Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Are we treating the Bible like Netflix Pt2?

In part 1, we considered how many people pick and choose which parts of the Bible to apply to to their lives, much like people pick and choose different programs on Netflix. This can be said of a number of Christians with regards to getting rid of, or moving the Sabbath, despite scriptures lack of explicit mention. Now, in part 2, we will consider the verses typically used to support those positions.

Two are found in Colossians 2.
First, many will cite verse 14: “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (KJV), and say that the Law was nailed to the cross, thus doing away with the Sabbath. 
They will then quote verses 16-17: 
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” 
The conclusion from this is, the Sabbath was pointing towards Christ, and now that He has come he has abolished the Sabbath.
What can we make of this?
Firstly, it is true that none should pass judgement and condemn someone as outside the covenant because of the Sabbath. But that is because we enter the covenant by faith, and not by obedience. Yet, as Paul explains in Romans 6, this grace is not a free pass to disobey God.
Secondly, the translation of verse 14 in the KJV is misleading. The Greek says that it was not the Law, but rather the ‘legal notice of debt’ (dogmasis cheirographon) for having broken the Law, and the need for punishment as prescribed in the law, that was nailed to the cross. This is brought out more clearly in the ESV: “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Moreover, to say that the Law, let alone the Sabbath, was abolished would be a contradiction of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:17-19: 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” 
(Read here for an examination of this passage)

Thirdly, we need to note the tense of the verbs ‘to be’ and ‘to come’ in verse 17. Many read this as ‘These were a shadow of things to come’, or ‘These are a shadow of things that have come…’ But is says that they are (present tense) of things to come (future).’ The full substance had not arrived when Paul wrote it, which means the Christ event (death, burial, resurrection, ascension) could not have nullified the need for the Sabbath. Rather, as Hebrews 4 explains, the Sabbath points us towards the eternal rest in the world to come. That reality has not come yet. So, what was Paul talking about in Colossians 2 then?

Reading on, we find that people were promoting teaching that Paul describes as ‘empty deceit’, ‘human precepts’ and having ‘the appearance of wisdom.’ Now if this were Paul writing against Judaizers telling Gentiles they have to keep the Sabbath, that is a strange and blasphemous way for him to describe a commandment of God. To say the words of God have 'the appearance of wisdom' and are 'empty deceit' should disqualify Paul as an Apostle. Rather, because of the teachers’ ‘insistence on aestheticism’, they were critical of the Galatians keeping the Sabbath, or for the way they did so. Thus, a more likely interpretation is:
Therefore let no one pass judgement on you… with regard to how you keep a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. Although these are a shadow of the things to come, be encouraged, because the substance belongs to Christ.
Therefore, it appears that the very opposite of what is claimed is true, namely, Paul was encouraging them to persevere in their Sabbath observance.

Another verse comes from Romans with a similar argument to Colossians 2.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord... (Rom 14:5-6).
Based on this verse, it is claimed that Paul is telling the believers in Rome; ‘you can do what you want. If you want to keep the Sabbath, then that’s okay. Just don’t tell anyone else they have to.’ But is this what is happening? Is Paul relativising one of the Ten Commandments?
To understand the context of what Paul is saying, we need to go back to the beginning of chapter 14. There we find a couple of key things that can help us understand verses 5-6.
Firstly, when we go back to verse one, we see Paul telling his audience “not to quarrel over opinions.” I wasn’t aware that the commandments of God are opinions. I wouldn’t consider God telling people to ‘rest on the seventh day’, was an opinion. So, it seems unlikely Paul would be talking about the Sabbath. In fact, the word Sabbath does not appear in that verse, or the chapter, or anywhere in the entire book of Romans. One needs to read Sabbath into the word, day.
Secondly, verse 2-3 talk about abstaining from certain foods. In fact,10 of the 23 verses in chapter 14 are talking about food. And not just in one section, but throughout (2,3,6,7,14,15,17,20,21,23). Moreover, what is quoted from verse 6 isn't even the whole verse. Let's read the whole of verse 6, with verse 7:
The one who observes the day, observes it in honour of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honour of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honour of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” 
So even within verses, people are doing a Netflix selection. 
Thus, it follows that ‘the day’ in verses 5-6 refers to fasting. Therefore, the entire context of the chapter is all about opinions about what and when people can eat. Indeed, fasting had become a popular practice for Jews in the second temple period, with many becoming dogmatic on what day one should fast. This appears to have continued into the second century as the Didache addresses when Christians should fast. Thus, it appears that one of the number of conflicts between the Jews and Gentiles in the church in Rome that Paul addresses in his letter, was days of fasting. This would suit the category of ‘opinion’ as the Law does not prescribe when to fast, let alone the practice, and it reflects the repeated theme of food.

Another argument, is that the early church in Acts began gathering on Sunday instead of the Sabbath because that was the day Jesus rose from the grave. This claim is somewhat weak because there are only two verses in the New Testament that have any reference to doing anything on the ‘first day’ (Sunday).
The first is in Acts 20:7,
“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…”
The second is in 1Corinthians 16:1-2,
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.”

Here, like Romans 14, one needs to read Sabbath observance into the text. No mention is made of ‘the new sabbath’, or having a 'day of rest', or even ‘Lord’s day’. In Acts, Luke simply said they gathered to break bread. Earlier in chapter 2, he wrote that they gathered every day. Turner (p133-134), explains that although there is a simple link between meeting on the first day and ‘the Lord’s Day’ we 
“must resist any temptation to use Luke’s account as though it were a paradigm of ‘first day’ observance… It merely demonstrates that in Ephesus, Christians were meeting on the first day of the week to observe the Lord’s supper.”
In fact, it is even possible that they had gathered on the Saturday evening (which in Jewish reckoning was considered the beginning of the first day) to celebrate the Havdalah as the Sabbath came to a close.
Also, the reference in 1 Corinthians 16 gives no description of gathering, worship or even that it was to be repeated. In fact it is most likely a one off, if not annual, collection for the poor and that Paul was simply suggesting that on the first day, people were to set aside money. That people were to give money at their gathering is an anachronistic reading of modern ‘church practices’ back into the first century context. Is it possible they were gathering on Sunday to take up an offering for the poor? Perhaps. Considering the historical context, it could even be at a Havdalah gathering as mentioned above. But the passage is silent on that so we cannot say for certain either way. So we cannot, like Mr DeYoung, say: “1 Corinthians 16:1-2 speaks of gathering on the first day of the week”, because it simply doesn’t.

And finally, we come to the book of Revelation where John writes:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day…” (Rev 1:10).
This one and only mention in the New Testament to the Lord’s Day, and is often understood as a reference to a Sunday Sabbath. However, in reading the text, one would not come to that conclusion as John does not elaborate or describe on the term. There’s no mention of rest, Sabbath, or convocation. In order to connect this passage with a Sunday Sabbath, one needs to refer to the second century church fathers’ writings which refer to Sunday as ‘the Lord’s Day.’ But is that what John was referring to?
I would argue that John was actually talking about being taken by the Spirit to observe ‘the Day of the Lord’ as described in the prophetic books like Joel. In Revelation 1:10, the Greek for the Lord’s Day, kuriake emera, is reflective of the Hebrew phrase ‘day of the Lord’, yom YHVH, which creates the emphasis on YHVH (Yehovah) by placing it second. This reflects John’s Greek which creates emphasis by placing it first and using what is called the ‘dative case’ which in the Greek grammar gives a strong personal connection to that day. In a time when the early church was being persecuted, they needed to know that the Lord was in charge of the future, which is why John put that emphasis on the final day being the Lord's day. God, would have the final say in history. 
Although the Lord's Day, and the Day of the Lord appear to be slightly two different things, it needs to be noted that Hebrew does not have the adjective possessive form, Lord’s, and instead reads ‘…of the Lord.’  Consider too how the contents of the Book of Revelation reflect the definition of ‘The Day of the Lord’, which according to Shubert Spero is "a day of judgment in which the old and its incorrigible corruption must first be burned away." It is this connection, I believe, that makes the strongest case that in mentioning 'the Lord's Day', John was referring to the final day of judgement that he was witnessing in his vision.


Considering the biblical evidence, and analysing the wider context of the common Sunday Sabbath proof texts, it becomes apparent that one needs to look beyond Scripture to the early church fathers, who in their efforts to distance themselves from ‘those evil, Christ killing Jews’ (e.g. Justin, Trypho. 18), and anything that looked Jewish such as the Sabbath, to support a changing of the Sabbath to Sunday.

There is much more that could be said about the Sabbath in the New Covenant, and I go into much further detail in a book I am working on called “Testing the Sabbath”. But what I have written here should be sufficient to clearly see that there is no biblical support for changing or abolishing the seventh day Sabbath for the Christian. And if this is the case, and the followers of Jesus are supposed to take His words seriously, then maybe we should reconsider our interpretations of Paul in light of Jesus in Matthew 5:17. As I mentioned above, if we are contradicting Jesus’ words by saying that commandments have been done away with, then we need to seriously rethink our theology. If we are ignoring clear scripture like we ignore shows and movies on Netflix, then we need to rethink our attitude to God’s word.

In his article Kevin DeYoung stated, ‘I don’t understand Christians watching Game of Thrones,’ which he argues for by applying biblical texts to situations not directly covered in scripture (and that’s fine), but gives a free pass on the clear universal words of the fourth commandment. So, in the words of Mr DeYoung: ‘I don’t understand Christians not keeping the Sabbath.’


Kevin DeYoung, "A Festive Day of Rest", University Reformed Church, Oct 2016.
Tim Hegg. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Vol 2: Chapters 9-16. 2007

Shubert Spero, Holocaust and Return to Zion (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 2000) p. 85.

Max Turner. “The Sabbath, Sunday, and the Law in Luke/Acts”, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day. Ed. D.A Carson. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1982. p99-158.

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