Today I will begin my analysis of Sunday in Christendom. As in the first post, I have introduced the topic at hand as a discussion of the way we got to modern views of Sunday as some kind of a ritual day for worship and/or rest. Today’s post will summarize Dr. Beale’s historical summary of Sunday in Christian thought.
The historical analysis of the data from church history by Dr. Beale (a retired Bob Jones University Seminary professor of church history) is very surprising on several accounts. Overall, the testimony of church history is an affirmation of Sunday as the Lord’s Day with no connection to the Jewish Sabbath. Most early church folks were careful to reject a Christianized sabbath, but still calling for some observance of a day (even though there was not explicit Bible instruction). In fact, according to Dr. Beale the idea that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath is one that originates from the post-Reformation Puritan period in England, This is very surprising. But, a reasonable explanation is the anti-Jewish character of the early church. Over time, even overt anti-Semitism settled into the church. The direction toward Sunday as a Christian Sabbath had perhaps a brief period of growth from the 1600s to the 1800s. But, with the beginnings of the dispensationalism of the 1800s a segment of the church returned toward a traditionalist view of Sunday.
All this is to say, the Christian Sabbath does not have much going for it, In passing it should be noted that there is simply no place to change any Jewish legislation to be directly applicable to Sunday. Lewis Sperry Chafer (in his book Grace) was quite strong on this point. There would have to had been some kind of explicit precept in the New Testament for such a change, and there is none. Even then, such an institution would not be a Christian sabbath, but a new institution. Some point to a supposed creation ordinance of the Sabbath, but this is not true. I used to think that it was a valid idea. However, concerning the period between creation and Moses I would point out (as do some of these authors): (1) God did not command the Sabbath in Gen. 2, He took a sabbath rest once, (2) It is not valid to assume from silence that Abraham or others practiced Saturday rest, (3) the prohibition of the gathering of Manna in Exodus is a foreshadowing of the Mosaic Covenant soon to come in a few short days, not an example of the on going practice of the Sabbath that had been going on since creation, and (4) the reference to Creation in the Mosaic Covenant is one of analogy but not reaffirmation, and (5) the Sabbath was a distinctively Jewish sign (Exo. 31:12-18) with no meaning or significance for anyone outside of that nation and the promises to it. This all being said, it is the traditionalist view of the Lord’s Day that I wish to speak to primarily—and not so much the Christian Sabbath. Next week, I will offer part two of this series with a review of this traditionalist position held by Dr. Beale, Thomas Overmiller, and Lewis Sperry Chafer. I will attempt to better define this term next time.