Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A PERSONAL NOTE: This is the tenth installment of the SABBATH UPDATES that have been posted. Besides interacting with Dale Ratzlaff, in the previous essays I have examined the Pope's Pastoral Letter calling for a revival of Sunday observance as well as a significant article "Why the Lord's Day Matters to Me," written by a former Adventist and published in the Summer 1998 issue of SUNDAY, the official publication of the Lord's Day Alliance.
Within the next few days I plan to post an essay entitled, "THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE: A LOOK AT RECENT DEVELOPMENTS." In this essay I plan to update readers regarding two significant developments. The first is the renewed interest for a recovery of the Sabbath by Christians of different persuasions. This trend is indicated by international Sabbath Conferences sponsored by secular universities, articles and books written by non-sabbatarians promoting the Sabbath, and the acceptance of the Sabbath by newly formed religious groups. The second development is the renewed attempts by Sundaykeeping scholars as well as former sabbatarians to negate the continuity, validity, and value of the Sabbath for Christians today. God willing, I hope to post this update report before or by August 15.
In this installment I am responding briefly to some important comments that Ratzlaff made to my posts 8 and 9 of the Sabbath discussion. Since his comments are interspersed throughout my essays, I will pull out his most significant comments and deal with them directly without reposting the text of my essays. This will spare the reader the trouble of having to rearead twice my essays.
Some of you have righly suggested that we should improve the method of our Sabbath discussion by following the stardard procedure of professional meetings where there is first the presentation of a position paper and then the critique by one or more respondents. I have proposed this procedure to Ratzlaff for future postings because it provides an opportunity to both of us to address issues in a more coherent and complete way. I want to avoid turning this discussion into a back and forth exchange of detached comments. Bear with us for this last time. I hope that in the future you will not have to read detached exchanges, but coherent presentations and critiques.
The procedure I will follow is to summarize in one sentence the content of my argument to which Ratzlaff replies. This will help the reader to contextualize Ratzlaff'remarks which will be followed by my response.
In response to my comment that the abrogation view of the Sabbath appeals to those who wish to spend the Sabbath seeking for their own pleasure and profit,
This is a very judgmental statement. You imply that those changing their view of the Sabbath do so because they don't want to be restricted by Sabbath laws and want to seek their own pleasure. Nothing could be further from the truth! While I cannot speak for everyone who has changed their understanding of the Sabbath I can speak for myself and many that I personally know, both ex SDAs and Christians in the Worldwide Church of God. We changed for no other other reason that we felt that is what the Bible taught. Further, we feel our relationship with Christ is closer now than before. There is a deeper commitment to follow Christ, a deeper understanding of Grace. I know this does not fit the Adventist paradigm. When I tell people "I studied myself out the Adventist church" they have no way to process this statement other than to degrade character or motives.
Dale, I do not question your sincerity. Let God be the judge. As a general rule I find that people tend to develop a theology that justifies their lifestyle. You may have noted that on the internet homosexuals argue ad nauseam that the Bible is far more permissive of homosexual behavior than most Christian think. Chritians who live together before marriage or who engage in pre-marital sex, argue that Biblically speaking there is not nothing wrong with pre or extra- marital sex, as long as one is committed to that person. Chritians who love to deck their bodies with jewelry will argue that the Bible does not condemn bodily adorment. Chritians who love to drink alcoholic beverages will argue that the Bible teaches moderation and not total abstinence. Chritians who love to believe that they are immortal, try to prove from the Bible that their soul is immortal. By the same token Christians who prefer to spend their Sabbath or Sunday for that matter, seeking for their own pleasure or profit, will often argue that for them the Bible teaches that every day is a Sabbath because Christ offers them salvation-rest.
The belief that every day is Sabbath (pansabbatism) is as absurd as the belief that everything is God (pantheism). The end result in both instances is that no real worship is offered to God, because nothing really matters. The theory that every day is Sabbath ultimately results in no Sabbath at all. This truth is brought out perceptively in the following poem:
In response to my argument that God revealed the moral nature of the Sabbath by making it a rule of His divine conduct,
What you say my be true. However, it is very clear in the Genesis record that God's moral laws were known and enforced before Sinai. These extended to all peoples, not just Abraham and his descendents who became "Israel." However, in the Genesis record you will not find Sabbath keeping as one of the preexisting moral laws. One wonders why if the Sabbath were the most important of the ten, as EGW says, there is no record of Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. keeping the Sabbath. However, in the Genesis record we do find that it is wrong to kill, steal, commit adultery, etc. These facts fit my paradigm, do they fit yours?
You are raising a legitimate question. But, the absence of explicit references to Sabbathkeeping between Genesis 2 and Exodus 16 does not necessarily mean that the principle of Sabbathkeeping was unknown. The apparent silence could mean that between Adam and Moses, the Sabbath, though known, was not generally observed. The non-observance of the feast of the Booths between Joshua and Nehemiah, a period of almost a thousand years, would provide a parallel situation (Neh 8:17).
A more plausible explanation is that the custom of Sabbathkeeping is not mentioned simply because it is taken for granted. A number of reasons support this explanation.
First, we have a similar example of silence regarding the Sabbath between the books of Deuteronomy and 2 Kings. Such silence for a period of six centuries can hardly be interpreted as non-observance of the Sabbath, since when the first incidental reference occurs in 2 Kings 4:23, it describes the custom of visiting a prophet on the Sabbath.
Second, Genesis does not contain laws like Exodus, but rather a brief sketch of origins. Since no mention is made of any other commandment, the silence regarding the Sabbath is not exceptional.
Third, there are throughout the book of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus circumstantial evidences for the use of the seven-day week, which would imply the existence of the Sabbath as well, since in the Bible the weekdays are numbered with reference to the Sabbath. The period of seven days is mentioned four times in the account of the Flood (Gen 7:4, 10; 8:10, 12).
The "week" is also apparently used in a technical way to describe the duration of the nuptial festivities of Jacob (Gen 29:27) as well as the duration of mourning at his death (Gen 50:10). A like period was observed by the friends of Job to express their condolences to the patriarch (Job 2:13). Probably all the mentioned ceremonials were terminated by the arrival of the Sabbath.
Lastly, the Sabbath is presented in Exodus 16 and 20 as an already existing institution. The instructions for the gathering of the double portion of the manna on the sixth day presuppose a knowledge of the significance of the Sabbath. The Lord said to Moses: "On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily" (Ex 16:5). The omission of any explanation for gathering a double portion on the sixth day would be inexplicable, if the Israelites had no previous knowledge of the Sabbath.
Peck's argument that "Moses had to give them [the Israelites] explicit instructions about the Sabbath because it was new to them" (p. 80), ignores that no instruction are given by the Lord to Moses as to why the Israelites were to gather a double portion on the sixth day (Ex 16:4-6). Why? Presumably because the people knew that the sixth day was the preparation day for the Sabbath and thus they had to gather a double portion. The instructions given later on the chapter are necessitated by the fact that some of the people failed to obey God's command (Ex 16:20-21).
Similarly in Exodus 20, the Sabbath is presupposed as something already familiar. The commandment does not say "Know the Sabbath day" but "Remember the Sabbath day" (Ex 20:8), thus implying that it was already known. Furthermore, the commandment, by presenting the Sabbath as rooted in creation (Ex 20:11), hardly allows a late Exodus introduction of the festival.
To speculate on how the patriarchs kept the Sabbath would be a fruitless endeavor since it would rest more on imagination than on available information. Considering, however, that the essence of Sabbathkeeping is not a place to go to fulfill rituals, but a set time to be with God, ourselves, and others, it seems entirely possible that the patriarchs spent the Sabbath holy hours within their households, engaged in some of the acts of worship described in Genesis, such as prayer (Gen 12:8; 26:25), sacrifice (Gen 12:8; 13:18; 26:25; 33:20), and teaching (Gen 18:19).
In response to my contentions that Ratzlaff emphasized the striking similarities between the Sabbath and circumcision simply to show that both of them are temporary signs of the Old Covenant,
I have no objective other than to find out what Scripture teaches. As I read the sections on circumcision and Sabbath I found them to be strikingly similar. Don't you? Who said these were temporary signs? In my summary given above I clearly stated what the Bible says: both circumcision and Sabbath are said to be "eternal" or "perpetual" signs. That is the way they are presented here in the old covenant. Would you not agree this is what Scripture says?
The fundamental problem is the method you have used so far which consists in posting a list of inconclusive statements, without explaining how they contribute to develop your overall thesis that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant ceremonies that terminated at the Cross. I trust that this problem will be resolved beginning from your next essay. I have asked you to make each essay a complete unit, with an introduction, documents and arguments, and then a conclusion. This will make it possible for readers to understand what you are trying to prove and for me to examine your whole argument, and not just bits and peaces.
You seem to deny that you view the Sabbath and circumcision as temporary signs, when you say: "Who said these were temporary signs? In my summary given above I clearly stated what the Bible says: both circumcision and Sabbath are said to be 'eternal' or 'perpetual' signs." Dale, you know very well that you do not believe that the Sabbath and Circumcision are "eternal" or "perpetual." The whole thesis of your book is that circumcision was replaced by baptism and the Sabbath by the Lord's Supper (p. 185). Incidentally the notion of the Sabbath being replaced by the Lord's Supper is a figment of your imagination, utterly devoid of Biblical and historical support. To this we shall come back another time. At this point I simply want to point out that this needless discussion is caused by your inconclusive statements that fail to show how you use the similarity between the Sabbath and circumcision to argue your case for the abrogation of the Sabbath.
In response to my comment that Ratzlaff ignores that the function of the Sinaitic Covenant was to ADMINISTER GRACE,
Quote out of context. "While Gods grace was represented in His gracious prevision of forgiveness on condition of repentance and the offering of certain sacrifices, the emphasis, nonetheless, is on law." SIC P. 48 Anyone who read Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy must agree that the Sinaitic Covenant is characteristically a law covenant. Granted many of these laws has to do with sacrifices which in turn had to do with atonement.
The 1990 edition of your book which I use does not have your quote on page 48. Apparently you made some changes in the new edition. This does not alter your position that "the Sinaitic Covenant is characteristically a law covenant." The problem with your conclusion is your failure to recognize that the many laws found in the Pentateuch govern not only the religious life, but also the social, civil, political life of Israel. Remember the Israelites had a theocratic form of govenment, where God instructed them, not only on how to conduct their religious life, but also on how to deal with various kinds of social problems and civil offences.
To make a fair comparison we should compare the Mosaic legal code, not with the New Testament where theocracy no longer exists, but with the civil and penal law codes of the various American States. When you make this comparison, you soon discover, Dale, that the American legal system if far more legalistic than the Mosaic one. My son, Gianluca, sat yesterday for the bar exam in Albany, New York. He told me last night that part of the exam took everybody by surprise because it deal with some minute laws of the State of New York that nobody had ever heard about. If one were to place the Mosaic laws (about 150 pages of the Pentateuch) next the thousands of pages of State laws, it is evident that the legal system of our Chritian society today is far more legalistic than it was in the time of Moses. Surprisingly, inspite of the multitude and multiplications of laws, today people still get away with murder.
In response to my comment that Ratzlaff's explanation of the Sinaitic covenant gives the impression that it was an irrational collections of detail laws,burdensome to the people,
Dr. Bacchiocchi, That may be your reaction, it is not mine. Perhaps you have never read my book straight through! On two different occasions you said you through it in the trash. Perhaps the facts of Scripture, upon which Sabbath in Crisis is based, are too much for you. In SIC I say, "Just as the old, slow, cumbersome, hand-operated calculator has been antiquated by the new, fast compact electronic computer. So the old covenant has been antiquated by the new. Not that the old was bad, for is was not. It was the best for its time, but now, new , better things have come." Then I quote 2 Cor. 3:7-11. The theme of the book Hebrews is how much better the new covenant is over the old!
You are correct in saying that I threw your manuscript in the waste basket after reading the first dozen of pages. I did the same with the booklet by Harold Camping entitled SUNDAY -THE SABBATH? after reading the first 8 pages. I could not go beyond page 8 where Camping interprets the temporal statement: "In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week" (Mat 28:1) as being a theological statement indicating the termination of the observance of the Sabbath when Jesus resurrected on the first day of the week. Such a senseless interpretation was enough to qualify the book for the trash.
Rest assured that what makes it painful for me to read your book is not the fact that your conclusions are radically different from mine, but the methodology that you use in reaching your conclusions. I have already discussed at length your methodology in the fifth installment of this series. In researching for my three volumes on the Sabbath I have read literally hundreds of books advocating your abrogation view of the Sabbath. You can tell it by the extensive footnotes apparatus found in my books. I never trashed any of those books. For me the issue is not whether a book agrees or disagrees with my views, but whether or not the author deal with the Biblical and historical data in a coherent and responsible way.
Let me cite as an example, Willy Rordorf dissertation, SUNDAY: THE HISTORY OF THE DAY OF REST AND WORSHIP IN THE ERLIEST CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. I have great respect for Rordorf, though I totally disagree with his conclusions which I challenge constantly throughout my dissertation FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY. On his part Rordorf a great respect for me. This is indicated by his comments in the introduction to the Italian edition of his dissertation where Rordorf urges the reader to read my dissertation as "a corrective" to the conclusions of his research. It takes a really great and humble scholar to suggest that his conclusions stand in need of "a corrective" provided by the study of another scholar. I relate this example simply to make the point that what troubles me about your book is not your conclusions, but the arbitrary methodology you use to reach them.
Regarding your differentiation between the Old and New Covenants, the problem is your assumption that "in the new covenant morality springs from a response to the living Christ" rather than from the moral laws of the Old Testament (p. 74). For you the principle of loving one another largely replaces the moral law of the Old Testament. You write: "While morality is clearly taught in the Old Testament, the New Testament writers seldom refer to the Old Testament law as the reason for moral living, and when the law of the old covenant is mentioned in the epistles, it is usually by way of illustration, rather than by way of command" (p. 74).
Your assumption that in the Old Testament morality is defined in terms of obedience to law while in the New Testament in terms of response to Christ, ignores three facts. First, the Old Testament moral law was given by Christ (1 Cor 10:4). Thus, "a response to the living Christ" presupposes obedience to the moral principles He has revealed in the Old Testament. Second, in the Sermon on the Mountain Christ defines the morality of the New Covenant, not in terms of a generic principle of love, but in terms of the fuller meaning of the Ten Commandment. For example, Christ taught that one can break the sixth commandment, "Thou shall not kill" not only by murdering a person, but also by being "angry" or "insulting" a person (Matt 5:21-22).
One can break the seventh commandment, not only by committing adultery, but also by looking lustfully upon a woman. If I understand Jesus' teachings correctly, the morality of the New Covenant derives not from the generic principle of love but from a fuller revelation of the intent of the Ten Commandments. This is especially evident when one studies all the Sabbath pronoucement of Jesus. They reveal, as we shall see in a future essay, that Jesus went out of His way to clarify the divine intent of the Sabbath commandment, which is people to love rather than rules to obey.
Third, as Eldon Ladd rightly states it, "the permanence of the Law is reflected in the fact that Paul appeals to specific commands of the Law as the norm for Christian conduct. He appeals to several specific commandments (entolai) of the Decalogue that are fulfilled in love (Rom 13:8-10). . . . It is clear that the Law continues to be the expression of the will of God for conduct, even for those who are no longer under the Law" (Theology p. 510). The reasons for the continuity of the Old Testament moral law, is that God does not have two sets of moral principles, one based on the Ten Commandments for the Old Covenant and the other on the generic principle of love for the New Covenant. Love without law can be dangerous, even destructive.
In response to my comment that for me it is a depressing and distressing experience to examine Ratzlaff's book because I find the reasoning often incoherent and the methodology arbitrary,
If The Sabbath in Crisis is so poorly written one wonders why so many pastors, including SDA pastors, scholars and church leaders say Sabbath in Crisis is the best book on the topic of the Sabbath in print.
Dale, it is hard for me to believe that competent scholars, familiar with the Sabbath/Sunday literature, would say that "The Sabbath in Crisis is the best book on the topic of the Sabbath in print." Your claim is hardly supported by the five comments in the jacket of the book, none of which are from scholars. Even the comments by Donald Carson, the editor of From Sabbath to the Lord's Day, who wrote the Foreword to your book, are very cautious to say the least. He wrote: "Mr. Ratzlaff allows the evidence to take him where he thinks it goes, and doubtless few will agree with him on every particular." The three merits of your book, according to Carson, are (1) The book "is accessible to the ordinary reader." (2) "Mr. Ratzlaff let us in on his thought processes and commitments." (3) "The net effect of this book is to open up options in the minds of ordinary Christians." None of these three merits have to do with compelling scholarship in the analysis of the Biblical material.
You might be interested to read what the same Donald Carson had to say in his review of From Sabbath to Sunday: "The book is a well-researched and well-written treatise that combines erudition, devotion, and an irenic spirit. Bacchiocchi argues that the understanding of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath finds its roots, not at all in the New Testament, but in the complex historical and ideological pressures of the patristic period. If this contention of Dr. Bacchiocchi is correct-and I think it is-then either one must go all the way with him and support a continuing (seventh day) Sabbath, or one must study afresh the primary documents to develop some other synthesis. I am personally inclined toward the latter; but either way, the implications are staggering, not only for the Sabbath/Sunday question itself, but also because of the larger question of the relations between the Old and New Testaments."
I could post dozens of similar statements from reviews of outstanding scholars and recognized journals. Interested readers can find them in my web page: http://www.andrews.edu/~samuele Surprisingly, in all my reading of the Sabbath/Sunday scholarly literature, I have never seen your book cited. This gives me reason to believe that your book hardly enjoys scholarly admiration.
In response to my argument that the Sabbath shares with Baptism the covenant commitment experience of renouncement and renewal,
Dr. Bacchiocchi, you accuse me of poor scholarship. Upon what texts do you base your claim that keeping the Sabbath is a renewal of our Baptismal Covenant? You list 1 Cor. 12:13. However, The Sabbath is not even mentioned in the context. If fact, it is not even mentioned in the whole book of 1 Corinthians! One wonders why this church had so many problems and questions about Christian practices but the question of Sabbath observance is never mentioned. Could it be that?
Call me "Sam" please, that is good enough for me and easier for you. The correlation between Sabbath and baptism is suggested by the fact that both of them as covenant signs which involve an experience of renouncement and renewal. One does not always need a Bible text to establish a conceptual similarity. What theological reflection requires is the capacity to think and not merely the ability to cite a Bible text. This is what Karl Barth does when he expands on these functions of the Sabbath in Church Dogmatics.
It might be of interest to you to know, Dale, that even the great Lutheran Reformer and Theologian, Philip Melanchthon (1496-1560) acknowledges these two meanings of the Sabbath in his Loci Communes (1555), saying: "After the Fall the Sabbath was re-established when the gracious promise was given that there would be a second peace with God, that the Son of God would die and would rest in death until the Resurrection. So now in us our Sabbath should be such a dying and resurrection with the Son of God, so that God may again have his place of habitation, peace and joy in us, so that he may impart to us his wisdom, righteousness, and joy, so that through us God may again be praised eternally. Let this meaning of the Sabbath be further pondered by God-fearing men." (On Christian Doctrine. Loci Communes 1555, trans. by Clyde L. Manschreck, 1965, p. 98). In compliance with Melanchthon's exhortation, I have pondered this meaning of the Sabbath.
It does not require a Bible text to recognize that the Sabbath, like baptism, signifies renouncement, for example, to greediness and selfishness which, though symbolically buried under the baptismal waters, continually tends to reappear and thus needs to be overcome. The Sabbath invites weekly believers to stop being greedy by looking for more and start being grateful by counting the blessings received. Like baptism, the Sabbath summons to renounce to self-sufficiency. By enjoining cessation from work,the Sabbath invites the believer to glance away from his own achievements and to look instead to God's work and working in him.
Like baptism, the Sabbath is a renewal experience. The difference is that it occurs weekly rather than once in the lifetime like with baptism. This weekly renewal is made possible through the time the Sabbath affords to have a special rendezvous with God, ourselves, and others, which results in physical, social and spiritual renewal.
The reason for a conceptual similarity between the Sabbath and baptism, is because both of them are signs of covenant commitment. No two persons can become one, without renouncing certain rights in order to gain greater privileges. Through the Sabbath God invites human beings to renounce several things in order for them to receive His greater gifts.
The Sabbath means different things to different people. To some, like Ratzlaff, the Sabbath is a relic of the Old Covenant no longer relevant for Christians today. To others, like me, the Sabbath is God's gracious invitation to make myself free and available for Him so that I can experience more freely and fully the awareness of His presence, peace, and rest in my life.
The constant flow of over 100 requests a day for this Sabbath material and almost an equal number of thank you notes, coming in from all over the world and from Christians of all faiths, suggests to me that there are many sincere people who are earnestly seeking for the experience of spiritual rest and renewal that the Sabbath is designed to provide. God invites on the Sabbath to stop our work in order to allow Him to work in us more fully and freely, and thus enter into His rest (Heb 4:10). It is my fervent hope and prayer that the Lord will use this Sabbath discussion to meet the spiritual needs of many.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
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