also delights to call it "the birthday of the
world." 11  Referring to the creation story, Philo explains: "We
are told that the world was made in six days and that on the
seventh God ceased from his works and began to contemplate what
had been so well created, and therefore he bade those who should
live as citizens under this world-order to follow God in this as
in other matters." 12  Because the Sabbath exists from creation,
Philo emphasizes that it is "the festival not of a single city or
country but of the universe, and it alone strictly deserves to be
called public, as belonging to all people." 13

The Creation-Sabbath in the Early Church. 

     The recognition of the creation origin of the Sabbath is
found in several documents of the early Church. For example, in
the "Syriac Didascalia" (about A.D.250), Sunday is erroneously
presented as "greater" than the Sabbath because it preceded the
latter in the creation week. As the first day of creation, Sunday
represents "the beginning of the world." 14
     In the treatise "On the Sabbath and Circumcision," found
among the works of Athanasius (about 296-373), the superiority of
Sunday over the Sabbath is argued on the basis of creation versus
re-creation: "The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the
Lord's day was the beginning of the second in which He renewed
and restored the old." 15  The fact that both Sabbath and Sunday
keepers would defend the legitimacy and superiority of their
respective days by appealing to their roles with reference to
creation shows how important the creation-Sabbath was in their
     In the so-called "Constitutions of the Holy Apostles" (about
380), Christians are admonished to "keep the Sabbath and the
Lord's day festival; because the former is the memorial of the
creation, and the latter of the resurrection." 16  Several other
references to the creation Sabbath are found in the same
document. For example, a prayer commemorating Christ's
incarnation begins with the words, "O Lord Almighty, Thou hast
created the world by Christ and hast appointed the Sabbath in
memory thereof, because that on that day Thou hast made us rest
from our works for the meditation upon Thy laws." 17
     The theme of the creation Sabbath, as noted by Jean
Danielou, is also "at the center of Augustinian thought." 18  For
Augustine (354-430), the culmination of the creation week in the
Sabbath rest provides the basis to develop two significant
concepts. The first is the notion of the progress of world
history toward a final Sabbath rest and peace with God.
     In other words, the realization of the eternal rest
represents for Augustine the fulfillment of "the Sabbath that the
Lord approved at the beginning of creation, where it says, 'God
rested on the seventh day from all his works.'" 19
     The second Augustinian interpretation of the creation
Sabbath may be defined as the mystical progress of the human soul
from restlessness into rest in God. A fitting example is found in
one of the most sublime chapters of his "Confessions," where
Augustine prays: "O Lord God, Thou who hast given us all, grant
us Thy peace, the peace of rest, the peace of the Sabbath, the
peace without an 'evening.' 20  For this very beautiful order of
things will pass away when they have accomplished their appointed
purpose. They all were made with a 'morning' and an 'evening.'
But the seventh day is without an 'evening' and it has no
setting, because Thou hast sanctified it so that it may last
eternally. Thy resting on the seventh day after the completion of
Thy works, foretells us through the voice of Thy Book, that we
also after completing our works through Thy generosity, in the
Sabbath of eternal life shall rest in Thee." 21  This mystical
and eschatological interpretation of the creation Sabbath shows
the profound appreciation Augustine had for its significance, in
spite of the fact that he failed to accept the literal observance
of the Fourth Commandment. 22

The Creation-Sabbath in the Middle Ages. 

     The Augustinian spiritual interpretation of the creation
Sabbath continued to some extent during the Middle Ages. 23  But
a new development occurred following the "Constantinian Sunday
La" of 321. In order to give theological sanction to the imperial
legislation demanding rest from work on Sunday, church leaders
often appealed to the Sabbath commandment, interpreting it as a
creation ordinance applicable to Sunday observance. Chrysostom
(about 347-407) anticipates this development in his exposition of
Genesis 2:2, "God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it." He
asks, "What do the words 'He hallowed it' actually mean? ...
[God] is teaching us that among the days of the week one must be
singled out and wholly devoted to the service of spiritual
things." 24
     The reduction of the creation Sabbath from the specific
observance of the seventh day to the principle of resting one day
in seven in order to worship God made it possible to apply the
Sabbath commandment to the observance of Sunday. Peter Comestor,
for example (died about 1179), defends this application, arguing
on the basis of Genesis 2:2 that "the Sabbath has been always
observed by some nations even before the Law." 25  This
recognition of the Sabbath as a creation and thus universal
ordinance was motivated, however, not by the desire to
promote the observance of the seventh day but by the necessity to
sanction and regulate Sunday keeping.
     In late medieval theology, the literal application of the
Sabbath commandment to Sundaykeeping was justified on the basis
of a new interpretation which consisted in distinguishing between
a moral and a ceremonial aspect within the Fourth Commandment.
Thomas Aquinas (about 1225-1274) offers the most articulated
exposition of this artificial distinction in his "Summa
Theologica." He argues that "the precept of the Sabbath
observance is moral ... in so far as it commands man to give some
time to the things of God ... but it is a ceremonial precept ...
as to the fixing of the time." 26

Distinction Between Moral and Ceremonial? 

     How can the Fourth Commandment be ceremonial for specifying
the seventh day but moral for enjoining humans to set apart a day
of rest for worship? Basically because for Aquinas the moral
aspect of the Sabbath is grounded on Natural Law - that is to
say, the principle of a regularly stated time for worship and
rest is in accordance with natural reason. 27  The ceremonial
aspect of the Sabbath, on the other hand, is determined by the
symbolism of the seventh-day commemoration of "Creation" and
prefiguration of the "repose of the mind in God, either in the
present life, by grace, or, in the future life, by glory." 28
     One may ask, How can the Sabbath be ceremonial (transitory)
for symbolizing God's perfect creation and the rest to be found
in Him both in the present and future life? Is it not this
reassurance that provides the basis for setting aside any time to
worship God? To reject as ceremonial the original message of the
seventh-day Sabbath, namely that God is the perfect Creator who
offers rest, peace, and fellowship to His creatures, means to
destroy also the very moral basis for devoting any time to the
worshipping of God.
     Apparently Aquinas himself recognized the inadequacy of his
reasoning since he makes a distinction between the Sabbath and
other symbolic Old Testament festivals such as Passover, "a sign
of the future Passion of Christ." The latter, Aquinas explains,
were "temporal and transitory ... consequently, the Sabbath
alone, and none of the other solemnities and sacrifices, is
mentioned in the precepts of the Decalogue." 29

     Aquinas' uncertainty as to the ceremonial aspect of the
Sabbath is also reflected in his comment that Christ annulled not
the precept of the Sabbath, but "the superstitious interpretation
of the Pharisees, who thought that man ought to abstain from
doing even works of kindness on the Sabbath; which was contrary
to the intention of the Law." 30  Aquinas' uncertainty, however,
was largely forgotten and his moral/ceremonial distinction of the
Sabbath became the standard rationale for defending the Church's
right to introduce and regulate the observance of Sunday and holy
days. This resulted in an elaborate legalistic system of Sunday
keeping akin to that of the rabbinical Sabbath. 31


     The sixteenth-century reformers reproposed with new
qualifications Aquinas' distinctions between the moral
(creational) and ceremonial (Mosaic) aspects of the Sabbath.
Their position was influenced by their understanding of the
relationship between the Old and New Testaments as well as by
their reaction against the legalistic and superstitious
observance of Sunday and a host of holy days as well.
     Luther and some radicals, in their concern to combat
legalistic Sabbatarianism promoted not only by the Catholic
Church but also by leftwing reformers such as Andreas Karlstadt,
32  attacked the Sabbath as a Mosaic institution "specifically
given to the Jewish people." 33  Sunday was retained by Luther,
not as the Christian Sabbath, but as a convenient day "ordained
by the Church for the sake of the imperfect laity and the working
class," 34  who need "at least one day in the week to rest ...
and attend divine service." 35  This position was largely
determined by a radical distinction between the Old and New
     In the "Large Catechism" (1529), Luther explains that the
Sabbath "is altogether an external matter, like other ordinances
of the Old Testament, which were attached to particular customs,
persons, and places, and now have been made free through
Christ." 36  This view is stated even more emphatically in
Article 28 of the "Augsburg Confession" (1530): "Scripture has
abrogated the Sabbath-day; for it teaches that, since the Gospel
has been revealed, all the ceremonies of Moses can be omitted."
     Luther's radical distinction between the Old and New
Testaments and between Law and Gospel was adopted and developed
to extremes by radicals such as Anabaptists, leftist Puritans,
Quakers, Mennonites, Hutterites, and modern antinomian
denominations .38
     These have generally claimed that the Sabbath is not a
creation ordinance but a Mosaic institution which Christ
fulfilled and abolished. Consequently, "New Covenant" Christians
are free from the observance of any special day. 


     Radical reformers promoted two opposing views regarding the
Sabbath. One group, mentioned earlier, pressed to its logical
conclusion the extreme Lutheran distinction between the Old and
New Testaments, rejecting the observance of the Sabbath or of any
day, as part of the Mosaic dispensation which Christ had
fulfilled and replaced with the dispensation of grace.
     Another group, however, pursued the logical implications of
the Calvinistic unity between the two Testaments, accepting and
promoting the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath as a creation
ordinance meant for all time and people. We shall call the latter
"Sabbatarians," a name frequently given to them by their
opponents. 39
     Recent studies have shown that Sabbatarians constituted a
respectable group at the time of the Reformation, especially in
such places as Moravia, Bohemia, Austria, and Silesia. 40  In
fact, in some Catholic catalogues of sects, they are listed
immediately after the Lutherans and Calvinists. 41  Erasmus
(1466-1536) mentions the existence of Sabbatarians in Bohemia:
"Now I hear that among the Bohemians a new kind of Jews are
springing up, whom they call Sabbatarii, who serve the Sabbath
with great superstition." 42  Similarly, Luther reports on the
existence of Sabbatarian groups in Moravia and Austria. 43  In
fact, in 1538 Luther wrote a "Letter Against the Sabbatarians"
(Briefwider die Sabbathers), arguing from the Bible against their
observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. 44
     Oswald Glait, a former Catholic priest who first became a
Lutheran and then an Anabaptist minister, began in 1527 or 1528
successfully to propagate his Sabbatarian views among Anabaptists
in Moravia, Silesia, and Bohemia. 45  He was supported by the
learned Andreas Fisher, also a former priest and Anabaptist. 46
Glait wrote a "Booklet on the Sabbath" (Buchlenn vom Sabbath -
about 1530) which is not extant. From a refutation of Glait's
book by Caspar Schewenckfeld, 47  we learn that Glait maintained
the unity of the Old and New Testaments, accepting the validity
and relevance of the Decalogue for the Christian dispensation.
Glait rejected the contention of his critics that the Sabbath
commandment is a ceremonial law like circumcision. Instead, he
held that the "Sabbath is commanded and kept from the beginning
of creation." 48  God enjoined "Adam in paradise to celebrate the
Sabbath." 49  Therefore "the Sabbath ... is an eternal sign of
hope and a memorial of creation.... an eternal covenant to be
kept as long as the world stands." 50  On account of this
teaching, Glait faced expulsions, persecutions, and, finally,
death by drowning in the Danube (1546). 51

     The death of Glait, perhaps the most prominent leader of
Sabbatarian Anabaptists, did not stop the propagation of the
Sabbath doctrine. This is indicated by the existence of
seventh-day Sabbathkeepers at the time of the Reformation in
several European countries such as Poland, Holland, Germany,
France, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Finland, and Sweden. 52  In the
seventeenth century, the presence of Sabbatarians became
particularly felt in England. This is indicated by the fact that,
as noted by R.J.Bauckham, "An impressive succession of Puritan
and Anglican spokesmen addressed themselves to combating the
seventh-day error: Lancelot Andrews, Bishop Francis White,
Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Edward Stillingfleet, John Owen,
Nathanael Homes, John Wallis. Their efforts are a tacit admission
of the attraction that the doctrine exercised in the seventeenth
century, and seventh-day observers (who then usually also
advocated Sunday work) were harshly treated by Puritan and
Anglican authorities alike." 53
     The Seventh Day Baptists became the leading Sabbatarian
church in England. 54  Their first church in America was founded
at Newport, Rhode Island, in December 1671. 55  Seventh-day
Adventists gratefully acknowledge their indebtedness to Seventh
Day Baptists for bringing to them the knowledge of the Sabbath in
1845. 56
     Later on, the Sabbath was accepted as a creation ordinance
by the Church of God Seventh Day, the Worldwide Church of God,
and a score of smaller denominations, 57  some of whom have
recently rejected the Sabbath.

Reformed Tradition. 

     Churches in the Reformed tradition, such as English
Puritans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists,
and Baptists, adopted what might be called a "compromise
position," on one hand, acknowledging the Sabbath as a creation
ordinance while, on the other hand, defending Sunday as a
legitimate substitution of the Sabbath accomplished by the
     They generally distinguished between the temporal and the
spiritual observance of Sunday. Calvin can rightly be regarded as
the pioneer and promoter of this view which exerted far-reaching
influence, especially in Anglo-American Puritan Sabbatarianism.
The basis of Calvin's teaching regarding the Sabbath is to be
found in his rejection of Luther's antithesis between Law and
Gospel. In his effort to maintain the basic unity of the Old and
New Testaments, Calvin christianized the Law, spiritualizing, at
least in part, the Sabbath commandment. 58

     Calvin tried to reconcile his acceptance of the Sabbath as a
creation ordinance for humanity with his view that "on the advent
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ceremonial part of the commandment
was abolished" by reproposing a new version of Aquinas'
distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the
Sabbath. He argues that at creation the Sabbath was given as a
perpetual ordinance but "afterwards in the law a new precept
concerning the Sabbath was given, which should be peculiar to the
Jews, and but for a season." 59
     What is the difference between the "Jewish" (ceremonial)
seventh-day Sabbath and the "Christian" (moral) first-day
Sabbath? The difference is not easy to detect, especially for
someone not trained to distinguish theological nuances. Calvin
describes the Jewish Sabbath as being "typical" (symbolic), that
is, "a legal ceremony shadowing forth a spiritual rest, the truth
of which was manifested in Christ." 60  The Christian Sabbath
[Sunday], on the other hand, is "without figure." 61  By this he
apparently means that it is more a pragmatic institution designed
to accomplish three basic objectives: first, to allow God to work
in us; second, to provide time for meditation and church
services; and third, to protect dependent workers. 62

An Unresolved Contradiction. 

     Calvin's attempt to resolve the tension between the
Sunday-Sabbath as a perpetual creation ordinance and the
Saturday-Sabbath as a temporary ceremonial law, cannot be consid-
ered successful. Do not both fulfill the same pragmatic
functions? Moreover, by teaching that for Christians
the Sunday-Sabbath represents "selfrenunciation" and the "true
rest" of the Gospel, 63  did not Calvin also attribute to the day
a "theological-symbolic" significance, much like the type he
assigned to the Jewish Saturday-Sabbath?
     This unresolved tension can be followed in the teaching of
Calvin's successors and has been the cause of endless
controversies. For example, Zacharias Ursinus, compiler of that
important Reformed confession known as "Heidelberg Catechism"
(1563), teaches that "the Sabbath of the seventh day was
appointed of God from the very beginning of the world, to declare
that men, after His example, should rest from their labours," and
"although the ceremonial Sabbath has been abolished in the New
Testament, yet the moral still continues and pertains to us as
well as to others." 64  This position was later defended
tenaciously in the monumental work, "The Doctrine of the
Sabbath", written in 1595 by the famous English Puritan Nicolas
Bownde, 65  as well as in other confessional documents such as
the Synod of Dort" of 1619  66  and the "Westminster
Confession of Faith" of 1647. 67

     These and similar documents fail to offer a rational
explanation for the artificial and arbitrary distinction between
the so-called moral/ creational (one-day-in-seven) aspect of the
Sunday-Sabbath and the ceremonial/Mosaic (specification of the
seventh day) aspect of the Saturday-Sabbath, supposedly annulled
by Christ.
     There is no trace of such an artificial distinction in
     If such a distinction existed in the Old Testament, we would
expect the alleged moral aspect of the Sabbath commandment - that
is, the principle of one-day-in-seven-to be applied to such
people as the priests (who had to work on the Sabbath) by
granting them a day off at another time during the week. The
absence of such a provision constitutes a most direct challenge
to those who uphold the one-day-in-seven principle.

     Donald Carson acknowledges: "If the Old Testament principle
were really 'one-day-in-seven for worship and rest' instead of
'the seventh day for worship and rest,' we might have expected
Old Testament legislation to prescribe some other day off for the
priests. The lack of such confirms the importance in Old
Testament thought of the seventh day, as opposed to the
one-in-seven principle so greatly relied upon by those who wish
to see in Sunday the precise New Testament equivalent of the Old
Testament Sabbath." 68

     To contend that the specification of the seventh day is a
Mosaic-ceremonial element of the Sabbath because it was designed
to aid the Jews in commemorating creation and in experiencing
spiritual rest is to be blind to the fact that Christians need
such an aid just as much as the Jews. It also means leaving
Christians confused as to the reasons for devoting one day to the
worship of God. R.J.Bauckham acknowledges the existence of such
a confusion when he notes that most "Protestants in the
mid-sixteenth century had as imprecise ideas about the basis of
Sunday observance as most Christians at most times have had." 69

Two Conflicting Positions. 

     The unresolved contradiction between the creational/moral
and Mosaic/ceremonial aspects of the Fourth Commandment has
aroused recurrent controversies over the relationship between
Sunday and the Sabbath commandment. Truly the Sabbath has had no
rest. The creational/moral versus the Mosaic/ceremonial
distinctions regarding the Sabbath have led to two main opposing
views of Sunday. In the Netherlands, for example, the two views
were hotly debated during more than a decade after the Synod of
Dort (1619).
     On one side, Dutch theologians such as Willem Teellinck,
William Ames, and Antonius Walaeus wrote major treatises
defending the creation origin of the Sabbath and thus the
legitimate application of the Fourth Commandment to the
observance of Sunday. 70  On the other side, a leading professor,
Franciscus Gomarus, produced a major response entitled "Enquiry
into the Meaning and Origin of the Sabbath and Consideration of
the Institution of the Lord's Day" (1628), in which he argues for
a Mosaic origin of the Sabbath and, consequently, for an
independent ecclesiastical origin of Sunday. 71
     The debate over these two conflicting positions has flared
up time and again in different countries, and no reconciliation
appears yet to be in sight. 72  A fitting example is provided by
some of the recent publications. On one side is the symposium
edited by Donald Carson, "From Sabbath to Lord's Day" (1982) and
by Willy Rordorf, "Sunday: The History of the Day of Rest and
Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church"
(1968). Both studies espouse the thesis that seventh-day
Sabbathkeeping is not a creation ordinance binding upon
Christians but a Mosaic institution annulled by Christ. 73
     Consequently, Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath, but an
exclusive Christian creation introduced to commemorate Christ's
resurrection through the Lord's Supper celebration .74
     By severing all ties with the Sabbath commandment, Rordorf
follows the Lutheran tradition in reducing Sunday to an hour of
worship which could be scheduled in accordance with the demand of
modern life.
     The practical implications of this position are obvious. If
fully carried out, it could prove to be "the death certificate of
Sunday," 75  since in time, even the hour of worship could
readily be squeezed out of the hectic schedule of modern life.
     On the other side is the study of Roger T. Beckwith and
William Stott, "This Is the Day: The Biblical Doctrine of the
Christian Sunday" (1978), which follows the Reformed tradition by
defending the Sabbath as a creation ordinance accepted and
clarified by Christ. The Apostles allegedly used the Sabbath to
frame Sunday as their new day of rest and worship. 76 
     Consequently, they conclude that "in the light of the New
Testament as a whole, the Lord's Day can be clearly seen to be a
Christian Sabbath - a New Testament fulfillment to which the Old
Testament Sabbath points forward." 77  The practical implication
of their conclusions is that Sunday should be observed, not
merely as an hour of worship, but as "a whole day, set apart to
be a holy festival ... for worship, rest and works of mercy." 78


To be continued


Interesting the debate over which day is the Christian Sabbath.
For those trying to make it Sunday, they have to explain Romans
14 and Colossians 2:16 as not "doing away with" and not just
picking any day you like, even moving it around to your fancy.
Then for those like the Jehova Witnesses, who claim the NT does
away with ANY day as the Sabbath for Christians, they still have
to somehow take the fourth commandment out of the great Ten
Commandments, answer where in the NT did the apostles have a
Jerusalem conference to abolish the fourth of the Ten
Commandments, but still keep the other nine. Obviously as
Bacchiocchi has shown BOTH SIDES do have their "scholastic
studies" so-called, to uphold their point of view on this
prickely theology issue.
But for the mind of a child, fed with no ideas from adults, it is
all pretty simple theology to figure. See my article on this
Website called "The Sabbath commandment through the eyes of a

Keith Hunt

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