The Creation-Sabbath in Jewish and Christian History
The Creation-Sabbath in Jewish and Christian History - Continued
Objections to the Creation Sabbath
The Creation Week is a Human Week
THE SABBATH: CREATIONAL OR CEREMONIAL?
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 obedience.
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 superstition.
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.3
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.
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 JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN HISTORY
The Creation-Sabbath in the Old Testament.
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 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" ('ôth) 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 leveled against the disciples by referring to the original purpose of 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."7
The least to be said of this interpretation is that it attributes to God human shortsightedness 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 commandment.
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.
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.
"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.
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 view.
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 Daniélou, 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 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
Chapter 1, Part 3
Chapter 2, Part 1b
Notes to Chapter 2, Part 1a
Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University