Time to Start Over: Reconceiving Sabbath — a New Case for the Seventh Day

In 1861, at the first step of church organization, Adventist pioneers J. N. Loughborough and James White stuck up a big red flag: a creed, said Loughborough, is “the first step of apostacy.” A creed, said White, bars the way “to all future advancement.” This perspective prevailed, and delegates to the Michigan Conference organizational meeting agreed, not on a statement of beliefs, but on a simple pledge: “We the undersigned,” they said, “hereby associate ourselves together as a church, taking the name, Seventh-day Adventists, covenanting together to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ.”

It would have been better, I think, if the pledge had begun with a phrase like, “Thanks to the grace of God…” Commitment follows divine initiative, after all. But if Loughborough, White, and other meeting delegates were nevertheless on to something, their wisdom fell from favor. Today, General Conference leaders support an official Statement of Fundamental Beliefs some 4,400 words long, and expect us to agree on all of them. But if in age, education, and culture we have different vantage points, and if in any case we “see through a glass darkly,” that’s bound not to happen. To expect sheer uniformity of doctrine can only arise from self-deception; it can only result in complacency, fraud, and intimidation.

So, it’s best to keep talking about our doctrines, best to think it normal to be aiming, always, at the “future advancement” James White was counting on. Doctrines are, to Christ’s disciples, the premises we live by, and corrective attention to these premises is indispensable for the “building up of the body of Christ.”  

Based on all this, I’ve been arguing in this series of short essays that it’s time to “start over.” As is perhaps always the case for religious communities, we are fragile, imperiled from within and without. Yet we are drawn together, many of us, grateful for purpose and hope, glad of the lifelong friendships and shared mission that Adventism seems to foster. Now, in this and one more essay, I want to illustrate how corrective conversation might renew and enliven two doctrines. Here I take up the Sabbath, later the Second Coming. Both pertain to our distinctiveness, both cry out for re-examination, and both offer strong stimulus to discipleship, the true point of Christian existence.

As to the Sabbath, let’s begin with what we conventionally teach. My life-long participation in Adventist life, backed up by recent inquiry and conversation, leads me to suggest the following summary:

• At the culmination of creation week, God blessed and hallowed the seventh-day Sabbath. The Bible asks us to keep this day holy — by resting, worshipping together, and embracing a certain Sabbath asceticism. The seventh-day Sabbath is thus a requirement of divine law.

• According to the New Testament, Jesus and early believers, including Paul, honored the seventh-day Sabbath. Nothing in the New Testament indicates a shift from seventh-day to first-day observance of the Sabbath.

• Later the Roman Catholic Church, abetted by Constantine, made Sunday the Christian Sabbath, thereby instituting a practice directly contrary to God’s will.

• Bible prophecy teaches that this same Catholic Church, supported by apostate Protestantism and American political power, will in the Last Days compel Sunday observance. But the true Sabbath is, and will then come to prominence as, the crucial test of loyalty to God. Anyone who complies with the false Sabbath while fully aware of God’s true intent will receive the “mark of the beast” and lose eternal life.

At least as early as the 1960s and 70s a few Adventists began to read Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath. The book lit a flame of humility and self-correction that was very nearly thrilling. In one part of the church — not a large part; one centered at some of our colleges and universities — Adventist reflection turned to Sabbath as a kind of emancipation. It put aside obsession with arithmetic, whether of the proper rest day or of the long apocalyptic timeframes that were said to culminate in a Last-Days Sabbath crisis. Reflection focused instead on the point. Over the decades since, agreements have emerged about the meaning of the seventh day, about how Sabbath rest and celebration constitute a gift, not just an obligation. To me, these agreements — what amount to a New Case for the Sabbath — have shed a healing light. Among more than a few, they have awakened deeper, if also less unquestioning, loyalty to the Adventist heritage. Here is my own summary of these agreements:

• The Sabbath is first of all a matter of grace. It is a blessing from God, offering rest, festivity, and contemplation against soul-crushing busyness and the deadening tyranny of things. Keeping it, as God asks us to do, is thus reception of a gift that sustains human betterment.

• Embracing the Sabbath does not require literalism with respect to the Genesis creation account. The story conveys a spiritual point, namely, that the God-made world is “very good” and that humans receive an honored place and role in that world.

• According to the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5 as well as Exodus 20), Sabbath rest memorializes not only the goodness of creation but also the divine commitment to rescue from forced labor. Sabbath-keeping awakens passion and hope with respect to liberty from oppression and justice for all.

• The proper link between the Sabbath and apocalyptic prophecy is that the Sabbath strengthens the very posture apocalyptic prophecy encourages. Such prophecy has a meaning that, unlike mere prediction, is both moral and motivating. It opposes unchecked human power and affirms the ultimate victory of God. Both apocalyptic prophecy and the Sabbath experience stimulate resistance and renewal, not resignation and escape from responsibility.

• It is wrong to stigmatize all of Roman Catholicism for a tragic, early mistake. Without surrendering responsibility for theological critique (and for considering critique directed to us), the New Case for the Sabbath affirms the value of mutual respect and cooperation among the varying strands of Christian commitment.

But a development that goes beyond these five agreements, one that concerns the seventh-day-ness of the Sabbath, is now a-borning, and I have begun to immerse myself in the historical scholarship that undergirds it.[*] In this light I now state an argument that may be new for many.

• Jesus was an observant Jew whose witness stood within the Jewish tradition of give and take concerning the meaning of the covenant. He certainly embraced the Sabbath. Paul and first-century Jewish Christians were also observant Jews.

• Many synagogues at the time of Christianity’s beginnings welcomed gentiles. These gentiles could become Jewish converts, or, if they did not undergo circumcision, participate in the Sabbath and the synagogue experience as “God-fearers.” A substantial number of God-fearers joined Christian assemblies within their synagogue communities, becoming eschatological (and Sabbath-observing) gentiles in accordance with the prophetic vision (Isaiah 2:1-2; Micah 4:1-2; Zechariah 2:11; see especially Isaiah 56:6,7).

• By early in the second century hints of Jew hatred appeared in now-dominantly-gentile Christian assemblies. A shift away from the seventh-day Sabbath began. In the fourth century Constantine threw the weight of Empire behind Sunday as a universal (not only Christian) day of rest. (His legislation did not even mention Christ and the resurrection.)

• Eventually, Jews and Christians fully separated. Christians rationalized this as “supersession,” or replacement of God’s Chosen People, even though the apostle Paul had said (Romans 11) that the covenant with the Jews never expires, and that gentile Christians, as “branches” grafted onto the supporting “root,” should “stand in awe” of the Jews.

• As a sign of grace and reminder of essential biblical conviction, the Sabbath fosters connection — restorative connection — with Christianity’s Jewish heritage. Despite Christian oppression, the Chosen People have excelled, after all, not only in partnership with God toward creative transformation, but also in resistance to abusive power. By contrast, Christianity, especially since Constantine, has lapsed often into otherworldliness — escapism, resignation, irresponsibility — or even worse, into unscrupulous partnership with political authority.

• Conventional Adventist teaching on the Sabbath evokes proud separation — from other Christians. The New Case for the Sabbath evokes humble solidarity — with those who constitute the “root” of Christian existence. Christians who (along with Jesus and Paul) celebrate the biblical Sabbath thus give indispensable witness not only to the wider world but also to other Christians. Just how witness to the Christian movement’s essential Jewishness could bear fruit may elude our full understanding. But suppose that, by God’s grace, it helped cleanse Christianity of disdain for others; or impede disastrous drift into “Christian nationalism”; or transform pious pessimism into active hope. Any of these would make such witness a blessing to all humanity.

The seventh-day Sabbath, properly conceived, thus opens one pathway — not a shortcut but still a pathway — to what in this skeptical age must be a singularly important goal: the redemption of Christian community and witness.



[*] My remarks are informal and not footnoted, but I may here mention, as examples, Amy-Jill Levine, Paula Fredriksen, Gabrielle Boccaccini, and Jacques Doukhan.


Previous Articles in this Series:

Time to Start Over: First, Face Delusion, September 16, 2020

Time to Start Over: Christ without Christ, or, How Not to Miss the Point, October 30, 2020

Time to Start Over: The 28 — If Our Beliefs Weigh Us Down, How Can They Lift Us Up?, December 17, 2020


Charles Scriven is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11088

This is true on the surface. What concerns me is the lack of instruction that Paul offers the Gentiles congregations to support the Sabbath. Paul seems to go out of his way to give no special support for Jewish Feast days or the Seventh day Sabbath: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Rom 14

Also: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” All our worship is centered in Christ not the Sabbath as a Shadow, Paul appeals to be saying.

In summery, Paul directed the Gentiles not to be concerned about Circumcision, which God had clearly commanded for thousands years and unclean food except eating blood and dead animals. His message to the Gentiles does not lend support for Sabbath Keeping due to its creation or Covenant location. Paul extensively instructs that faith saves, apart for the deeds of the law, which does not lend to required Sabbath observance. It seems to me that if we as SDA’s were writing an epistle we would give clear instruction to Remember the Sabbath Day. Paul, the Apostle, writing to the Gentiles who had no holy days, felt no need to give clear Sabbath instruction. I wish he had.


Why is that?

It’s clear from scripture that the Sabbath was the sign of the Old Covenant that God made with Israel. Since the Old Covenant had been fulfilled and had passed away, the sign of it was no longer needed.


true, but it’s also true that the seventh-day sabbath was sanctified solely because god used it to rest from his creation of our world, Gen 2:3…that is, god used the sabbath uniquely to signify the end of his demonstration of why he is god, namely his creative power…

and because the seventh-day sabbath became a declared reality before the entrance of sin and death into our world, it means it is intrinsically holy: it is what it is, irrespective of our response to it, or to the god who sanctified it…it gathers no definition or essence from anything we do to keep it, or disregard it…

i disagree…i think the sabbath does require literalism if it is to have any meaning as a command for us to keep…if the so-called six days of creation were really eons of earth time, why would the seventh day of rest from creation need to be a 24-hr period, as opposed to a week, or a month, or a century, or an undefinable eon of time…while we may certainly feel inclined to say that the sabbath was arbitrarily confined to a 24-hr period due to the needs and time limits of humanity, even if this particular point isn’t explicitly stated anywhere, we cannot make the case that it in any way resembles the week it ends, or is part of, if what precedes it is so vast, it essentially cannot be measured or quantified…

and while this digresses a bit from the fine points made in this article, let’s understand that the order of the days of creation, in addition to their length, is also suspect without literalism…what source of light was available on sunday when the sun was only created on wednesday, especially if these days were really billions of yrs…likewise, what form of plants would have been able to grow on tuesday if insects and other pollinators were only called into existence on friday, if each of these intervening days was billions, or even millions, or more charitably, thousands, of yrs…

the problem with the attempt to scientify the creation account is that it renders it incredible and unbelievable - it implies a wholesale need for revisionism of the written account to the point of extirpation, and even nihilism…it’s far better to store the miracle of the earth’s creation in the same niche in which we store the recorded miracles of christ, along with his resurrection, ascension and second coming, all of which many christians are able to believe, while knowing that they are altogether scientifically impossible…


I agree with Jeremy overall. The main point being missed by many is that the 7th Day Sabbath is a reminder each week as to why God is the King of the Universe. God not only created everything, He also keeps everything in existence moment by moment. It is therefore very important to keep this in mind. It is like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and the human race’s birthday all rolled into one. Just as our birthday is the celebration of something that happened at a particular time in history and therefore cannot be changed, so also is the 7th Day Sabbath based on what happened 6000 years ago and therefore cannot be changed either.

Since it is the basis of God’s authority then the Sabbath will be a target of Satan in many different ways. History shows us that the Papacy’s hostility to the Sabbath and Biblical truths is not a small mistake. The Sabbath was set up in a sinless environment as far as this planet was concerned and as I indicated above is a day for rejoicing for many good reasons. What God did in response to the fall of Adam and Eve gives us even more reasons to rejoice in a special way with God on the Sabbath that He set up.


May I remind us all that we’re talking about the “seventh day” and not Saturday. Putting the Sabbath, calculated on the basis of the “new moon” aside, the seventh day depends entirely on which is the first day. Nowhere in the Bible does anyone equate the seventh day with something called, Saturday. Yes, we have calendars that start the week off with Sunday as the first day, but checking various calendars of the world, some of them end up with Sunday being the seventh day (eg: Germany/France). I just wonder what an evangelistic service does with that. Is one Roman calendar more legitimate than another for identifying the seventh day…

It all depends how far we’re willing to go to “start over”. The question that cries out is, how do we work the Sabbath commandment into a Christ-centered observance? Christianity starts with CHRIST and works its beliefs around the central belief that because Christ died and rose from the grave, we are pardoned from our sinfulness; and that this acceptance of that Christian FACT gives us a life of peace and service. So, the question remains, "where does a commandment (any commandment) fit in?

We keep skirting the main issue. Is the SDA denomination saying that we are saved by the grace of God, based on what Christ did; PLUS whether or not we keep Saturday as a day we go to church? If that is what SDA theology is based on, it can’t be Christ entered. That makes salvation dependent on the keeping of a specific day (all else being equal). It also relegates salvation to a superficial ritual.

The Sabbath isn’t about a DAY. It’s about REST - yes physical rest, but more importantly, it’s a weekly reminder of the REST offered by Christ in relation to our salvation. In a strange way, scrupulously focusing on not breaking the rules concerning a DAY upends the real purpose of that day - for someone who bases his/her entire hope and faith on what Christ did for us (the basic of Christianity). Beyond even that, we always forget about the other NINE as we define ourselves as the “Remnant who keep the commandments of God”.

What we say on paper as our rationale for “keeping” a day “holy” means nothing if it distracts, or supplants the salvation offered through Christ. Is the SDA more in favour with God because he/she goes to SS on time every Saturday, than the Catholic who goes to worship God on another day?

There is so much more to “starting over”. It begs the question "what does it mean to “keep the Sabbath”? How do we keep the Sabbath holy? The Bible actually does lay out “how to keep the Sabbath”, but those instructions don’t find their way into the SDA “28/29/30/etc Points of Doctrine”. Who actually decides what is acceptable Sabbath keeping… the General Conference; our grandmother; the local church, who? SDA Sabbath keeping is based on SDA traditions, not on any biblical instruction. If we’re reworking the system, that might something to consider; but how, then, does our relationship to God differ from the Jews, if it’s all about what “we do” and “don’t do”- as we sing “Amazing Grace”?


I believe what you say in regard to the Sabbath has authority from God. ON the surface it make perfect sense. However I struggle what Paul taught to Gentiles to make it harmonize with the command to keep the Sabbath as a special sign for the last days: “Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Gal 2

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The first time the word sabbath occurs in the Bible is in Ex 16. Does that fact mean that there was no sabbath before THAT point in time?
A still, glassy pond certainly a testifies that no recent rocks have been thrown in.

Moreover, Deuterometry 5 states that there were no sabbaths before the Exodus. Does that mean that there was no sabbath before THAT point in time?
Of course it DOES!

And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. (Dt 5:15)

Speaking of the Deuteronomy recital of the Ten Commandments. Moses declared, The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. (Dt 5:2,3) This supported God’s words, to wit

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…Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy…

But what about Genesis 2?

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Gen 2:1-3)

Answer. It doesn’t say anything about sabbath. God continued to rest from His earth creation project on the eighth day of the narrative, and on the ninth, etc., but no one imputes “sabbathhood” to them.

The eventual sabbath commandment required Israelites to rest on the day that followed six consecutive working days. No such commandment or fulfillment is described in Genesis.

It doesn’t say anything about sabbaths. It doesn’t say anything about a repeating seventh day “of the week”. Nothing in the context rules out that this is about a one-off celebration-day for the on-looking universe.

No wonder there’s not a word before the Exodus about sabbath-keeping or sabbath-breaking.


Sirje says there “is much more to ‘starting over’” than the little that I address here. She is right. We won’t run out of discussion topics for our Sabbath Schools or scholarly meetings. Nor do I claim to have resolved the issues I address here.

But before insisting on the supposed irrelevance (or opposition) of the Sabbath to New Testament Christianity, everyone should recognize that the most recent historical scholarship demonstrates that Jesus and Paul both kept the Sabbath. The dispute Paul addresses (in his famous opposition to the “circumcision” party) concerns whether God-fearing gentiles who undergo baptism into a Christian assembly must also fully convert to Judaism. Paul’s answer is No. But he never wavers from his conviction that Christians owe gratitude and a certain deference to those who constitute the “root” of Christian existence.

Long after Paul’s letters were written, Mark (without any self-consciousness) tells us Jesus, the “lord” of the Sabbath, declared that it was “made for humanity.” Scholarship demonstrates, too, that Paul never clearly addressed the weekly Sabbath. His concerns in Galatians and Colossians had to do as much as anything with still attractive temptations of paganism. Here I can’t argue this matter at length, nor do I claim that interpreters I have learned from, such as Adventists Herold Weiss and Sigve Tonstad, read pertinent Pauline comments in exactly the same way. But if you have not read them, or not read, say, Paula Fredriksen’s When Christians were Jews , you just don’t realize where the most recent (mostly-non-Adventist) New Testament scholarship is taking us.

The whole Christian prejudice that the “Old Covenant” was abrogated is deeply misleading, not to mention conducive to Christian pride and hatred relative to the Jews. Adventists, like Christians in general, need to cease from any hint of supersessionism, such as comes through explicitly in at least one of the responses so far.

As for “calendar” issues, fussiness here is surely beside the point. Solidarity with contemporary Jewish practice is evidence enough for embracing the gift of the Sabbath on what is generally regarded as the seventh day.

So far no commenter has addressed the price we Christians pay when we blithely assume our own superiority over the Jews. We end up with a tradition besmirched by other-disdain and otherworldliness. That has got to end—in Christianity generally and also in our own church. We can, with help from God’s gracious Sabbath gift, assist our fellow believers toward this goal.


Then are the other 9 commandments also “Old Covenant” and now no longer needed?

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They were part of the Old Covenant…letters written on stone.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

The Old Covenant was temporary. When we come to faith, we live by the Spirit. So, of course, I wouldn’t want to kill people, destroy their family by committing adultery, etc. The Spirit would not lead me to that, but would lead me to love people and be of service to them. More along the lines of the way Jesus expounded on the commandments in the Sermon on the Mount.


Let me just clarify, after over twenty years of posting here, that I am a “she” not a “he”.

There are just a couple of points to which I need to reply - and I will start with the last paragraph of your response. My post has nothing to do with feeling “superior to the Jews”. After all, as you have said, Jesus and Paul were Jews. But, Christianity is not an extension of Judaism. The book of Hebrews explains that in great detail, as do Jesus’ own words as He delivered the Sermon on the Mount. My concern about the Sabbath is, as the book of Hebrews explains, that the Jews never actually kept the spirit of the Sabbath because it never was about a ritual observance of a day, but a looking forward to the rest from working for our salvation, only accessible in Christ. That is why there always “remained a Sabbath rest for the people of God” - the focus being on the rest, not the day, and only possible through Christ. Yes, Jesus and Paul kept the Jewish Sabbath - because they were Jews. They also kept all the other Jewish holy days.

I think you brush the calendar issue aside a little too quickly. Based on the SDA scenario of last day issues, which will separate the sheep from the goats, is the issue of keeping the “right day”. As we might recall it’s all going to be about Sunday laws that make Sabbath observance a crime. Some of us still remember the novelettes about God’s people being chased into the hills - because of worshipping on the seventh day. Even the name of the denomination is an emphasis of the SEVENTH DAY being the Sabbath. This has to assume that the entire world is using the same calculations determening the seventh day. If it doesn’t matter when you start counting from one to seven, then making a big deal of which day is the Sabbath makes no sense.

To truly “reconcile the Sabbath” we need to make it Christ centered. For Christians, Christ defines the Sabbath, as it points to the rest offered by Christ.


I don’t think the issue is whether or not Jesus or Paul kept the sabbath. Jesus was a Jew, it was a given. To assume that Paul continued as an observant Jew as an apostle to the Gentile world is to ignore what he said about himself, "When he was with those not under the Torah, he lived as one not under Torah, although he was under the law of the Messiah, a differentiation he makes between this and Torah observance in Galatians, as well. With that said, I think what matters even more is whether Paul required and taught Sabbath and holy time observance to his Gentile congregations. The reality is that there is zero evidence in the NT that he did, regardless of the fact that Jewish Christians still were.

There were also converts to Christianity that were outside of synagogue attending God-fearers. The Philippian jailor is one example. There is no indication of Paul directing him to adopt Torah observance vis a vis deeds of law (circumcision, sabbath observance, kosher). In fact, this is the very issue that was behind the hot button issue of circumcision in Galatians. Circumcision was the entrance sign to Torah observance as a whole being imposed upon Gentile believers in messiah, to which Paul says a resounding no. Righteousness/covenant belonging and faithfulness is not by the deeds of the Torah, but by allegiance to the messiah.

The idea that deeds of the Torah was understood as shorthand for outward Jewish covenant badges has been confirmed by very recent scholarship, regarding second century reception of Paul’s usage of the phrase translated “the works of the law.” Paul discounts these as a necessity for belonging to the fulfilled Israel, the new creation of Jew and Gentile as the people of God in Christ. Sabbath and holy time observance would be included in this schema. Early second century reception confirms this understanding.

There is also evidence that Roman slaves joined the Jesus movement. If Sabbath observance had been imposed upon them, there would have been social/economic upheaval and possible persecution directed towards the early Jesus movement over this. There is no historical indication of such.

One more specific instance of Paul not imposing sabbath observance upon his Gentile converts, is his counsel in Colossians 2:16-17. This article sloughs this off under pagan connections.

The usual Adventist misreading of this is that the sabbaths in the passage are only “ceremonial sabbaths” and not the weekly. This is simply flat out wrong. Festivals, new moons, and sabbaths, are simply a way of saying yearly, monthly, and weekly celebrations. This is a formula used seven times in the OT, backwards and forwards, to indicate all holy time observance in the Torah. It includes the weekly sabbath. Even Bacchiocchi, who was the foremost sabbath apologist in the denomination, admitted this.

Paul was saying that all of them, including the weekly sabbath, were a shadow of things to come, but the reality is Christ. Bacchiocchi tried to say that the shadows were superstitious observances surrounding the days that the Colossians had adopted, and not the days themselves, what this article seems to allude to. This painted him into the corner of saying that Paul had taught his converts to keep all the Jewish festivals, not just the weekly sabbath, something Bacchiocchi was championing towards the end of his life. A mess.

He simply didn’t deal with the idea that Paul was calling all these holy times, including the sabbath, shadows pointing to the messiah. Many rabbis also taught that the weekly sabbath rest was a shadow of the rest of the messianic age. He was saying to the Colossians that matters of eating and drinking, worship of angels, ascetic practices, and the observance of Jewish holy times, including the sabbath, were matters that were not central to Christian identity and practice, and in the case of angel worship, even against it. Let no one pressure you over these ancillary matters, the central issue was holding fast to the head, the reality and center of Christian faith, Christ himself.

Adventism, in its own way, tries to mix the shadows with the reality. It points people back to issues of holy time observance and food laws as necessary to belong to the family of God, and in reality emphasizes shadowy observances rather than the centrality of allegiance to and faith in Christ, and what constitutes that. It actually creates a judgmental and divisive element within the wider Christian church over matters that are not central to faith and practice… at least as I understand and apply what Paul was saying here and in other letters.

Colossians, in its own way, was keeping with the ideas that Paul presented concerning belonging and covenant identity, and Torah observance in Galatians, Romans, and elsewhere. The issue was not a covenant of works vs. one of grace. It was about the equal inclusion of Gentiles as Gentiles into the family of God, apart from circumcision and Torah observance.

Recent scholarship, in line with much NT scholarship of the past forty years, also addresses these issues in this way.




I remember clearly a Friday evening vespers at Machlan auditorium at AUC. Your friend, Roy Branson had come down from Boston for the weekend, as he often did, and gave the Friday evening sermon. The title of his talk was, "Jesus, our example, or our Saviour". I believe it all comes down to that. For the Christian He is both, of course; but on paper, as the theologians dissect the man/God, and try to fit Him into a theology, he has to be one or the other.

Adventist theology centers on the Sabbath, as directed by our name. Jesus died for our past sins, which gives us a clean slate with which to perfect our lives; and we must attain that perfection “before our names come up in the judgment”- hence, the angst. Over the past many years of sermons, I can say most of them circled around the idea that Jesus is coming soon, but he’s waiting for His remnant people to lay away their sins - and we must do better, because we are the ones holding up Jesus’ return. The entire focus is on the judgment; and the judgment is based on keeping the commandments. Adventists, of course, are the only ones keeping them all. That is the cemented theological basis for Adventism. Jesus, His death and resurrection, gives us that “new beginning”. It pretty nearly looks secondary to “keeping the commandments (the Sabbath).” Right or wrong, that is how Adventism comes across - how it was presented to me, a sixteen year-old.

If anyone looks to be superior, surely Adventism does, as we compare ourselves to other Christians. So, the question is, how can we rework the Sabbath to be supportive of Christ, our salvation; instead of the cross being simply a new beginning toward our perfection… the one, being Christ entered - the other being self-centred.


How about the idea that sabbath in the command in the Hebrew was referred to not as the sabbath, but as a sabbath. It was viewed as part of an entire sabbatical economy with the sabbatical and jubilee years, designed to foster justice, equality, restoration, and shalom. This is what Jesus says in Luke that he has come to fulfill, as he quotes Isaiah 61. This means that sabbath was part of designated times in the Torah that pointed beyond themselves to greater realities and principles.

If Jesus’s followers are to be known, or even judged, it would be concerning how we treat others, and the least of these regarding these principles. This is what he taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats. That takes the whole issue away from legal commandment keeping, and naval gazing perfectionism, to how we practically and relationally show care, compassion, and love.

That is the true fruit of belonging to God, what Paul called the fruit of the spirit, and even what John the Baptist said to the crowds when he said to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Iow, don’t just claim a religious or ritual status, let your belonging to God bear this good fruit in the world.

I think this is what God is looking for and the spirit is looking to produce, regardless of sabbath keeping or not.




Something else to remember is how to keep the 4th Commandment, as it instructs-- "…but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns."

Notice that all family members, including all children regardless of their age and foreigners are to keep the Sabbath holy. There is no exception for religious freedom, even in an Israelite town. I wonder if forced religious worship creates heart felt faith? Amazing the 4th commandment gives permission for one to own servants (slaves). The idea that a family would have salaried workers was not in play.


First, it should be noted that there’s some serious misinformation out there on the concept of the “Lunar Sabbath.” One theory of Sabbath origins within historical-critical scholarship is that it may have first started as an adaptation of the Babylonian lunar week and at first had some relation to Lunar cycle. But I believe scholars are generally in agreement the Torah and Hebrew Scriptures in their final form speak of a continuous weekly cycle unconnected to any natural cycles, and that Israelites were observing such a Sabbath at least several centuries before the time of Christ.

I’m not aware of any serious scholar who thinks that the current Jewish Sabbath and weekly cycle were determined by a Roman calendar some time after Christ. That idea of the Lunar Sabbath is something started by a fringe group of fundamentalist Christians. Best I can tell, some fundamentalists got ahold of the historical-critical scholarship that suggest the Sabbath might have started off as a lunar thing, accepted this view, but since their view of Scripture doesn’t allow for an evolution of the Sabbath doctrine within the Israelite religion, they came up with the bizarre theory that the Sabbath was a lunar Sabbath throughout the entire Bible even up to the time of the apostles.

So I don’t really think the calendar is the problem you imagine it to be. Now, the International Date Line, that’s a bit more of an issue for Sabbath literalism. It’s one Jews have given some thought to, but oddly Adventists have been completely unconcerned about the issue.

Regarding the relation of the Sabbath to salvation by grace, I’ll just note that pretty much every protestant denomination considers anti-nomianism to be a heresy and yet still believes in righteousness by faith alone. For example, no denomination teaches that it’s okay if you break commandments 1-3, or 5-10. So the question is, does the Sabbath fall into the same category of the other nine commandments or into the category of things like sacrificing lambs. Some of Paul’s writing seem to suggest the latter, while the synoptics, (especially Matthew), seem to emphasize more continuity with the OT.

The question then becomes which part of the NT should we privilege. Progressive Adventists / ex-Adventists burned out on legalism, understandably gravitate toward privileging Paul, in my opinion to the point of making him a canon within the canon. But I don’t see that as the obvious correct theological move. This is the problem with much theology, the Bible is a compilation of many varying views, with no objectively obvious guide for which parts should be privileged. Even if we accept that the NT should be privileged or the OT, that doesn’t answer which parts of the NT should be considered most central. As such, I think a lot issues are simply issues we have to accept that sincere Bible believing Christians can come to different conclusions. I lean toward favoring Sabbath observance because I think it makes sense to have Jesus’ life and teachings as the canon within a canon rather than privileging Paul. But since it can be argued either way, I’m not really one to dogmatize on the issue. The Anglican adage “All may, some should, one must.” can be a healthy attitude when dealing with a lot of doctrinal questions.

but how, then, does our relationship to God differ from the Jews, if it’s all about what “we do” and “don’t do”- as we sing “Amazing Grace”?

Is having our relationship with God differ from the Jews really a worthy goal? Or is such a focus reflective of anti-Semitic strains of thinking that have become inextricably linked with Christianity? What if Judaism like Christianity has rule-based legalistic strains of thinking, but also grace centered theology? I think the question of whether we’ve lost something of the richness of God’s revelation by defining Christianity so strictly in opposition to Judaism, can be a fruitful avenue for theologians to explore. And like Charles Scriven I could see the Sabbath as good jumping off point for such inquiries.


Thank you for responding. I have, over the years posted on the lunar calendar when it comes to the weekly Sabbath, but I did not reference it as the reason for my observations here. I am aware of the Babylonian contributions; and I am also aware the Jewish calendar began to evolve before Christ appeared. However, it was established formally by Hillel II between 300-400 AD. The wheels toward that had been in motion already. The Gregorian calendar was substituted for the Luni-Solar when it came to trade etc. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, just that that’s what it was. However, logic alone informs us that there simply was no way to determine the passing of time, other than the sun, moon, and stars. The Hebrew even had a holiday dedicated to that fact when they instituted the “new moon festival” mentioned I Isaiah 66, along with the weekly Sabbath.

All that aside, the concern here is how do we explain the primacy of Sabbath keeping within the seminal Christian teaching of “saved by grace”. I think the NT does have a whole book dedicated to supremacy of Christ over the Jewish points of faith- nothing to do with anti-semitism. It begins with Jesus, - the superior prophet, and goes down the line declaring Jesus’ superiority over Moses (symbolic ofd the LAW); the Aaronic priesthood; Jesus as the Sabbath rest; Jesus’ sacrifice superior to any other OT sacrifice.

Yes, the Ten Commandments are a guide for life all through the Bible. However, the Exodus/Deuteronomy presentations read as specific to the generation in which they were given. Jesus, when asked which of those ten is the most important, lumped them all together - all covered by “love your neighbour and love God”. No actual Christian needs to be told what that means in a powerpoint presentation.

That sounds a lot like a low blow. The point is not to, “NOT look like the Jews”. The Bible itself makes a distinction between Christian faith and the Jewish system of “obedience garnering God’s blessings; and disobedience being met by curses”. Whatever it’s worth, Paul makes that distinction in most of his letters.

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I hope that someday our church will notice Galatians 3:

1) God made a covenant with Abraham
2) Later, God added the law/Torah till the Promised Seed should come, and
3) The cycle ended at the cross.

Starting over is a great idea if we begin at the beginning. As it is we let governmentts determine when and where sabbath begins. (Just ask Samoan SDAs.)

Our church has never established the meaning of the seventh day.

Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. (Lev 23:36)

Notice how similar that sentence is to:

Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. (Ex 20:9)

Both commandments can’t both mean A)"Work for n days then rest on the n+1 day of the week. "

But they can both mean B) “Work for n days then REST ON THE FOLLOWING DAY”.



Where in the Bible are we told that the Sabbath will be a subject of the Papacy’s hostility? (Not a supposed allusion, but specifically.)

Where in the Bible is the Papacy actually mentioned (not supposedly, but specifically)?

Early Adventists in New England had significant anti-Catholic hysteria in their culture. Could this have influenced this thinking?

Do we focus too much on the Papacy, our fear of it, and its potential role? Or is it a distraction from the message of Jesus (who I don’t think even referred to the Papacy). Somehow I don’t believe our anti-papal / anti-catholic fears help me spiritually or enhance my walk with Christ.