The Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance

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“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but theseventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Ex. 20:8-11 (ESV)

It is of no small importance that Exodus grounds the Fourth Commandment upon God’s example in creation.[1] Chantry offers this reason for referring back to creation: “God’s written fourth commandment recalls the first historic observance of the Sabbath in order to stir up our own compliance with Sabbath-keeping.” 
Using the text of Genesis 2 as a guide, this post will examine three creation narrative observations, followed by a discussion of whether God’s rest should be viewed as descriptive or prescriptive.

Sabbath as Imitation of God

First, six days of work followed by a Sabbath day of rest imitates God’s own pattern (Gen. 2:2). Ryken puts it simply: “We are called to work and rest because we serve a working and resting God.”[2] Frame, borrowing from Meredith Kline’s work, offers three categories in which to classify the rest of God: consummation, enthronement, and consecration.[3] 

God’s rest on the seventh day is the consummation of His creative work: “As a celebration of the finishing of the world-temple, the Sabbath proclaims the name of the creator to be Consummator.”[4]

The Sabbath rest of God, foreshadowing Christ’s future rest at the Father’s right hand, also demonstrates Divine enthronement: “God created the heaven and the earth to be his cosmic palace and accordingly his resting is an occupying of his palace, a royal session. The dawning of the Sabbath witnesses a new enthronement of Elohim.”[5]  Christ has always reigned as Lord, but now He has new territory over which to rule. 

Finally, the Sabbath is tied to consecration: “Consecration here means, then, that all creation recognizes, affirms, and honors God’s lordship and behaves accordingly.”[6] Man is present for the very first Sabbath day, and he is not without a role: “All the creation of the six days is consecrated to man as the one set over all the works of God’s hand, as the hierarchical structure of Genesis 1 shows, but man himself in turn is consecrated to the One who set all things under his feet.”[7]

God Blessed the Sabbath

A second creation-based reason to keep the Sabbath commandment is because the Lord Himself “blessed the Sabbath day” (Gen. 2:3a). Chantry ties this to a blessing that falls on those who enter into God’s rest with him.[8] Regardless of whether or not this refers to blessings being bestowed upon Sabbath keepers, the language of the passage does point toward a perpetual Sabbath pattern. In Genesis 1, God’s blessing is given over the fish in the sea, the fowl of the air, and of humans. This blessing is for the ongoing production and multiplication of each group. God likewise blesses the Sabbath day, setting it apart for ongoing observance.

God Sanctified the Sabbath

A third creation-based reason for seeing the Sabbath as a creation ordinance is that God made the Sabbath holy (Gen. 2:3a). This should give us even more reason to strengthen our resolve to keep the Sabbath. “He who is king over all the earth has, by his sovereign right, made the day holy. He devoted one day in each seven to his worship and service. He does not advise or request but decrees that it is so. He who is eternal divided our time and legislated that we give him a day of worship each week.”[9] Because the Lord himself has sanctified, or set apart, one day a week for reflection upon His work, it would be foolish to carelessly disregard such a pattern.

We should follow the Sabbath pattern set forth by our Creator. That claim is not without its detractors; so, in subsequent posts, I plan to defend God’s Sabbath rest as prescriptive for us, rather than merely descriptive.
Jon English Lee

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[1] See also David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 14:1-17 : Liberty and Conscience (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 81ff.

[2] Ryken, Written in Stone, 107.

[3] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[4] Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, as quoted in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 529.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 530

[7] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, in Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 530.

[8] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 27.

[9] Chantry, Call the Sabbath a Delight, 28.

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12 Responses to “The Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance”

  1. The issue of the Sabbath is the fundamental distinction between traditional reformed (whether baptist or presbyterian) and the new reformed baptists. There are many learned brothers who disagree with the “Christian Sabbath” concept such as my former professor Dr. Tom Schreiner.

    I am personally torn on the subject. I acknowledge the prescriptive command to set apart one day in seven. However, I find the arguments of sabbatarians weak when it comes to texts like Col 2:16 & Rom 14:5-6. Even Calvin seemed to have trouble explaining just how the Sabbath transferred to Christians. It’s my opinion that we should set apart 1 day in 7 to God, because of the Creation ordinance. It should be Sunday because that’s when the early church met. However, in agreement with the BFM 2000, how we set apart that day is a matter of personal conscience.

    It does bother me that I’m in disagreement with the 1689 Confession on this point, however Confessions are a help to understand the Scriptures. They are not Scripture themselves. However, I do believe that the “sabbath” has a moral aspect. American society because of our 5 day work week and relatively sedentary jobs misses the huge blessing that the sabbath entails. It is morally wrong to work your employees or your animals (or yourself) 7 days a week. We physically need a day off every now and then to recuperate.

    Now the question is, what do we do on our day off? It seems reasonable that we should devote much of our free time to God. Why is it considered rest to sit on the couch and read a novel, yet doing the same with the Bible is not? Why is having an enjoyable conversation with friends and family rest, but having a conversation with God in prayer is not restful? I think our problem is our misunderstanding of entertainment and rest. Why do we find watching TV more enjoyable than reading and studying about God, praying, or sharing in the fellowship with other believers?

    However, those inferences from scripture must be placed in context with statements like those in Rom 14 and Col 2. I disagree with New Covenant Theology that only those commands repeated in the NT are binding. However, I do feel that Rom 14 and Col 2 are an abrogation of (at the very least) the ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath.

    The question is what remains of the Sabbath. In my mind, because God took a day off, so should we once a week. It should be Sunday, because that’s what the early church did. What we do with our free time on that day is a matter of personal conviction though. I don’t think the Church should have a list of do’s and don’ts for Sunday. I’ve seen some OPC churches argue over whether it’s okay to eat KFC chicken (since it was purchased on a Sunday) during a Sunday potluck. I mean come on, man is not made for the Sabbath. As Rom 14 says, it is a matter of Christian liberty. However, after all is said and done, if we truly love God, why wouldn’t we want to spend our free time with him?

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  2. William,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree with much of what you have said. I am glad that you see the prescriptive command for resting one day in seven. As far as your other concerns (e.g., what does sabbath rest look like and what about the ‘weak’ arguments made from Romans 14 and Col 2), I hope to these concerns in my upcoming posts on the sabbath.

    Thank you for your input, and may God bless your studies on the subject.

    -Jon English

    Reply
  3. Urbane Gorilla,

    Thank you for your comment. The word “shabat,” which is the root for sabbath, literally means to cease, rest, or stop something. As I will argue in subsequent posts, there is nothing directly tying sabbath observance in the New Covenant to Saturday. Rather, I believe that the New Testament sets the precedent for a day of rest to be held on the first day of the week, in celebration of the rest we have entered in Christ and His completed work.

    Thank you for reading, and I hope my subsequent posts can more thoroughly articulate what I have so briefly introduced here.

    God bless,

    Jon English

    Reply
  4. John Bennett

    What’s interesting about Thomas Schreiner is that he wrote all those blogs book chapters about the Lord’s Day not being the Christian Sabbath but this is from his churches confession of faith.
    Articles 17 I think. I will let you read it for yourselves
    http://cliftonbaptist.org/core-documents

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