Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home

Sabbath, Sunday and Covenant Relationships
The Sabbath for the Christian:  Thoughts on Commandment Four

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

A friend asked me a question he was considering in his Bible study as he studied the Ten Commandments.  He was looking at the fourth commandment, "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy."  After searching all the reference books he had, he told me, he was not satisfied with the answers he was finding.

Here is how he framed the problems he was wrestling with:
If the Sabbath Day is no longer applicable under the dispensation of grace, why does James 2:10 state; "If we are guilty of one of the commandments we are guilty of all"?  And further, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one part, he has become guilty of them all."

Reduced to "Law"
This is a very interesting challenge.  This is not a simple question.  It presents conceptual problems because of differences in cultural worldview, I think.

One factor is a difference in the concept of "guilty" in different cultural and legal systems.  And language can be a big part of the problem in such cases.  Are "guilty" and "commandment" really the best English words to represent the connotation of the underlying meaning in the ancient culture and language of the Mediterranean and eastern worlds of the first century?

Westerners tend to see “law” as a set of individual commands or requirements, more or less arbitrary and imposed by higher authority, enforced by various penalties or sanctions.  The western worldview tends to see the regulation of society and the maintenance of order as matters of power and force, management and enforcement, rather than matters of relational dynamic.  This is partly due to the highly individualistic western values that developed in recent modern history.

This is not actually the biblical view.  It gets boiled down to this by westerners due to the problems of rationalism and linear thinking that reads the biblical texts from a modern abstract point of view.  The Bible is relational.

I've spent much of my life and ministry living among cultures very similar to the dynamic and relational cultures of first century Asia and the Mediterranean.

Maintaining Relationships
Non-western cultures can relate directly to this relational focus.  They understand the culturally-appropriate practices and observances that are aimed at restoring or maintaining relationships, not just arbitrary requirements.

Non-western peoples are generally more relational in their view of the world, and this is the pattern we see in the Bible, especially the Old Testament and ancient Hebrew and eastern culture.

This “traditional” concept carries a more communal understanding of regulations and commands.  This was common among Western societies until the Enlightenment, which sent the west off into an abstract direction.  This modern analytical, rational approach ironically is based on the critical approach developed in the Rationalist era that followed in the wake of Protestant Reformation, and the related cultural turmoil in European society.

This was a western phenomenon.  Eastern and African Christians were not as deeply affected and still retain the ancient and biblical relational focus.

In the biblical view, “commands” are based on a relational covenant.  Americans cannot easily understand “covenant.”  Jean Jacques Rousseau’s abstract rationalism with its linear reasoning and orientation to the individual, is sometimes so radical that westerners have trouble appreciating the covenant community and values of the ancient and modern non-western cultures, reflected in the Scriptures.

The biblical perspective starts in a relational view, relationship of a human society to God.  The whole Old Testament is presented in the format and context of a national covenant with Yahweh.  The “commands” are components of the relationship Israel had already entered into with their God Yahweh.

This is why there is a great debate in historical theology and rising in focus in recent decades about how and to what degree the Mosaic covenant is applicable to non-Hebrew (or now non-Jewish) peoples.

Paul and Jesus refer to the Abrahamic Covenant as the primary reference.  Paul, in Galatians and Romans, declares that the covenant with Abraham (400+ years before Moses) is the point of reference for Jesus' messianic fulfillment.

The Covenant was not the Ten Commandments, but our tradition has had a tendency to boil down the whole “covenant” to a set of ten commands.  This emphasis seems related to the "pick and choose" approach of western Christians to their Hebrew foundations.

Western rationalist pragmatism leads us to dismiss the arcane ritual and old-culture social and legal requirements as passed.  But these were part of the social and cultural identity of the commitment to participate as a nation in the Covenant with Yahweh.

This is an aspect of the core Christian doctrine of Incarnation.  God came to the human context to communicate and relate.  Read in its own terms, instead of ours, the ancient Covenant and its Scriptures take on meaning in the cultural worldview of those people.

The way God would mediate to them is different than we are used to seeing relationships developed and mediated.  They would be just as baffled by our practices and beliefs today and the highly individual understanding of relationship and salvation.

The cultural context is extremely important, and this is what the embryonic church was wrestling with in Acts, trying to determine how much of Jewish cultural (religio-cultural) practices should be required of the Nations.

The whole Christian era in general has held that the Old Testament requirements are no longer binding for Christians.  There are ways to encourage Sunday worship observance without appealing to the Sabbath.  It is a momentous precedent to appeal to Sabbath requirements as some pastors have.  They have apparently not thought out the implications.

Many different theological and practical reasons have been given through Christian history, both western and eastern.  But they usually ignore the basic biblical context and theme of Covenant.

Instruction for Life
So when James mentions “commandments” we now tend to think he means the “Ten Commandments.” (This was not a Jewish Title.  The Post-exilic Jews did in later history refer to the “Ten commandments” as the “Ten Words”).  I think James has in mind the whole of the Levitical and Judaic Torah code.  This makes the question even more stark and challenging.

Where did the Sabbath and the "Ten Commandments" fit into the Torah observances?

The Torah was much greater than the legal and ritual system (entailing literally the first four books, and figuratively the Prophets).  It was not just a bunch of arbitrary commands and rules they had to obey just because God told them to!  "Torah" means “instruction,” not Law or Command as understood in western legal theory.

This was a personal relationship Covenant, not a legal contract in the modern sense.  It is more like a marriage arrangement, and this is the dominant Old Testament metaphor for Yahweh's relationship with the descendants of Israel (Jacob).  And, for perspective, note that Genesis clearly declares that Yahweh had other Covenants with other Nations descended from Abraham.

The Beginning
It seems this dynamic Torah life-relationship concept is the perspective Jesus follows, too.  He commonly references Genesis Creation theology to counter legalistic focuses on observances of ritual ceremony.  He follows the prophets to shift the focus to the attitude of the heart, the intention and commitment to covenant relationship with the Divine.

What was in focus was Instruction (Torah) for Life Relations, not laws to keep in order to avoid punishment!  This is reflected in the symbolic name of the town where Jesus was born – Beth-Lechem, Bet-Lechem, House of Life!

Most names in stories are symbolic like that in oral story cultures, such as the eastern and traditional cultures.  These names are the Story behind the Story – the personal and place names convey whole concepts from deep themes in Hebrew history and identity.  This was true in virtually all cultures, until the west in recent centuries of Rationalism.

Covenant Relationship
Covenant relationship was in focus, not a formal objective legal court system that these words call to mind from Western medieval and modern culture and history.  What was in focus was not cold, wooden obedience to arbitrary commands, simply because this is what Yahweh said we had to do.  The core was the prior commitment to the relationship with Yahweh.

Observances developed over the centuries, as the scriptures indicate, though in popular and sometimes even in seminary "theology," this is ignored.  It is common to merge and simplify things into a simple and superficial legal system or requirements.

In this westernized legalistic system – of good and bad or righteous and unrighteous – one becomes "righteous" by obeying and a "sinner" by failing to obey.  The biblical focus is on maintenance and restoring relationships and producing harmony in the society – socially and spiritually.

Keeping the Law
Thus in recent times, even evangelicals have reduced the idea of "sin" as the inability to keep all the commands and the concept of "salvation" as divine forgiveness through a literal blood sacrifice of Jesus to forgive.  Elaborate but simplistic systems we see forms of today are based on medieval European legal systems to explain the need for a substitute to die because breaking on "command," no matter how trivial, keeps you from being good enough.*

This is alien to the way Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, and the way Paul discusses the amazing redeeming relationship with God that supersedes any fulfillment of command.

Prophetic Grace
If we want to require a Sabbath observation on the simple grounds that God commanded it, we need to think long and hard about the consistent implications of that argument.  I suggest reconsidering the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, meditating deeply and long on their declarations that it was not this way even under the "Old Covenant."

Western worldview and legal patterns have determined how westerners look at the ancient sources of our faith.

As even the Book of Beginnings (Genesis) says, Abraham was justified not by Act but by Faith.  The Covenant was a relational one, not a legal one.

Look at the focus after the return of some of the Jews from Babylon.  Read some aspects of this story in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra, dealing with the rebuilding of the Temple and the Jerusalem city walls.**  I think early Jewish (post-Exilic) interpretations were faithful to the ancient covenant-relationship concept.

Fully Committed
It appears, in fact, that this is when it really became central.  The early books of the Bible all the way through Kings and Chronicles to the Babylonia Exile clearly report that there was never a time when the Yahweh tribes, Israel or Judah as nations, ever was fully committed to the covenant with Yahweh.  After the Exile, we never see a problem with worshipping foreign gods.

The Hebrew Scriptures report that there were generations on end where the report is that the king and the whole nation had totally forgotten (or abandoned) Yahweh.  That never happened again after the Babylonian experience.  Even though more Judeans (Jews) remained in Babylon than returned, the covenant was central for them also.

In the Exile, this relational, devotional focus was firmed up as a never-again-abandoned core of who they were.  The Babylonian experience purged Israel (Judea) of competing divine allegiances.

Covenant Worship
The covenant relational focus was central to the dispersed format of worship developed in Babylon, expressed in what we know from the New Testament as the synagogue format.  This covenant focus was central, though there were different administrative approaches.  We see there were different views of the covenant and its implementation, as indicated by the many first-century parties with such differing views of how to manage the political and social affairs and relate to the foreign occupiers.  The format changed to accommodate the changes in culture and politics.

We tend to read back into this era the later development of what we know as "Rabbinic Judaism."  But the covenant focus was central and was the continuing foundation that led to the development of Rabbinic Judaism in the exile across the Roman Empire, and in Europe into the 400s of the Christian era.  Covenant focus was relationship oriented, not legal-requirement and obedience oriented.

So “command” was a concept of fulfilling devotion and honoring relationship, not just following orders.  Both advocates and opponents of Christianity have done a great disservice to us by imposing their own cultural legal context upon the very different cultural context of the biblical texts.

Not Duty but Love
In the biblical setting, we discover that a “command” was not just a duty that had to be fulfilled to avoid punishment, but an expression for the relationship, a service of love and joy.  Like many of the Psalms speak of the freedom of God's "Law" (a bad English translation for Torah) – freedom in and love for God's Instruction.

The Old Testament speaks exuberantly of Love and Faithfulness in the Covenant with Yahweh.  Love, Faith, Freedom, Joy, Mercy – not Duty, Limitation, Restriction, Punishment or Fear.

You don't just do what God wants because if you don't bad things will happen to you.  I realize this is a common popular idea, and one of the main reasons non-Christians say they won't consider Christianity.  They can't accept this kind of a God.  I can't either, and don't see this as the portrayal of God in the Bible.  That is a parody of the portrait of Yahweh in the Hebrew scriptures.

Unfortunately too many self-professing Christians seem to have just this deficient concept of God, and exacerbate the problem in portraying the biblical character of God to non-believers.

The Covenant "commands" are not just arbitrary commands that make no sense.  They arose out of the prior relationship with Yahweh, and the cultural situation of that time and place.  You don't just do this because God, for some arcane reason, told you to!

Read the biblical texts in relation to the other texts!  We need the whole picture. Not just some commands pulled out of their context and arbitrarily declared as universal and absolute.  They arose out of a specific human context.  They had to make sense to those people.

Read and see what is really going on there, and what is really being said.  There is no reason it has to match our situation or expectations!  We must honor the integrity of these ancient texts.  Honor the principle of incarnation and inculturization in Jesus Christ.

Jesus captures this devotional essence, ironically, by teaching that the meaning of the Torah and its religious observances is not found in the specific wording or fulfillment, but in the intention of the heart in honoring and developing the relationship with God.  The Gospel writers are very careful to describe actions, situations and teachings that make this point.

Contrary to popular tradition, Jesus' actual teachings in the Gospels do NOT focus on obedience to a command or observance because it was commanded.  According to Jesus, and the prophets before him, "righteousness" is not based on following orders or fulfilling requirements.

Righteousness is based on moral integrity and fulfillment of the intentions of the covenant.  Jesus does not talk about being "good" or "nice."  He talks about being "righteous."  The Hebrew and Greek words alike translated "righteous" in the Scriptures overlap the meaning of English just, faithful, right, trustworthy, believing.

The covenant is not a set of commands you have to do, but a framework for the relationship with God and likewise with other human beings living around you.  This is why the most common and powerful metaphor used in the Hebrew scriptures for this relationship is the marriage relationship.

It is oneness with Yahweh that is in focus.  Yahweh likens himself to the husband and Israel to the bride.  Many figures of speech are used, many metaphors try to give us glimpses of this special, powerful relational core of the covenant.  The most powerful is the marriage metaphor.

The same Hebrew verb is used for "knowing" and for having sexual intercourse.  To know Yahweh is the most intimate and personal relationship available.  Unique, sacred, life-changing, identity-building.  As intimate as the marriage relationship the Bible often uses as a metaphor.

The focus is not on learning of mental facts or on following orders as orders.  The focus is on building life around this relationship.

Relational Integrity
The integrity of the utterly faithful covenant relationships is the basis of the moral integrity in the relationships between members of the society.  The core of the "commands" of the law, the provisions of how people live with one another, focuses on justice and integrity of all the relationships within society.

This is righteousness – uprightness, acting justly, being trustworthy, fulfilling your promises, just as Yahweh is faithful to His Covenant promises, in His Covenant relationships.  Social justice is a prominent theme all through the Torah and the Prophets.

Huge sections of the Torah deal with how individuals treat individuals, how society treats individuals and how natives treat foreigners.  Several times in the Torah Yahweh reminds his people to be generous, hospitable and kind to foreigners, since they were foreigners in a strange land when he called them to be his people.

They were not treated well by the Nation where they were foreigners.  As Yahweh's people with that history, they are not to live as the Nations do, but to be just and fair with foreigners, generous and protective, even inclusive of foreigners in their midst.

There are some powerful moral principles of social justice in the Law of Moses.  Check out Exodus and Leviticus.  Justice "in the gate" was a deep Israelite social value visible all through the Hebrew scriptures.  See the Prophets and the Psalms.

I don't think any New Testament writer ever specifically addresses the question of the Sabbath the way you have asked it.  This way of thinking arises from our foreign cultural, historical or legal context.  The Bible is under no obligation to meet those expectations.

The Nations
Outside Luke's short "Jerusalem Council" account, and its resulting letter to the Gentiles, I can’t think of even one example where they talk about any of the Old Covenant being still applicable to non-Jews.  Paul, on the contrary, is fervent in the book of Galatians in defending the Gentiles against the imposition of Judaic requirements.

So when we accept and apply the “Ten Commandments” to non-Jewish societies, I think we do so without specific biblical foundation.  I have read numerous Christian commentators who point this out, but it does not get much attention at the pulpit level.

First of all, the “Ten Commandments,” like other aspects of the Torah code, were national, not universal.  It was seen as a covenant of the descendants of Jacob who came out of Egypt to confirm the covenant already entered into.  There are many references in the prophets and some in the Torah, many more in the Psalms, that God has (other, different) covenants with other nations.

Thus there is a puzzle about what parts of the Old Testament (Hebrew and then Jewish) codes and covenants are universal.  Historically a good way to put it is that we have just picked and chosen, on fairly arbitrary grounds.

On What Grounds
A reason there has been such difference is that we do have a dilemma of how any part of the Hebrew covenant applies if any part of it does not.  This question is not usually handled on scriptural grounds, but on cultural or philosophical grounds.

This question comes up, as discussed earlier, when you look at this as enforceable legal requirements in the western legal sense – that assumption seems to be where the problem lies.  It may never have occurred to some people that the way their culture has structured itself and conditioned them to think is not the only way it can be.

The worldview context of the biblical texts is different from the later scientific and rationalist approach we inherit in modern culture.  The latter is the unusual one.

Everyone believes, or claims to believe, that 9 of the 10 commandments still apply, because they are universal, but the Sabbath has changed.  The argument usually rationalizes the Sabbath or spiritualizes it, making the other 9 literal but the Sabbath command figurative, accepting the traditional practice of worship and rest on the First Day instead of the 7th Day.  The starting point in the analysis is that Sunday is the day of worship.

In such an argument, what they are saying is not really that 9 apply and the other 1 does not.  They are saying we see that except for the Sabbath observance, all or most societies (or nations, or peoples, or tribes, or governments) already  have these values in some way and to some degree, so this seems to validate the Ten Commandments.

That is, most will commonly argue that 9 of the 10 commandments are still universally valid, but the Sabbath is not.  It is because we see there are other sources for these values already!  This is the most common argument I have heard when it is discussed.

Cultural Validation
They do not seem to realize the shaky ground they are on.  In reality, what they are doing in this argument is validating the Bible with general cultural values!  Not the other way around.  This means culture becomes the ultimate moral reference point.

This may be valid, but they need to be sure this is what they intended!  Those who normally argue this way would usually deny that culture is the ultimate source of ethical value, yet they have actually used that argument, without realizing it.  This is what rationalization does for us.  So we have to think through what we are really claiming and what it implies.

Do you see the problem here?  This argument says these commandments are valid and deserve to be affirmed because they are universal anyway.  The authority is the various cultural formulations in human history.  This has implications most would not want to follow and support.

But there is no way to get around the clear statements and focus all through the Hebrews texts, that this is a Hebrew national covenant, for a national relationships with Yahweh, whom they gradually come to see as a universal God.  The later writing prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah) are very helpful in this regard, and the Psalms.  It is not a personal covenant of "salvation" as modern evangelicals understand "salvation," in the western individualistic worldview.

Check them out.  Don't look for individual "proof" verses.  Just read large sections to get the theme, flow and flavor, to see what they are really saying and how they are saying it!

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of a new covenant written on the heart and the mind – Hosea speaks of "Not My People" becoming "My People."  They acknowledge that the Mosaic Covenant identity was for on nation among nations.  But a new spiritual covenant is envisioned that extends to all the Nations.  This relational covenant is not external, but internal, not national but universal.

The observances of this covenant the prophets envisioned does not focus on the external requirements, but on the relationships of the heart, the mind, the life, to Yahweh God.  But the "Ten Commandments" were part of the Mosaic Covenant.  The Sabbath is part of the Mosaic Covenant.  So are the Ten Commandments part of the "New Covenant" of the heart?  Or is the "New Covenant" more?

Before Moses
Paul solves this, on one level at least, by shifting the focus from the Mosaic Law to the Abrahamic Covenant.  Paul says Jesus is fulfilling the covenant with Abraham, not (primarily) the Mosaic law.

The law, he points out, came historically 450 years after the covenant with Abraham.  (In another place he says 430, some biblical writers say 400, and the genealogy of Moses in Genesis puts it at 5 generations.) Paul also speaks lyrically of the physical creation anticipating its reclamation in the new age, along with us.

So Paul, as Jesus, appeals to Abraham and Creation theology to deal with questions about the later law and the legal questions about its application.

In the same way, Jesus shifts the view from the priority of the Ten Commandments and the broader Mosaic code.  For instance, Jesus says in answer to the question about Mosaic divorce, there are some things in the (Mosaic) Law that are not really God’s will, but the reference point for the question is stated in the first Genesis Creation pictures.  God's plan was one wife for one husband.  (See Matthew.)

As time went on the Jews became more and more narrowly focused on the “Law” (meaning the Mosaic codes).  After Babylon this focus is supreme, and the specific observances loom large to take up the whole view screen and obscure the faith-covenant foundations.

"Breaking" the Law
Now, for James, is he contradicting Paul, as initial observation seems to indicate, and many commentators think?  Maybe, and that is not a problem if we see the Christian community as a dynamic exploring and discovering community.

The book of Acts and Paul's even earlier letters show a dynamic, diverse community, growing into their faith and wrestling with the challenge of this new life.  The new faith community following the Jewish messiah was experiencing struggles of culture and tradition almost impossible for us to grasp.

But James may be making a similar point as Paul from another perspective.  Paul also makes a similar statement!  Paul says the Law is not the point and we are free in the grace relationship with God through Christ.  They both say, If our focus is on the commandment, then yes, we are guilty of them all.

But – Paul asks this more directly and makes the stronger pointis breaking the commands the point anyway?  Is that what saves us?  It is not the law or any particular command that is in focus, but the relationship behind it.

Real Life
OK, now back to a practical level I hear behind your question.

I hear an assumption that the reason we are broken and out of fellowship with God is simply because God arbitrarily gave some rules and we broke one or more of the rules.  This is how many modern westerners hear James' comment, because this is their prior orientation.

This view says that to keep us on the right track, there are still some rules that we have to keep (just because God says to) or we will be out of fellowship (not discussing the metaphysical “losing your salvation question”).

I think this is questionable in light of the Old Testament themes and especially in light of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God and what it means to be related to God.

The “Law,” its broader Covenant and the social governance regulations for implementing this in the nation of Israel are National.  We are reading about a Covenant relationship with Israel. This is what the Jerusalem Council concluded, according to Luke (Acts 15).   They decided, according to Luke, that this Hebrew national Covenant did not apply to the other Nations.  I think we have to be careful about applying the Mosaic Law en masse to the whole of humanity.

It looks to me like every time people try to do this, the way they resolve what applies and what does not is to appeal to Reason, Cultural tradition, and the unavoidable political models that entails.  Since the question is not dealt with in the scriptural text itself, we apply our own Reason to it.  This may be natural and I encourage thought on this important question.  But this is precarious footing, and one must be careful how you proceed.

1.  On strictly legal and textual grounds, it is pretty shaky to declare ad hoc that the “Sabbath” (7th Day) observance has been abrogated.  One common justification argues from outside the Jewish circle justifying our position of non-compliance through “theology,” philosophy or the cultural context, on why Christians should not have to observe the 7th day or other "Old Testament" requirements.

This view focuses on rules as imposition on personal freedom, or may draw support from the observation that the biblical context was a national covenant not a universal one.  This perspective usually fails to proceed to establish a strong foundation for social morals and communal security or preservation, emphasizing personal freedom over communal identity, in the modern western radical individualistic fashion.

The biblical perspective focuses on common ceremonies and observances or celebrations of the communal identity and relationship of the community with the Divine.  Overt "rules" and "ceremonies" may be open to negotiation, as we see over the history of Israel and Judea worship changed and ceremonies developed to meet conditions.  (Read Judges, Samuel and Kings straight through to get the flow.  Then top it off with Isaiah contrasted with Ezekiel.)

Alternatively one can argue from an identification with the Hebrew Covenant of salvation with Yahweh.  Then we have to fulfill our part of the bargain and honor the compliance requirements of ceremony, including the Sabbath.  But let's get real, how many churches are going to switch their program from Sunday to Saturday?

2.  If we step back and take a non-literal and non-legal view, more like the focus Jesus takes in the parables and the Sermon on the Mount, we will feel more free to honor the relational moral requirements and follow traditional worship on the 1st day.

This is a strong theme in practice in Protestantism, using analogy to shift the “Day of Rest” and worship to Sunday.  But we are not observing the literal Sabbath, and we have to be careful how we rationalize this.

The 7th-Day Baptists, for instance, along with 7th-Day Adventists, messianic Jewish Christians and others, don’t accept the traditional pragmatic rationalizations that are usually referenced in our reformed or mainline traditions.

And they are free and right to worship on Saturday, following the example of the New Testament Christians who continued to worship as Jews in the synagogues on the Sabbath, as well as on the First Day, until they were finally forced out by the non-messianic Jews.  The Gospel of John vividly deals with this problem.

We are not required to worship nor limited from worshiping on any particular day or days.

But the popular “Our Sabbath is Sunday” is rife with logical and theological problems.  In general I think this position is a rationalization, a cop-out that either consciously ignores or fails to recognize the problem.

3.  If Law and arbitrary command is not the point anyway, then we can ask, What difference does it make?  Jesus tries to recover the ancient pre-Mosaic view that the whole of our life and all our days are sacred and belong to God and should be used in service to God.

But like all the good Hebrew prophets of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), Jesus continually turns his audience from ritual and command to focus on God and commitment to him.  As Isaiah and Jeremiah both declared – 2 centuries apart in Hebrew history – God writes his covenant on the heart.

4.  Tradition is usually the strongest point of appeal, noting that the earliest followers of Jesus worshiped on the day he was resurrected.  This is related to the figurative and analogical approach, but in Anglo-American traditions is generally simply boiled down to pragmatic disregard, and dismissal of the Old Covenant as abrogated.

There may be some accompanying theological metaphysic related to the change of eras, ages or covenants at either the death (rending of the curtain) or the resurrection (beginning if the New Age) or even the ministry of Jesus (his practices and teachings that clearly shift from the focus on Mosaic law and observance to heart-intention and relationships with God and others.)

5. The covenant community and its relationship to Christ and each other seems to have been the reference point.  In the New Testament, however, we don't see they thought the Law and the Mosaic Covenant were dead, they just applied to Jews.  But Paul says even Jews can step out of that and experience the freeness of the Nations (Latin “Gentiles”).  Acts is clear that the Law did not apply, and the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) did not even make a statement about observing the Sabbath (the 7th Day).

And whether or not the believers got together was never even a question.  Except that one reference in one of the later letters “Don’t forsake the gathering together.”  Nor is it clear if this is an encouragement or an admonition.  The book of Acts reports the believers meeting together every day.

Thus I must conclude that it is a shaky proposition to claim that the “Sabbath” observance commands have been shifted to Sunday.  Because, again, this has to be done on extra-scriptural grounds.  If this is the authority for the practice, then why don't we say other ritual observances have been shifted to Sunday.  Other, different logical arguments are used to justify the distinction.

We do, on the other hand, have early tradition, clearly recorded in the New Testament, that from the first the messianic believers were meeting on the First Day, called Sunday in Germanic cultures.

The New Testament does not even address it – it is only by tradition that some of the above-mentioned explanations, defenses or rationalizations have been used.  It seems to depend on the cultural practices and calendars of the peoples.

These are considerations and possibilities and problems I see in this issue of the issue of the Sabbath concept and commandment for Christians.  These are the major factors that must be considered and possible approaches to solutions.

*The classic reformed atonement theory of salvation builds on the medieval European court model to cast God as an enforcing judge, designating this model or metaphor as the definitive model of redemption, squeezing out the other models and metaphors used in the New Testament.  In fact the models of judge is minimal in the New Testament texts.  In the Old Testament, more prominent models are a mother chicken, a jealous and protective husband or a warrior defending his family.  Read through one of the prophets and see what metaphors or models that prophet uses.

**Jewish identity: The term and usage "Jew" or "Jewish" first appears in biblical and historical texts as an ethnic name in the Reconstruction period, and in the Ezra-Nehemiah texts.  Before this period they are known as Hebrews or in local focus members of one of the tribes of the Hebrew federation, in which Judah (
Yehuda) had a large territory.  These forms "Jew" and "Jewish" (in English) stem from the name of the Assyrian-Chaldean-Persian name of the province, Yehuda, from the early name of the patriarch and his tribe, Judah in English phonetics.  The names in English translations of the terms in that era are commonly Judea and Judean.  Modern European forms, including the English name "Jew," are phonetic variations on this same name.  (In Latin and most European alphabets, the letter J represents the sound Y.  I and J were the same letter in the Latin alphabet, derived from the I in Greek.)

Also related:
[review] Culture and Context: Bible Times and Our Times
[TXT] Ethnicity and Religion
[review] The Gospels in their Jewish Setting
[TXT] Orality, Literacy and the Bible
[TXT] Sabbath and Sunday
[TXT] The Torah By Nature – Life Instruction
[review] Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom
[TXT] What is Worldview?

Related on the Internet:
Jerusalem Council


Initial comments written in response to an email query 16 February 2011
Developed over a period of months
Final article posted 20 October 2011
Last edited 29 October 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home

filename:  sabbathforchristians.html