Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A PERSONAL NOTE: This is the fifteenth installment of the ongoing SABBATH DISCUSSION. This essay differs from my precious ones, because this time I am responding to allegations that I have defamed Pastor Clay Peck of Grace Place Church in Colorado in two statements of my latest essay "Rediscovering the Sabbath" (Sabbath Discussion Part 14). I would urge all the members of our SABBATH UPDATES list who have received the previous essay, to read carefully my response. I have spent three solid days (about 50 hours) preparing this document because I view the allegations and the threat of a defamation suit as a serious matter. I trust that you will find my lengthy response to the charges levelled against me and my analysis of Pastor Clay Peck "New Covenant" theology of the Sabbath informative and spiritual enriching, inspite of its controversial nature.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
WWW HOMEPAGE: http://www.biblicalperspectives.com
Two statements of my latest essay "Rediscovering the Sabbath" (Sabbath Discussion Part 14) which was sent only to the members of the SABBATH UPDATES list, have prompted Pastor Clay Peck of Grace Place Church and his Attorney Ken Campbell, a member of his church and President of Christ Advent Ministries, d/b/a Grace Place non-profit corporation, to request that I "publish a retraction of the aforementioned defamatory and libelous statements about him in all forums." The request is accompanied by the threat to commence a defamation suit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado for "intentionally false and libelous statements" regarding Pastor Clay Peck. The two statements in questions are as follows:
The three basic charges levelled against me on the basis of these two statements are as follows:
I view these three allegations as serious enough to require on my part a close analysis of what I said about Pastor Peck and of what he has written about the Sabbath to determine if indeed I have made "intentional false and libelous statement" about him. I am prepared to retract and apologize for any inaccurate statement I have made about him and his view of the Sabbath.
I come from Rome but I do not claim infallibility. Whenever I make a mistake I am willing to acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness. For me this is a sign of Christian maturity. This is what I did on 7/10/98 when I posted "A Correction and an Apology" regarding the false statement I made that Pastor Peck had "left the Adventist church and established [his] own Sundaykeeping congregation." When I was made aware of the fact that I had been misinformed on this matter by sources which I failed to verify, I readily posted a retraction and an apology. Whatever false statements I have made this time about Pastor Peck, I am prepared to retract, correct, and apologize.
What troubles me about this incident is the procedure followed by Pastor Peck to call upon his lawyer to threaten me with a defamation suit, without first making any attempt to ask me for an explanation and, if necessary, a retraction of any wrong statement I made. Rest assured that I do not need to be threaten by a lawyer to acknowledge my mistakes. I would have been willing and ready to make right whatever I wrote that was wrong. As Christians I believe that we should follow Christ's explicit instructions: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone" (Matt 18:15). Jesus goes on saying that only if the brother does not listen, then the matter should be brought before the church (Matt 18:17). As the senior Pastor of "Grace Place Church," that is a church where grace abounds, Pastor Peck could have shown more grace toward me by asking for a clarification and retraction, if needed, of what I wrote.
We live in a very litigious society and we easily forget that the Bible clearly condemns the practice of taking one another to court (1 Cor 6:1-7). Paul condemns such a practice as a "shame" (1 Cor 6:5). On my part I have never been in a court during the past sixty years of my life. The only court I have seen is "Judge Judy." Now that my son Gianluca is a lawyer in Manhattan in one of the largest law-firms of America, I may become better acquainted with the judicial system of this country, since he often speaks about it. My principle has always been the one outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:7, namely, it is better for me as a Christian to suffer injustice than to take another Christian to court ("To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather de defrauded?").
Support for this allegation is found the opening paragraph of my essay "Rediscovering the Sabbath" (Sabbath Discussion 14-A) already cited. It reads: "In the previous essays I have dealt mostly with the attacks launched against the Sabbath by the Pope, the Lord's Day Alliance, and former Sabbatarians like Dale Ratzlaff and Clay Peck." Pastor Peck responded on 9/4/98 via email to this statement saying: "I have NOT 'launched and [sic] attack against the Sabbath.' I pastor a Sabbath-keeping church filled with many Sabbatarians (from SDA, Church of God 7th Day and WWCG background). You are misrepresenting the truth" (Clay@GracePlace.org).
On a similar vein, his Attorney Campbell emailed me the following message on September 6, 1998, " You are hereby demanded to publically retract your false reference to Clay Peck as a 'former Sabbatarian.' As you well know--since Mr. Peck and I have previously repeatedly informed you--Mr. Peck pastors a Sabbatarian church attended mainly by Sabbatarians in Longmont and Berthoud, Colorado. Therefore, your intentional reference to Mr. Peck as a 'former Sabbatarian,' published within a relatively short span of time after your previous widely-published false statement of fact that Mr. Peck had 'left the Adventist church and established [his] own Sundaykeeping congregation,' not only currently defames Mr. Peck within the world-wide Sabbatarian community; it also effectively neutralizes your email, "A CORRECTION AND AN APOLOGY," dated 7/10/98, by which you retracted that latter defamatory false statement pursuent to my request" (KenCan@compuserve.com).
Let me admit immediately without equivocations that my reference to Pastor Peck as "former Sabbatarian" was a wrong designation because he pastors a Sabbatarian congregation. Pastor Peck DOES conduct church services on Saturday, and therefore he is a Sabbatarian. I apologize for the mistake I made in misrepresenting Pastor Peck as a 'former Sabbatarian.' I am sorry for any pain caused by my wrong use of this phrase and I ask for his forgiveness.
Let me explain how I made the mistake. I was thinking of Pastor Peck, not in terms of the Sabbath services he conducts for mostly Sabbatarian members, but in terms of his "New Covenant theology" of the Sabbath articulated in his 90 pages booklet New Covenant Christians. I never met Pastor Peck in person. I only know him through his writings. In my view his teachings, as I will endeavor to show in this essay, are clearly "anti-sabbatarian." If my understanding of his teachings is wrong, and Pastor Peck or anyone familiar with New Covenant Christians points that out to me, then I will gladly post another retraction and correction, stating unequivocally as follows: Pastor Peck is a Sabbatarian minister, not only because he conducts church services on Saturday for mostly Sabbatarian members, but also because he firmly believes that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance for mankind that Christians are called to observe today. Christ has fulfilled the Sabbath, not by terminating its observance, but by making the day the fitting memorial of His redemption. I HAVE NO HESITATION TO POST A RETRACTION SUCH AS THIS, IF I HAVE MISUNDERSTOOD PASTOR PECK'S TEACHINGS ABOUT THE SABBATH. Nothing would make me happier than to know that Pastor Peck firmly believes in the validity and value of the principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping for today. I would jump and shout: Alleluia!
In used the phrase "former Sabbatarian" in reference to Pastor Peck, in the same way I used it in reference to the Worldwide Church of God (WWCG). The latter is known as a "former Sabbatarian" because early in 1995 her top leaders adopted the "New Covenant theology" of the Sabbath. According to this theology, which is clearly reflected in Pastor Peck's New Covenant Christians, the Sabbath is a sign of the Old Covenant, instituted by Moses and fulfilled by Christ. Consequently, the observance of the Sabbath is no longer mandatory for Christians today.
What this means is that theologically the WWCG is no longer a Sabbatarian church (thus, a former Sabbatarian church) because it has rejected the Sabbath as a perpetual, creational ordinance for mankind. In practice, however, more than half of their congregations are Sabbatarian because the local members still meet for church services on Saturday and are not prepared to move their services to Sunday. It was this analogous situation that caused me to use inadvertently the phrase "former Sabbatarian" for Pastor Peck. I had no intent to defame him. I am a scholar dealing with theological issues and not with private pastoral practices. I am extremely pleased to read that Pastor Peck wishes to be identified as a Sabbatarian. Again I apologize for the mistake I made.
The fact that Pastor Peck "pastors a Sabbathkeeping church filled with many Sabbatarians" does not prove per se that he believes that Sabbathkeeping is mandatory for Christians to observe today. There are many WWCG pastors who conduct church services on the Sabbath and yet they believe that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant that was nailed to the Cross. Theologically speaking these pastors are non-Sabbatarians, though for the sake of expediency they conduct church services on Saturday. Pastor Peck could be conducting services on the Sabbath at Grace Place for one of the following two reasons: One, because he believes in the continuity and binding obligation of the Sabbath commandment for Christians today; Two, because he finds it expedient to have church services on the Sabbath since at this point in time most of his members are Sabbatarians.
It is not my business to investigate for which of these two reasons Pastor Peck conducts church services on the Sabbath. My concern as a Bible student is simply to examine his "New Covenant theology" of the Sabbath to determine whether he "validates" or negates the perpetual nature and binding obligation of the Sabbath commandment for Christians today. If Pastor Peck "validates" Sabbathkeeping, as Attorney Campbell claims, then I owe him a retraction and an apology, which I will hasten to post. But, if Pastor Peck does indeed "attack" the Sabbath, by negating its creational origin and binding obligation for Christians today, then he owes me an apology for having falsely accused me of "misrepresenting" him. Since this essay will be read by thousands of people of all persuasions around the world, the "jury" out there will eventually decide who is misrepresenting who.
On my part I will endeavor to be as objective as I possibly can in analyzing Pastor Peck's teachings regarding the Sabbath. Some mistakes could well occur because I have been working under considerable time pressure. I was asked to post an immediate retraction so I spent every waking moment of the past three days to prepare this response. Because of the haste, some mistakes could have slipped in. If Pastor Peck or anyone familiar with New Covenant Christians finds inaccuraries and misrepresentations in my analysis, please bring them to my attention. I will be glad to make the necessary corrections, retractions, and apologies. This is the procedure I have followed with all the 13 books I have authored.
During the past 25 years of Biblical research and writing I have interacted with scholars of all persuasions. It has been practice to send review copies of each book especially to those scholars with whom I had the greatest disagreements. I find this kind of interaction very helpful. It enables me to see the strengths and weaknesses of my arguments and conclusions.
For example, as soon as my lastest book
Prof. Cooper replied with a lengthy three pages review where he discusses what he considers to be the positive and negative aspects of my research. He then offered the following statement for promotional purposes: "Although it does not persuade me to abandon my belief in personal existence in the intermediate state, Immortality or Resurrection? is deeply biblical, thoroughly researched, clearly argued, and engaging to read. There is no better case for monistic anthropology, soul-sleep, and annihilationism." I mentioned this episode simply to make the point that I respect the authors with whom I disagree and I always welcome constructive criticism. It is in this spirit of respect that I submit my analysis of Pastor Peck's "New Covenant theology" of the Sabbath. I welcome any constructive criticism, from Pastor Peck or anyone else.
Pastor Peck strongly protests the fact that I have included his name among those who in recent years have "attacked" the Sabbath. He accuses me of "misrepresenting the truth" because he feels that he has not attacked the Sabbath. Attorney Campbell views my statement as "defamatory and libelous," because he believes that "far from 'attacking' the Sabbath, Peck validates it."
Let me cite his complete statement: "You, I understand, have read Pastor Peck's booklet, 'New Covenant Christians.' You, therefore, are accountable for a comprehensive understanding of that entire document, including Peck's assertion, found on page 75, that 'the Sabbath takes on new meaning in the new covenant. In the covenant Jesus does not take away the underlying principle of the Sabbath. Instead, he fulfills it and makes it BETTER!' Far from 'attacking' the Sabbath, Peck validates it there and elsewhere, such as, for example, on page 74 where he recognizes that, 'it is okay to worship on Sabbath,' but warns against making it a salvation issue or a point of contention or division with other Christians, as forbidden by the New Testament (Rom. 14:5, 13; Col. 2:16, 17), and on page 88 where he acknowledges the legitimate view of Sabbatarians concerning the Seventh-day Sabbath as a special day of worship, provided that Christians not judge one another over that issue."
I wish to reassure Attorney Campbell that I take into account the very statements he cites from New Covenant Christians. Such statements, however, must be understood within the context of Pastor Peck's radical distinction between the Old and New Covenants. In that context, we need to ask, What is for Pastor Peck the underlying principle of the Sabbath that Christ fulfills and makes BETTER? Is it the principle of observing the seventh-day Sabbath as a day to internalize and experience the reality of Christ's salvation rest or it is the principle of experiencing the salvation-rest typified by the Sabbath, every day irrespective of the Sabbath day?
Is it okay to worship on the Sabbath because God has blessed and sanctified the seventh day for mankind or because "New Covenant" Christians can experience salvation-rest every day, including the Sabbath? The answer to these questions determines whether Pastor Peck "validates" or "attacks" the Sabbath. For Sabbatarians like me to reduce the Sabbath to an existential experience of salvation-rest available every day, means "to attack" the Sabbath, because such theology does away with the necessity to observe the seventh day as God commanded it.
Since the issue at stakes is whether in his booklet New Covenant Christians Pastor Peck "attacks" or "validates" the Sabbath, a definition of these terms is in order. From the perspective of the Sabbatarian community, to "attack" the Sabbath means to deny its creational origin (Mark 2:27: Gen 2:2-3; Heb 4:4), and perpetual obligation for makind to observe it, teaching instead that the Sabbath was a temporary, Old Covenant, Mosaic institution fulfilled by Christ and no longer binding upon Christian today. By the same token, to "validate" the Sabbath for Sabbatarians means to affirm the Sabbath to be a creational and perpetual institution that Christians are expected to observe today.
On the basis of this commonly accepted Sabbatarian definition of these
two terms, the question is: In his
This allegation is based on a statement I wrote in the same essay "Rediscovering the Sabbath" (Sabbath Discussion, part 14-B) which reads: "Contrary to Dispensationalists and 'New Covenant' Christians who emphasize the radical discontinuity between the Sabbath (seen as the sign of the Old Covenant) and Sunday (seen as the sign of the New Covenant), Sunday-Sabbatarians recognize the underlying unity and continuity that exists between the Old and the New Testaments, Sabbath and Sunday." To this statement Pastor Peck replied: "Also, you imply later in this letter that I (a 'New Covenant Christian') teach that Sunday is the sign of the new covenant. That couldn't be farther from the truth. You are going to be held accountable."
This threatening reaction is completely out of place. There was no
need for Pastor Peck to request Attoney Campbell to deal with me. I
would have been glad to provide him any explanation or retraction, if
necessary. The truth of the matter is that in this statement I am NOT
referring to Pastor Peck at all, but to Catholic and Protestant in
general (see even Pope's Pastoral Letter
There is no reason for Pastor Peck to assume that the statement indirectly refers to him. Note that this is a broad statement that includes Dispensationalists and "New Covenant Christians" in general. To my knowledge Peck is not a Dispensationalist or a "New Covenant Christians" who view the Cross as the line of demarcation between Sabbath and Sunday. For the past 25 years of my life I have debated this issue with them. I was referring to Dispensationalists and New Covenantist in general and not to Pastor Pect in particular.
The clinching proof that I was not referring to Pastor Peck is the clear statement I made in the previous essay entitled "The Sabbath and the New Covenant" (Sabbath Discussion, Part 12), that Pastor Peck does not attach any special significance to Sunday. I wrote: "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 specific day, but the daily experience of the rest of salvation typified by the Sabbath rest." There was no reason for me to repeat this statement; first, because I was not referring to Pastor Peck, and second, because the members of the SABBATH UPDATES list have already been informed in the previous essay that Pastor Peck does not attach any particular significance to Sunday. My understanding is that Pastor Peck believes that the "New Covenant" does not require the observance of a particular day. To this point we shall come back shortly.
To determine whether or not I misrepresent Pastor Peck's view of the Sabbath, I will now submit my analysis of his "New Covenant theology" of the Sabbath as presented in New Covenant Christians. My original plan was to conduct this study in my next essay "The Savior and the Sabbath," within the context of a fuller analysis of the popular evangelical view that Christ is the fulfilment of the Sabbath rest and consequently the actual observance of the Sabbath is no longer mandatory for Christians. I still plan to research and write this important essay, but I will not make any further reference to Pastor Peck. In fact, this is the last time in which I examine Pastor Peck's writing. It is evident that Pastor Peck does not appreciate the service I am rendering by analyzing what he has written. I use the word "service" advisedly, because in the scholarly community anyone that takes time to analyze and respond to a piece of research, is offering a valuable service by providing readers the opportunity to look at issues in a broader and more balanced perspective.
I have no desire to become involved in litigations. My calling is that of investigation of Biblical truths. I have authored 13 books and challenged the views of hundreds of scholars through the years, but nobody has ever threaten me with a defamation suit for allegedly misrepresenting what they have written. Personally, I have often been misrepresented and defamed, especially in America. Some "bright" people have written articles and booklets against me, accusing me of teaching that Sunday is the Lord's Day and of being a Jesuit spy paid by the Vatican to do subversive activites in the Adventist church. I could have taken legal action against such reckless libelous attacks, but I never considered such a possibility. My best response to such senseless false accusation is to be a man of integrity. Actions speak louder than words.
If my reconstruction of Pastor Peck's "New Covenant" theology of the Sabbath should prove to be inaccurate in some places, I would urge Pastor Peck or anyone else to show me where I misrepresent what he has written. I am prepared to correct or retract any inaccurate statement. This is what happens all the time at scholarly meeting. The presenter takes note of all the legitimate criticism of he respondents and changes the final edition of the essay acordingly. Real scholars are always conscious of their mistakes. My goal has always been to strive for accuracy.
The procedure I will follow is to examine the main arguments that Pastor Peck presents to develop his thesis that the "Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath" (p. 85). In each instance, I will endeavor to establish whether his arguments "validate" or "attack" the perpetual nature of the Sabbath commandment.
The Sabbath and the Covenant
Pastor Peck portrays graphically the contrast between the two Covenants by means of this simple diagram:
-Words of the Covenant-
The New Covenant: Love as Christ loved"
Since for Pastor Peck the Ten Commandments are the essence of the Old Covenant, his criticism of the Old Covenant is indicative of his negative view of the Ten Commandments themselves. When we apply his definition of the Old Covenant as being essentially the Ten Commandments to his description of the Old Covenant, this is the conclusion that emerges:
"The Old Covenant [the Ten Commandments] was given for a period of
The Old Covenant [the Ten Commandments] produced bondage;
The Old Covenant [the Ten Commandments] condemned;
The Old Covenant [the Ten Commandments] had a fading glory;
The Old Covenant [the Ten Commandments] was an inferior covenant;
In my view Pastor Peck's negative view of the Old Covenant/Ten Commandments as being temporary in nature, producing bondage, fading in glory, and inferior, raises some serious questions about the wisdom of God in writing with His own finger ten moral principles on two table of stones, only to discover later that they were too complex and needed to be simplified. Yet, this is what Pastor Peck seems to be teaching. He 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).
Do the Old and New Covenants Contain Two Different Sets of Laws?
It is not the purpose of this present study to expose the major flaws of Pastor Peck's Two Covenants construct. I have done this in my previous essay "The Sabbath and the New Covenant" (Sabbath Discussion, Part 12). There I have shown that nowhere the Bible suggests that in the New Covenant God gave a simpler and better set of laws based on the principle of love. Why would Christ need to alter the moral demands that God has revealed in His law? Why would God feel the need to change His perfect and holy requirements for our conduct and attitudes? Are not the Ten Commandments ten principles of how to love God and fellow-beings? 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 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 which "has been left behind for the people of God" (Heb 4:9).
Why should God first call His Old Testament people to respond to His redemptive deliverance from Egypt by living according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments, and then summon His New Testament people to accept His redemption from sin by obeying a simpler and better sets of commandments? Did God discover that the moral principles promulgated at Sinai were too complicated or not sufficiently moral, and consequently they needed to be simplified, 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).
Does the Lord's Supper Replace the Sabbath in the New Covenant?
I cannot take time in this context to deal with all the fallacies of this chart. Let me simply say, for example, that to maintain that the covenant partners in the Old Covenant were God and Israel while in the New Covenant are the Father and Jesus, means to ignore the Biblical meaning of the Covenant, which is God's commitment to save His people. In both the Old and New Testaments God offers salvation to His people through the atonining sacrifice of the Messiah. In the Old Testament believers accepted the Messianic redemption by offering sacrifices and partaking of the Passover Lamb. In the New Testament believers accept Christ's salvation by partaking of the non-sacrificial elements of the Passover, the bread and wine-the symbols of the New Covenant in Christ's blood (Luke 22:20). There is no difference of partnership. In both instances the partnership is between God and the believers who are invited to accept His provision of salvation.
Our immediate concern is to note that Pastor Peck makes the Lord's Supper the "remembrance sign" of the New Covenant which allegedly takes the place of the Sabbath, which he views as the remembrance sign of the Old Covenant. His chart clearly indicates that the change in the "remembrance sign" from Sabbath to the Lord's Supper, is similar to the change in the"entrance sign" from circumcision to baptism. For the latter there is clear Biblical support (Col 2:11-13), but for the former there is no Biblical support whatsoever. Nowhere the Bible suggests that the "remembrance" function of the Sabbath has been taken over by the Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper cannot replace the "remembrance" function of the Sabbath, because the two institutions have a different typological objective. The Lord's Supper invites us to remember periodically ("as often as") the past atoning death and the future glorious coming of Christ: "You proclaim the Lord's Death till He comes" (1 Cor 11:26). The Sabbath invites us to remember on each seventh day the fact that God has created us perfectly, redeemed us completely, and will restore us ultimately (Gen 2:2-3; Luke 4:18-21; 13:12; John 19:30; Heb 4:9; Is 66:23). I will develop this three dimensional meanings of the Sabbath in a future essay.
In all my reading of the Sabbath/Sunday literature during the past 25 years, I have never come across a scholar who suggests that in the New Testament the "remembrance" function of the Sabbath is replaced by the Lord's Supper. The issue at stake, however, is not the irrationality of this interpretation, but the implications of Pastor Peck's claim that the Sabbath was replaced by the Lord's Supper. The question we need to ask again is: Is Pastor Peck "validating" or "attacking" the Sabbath by claiming that the latter was replaced by the Lord's Supper? How could Jesus have made the Sabbath "BETTER" (p. 75), by replacing it with the Lord's Supper? In my view, if Christ replaced the Sabbath with the Lord's Supper-an absurd idea totally devoid of Biblical and historical support-He would have made the Sabbath, not "BETTER," but INSIGNIFICANT. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Is the Sabbath an Old Covenant Sign Fulfilled by Christ?
I wish that Pastor Peck would explain what he means by saying "Christ is the FULFILLMENT of the Sabbath." If by "fulfillment" Pastor Peck means that Christ terminated its function by realizing the promises of liberation and redemption typified by the Sabbath, then I have great difficulty in understanding how can a Christian "still find meaning and benefit in weekly Sabbath observance." If the typological function of the Sabbath terminated with the coming of Christ, it is senseless to continue to observe a meaningless relic of the past. Let me illustrate this point. If a Christian believes that Christ is the FULFILLMENT of the Passover lamb, can he "still find meaning and benefit" by sacrificing, roasting, and eating the lamb at Passover, while knowing that "Christ our paschal lamb has been sacrifice" (1 Cor 5:7)? This hardly seems possible to me.
Pastor Peck writes: "
If Pastor Peck teaches his congregation what he writes, namely, that the Sabbath "was a sign of the Old Covenant" that was 'fulfilled in Christ who is our 'rest' and our 'Jubilee,' I wonder if this teaching can provide a moral compelling reason to any of his members to observe the Sabbath? Personally I would see no reasons for observing an outdated Old Covenant institution that Christ has fulfilled. Again the question must be asked, By reducing the Sabbath to an Old Covenant Sign that Christ fulfilled at His first coming, is Pastor Peck "validating" or "attacking" the Sabbath?
Was the Sabbath Nailed to the Cross?
He continues saying: "The order of annual, monthly, and weekly
observances ('a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath
day') is repeated over and over in Scripture. The text is clearly
talking about the weekly, seventh day Sabbath (see Hosea 2:11; 1 Chr
23:31; etc.). Since different Christians come to different conclusions
on the importance of the Sabbath and other Old Covenant observance, the
apostle Paul said
Pastor Peck seems to be saying, correct me if I am wrong, that Paul told the Colossians "do not judge" one another regarding the observance of the Sabbath and other Old Covenant obervances because they were all nailed to the Cross. If this is what Pastor Peck is saying, then it is evident that he is not "validating" the Sabbath, but "attacking" it as a bygone shadow.
Regarding Pastor Peck's interpretation of this passage, I have
already shown in the fifth installment of the SABBATH DISCUSSION
series, that modern scholarship has established that the "written
document-cheirographon" that was nailed to the Cross, has nothing to do
with the Mosaic law in general or the Sabbath in particular. First,
because as E. Lohse points out in his
Second, this interpretation detracts from the immediate argument designed to prove the fulness of God's forgiveness. The wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial law would hardly provide Christians with the divine assurance of forgiveness. Guilt is not removed by destroying law codes. The latter would only leave mankind without moral principles.
Recent studies on the use of the term cheirographon, literally "handwritten document," which occurs only once in the Scripture (Col 2:14), have shown that this word is used in apocalyptic literature to denote the "record-book of sins" or a "certificate of sin-indebtedness" but never the moral or ceremonial law (See From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 348-351). By this daring metaphor, Paul affirms the completeness of God's forgiveness. Through Christ, God has "cancelled," "set aside," "nailed to the cross" the written record of our sins which because of the regulations was against us. The legal basis of the record of sins was "the binding statutes, regulations" (tois dogmasin-2:20) but what God destroyed on the Cross was not the legal ground (law) for our entanglement into sin, but the written record of our sins.
The document nailed to the Cross is not the Old Covenant in general or the Sabbath in particular, but rather the record of our sins. Any attempt to read into it a reference to the Sabbath, or to any other Old Testament ordinance, is an unwarranted, gratuitous fantasy.
Does Paul Condemn the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16?
Pastor Peck interprets Paul's warning: "Let no one pass judgment on you" as being addressed to the Colossians believers who were not to judge one another "on the importance of the Sabbath and other Old Covenant observance" since they were nailed to the Cross (p. 75). This interpretation cannot be supported by the context. because Paul is warning the Colossians believers not against judging another, but against false teachers who passed judgment on how to eat, to drink, and to observe sacred times. The judge who passes judgment is not Paul or the church members as such, but the Colossian false teachers who impose "regulations" (2:20) on how to observe these practices in order to achieve "rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body" (2:23).
By warning against the right of the false teachers to "pass judgment" on how to observe festivals, Paul is challenging not the validity of the festivals as such but the authority of the false teachers to legislate on the manner of their observance. The obvious implication then is that Paul in this text is expressing not a condemnation but an approbation of the mentioned practices, which include Sabbathkeeping.
It is noteworthy that even Prof. De Lacey reaches this conclusion in
the scholarly symposium
It is a welcome relief to see scholars (I could quote several others) finally recognizing that, contrary to the traditional and popular interpretation, Colossians 2:16 is a Pauline approbation and not condemnation of the Sabbath. It is evident that Pastor Peck did not have the opportunity to benefit from recent scholarly research that sheds new light on this controversial passage.
Does Pastor Peck Believe that the Sabbath is a Creational Ordinance for Mankind?
Pastor Peck believes that on the seventh day God "offered the benefits
to his creation in an
Pastor Peck's interpretation of the creation seventh day as representing "an uninterrupted and continuous resting in what God had provided for them," rather that the institution of a weekly day of rest for mankind, ignores six major considerations:
Pastor 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 he already knew that the sixth day was the preparation day for the Sabbath and thus the people had to gather a double portion. The instructions given later in 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. It is impossible to remember what one has never known. Furthermore, the commandment, by presenting the Sabbath as rooted in creation (Ex 20:11), hardly allows for a late Exodus introduction of the festival.
In the light of these considerations, it is evident that Pastor Peck attempts to negate the creational institution of the Sabbath for mankind's benefit (Mark 2:27). Again, the question must be asked: Does Pastor Peck's denial of the Sabbath as a creational ordinance for mankind constitutes a "validation" of or an "attack" against the Sabbath?
In What Sense Did Christ Make the Sabbath "Better"?
Since Christ fulfilled the redemptive typologies of the Sabbath, Pastor Peck notes that "the Sabbath takes on new meaning in the new covenant. Jesus makes the Sabbath better in the new covenant by fulfilling it and offering us the blessings once again of that original rest and fellowship that existed before sin"(p. 85).
Pastor Peck is ASOLUTELY RIGHT in saying that Christ fulfilled the redemptive typologies of the Sabbath. In my next essay "The Sabbath and the Savior" I will discuss how in Old Testament times the experience of the Sabbath rest, peace, and liberation from the oppression of work, served to nourish the hope and strengthen the faith in the Messianic redemption to come. We shall see that these Sabbatical typologies of Messianic redemption found their fulfillment in Christ's redemptive mission. Christ offered to believers the expected Sabbatical "release" (Luke 4:18) and "rest" (Matt 11:28). But, by fulfilling the redemptive typologies of the Sabbath, the Savior did not abolish its observance, but enriched it. We shall see in the next essay that Christ made the Sabbath a day to celebrate not only God's creative love but also His redemptive love and accomplishments for us.
Pastor Peck is also ABSOLUTELY WRONG in claiming that Christ made the
Sabbath "BETTER" by changing its observance into the unending "original
rest and fellowship that existed before sin"(p. 85). This is a pure
fabbrication of his imagination. First of all, the creation Sabbath
rest was not "an unending spiritual rest" (p. 79), as Pastor Peck
claims. Nowhere the Bible suggests that the seventh day that God
blessed and sanctified at creation, was not an actual day, but an
unending experience of spiritual rest. The creation seventh day was a
Shabat-rest. The verb shabat used in Genesis 2:2-3, means "cessation"
from work, and not "
Is Sabbathkeeping in Hebrews 4 Literal or Spiritual?
Pastor Peck interprets this text as follows: "After mentioning the
seventh day, the writer now speaks of '
This existential interpretation of the Sabbath as resting in God
everyday, is used by Pastor Peck to interpret the famous statement in
Hebrew 4:9 "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God."
He writes: "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 fulfillment of the Sabbath. Do you want to
experience Sabbath-rest? It does not come from a day. It comes from a
person-Jesus Christ. If you have accepted Jesus and are depending on
him alone for salvation, then you have rested from all your own work.
You are trusting in His finished work and you are experiencing the
Sabbath-rest that God wants you to have, not just once a week, but
I have dealt at length with these arguments in my previous essay
(Sabbath discussion 12-B) "The Sabbath and the New Covenant." At this
juncture I will limit my comments to three specific points Pastor Peck
makes. First, Pastor Peck says that Hebrews 4:3-4 teaches that the
meaning of the creation rest of the seventh day is resting in God's
finished work: "Entering God's rest is somehow connected to the
The problem with this interpretation is the fact that it ignores that Hebrews 4:4 quotes Genesis 2:2 "And God rested on the seventh day from all his work," simply to support the previous statement that God's "works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb 4:3). In deed, this is the meaning of God resting on the seventh day, namely, to proclaim that His creation was "finished." The verb "rested" in Hebrew is shabat, which means "he stopped." God stopped on the seventh day to dramatize the fact that His creation was complete and perfect. There was no need of finishing touches. There is no indication in Hebrews 4 or in Genesis 2 that the meaning of the creation rest of God is "entering into the freedom and blessings of God's finished work" (p.86). There is nothing wrong with this idea per se, but this is not what the cited passages are talking about.
Second, Pastor Peck interprets the "Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your hearts" (Heb 4:7), as referring to the rest in God that believers experience every 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).
This 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 Pastor 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.
Third, Pastor Peck interprets "The Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God" (Heb 4:9) as the spiritual rest of salvation to be found in Christ: "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 fulfillment of the Sabbath. Do you want to experience Sabbath-rest? It does not come from a day. It comes from a person-Jesus Christ" (p. 88).
Let me reassure Pastor Peck that 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 literal Sabbathkeeping. Examples can be found in the writings of Plutarch, Justin, Epiphanius, the Apostolic Constitutions and the Martyrdom of Peter and Paul (Plutarch, De Superstitione 3 (Moralia 1660); Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 23, 3; Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 30, 2, 2; Apostolic Constitutions 2, 36).
Prof. A. T. Lincoln, one of the contributors to the symposium From Sabbath to the Lord's Day which is the major scholarly study produced by Sundaykeeping scholars in recent years, 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" (p. 204). Note that Prof. Lincoln is not a Sabbatarian but a Sundaykeeping scholar who deals in a responsible way with the comparitive usage of the term.
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).
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
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"
The Sabbath rest that remains for the New Covenant people of God (4:9) is not a daily experience of salvation-rest that believers can enjoy irrespective of the Sabbath , but rather an opportunity renewed every Sabbath to stop our work in order to allow God to work in us more fully and more freely. Through the Sabbath god invites us every week to enter into His rest and celebrate His creative and redemptive accomplishments for us.
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.
The claim that for New Covenant Christians every day is Sabbath because they can enter in God's rest every day, ultimately results in no Sabbath at all. This truth is brought out in a poem I read sometimes ago:
"Shrew men, indeed, these new reformers are!
I have prepared this analysis under considerable pressure of time. It is possible that I have inadvertently misquoted or misunderstood what Pastor Peck wrote in some places. I invite Pastor Peck or anyone else familiar with his booklet, to bring to my attention any correction that needs to be made. I will be glad to admit my mistakes and make the necessary correction. My desire has always been to strive for accuracy.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that some good may come out of all this discussion. By defining and clarifying the issues regarding the Sabbath, believers can make a more informed decision about its observance.