AN EXAMINATION AND REFUTATION OF 16 PROPOSITIONS AGAINST SABBATH KEEPING, PART 5 RESPONSE TO CHAPTER 5 OF “THE SABBATH: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.”
by Edwin M. Cotto
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a response to chapter 5 of the antisabbatarian book, “The Sabbath: What you need to know: 16 Propositions Against Mandatory and Salvational Sabbath-Keeping.” Please keep in mind that as we publish responses to chapters, changes may take place without notice to anyone. Please revisit this page often for updates as the goal is to reply to all 16 propositions. Responses to each chapter will continue to be published as time goes by. Visit chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Response to Chapter 5:
The Gentiles and the Sabbath
In this chapter Elce stuck to one main point. Beginning with the rite of circumcision established with Abraham, Elce does a good job explaining that this sign of the covenant with Abraham was repeated in the Sinaitic covenant as a sign also between Abraham’s literal descendants and God. The relationship between Gentiles and this sign was also explained well. In order to take part in the religious rites and laws of the Israelite community, Gentiles had to also become circumcised (see Exo. 12:43-49, Acts 15:1-5). The requirements of becoming a part of the Israelite community before the New Covenant is not in dispute here. Adventists in general understand this most basic concept. To take part in obeying Yahwah’s Law it was generally understood that non-Israelites had to make it “official,” by getting circumcised.
But the explanation Elce gave falls within the time frame of the old covenant dispensation era. In other words, the rite of circumcision as a requirement to, say, observe the Sabbath, was between the formation of the Old Covenant with the nation of Israel and its termination at the cross of Calvary. Here’s an illustration:
You can see from the bolded portions that sandwiched between the giving of the Old Covenant and the Termination of that Old Covenant there is the requirement to be circumcised. What Elce is describing falls within that time frame. However, we see that soon after our Lord expired on the cross, the New Testament vehemently opposes circumcision as a religious duty, but continued to support commandment keeping and even Sabbath observance. Paul said, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God,”(1) and the author of Hebrews takes it for granted that there was still Sabbath keeping among believers, exhorting them to understand its spiritual significance while reminding them that whoever has that spiritual rest will “also cease from his own works as God did from His” on the seventh day.(2) In fact Revelation 1:10 speaks about a day that still belonged to the Lord and while Elce and others insist on using extra biblical references to make it be Sunday, the bible specifically and consistently refers to the seventh-day Sabbath as the “Lord’s Day.”(3) Elce did a good job describing what took place under that old dispensation, but A) that does not prove that the Sabbath was not available nor in existence before it, and B) neither does that prove that the requirement of circumcision in order to keep the Sabbath was still in force. Where circumcision ended, the Sabbath continued.
Elce’s quotation of Isaiah 56 led me to believe that he has not taken into account the secondary application of that chapter. While it applies to those under the Old Dispensation era, it applies with equal force under the New Dispensation. This is easy to demonstrate throughout nearly the whole book of Isaiah, but for brevity I will begin in chapter 53:
- Isaiah 53 – Prediction of the suffering servant.
This chapter predicts the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of the “suffering servant,” Jesus Christ. The parallels between this prophecy and what happened to the Lord are striking. Most, if not all bible-believing scholars agree that this is a prediction of the final moments of our Lord from Gethsemane to the resurrection.
- Isaiah 54 – Appeal for Israel to receive others who will believe.
But people often end the ministry of the Lord in chapter 53. When you enter into the next few chapters you begin to read of events that transpired after the cross as well. For example, in the next chapter God asks Israel to enlarge its borders so that others can enter. The “barren” in verse 1 are the children of Sarah (cf. Gen. 11:30, Gal. 4:27-31), or true Israelites. By way of illustration verses 2-3 calls them to “enlarge your tents” so that they can “inherit the nations.” Here, God is called “the God of the whole earth” (verse 5) and those who have momentarily felt abandoned (verses 7, 11) are comforted with promises of restoration, protection and righteousness (verses 12-17). This is all reminiscent of the experience of the Lord’s apostles and disciples and the calling of those who have been downtrodden by the burdens of this present world, all of which we read of taking place in the New Testament, especially right after the accomplishments of the Messiah.
- Isaiah 55 – Invitation for everyone to come to the Lord.
This chapter invites all people to come and join the everlasting covenant. Literally, “everyone who thirsts” are called to “come to the waters” (verse 1, cf. John 4:14, Rev. 22:1, Matt. 11:28). With all who respond and come to the Lord He will make an “everlasting covenant” (verse 3) even with foreigners (verse 5). By now, this must be the “new” covenant of course. All are encouraged to “seek the Lord” and “call upon him” for the forgiveness of sins (verses 6-7, cf. Matt. 7:7-8). These promises are sure (verses 8-11) and there will be witnesses to the fact (verses 12-13). There is a smooth transition from the accomplishments of the Messiah to the invitation for all people to come to Him which strikingly parallels what we read took place in the New Testament.
- Isaiah 56 – Invites everyone, specifically the Gentiles, to keep the Sabbath.
The call to gentiles took place in the previous chapter of course, but here we have more specifics. God points them out, and pronounces a blessing on them for keeping the Sabbath! Verse 2 blesses “the man… the son of man.” We interpret “the man” in a general sense when an adjective is missing, i.e. mankind. So once again all people are being addressed, but this time, all people, both Jew and Gentiles, are pronounced as blessed for observing the Sabbath. Nevertheless, God makes an extra effort to specifically address the “foreigner” and even the “eunuch” who, by the way, could not be “circumcised” (verses 3), and forbids them from feeling they have no right to keep it saying, “For thus saith the Lord, to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast to My covenant, even to them I will give in my house And within My walls a place and a name…” (verse 4). What house? Well, by now the scene has prophetically advanced to the time of the apostles and disciples. The “house” at this point must be the “church” ( 1 Tim. 3:15); believers who may gather together anywhere, whether at a synagogue, home church, or even by a river side (Acts 16:13). And the Covenant by now is the New Covenant! Imagine how the eunuch must have felt, feeling isolated because he could not be circumcised to join the community of Israelites? Does God excuse him from the blessings that come from Sabbath keeping? No, rather he may now observe it under the New Covenant, where the Sabbath continued while circumcision was no longer required. The eunuch in Acts 8:27-39 was reading chapter 53 when Philip encountered him. Imagine his joy when after his baptism he continued reading and stumbled upon this chapter! Nonetheless the call is for both Jews and Gentiles, “everyone who keeps the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant… For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (verses 6-7). It is no coincidence that in a chapter about keeping the Sabbath day God would tell them to gather at His house! You mean the Lord wants them to congregate on the Sabbath day? Yes! All of them! Both the “outcasts in Israel,” and also those who were not ethnically Israelites (verse 8)! Praise God! And so the Lord gathers all people, all who are willing, no matter the circumstances, and what does He do now, at this time, during the NEW dispensation? He does what every antisabbatarian critics tells us He does not do… invites them to keep the Sabbath. Could this be why we often find Gentile converts alongside their Jewish friends and believers in the synagogues on the Sabbath days? (see Acts 13:42, 44, 15:21, 16:13, 17:2-4, 18:4).
There are many more details we can get into but I think this will suffice to demonstrate that the parallels between these chapters and the events which transpired in the New Testament are undeniable. It is even in chronological order. Let’s briefly summarize it in the following figure:
|PREDICTIONS IN ISAIAH||NEW TESTAMENT FULFILLMENT|
|Messiah’s Death, Burial, Resurrection (53)||Messiah’s Death, Burial, Resurrection|
|Enlarge Israel’s Borders (54)||Jewish believers begin preaching the message|
|An invitation for everyone (55)||Both Jews and Gentiles are called|
|Invites Gentiles to join the covenant (56:4, 6)||Gentiles accept the New Covenant|
|Invites Gentiles to keep the Sabbath (56:3, 6)||Gentiles keep the Sabbath (see Acts)|
Actually, the parallels continue in a most startling manner all the way to the end of Isaiah’s book, but we won’t exhaust the chapters any further.(4) Let’s complete chapter 56 though. Read verses 10-12 and see who it was that had a problem with the message of the Sabbath. Why, who else but those who claimed to be watchmen in Israel! Verses 10-11 indicts the leadership! Rather then spreading this same message, they refuse to give it! They are described as “dumb (mute) dogs” which “cannot bark” (verse 10). They are greedy, wanting to keep all of this to themselves; selfish, looking to “their own way” and “their own gain” from their “own territory” (verse 11). And instead of calling them to keep the Sabbath, this is their message: “tomorrow will be as today!” (verse 12). My, isn’t that what our critics tell us today? “No need to keep the Sabbath,” we are told, “it is an option… every day is alike.” Apparently, not much has changed, and I am afraid our critics have aligned themselves with the message of the enemies, and not with the message of the Lord.(5)
Two questions must now be answered: What about verse 7 which mentions offerings and sacrifices, and also, why does God feel the need to call everyone to observe the Sabbath?
For the first question, there are offerings and sacrifices under both dispensations, so the chapter works in either case. Under the era of the Old Dispensation there were offerings and sacrifices of slaughtered animals, grains, etc. Under the era of the new gospel dispensation, we also have sacrifices and offerings, but they are spiritual (1 Peter 2:5). We offer up sacrifices of praise (see Hebrews 13:15) and living sacrifices of bringing new converts to the Lord (see Rom. 12:1, 15:16, cf. Isaiah 66:20). Note that there are physical elements such as physical praises and physical people. The Sabbath, though spiritual, contains a physical element as well. Hebrews 4 outlines that spiritual aspect while saying that whoever has it will cease from their own labors on the actual day “as God did from His” labors (cf. verse 10 w/ verse 4). Whereas the New Testament spends a great deal of time abolishing certain physical elements, such as with literal circumcision, it spends an equal amount of time clarifying true Sabbath keeping. One need only see how many times Jesus had to clarify what could and could not be done on that day. On one occasion is taught proper Sabbath keeping by saying that “it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days” (Matt. 12:12).
The second question is just as easily answered. The Sabbath is extremely important because, as we have already noted in previous chapters, it served as a sign and reminder of the creator and his sanctifying work in the heart. My rest from labor represents His daily work of sanctification. This deeply ingrained significance is brought out ever so clearly in Hebrews 4.(6) In essence, the Sabbath, which causes me to “rest” from works, represents being freely justified and sanctified by faith without any work of my own, something which would obviously show in my own personal acts as Christ lives in me. And isn’t this the ultimate message of the New Testament? Yes! That is the gospel! That Christ saves man free of charge, without any works on his part, by simply believing and accepting the work He has done on our behalf (Eph. 2:8-10). As explained previously, the practical aspect of our walk with the Lord (which things He also makes himself responsible for placing in our hearts, see Phi. 2:13, Eph. 2:10), deeply impresses in our minds this spiritual work. Jesus always pointed to literal experiences to cause us to conceptualize the spiritual, such as when He pointed to the wind touching the back of Nicodemous as He taught him what it meant to be “born again” (John 3:8). For the people and, specifically, for the Gentiles, who were so foreign to any concept of finding favor with God without some kind of effort of their own, this was very important. The Sabbath, then, would help them understand this saving grace, and the outward observance of the fourth commandment would internalize for them the inward working of the heart that God has and continues to accomplish for them. Thus whoever has this spiritual rest, he will “also cease from his own works as God did from His” every seventh day (Heb. 4:9-10, cf. verse 4). THIS is why God feels the need to call them to observe the Sabbath. By resting on that day it helps them to fully understand and experience the free gift of grace in their lives! Ironically, critics who preach that they are under grace and not works also preach freedom from a commandment which tells them to rest. Go figure.
Finally, Elce uses the example of Nehemiah when he became angry with the Jews for breaking the Sabbath by doing business with Gentiles on that day (Nehemiah 13:15-22). He wrote on page 17,
“If the Sabbath was naturally binding on Gentiles, this would have a good time for Nehemiah to chastise them for not observing it as it should be observed.”
We Sabbatarians acknowledge the special privilege of the Jews to observe the Sabbath, and we expect those Gentiles not only to break the Sabbath, but to possibly not even know about it. This, however, still does not prove the Sabbath did not exist before the formation of Israel, nor does it prove that it was not originally made for all of mankind. Mankind may very well have, and evidently did, forget the Sabbath and it’s author altogether.
Nehemiah would not chastise them for breaking the Sabbath anymore than we would not chastise anyone for not celebrating marriage. The Marriage institute was originally given for all mankind, but people choose not to engage in it. Nevertheless Christians would still insist it was originally given to all of humanity from the very beginning. You can see that in the fight against homosexual marriage, for example. But people’s rejection, and perhaps even ignorance of marriage and it’s original purpose does not prove anything with respect to the origins of the institution. First they need to believe in the author of that institution, and then celebrate the gift of the institution.
CHAPTER 5 FOOTNOTES
1) Cor. 7:19. Critics take issue with our use of the word “commandment” (entolē in the Greek). They will say that this term refers to Jesus’ new commandments to “love.” But 1) There is nothing new in the actual command to love. Jesus was quoting from the torah (see Deut. 6:5, 10:12, 30:6, Lev. 19:18), 2) What is “new” in Jesus’ command was to love “as I have loved you” (John 13:34), 3) The greek word entolē as used in John 13:34 can also be used to refer to the commandments of the Decalogue (Matt. 15:6, 19:17-19, Mark 10:19, Rom. 7:7-8, 13:9) and even the Sabbath (Luke 23:56), contextually in 1 Cor. 7 Paul is giving advice to both the married and unmarried that will avoid violating the commandments. The specific commandment that fits this situation must be the seventh one. One should not get divorced to avoid committing adultery (cf. verses 10-11, Matt. 5:32, 19:9).
2) Hebrews 4:9-10. Cf. verse 4, Gen. 2:2-3, Exo. 20:11. See Appendix C.
3) Isaiah 58:13, Mark 2:28, Exo. 20:10, Lev. 23:3, Deut. 5:14. We will discuss more on the church Fathers and the “Lord’s Day” in chapter 16.
4) I will return to this point in upcoming chapters where Elce addresses Isaiah 66:23 and its surrounding context.
5) With this, I am not seeking to pass judgment on anyone’s character or intentions. I am sure that Elce, and many other critics, have a genuine concern for the spiritual health of those they seek to share their message with. However, if there is a parallel here, a parallel which I don’t believe any reasonable person would deny, it will become important for our critics to recognize the implications of the antisabbatarian message they are preaching.
6) Since Elce did not address Hebrews 4 at all in his book, I have allocated a whole study of this chapter in Appendix C.