The Sabbath Under Crossfire:
A Biblical Analysis of Recent Sabbath/Sunday Developments

Part 3: The Creation Week is a Human Week

Index | Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7

Part 1a
The Creation-Sabbath in Jewish and Christian History
Part 1b
The Creation-Sabbath in Jewish and Christian History - Continued
Part 2
Objections to the Creation Sabbath
Part 3
The Creation Week is a Human Week


A fundamental problem with the preceding objections against the creation origin of the Sabbath is their failure to realize that the creation week is a human week, established by God for regulating our human life. God did not need six days to create our solar system. He could have spoken it into existence in a second, since His creation was accomplished by the spoken word (Ps 33:6). But He chose to establish a human week of seven days and to use it Himself in order to give a divine perspective to our six days of work and to our seventh day of rest.

This means that as we work during the six days and rest on the seventh day, we are doing in a small scale what God has done on a much larger scale. God's willingness to enter into the limitations of human time at creation in order to enable us to identify with Him is a marvelous revelation of His willingness to enter into human flesh at the incarnation in order to become Emmanuel, God with us.

On each of the first six days of creation God did something that had lasting results for the human family. We would expect the same to be true for the seventh day. Roy Gane notes: "God set up cyclical time even before man was created (Gen 1:3-5, 14-18). According to Genesis 1:14, God made heavenly luminaries, chiefly the sun and the moon (Gen 1:16), to mark earthly time as 'signs,' 'seasons.' i. e., appointed times, days, and years. So when Genesis 2:3 says that God blessed and hallowed the seventh day, this blessing and consecration could be ongoing in a cyclical sense, applying to each subsequent seventh day. In fact, the seventh-day Sabbath provides a plausible explanation for the origin of the week, which is not defined by the movement of heavenly bodies."98

Creation Sabbath and Weekly Sabbath.
The emphatic threefold repetition of "the seventh day" with its four divine acts ("finished," "rested," "blessed," and "hallowed"-Gen 2:2-3) at the conclusion of creation indicates that just as man is the crown of creation, so the seventh day, the Sabbath, is the final goal of creation. Thus, the creation Sabbath tells us not only how God felt about His creation, but also what He planned for His creatures. G. H. Watermann makes this point saying: "It seems clear, therefore, that the divine origin and institution of the Sabbath took place at the beginning of human history. At that time God not only provided a divine example for keeping the seventh day as a day of rest, but also blessed and set apart the seventh day for the benefit of man."99

As God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day at the completion of His creation, so human beings are to accomplish their work and purpose in this creation during the six working days of the week and to follow the example of the Creator by resting on the seventh day. Sabbathkeepers can find satisfaction and fulfillment in their work and rest, because the Sabbath reassures them that they are doing on a small scale what God has done and is doing on an infinitely larger scale.

Earlier we noted that God "rested" on the seventh day to express His satisfaction over his complete and perfect creation. This idea is conveyed by the verb shabat used in Genesis 2:2-3 which means to "cease or stop working." We must not ignore, however, that in Exodus 31:17 the creation rest of God is interpreted as a model for human rest. Israel is called to keep the Sabbath because "in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed" (Ex 31:17). The Hebrew verb used here is nephesh, which describes God as being "refreshed" as a result of His rest on the seventh day of creation.

It is evident God did not need to rest from fatigue because "He does not faint or grow weary" (Is 40:28), yet the Bible speaks of God in human terms (anthropomorphically) as being "refreshed" on the Sabbath in order to set the pattern for the human Sabbath rest. This is not the only example in the Bible where God does something to set an example for His creatures to follow.

Jesus asked John the Baptist to baptize him, not because He needed to be cleansed from sin (Rom 6:1-5), but to set an example for His followers (Matt 3:13-14). Both baptism and the Lord's Supper trace their origin to a divine act and example that established them. In the same way Scripture traces the origin of the Sabbath to God's act of resting, blessing, and sanctifying the seventh day. This is the fundamental problem with Sunday observance. No divine act established the day as a memorial of the resurrection. None of the words uttered by Christ on the day of His resurrection suggest that He intended to make the day a memorial of His resurrection.

The Blessing of the Seventh Day.
The blessing and hallowing of the seventh day at creation further reveals that God intended the Sabbath to have ongoing benefits for the human family. It would make no sense for God to bless and sanctify a unit of holy time for Himself. The blessings of God are outgoing, benefiting His creatures. They represent not wishful thinking but assurance of fruitfulness, prosperity, and abundant life. For example, God blessed the first couple saying, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28; cf. 9:1; 49:22-26). Similarly, we read in the Aaronic benediction: "The Lord bless you and keep you" (Num 6:24). The blessing of God results, then, in the preservation and assurance of abundant life. This meaning is expressed explicitly by the Psalmist when he writes: "The Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore" (Ps 133:3). Applied to the Sabbath, this means that God made this day a channel through which human life can receive His beneficial and vitalizing power.

It must be said that the meaning of both the blessing and sanctification of the Sabbath is not spelled out in Genesis 2:3. This is puzzling because in most instances God's benediction is accompanied by an explanation of its content. For example,

"God blessed them [animals], saying, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth" (Gen. 1:22).

Similarly, God said to Abraham regarding his wife, Sarah,

"I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her" (Gen. 17:16; cf. 9:1; 17:20).

Yet with regard to the blessing of the Sabbath, nothing is said as to what such a blessing entails.

The mystery of the blessedness and sanctity of the Sabbath begins to be unveiled in Exodus with the establishment of Israel as God's covenant people. The day becomes now linked not only to a finished creation but to the new nation which God has miraculously brought into existence: "See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath" (Ex. 16:29). From being cosmological, a symbol of a perfect world, the Sabbath has now become a soteriological-historical symbol of God's redemptive plan for His people. Thus the Sabbath becomes now more intimately connected with the ups and downs of the life of God's people.

The manna story offers a starting point to understand the nature of the original blessing of the Sabbath. Notice first certain parallelisms between the creation and the manna narrative. Both are divine acts accomplished according to the seven-day structure. Both testify to the perfection of God's activities: the daily creation was "good" and the daily portion of the manna was satisfying (Ex 16:18). In both instances, the creative activity ceases on the Sabbath: creation is "finished" (Gen 2:2) and the manna ceased to fall (Ex 16:25). In both cases God's blessings are bestowed upon the Sabbath-by proclamation at creation (Gen 2:3) and by preservation in the manna (Ex 16:24).

In the context of the aridity of the desert and of the murmuring of the people caused by their inability to secure food, the miracle of the preservation of the manna throughout Sabbath stands as a most conspicuous revelation of the nature of the Sabbath blessings, namely, God's reassuring gift of physical nourishment and life. In order to receive the blessings of the Sabbath, believers need to consecrate the day to God by altering their behavior, as in the manna experience. As John Skinner puts it: "The Sabbath is a constant source of well-being to the man who recognizes its true nature and purpose."100

The Sanctification of the Sabbath.
Genesis 2:3 also affirms that the Creator "hallowed" (RV, RSV) the seventh day, "made it holy" (NEB, NAB), "declared it holy" (NKJV), or "sanctified" (NASB). Both here and in the Sabbath commandment we are told that God made the Sabbath holy. How did God make the seventh day holy? Since the day is not a material substance but a unit of time, it cannot be made holy by applying a holy substance such as anointing oil (Lev 8:10-12). The meaning of the holiness of the Sabbath must be found in its relation to the people who are affected by its observance.

Dale Ratzlaff argues that God did not sanctify the seventh day as such for human beings to observe, but the "conditions of that day were sanctified and blessed."101 By "the conditions," Ratzlaff means the condition that existed on "the first day after creation was completed."102 In other words, the sanctification of the seventh day refers primarily to the "conditions" of "fellowship and communion" that existed on creation's seventh day rather than to God setting aside the seventh day for humanity to experience in a special way His sanctifying presence.

The problem with this interpretation is that nowhere does the Bible suggest that the sanctification of the seventh day at creation refers to the sanctification of the conditions that existed "the first day after creation was completed." God did not sanctify "conditions" but the seventh day itself.

The Meaning of Sanctification.
The basic meaning of the Hebrew idea of "holy-qodesh" is "set apart," "separated." Applied to the Sabbath, the divine sanctification of the day consists in God's setting apart the seventh day from the rest of the six days. It must be emphasized that God did the setting apart, not man. The holiness of the Sabbath stems not from those who keep it, but from the act of God. Believers experience the holiness of the Sabbath by altering their behavior on that day. They stop their work to allow God to enrich their lives with His sanctifying presence.

John Skinner perceptively points out that the Sabbath "is not an institution which exists or ceases with its observance by man; the divine rest is a fact as much as the divine working, and so the sanctity of the day is a fact whether man secures the benefit or not."103

The verbal form (Piel) of the Hebrew verb "to sanctify-yeqaddesh," as H. C. Leupold explains, has both a causative and a declarative sense. This means that God declared the seventh day holy and caused it to be a means of holiness for humanity.104 It is noteworthy that the word "holy" is used for the first time in the Bible with reference not to an object such as an altar, a tabernacle, or a person, but with regard to time, the seventh day (Gen 2:3).

The meaning of the sanctification of the Sabbath becomes clearer with the unfolding of the history of salvation. In Exodus, for example, the holiness of the Sabbath is elucidated by means of its explicit association with the manifestation of God's glorious presence. From Mount Sinai, which was made holy by the glorious presence of God, the Sabbath is explicitly proclaimed to be God's holy day: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8). The commandment, it should be noted, not only opens with the invitation to remember and keep holy the Sabbath (cf. Deut 5:15), but also closes by reiterating that its holiness is grounded in God's sanctification of the day at creation (Ex 20:11). In Hebrew, the identical verb is used in both instances.

An Experience of God's Presence.
The experience of God's glorious presence on Mount Sinai served to educate the Israelites to acknowledge the holiness of God manifested in time (the Sabbath) and later in a place of worship (the Tabernacle). The motif of God's glory is found in all of these (Sinai, Sabbath, and Tabernacle) and ties them together. The Israelites were instructed to prepare themselves for the encounter with God's holy presence (Ex 19:10, 11), when the Lord would "come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people" (Ex 19:11). The preparation included personal cleansing (Ex 19:10, 14) and the setting of a boundary around the mountain (Ex. 19:12, 23) which was to be invested with God's glory.

The nexus with the holiness of the Sabbath can hardly be missed. Indeed, personal preparation and the setting of a boundary between common and holy time are the basic ingredients necessary for the sanctification of the Sabbath. Can one enter into the experience of God's holy presence on the Sabbath without making necessary preparation? Or is it possible to honor God's presence on His holy seventh day without setting a boundary in time that fences off personal profits and pleasures?

The meaning of the holiness of God is further clarified at Sinai by the invitation God extended to Moses "on the seventh day" to enter into the cloud and thus experience the intimacy of His presence.

"Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people. And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain" (Ex 24:15-18).

God's invitation to Moses to enter on the seventh day into His glorious presence unveils the cryptic meaning of God's sanctification of the Sabbath at creation. The holiness of the Sabbath is now explained to be not a magic quality infused by God into this day, but rather His mysterious and majestic presence manifested on and through the Sabbath in the lives of His people.

This meaning of the holiness of the Sabbath is brought out more forcefully a few chapters later when, at the end of the revelation of the tabernacle, God says to the people of Israel, "You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you" (Ex 31:13). The sanctity of the Sabbath is now clearly equated with the sanctifying presence of God with His people. The mystery of the sanctification of the creation-Sabbath is now unveiled. It consists precisely of God's commitment to manifest His presence in the lives of His people.

For six days God filled this planet with good things and living beings, but on the seventh He filled it with His presence. As the symbol and assurance of God's sanctifying presence in this world and in human lives, the Sabbath represents a most sublime and permanent expression of God's loving care.

The Permanence of the Sabbath.
In the creation account, we learn that God set up the ideal order of relationship that should govern human life. He instituted the Sabbath, marriage, and work-three institutions which embody principles which were later formulated in the Ten Commandments.

When Adam and Even disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:6), their marriage and work suffered as a result of the curse of sin. But the Sabbath did not. "The Sabbath is not affected by any curse resulting from the Fall. Unlike the other two Creation institutions, the Sabbath remains a little piece of Paradise. As such, its value is enhanced by the deterioration around it. Now that work is exhausting, ceasing from labor on the Sabbath provides needed rest. More importantly, now that human beings are cut off from direct access to God, they need a reminder of His lordship [and fellowship] even more than they did before the Fall."105

The Fall did not eliminate the order that God established at creation to govern human life and relationship. Marriage and labor have remained, though they became more difficult. In the same way, the Sabbath has remained, though its observance is often made more difficult by working schedules that infringe on the Sabbath and by many personal tasks that clamor for use of the Sabbath time.

In the light of the foregoing considerations, we conclude that God, by resting, blessing, and sanctifying the seventh day, created a day that would delineate the ongoing weekly cycle for human beings, and invites them to fellowship with Him in a special way on the Sabbath day. God created the natural world by speaking, then man by moulding him out of dust and vivifying him with His life-giving Spirit, and the Sabbath by "sabbatizing" Himself.

By instituting the Sabbath at creation along with the basic components of human life such as marriage and labor, long before Israel existed, God made the day a permanent institution for the human family (Mark 2:27). The fact that later the Sabbath became one of the Ten Commandments does not negate its universality, but rather supports it, since the other nine commandments are universal principles binding upon the whole human family, not Israel alone.

Three main conclusions emerge from our study of the biblical and historical witness to the origin of the Sabbath. First, there is in Scripture an unmistakable consensus supporting the creation origin of the Sabbath. Second, a major and the oldest Jewish tradition traces the origin of the Sabbath back to the culmination of creation. Third, we find in the history of Christianity considerable support for the Edenic origin of the Sabbath, not only among seventh-day Sabbathkeepers but also among many Sundaykeepers. The latter have defended the Sabbath as a creation ordinance in order to justify Sunday as the Christian Sabbath.

The challenge to the creation origin of the Sabbath has come chiefly from those who have adopted Luther's radical distinction between the Old and New Testaments and between Law and Gospel. Some former Sabbatarians have adopted this distinction, thus arguing that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance but a Mosaic institution which Christ fulfilled and abolished. Consequently, believers in the Christian dispensation are free from the observance of any special day.

Our examination of the objections to the creation origin of the Sabbath has shown the arguments to be based on gratuitous assumptions. The consistent and unanimous testimony of Scripture is that Sabbath is rooted in the creation event and marks the inauguration of human history. This means that Sabbathkeeping is not a temporary Jewish ceremonial law, but a creation ordinance for the benefit of humanity. It also means, as so well stated by Elizabeth E. Platt, that "we have our roots in the Sabbath; we belong in it from Genesis on into Eternity in God's plan."106

Chapter 2, Part 2
Chapter 3, Part 1a


Notes to Chapter 2, Part 3
Dies Domini: Pope John Paul II's Pastoral Letter regarding the Sabbath.

98. Roy Gane, "Sabbath and the New Covenant," Paper presented at a consultation with the Worldwide Church of God (1997), pp.5-6.
99. G. H. Waterman, "Sabbath," The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, 1975), vol 5. p. 183.
100. John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, 1930), p. 38.
101. Dale Ratzlaff (note 3), p. 24.
102. Ibid.
103. John Skinner (note 100), p. 35.
104. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (New York, 1950), p. 103.
105. Roy Gane (note 98), p. 6.
106. Elizabeth E. Platt, "The Lord Rested, The Lord Blessed the Sabbath Day," Sunday 66 (1979), p. 4.

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Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University