Maybe Don’t Prove All Things Biblically

Sabbath school commentary for January 22–28, 2022

The lesson this week focuses on the Sabbath, a topic familiar and essential to our community. While it does jump around various snippets of text, the Adult Bible Study Guide does shed some light on a sad historical irony. The author of Hebrews tries very hard to connect following Jesus to the Jewish tradition of the promised messiah in chapters 1 and 2. And then building up the argument further, the lesson states: “Hebrews 3 and 4 introduce Jesus as the One who will provide rest for us.” It goes on to connect meanings associated with the Sabbath with a heavenly rest available to those who believe in Jesus Christ. But it goes on note that it was precisely by making early Christ-following more Jewish that later led to the abandoning of seventh-day observance as Christianity spread west.  


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11616
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If we didn’t skate all over the surface of Scripture, many of our doctrines would collapse. The clobber texts, i.e., prooftexts would simply disappear. Personally, when I started looking at the passages in John and Romans that we have customarily used to demonstrate obedience to the law/commandments as essential for Christians, I realized two important things: 1) The commandments, especially in John’s writings, are the teachings of Christ, not the Decalogue. Compare “If you love me keep my commandments” with “If a man love me, he will keep my sayings.” John 14:15 is explained by John 14:23, i.e., the context. Reading all of John 14 makes it plain that the commandments are the teachings of Christ given him by the Father (verses 21-24).

Romans 3:31 says we establish the law through faith. Earlier verses in the chapter explain that the
"law " refers to the OT in its entirety, “the oracles of God” mentioned in verse 2 of the chapter. Verses 9-19 quote verses, mostly Psalms, and refers to them as “law.” The OT, specifically its teachings about man’s sinfulness and Christ’s righteousness (verses 20-26) are established/validated/upheld by our faith response to them.

The false constructs we have regarding obedience to the Decalogue are an attempt to prop up the necessity of Sabbath observance. The Sabbath was blessed in Creation. It has remain blessed. The Decalogue didn’t make it holy, God did.

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The idea that Hebrews is emphasizing the idea of sabbath observance, albeit in light of the rest of Christ, is iffy. Chapter 4 is speaking of Joshua bringing Israel into the land, as well as a reference to the creational seventh day, as past expressions of rest. The author’s subsequent statement of a present sabbath rest remaining for the people of God is not being presented as simply a fulfillment of both those past instances, but as a contrast to both. Both were incomplete. Both did not give ultimate rest to the people, neither the land, nor holy time observance. The ultimate rest now being given and that remains in these last days (as the author identified their present time in Chapter 1), is through the gospel, the rest God offers people through his son, that transcends anything that came before…including the seventh day rest from creation. Whether or not the recipients of the letter were somehow continuing to keep the sabbath with this fullness in mind is not the point. They almost certainly were continuing sabbath observance, considering that the letter is assumed to be addressed to Jewish believers. The point was the total superiority of the rest offered and given through Jesus, the son.

Thus, there is another day spoken of than the seventh day regarding this proffered rest…today. The author was saying that it is responding to this call today that enables one to enter into God’s rest:

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Additionally, to use this text as a way of establishing universal sabbath observance by the 1st c. church is to simply overstep its bounds, context, and the mixed picture of the early church regarding these issues. While many Jewish believers were still living under the law in some way, shape, or form, the letters addressed to largely Gentile churches by Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, simply indicates that Gentiles were not under law, and never had the law addressed to them historically. In tandem with this covenantal reality, the letters also give no indication that sabbath observance was being enjoined upon Gentile believers by Paul. There is no mention of it, and no mention of how to keep sabbath amongst Paul’s ethical instruction to his churches.

In fact, in the one letter, Colossians, where sabbath is explicitly mentioned by Paul, it is grouped with the shadows of things to come, along with food and drink, yearly festivals, and monthly new moon celebrations. These were references to the attempt to impose some form of Judaism (and maybe a mystical form of it), by some amongst the Colossian believers, partly through the keeping of holy times amongst other ascetic practices. Paul was saying let no one judge you regarding such shadowy observances, the reality is Christ. If they had Christ, they had it all. Hebrews in a sense is saying something similar, it is showing the superiority of Christ over the shadowy forms of Judaism and the OT throughout the letter, including the seventh day rest.

At best, sabbath observance seems to have continued as a mandatory practice by some, likely mostly Jewish believers, but not largely by Gentiles. Romans 14 treatment of diet and days, which Adventism attempts to relegate to fast days, makes the most sense when seen as Paul’s take on the practice of Jewish dietary scruples and holy time observances, within the divided, mixed churches in Rome that were being addressed. Paul was saying that these things were ancillary matters, including the observance of days:

“One man considers one day more sacred than another, another man considers every day alike. each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”

Paul wasn’t saying that one considered every day alike except for the sabbath. Every day alike meant just that, every day. Thus, how one related to and observed sacred days were matters of faith, and conviction, not to be imposed as covenant/law. In the end, Paul was saying that such ancillary and disputable matters of Christian life and experience should not divide the believers. They were to not condemn, look down, or schism over differing convictions and practices, but were ultimately called to accept one another, as God in Christ accepted them. As one, united family of believers in Christ.

For Adventism to advocate mandatory sabbath observance for all Christians, and to refuse to admit those who have been united with Christ by being baptized into his death and resurrection but do not observe the seventh day sabbath, and to maintain walls of singularity as a denomination from other Christian groups over such, is to simply do what Paul was saying shouldn’t be done…divide the body of Christ over ancillary matters of faith and conviction. With, at best, mixed evidence from the NT.

Frank

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The SS lesson itself is off the mark in relation to the 3rd and 4th chapters of Hebrews referred to. These two chapters are NOT about the weekly sabbath per se.

It is about how “ceasing our labors” on the sabbath shows our belief and trust in a God who will supply our needs. And how “ceasing our labors” for Salvation will bring us true REST because salvation and true rest is obtained from the Throne of Grace Heb 4:6

I dont understand why the author has chosen to direct the focus to a study on sabbath keeping instead. The doctrine of the Weekly Sabbath can be most certainly established elsewhere. But Chapters 3 n 4 of Hebrews is not the intent of Paul to defend sabbath keeoing to the Jewish Christians who are sabbath keepers. I am dissappointed at the integrity of the scholarship

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Agree here, Frank. SDA indoctrination often consists of explaining why passages in Scripture do not really mean what they appear to mean. Romans 14 is an excellent example of that.

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There’s a lot we actually do agree on, Hansen! :laughing:

Frank

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My study of Hebrews 3&4 this week clarified for me that the Sabbath is primarily a memory device. While Sabbath can be understood to have many other benefits (rejuvenation, community, equality), they are secondary.
In the creation story, God rested, not because he was tired, but because there was nothing left to do. As Hebrews 4:3 comments, God’s creation work was ‘done.’ Our Sabbath, likewise, is not for fatigue, but to remember God’s completed work.
When we enter into the promised rest discussed in Hebrews we rest from work - the ‘dead works’ mentioned subsequently in this book, ie. salvation by works - we can do so because Jesus, “has made purification for sins.” (1:3).
The, “sabbath rest [that] remains,” (4:9) is there to remind us of God’s completed work for our salvation. To ‘enter into rest’ is equivalent to, “enter[ing] the sanctuary,” (10:19) to seek grace, mercy and help.
Once sabbath-keeping becomes an end point in itself we can lose sight of what it is trying to remind us.

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I think it’s important to notice that there is no mention of Sabbath in the creation story.

As Jesus said, the sabbath was made for humans but it’s first mention is in Exodus, not Genesis.

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Edit: Why is that important to you?

It’s important because as Jesus said, the sabbath was made for humans but it’s first mention is in Exodus, not Genesis. The SDA narrative has it that all Christians observed sabbath on Saturday at first, but they were gradually lured/forced to change to Sunday by the proto-Catholics.

Ellen White said that in her first vision, she saw that the pope made the change. (She was never able to find evidence of that.) Gentile Christians didn’t observe sabbath on any day, but they met on Sunday, which they called the Lord’s Day to honor the His resurrection.

The Lord’s day was not a Sabbath on Sunday, and they were reminded not to rest on either day to emphasize that fact.

The Catholic crowd slowly came to believe they were meeting on the first day of the week in obedience to the sabbath commandment. They still hold to that belief.

In her first vision EGW said that she was shown that “the pope” changed the day of sabbath, but she never had a clue regarding the particular pope or when or how.

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Yes, because what she said God showed her is flat out, historically wrong. As early as AD110 is pointed to by written evidence. That implies that such a change of attitude and practice was already going on for a while, reaching back at least into the late first century.

This also implies much about the reliability of what EGW said were the messages she got in her “pipeline from God.” What a house of cards!

Frank

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Wrong. It is mentioned in Genesis 2:3. The Hebrew word used to say that God rested is “Shabat”. And to let us know that the seventh day was special, the text tells us that God blessed it and sanctified it.

Then in Exodus 16:23, God said that “To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord”. Notice that a) the sabbath was already holy even before the giving of the law (that we can read about in Exodus 20), b) the sabbath was already the day “unto the Lord”. So we can see that the seventh day was holy at creation and has been holy down to Exodus 16.

Then we have, of course, Exodus 20 that directly mention creation.

So, to say that there is no mention of Sabbath in the creation story is to misread the text.

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Luther wrote a number of things about the Sabbath in his Genesis commentary. Even though he opposed Sabbath keeping in his time. he believed that Abraham kept the Sabbath. He also thought that the Fall took place on Sabbath, the very first Sabbath.

“It follows, therefore, from this passage that if Adam had remained in the state of innocence, he nevertheless would have held the seventh day sacred. That is, on this day he would have given his descendants instructions about the will and worship of God; he would have praised God; he would have given thanks; he would have sacrificed, etc. On the other days he would have tilled his fields and tended his cattle. Indeed, even after the Fall he kept this seventh day sacred; that is, on this day he instructed his family, of which the sacrifices of his sons Cain and Abel give the proof. Therefore from the beginning of the world the Sabbath was intended for the worship of God.”

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 1, pp. 79–80). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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Except that Genesis is totally silent on this issue. There is no evidence that the patriarchs kept the sabbath, nor is there any evidence of Adam instructing his descendants. No evidence that Joseph kept it in Egypt while running the country or of his father and brothers doing so when they came there.

This is all speculation beyond the text.

Frank

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Right you are, Lutheran speculation, enlightened speculation but still speculation and imaginings. Luther had a wonderful imagination to complement his love for God. Perhaps implied by the text and unrealized by our constricted consciousness. Chapter 2 of the book of Jubilees indicates that at least some Jews believed that the Sabbath was observed by the patriarchs, specifically Jacob and his seed.

Many rabbis also taught that Abraham was justified by his faith and his commandment keeping, circumcision, etc., being the first Gentile to become a righteous Jew by such. What was believed by some in Jubilees about the patriarchs and sabbath observance, or what made Abraham righteous before God, is still speculative or against what Paul was saying respectively.

Iow, it all gives a clue into some Jewish thought, but is no interpretive benchmark in either case for us.

Frank

The six work days in Exodus 16 are immediately preceded by yet another work day!

A month and a half into the Exodus, the butchers ran out of four-footed food and the Israelite’s went into their whiney act. In response, God promised them a daily feast of pheasant at twilight. Call this Reference Day One.

At dawn of Reference Days Two through Seven, they collected mana which they ate on that day.

In the morning of Reference Day 8, they ate left-over mana from the preceding day.

What’s wrong with this picture? Seven work days in a row!!

Luther, at times, had an imaginative theology. Certain things that might be extrapolated from the text by implication, he noted. Sabbath, for example. Luther didn’t believe that 7th day Sabbath was necessary in his day. He opposed those who would make salvation by faith + Sabbath keeping or faith + baptism by immersion; nevertheless, he was quite convinced that Adam and Abraham observed it.

Regarding Genesis, Luther seriously studied OT chronology in Genesis. It was his belief that Abraham was instructed in early redemptive history, including Creation, the Fall, the Sabbath, Cain and Abel and so on. Shem, the son of Noah was an instructor. There is overlap in the lives of the those who lived before the flood and those who lived after, extending from Adam to Abraham. The earliest history of human life on earth could have been passed down by oral tradition from Adam to Lamech to Noah to Shem to Abraham. Luther believed that Shem was Melchizedek. Luther held that the expression “called on the name of the Lord” attributed to Abram/Abraham when he built an altar to the Lord actually meant that Abraham “proclaimed” the name of the Lord, i.e., he recited sacred history, [which likely included the Sabbath], and the redemptive promises to his hearers. Whether these ideas are true or not, there is no harm in them. It’s not much of a stretch for them to be true.

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continuing with discussion from a previous lesson in this series, and there being nothing wrong with reasonably informed speculation, i think it would be good to state what i think is the most convincing case for a Pauline authorship for the book of Hebrews…this case rests on Heb 10:34, which identifies the author as being in bonds, or chains…

in the first place, we know that Paul was placed in chains in Jerusalem by the Roman “chief captain”, generally believed to be Claudias Lysius, in c. AD 57 (Acts 21:33)…if Paul was martyred subsequent to and perhaps because of the Great Fire of Rome, as commonly believed, it would mean that he died some time after AD 64…and if the book of Hebrews was written between AD 63-64 (usually believed to be shortly before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70), we can see that the book of Hebrews may have been the last book Paul wrote, from the perspective of having been in chains for at least 7 yrs, and having certainty that he was slated to be executed, which he knew anyway, before he was placed in chains, Acts 21:10-14, all of which explains the retrospective, almost resigned, tone we see in the final chapters…certainly a Pauline authorship for the book of Hebrews would require these basic dates to line up, as they seem to…

in the second place, and significantly, the only other apostle we know of who was placed in bonds was Peter…but Peter’s chains were restricted to his third incarceration, this time at the hand of Herod, from which he was miraculously freed and delivered for a second time by an angel, Acts 12:1-11…this deliverance is generally believed to have occurred in AD 44, long before the allusion to bonds mentioned in the book of Hebrews, that is, long before the writing of the book of Hebrews…in any case, the notion that Peter could have written the book of Hebrews isn’t serious…

in the third place, the apostle Barnabas, a second contender for authorship of the book of Hebrews, wasn’t known for having been in bonds, as Paul was…the conflicting accounts of Barnabas’ martyrdom, thought to have been some time in AD 56-57, and certainly after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians - generally believed to be through stoning, although some believe he was burned at the stake - don’t include incarceration, or chains…whatever else may sustain a Barnabasian authorship for the book of Hebrews, if he can’t be demonstrated to have been in bonds, he isn’t the author…it’s also worth noting that Barnabas doesn’t appear to have been a writer in the way other apostles were…it’s therefore not a little uncharacteristic if he authored one of the truly great books of the NT (the Epistle of Barnabas, even if Barnabas did author it, is mediocre…not only is it rambling, and superficial, but it’s prophecy, in Ch.15, of the end of the world in 6,000 yrs because god created that world in 6 days, is obviously false…in any case, we know that internal evidence of a knowledge of events, and therefore dates, places the book too late to have been written by the biblical Barnabas)…

in the fourth place, the figure of Apollos, a third contender, also isn’t known to have been in bonds, and also isn’t known to have written anything…here again, whatever Luther thought, the lack of an identity tied to chains is dispositive…for all we know, and according to Jerome, Apollos retired to Crete, but returned to Corinth after Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, where he lived out his days as an elder of the Corinthian church…if this is true, why is there nothing else attributed to him…are we really to believe that something as intellectually massive and inspiring as the book of Hebrews could have been penned by someone on his first and only attempt…it is interesting to note that the stature of this book, easily recognizable, is why it survived attempts by Luther to exclude it from the canon…

but in the fifth place, the usual trump card levied against a Pauline authorship of the book of Hebrews, namely Heb 2:3, if taken literally (and why shouldn’t it be), certainly and actually identifies Paul…that is, nothing stops us from recognizing that Paul is openly conceding that he wasn’t one of the twelve who were eye witnesses of Jesus’ ministry, something that educated Jewish christians, who seem to be the recipients of the book of Hebrews, would undoubtedly have known and considered even if he hadn’t stated it…if the book of Hebrews was written to Jews who may have harboured simmering antipathy towards what was commonly bandied about as Paul’s sustained attack on Judaism, this insert in Heb 2:3 can be seen to be a not so subtle attempt to disarm these prejudices…it certainly doesn’t contradict Paul’s strong claims of apostolic authority with his gentile audiences that we see in his other epistles because with them, there was no need to disarm bias…given Paul’s known proclivity for varying his approach to suit the sensibilities of his audiences, we would expect him to use a different address with educated Jews than he used with Gentiles…

in fact the lack of typical Pauline identifiers in the book of Hebrews suggests, not unreasonably, an attempt to stay under the radar during a time of particular persecution, not only for his own sake, but also for the sake of his Jewish recipients, who would have been ready targets…if Paul wrote the book of Hebrews when it was clear that he was destined for the gallows, as dates for the writing of the book and his execution suggest, it would have been prudent to keep anything shared between him and other Jews as covert as possible…this way his contacts couldn’t have been accused of being conspirators against the state, and imprisoned themselves, or worse…and for this reason, it makes at least some sense that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews in a vernacular distinct from his known style, or had someone else, possibly Luke, transcribe it away from his known style, especially since it is evident that the recipients of the book of Hebrews were well aware who was writing to them…

I am not sure to follow your point.