by Dr. Desmond Ford
Dale Ratzlaffs book opposes the Sabbath using
arguments based on the Bible covenants. The reviewer suggests that there is much biblical
evidence to support the Sabbath: the distinction between moral and ceremonial laws;
worship and moral principle; a more contextual understanding of Colossians 2:1623;
Jesus and his Sabbath miracles; the eternal covenantand the necessity of not basing
conclusions on isolated texts.
Dale Ratzlaff is an outstanding Christian,
and I wish to go on record as saying that a sweet gospel spirit permeates his book. Christ
and his grace are given their right place, and I, personally, am in accord with much that
is said in this volume, though not with its chief conclusion_ that the fourth commandment
is no longer for Christians.
Excellent statements from Dale
Here are specimen statements from Sabbath in Crisis with which I wholeheartedly agree:
It is vitally important to realize
that when we speak of the old covenant, including the Ten Commandments, being superseded
by the new covenant, we are speaking of the old covenant in totality, yet at the same time
we are not doing away with any of the moral principles contained within the old covenant.
We must also understand that for society to function without anarchy, it must continue to
have specific moral laws to restrain the evil of the unregenerate heart. (p. 212, emphasis
... it is imperative that
Christians have a regular time for worship. It is imperative that they assemble together
in order to strengthen their faith, to meet in Christs presence for personal
Christian growth, for the extension of the kingdom, and for corporate worship. (p. 322)
It is not a good principle of
interpretation to accept and apply part of a verse of Scripture and ignore the rest. (p.
These statements by Dale are a good
jumping-off place for a consideration of his book.
Distinction between moral and ceremonial laws
Dale says he is not doing away with any of
the moral principles contained within the old covenant. Good! But where are these
summarized if not in the Decalogue?
The blood of the covenant was not sprinkled
over the ceremonial laws given to Israel. (See Exodus 24:6-8.) It is the following book of
Leviticus that begins the list of ceremonial enactments, whereas the blood was applied to
the record of the Ten Commandments and their enlargements (called "judgments")
Let us clearly mark the distinction God
made between the moral and ceremonial aspects of his law. The latter was given at a
different time and from a different place to the former.
Not from Mt. Sinai, but from the tabernacle
was the ceremonial code delivered. (See Leviticus 1:1.)
And they were cared for by different hands.
God cared for the Decalogue under the Shekinah, and the priest cared for the other from
day to day in his ritual services.
God did not write his moral code on
parchment but on enduring stone.
Furthermore, the purpose of the ceremonial
laws was to make atonement for the violation of the moral code. Christ knew well what he
was talking about when he referred to "the weightier matters of the law: justice and
mercy and faith" (Matthew 23:23 NRSV; compare 1 Corinthians 7:19 which also
distinguishes the moral from the ceremonial.) The whole New Testament (or covenant) is
concerned with these weightier matters.
Worship, morality and the Sabbath
Is not the command to worship the fountain
of all morality?
Karl Barth and many others have referred to
the fourth commandment as the most important of all the ten for that very reason.
Had it always been observed there would
never have been atheists, heathen, idolaters, or warmongers. What a world this would have
Moral principles abide
Does not the New Testament affirm
repeatedly that the moral principles of the Decalogue abide for all Christians? (See
Matthew 5:17-48; 15:3-9; 19:17-19; 22:36-40; Romans 3:31; 7:12,14; 8:4; 13:8-11; 1
Corinthians 7:19; 15:56; Ephesians 6:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Revelation 11:19; 12:17;
Here are the principles of the Ten
Commandments: loyalty, worship, reverence, holiness, respect for authority, love, purity,
honesty, truthfulness, contentment.
Who would wish to get rid of any one of
these? Are they just Jewish? Did they only become important millenniums after the world
The Jews had a saying that the Decalogue
was given in the wilderness and not in Canaan, to show that it was for all people and for
all time. Similarly, the chief name given to the author of these moral principles is
Elohim ("God"), not Yahweh ("Lord"). Thats because the former
means God as the Creator of all (see Genesis 1), and the second, God as Redeemer of his
All admit nine of the Ten Commandments are
for all people for all time; therefore, "what God has put together let not man put
Yes, there is undeniable good Christian
sense in the first two quotations we have given from our friend, Dale, but also in the
third. To accept and apply part of a verse of Scripture and ignore the rest does indeed
For this reason, we believe Dale quite
misinterprets Colossians 2:16-23. He has much to say about the first lines of these last
paragraphs of the chapter, and very little about the rest, though the latter is the key to
There we read about visions of angels
gained through ascetic practices "based on human commands and teachings"
(Colossians 2:22 NIV). The last line is a quotation from Isaiah 29:13, which is
discussing false worship.
If Colossians 2:16 wipes out all
Sabbath-keeping, it also wipes out all eating and drinking. (Fasting, not distinctions
between foods and drinks, is the issue heresee all modern versions.) Clearly both
are set in a particular context, and that context is set forth in the following
lineswhich warn Christians against practicing asceticism in order to have angelic
visions. (God has given no such instructions to believers.)
More than one witness required
There are approximately 150 references to
the Sabbathby namein Scripture. The only one apparently against the Sabbath is
Colossians 2:16. We can either interpret the 149 texts by the one, or the one by the 149.
Seven times Scripture advises us that only
"in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." (For
example, see Numbers 35:30; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Hebrews 10:28.) "A matter must be
established by the testimony of two or three witnesses," says Deuteronomy 19:15 NIV.
Neither Galatians 4:10 nor Romans
14:5,6 name the Sabbath. Galatians 4:10 refers to days (plural), not the seventh day
(singular), and Romans is referring to fast days as the context shows.
Therefore, in the whole of Scripture, only
the lonely Colossians 2:16 can be invoked against the thunders and lightnings, the divine
voice and finger of Sinai.
Chaos of isolated texts
Think what chaos we would be in if we did
the same with other isolated texts!
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:1: "It is
good for a man not to touch a woman" (NKJV). If the church had read this the way some
read Colossians 2:16, none of us would be here!
Then take Christs words in Mark
10:21: "Sell whatever you have and give to the poor." How many are content with
the plain meaning of those words?
Or "if anyone be ignorant, let him be
ignorant," or "all things are yours," or "all things are lawful,"
or "if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing." (If you are ignorant
of the references, dont take the first admonition seriously. The references are: 1
Corinthians 14:38; 3:21; 6:12 and 10:23; Galatians 5:2, all KJV.)
Have you heard of the missionary who read
Matthew 2:13 "flee into Egypt" and left his field of labor for the Nile
The Anchor Bible Dictionary (the most
recent comprehensive work of its kind) says on Colossians 2:16: "...
sabbath seems to refer to something other than wholesome weekly
Sabbath-keeping as the majority opinion holds." (v. 5:855).
It is true that the seventh day Sabbath of
Judaism with its shadowy ceremonies, sacrifices, and multitudinous laws has gone, but not
that Edenic day of which Christ affirmed: "The sabbath was made for man" (Mark
2:27 NIV); and of which he was and is Lord. "For the Son of Man is Lord of the
Sabbath" (Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).
The Edenic Sabbath remains_ fifty-two spring days in the year, "holy," "blessed," "honorable."
Mate of work is rest
Dale gives his opinion that "work did
not enter until after they (Adam and Eve) sinned" (p. 22).
But Genesis 2:15 affirms that before our
parents were warned against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they
were given the happy assignment of gardening in the most beautiful garden ever known. They
were "to work it and take care of it" (NIV).
The mate of work is rest, and therefore we
believe Sabbath in Crisis is wrong in teaching that man did not know the seventh-day
created rest until millenniums later. (See p. 25.)
The expression "and sanctified
it" in Genesis 2:3 KJV ("hallowed" NRSV; "made it holy" NIV) has
no meaning unless there were people intended at that time to hallow the day. (The word
"sanctify" often means public announcementsee Exodus 19:22.)
Exodus 20:8-11 says clearly that the
seventh day was the Sabbath day at the time of its sanctification, and the fact that the
word is not found in Genesis is no more significant than the fact that laws about
sacrifice, tithing, murder, theft, lying, etc. are not mentioned in Genesis either, though
always taken for granted as existing.
EVERY BIBLE MEMORIAL BEGINS WITH THE EVENT
MEMORIALIZED, not millenniums later. (For example, see Exodus 12 and Joshua 4:20-21.)
Jesus no sabbath-breaker
Sabbath in Crisis devotes many pages to the
topic of Jesus and the Sabbath, but a close study of this subject confirms Christs
own verdict concerning the Sabbath-keeping of himself and his followers_ they were
"innocent," "guiltless" of all violations. (See Matthew 12:7.)
Jesus could say he had kept his
Fathers commandment and thus abode in his love. How else could he have been a
perfect sinless sacrifice on the cross?
Significance of sabbath miracles
Dales book misses the true
significance of the seven miracles Christ worked on the holy day and Christs own
discussions regarding them.
The miracles involved both sexes, the
young, the middle-aged, and the old, and transpired in the home, at church, and on the
In his arguments, Christ drew from Old
Testament laws, from Jewish history, from the later prophets, from Gods own example,
from human custom, and from human reason and conscience.
NO OTHER TOPIC EXCEPT THE CROSS IN
THE WHOLE NEW TESTAMENT COVERS SUCH MAJESTIC SCOPE.
Sabbath and temple
As with the third, fifth, and seventh
commandments, Christ rebuked ceremonial perversions in order to restore the original
Never does Christ so treat any temporary
institution. Dales attempt to make a parallel between Christs treatment of the
Sabbath and his cleansing of the temple collapses, because Christ repeatedly foretold the
end of the temple and its services. (See Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and John 4:21 ff.)
Christ made no such intimation of the end of the fourth commandment.
Sabbath and two Adams
Indeed, Christ hallowed the Sabbath even in
death, for it was the only whole day he spent in the tomb. His followers likewise honored
the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). John Gospel purposely models its account (see John 19:23-41) of
the second Adams death on the sleep of the first Adam at the close of the sixth day
Thus, there are references to the nakedness
of the new head of the race, his opened side, in a garden and on a cross (elsewhere called
a tree Acts 5:30; 10:39).
Cross and creation
Later, knowing that all was now
completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am
thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the
sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received
the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." (John 19:2830 NIV)
Do not miss the forcefulness of the words
"completed," "fulfilled," and "finished." They echo the use
of "finished" in Genesis 2:1-3 on the eve of the first Sabbath.
At the very moment Christ cried, "It
is finished!" synagogues throughout the land were using that same word as they read
publicly Genesis 2:1-3 to usher in the holy rest day.
Never forget that Christs worthy
redemption was a new creation. We are safe and only safe if we follow the example of
Christ. (Remember that seven times the New Testament says Christ created the world. He
rested on the first Sabbath and the Calvary Sabbath, and that fact can no more be changed
than ones own birthday.)
Shall any be condemned on Judgment Day
because they have modeled their faith and practice on the faith and practice of our Lord?
The law and the
It should be remembered that the Gospels
were written after the epistles of Paul, and there the Holy Spirit gives a final word on
some topics still unclear to the readers of Paul.
For example, Matthew speaks beautifully of
grace (see Matthew 20:1-16, the parable sometimes entitled "The Reward of
Grace"). Yet everywhere throughout his Gospel, Matthew takes the sacredness of the
Decalogue for granted.
There is neither casuistry about law nor
antinomianism in any of the Gospels.
We have in a recent copy of Good
News Unlimited magazine discussed the issue of the covenantsan issue
pivotal for Dales book.
At this point, we can only refer readers to
Psalms 105:42-45, which makes clear that the Sinaitic covenant was but an extension of the
covenant of faith made with Abraham, and it therefore in no way clashed with the still
later enlargement which we call the new covenant. (See Galatians 3 and 4; Romans 4.)
All the Bible covenants were but forms of
the one everlasting covenant of grace, though with different emphases according to the
needs of the time. (See Hebrews 13:20.)
For other arguments found in Sabbath in
Crisis, we refer students to my book The Forgotten Day (which may be reprinted shortly).
There is no great hurry, however, as we
think the so-called Sabbath crisis has been greatly exaggerated. After all, the Sabbath
has stood for millenniums, observed by patriarchs, prophets, kings, Christ, the apostles,
and the early church for centuries. And in commemoration of creation past and the new
creation to come, and the re-creation of redemption, it will yet stand throughout eternity
Appendix to Book Review
The following quotations are taken from the
last chapter of the book From Sabbath to Lords Day - the most scholarly
book on the topic this century (if we mean by "scholarly" that many researchers
rather than just one have contributed).
The book is edited by D. A. Carson, a
well-known New Testament scholar, who wrote the foreword to Sabbath in Crisis.
The full meaning of these quotations will
only be found by studying their context, but we submit them as "admissions" from
those who are not Sabbath-keepers.
Biblical writings show that God has
given history a Sabbatical structure after which the weekly cycle has been patterned.
Jesus cut through the complexities of the
Pharisaic debates of his time. He kept the Sabbath law but not the Halakic interpretations
of it; in the process he reminded men and women that the purpose of the Sabbath
institution was for their benefit. (p. 345)
...various New Testament writers are able
to see Jesus whole mission in terms of its fulfillment of Sabbatical motifs and
If the hypothesis of the Sabbath as a
creation ordinance could be established, then, whatever the temporary nature of the
Sabbath as part of the Mosaic covenant, the appeal could still be made to the permanence
of the mandate for one day of rest as inherent to humanity made in the image of God. As
chapter 11 indicates, both Luther and Calvin held to the notion of the Sabbath as a
...the difficulty of finding an express
warrant for changing this one day from the seventh to the first.... (p. 346)
...it is the "seventh day" God
blesses and hallows (Genesis 2:3), not the first. (pp. 346-347)
...nowhere in the process of the
institution of the first day of the week as significant for Christians does such a
rationale feature as grounds for choosing the first day rather than the seventh, and more
importantly nowhere do the New Testament writers or the writings of the first three
centuries of the churchs life indicate that the first day was actually treated as a
day of rest. (p. 347)
Physical rest is still applicable to all
human beings as long as they remain in the body. If it could be shown that one days
physical rest in seven was inherent to the way in which humans were meant to function,
this would not be a factor that would change with the inauguration of the new creation.
The New Testament writers, especially Paul, make clear that the one aspect of the new
creation that is still outstanding in relation to men and women is that which affects
their physical bodies. This would then be a case in which the new creation would not annul
but rather remain within the bounds of the original created order until consummation. (p.
...the seven-day pattern of Genesis 1 and 2
imposes a Sabbatical structure on the history of creation, one that provides the basis for
the concept of the world week that figures strongly both in Jewish apocalyptic literature
and in the writings of the second-century postapostolic church. The framework of Genesis 1
and 2 certainly indicates that there is a divine ordering of history, so that, as history
moves towards its consummation, it moves towards the goal of Gods rest. (p. 349)
As a sign of the permanent relationship
between God and his people, the Sabbath is also a memorial of the great acts accomplished
by God for his people in both creation and redemption. (p. 353)
If the Mosaic law were designed to teach
the principle of one days rest in seven instead of seventh-day rest, it might be
expected that its legislation would have provided for a different day of rest for the
priests (cf. Numbers 28:9-10), but it does not.
There can be no doubt that within the Old
Testament and particularly within the Mosaic covenant the Decalogue does have a special
status. The commandments it contains are singled out as the "Ten words".... (p.
It is likely that Jewish enthusiasm for the
Decalogue may have been dampened when Christians increasingly took it over in the second
century and it was withdrawn from the synagogue liturgy. (p. 357)
The narratives in Mark suggest that the
provocation about the Sabbath in fact builds up on the side of Jesus enemies.
Jesus Sabbath ministry in Mark 1 is not accompanied by antagonism and conflict, but
when opposition to Jesus ministry as a whole begins to mount, then his Sabbath
practices provide a convenient point for attack in terms of the Halakic interpretation of
the law, and in Mark two conflicts over this (2:23-28 and 3:1-5) lead to a decisive point
in the narrative, the decision of the Pharisees in 3:6 to confer with the Herodians in
order to destroy Jesus. (p. 360)
...in his zeal to accomplish Gods
will he cannot be accused of provoking the conflicts over the Sabbath. Nor is there any
suggestion in the accounts that he was less than careful to observe the actual
requirements of the Torah in respect to the Sabbath. As has been noted, the Mosaic Sabbath
with its requirement of cessation from work was not designed to achieve total inactivity
so much as total abstention from ones regular daily work. When this is remembered it
is hard to see how, for instance, the disciples plucking of the ears of corn and
eating them (Mark 2:23-28 and parallels) can be considered as a profanation of the Mosaic
Sabbath. If they had been farm workers or even women making up for lack of preparation for
a meal, it would have been a different matter; their casual plucking of corn on a walk
scarcely falls into any such categories. Similarly the healings Jesus performs on the
Sabbath are scarcely candidates for the description of profanations of the Sabbath. As
Carson points out, the Torah says nothing about healing on the Sabbath and Jesus
healings are not part of the routine daily work of either a medical practitioner or a
nursing relative. It is certainly in keeping with this picture that early Christian
writers also never consider Jesus and his ministry to provide them with any precedent for
breaking the Sabbath but rather see his healings as part of his fulfillment of the law.
"The Son of man is lord even of the
sabbath" (Mark 2:28; cf. Matthew 12:8; Luke 6:5). This is a momentous claim indeed
when understood against the background of the Mosaic Sabbath and its terminology. In the
Old Testament the Sabbath was said to be "a sabbath to the Lord your God"
(Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14; cf. Exodus 31:15; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3). It belonged to
Yahweh, the covenant Lord. Now here is Jesus as the Son of man claiming to be the Lord of
the Sabbath. Jesus claim to authority over the day is not only a claim to equal
authority with the law given by God in which the Sabbath demand was embedded but can be
understood as a claim to the same authority over the day as the covenant Lord himself, a
claim to equality with God.... (p. 363)
...no definite break with the Mosaic
Sabbath is clearly set out in his teaching or actions.... (p. 364)
By its silence in regard to any Sabbath
controversies, Acts suggests that Jewish Christians must have continued to keep the
Sabbath. The Sabbath was an institution too central to Judaism for it to have been
tampered with without provoking hostile reaction and persecution, but there is no record
of persecution on this account. (p. 365)
In Colossians 2:16-17, this transition from
the old economy to the new, which has taken place in Christ, is the basis for Pauls
attack on yet another variety of first-century Sabbath observance. The Colossian
Christians were no doubt predominantly Gentile. The syncretistic practices of the group
included ascetic regulations drawn from Judaism, however. The questions of food and drink
mentioned in 2:16 are likely to be a reference to regulations for fasting as preparation
for a visionary experience (cf. 2:18) and evidently the observance of Jewish festivals,
new moons, and Sabbaths had become part of the cultic celebrations being advocated in
Colossae in order to appease the "elemental spirits of the universe" (2:8,20).
Paul is against this variety of Sabbath observance because it is part of a
philosophy that attempted to go beyond Christ to obtain the fullness of
salvation. (p. 367)
When the four commandments from the
Decalogue are quoted in Romans 13:9, they have clearly been placed within the new
framework of Romans 13:8,10, which stress that love is the fulfilling of the law. The
commandments now provide concrete illustrations of the new law of love. Similarly in
Ephesians 6:1-2, when the apostle exhorts children to obey their parents, the primary
motivation is the relationship "in the Lord" (cf. also Colossians 3:20), and the
primary reason is that "this is right," but then the fifth commandment can be
brought in as additional support. It may well be that in outlining vices to be avoided,
Paul also makes use of the Decalogue; and that Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:3 combine
the seventh and tenth commandments, identifying covetousness and lust in a traditional
manner, while Ephesians 4:25ff. paraphrases the seventh to the tenth commandments. (p.
Matthews high regard for the law is
further reflected in the fact that it is he who, more than any other New Testament writer,
characterizes unbelief as anomia ("lawlessness") (cf. 7:23; 13:41; 23:28;
24:12). Jesus view of the Torah as the revealed will of God obviously applies also
in Matthew to the Decalogue as part of the law (cf. Matthew 15:3-6 where the fifth
commandment is called the commandment not just of Moses but of God). In Matthew 19:16ff.,
Jesus brings the demands of a number of the commandments in the Decalogue to bear on the
rich young man.... (p. 372)
In any case all the probabilities are
against such a change, for the Jewish Sabbath was so distinctive and central to Judaism
that any attempts in the early church to tamper with the day on which it was observed
would have led to great controversy, and it would be strange indeed that none of the
literature of the first and second centuries reflects any such controversy. Further, such
a change of day would have caused not only religious but also social and economical
turmoil if Jewish Christians had taken their day of rest on a different day and Gentile
believers had started to take a day of rest on the first day of every week. Again, of such
turmoil there is not a hint. (p. 393)
Gentile, however, would not necessarily
have found the Sabbatical division of time either natural or convenient and need not have
adopted it, and yet they did. Part of the Christian churchs inheritance from Judaism
was the concept that in the weekly cycle God had stamped a seven day pattern on history.
Acts 20:7_ "the first day of the week"_ and 1 Corinthians 16:2_ "the first
day of the week"_ reflect the terminology of Gentile Christian churches for Sunday as
the first day in the sequence determined by the Sabbath. (The Greek for "the first
day of the week" is literally "the first to the Sabbath.") (p. 398)
Read Dale's Response