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IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SABBATH
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A PERSONAL NOTE: In my book The Sabbath in the New Testament I devote three chapters to answer questions about the Sabbath in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in our Christian life today. In this chapter I deal with questions frequently asked about the Sabbath in the Old Testament.
During the last few years I have spent countless hours answering questions from readers of my books who have written to me concerning the Sabbath. Moreover, I have devoted one session of Lords Day Seminar, which I have conducted in many parts of the world, to answering specific questions asked by the participants on various aspects of the Sabbath.
The constant effort to answer questions by letter and by word on the subject of the Sabbath, has encouraged me to publish my answers and make them available to a larger public. I thought that this book, where I present my reasons for believing in the permanence of the principle and practice of Sabbathkeeping in the New Testament, would be an appropriate publication in which to include my answers to questions people have often asked me about the Sabbath.
For the sake of clarity I have divided the questions according to the following four categories, each of which is treated in a separate chapter:
Chapter 8: Questions about the Sabbath in the Old Testament
Chapter 9: Questions about the Sabbath in the New Testament
Chapter 10: Questions about Sabbathkeeping
Chapter 11: Our Favorite Sabbath Recipes
It is my fervent hope that this effort to provide clear and concise answers to questions often asked about the Sabbath will help many to understand and accept the validity and value of Sabbathkeeping for their personal lives.
How can the creation origin of the Sabbath be accepted as historically true, when so many people view the early chapters of Genesis as mythological?
Biblical truth is not determined by majority vote. To treat the creation account of Genesis 1-2 as a mythological story means to ultimately reduce much of the Bible to an unbelievable myth, because the Biblical proof for the doctrine of creation is found not exclusively in Genesis 1-2, but extensively throughout the Bible.
Biblical Proof of Creation. There are many cross-reference's scattered throughout the Bible which refer to creation as a fact of history. Some passages stress the omnipotence and wisdom of God manifested in the work of creation (Is 40:12-14, 26-28; Amos 4:13). Some passages speak of creation as a fundamental work of God (1 Cor 11:9; Col 1:16; Is 42:5; Rev 4:11). Some passages speak of Gods purpose in creation (Is 45:18; Rom 1:25). Other passages refer to details of the creation story such as the order of creation of Adam and Eve (1 Cor 11:8-9) and the temptation by the serpent (1 Tim 2:13).
One of the most explicit statements about Gods creation of this world is found in Nehemiah 9:6: "Thou art the Lord, thou alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their hosts, the earth and all that is in them; and thou preservest all of them." Passages such as these, which are scattered throughout the Bible, clearly show that the creation story of Genesis 1-2 is widely accepted as fact in the Scriptures.
How can a person accept the creation origin of the Sabbath when modern science teaches that our world came into existence not in six days but in millions of years, and not by divine choice but by natural chance?
The Limitations of Science. Is is really necessary to be able to explain the creation week in the light of modern scientific theories in order to accept the Sabbath as a creation ordinance? Has modern science the know-how and the instruments to test and explain how long it takes to "create" a solar system such as ours with its multiform life?
We seem to forget that science can observe and measure only the ongoing processes of conservation and disintegration. In fact, modern science, by assuming that these ongoing processes have always functioned in the past essentially as in the present (uniformitarianism), excludes the possibility of a divine fiat (spoken-into-existence) process.
Ultimately the problem is not how to reconcile the creation-week with modern theories of origin, but how to conciliate the Biblical teaching of a Divine creation with the prevailing scientific theory of spontaneous generation. Is it possible to harmonize the two? Obviously not, since the two views rest on entirely different premises. The latter accepts only natural causes while the former acknowledges God as the Supernatural Cause: "By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear" (Heb 11:3).
Rooted Downward or Upward? The problem with scientific logic is that it refuses to be informed by divine revelation. When a person insists on believing only what can be demonstrated in a laboratory, he chooses to trace his roots downward from biological specimens rather than upward from the image of God. Ultimately, this leads a person to believe in nothing else but himself. The tragic consequence of such a philosophy is that it empties life and human history of ultimate meaning, leaving both life and history with no divine beginning or destiny. Life is reduced to a biological cycle which by chance alone determines its own beginning and end.
For science the ultimate reality is not God but matter, which historically has been viewed as eternal or as evil. The creation story with its Sabbath-memorial challenges this nihilism, urging each generation, whether burdened with scientific facts or with mythological fantasies, to acknowledge that this world is a creation and a gift of God entrusted to man, whose life is meaningful because it is rooted in God.
A Divine Perspective. If we accept by faith that God created this world, then why should we not believe what He has revealed to us about the time He took to accomplish it? Someone could object that the notion of God creating and resting according to the limitations of a seven-day human week militates against His very eternal and omnipotent nature.
It is evident that Almighty God did not need geological ages or literal days to create our world, but only the will to call it into existence (Ps 33:6). But does not the fact that in His revelation God tells us that He chose a human rather than a divine time-schedule to create our world point to another equally important quality of His divine nature: love? Is not Gods willingness to enter into the limitations of human time at creation a reflection of His concern to give a divine example or perspective to the work-and-rest week of His creatures? Is not this also a prefiguration of Gods willingness to enter, if the need should arise, into human flesh in order to become "Emmanuel," "God with us"?
We conclude that to question the creation-origin of the Sabbath, because of difficulties in harmonizing the creation-week with modern theories of origins, means rejecting not only the message of Genesis 1:1-2:3, but also its commentary given in the Fourth Commandment. The latter speaks of six literal days of creation and one literal day of rest, sanctified by God when this world was created (Ex 20:11).
Does not the omission in the creation account of "the evening and the morning" in connection with the seventh day indicate that the Sabbath is not a literal 24-hour day like the preceding six days, but a symbolic time representing eternal rest?
Eternal Rest. It is a fact that both Rabbis and Christian writers have interpreted the absence of any reference to "the evening and morning" in connection with the seventh day of creation as representing the future, eternal rest of the redeemed. Augustine offers a most fitting example of this interpretation in the last page of his Confessions, where he offers this exquisite prayer: "O Lord God, grant Thy peace unto us . . . the peace of rest, the peace of the Sabbath which has no evening. For all this most beautiful order of things, very good . . . is to pass away, for in them there was morning and evening. But the seventh day is without any evening, nor hath it any setting, because Thou hast sanctified it to an everlasting continuance; . . . that we also after our works . . . may repose in Thee also in the Sabbath of eternal life."1
This spiritual, eschatological interpretation of the creation Sabbath has some merits, because, as shown in chapter 4, the vision of the peace, rest, and prosperity of the first Sabbath inspired the prophetic vision of the peace, delight, and prosperity of the world-to-come. This interpretation is also found in Hebrews 4 where believers are urged to strive to enter into the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God (vv. 9, 11).
Literal Day. The symbolic interpretation of the creation-seventh-day which has no evening, does not negate its literal 24-hour duration, for at least four reasons:
First, because the seventh day is enumerated like the preceding six days. Note that in the Bible whenever "dayyom" is accompanied by a number it always means a day of 24 hours.
Second, because the Decalogue itself clearly states that God, having worked six days, rested on the seventh day of creation week (Ex 20:11). If the first six days were ordinary earthly days, we must understand the seventh in the same way.
Third, Because every passage which mentions the creation-seventh-day as the basis of the earthly Sabbath regards it as an ordinary day (Ex 20:11; 31:17; cf. Mark 2:27; Heb 4:4).
Last, because the commandment to keep the Sabbath as a memorial day of the creation-Sabbath (Ex 20:11) implies a literal original 24-hour Sabbath. God could hardly command His creatures to work six days and rest on the seventh after His example, if the seventh day were not a literal day.
Does not the absence of an explicit command to observe the seventh day in Genesis 2:2-3 indicate that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance binding upon mankind, but a temporary institution introduced by Moses for Israel alone?
The argument makes Moses guilty of distortion of truth or, at least, a victim of gross misunderstanding. He would have traced back the Sabbath to creation when in reality it was his own new creation. Such a charge, if true, would cast serious doubts on the integrity and/or reliability of anything else Moses or anyone else wrote in the Bible.
What is it that makes any divine precept moral and universal? Do we not regard a law moral when it reflects Gods nature? Could God have given any stronger revelation of the moral nature of the Sabbath than by making it a rule of His divine conduct? Is a principle established by divine example less binding than one enunciated by a divine command? Do not actions speak louder than words?
"Gods mode of operation," as noted by John Murray, "is the exemplar on basis of which the sequence for man is patterned. There can be little doubt that in Genesis 2:3 there is at least an allusion to the blessings of the seventh day in mans week."2
The fact that the Sabbath is presented in the creation story as a divine example rather than a commandment for mankind could well reflect what God intended the sabbath to be in a sinless world, namely, not an alienating imposition but a free response to a gracious Creator. By freely choosing to make himself available to his Creator on the Sabbath, man was to experience physical, mental, and spiritual renewal and enrichment. Since these needs have not been eliminated but heightened by the Fall, the moral, universal, and perpetual functions of the Sabbath precept were repeated later in the form of a commandment.
In Genesis 2:2-3 there is a threefold reference to the "seventh day" but no mention of the Sabbath. Does not this omission indicate that the Sabbath as an institution originated not at creation but later at the time of Moses?
Verbal Form. It is true that the name "Sabbath" does not occur in the passage, but the cognate verbal form shabat (to cease, to stop, to rest) is used and the latter, as noted by U. Cassuto, "contains an allusion to the name the Sabbath day."3
Moreover, as Cassuto sagaciously remarks, the use of the name seventh day rather than Sabbath may well reflect the writers concern to underline the perpetual order of the day, independent and free from any association with astrological "sabbaths" of the heathen nations.4
Perpetual Order. It is a known fact that the term shabbatu, which is strikingly similar to the Hebrew word for Sabbath (shabbat), occurs in the documents of ancient Mesopotamia. The term apparently designated the fifteenth day of the month, that is, the day of the full moon. By designating the day by number rather than by name, Genesis seems to emphasize that Gods Sabbath day is not like that of heathen nations, connected with the phases of the moon. Rather it shall be the seventh day in perpetual order, independent from any association with the cycles of heavenly bodies.
By pointing to a perpetual order, the seventh day strengthens the cosmological message of the creation story, precisely that God is both Creator and constant controller of this cosmos. In Exodus, however, where the seventh day is given in the context of the genesis not of this cosmos but of the nation of Israel, the day is explicitly designated "sabbath," apparently to express its new historical and soteriological function.
Does not the absence of example of Sabbathkeeping for the whole patriarchal period, that is, between Genesis 2 and Exodus 16, indicate that the Sabbath was not known and observed before Moses?
The absence of explicit references to Sabbathkeeping between Genesis 2 and Exodus 16 does not necessarily mean that the principle of Sabbathkeeping was unknown. The apparent silence could mean that between Adam and Moses, the Sabbath, though known, was not observed. The non-observance of the feast of the Booths between Joshua and Nehemiah, a period of almost a thousand years, would provide a parallel situation (Neh 8:17).
Taken for Granted. A more plausible explanation is that the custom of Sabbathkeeping is not mentioned simply because it is taken for granted. A number of reasons support this explanation.
First, we have a similar example of silence regarding the Sabbath between the books of Deuteronomy and 2 Kings. Such silence can hardly be interpreted as non-observance of the Sabbath, since when the first incidental reference occurs in 2 Kings 4:23, it describes the custom of visiting a prophet on the Sabbath.
Second, Genesis does not contain laws like Exodus, but rather a brief sketch of origins. Since no mention is made of any other commandment, the silence regarding the Sabbath is not exceptional.
Third, there are throughout the book of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus circumstantial evidences for the use of the seven-day week, which would imply the existence of the Sabbath as well. The period of seven days is mentioned four times in the account of the Flood (Gen 7:4, 10; 8:10, 12).
The "week" is also apparently used in a technical way to describe the duration of the nuptial festivities of Jacob (Gen 29:27) as well as the duration of mourning at his death (Gen 50:10). A like period was observed by the friends of Job to express their condolences to the patriarch (Job 2:13). Probably all the mentioned ceremonials were terminated by the arrival of the Sabbath.
Presupposed. Lastly, the Sabbath is presented in Exodus 16 and 20 as an already existing institution. The instructions for the gathering of the double portion of the manna on the sixth day presuppose a knowledge of the significance of the Sabbath: "On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily" (Ex 16:5). The omission of any explanation for gathering a double portion on the sixth day would be inexplicable, if the Israelites had no previous knowledge of the Sabbath.
Similarly in Exodus 20, the Sabbath is presupposed as something already familiar. The commandment does not say "Know the Sabbath day" but "Remember the Sabbath day" (Ex 20:8), thus implying that it was already known. Furthermore, the commandment, by presenting the Sabbath as rooted in creation (Ex 20:11), hardly allows a late Exodus introduction of the festival.
To speculate on how the patriarchs kept the Sabbath would be a fruitless endeavor since it would rest more on imagination than on available information. Considering, however, that the essence of Sabbathkeeping is not a place to go to fulfill rituals, but a set time to be with God, ourselves, and others, it seems entirely possible that the patriarchs spent the Sabbath holy hours within their households, engaged in some of the acts of worship described in Genesis, such as prayer (Gen 12:8; 26:25), sacrifice (Gen 12:8; 13:18; 26:25; 33:20), and teaching (Gen 18:19).
Have not Rabbis and Church Fathers taught that the Sabbath is a Mosaic institution established by Moses for Israel alone? Does not this historical view negate the creation origin and universal validity of the Sabbath?
Mosaic Institution. Some Palestinian Rabbis and some early Church Fathers did reduce the Sabbath from a creation ordinance for mankind to a Mosaic institution for the Jews. Their teaching, however, does not negate the validity of the Biblical view of the creation origin and universal scope of the Sabbath, because the teachings of the Scriptures are not "a matter of ones own interpretation" (2 Pet 1:20).5
Jewish Identity. Furthermore, note should be taken of the factors which contributed to the adoption of the Mosaic origin of the Sabbath. It was the strong desire to preserve a Jewish identity, at a time when Hellenistic forces were pressing for the abandonment of the Jewish religion, that apparently led Palestinian Rabbis to reduce the Sabbath from a creation ordinance established for mankind to a Mosaic ordinance given exclusively to Israel.
Such a development occurred in response to the determined efforts of the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes to implement a program of radical Hellenization of the Jews through the prohibition of sacrifices and Sabbathkeeping (175 B.C.). The result was that many Jews fell away, "sacrificed to the gods and desecrated the Sabbath" (1 Macc 1:43).
Pious Jews passionately resisted the Hellenization efforts of Antiochus Epiphanes, preferring to be slaughtered rather than desecrate the Sabbath (1 Macc 2:32-38). The need to preserve a Jewish identity at that critical time inspired an exclusivistic and nationalistic view of the Sabbath.
The notion was introduced at this time by some Rabbis that the privilege of Sabbathkeeping was denied to the Gentiles and reserved exclusively for Israel. As stated in the book of Jubilees, "He [God] allowed no other people or peoples to keep the Sabbath on this day, except Israel only; to it alone he granted to eat and drink and keep the Sabbath on it" (2:31). If the patriarchs are sometimes mentioned as keeping the Sabbath, this is regarded as an exception "before it [the Sabbath] was given" to Israel.6
A Secondary Development. The notion of the Sabbath as an exclusively Jewish institution, established not at creation for all mankind but by Moses for Israel alone, Makes God guilty, to say the least, of favoritism and discriminatory practices.
It must be said, however, that the notion of a Mosaic origin of the Sabbath represents a late secondary development rather than an original tradition. This is borne out by the fact that in Hellenistic (Greek) Judaism the Sabbath was viewed as a creation ordinance for mankind. Moreover, even in Palestinian literature (both apocalyptic and rabbinic) frequent mention is made of God, Adam, Seth, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph as scrupulously observing the Sabbath.7
Apologetic Need. The early Fathers adopted the notion of the Mosaic origin and exclusive Jewish nature of the Sabbath, to challenge those Christians who defended the binding obligations of the Sabbath commandment in the Christian dispensation. The standard and frequent argument is that the patriarchs and righteous men before Moses did not observe the Sabbath, and thus the day must be regarded as a temporary ordinance, deriving from Moses, and enjoined exclusively on the Jews on account of their unfaithfulness.8
The reduction of a creation ordinance to an infamous sign of Jewish disobedience may reflect the need for short-term apologetic arguments, but it lacks a comprehension of the permanent and lofty values placed upon the Sabbath by Scripture.
Has not the observance of the Sabbath in Old Testament times often resulted in the ritualism and legalism which the Scripture condemns? Does not this factor discredit the validity and value of Sabbathkeeping for today?
Antidote to Legalism. The validity of a divine precept is not negated by the fact that some have perverted it. Legalists unfortunately tend to forget that by His actions and words, the Savior made the Sabbath a day of "mercy" rather than of "sacrifice" (Matt 12:7-8), a time to love God and ones fellow beings rather than to parade ones righteousness by fulfilling rituals.
A correct understanding and experience of the Sabbath can prove to be powerful antidotes against legalism. Why? Because the Sabbath teaches us not to work for our salvation (legalism), but to cease from all our works, in order, as Calvin so well expressed it, "to allow God to work in us."9
Does not the Sabbath commandment contain both a ceremonial elementthat is, the specification of the seventh dayand a moral elementthat is, the principle of resting one day in seven? If so, does not Sunday observance fulfill the intent of the Fourth Commandment?
Origin of Distinction. The Fourth Commandment does not contain such an artificial distinction between moral and ceremonial elements. Such a distinction was introduced following the Constantinian Sunday law of 321, in order to give a theological sanction to the imperial legislation demanding rest from work on Sunday. Church leaders applied the Sabbath commandment to Sunday by arguing that the commandment contains both a ceremonial aspectthe specification of the seventh day and a moral aspectthe principle of resting one day in seven to worship God.10
Role of Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas (about 1225-1247) offers the most articulated exposition of this artificial and unwarranted distinction in his Summa Theologica. He argues that "the precept of the Sabbath observance is moral . . . in so far as it commands man to give some time to the things of God . . .but it is a ceremonial precept . . . as to the fixing of the time."11
How can the Fourth Commandment be ceremonial for specifying the seventh day but moral for enjoining to set apart a day of rest for worship? Basically because for Aquinas the moral aspect of the Sabbath is grounded on Natural Law, that is to say, the principle of a regularly stated time for worship and rest is in accordance with natural reason. The ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath, on the other hand, is determined by the symbolism of the seventh day: commemoration of "Creation" and prefiguration of the "repose of the mind in God, either, in the present life, by grace, or, in the future life, by glory."12
One wonders, How can the Sabbath be ceremonial (transitory) for symbolizing Gods perfect creation and the rest to be found in Him both in the present and future life? Is it not this reassurance that provides the basis for setting aside any time to worship God? To reject as ceremonial the original message of the seventh day Sabbath, namely that God is the perfect Creator who offers rest, peace, and fellowship to His creatures, means to destroy the very moral basis for devoting any time to the worship of God.
Reformers Elaboration. The Reformers adopted and elaborated Aquinas distinction between the moral and the ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath commandment. Melanchthon, for example, explains, "In this commandment there are two parts, one general, which is always necessary for the Church, and one specific, which refers to a special day that pertains only to the government of Israel . . . For the general in this commandment pertains to that which is moral and natural and permanent, namely the keeping of the Churchs worship; and the specific, which points to the seventh day, pertains to ceremony . . . it is not binding on us; therefore we have gatherings on the first day, namely on Sunday."13
It is hard to understand the logic behind such reasoning. How can the principle of setting aside one day or some time of the week "to maintain the office of preaching and public worship" be considered as moral, while the actual specification of the seventh day be treated as ceremonial, that is, pertaining "only to the government of Israel"?14
No Basis in Natural Law. To argue that the seventh day is ceremonial because it cannot be discovered by unaided human reason (Natural Law), is to fail to recognize that neither can human reason alone discover the principle that some time must be set aside for maintaining "the office of preaching and public worship." The latter principle, in fact, cannot even be explicitly derived from the Fourth Commandment, where mention is made not of attending public preaching services on the Sabbath, but only of resting unto the Lord (Ex 20:10).
The notion that the Decalogue is based on or supported by Natural Law is a fabrication of Scholasticism (influenced by classical moral philosophy). In the Scriptures the Sabbath and the rest of the Ten Commandments are rooted not on human reason but on a special divine revelation. The fact that unaided human reason can discover some of the ethical values of the Decalogue may show their rationality but not their origin.
Calvins Distinctions. John Calvin re-proposed with new qualifications Aquinas distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath. He taught that at creation the Sabbath was given as a perpetual ordinance but "afterwards in the Law, a new precept concerning the Sabbath was given, which should be peculiar to the Jews, and but for a season."15
What is the difference between the Jewish (Mosaic) Sabbath and the Christian (creation) Sabbath? The difference is not easy to detect, especially for someone not trained to distinguish theological nuances. Calvin describes the Jewish Sabbath as being "typical" (symbolic), that is, "a legal ceremony shadowing forth a spiritual rest, the truth of which was manifested in Christ."16 The Christian Sabbath [Sunday] on the other hand is "without figure."17 By this he apparently means that it is a more pragmatic institution, designed to accomplish three basic objectives: first, to allow God to work in us; second, to provide time for meditation and church services; and third, to protect dependent workers.
An Unresolved Contradiction. Calvins attempt to resolve the tension between the Sabbath as "a creation perpetual ordinance" and as "a ceremonial temporal law" can hardly be considered successful. Did not the Sabbath fulfill the same pragmatic functions for the Jews as it does for the Christians? Moreover, by teaching that for Christians the Sabbath represents "self-renunciation" and the "true rest" of the Gospel, did not Calvin also attribute to the day a "typological-symbolic" significance, much like the type he assigned to the Jewish Sabbath?
To contend that the specification of the seventh day is a ceremonial element of the Sabbath, because it was designed to aid the Jews in commemorating creation and in experiencing spiritual rest, means to be blind to the fact that Christians need such an aid just as much as the Jews; it means to leave Christians confused as to the reasons for devoting one day to the worship of God. R. J. Bauckham rightly acknowledges the existence of such a confusion when he notes that most "Protestants in the mid-sixteenth century had as imprecise ideas about the basis of Sunday observance as most Christians at most times have had."18
A Direct Challenge. A most direct challenge of the one day-in-seven notion is provided by the absence in the Old Testament of any day-off provision for those priests who had to work on the Sabbath. Donald Carson wisely acknowledges this fact when he writes: "If the OT principle were really one day in seven for worship and rest, we might have expected OT legislation to prescribe some other day off for the priests. The lack of such confirms the importance in OT thought of the seventh day, as opposed to the mere one-in-seven principle so greatly relied upon by those who wish to see in Sunday the precise NT equivalent of the OT Sabbath."19
Why does Isaiah 66:23 speak of all flesh coming to worship before God in the new earth "From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath"? Does this mean that the day of the new moon will be observed in the new earth together with the Sabbath?
Stability of Religious Life. Isaiah speaks of gathering for worship in the new earth "from new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath" because for the prophet the monthly new-moon day and the weekly Sabbath day are essential to the stability of the religious life in a future restoration of Jerusalem.
It is important to note that Isaiah speaks of "the new heavens and the new earth" in the context of the restoration of Jerusalem and the regathering of the Jews "from all the nations . . . to my holy mountain Jerusalem" (Is 66:20). This means that the description of all flesh coming to worship "from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath" refers first of all to the hoped-for political restoration of Jerusalem and its religious services, and second, to the End-time restoration of this earth, of which the former was a type.
Prophetic Perspective. Elsewhere I have shown how the prophets often intermingle imminent historical events with far distant events.20 The prophet Isaiah, for example, announces the nearness of the Day of the Lord with reference to the destruction of Babylon by the Medes, saying: "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come" (Is 13:6). In the context of this impending historical judgment, Isaiah describes the final Day of the Lord which will be accompanied by the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars and which "will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity" (Is 13:10-11).
As the imminent destruction of Babylon is seen by Isaiah as a partial realization of the ultimate accomplishments of the Day of the Lord, so the restoration of Jerusalem and its worship services are seen by the same prophet as part of the final restoration of this earth. This capacity of the prophets to see the ultimate divine accomplishments through the transparency of imminent historical events is generally called "prophetic perspective."
Proof of Social and Religious Stability. The regular assemblying for worship on the new moon and on the Sabbath is given by Isaiah as proof of the stability of life in the restored Jerusalem. This assurance of stability is conveyed also in the preceding verse which says that "the new earth . . . shall remain . . . so shall your descendants and your name remain" (Is 66:22). In other words, Isaiah reassures the people of the permanence ("shall remain") and stability of both the social and religious life in the new restored Jerusalem.
The prophet Ezekiel offers a similar description of stability in the restored Jerusalem, when he writes, for example, "The people of the land shall worship at the entrance of that gate before the Lord on the sabbath and on the new moons" (Ezek 46:3).
Importance of New Moon. The day of the new moon is specifically mentioned because of the vital role it played in determining not only the beginning of each month but also the time to celebrate key festivals. The feasts of Passover and Booths were established on the basis of the month in which they occurred. Pentecost depended on Passover and thus indirectly on the new moon. Christian Easter and Pentecost reflect the same pattern today. The new moon of the seventh month was especially important (Lev 23:24; Neh 8:2), presumably because it marked the beginning of the year and the announcement of the forthcoming Day of Atonement 10 days later (Num 29:1, 6-7).
Since the dates of the new moon were determined in ancient Israel by actual observation, the appearance of the new moon was essential to the stability of the civil and religious calendar. This explains why Isaiah and Ezekiel speak of the regular assemblying in the restored Jerusalem on the new moon and on the Sabbath. To them this signified worship regularity, not only on the weekly Sabbathwhich occurred every seven days irrespective of lunar cyclesbut also on the annual feastswhich were dependent upon appearance of the new moon.
New Moon and New Earth. Will the day of the new moon be observed in the new earth together with the Sabbath? My answer is no, because, as noted earlier, the primary function of the day of the new moon was to aid ancient Israel in calculating the time of their annual feasts and in preparing for them. The blowing of the trumpets on the new moon of the seventh month served to warn the people about the impending Day of Atonement which was to come 10 days later (Num 29:1, 6-7). Inasmuch as the primary function of the new moonnamely, to aid ancient Israel in calculating the annual feaststerminated with the coming of Christ, there is no reason to believe that it will be restored again in the new earth.
Why then does Isaiah mention the new moon as a time of regular worship gathering in the new earth? Because, as explained earlier, the prophet describes by means of the prophetic perspective the ultimate restoration of this earth in the context of the historical repatriation of the Jews and rebuilding of Jerusalem. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between those elements which applied to national Israel, such as the new moon, and those elements which will continue in the new earth such as the Sabbath.
Distinction Between Historical and Eschatological. The same distinction must be made in other prophetic visions of the new world. John the Revelator, for example, describes the New Jerusalem as having a wall "a hundred and forty-four cubits" high (Rev 21:17). It is hard to believe that the New Jerusalem will need the protection of such a high wall when there will be no enemies to fear.
The conclusion, then, is that as John portrays the sense of security of the New Jerusalem through the familiar imagery of an exceedingly high wall, so Isaiah describes the stability of the religious life in the new earth through the imagery of regular worship gathering at the new moons and Sabbaths in the expected political restoration of Jerusalem and its people. By distinguishing between the historical and eschatological functions of Isaiahs description, it becomes evident that the reference to the new moons applies to the former and not to the latter.
We read in Joshua 10:13 that "The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day." Did not this miracle disrupt the seven-days cycle by adding one day that apparently remained uncounted?
No New Calendar Day. The miraculous lengthening of the day which provided Joshua and his army additional time for the total destruction of the enemies of Israel did not disrupt the seven-day cycle because no new calendric day was gained or lost. The only alteration was the lengthening of the daylight time of one day. Such a lengthening resulted in one longer day but not in the addition of one calendric day.
A calendric day is determined by the alternation of day and night which results from the rotation of the earth on its axis with respect to the sun. How the daylight time was lengthened at Gibeon is not explained. The inspired writer used the popular language of the day when he wrote, "The sun stood still" (Jos 10:13). Even in our modern scientific age we speak of the sun rising or setting. Obviously it is not the sun that stands still or rises or sets.
Lengthening of Daylight. We do not know what caused the apparent halting of the sun. Since a slowing down of the rotation of the earth can have disastrous effects, some have suggested that the phenomenon could have been produced by some refraction of light. Whatever miraculous method was used by God, the fact remains that the duration of the daylight was lengthened by several hours.
The Hebrew is not specific on the length of time the sun was delayed in its course. The sun "did not hasten to go down as a perfect day" or "about a whole day." Thus the text allows for the lengthening of the daylight in Palestine. In either case the lengthening of the daylight did not disrupt the weekly cycle because no new calendric day was either gained or lost.
NOTES ON CHAPTER VIII
1. Augustine, Confessions 13, 24, 25, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, 1979), vol. 1, p. 207.
2. John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids, 1957), p. 32.
3. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (New York, 1961), p. 63.
4. Cassuto (n. 3), p. 68.
5. On the alleged Mosaic origin of the Sabbath see my discussion in Divine Rest for Human Restlessness (Rome, 1980), pp. 42-44; also in From Sabbath to Sunday (Rome, 1977), pp. 225-229.
6. Genesis Rabbah 11:7; 64:4; 79:6.
7. For examples and discussion see Divine Rest for Human Restlessness (Rome, 1980), pp. 43-44.
8. The argument appears for the first time in the writings of Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 19,6; 23,3; 27,5; 29,3; 46,2-3. It is later reiterated by Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos 2; Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica1, 4, 8; Demonstratio Evangelica 1, 6; also by the Syriac Didascalia 26.
9. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids, 1972), vol. 2, p. 339.
10. For a brief survey of the application of the Sabbath law to Sunday observance, see L. L. McReavy, "Servile Work: The Evolution of the Present Sunday Law," Clergy Review 9 (1935): 273-276.
11. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (New York, 1947), Part I-II, Q. 100, 3, p. 1039.
12. Thomas Aquinas (n. 11), p. 1042.
13. Melanchthon, On Christian Doctrine, Lou Communes 1555, Clyde L. Manschreck, ed. and trans. (Grand Rapids, 1965), p. 96.
14. Melanchthon (n. 13), p. 97.
15. John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. John King (Grand Rapids, 1948), p. 106.
16. See (n. 15), p. 106.
17. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, 1972), vol. 1, p. 343.
18. R. J. Bauckham, "Sabbath and Sunday in Protestant Tradition," in From Sabbath to Lords Day, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, 1982), p. 323.
19. Donald A. Carson, "Jesus and the Sabbath in the Four Gospels" (n. 18), pp. 66-67.
20. My discussion of the prophetic perspective is found in the second chapter of The Advent Hope for Human Hopelessness, p. 42.