Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Sabbath in the New Testament

Somewhere along the line, Christians the world over have been led to believe that the Sabbath commandment is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament. I am not sure where this idea originated, but I am very intrigued by it. One need only do a quick Google search to realize this widespread concept being promulgated. See here and here as examples. (This is not to mention scores of other scholarly commentaries that propose this idea as well.)

But there is a huge problem with this. Simply put, it is completely untrue. In fact, quite the opposite is true - the Sabbath commandment is affirmed and repeated probably more than any other one of the Ten Commandments.

Furthermore, here are some other challenges to this supposed vacuum of support for the Sabbath commandment.

1. What one means by "repeating" a commandment seems rather arbitrary. In fact, when I read these various people and notice their evidence for the other nine, the "repeating" of the command seems rather liberal. Notice, for example, one of the evidences for the first commandment ("no other gods before me"). Exhibit A for these people is Acts 14:15, where Paul and Barnabas say, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God." While I recognize that this alludes to the first commandment, how, exactly does this "repeat" it?

And this is the case over and over again for the supposed evidence. The interpretation of what constitutes a "repeating" of the commandment is very loose.

Even by their own standards, when Jesus talks about Him being the "Lord of the Sabbath," (see Luke 6:5) wouldn't this be a repeating of the Sabbath commandment?

2. Though I have not done an exhaustive study on the subject, it is rather ironic that the Sabbath commandment seems to be the only one of the the commandments from the first part of the decalogue that is actually and literally "repeated" in the New Testament. It is even more ironic that the above passage (Acts 14:15), which is utilized to prove the first commandment, is actually an incredible endorsement for the importance of the fourth commandment. And, in fact, Paul and Barnabas quote part of the fourth commandment word for word! Notice: "We . . . preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them." The italicized part is a word-for-word quote from the Greek version of the Sabbath commandment.

Peter and John also utilize this exact same quote in Acts 4:24 and John repeats a part of it in the first angel's message of Revelation 14:6-7.

Talk about repeating the Sabbath commandment!

And yet, we are led to believe by so many well-meaning Christians that the Sabbath commandment is the only one of the ten that is not repeated - all the while it is repeatedly repeated!

9 comments:

Peter Wannemacher said...

Well said. Thank you.

Andrey said...

Shawn,

I think that people in a way reject Sabbath, along with the OT law in many cases because they believe that it was made by an angry and demanding God. And then, nice and tender Jesus came and did us all a favor and gave us Sunday instead, which is a lot less demanding.

This was actually my mentality at one point of time. God is not a God that is described in 1st corinthians 13:

God is not patient, God is not kind and is jealous; God does brag and is arrogant, and acts unbecomingly; God seek His own, is easily provoked, and takes into account a wrong suffered, God rejoices in unrighteousness, does not bear all things, Does not trust, does not hope, and does not persevere.


Sometimes I wish I would take all of those evangelism scripts that I've recited as young Christian, quoting Bible verses as though they have some kind of magic impact on unbelievers mind... and I wish that I merely and simply explained people God's love... and read them 1st Cor 13, and told then that it describes God, not just Christ.

We tend to misrepresent God to people, and they grow distrustful. Other day, in a Bible study, I've asked "Who did Jesus pay the debt to?"... and there was an uncomfortable silence. People wanted to say "To God", because that's what they are taught... but they are not willing to say it because they know it's an inconsistent view of God.

I believe that it's for that reason they are ashamed of the Gospel. They literally ashamed of the script they are taught, because we do approach it backwards. We approach it from the perspective of judgment... not love. We have to make people feel uncomfortable, instead of letting them realize it on their own once we describe what God is like.

And that's the true evangelism... to describe for people what God is really like. That's the Gospel... the reason that they should "fear God" is not because they are scared of Hell or punishment, but because they understand what love is.

So, if there're problems in your church... if people are not giving enough, if people are taking the law loosely, if people are judgmental, if people are not participating, if people don't believe that Sabbath is real, if people are criticizing what you are doing... don't come down on them with "Bible says so"... TELL THEM ABOUT GOD'S LOVE. That's the engine that keeps things running and transforming our minds.

That's what we are here to teach people... not merely argue and defend theological bullet points.

Shawn Brace said...

I mostly agree with what you say, Andrey, except for a few things. Most conservative Christians (be they Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.) wholeheartedly embrace the Ten Commandments - with the exception of the fourth commandment. So, on the one hand, they don't seem to have a problem with the OT God, but on the other hand they think the Sabbath commandment has been done away with.

I also agree that the most important thing to emphasize is God's character and His love. I try to do that on my blog, my preaching, my writing. But such a pursuit should not preclude a person from talking about the "finer points of theology" as well - including this whole discussion I have presented. If I were to present this topic more fully, of course I would bathe it within the context of the Gospel, etc. But this was just some quick thoughts that I did not take time to fully develop (because time did/does not allow).

Thanks again for your feedback.

Andrey said...

Shawn,

I don't dismiss the ignorance of the Sabbath issue. This issue really is not something new. And I guess that my comment is out of context of the post somewhat.

My comment is on the approach that many of us take when we share the Sabbath truth to other people... and I do believe that it does directly stems from the attitude towards OT God. These people may seem to be OK with OT God on the surface, but their core view does get better of them.

It's not merely the Sabbath that they have problem with. If that would be the case, then they would join us in a heartbeat. Their problem is the issue of tradition. Tradition is in fact behind it, and the tradition end up injecting itself between them and reason. So, by resorting to Biblical argument of the Sabbath truth, we merely resort to "proof texing it"... i.e. supporting it based on selected sentences that support our view. Then, they do exactly the same and on and on it goes.


I'm not merely pointing to your blog and say that you don't explain enough or don't approach it with love in context. I know you can, and I'm sure you do.

You do correctly point out that Christian fundomentalism has no problems with rules. They tend to go overboard at times with tradition. And yet, paradoxically, they do have problem with Sabbath.

I really do believe that it stems from their view of God, which they then support by "proof texts". They don't see the whole picture, and they refuse to see it because of their preconceived view of God.

When one hates the law, they will find in the Bible that God abolished the law. When one thinks that God hates black people, they will find in the Bible that God likewise made blacks to be sub-human. When one thinks that God instituted Sabbath only for Israel as arbitrary reminder, then they'll find it there too. It's all there, and all it takes is to find it and claim it as "truth".

That's why I don't really like when people run and quote the Bible verse or E.G. White passage as a proof that they are correct. It sort of defeats the purpose of both Bible and E.G.White writings. I don't believe that either was meant to be read as broken down sentences for us to stand on.

Imagine carrying a conversation with a person who speaks with quotes of famous people. There's no coherence... and it becomes very annoying. In my Bible classes the professors would make us support everything we say with scripture, and I understand their reason for it, yet it amazes me how little we trust common sense :). Do I really need a proof that murder or theft, or hate is wrong? It can be explained by pointing to common sense. That's why it's called "common sense" because we have a certain basic and common understanding (sense) of the truth.

We can explain everything from perspective of love. That's the way Christ explained it... as all law and the prophets hang on that concept. Yet, when we resort to argument of "Well, God said it here, so it must be true for us in our circumstances"... we empower people to do exactly the same thing. And we teach them to do that from the pulpit. We teach them to be "Bible lemmings", that should seek the deeper meaning in every scripture... and eventually they end up finding the "deeper meaning".

Biblical doctrine is important, yet somehow it takes the such an important precedent in our spiritual life... that I have no idea how people even understood God before the printing press arrived :).

Shawn Brace said...

I hear what you are saying and, again, I agree with much of it. But I run into a problem if I were to model my interactions about the Bible exactly as you have described it. What you speak against (what you call "proof-texting," though I find that phrase kind of pejorative) is what Jesus Himself did. And, of course, the NT authors did as well.

So if I am striving to be Christlike in all things, I, too, will rely upon the scriptures and utilize them to say what they need to say and address any context I may find myself in.

Andrey said...

Yes,

Jesus surely did... in the context of the culture, and the people understood him, and knew exactly what He was quoting from. I don't believe that would be even close to being the case in our culture.

Yet, to those who he knew would not understand, He likewise explained using real world illustrations.

I'm not saying that scripture is irrelevant... but in our cultural context it loses a lot of its meaning for people who had no basic training in Biblical metaphors and idioms. It speaks of events and understanding in cultural context of ancient Middle East. So, we sort of have to explain both the meaning and the context.

Shawn Brace said...

Andrey,

I don't really understand the distinction you are making. The people with whom Jesus was speaking did not really "get" the OT either. These are the same people who were looking for a Messiah to free them from the tyrany of Rome. Though they were from the same culture, they greatly misunderstood the scriptures and many still did not understand them even after Christ explained them.

At the same time, what I am advocating is the quoting of scriptures to those who are already steeped in them - fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. So when I am talking about the Sabbath with a non-Adventist Christian friend of mine, what am I to do? Am I not to go to the scriptures with him/her? Am I supposed to simply appeal to logic and reason - when we may have two different opinions on what constitutes logic and reason? Then it just becomes a battle between my logic and his/her logic. There is no objective criteria by which we can judge which is truth. It is purely subjective in this case.

I understand what you are saying when you posit that it can often become a situation where it is my Bible verse against your Bible verse. This is an unavoidable byproduct of engaging in a theological discussion. But let's not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. And, to quote Christ, "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Our only safeguard is the scriptures, properly understood.

Andrey said...

I do agree with you. I'm not proposing us throwing away the Bible.

I'm saying that we should not "hide behind it" just like we would hide behind a calculator.

We know that calculator is always right. So we input some numbers and get the answer that we trust is right. But, the correctness of the calculator should not revolve around it's infallibility... but the variables put in should also be taken into account.

Thus, I can argue with a person that 10x10 is 110 , while he knows that it's not true. I can punch it into calculator, then turn it around and say "See 110... calculator is always right, so you're wrong", and if we don't see how we are punching the numbers in we can be all arguing up till we blue that calculator is right.

The same with the Bible. You get from it what you "put in it". If you put in hate, you'll find hate. If you put in judgment, you'll find judgment. If you put in love, you'll find love.

And that's my point. We should not use the Bible as a calculator that spits out the right answers. We should use the Bible as means of understanding the story of God's love that points to Christ. That's what it purpose is. Even Christ used it that way.

greenchickadee said...

enjoyed your post Shawn, and the dialog afterward. it struck me as I was reading something that Audrey said ...

"I'm not saying that scripture is irrelevant... but in our cultural context it loses a lot of its meaning for people who had no basic training in Biblical metaphors and idioms."

I think that sadly, it is true. The Bible isn't really relevant to so many people. If you reference a famous Christian author or commentator, then lightbulbs to off, but the basic Bible seems "far away" to so many. How often do we (and I'm speaking in generalized terms not specific to anyone in this post) treasure His word and eat and breath it as it is a treasure.

I'm reading an amazing book called Radical - Taking back your faith from the American dream by David Platt. His concept of Secret Church is beautiful and it is solely based on study of God's precious book. Pick it up if you can. I'd love to hear what you think about it.

I also realize the irony that I just referenced a Christian author for your leisure reading. . . the point is not lost on me. :) But it has changed me and turned my heart towards God's word and the importance of it in my life so deeply!