"The Sabbath or the Lord's Day?"

"The Sabbath or the Lord's Day?": A Discussion of Walter Martin's Comments Relative to the Sabbath and the Lord's Day—Part 2

A Discussion of Walter Martin's Comments Relative to the Sabbath and the Lord's Day

Associate Secretary, Department of Education, General Conference

This section of Mr. Martin's book begins as follows: "Seventh-day Adventists from the beginning have always at­tempted to equate the Sab­bath with the Lord's Day. Their principal method for accomplishing this is argu­ments against their position, i.e., the Lord's Day as opposed to Sabbath observance."— Page 151. We do not comment on this, for we cannot understand the thought of the writer in that second sentence. Let us try the author's next sentence to see if there is better logic in it. "They reason that since 'the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sab­bath' (Mark 2:27, 28), when John says he 'was in the Spirit on the Lord's day' (Rev. 1:10), the Sabbath and the Lord's Day must be the same!" We leave it to the reader to judge whether this reasoning deserves an exclamation point or not. It seems to us that if the Saviour is Lord of the Sabbath day—by His own statement— it is only logical for us to conclude that the Lord's day is the Sabbath. There is one thing we can certainly say for sure, that is that in Revelation 1:10 John did not say he was in the Spirit on Sunday! Neither did Christ ever say that the first day of the week is "the Lord's day." No other passage of Scripture can be adduced to put with Revelation 1:10 that could by the remotest stretch of the imagination suggest that "the Lord's day" is Sunday.

Our friend Walter Martin makes a very meaningful admission when he says, "John did not mean that the Lord's Day was the Lord's possession, but rather that it was the day dedicated to Him by the early church, not in accordance with Mosaic law, but in obedience to our Lord's command­ment of love." (Italics supplied.) We do not admit for a moment that the apostles specially dedicated the first day of the week to the worship of Christ, for we find Paul, after having kept the Sabbath with the be­lievers, leaving late on Saturday night for an all-day walk to catch a ship (Acts 20:7-11), and commanding the Corinthian be­lievers to arrange their financial matters on the first day and to store up at home some funds for the great offering for the poor in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:2, ff.). But we do agree with the author that the first day of the week is merely a human institution. We marvel, however, how one can observe the first day of the week "in obedience to our Lord's commandment of love" but cannot observe the seventh day on the same basis!

Let us continue with Walter Martin's argument: "The weakness of their position is that they base their argument on an Eng­lish translation instead of on the Greek original. When one reads the second chap­ter of Mark and the first chapter of Revela­tion in Greek, he sees that there is no such interpretation inherent in the grammatical structure. The Greek of Mark 2:28 clearly indicates that Christ did not mean that the Sabbath was His possession (which the Ad­ventists would like to establish); rather, He was saying that as Lord of all He could do as He pleased on the Sabbath. The Greek is most explicit here.

"Nothing could be clearer from both the context and the grammar. In Revela­tion 1:10 the Greek is not the genitive of possession, which it would have to be in order to make te-kuriake (the Lord's) agree with hemera (day)."—Page 151.

We do not base our interpretation on the English alone. Let us examine these scrip­tures and Walter Martin's statements about them. First of all, Adventists do not desire to establish that in Mark 2:28 the phrase "of the sabbath" is a genitive of posses­sion, nor that "the Sabbath was His pos­session," as Mr. Martin states. He is put­ting arguments in our mouth. We do not state that Christ "possessed" the Sabbath any more than Sunday advocates speak of Christ as "possessing" Sunday. On the other hand, when Mr. Alartin says the Greek is most "explicit" that "of the sabbath" is not a genitive of possession, we are startled at his positiveness, for any first-year Greek stu­dent knows that one cannot tell from the Greek what kind any genitive is. In the Greek language there are objective and subjective genitives, genitives of possession, source, relationship, description, time, place, reference, apposition, as well as oth­ers. They all look exactly the same, are spelled the same. On the basis of the Greek, despite what the author says, one cannot tell what kind of genitive Mark had in mind when he translated our Lord's words from Aramaic into Greek and left them for us to read. This can be determined only from the context, and then excellent schol­ars will often disagree with one another. The author is protesting too much, and we are sure that no one who understands Greek will accept his arguments.

Personally, we agree with Mr. Martin that this is not a genitive of possession. Who said it was? We think this is an ob­jective genitive, meaning that "the noun in the genitive receives the action, being thus related as object to the verbal idea contained in the noun modified" (H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, pp. 78, 79). This simply means that the Sabbath (which is in the genitive) receives the action of Christ's lordship. He created the Sabbath. He governs it. He says what should be done on it. He commanded men to keep it holy, and by His own example observed it as it ought to be observed (Luke 4:16). The Sabbath commandment is Christ's commandment, and to us He says, "If ye love me, keep my command­ments" (John 14:15).

However, Mr. Martin says that "when one reads the second chapter of Mark and the first chapter of Revelation in Greek, he sees that there is no such interpretation in­herent in the grammatical structure." Is he saying that inasmuch as "Lord also of the sabbath" in Mark 2:28 is a genitive construction, and "the Lord's day" of Reve­lation 1:10 is an adjectival construction in a different case, that the two days cannot be the same? Is he implying that "on the Lord's day" (Rev. 1:10) would have to be a genitive in order for it to refer to the Sab­bath? It appears that he would have the reader get this impression. Such is not true by any means. In a Greek sentence the case of a phrase is determined by its usage in the sentence, and in Revelation 1:10, where reference is made to "on" a certain day, no other case than the locative could be used, just as it is. Whether the author used a genitive construction or an adjec­tival construction' was purely a matter of choice. By this I mean that John could have said "on the day of the Lord" as well as "on the Lord's day," whichever he chose, and the meaning would not have been different. In both Greek and English, speakers and writers freely alternate ad­jectival and genitive construction, as for instance in such expressions as "God's church" or "the church of God."

Actually, many noted scholars say that Revelation 1:10 refers neither to the Sab­bath day nor to the first day, but that it might have been any day of the week. They think that John was saying "I was in the spirit on a Lordly day" or "on an imperial day" and it could perfectly well be so translated. It may have been that John was in vision on one of the holidays set aside in honor of the emperor's birthday or an­niversary of his accession to the throne. The phrase certainly was not used of the first clay of the week, for it "is the recog­nized principle of historical method, that an allusion is to be interpreted only in terms of evidence that is previous to it in point of time or contemporary with it, and not by historical data from a later period. This principle has an important bearing on the problem of the meaning of the ex­pression 'Lord's day' as it appears in the present passage. Although this term occurs frequently in the Church Fathers with the meaning of Sunday, the first conclusive evi­dence of such use does not appear until the latter part of the 2d century in the Apoc­ryphal Gospel According to Peter (9, 12; ANF, vol. 9, p. 8), where the day of Christ's resurrection is termed the 'Lord's day.' Since this document was written at least three quarters of a century after John wrote the Revelation, it cannot be pre­sented as a proof that the phrase 'Lord's day' in John's time refers to Sunday. Nu­merous examples might be cited to show the rapidity with which words can change their meanings. Therefore the meaning of 'Lord's day' here is better determined by reference to Scripture rather than to sub­sequent literature."—The SDA Bible Com­mentary on Rev. 1:10.

No one is able to show that the Scrip­tures anywhere state that the first day of the xveek is the Lord's day, but there are nu­merous Scripture passages indicating that the seventh day is the Lord's special day— Isaiah 58:13; Genesis 2:3; Exodus 20:11; et cetera. Not the least is Mark 2:28, where an unprejudiced reader cannot but see that Jesus said the Sabbath is the Lord's day.

But let us get back to Mr. Martin's argu­ment. He says, "In Revelation 1:10 the Greek is not the genitive of possession, which it would have to be in order to make te-kuriake (the Lord's) agree with hemera (day)." Again, we are at a loss to know how to comment on this statement, for te-kuriake does agree with hemera. It agrees in gender, number, and case, which is all the ways a Greek adjective can agree with the noun it modifies. Evidently Mar­tin has not made clear the thought that was in his mind, or he is not sufficiently ac­quainted with Greek to recognize that the grammatical agreement he says is necessary is actually there.

This is true also of his enigmatic closing paragraph for this section: "We may cer­tainly assume that if the Sabbath had meant so much to the writers of the New Testament; and if, as Adventists insist, it was so widely observed during the early centuries of the Christian church, John and the other writers of Scripture would have equated it with the Lord's Day, the first day of the week."

We confess that we are unable to make any sense out of this sentence. Why, if the Sabbath were widely observed during the early centuries, would John and other writ­ers of Scripture have equated it with the first day of the week? We cannot see any reason or logic whatsoever in this state­ment. As to the first part of the sentence, to the effect that if the Sabbath had meant so much to the writers of the New Testa­ment, why didn't they say more about it, we answer this: simply that no one back there, at least no Christian, was keeping the first day of the week. All Christians at that time kept the seventh-day Sabbath—the only Sabbath of which the Bible speaks. There was no problem, and therefore no cause for the writers of the New Testament to make any comment about the present Sabbath-Sunday question. The only diffi­culty was that certain Judaistic Christians looked upon the keeping of God's require­ments from a legalistic viewpoint, as though they could earn their acceptance in God's sight by these observances. The New Testament writers dealt fully with this problem, but there was no need for them to deal with the matter of the observance of Sunday because such did not exist in their day.

Mr. Martin closes this section by stating that the Adventists have little scriptural justification for their Sabbatarianism. To this we reply that numerous passages in the New Testament indicate that the disci­ples and the followers of Christ kept the seventh-day Sabbath. We seek no other jus­tification than this.

The Testimony of the Fathers

"The Church Fathers provide a mass of evidence that the first day of the week, not the seventh, is the Lord's Day," Mr. Martin writes. Let us state at the outset that we do not rest our case upon what the Church Fathers say, but upon what the Scripture says.

The citations brought forth from the Church Fathers are those that have been explained many times, and we are particu­larly surprised that Walter Martin brought forth again the statement of Ig­natius, Bishop of Antioch, which he cites as follows: "If, then, those who walk in the ancient practices attain to newness of hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but fash­ioning their lives after the Lord's Day on which our life also arose through Him, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our only teacher." It is an incon­trovertible fact that in this passage the original Greek contains no word "day." Rather, in the most reliable manuscript, the word following zugiaxri (Lord's) is the word ^cori (life). An accurate, literal trans­lation of the passage is, "If, therefore, those who walked in ancient customs came to a new hope, no longer sabbatizing, but living according to the Lord's life, in which also our life sprang up through him and his death . . ." The thought of Ignatius is that Christians were no longer to fashion their lives on the basis of Jewish legalism, but were to follow the life of Christ as their pat­tern; for it is by means of the example of the Lord's dedicated life and vicarius death, brought home to the mind by the working of the Holy Spirit, that man's spir­itual nature may be revived and strength­ened (see Eph. 2: 1-6). On this basis only can one successfully live a truly spiritual life.

Despite the clear intent of Ignatius, many keep trying to twist this passage to make it refer to Sunday-keeping. It is inde­fensible to insert the word "day" into this early document on the basis that ***** (the Lord's) in later centuries was used as a technical term for Sunday. The fact that the word day is not present in any of the manuscripts, but that the word life is cou­pled with "the Lord's" in the best manuscripts, ought to settle this matter. We may remark, however, that it is difficult to arrive at the exact Greek text as Ignatius wrote it. The Epistles of Ignatius in ex­istence have been greatly conflated and in­terpolated. Scholars agree that parts of the Ignatian letters are forgeries. The short recension, which scholars agree most closely represents the true Ignatius, is no­where extant in a pure form (The Apos­tolic Fathers, vol. 1, p. 168. The Loeb Clas­sical Library). It behooves all careful scholars to refrain from using Ignatius as proof or support for any doctrine. The mis­interpreted passage from the supposed Ignatian Epistle, widespread though it is, cer­tainly adds no strength to Mr. Martin's position.

Mr. Martin cites also from the forged Epistle of Barnabas, which used the Jewish ceremonial requirement of circumcision that occurred once in the lifetime of the Jew, on the eighth day of his life, as an argument for the observance of Sunday, which would be the eighth day of the week. This gnostic-flavored speculative argu­ment certainly is a weak basis for the ob­servance of Sunday. It is apparent, how­ever, that anti-Semitism caused Christian people at a very early date to have a desire to dissociate themselves from the seventh-day Sabbath, and instead to worship on the first day of the week to avoid being classed as Jews. Those early Christian leaders who in order to avoid persecution favored this practice found in the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week a flimsy support for turning away from God's un­equivocal commandment concerning the Sabbath. However, there is absolutely not one shred of Biblical support for the ob­servance of Sunday. We Adventists dare not set the practice of some church leaders above the plain commands of the Holy Scriptures.

Authoritative Quotations

Mr. Martin states that we weaken our position by quoting scholars who, while they may state in their published works that there is no Biblical evidence for the change of the day from Saturday to Sunday, themselves keep the first day of the week and argue in other places in favor of ob­serving it (page 155). It is not a weakness on our part when scholars are inconsistent with their own statements. Some scholars admit that the Bible does not support the first day of the week, but take the position that the Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross and that therefore the seventh day of the week has no binding claim upon Christians. They assert that the Christian church possesses authority to teach Chris­tians to keep the first day of the week in honor of Christ's resurrection.

It is our contention that the cross of Christ did not change the will of God re­garding the day that He would have His children keep. God made the Sabbath for man, and not only for the Jews. It was God's plan and will that His children observe the seventh day as the memorial of His creative power. Although it was necessary for Christ to die on the cross in order for the transgres­sions of mankind to be forgiven and for man to receive the impetus and power to live a Christian life, yet this by no means meant the institution of a different day of worship. We Christians do not keep the law of God to earn our salvation. We trust in Christ for our righteousness as a free gift, but because He has said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments," we gladly do His will; and we believe His will is ex­pressed in the Decalogue as well as in other parts of the Holy Scriptures. It is our con­tention that the church does not possess authority to command Christians to ob­serve the first day of the week, and for her to do so puts her in opposition to the plain teaching of God's Word.

Creation in the Sabbath

In his effort to show that Seventh-day Adventists are wrong in maintaining that the Christian church should observe the seventh-day Sabbath, Mr. Martin attacks our position on the Creation week, tie says, "No doubt, one of the basic reasons for their tenacity is that their Sabbath theory would suffer a real setback if it could be shown Biblically and scientifically that the days of creation were actually eras or long periods of time during which the earth's great geological structures were formed."—Page 157. In this Mr. Martin is correct. We believe that the seventh-day Sabbath exists as a memorial of God's crea­tive power in fitting up the earth as an abode for man in six literal twenty-four hour days, and by adding the seventh as a day for man to rest and worship; therefore constituting a weekly cycle by which He desired that mankind should live. We will not here go into the scientific evidence re­garding the age of the earth. We would merely point out that the time clocks which the scientists use in showing the great age of the earth and of the organic materials upon it are based upon a theory of uniformity of which there is no scientific proof whatsoever. Mr. Martin stands firmly with those who do not believe in a twenty-four-hour Creation day. He quotes with ap­proval another author who says, "The question is, what do the Scriptures teach in regard to the length of the creative days de­scribed in Genesis 1:1-2:4? This is prima­rily a question of hermeneutics and ex­egesis." He is right; this is the question here, not the theories of scientists. Scien­tists have evidence, but they do not have absolute proof as to the age of the earth. Let us then confine our discussion here to the Bible. Mr. Martin holds that the word "day" used in Genesis 1 is figurative, and represents a period of time of undesignated length. We ask him, therefore, what is the meaning of the Biblical statements in Gen­esis 1: "And the evening and the morning were the first day," et cetera? In the Bible record of the Creation week it is absolutely clear that the days referred to consisted of a period of darkness followed by a pe­riod of light. The fact that each of the six days is described in the terms, "the evening and the morning were the second day," and "the evening and the morning were the third day," et cetera, certainly gives evidence that these were days of the type that mankind has known since the dawn of history. To state that these were figurative days of undesignated length and yet claim that this view is based upon sound her­meneutics and exegesis leaves us amazed. The context and the grammar of Genesis 1 certainly point to days exactly like the days we know now. Furthermore, to appeal to Psalm 90:4 ("A thousand years in thy [God's] sight are but as yesterday when it is past") and to introduce this into a discus­sion of Genesis 1 in which we are told that the evening and the morning made up the day, is certainly questionable hermeneutics. Mr. Martin says, "It is hard to see how this fourth day could have been a literal 24-hour day," yet previously he has said, "Of course we know that God could have cre­ated the earth in six literal days." If we be­lieve that God could have created the earth in six literal days then it seems the part of the Christian to accept the obvious mean­ing of the record of Genesis 1 when it speaks in terms of days just like the type of days that we now know.

Our case does rest upon the literal twenty-four-hour-day Creation theory. Like all the rest of our teachings, our doctrine of the Sabbath is based on the Word of God, and not on the theories of scientists. While we recognize that Genesis 1 was not designed as a complete scientific account of Creation, yet at the same time we do not believe that the clear intent of Genesis 1 is untrue. It is our conviction that to at­tempt to make the days of the first chapter of Genesis into vague, indeterminate pe­riods does violence to the Bible, and in effect such teaching places the assertions of scientists above the Word of God. The last word of science has yet to be given on the age of life upon the earth, and in the meantime we will stand by the clear intent of the Word of God and rest our case upon it. We think that is far better than to be content with the vague allusions and in­nuendoes, such as given in the following sentence of Mr. Martin: "In view of the evidence from natural science, and certain accepted usages of the Hebrew of the Gen­esis account, the Adventist contention for a literal 24-hour Sabbath as the perpetual or eternal 'seal' of God's creative power rests upon a shaky foundation." We would certainly wish that instead of relying upon vague allusions to Hebrew or Greek gram­matical or syntactical usages Mr. Martin would be more definite and come forth with one sound argument from Hebrew or Greek to support his theories. To us the appearance is given that, lacking familiar­ity with Biblical languages, resort is made to vague generalizations.

(To be continued)


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Associate Secretary, Department of Education, General Conference

October 1960

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