Friday, September 12, 2008

Scripture Passages that Raise Questions

A number of scriptures are used to buttress the rationale for continued observance of the Ten Commandment Sabbath. We will look at the most often used texts and see if that is what they are really saying.

Matthew 24:20

"But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath." Matt 24:20 (NASB)

Matthew was writing to Jewish believers and is the only one who includes this phrase. Jesus knew that in AD 70 there would be many Jews who would not be believers and that there would be some Jewish Christians (called the sect of the Pharisees) that still followed the Jewish traditions. “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses.’" Acts 15:5 (NIV) Both of the concerns, winter and Sabbath, were from mercy.

He knew that those who kept the Book of the Law would not do what was necessary to flee from the attackers. Just as the mention of winter is not a religious or law-based 

concern, the same is 'Debating the Law' by Cherry Brandstatertrue of the 
Sabbath. In fact there is good corroboration of the validity of this prayer. For during the abomination that caused desolation, likened to the destruction of Jerusalem, there were reports of tragedies that occurred because of Sabbath observance. One is recorded in 1 Maccabees 1:57. A large group of Jews had hidden in the desert but a detachment of soldiers pursued them “preparing to attack them on the Sabbath day…’ enough of this! Come out and do as the king orders and you shall be spared’ But they answered, ‘We refuse to come out, and we are not going to obey the king’s orders and so profane the Sabbath day.’ The attack was pressed home on the Sabbath itself, and they were slaughtered, with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of one thousand persons.” 10 Ch 24

Another factor was that from the time of Nehemiah the gates of the city were closed on the Sabbath to prevent trade with gentiles and to keep others from carrying loads in and out, thereby desecrating the Sabbath. “When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over.” Neh 13:19 (NIV) That tradition persisted until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

And, possibly because of the warning of Jesus, the Christians all escaped to Pella before the actual attack on Jerusalem in AD 70. The historian Eusebius records this fact: “For thence it originated after the migration from Jerusalem of all the disciples who resided at Pella, Christ having instructed them to leave Jerusalem and retire from it on account of the impending siege. It was owing to this counsel that they went away, as I have said, to reside for a while at Pella." Haer 29:711

If this warning from Jesus supported Sabbath-keeping in an eternal declaration, what does it say to us today? Are you keeping the Sabbath in such a way that you would refuse to run if soldiers bent on your destruction were pursuing you? He is obviously cognizant of all of the regulations connected with Sabbath-keeping given by God to Moses. The instructions for Sabbath-keeping in the Book of the Law are the only accurate interpretation for Sabbath observance. Because James points out that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10 (NIV) And Paul agrees by saying, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” Gal 3:10 (NIV) “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’” Gal 5:18 (NIV)

So, if we are keeping the Sabbath because of the Ten Commandments - as the SDA Fundamental Beliefs and Ellen White say - then we are obligated to do everything written in the Book of the Law, which includes not going out of your house, not baking or boiling, not doing any work, not kindling a fire, not carrying a load, not buying or selling at all. And the penalty for doing any of the above, which constitute breaking the Sabbath, is death.10 Are Adventists keeping the Sabbath? If not, then what are the new rules of Sabbath-keeping. Who devised them? When Christ went out of His way, by example, to show that He intended to "break" or "destroy" the Sabbath, why would we want to preserve it?

a) Matthew is the only gospel that includes this passage and was written to a primarily Jewish Christian church.
b) The early Jewish Christians continued to observe all of the customs of the Old Covenant for quite a while. Jesus knew that would be the case and was warning them to "get out of Dodge" before the destruction.
c) Probably because of Jesus’ warnings, all of the Christians escaped to the town of Pella, avoiding the siege on Jerusalem.

Isaiah 66:22-23

"As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD.” Isaiah 66:22-23 (NIV)

Does this scripture, written by an Old Covenant prophet, teach that New Covenant Christians should be keeping the Sabbath now?

It is interesting to note that not once is the Sabbath mentioned by John in Revelation. He was one who had a New Covenant understanding and wrote extensively about the new heavens and new earth.14 In fact, what he says would make that impossible. “I did not see a temple in the city, (speaking of the New Jerusalem) because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it
'Qumran - Dead Sea Scroll Site' by Cherry Brandstater light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
” Rev 21:22-23 (NIV) Just as there was no temple because the Lord IS the temple, there is no sun or moon because the Lord IS its light. And without a sun or moon there cannot be a weekly or a monthly cycle.
Furthermore, if Isaiah’s statement commands Sabbath-keeping for Christians, it must follow that it also commands the keeping of the new moon festivals and therefore the entire Book of the Law, including the entire sabbatical festival system and priesthood.

For New Covenant confirmation, listen again to Paul: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. …Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Col 2:13-17 (NIV)

a) If this text teaches that Christians should be keeping the Sabbath now, then it also teaches that we should be keeping the new moon festivals and all of the other customs in the Old Covenant.
b) Revelation does not mention the Sabbath even once. But it does say that in the new earth there will be no sun or moon, suggesting that the weekly and monthly cycles will have no significance. It says there is no need for the sun because Jesus is its light. In the same way, there is no need for the Sabbath day because Jesus is the Sabbath rest.
c) Paul’s teachings are in harmony with these conclusions when he says “do not let any one judge you” regarding the Sabbath day.
Romans 14:1-5

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him…One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:1-5 (NIV)

The Christian church in Rome included many Jewish Christians who continued to practice the customs of the Old Covenant. There were also gentile Christians who did not follow those practices, including the Sabbath. Paul’s tone in dealing with the differences in Rome was much softer than his treatment of the church in Galatia, where he left no doubt that

 the Old Covenant 'Let It Rain On the Streets of Jerusalem' by Cherry Brandstaterwas not incumbent on them. 
In Galatia the Judaizers were trying to impose the Book of the Law on the almost exclusively gentile believers. But even so, Paul’s own stand, in this passage to the church in Rome, is obvious when he says that those who continue in the Old Covenant observances have weak faith.

This certainly is not a strong endorsement of the necessity of eating only vegetables or observing certain days such as the Sabbath as sacred. It simply asks for grace until those weak in faith can mature. Paul was saying that He was willing to set aside his freedom in Christ in order to reach the Jews for the gospel. By the wording Paul used, it is obvious he is indicating that eating just vegetables and considering one day more sacred than another to be the positions that are weak in faith.
Praise God, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ – so, yes, you can still keep the Sabbath and be saved. But is that living in the fullness of the New Covenant? According to Paul, apparently not, since he indicates that the weak in faith continued with those practices. He is the apostle of grace and is saying to the others, “give them a break, they don’t get it just yet. They are still clinging to the shadows, but they’ll get there. Accept them even though their faith is still not fully grounded.” Why are we still there two thousand years later? Why have we taken a giant leap backward to embrace something for which Paul was pleading forbearance toward those weak in faith? Can we use that faint praise to justify our position?

The implications of this scripture are clear. Paul is not making a plea for Sabbath-keeping. He is'nt asking the gentiles to refrain from reviling the Jews for keeping Sabbath. It was quite the other way around. The Jews couldn’t conceive of its being OK not to keep the Sabbath. Paul made his stand obvious when he tried to get the Jews, living among the gentiles, to give up their Jewish practices, as we saw in the Jerusalem Council. Furthermore, he told the Colossians not to let the Jews come in and judge them for not keeping the Sabbath, or any other Jewish holy day, certainly not the other way around. “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Col 2:16-17 (NASB) This scripture makes it clear which position he considered to be the one indicating weak faith, or at the least incomplete revelation on the subject up to that point.

It is impossible to successfully assert that Sabbath-keeping does not belong to the Old Covenant. There is no record in scripture of anyone keeping or being instructed to keep the Sabbath until Israel was on the way to Sinai. The Sabbath is the exclusive sign of the Old Covenant. It is the very heart and essence of it. Even in the account of creation, God does not suggest any sort of observance of the Sabbath, nor are we given any examples or information of anyone keeping, observing or even regarding the Sabbath as holy or blessed until the establishment of it as the sign of the Old Covenant. If Adam and Eve had kept the Sabbath and it was of great importance, would it not have been mentioned? Instead, when we enter the New Covenant, we are told specifically (as in the text from Col. 2 above) that the Sabbath was “a mere shadow” of what was to come; the reality is Christ. Hebrews 4 underscores the poignant truth that even though the Jews had kept the Sabbath from Sinai thru the Advent, they had never truly entered the rest of the Sabbath. It was never about a day. It was always about Jesus.

So, what do we want to teach unbelievers? If what we really want to do is to reach the lost with salvation thru Jesus then what kind of confusion would we be bringing unbelievers into? How would we be able to explain that we honor the Sabbath even though the Bible teaches that the New Covenant doesn’t suggest we do so, but we continue do it anyway because it is the tradition of the church we grew up in? What on Earth could be the rationale for that kind of scrambled message? Do we want to make them weak in faith right from the beginning? Do we want to bring confusion into their lives with our traditions that are not incumbent on Christians? Do we want to put on them the yoke of elemental, weak, and worthless shadows? Or do we want to bring them into the true Sabbath who now dwells in us seven days out of seven. Isn’t that far better than just one day out of Seven? Other Christians do not receive less blessing for meeting together on the Lord’s Day.

Continuing to elevate the Sabbath as if we are a cut above and are more blessed because we keep the Sabbath (which in reality we do not keep) is another example of the arrogance that has marked the Adventist Church from the beginning. Besides, it continues to serve to separate us from the rest of the Body of Christ. Is that identity more important to us than compelling unbelievers into the Kingdom of God thru the beauty, sacrifice and freedom of the gospel? Re-asserting the law thru Sabbath-observance will establish in their Christian experiences the very barriers we have struggled to tear down for years. On several occasions I have invited people to church who have expressed reticence to come because of the Sabbath. They have not wanted to get involved with a questionable church that is not truly Christian. I have seen the question on their faces: “Do they teach other things that are ‘off’ too?”

a) Paul was writing to a church with nearly equal numbers of Jewish and gentile Christians, so his words were chosen with care.
b) He was not, however, endorsing the practices of the Law. He said those who were still holding onto them had a weak faith.
c) Paul is asking for clemency for those who had not yet moved into the New Covenant.
Romans 3:27-31 (NASB)

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

“We establish the law – Both the authority, purity, and the end of it; by defending that which the law attests; by pointing out Christ, the end of it; and by showing how it may be fulfilled in its purity.” Wesley's Commentary. In other words, God put the law into place as a tutor to bring us to Christ. It was a witness to the New Covenant. Therefore, it served its purpose.

Follow thru Paul’s logic. Chapter one of Romans says that gentiles will be saved without the Jewish Law thru faith. Chapter two states that Jews, even though they have their Law, are under condemnation because they haven’t - and can’t - keep it. Then in Chapter 4, he reveals to them the truth - buried in the everlasting covenant to Abraham - that their salvation has always been by faith. “’Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does
'First Century Synagogue Relief' By Cherry Brandstaternot 

work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Romans 4:3-5 (NASB)

I’m going to resort to the Message Bible for the rest of this text because otherwise you will get lost in all the circumcisions. Women reading the more traditional version may lose sight of any application to them at all, losing the meaning altogether. “Now think: Was that declaration made before or after he was marked by the covenant rite of circumcision? That's right, before he was marked. That means that he underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had done long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with himself, an act of God… And it means further that Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the "outs" with God… It is precisely these people in this condition who are called "set right by God and with God"!

Abraham is also, of course, father of those who have undergone the religious rite of circumcision not just because of the ritual but because they were willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God's action for them, the way Abraham lived long before he was marked by circumcision. That famous promise God gave Abraham— that he and his children would possess the earth— was not given because of something Abraham did or would do. It was based on God's decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed.” Romans 4:10-13 (MSG)

So what is his conclusion for both Jew and gentile? “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Romans 7:6 (NIV)

a) In Romans Paul builds his argument by establishing that both gentiles and Jews have always been saved by faith apart from the law.
b) His conclusion comes in Romans 7: Jews and gentiles have both been released from the law to serve in the new way of the Spirit.
c) God put the law in place as a tutor to bring us to Christ. It was a witness to the New Covenant, thereby serving its purpose.

The Sabbath has taken on a life of its own within Adventism. How did it start? Where did the attitudes, practices, habits, and beliefs begin? Why has it gained such power and strength in this group of people while the Christian world has little or no focus on the seventh day of the week?


Randi said...

So so good. Makes so much more sense!!!!!!

Gently Broken said...

Great! By the looks of things you are going thru these studies all that slowly after all. You go, girl!