The 8th Fundamental Belief of Adventism states: “God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made ‘the heaven and the earth’ and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work.” Then it points to the presentation of the Ten Commandments in Exodus that says, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” as proof that the Sabbath had existed before the giving of the law.
For this section of our study I am going to ask you to step outside of your presuppositions about what you have been told regarding the Bible and look at the biblical account of creation, the exodus, and Moses’ experience on Sinai as if you had never heard it before. To set the stage, let me remind you of a few details.
Most biblal scholars (Jewish and Christian) believe that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. History supports a birth date for Moses around 1526 BC with the exodus beginning around 1446 BC. The dates the Adventist Church uses for creation are based on a very outdated chronology developed by James Ussher, an Anglican Archbishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland, which he published around 1640 AD. There were a number of other chronologies floating around during that period in history and all of them were based on the day-for-year principle proposed in the eleventh century. This sprang from the scripture that says that with the Lord a day is a thousand years. Therefore, they surmised, if God created the world in six days then the history of Earth would be six thousand years (four thousand before Christ and two thousand after Christ). They all expected that when the earth reached the six thousand year point, Christ would return and the earth would move into the seventh day of rest.
Ussher worked backward from his point in history and used the account of male lineage given in Genesis to arrive at the year 4004 BC for the actual creation week. He further used the Jewish calendar, thereby concluding that creation started on Sunday. Even more interesting for Adventists is that he pegged the day as the evening before October 23 (or October 22 which does not have the best track record for date-setting). “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth: Gen. 1, v. 1. Which beginning of time, according to our Chronologie, fell upon the entrance of the night preceding the twenty third day of Octob[er] in the year of the Julian [Period] 710. The year before Christ 4004. The Julian Period 710.” Annals of the World, 1658.
From 1700 AD onward his chronology was included in many influential translations and editions of the Bible including the KJV and Scofield Reference Bibles. This was the accepted view of historical dating that existed when Adventism came into being. Therefore, his dating of world events made their way into Adventist theology. Since then, Ussher’s chronology has largely been discarded as fatally flawed even by conservative biblical scholars. Modern discoveries have made his theories untenable. It is widely accepted that no dating can be done with any accuracy before the time of Abraham.
By 1890 some very influential and conservative theologians were giving conclusive evidence that Ussher’s chronology should be abandoned. William Henry Green, professor of theology at Princeton, wrote an article in Bibliotheca Sacra entitled “Primeval Chronology” in which he stated, “We conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world.”
Most of the chronologies in the Bible have large gaps, some of them omitting as much as 1500 years from Adam to Solomon. From Solomon to the Babylonian captivity there is no continuity in linear timelines. From Ezra to the birth of Jesus there are no time periods established at all in the biblical record. From Jesus forward, the historical record takes over and events can be pinpointed fairly accurately. It was not the purpose of the accounting to establish a timeline that went back to creation.
The genealogies were given to emphasize various points the authors, under the inspiration of God, were making in that particular passage. Today, all but Adventist and other fundamentalist young Earth creationists have abandoned Ussher’s conclusions. If you take out your study Bible you will most likely find that any chronological tables printed there start with Abraham and give time-indefinite biblical events correlated with approximate Mesopotamian and Egyptian chronologies prior to his life.
Now, come with me to the time of Moses and imagine that you are, in fact, Moses. Your own mother nursed you until you could be weaned (perhaps until the age of four). At that time you were taken into the Pharaoh’s (probably Thutmose III from which your name may have been derived) household where you were raised and educated. You knew little or nothing about Israeli history and for all intents and purposes were Egyptian. According to the Bible it was not until you “had grown up” that you went to the place where your genetic people of origin were working. After killing the Egyptian who was beating an Israeli slave you flee to the desert of Midian where you marry the daughter of a Midianite (not Israelite) priest. You live there with her family for forty years before God sends you back to Egypt to lead the Israeli nation to freedom.
OK, so you know the history. Why are we retracing these steps? To point out that Moses had not had much immersion into Israeli oral tradition, culture or even folklore. He was an Egyptian by adoption, culture and training. Now return to our assertion that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and let’s draw all the parts together and evaluate them. Somewhere around 1445 BC Moses led over two million people on an unprecedented journey by command of God.Two and a half months into the journey God tells Moses that He is instituting a routine that will govern their lives as they make their way to the land He has promised to give them as their own. He will provide food for them since the pickings in the desert would be pretty slim for a long time to come. They would go out in the morning and there it would be. Each day they were to gather enough for that day only. This would begin the next morning and would continue every day for six days. On the sixth day they would gather enough for two days because on the seventh day there would be no provision of manna from God.
Supernaturally, the food gathered days one thru five would be spoiled by morning, but the food gathered on the sixth day would last thru the sixth and the seventh days. ‘This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'" Ex 16:21-23 (NIV) Moses must have puzzled over the instructions about the sixth day. Why was God instituting this pattern? There is no evidence in extant literature that a seven-day week cycle existed outside of this biblical account, and there is no mention of the Sabbath in the Bible until Ex. 16:21-23. Have you noticed that in the creation account in Genesis?
D.A. Carson has this to say, “The biblical view is unequivocal: the Sabbath originated in Israel as God’s special institution for His people…On this question, the evidence is unequivocal; only the ancient Hebrew literature speaks definitely about a seven-day week and a Sabbath.”6 p. 23 The only reason given to Moses at this time is, “In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” Ex 16:4 (NIV)
They were all learning a pattern of obedience to a God whom they had lost sight of during the 400 years of Israeli slavery. Moses was learning along with them since he had not been raised with the expectations and practices of the Jews since babyhood. The scripture tells us that even though they may not have understood, and had obviously not been keeping any Sabbath routine prior to this, most of them complied. Moses reiterates God’s command to them, “’Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.” Ex 16:29-30 (NIV) Notice the last sentence, “So (for that reason) the people rested on the seventh day.” It is obvious from the context that it was not until that time that the Lord had “given” them the Sabbath, and until that time they had not known about, nor observed it.
Life began for Israel with God's redemptive act of deliverance from Egypt. Other cultures began their yearly calendars with respect to nature, the phases of the moon, the sun or the stars. The seven-day week doesn't fit into any of those cycles.
God was establishing them as a nation “under God” and He began by giving them their own unique history. Even their calendar was to be unique. Jewish feast days are still observed by this calendar.“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” Ex 12:2 (NIV) Life began for Israel with God’s redemptive act of deliverance from Egypt. Other cultures began their yearly calendars with respect to nature, the phases of the moon, the sun or the stars. The seven-day week doesn't fit into any of those cycles. It is unique and stands alone as a mark of God’s authority over them. It was a sign between them and God that they were His people and it did not extend to the rest of the world.
Moving ahead fourteen days from the establishment of the seven day cycle with the seventh day of their new calendar as “a Sabbath to the Lord," we come to Mt. Sinai. Moses walks up into the fire and lightening to meet with God for forty days and nights. The frightened on-lookers are not sure that he will come back alive. But there is a lot that God has to share with His friend. Perhaps it was during those forty days that God recited to Moses all of the stories and history he wrote out over the next eighty years. God selected Moses to be the His storyteller and historian for all of the events of Earth's history from creation to the establishment of Israel. Up until this time there was no such written record. One of the results of that magnificent encounter, unparalleled in history before or after, was the covenant God drew up with His chosen people. That covenant became known as “The Law” and within it was a bare bones summary version, the Ten Commandments. During the forty days, God had the leisure of telling Moses the reasons behind some of His actions which must have seemed unfathomable and mysterious to him.
God explained why He had chosen to set up the Sabbath in giving them the miracle of the manna, why it was to be a sign between Him and His people. He was the Creator. He had created the world in six days. At the end of the sixth day all that He intended to create was complete, so He ceased the work of creation. The next day, the seventh, He stopped His work. It was not one of the days of creation. His people were to live out the pattern of God on Earth to draw attention to His authority and His ownership of all creation. By setting up this seven day pattern that did not correlate with nature, the knowledge of the one true God would be preserved. We know that He told Moses this because we have a record of it in Exodus 20:8-12. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.”
So that was why he had given the pattern of six days of manna and the seventh with no gathering or work. Yes, that was why. “Therefore (that's why) the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Ex 20:8-11 (NIV) Now Moses understood. Now the people of Israel would understand also. The world, observing them, would know too. Within all the world they alone kept time based on the creator God who had chosen them. God gave them the Sabbath as a sign between Him and His people. As His people, they were to live out before the world the number of the Lord, seven: His number and symbol of authority.
The first five books of the Bible, written by Moses, are known as the Pentateuch. Since we know that Moses had his hands full with this bunch of complainers we can surmise that he wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy over a period of many years. We know that he couldn't have written all of Exodus until after the tabernacle had been set up because it hadn't happened yet. We know that he couldn't have written all of Exodus until nearly forty years after Sinai because the events at the end of the book didn't happen until just before he died. And, obviously, someone else had to finish the last few verses of that book because they look back at Moses’ death. So, you get the point.Now, we come to Genesis. We don’t know when that was written along the way. It seems logical that Exodus may have been written first since Moses had to come down the hill and put into writing all of the information of the covenant God had given him in order to read it to the people and establish it. So, at the earliest, Genesis could not have been written until some time after Moses descended from Sinai in the mid-1400s BC.
By the shortest possible chronology, and not to add any argument to this proposal, Genesis could not have been written any closer to the creation event than 2500 years. If you were writing a history of what happened 2500 years ago how much would you be able to write without having been informed either in writing or by God? Nothing. So, because we believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, we also conclude that Moses wrote what God revealed to him either on Sinai or on route in the desert. That would include the account of creation in Genesis.
As we come to the end of the account of the six days of creation we find this account, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” Gen 2:1-2 (NIV) Thus ends the account of creation. 2500 years later and after having been given the instructions on gathering the manna; after God’s establishment of the seven-day week; the Jewish calendar and the Israeli covenant constitution; Moses sees the bigger picture.
God has revealed to him the vast expanse of His love from the creation of the universe to the selection of Israel as the bearers of God’s image on Earth. Now it is clear to him why God established the Sabbath for Israel and why He set it apart as a sign between them and God. As he concludes his account of creation from his 20/20 retrospective vision, he understands and adds these words to the end of the story, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Gen 2:3 (NIV) Now it makes sense. He was not saying that it was a part of creation, but was commenting on the establishment of the seventh-day Sabbath for Israel at least 2500 years later.
One can also see this aspect of his writing when he speaks of Eve and calls her the mother of all living. He only knew to write that from a distant perspective that had seen history prove it true. In the same way, Moses wrote, “The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” Gen 3:20 (NRSV) When Adam named Eve she wasn't the mother of anyone. It was Moses who added, “because she was the mother of all living” since he already knew what had happened and was speaking to his readers. Just so, when he added the phrase “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Gen 2:3 (NIV) He was making an editorial comment.
Further Purpose In the Sabbath
So far we have been given two of God’s reasons for establishing the Sabbath for Israel. The first reason given was as a test of their willingness to obey what He commanded them regarding the manna. “In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.” Ex 16:4 (NIV) The second was an acknowledgment of His role as Creator. “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested (ceased work, stopped creating—Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words) on the seventh day. Keep this purpose in mind, as we will see later its significance as a shadow of the Sabbath rest that remains in the New Covenant, a cessation of our work toward salvation beautifully described in Hebrews.4
A third purpose for giving the Sabbath to Israel is given in Deuteronomy, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” Deut 5:12-15 (NIV) Here the Sabbath represents a testimony to freedom and redemption because God, the creator of the world, is also the one who released Israel from Egyptian bondage. He gave the Sabbath not only as a reminder of their redemption but also started their national calendar with that event as if time for them had not existed until then. On that day He became their Redeemer; therefore, they were to keep a calendar and a holy day in honor of Him for all the world to see.
The Creation Event
There are a number of other indications that the Sabbath did not exist prior to its establishment as a sign between God and Israel. “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from (ceased from) all his work.” Gen 2:1-2 (NIV) Creation was finished at the end of the sixth day. Most scholars agree that the word Sabbath is most closely associated with the word "cessation" rather than our usage of the word "rest." 6 There was not a seventh day of creation. There was no morning or evening though all of the others days have the repeating liturgy of “there was evening and there was morning, the...day." This suggests that we are still in God’s seventh day since He has not created anything in this universe since that time. He continues to "sabbath" or remain in a cessation of creating.
In agreement with this assertion, though there were at least 2500 years of history by the time Genesis was written, that history is recorded by Moses with intricate detail. But in all of that history there is nothing said about Adam and Eve being commanded to keep a Sabbath any more than the creation of the moon mandated the observance of new moon celebrations. After six days of bringing the universe into being, God ceased creating. That cessation of God's work in creating was not given the significance of being set apart for humanity until it became symbolic of His redemptive purpose thru Israel as a sign of covenant with them.5
The SDA church points to the Ten Commandments as the mandate for keeping the Sabbath. I have heard some say that no, our injunction to keep the Sabbath isn't based on the law, but on creation. I would challenge you to formulate a justification for Sabbath-keeping, armed with just the account of creation in Genesis, the Biblical record before Israel’s deliverance, and the New Testament. I would submit that it couldn't be done. Other Christians do not make a connection between the creation account and a belief that God “created” the Sabbath. There is no evidence that a Sabbath was ever observed before it was “given” to the Israelites.
What other evidence is there that the Ten Commandments, and therefore the Sabbath, did not exist from creation? After the creation is completed on the sixth day, there is not one mention of God’s commanding, requiring or even asking Adam and Eve to keep the Sabbath. They didn't need that ordinance because they lived in The Sabbath every day. The purpose of the Sabbath became evident after sin came. It was a promise of the Savior who would be the Sabbath rest and pointed even further ahead to the time when a new Earth would be created and they would be restored back to the state of sinlessness and perfection that Adam and Eve entered into from the beginning. "There is no mention of Cain or Abel ever keeping the Sabbath, or holy Enoch or faultless Job. And even though the covenant of promise made with Abraham is carefully spelled out, there is no mention made of commanding him to keep the Sabbath.11 There is no mention at all of the Sabbath. The Bible never records a single instance or allusion to Sabbath-keeping with Isaac, Jacob, or his 12 sons. In fact, the very first mention of the Sabbath in scripture is with respect to the Israelites after they are brought out of Egypt in establishment of the manna cycle. It had been two and a half months since they left Egypt and were in the Desert of Sin between Elim and Sinai when God began teaching them obedience to His will.
It’s obvious from the way he announced the Sabbath to them that they had never heard of it before and didn't have a clue what He was talking about. God had to “establish” it by telling them what it was and how He wanted them to observe it. “This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'" Ex 16:16 (NIV) “Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much--two omers for each person--and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, ‘This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'" Ex 16:21-23 (NIV) 5
Notice here that God commanded them to rest on the Sabbath. So, that makes the Sabbath a commandment of God. He also commanded them to gather twice the manna on the sixth day, to cook everything before the Sabbath and not to leave their tents. That makes manna-gathering, not leaving one’s dwelling and cooking everything ahead of time, commandments. God was testing them to see if they would obey this new command. But this does not suggest that any of these “commandments” existed before this time. Nor does it suggest that they remain in effect for us today. It does show conclusively, however, that one must define what commands are being spoken of when the word “commandment” is used.
Moving on to evidence in the New Testament, Paul says, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant (with Abraham) previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.” Gal 3:16-17 (NIV) Therefore, there was no law given by God before Moses.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned-- for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command.” Romans 5:12-14 (NIV)
There was sin without the law (including the Ten Commandments). Adam sinned, therefore, without “The Law”, so there was moral obligation before the law and the termination of that law did not terminate or change moral obligation.5 So, when Jesus spoke out the foundation for the Jewish Law He said it was “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” And “Love your neighbor as your self.” In identifying these laws He was speaking out the immutable law of God that was there before the Jewish Law was instituted and is still there since the Jewish Law has come to an end.
A Day is a Day?
Another legitimate discussion revolves around what is meant by a day in the Genesis account. Because I had read Genesis primarily in the New International Version of the Bible I failed to see that Genesis 2:4 may hold a clue to the creation of the universe. Let's read it in the New American Standard Bible: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven." Gen 2:4 (NASB) The Hebrew word for day (yom) used in this verse is the same word used in the creation narrative of genesis one. Obviously, in Genesis 2 the word is not referring to a 24 hour period of time.
Other related questions arise in this discussion. If one holds to a literal 24-hour six day creation event that would necessitate the existence of the earth with no other heavenly bodies (stars, planets, sun, moon) for a period of time. The account in Genesis does not preclude the possibility of the earth being present in a chaotic state prior to the six creation days. It simply describes it as being without form and void. So, supposing that it pre-existed Genesis 1, did it do so in isolation, without any supporting or accompanying structures? If so, for how long? If it is true, even for three litereral days that the earth existed before the sun existed, what would have marked a 24-hour day?
Many creationists have come to believe that the days spoken of in both Genesis 1 and 2 refer to epoch or periods of time, and describe an orderly, meticulously careful Creator in no rush to construct the home for the creatures made in His own image. This is not a new thought. Augustine (354-430 AD) took note that the Bible does not mention an evening or a morning for the day after creation was completed (the seventh day). It was his deduction that God set aside all time following creation as an epoch that would be sanctified and blessed on into eternity. (The Confessions, Book XIII, Section 51)
This, of course, is a subject too vast to explore adequately in this study. But, if you are interested there is a wonderful study written by Hugh Ross in his book, A Matter of Days, that sheds some fascinating light on possibilities you may never have considered before.
Summary of The Seventh Day in Creation:
1) The SDA Church points to creation and the Ten Commandments as the basis for Sabbath-keeping.
2) God established a new and unique calendar for Israel that began on the day He delivered them from Egypt.
3) He first established the Sabbath with the weekly cycle of the manna.
4) The first reason given for Sabbath-keeping in this instance was to test whether Israel would obey what He commanded.
5) The second reason given for Sabbath-keeping was to commemorate His role as creator of all things.
6) Moses wrote the creation account in Genesis at least 2500 years after creation. By the time he wrote it he had already been shown why God established the Sabbath for Israel and pointed it out at the end of the creation story.
7) The third time the Sabbath command is recorded, its stated purpose is to remind Israel that the Lord is their redeemer and deliverer.
8) The Sabbath points to God’s authority to make covenants and to command His people: His roles as Creator and Savior (Redeemer, Deliverer).
9) The creation account states that creation was finished by the end of the sixth day.
10) Nowhere is Sabbath commanded in the account of creation.
11) There is no account of anyone keeping, observing or celebrating the Sabbath until it was established in the manna command.
12) The Sabbath is never mentioned with respect to Adam, Eve, Job, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.
13) On the seventh day God ceased or “Sabbathed” creating.
14) God's rest is mirrored in the New Covenant by our ceasing our own works toward salvation. The Sabbath was a shadow pointing to the Substance.
15) Paul clearly states that the law was not given until 430 years after Abraham.
16) Sin existed before the law. So moral obligation preceded the law and still exists after the law ceases to exist.
17) The Hebrew word yom can also be interpreted as epoch allowing for a completely different take on the creation narrative of Genesis, rendering the seventh day as an ongoing epoch of blessing over our planet.
The Next Chapter: Jesus' Authority Over the Sabbath
When the New Testament speaks of Jesus being the Lord of the Sabbath, is it suggesting that He reigns over a day? Could He be standing up to declare, "I AM the Sabbath"?