Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Sabbatarianism: My New Position

I have recently embraced the position that the New Testament supports the position that there is to be a New Covenant Sabbath rest on Sunday. My reasoning for this new position of mine is the following theological argument:

In my estimation the best theological argument in favor of new covenant sabbath observance on Sunday is Mark 2:23-28 in conjunction with a whole host of passages where Christians are meeting on the first day of the week which John calls the Lord's day in Revelation 1:10. In Mark 2:23-28 it is important to notice that Jesus does not abolish the sabbath as he does with other Mosaic covenant laws in Mark 7:19, rather Jesus corrects the Pharisee's application of the Sabbath. If Jesus wanted to abolish the Sabbath then this would be place to expect such an abolition, but instead we have Christ using the Mosaic Law to justify his understanding of the Sabbath in verses 25-26. When Jesus says that the Sabbath is made for man, but that man was not made for the sabbath this suggests that the sabbath was made for the benefit of man and that man was not made for benefit of the sabbath. In other words, Jesus is saying that when the sabbath was made at creation it was made for the benefit of man. Jesus then is teaching that an essential attribute of mankind is that they benefit from a sabbath rest. Because Jesus is teaching that a sabbath rest is essentially beneficial for mankind then he positively establishes a type of sabbath observance for the new covenant. In verse 28 Jesus says that he is Lord of the Sabbath and the present tense has a gnomic usage here. The fact that it is a timeless truth that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath moral obligation then it is reasonable to think that Sabbath observance is a timeless moral truth. Therefore, Jesus is teaching in the New Testament that there still is a sabbath rest. On the basis of Colossians 2:16 we know that the Mosaic observance on Saturday has been abolished. So then the question before us then is which days is the most plausible day for a sabbath rest on the basis of the New Testament evidence? The best candidate for a sabbath rest then is the first day of the week (Sunday) because this was the day when Chris resurrected and when the new covenant church gathered for the preaching of the word, collecting of offering, and administering the sacraments (John 20:1; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). For these reasons then I think we have good reason for thinking that there is some type of Sabbath observance on the Lord's Day (Sunday).


  1. The fact that you call this your "new" position indicates that you were not sabbatarian before, correct? This is an interesting topic. Let me offer some thoughts. In Mark 2, Jesus would not necessarily have had to abolished the Sabbath, even if it were not meant to remain a binding law in the New Covenant. Jesus was under law, and the transition from Old to New Covenant was a process, not an immediate switch. Hebrews describes the Old Covenant as "becoming" obsolete and "growing" old, as though its obsolescence did not happen at a single moment, but over time. In other words, Jesus may have declared all foods clean in chapter 7, without having to abolish Sabbath keeping in chapter 2 to prove that the Sabbath is no longer in force as it was under Moses.

    The fact that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" has implications in this debate. Moral laws are tied to God's nature and therefore eternally binding. Laws regarding adultery, murder, theft, idolatry, lying, coveting, etc. are beneficial to man, but were not made for man--they exist because obeying them reflects God's nature: he is faithful, truthful, honest, just, etc. If the Sabbath were made for man, it means man antedates the Sabbath! This means it cannot be an eternal moral law, which means that it may or may not be required by God under any covenantal arrangement. The Sabbath stood for something specific in the Old Covenant, something that has now been fulfilled. It was a sign (Exodus 31, Ezekiel 20). Jesus fulfilled it. No other commandment of the Ten is called a sign. We need the Sabbath as much as we need temple sacrifices. Why? Because Jesus is our Sabbath rest (Heb. 3:7-4:11)! In him we find rest from our works and for our souls. In this way, the Sabbath is actually a very important commandment, because it points forward to this rest in Christ. By abiding in Christ and ceasing to work as a means to gain God's favor, we are keeping the Sabbath. This also explains why the punishment for Sabbath breakers in the age of types and shadows was so severe: it represented eternal death and judgment outside of Christ. For these reasons Paul seems quite unconcerned about whether we observe a weekly day of abstinence from work and play (Col. 2:16, Rom. 14:5).

    At least, those are the conclusions I've come to. And this comment has grown to preposterous proportions. I apologize. I think I'll subscribe to your blog. God bless.

  2. Hello Jordan,

    Thank you so much for posting your arguments on here! My responses are below.

    The Sabbath obligation is only a binding obligation when men exist to follow it. The ordering in Mark 2 is not chronological order but logical ordering. So it is a necessary truth that whenever a man is made a sabbath obligation is on him because he has to love God with all of his ability. The distinction between some laws being eternal and other not being eternal is a sloppy one. All laws are eternal necessary truths but when various states of affairs change they can at time bring about different moral obligations. For instance it was an eternal and necessary truth that under the Mosaic covenant one had to offer animal sacrifices, but we are now not under the Mosaic covenant so we are no longer under that moral factual obligation because the circumstances have changed.

    Christ fulfilled all of the Mosaic covenant and so we have to ask in which way he fulfilled and how he did. There is no question that Christ fulfilled the Saturday sabbath given col. 2:16. But does there remain another sabbath principle which we have to follow? I think so.

    As for it being an eschatological sign: We are not in the eschaton so it seems plausible that there still is a sign for the eschaton. In Hebrews we are compared with Israel who was awaiting a sabbath rest of heaven. We are in the same situation so we should observe the sign which points the reality of heaven.

    I actually agree with your argument about the fading nature of the Mosaic covenant from Heb. 8:13 but I think we have no reason to apply it to mark two and I still see it as Methodologically inconsistent to apply it there.

    Jesus says that the sabbath is actually good for a man, which is actually an entire day of rest in the context of mark 2. I would not say that animal sacrifices are good for man. I would say animal sacrifices are not good for man generally but that the sacrifices are good for sinful men awaiting Christ so comparing these two are apples and oranges so it seems to me. Sabbath was good for man prior to sin which is not the case with animal sacrifice. So Sabbath is good for man in general whereas the same is not true of animal sacrifices.

    So my argument still stands: The sabbath rest is good for man. man ought to do what is good for him. Therefore, man is under obligation to follow a sabbath rest. Unless we turn into dwarfs or Aliens we still have to still observe a sabbath rest because we it is something that is essential good for human nature. Thank you for all the great discussions we have had. You are very respectful and friendly in theological and philosophical discussions. I hope you have an excellent Lord's day tomorrow.

    In Christ,


  3. To be clear: Previously I was not sabbatarian but Westminster has an excellent tradition of making people sabbatarians and paedobaptists!