This is the third article in a series entitled, The Relevancy of the Seventh-day Sabbath. The series seeks to address issues that have been raised in dialogues concerning the Seventh-day Sabbath doctrine. This article first seeks to lay out the possibility that previously cherished viewpoints may function as blinders that will prevent one from gaining insights from other sources. This is followed by a section opening the reader to the concept of descriptive and prescriptive verses and passages. It then moves into a consideration for the span of days within the Genesis creation narrative.
THE POSSIBILITY OF A DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT BEING CORRECT
Once we have allowed our minds to adhere to the construct that will develop and enhance our biblical worldview it is then time to deal with whether or not it allows for differing viewpoints concerning doctrines. At this stage it is important to realize the danger that exists with being quick to write off differences as heretical. There are viewpoints that should be quickly disregarded and appropriately categorize as damming and from the “bowels of hell.”
However, the argument can be made that it is better to err with an understanding and non-judgmental tone. Disagreement doesn’t require a harsh view and/or reply with what or whom that is being disagreed with. In other words, it is better to walk the fine line of gentleness and embrace the all-powerful: “it is better to err on the side of mercy.” For some this may seem passive, unassuming, unconvinced and undetermined. But oftentimes “truth” has been ignored simply because consideration wasn’t given.
DESCRIPTIVE OR PRESCRIPTIVE
One Element that has often being left out in discussions concerning the relevance of a seventh day being set apart for worship is whether a verse or passage is being descriptive or prescriptive. In the case of a descriptive passage the objective is to give a description of something that took place. There are, of course, spiritual lessons to be had from such description, however it is not prompting readers to literally do what is being described.
Using the Sabbath we can look at a few examples of what can be considered to be descriptive verses. In Luke 4:16 Jesus is said to have gone “to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read” (Luke 4:16). Going to the synagogue is said to have been his custom. However, it can be argued that there is not a common being given here. Neither is it a command when Paul is said to have observed the Sabbath day (Acts. 13:14, 17:1, 2; 18:4). The thrust of the passage seems to be on Paul’s usage of the synagogue for missional purposes, as in to reach those gathered to worship there, as opposed to an exhortation for worshipping on the seventh day.
A prescriptive verse and/or passage may also have descriptive sections (or be located within one), however it is clear that there is something that must be done. A prescriptive passage may also call for the avoidance of something. Some examples of literal prescriptions are baptism (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38) , communion (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-27), and prayer (Matt. 26:41; Phil. 4:6). Although there are parts of the Bible that function as descriptions of these examples it is important to make the distinction of when the passage is descriptive or prescriptive and what sections can be divided along these parts. This important consideration will aid in understanding the intention of the passage.
THE SABBATH IN THE GENESIS CREATION NARRATIVE
It has often been presented that the biblical sabbath originated in the Genesis creation narrative in which God shaped and filled Earth (and the surrounding celestial bodies) in six days. The issue that comes at hand is the assumption that the six days of the Genesis creation narrative should be interpreted as six literal 24 hour time periods—equivalent to the time periods in which we operate.
The possibility exists that this interpretation is faulty and that there are different ways of interpreting the six days. One of these is that the six days may be literal but within God’s time frame. This is based on 2 Pet. 3:8: “but, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This is written within a destruction-new creation context. An allusion is made to the flood as being a type of the destruction that is to be experienced by the ungodly.
The usage of the thousand years here is often attributed solely to the period that it might take for God to act in reference to man. Peter argues that although a thousand years may have elapsed the way man view time is not how God views it. What if it is also true that it may be an indication of how time is viewed from God’s perspective literally speaking? It is generally understood within almost all conservative christian circles that God’s revelations come in language and imagery that are not God’s method of communication within Himself, but, rather, in a manner that is understandable to those that are being communicated with. Therefore, it can be argued that God’s view of time is not like ours.
God could have created within a twenty-four hour time period but He could have also created within the span of thousands of years. The literality of it may depend on whether or not one chooses to use time in reference to how modern man understand days or in terms of how Peter has stated a day is like to God.
This interpretation would change the view of the Sabbath in relations to the Genesis creation narrative. The 7th day would be the commencement of another thousand-year period and not a reference to a literal 24-hour day. This is similar to the “broad concordist theory” which states that “the seven days represent seven long ages.”
Richard Davidson. “The Genesis Account of Origins,” In The Genesis Creation Account and Its Reverberations in the Old Testament, ed.Gerald A. Klingbeil (Berrien Springs, Michigan.:Andrews University Press, 2015)