December 19

Three Views on the Sabbath

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I was reading Dr. Bacchiocchi’s book The Sabbath in the New Testament: answers to questions. In the first chapter Dr. Bacchiochi presents three understandings of the Sabbath’s relation to the New Testament which serves as a backdrop for this whole presentation.

Abrogation View

Certainly we as Sabbatarians have heard this view. The understanding is that the Sabbath of the Old Testament was removed at the cross of Jesus Christ. The view rests on the belief that there is a “radical discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.”

Throughout history Martin Luther, Anabaptists, leftist Puritans, Quakers, Mennonites, Hutterites, and many antinomian denominations have all held to this view according to Bacchiocchi.

The basic problem is that the view rests on an assumption of a radical break between the Old and the New Testament. The basic question is, was the break between Judaism and Christianity as clean as this view would have us to believe? There are many who would argue that Judaism and Christianity were not two religions at that time, but the Christians were simply “Jews who Believed in Jesus Christ.” The idea of a radical break does not seem to be the view of the New Testament or early Christian history. We will come back to this in later posts.

Transference View

The next view is the transference view. This is the understanding that there is truly continuity between the Old and New Testament, and thus the Sabbath commandment still has relevance and validity for contemporary Christians.

However, proponents of this view state that the ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath commandment have been done away with. In this view the moral aspect of the commandment is in the principle of “one day in seven” while particularly the “seventh day” is a ceremonial aspect pointing back that was abrograted. St. Thomas Aquinas taught this moral-ceremonial distinction.

John Calvin, according to Bacchiocchi, clarified this understanding by stating that the moral aspect is the function of the day which was to allow God to “work in us, provide time for church services, and to protect dependent workers.”

This view is largely held by those in the Reformed tradition like Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and English Puritans. You can find my own critique of a presentation by T. D. Jakes where he takes a view like this one.

The basic problem here is that it rests on an artificial distinction between moral and ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath. In short the Sabbath is never talked about in such terms. One would not be able to find this distinction taught in the scriptures themselves.

Permanence of the Sabbath View

Bacchiochi’s (and my) position is that the New Testament does not nullify the Sabbath, but clarifies the Sabbath. As I continue to look at this book I will discuss more of what Bacchiocchi means by that.

Conclusion

The Sabbath is even today still in great dispute. I think some sort of classification scheme is necessary to understand different perspectives on the Sabbath. I am going to think about this scheme a little more especially in light of the “New Covenant Christian” argument against the validity of Sabbath keeping for contemporary Christians.

Be that as it may, Bacchiocchi distills a ton of information in this short chapter of this important work.

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