Monday, November 3, 2014

The Law and the Sabbath

In a recent post, I had a brief discussion on why the Law should be interpreted by a semi-continuity approach, and said that I would tackle the idea of applying it in the form of a discussion on the Sabbath. That is, I wanted to see what would be the results of applying the teaching of principlism to the fourth commandment.

Many I know would say the Sabbath does not apply; you can, and perhaps even should, work seven days a week. I say we should see what theological and textual pattern we can see within the Bible. Just for a refresher, we want to say that principlism states there is a moral principle behind every one of the commandments in the OT Law, and it is these principles that we are to obey. So what is the principle behind the Sabbath? The Sabbath is a time of rest, every week, where no work is to be done. Now this was abused by the first century (and even well before that), in that long lists of legalistic rules were applied, to where the Sabbath was a burden, and not the rest it was intended to be!

Take Genesis 1-2 and the creation account. On the seventh day, God rested. Why? Did he have to because he was so exhausted? No; he was setting a pattern of rest for us to observe. Take the Decalogue itself: In Exodus 20:8-11, the basis for the rest on the seventh day was the Lord’s resting. The concept of a routine rest is built into the very fabric of physical reality. See every day, for example, where we rest overnight. At the end of every week, we have usually done a lot of work, and require a day of rest. Spiritually, the theme of rest can be found throughout Jesus’ teaching, in the eschatological teachings, and in the book of Hebrews. God made us to enjoy creation, and rest is part of that.

So what does that mean? Does it have to be on Sunday? No. The time of rest is made for you. A lot of people do it on Sunday because that’s when church meets, and that’s as good of a time as any for a lot of people. But it’s totally up to you. Take a day when you’re just relaxing and recharging for the Lord. This might involve prayer, family time, a recreational activity, watching a movie, reading a devotional, or any number of things. “But can I mow my yard? And how many daily chores can I still do?” Asking those questions misses the point. It’s not about how many chores you’re allowed to do and whatnot; you can still take care of some of the basics (I know this becomes more complex with larger families, but you can get creative!). The issue is not the legalistic list of what you can and cannot do. You just should be resting and communing with God and your family. If your rest is doing yard work (despite the fact you might be crazy), you can still do that.

This also has the interesting consequence that, if we do not take a Sabbath rest each week, we are trying to operate in our own strength for longer than we were intended. We are, in effect, not taking God at his word. A flip side is abuse in the opposite direction: not to work during the other six days in some way, shape, or form, can be considered (in normal cases) slothfulness or laziness. We should work throughout the week, and then enjoy the time off God has given us! Much more could be (and has been) written on this topic, but I just wanted to leave you with the idea that work is needed for all of us, and so is rest.


  1. I thought this post was well written, and many people hold to the Sabbath commandment as referring to the insuring of at least one day of rest a week. I have also heard the argument, however, that to apply understand the Sabbath commandment this way is to treat it differently that the rest of the commandments. That is, the commandment against murder is still binding, despite any principle I can understand from it. Why would the Sabbath commandment be the only exception so that the actual commandment itself is no longer binding, only the principle. This is normally the argument of the Sunday Sabbaterians, not sure where I stand though.

    1. Hey Matt. That's an interesting objection, but it won't work against principlism. That's because the objection assumes every one of the ten commandments is irreducible, and that's not what principlism assumes at all. It assumes that every commandment is reducible to some ultimate moral obligation, which obligations are all held in virtue of moral values. Take the second commandment for a counterexample to this objection. The second commandment is that we should not make any graven images. This is not a fundamental (irreducible) command; there's nothing wrong with graven images. It's because of the two-fold fact that God is an invisible god, and Jesus was the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of his being/nature. If you have seen Jesus, then you have seen the Father. All that to say, making a graven image of one's god is part of the construction of idols, and had they made images of Yahweh, while he is the true God, the Son-as-image wouldn't be so striking. In short, they can't make images because the Son is an image, and one who is the unmade God, Second Person of the Trinity. So no, this does not treat the Sabbath differently from the other commands; it all hinges on the principles behind the commandments.


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