The Sabbath, The Church, and the 21st Century: Modern Views of the Sabbath (Part 2)

MODERN VIEWS OF THE SABBATH

In modern times there have been three popular views concerning the Sabbath. The Seventh-Day Sabbath observer holds to the idea that the Lord’s rest in the Creation narrative points to the reality that God’s people will rest on the seventh day as well.[1] The “Lord’s Day” observer believes that the Sabbath is a moral law and should be obeyed, though Jesus’s resurrection has caused the day to be moved to Sunday.[2] The third most prominent view relating to the issue of the Sabbath, would hold to the belief that the Sabbath day is being fulfilled in Christ and not binding on the Christian.[3]

The most fundamental issue concerning the observance of a Christian Sabbath is whether or not the institution of the Sabbath is rooted in Creation. The first mention of the Sabbath does not occur until Exodus 16:23. However, many Christians believe that the Sabbath was actually instituted on the seventh day of the Creation narrative found in Genesis 2. Scripture clearly teaches that there is a connection between the seventh day of Creation and the Sabbath. It is imperative to understand how critical it is for a Sabbath observer to hold to the position that the Sabbath is rooted in Creation. As Sabbath observers follow this idea, they conclude that the Sabbath is a practice that they should continue to obey even while under the New Covenant. If the Sabbath is not rooted in Creation and is simply established during the handing down of the Mosaic Law, then the argument that the Sabbath is binding on New Covenant believers is severely weakened.

The Seventh Day View

In the book Perspectives on The Sabbath: Four Views, Skip MacCarty presents the Seventh-Day position. MacCarty believes that God’s rest on the seventh day served as an example for humanity. According to him, humans are to imitate God in his Sabbath rest the same way they are to imitate him in many other areas. He believes that even though there is no explicit command in Genesis 2 for humans to obey, it is still implied as man seeks to emulate his creator.[4] MacCarty notes that the seventh day recorded in Genesis 2 is the only day out of the seven that does not conclude with, “And there was evening and there was morning…” MacCarty takes this to mean that the Sabbath Day is a day that should be observed by man perpetually.[5]

Another important text for Seventh Day Sabbath observers is Exodus 20:8-11. Seventh Day Sabbath observers see direct and complete continuity between the Old Testament command to keep the Sabbath and New Covenant responsibility. The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary states:

This weekly Sabbath is a divine institution given to man by God, the Creator, and its observance is required by God, the Lawgiver. For man, therefore, to withhold any part or all of this holy time is to be guilty of disobedience against God and robbery of God as the original proprietor of man’s powers and of his time. As an institution of God’s appointing, the Sabbath deserves honor and esteem. Neglect to render this, God counts a sin.”[6]

As this commentary makes clear, according to Seventh-Day observers, specifically Adventists in this case, assert that failure to keep the Sabbath is a sin before God. At this point, the nature of law fulfillment becomes extremely critical in understanding the role of the Sabbath in the Christian church.

The critical New Testament text that seventh-day adherents look to is Hebrews 4:9 which says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God…” They interpret this text to mean that the Sabbath is still to be practiced by Christians. This is made clear by MacCarty when he states, “In Hebrews 4:9 the author left no doubt as to what he intended to say, that in the NT/new-covenant historical era a sabbatismos (Sabbath observance) remains for the people of God.”[7]

Lord’s Day View

Both the Seventh Day Sabbath adherents and the Lord’s day adherents believe that the law of the Sabbath is binding on Christians. As mentioned previously, the primary argument for Sabbath observance is that it is a creation ordinance. Lord’s Day observer Joseph A. Pipa states:

We begin seeking to discover God’s intention for the Sabbath by turning to its institution in Gen 2:1-3. Along with work (Gen 1:28; 2:15) and marriage (Gen 2:18-25), God instituted the Sabbath to govern the lives of all mankind. Just as the ordinances of work and marriage are permanent, so is the ordinance of the Sabbath.[8]

Therefore, according to Pipa, as long as Christians practice marriage and vocation, they should also keep the Sabbath. As far as perspectives on the Sabbath are concerned, both Seventh Day and Lord’s Day Sabbath observers share the same overall hermeneutic. The difference between the two views is what day the Sabbath is practiced on. The Westminster Confession of faith states:

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 has 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.[9]

The moral nature of the Sabbath is very important to those who hold to a Lord’s Day Sabbath. Walter Chantry believes that the moral downfall of the western world is directly related to the neglect of the Sabbath. If there is to be any sort of Christian renewal in America, Chantry believes that it must first begin with a faithful practice of the Sabbath law. Chantry states, “Failure to practice this moral law is a root cause of moral decline, social disorder, and widespread human suffering. No successful recovery of mankind can be devised without the inclusion of the fourth commandment in the remedy.”[10] Both Seventh Day Sabbath observers and Lord’s Day Sabbath observers believe that the Sabbath is to be practiced until the millennium.

Fulfillment In Christ View

In the book Perspectives On The Sabbath: 4 Views, Craig L. Blomberg presents the case for the fulfillment view. The fulfillment view looks at all of the laws of the New Testament and asserts that they have all been fulfilled in Christ. All three views agree with this reality but interpret its ramifications differently. For Blomberg, this means that the fulfillment of the Sabbath is found in the fact that Christians now rest in Christ. In this view, Hebrews 4 does not teach that Christians should continue practicing the Sabbath. Rather, Hebrews 4 teaches that the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in the eternal rest of Christ that is gifted to believers.[11] This point is articulated well by A. T. Lincoln:

Thus the true Sabbath, which has come with Christ, is not literal, physical rest but is seen as consisting in the salvation that God has provided… It includes the good news of deliverance, liberation and forgiveness brought by the mighty works and preaching of Jesus, release from the burden of the law, the fulfillment of the divine rest of Genesis 2:2, 3, which was intended for humanity to share, and that salvation rest as a present heavenly realityentered by the believing and ceasing from one’s own works. In short, the physical rest of the Old Testament Sabbath has become salvation rest of the true Sabbath.[12]

A brief Analysis of the three Views

As views of the Sabbath are considered, one of the most critical issues to deal with is the nature of Genesis 2:1-3. Before Christological fulfillment pertaining to the Sabbath can be considered, the issue of whether or not the Sabbath is rooted in creation must be discussed. Those who argue for some kind of Sabbath keeping, will be hard pressed to prove their case if they cannot first prove that the Sabbath ordinance is rooted in Creation. Both Seventh Day and Lord’s Day Sabbath observers believe that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance like marriage. If this is true, then it will be very difficult to assert that the Sabbath should not continue to be observed.

There is a clear objection to the view that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. The objection is simply this, “if the Sabbath is a creation ordinance like marriage and work, then why is the Sabbath not universally practiced by man like the other two ordinances?” Pipa is correct when he makes the claim that both marriage and work are creation ordinances for both Jews and Gentiles have universally practiced both of these ordinances since the beginning of creation. The Sabbath, however, has only been practiced by Israelites and only since the Mosaic laws were past down.

Christians must understand how the bible narrative unfolds in order to understand the role of the Sabbath within the greater meta-narrative of scripture. Man began this story of Scripture as a glorious creation made in the image of God. He was more glorious than the other creatures God had made because God was willing to condescend and make covenant with man. God provided man with good gifts such as the role of being the vice-regent over creation as well as marriage. Man was at peace with God and as God looked over his creation and was pleased, he rested, or more accurately, ceased from his work. Man rebelled against God and in so doing severed any relationship of rest between him and his Creator. The rest that man once knew was replaced by a restlessness as he sought to till the ground and subject a chaotic creation back under his dominion. Over time, God gave man the privilege of calling him by a covenant name, Yahweh. As an act of grace, Yahweh also chose to give man a full day where he would not have to work but could rather devote himself to striving after a relationship with his estranged Creator. God called this day a Sabbath and consecrated it as a gift and act of grace towards man. It would be but a shadow of the rest man once knew, but it was still an act of grace nonetheless. More significantly, this hallowed day would be an image for man of what he once had and what through covenant and redemption, God would give back to him. The initial fulfillment of this is seen in Jesus’ “high priestly prayer”. The consummation of the great rest of God for his people is found in the conclusion of Revelation as the picture of rest and peace is promised for those who are in Christ. Thom Shcreiner catches the vision of rest fulfillment very well as he states, “The promised new creation will become a reality at the coming of Jesus Christ. God’s covenantal promises will then be fulfilled, and the groaning of the old creation will end when the new world dawns with its stunning beauty.”[13]


In my next article, I will present several of the key passages that deal with the Sabbath and I will work through them exegetically verse by verse. Expect a more thorough analysis on actual biblical texts.


You can follow me on Twitter @KyleJamesHoward. Also, check out my podcast “Coram Deo Podcast” which focuses on issues concerning Biblical Counseling and Practical Theology. You can search for podcast on any major podcast catcher, listen on the web here, follow updates @CoramDeoPodcast, or just click the artwork below.


[1] Charles P. Arand, Perspectives On the Sabbath: 4 Views, ed. Christopher John Donato (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2011), 66.

[2] Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1996), 111.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Perspectives On the Sabbath: 4 Views, ed. Christopher John Donato (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2011), 348-349.

27 Charles P. Arand, Perspectives On the Sabbath: 4 Views, ed. Christopher John Donato (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2011), 12.

28 Ibid., p. 14.

[6] Francis D. Nichol, The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 1: General Articles On the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Supplementary Material (Washington, D.C., Review And Herald Publishing Association, 1953), 221.

[7] Charles P. Arand, Perspectives On the Sabbath: 4 Views (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2011), 26.

[8] Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1996), 27.

[9] John Macpherson The Westminster Confession of Faith. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, Chapter 21, Article 7.

[10] Walter J. Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1991), 12.

[11] Charles P. Arand, Perspectives On the Sabbath: 4 Views, ed. Christopher John Donato (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2011), 350-351.

[12] D. A. Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: a Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation (Collegeville, MN: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2000), 21.

[13] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), 864.

About Kyle James Howard

My name is Kyle, I am married to my “high-school sweetheart” and we have 3 children. I have a 7 year-old daughter (Hadassah), a 2 year-old son (Jonah), and 1 year old (Kesed). I am 32 years old and I am currently a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have an Associates degree in Biblical & Theological Studies, A B.S. in Biblical Counseling, and I am finishing up an Advanced M. Div in Historical Theology. Click on the "About Me" link at the top of my home page to read my full testimony.

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