Sabbath vs. Sunday
An Internet Debate

Installment #1/Introduction

Is the Saturday Sabbath a creational institution for mankind, or a Mosaic ordinance for the Jews alone? Do Christians need to observe the Sabbath, or has Jesus Christ fulfilled its typological function by becoming our salvation rest?

Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, professor of Theology and Church History at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan and Dale Ratzlaff, pastor of the Christian Community Church in Glendale, Arizona agreed to debate their opposing views regarding the Sabbath/Sunday question on the Internet.

The Internet Debaters

Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi

Picture of Samuele Bacchiocchi
Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi has published several books supporting the keeping of a Saturday Sabbath, the most famous of which is his doctoral dissertation From Sabbath to Sunday, originally published by the Pontifical Gregorian University Press with the official Catholic imprimatur.

Dale Ratzlaff

Dale Ratzlaff picture
Mr. Ratzlaff has published his views in a book entitled The Sabbath in Crisis and believes that the Sabbath is not a creational/moral institution for mankind, but a ceremonial/Old Covenant ordinance given to the Jews. Christians, according to Mr. Ratzlaff, no longer need to observe the Sabbath.

Dr. Bacchiocchi's Web site is at:
Mr. Ratzlaff's Web site is at:

The general format of this debate will be that Dr. Bacchiocchi will give an analysis of Mr. Ratzlaff's arguments found in his book The Sabbath in Crisis, after which Mr. Ratzlaff will give his response and offer his own arguments for Dr. Bacchiocchi to answer.

Links to significant points in this installment
Argument/Response 1
Argument: In Gen (2:1-3), the omission of "the evening and the morning" with the seventh day indicates the Sabbath is a symbolic time representing eternal rest. (Dale Ratzlaff)
Response: Four reasons the symbolic interpretation of the creation-seventh-day does not negate its literal 24-hour duration. (Samuele Bacchiocchi)
Argument/Response 2
Argument: In Gen. 1-2 there is no mention of the word 'Sabbath'. (Dale Ratzlaff)
Response: Cognate verbal form shabat-rested (to cease, to stop) is used in Genesis and contains an allusion to the name 'the Sabbath day.' (Samuele Bacchiocchi)

Master Index to major arguments in all installments.

Sabbath vs. Sunday
Installment #1


Note: The page references given in parenthesis are from the 1990 edition of Mr. Ratzlaff's book The Sabbath in Crisis.

Dale Ratzlaff's First Argument
(as stated by Samuele Bacchiocchi)

The omission in the creation account of "the evening and the morning" in connection with the seventh day indicates that the Sabbath is not a literal 24-hour day like the preceding six days, but a symbolic time representing eternal rest.

"The Genesis account does not mention an end to God's seventh-day rest. Rather it is presented as an ongoing state by the omission of the formula 'and there was evening and morning, a seventh day' " (p. 24). "Therefore we can conclude that the conditions and characteristics of that first seventh day were designed by God to continue and would have continued had it not been for the sin of Adam and Eve" (p. 22).

Samuele Bacchiocchi's Response to First Argument

Both Rabbis and Christian writers have interpreted the absence of any reference to "the evening and morning" in connection with the seventh day of creation as representing the eternal rest of God which will be ultimately experienced by the redeemed. Augustine offers a most fitting example of this interpretation in the last page of his Confessions, where he offers this exquisite prayer:

"O Lord God, grant Thy peace unto us . . . the peace of rest, the peace of the Sabbath which has no evening. For all this most beautiful order of things, 'very good' . . . is to pass away, for in them there was morning and evening. But the seventh day is without any evening, nor hath it any setting, because Thou hast sanctified it to an everlasting continuance; . . . that we also after our works . . . may repose in Thee also in the Sabbath of eternal life."

This spiritual, eschatological interpretation of the creation Sabbath has some merits, because, as shown in my two books Divine Rest For Human Restlessness and The Sabbath in the New Testament, the vision of the peace, rest, and prosperity of the first Sabbath inspired the prophetic vision of the peace, delight, and prosperity of the world-to-come. This interpretation is also found in Hebrews 4 where believers are urged to strive to enter into the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God (vv. 9, 11).

The symbolic interpretation of the creation-seventh-day which has no evening, does not negate its literal 24-hour duration, for at least four reasons:

First, the seventh day is enumerated like the preceding six days. Note that in the Bible whenever "day-yom" is accompanied by a number it always means a day of 24 hours. When "day-yom" is used in a figurative way such as "the day of trouble" (Ps 20:1) or "the day of salvation" (Is 49:8), it is never accompanied by a number.

Second, the Decalogue itself clearly states that God, having worked six days, rested on the seventh day of creation week (Ex 20:11). If the first six days were ordinary earthly days, we have reasons to understand the seventh in the same way.

Third, every passage which mentions the creation-seventh-day as the basis of the earthly Sabbath regards it as an ordinary day (Ex 20:11; 31:17; cf. Mark 2:27; Heb 4:4), and not as a symbol of eternal rest.

Last, the commandment to keep the Sabbath as a memorial day of the creation-Sabbath (Ex 20:11) implies a literal original 24-hour Sabbath. God could hardly command His creatures to work six days and rest on the seventh after His example, if the seventh day was not a literal day.

Dale Ratzlaff's Second Argument
(as stated by Samuele Bacchiocchi)

"There is no mention of the word 'Sabbath' in the Genesis account" (p. 21). This omission indicates that the Sabbath as a day to be observed originated not at creation but later at the time of Moses.

Samuele Bacchiocchi's Response to Second Argument

It is true that the name "Sabbath" does not occur in Genesis 2:2-3, but the cognate verbal form shabat-rested (to cease, to stop) is used and the latter contains an allusion to the name 'the Sabbath day.'

Moreover, as Cassuto sagaciously remarks, the use of the number "seventh" day rather than the name "Sabbath" may well reflect the writer's concern to underline the perpetual order of the day, independent and free from any association with astrological "sabbaths" of the heathen nations.

It is a known fact that the term shabbatu, which is strikingly similar to the Hebrew word for Sabbath (shabbat), occurs in the documents of ancient Mesopotamia. The term apparently designated the fifteenth day of the month, that is, the day of the full moon. By designating the day by number rather than by name, Genesis seems to emphasize that God's Sabbath day is not like that of heathen nations, connected with the phases of the moon. Rather it shall be the seventh day in perpetual order, independent from any association with the cycles of heavenly bodies.

By pointing to a perpetual order, the seventh day strengthens the cosmological message of the creation story, precisely that God is both Creator and constant controller of this cosmos. In Exodus, however, where the seventh day is given in the context of the genesis not of this cosmos but of the nation of Israel, the day is explicitly designated "sabbath," apparently to express its new historical and soteriological function.

Dale Ratzlaff's Third Argument

"There is no command for mankind to rest in the Genesis account" (p. 25). "Nothing is expressly mentioned regarding man in the seventh-day-creation rest" (p. 26). This indicates that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance binding upon mankind, but a temporary institution introduced by Moses for Israel alone.

Samuele Bacchiocchi's Response to Third Argument

There is no command to keep the Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3 most likely because Genesis is not a book of commands but of origins. None of the Ten Commandments are ever mentioned in Genesis, yet we know that their principles were known because we are told, for example: "Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen 26:5).

Another reason for the absence of a command to keep the Sabbath in Genesis, is the cosmological function of the Sabbath in the creation story. It tells us how God felt about His creation. It was "very good" so He "stopped-shabat" to celebrate the goodness of His creation. In Exodus, however, the function of the Sabbath is anthropological. It invites mankind to celebrate God's perfect creation by following His example. Note that in Genesis God's Sabbath rest is a rest of CESSATION-SHABAT, because is meant to dramatize how God felt about His creation: it was perfect, so He stopped. In Exodus, however, the Sabbath rest of God is a rest of RELAXATION-NUAH (Ex 20:11), because it serves as model for human rest.

The fact that the Sabbath is established in the creation story by a divine example rather than by a divine commandment for mankind, could also reflect what God intended the sabbath to be in a sinless world, namely, not an alienating imposition but a free response to a gracious Creator. By freely choosing to make himself available to his Creator on the Sabbath, man was to experience physical, mental, and spiritual renewal and enrichment. Since these needs have not been eliminated but heightened by the Fall, the moral, universal, and perpetual functions of the Sabbath precept were repeated later in the form of a commandment.

The argument that the Sabbath originated at Sinai makes Moses guilty of distortion of truth or, at least, a victim of gross misunderstanding. He would have traced back the Sabbath to creation when in reality it was his own new creation. Such a charge, if true, would cast serious doubts on the integrity and/or reliability of anything else Moses or anyone else wrote in the Bible.

What is it that makes any divine precept moral and universal? Do we not regard a law moral when it reflects God's nature? Could God have given any stronger revelation of the moral nature of the Sabbath than by making it a rule of His divine conduct? Is a principle established by divine example less binding than one enunciated by a divine command? Do not actions speak louder than words?

In the next installment Mr. Bacchiocchi will examine Mr. Ratzlaff's argument that the Sabbath is part of the Old Covenant that terminated at the Cross.

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