Is the Sabbath a creation ordinance? Part 1.

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I’m in a bible study where we are going through Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s book entitled “The Sabbath” and in this book Fruchtenbaum comprehensively reviews all verses in the bible dealing with the topic of the Sabbath. It is a thorough book and one that is enlightening and instructive. I would recommend it to anyone that is looking for a resource that gives valuable insight into the bible verses that talk about the Sabbath day. Though having said this, I should inform the reader that I actually disagree with Dr. Fruchtenbaum on the conclusions that he draws in a number of his chapters on the Sabbath. I will spend the next couple of blogs walking through this insightful book and discussing areas in which I disagree and why so as to give potential readers of this book more things to think about.

Regarding whether the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, Dr. Fruchtenbaum states in the prefacing comments to his argument:

Is the Sabbath a creation ordinance? At this point, let us assume that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. If so, it would mean that it is obligatory for both Jews and Gentiles, since it was given before there was any distinction between Jews and Gentiles, a distinction that only began with Genesis 12, not Genesis 2.

I do not argue with this point though it leads me to believe that Dr. Fruchtenbaum brings this up because he thinks that the Sabbath is not obligatory for both Jews and Gentiles. Yet, I cannot see how one could demonstrate such a conclusion from the Scriptures especially since God explains that the basis for observing the seventh day rest is that He himself rested on the seventh day; a reason that has nothing to do with being Jewish. That the Sabbath (as with many other laws given to the Jews) was to also be observed by the “stranger” (or Gentile) living with the Jews (Exodus 20:10, Zec 14:16-19, Lev 24:22, Numbers 9:14, Numbers 15:15-16) clearly demonstrates that the command was not obligatory for just the Jew. Of course, in the future, Zechariah 14:16 tells us that Gentile nations will be obliged to observe the Feast of Tabernacles–a distinctively Jewish Festival–and do so in the city of Jerusalem no less, establishing that there is no hindrance as it pertains to one’s nationality in supposing that a similar holy day like the Sabbath would apply to both the Jew and the Gentile. Besides, if Sabbath observance only applies to the Jew, then it follows by good and necessary consequence that the other nine commandments (out of the Ten Commandments) also apply solely to Jews and not to Gentiles; a conclusion that I strongly suspect Dr. Fruchtenbaum would be unwilling to accept.

Dr. Fruchtenbaum continues:

Furthermore, even if it were a creation ordinance , it would not mean it is obligatory upon all. For example, one thing that certainly is a creation ordinance is marriage (Gen. 2: 23-25). However, it is not mandatory for every individual because celibacy or singleness is a coequal, even a superior, option (Mat. 19: 10-12; I Cor. 7: 1-7). If the Sabbath were a creation ordinance, then these things would also be true.

To claim that the creation ordinance of marriage has exceptions is one thing; however, to argue that singleness is a superior option to marriage is to argue irrationally. If the bible teaches that singleness is a superior option then it follows that all should strive to be single; but it is certain that the consequences of this apagogical (i.e. reductio ad absurdum) thesis would be devastating to the entire human race. Furthermore, God Himself states that it is NOT good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and commands ALL to be fruitful and multiply. Regarding Genesis 2:18, theologian Adam Clarke states:

“Hence we find that celibacy in general is a thing that is not good, whether it be on the side of the man or of the woman. Men may, in opposition to the declaration of God, call this a state of excellence and a state of perfection; but let them remember that the word of God says the reverse.”[1].

We must thus infer that marriage is the superior option and that singleness is only for the person who “is able to receive it” since Matthew 19:11 clearly states that not all are able to do such.  Paul states in the 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 passage that he wished all men were single just like him, but he also understood that not everyone had been given the “gift” to do so by God (1 Corinthians 7:7). Therefore, and by implication, singleness is only for the person who can control their desires so as not to burn in lust toward members of the opposite sex (1 Corinthians 7:9). What clearly follows from Paul’s admonition is that the aptitude for singleness is exceptional and fraught with the ever-present danger of burning in lust without solace or remedy; marriage, on the other hand, is the prescribed option meant to prevent uncontrollable lust and discontentment. In fact, when Paul states that is it BETTER to marry than to burn in lust, he is clearly concluding that marriage is the superior option, since it is almost certain that at one time or another everyone has burned in lust towards someone else.  Of course, Paul warns that his “wish” that folks would strive to be single does not constitute a commandment from God, so we must be careful to take his advice in that light. Moreover, the fact that God gives all men reproductive organs that are not to be removed (Deuteronomy 23:1) nor used outside the confines marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2) allows one to infer that marriage is indeed God’s unchanging will for man. Consequently, since the bible does teach that marriage is obligatory upon all, it follows that not only is Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s argument about the superiority of singleness in error, but all other inferences that he draws from that conclusion are as well.  It is however important for one to understand that just as there are exceptions to marriage, so also are there exceptional situations that obviate the observance of the Sabbath. For instance, priest were allowed to profane the Sabbath by virtue of what their office entailed (Matthew 12:5). Meaning, “the fact that priests had to officiate at sacrifices on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9) and also perform circumcisions on the Sabbath (John 7:22)” excused them from being blamed for breaking the Sabbath when doing actions deemed exceptional [2]. The important thing to understand in all of this though is that the exception is not the rule.

Dr. Fruchtenbaum continues:

However, the truth is that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance and this can be seen in six ways. First, the crucial term shabbat or “Sabbath” is not even mentioned. At this point, there is no use of the word shabbat; the day is only referred to as the seventh day. The second way this is seen is that there is no mention of man’s being involved in the rest. There is only a mention of God’s resting. The third way this is seen is that the seventh day does mark a climax. However, the climax is not the creation of man, but it is God’s own triumphal rest. God’s own triumphal rest is what makes this day unique.

The first point Dr. Fruchtenbaum mentions is that since the term “Sabbath” is not even mentioned in the creation account, then one should not see the Sabbath as a creation ordinance, but this is a weak argument. Why does the word Sabbath need to appear in the Genesis creation account in order for the seventh day rest to have the distinction of a creation ordinance? Isn’t the noun “Sabbath”(shabbâth [H7676]) itself derived from the Hebrew verb shâbath [H7673] which was used back in Genesis 2:2-3 when describing what God did on the seventh day? To illustrate the weakness of this argument; suppose I were to say that the plurality of God is not established in the creation account since the word “Trinity” is not even mentioned in the creation account. A prudent believer should immediately object to this claim by arguing that the use of “ĕlôhı̂ym” in the very first verse of the bible (as well as other places in Genesis 1-3),  demonstrates the plurality of God and obviates the need for the term “Trinity” to appear in order for one to conclude that the biblical God, though being a single entity, is in another sense, a plurality. In like manner, everything needed for the reader to identify the seventh day as the Sabbath is given in the creation account so that nothing else is lacking. However, there is another more compelling reason why Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s first point is in error. A careful reassessment of the fourth commandment shows that the term Sabbath DOES appear in the creation account, and does so by good and necessary consequence. Exodus 20:11 uses the coveted noun “shabbat [H7676]” to speak of the inaugural seventh day when God rested in Genesis 2:2-3. This means that the term “Sabbath” was used during the first week in the book of Genesis despite the term not appearing in Genesis.

According to Dr. Fruchtenbaum, the second way it is seen that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance is that there is no mention of man being involved in the rest. However, the other side of that coin is that there is also no mention that man was NOT involved in the rest. One reason why I wouldn’t argue from silence when it comes to establishing the validity of a creation ordinance, is because the bible informs us of at least one other time when a creation ordinance, though implied, is not explicitly mentioned. The creation ordinance that I speak of is the one that requires man to wear clothes. That it is a valid creation ordinance is revealed in necessary inferences that are drawn from verses in Leviticus.

Many times in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 18 & Leviticus 20) we read that it is a sin to uncover the nakedness of a fellow person whether it be a sibling, another person’s wife, a parent, etc. Yet, that ordinance would not make any sense if there were not a prior expectation that people were required to wear clothes in the first place; but we see no such command to do so in the Scriptures. Why is this? Well, when God clothes Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, there is an expectation that they understood this act, not as an arbitrary or optional act, but as one that necessitated their conformance. You could say that Adam and Eve observed the practice of being clothed (with cloth as opposed to fig leaves) because it was something that God had done on their behalf, to serve as an example for future behavior. Resting on the seventh day is also something that God did on man’s behalf to serve as an example for future behavior. This conclusion is certain because we know from Scripture, from reason, and from intuition, that God does not slumber, nor sleep, nor need any rest (Psalm 121:4). In fact, it must have puzzled Adam as to why God would choose to rest on the seventh day. It is because of this fact that Adam would have understood God’s act of resting as an instructive act. In fact, Adam would have wondered why God, Who is an eternally powerful Creator, did not create everything in a single instant, but instead required six days in order to create the world. God knew that man would need a day of rest and worship once in seven days, so He set the example. Yet, some will argue that verses like Leviticus 18:6-7 are not about nudity and that the term “uncover nakedness” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. However, even if that were the case (though I do not say that it is) my point would still stand since nakedness precedes sexual intercourse.

As to the third point listed by Dr. Fruchtenbaum, I’m not sure what the climax of God’s creative acts has to do with the Sabbath as a creation ordinance. Nor is it reasonable to assume or induce that God needs to rest after a triumph. After all, we do not see God resting after any other triumphs in the Scriptures. Thus, God triumphantly resting does not in any way show that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance.

In conclusion, although I disagree with the premise that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance, even if it were not, I cannot see how that would obviate the obligation that all persons have to observe the Sabbath in the same way they are obligated to observe the other nine commandments that are also not explicit creation ordinances; but together (as the ten commandments) comprise the foundation of God’s laws.  I will end each of these blogs on “The Sabbath” by also pointing out that in the future ALL men will have to observe the Sabbath whether or not they keep it now (Isaiah 66:23, Ezekiel 46:1).

 

References:

1. See notes on Genesis 2:19, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A.

2. See notes on Matthew 12:5, The DEFENDER’S Study Bible, Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., LL.D., Litt.D.

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