Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University


A PERSONAL NOTE: This is the thirteenth instalment of the ongoing Sabbath Discussion which contains Ratzlaff's farewell message which I received few days ago. As you will notice, Ratzlaff has decided to withdraw from the discussion for reasons given in his message. I was delayed in posting this message because the research and writing of the last essay "The Sabbath and the New Covenant" occupied all my time last week. We shall follow the usual procedure. First I will post Ratzlaff's message in its entirety and than I will respond to some of his comments.

Christian regards

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







To Samuele Bacchiocchi and Sabbath discussion subscribers from Dale Ratzlaff

It has been my goal from the start of this discussion to look at the biblical evidence and try to agree on what the Bible says. Then, after we agree on what the Bible says, I thought we might reach some kind of agreement on what the Bible teaches on the topic of the Sabbath.

It appears that this method is not acceptable to Dr. Bacchiocchi. I started out listing just the evidence, or summary conclusions, from my study hoping he would state which ones he agreed with and which ones he did not. Immediately, Dr. Bacchiocchi started pulling texts from all over the Bible trying to show what the text in question meant before we even agreed on what it said.

He stated he felt I was trying to "trap" him by my summary conclusions. For example, he would not accept the fact that both the covenant signs of circumcision and the Sabbath were presented as perpetual signs in the old covenant. He knew that I did not believe that circumcision was a valid sign for today so it was hard for him to accept my conclusion that the old covenant stated that circumcision was an everlasting covenant.

Dr. Bacchiocchi emailed me stating that he did not like the bits and pieces (summary statements) I was sending and wanted me to write an essay instead. In answer to this I sent two slightly revised chapters from Sabbath in Crisis on The New Covenant and Jesus and the Sabbath, part One, which contained full biblical support for all conclusions reached. In response to this, he stated to me that it would not be acceptable to post chapters from my book. He wanted only a summary position essay that he could counter.

The problem with the above is that my conclusions on the Sabbath spring from a large data base of biblical evidence. To present the conclusions without the evidence is foolish. I am not interested in discussion or debate for the sake of discussion or debate. My goal is to discover biblical truth, then be obedient to that truth. I want to take the Bible for what it says and not try to make it say more or less than that. In other words, I want to come to Scripture with the spirit of a learner, not using Scripture (hear a little and there a little) to support preconceived opinions.

Therefore, 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.

For those of you who have been following this discussion and are open to looking at additional biblical evidence, I will send to you free of charge either Sabbath in Crisis or Cultic Doctrine. All you have to do is request it. This offer may be withdrawn without notice at any time since I have limited funds. I hope this will be a help to those of you who are seeking to understand the Sabbath, the covenants and the gospel more fully. You will have the biblical evidence before you, not just bits and pieces, not just a text here and a text there, and you can, with prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, reach your own conclusions.

I believe that truth needs no other foundation than honest investigation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a willingness to follow truth when it is received.

I have also revised my web site so that several complete chapters may be downloaded (but not duplicated) from this site. Also, I have summarized some of the chapters in Sabbath in Crisis and may, if time allows, do more.

I hope this is received in the spirit in which it was sent. May God bless us all in our search for truth: Jesus Christ, himself.

"More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes >from God on the basis of faith, Philip. 3:8-9

In His Joy,
Dale Ratzlaff



First of all I would like to express my appreciation to Dale Ratzlaff for taking time in his busy schedule to interact with me. Judging from the thousands of messages received, I believe that the exchanges have helped many people. The New Covenant theology espoused by most evangelical Christians today and recently adopted by several former Adventist pastors, like Dale Ratzlaff, needs to be subjected to Biblical scrutiny because it is affecting the lives of many people. If nothing else, this discussion has impressed upon me the need to undertake a major investigation of the New Covenant theology.

Regarding Ratzlaff's allegation that I found his method unacceptable, the truth of the matter is that initially I took time to respond to each of his summary statements, as all of you can verify by going back to the first six or seven exchanges. But each time he came back asking me to accept his statements with some modifications. The reason I refused to endorse several of his statements is because I knew how he uses his earlier statements later in his book to jump to unwarranted conlusions.

Ratzlaff offers a good example, when he writes: "For example, he [Bacchiocchi] would not accept the fact that both the covenant signs of circumcision and the Sabbath were presented as perpetual signs in the old covenant. . . . He knew that I did not believe that circumcision was a valid sign for today so it was hard for him to accept my conclusion that the old covenant stated that circumcision was an everlasting covenant." I have no problem accepting the plain fact that both the Sabbath and circumcision are presented in the Old Testament as "perpetual signs." The problem is the conclusion that Ratzlaff draws from this simple fact. He argues that as the circumcision, which was supposed to be a "perpetual sign" was replaced by baptism, so the Sabbath, which was supposed to be a "perpetual sign," was replaced by the Lord's Supper (p. 185).

This conclusion is obviously wrong, because nowhere the New Testament suggests that the Sabbath was replaced with the Lord's Supper. Circumcision was given as a sign to Israel to remind them of their election and calling to be a separated people among the surrounding pagan nations. The Sabbath is a creational sign given to mankind to remind believers in every age that God has created us perfectly, redeemed us completely, and He will restore us ultimately.

It is true that the Sabbath, like circumcision, was also given to Israel to remind the people of their covenant commitment to God. But whether or not both of them were "an everlasting covenant" given only to the Jews and meant to last only until Christ's coming, depends from the witness of the Bible, especially the New Testament. The the Biblical witness is abundandly clear. Christ Himself affirmed that the Sabbath was made for mankind, and not just for the Jews (Mark 2:27).

The terms "everlasting," "for ever," "eternal" must be interpreted in the light of the subject which they qualify. A Hebrew slave who refused to go free on the Sabbatical year was to serve his master "for ever" (Ex 21:6). God punished Sodom and Gomorrha with "eternal fire" (Jude 7). The limitation of "for ever" or "eternal" is self evident in these instances. The point I am trying to make is that Ratzlaff cannot lump the Sabbath and circumcision together as Mosaic temporary signs simply because both of them are designated as perpetual covenant signs.

The continuity or discontinuity of a sign is determined by its function in salvation history. Contrary to circumcision, the function of the Sabbath spans the whole history of redemption, from creation to the final restoration. In fact in all my 25 years of reading of the Sabbath/Sunday literature I never read before that the Sabbath was replaced by the Lord's Supper. To my knowledge no scholar has ever suggested such a replacement. The New Testament clearly links the Lord's Supper to Passover and not to the Sabbath.

In his summary statements Ratzlaff never tells the reader where he is heading to. This is why I asked him repeatedly to give a complete exposition of his position. I find his fragmentary method very deceptive, especially for lay people who have not been trained to think analitically. He gives the impression of being very Biblical by giving numerous supporting test, but he ignores those texts which negate his conclusions. The credibility of a Biblical research is determined not by the number of texts used, but by the fair inclusion of the representative texts.

For example, Paul explictly says: "Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Cor 7:19). It is evident that Paul distinguishes between circumcision and God's commandments. But Ratzlaff ignores the distinction made by this text, in order to defend his thesis that both the moral and ceremonial law are part of the Old Covenant terminated at the Cross. This is an irresponsible methodology. A responsible Biblical scholar endeavors to examines all the data before drawing conclusions.

Ratzlaff accuses me of "pulling texts from all over the Bible trying to show what the text in question meant before we even agreed on what it said." The problem with Ratzlaff is that he tries to interpret a passage in isolation, without taking into account the total witness of the Bible. For example, he argues that in the creation story there is no indication that God established the Sabbath for mankind. Then, he uses this conclusion to explain away the clear testimony of Jesus that "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27) and of Hebrews 4:4 which takes for granted the creation-origin of the Sabbath. This is an irresponsible method of Biblical interpretation.

Regarding Ratzlaff's complaint that I sent back to him chapters 5 and 6 of his book, asking him to prepare instead an essay that offers a complete presentation of his view on the Sabbath and the New Covenant, let me explain my two reasons for such a request. First, I wanted to give a chance to the readers to get a complete picture of his position. Unfortunately the two chapters he sent are rather disconnected. His views of the relationship between the Sabbath and the New Covenant are most found especially in chapter 5, 12, and 15. Second, an organic presentation would have facilitated my analysis of his position. It would not have been necessary for me to jump over several chapters to figure out how he develops his conclusions.

I should clarify that I did not ask Ratzlaff to prepare a brief summary statement to deprive him of the opportunity to present an adequatate Biblical data. I suggested to him to try to keep the essay to 48K, because many members of our Sabbath Discussion list have providers like Juno that reject any document that is longer than 50K. What this means is that length of his essay could have been about 30 pages, which is slightly less than the length of the two chapters he sent me (56K). Ratzlaff replied to me saying, "I do not have the time to 'discuss' in your format." The issue was not the length but the "format." If necessary, he could have divided his presentation in two parts, as I have done with my analysis.

I can sympathize with Ratzalff that it takes considerable time to prepare an essay that gives a complete picture of one's position. It is easier to post chapters of one's book, and let other people draw their own conclusions. But this is not the purpose of this discussion. The members of this list are eager to see how we deal with the questions raised about our respective methodology and conclusions. If they want to read chapters of our books they can download them from our web pages or order a copy.

My final comment is about Ratzlaff's decision to withdraw from the discussion. Let me say that I am not surprised by his decision because I have had similar experiences before. Four or five years ago an Evangelist of the Church of Christ invited me to debate him in cyberspace in preparation for a public debate. After three or four exchanges he decided to withdraw. Actually he was very gracious because he recognized that he had never had the chance to study some of the issues we were debating, and accepted my offer of sending him some books to read.

A little over two years ago the Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God asked me to meet with him for a private dialogue here at Andrews. Few weeks before the date set for the meeting, he decided cancelled the meeting. We had few exchanges on cyberspace, but it was not long before he also decided to quit. I must say that Ratzlaff has lasted much longer than these previous gentlemen.

At this point my plan is to complete the analysis of Ratzlaff's book by posting at least three more essays. I feel that I owe this service to those who wish to know what are the fundamental fallacies of the popular New Covenant theology that is attracting at this time some Sabbatarians, including some Adventists. Since Ratzlaff has asked to be kept on the mailing list, he will receive the essays that will be posted and he is welcome to respond to my analysis. If he chooses to respond, I will be sure to post his responses together with my comments as in this instance.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ratzlaff again for taking time to discuss with me his New Covenant theology. I know that many have appreciated our endeavors because it has helped them to see the issues in a broader perspective.

A final annoucement to all the members of our Sabbath Updates list. Please do not become impatient with me if you do not receive my next essay for several days. I will be away for five days at Pacific Union College to speak at an Asian Campmeeting. Incidentally on Saturday night, August 22, at 7:00 p. m. I will deliver a special lecture at the Pacific Union Church for all the area churches.

The title of my lecture is: "The Sabbath Under Crossfire: A Look at Recent Developments."

This lecture will be primarily a report of recent developments regarding the Sabbath/Sunday Question. Some of the developments I plan to discuss are:

  1. The significance of Pope John Paul II Pastoral Letter Dies Domini where he makes a passionate appeal for a revival of Sunday observance, by urging, among other things, the passing of Sunday Rest legislation to facilitate Sunday worship.

  2. The renewed interest for the Sabbath as 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.

  3. Recent attempts by Sundaykeeping scholars and former sabbatarians to negate the continuity, validity, and value of the Sabbath for Christians today. The lecture will be followed by a question/answers session. If you live close to PUC you are welcome to attend. Remember the date: Saturday August 22, at 7:00 p. m. at PUC church. You should find the meeting informative and inspiring.

May God continue to bless our endeavors as we seek to understand more fully how we can experience His presence, peace, and rest in our tension-filled and restless society.

Christian regards
Sam Bacchiocchi