A Tale of Two Sabbaths
The Bible declares itself to be sufficient for life and godliness for those indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is the concept behind the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. People who truly hold to this doctrine will not embrace dogma that cannot be clearly taught from God’s Word. While there are myriad issues that divide denominations and churches from one another, one’s view of the Sabbath appears to be one of major contention amongst those who embrace the idea of Sola Scriptura. Within this arena there is a coalition who herald the Puritan view of the Sabbath, which is recorded in the Westminster and Second London Baptist confessions. What follows is a comparison between the biblical description of the weekly Sabbath and the confessional views of Christian Sabbatarians, according to the Second London Baptist Confession in chapter 22. Let the reader decide if the Puritans and those confessions had it right or followed traditions of man.
|Biblical Sabbath||“Christian Sabbath”|
|Every 7th day (Ex 16:27-30, Ex 20:8-11, 31:15, 35:2; Lev 23:3; Deut 5:14)||Para 7: Claims “law of nature … by Gods appointment” a “moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages” (no Scripture citation). One day in Seven (Ex20:8). Changed from the last day of the week to the first day of the week (citing 1 Cor 16:1-2; Acts 20:7); claiming “Christian Sabbath” as the Biblical Sabbath was abolished (no Scripture citation).|
|Rest from all work (Ex 16:23, 25; 20:8-10; 35:2; Lev 23:3; Num 15:32; Deut 5:12-15; Jer 17:21)||Para 8: Rest from all things (Isaiah 58:13; Neh 13:15-22).|
|Remain in your dwelling (Ex 16:29; Lev 23:3)||Private and public worship are commanded (para 8; no Scripture citation)|
|It is a sign to the Israelite (Ex 31:13, 16, 17; Lev 24:8; 2 Chr 2:4; Neh 9:14; Ezek 20:12, 20)|
|Death penalty for violating it, even minor activities such as picking up sticks (Ex 31:14-15; Num 15:32-36)|
|No fires for cooking, Sabbath day meals were prepared the day before (Ex 35:3)|
|Ceremonial bread, made in accordance with a strict formula, was presented (Lev 24:8; 1 Chr 9:32)|
|Offerings – consisting of lambs, grain, and drink (Num 28:9, 10)|
|Soldiers/priests guard the temple (2 Kings 11:5-12; 2 Chr 23:4-8)|
|Gentiles not bound (Deut 5:15; Neh 10:31)||All men are bound (para 7; Ex 20:8)|
|Prohibited from business (buying or selling) with Gentiles (Neh 10:31, 13:15-19)|
|Gentiles invited to join with God’s people and keep the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:1-7)|
|Israel to keep the Sabbath (Isaiah 58:13)|
|Duties of necessity and mercy are permitted (para 8; Matt 12:1-13)|
|No bearing of burdens (Jer 17:21-27)|
- The Second London Baptist Confession (1689 LBC) cites Exodus 20:8 for setting the Sabbath one day in seven and for binding all men. That verse does not mention the frequency of the Sabbath; verses 10 & 11 both specify the 7th day, that day which ended the week for the Hebrew nation. Every 7th day, not one day in seven – that’s the consistent record in Scripture. Neither does that passage mention anyone other than national Israel as the subjects of this covenant and this specific command.
- The 1689 LBC then claims 1 Cor 16:1-2 and Acts 20:7 as a record of God having changed the day of observing the Sabbath. Read the texts – narratives showing the practice of the new church on “the day after the Sabbath.” No instruction or record of changing the Sabbath; no record of establishing the “Christian Sabbath” or abolishing the 7th day Sabbath, which continued on during the Lord’s time on earth and the apostolic era.
- Because of the death penalty for minor infractions of the Sabbath command to rest (as shown in Ex 31 & Num 15), it was common in Israel for the people to ask the religious leaders for clarification of what was permissible. This developed into the complex, legalistic list of rules that were infamous in the time of Christ.
- The “holy convocation” mentioned in Lev 23:3 is widely considered to have been a call to prayer, praise, and instruction from the Word of God. But the biblical record (Ex 12; Lev 23; Num 28 & 29) shows a consistent requirement to cease work, with cooking meals being the only exception. There is the occasional mention of humbling one’s self, making offerings to God, and the blowing of trumpets. Some of these convocations lasted several days or weeks. There is nothing in Scripture to indicate this was a weekly occurrence of prayer, praise, and preaching; although extra-biblical history does show the post-exile nation adopting the weekly synagogue practice that was well established by the time of Christ.
- There are many special Sabbaths, such as the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:32) and the Sabbath year (Lev 25). This comparison is restricted to the weekly Sabbath.
- Nehemiah 13:20-22 reveals the only passage in Scripture wherein Gentiles are told about the Sabbath, their merchants being warned to leave the Jews alone on the Sabbath so the Jews won’t be led astray. Gentiles are not commanded by Nehemiah to keep the Sabbath.
- There is not one Scripture cited by the 1689 showing the weekly Sabbath being addressed to, defined for, imposed on, or required of anyone other than those under the rule of Moses. Nor is there any biblical record of Christians keeping the Sabbath.