A Biblical Theology of the Sabbath

My second course through Western Seminary was Understanding Biblical Theology, which was a study of the whole story of the Bible. The video lectures and live seminar was conducted by Dr. Todd Miles with additional video lectures from Dr. Michael Lawrence.

The method of the class was to understand the overarching story that spans over the entire Bible, the covenants that provide the structure for the Bible’s story (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New), and trace concepts and themes as they develop along this story.

One theme I decided to explore was the Sabbath. I knew it would be challenging for me, as I don’t fully grasp how or why the Sabbath observance changes as we go from Old to New Testament. It ended up being so challenging that by the end of this assignment, I  had to consider the Christian Sabbath view, which I usually rejected. I previously held that the church doesn’t observe any Sabbath day of rest, as the Sabbath command was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and we rest from our labors by trusting in Christ. I could benefit from further study on this topic, but I am now considering the view that the church was observing the Sabbath day of rest on Sunday, instead of Saturday, for the purpose of delighting in God through reflection of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Here’s some key points from my study:

  • God participated in a proto-Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3 by resting on the seventh day in light of the six days of the creation. It’s presumed mankind would also have enjoyed a Sabbath rest for all eternity if not for sin.
  • Israel was commanded to imitate and trust God by practicing a Sabbath day of rest in light of God’s provision of manna while they were in the wilderness (Exodus 16:22-30).
  • In Exodus 20:8-11, and Deuteronomy 5:12-15, a Sabbath day of rest was codified in the Mosaic law, and to be observed in all circumstances. Israel was to reflect on a God who creates (as he did in Genesis) and saves (as he did in Egypt).
  • In Isaiah 58:13-14, Isaiah equates honoring the Sabbath with delighting in the Lord. Thus the Old Testament pattern of Sabbath observance was to rest and delight in God in light of his mighty works. It’s embedded in the God’s moral law that would be written on the hearts of man under the New Covenant.
  • In the New Testament, Jesus clearly valued the importance of honoring the spirit of the Sabbath law (Matthew 12:12, Mark 2:27, John 5:17). This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on any of the Ten Commandments.
  • Paul seemed to teach observing the Sabbath was no longer required (Colossians 2:16, Romans 14:1-12). It can be argued he was referring to Jewish Sabbath observance (seventh-day rest). The first century church didn’t seem to practice a seventh-day Sabbath rest. What they did do was gather and worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2), most likely because this was the day the Lord was resurrected and appeared to his disciples. Perhaps this was the way to honor the fourth commandment under the New covenant.
  • The OT pattern of Sabbath observance included rest from work, reflection on God’s mighty works (creation, Egypt, manna), a convocation (Leviticus 23:3), singing Psalms (Psalm 92), and the reading of Holy Scripture. The NT gathering on Sundays were (and still are), frankly, the same thing, only heightened by the work of the cross.
  • The gospel of Jesus Christ did more than change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. It ensured all believers will experience a Sabbath rest for all eternity in God’s new creation (Hebrews 4:9-10). For now though, the church shall persevere through rest and worship of the Lord on Sundays, in reflection of the resurrection.

The point of the assignment wasn’t to defend a particular view of the Sabbath, but to see how themes develop over a progressive revelation. For me, this was the smoothest way to describe the development of the Sabbath over the course of scripture.

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3 Responses to A Biblical Theology of the Sabbath

  1. Pingback: Why I am now a Sabbatarian, part 2 | Todd's blog

  2. David Tamaoka says:



  3. Christian Irish Rabbi says:

    I am sure we would all get a lot more out of both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day if we kept them separate – the last day of the week and the first of a new one; resting from the old, looking back and enjoying; then starting the new in the forward-looking spirit of resurrection. It’s a great pity I think that in a reactionary spirit of throwing out all things Jewish, the church in the era of Constantine morphed Sunday as a public holiday into a new “Sabbath”. It’s confused and confusing. That’s why most of our calendars now start the week with a Monday! That was not the early church’s view, as we see in Paul’s letters. There really is no Biblical justification for this change. It certainly didn’t seem to be the practice of the early church. I’ve just posted on this if you’d care to read more. But thanks for raising these issues in a thoughtful and measured way. Good to think through…

    Liked by 1 person

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