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Book Review

by Dr. Desmond Ford


Sabbath in Crisis


Dale Ratzlaff


1990: Life Assurances Ministries, 19109 N. 71st Drive, Glendale, AZ 85308

Dale Ratzlaff's Response

I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Des Ford for helping me, while I was still a Seventh-day Adventist, to clarify some points in the gospel.

I also appreciate his friendship and the many kind remarks made in his recent review of my book, Sabbath in Crisis. I believe open discussion of key topics leads to the personal study and restudy of the Bible. It is my prayer that the current discussion of the Sabbath will drive us back to the Book to examine our presuppositions through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate this opportunity to respond. Due to space limitations, I will not be able to answer all of the criticisms.

Alone plus Sabbath

As a busy pastor of a growing church I would like not to take the time to respond. However, I believe the issue at stake is so important that I must.

The masthead of the Good News Unlimited magazine is "Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone," but the comments made in connection with the review of Sabbath in Crisis seem to imply that to all these "alones" one must add Sabbath observance.

I believe the issue at hand is somewhat analogous to the issue Paul faced in Galatia.

Four disagreements

I am not against Sabbath-keeping as clearly stated in Sabbath in Crisis. My disagreement with the Seventh-day Adventist church and other sabbatarians is fourfold:

The Sabbath is not a sign of the true church (Sabbath in Crisis, pages 295-301).

The Sabbath is not the seal of God for new-covenant believers (Ibid., pp. 304-309).

The Sabbath has been, and still is, used as a manipulative tool in SDA evangelism (Ibid., p. 302, 303).

Sabbath-keeping is not required or expected of new-covenant Christians (as a careful reading of Galatians shows).

One law

Des wants to make a clear distinction between the moral and ceremonial laws. It is my conclusion that God gave Israel only one law which comprised both moral and ceremonial aspects. (There are twenty references to the "law of the Lord" in Scripture. Some refer to moral aspects of the law, most refer to aspects of the law which would be considered ceremonial. There are no places which say "laws of the Lord" in the Bible.)

The fact that the Sabbath is included with the moral laws in the Ten Commandments does not necessarily make the Sabbath a moral law.

It is clear that the Sabbath served as the sign of the Sinaitic Covenant (Exodus. 3 1:12-17), and, as such, rightly finds its place in the very center of the "words of the covenant" (Exodus 34:28 NIV, Sabbath in Crisis, p. 38).

The "other laws" were also part of the Sinaitic covenant and served as an interpretation and expansion of the principles outlined in the Ten Commandments. (See the chapter, "The Old Covenant" in Sabbath in Crisis for a detailed explanation.) While the Sabbath is found with the moral laws once (twice if other places that I have not found), it is included with the ceremonial aspects of the Sinaitic Covenant over a dozen times. (See Leviticus 23 where it is included in the 'appointed feasts of the Lord"; Leviticus 24:8; Numbers 15:32; 28:19; 2 Kings 4:23; 1 Chronicles 9:32; Isaiah 66:23; Ezekiel 46:1, 4, 12; Hosea 2:11; Amos 5:8; Colossians 2:16.)

It is my conclusion that signs of the covenant, such as circumcision and Sabbath-keeping for old-covenant believers, and baptism and the Lord's supper for new-covenant believers, are not moral in themselves, and have value only as they are celebrated as signs of the covenant to which they are attached.

Thus, new covenant believers are only required to celebrate the signs of baptism and the Lord's supper. (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Matthew 28:19.)

Colossians 2:16

I would disagree with Des, both in the interpretation of Colossians 2:16, and his statement that this verse is "the only one apparently against the Sabbath." (More on this later.)

Des wants to make the Colossian heresy monolithic in nature. I believe it was many-faceted; and one aspect of it was a requirement to keep the feast days of Judaism, including the seventh-day Sabbath.

Des concludes that these observances were corrupted and were "something other than wholesome weekly Sabbath-keeping." I agree that there are other aspects to the Colossian heresy (Sabbath in Crisis, p. 152). However, the part of the heresy referred to in Colossians 2:16 cannot be a perversion of true Sabbath keeping, if Paul taught Sabbath-keeping, for two powerful reasons.

First, immediately after Paul lists items from the old covenant he says, "These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17 NIV). If the practices of the Colossians surrounding the food, drink, festival, new moon, and Sabbath were a perversion, Paul would not have said these were a shadow of Christ! (Scripture is replete with examples showing that the shadows of Christ must not be defective. The offered lamb must be "without blemish" (Exodus 12:5 KJV) because it was a shadow of Christ who "offered Himself without blemish to God" (Hebrews 9:14 NASB).

However, it is clear that the New Testament does call these aspects of the law a shadow of Christ (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1). That Colossians 2:16 has reference to the old covenant is clear. Note the parallel in words and ideas from Ezekiel 45:17:

It shall be the prince's part to provide the burnt offerings, the grain [food] offerings and the drink [drink] offerings, at the feasts [festivals], on the new moons [New Moons] and on the sabbaths [Sabbaths], at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel; (Ezekiel 45:17 NASB)

That "sabbaths" here and in Colossians have reference to the seventh-day Sabbath is certain. When the feast days of the old covenant are listed together, they are listed in either ascending or descending order: seasons, months, pp. 148-158 for a fuller discussion and a complete list of references.)

Second, if we assume (which I do not) that Paul taught Gentile Christians to keep the Sabbath, he would have corrected the Colossian's perversion of Sabbath-keeping.

We find Paul correcting many false teachings in his epistles. However, neither here in Colossians, nor in any of his letters does Paul give instruction on how to keep the Sabbath. Nor does he reprove perverted Sabbath observance. Yet he says that he fully preached the gospel (Romans 15:19).

The reason why he never taught Sabbath observance seems obvious.

Sabbath not for Gentiles

Colossians 2:16, 17 is by no means an isolated text showing that the Sabbath is not expected or required of new-covenant Christians!

Reading the book of Galatians in context should make this clear beyond a shadow of doubt!

The reason that controversies over the Sabbath are not central in Acts and the epistles is also clear. Under Jewish theology only the Jews were given the Sabbath and the Gentiles were never required to keep it.

No other nation was set apart to keep the Sabbath. (Carson, From Sabbath to Lord's Day, p. 46)

But there does not appear to be evidence that he [Philo] distinguished the Sabbath law as universal, rather than mere ancestral custom. (Ibid., p. 53)

Judaism as a whole considered the Sabbath to be binding on Israel alone. It was not a matter for Gentiles (note its absence from the Noachian laws) and this was sometimes very strongly put. (Ibid., p. 128)

Therefore, the controversy in the early church centered on circumcision, not Sabbath, because circumcision stood for keeping the whole law which would include the Sabbath (Galatians 5:3, 4).

Cessation of the law

If sabbatarians wish to promote the Sabbath by its association with the law (one of the Ten Commandments), then they should also be instructed regarding the cessation of the Sabbath by association with the law. Note well the following:

The law came 430 years after Abraham (Galatians 3:17), See also Romans 5:13, 14.

The law was in force until Christ came (Galatians 3:19).

Now that faith [in Christ] has come we are not under law (Galatians 3:25, Romans 7:6).

Now all, including Jewish believers [who may well have kept the law and Sabbath], and Gentiles [who did not keep the law and Sabbath], are children of God (Galatians 3:28). (God's eternal moral principles are always valid.) Gentiles can partake in the promise/faith covenant made with Abraham without ever coming under the dominion of the Sinaitic Covenant, which included Sabbath-keeping (Galations 3:29, 4:21-31).

Carson and sabbatarianism

In his review of Sabbath in Crisis, Des promoted the scholarly work of D. A. Carson in From Sabbath to Lord's Day and listed numerous quotations from Carson's book which seem to support sabbatarian teaching.

However, Des leaves out the material which undermines sabbatarianism as well as conclusions of the authors themselves.

For example, Des, and other sabbatarians, often quote Mark 2:27, "the Sabbath was made for man" (NIV) and interpret "man" to have universal application to all humankind. Dr. Carson, however, says:

...this argument is linguistically unsound and fails to observe the context and form of 2:27. (Carson, p. 65)
The first Christians would never have treated the Sabbath as a shadow of the past - as indeed they did - unless they had grasped the significance of Jesus' teaching. (Ibid., p. 85)

It is precisely because the Christian is no longer "under" the law that he escapes the dominion of sin. (Ibid., p. 169. See Romans 6:14.) The "days" [of Romans 14] must then refer to Sabbaths and other festivals in the Jewish calendar. . . His [Paul's] norm is that no food is unclean of itself, a statement that stands in flat contradiction to the Torah. This fact alone established our conclusions on Chapters 6-8 [of Romans], namely, that in the new age of the Spirit, God's demands on us are not mediated through the stipulations of the law. (Ibid., p. 172, 173)

We see, then, that D. A. Carson, and his associates in From Sabbath to Lord's Day, do not agree with sabbatarian conclusions. (These are only a few places where the conclusions of this book disagree with sabbatarianism.)

To argue that man must have been given a Sabbath rest because man was given work to do seems overly simplistic.

The Gospels and Paul's epistles

Des implies that because the gospels may have been written after Paul's epistles, they give "a final word on topics still unclear to the readers of Paul."

I am surprised by this statement, as the Des Ford I know has been the champion of Paul's gospel of faith alone!

No matter when they were written, the focus of the Gospels is primarily to record the life and teachings of Jesus and to create faith in Christ.

Paul's letters, on the other hand, were written primarily to interpret and apply the benefits of the Christ event to the Gentile world.

While the gospel writers used "eyewitnesses" and early documents (Luke 1:2), Paul received his gospel straight from Christ (Galatians 1:12). Therefore, if anyone teaches a gospel contrary to the gospel given by Paul to the Galatians, and other New Testament Churches, he is "deserting" Christ (Galatians 1:6 NIV) and comes under the most serious condemnation (Galatians 1:8, 9).


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