Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Jewish Origins of TGIF

The impetus for this post came from a question from Dave aka Rotundus and a letter to the Editor in today's National Post from a Mr. Orr. Mr. Orr was commenting on anti-Semitism in several of its forms. One of the forms that he thought was under-considered was intermarriage. In his mind, preserving Jewishness via the purity of single faith marriage would be a blessing to the larger world, since the Jews are a blessing to the world, seeing they "gave us the weekend" and all. (Paraphrase) (I toyed with the post title "Love the Weekend?Hug a Jew" but could envision some notoriety that I wouldn't want!)

The weekend in its current form is entirely secular. It has come unmoored from its God-given status: Day Seven, as God enjoyed it and inaugurated it, as a day of rest. This day of rest was woven into creation. As rebels against the Creator and our created status, we have problems with our work week and our status as a creature that was made to run on a 6:1 work/rest ratio. With the advent of a constant tech culture ("crackberry" addictions) and a constant caffeine infusion we can work super-human amounts with the odd result of feeling subhuman!! Part of that is our rebellion against Creator's design. Enter Sabbath.

Sabbath sounds like a recipe for disaster. Stop working! Stop thinking like a producer and become a receiver of finished work from the God who made us. How can I stop working when the work is never finished? Short answer: because God rested from his work of creation and invites us to enter his rest. (Heb. 3) God reaffirmed the Sabbath as an enduring part of his people's identity as 1) created people and 2) redeemed people. (I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt . . .Thou shalt . . .) So properly, we should thank God for the weekend.

When should we celebrate the weekend? Is the Christian Sabbath a different concept since Christ has come to fulfill the law?

Dave pointed out to me the difference in two major Bible translations:

Colossians 2:16,17:

ESV - 16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food
and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs
to Christ.

NIV - 16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or
drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration
or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to
come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Let me set up this clip first and then we'll look at the tense/time issue in v. 17 about "things to come/were to come". Colossians is written to people who were trapped between two extremes: a native paganism and an encroaching legalism. Paul is calling them to stay in the middle of the road since they had received Christ and had been freed from the darkness of their past and could say no to the darkness of legalism that would eclipse their freedom in Christ. The issue was "How should former pagans follow Christ?" The answer that was coming to them from religious culture was "Like Jews." The answer that was coming to them from Paul was "Like Christians." Paul is able to answer them this way, because in Christ a new time had been inaugurated. Paul's eschatology can be viewed in 4 stages regarding Sabbath: Sabbath was day 7 of Creation week. Sabbath was enjoined on Israel as part of their sanctification. A third age was at work in the coming, dying, rising, ascension, Spirit-outpouring, exaltation of Jesus. He fuflfilled these past shadows. Christ was the substance that was casting these shadows of rest and restoration pictured and mandated in the Sabbath. Stage 4 would be the final rest we read about in Hebrews 4, etc

Technically speaking, the ESV has it right, almost literally translating the Greek: "which are shadows of the coming." In English you have to supply the "things" which is inherent in the relative article "which". The Greek word for shadows is skia and is in contrast to soma. To use a phrase from Wendy's restaurants: Jesus is the answer to the "Where's the beef?" question. The shadows of ceremonies and days and feasts are begging the question: Where's the beef? God's answer is in the in-carn-ation. Jesus brings substance because he is the point, punchline, answer to God's picture/promises of the ceremonial law. For this reason they are not to haggle over days and ceremonies, because Jesus has delivered the promised rest that Moses and Joshua could never bring them to. The greatest Joshua/YSHUA (Jesus) brings us into permanent rest.

Interestingly, IMHO, the Saturday worship service craze among seeker and emergent churches takes this passage at face value but misses the biblical theological meat! The Christian Sabbath is the Lord's Day, the first day of the week. Do I have chapter and verse on "Thou shalt only worship together on Sunday?" No. I have something better. (just kidding) First Day of the Week worship does justice to what Christ has brought us in his ascension and the coming of the Spirit: we start our week off with the rest of God. We are living in New Creation part A. Theologians have referred to this as the now and not yet. We are living in the finished work of Christ in redemption, enjoying justifcation, undergoing sanctification, loving our adoption, and awaiting our glorification and the "regneration" of all things. This last part is New Creation part B. Part of what we are celebrating on the Lord's Day is the finished aspect of our salvation, and when we are partaking in the Lord's Supper together, we do so as the token of a future feast of consummation. (This is a part of the weekly communion argument.)

What the world and Judaism views as the weekend, people in Christ view it as the New Beginning. As people who look back to a BC existence and revel in an AD existence as New Creatures in Christ we can of all people say "TGIS." We need to introduce our Jewish and outside-of-Christ neighbours to the concept of New Covenant rest that our Lord's Day experience is. This is how the Sabbath debate can be reclaimed as a life-giving exercise rather than a church-splitting device.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I can't say that I was expecting this post to be about my email when I saw that photo up front!

I don't think that the Bible requires a day of rest on Sunday, but at the same time I sometimes wonder how best freedom in this area is to be applied. If someone is unable to make it to worship Sunday mornings due to having to work that day, and we shop (etc.) the same day thereby requiring others to work (although perhaps not them specifically), are we contributing to these individuals not being able to attend? Hebrews 10:25 still calls the people of God to meet together ... how is this best to be accomplished? If communion is only practiced in public worship rather than small groups are we depriving those individuals not able to make it on Sunday mornings of the opportunity to participate?

At one point in the past year I tried to dig into Don Carson's book on this topic - From Sabbath to Lord's Day - but it seemed to be one of these sorts of books that one needed to know Greek to get much benefit from it, so I eventually gave up on that one. Any good (and comprehensible) books out there on this topic?

Since you mentioned beef, the footnote to this verse in the Sproul edition of the ESV seemed to suggest that this was a reference to a pagan festival, and hence this might be more along the lines of the "do we eat meat sacrificed to idols?" debate, than relating to any manner of Sabbath observance. On the other hand, if it was referring to something pagan, how could that pagan thing be fulfilled by Christ?