Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Did Adam and Eve Keep the Sabbath? Part 2


This post should be read in conjunction with the following:

  1. Adam and Eve and Sabbath Keeping - an explanation

Individuals who argue that Sabbath keeping is not required of Christians often argue that Genesis 1-3 doesn’t include any reference to Adam and Eve keeping the Sabbath. In addition, there is no command to keep a weekly Sabbath. It is concluded that God, therefore, did not institute the Sabbath in Eden.

This brief essay presents some observations that respond to this position and argues that God did, in fact, institute Sabbath keeping at the time of creation and that Adam and Eve would have kept it.

The argument that Adam and Eve did not keep the Sabbath is an argument from silence. In that case, it is incorrect to conclude that they didn’t. Just because Genesis doesn’t mention Adam and Eve keeping the Sabbath doesn’t mean they didn’t. After all, the creation account is primarily about God, not what Adam and Eve did. This focus on God may mean that, in this narrative, what Adam and Eve did is not as important and, therefore, their Sabbath keeping or a command from God to keep a sabbath is not mentioned.

It is incorrect to conclude from an absence of a command that a command didn’t exist. Surely Adam and Eve didn’t require a command about everything that was right/wrong. And even if they did, all of these commands didn’t need to be recorded in the Genesis accounts. The Genesis narratives are not intended to be a list of all the commands God gave to Adam and Eve. The stories are written with a very specific purpose in mind and that purpose constrains what is included and what is left out.

It is true that there is no command in Genesis 1-2 about Sabbath keeping. What we do have is an example. This example provides evidence that the Sabbath should be kept. There is no command in Genesis 1 - 3 proscribing murder. But we don’t conclude from this that murder is ok. When we get to the story of Cain killing Abel, we know it is wrong because it doesn’t fit with God’s example. We have God’s example as the life-giver in Genesis 1 - 2, therefore we should follow that norm and promote life. In the same way, we have God’s example as the Sabbath-creator and observer. God was never physically tired so he had no actual need to rest. Therefore, he must have rested as an example. In the same way we follow God’s example in not murdering, Christians should follow God’s example in Sabbath-keeping.

In addition to all this, sin had not entered the world as a result of human choice at the close of the creation week. A God of love is hardly going to lay down a ’law’ for how His new creatures should follow Him. Rather, he’d teach Adam and Eve about the Sabbath in person - rather than in law - by spending quality time with them.

The creation narrative states that God sanctified something. In that case, we must ask what God sanctified. We have a number of things to choose from. Firstly, it could have been just that one day at the end of creation. Secondly, it could have been an open-ended long period of time. Or thirdly, it may have been a weekly repitition of the original day that was sanctified. The question is which of these makes the most Biblical and logically consistent sense?

A good deal of the argument revolves around the meaning of the omission of the phrase ‘there was evening and morning, the x day’. There is no doubt this was a deliberate literary omission for theological purposes. But what does this omission mean?

It is clear from the text that a period of time was blessed, made holy, and sanctified. To be sanctified means to be set apart. It doesn’t make much sense to say that an unending period of time was set apart. Something with no boundaries can’t be set apart! The most obvious thing set apart is a discrete period of time. If, subsequent to creation, the seventh day was ‘unending’, then every actual day would be considered the same as every other day, in a spiritual sense. Surely, if something is made holy and ’set it apart’ it must be different to all other days. Otherwise there is actually nothing special about it.

If God had wanted the whole week of all time to be special, surely he could have ’set apart’ (sanctified) the whole creation week, but he didn’t. This all points to each discrete seventh day being holy and sanctified from that time on.

So we return to the question: Why might the author of Genesis intentionally leave outthe final ‘evening and morning’ statement? God wanted us not to falsely limit the Sabbath day that was blessed to one day in history at the end of the creation account and thereby conclude that there is no Sabbath blessing today or special time set aside today. The Sabbath was for all time and the absence of an end of the day in the creation narrative points to that fact. The Sabbath continues - not as a general period of ongoing time or a spiritual experience - but as a 24 hour period, which makes most sense of it being ’set aside’.

Another important question to ask is why God created the Sabbath in the first place. It is for humanity to remember their Creator and keep us from becoming self-centred and self-serving and pursuing our own interests (work, pursuits) all the time. It is a celebration of God - a being outside of ourselves - the being Who created us. Therefore to rest signifies our acceptance of God’s creatorship and his Lordship of our lives, including how we spend out time.

It is true that Scripture - and Jesus - speak of our spiritual rest in terms that have links with the creation Sabbath. This stems from the Sabbath being grounded in creation. The metaphors of peace and rest are foretastes of Sabbath when we approach the now-and-not-yet of our salvation and the re-creation of all things. In this sense, although Israel stopped labour on the seventh day, they - for the most part - missed the essence of the Sabbath and what a relationship with God is all about. We too can continue to miss that rest.

Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 remind us that there remains a promise of blessing and there continues to be a Sabbath rest for the people of God. Therefore, in a sense, the Sabbath points forward to our future salvation and rest in Christ from sin. But this level of typology is secondary to the primary meaning of the Sabbath as a celebration of the Creator, and the conclusions we draw from the secondary level of typology shouldn’t contradict the primary meaning, but rather add to it.

All of this leads to the conclusion that Adam and Eve did keep the Sabbath to begin with. Surely they wouldn’t have missed out on this good thing that God specifically took a further day to create. He could have insituted a six day week, and how much fun would that be today!

Finally, beyond Adam and Eve, we have the example of how Jesus observed the Sabbath as a day of restoration and celebration of such restoration (and celebration of the Restorer). The Sabbath is a gift - for us to delight in - ‘made for man(kind)’ (Mark 2). It goes without saying that God created ongoing time. We don’t need Genesis to tell us that. But within the abstract construct of ongoing time, God has also planted - set apart, blessed and called ’holy’ (special) - regular intervals of time as reminders of and celebrations of Him.

God did something in time as a gift to us - that may enhance our experience of finding peace and rest in Him. How good is that! We only get to call this day a delight and experience this blessing if we actually turn our foot (effort) away from pursuing our regular daily work (KJV pursuing our own ’pleasure’), eg Isaiah 58. God won’t - of course - force this blessing upon us.

Did Adam and Eve keep the Sabbath? We can speculate about what the silence of the creation narratives on Adam and Eve’s Sabbath keeping means. But Adam and Eve are not our example anyway - God is, and so is the example of Christ. So the bigger question really is not, did Adam and Eve keep the Sabbath? The real question is Did God keep the Sabbath? Clearly, he did, even though He didn’t have to. That’s the example that is worth following!


I would like to acknowledge the major help of a friend who provided the essential argument for this post - saving me an enormous amount of time!


  1. 3 Great discussions on the sabbath

  2. Steve wrote:

    "A good deal of the argument revolves around the meaning of the omission of the phrase ‘there was evening and morning, the x day’. There is no doubt this was a deliberate literary omission for theological purposes. But what does this omission mean?"

    It's pure assumption that the phrase "evening and morning...." was omitted for theological purposes.

    The simple and most logical reason that the phrase was ommitted was that after each of the first six days the phrase was merely a lead in to the next day. Since the seventh day ended the work of creation there was no need for a lead in to the next day.

    The theory that the ommition of the phrase "evening and morning...." has some hidden theological meaning is as I said, pure assumption.

    Kevin McMillen

  3. Am I the only one in this discussion who has not forgotten that the garden of EDEN is also known as the garden of paradise, especially designed with Adam an Eve in mind. (cf. Genesis 2:8-9)

    In the garden of paradise, Adam and Eve had an intimate relationship with God, prior to Adam and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (cf. Genesis 3:8) That intimacy was broken when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But prior to their transgression, they were living in paradise WITH GOD. Every day was holy because they were holy. (Remember, God declared ALL of creation good, including Adam and Eve.) It doesn't get any better than that!

    The only way that intimate relationship can be restored as through Christ, the promised Messiah (deliverer). The purpose of Christ's atoning death on the cross was to RESTORE our relationship with God -- the relationship Adam and Eve had in the garden, prior to eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

    "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."
    Colossians 2:13-17 (NKJV)