Sabbath or Sunday--A Review

A polemical study of a recent attack on the Sabbath

By W. E. HOWELL, Secretary to the General Conference President, Takoma Park, D. C.

In a leaflet entitled "Twelve Reasons for Observing Sunday as a Sabbath,"* Guy Fitch Phelps, the author, exhibits a striking example of cant and illogical sequence in a vaunted effort to demolish the foundations of the true Sabbath, but in reality knocks out all the man-made props from under the Sunday institution. Even a casual reading of the tract reveals that every one of the twelve proposi­tions set forth is a thrust at the true Sabbath, while not one of them gives a reason for keep­ing Sunday. Note his twelve arguments :

Reason 1. "The names of days have nothing to do with the matter. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Friday could be selected as a Sabbath, and if pre­ceded by six days of labor, would be a complete and sane fulfillment of the Sabbath law."

Down, therefore, goes the first prop under Sunday! Any day would do.

Reason 2. "It remains to be proved whether the days of Eden were periods of time or days of twen­ty-four hours' .length, . . . [therefore] the debate for a septenary week of days is very unsound."

Down goes "the first day of the week" prop under Sunday, for there is no cycle of seven days, and hence no first day !

Reason 3. "There is no evidence, Scriptural or otherwise, that God commanded Adam to observe the Sabbath, or that he ever adapted himself to a seven-day week."

Down goes the Sunday prop that the original Sabbath was Jewish and was changed to the Christian Sabbath—when the creation Sabbath was never commanded to the progenitor of the Jews !

Reason 4. "There is not a trace of evidence, secular or divine, that anyone from Adam to the flood ever observed the Sabbath."

Down goes another prop under the change of a Sabbath that never was observed from its origin!

Reason 5. "Nor is there any proof in existence that anyone observed the Sabbath from Noah to Abraham, or from Abraham to Moses, nor is there any proof that the Jews since Moses have observed an unbroken succession of Sabbaths."

Down goes the prop under Sunday that it became the Christian Sabbath in honor of Christ's resurrection, and took the place of the Jewish Sabbath, which was never kept by the Jews before Moses, and the identity of which the Jews have lost trace of since Moses !

Reason 5. "There is no evidence in existence that either Saturday or Sunday as now observed is in chronological order with the days spoken of in Matthew 28:1."

Down goes another prop under Sunday, that it commemorates the resurrection day of Matthew 28:1, since we have lost its identity in our reckoning !

Reason 7. "Those who contend for a given day to the exclusion of all others, must prove an un­broken succession of Sabbaths from Adam to the present. . . . This is impossible, as everyone knows."

Down goes the man-made prop under Sun­day, the so-called Christian Sabbath, that re­places the creation, or Jewish, Sabbath; for no one knows when either one comes!

Reason 8. "There is no Scriptural authority for observing any certain day of the week as a Sabbath. If the present Sunday is not in the true order of the first Sabbath upon which Christ rose from the dead, there is no harm done."

Down goes the creaking prop that Sunday is any Christian memorial at all, for it can fall on any day anyone may choose, and "there is no harm done"!

Reason 9. "Jesus avoided all fanatical attitudes toward the Sabbath, . . . the fanaticism which hangs human destiny on observing times and seasons."

Down goes the prop that there is any virtue at all in the keeping of Sunday as a Sabbath, for that would be the fanatical observance of a time or a season !

Reason 10. "It is impossible to observe any given day, by whatever name, at all times, at the same time, in all places on a round world."

Down goes another prop in the impossibility of keeping Sunday at all on a round world. No day can be kept !

Reason 11. "Since no one knows where the In­finite established the original day line, or how many times it has been changed in human history, it fol­lows that those who contend for a given day as a Sabbath can never be certain of their case, because they cannot know where the first day line was fixed."

Down goes the next to the last prop for the observance of Sunday at all as a Sabbath. The week cannot be identified !

Reason 12. "In every place where we read 'first day' of the week,' in the Greek it is either 'Sabbath' or 'Sabbaths,' and . . . therefore Matthew 28:5 when interpreted means 'in the end of the Sabbaths (Jewish) as it began to dawn toward the first of the Sabbaths (Christian), came Mary Magdalene,' etc."

And this, after all the foregoing arguments that no one knew which was the Jewish Sab­bath or the first day of the week, since no un­broken succession of weeks or days could be traced from either Adam's time or the time of Christ, till now ! Such is the culmination to this self-contradictory series of so-called "rea­sons for observing Sunday as a Sabbath"—an unscholarly, untenable, threadbare argument, brought forth in a long-drawn comment on all the passages in the New Testament that men­tion it.

The zealous champion gets himself into an inextricable tangle, after making the resurrec­tion day the "first of the Sabbaths," ( s) by making the disciples come together to break bread when Paul preached till midnight, "on the first of the Sabbaths" not less than twenty-five years after the resurrection day; (2) by making Paul instruct the believers in 59 A. D. to lay by their gifts on the first Sabbath ; and then (3) by losing heart and summing it up by saying that "in six other places [in the phrase] 'first day of the week' [the word week] is Sab­baths, in the plural," and of course, therefore, the first of the Sabbaths in every instance

Down goes the whole structure of man-made props for Sunday in a reverberating crash—twelve so-called reasons for not keeping the creation Sabbath, and not one reason for "ob­serving Sunday as a Sabbath" !

When we look for the reason why a professed teacher of the people would take these self-stultifying positions in advo­cating the observance of Sunday, the most charitable thing one can say is that he bases it all on the untenable thesis that "the law of the Sabbath is fulfilled by dedicating a Seventh Part of Time [caps his] for holy purposes." In support of this view he actually says, "We are commanded to keep The [sic] seventh day ; that is, the day following six days of labor. The ten commandments state just that, and no more." To be sure they do ! But what is the "just that"? The is a definite article, and prefixed to "seventh day" must mean a definite seventh day, whereas the writer makes it indefinite by writing his title "Twelve Reasons for Observing Sunday as Sabbath," and by inculcating the same idea all through his discussion. For example: "Sun­day, Monday, Tuesday, or Friday could be selected as a Sabbath." Truly a sabbath such a day would be, but not the Sabbath called for in the Scriptures.

Let us look at a few typical passages in the Bible. In the first mention of the seventh day of rest in Genesis 2:2, the Hebrew supports the English translation by actually using the definite article the when it says, "On the sev­enth day God ended His work," and, "He rested on the seventh day from all His work," and, "God blessed the seventh day, and sancti­fied it: because that in it He had rested from all His work." Very definite indeed all this —ended on, rested on, blessed, and sanctified the seventh day.

That God's doing these four things on the seventh day of creation really constituted it the Sabbath day, is seen clearly in the original Hebrew in a more basic sense than appears in the translation. The word "rested" in both the second and third verses, is the verbal form of the word Sabbath, and if we had such a word in English, it could properly read, "He Sab­bathed on the seventh day." We can only conclude that the establishment of the Sabbath on the seventh day was as definite an act of creation as was the making of man in the image of God on the sixth day, or the making of two great lights on the fourth day. The one was a physical creation, the other a spiritual creation ; but the one was as real, as enduring, as un­changeable, and as definite as the other.

The first place in the Scripture where the Sabbath is definitely mentioned as such in our translation is in Exodus 16:23, where Moses on the sixth day said to Israel (literally), "Tomorrow,  Sabbath-holy unto God." No article  is used here, as the obvious purpose is to em­phasize the character of the day in distinction from the six preceding days. Verse 25 reads, "For [it is] Sabbath today unto God." No article here, since the great purpose in the first definite mention of the Sabbath in these two verses is to lay emphasis on its distinctive nature.

Look for a moment at the Sabbath command­ment. What do we find ? "Remember the Sab­bath day," literally "day of the Sabbath." Again, "Six days shalt thou labor, . . . but day seven is Sabbath unto Lord thy God," (literal rendering). No article is used here before "Sabbath," since it is a generic term (term of kind) to distinguish the character of the seventh day from that of a workday. In other words, to the mind of God the seventh day is Sabbath in contrast to a labor day. But again in verse ii, God "rested day the seventh," and "the Lord blessed day the Sabbath." Thus both the day and its character are made very definite indeed by the use of the definite article.

The author of the Sunday leaflet, however, limits the article the in "the seventh day" to its technical use in a series of numbers, as the fifth, the sixth, the seventh day, while in its use in "the Sabbath" he reduces it to a, even in his title, for the obvious purpose of trying to make it appear that any seventh day will suffice for the Sabbath, as he repeatedly says. Such are the inconsistencies of error.

Sidingin with evolutionists and higher critics, the defender of Sunday has no conviction that the seven days of creation were twenty-four hours in length, but may have been long periods of time, and that therefore all con­tention that the weekly cycle originated at cre­ation is baseless. Strange and inconsistent that he accepts the weekly cycle in the fourth commandment which cites creation week as its origin, and commands the keeping of the sev­enth day because God kept it and set it apart as a holy day as the last act of creation. If the original Sabbath was a long period of time, Sunday as the seventh part of time for which he contends, must be kept as a sabbath for a long period of time also.

As to there being no "evidence," "not a trace of evidence," nor "any proof" that Adam was ever commanded to keep the Sabbath, or that anyone ever observed it from Adam to Moses, it is passing strange from that viewpoint that the fourth commandment, engraved in stone by the finger of God and delivered by Moses to the children of Israel at Sinai, should cite the resting of God on the seventh day of creation and His setting the day apart for holy use, as the very reasons why Israel was commanded to remember to keep it holy.

Likewise, it is the "merest presumption," as the author expresses it, to assume that the "Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day" in His daily communion with Adam, did not instruct him to keep and honor the Sabbath of creation made for his benefit, as well as to dress and keep the garden He had created. For what other purpose could God have set apart the seventh day from the other six and made it holy ? All the rest of creation was made for man, and Jesus told the Pharisees specifically that "the Sabbath was made for man" also. Why make it for man and not instruct him to keep it ?

It can be asserted without a quibble, too, that if the Jews of today were not certain that the seventh day of the week they now observe is the same as the original seventh day of cre­ation and of the decalogue, they would be the first to cast it aside and observe the Sunday of Christendom with the Protestant and Catholic worlds.

In reference to the burden of proof being on seventh-day observers, that the weekly cycle has been preserved through the ages and with it the identical seventh day, the burden of proof is decidedly and unequivocally on the other horn of the dilemma. The weekly cycle has not only been sustained and observed through­out historical time, but is clearly upheld all through the Scriptures and confirmed by astronomy. The weekly cycle is still with us today, with its seven-day round, and if anyone questions what is and what has been within the memory of man and the records of history and the Bible, the burden of proof is decidedly on him to show it to be otherwise than it is.

In order to sustain his adopted theory of the seventh part of time for Sabbathkeeping, Mr. F'helos avers that it would be folly to try "to prove an unbroken line of Sundays back to the resurrection," and that "no harm would be done" if we couldn't, since any day in the week is just as good as another for Sabbathkeeping. He therefore repudiates the time-honored teaching of Methodists and most other Protes­tants, that Sunday is observed as a sabbath in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, and yet apparently the Methodist Episcopal Church has put its endorsement on his heresy.

Any effort of this writer or any other Sun­daykeeper to show the impossibility of keeping a fixed Sabbath on a round world or on either side of the day line, is as suicidal to Sunday-keeping as to Sabbathkeeping. More than this it is an affront to an all-wise Creator, who, when He made the Sabbath and commanded it to be kept, knew it was to be observed on a round world and on both sides of the day line. In all the record of Holy Scripture there is not the slightest hint of a seventh-part-of-time theory to help the Creator out of a dilemma, but there is abounding proof that a day is a day and not some evolutionary period of time, and that the seventh day is the definite seventh day of the weekly cycle that we all know, which has come down to us from creation as un­changed as the stars and as the Creator who formed it in the beginning.

The twelfth "reason" for the observance of Sunday as a sabbath—the one which the author calls his conclusive proof for _Sundaykeeping (in spite of all the theories he has advanced in his eleven reasons why neither the true Sabbath nor Sunday can be identified or kept in a round world)—is the most conclusive proof of all that his arguments are illogical, incoherent. and self-contradictory. This twelfth reason is his unscholarly contention that in all the nine places in the New Testament where "first day of the week" is used in our translation, the true rendering should be "first of the Sabbaths," even though in some instances he is compelled to make the "first of the Sabbaths" occur twenty-five years after the resurrection day !

This farce, perpetrated on us by more than one scholar of otherwise good repute in our day, is absolutely untenable from the viewpoint of the Greek language in which the New Testa­ment original is written, to say nothing of its theological unsoundness. The exposure of the farce is simple. The word "first" (either ?via or prote in Greek) that occurs in the phrase "first day of the week," is without exception in the feminine form, while the word for "week" (sabbaton) is invariably in the neuter form. This makes it impossible to interpret "first" as "first Sabbath," which it must be if the phrase means "first of the Sabbaths." All unpreju­diced Greek scholars know that the feminine mio, or prote implies the feminine word "day" understood (as evidenced by the word "day" in the phrase), as is the common practice in Mod­ern Greek today, and also that sabbaton when preceded by a numeral in the New Testament invariably means "week."

It is a crying pity that Protestants should thus fall helplessly into the hands of Roman Catholics, who frankly declare the truth that there is no Scriptural foundation for the keep­ing of Sunday, but that the Roman Catholic Church set the festival of Sunday along with other festivals which she has instituted, and that Protestants fondly accept her authority by observing Sunday contrary to the Scriptures. If Roman Catholics told the .whole historic truth, they would say also that the Sunday fes­tival was taken over bodily by them from the heathen "venerable day of the sun," as their chief festival in honor of the sun-god so widely worshiped almost from time immemorial.

Will not all conscientious Protestants quickly return to their fidelity to the Creator and His created Sabbath, which He created and made holy and set apart for us as His final act of creation in the beginning?

*Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Mor­als, Methodist Episcopal Church, Washington, D. C.


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By W. E. HOWELL, Secretary to the General Conference President, Takoma Park, D. C.

October 1941

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