“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.”
The first day of the week is Sunday; the seventh day of the week is Saturday. If we were to keep the Sabbath day, we would worship on Saturday. Does the Bible teach that the Christian is to worship on Saturday?
The word “sabbath” means seven. The Bible uses the “sabbath” most commonly of the seventh day of the week– Saturday. “Sabbath” is used more broadly in the sense of a protracted festival set apart for a special occasion.
The root for “sabbaths” means to cease, desist. The word came to mean a complete cessation. The idea is not relaxation or refreshment but the cessation of activity. For six days, God created, and on the seventh, he rested. The seventh day is a commemoration of grace– God did the doing. We rest in that.
The observation of Israel’s seventh day of the week was a “sign” between God and his people. God rested after six days of creation (Exodus 31:16-17, 20:8-11). Two treatises of the Mishna are entirely occupied with regulations for observances. Eventually, these regulations became a burden to Israel due to over systemization of their religion. Jesus liberated people from the vexatious traditional burdensome accretions, which became an end in themselves (Matthew12:1-13; John 5:5-16). Our Lord made the Sabbath a means to an end.
For the first three centuries of Christianity, “sabbaths” were never confounded with the first day of the week (Romans 14:5; Galatians 4:9-11). Those who place Christians under legalism make an artificial separation between the ceremonial and moral law. They claim that God did not annul the sabbath.
The Sabbath is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament. When God launched the church and rejected the nation Israel, Christians met on Sunday, not Saturday (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Our passage censures Sabbath observance (Colossians 2:16). This rejection of the Sabbath was because the law was only a shadow of the reality to come. Christ and his work were the reality (Hebrews 8:5,10:1). What the Old Testament foreshadowed our Lord fulfilled (Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:3-4).
The Bible places no special privilege upon worship on special days.
The ancient heresy of Gnosticism appears widely today under the name of the New Age Movement. It seeks the Oneness of all things. They tell us that we are all part of the universe of created matter. We unite in Oneness with God.
They claim that we can escape from the self and move into oneness with the universe. That is why Paul refers to it here as a “false humility.” It claims to move you beyond self. However, in actual practice, they focus on self. The fundamental goal is to develop all your self powers. We call this the human potential movement. All you need is already there inside you. All you need to do is bring it out and develop your possibilities and full potential.
The new age movement engages strange spirit beings, astrology, ouija boards, tarot cards, assorted holy men, psychics, swamis, yogis, and gurus. All of these purport to offer help in increasing our understanding to fulfill the possibilities of our humanity. These activities are the present-day manifestations of the heresy of Gnosticism.
The Christian who becomes involved with the human potential movement is a present-day Gnostic heretic.
I see you removed my clear, irrefutable comments about Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2. Now Grant, ask yourself, did you do this because these comments irrefutably disproved your remarks about Sunday observance in New Testament times? Of course this is the case. Otherwise you would just have pointed out any mistakes in my comments. This means you want to mislead people – there is no other possibility. What did Jesus say about people getting others to break the law?
Chris, you have made a judgment about what happened. WordPress removed your site automatically due to something you put into the blog.
Your arguments are anything but irrefutable. If WordPress did not remove your blog I would have because of your strident approach in your blogs. This site is not intended for emotional arguments but objective presentations. Claims like "irrefutable" are arrogant and unsustainable. Personal attacks like you made on a blogger at this site is not acceptable.
What an inaccurate mishmash of technical terms. WordPress is a blogging tool and content management system written in PHP. The only thing it could have recognized was the unique resource locators in my comment on your blog. It did not remove my "site." WordPress also didn't remove my "blog." In fact, you have not seen my blog. One should always strive for accuracy. In my work, programming, accuracy is a "sine qua non." Make a mistake and problems are sure to quickly follow. In many fields – theology, philosophy, the humanities, education, etc. – mistakes have no early, and sometimes none at all, consequences, hence they are common.
Just saying something is not irrefutable does not make it so. I didn't offer arguments, I offered facts. Facts, by nature, are irrefutable. Here they are again:
Acts 20 clearly states the meeting took place on a Saturday night: there were lamps and Paul spoke until (approximately – they didn't have the means to accurately determine time at night) midnight. A day, the first day included, started at sunset. So, even by modern standards where a day begins at midnight this meeting wasn't on a Sunday. Refute that if you can.
In Acts 20 Paul spent the Sunday traveling by foot across the neck of the peninsula. Verse 13. Is this an activity for a day of rest? Refute that if you can.
I Corinthians 16:2 has to do with money and accounting. There is no indication of a religious meeting. Refute that if you can. Here is the verse:
As for the fourth commandment in the New Testament we find the following:
Were they wrong? Why did they keep the sabbath after the crucifixion? You say Jesus taught them not to observe the sabbath. Didn't they learn? Where did Jesus do that? Jesus surely had ample opportunity to do that. Isn't this a clear mention of the fourth commandment in the New Testament?
Theologians call the method they use to get to the meaning of what's in the Bible exegesis. If exegesis had any merit it would have yielded consistent results. Instead we find Christianity divided into many denominations believing the same source means different things. Theologians and exegesis are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Makes me think of the Pharisees in the time of Jesus.
You know you are misleading people. How does that feel?
It is too bad that you have not seriously studied “exegesis” because you would not make such egregious mistakes in interpretation. The “ex” means out and “egesis” means to raise. The idea is to raise truth out of the text and not impose one’s own idea on the text, or, what is called interpolation. It is very dangerous to come to the text with one’s own ideas or previously concluded ideas about doctrine or interpretation. I study the most leftist liberals in exegesis to the most evangelical and I find that when they use good exegesis or hermeneutics they consistently come to the same conclusions. It is not a matter of denominations as you say. The difference is that the evangelical believes what the Bible says and the liberal does not. Obviously, there are many obscure passages of Scripture that no one can assert the meaning with apodictic certainty. It is from these passages that the cults invariably draw their doctrines.
First, there is no doubt that “Saturday” or the “Sabbath” is the seventh day of the week. No serious scholar challenges that. The first day of the week, or Sunday, was never treated as the “Sabbath.”
Second, an important principle of exegesis is to never base an interpretation on antidotal situations. Primary interpretation must come from didactic passages that state clearly the principle. Just because someone did something does not make it an ongoing principle. No doubt that is why you go to narrative passages to prove your point rather than extant statements of the epistles. It is always dangerous to get primary doctrine from narrative passages. As a principle, Paul went to the “Jew first” throughout the Roman Empire when doing evangelism. It is natural that he would go to the synagogues on Saturday and even have meetings on Saturday. In any case, an antidotal situation does not establish the principle. If you would have studied exegesis, you would know that to do what you have done with this passage is erroneous exegesis.
Third, Colossians made the point that no particular day should be regarded as special whether it is Sunday or Saturday (2:16). That is why the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul said that no one should judge a believer about “Sabbaths.”
Fourth, although it seems that 1 Co 16:2 establishes a pattern of “the first day of the week” (Sunday) to set aside funds for the Lord’s work, but the point is neither here nor there from your argument.
Fifth, your idea that “this is a clear mention of the fourth commandment in the New Testament” is another superficial analysis of Scripture. The church did not begin until Acts 2 where God changed from dealing with the nation Israel as a national way of life (theocracy) to dealing with individuals in the body of Christ (the church). The events of Luke 23 in context was still operating under the economy (or dispensation) of Israel. God established an extensive system of Sabbaths for the nation Israel to follow. This included many dietary laws and civil law. He did away with those when He established the church. This is the argument of many passages of Scripture including entire books such as the book of Galatians and Hebrews. The exegetical error on your part is not to distinguish different eras and systems by which God operated in those eras.
In summary, what you call facts are superficial extractions of Scripture based on pretexts that do not deal with the subject substantially. Biblical interpretation begins with the argument of an entire argument of a book of the Bible such as the argument of Romans. Sixty times various cognates of the word “righteous” occurs in that book. The argument is since God is absolute, there is no way to be righteous on one’s own, we have to be “declared to be righteous” (or caused to be righteous because we cannot be righteous on our own when it comes to measuring up to God’s absolute righteous). Then the next principle of interpretation is a major section of a book of the Bible. On it goes until one gets to individual verses. That is why I suggest you study the argument of Galatians which refutes your doctrine. Your so-called “facts” are not worthy of good hermeneutics.
I leave for Africa tomorrow and will not be available to answer your next issues until next month.
I knew what exegesis meant when I wrote that comment. It is not true that all theologians have come to the same conclusions. Everyone knows that. Not only are there many denominations, but everyone in a single denomination doesn't agree on all Biblical points.
It is absolutely true that there are many obscure passages in the Bible, as you said. Theologians love them because they can hold forth endlessly on these. Clear passages, in contrast, don't provide an opportunity for theologians to speculate and go on endlessly. These clear passages often invalidate principles accepted by many, if not most theologians and mostly are totally ignored by them. Like the following:
I suppose heaven and earth have passed away because, according to many theologians, the ten commandments are now a thing of the past.
My points on Sunday were that not one of the passages you cited in support of Sunday meetings supported Sunday as the Christian day for meetings. There is no historical proof of Sunday observance till after 100AD.
The above translation has it right in rendering "sabbaths" in plural, like in the original Greek. There is one sabbath (the seventh day of the week) in the Ten Commandments and many more in the Mosaic law. In Luke 23:56 the singular is used. The Bible was not written with the one to one mapping between syntax and semantics like computer programs – a certain thing only has one meaning, and nothing else. Col 2:16 is one of your obscure verses.
Paul said the law has not been made null and void. It's just not what saves us. We keep the Ten Commandments because God wants us to do so and we want to do what pleases Him. Keeping the ten commandments is the fruit borne out of salvations, not the cause of salvation.
You missed the point about my statement regarding exegetes having virtual agreement about most passages of Scripture. Obviously there are many theological viewpoints. My point had to do with understanding most passages of Scripture. The Bible is no obscure document that no one can understand. God did not speak with an uncertain voice. The general simplicity of the Bible is apparent.
You completely underestimate exegetes, theologians, and expositors. Your minimal understanding of the literature of these subjects demonstrates your ignorance of how they approach these subjects.
I did not say that there are many obscure passages in the Bible but that there are some passages difficult to understand. You are completely uninformed that theologians focus on the obscure passages but that they do the very opposite in identifying them and take care not to draw conclusions that do not warrant proper interpretation from them. Are you completely ignorant of theological and exegetical works? It is true that exegetes and theologians struggle with difficult passages but they do not come to major doctrines from these studies.
No theologian holds that the Ten Commandments are a thing of the past. God’s morality does not change. If you would have the slightest understanding of theology and what they say about that subject, you would have known that. Studies in theology proper are abundant with the nature of God’s immutable attributes and He never changes His character.
Sunday meetings are not at the heart of my arguments. Colossians and Galatians indicate that that is not an issue. There are indications of worship in the New Testament on the “first day of the week” but it is not a big issue.
It is true that “Sabbath” is a noun in the genitive, neuter, plural, however, Sabbaths in the plural include the seventh day of the week worship. I have had eight years of Greek and three of Hebrew and Aramaic. Your statement about “one meaning” is true but the process of finding that one meaning is a very serious process. It is not as simple as you indicate. Semantics, for example, require the interpreter to understand the use of words and phrase throughout a given book of the Bible which may differ from other books of the Bible even by the same biblical author.
I would suggest you do a serious study of Galatians which deals with how the Mosaic Law was set aside for the church age (not the moral law).
James argues that works indeed do come from faith.
Here you now say the Ten Commandments are still valid and were valid in Paul's time. If such is the case, then, mathematical logic demands that Paul would not have encouraged the non-observance of any commandment, including the fourth, unless Paul was of the opinion that the Ten Commandments were null and void or Paul was inconsistent.
What Paul was writing about in Colossians 2:16 was an issue of the moment the Colossians knew about. Hence he did not have to painstakingly specify what he was talking about. His writing was in the context of issues bothering the Colossians at that time, and they knew the issues. Paul was not advocating doing away with the weekly Sabbath of the fourth command. What those issues were, we don't know. To say the "Sabbaths" in Colossians 2:16 included the fourth commandment is a non sequitur if the Ten Commandments are/were still valid. Or are only nine still valid?
I had Latin for five years in high school in the sixties, so I know the declensions and conjugations. I speak two languages fluently (English is not my first language) and have a passable knowledge of Spanish. Other than that I know a few programming languages and know just how badly human languages compare to machine languages when it comes to accurately and unambiguously transmitting facts. Exegetes treat human languages as if they had the same level of accuracy and unambiguity as machine languages when it comes to transmitting facts. They try to derive more from what is written down than can in reality be derived from it. E.g., Jesus spoke in Aramaic. All his original words are lost. What we have is at best a translation into Greek written down decades after Jesus uttered those words. Nobody edited the Bible, or even the New Testament as a whole, making sure the same word is always used in all books to convey the same fact. To say a certain word is always used in, say the New Testament, to transmit fact A, so here, where its meaning doesn't come through accurately, it must also point to fact A, is not rational. The same author may use one word meaning different things in different places.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between the laws of Moses and the Ten Commandments; one written by Moses on parchment and kept next to the ark and the other written by God on stone and kept in the ark, and more. There is a lot about this on the Internet. Daniel made a distinction, Paul made a distinction, and more. No disciple or apostle or the apostolic church ever advocated dumping or changing even one of the Ten Commandments.
As for exegesis, it yields different results applied to the same source material by different people. If this is because its correct use is unknown, it's still not useful. All sciences would therefore label exegesis a flawed tool and dump it. Mistakes have serious consequences in science. Exegesis has given us utterly nonsensical concepts like the Sunday Sabbath, the trinity, the law, including the Ten Commandments, is null and void and more.
It's hard to know one has spent one's life pursuing a flawed cause.
I am in Africa and will respond when I get back
Nine of the Ten Commandments are moral but the fourth commandment is not. That is why it is the only commandment not reiterated in the New Testament. The fourth commandment is specifically repudiated in the New Testament. The other nine are ethical statements to show the believer how to live before God.
The difference between the Sabbath commandment and the other nine can be seen by these verses in Romans 14 “5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” In other words, worship on a given day such as Saturday is not an issue to a believer living under the dispensation of grace as over against Israel’s dispensation of the law. It is not a moral issue otherwise this passage would indicate otherwise. We could not say that “one man’s property is better than another man’s property". Stealing is stealing no matter how big or valuable it may be. That cannot be said about the Sabbath as per this passage. We could not say about the Seventh Commandment “all women are alike and I can therefore commit adultery.”
Secondly, you have a complete misunderstanding of exegesis. It is not as you present it. You could not have studied the principles of exegesis or you would not make such naive statements about it. It is far more exact and careful than you indicate. The Greek language is a categorical language with an extensive preposition system, for example, that expresses things with great accuracy. God was not capricious or careless in putting down Scripture. He inspired every word and He expects us to take extreme care in the interpretation of Scripture. Your “A…A” illustration only shows your uninformed understanding of exegesis because that is exactly what exegesis does—it distinguishes the same word used in different contexts. In that it uses semantics and other means of interpretation. The study of exegesis is a massive exercise and the general principles of exegesis are accepted by the most conservative to the most liberal interpreters. Your claim about understanding how language words is a completely inadequate understanding of exegesis.
Your idea that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and therefore we have lost the meaning of what He said is also fallacious. God did not inspire in the Bible the Aramaic in the New Testament but the Greek language (2 Ti 3:16). His words are not “lost” as you say but accurately recorded through the Holy Spirit speaking in the writing of the New Testament author. There is a dual authorship of Scripture, not a single human author. Only theological liberals hold to your position.
Your treatment of Colossians is also inadequate. To claim that that passage speaks to a given situation at a given time would require an exception statement. That passage does not make such a statement. By coming to the conclusion you do you render inoperative what God said in His Word. That is a case of your interpolation of your own ideas into Scripture.
This is an example of how imprecise theologians are: I did not say the meaning of Jesus's words are lost, I said Jesus's words are lost. It's up there on this page. Most likely what Jesus said could have been translated in more than one way in Greek. To treat the Greek as if it came out of Jesus's own mouth is absurd.
Show me one place in the New Testament that unambiguously says the weekly Sabbath is now a goner. It's always an obscure reference to "days" and "sabbaths" etc. Look at this:
On which day did God rest from his work? Why is the Sabbath mentioned here?
Another thing, Sunday worshippers very often quote Acts 20:7 as an example of a meeting on a Sunday, which you know it was not – it was a Saturday evening. That is lying. I don't go with liars.
All I need to know about exegesis is that it yields inconsistent results. Theologians have different opinions on many topics, like predestination, the hell, the millennium, etc. They find support for their incompatible viewpoints in the Bible using exegesis. That's more than enough to label exegesis a flawed tool. If only theologians knew more about determining truth and admitted that one can't be sure on many topics, then exegesis may have been helpful. We have lost the context of much of what Paul wrote about. Human languages need context to be accurately understood. Programming languages define context very clearly and indicate very clearly which blocks of code are in this or that context. Like Paul said, you theologians see "through a glass in an enigma." And you think you see clearly.
The decline in religion happened on your (plural – see how ambiguous English is here?) watch. You must be doing something wrong.
Sorry not to have included this; the last "you" in the previous post is also plural and refers to all theologians.
Colossians was addressed "to those in Colosse" at the time it was written. A specific time and specific place.
Matthew says as Jesus departed from Jericho he healed two blind men. Mark and Luke say as Jesus entered Jericho he healed one blind man, Mark names the man. Luke says that as Jesus left Jericho Zaccheus, a tax collector, climbed a tree to see Jesus better. That is not in the other two versions, but gives credence that it was upon entering Jericho that the blind man was healed. This is a typically human account, agreeing on what is important, but disagreeing on details. Do you really think God would have got the details wrong? God didn't dictate the Bible. The important message is right, but the fine details may not always be right.
And as for me being a liberal; it's clear you don't know me. I just know how to get facts from what is presented to me and say when I can't get the facts.
Jesus’s words were not lost because God inspired the words of the New Testament gospel writers. The Holy Spirit superintended these words through the human author. Evangelicals do not hold that God dictated Scripture but that the Holy Spirit gave freedom to the human author, or to state or summarize in some cases, what Jesus said. We do not have to assume that all verbal variations in the Gospels, even when the speech of Jesus is in view, are to be traced back to his ipissima verba. There is no reason to question that the human authors preserve the thought and teachings of Jesus with singular precision and accuracy. It is not their own ideas and words that they are determined to transmit.
We cannot underestimate that Jesus emphasized that the Holy Spirit would enable the apostles to comprehend truth and convey truth. The Holy Spirit would bring all things to their remembrance, and even beyond that, illumine them about what they heard. Jesus gave the apostles a special endowment through the Holy Spirit to be trustworthy guides and teachers (Jn 14:25-26; 16:12-13). They had the mind of the Spirit to represent the mission and ministry of Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave them divine superintendency to write Scripture in a manner that truly conveys Jesus’s thoughts. Revelation (not inspiration) is never a matter of words alone; a variety of words in a large variety of languages can convey an identical meaning. If that were not the case, even bilingual communication and comprehension would be excluded, and whatever Jesus taught in Aramaic or Mishnaic Hebrew could not under any circumstances have been conveyed in New Testament Greek.
Whether the content involves a contribution by the apostle or not, the fact remains that he “received” that content from and by the Spirit of Truth. Authoritative apostolic communication did not stop, moreover, with teaching concerning Jesus’s earthly ministry but extended to His postascension ministry as well. The gospel of John speaks of revelation after Jesus’s ascension. Jesus Himself gave trust to revelation by the Holy Spirit to Moses and the prophets. May times He quoted Scripture “as stands written.” Like the Inspired Old Testament prophets before them, the New Testament apostles ministered both orally and in writing. John indicated that his gospel was “written” for the purpose of salvation (20:31). The apostles like Jesus before them saw Scripture as a divinely fashioned instrument for confronting human beings with an important decision. Theirs was not to memorize the words of Jesus and regurgitate them in the New Testament. That would underestimate the Holy Spirit’s role in writing the New Testament. The gospel writers were expositors of the life and work of Jesus. Part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit was “to bring to remembrance” all that Jesus “said” to them. There is no room here for correlating apostolic teaching with supposed Hellenistic resemblances or with the creative artifice of the early church rather than with the teaching of Jesus.
Carl Henry makes this point: “In John 18 the apostle refers to an earlier word of Jesus found in 17:12 (“While I was with them, I kept them in thy name which thou hast given me: and I guarded them, and not one of them perished, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled” asv). This sentence is from the high priestly prayer which Jesus certainly voiced on but one occasion and presumably in but one language. Yet in 18:9 (asv), where John writes of the fulfillment of Jesus’ plea to the soldiers to preserve the disciples, the apostle’s recollection of that word has obvious variations: “that the word might be fulfilled which he spake, Of those whom thou hast given me I lost not one.” Leon Morris comments: “Here Jesus speaks of the disciples as given to Him, there it was the ‘name’ of God (the disciples were earlier said to be ‘given’ to Him, 17:6 …). Here there is no reference to His ‘guarding’ them, while ‘I lost not one’ replaces ‘not one of them perished’ ” (The Gospel According to John, p. 74). This is clearly a summary for a particular purpose, not intended as a complete statement nor technically the ipsissima verba of Jesus, yet nonetheless reliably and truly the word of Jesus. Under the Spirit’s inspiration, apostolic teaching may abridge even the wording of Jesus for a selective purpose or expand that wording in the interest of its comprehensive truth (cf. John 3:35, where we are told that the Father “has given all things into his hand,” although the context speaks particularly of the gift of life in the Spirit.”
Another significant variant occurs in the Synoptic renditions of the Lord’s Prayer which, as Jesus’ treasured instruction to his disciples, has been liturgically repeated throughout the Christian centuries. Yet the Gospels preserve the Prayer in two not wholly identical forms (Matt. 6:9–13 and Luke 11:1–4). The Revised Standard Version introduces additional changes in the King James text, whose extra phrases have only inferior manuscript support. The words “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” may in later generations have been added in manuscripts of Matthew (6:13) for liturgical reasons (2 Tim. 4:18 has a briefer form). Yet it is too strong a claim to insist unqualifiedly that Matthew’s longer form is a liturgical expansion of Luke’s account or to pronounce these extra phrases “almost certainly” to be interpolations attributable to a scribe bent on harmonization. In Luke the prayer begins with “Father” (Abba, which likely was Jesus’ usual address to God), but in Matthew (6:9) with “Our Father.” “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10) is not found in Luke. For the Matthean “give us daily bread” (6:11) Luke has the imperative “continually give us,” which controls his use of “each day” (11:3) instead of Matthew’s “this day” (6:11). Even if Luke’s connection of forgiveness with “everyone that is indebted to us” (11:4) suggests that Matthew interprets the term “debts” by the alternate wording “sins” (6:12), the interpretation is indisputably correct; debts is a Hebrew figure of speech for sins (cf. Matt. 18:23–35). The clause “but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13) does not appear in Luke. Yet are we absolutely sure that Jesus instructed his disciples only once in the matter of prayer and that he would not have made some minor alterations, instead of routinely and mechanically duplicating the content as many of his followers have ventured to do across the centuries?”
Another example is the treatment by the Synoptic Gospels of the rich young ruler. Ned B. Stonehouse notes the measure of freedom exercised by the evangelists in their literary compositions. “Mark and Luke report Jesus as saying to the young man, ‘One thing thou lackest’ (Mk. 10:21; Lk. 18:22), but Matthew records that it was the young man who said, ‘What do I still lack?’ ” (Origins of the Synoptic Gospels, 1963, pp. 108–9). Stonehouse mentions also “the differences of Matthew and Luke from Mark 10:29: ‘for my sake and the gospel’s sake.’ Here Matthew says nothing of the gospel and has simply: ‘for my name’s sake,’ while Luke, omitting any specific reference to Christ himself, reads: ‘for the sake of the kingdom of God.’ ” Stonehouse comments: “It is obvious therefore that the evangelists are not concerned, at least not at all times, to report the ipsissima verba of Jesus. And on this background one must allow for the possibility that Matthew in his formulation of 19:16, 17 has not only been selective as regards subject matter but also that he used some freedom in the precise language which he employed. The singular use of the adjective ‘good’ might then be a particularly clear example of his use of that freedom.” In conclusion, Stonehouse reminds us that “orthodox defenders of the infallibility of Scripture have constantly made the point that infallibility is not properly understood if it is supposed that it carries with it the implication that the words of Jesus as reported in the Gospels are necessarily the ipsissima verba. What is involved rather is that the Holy Spirit guided the human authors in such a way as to insure that their records give an accurate and trustworthy impression of the Lord’s teachings.”
From such variations it would be wrong to infer, however, that here, despite the high importance of the nature of their report of the Lord’s Prayer and of the high priestly prayer, we have the definitive key to how the evangelists everywhere handle the words of Jesus. In John 18:32, for example, where another of Jesus’ prophecies is declared to be fulfilled through Caiaphas’s determination to seek a crucifixion, John repeats exactly “signifying by what manner of death he should die” (John 12:33, asv) without however repeating or restating the particular saying: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth [in the Fourth Gospel ‘lifting up’ refers always to the Cross] will draw all men unto myself” (12:32, asv). Nor should we forget that the Lord’s Prayer (recall the Abba) and the high priestly prayer were probably voiced by Jesus in Aramaic, so that the recorded Greek Gospels would not in any event literally convey his ipsissima verba.”
Whether the New Testament writers give us the words of Jesus as the Spirit brings them to remembrance or as the Spirit interprets them, whether the inspired writers edit for the sake of clarity of meaning or for theological elucidation, in either case they present the apostolically mediated Word of God, the mind and word of Jesus Christ, the truth of the Spirit. It would be as wrong therefore to contrast sharply between voice and words as to differentiate absolutely between Jesus’ ipsissima verba and the apostolically given word of Jesus. Such distinctions ignore the way in which the Spirit through the inspired apostles has intentionally made known to us the words and works of Jesus. To imply a contrast between the trustworthiness of Jesus’ word and that of the apostolic word is to engage in hypothetical distinctions that are disallowed by the very form and content of New Testament revelation. We have no way of returning to observe the historical Jesus except through the Bible. F. C. Grant is doubtless right that “we shall probably never get back to a fully detailed, photographically authentic account of Jesus’ life and character, and to tape-recorded accuracy in the reproduction of his sayings” (“Jesus Christ,” p. 876b). But if we had to choose this alternative to our present Gospels and Epistles, we would be impoverished rather than enriched. The very character of these writings, moreover, is such that it disallows their absolute contrast with or skeptical disjunction of the apostolic representations from the ipsissima verba of Jesus, and any contrast of the teaching of Jesus with the apostolic representations of that teaching. It is the New Testament that conveys the mind and voice of the incarnate and risen Christ in intelligible propositional form.
The Apostle Paul can surely distinguish between what is attributable personally to Jesus’ verbal teaching in the days of his flesh (“not I, but the Lord,” 1 Cor. 7:10, asv) and Paul’s own teaching (“I, not the Lord,” 1 Cor. 7:12). Yet Paul insists also that as an inspired writer he conveys the mind and word of the risen Lord (“I have no commandment of the Lord [that is, given during his earthly ministry]: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful,” 1 Cor. 7:25, asv). We cannot make those distinctions, however, for the unitary revelation is available only in the apostolic writings. Paul solemnly quotes Jesus’ words at the institution of the Last Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–25) and he doubtless appeals to the words of Jesus (as related in Mark 10:6–12) when he writes: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband … and that the husband should not divorce the wife” (1 Cor. 7:10–11, niv). The Epistle of James contains repeated allusions to Jesus’ ethical teachings and sayings (cf. James 2:5/Matt. 5:3, 5; James 1:25/John 13:7), including references to at least four of the Beatitudes given in Matthew’s Gospel. In the prologue to his Gospel, Luke professes to relay the events of Jesus’ life “just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2, rsv). That content we have, however, only through the “recollection” and “guide-into-truth” role of the Spirit of inspiration; apart from that we have no revelation whatever of the mission and ministry of Jesus. As an achievement of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, Scripture presents us with the remarkable phenomenon of a canon concerned primarily with the prepositional disclosure of God. That revelation the inspired writers articulate faithfully and do so consistently not only with their own stylistic and personality differences but also with the particular purposes for which they write as chosen carriers of the divine message. In this distinctive role the apostles misrepresent neither truth nor fact, but instead preserve us from the accretions of legend and myth to which both oral tradition and an unfixed literary tradition are prone.”
The argument that the sayings of Jesus are more directly authoritative than those of Paul or John is often met by the rejoinder that we have no sayings of Jesus except as the apostles themselves, or the New Testament writers, attest them. The latter is surely true. Yet this misses the point, says Barr, for here “we are not discussing the genuineness of the sayings ascribed to Jesus in the gospels. Assuming that Jesus did some teaching, and supposing that we knew what it was, would it not have a first-order status while Paul’s would have a second-order status?” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 106).”
If we disagree with this observation, we must do so not simply on the basis of dialectical and existential notions that faith based on the historical accuracy of Jesus’ words cannot be real faith but that true faith instead correlates personal encounter only with responsive trust. That kind of reply would only destroy the faith-significance of both Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching, and would dismiss as irrelevant the question of any priority for the genuine statements by Jesus in his public ministry. Biblical faith cannot in fact be disengaged from a conviction of the historical factuality of related events and the objective truth of related assertions. Nor must the interest in genuine sayings by Jesus be sacrificed because his person and work are held to be more redemptively essential than his teaching; we cannot, after all, wholly dissociate the nature of his ministry and the definition of his person from his beliefs and sayings.”
Barr contends that we “need not seek the exact and genuine words of Jesus as if these would provide the basic bedrock of faith in a way that no other written or spoken materials could do. On the contrary, one can accept that it may be impossible to identify any genuine sayings with certainty; and, even if any genuine ones can be identified, this does not of itself make them into the ultimate foundations of faith. Indeed, things said about Jesus by others might be equally central or even more central than his own teachings” (ibid., p. 107).”
Here one must certainly agree that the scriptural writings provide adequate verification of Christian truth-claims. They serve this purpose even though the Gospels and Epistles are all written in Greek and even if Jesus taught only in Aramaic with the consequence that nowhere does the Greek literally give us his ipsissima verba. Historical certainty is hard to come by, whether we deal with what Socrates, Jesus or Richard Nixon said and did, but unless one remains mute about Socrates, one has no basis on the ground of historical method for skepticism about Jesus and his teaching. If the modern critic accepts anything about Socrates, who wrote nothing, he cannot in principle reject any of the four Gospels about Jesus. If historical skepticism is allowed needlessly to eclipse the identification of all Jesus’ teaching and its continuity with apostolic representations, it is difficult to see on what basis we can speak at all confidently of Plato’s representations about Socrates or of former Nixon aide Charles E. Colson’s representations about Nixon. The apostles give us details about the atonement, resurrection and post-resurrection ministry of Jesus that Jesus himself did not teach during his public ministry, a time when they could not as yet “bear” or carry (bastaz?, John 16:12) this information. The apostles nonetheless spoke doctrinally as Jesus’ authorized representatives and Spirit-inspired agents; nowhere do they place themselves in opposition to Jesus’ teaching, and everywhere they profess to proclaim it. The words of Jesus spoken during his earthly ministry, whether given in Greek or Aramaic, are not the only (“ultimate”) foundation of faith; the apostolic teaching about Jesus not only “might be” but is “equally central” and in some respects is “more so.” Not even Paul’s “I, not the Lord, say …” (1 Cor. 7:12, niv) settles the question of whose sayings had “more authority,” for the reference does not at all involve the whole body of either Jesus’ or Paul’s teaching. Even if it is assumed to express Paul’s private opinion, it would only mean that he here meticulously identified a matter of personal teaching in which he might be mistaken.”
But Barr contemplates the possible centrality and perhaps basic significance of apostolic teaching on quite different grounds. He thinks that the bedrock and ultimate foundation of Christian faith would be apostolic, particularly if Jesus “still stood within the framework of Israel rather than that of the church, and … the basic testimony of the risen Jesus comes from the post-resurrection church and not from within the teachings of Jesus himself.” These hypothetical possibilities we reject, of course, as contrary to the facts. While the New Testament writers do indeed reflect a postresurrection standpoint, the basic testimony to the risen Jesus was given by the risen Jesus himself. That it was given by Jesus himself is vouchsafed by the only historical documents we have, and this testimony comes from apostles whose belief in Jesus’ resurrection was first won in the face of nonexpectation and disbelief. It is fruitless to contemplate Jesus and the apostles as rival foundations or authorities; in affirming the Christian faith, moreover, some things (not all) that Jesus said, and some things (not all) that Paul said, are central. Barr himself concludes: “Many may think it reasonable to assign a first-order status to the sayings of Jesus and a second-order status to those of New Testament writers. But this does not mean a status of higher importance.” John W. Wenham reminds us that “from the first the Christian church regarded the words of Christ as of equal authority with the words of the New Testament” (Christ and the Bible, p. 149). Neo-Protestant critics are prone to cross out the words of Jesus in an emphasis merely on the New Testament writings viewed largely in terms of the alleged literary innovativeness of the early church. What we have in consequence is a Bible seen through the lenses of innovative twentieth-century critics whose deforming theories gain centrality at the expense of the redemptive word of Jesus.”
Jesus Christ is, as Kenneth Kantzer emphasizes, “the focal center of all the scriptural teaching” (“The Communication of Revelation,” p. 76). The fact that Scripture testifies to him is, to be sure, not to be made a grill to screen out whatever else one finds unacceptable on conjectural grounds, for Jesus himself honored the inspired writings in their entirety. Kantzer says pointedly that the witness to Jesus Christ is “a hermeneutical principle to enable us to understand fully and adequately what is the true meaning of the Scripture,” not a “critical principle to divide” the supposedly unacceptable from the acceptable. Hence “no rigid boundary can be placed between the mode of revelation that is Scripture and the mode that is Jesus Christ,” since we learn of Christ from Scripture and Christ validates the Scriptures. “Either Christ is Lord and one obeys His command to acknowledge the divine authority of Holy Scripture, or he falsely calls Him Lord because in his rejection of scriptural authority he rejects also Christ’s authority” (p. 77).” (End of Henry’s quote).
Chris, It is not necessary to have technically the verbatim words of Jesus because we have inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. We do not have to have His original words because the Holy Spirit inspired the word we do have in Scripture. The only time the word inspiration occurs (hapax legomenon) is in 2 Tim 3:16 where inspiration is only used in reference to writings, not the spoken word (graphe), that which is grafted or written. Jesus’s words were not the emphasis in this process except that what the Holy Spirit chose to bring to the minds of the writers of Scripture. Revelation is the process of showing the writers what they needed to know and inspiration is the process of writing it down under the superintendency of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the issue is not one of “translation” but of revelation and inspiration. It is not “absurd” for the Holy Spirit to do His work in the human authors of Scripture.
Re Acts 20:7, yes, this day is Sunday, not Saturday.
Re contextual interpretation: There is no doubt that context is important for exegesis. That is indeed why exegesis is so important. The most important principle of exegesis is context, especially the argument of a book of the Bible. Historical, cultural, and other issues are of lesser importance in interpretation but important nevertheless. The argument of the book of Galatians is that the Mosaic law (ceremonial and legal) ceased to exist (not the moral law). Colossians argues that the believer holds positional truth in Christ and that the law under the economy of the nation Israel was set aside. We are no longer under a national economy (or dispensation) but under the economy of grace.
Re Christianity declining: On my watch the church I pastored grew from 300 to 5,500 constituents with 500 decisions among adults per year. It was liberal theology that emptied churches from the latter part of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.
Re use of “you, yours”: It is ironic that you use “you” or “your” as non-determinative as to singular or plural whereas the Greek clearly indicates by morphology, that is, suffixed endings whether it is singular or plural or not.
Re your being a liberal: First I did not say you were a liberal but you held to a liberal position. Most of your recent blogs come from a liberal bias. I don’t have to know you personally; all I have to know is what you believe as you stated so clearly in your blogs. Whether you think you are liberal or not is not the issue, your positions are liberal.
Re errors in the Bible: It would require a massive aside to address so-called errors in the Bible. There are more popular and simple books dealing with this subject such as Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties among others. In addition, there are innumerable scholarly articles on this subject. We need to stick to subject of blogs about my exegesis and exposition otherwise we will go far afield from the subject.
Re your being liberal: Re you claim that I called you a liberal. I did not say that. What I said was that “liberals hold to your position.” I don’t have to “know you” to determine whether you hold to a liberal position. Your last blogs are very liberal in the content of your presentations. Whether you think you are a liberal is not the issue. Your positions are liberal.
Re Heb 4: Your argument from Heb 4:9ff has to do with Sabbath-rest, not the Sabbath day per se. God was not fatigued on the 7th day. The issue is not rest in the sense of fatigue but rest in the sense of completion. The seventh day was the day of completion. He did the work as a work of grace for man. We are to rest in His work as a faith-rest (which is the argument of chapters three and four of Hebrews).
Regarding the cessation of the Sabbath note this article:
The Sabbath And Dispensationalism
Joel T. Williamson Jr.
Ph.D. Cand., Dallas Theological Seminary
Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament, Calvary Bible College
and Theological Seminary
Professor of Theology, Calvary Theological Seminary
In the twenty-first century, dispensationalism faces challenges from two opposing poles within evangelicalism. At one extreme are scholars who find it unbiblical, such as Karlberg:
Covenant theology is guided by the principle of sola Scriptura. The Scriptures are self-interpreting: this is what is meant by the Reformational principle of the analogy of Scripture. Taking their cue from the NT’s use of the OT, covenant theologians formulate their theological method in terms of the biblical pattern of promise and fulfillment. On the other hand, the dispensational hermeneutic, it seems to me, imposes an a priori definition of “literalness” upon the meaning and interpretation of Scripture.1
At the other extreme are laymen who enjoy its eschatology—especially in fictionalized form—but otherwise find it irrelevant. By applying a consistent, literal hermeneutic, this article addresses both extremes. It uses the Bible’s own teaching about the Sabbath to show that dispensationalism is both biblical and practical.
Abolition of the Sabbath: Dispensationalism as Biblical
Dispensationalism is defined, at least in part, by its “literal” hermeneutic. Indeed, Ryrie considers the literal, or “normal,” hermeneutic crucial to the dispensational system, part of its sine qua non.2 Literal interpretation does not involve any voodoo or complicated machinations. One simply interprets Scripture as any other written text, taking it at face value within its context. Approached this way, Sabbath passages lead inevitably to the conclusion that the Old Testament command to keep the Sabbath does not apply to the New
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Testament church. Even some covenant theologians come to this conclusion.3 The implications of this fact, however, cannot be reconciled with the covenant position.
The Abolition of the Sabbath
In the New Testament, the legal requirement to keep Sabbath is abolished. While individual Christians are allowed to keep Sabbath, the practice is never imposed on the church. Two major Pauline passages prove this. The first is Galatians 4:10–11: “You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”4 Some argue that Paul was referring to non-Jewish festivals,5 whereas others to a syncretistic mixture of Jewish and pagan celebrations.6 After weighing the merits of these explanations, however, De Lacey concluded, “Paul viewed any attempt to impose Sabbath keeping (or indeed the keeping of any of the regular festivals of the Jewish or astrological calendars) upon Gentiles as wrong, and any tendency on the part of converts to submit to this coercion as a retrograde step.”7
The second passage, Romans 14:5, indicates that the keeping of Sabbath is a matter of personal conscience for the believers at Rome, not a legal requirement8 : “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Stifler remarked, “It is impossible to say that this general language does not include the Sabbath.”9 Colossians 2:16–17 apparently makes the same point, but exegetical issues render the matter less certain.10 Law is mandatory, not optional. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath is a matter of law. Failure to keep it brings capital punishment
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(Exod 31:14–15; 35:2).11 In the New Testament, however, keeping Sabbath is optional; breaking it brings no negative consequences. If the Sabbath is no longer mandatory, the Sabbath is no longer law. The conclusion is inescapable.
Despite this evidence, many Christians still call Sunday the Sabbath, the “Christian” Sabbath, and consider their worship a fulfillment of the fourth commandment. This position is formalized in the Westminster Confession of Faith (21.7):
[God] hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.
In keeping with this understanding, Hendriksen argued that Romans 14:5 refers to the Jewish Sabbath, not to the Christian Sabbath, which is still governed by the fourth commandment:
Since the New Testament does indeed ascribe very special significance to the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10), it is indeed very doubtful that the apostle would have expressed himself in such moderate terms if the “weak” members of Rome’s church had been indifferent about setting this day apart from all the others (as far as practical in those days) as a day of rest and worship.12
Even taken together, however, Hendriksen’s nine passages cannot support the weight of his conclusion. The first six (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19) only report that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, a day the Synoptic gospels explicitly distinguish from the Sabbath (Matt 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56). The rest probably do refer to Lord’s Day worship, but none identify it as a Christian Sabbath or treat it as divinely mandated.13 The
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texts show only that first-century Christians met on Sunday, not that they believed that the fourth commandment required them to do so.
Thus, taken at face value, Scripture testifies that the commandment to keep the Sabbath is no longer binding as law. This conclusion fully accords with the long-term claims of dispensationalists, such as Charles L. Feinberg. “A study of the period from the death of Christ and the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost till the rapture of the church reveals most unmistakably that the Sabbath has been abolished.”14 Dispensationalists, however, are not the only ones to see it this way. Speaking for a consortium of seven, non-dispensational scholars, D. A. Carson comes to essentially the same conclusion: “We are not persuaded that the New Testament unambiguously develops a ‘transfer theology,’ according to which the Sabbath moves from the seventh day to the first day of the week.”15
Implications of Abolition
When compared with the testimony of other Scripture, the abolition of the Sabbath brings three further facts to light: (1) that the church and Israel are distinct entities; (2) that the Mosaic code in its entirety has been abolished; and, (3) that the Jews have a future role in God’s plan. Deductive logic evokes these implications, but the testimony of Scripture validates each of them.
Distinction of Church and Israel
The logic behind the first implication is taught in Algebra I: things not equal to the same thing are not equal to each other. If Sabbath observance is a distinguishing mark of Israel but not of the church, the church cannot be Israel.
The Sabbath and Israel. In Scripture, the Sabbath is unique to Israel. The command is given only to Israel and is contextually linked to the exodus from Egypt, an event affecting only Israel: “You were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). As part of the Decalogue, the Sabbath is at the core of the Lord’s covenant with Israel at Sinai: “And he declared unto you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, even ten commandments;
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and he wrote them upon two tables of stone” (Deut 4:10, cf. Eph 2:12).16 Indeed, it is the sign of the special relationship established by that covenant: “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Exod 31:13, cf. Ezek 20:12, 20). In Israel, keeping the Sabbath was more than an act of worship; it was a manifestation of loyalty. Breaking the Sabbath was tantamount to treason, a capital offense (Exod 31:14–15; Numb 15:32–35).
The Sabbath and Mankind. Scripture is clear: the Sabbath belongs to Israel. Nonetheless, most covenant theologians insist that the Sabbath was instituted at creation. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith (21.7), it was imposed on all men:
As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week [emphasis added].
Not all covenant proponents are willing to go that far. Karlberg, for example, acknowledged that elements of the statement “are at variance with the teaching of Scripture,” insisting that the Sabbath is for all time, but not for all men:
Although the sabbath ordinance is a binding obligation upon the people of God in all ages, the manner of observance changes over the course of covenant history, most notably between the Mosaic and New Covenants. Contrary to the teaching of the Confession, the sabbath as sign of God’s covenant is not binding on nonbelievers, simply because they are not recipients of the covenant-sign.17
Thus, the covenant belief is that the Lord established the Sabbath commandment when he sanctified the seventh day in Genesis 2:2–3.18 The facts
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of the passage, however, do not require this conclusion. Genesis 2 does report that God rested (or “ceased”); it does not command that man (in whole or in part) practice such a rest. Furthermore, if the Sabbath did begin in Eden, why is it not even mentioned again until Exodus 16? Arguments from silence are often weak, but as Feinberg demonstrated, this silence is deafening:
If the Sabbath did exist, then it is more than passing strange that, although we find accounts of the religious life and worship of the patriarchs, in which accounts mention is specifically made to the rite of circumcision, the sacrifices, the offering of the tithe, and the institution of marriage, we should find no mention of the great institution of the Sabbath.19
Proponents also argue that the fourth commandment itself asserts jurisdiction over more than just Jews. At first glance, this does seem correct: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Exod 20:10, cf. Deut 5:14). The male and female servants here might be Hebrews, but the “stranger” clearly is not. The Hebrew term ???? (g?r) refers to a foreigner, a resident alien. Thus, the Sabbath commandment does govern more than Jews. It does not, however, govern more than Israel. The alien is one that resides “within your gates,” that is, in the cities of Israel. Pre-exilic Israel was a theocracy, and its law applied to the nation, not just to its Jewish or believing population. The alien had to observe the Sabbath while living in Israel for the same reason that an American motorist has to drive on the left while living in England—even though English traffic laws are not binding in the United States. Similarly, Sabbath law did not govern those outside of Israel, but it did govern all within it, even resident aliens.
Implication. The Sabbath then is distinctively Israelite, the sign of its covenant relationship with the Lord. As previously shown, however, it is not continued in the church which means that Israel and the church are different entities. This idea is fundamental to dispensationalism, but note its source. This conclusion is not imposed by the theological system; it flows naturally from the text of Scripture. It is beyond the scope of this study to offer detailed proof, but two examples should suffice.20 The most notable is 1 Corinthians 10:32: “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God.” According to this text, Israel and the church are as distinct as Israel and the Gentiles. The rest of the New Testament maintains the same distinction. Thus,
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the book of Revelation specifically refers to the church twenty times in chapters 1–3, a portion addressed to the churches of Asia Minor, but not once in chapters 4–21, which portray the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies given to Israel.21
Abolition of the Mosaic Law
The abolition of the Sabbath implies a second thing: that all of the commandments of the Mosaic code are now nullified. Here again, the logic is easy to follow, and the Scriptural support is overwhelming.
Theological Explanation. Many scholars divide the Mosaic code into three parts: the ceremonial law, the civil (or social) law, and the moral law. The ceremonial law deals with ritual worship; the civil, with the administration of justice in the nation; and the moral, with timeless ethical principles. According to this reckoning, the ceremonial and civil portions of the law have been abrogated,22 but the moral law, and specifically the Ten Commandments, remains in effect. For example, Hodge argued, “the precepts of the decalogue bind the Church in all ages; while the specific details contained in the books of Moses, designed to point out the way in which the duty they enjoined was then to be performed, are no longer in force.”23
Old Testament Evidence. The tripartite division proves theologically useful to some since it suggests how the law can be both abrogated and binding at the same time. The problem is that the Old Testament itself suggests no such classification. The law makes no such distinction when arranging its commands. Everyone agrees that Leviticus 19:18 states a universally applicable moral principle: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the
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children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” The very next verse, however, is ceremonial and would thus be limited to Old Testament Israel: “You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your seed with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.” Nothing in these verses or the surrounding context suggests that Israel saw them as qualitatively different. Indeed, why should the first be binding on the church but not the second?
Furthermore, the law makes no such distinction when encouraging readers to heed its commands. The same motivational clauses appear with commands of all three classes. In Leviticus, for example, the Lord repeatedly commanded His people to “be holy; for I am holy” (Lev 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). In the context, however, being holy involves obeying commands from all three categories of law. To be holy, the Jew had to limit his diet (11:41–45), a ceremonial command.24 He also had to leave the corners of his field for gleaners (19:9–10), which was a civil command, and to revere his parents (19:2–3), which was a moral command. All three are motivated by the same comment: “I am the Lord.”
Finally, the law made no such distinction when assigning penalties for violators. The same punishment applies to the different classes of law. The death penalty is attached just as readily to Nadab and Abihu’s failure to follow proper ritual procedure (10:1–7) as to sexual immorality (20:8–16).
New Testament Evidence. The New Testament also regards the law as a unified whole. Paul, for example, testified to “every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law” (Gal 5:3). Similarly, James insisted, “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas 2:10). Kaiser, however, disagreed, arguing that Christ’s distinction between “weightier” and “lighter” things of the law (Matt 23:23) justifies the categories.25 Kaiser’s argument is appealing at first glance,
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but it fundamentally misunderstands what Christ meant. Dorsey, a non-dispensationalist, clarified the matter:
Jesus, in agreement with the OT writers (cf. Deut 10:12; 1 Sam 15:22–23; Isa 1:11ff; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21–24; Mic 6:6–8; etc.), is simply arguing that the overarching principles and purposes of the corpus as a whole, as well as the underlying principles and purposes of each individual law (of whatever category), are more important (“weightier”) than the minor verbal details in the wording of specific regulations and the accompanying minutiae of oral traditions.26
Matthew 5:19 shows that whatever He did mean by these terms, Jesus clearly did not mean that certain laws are more significant than others: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, every violation is a major violation. In light of this and other evidence, scholars of all theological persuasion reject the tripartite division of the law.27
Implication. Consider the implication of all this. If the Sabbath law is nullified, then all the law is nullified. As one of the Ten Commandments, Sabbath keeping is usually considered part of the moral law. Certainly, that is how Warfield understood it: “I am to speak to you today, not of the usefulness or of the blessedness of the Sabbath, but of its obligation. And I am to speak to you of its obligation, not as that obligation naturally arises out of its usefulness or blessedness, but as it is immediately imposed by God in his Word.”28 If the Sabbath—one of the Ten Commandments—is no longer binding, how can any part of the law still be in effect?
As in the previous case, this idea is more than a logical conclusion; it is the clear and direct teaching of Scripture:
But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of
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condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious (2 Cor 3:7–11).
In 2 Corinthians 3:7 and 11, the New King James Version translates καταργ?ω as “passing away.” The Greek term refers to that which has been done away with or abolished. The New Revised Standard Version makes the sense even clearer: “set aside.” Thus, the law with its glory is set aside—not just the law, but the portion specific “written and engraved on stones.” Ryrie noted the significance of this phrase:
The only part of the Mosaic law which was written in stones was the Ten Commandments — that category which some designate as the moral part of the law. Thus, this passage says that the Ten Commandments are a ministration of death; and furthermore, the same passage declares in no uncertain terms that they are done away (vs. 11). Language could not be clearer, and yet there are fewer truths of which it is harder to convince people.29
A Future for Israel
The end of the law leads to one more implication: God is not finished with Israel as a people. In both the Old and New Testaments, prophecy shows that the Sabbath law has a future. If the Sabbath, a peculiarly Israelite institution, has a future, then Israel must also have a future.30
Sabbath in the Future. Though abolished at this time, the Sabbath has a future. References to that future occur in Isaiah 66:23 and Matthew 24:20, but the most complete information comes from Ezekiel 36—46. In these chapters, the Lord promised the Babylonian exiles that He would ultimately bring in a new and permanent order for Israel. When He would gather Israel and Judah from captivity, He will retrieve each and every person (36:24; cf. 39:28), reunify the two nations of Israel and Judah (37:21–22) under the authority of a Davidic king (37:24–25), and reestablish them in their land (36:8–12, 33). At that time, He will give them a new heart (36:26) and place His own Spirit in them (36:27; 37:11–14; 39:29), so that they become His people, and He becomes their God (36:28; 37:23, 27; 39:22, 28). As part of this deliverance, the Lord will destroy the army of Gog in a conflict so great that it will take seven months to bury the dead (39:12). A huge, new Temple will be built (40–44), a Temple far greater and glorious than that built by Zerubbabel (cf. Hag 2:3).
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In this new Temple, the Lord will dwell, and from it, He will reign forever among His people Israel (43:7). None of these things have happened yet; the fulfillment must be in the future.
As part of the Lord’s instructions for worship in the new order, Ezekiel 44–46 makes six references to Sabbath observance. First, the priests are to sanctify the Sabbath (44:24). Second, each Sabbath, the prince is to offer sacrifices (45:15). Third, the eastern gate of the Temple’s inner court will be kept shut during the week, but on the Sabbath, it is to be opened (46:1). Fourth, on the Sabbath, the people are to worship (46:3). Fifth, it is at the eastern gate that the prince is to offer his Sabbath offering of six spotless lambs and a ram (46:4). Sixth, any voluntary offerings brought by the prince at other times are to be prepared according to the pattern of those for the Sabbath (46:12). In each and every case, the Sabbath is treated as a literal day of worship and rest.
Ezekiel 36-–46 creates problems for amillennialists, who try to explain it as figurative of the new covenant relationship that has existed since the resurrection of Christ. Clowney’s explanation of Ezekiel’s Temple is a good example. He denied that spiritualized the text; nevertheless, he insistd that Ezekiel’s Temple is a reference to the incarnate Christ.
This is not spiritualization in our usual sense of the word, but the very opposite. In Christ is realization. It is not so much that Christ fulfills what the temple means; rather Christ is the meaning for which the temple existed. As the symbolic language of the temple cultus continues to be used for Christ and for the heavenly temple of his eternal ministry, we know that our understanding is being drawn from earthly things to heavenly, from the creature to the Creator.31
If Ezekiel’s Temple refers figuratively to Christ, what is the interpreter to do with all the details associated with it? Why does the text spend three chapters just measuring every part of this imaginary structure? And what about the rituals, including the Sabbath, which are prescribed? How do they fit the “realization”? How much simpler and more natural it is to understand Ezekiel as describing an actual building!
Implication. The Lord has promised a new order, but it has not come. Why not? Since the Scriptures cannot err, there are only three possible explanations: (1) the promised new order is fulfilled spiritually in the church, which functions as the New Israel; (2) the promised new order has been forfeited by Israel, and so will never come; or, (3) the promised new order will yet be fulfilled in the future.
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As already demonstrated, the church is not Israel. The abrogation of Sabbath law testifies to this fact. Thus, Scripture negates the first possibility. The second runs afoul of the specific emphasis of Ezekiel 36–46. These chapters condition everything on the Lord, nothing on Israel. Israel is the beneficiary, but the focus is on what the Lord does and why.
Throughout the passage, it is the Lord alone who acts, performing what He has spoken (36:36; 37:14). Israel, in contrast, is as dead and helpless as scattered dry bones. It is the Lord who raises them, restores them, and puts his Spirit within them (37:1–14). He even accepts responsibility for making them righteous, promising to “put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (36:27). Two verses later, he added, “I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.” After such dogmatic assertions, it is hard to imagine an implied condition: “I will do all this—provided, of course that you do not stop me by rebelling.” Indeed, how can a condition be attached to a promise such as Ezekiel 39:29: “‘I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says the Lord God”?
If the Lord’s works suggest that the promise is unconditional, the motives that generate them are even more convincing. The Lord does not act because of compassion for Israel here, but because of concern for His own holy name: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went” (36:22; cf. 36:21, 32; 39:25). In all that He promises to do, the Lord has but one objective: that all men might know that he is the Lord, all Israelites (36:11, 38; 37:13–14; 39:22, 28) and all Gentiles (36:23, 36; 37:28; 38:23; 39:6–7). If, however, the promise is conditional, how does it vindicate the name of the Lord? How will the nations know that He is the Lord if He does not perform what He has spoken? Thus, the only viable explanation is that the new order is still future. If that is correct, then Israel must have a future.
Conclusions Regarding Dispensationalism as Biblical
The preceding analysis dissected the Sabbath question biblically, examining the pertinent texts and interpreting them at face value. It validated its findings by comparing them with the teaching of other Scripture. By this means, it uncovered three specific insights: (1) the church is not New Testament Israel; (2) the entire Mosaic Code is no longer binding as law; and, (3) Israel has a role to play in the future. Each is a distinctive aspect of the system.32 All three are
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clearly biblical. Thus, contrary to the pronouncements of some, there is nothing “unbiblical” about dispensationalism. In this case at least, its teachings are derived inductively from the text, not artificially imposed upon it. In short: dispensationalism is biblical.
Application of the Sabbath: Dispensationalism as Practical
Everything based on Scripture is inherently useful, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Therefore, to be valid, the dispensational approach must show how the New Testament saint profits from the Old Testament commandment. The remainder of this article attempts to do just that.
Traditional Approaches to Application
As already demonstrated, most covenant theologians distinguish moral from non-moral laws.33 This classification dictates their application. Moral laws, such as the Sabbath, are applied as law, just as they were in the Old Testament. They do make minor adjustments to account for different times and circumstances, but as Hays explained, these adjustments raise another problem: If changed, is it still the same law?34
Although many Christians claim that the Sabbath law is a moral law, practically none of them obey it. Going to church on Sunday, the first day of the week, can hardly be called obedience to the Sabbath law. Moses would not have accepted the first day of the week as a substitute for the seventh day. Also obeying the Sabbath regulations was much more involved than mere
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church attendance. In the Book of Numbers a man was executed for gathering wood on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32–36).35
Conversely, non-moral laws are generically explained as foreshadowing some New Testament “realization.” Otherwise, they are ignored as no longer applicable.36 This also creates a problem: Is the interpreter free to ignore large portions of inspired text? This is particularly troubling since it contradicts New Testament use of the Old. Consider Dorsey’s summary of Paul’s approach of Paul.
Paul holds the corpus in such high esteem that his inner being delights in it. Most significantly for the present inquiry, he maintains that the individual laws (speaking specifically of the law dealing with muzzling the ox; Deut 25:4) were given “for us” and are written “for us” (1 Cor 9:8–10). In no instance does he imply that only a particular category of laws possesses such high value.37
To state things briefly, the traditional, moral—non-moral, approach runs a double risk: On the one hand it may add to the Scripture and on the other, subtract from it. Failure at either extreme brings dire consequences (cf. Rev 22:18–19).
Unfortunately, many dispensationalists follow the traditional approach without considering its theological implications. Others, in their zeal to defend their system, go even further, ignoring the law altogether, describing it only in negative terms,38 or refusing to apply any command not explicitly repeated in the New Testament.39 While intended to prevent legalism, this approach tends
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to sidestep sanctification altogether either by stimulating antinomianism, a condition just as foreign to grace as legalism (Rom 6:1–14); or, in an exquisite irony, by producing its own kind of legalism where believers measure spirituality by the degree of liberty they allow themselves. Whatever its motive or effect, this approach tends to treat the Mosaic code not just as terminated law, but as expired Scripture, inspired texts with no message for the current dispensation.
“Principlism” as an Approach to Application
How then should a New Testament saint apply the Old Testament law? In keeping with the dispensationalist’s commitment to a consistent hermeneutic, Hays 40 suggested that the proper approach must meet five criteria:
It should be an approach that (a) is consistent, treating the Old Testament Scripture as God&r
Hi Brother Grant,
I don’t know if I should but in here, but here are some high-lite notes I haven taken on the subject of the Sabbath…hopefully I have my facts straight. This was really an involved conversation.
The Sabbath was given to Israel, not the church. The Sabbath is still Saturday, not Sunday, and has never been changed. But the Sabbath is part of the Old Testament Law, and Christians are free from the bondage of the Law (Galatians 4:1-26; Romans 6:14). Sabbath keeping is not required of the Christian—be it Saturday or Sunday. The first day of the week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10) celebrates the New Creation, with Christ as our resurrected Head. We are not obligated to follow the Mosaic Sabbath—resting, but are now free to follow the risen Christ—serving. The Apostle Paul said that each individual Christian should decide whether to observe a Sabbath rest, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). We are to worship God every day, not just on Saturday or Sunday.
Don, that is a good summary of biblical teaching on the Sabbath.