One of the most common ways to approach the issues of continuity and discontinuity regarding “law” in the Bible is to see a threefold, or tripartite, division: (a) moral, (b) civil, (c) ceremonial. The argument usually goes along the lines of saying that Christ fulfilled the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law (discontinuity), but that the moral law remains in effect (continuity).

There is a lot to commend in such an approach, but I don’t think it fully works. For example, the Sabbath command—surely part of the moral law in the OT—is never repeated in the NT and Paul seems to regard it a matter of some indifference (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16–17).

But that doesn’t mean that the three-fold division doesn’t have usefulness.

D. A. Carson has a brief,  helpful, and nuanced comment about this issue in his important essay, “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and New,”  in The Paradoxes of Paul, vol. 2 of Justification and Variegated Nomism, ed. Carson, O’Brien, Seifrid (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), pp. 393–436. (For an excellent summary and outline of this essay, see this post by Andy Naselli.)

In short, the problem with the tripartite division of law, which as a device for explaining continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments, goes back to Thomas Aquinas,* is that it attempts to construct an a priori grid to sort out what parts of the law Christians must keep or do, and holds that Paul must have adopted some such grid, even if he does not explicitly identify it.

If instead we adhere more closely to Pauline terminology in this regard, we may still usefully speak of the tripartitc division from an a posteriori perspective: after we have observe the patterns of continuities and discontinuities that Paul establishes, those old covenant laws which Christians “fulfill” in a fashion most closely aligned with their function within the old covenant may safely be labeled “moral,” without fear that an a priori definition is domesticating Paul’s thought.

*This is not to deny that one can find the tripartite distinction in Origen, Jerome, and others. But Thomas was the one who fleshed out the tripartite structure as the fundamental basis for establishing the lines of continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments. (p. 429)

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61 thoughts on “On the Tripartite Division of the Law”

  1. Matt Beatty says:

    Justin,

    Is there a prominent Reformed evangelical (besides Douglas Wilson) left who believes that the creational Sabbath, codified (not created) at Sinai, is still in force? That whatever ceremonial “aspects” the Mosaic legislation had, the moral Sabbath principle of 1/7 rest remains for the people of God?

    Evangelicals appeared (at least to me) to capitulate to the secularizing tendencies within modernity and then attempted to find some exegesis to cover their hind parts. Everyone’s tired, overworked, stressed… and the gift of one day in seven to rest COMPLETELY from one’s work is seen as “legalism.”

    This is interesting, perhaps even suspicious, don’t you think? If you know of someone, please pass it along.

    1. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

      My comment without the links that are holding it up in comment moderation limbo:

      John Frame believes the Sabbath is still in force (see his three chapters on the subject in Doctrine of the Christian Life). So do OT dudes like Richard Pratt and Gordon Hugenberger.

  2. donsands says:

    Love fulfills the law.

    “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

    “..Paul calls grace itself the law, giving a new name to the effect and working of grace, in contempt of the law of Moses and the false apostles who contended that the law was necessary to justification; and so he sets the law against the law. And this is a sweet kind of speech, full of consolation, when in the Scriptures, and especially in Paul, the law is set against the law, …..It is as if he said: the law of Moses accuses and condemns me; but against that accusing and condemning law, I have another law, which is grace and liberty. ….So these words, “I am dead to the law,” are very effectual. For he does not say: I am free from the law for a time, or I am lord over the law; but simply, I am dead to the law, I have nothing more to do with it. Paul could have uttered no words more effectual and conclusive.” -Martin Luther

  3. Josh Kwekel says:

    Matt,
    another way of putting it is: Christian abrogation of the 4th commandment is a practice in search of a doctrine… (paraphrase of Jim Renihan).
    Any who hold to covenantal view of theology (as distinct from dispensational and so called “new covenant theology”) would uphold the Christian Sabbath. In large part those who defend such a view are from the Reformed Baptist churches (Waldron, Barcellos, Renihan, many others…), see Richard Barcellos’s book “In Defense of the Decalogue”.

    What the above comment from Carson I think fails to recognize is that we don’t need to go to Paul at all to see, at the very least, the dual distinction of the moral law (Decalogue), so readily present in the old testament.
    Its seems to me God made it very apparent to the Israelites a chasm of difference between the decalogue and the rest of the Mosaic requirements through the means of their communication, recording and storage.
    God verbally spoke aloud the decalogue from Sinai, Moses mediated the message of the civil/ceremonial laws.
    God wrote on tablets of stone with His own finger, Moses mediated the writing of the civil/ceremonial laws (book of the covenant).
    The decalogue was stored inside the ark, the book of covenant was placed beside the ark.

    These are enough to tell me there was large distinction in God’s eyes.

  4. Robert says:

    There may yet be another way to consider the continuity between the OT and NT. First, the lists of legal codes (ceremonial, moral, and civil) given in the Old Testament were given to a particular people in a particular time. As John Sailhamer points out, when we read that God told Noah to build an ark, we don’t then go and build an ark. Why then, when God tells Israel to do this or that, do we wrestle with whether or not we shoudl obey. We must read the OT as a book that is telling a story, and if read correctly, as did Jesus and Paul, you can understand that this book is a book about faith in the coming Messiah. It just happens to use the story of Israel, and the laws they were under, to tell the story. We are not under any of their laws, but should adhere to the message of the “book of law” which isn’t to obey laws (quite the contrary, the book of law teaches the legal codes failed miserably to bring anyone righteousness), but to believe in Messiah.

    1. matt m says:

      The Jews living in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus were not the ones in the desert with Moses either, yet they were expected to live by the Law. Jesus himself observed the Law perfectly. If it was only a code for Israelites in the Exodus, why would he have done this?

      Believers in Christ who believe in obeying the Torah out of obedience also believe that modern day believers are a part of Israel–which they take to mean that the Law was given to us. In that case, the Noah analogy doesn’t match up.

  5. Robert says:

    Matt,
    You are correct, the Jews living in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus were not in the desert with Moses, but they were Jews, and therefore at that time were expected to live under the laws that were given Moses at Sinai. But we need to make a distiction between the laws that were given at Sinai to the Jews and our Old Testament. Moses didn’t receive the Old Testament at Sinai, he received various commands and legal codes. The Old Testament, however (and Torah), is a book put together later to show that the laws were not producing righteousness. The message of the Torah is NOT “obey all these laws” it IS “these laws are not sufficient, don’t rely upon them, but trust in God.” This is the message of the book of the Torah which is why Paul and Jesus could preach the Gospel from the OT Scriptures. I hope that makes sense :-).

    1. matt m says:

      I completely agree about the Law’s insufficiency to save or produce righteousness.

      I just think that if they weren’t that important or were in no way binding, then Jesus would not have had to obey them, and he would not have made the statement he made in Matthew 5:17-20.

      Also, I think it’s worth noting that all the people of Israel in the Exodus were not Jews. They were from all the tribes of Israel. Some (notably, Caleb) were not native-born Israelites at all, but were brought into the commonwealth of Israel.

    2. dbsmith says:

      Robert,

      On what basis do you separate out into two distinct groups the “Old Testament” and that which was revealed to Moses at Sinai?

      Based on your view as you briefly detail it here, what are we to do with David, Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah, etc., who were commended in the Old Testament(!) for having hearts “complete with God” as they demonstrated repentant, faith-filled lives that sought to follow God by obedience to the Law? Did they not trust in God and follow the Law, including pertinent legal codes?

  6. Josh Kwekel says:

    Robert, no one would claim today that the law is effective to make righteous, but to outline what sin is, John says sin = lawlessness,
    (Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin would describe 3 uses of the law 1)drive us to Christ 2) civil order 3) guidance in sanctification) which law then are we guilty of? God’s moral law, the decalogue, the same more law that the apostle Paul says was in place from Adam to Moses (Rom5:13-14), this moral law of God has never changed and will never change. Why christians today think they can try to chisel off the 4th commandment is beyond me.

  7. Robert says:

    Matt, these legal codes are important, they teach us about God and kept the Israelites, and those associated with Israel, until Christ could come to fulfill the law. Matthew 5:17-20 references the Law and the Prophets, which is the Old Testament though, not the legal codes given at Sinai. The New Testament writers made it difficult on us by using the term “Law” to refer to both the legal codes and also the “Scripture”…which are two separate things.

    Josh, I’m not trying to chisel off the 4th commandment, I’m just trying to raise some questions about why most Christian think they are under law today. When we present commands as law, it puts an undue burden on people, much like the Pharisees did. I’m not saying we are free to do anything we want, I believe we can read the Old Testament and gain “wisdom” for living, but we are not UNDER the law, except the law of Christ, which is to trust and love Him and love others.

    1. matt m says:

      Robert, I think I understand the distinction you’re trying to make between the legal codes and Scripture, but I don’t think it’s valid. Also, regarding the Messiah’s fulfillment of the Law, how are we to understand that? It’s telling to me that with some laws, we take it to mean that since he did it we don’t have to. However, nobody in their right mind would argue that since Jesus refrained from robbing people, we are free to rob people. That understanding of fulfilling the law is inconsistent.

  8. Josh Kwekel says:

    Robert,
    we ARE already under the guilt the law produces, what makes sin “sin” is transgression of the law, so you see all New Testament Christians, in this sense, are under the law (accourding to the 1st use of the law, above) producing our guilt and need of a Savior.

    But secondly, we are called to sanctification, to holiness… accourding to what standard? (the 3rd use of the law) God’s moral law of course. We continue, daily to seek to obey God’s commandments, not for basis of justification, that is complete in Christ, but on basis of obedience as adopted sons we still keep our Father’s law out of love.

  9. donsands says:

    “..now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. ..”

    Luther:

    “Without the Law we would not know that sin has dominion over us. But if the old man is dead, then we also are dead to the Law. It can no longer subject us to sin, but has lost its power over us.”

    The law kills us, because it is the power of sin, and so we are condemned by the law. But when we are convicted and see that we are ungodly and filthy in God’s sight we are quicken by the Spirit, for the Spirit gives life. And we also become dead to the law, because we are crucified with Christ. He had spikes hammered in His wrists, not us. Jesus had spikes hammered through His ankles and feet, not us, but we were yet crucified with our Savior nonetheless. And we have also risen with Him, and He lives in us.

    “..the proof of a foolish, carnal man is this, that he regards himself as spiritual and is pleased with himself.

    …the wise and spiritual man knows that he is carnal, and is displeased with himself; indeed, he hates himself and praises the Law of God, which he recognizes because he is spiritual.” -Luther

  10. John H. says:

    You said, “One of the most common ways to approach the issues of continuity and discontinuity regarding “law” in the Bible is to see a threefold, or tripartite, division: (a) moral, (b) civil, (c) ceremonial. The argument usually goes along the lines of saying that Christ fulfilled the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law (discontinuity), but that the moral law remains in effect (continuity).”

    This paragraph is absolutely incorrect Justin and a gross caricature often given by NCT of CT but is false. Please show me one Christian who believes Jesus did not fulfill the moral law and that it still remains in effect for anyone as a covenant. Consider,

    Christ’s full obedience to all the prescriptions of the divine moral law made available a perfect righteousness before the law that is imputed or reckoned to those who put their trust in him. Likewise Jesus obedience in bearing all the sanctions imposed by that law against his people because of their transgression…is the the ground of God’s justification of sinners (Rom. 5:9), by which divine act they are pardoned

    So moral law is just as much fulfilled as ceremonial. Covenant theologians who NCT often caricatures put huge emphasis on Jesus active obedience to God’s moral law FOR US as well as his passive obedience (death on a cross) as these two cannot be separated.

    The law still exists in all aspects but we are no longer under it as a covenant between us and God since Jesus fulfilled it. But we still honor it every time we look to Jesus. The regenerate person loves the law, not as a savior, but because it perfectly reflects the heart of the Savior.

  11. Greg Gibson says:

    I agree with Justin. We either obey all or none of the Law of Moses. A few quick thoughts…

    1. The NT contains 3 verses that show the indivisible unity of the Law of Moses:

    “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by ALL THINGS written in the book of the law and do them” (Gal. 3:10).

    “every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the WHOLE law” (Gal. 5:3).

    “For whoever keeps the WHOLE law, but fails in one point has become accountalbe for all it” (Jas. 2:10).

    2. Distinctions in Mosaic Law yes, division no.

    3. The Jewish rabbis don’t believe the Law can be divided into 3 parts.

    4. The NT criticisms of the Law contain no exception clauses. It’s unthinkable that a Jewish Pharisee like Paul, if he believed in tripartite division, could write negative criticisms about the Law without any exceptions (“except the Decalogue”).

    New Covenant Christians obey all that Christ commanded (Mt. 28).

    1. John H. says:

      @Greg

      First, we do obey the whole law of Moses IN CHRIST, who obeyed all the prescriptions of the divine moral law from our side as a human being. Doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

      Second, THERE ARE NO CHRISTIANS who believe in a tripartite division in the way you guys are explaining it. No one (especially covenant theologians) believes that Christians are under the OT moral law as a COVENANT. So your quotes about being obligated to obey the whole law are not appropriate. Those quote reveal sin by putting the covenant of works before us which only Christ can and has fulfilled in full. Covenant Theology also believes in distinctions, not divisions. To claim otherwise is a misrepresentation. Christ fulfilled the moral law for us just as much as he fulfilled other aspects of the law. If he did not fulfill the moral law, none would be saved for Jesus had to fulfill God’s law in full through both active and passive obedience, since they cannot be separated. By doing so he made available a perfect righteousness before the law FOR US (Heb 5:8-10)

  12. Robert says:

    My point is that Moses did not receive the Old Testament at Sinai. He received the Old Covenant which was God’s covenant with Israel, based upon law, but this is different than the Old Testament. The Old Testament is a book that simply tells the story of that event, among other events. The reader of the Old Testament should not try to recreate the event, but read the stories to try to discover what the Author is trying to communicate through a compositional strategy. I believe if you read the Old Testament as a book, you will discover that the message of the Book of Law (not the Old Covenant, but the Old Testament) is that righteousness comes by faith. This message is communicated to the reader by showcasing the failure of a particular people that were under the law. It also communicates this message through the story of Abraham, who believed God and was credited with righteousness, juxtaposed to the other major hitter in the story, which is Moses, who was the one under law, but was denied entry into the Promised Land because, as the Author puts it, he did not believe (Num. 20:12).
    These other men you mention were under law (the old covenant), but found favor (grace) with God through their faith. We are not under the law, and we also relate to God by grace through faith. From beginning to end, our relationship with God is by grace through faith. I’m not arguing we should strive to obey what we believe the Lord desires of us, I’m saying we are not under law, and yet I hear many shepherds that try (unwilling I hope) to create a new law for God’s people.

    1. dbsmith says:

      We are certainly not under law in the sense that it is the basis of our standing before God, and all our relations with God are conditioned by grace. But, once oriented to God by grace through faith, the question becomes how do we express our love of God and what is the basis of our discipline for disobedience? It seems that Jesus, in John 14:15, simply reiterates Deuteronomy 5, 6, 7, etc, with, of course, the promised blessing of the Holy Spirit in the verses that follow.

      1. Robert says:

        I appreciate the dialogue. To discuss this a bit further, I believe we do express our love toward Christ through our obedience to his commands. However, the question then arises, what are his commands? I believe that the essence of his commands, is the same as what I’ve said is the commands of the Old Testament, which is not the legal codes, but rather the overall message of the book the Author has communicated, which is “to believe upon God.” This is in fact John’s point, “By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Then in the same chapter John says, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of the Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (1 John 3:10, 23). His command is to believe and to love. The Spirit is given to guide us in our obedience to this command.

        Your quote of John 14:15 referencing Dt 5,6,7 is right on. Jesus is quoting the Torah, not as part of the legal codes, but as Scripture that teaches a message of faith. This is why in Dt. 30:11 the Author says, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.” He is casting hope into the covenant of faith (not the current legal covenant of law…which WAS too hard to follow). This is why Paul can quote DT. 30:11ff in Romans 10:6 that says, “But the righteousness based on faith says,…(insert quote from Dt. 30). The message of Dt. according to Paul is a message of faith.

        Paul is reading his Old Testament as a book whose message is faith. The commandments we are to gather from the Old Testament is the command to believe upon God for rescue, for salvation, for hope.
        If we believe, it can be said that we have indeed obeyed the commands of God, because that is what he is asking from us, simple faith. If we believe upon him, it can be said that we have obeyed him. Abraham believed. Even though he ‘sinned’ by lying multiple times, Numbers 26:5 says, “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Abraham existed before the law was given, yet sinned, yet was said to have obeyed the law. I believe this is because Abraham believed, and thus obeyed the Lord.

        This is quite difficult to explain in comments, but I hope it has given you some food for thought. It is indeed an interesting subject, and I’ve enjoyed dialoguing with you! Thanks!

  13. Best article I know can be found at: http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj10o.pdf

    Blessings,

    Thomas

  14. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

    Richard Pratt’s ThirdMill has a good summary here: http://thirdmill.org/laws-in-effect-today

    Basically, they are Reformed Covenant Theology types but don’t buy the tripartite division. Money quote:

    “[T]he entire law is still applicable because the entire law reflects God’s unchanging character (compare Matt. 22:37-40). Nevertheless, the way in which we are to obey the law has changed signficantly due to the coming of Christ and changes in other historical circumstances. For example, the sacrificial laws still apply because God still demands an adequate sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 9:26; 10:12,26; 1 John 2:1-2). Nevertheless, we observe those laws today not by offering animals according to the Mosaic system, but by trusting Christ as our sufficient sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:26; 10:12; 1 John 2:1-2) — Christ’s one sacrifice for all time continues to satisfy the requirements of actual sacrifice. Similarly, just as Israel was to render civil obedience to laws pertaining to Israel’s theocracy, we are now to render obedience to Jesus the king, the ruler of our Christian theocracy. The principles of God’s character that the Old Testament laws reflected have not changed, but the ways in which we are to act in accordance with his character have changed. We must interpret all the Old Testament laws in light of changes that have taken place in the history of redemption (Christ has come), differences between our culture/society and that of the original audience, and personal differences between each of us as individuals. This is not to say that truth is relative, but rather that application of truth must take into account many things which are not made explicit in the law itself.”

    1. John H. says:

      Matthaeus

      That is a good quote. Thanks for posting it.

      Just for your info, I think it safe to say there are no Reformed Covenant Theology types that buy the tripartite division in the sense those on this board are portraying it. Could you show me one covenant theologian in history that promotes the idea that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial and civil aspects but NOT the moral, as the original post suggests? Or anyone who believes the Mosaic law is still valid as a covenant for Christians? These distinctions in the law were all fulfilled in Jesus life and death. How could we be saved if Jesus did not fulfill the moral law?

      In light of this common caricature how would people explain then that CT historically has put more emphasis than any other view on Christ’s active obedience of the moral law for us. This active obedience is nothing less that complete fulfillment of the moral law which alone made available for us a perfect righteousness before the law that is imputed or reckoned to those who put their trust in him. No salvation without it.

  15. Josh Kwekel says:

    This discussion is quite troubling to me, to think that there is such confusion over what the law means to Christians.
    Everyone seemingly knows what sin is, but doesn’t make the connection that sin = lawlessness. The law that we break when we sin is not the Mosaic law, but God’s moral law that has always condemned sinners since Adam. This moral law was delivered to us in the form of the decalogue, there has been no abrogation of God’s moral law, i.e. the definition of sin has never changed.

    Even redeemed saints continue to do battle with remaining sin (lawlessness). Which law? God’s moral law. The law that Christ kept perfectly for us was God’s moral law. When we say Christians are in process of sanctification, we mean sanctified accourding to God’s moral law. Jesus expounded in the sermon on the mount what exactly the requirments of God’s moral law actually meant, it is more than murder, it is hateful thoughts… establishing the decalogue as a universally binding rule of moral behavior for sinners and believers alike.

    1. matt m says:

      “The law that we break when we sin is not the Mosaic law, but God’s moral law that has always condemned sinners since Adam.”

      Where in Scripture do you get your definition of “moral law”? In the sermon on the mount, in Matt. 5:17-20, what law was Jesus talking about?

      Regarding the time of Adam, God was displeased with Cain’s sacrifice. Was that a part of the moral law?

      Also, since your comment was focused on the decalogue I’m curious of your opinion on this–how, specifically, should the Christian respond to the fourth commandment?

      I’m troubled by this distinction of “moral law.” Arguing that some laws are no longer in effect for whatever reason is different from arguing that some are “moral” and some are not. God alone is the arbiter of morality and any command he gives is a moral one.

      1. Josh Kwekel says:

        As I conveyed before, the apostle Paul makes clear implication that sin was in the world from Adam to Moses (Rom5:13-14) and his argument is that a law was in place from Adam to Moses, even before the codifying of the law on Sinai. Thus it is simple deduction from Paul’s argument and apostle John’s definition of sin as lawlessness.

        Cain’s sin was related to God’s worship which would be something of 1st or 2nd commandment, I don’t know for sure, but it is definitely implied that it was sin for Cain and sin = lawlessness.

        Christians are bound by the 4th commandment to remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. God’s law has not been abrogated. As God rested from His creative work on the 7th day, Christ rested from His re-creative work on the 1st day of the week, thus Christians observe the Lord’s Day sabbath.

        Certainly God gave commands to specific men that are not universally binding as the moral law is.

        1. matt m says:

          I agree with your first two paragraphs.

          Regarding the Sabbath, you argue that the law has not been abrogated, but that it has been changed. Where in Scripture do you find that the Sabbath has changed? I’m aware of the debatable passages in Acts indicating believers meeting on “the first day of the week.” Even if that is how “sabbaton” is meant to be understood there, Acts also contains many references to the Sabbath. Believers meeting on the first day of the week wouldn’t necessarily constitute a change in God’s law.

          I generally agree with your last statement, but I am still not clear on your personal definition of moral law, or your criteria for determing which laws are not universal.

          And, just for the sake of the debate, I will ask again: In the sermon on the mount, in Matt. 5:17-20, what law was Jesus talking about?

          1. Josh Kwekel says:

            the precedent of the apostles and early church, combined with continuing positive command of God’s law is persuasive not only to me but to all Christians who have ever worshiped on a Sunday.
            In fact, the day HAD to change, because the 7th day observance was a sign of the old covenant, the day change denotes the new covenant commemoration of Christ’s accomplished work/rest.

            The moral law is summarized in the decalogue, reiterated as the 2 tablets by Jesus (love with heart, mind, soul, strength, and neighbor as self).

            Matt5 Jesus could be speaking about all the Mosaic law or the moral law, because Jesus fulfilled them both.

  16. John Lee says:

    This has been a wonderful discussion but I believe Josh Kwekel and John H. have captured the biblical teaching on this subject.

    It is amazing to me that the Sabbath, as binding, is removed from the 10 Commandments(by many) because “the Sabbath command—surely part of the moral law in the OT—is never repeated in the NT” (Justin Taylor). It is proposed and asserted by many NCT followers that Jesus never taught on the 4th commandment and, therefore, it no longer applies to Christians today. But how can the Lord’s teaching on the Sabbath be so easily dismissed when He teaches us about the proper use of the day by giving specific correction and instruction on numerous occasions? By definite design (no mistake or coincidence) the Lord taught more on the Sabbath than on murder, adultery, honoring parents, etc. as we find in Matt. 12:1-8 (also in Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5), Matt. 12:9-14 (also in Mark 3:1-6 and Luke 6:6-11), Luke 13:10-17, 14:1-6, John 5:1-17 and 7:19-24. No, our Lord didn’t say, “The fourth commandment will be in effect when I depart” but surely his repeated teaching concerning the Sabbath was given to correct the perversion of the observance of the Sabbath in His day and to provide us with a proper understanding of how to observe the Sabbath in our day. Does it really make any sense to believe that He was so deliberate in His teaching on the Sabbath only to have it abrogated soon after?

    Further, it is very strange that the 10 Commandments (rightly referred to as the Moral Law because of their content and justly coined even as we have justly embraced the term Trinity which is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures but has been properly derived from its content. This is good and necessary inference), given as a unit would be received on this side of Calvary as 9 Commandments. The Decalogue was given as a single unit reflecting the holy character of the Triune God which will never change. Therefore, it is perpetual. The major difference in properly understanding this whole issue is differentiating between whether one is trying to keep the Moral Law in order to justify oneself (which we don’t and can’t do)or whether one is seeking to keep the Moral Law out of a justified and regenerated heart and nature (Holy Spirit indwelling to help us keep that which we could not keep before)that is now thankful and desires to show that gratitude by keeping God’s law.

    No, this isn’t a contradiction. We are told by the King that the fulfillment of the Law is loving God and loving our neighbor. But, Paul tells us that this love is expressed by keeping the Law. Please consider Paul’s argument in Rom. 13:8-10,

    [8] Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. [9] For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [10] Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
    (Romans 13:8-10 ESV)

    Thus, the Moral Law is still the guide for the Christian and the keeping of it is the expression of the law of love. But please don’t leave out the Sabbath because Paul is clearly referring to the 10 Commandments and includes all of them, by very clear implication, when he says, “and any other commandment”.

    In closing, perhaps it would be most controversial to throw this out there, but why would anyone not desire to uphold and honor and hallow the Christian Sabbath? Don’t we yearn for a day to refresh our souls (Is. 58:13-14) and spend as much time with Christ and His people as possible and do works that bring glory to Him? Or is it that we just want to give him half-a-day (or worse, a few hours)because we have other things (fun things)that we would like to do? I would suggest the whole issue is a heart issue. Do we really love Christ? Do we really want His Kingdom first in our lives?

    1. matt m says:

      John,

      I ask this as an honest question because you seem to have put a lot of thought and study into the issue. I agree with your assessment of how a Christian should respond to the Sabbath command. I noticed that you used the term “Christian Sabbath,” which implies Sunday as the Sabbath (forgive me if I’m assuming incorrectly). What is the biblical basis for your belief that we should now observe Sabbath on the first instead of the seventh day of the week?

      1. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

        From a Q&A at ThirdMill (again): http://thirdmill.org/worship-on-days-other-than-sunday

        If you’re looking for information that shows the legitimacy of worshiping multiple times throughout the week, the early church model found in Acts may be helpful (e.g. Acts 2:46-47; Acts 6:1; perhaps also 16:5). They appear to have met daily, and to have engaged in worship as a regular part of their meetings.

        If instead you are looking for information defending the idea of replacing Sunday worship with worship on another day, I think you’ll have trouble establishing the case. The Bible does not explicitly declare any particular day for public worship, which may be your strongest bit of information. However, it does place the apostles in charge, and under their leadership the church seems to have established the practice that Christians observe Sunday’s as holy to God (e.g. this seems to have been the meaning behind the phrase “Lord’s day” in Rev. 1:11).

        Current Sabbath observance on Sunday is based on such ideas as the continuing validity of the Sabbath commandment, and the freedom of God’s calendar to be determined separately from any human calendar. Nevertheless, the Sabbath commandment is not a local or individual commandment — the entire people of God were to observe the same day. If one is to argue that in particular regions the modern application of the Sabbath commandment may be observed on a day other than Sunday, then one must first overcome the idea that it is to be a corporate observance by the church worldwide. Unless you argue that the Sabbath commandment has been largely abrogated by the redemptive-historical events surrounding Christ’s first advent so that it no longer has application in our age (a position which we at Third Millennium reject), I’m not sure this can be done.

      2. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

        See also http://thirdmill.org/is-the-sabbath-saturday-or-sunday which summarizes the matter:

        [T]he practice of Sunday observance is based first on the understanding that the Bible does not command observance on the seventh day of the calendar week, and second on church tradition established under the approval of the Apostles.

  17. Josh Kwekel says:

    John Lee,
    thanks.
    I think the slow shedding of Sunday as Christian Sabbath also might gain traction due to the recently popular exhortation to “worship God every day” or “all of our lives, not just Sundays, are supposed to be God directed”. Or something of that kind which I’m sure we’ve all heard.
    I agree with the sentiment that even our secular jobs (teacher, scientist, factory worker) are to be done for God’s glory. Amen. However, if this sentiment is allowed to erode the sacred/secular distinction inherent in 4th commandment, then far from “raising up” Monday thru Saturday, we end up “bringing down” Sunday, for we all know that we do what we want every other day of the week.
    As I said before, I think it is a practice in search of a doctrine, by that I mean that modern Christians might now be so accustomed to doing what they want, shopping, watching football, any manner of other things that are not especially focused upon spiritual rest that they find it a burden to reform their lifestyle.

  18. John Lee says:

    Matt M.
    Thank you for your response and, I believe, your sincerity in asking the question. If I am reading between the lines correctly it does sound to me like the Sabbath is a delight for you also and not drudgery, duty, legalism, etc. I truly wish the Lord had given us two days rather than one to spend with Him and His people.

    Before answering your question I would like to suggest just a few titles that might be helpful in trying to sort through all of the issues involved in rightly dividing the Word of truth.

    “Call the Sabbath a Delight”, Walter Chantry, Banner of Truth
    “Moral Law”, Ernest Kevan, P&R
    “The Law and the Gospel”, Ernest Reisinger, P&R
    “The Lord’s Day”, Joseph Pipa, Christian Focus
    “The True Bounds of Christian Freedom”, Samuel Bolton, Banner of Truth.

    This is by no means a comprehensive list but it is a start if you really want to look into this subject as a Berean and decide for yourself whether these things are so (Acts 17:11).

    I’m glad you were reading my post carefully. Yes, I did choose my words carefully in saying “Christian Sabbath” and you are correct in your assumption that I do mean Sunday. Where does this come from?

    First, if you do a careful study of the Sabbath in the Old Testament you will find that there are instances when there is a special Sabbath on the eighth day which is the first day of the week. There are also numerous references to offerings on the eighth day (Ex. 22:30; Lev. 9:1; 12:3; 14:10,23; 15:14,29; 22:27; 23:36-39; Num. 6:10 and 29:35)Does this have any significance? I believe so. Like the sacrificial system that pointed to Christ and His death I believe the observance of the Sabbath on the eighth day foreshadowed the change of the day from the seventh to the first day of the week, the day that Christ rose from the dead. The strongest example of this is the Feast of Booths celebration in Lev. 23:33-44 (please reference your Bible). Here, we have a clear example of the first day and eighth day of the feast being held as a Sabbath of celebration and rejoicing just as remembering the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week is a celebration and a time to rejoice.

    But let’s move forward to the New Testament. My conviction that the day to be observed is the first day of the week flows from:

    1. Christ as Lord of the Sabbath. Remember Matt. 12:8, Mark 2:28 and Luke 6:5? In each passage the gospel writers are careful to include our Lord’s proclamation, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Why do they do this? I would suggest that it is because Jesus was, in fact, establishing His authority over the Sabbath, to do with it and teach on it as He pleased. And as the Lord of the Sabbath He had the authority to change the day to the first day of the week, the day that signifies Christ’s rest from His work.

    2. The first day of the week bids us to remember Christ resting from His work even as He rested from His first work of creation in the beginning (Christ is the Creator – John 1:1-4; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). It is no small part of redemptive history that our Lord died on the eve of the Sabbath and rose on the eighth/first day of the week. His resurrection was the completion of His work in securing his second work of creation in the regeneration of those He came to save.

    3. The testimony of the New Testament. First, in the resurrection account of our Lord in the Gospel of John we note that the Lord appeared to the gathered assembly of saints on the first day of the week (John 20:1 and 19 deliberately tell us “the first day of the week”). It is interesting to note that John tells us in verse 26 that Jesus appeared again, this time to Thomas, “eight days later” which would again be the first day of the week, Sunday. A pattern seems to be developing. In Acts 20:7 we are told of what appears to be an appointed day of worship, breaking bread (Lord’s Supper?)and preaching by Paul (“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them”). In 1 Cor. 16:2 a first day of the week Sabbath/assembly of the saints seems to be clearly implied (“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money…”). In Rev. 1:10 John says, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit.” What day was this but the first day of the week, Sunday, the day of the resurrection and the observed gathering and worshiping day of the church. The last example would be drawn from Heb. 4:9-10 which says, “There remains then a keeping of a Sabbath for the people of God; for he who did enter his rest did rest from all his works, even as God did from his.” This passage speaks of a day to still be observed and it is tied to the day that Christ rested from His work, the first day of the week.

    Additionally, we have the testimony of the 1st century church. I won’t cite the works here but it is easy enough to find the many references of the early church fathers to their observance of the Sabbath on the first day of the week which flowed from the instruction they received, no doubt, from the apostles and early disciples of our Lord.

    No, there isn’t a specific text that says, “The Sabbath is now on the first day of the week” but I believe, just as we are right in holding to a belief in the Trinity by pulling together various portions of Scripture that point us to that conclusion, we are also right in seeing the Christian Sabbath as being observed on the first day of the week in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection.

    Sorry that was so long but I hope that helps!

    1. matt m says:

      John,

      Thanks for the response. And I will look into the books you mentioned. I’ve been wanting to find some good reading on the concept of the moral law.

      You make some good points. You are correct about the special, high Sabbaths that attend the Feasts. Incidentally (or perhaps not incidentally, and if my count is correct), the religious calendar year contains seven such high Sabbaths. And God does use the number 8 quite frequently as well. It’s an interesting point.

      I would like to raise a few observations based on your third point above. Please keep in mind that I’m no Greek scholar, I’m just throwing out some observations I’ve made by examining the text and checking it against Greek concordances. The word translated as “first day of the week” in John 20:1, 19, Acts 20:7, and 1 Corinthians 16:2 is “sabbaton” (if I’m correct, the 1 Cor. passage uses a variant), which is the Greek word for “Sabbath.” It can also be used for “seven days” or a week.

      You mentioned the feasts of Israel in Leviticus 23. Leviticus 23:15-16 explains how the people were to determine when to celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). It says: “‘You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.’”

      They counted seven weeks from the Feast of Firstfruits, which was celebrated days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was celebrated days after Passover. In other words, they celebrated Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits within days of one another.

      In both John 20 and Acts 20 we see that the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits had just passed. Jesus’ death coincided with Passover, and in Acts 20:6, Luke says, “but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.”

      Now, considering that the word used in John 20:1, 19 and Acts 20:7 is “sabbaton,” it is likely that John and Luke are not saying “the first day of the week” (the Greek word for “day” is not used in these passages [John 1:19 does contain the word for “day,” but not in the phrase in question), but rather something like, “on the first Sabbath,” referring to the first Sabbath after the Feast of Firstfruits in the countdown to the Feast of Weeks.

      Now again, I’m no Greek scholar and I’m open to correction here. I just thought this was worth pointing out.

      Regarding Revelation 1:10, I don’t think the context gives us any indication that what John meant by “the Lord’s day” was the first day of the week, or Sunday.

      Just some thoughts. Thanks for the feedback.

  19. John Lee says:

    Matt,

    I took another look at Lev. 23. Isn’t it interesting that after establishing the seventh day Sabbath in verse 3 we are told: in v. 7 that the first day of Passover is a holy convocation (Sabbath), in v. 11 the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave the sheaf of the firstfruits of the harvest, in v. 16 the day after the seventh Sabbath (the first day of the week)the Feast of Weeks was celebrated, verse 35 speaks of the first day as a holy day and in Lev. 25 we can also see the Year of Jubilee foreshadowing the first day of the week?

    Regarding the use of the Greek word “sabbaton” in John 20 you may be helping me prove my point. Unless all of Church History is incorrect in teaching us that Christ rose on the first day of the week, John 20:1 and 19, translated in most of our English translations as “the first day of the week” (ESV, NASB, KJV, NIV)uses the word for Sabbath as you have stated. Is it possible that the apostle John was simply telling us that this first day was now the Sabbath or first Christian Sabbath? I will check with my Greek guru and report back but it is interesting isn’t it? Given the context of the passage in the story of our Lord’s death and resurrection it does appear that the resurrection of our Lord on the first day of the week is correct. Thus, the translators must have thought that must be what John meant to say when, perhaps, he said what he meant because that was to be the new Christian Sabbath. If this is correct, then it would not be surprising that the one who defined the first day of the week as the Sabbath in the Gospel of John also was the one who later referred to it as the Lord’s day in Revelation.

    Also just some thoughts. Thank you for the feedback!

  20. matt m says:

    John,

    I realized after posting that I had left the hole in my point on John 20. John 19:31 identifies the day after jesus’ crucifixion as a high Sabbath, one coinciding with Passover. I personally think its debatable whether the day Christ died was the day we now call Friday for this reason. If that is correct, then reading John’s use of “sabbaton” as “the first Sabbath” could be correct.

  21. matt m says:

    But, even if I am wrong about that, Jesus rising on the first day of the week and the women finding the tomb empty on the first day of the week doesn’t mean that these things had anything to do with changing the Sabbath.

  22. John Lee says:

    Unlike theatre plays and movies, the Bible has no “throw-away” lines. All is done for a purpose and the weight of what I have shared with you is quite convincing to me that the day that has been observed by the Christian church since the resurrection of Christ is, indeed, the day that the Lord of the Sabbath intended for us to observe to His glory. You are now sounding like Saul who was “kicking against the goads.” Though I did not cite the abundance of evidence available in the life of the 1st/2nd century church, surely their behavior and observance of the Christian Sabbath on the first day of the week only adds more weight to a very reasonable argument. I suspect you may be one, as Josh Kwekel noted in one of his posts, whose practice is in search of a doctrine to support it. Do you really believe there is a day to keep holy and delight in?

    1. matt m says:

      I agree and believe wholeheartedly that the Bible has no throw-away lines. That is why I pointed out the use of “sabbaton” in the verses you mentioned, and why I brought up John 19:31. I appreciate you giving your case for the Sunday Sabbath. I asked because I could tell you had given it some thought and I was curious to hear a well-reasoned explanation. You defended your belief well, I just personally do not find it convincing. I am not kicking against the goads. I am doing my best to examine Scripture to find out what it does and doesn’t say.

      The Sabbath command was quite clear: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). Many Christians will argue (correctly) that the Bible doesn’t say which seventh day. However, if the festal calendar was organized with the Sabbaths in mind, there must have been a particular seventh day. Also, our acknowledgement that Sabbath observance has been changed by a day testifies to the fact that there was a particular seventh day in view. I see no biblical warrant for a change from the seventh day to the first. Since this command was so important to God, I believe that if it were changed, he would have been clear about it in Scripture.

      I think the phrase “a practice in search of a doctrine” fairly describes the belief that Sunday is tne ordained “Christian Sabbath.” Many of your points–although well-made–were based on assumptions. If the Scriptures do say that the women found an empty tomb on the first day of the week, that doesn’t imply a change in the Sabbath. That doesn’t necessarily even imply that Jesus rose on that day. The Scriptures do not say when he actually rose. John does use the phrase “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10, but again there is nothing in the context that tells us he means Sunday. This is a conclusion reached by looking at how we use the phrase now, and applying it to what the Bible says. Christianity practices a Sunday Sabbath, so we try to find reason for it in the Scripture. Just because a practice is historical, this doesn’t mean that it is biblical.

      I encourage you to look closely at the English phrase we discussed, “first day of the week,” in Greek. Look at its uses throughout the NT. Look at the uses of the word “Sabbath” (“sabbaton”) throughout the NT, particularly the Gospels and Acts. Again, I am no expert or scholar, just someone who is interested in the truth. My examination of these words and phrases in their contexts has left me unconvinced of the teaching of a changed Sabbath.

      I do believe there is a day to keep holy and delight in. I believe God established that day very clearly. I do not believe in the abrogation or change of this command. Also, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with gathering to worship on Sunday. I believe it is perfectly fine to gather and worship on any day of the week. I just also believe it is important to remember the Sabbath.

      Thanks for the exchange on this topic.

  23. Josh Kwekel says:

    matt m
    to continue to doubt the timing of Christ’s 3rd day resurrection perhaps raises more serious questions for me than the sabbath issue. If Jesus was not true to His own prophecy (Matt16:21, Matt17:23, Matt20:19, Mark8:31, Mark9:31, Mark10:34, Luke9:22, Luke18:33, Luke24:7) then you have more serious issues to resolve.

    Also recognize that the Deut. 5 account of the decalogue does not provide creation basis for 4th commandment as Ex20 does, suggesting that some of the intermittent verbage is Mosaic commentary rather than God’s law.

    1. matt m says:

      I don’t doubt Christ’s third day resurrection. I never said that. I said I doubt whether the Crucifixion took place on the day we now call Friday. My point about John 19:31 was that the day after Jesus’ death was a high Sabbath, not necessarily the weekly Sabbath. Meaning that the day he died may not be Friday. Besides all that, Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is not three days.

    2. matt m says:

      The Exodus 20 account is spoken by God to Moses. Deuteronomy 5 is spoken by Moses to the people. If any verbiage is altered by Moses, it seems more likely it would be in the Deuteronomy 5 account.

      1. Josh Kwekel says:

        both accounts begin with “The LORD/God spoke… saying…” And what follows is not identical, so we know Moses shared God’s law faithfully, but with rationale for God’s people at different times for different reasons: the law remains the same, the rationale changes. That fits with new covenant keeping of 4th commandment too, we keep sabbath with different rationale than Israel did (in their case, doubly, as a sign of the old covenant).

  24. Josh Kwekel says:

    then according to your view, Jesus lied about it being 3 days? Your assessment is more accurate than Christ’s?
    Your skepticism will get you into more trouble than you realize.

    1. Josh Kwekel says:

      that came off more harsh than I intended, I apologize. Just making the point that Jesus called it three days no matter what we think.
      And to question what has been known about the timing of the days in 2010 seems a little like grasping at straws.

      1. matt m says:

        I don’t know how I can be any more clear about this. I do not believe Jesus lied. I think we might be wrong in our understanding of when things happen. Do I know the right answer? No. That’s why I’m expressing this as a doubt. I absolutely believe it was three days, and I believe it’s possible that we are wrong about what days of the week it occurred. I gave the passage to back up my questioning of the Friday Crucifixion.

      2. matt m says:

        Also, the Gospels tell us that Jesus died at the time of Passover (he is our Passover lamb whose blood covers us). Based on that, some people make the argument that his burial and resurrection coincided with the Feasts of Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits. It’s an argument worth looking into if for nothing else than the insight it gives us into the significance of the Feasts.

  25. John Lee says:

    I may be wrong, but Josephus, among other Jewish historians and scholars, would inform us that a part of a day constituted a day in the Jewish world. This would be part of the context and would shed light on the 3 day/which day difficulty.

    Also, I would not minimize (and I would not maximize or absolutize)the behavior of the 1st century observance of the Sabbath on the first day of the week. Their behavior demands the question “why?”. Is it not reasonable to believe that this behavior in the life of the church began with the instruction of the apostles who received their instruction from Christ and the Holy Spirit as they set the foundation of the church?

    Additionally, I would not minimize the “pointing forward” and foreshadowing evident in the OT passages concerning the significance of the first/eighth day. All of redemptive history involved involves an unfolding of things not clearly seen in the OT (mysteries) that become clear realities in the NT. According to your perspective and hermeneutic you would then have to reject the Trinity. No where in the Bible does it say that the one God is revealed as three persons, yet the testimony of the Scriptures reveals this. Do you believe in the Trinity?

  26. matt m says:

    Yes, I believe in the Trinity. I believe it is clearly revealed in Scripture. I do not believe that the testimony of the Scriptures clearly reveals a Sunday Sabbath. We could argue about first and second century believers. From what I’ve read believers seemed to have disagreed on the issue. It is interesting that the Canons of the Council of Laodicea (4th century) felt the need to include Canon 29:

    CHRISTIANS must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.

    Apparently, some believers were keeping the Sabbath at that time, which suggests to me that some had been keeping it since the first century.

  27. John Lee says:

    Yes, it is interesting but that would suggest to me that, as is the case in all generations, they might have been in error. I would not feel any confidence in holding on to a shred of evidence that suggests there were Christians holding to a seventh day observance while the vast weight of Christian testimony at the time suggests a first day observance. No, sheer numbers don’t prove the point but neither should the weight of the numbers be ignored.

    I would encourage you to go ahead and get the books I suggested (I suspect you may already have them) and continue your reading on the subject. Their labors are more extensive than mine and I certainly can’t post all of their material here. As I believe the Trinity is clearly revealed I also believe the change of the day is clearly revealed. As I see Jesus Christ throughout the pages of the OT through overt references (on the throne in Is. 6, see John 12:38-41)and good and necessary inference (repeated appearances as the Angel of the LORD) so I see the first day Christian Sabbath clearly revealed. As the LORD said concerning His work as Redeemer and Savior, so I now must say concerning this topic….It is finished! May the Lord bless you in your studies.

  28. Josh Kwekel says:

    matt m,
    we don’t need to as far back as 4th century to see Judaizing was early error in the new testament church, that is, requiring Jewish laws of Gentiles. Paul addresses it in Galatians2:14, the last phrase is transliterated “judaize” (ἰουδαΐζω).
    So this is likely not in reference to sabbath keeping observance per se, but a rebuke of judaizing using the sabbath as example.

  29. matt m says:

    John, thanks again for the conversation. I will look into those books.

    Josh, I think the context of Galatians should define “judaizing” for us:

    We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16)

    Paul wrote Galatians to address the false teaching that a person needed to be circumcised to be saved. He rebukes Peter for backing away from the uncircumcised believers out of fear of the “circumcision party” (Galatians 2:11-14). This is also the issue addressed in Acts 15 (see Acts 15:1). The Law clearly never saved anyone.

    It’s also worth noting that the Pharisees taught many customs that were not Scriptural, which is something that Jesus contiunally rebuked them for. Thus, “judaizing” may also refer to the teaching of these practices.

    1. Josh Kwekel says:

      Amen. OT believers were saved by faith, not works of the law, same as NT believers.
      That’s the same use of judiazer as I suggested. Circumcision was a Jewish rite that was being required of Gentiles. I don’t see anything to rebut.

      1. matt m says:

        I was just responding to the suggestion that keeping the Sabbath was “judaizing.”

        1. Josh Kwekel says:

          Quite right, I think it would be judiazing to require 7th day sabbath keeping of Gentile/NT believers. The 7th day observance is part of an obsolete covenant with Israel. But keeping Lord’s day sabbath would not be judaizing, but law keeping.

          1. matt m says:

            Fair enough. Thanks for the conversation.

  30. John Lee says:

    To comment on the Greek use of the word for sabbath in John 20:1 and 19 as well as in Acts 20:7. There is a reason for the translation of “first day of the week”. From Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich (BAG) Greek Lexicon and a little help from my Greek teacher:

    twn sabbatwn: (from BAG)

    1. “Sabbath”: the seventh day of the week in the Jewish calendar (Saturday).

    2. “week” when used in the genitive, usually following a numeral
    a. Sing. Lk. 18:12; Mk. 16:9; 1 Cor. 16:2; Mk. 16:2
    b. Plur. Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16;2; Lk. 24:1; John 20:1, 19: Acts 20:7
    The construction of a numeral in the dative (locative in time) followed by sabbatwn in the genitive is a common idiom in papyri and modern Greek. Thus, it is proper NOT to translate John 20:1 and 19 as Sabbath but, rather, as “first day of the week” which is why all of our most respected English translations translate it this way. They made no mistake. The Lord rose on the first day of the week, Sunday.

    1. matt m says:

      I was aware that the word could also be used for “week,” but was not aware of the phrase’s use as an idiom. Thanks for the info.

  31. matt m says:

    Last thing, I want to correct myself. Mark 16:9 does say that he rose “the first day of the week.” I had said incorrectly that the bible did not say when he rose.

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Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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