2. The Sabbath Instituted at Creation?

Some Sabbatarian Christians say that the seventh-day Sabbath is a memorial of creation originating in the Garden of Eden, and that because of this we are called or commanded to observe it. But is that what the Bible says? Let's take a look at Genesis 1 and 2.

Genesis 1-2

Genesis 1 and 2 reveal some interesting things:

  1. Creation was completed in six days.

  2. God rested on the seventh day.

  3. God blessed the seventh day.

  4. God sanctified the seventh day.

  5. The reason God sanctified the seventh day was because He rested on it.

  6. The seventh-day account does not have the formula "And the evening and the morning were the -th day" as do the previous six days of creation.

  7. There is no command for mankind to rest in the Genesis account. The only command that was given was for man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

  8. Nothing is expressly mentioned regarding man in the seventh-day-creation rest.

  9. The seventh-day rest of God was most likely characterized by His delight in His new creations and in open fellowship with Adam and Eve in the sin-free, perfect environment of Eden.

  10. The conditions which characterized the rest of God would probably have continued had it not been for man's sin.

  11. One can draw the conclusion that the seventh day had an evening and morning and was a regular day like the previous six days, or as an indefinite period of time. In Genesis 2:4, Moses uses the word day for a period of time that lasts at least six days long.

  12. The sanctification given to the seventh day of Genesis 2:2-3 may have been meant to be for an indefinite period of time, since the reason it was made holy was because God rested from His work of creation.

  13. The Genesis account does not mention an end to God's seventh-day rest. It is presented as an ongoing state by the omission of "and the evening and the morning were the seventh day". The fact that the Genesis account is so carefully constructed indicates that this omission was not accidental.

  14. When man sinned, he was excluded from God's rest and God began His work of redemption to restore man back to Himself. (2)

What is this new work which God started immediately after Adam and Eve sinned? "And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). This event was the beginning of a work which would continue throughout the centuries until its significance would become fully revealed in the death of Christ. The death of that first lamb, while not mentioned as such in the Genesis account, was the acorn of the great truth which, through the following centuries, would grow into the great, spreading oak of righteousness by faith. It pointed forward to Christ's substitutionary life and death for lost humanity. Naked Adam and Eve were clothed with robes made from the skin of the lamb--a substitute who gave its life. Millennia later, Paul would put this same truth in these words:

2 Corinthians 5:21
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Galatians 3:27
"For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (3)

Instead of at creation, the command to observe the Sabbath has its origin with Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness, because it was the sign of the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. Consider these passages in Exodus 16, 20, and 31; Deuteronomy 5 and 9; and Nehemiah 9.

There are several anachronisms in the writings of Moses. Anachronisms are statements that are out of time with their immediate context. Genesis was written by Moses. One can only speculate whether he wrote this book before or after Exodus, or whether he used or did not use pre-existent source documents. But this does not change the fact that Moses wrote Genesis from his perspective in time. The following are three examples that illustrate this point.

First, in Genesis 2:10-14 there is mention of the land of Cush. Cush was a common name for the land of Egypt in the days of Moses. Moses' own wife was from the land of Cush (Numbers 12:1). This passage also makes mention of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While the Garden of Eden was probably located in this part of the world, it still appears that Moses was expressing this truth in a language that could be understood from the post-Flood perspective of his day. Secondly, Genesis 2:23 speaks of the creation of Eve from Adam's rib. Most Bible translations end the quotation of Adam after verse 23. The following verse appears to be a commentary by Moses, which shows where the custom of marriage in Moses' day had its origin. And thirdly, Moses says in Genesis 3:20 that Adam named his wife Eve, which means "life", "because she was the mother of all the living." But when Adam gave this name to his wife she was not a mother at all. It seems the reason this was done was "because she was the mother of all the living" from the perspective of Moses. This was Moses' commentary or rendering of the account long after the fact.

There are a couple of ways of viewing this information. One is that the blessing and sanctifying of the seventh day could also be an anachronism. If this is true, then the record of God blessing the seventh day as recorded by Moses in Genesis 2 actually took place at Sinai instead of at creation. Another view is that Scripture clearly emphasizes the sanctification of that first seventh day at creation. Regardless of which way one goes with this, there is strong Biblical evidence against the view that makes the Sabbath of Sinai equal to the seventh-day rest of Eden.

The work of redemption was the work which God started when man sinned and was driven from Eden's rest. This work would continue until humanity was restored to God's true rest. Jesus is our Sabbath rest, not a 24-hour period of time. This seems to be confirmed in Hebrews 3 and 4.

In light of these passages in Hebrews, Christ's words regarding the Sabbath in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a deeper, wonderful meaning.

The meaning of these Scriptural passages have been a point of debate among Christians for quite some time. Some have used them to show that the Sabbath day was instituted at creation for all humanity. However, this view runs counter to the Jewish understanding that the Sabbath was given only to the people of Israel as a covenant sign between them and God. Rather, Jesus says in these passages that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of man and not man for the benefit of the Sabbath. Jesus, the Son of Man, controls the Sabbath and is not controlled by it. Jesus declares Himself Lord of the rest that is to come in Him, since "sabbath" means "rest." The title, Son of Man, which Jesus often used in reference to Himself, comes from Daniel 7:13, where it is used in connection with the coming of the end-time reign of God. Therefore, in defending His disciples' perceived questionable behavior by the Pharisees, Jesus declared His own authority as the Son of Man who was facilitating the dawning of the end-time reign of God, the true rest to which the Sabbath pointed.

The main point of Jesus' argument here is not in defining appropriate Sabbath behavior or a correct interpretation of Old Covenant Sabbath law. On the contrary, it is in showing how Old Covenant law, including Sabbath law, points to Him. As a result, we can see that Jesus is taking authority to Himself over Sabbath law. His presence allows greater freedom regarding Sabbath observance than the priests had in the temple. His position as the Anointed, coming King of Israel, gave Him and those associated with Him freedom to infringe upon Sabbath law. As the Son of Man, who had the mission of inaugurating the end-time reign of God, He is above the control of Sabbath law. We see this more when we consider that in both Mark and Luke, this incident immediately follows the discussion about putting new wine in new wineskins (Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-38). In this, we get a precursor of coming changes. This same incident in the Gospel of Matthew, as outlined in the passage above, is connected to the three verses of the previous chapter where Christ calls all to come to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28-30) by the use of the phrase "At this time" (Matthew 11:25, 12:1). This appears to indicate that the Sabbath itself may be associated with the end-time rest of God, starting with the acceptance of rest in Jesus, beginning with faith in Him and His Gospel of salvation.

At the same time, there is evidence for the fact that the Sabbath itself is associated with the theme of restoration and the Messianic Age. Within such a framework the fact that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath becomes the more significant, for the very concept of Sabbath begins to undergo transformation. That Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath is not only a Messianic claim of grand proportions, but it raises the possibility of a future change or reinterpretation of the Sabbath, in precisely the same way that His professed superiority over the Temple raises certain possibilities about ritual law. No details of that nature are spelled out here, but these passages arouse expectations. (4)

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