Sabbath Presentation

Looking at an invitation to present a paper at the Northwest Evangelical Theological Society meetings last Saturday, I plumbed my pile of “Ponders” and pulled out the topic of Sabbath. It’s the first practice in the Practicing the Way, a ministry I strongly support. But there are different understandings of Sabbath and its role in the Christian’s life. Some argue a 24 hour seventh day Sabbath is “baked into creation” while others see the practices as another form of legalistic works righteousness. There are many views between these poles.

I titled my presentation “To Sabbath or Not to Sabbath: A Covenantal Question”, {footnoting Shakespeare of course). I spent time in the Old Testament looking at Sabbath. The first reason given is that YHWH ceased His work of creating (the verb in Genesis 2:2 has this primary meaning, not rest as is often translataed). Exodus 20:11 says YHWH rested (different verb that Gen. 2:2). Exodus 23:12 has the full command with all three verbs: “For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as the stranger residing with you, may refresh themselves.” [NASB2020]. When the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5, the reason for Sabbath cnanges to “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to celebrate the Sabbath day (5:15). Exodus 31:13-17 clarifies the Sabbath as a sign for the relation between YHWH and His people, so it is part of the Mosaic Covenant with blessing for keeping it and death penatly for those who profane it.

In the presentation, I led everyone in wrestling with the account of Jesus’ disciples breaking the Sabbath by harvesting (sure seems this is what happened – they are harvesting), leading to Him to declare the Son of Man as Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-27) – the discussion in the room got quite animated!

We concluded with Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:1-9 where both food laws (Kosher) and Sabbath are taken out of the category of “must follow” and put in the category of personal valuation. That is quite a difference from the Mosaic Covenant status of death penalty offense!

My conclusion went to Galatians 3:17-26 which teaches the limited scope of the Mosaic Covenant: it is for the people of God, i.e., Israel, from Sinai to Pentecost. Believers in Jesus, the post-Pentecost People of God, are no longer under the authority of the Mosaic Covenant but are under Abrahamic Righteousness, the moral command Jesus summed up in “love the Lord; love your neighbor”.

Thus I think the work/rest pattern may be properly praticed in many different rhythms ranging from a 24 hour period once a week to a daily/weekly/monthly/annual personally defined pattern.

Two helpful books on the subject are Paul Jewett, The Lord’s Day and the volume edited by D.A. Carson From Sabbath to Lord’s Day

Video and audio recordings of the session are here. I’d love to get your responses via comments on this post.

13 thoughts on “Sabbath Presentation

  1. Fantastic stuff Gerry, very helpful biblical theology of Sabbath. Our church is about to start the Sabbath Practice, from Practicing The Way, so this is super helpful. Your explanation of Sabbath as a covenantally sign for Israel seems pretty air tight. My question though is, “Can’t sabbath be both? Can’t Sabbath be both a covenant for Israel and an essential practice for the rest of us that fear God?”
    It’s for all people because we are image barriers of God, and therefore called to mir God’s Sabbath Gen. 2:1-2. ( I don’t think I would go as far as saying it’s required, but it certainly seems like an essential practice we were meant to follow)
    That doesn’t preclude it from being a specific sign/covenant for ethic Israel.
    Kind of like how Jesus was promised as Saviour of the world (Gen.3:15), but also the Messiah of Israel (2Sam.7:12-13)?

    • We are perfectly free to do a 24 hour Sabbath,sundown Friday to sundown Saturday which is the covenant sign. The difference is that it is required for Israel, but not for New Covenant church folk if I am reading Col. 2 and Rom. 14 correctly. That says specifically that there is freedom to honor a day or not. So working out a rule of life that includes a wise work/rest rhythm is very important, but the OT Sabbath is optional as I see it.

  2. Thank you for sharing this teaching! I would be interested to hear more of your thoughts on why you believe that we (gentiles) are only under the Abrahamic Covenant/Righteousness and not under the Mosaic Covenant.

    • The heart of that is the inauguration of the New Covenant in Acts 2 which is discussed in several places in the NT. A key discussion is in Galatians where the argument is made that good Christians must follow the Mosaic Covenant and observe food laws, circumcision, Sabbath, etc. Paul’s point in Gal. 3:16ff is that Moses is added to Abraham (the promise) UNTIL the seed (Messiah and all He does). The Mosaic was required in its wholeness until the New Covenant is inaugurated and then we are free of παιδαγωγὸς, the “guardian” This is 3:24-25: “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. 25 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus. I discuss this briefly in the recording of the session

  3. Thanks, Gerry. I found this very helpful. I’m not so clear, though, on where you find nine of the ten commandments in the Abrahamic Covenant. Can you elaborate a little on that?

    • The concepts in those commandments are all contained in the 4 elements of Abrahamic Righteousness
      1. Be Loyal to YHWH even in Ba’al land where it might get you killed
      2. Trust what YHWH actually says even when it makes no sense (a 75 year old wife will have a baby; sacrifice Isaac as an act of worship)
      3. Do righteousness and justice (See Ezek. 18 for a great summary of the concepts) – this is elaborated in the final 6 commandments
      4. Look for YHWH’s provision in Messiah

      Many of the other 613 are specificaitons of Abrahamic Righteousness. My point is that we are always under authority of Abrahamic but not Mosaic. The alternative is to divide Moses into moral, civil, and ceremonial components and insist we are under moral but not civil and ceremonial. But there is nothing biblical about dividing Mosaic, IMO

  4. I always enjoyed your teaching. I agree with you that the Gal. passage is key to our understanding of how the church ought to understand its relation to the Mosaic Law.

  5. Looking at the Sabbath one should consider
    the order of the creation story.
    Firstly the things of Nature that God created
    in the first six days, then the Twilight – time
    after creation and before the Sabbath. Then
    the Sabbath is yes, a place of rest also a time of Miracle’s.
    This Twilight time gives us this insite, where Moses staff was created, Manna, Abraham’s Ram , etc etc. These are all greater than. Nature and yet created on the eve of the Sabbath.
    The time of Twilight should be considered. as it was by the Ancient Jewish Rabbis. Then we can see a complete picture of . . .
    Natures Genesis, Twilight and the Sabbath with Jesus as the self proclaimed host. Mark 2 23-27.

  6. It seems to me the Colossians 2 passage takes away a strict following of the Sabbath as recorded in the Mosaic covenant. It is great to live under grace where a work/rest and abiding with Jesus pattern is preserved but not in a strict practice to be observed by all in the same way. I liked your use of Abrahamic Righteousness as a way to say the New covenant compared to the Mosaic covenant. Thank you.

    • Thanks for the interaction, Matthew. The open question is whether the Mosaic Covenant is authoritative for Jesus following Jewish folk today. I think not, but am not as certain as with Gentiles who follow Israel’s Messiah

  7. Having lived in Israel for 25 years, 10 of which in Jerusalem… Sabbath and all of God’s holidays are a way of life. Sadly the issue goes far beyond the question “should we?” as we need to consider God’s unique relationship with Israel….past, present and future.

    Dare we mention the growing number of churches that promote Replacement Theology?

    Yes Gerry I’m moving beyond your presentation as I watch “the church” moving further and further away from seeking first the Kingdom of God. The Sabbath is only a trickle in the huge waterfall coming our way. The noise is deafening if we don’t pull away into that quiet place so we can hear the still small voice of God.

    If you think that life will get back to normal, you are deceived. God’s word hasn’t changed, we’ve just been so busy … we’ve lost our way. I watch thousands come to Jerusalem… see the sights and sites and totally ignore us locals. I listen to the teachers and “prophets” who go from the rapture to the Messianic Kingdom totally ignoring what happens in between. Why?

    We’ll dear brethren, I’ve said enuf. Gerry I miss our prayer time on the hills. Jerusalem eager to welcome you. J

    • Thank you, Joan. I continue to reject replacement theology, believing strongly that the LORD will restore His firstborn people, Israel, in fulfillment of His promises through Messiah Jesus.

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