Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University


A PERSONAL NOTE: This is the third installment of the ongoing Sabbath discussion with Dale Ratzlaff which began few weeks ago on KJSL radio station in St. Louis. In the previous two installments I examined Ratzlaff's basic arguments adduced to support the Mosaic origin of the Sabbath. In the present one I am replying to his response. To make it easier for the reader to follow the discussion, I will first post each of his arguments or statements and then respond to them.

Several ministers of the Worldwide Church of God have complained about what they perceive to be the "unfairness" of the debate, since Ratzlaff is a pastor and I am a professor. They suggest that to be fair I should debate scholars with similar academic preparation. May I reply by saying two things. First, anyone who reads my three volumes on the Sabbath can tell immediately that I have interacted through the years with hundreds of scholars of all persuasions.

Second, I did not initiate this discussion. I was invited by KJSL radio station of St. Louis to respond to Ratzlaff's abrogation view of the Sabbath which he had presented in previous radio programs. Since Ratzlaff's views are influencing many people who heard him on the radio and who read his book THE SABBATH IN CRISIS, I feel a moral obligation to help sincere people to see what I consider to be some fundamental fallacies in Ratzlaff's interpretation of Biblical and historical data.

May I remind the reader that both Ratzlaff and myself view this discussion not as a boxing match in which one of us will eventually knock out the adversary. Rather, we view this discussion as an opportunity to reexamine commonly held views about the Sabbath/Sunday question, in order to help people make a more informed decision on whether to accept or reject the principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping for their lives today. After this preamble, let me proceed to reply to Ratzlaff's arguments.


Ratzlaff wrote:

I believe we are going about this discussion in the wrong way. We cannot (should not) jump from Gen. to Mark to Heb. in one leap seeking to prove or disprove anything so fast. We are not limited in time as we were on the radio debate. If this is going to be a serious RE-study of the Sabbath let us not reach conclusions so fast! Rather, let us look at each new development of Sabbath understanding as it unfolds in Scripture. Let us agree on the data before we seek to reach a conclusion. Let us come to this study, laying aside our preconceived opinions, and seek only to find what Gods Word says. Let us look at ALL the data and THEN reach conclusions.

Let us start with Genesis, agree on what Genesis says about the Sabbath. Then let us go to Sinai, find what the Old Covenant says about the Sabbath. Then, and then only, are we prepared to go to the New Covenant. In each unfolding let us seek to discover all that a given portion says and let us not try to immediately impose upon a section that which we think it means based upon our understanding of other references. This we can and should do at the CONCLUSION of our study and then only after we have agreed on the data step by step.


Bacchiocchi replies:

In theory the methodology you propose makes sense. In fact, in my first post I dealt exclusively with your Genesis-arguments against the creation-orign of the Sabbath. But in my sleep I felt overwhelmed by the fact that we cannot use only Genesis to decide whether Sabbath is a creational or Mosaic institution. To ignore the witness of the rest of Scripture, would mean to follow the senseless methodology of some dispensationalists who read the OT as though the NT had never been written and Jesus had never come. This leads them to believe that God has two people (the Jews and the church), two plans of salvations (the Old and New Covenants), and two eternal destinies, one for the church and the other for the Jews, who will be second class citizens for all eternity. This theological scenario is not only unbiblical, but appalling to say the least. It make God guilty of perpetrating discriminatory practices, not only through human history, but throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. It is unfortunately that have have accepted some aspects of the dispensational theological construct which is contrary to Scripture and reason.

These night reflections caused me to raise up at 4:00 a. m. last Sunday and post a follow up to my first installment by adding the compelling witness of Jesus (Mark 2:27) and Hebrews (4:4) about the creation origin of the Sabbath. I wanted to post this addendum before flying to Seattle for speaking engagements which kept me away most of last week. I make no apology for jumping from Genesis to Jesus and Hebrews, because after all their witness regarding the creation origin of the Sabbath settles the question for anyone who accepts the UNITY of the Bible.

The fact that Christ established the human value of the Sabbath by referring to its very origin, right after the creation of man, proves conclusively that for the Lord the Sabbath was made by God at creation for mankind and not introduced later at the time of Moses for the Jews. If Jesus believed that the Sabbath was a Mosaic ordinance soon to be eclipsed at His death on the Cross, most likely He would have capitalized on the temporary and Mosaic nature of the Sabbath to refute the charges of Sabbathbreaking.

Presumably Christ would have told His accusers that after all "the Sabbath was made for the Jews" as a sign of the Sinai Covenant based on works. Therefore, there was no reason for His followers to be bound by it since they were now living under the New Covenant of grace. (I will discuss this senseless construct in another post). But Christ appeals to the original making of the Sabbath for mankind, because for Him, as I stated in my previous post, what God established at the beginning regarding the Sabbath and marriage are normative for the whole of human family and history.

The witness of Hebrews 4:4 regarding the creation-origin of the Sabbath is equally compelling, because the author is not arguing for the creation origin of the Sabbath, but rather he takes it for granted to explain God's ultimate purpose for His people. In other words, not only Hebrews accepts the creation origin of the Sabbath, but presents it as the basis for understanding God's ultimate purpose for His people.

Dale, your criticism of my jumping from Genesis to Jesus and Hebrews, would be justified if these two texts had nothing to say about the origin of the Sabbath. But since both of them provide a compelling NT witness to the creation-origin of the Sabbath, I feel that no discussion of this subject can be complete without mentioning them. A fundamental principle of Biblical interpretation is to consider all the significant texts which are relevant to the specific subject under consideration.


Ratzlaff wrote:

In the Sabbath study I was involved with, we listed our tentative conclusions after each portion of the Bible we studied. Our goal was to simply state in summary fashion nothing more or nothing less than what was taught in THAT section of Scripture. We found these summary conclusions to be very helpful when later we drew our final conclusions.


Bacchiocchi replies:

I have read the list of your "tentative" conclusions at the end of each chapter. The problem I see is your methodology. First, you submit your "tentative" conclusion by your arbitrary interpretations of texts (often ignoring the vast amount of scholarly research that contradicts your conclusion), and then you use your "tentative" conclusions to set the stage for your ultimate conclusion. In other words, your "tentative" conclusions, serve as a pretext for what you intend to prove in the final analysis. Any analytically minded person will have problems in accepting your methodology.


Ratzlaff wrote:

Following are the fifteen tentative conclusions we came to from our study of Genesis. Tell me which of the conclusions you accept and which ones you reject. Lets agree here on the data we jointly accept. If we do this now and at each new, unfolding of Sabbath section, then we may well reach the same conclusion Gods truth!

1. Creation was completed in six days.


Bacchiocchi replies:

I cannot accept several of the fifteen tentative conclusions that you submit because they lack Biblical support. For example, the first conclusion that "Creation was completed in six days" is wrong, because Genesis 2:2 clearly says: "And on the SEVENTH day God finished his work which he had done." Creation was completed in seven days, and not on six days as you stated.

It is evident that you do not want to recognize that God's establishment of the seventh day is the final act of His creation, because this would make the Sabbath a creational institution, a fact that you are trying hard to deny. Like the translators of the Septuagint, you argue that since nothing was created on the seventh day, the text should be changed to read: "And on the sixth day God finish his work" (Septuagint reading).

Personally I accept what the Biblical text tells us, namely that God finished his creation on the seventh day by resting, blessing, and sanctifying the seventh day. The crowning act of creation was indeed the creation, not of material things, but of holy time so that human beings can experience God's sanctifying presence. Thus, contary to what you state, the Bible tells us that creation was completed on the seventh day with the creation of holy time for the benefit of the human family.


Ratzlaff wrote:

2. God rested on the seventh day.

3. God blessed the seventh day.

4. God sanctified the seventh day.

5. The reason God sanctified the seventh day was because He rested on it.


Bacchiocchi replies:

You are correct in stating that God rested, blessed, and sanctified the seventh day, but you are wrong in your interpretation of the sanctification of the seventh day. You argue that what God sanctified is not the seventh day as such, but the "conditions of that day were sanctified and blessed" (p. 24). By "the conditions" you mean the condition that existed on "the first day after creation was completed" (p. 24). In other words, for you the sanctification of the seventh day refers primarily to the "conditions" of completion and celebration of the creation seventh day, rather than to God setting aside the seventh day for mankind to experience in a special way His sanctifying presence.

Dale, please note that nowere the Bible suggests that the sanctification of the seventh day at creation refers to the sanctification of the conditions that existed "the first day after creation was completed" (p. 24). God did not sanctify "conditions" but the seventh day itself by "resting": "because on it God rested from all his work" (Gen 2:4). As I explained in my previous post, the SHABAT-rest of God in Gen 2:2-3 is a rest of CESSATION and not a NUAH-rest of RELAXATION as that found in Exodus 20:11. In other words, God sanctified the seventh day by desisting from creating in order to be with His creatures. The sanctification of the seventh day is God's commitment to make this day the vehicle through which His sanctifying presence can be experience by His creatures.

A fundamental problem of your analysis, Dale, is your failure to realize that the creation week is a HUMAN WEEK, established by God for regulating our human life. God did not need six days to create our solar system. He could have spoken it into existence in a second, since His creation was accomplished by the spoken word (Ps 33:6). But He chose to establish a human week of seven days and to use it Himself in order to give a divine perspective to our six days of work and to our seventh day of rest. When we work during the six days and rest on the seventh day we are doing in a small scale what God has done in a much larger scale. God willingness to enter into the limitations of human time at creation is a marvellous revelation of His willingness to enter into human flesh at the incarnation to become Immanuel, God with us.

The numerous circumsantial evidences we have in the book of Genesis for the existence of the seventh day week (Gen 7:4, 10; 8:10, 12; 29:27; 50:10; cf. Job 2:13), presuppose the exitence of the Sabbath as well. Please note that the Sabbath is not only the culmination but also the foundation of the week. In the Bible the days of the week are numbered with reference to the Sabbath.

The verbal form (Piel) of the Hebrew verb "to santify" (yeqaddesh), as H. C. Leupold explains, has both a causative and a declarative sense. This means that God declared the seventh day holy and caused it to be a means of holiness for mankind. (See H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, p. 103). It is noteworthy that the word "holy" is used here for the first time in the Bible with reference, not to an object such as an altar, a tabernacle or a person, but with regard to time, the seventh day.

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

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

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

The meaning of the holiness of God is further clarified at Sinai by the invitation God extended to Moses "on the seventh day" to enter into the cloud and thus experience the intimacy of His presence. "Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the SEVENTH DAY he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people. And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain" (Ex. 24:15-18).

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

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

For six days God filled this planet with good things and living beings, but on the seventh He filled it with His presence. As the symbol and assurance of God's sanctifying presence in this world and in human lives, the Sabbath represents a most sublime expression of God's loving care. Dale, rather than arguing against the Sabbath, why not accept God's invitation extended to us each week to stop our work so that we can allow Him to work in us more fully and freely, and thus experience His sanctifying presence?


Ratzlaff wrote:

6. The seventh-day account does NOT have the formula "and there was evening and there was morning, a seventh day" as do the six days of creation.

7. The creation record is carefully constructed.

8. There is no mention of the word "Sabbath" in the book of Genesis.

9. There is no command for mankind to rest in the Genesis account.

10. Nothing is expressly mentioned regarding man in the seventh-day-creation rest.


Bacchiocchi replies:

I have dealt adequately with statements 6 to 10 in my first installment. Thus there is no reason for me to repeat myself. I would be glad email the first post to anyone who missed it. There is no command for mankind to keep the Sabbath in the creation story simply because, as I already stated, Genesis is not a book of commands, but a book of origins. It simply tells us how everything began, including the Sabbath. Its origin is traced to the divine act which blessed and sanctified the seventh day at the completion of creation. It is evident that God did not bless and sanctify the seventh day to be a blessing to the day itself, but to those who would use the day to experience god's sanctifying presence. A correct understanding of the blessing and sanctification of the seventh day, presupposes its human purpose and function.


Ratzlaff wrote:

11. The seventh-day "rest" of God was most likely characterized by His delight in His new creation and by open fellowship with Adam and Eve in the sin-free, perfect environment of Eden.

12. The conditions which characterized the "rest" of God would probably have continued had it not been for mans sin.

13. The seventh day of Gen. 2:2, 3 may have been a regular day as were the first six days of creation, or it may have been an indefinite period of time.

14. The fact that the Genesis account is so carefully constructed indicates that the omission of "and there was evening and there was morning, a seventh day" was intentional.


Bacchiocchi replies:

You are correct in in saying that "the seventh-day 'rest' of God was most likely characterized by His delight in His new creation and by open fellowship with Adam and Eve in the sin-free, perfect environment of Eden," but you are wrong in assuming that the seventh day "may have been an indefinite period of time" because of the omission of "and there was evening and there was morning, a seventh day." Let me repeat the three reasons I gave in my first post.

First, the seventh day is enumerated like the preceding six days. Note that in the Bible whenever "day-yom" is accompanied by a number it ALWAYS means a day of 24 hours. When "day-yom" is used in a figurative way such as "the day of trouble" (Ps 20:1) or "the day of salvation" (Is 49:8), it is never accompanied by a number. The numerical specification of SEVENTH day unmistakenly denotes that it is a literal 24 hours day, and not an indefinite period of time. I challenge you, Dale, to find in the Bible one example in which a day designated by a number is NOT a literal day.

Second, the Decalogue itself clearly states that God, having worked six days, rested on the seventh day of creation week (Ex 20:11). If the first six days were ordinary earthly days, we have reasons to understand the seventh day in the same way.

Third, every passage which mentions the creation-seventh-day as the basis of the earthly Sabbath regards it as an ordinary day (Ex 20:11; 31:17; cf. Mark 2:27; Heb 4:4), and not as a symbol of eternal rest.


Ratzlaff wrote:

15. When man sinned, he was excluded from Gods presence and God began His "work" of redemption to restore man back to Himself.


Bacchiocchi replies:

You are correct in saying that "when man sinned, he was excluded from Gods presence and God began His 'work' of redemption to restore man back to Himself." The problem lies in the way you interpret Christ's redemptive work to negate the continuity of the Sabbath in the NT. In your analysis of John 5:17 and 7:22-23 you subtly conclude that by His redemptive work done on the Sabbath, Christ "was purposefully seeking to move the Jewish leaders' reference point and judgment from the old covenant laws to Himself" (p. 126). For you, Dale, Christ's memorable statement: "My Father is working until now and I am working" (John 5:17), implies that Christ's redemptive work brought to an end to the observance of the Sabbath in the New Covenant.

Your conclusion ignores two importact facts. First, as I will discuss in a later post, the fundamental function of the Sabbath in both the Old and New Covenants is to help believers to conceptualize, internalize, and experience the reality of redemption. The physical Sabbath rest, like the physical bread and wine, is a vehicle through which we enter into God's salvation rest (Heb 4:10).

Second, Christ's appeal to the "working" of His Father is intended to clarify, and not to nullify, the function of the Sabbath? To appreciate the implications of Christ's defense, one needs to remember that the Sabbath is linked both to the cosmos through creation (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:11), and to the exodus through redemption (Deut 5:15).

While by interrupting all secular activities the Israelite was remembering the Creator-God, by acting mercifully toward fellow-beings he was imitating the Redeemer-God. This was true, not only in the life of the people in general who on the Sabbath were to be compassionate toward the less fortunate, but especially in the service of the priest who could legitimately perform on the Sabbath works forbidden to other Israelites, because such works had a redemptive function.

On the basis of this theology of the Sabbath admitted by the Jews, Christ defends the legality of the "working" that He and His Father perform on the Sabbath. Christ appeals to the temple services to justify His Sabbath activities, because their redemptive functions best exemplify both His Messianic mission and the divinely intended purpose of the Sabbath.

Christ uses again the same line of defense when He appeals to the example of circumcision, to silence the echo of the controversy over the healing of the paralytic (John 7:22-24). The Lord argues that if it is legitimate on the Sabbath for the priests to care for one small part of man's body (according to rabbinic reckoning circumcision involved one of man's 248 members) in order to extend to the newborn child the salvation of the covenant, there is no reason to be "angry" with Him for restoring on that day the "whole body of man" (7:23).

For Christ the Sabbath is the day to work for the redemption of the whole man. This is borne out by the fact that in healing the paralitic and the blind man, Christ looked for both men on the same day and having found them, He ministered to their spiritual need (5:14; 9:35-38).

By using the Sabbath to bring physical and spiritual restoration to needed people, Christ made the Sabbath the fitting memorial of His redemptive mission. The day when we celebrate God's creative and redemptive love.

If you appreciate this ongoing Sabbath discussion and wish to receive the future installments, be sure to email to me your address at: Please do not send your request to my compuserve address, because sometimes several weeks go by before I can find time to retrieve my mail on the compuserve box. We will place your address in the special mailing list of those who will automatically receive the future exchanges.

It is my fervent hope that this ongoing discussion of the Sabbath maylead many to discover the Sabbath as a day to experience more fully and more freely the presence, peace, and rest of Christ.

Christian regards

Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
Professor of Theology and Church History, Andrews University