Sabbath and Justice: An Introduction

This paper was originally presented at the Adventist Society for Religious Studies (ASRS) 2020 Virtual Conference, on November 21, 2020, to introduce the “Sabbath and Justice” panel discussion. It is reprinted here with permission.

In setting the stage for this panel, I would like to offer a few thoughts of my own on the theme of Sabbath and justice.[1] As a Sabbath scholar, I have conducted empirical and practical theological research on the Sabbath as a practice among religious professionals, namely pastors and rabbis. This has inevitably led me into the field of interreligious dialogue and practice, as well as considering the implications of what it means to live in a post-Shoah or post-Holocaust world. Thus, for me, any (Adventist) Christian discussion on the Sabbath and its relationship to justice must ultimately consider the Jewish-Christian relationship.

With that said, it is often argued that the Sabbath is universally applicable, and not primarily Jewish, because of its genesis in the creation account.[2] While this is certainly true and argued even by noted Jewish scholars,[3] it is crucial to recall that the Sabbath is also expressly embedded in the ancient Hebrew experience of the Exodus from Egypt and the covenant with God. “The point of such apparent hair-splitting,” writes Michael Lodahl, “is to assert that in the Jewish notion of Sabbath, even when its observance somehow recalls creation, that recollection itself is founded in God’s covenant with the Jewish people.”[4] In other words, if it were not for God’s covenant people, Israel, who also wrote and preserved the scriptures, the world would not even be aware of the Sabbath, the day God blessed and sanctified (Gen 2:3, NASB). 

Christians who observe the Sabbath, therefore, must acknowledge they do so as a sign of solidarity and celebration of Israel’s covenant election, still sustained by the faithful God of the Exodus. For this reason, Sabbath observance also serves as a witness to Christianity’s origin in Jewish faith and practice. This is a timely testimony for today considering the anti-Jewish sentiment the Church has harbored throughout its history, all of which culminated in the Church’s complicity in numerous pogroms and with the tragic events of the Holocaust. Fortunately, this is now slowly being undone through the work of post-Shoah theologians,[5] denominational statements,[6] and genuine interreligious dialogue.[7]

One result of rethinking Christianity’s relationship to Judaism has been a renaissance among Roman Catholics and Protestants who see Judaism as a rich resource for Christian practice, including the Sabbath. Walter Brueggemann’s more recent book on the Sabbath, Sabbath as Resistance, serves as a prime example of how, despite the numerous texts that have rolled off Christian presses in recent years, the Sabbath is not only still relevant but absolutely necessary for living a life of justice.[8] In this slender text, Brueggemann writes as a Christian to Christians, but roots his argument for Sabbath as a form of resistance in the narrative of the Exodus and the God who is not known apart from that narrative, thus supporting the Jewish soul of the Sabbath.

As Israel is subsumed in an endless system of insatiable productivity that knows no rest, YHWH collides with the gods of Egypt by interceding as a “Sabbath-keeping God, a Sabbath-giving God, and Sabbath-commanding God” (10). By gifting ancient Israel with the fourth commandment, Brueggemann asserts, God breaks the systemic cycle of coveting acquisitiveness. This forms the biblical platform on which Brueggemann then contemporizes the ancient Israelite reality by framing the Sabbath as similarly relevant to those shackled by the gods of Western culture. By speaking truth to power, he levels attacks against America’s insatiable scheme of production and endless desideratum for more, such as an expansive and aggressive military, abuse of the land, the coveted industry of professional and college sports, and even the controversial “teaching to test” policies of US public education. No criticism is left behind in rendering the Sabbath as a form of socio-economic resistance and an alternative to accomplishing, achieving, and possessing.

If that’s not a biblical case for connecting Sabbath with justice, then I don’t know what is. In what follows, we are fortunate to have several scholars who have given this serious thought. All those who have ears to hear, please listen to what these panelists have to say about Sabbath and justice.

 

Notes & References:

[2] Jacques B. Doukhan cautions that when Seventh-day Adventists overemphasize how the Sabbath came from God at the event of creation, to the exclusion of the Sinai account, “it may in fact disguise the old anti-Semitic prejudice: they do not want to have anything to do with the Jews, precisely the motivation which led the early Christians to reject the Sabbath,” in “What Can Adventism Learn from the Jews about the Sabbath?” Spectrum 39, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 15-20.

[3] For example, commenting on Genesis 2:2-3, Umberto Cassuto writes: “Scripture wishes to emphasize that the sanctity of the Sabbath is older than Israel, and rests upon all mankind,” in Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part I: From Adam to Noah, Genesis I-VI, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1972), 1:64. See also: Martin Buber, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant (New York: Humanity, 2011); Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1985).

[4] Michael Lodahl, “Sabbath Observance as a Theological Issue in Jewish-Christian Conversation,” in The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Tamara C. Eskenazi, Daniel J. Harrington, and William H. Shea (New York: Crossroad, 1991), 264.

[5] For a few examples, see: Johann Baptist Metz, “Christians and Jews After Auschwitz: Being a Meditation Also on the End of Bourgeois Religion,” in A Holocaust Reader: Responses to the Nazi Extermination, ed. Michael L. Morgan (New York: Oxford University, 2001), 238-250; Clark M. Williamson, A Guest in the House of Israel: Post-Holocaust Church Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993). For an Adventist contribution, see: Jacques B. Doukhan, ed., Thinking in the Shadow of Hell: The Impact of the Holocaust on Theology and Jewish-Christian Relations (Berrien Springs: Andrews University, 2002).

[6] Vatican II was the watershed that set the standard for not only Roman Catholicism but also for statements issued thereafter by denominations across Protestantism. See Pope Paul VI, “Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (Holy See, 1965), http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html (accessed 27 November 2020); Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1975). For the historical and theological reasons as to why and how the Roman Catholic Church radically reversed its adversarial position to the Jews, consider: John Connelly, From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2012). For the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s involvement, see: Adventist-Jewish Friendship Conference, “Consensus Statement,” Shabbat Shalom 52, no. 3 (2005): 24-25; Biblical Research Institute Committee, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, “Official Statement on the Jewish-Adventist Connection,” Reflections: Biblical Research Institute Newsletter 3 (July 2003): 2.

[7] A couple of good introductory texts include: Mary C. Boys, ed., Seeing Judaism Anew: Christianity’s Sacred Obligation (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005); Tikva Frymer-Kensky, et al., Christianity in Jewish Terms (Boulder: Westview, 2000). Summarizing these developments within Adventism, Stefan Höeschele writes: “The last decade [2000-2010] has seen a number of publications that stress the continuity of the Jewish and Adventist faiths…and that counteract the theory that Israel has been rejected by God in the Christian dispensation,” “The Emerging Adventist Theology of Religions Discourse: Participants, Positions, Particularities,” in A Man of Passionate Reflection: Festschrift in Honour of Jerald Whitehouse, ed. Bruce Bauer, Andrews University Mission Studies 8 (Berrien Springs: Department of World Mission, Andrews University, 2011), 364. Another rich resource is a journal Doukhan edited for sixteen years: Shabbat Shalom: A Journal of Jewish-Christian Reconciliation.

[8] Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2014). See also Dorothy C. Bass, “Keeping the Sabbath,” in Practicing Our Faith, ed. Dorothy C. Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997), 75-89; Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989); Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York: Bantam, 2000); Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006).

 

Erik C. Carter, DMin, PhD, is associate professor of Religion at Loma Linda University and the 2021 president of ASRS.

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

 

Further Reading:

Sabbath and Justice from an Ethico-philosophical Perspective” by Marina Garner

 

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10886
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I keep waiting for someone to comment so that my post won’t be on the same page as the article - why? -because the article needs neutrality to make its point. But, I can wait no longer.

Our world view comes from perspective. We each have one. How we interpret what we see, hear, feel depends on our perceptive. I don’t need to point that out here to this readership; but maybe it needs to be reminded. Jewish faith comes from a Jewish perspective. We, Christians, get that from reading the OT in our Bibles; but, the Jewish perspective does not carry into the NT. The Jewish perspective rises from the LAW, while central to the Christian, is Christ. This means that all things we see, hear feel gets related to Christ. We see everything as it relates to Christ and the cross.

Yes, without the law, there doesn’t need to be the cross. According to Paul, that’s because the law leads us to Christ. That makes THE LAW a negative impetus for the Christian. It assumes that when the Christian looks at the law, he sees it as a negative IN HIS LIFE. Paul suggests none of us keep it. If Adventist have decided to “keep” the Sabbath, according to the law, we have already failed since we come nowhere near “keeping” it according to Bible instructions. For starters, the laws governing the keeping of the Sabbath are totally ignored; but further to that, we ignore the Adventist mission point - “if you break one commandment, you break them all”. Not only do we ignore the sabbath laws, we ignore the rest of the Ten Commandments (in practice). Ofcourse the last one #10 throws us all under the bus.

Justice is the second leg of this article, trying to tie it, to the SDA Sabbath. (Of course, a man with a hammer will see nails everywhere). Are we really saying that by keeping the Sabbath, we are unshackling ourselves from the materialism of our society.

As a young version of my husband spent time in Ft. Sam Houston, he was in a unit potentially headed for DC, rather than Hanoi. Adventists were the army’s primary source for research at Ft.Detrtick Md. Only “practicing” SDAs were considered. The SDA Chaplin picked the lucky few who were going to Washington. The SDA church in San Antonio was a busy place for the soldiers every Sabbath, along with their "service men’s Center. Graduation from Ft. Sam was a bus ticket to Washington, DC.

Fast forward to Saturday evenings at Fort Detrick - regular countdowns to sundown, and out on the town they went. No longer were health norms being guarded as the SDA soldiers melded into the Saturday nights. Behaviour at Ft. Sam were graded according to church standards; while the behaviour at Ft. Derrick was according to army standards.

On street level, the Sabbath, as it’s taught to our young people; and as it’s carried forward, becomes a duty that appears to be skin deep when put to the test. The studies that link the Sabbath to all things meaningful, is done in it’s “halls of ivy”. Even there, the Christian perspective gets lost in trying uphold the uniquely Adventist perspective. I realize it’s important, even vital, that the Sabbath appears universal, at that level; but, Christianity’s Jewish roots end at the cross.

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Your replies always seem full of personal experience - and really, that’s what it’s about anyway. Thank you!
I’m seeing a lot of inertia here -150 years of it. But I like the thoughts; that sabbath is representive of a much deeper rest. While there are many differences in actual observance, the reflections on its meaning are always welcome. It always helps still the storms brewing within me.

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There’s always the stilling of the storm on Galilee. :wink:

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With a Jewish Messiah, Jewish scriptures, Jewish apostles?
I understand your point of formal Sabbath duty, but could you please clarify your more general idea of the quote. Thank you!

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It would be an overreach to suggest the above, given that we’ve had “the weekend”, and there are far more “non-stop work” societies in the East, like Japan for example.

What the author does, is like linking Jewish Sabbath with Subbonik in former USSR

… sure, it was a great time to get our and volunteer and clean up, but the overarching ideology was geares towards suppression of individualism and people’s aspirations until they were not really aspiring for anything.

I can guarantee you, that if we read any of Eric’s writings pre 2010 or even pre 2015, the likelihood of finding “speaking truth to power” in these are very slim.

So, I can’t honestly take this article for nothing else than an attempt to shift religious orientation towards a political ideology which is picking up speed now and tries to direct every possible aspect of Western society.

And for reasons I don’t have time to disclose, I think Christians stand in opposition to that ideology rather than in alignment with it. There’s a very good reason why USSR was secular.

I’m sorry for raining on this, but you have to understand that all of these efforts to recast religious traditional concept into “justice” and “speaking truth to power” … are not at all what these appear to be.

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As you say, Jesus was a Jew, as were the disciples, and were the first Christians. I guess a better statement would have been - the Jewish perspective stops at the cross. However, those Jewish roots meant something only to the Jews. Gentiles didn’t care about David validating Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus didn’t come to promote a continuation of the Jewish system of worship or belief, nor did he come to establish a new church for that matter. Paul did that. Jesus’ message was to the individual person, no matter if he/she was a Jew or Gentile. He had a message to humanity that precluded the Jewish roots that produced his message.

There are clues throughout the NT. From the Gospels we read that his message was unique, even to Jewish ears as demonstrated on the Mount of Transfiguration. Even though the Jews (Christian) saw Jesus’ death as the substitute for the sacrifice made in the Sanctuary services, He was sacrificed “outside the gate” - not in the Jewish sanctuary. And then there’s the Sermon on the Mount which drove God’s expectations deep into the human psyche, where motives count more than deeds.

Then we have the book of Hebrews which clarifies how Jesus was better a prophet, priest, sacrifice, and a better “rest” which had been represented by the Sabbath. Responding to Jesus, there is no need clarify Him through Judaic beliefs (roots).

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What this article and this comment seem to miss, is that Christ is Israel. The Sabbath isn’t rooted in Judaism, it is rooted in God. The 10 commandments weren’t Israel’s law, they were/are God’s law, as immortal as he is. Israel was called to be the keepers of God’s covenant. To carry the light of God’s message to the world. They failed at their task. Just as Isaac failed at his task, along with Abraham, and going all the way back to Adam who was the first to fail in keeping God’s covenant.

Christ is the culmination of God’s desire to establish an everlasting covenant with the human race. The same covenant he sought to establish with Israel. The Sabbath is about acknowledging God as creator over heaven and earth. John makes it clear that Christ is the creator of all things, so to deny/marginalize the Sabbath in any way, is to deny/marginalize Christ in some way. The Sabbath doesn’t “belong to Judaism”, it belongs to Christ. You cannot truly follow Christ without keeping his Sabbath.

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I see the sabbath as being a guarentee built into the covenant to assur that the poor at least had a day per week of rest. Otherwise only the well off would get any rest.

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Certainly, and going beyond that a small step, perhaps it was also intended to allow time for worker bees to think*.

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If that makes sense to you, go for it.

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Thank you, Sirje! Always thought provoking.

You are arguing against exclusivity. I appreciate your inclusive perspective. What is bothering me a bit (please don’t misunderstand) is that you speak of “precluding” Jewish roots. To me, that sounds like exclusivity again: everyone but… But I think you didn’t mean it that way, but rather as you said not a continuation of the Jewish worship and belief system but an inclusion with something new, a much broader perspective addressing and relating to all mankind, no matter their background.

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Absolutely. Jesus’ message and meaning was/is direct to individuals, personally, rather than a group, be it nationality (Jews) or church. Sin is a human problem, not institutional. (That may be disputable). The only time Jesus addressed the system was when he turned the tables over, accusing the Jews of making the temple a “den of thieves”. The rest of the time Jesus ministered one persona at a time, particularly in his Sermon on the Mount.

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[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:21120”]
“…the Sabbath is also expressly embedded in the ancient Hebrew experience of the Exodus from Egypt and the covenant with God.”

"Also" works both ways. If that sentence were correct, we would also find the word “Sabbath” in the creation account.

It was a long time ago that I discovered that there is no Sabbath in Genesis. I stumbled across that fact in my worn out concordance.

Whenever the Bible says “seventh day”, we mentally add “of the week”.

Is there any instance in the Bible that mentions a Gentile keeping any kind of Sabbath?

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There is a good-sized swath of 20th century theology that focuses on the connection between the Hebrew experience and Jesus. For example: NT Wright, James Dunn, EP Sanders. No set of scholars can be completely categorized, but many refer to this idea as the “New Perspective of Paul.”

This seeks to broaden the salvific task into something greater than individual salvation and more than a mathematical calculation of grace covering sin and “that’s the plan.” That is part of the plan, but there is more.

I feel that Adventists could listen, learn, and participate in this conversation. The concept of Sabbath justice is part of this rich theme.

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Carmen, how does the concept of Sabbath justice looks like with two free days each weekend (Sabbath included) for many people in the West? I appreciate your ideas.

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Walter Brueggemann’s book, “Sabbath as Resistance” helped me think about the Sabbath as a tool to promote a whole person value that is more than production capabilities. To me, this removes a person from the imprint of a material culture to something more. So, I would not want to make rules to please God, instead I want to notice the cultural overlay that can hinder the appreciation of deep value for all life. Brueggemann (and Tonstad) point out the way Sabbath gives justice to the lowest in society—manservants, maidservants, animals.

Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “Sabbath” tethers justice and value to a 7th day Sabbath. Heschel was active in Civil Rights in the US. He connected Hebrew justice to what needed to happen in 20th century culture.

So, what does it look like? For me, in non pandemic times, I worship with other Adventists in my town. I am put in relationship with all sorts of people that I would not meet or grow to appreciate without the communal opportunity given to Adventists because of our smallness in number. This reminds me that I learn from all people and I am one with all humanity. This reminds me of my responsibility to work for justice for all.

Keeping a 7th day Sabbath merely to be “correct” is not a powerful guiding tool. I appreciate noticing the connection between Israel and Christianity. Amos has alot to say about legalistic Sabbath keeping that ignores justice.

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Thank you, also for a little personal insight into the Carmen life. A day to rethink your values, to refocus, to have time for relationships. Interesting. A relationship day.

I still wonder what you think the justice regarding the Sabbath is in our time because we (at least many of us) already have two free days a week no matter the background. Wasn’t that an idea behind it in many of the OT texts? That every person of society is equally created, God’s grace can be experienced by the oppressed and non-oppressed alike, and this is symbolized by the resting of all, an end of oppression included for at least a day. But maybe you mean a broader idea beyond a day. Justice in a broader sense.

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The Bible never refers to them as law at all. But EGW did.

This isn’t her only contradiction. It has long bothered me how easily we accept EGW’s positions over against the Bible’s. Such as that Satan was the covering cherub although Eze 28 says it was the King of Tyre. She said–a million times–that Lucifer was Satan but Isa 14 says it was the King of Babylon who claimed to be the morning star (Lucifer in Latin) and the son of morning. The Bible does not say that Satan ever lived in Heaven. Just sayin’.

It was EGW’s habit to remove the first part of the 10 Commandments when she recited them, namely,

" And God spake all these words, saying,I am the Lord THY God, which have brought THEE out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Ex 20:2)

That’s exclusive language, isn’t it? None of us were slaves in Egypt…

The LORD made not this covenant [the 10 Commandments] with our fathers, but WITH, even US, who are all of us here alive this day…(Dt 5:3)

Then there’s Paul:

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike . Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Rom 14:6) Maybe we should listen to the man.

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Hi Kate, I’d love to hear your thoughts. But, yes, I think it is a broader idea than the day. The day is a marker for God’s intended justice for all. Now that we all know the world is not flat and that there is an international date line that brings its own Sabbath problems, we must say hanging too tightly to the idea that the 7 day cycle has never changed is a real problem. Nevertheless, I find rich meaning in being countercultural and marking seventh-day Sabbath. Another, vein of meaning has to do with it being a “Constantinian Protest” against the triumphal and political codification of Sunday keeping. But, that’s another topic----

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