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Extracts from email responses to my essay "Paul's Teaching About the Sabbath"


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23 August 2013: Received from Joseph, Ghana

Dear Alan,

I read your essay on the Sabbath - Pauls Teaching About The Sabbath. It was well written but I humbly see it from another perspective.

The basic issue is that we cannot choose and pick what we want to believe. When scriptures appear to contradict we need pray for grace to know what exactly God is teaching us.

Seventh-day Adventist simply put believe that God's 10 Commandments is the very transcript of His character. His words cannot be broken at any time. Were the day of worship not included in the 10 Commandments Adventist would have let it rest with no controversies. That commandment does not only speak about worshipping God but about our resting from our weekly labours and respecting the freedom of others to worship God. Please think about it this way, who began the week of 7 days for mankind to keep. It is God. That weekly cycle has never changed. The day that God blessed, hallowed and set apart is part of the week and will always remain till heaven and earth pass away. It is not for us mortals to consider a day holy or not holy it is God who decides which day is Holy. All over the world, men have found for themselves holy days for various reasons but the only day that God Himself called holy was the Seventh-day. He made it Holy. How it was made holy would remain a mystery to us. Please think about it again this way. Which of the commandments of God can be varied by man?

Let us take a look at the 10 Commandments, particularly the first 4 commands in their short form:

1. I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me.
In respect of God - He is God (the Creator) (no controversy)
In respect of man - He is the creature. To serve any other god is Sin

2. You shall not worship idols, for I am the LORD your God.
In respect of God - He alone deserves our worship and none other.
In respect of man - To worship an idol is Sin

3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
In respect of God - He reveals Himself through several names for our good.
In respect of man - Can not use the name of God in a common or an irreverential manner as such abuse is Sin

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
In respect of God - His very presence is in this day. He made it Holy In respect of man - He cannot use this day any how he or she chooses in a common or irreverential manner. That would be Sin

Why will the Adventist be branded as teaching error in upholding the 4th Commandment when in fact God is actually saying that it is Sin to forget the Sabbath day or use it like any ordinary day or refuse to set at liberty your family members and others in order for them to worship him?

Please take a look at it again. There is not a single commandment that Satan likes. He has hated everything that God has done. He does not even understand his capacity to hate. He hates you and he hates me.

If Adam and Eve had remained faithful to this very time. Jesus would not have come and died for our sins. The weekly cycle would have continued and the Seventh-day would have been kept holy as planned by God - a holiness that Adam, Eve and their sinless descendants could understand and not what sinful man's conception of holiness is. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit would have had a special engagement with them on that day. The Seventh-day had been made for them in their sinless state. It was given before they sinned and we can only stretch our imagination regarding how beautiful the day was kept. The Jews and the Seventh-day Adventist, among a few others, try to be faithful to God in all His commandments including the Seventh-day command.

Unfortunately the Jews have not recognized yet the giver of the commandments they hold so dear and those children of God who have recognized the giver (Jesus) think He has made an exception to the seventh-day commandment for the sake of man. They forget that He said that till heaven and earth pass away he had no intention to make any exceptions.

We were saved by Jesus Christ to live lives of righteousness (keepers of His commandments and having faith in Him) and not to live lives of sin and faithlessness.

Most Adventist are saddened that their Christian brothers and sisters who dearly love the Lord should still find it difficult to grasp that God does not change his mind. His words are eternal, Jesus's words are unchanging as well - till heaven and earth pass away not an iota will depart from the law (10 commandments, my emphasis), the Holy Spirit will not teach otherwise. The very simple and plain words of God are unfortunately made complex and the profound words of God are made superficial by man.

What some people are saying is that, the day that God set apart is no longer necessary. Christ resurrected on a Sunday and so Sunday should be kept as a day for worship, that it actually does not matter if we all decide to choose a day we prefer. That Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has declared that the Seventh-day has no place in Salvation issues. This would be a contradiction of scriptures. If we stretch the logic very far we actually do not need a day for worship because the elements of it do not really matter. Please brother, it is abundantly clear that you love the Lord. I am not judging you but would suggest that you read and read the scriptures carefully.

Most of what you hold very dear may be because of what you have read from other theologians but study scriptures prayerfully for yourself and the Holy Spirit would make it plain enough.

Forgive my construction, I am from a developing country, specifically Ghana and may not have as good an education as you may have. I trust that such exchanges of write-ups could only bring more blessings to us.

Thank you.

My Response

Dear Joseph,

Thank you for the time you have put into your message. You also write well with an evident love for scripture, and I wonder whether you are a pastor. There is no need to be humble about living in Ghana. We are one in Christ Jesus, and it is now in developing countries like yours that His gospel is bearing most fruit.

As you are the most recent of a number of Adventists to write to me, I think I need to clear up some misunderstandings about what I have written. Perhaps I need to modify parts of my essay. Be assured that I am not attacking your Church. I have Adventist friends, and I recognize their godly living. I have even received medical treatment in an Adventist hospital. My advice to you then would be for you to remain in the Adventist church unless the Spirit of God leads you elsewhere.

In my essay I referred to Colossians 3:16, in which the apostle Paul explains that the Jewish calendar does not apply to Gentiles like you and me. Paul is not rejecting the importance of weekly worship. The Jews met weekly for a "sacred assembly" (Leviticus 23:3), and so did the early Christians (Hebrews 10:25). As I have argued in my essay, there is solid evidence in the New Testament that at least some of Paul's churches met for weekly worship on the first day of the week. Sunday worship probably began because some Jewish Christians still attended the synagogue on Saturdays, and they needed practical alternative. It seems that Paul, understanding that the Jewish calendar was abolished, thought it of no importance whether churches met on Saturday or on Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection.

However, Paul was not saying, and I am not saying, that the fourth commandment can be ignored. I don't believe in only 9 commandments - I believe in the principles of all 10. The principle of the Sabbath is vital and eternal, and I agree with you that to ignore it is sin. That principle is that we must never be too busy for God. We must resist the temptation to keep working for extra income, and trust him enough to set aside at least one day each week to publicly honour him, and to provide the quietness in which he can speak to us through the Bible and through his Spirit.

When it comes to the number seven, the point of the fourth commandment is to set aside the seventh part of our week to God. It was similar to the Old Testament law of tithing, which was about setting aside the tenth part of one's income. Personally, I set aside not just one full day a week for God, but usually two half days as well!

If Adventists were right in believing that they alone worship God correctly, then the Spirit of God would be absent from the gatherings of Christians who meet on Sundays. However, I can assure you that he is very much present with us. He enables the Word to be preached with power and insight, convicts us of sin, saves souls, brings joy to our hearts and pours forth praise with just as much intensity as he does in your Saturday gatherings. Baptisms on Sundays are just as beautiful and just as valid as baptisms on Saturdays. The reality is that there are no artificial time limits to God's work.

Let's consider two real Adventist churches, one in Suva, capital of Fiji, and one in Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands. The islands are fairly close in longitude, with sunrise and sunset arriving about 2 hours earlier in Raratonga. In keeping with their teaching, both Adventist churches hold worship services on Saturday morning.

Now here is the problem. Because Suva (178E) is in the eastern hemisphere, and Rarotonga (160W) is in the western, it is Sunday in Suva when it is Saturday in Rarotonga. Therefore the Adventist church in Rarotonga will be holding a worship service nearly a day later than the Adventist church in Suva. Ironically, the end of an Adventist service in Rarotonga may overlap in time with the beginning of an Anglican service in Suva on Sunday.

Do you see my point? The Adventists in Rarotonga, and the Anglicans in Suva, will both be honouring the Sabbath principle of separating one day apart from the other six days. Both will be worshipping at about the same time. Yet in Rarotonga they call the day Saturday, while in Suva, they call the day Sunday. In other words, whether the day is the seventh day or the first day of the week is determined not by God, but by the time zones created by man! Those time zones are based on an accident of history. They are referenced to the meridian of London, and there is certainly no mention of London in the Bible.

It is just not possible to define a seventh day for all mankind. The week does not actually have a beginning and an end, but rather is a continuous cycle. The essence of the fourth commandment is to observe one day in seven, but the question of which day is arbitrary, a matter of custom.

I feel the Adventist church is going beyond common sense in their legal definitions, rather like the Pharisees of old. I suggest that the attempt to define the correct day for worship, a teaching which more than any other has enabled Adventists to pridefully see themselves as more obedient to God than other Christians, is really an argument over nothing. Jesus does not want us to be divided over things that don't matter. Rather, He prayed that we all be one, even as He and the Father are one (John 17:20).

Therefore, I would encourage you to think more kindly about your Christian brothers in other denominations. I respect your right to follow your conscience, and would request that you afford me the same right, according to the principles of Romans 14. I would encourage the pastors of Adventist churches in Ghana to pray with pastors of the other denominations, and to work with them in preaching the grace of the Jesus Christ to those in your country that need it, particularly the Muslims in the north.

I don't want anything I have written to disturb your faith. I do love and respect you as a brother in Christ. Please take these thoughts away and pray about them. God will give each of us the wisdom we need.

God Bless,
Alan Marshall

18 September 2004: Received from Zineo Manalo

What kind of a God would write with His own hands "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy... for in six days the Lord made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all...., but He rested on the seventh day, therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy", on two tablets of stone, along with 9 'other' commandments, handed it to Moses to be given to a people who needed to know God's Law, and later "change His mind" and exclude this from the 9 others as no longer binding, then change the holy day to another day WITHOUT TELLING OR WRITING ABOUT IT?

I mean, couldn't He have just included it in the "other Laws" also spoken to Moses, so at least His people would understand that these would be "nailed to the cross". Why in those 2 tablets of stone?

And why would He change the rationale of a holy day; first, because he rested on that day after His creation, then later, because it was "His resurrection"?

Sounds to me like a bumbling God, who likes to change His mind, if I am to be convinced of your essay.

I'm not being too fanatic about it. Actually, it would really be nice if God did change the holy day. It's quite hard to find a job without Saturdays nowadays. What is equally hard or even harder is to be in the company of a "minority" of Christians who believe the validity of the 10 commandments, still keeping the 24-hr 7th day sabbath, rather than to be part of the "popular" Christian group enjoying a few hours of Sunday worship and the rest of the day is free time.

But I still have to resolve the main inner conflict. The only reason the 7th-day Sabbath is not such a wise commandment is because it is the day when I have to remember that I am not my own and I can't do what I want to do. Other than that, whenever I have tried to follow this commandment, whether out of ritual, hypocrisy or actual enjoyment, it has always proved to be a blessing to my whole nature. It's quite hard not to be drawn closer to God when you have to compelled to keep your mind in tune with Him, whether out of fear or humility. And in a world where the majority now cling to evolution, it remains the single strongest argument that we were created in His image. The resurrection, no matter how dramatically victorious an event it was, can never replace the 7th-day commandment in explaining creation.

And I have yet to hear anyone say "I'm glad I am now keeping Sunday instead of Saturday because I am more blessed". My friends who insisted on the change, now don't even want to stay in contact with us. If they found a glorious truth, shouldn't they be zealous to share it with us with of course a visible positive effect in their lives of their discovery of this "truth"?

My Response

Thanks for writing. I have recieved a number of responses from Adventists and others who hold to keeping the Hebrew sabbath. I would like you to know that of these, your comments are the ones that best support your case, because you write from the heart.

There are a couple of points in my essay that need further explanation. Adventists do teach that the law that was "nailed to the cross" was just the ritual and sacrificial law, but that is not how Paul uses the phrase. Let's look at it in context:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:13-17)

The written code that Paul is talking about must include the ten commandments because these define sin. He is not just talking about things that might make a Hebrew "ceremonially unclean". He is talking about law that condems us and separates us from God. When this law was "cancelled" and "nailed to the cross", God "forgave us all our sins". Do you still doubt this written code includes the "tablets of stone"? If so, read this passage carefully:

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).

Paul is clearly talking about these tablets. He refers to them as the "ministry that brought death". He says this ministry is glorious, but it is a glory that is "fading away". The ministry of the Spirit brings "righteousness", not through the measurement of believers' performance against an exterior set of rules (which includes the Sabbath day), but through an instinctive knowledge of what pleases God, and a desire to please him that flows from knowing that he loves us.

I know Paul's teaching on the place of the law is difficult - I still find it so. Like you, I don't believe God changes, and I don't believe his moral principles change. The law as a whole, and the ten commandments in particular, are full of moral teaching which will bless us and our communities as we follow them. The law also contains ritual elements, and sometimes it is not easy to separate these from the moral teaching. There may in fact be ritual element connected with the fourth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:15).

Of course the reason our keeping the law blesses us rather than condemns us is that Christ has already perfectly fulfilled the law on our behalf. That is what "nailed to the cross" means. It doesn't mean the laws are no longer relevant - it just means they no longer condemn. And if God does not judge me for my failures, whatever they are, then neither should you.

This brings me to the reason for writing my essay. It is not an attempt to persuade Adventists to worship on Sundays. It is not an attempt to release christians from spending time with God - I wish christians would spend more time with him! What I am challenging is the way leaders of your church judge christians of other denominations over what is no more than a technicality. There really is no beginning or end to a week. It is like trying to define the beginning and end of a circle. What God is concerned about is that we take time out to remember what he has done for us, and it matters not what day we call it. That is the heart of the fourth commandment that all christians try to keep. If the apostle Paul could gather with believers on "the first day of the week" to break bread and minister the word of God (Acts 20:6-7) and still be faithful to the spirit of the fourth commandment, why does your church condemn christian brothers like myself for doing the same?

Food for thought.

Zineo's Response (extract)

Thanks for replying. It's the 1st time these questions of mine have been addressed by those websites contending the change of the sabbath. I was almost led to confirm my impression that people who write these essays and create these websites do so out of hurt or hard feelings as they do not reply to the same questions I posed .....

..... And in response to your question, I have scolded myself so many times when out of zeal, I feel some disappointment that my Christian brothers/sisters would rather worship on another day. Other than that, I wish I could literally slap my fellow SDA's to reality when they imply that those who keep Sunday will not be saved. It is God's ultimate desire, to bring us to His Father's mansion so that where He'll be, there we may be also. So it His Him who will lead earnest searchers to the Truth.

Zineo's Next Response (extract)

Again, you are presenting things as an essay. But this is my bottom line. I'd like you to answer a simple question. WHY DO YOU THINK GOD EVER GAVE A SABBATH COMMANDMENT?

I believe that when God says something, He wants us to understand why. That is why the word "ritual" is not really a part of His system. Perhaps ritual with a purpose might be a bit more accurate. But ritual can be deleted altogether. Not killing or stealing or saying His name in vain are not ritual activities. They serve a purpose. And so does the Sabbath commandment. I just never believe it was given as a ritual because again, it makes God a lesser God.

To touch briefly on the new testament mention of 1st day keeping. Again, using logic, it is very weak to link that to a "day to keep holy" as is linked to the 7th day. In no version or commentary would you see that the gathering for worship (even the word worship was actually not mentioned) on the 1st day was a gathering to commemmorate a "rest day" which is again linked to the 7th day Sabbath commandment. That's why it really puzzles me how it just seems clear to you. Again, we gather just about any other day of the week to hold "religious" activities but never as a substitute for the Sabbath institution. What do you think of this?

My Response

Zineo, As we have corresponded, I have looked again at the relevant scriptures again and attempted to provide explanations for those not discussed in my essay. This is a work in progress, so I have had to add qualifications. In the process, I also discovered that neither Adventists nor my own church correctly understands Colossians 2:16, but this is academic and of no real interest to you. I should not have burdened you with these thoughts, so I ask you to forgive me. I know I have not neatly answered every question on the Sabbath - I don't think anyone has! But I have tried to make a contribution to a better understanding of the principles involved.

You are right in saying that God would expect us to think about the reasons behind his commands. Earlier you wrote:

"Again, you are presenting things as an essay. But this is my bottom line. I'd like you to answer a simple question. WHY DO YOU THINK GOD EVER GAVE A SABBATH COMMANDMENT?"

I believe there is a natural purpose, and also a higher spiritual purpose. The natural purpose is the need to rest and be refreshed for the week ahead.

Man was not made to spend all his time working, but he felt compelled to do so just to survive - this was the curse that Adam brought on us. When God called a people to himself, and commanded them to rest one day each week, he was breaking the cycle of slavery that Adam subjected us to. Thus the Sabbath command, rightly understood and practiced, is a redemptive act of God in which he releases his people from the necessity to work in return for their trust in his provision (as illustrated by the double portion of manna you refer to below).

This leads us towards the spiritual purpose, which is our need to remember God. You seem to have focussed on remembering God's work in creation, but the Sabbath is much more than that. It is about remembering all that God is and all he has done for us. It is about remembering his work of redemption. That is why Moses told the Hebrews to remember their deliverance from Egypt. That is why on the Sabbath the Jews held meetings in their synagogues and performed special offerings in the temple. That is why the early christians met to break bread to remember Jesus' sacrifice for their sins. It is also why, looking forward to the resurrection, the early church from Paul's time onward met to break bread on the day of Christ's resurrection, the first day of the week. They were stopping each week to remember all God has done, but the emphasis had shifted from the old fallen creation to our new creation in Chirst.

The benefits that flow from a day of rest are both natural and spiritual. It is obvious these benefits do not depend on which day (or days) we rest, but on how well we rest and how well we remember all that God has done. Both can still be done perfectly well on the seventh day of the week, and that is why I was genuinely interested in how you spent the day. But as I have shared, both can be done perfectly well on the first day of the week, or any other day of the week, for the apostle Paul declares "every day alike". I can assure you that the Holy Spirit is just as active when I rest and worship as when you do.

10 June 2004: Received from L Gordon, USA

Hi, Read your article along with Doug Batchelor's article on 'The Mark'. I guess this topic of the sabbath can get somewhat confusing with everyone having their opinion. I simply read Exodus 20 and the 4th commandment. When God says work 6 days and rest on the 7th, I know this is OT but He does say 'REMEMBER' the Sabbath day and keep it Holy. Did Jesus thus fulfill this? It's confusing to me. Thanks...

My Response

Thanks for writing. I wonder what your background is? The purpose of my essay was not to push Sunday worship instead of Saturday worship. It was to try to help Christians get around this unnecessarily divisive issue. I really think that quibbling over whether it should be Saturday or Sunday is as silly as the Samaritan woman quibbling about whether God should be worshipped in Jerusalem or on their local mountain. It is not a question of where or when, but of how well we use our Sabbath time to commune with God. I agree with your emphasis on the word REMEMBER is Exodus 20:8. Its usage is similar to Jesus' use of the word "remembrance" in Luke 22:19. In both cases God's people take time out from their busy lives to remember Gods' work of salvation. The early church "broke bread" every day (Acts 2:46). In the churches Paul founded, they did this on Sunday (Acts 20:7).

I find the 4th commandment to be a real blessing. For me it is an important spiritual discipline to break from the demands of work to rest and commune with God, his people and his word. I don't think we should limit this to one day in seven. I regard that as a minimum while we dwell on this Earth. In our eternal home we will commune with God every day, so let us be generous with our time now! Don't let divisive teaching on the "letter" of the law distract you from enjoying the blessings of the "spirit" of the 4th commandment. As Paul said, "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6).

That is the essense of my view on this issue. What do you think?

L Gordon's Response

Hi Alan, Thanks for getting back to me on this. As far as my background goes, it's rather diverse. I was brought up in a Jewish home where my mother, especially, bend all the laws to her personal satisfaction. If it was convenient for her, she did it but if it wasn't, well then she did what she wanted. I became a Christian in college so the kicked me out of the house and I joined the USAF. My wife was brought up in a Christian school and I was still so new at this and turned to her for answers. She had some pretty weird ideas like going to nude parties etc. We ended up in a divorce after 7 years. I still am a believer and have dificulties each day because satan is after me all the time. I don't smoke or drink and just want to do what's right. I live in a tiny community of 42 peolple 70 miles deep in the Idaho woods. It's beautiful here but living within this small town is dissention, bickering, snitching and rumors. there are a few ladies that constantly start rumors and try to cause problems. We started having a bible study last week and one of these women is a real nit-picker. She also abuses her status and wants people to do things for her all the time because she can't do it by herself. She smokes constantly, guzzles wine by the gallon yet has a bible in one hand, cigarette and wine glass in the other....drives everyone crazy! Enough on that.

I used to be a professional photographer and have to do weddings on Saturdays. I have been watching a teacher, Doug Batchelor, on Sunday mornings Amazing Facts. He seems like he has a real knowledge of the bible and what he says also seems to make sense but come to find out he's 7th day Adventist and is a real stickler on this Saturday/Sunday sabbath issue. He continually says God doesn't change His mind and when he said REMEMBER the sabbath day and keep it Holy... He means just that and that the sabbath is Saturday and that the papal gov't changed it to Sunday. Anyways... it's rather confusing. Your input has helped somewhat. I just am wondering what Jesus would do? Thanks for writing...

My Response

Thanks for your reply. What would Jesus do? Yes that's the question, isn't it? Well, Jesus was born a Jew, and for most of his life he regularly attended the synagogue on the Sabbath. However, if you read the gospels you will not find him anywhere make a big deal of Sabbath observance. In fact, it is the Pharisees who reject Jesus who accuse him of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus teaches his followers not to be bogged down in rules, but to see the higher principle in the Sabbath commandment:

Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)

In other words, we are not to be slaves to the Sabbath, but are to use it for rest and refreshment, for communion with God, and for ministering to others.

I do not believe that Christians who worship on Sundays violate the Sabbath. The 4th commandment actually says nothing about Saturdays or Sundays, which are just arbitrary names invented by men. What the 4th commandment does give us is a pattern of six days of work and one of rest. It teaches us to separate one day from the week to give to God. It is similar to the law on tithing, which teaches us to separate one tenth of our income and give that to God. Jesus calls us to be generous with both our time and our income, but he does not give us specific instructions in regard to either. If I were you, I would feel free to work as a wedding photographer on Saturdays, but this is a matter for your own conscience (Romans 14:5).

Seventh-Day Adventists are regarded by mainstream christians as a cult. They are generally pleasant people, but they really are obsessed aboout the Sabbath being Saturday. Coming from a Jewish background, you may be more vulnerable to their teaching. It seems to me that in your isolated community you will find it difficult to receive adequate christian fellowship. Would it be possible for you to attend a church service in a nearby town, even if just once a month?

I would also like to suggest you read the gospel of Matthew or Luke, and the gospel of John. Just two chapters a week is enough. You will get to know the person of Jesus, and learn to follow his example of serving God and others in freedom and in love. Jesus really is the Messiah! We become children of God not by striving to keep arbitrary rules, but by welcoming him into our lives as our Saviour and our Lord (John 1:12).

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