Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University


A PERSONAL NOTE and PREAMBLE TO THE ESSAY: This is the twelfth essay of the ongoing Sabbath Discussion. It is the longest of the documents I have posted so far. The unusual length of this essay is largely determined by the importance of the subject examined, namely, the relationship of the Sabbath to the New Covenant.

Those of you who have followed the Sabbath discussion, have noticed that the renewed attempts to negate the continuity and value of the Sabbath for Christians today, largely stem from a misinterpretation of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. Without hesitation most Sundaykeeping Christians think of Sabbathkeeping as a relic of the Old Covenant and of Sabbatarians as "Judaizers" still living under the Mosaic law. In the previous essay "The Sabbath Under Cross Fire" I traced the orign and development of this anti-Sabbath theology. This essay attempts to unmasks the fallacies of the popular New Covenant theology which recently has been embraced by several former Adventist pastors life Dale Ratzlaff and Clay Peck.

In view of the importance of the subject I have devoted considerable time and effort in preparing this essay. I can say without exaggeration that I have spent over 60 hours researching and writing this study. My aim has been to provide an indepth analysis of the arguments used by Ratzlaff and others to develop their New Covenant theology which negates the validity of the Old Testament law in general and of the Sabbath in particular for Christians today. Many of you have told me that my last essay "The Sabbath Under Crossfire" was the best I posted so far. After reading this essay you may change your mind and feel that this is even better.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank again the many of you who have taken time to email me touching "thank you" messages. They mean a lot to me even if often I reply with a single line. Processing over 100 requests a day in addition to preparing essays such as this, leaves me with very little time to interacts with you friends. It is a heartwarming experience for me to receive messages from practically all over the world. Some messages are from Church administrators, Bible teachers, or pastors, all of whom take time to inform me that they are downloading my essays, reformating them and making them available to their workers, members, or students.

Some messages are from former Adventists who share with me how this material has rekindled their desire to honor the Savior on His Holy Sabbath days. Few messages come in every day from current ministers of the Worldwide Church of God who express appreciation for the opportunity these essays provide for them to reexamine the question of the Sabbath. This past week I received a dozen of requests from clergymen of different denominations. Our Sabbath Updates mailing list has grown from from 0 to well over 5000 names during the past few weeks, and it continues to grow at the steady pace of 50 to100 names a day.

It is a real privilege for me to be able to share my ministry of research with so many people around the world. My concern at this point is whether or not I will be able to sustain the pressure of producing and posting on a regular basis an indepth analysis of relevant End-time issues. The overwhelming response indicates that there is a real need for this kind of ministry. On my part I would like to continue to offer this service, but whether or not I will be able to do it on a long term basis largely depends on two major factors.

The first factor is time. It takes a considerable amount of time to produce an indepth analysis of documents like the Pope's Pastoral Letter, chapters of Ratzlaff's book, anti-Sabbath articles like the one that appeared on the latest issue of Sunday magazine written by a former Adventist, new books defending the Sabbath written by non-Sabbatarians, recent studies by Catholic and Protestant scholars who reject the dualistic view of the mortal body and immortal soul. Since the Sabbath Discussion began on June 15, 1998, I have devoted 90% of my time to deal with incoming requests for the Sabbath material, and to prepare new essays that I have posted on a weekly basis.

The compensation I receive for offering this service comes in the form of "thank you" notes for which I am grateful. I told my wife that if we could use the "thank you notes" as legal tender notes to pay our bills, we would be doing very well financially. This leads me to mention the financial factor.

During the past 20 years I have been off-teaching and off-salary from June to December of each year in order to be able to devote myself full time to research and write books on our fundamental beliefs. The result has been the publication of 14 volumes dealing with such fundamental doctrines as the Sabbath, the Second Advent, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, Christian Dress and Adornment, the State of the Dead, the Bible and Alcohol, the Atonement, the Rapture, the End-time Signs, Israel in Prophecy, the Role of Women in the Church, Hell, the World to Come, and etc. Usually at this time of the year when I am off-teaching I spent part of my time writing a new book and part of the time marketing my books to meet our financial obligations.

During the past two months, however, 90% of my time has been taken by the processing of the over 5000 requests that have come in from all over the world and by the preparing the dozen of essays I have posted ranging in length from 30k to 70k. Some of the topics like the present one on the New Covenant were relatively new to me. So I went to the library and checked out a dozen of books (out of the over 300 titles on the Biblical Covenants) which I read, at least in part, to be able to deal more intelligently with the New Covenant theology propagated by people like Ratzlaff. What all of this means is that I have largely neglected the marketing of my books which I do at this time of the year via bulk mailing and telemarketing. Fortunately, some of you have ordered copies of my books and this has been of great help to us.

If you feel that I should continue to provide this service of analysing important issues affecting our faith today, such as the Sabbath, the state of the dead, end-time prophecies, life-style issues, ect., would you consider supporting my ministry of research by ordering some copies of my books? Your response will show to me in a tangible way whether or not you really want me to continue offering this service.

If you already have all the 14 books that I have authored, I would greatly appreciate if you could inform your friends about them. On my part I am glad to show my gratitude for your helpfulness to me in two ways. First, I can mail you free of charge any quantity needed of three brand new color fliers descriptive of all the 14 books that I have authored. One flier contains a sampling of 20 testimonials from scholars of all persuasions who have favorably reviewed my books. You can pass out these fliers to your church members and friends.

Second, I am willing to offer you my books at a substantially discounted price. The complete set of 14 volumes that regularly sells for $200.00 at the ABC, can be yours for only $100.00, postpaid even overseas. The three volumes on the Sabbath (From Sabbath to Sunday, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness, and The Sabbath in the New Testament) that retail for $15.00 each, can be yours for only $30.00, postpaid even overseas, instead of the regular retail price of $45.00. I would especially recommend my latest book Immortality or Resurrection? A Biblical Study of Human Nature and Destiny which may prove to be the most influential book that I have authored. The book unmasks with compelling Biblical reasoning the prevailing deception of conscious life after death. Over 100 scholars of different persuasions have already reviewed this timely book.

You can send your order with a personal check to: Biblical Perspectives, 4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, MI 49103. We guarantee to process your order on the very same day we receive it. In my web page you will find a picture of the cover of each book, a brief description of the content, several chapters of each book, and an order form. Thank you immensely for your help in promoting these timely books and thus supporting my ministry of research into Biblical truths.

In case you are wondering what is coming next, let me give you a preview of some essays I will be working on during the next month.

  1. Rediscovering the Sabbath
    This essay will provide an update report on the rediscovery of the Sabbath by various religious groups and by non-sabbatarian scholars who have published significant studies defending the validity and relevance of the Sabbath for Christians today. Recently some amazing articles and books have been published by non-sabbatarians defending the Sabbath. The latest book came to my desk last week. It is entitled Catch Your Breath. God's Invitation to Sabbath Rest. It is a refreshing presentation of the Sabbath by Don Postema, Chaplain at the University of Michigan. I feel that some of you might appreciate being kept abreast not only of the attacks against the Sabbath, but also of the rediscovery of the Sabbath by many today.

  2. Sabbath and Salvation
    In this essay I plan to explain how the Sabbath in the Old Testament served to nourish the hope and strengthen the faith of the Messianic redemption to come and how in the New Testament it enables us to conceptualize, internalize, and experience the reality of salvation that has already come. It is unfortunate that most Sabbatarians, including Adventists, have largely ignored the redemptive meaning and function of the Sabbath in the old and New Testaments.

  3. Paul and the Law
    This essay will examine the apparent tension between Paul's negative and positive statements about the law. Our concern will be to establish the apostle's view toward the Old Testament law in general. We shall ask, Did Paul teach that Christ abrogated the Mosaic law in particular and/or the Old Testament law in general, and that consequently Christians are no longer obligated to observe them? This view has predominated in much of Christian history and is still tenaciously defended by Dispensationalists and New Covenant people like Ratzlaff. The essay will show that Paul rejects the law as a method of salvation but upholds it as a standard for Christian conduct.

  4. Delighting in the Sabbath
    This essay will be of practical nature, suggesting ways to make the Sabbath a time of joyful celebration of God's creative and redemptive love. For some people, as your know, the Sabbath is a day of gloomy frustration. They viewed the Sabbath more as an alienating imposition than a Divine invitation to experience God's presence, peace, and rest in the lives. Part of the problem is their limited understanding and a negative attitude toward the observance of the Sabbath. The best antidote against this kind of "Sabbath crisis" is to help fellow believers understand and experience more fully the meaning and blessings of the Sabbath.

A Report on Ratzlaff
Ratzlaff has sent me two conflicting messages. In the first message which I plan to post as soon as possible with a brief response, he says: "I am going to withdraw from this discussion. I am a busy pastor growing a church and I think my time may be spent in better ways as my conclusions have already been carefully stated in my book, Sabbath in Crisis.." A major reason for his withdrawal is that he does not have time to discuss the issues in the format I proposed. He would like to use this mailing list primarily to post chapters of his book, while I am asking him either to prepare essays which present in a cohesive way his views on certain aspects of the Sabbath, and to respond to my analysis of his arguments. The purpose of this Sabbath Discussion is not to post chapters of our books, but to discuss our respective positions. I fully sympathize with Ratzlaff's difficulty to find time for this discussion. It is indeed a very time consuming undertaking, as I mentioned earlier.

The reason I asked him to prepare cohesive essays is that his treatment of the Sabbath in his book is very fragmented. To understand his view of the New Covenant with respect to the Sabbath for this essay, I had to jump from chapters 5 to 12 to 15. I would have preferred to deal with a more cohesive exposition of the subject. In the second message Ratzlaff says: "Please keep me on your mailing list. I may want to respond from time to time." At this point I am not so sure what he intends to do in the future.

Whether or not Ratzlaff decides to reply to this or future essays that I will be posting on the Sabbath, it does not make a significant difference to me. The reason is that my goal has been from the outset to help people who have been influenced by his New Covenant theology, understand the fallacies of his methodology and conclusions. This endeavor will continue for the next few weeks until I have finished examining His major arguments against the Sabbath. After the completion of this project, we wwant to turn our attention to other relevant end-time issues. During the past few days I received numerous proposals of timely subjects that need investigation. As time allow we will turn our attention to some of them.

Thank you for your patience in reading this long preamble.

Christian regards

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






The renewed attempts to negate the continuity and value of the Sabbath for Christians today, largely stem from a blatant misrepresentation of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. Dispensational and New Covenant authors argue that there is a radical discontinuity between these two covenants, often referred to also as Law and Gospel. Allegedly the Old Covenant was characterized by strict obedience to the law, of which the Sabbath was a chief precept. By contrast, the New Covenant is presumably manifested in a faith-acceptance of the provision of grace, of which Sunday is for many a fitting memorial. Simply stated, the Cross is seen as the line of demarcation between the Old and New Covenants, Law and Grace, the Sabbath and Sunday. In the last essay we briefly traced the origin and development of this anti-Sabbath theology.

To a large extent this is the theological construct promoted by Dale Ratzlaff in his book The Sabbath in Crisis and by Clay Peck in New Covenant Christians. For the sake of accuracy I must say that, contrary to most New Covenant and Dispendational authors, both Ratzlaff and Peck are more concerned to prove the "fulfillment" and termination of the Sabbath in Christ, than to defend Sunday observance as an apostolic institution. For them the New Covenant does not require the observance of a day, but the daily experience of the rest of salvation typified by the Sabbath rest. In his book Ratzlaff does include a chapter on "The First Day of the Week" where he makes a feeble attempt to justify the Biblical origin of Sundaykeeping. But this is not the major concern of his book.

This essay examines Ratzlaff's understanding of the relationship between the New Covenant and the Sabbath, as articulated especially in chapters 5, 12 and 15 of his book The Sabbath in Crisis. The same view is expressed in a more succinct fashion by Clay Peck in chapters 3 to 6 of New Covenant Christians. My analysis will focus primarily on Ratzlaff's material because the latter has influenced not only the Worldwide Church of God (WWCG), but several former Adventist ministers (including Clay Peck) to reject the Sabbath as an Old Covenant, Mosaic institution no longer binding upon Christians today. The outcome of the New Covenant theology in the WWCG has been a massive exodus of over 70,000 members who have refused to accept such teachings. In the Adventist church the New Covenant teaching has influenced several former pastors who have established independent "grace" oriented congregations.

The procedure we shall follow is rather simple. First, I will attempt to summarize Ratzlaff's view of the New Covenant in its relationship to the Sabbath, and then, I will expose the major fallacies of his theological construct. The first part of the essay focuses on the allegedly distinction between law as the basis of the Old Covenant and love as the basis of the New Covenant. The second part examines Ratzlaff's use of the book of Hebrews to support his contention of the abrogation of the law in general and the Sabbath in particular with the coming of Christ.

This study is most important because it examines, not an isolated opinion, but the prevailing misconception of the Christian world at large regarding the relationship between the Sabbath and the Covenants. Without hesitation most Sundaykeeping Christians think of Sabbathkeeping as a relic of the Old Covenant and of Sabbatarians as "Judaizers" still living under the Mosaic law. Thus, there is an urgent need to unmasks the fallacies of this popular New Covenant theology.

In my previous essay "The Sabbath under Crossfire" I traced briefly the origin of this anti-Sabbath theology. Now, we want to examine its major arguments as espoused by Dispensationalists and New Covenantists. We focus on Ratzlaff's New Covenant anti-Sabbath theology for two simple reasons: (1) It largely reflects the Dispensational and New Covenant views of the Sabbath; (2) His book The Sabbath in Crisis has exercised considerable influence, especially in the Sabbatarian community.

For the sake of those less versed in theological nuances, it might help to clarify the difference between Dispensational and Covenant theologies. Both of them emphasize the distinction between the Old Mosaic Covenant allegedly based on law and the New Christian Covenant presumably based on grace. Dispensationalists, however, go a step further, by interpreting the distinction between the Old and New Covenants as representing the existence of a fundamental and permanent distinction between Israel and the church. "Throughout the ages," writes Lewis Sperry Chafer, a leading dispensational theologian, "God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved, which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives, which is Christianity."1

Simply stated, Dispensationalists interpret the Old and New Covenants as representing two different plans of salvation for two different people, Israel and the Church, whose destiny will be different for all eternity. What God has united by breaking down the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:14), Dispensationalists are trying to divide by rebuilding the wall of partition not only for the present age, but for all eternity. It is hard to believe that intelligent and responsible Christians would dare to fabricate such a divisive theology that grossly misrepresents the fairness and justice of God.



Ratzlaff defines the New Covenant in terms of contrasts with the Old Covenant. His aim is to show that the New Covenant is better than the Old, because it is no longer based on the law but on love for Christ. He reduces the Old Covenant to the Ten Commandments and the New Covenant to the principle of love, in order to sustain his thesis that Christ replaced both the Ten commandments and the Sabbath with simpler and better laws. For the purpose of this analysis, I will focus on the major contrast that Ratzlaff establishes between the Old and New Covenant, namely, law versus love. To ensure an accurate representation of his views, I will quote him verbatim as much as possible.

The Old Covenant Was Based on Laws while New Covenant is Based on Love
The fundamental thesis of Ratzlaff is that there is a radical difference between the Old and New Covenants because the former is based on laws while the latter on love. Though he acknowledges that an important aspect of the Old Covenant was "the redemptive deliverance of Israel from Egypt" (p. 73), he concludes his study of the Old Covenant saying: "We found that the Ten Commandments were the covenant. They were called the 'tablets of the testimony' (Ex. 31:18), the 'words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments' (Ex. 34:28), 'the testimony' (Ex. 40:20), 'the covenant of the Lord' (1 Ki. 8:8, 9,21)."

"We also found that the other laws in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy were called the 'book of the covenant' (Ex. 24:7) or 'the book of the law' (Deut. 31:26). We saw that these laws served as an interpretation or expansion of the Ten Commandments" (p. 78). Again Ratzlaff says: "The Ten Commandments were the words of the covenant. There was also an expanded version of the covenant: the laws of Exodus through Deuteronomy" (p. 180).

On a similar vein Peck writes: "The Old Covenant was the Ten Commandments. But it involved more than just the Ten commandments, for they were just a summary. Many more laws and regulations were given to interpret and explain and expand 'The Ten'" (p. 22).

By contrast, the essence of the New Covenant for Ratzlaff and Peck is the commandment to love as Jesus loved. He writes: "Part of this 'new commandment' was not new. The Old Covenant had instructed them to love one another. The part that was new was 'as I have loved you' . . . In the Old Covenant what made others know that the Israelites were the chosen people? Not the way they loved, but what they ate and what they did not eat; where they worshipped, when they worshipped, the clothes they wore, etc. However, in the New Covenant, Christ's true disciples will be known by the way they love!" (p.181).

Ratzlaff develops further the contrast between the two covenants by arguing that as the Old Covenant expands the Ten Commandments in "the book of the law, so the New Covenant contains more than the just simple command to love one another as Christ loved us. We have the Gospel records which demonstrate how Jesus loved. . . . Then, in the epistles we have interpretations of the love and work of Christ" (p. 182).

Peck faithfully reproduces Ratzlaff's construct through a simple diagram: "The Old Covenant: Ten Commandments ... The New Covenant: Love as Christ loved" (p. 67). Like Ratzlaff, Peck develops the contrast between the two saying: "Just as the Old Covenant had both the words of the covenant and the book of the covenant, so the new covenant has more than just the basic words or command-to love each other as Christ loved us. We have the Gospels, which demonstrate how Jesus loved, showing him in action; and the Epistles, the rest of the New Testament, which interpret the work of Christ and apply the law of Christ" (p. 67).

Do the Old and New Covenants Contain Two Sets of Laws?
The above contrast between the Old and New Covenants contains several major flaws. It reduces the two covenants to two different set of laws, the latter being simpler and better than the former. It assumes that while the Old Covenant was based on the obligation to obey countless specific laws, the New Covenant rests on the simpler love commandment of Christ. Simply stated, the Old Covenant moral principles of the Ten Commandments are replaced in the New Covenant by a better and simpler love principle given by Christ.

Both Ratzlaff and Peck affirm this view unequivocally. Ratzlaff writes: "In old covenant life, morality was often seen as an obligation to numerous specific laws. In the new covenant, morality springs from a response to the living Christ" (p. 74) "The new law [given by Christ] is better that the old law [given by Moses]" (p. 73). "In the New Covenant, Christ's true disciples will be known by the way they love! This commandment to love is repeated a number of times in the New Testament, just as the Ten Commandments were repeated a number of times in the old" (p. 181). Similarly Peck writes: "Contrast those Old Covenant regulations with the simple command of the New Covenant: 'A new command I give you: Love one another' (John 13:34). What a simple, yet beautiful and far-reaching command: 'Just love each other.' That is the whole law of God in the New Covenant" (p. 17).

The attempt of Ratzlaff and Peck to reduce the Old and New Covenants to two different sets of laws, the latter being simpler and better than the former, is designed to support their contention that Ten Commandments in general and of the Sabbath in particular were the essence of the Old Covenant terminated at the Cross. The problem with their imaginative interpretation is that it is clearly contradicted by Scripture besides incriminating the moral consistency of God's government.

Nowhere the Bible Suggests Two Sets of Laws
Nowhere the Bible suggests that with the New Covenant God instituted "better commandments" than those of the Old Covenant. Why would Christ need to alter the moral demands that God has revealed in His law? Why, I must ask Ratzlaff and Peck, would God feel the need to change His perfect and holy requirements for our conduct and attitudes? Christ came not to change the moral requirements, but to atone for our transgression against those moral requirements (Rom 4:25; 5:8-9; 8:1-3).

It is evident that by being sacrificed as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7), Christ fulfilled all the sacrificial services and laws that served in Old Testament times to strengthen the faith and nourish the hope of the Messianic redemption to come. But the New Testament, as we shall see, makes a clear distinction between the sacrificial laws that Christ by his coming "set aside" (Heb 7:18), made "obsolete"(Heb 8:13), "abolished" (Heb 10:9) and Sabbathkeeping, for example, which "has been left behind for the people of God" (Heb 4:9).

May I ask Ratzlaff and Peck, Why should God first call His people to respond to His redemptive deliverance from Egypt by living according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments, and then summon His people to accept His redemption from sin by obeying simpler and better commandments? Did God discover that the moral principles promulgated at Sinai were not sufficiently moral, and consequently they needed to be improved and replaced with simpler and better commandments?

Such an assumption is preposterous because it negates the immutability of God's moral character reflected in His moral laws. The Old Testament teaches that the New Covenant that God will make with the house of Israel consists, not in the replacement of the Ten Commandments with simpler and better laws, but in the internalization of God's law: "This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God" (Jer 31:33).

This passage teaches us that the difference between the Old and New Covenants is not a difference between "law" and "love." Rather it is a difference between failure to internalize God's law, which results in disobedience, and successful internalization of God's law, which results in obedience. The New Covenant believer who internalizes God's law by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, will find it hard to break the law, because as Paul puts it, "Christ has set him free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2).

Internalization of the Law in the New Covenant
The internalization of God's law in the human heart is the same New Covenant that God wants to make with the Church in the New Testament. In fact Hebrews applies to the Church the very same promise made to Israel (Heb 8:10; 10:16)). In the New Covenant the law is not simplified or replaced, but internalized by the Spirit. The Spirit opens people up to the law, enabling them to live in accordance to its higher ethics.

Ratzlaff's argument that under the New Covenant "the law no longer applies to one who has died with Christ" (p. 207), is senseless, to say the least. Believers are no longer under the condemnation of the law when they experience God's forgiving grace and by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit they live according to its precepts. But this does not means that the law no longer applies to them. They are still accountable before God's law because all "shall stand before the judgment seat of God" (Rom 14:10) to give an account of themselves.

The Spirit does not operate in a vacuum. The function of the Spirit is not to bypass or replace the law, but to help the believer to live in obedience to the law of God (Gal 5: 18, 22-23). Eldon Ladd, a highly respected Evangelical scholar, rightly acknowledges that "more than once he [Paul] asserts that it is the new life of the Spirit that enables the Christian truly to fulfill the Law (Rom 8:3,4; 13:10; Gal 5:14)."3

Any change in relation to the Law that occurs in the New Covenant is not in the moral Law itself but in the believer, who is energized and enlightened by the Spirit "in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4). Guidance by the Spirit without the respect for the law of God can be dangerous to Christian growth. I submit that this is a fundamental problem of the New Covenant theology espoused by Ratzlaff, Peck, and countless Evangelicals today: it is a theology that ultimately makes each person a law unto himself. This can easily degenerate into irresponsible behavior. It is not surprising to me that America leads the world not only in the number of evangelical Christians estimated at almost 100 million, but also in crime, violence, murders, divorces, etc. By relaxing the obligation to observe God's Law in the New Covenant people can find an excuse do what is right in their own mind.

A covenant cannot exist without the law, because a covenant denotes an orderly relationship that the Lord graciously establishes and maintains with His people. The Law guarantees the order required for such relationship to be meaningful. In God's relationship with believers, the moral law reveals His will and character, the observance of which makes it possible to maintain an orderly and meaningful relationship. Law is not the product of sin, but the product of love. God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites after showing them His redeeming love (Ex 20:2). Through God's law the godly came to know how to reflect God's love, compassion, fidelity and other perfections.

No Dichotomy Between Law and Love
It is unfortunate that both Ratzlaff and Peck never stop to reflect on why the Old Covenant, which was based on God's redemptive deliverance of Israel from Egypt, came to be equated with the Ten Commandments. They do not seem to realize that obedience to God's commandment constitutes a love response to God's grace in being Israel's Deliverer. They ignore the fundamental truth that the Decalogue is not merely a list of ten laws, but primarily ten principles of love. There is no dichotomy between law and love, because you cannot have one without the other.

The Decalogue details how human beings must express their love for their Lord and for their fellow beings. Christ's new commandment to love God and fellow beings, is nothing else than the embodiment of the spirit of the Ten Commandments, already found in the Old Testament (Lev 19:19; Deut 6:5). Christ spent much of His ministry clarifying how the love principles are embodied in the Ten Commandments. He explained, for example, that the sixth commandment can be transgressed not only by murdering a person, but also by being angry and insulting a fellow being (Matt 5:22-23). The seventh commandment can be violated not only by committing adultery, but also by looking lustfully at a woman (Matt 5:28).

Christ spent even more time clarifying how the principle of love is embodied in the Fourth Commandment. The Gospels report no less than seven Sabbath healing episodes used by Jesus to clarify that the essence of Sabbathkeeping is people to love and not rules to obey. Jesus explained that the Sabbath is a day "to do good" (Matt 12:12), a day "to save life" (Mark 3:4), a day liberate men and women from physical and spiritual bonds (Luke 13:12), a day to show mercy rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7). In a future essay on "The Savior and the Sabbath" we shall take a closer look at how Jesus clarified the meaning and function of the Sabbath.

Ratzlaff's attempt to divorce the Law of the Old Covenant from the Love of the New Covenant, ignores the simple truth that in both covenants love is manifested in obedience to God's law. Christ stated this truth clearly and repeatedly: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (John 14:21;). "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love" (John 15:10). Christ's commandments are not an improved and simplified set of moral principles, but the same moral principles He promulgated from Mt. Sinai.

Under both covenants, the Lord has one moral standard for human behavior, namely holiness and wholeness of life. Wholeness of life is that integration of love for God and human beings manifested in those who grow in reflecting the perfect character of God (His love, faithfulness, righteousness, justice, forgiveness). Under both covenants God wants His people to love Him and fellowbeings by living in harmony with the moral principles expressed in the Ten Commandments. These serve as a guide in imitating God's character. The Spirit does not replace these moral principles in the New covenant, but makes the letter become alive and powerful within the hearts of the godly.

Jesus and the New Covenant Law
Ratzlaff's contention that Christ replaced the Ten Commandments with the simpler and better commandment of love, is clearly negated by the decisive witness of our Lord Himself as found in Matthew 5:17-19. Since the demands of God's moral law continue to be good, holy, and right in the New Testament, it is senseless to assume that Christ came in order to cancel mankind's responsibility to observe them. It is theologically irrational to assume that the mission of Christ was to make it morally acceptable to worship idols, blaspheme, break the Sabbath, dishonor parents, murder, steal, commit adultery, gossip, or envy. Christ did not come to change the nature of God's laws by making them simpler, better, or optional. Instead, He came to fulfill, that is, to explain the fuller meaning of the moral principles God had revealed. Listen to His own testimony:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks on of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:17-19; NIV).

In this pronouncement Christ teaches three important truths. (1) Twice He denies that His coming had the purpose of abrogating the Old Testament commandments. (2) All the law of God, including its minute details, has an abiding validity until the termination of the present age. (3) Anyone who teaches that even the least of God's commandment can be broken, stands under divine condemnation. This indictment should cause New Covenantists, like Ratzlaff and Peck, to do some soul searching.

There is no exegetical stalemate here. There is no suggestion here that with the coming of Christ the Old Testament moral law was replaced by a simpler and better law. It is unfortunate that Ratzlaff and Peck try to build a case for a replacement of the Old Covenant Ten Commandments with a simpler and better law of the New Covenant by selecting few problem-oriented texts (2 Cor 3:6-11; Heb 8-9; Gal 3-4), rather than by starting with Christ's own testimony-a testimony that should serve as the touch stone to explain apparent contradictory texts which speak negatively of the law.

In a future essay on "PAUL AND THE LAW" I will deal with Paul's apparently contradictory statements about the law. We shall ask, How can Paul view the law both as "abolished" (Eph 2:15) and "established" (Rom 3:31), unnecessary (Rom 3:28) and necessary (1 Cor 7:19; Eph 6:2, 3; 1 Tim 1:8-10)? We shall see that the solution is rather simple. Paul rejects the law as a method of salvation but upholds it as a standard for Christian conduct. The Christian is not under the law as the basis of justification, but is under the law as a revelation of God's ethical standards for his life.

The failure to recognize this fundamental distinction, causes Ratzlaff and Peck to develop a unilateral antinomian position. A responsible study of Paul's view of the law must take into account both his negative and positive statements about the law. For example, in Romans 3:28, Paul maintains that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law," yet in 1 Corinthians 7:19 he states that "neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." How can these apparently contradictory statements be reconciled? Ratzlaff and Peck make no attempt to deal with this problem. They prefer the "cafetaria style" of selecting those texts that best support their termination view of the law. Such a method is hardly reflective of responsible Biblical scholarship.

Ratzlaff's Interpretation of Matthew 5:17-19. In chapter 14 "Jesus: the Law's fulfillment," Ratzlaff does examine Matthew 5:17-19. His conclusion is that this passage does not support the continuing nature of the Ten Commandments. He reaches this conclusion through an imaginative but unfounded interpretation of the two key terms "Law" and "fulfill." A survey of the use of the term "law" in Matthew leads Ratzlaff to "conclude that the 'Law' Jesus has reference to is the entire old covenant law, which included the Ten Commandmends" (p. 226). This conclusion per se is accurate, because Jesus upheld the moral principles of the Old Testament in general. For example, the "golden rule" in Matthew 7:12 is presented as being in essence "the law and the prophets." In Matthew 22:40 the two great commandments are viewed as the basis upon which "depend all the law and the prophets."

The problem with Ratzlaff is that he uses the broad meaning of the Law to argue that Christ abrogated not only the Ten Commandments but the whole Mosaic law. This he does by giving a narrow interpretation to the verb "to fulfill." On the basis of his survey of the use of the verb "to fulfil" Ratzlaff concludes that "in the book of Matthew every time the word 'fulfill' is used, it is employed in connection with the life of Christ, or the events connected with it. In every instance it was one event which 'fulfilled' the prophecy. In every instance Christians are not to participate in any ongoing fulfillment" (p. 228). On the basis of these considerations Ratzlaff concludes that the word "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17-19 refers, not to the continuing nature of the law and the prophets, but to the fulfillment of "prophecies regarding the life and death of Messiah" (p. 229).

Ratzlaff further claims that the six times Jesus says "You have heard . . . but I say unto you" indicate that the Lord was taking authority to "completely do away with the binding nature of the old covenant. This He will do, but not before He completely fulfills the prophecies, types and shadows which pointed forward to His work as the Messiah and Savior of the world which are recorded in the law. Therefore, the law must continue until he has accomplished everything. This happened, according to John, at the death of Jesus" (p. 229).

The Continuity of the Law
There are several serious problems with Ratzlaff's conclusion which largely derive from his unwillingness or inability to closely examine a text in its immediate context. The immediate context clearly indicates that the fulfilment of the law and the prophets will ultimately take place, not at Christ's death as Ratzlaff claims, but at the close of the present age: "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplish" (Matt 5:18). Since at Christ's death, heaven and earth did not disappear, it is evident that according to Jesus the function of the Law will continue until the end of the present age. Ratzlaff'claim that the six antithesis "You have heard . . . but I say unto you" indicate that Jesus intended to do away completely "with the binding nature of the old covenant," is preposterous to say the least. Why? Because in each instance Christ did not release His followers from the obligation to observe the six commandments mentioned, but He called for a more radical observance of each of them. This fact is widely recognized by respected evangeligal scholars. For example, Eldon Ladd writes: "Jesus taught the pure, unconditioned will of God without compromise of any sort, which God lays upon men at all times and for all times. . . . Jesus' ethics embody the standard of righteousness that a holy God must demand of men in any age."3 John Gerstner similarly observes: "Christ's affirmation of the moral law was complete. Rather than setting the disciples free from the law, He tied them more tightly to it. He abrogated not one commandment but instead intensified all."4

Christ did not modify or replace the Law, but revealed its divine intent which affects not only the outward conduct but also the inner motives. The Law condemned murder; Jesus condemned anger as sin (Matt 5:2126). The Law condemned adultery; Jesus condemned lustful appetites (Matt 5:27-28). This is not a replacement of the Law, but a clarification and intensification of its divine intent. Anger and lust cannot be controlled by law, because legislation has to do with outward conduct that can be controlled. Jesus is concerned to show that obediences to spirit of God's commandments involves the inner motives as well as the outer actions.

Christ is the Continuation and Realization of the Law and the Prophets
Ratzlaff is correct in saying that "to fulfill" in Matthew generally refers to the prophetic realization of the law and prophets in the life and ministry of Christ. This implies that certain aspects the law and the prophets, such as the Levitical services and messianic prophecies, came to an end in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But this interpretation can hardly be applied to the moral aspects of God's Law mentioned by Jesus, because verse 18 explicitly affirms that the law would be valid "till heaven and earth pass away." In the light of the antitheses of verses 21-48, "to fulfill" means especially to mean "to clarify," "to explain" the fuller meaning of the law and the prophets. Repeatedly in Matthew, Jesus acts as the supreme interpreter of the law who attacks external obedience and some of the rabbinical (Halakic) traditions (Matt 15:3-6; 9:13; 12:7; 23:1-39).

In Matthew the teachings of Christ are presented, not as a replacement of God's moral Law, but as the continuation and confirmation of the Old Testament. Matthew sees in Christ not the termination of the law and the prophets, but their realization and continuation. The "golden rule" in Matthew 7:12 is presented as being in essence "the law and the prophets." In Matthew 19:16-19, Jesus tells the rich young man who wanted to know what he should do to have eternal life, "keep the commandments." Then He proceeds to list five of them.

In Matthew 22:40 the two great commandments are viewed as the basis upon which "depend all the law and the prophets." It is important for Ratzlaff to understand that the summary does not abrogate or discount that which it summarizes. It would make no sense to say that we must follow the summary command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:19; Matt 22:39), while ignoring or violating the second part of the Decalogue which tells what loving the neighbor entails. We must not forget that when the Lord called upon us to recognize "the more important matters of the law" (Matt 23:23), He immediately added that the lesser matters should not be neglected.

We might say that in Matthew the law and the prophets live on in Christ who realizes, clarifies and, in some cases, intensifies their teachings (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28). The Christological realization and continuation of the Old Testament law has significant implications for the New Testament understanding of the Sabbath in the light of the redemptive ministry of Jesus. This most important subject will be studied in a future essay.



To defend his thesis that the Ten Commandments and other Mosaic laws were part of the Old Covenant which came to an end with the coming of Christ, Ratzlaff appeals especially to the book of Hebrews. His reason is clear: "The contextual teaching of this book deals with the very point of our study: how Christians were to relate to the Old Covenant law. Therefore, we should accept the following statements as having the highest teaching authority" (p. 197).

Ratzlaff proceeds citing Hebrews 8:13, which reads: "In speaking of the new covenant, he treats the first obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." In his interpretation of this text Ratzlaff argues that what is obsolete and vanishing away is the Mosaic law in general and the Sabbath in particular. Listen to his reasoning:

"The very next verses make it clear. 'Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship [Greek word is service]' (Heb 9:1). It is unquestionably clear that the Sabbath was one of those regulations of divine worship or service (Lev 23). . . . Let me clarify by reviewing what is said here. First, our author calls the Sinaitic Covenant the 'first covenant' (called old in other places). Then he says that it had regulations for divine worship. He goes on to list the things included in this 'first covenant,' including 'the tables of the covenant'-a clear reference to the Ten Commandments. These are the facts of Scripture in their contextual setting. Thus the 'tables of the covenant,' which includes the Sabbath commandment, and the 'laws for divine worship," which include the Sabbath, are old and ready to disappear" (p. 198).

Discontinuity in Hebrews
In his interpretation of Hebrews, Ratzlaff is right in pointing out the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenant as far as the Levitical services which were brought to an end by Christ's coming, but he is wrong in applying such a discontinuity to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments, especially the Sabbath. There is no question that Hebrews emphasizes the discontinuity brought about by the coming of Christ, when he says that "if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood" (7:11), there would have been no need for Christ to come. But because the priests, the sanctuary, and its services were "symbolic" (9:9; 8:5), they could not in themselves "perfect the conscience of the worshipper" (9:9). Consequently, it was necessary for Christ to come "once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9:26). The effect of Christ's coming, as Ratzlaff notes, is described as "setting aside" (7:18), making "obsolete" (8:13), "abolishing" (10:9) all the Levitical services associated with the sanctuary.

Ratzlaff interprets these affirmations as indicating a radical abrogation of the Old Testament law in general and of the Sabbath in particular. Such an interpretation ignores that the statements in question are found in chapters 7 to 10, which deal with the Levitical, sacrificial regulations. Though the author uses in these chapters the term "law" (10:1) and "covenant" (8:7, 8, 13), he mentions them with reference to the Levitical priesthood and services. It is in this context, that is, as they relate to the Levitical ministry, that they are declared "abolished" (10:9). But this declaration can hardly be taken as a blanket statement for the abrogation of the law in general.

The reference to "the tables of the covenant' in Hebrews 9:4 is found in the context of the description of the content of the ark of the covenant, which included "the tables of the covenant." The latter are mentioned are part of the furnitures of the earthly sanctuary whose typological function terminated with Christ's death on the Cross. However, the fact that the services of the earthly sanctuary terminated at the Cross, does not mean, as Ratzlaff claims, that the Ten Commandments also came to an end simply because they were located inside the ark.

Continuity of the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant
Hebrews teaches us that the earthly sanctuary was superseded by the heavenly sanctuary where Christ "appears in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb 9:24). When John was shown a vision the heavenly temple, he saw within the Temple "the ark of the covenant" which contains the Ten Commandments (Rev 11:19). Why was John shown the ark of the covenant within the heavenly temple? The answer is simple. The ark of the covenant represents the throne of God that rests on justice (the Ten Commandments) and justice (the mercy seat).

If Ratzlaff's argument was correct that the Ten Commandments terminated at the Cross because they were part of the furnishing of the sanctuary, why then was John shown the ark of the covenant which contains the Ten Commandments in the heavenly Temple? Does not the vision of the ark of the covenant in the heavenly sanctuary where Christ ministers on our behalf suggest that the principles of the Ten Commandments are still the foundation of God's government?

It is unfortunate that in his concern to prove the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants, Ratzlaff ignores the continuity between the two. The continuity is expressed in a variety of ways. There is continuity in the revelation which the same God "spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets" and now "in these last days has spoken to us by a Son" (1:1-2). There is continuity in the faithfulness and accomplishments of Moses and Christ (3:2-6).

There is continuity in the redemptive ministry offered typologically in the earthly sanctuary by priests and realistically in the heavenly sanctuary by Christ Himself (chs. 7, 8, 9, 10). There is continuity in faith and hope, as New Testament believers share in the faith and promises of the Old Testament worthies (chs. 11-12).

More specifically, there is continuity in the "Sabbathkeeping-sabbatismos" which "remains (apoleipetia) for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). The verb "remains-apoleipetai," literally means "to be left behind." Literally translated verse 9 reads: "So then a Sabbath rest is left behind for the people of God." The permanence of the Sabbath is also implied in the exhortation to "strive to enter that rest" (4:11). The fact that one must make efforts "to enter that rest" implies that the "rest" experience of the Sabbath also has a future realization and consequently cannot have terminated with the coming of Christ.

It is noteworthy that while the author declares the Levitical priesthood and services as "abolished" (Heb 10:9), "obsolete" and "ready to vanish away" (Heb 8:13), he explicitly teaches that a "Sabbathkeeping is left behind for the people of God" (Heb 4:9).

Ratzlaff's Objections to Literal Sabbathkeeping
Ratzlaff rejects the interpretation of "sabbatismos" as literal Sabbathkeeping, obviously because it does not fit his discontinuity construct between the Old and New Covenants. He goes as far as to say that sabbatismos is a special term coined by the author of Hebrews to emphasize the uniqueness of the rest of grace of the New Covenant. He writes: "The writer of Hebrews characterizes this rest as a 'Sabbath rest' by using a word which is unique to Scripture. I believe he did this to give it special meaning just as we do when we put quotation marks around a word as I have done with the term 'God's rest.' As pointed out above, the author is showing how much better the new covenant is over the old. I believe the truth he is trying to convey is that the 'Sabbath' (sabbatismos, Gr) of the New Covenant is better than the Sabbath (sabbaton, Gr) of the Old Covenant" (p.246).

Peck expresses the identical view, saying: "The Greek word here for 'Sabbath-rest' is not found in any other place in the Bible. It is as if the writer invents a new word to express the New Covenant fulfilment of the Sabbath"(p. 88).

May I remind Ratzlaff and Peck that they are the ones inventing a new meaning for sabbatismos to support their unBiblical and irrational New Covenant theology. The author of Hebrews did not have to "invent a new word" because it already existed and was used by both by pagans and Christians as a technical term for Sabbathkeeping. Examples can be found in the writings of Plutarch, Justin, Epiphanius, the Apostolic Constitutions and the Martyrdom of Peter and Paul.5

Prof. A. T. Lincoln, one of the contributors to the symposium From Sabbath to the Lord's Day which is the major source used by Ratzlaff for his book, acknowledges that in each of the above instances "the term denotes the observance or celebration of the Sabbath. This usage corresponds to the Septuagint usage of the cognate verb sabbatizo (cf. Ex 16:23; Lev 23:32; 26:34f.; 2 Chron 36:21), which also has reference to Sabbath observance. Thus the writer to the Hebrews is saying that since the time of Joshua an observance of Sabbath rest has been outstanding."6 Note that Prof. Lincoln is not a Sabbatarian but a Sundaykeeping scholar who deals in a responsible way with the historical data.

Ratzlaff's Five Reasons Against Literal Sabbathkeeping
Ratzlaff submits five reasons for his conclusion that sabbatismos "cannot be the seventh-day Sabbath of the fourth Commandment" (p. 243). Frankly, I find it frustrating and disconcerting to have to deal again with what I view as senseless and irrational reasons which largely reflect a failure to grasp what Hebrews is talking about. But I have no choice since I have accepted the responsibility to critique Ratzlaff's book.

The first and second reasons are essentially the same. Ratzlaff argues that since Hebrews states that the Israelites at the time of Joshua and later the time of David, "did not enter the rest of God," though they were observing the Sabbath, then, the sabbatismos has nothing to do with literal Sabbathkeeping (pp. 243-244).

This conclusion is totally wrong because it ignores the deeper meaning that Hebrews attaches to the Sabbath rest, as representing physical rest, national rest in the land of Canaan, and spiritual (messianic) rest in God. The argument of Hebrews, as we shall see in a moment, is that though the Israelites did enter into the land of rest under Joshua (Heb 4:8), because of unbelief they did not enter into God's rest (Heb 4:2, 6). In view of the fact that the spiritual dimension of Sabbathkeeping as an invitation to enter God's rest was not experienced by the Israelites as a people, and in view of the fact that at the time of David God renewed the invitation to enter into His rest (Heb 4:7), then a sabbatismos-sabbathkeeping has been left behind for the people of God. It is evident that a proper understanding of the passage indicates that the sabbatismos-sabbathkeeping that remains is a literal observance of the day, which, as we shall see, with a deeper meaning. The physical act of rest represents a faith-response to God.

The third reason given by Ratzlaff is his claim that "the concept of 'believing' is never associated with keeping the seventh-day Sabbath in the old covenant" (p. 244). This comment reflects again Ratzlaff's incapacity or unwillingness to think theologically. How can he say that the concept of "believing" is foreign to the Old Testament understanding of the Sabbath, when the Sabbath is given as the sign "that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you" (Ex 31:13). May I ask, Ratzlaff, is it possible for anyone to experience God's sanctifying presence and power on the Sabbath without a "belief" or "faith response to God? Furthermore, does not the prophet Isaiah summon the people to honor the Sabbath by "taking delight in the Lord" (Is 58:14)? Can one delight in the Lord on the Sabbath without believing in Him?

The fourth reason advanced by Ratzlaff relates to the verb "has rested" in Hebrews 4:10 which is past tense (aorist tense in Greek). To him the past tense indicates "that the believer who rests from his works did so at one point in time in the past" (p. 244). In other words, for Ratzlaff the past tense "has rested" suggests not a weekly cessation from work on the Sabbath, but a rest of grace already accomplished or experienced in the past.

This interpretation ignores the comparison the text makes between the divine and the human cessation from "works." In the RSV the text reads: "For whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his" (Heb 4:10). The point of the analogy is simply that as God has ceased from His work on the seventh day in order to rest, so believers who have ceased from their work on the Sabbath have entered into God's rest. This is a simple statement of the nature of Sabbathkeeping which essentially involves cessation from work in order to enter God's rest by allowing Him to work in us more fully and freely.

The reason both verbs "entered-eiselthon" and "rested-katepausen" are past tense (aorist) may be because the author wishes to emphasize that the Sabbathkeeping that has been left behind for the people of God, has both a past and present dimension. In the past, it has been experienced by those who have entered into God's rest by resting from their work (v. 10). In the present we must "strive to enter that rest" (v.11) by being obedient. Both in the RSV and in the NIV the two verbs are given in the present ("enters - - - ceases") because the context underlines the present and timeless quality of the Sabbath rest (4:1,3,6,9, 11).

Is Sabbatismos a Daily Rest of Grace in the New Covenant?
The fifth reason Ratzlaff believes that "sabbatismos-Sabbathkeeping" in Hebrews 4:9 does not refer to literal Sabbathkeeping, is his claim that "the promise of entering God's rest is good 'today," and "today' is not every seventh day," (p. 244). Thus, for Ratzlaff the "Today," implies that the Sabbath rest is "the 'rest' of grace" experienced every day (p. 244). Peck expresses the same view saying: "After mentioning the seventh day, the writer now speaks of 'another day,' saying, 'God has set a certain day.' What is it? Sunday? No. TODAY! God does not want you to wait until some day on the calendar to enter His rest and then only for a period of time. He wants you to enter His rest today, and everyday, to live His rest" (p. 87).

It amazes me how both Ratzlaff and Peck succeed in misconstruing the use of "Today" to defend their abrogation view of the Sabbath. Their interpretation violates the function of the adverb "today-semeron." The argument in Hebrews is that God's Sabbath rest was not exhausted when the Israelites under Joshua did enter the land of rest, because "David so long afterward" (4 :7) says "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (Heb. 4 :7, cf. Ps. 95 :7). The function of the "today" is not to teach a continuous Sabbath rest of grace that replaces literal Sabbathkeeping, but to show that Sabbathkeeping as an experience of rest in God was not experienced by the Israelites at the time of Joshua and David because of unbelief (Heb 4:6). To prove this fact Hebrews quotes Psalms 95:7 where God invites the people to respond to Him "Today."

The "Today" simply serves to show that the spiritual dimension of the Sabbath as rest in God still remains because God renewed the invitation at the time of David. To argue that "Today" means that New Covenant Christians are to observe the Sabbath every day by living in God's rest, means to ignore also the historical context. The "Today" was spoken by God at the time of David. If Ratzlaff and Peck's interpretation of "Today" was correct, then already at the time of David God replaced the literal observance of the Sabbath with a spiritual experience of rest in Him. Can this be true? Obviously not. It is an absurd conclusion derived from a misinterpretation of the text.

Three Levels Interpretation of Sabbath Rest in the Old Testament
To help the reader better understand the preceding discussion of the Sabbath rest in Hebrews 3 and 4, I will mention briefly how the notion of the Sabbath rest was utilized in the Old Testament and in Jewish literature. There we find that the Sabbath rest was used to describe not only the weekly Sabbath rest experience, but also the national aspiration for a peaceful life in a land at rest (Deut. 12:9; 25:19; Is. 14:3), where the king would give to the people "rest from all enemies" (2 Sam. 7:1; cf. 1 Kings 8:5), and where God would find His "resting place" among His people and especially in His sanctuary at Zion (2 Chron. 6:41; 1 Chron. 23:25; Ps. 132:8, 13, 14; Is. 66:1).

The rest and peace of the Sabbath, which as a political aspiration remained largely unfulfilled, became the symbol of the Messianic age, often known as the "end of days" or the "world to come." Theodore Friedman notes, for example, that "two of the three passages in which Isaiah refers to the Sabbath are linked by the prophet with the end of days (Is. 56:4-7; 58:13, 14; 66:22-24) ... It is no mere coincidence that Isaiah employs the words 'delight' (oneg) and 'honor' (kavod) in his descriptions of both the Sabbath and the end of days (58 : 13-'And you shall call the Sabbath delight . . . and honor it'; 66:1 1-'And you shall delight in the glow of its honor'). The implication is clear. The delight and joy that will mark the end of days is made available here and now by the Sabbath."7

Later rabbinic 'and apocalyptic literature provide more explicit examples where the Sabbath is understood as the anticipation and foretaste of the world-to-come. For example, The Babylonian Talmud says: "Our Rabbis taught that at the conclusion of the septennate the son of David will come. R. Joseph demurred: But so many Sabbaths have passed, yet has he not come!"8 In the apocalyptic work known as The Book of Adam and Eve (about first century A.D.), the archangel 'Michael admonishes Seth, saying: "Man of God, mourn not for thy dead more than six days, for on the seventh day is a sign of the resurrection and the rest of the age to come."9

How did the Sabbath come to be regarded as the symbol of the world to come? Apparently the harsh experiences of the desert wandering first, and of the exile later, encouraged the viewing of the Edenic Sabbath as the paradigm of the future Messianic age. In fact, the Messianic age is characterized by material abundance (Amos 9:13-14; Joel 4:19; Is. 30 :23-25; Jer. 31:12), social justice (Is. 61:1-9), harmony between persons and animals (Hos 2:20; Is. 65 :25; 11:6), extraordinary longevity (Is. 65 :20; Zech 8:4), refulgent light (Is. 30:26; Zech 14:6, 7) and absence of death and sorrow (Is. 25 :8).

This brief survey indicates that both in the Old Testament and in later Jewish literature, the weekly experience of the Sabbath rest epitomized the national aspirations for a resting place in the land of Canaan and in the sanctuary of Jerusalem. This in turn pointed forward to the future Messianic age which came to be viewed as "wholly sabbath and rest."10

Three Levels Interpretation of the Sabbath Rest in Hebrews
The existence in Old Testament times of three levels interpretation of the Sabbath rest, as a personal, national, and Messianic reality, provides the basis for understanding these three meanings in Hebrews 3 and 4. By welding together two texts, namely Psalm 95 :11 and Genesis 2:2, the writer presents three different levels of meaning of the Sabbath rest. At a first level, the Sabbath rest points to God's creation rest, when "his works were finished from the foundation of the world" (4:3). This meaning is established by quoting Genesis 2:2.

At a second level, the Sabbath rest symbolizes the promise of entry into the land of Canaan, which the wilderness generation "failed to enter" (4:6; cf. 3 :16-19), and which was realized later when the Israelites under Joshua did enter the land of rest (4:8). At a third and most important level, the Sabbath rest prefigures the rest of redemption which has dawned and is made available to God's people through Christ.

How does the author establish this last meaning? By drawing a remarkable conclusion from Psalm 95 :7, 11, which he quotes several times (Heb. 4:3, 5, 7). In Psalm 95, God invites the Israelites to enter into His rest which was denied to the rebellious wilderness generation (vv. 7-11). The fact that God should renew "again" the promise of His rest long after the actual entrance into the earthly Canaan, namely at the time of David by saying "today" (Heb. 4:7), is interpreted by the author of Hebrews to mean two things: first, that God's Sabbath rest was not exhausted when the Israelites under Joshua found a resting place in the land, but that it still "remains for the people of God" (4:9). Second, that such rest has dawned with the coming of Christ (4:3, 7).

The phrase "Today, when you hear his voice" (4 :7) has a clear reference to Christ. The readers had heard God's voice in the "last days" (1:2) as it spoke through Christ and had received the promise of the Sabbath rest. In the light of the Christ event, then, ceasing from one's labor on the Sabbath (4:10) signifies both a present experience of redemption (4:3) and a hope of future fellowship with God (4:11). For the author of Hebrews, as Gerhard von Rad correctly points out, "the whole purpose of creation and the whole purpose of redemption are reunited" in the fulfillment of God's original Sabbath rest.11

The Nature of the Sabbath Rest in Hebrews
What is the nature of the "Sabbath rest" that is still outstanding for God's people (4:9)? Is the writer thinking of a literal or spiritual type of Sabbathkeeping? Verse 10 describes the basic characteristic of Christian Sabbathkeeping, namely, cessation from work: "For whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his" (4:10).

Historically, the majority of commentators have interpreted the cessation from work of Hebrews 4:10 in a figurative sense, namely as "abstention from servile work," meaning sinful activities. Thus, Christian Sabbathkeeping means not the interruption of daily work on the seventh day, but the abstention from sinful acts at all times. In other words, in the New Covenant the Sabbath rest experience occurs not on the seventh day, but daily as believers experience salvation-rest. As Ratzlaff puts it: "The New Covenant believer is to rejoice in God's rest continually" (p. 247).

In support of this view, appeal is made to Hebrews' reference to "dead works" (6:1; 9:14). Such a concept, however, cannot be read back into Hebrews 4:10, where a comparison is made between the divine and the human cessation from "works." It would be absurd to think that God ceased from "sinful deeds." The point of the analogy is simply that as God ceased on the seventh day from His creation work, so believers are to cease on the same day from their labors. This is a simple statement of the nature of Sabbathkeeping which essentially involves cessation from works.

Further support for a literal understanding of Sabbathkeeping is provided by the historical usage of the term "sabbatismos-sabbath rest" found in Hebrews 4:9. We have seen that the term is used in both pagan and Christian literature as a technical term for literal Sabbathkeeping.

The Meaning of Sabbathkeeping in Hebrews
Is the author of Hebrews merely encouraging his readers to interrupt their secular activities on the Sabbath? Considering the concern of the writer to counteract the tendency of his readers to adopt Jewish liturgical customs as a means to gain access to God, he could hardly have emphasized solely the physical "cessation" aspect of Sabbathkeeping. This aspect yields only a negative idea of rest, one which would only serve to encourage existing Judaizing tendencies. Obviously then, the author attributes a deeper meaning to the resting on the Sabbath.

This deeper meaning can be seen in the antithesis the author makes between those who failed to enter into God's rest because of "unbelief-apeitheias" (4:6, 11)-that is, faithlessness which results in disobedience-and those who enter it by "faith-pistei" (4:2, 3), that is, faithfulness that results in obedience.

The act of resting on the Sabbath for the author of Hebrews is not merely a routine ritual (cf. "sacrifice"-Matt 12:7), but rather a faith-response to God. Such a response entails not the hardening of one's heart (4:7) but the making of oneself available to "hear his voice" (4:7). It means experiencing God's salvation rest not by works but by faith, not by doing but by being saved through faith (4:2, 3, 11). On the Sabbath, as John Calvin aptly expresses it, believers are "to cease from their work to allow God to work in them."12

The Sabbath rest that remains for the New Covenant people of God (4:9) is not a mere day of idleness, but rather an opportunity renewed every week to enter God's rest, that is, to free oneself from the cares of work in order to experience freely by faith God's creation and redemption rest.

The Sabbath experience of the blessings of salvation is not exhausted in the present, since the author exhorts his readers to "strive to enter that rest" (4:11). This dimension of the future Sabbath rest shows that Sabbathkeeping in Hebrews expresses the tension between the "already" and the "not yet," between the present experience of salvation and its eschatological consummation in the heavenly Canaan.

This expanded interpretation of Sabbathkeeping in the light of the Christ event was apparently designed to wean Christians away from a too materialistic understanding of its observance. To achieve this objective, the author on the one hand reassures his readers of the permanence of the blessings contemplated by the Sabbath rest and on the other hand explains that the nature of these blessings consists in experiencing both a present-salvation-rest and the future restoration-rest which God offers to those "who have believed" (4:3).

It is evident that for the author of Hebrews Sabbathkeeping remains in the New Covenant not only as a physical experience of cessation from work, but also as a faith response, a yes "today" response to God.



The preceding study of the New Covenant in relationship to the Sabbath has shown that there is an organic unity between the Old and New Covenants. Both covenants are part of the everlasting covenant (Heb 13:20), that is, of God's commitment to save penitent sinners. In both covenants God invites His people to accept the gracious provision of salvation by living in accordance to the moral principles He has revealed. Christ came not to nullify or modify God's moral law, but to clarify and reveal its fuller meaning. Christ spent much of His ministry clarifying how the love principle is embodied in the Ten Commandments in general, and in the Sabbath in particular.

Of all the commandments, the Sabbath offers us the most concrete opportunity to show our love to God, because it invites us to consecrate our time to Him. Time is the essence of our life. The way we use our time is indicative of our priorities. A major reason why the Sabbath has been attacked by many throughout human history, is because the sinful human nature is self-centered rather than God-centered. Most people want to spend their Sabbath time seeking for personal pleasure or profit, rather than for the presence and peace of God.

New Covenant believers who on the Sabbath stop their work to allows God to work in them more fully and freely. They show in a tangible way that God really counts in their lives. They make themselves receptive and responsive to the presence, peace, and rest of God. At a time when New Covenant theology is deceiving many Christians into believing in the "simpler" and "better" principle of love, the Sabbath challenges us to offer to God, not lip-service, but the service of our total being, by consecrating our time and life to Him.



     1. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dispensationalism, p. 107.

     2. Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, p. 518.

     3. Ibid., p. 128

     4. John H. Gerstner, "Law in the NT," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised edition, vol 3, p. 88.

     5. Plutarch, De Superstitione 3 (Moralia 1660); Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 23, 3; Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 30, 2, 2; Apostolic Constitutions 2, 36.

     6. A. T. Lincoln, "Sabbath, Rest, and Eschatology in the New Testament," in From Sabbath to the Lord's Day, ed., Donald A. Carson (1982), p. 204.

     7. Theodore Friedman, "The Sabbath: Anticipation of Redemption," Judaism 16 (1967): 445. Friedman notes that "at the end of the Mishnah Tamid (Rosh Hashanah 31a) we read: 'A Psalm, a song for the Sabbath day-a song for the time-to-come, for the day that is all Sabbath rest in the eternal life.' The Sabbath, the Gemara asserts, is one-sixtieth of the world to come" (ibid., p. 443).

     8. Sanhedrin 97a.

     9. Vita Adae et Evae 51:1, 2, in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, R. H. Charles, ed., 1913, II, p. 153. Cf. Apocalypsis of Mosis 43 :3. A similar view is found in Genesis Rabbah 17:5: "There are three antitypes: the antitype of death is sleep, the antitype of prophecy is dream, the antitype of the age to come is the Sabbath." Cf. Genesis Rabbah 44:17.

     10. Mishna Tamid 7:4. The viewing of the Sabbath as the symbol and anticipation of the Messianic age gave to the celebration of the weekly Sabbath a note of gladness and hope for the future. Cf. Genesis Rabbat 17; 44; Baba Berakot 57f. Theodore Friedman shows how certain Sabbath regulations established by the school of Shammai were designed to offer a foretaste of the Messianic age (n. 7, pp. 447-452).

     11. Gerhard von Rad, "There Remains Still a Rest for the People of God," in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, 1965, p. 94-102.

     12. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, p. 337. Karl Barth keenly observes that by resting on the Sabbath after the similitude of God (Heb 4:10), the believer "participates consciously in the salvation provided by him [God]" (Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, part 2, p. 50).