Historicity of the Hanukkah Miracle


Historicity of the Hanukkah Miracle

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Many Sabbatarians either commemorate or at least recognize the importance Hanukkah. It is a historical account filled with amazing plot lines that we can learn many lessons from today. It is the culminating event of fulfillment for many prophecies from Daniel chapter 11. However, there is one event in the Hanukkah account that may or may not have happened. It involves the relighting of the menorah. In this article, we hope to shed light on this event.

We will begin with a brief overview of the historical details leading up to the Hanukkah story. In 175 BC, there was a Greek king named Antiochus IV who ruled over the Greek Seleucid Kingdom. This kingdom spanned from modern-day Syria to near India. It went as far south as the border of Egypt. Antiochus was not content with this massive territory; he sought to conquer Egypt as well.

He tried twice and failed both times. The second failure occurred in 168. On this expedition, the Romans opposed his expansion. Antiochus had made extensive preparations for this expedition and was determined to conquer something. Since he was deterred from Egypt, he turned his fury towards the Jewish people and especially the city of Jerusalem.

Initially, Antiochus and his forces approached Jerusalem under a banner of peace. When the army entered the city, they began to slaughter innocent people. As part of his desecration, he invaded the Temple precincts. He erected a pagan altar on top of God’s altar of sacrifice. They made sacrifices to these gods with unclean animals on the 25th day of every month. He declared himself to be god. 

The Jewish people did not remain silent. Antiochus sent his generals into the country side to compel Jewish people to sacrifice to the Greek gods and eat unclean animal meat. Among the first men to resist this apostasy was Mattathias. He refused to compromise his beliefs and fought back. He led a group that would later become called the Maccabees.

The Jewish people fought valiantly despite serious disadvantages. They were outnumbered, had inferior equipment and had a lack of military training compared to their Greek counterparts. Despite these apparent deficits, the Jewish people won victory after victory. It was truly miraculous how God came through for His people.

After three years of intense fighting, the Jewish people regained control of the Temple area. Once this happened, they immediately sought to purify it from Antiochus’ defilement. They cleansed it of impurities and prepared it to be used for God’s purposes once again. This included the destruction of the old altar of sacrifice; a new one was erected using stones (according to Ex. 20:24-25). They rededicated the Temple over eight days (according to the Biblical custom – 2 Chron. 29:17).

From that time to now, the Jewish people have celebrated Chanukkah (which is a Hebrew word meaning rededication) for eight days every year. 

As part of rededicating the Temple, they had to relight the menorah. According to Jewish legend (found in the Talmud), they only found one container of pure oil that had not been defiled. The account goes on to say that they lit the menorah on faith and this one container of oil lasted eight days (the entire time of the rededication). This event is called the Hanukkah miracle.

When we read about Hanukkah and the revolt against the Greeks, the legend of the menorah being rekindled is usually given a prominent place. Some say that the miracle of the oil did not happen.  Modern people do not place as much emphasis on the military victories – which were miracles in and of themselves. In this article, we will review the historicity of the Hanukkah miracle.

The term historicity refers to the historical legitimacy of an event. In other words, did it really happen? Another question we hope to answer: why are the military victories not as emphasized by people today when we discuss Hanukkah?

Let’s start by examining the primary sources nearest these events. A primary source is a person, artifact, or some historical record that is contemporary to the time period being examined.

The first book of Maccabees was written nearest the time of the Hanukah story. This book describes the invasion of the Greeks, the courageous resistance of the Jewish people, and their victory. In it, the re-lighting of the menorah is told.

“They burned incense on the altar and lighted lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the Temple” (1 Maccabees 4:50). The re-lighting of the Menorah is recounted as a significant event in the rededication of the Temple. This account also mentions how the menorah and altar of incense brought light to the Temple. Thus, the light emanating from the menorah (and the altar of incense) is a central theme of the rededication. However, there is no mention that there was a lack of oil for the menorah or that it burned eight days on a one-day supply.

Another historical work completed after the Hanukkah story is called the second book of Maccabees. The name for this work can be a little deceiving. It was a summary of a five volume series written by Jason of Cyrene (2 Maccabees 2:19-25). The author of second Maccabees describes the “mass of material” available in Jason’s work. These volumes recounted the story of Judas Maccabeus and the rededication of the Temple. Second Maccabees mentions the relighting of the menorah (2 Macc. 10:3). It does not mention a Hanukkah miracle. The five volumes by Jason might have contained more details about this event. Unfortunately, these volumes have been lost.

The next credible source describing these events comes from Josephus, a first century AD source. His account follows first Maccabees pretty closely. He mentions no miracles, but he does mention the menorah being rekindled. The other furniture pieces are also mentioned.

“…they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar of incense, and laid the loaves upon the table of showbread, and offered burnt offerings upon the new altar of burnt-offering…Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival on account of the restoration of their temple worship for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival and call it “Lights”. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond all Hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival” (Antiquities, Book 12, Chapter 7).

This is a fascinating statement. Did Josephus know more than what he disclosed? He called Hanukkah ‘lights’ but gives no reason as to why it should be called that. The Greek word translated as lights in this passage literally means illumination – as emanating from a light source. His statement indicates that he may not have been completely convinced how the name “Festival of Lights” was conceived. Although, I Maccabees makes it clear the Temple was illuminated from the lights lit within. 

Josephus, 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are the primary sources closest to the Hanukkah story. The menorah being relit was obviously an important part of reclaiming the Temple. It is recalled by all of them. If some kind of miracle occurred regarding the menorah (or any other Temple furniture piece), maybe these authors did not know about it or chose to leave it out. The fact that they had religious freedom from the Greeks seems to be of the upmost importance. The Jewish people gained control of the Temple and could worship God.

Another very important point to consider in this discussion is the following: how many people would have actually been around to view any such miracle inside the temple? (if it happened) Only priests could enter the Temple and re-light the menorah. The writer of 1 Maccabees may not have had access to testimonies about those who witnessed it (if it actually happened). As aforementioned, we do not have the five volumes written by Jason.

The main sources that discuss any miracle of oil come later. The Babylonian Talmud was written between 200 and 500 AD. In it, we read about the miracle. This was hundreds of years after the event happened.

“…When the Greeks entered the sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessing” (Shabbat 21b).

How reliable is a document that recorded an event hundreds of years after it happened? First of all, we do not know all the documents that the writers of the Talmud used to compile their books. Wars, natural disasters, and time caused documents to be lost (such as Jason’s five volumes).

Secondly, consider another example. The Torah was given to Moses around 1500 BC, but the earliest manuscripts we have date to hundreds of years later. This is true for other books of the Old Testament, such as Kings and Chronicles. Both of these books have historically accurate/reliable details in them. 

Third, by the time the Talmud was written, the practice of lighting a menorah to honor Hanukkah was deeply entrenched in its celebration. It was so widely practiced that it was recorded as a necessary tradition. For instance, if you only had enough money for Shabbat wine or oil during Hanukkah, you would buy the oil (Shabbat 23b, Raba). Having a Hanukkah lamp ignited was of utmost importance. It became a requirement among Jewish people. A practice of this nature does not develop overnight. It takes time for a custom to become so entrenched that it is viewed as a requirement.

The Talmud also contains a lot of commentary on the schools of Hillel and Shammai, which we know existed in the last century BC/first century AD. Between the two schools, there was a difference of practice as it relates to Hanukkah. The school of Shammai lit eight candles on the first day of Hanukkah and then decreased the amount of candles by one each day. The school of Hillel started with one candle and increased the amount of candles each day by one (Shabbat, 21b).

Archeology bears witness to these details. In 2019, The Times of Israel reported that the depiction of a nine-branch lampstand was found an ancient oil lamp in Israel. It dates to the first century AD, which is contemporary to the two schools discussed in the Talmud (to read the article about this finding, click HERE). 

In other words, there are details in the Talmud that give it a degree of historical accuracy.

One last source we will consider is a document called The Scroll of Antiochus. It is a possible primary source, but it has problems. It records military victory, but also the miracle of the oil. It has some historical inaccuracies, but other correct details.

The main problem with this scroll is that scholars debate the time period in which it was written. The dates range from the first century through the eleventh century AD. This is a pretty large discrepancy. The majority of scholars settle for a fifth century to seventh century dating because it is mentioned in other writings (the Gedolos in 600 AD; Saadia Gaon in the 800s AD). Nissim b Jacob (around 1000 AD) attributed the scroll on the same level as Scriptural canon. We know that in the 1200s, the scroll was read every Hanukkah in Italy.

We have given a fair overview of sources that recount the Hanukkah story and the possibility of a menorah miracle or a lack thereof. Perhaps it is important to return to our original question: Why was the miracle of the oil found in the Talmud and emphasized by later writers, but not by those nearest it?

The earliest sources mention the great military victories with a minor focus on the Temple furniture. Perhaps the long-term fruit of the Maccabee revolt will guide us towards resolving some of the issues between sources closer to the event and those that are farther away.

The Temple was rededicated around 165 BC. In 142 BC, the Jewish people finally won their political independence from the Greeks. Simon was proclaimed the leader and high priest of the Jewish people forever until a faithful prophet should arise. Just three years later, the Roman Senate recognized their dynasty. So many good things seemed to be happening.

Regrettably, these good times did not last.

Simon was murdered in 135. John Hyrcanus then became the ruler until 104. He wanted to make his wife queen after his death and his oldest son, Aristobulus, the high priest. Aristobulus did not like this plan. Once his father died, he cast his mother and other brothers in prison. His mother starved to death, and he put one of his brothers, Antigonus, to death. He died about one year after becoming king.

From 103 to 76, Alexander Jannaeus, a different son of John Hyrcanus, ruled. After his death, his wife Alexandra became queen for a short time. Not long afterwards, a civil war raged across Judea. The Roman general Pompey intervened in the conflict and put the country of Judea under Roman supervision. The Jewish lost some political freedoms and were forced to pay tribute.

From 63-40 BC, Hyrcanus II supervised the government on behalf of the Romans; he was the high priest. The Parthians briefly conquered Judea around 40. They proclaimed Antigonus as king and high priest over Judea. For the next three years, there was contention as Herod, the pro-Roman antagonist, fought for control of the throne against Antigonus. Herod eventually gained control of the country in 37 BC. He became the founder of the Herodian dynasty. The Romans allowed Antigonus to be put to death; he was the first king the Romans put to death (they usually kept kings captive). The Hasmonean dynasty ended.

In 66 AD, the Jewish people revolted against the Romans. About Four years later, they were defeated. The city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people either died or were sold as slaves. About 60 years later, the Bar Kokhba revolt began. Jerusalem was devastated again; the Jewish people were banned from the city and surrounding country side. Over 585,000 Jewish people died from fighting. They would not be allowed to return to the city for almost 300 years.

This is a brief overview of the events that occurred immediately after the Maccabean revolt. Thus, the initial revolt was successful and involved great military exploits. However, the long-term actions of the Hasmonean dynasty were marred with failure. There was betrayal, murder and civil war. The country lost its sovereignty and became subject to another empire – Rome. The city was destroyed twice and the Jewish people banned from even approaching it. These events sound like a combination of accounts from the Biblical books of Judges with 1 and 2 Kings.

Now that we have reviewed these details, we can have a better perspective of Hanukkah.

Here are some final things to remember when you consider the historicity of the Hanukkah miracle. The people who lived immediately after the Jewish victory focused on battles. Those who lived a few hundred years later saw the long-term fruit of that Maccabeean revolt, which was contrary to the very purpose of it (freedom to worship God). They did not value the military victories as much.

If you were writing, what events might you emphasize?

The fact that the menorah was rekindled (along with the altar of incense and the altar of sacrifice) is recounted by primary sources. It is a significant part of the Temple regaining its light. Josephus even calls it the Feast of Lights. The Bible calls it the Dedication in John 10:22 (literally, “in newness” or “in refreshing”). This is a reference to the rededication of the Temple.

A few hundred years after these events, the lighting of a menorah is the central focus of the Hanukkah celebration. Considering all the details gives the miracle story a little bit more merit – but its still not clear what happened.

The concept that there was an insufficient supply of Levitically clean oil is not absurd. If there was a shortage of oil,then it would have taken a miracle to keep the menorah burning for the dedication process. The holy oil for the Temple required a special process and time to refine it.

We know the menorah was relit; we know the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. Our minds are still left to wonder the specific details and conditions surrounding the menorah when it was rekindled.

At the very least, let us consider their struggle to rededicate the Temple as we rededicate our own. What miracles have happened in your life as you sought to dedicate yourself to God?

Sources

Babylonian Talmud. Accessed through https://www.sefaria.org.

Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. 1737. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 12, Chapter 7. p 302.

First and Second Book of Maccabees (Revised Standard Version). 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Jewish Encyclopedia 1905: Antigonus Mattathias, Aristobulus I, Aristobulus II, Scroll of Antiochus, Hasmoneans, Hyrcanus, John.

Moore, George Foot. Judaism in the First Centuries of the Chris-tian Era the Age of the Tannaim. Vol. 2 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932. pp 49-51.

Times of Israel. “2,000-year-old image of 9-stem menorah found in rare Jewish site in Beersheba”. April 4, 2019. Accessed online: https://www.timesofisrael.com/2000-year-old-image-of-9-stem-menorah-found-in-rare-jewish-site-in-beersheba/

The “Lost” Parable

The “Lost” Parable

By K.W. Gardner

“‘Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one, doth not light a candle and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost’ (Luke 15:8-9).

The text before us is the shortest parable in the Bible; two verses. We call it the “lost” parable because the full meaning seems to have been lost with the silver. It is fitting, in view of the lateness of the hour, that we should study it, with other scriptures, for meaning intended to be seen in the light of these last days.

The “Shepherd and Lost Sheep” parable is symbolic of the Savior and the ignorantly sinful. The sheep wandered away and got lost without giving the matter any thought. If the sheep thought at all, it thought it was doing right well, thank you, as it skipped and frolicked through the afternoon. The world is full of people like that…”

(this article is an excerpt from the October 1970 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)

To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 3, click this link: https://biblesabbath.org/media/tss_166Oct1970.pdf

Protestant Confessions About the Sabbath (Part 1 of 2)

Protestant Confessions About the Sabbath (Part 1 of 2)

Protestant theologians and preachers from a wide spectrum of denominations have been quite candid in admitting that there is no Biblical authority for observing Sunday as a sabbath.

Anglican/Episcopal

Isaac Williams, Plain Sermons on the Catechism , vol. 1, pp.334, 336.

“And where are we told in the Scriptures that we are to keep the first day at all? We are commanded to keep the seventh; but we are nowhere commanded to keep the first day …. The reason why we keep the first day of the week holy instead of the seventh is for the same reason that we observe many other things, not because the Bible, but because the church has enjoined it.”

Canon Eyton, The Ten Commandments , pp. 52, 63, 65.

“There is no word, no hint, in the New Testament about abstaining from work on Sunday …. into the rest of Sunday no divine law enters…. The observance of Ash Wednesday or Lent stands exactly on the same footing as the observance of Sunday.”

Bishop Seymour, Why We Keep Sunday .

“We have made the change from the seventh day to the first day, from Saturday to Sunday, on the authority of the one holy Catholic Church.”

Baptist

Dr. Edward T. Hiscox, a paper read before a New York ministers’ conference, Nov. 13, 1893, reported in New York Examiner , Nov.16, 1893.

“There was and is a commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day, but that Sabbath day was not Sunday. It will be said, however, and with some show of triumph, that the Sabbath was transferred from the seventh to the first day of the week …. Where can the record of such a transaction be found? Not in the New Testament absolutely not.

“To me it seems unaccountable that Jesus, during three years’ intercourse with His disciples, often conversing with them upon the Sabbath question . . . never alluded to any transference of the day; also, that during forty days of His resurrection life, no such thing was intimated.

“Of course, I quite well know that Sunday did come into use in early Christian history . . . . But what a pity it comes branded with the mark of paganism, and christened with the name of the sun god, adopted and sanctioned by the papal apostasy, and bequeathed as a sacred legacy to Protestantism!”

William Owen Carver, The Lord’s Day in Our Day , p. 49.

“There was never any formal or authoritative change from the Jewish seventh-day Sabbath to the Christian first-day observance.”

Congregationalist

Dr. R. W. Dale, The Ten Commandments (New York: Eaton &Mains), p. 127-129.

“ . . . it is quite clear that however rigidly or devotedly we may spend Sunday, we are not keeping the Sabbath – . . ‘Me Sabbath was founded on a specific Divine command. We can plead no such command for the obligation to observe Sunday …. There is not a single sentence in the New Testament to suggest that we incur any penalty by violating the supposed sanctity of Sunday.”

Timothy Dwight, Theology: Explained and Defended (1823), Ser. 107, vol. 3, p. 258.

“ . . . the Christian Sabbath [Sunday] is not in the Scriptures, and was not by the primitive Church called the Sabbath.”

Disciples of Christ

Alexander Campbell, The Christian Baptist, Feb. 2, 1824,vol. 1. no. 7, p. 164.

“‘But,’ say some, ‘it was changed from the seventh to the first day.’ Where? when? and by whom? No man can tell. No; it never was changed, nor could it be, unless creation was to be gone through again: for the reason assigned must be changed before the observance, or respect to the reason, can be changed! It is all old wives’ fables to talk of the change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day. If it be changed, it was that august personage changed it who changes times and laws ex officio – I think his name is Doctor Antichrist.’

First Day Observance , pp. 17, 19.

“The first day of the week is commonly called the Sabbath. This is a mistake. The Sabbath of the Bible was the day just preceding the first day of the week. The first day of the week is never called the Sabbath anywhere in the entire Scriptures. It is also an error to talk about the change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. There is not in any place in the Bible any intimation of such a change.”

CLICK HERE to read part 2 of this series

A Call to Repentance and Turning toward God continued…

A Call to Repentance and Turning toward God continued…

By Scott Hoefker

Last Friday evening in my weekly Sabbath note, we concluded with the words that God had given to Jeremiah, (written down by Baruch and were being read by a man named Jehudi to King Jehoiakim).  “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the adversities which I purpose to bring upon them, that everyone may turn from his evil way that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”

At this time of year, there is flurry of activity as our nation scurries around buying gifts and laying the ground work for a holiday that will be upon us in less than a month. These recorded words in God’s Word shed some important light for all to consider.

Let’s continue with the story, “Now the king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month, with a fire burning on the hearth before him. And it happened, when Jehudi had read three or four columns, that the king cut it with the scribe’s knife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.” (Jeremiah 36:22-23)

This was an outright disrespectful, careless, and rebellious action! Instead of fearing the Lord and humbling himself, he and his closest servants disregarded the warning contained in the words of the scroll. “Yet they were not afraid, nor did they tear their garments, the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words.” (v.24) Interesting that three men implored the king to not burn the scroll (v.25). They are to be commended for their courage.

To add injury to insult (if we may reverse the often quoted saying) the king ordered some of his men “to seize Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet, but the Lord hid them.” (v.26)

There is very big lesson here. Men cannot destroy what God intends to preserve.

He told Jeremiah to write down on another scroll the words that were written on the scroll the king had burned (v.27-28) and He even added to them (v.32). God gave the inspiration to Jeremiah to remember those words.

Then the Lord told Jeremiah to bring the message to King Jehoiakim, that the king of Babylon would come and destroy the land and remove the people. The calamity described in detail in that scroll would come upon them. Jehoiakim would be singled out for an ignominious death and his family and servants would be punished severely for their failure to heed the words.

I have to wonder if we as a nation realize that thumbing our noses at God and not heeding His warning will bring similar consequences.

We then read in 2 Chronicles 36:6, “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against him and bound him in chains to carry him to Babylon.” “And the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, and his abominations which he did, and that which was found in him, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.” (2 Chronicles 36:8)

Jeremiah had earlier recorded God’s judgment concerning Jehoiakim. “He shall be buried with the burial of a donkey, dragged and cast out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 22:19) It appears that the account in Jeremiah 36 shows God offering Jehoiakim one more chance to repent and turn the nation around.

What’s encouraging is that our great God is a merciful and compassionate, willing to change His mind about punishments and calamities He has pronounced if those to be affected will humble themselves, hear, fear, and then turn from their iniquity and make the changes God has shown.

This is the message in the famous “Watchman Chapter.” “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11)

The Lord goes on to speak through Ezekiel, “Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right . . . he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ezekiel 33:14-15)

God is giving that same message today to the leaders and people of modern day Israel? Will they heed?

John also in his gospel records some events that took place during the ninth month at the time of “the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.” (John 10:22) We’ll look at those more closely next Friday evening…and as I close this letter, as I do every Friday, as we enter His Sabbath…reflect on this evening’s letter with me, will you?

May God continue to richly bless you. Our prayers and thoughts are with you daily. Please do pray for us as well.

-Scott Hoefker (Pastor and wife (Gayle) The Living God Ministries Gulf Coast)

This post was originally published on Nov. 22, 2019 on their website.

We encourage you to follow this ministry at https://tlgministriesgc.org/

A Different Path to Healing

A Different Path to Healing

by Pauline E. Lewinson

“For more than twenty years I suffered from severe pain. For several months, I couldn’t stand long enough to prepare a meal, do laundry, bathe and dress my baby, or even comb my hair. I barely managed to crawl out of bed each morning, and I struggled through my work each day.

The doctors’ orders were always the same: more medication, which always caused adverse reactions. Finally, my family physician referred me to a rheumatologist, who informed me that I had a condition that caused sleep deprivation, chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, tingling and numbing sensations, chronic muscular skeletal pain, and chronic fatigue: fibromyalgia!

My heart felt as though it were in my throat. With all the symptoms, I knew I fit the criteria of fibromyalgia. In response to my questions, the doctor said, “The cause is unknown. There is no cure, and it is degenerative.” Tears ran down my face. I wanted to scream, Why me Lord? I had no idea what to think or where to look for answers.

Driving home, all I could think about was my family and how I would tell my husband and children. How would I ever take care of my three-year-old son? I didn’t want him to grow up without his mother, as I had…”

(this article is an excerpt from the Jan-Feb 2013 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)

To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 11, click this link: https://biblesabbath.org/media/TSS_2013_Jan-Feb_LowResProof2.pdf

Sabbath Meditation #25 – Allow God’s Spirit to Guide You

Sabbath Meditation #25 – Allow God’s Spirit to Guide You

By Kelly McDonald, Jr. 

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13).

Christians commonly interpret this verse as a reference to the Spirit of God leading us towards truth and into its initial acceptance/understanding. This is absolutely true. However, there is an additional interpretation of this verse that is often overlooked.

Some translations render the end of John 16:13 as “He will guide you in (or within) all truth…” God’s Spirit leads us in obedience to the truth. In other words, God’s Spirit will assist us in learning how to obey the commandments of God.

Too often, we try to do things by human effort instead of by the Spirit’s leading and power. We try to figure it all out on our own. Our minds are renewed or renovated in Christ (Romans 12:1-2), but this happens by the Spirit of God (Titus 3:5).

One major feature of being a Christian is that God’s Spirit guides us. We are not left to our own human, carnal devices. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Consider the following verses:

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1).

“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, ‘Go near, and join thyself to this chariot…’” (Acts 8:29).

The Greek word translated as “led” can also mean “to be accompanied by.” The Lord leads or accompanies us into all truth by the Spirit; we are not alone. He is with us. “I will not leave you as orphans: I will come to you” (John 14:18).

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. God’s Spirit spoke to Philip to go near the chariot of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

If this is the case with Jesus and Philip, then what about the Sabbath? Christ is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). How much more will the Spirit of Jesus Christ lead us into the detailed obedience of His Sabbath day?

The written Word of God exists as the recorded witness of God’s will for our Sabbath observance. In it, we learn absolute truths for the Sabbath – such as that we do not work on the day and we should keep it holy. The Spirit will reveal to you ways to apply God’s truth in your personal life. The Spirit of God will never contradict the written Word of God.

Spend time praying this Sabbath and ask God to teach you by His Spirit about Sabbath observance. There may be things that you need to adjust or keep the same. Ask God to give you the strength to follow through with the revelation of proper Sabbath observance.

We could try to figure it out on our own with human wisdom, but we might be tempted to justify behavior that is obviously contrary to the truth of Sabbath observance. When we walk by the Spirit, we will stay in God’s will.

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

Selah.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

What the Sabbath Means to Me

What the Sabbath means to me
Mary Dell Wallace

A little family history My Father, Earl Boyd, grew up on a farm in South Dakota, the descendant of Presbyterian ministers. The stories Dad told made Sunday sound almost
like the way we later kept the Sabbath.

Dad studied the Bible on his own and with others. About the time I was seven years old, Dad decided we should be keeping the Sabbath on Saturday. He was also convinced that there should be a church called the Church of God that kept the Sabbath day on Saturday. In the library in Bend, OR, he found a book listing churches. In that he found the Church of God (7th Day) with an address in Salem, WV.

Dad usually kept us kids pretty busy with chores around the place. But when we started keeping the Sabbath, things became much easier for us one day a week. Of course, the animals still had to be fed and taken care of, but there were no extra chores.

Over time we moved to be close to churches. We attended camp-meetings and became more acquainted with Sabbath keepers. We even lived in the area around Salem, WV, for about three years.

The Sabbath became a part of our lives. I went back to Salem for my sophomore year of college at the then Seventh Day Baptist college there.

Once I visited a family who had been our neighbors back when our family had lived there. Something was said about the Sabbath. One of these neighbors said, “You don’t have to keep that old Sabbath. Your parents aren’t around to see what you are doing.” I responded with, “I do not keep the Sabbath for my parents. I keep it because that is the  way I believe.”

I now live in a retirement community where I eat my meals in the dining room. I have had to make adjustments here. There was one Seventh Day Adventist lady living here when I moved in. So the people here were not completely unaware.

Because I don’t want to have the staff here serving me on the Sabbath, I eat my Sabbath meals in my apartment. I do have a kitchen and keep food in it. If there is to be a potluck on Sabbath, I prepare food in my little kitchen on Friday. I basically have the Sabbath as an oasis. I rarely interact with the other people living here on that day. I go to Church,  enjoy the potluck there, if there is one, and spend the day much as I would if I were still living in my house. I sometimes visit someone in the hospital or nursing home on my way home from Church.

The Sabbath is a day to spend time with my Creator and fellowship with those of like faith. I am very thankful for it.

The Bread of Life

The Bread of Life

By Jacqueline Jordan

“It was near Passover time in Israel – the Days of Unleavened Bread. Jesus had just performed a miracle, feeding thousands of people with no more than the contents of a family picnic basket. The people he fed recognized Jesus as “the Prophet who is to come into the world.” This was the Prophet about whom Moses had instructed them in Deuteronomy 18:15 and they were ready to take Jesus by force to make Him their king.

Feeding the multitude is the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry to be recorded in all four gospels. The three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – describe the event, but only John’s gospel goes on to recount what happened afterwards.

To escape their intention to make Him king, Jesus went up by Himself to the mountain from which they had just descended. When Jesus did not appear by late evening, his disciples went on without Him, by boat, over the sea toward Capernaum. Jesus caught up with his disciples later – by walking on water to their boat.

The next day, men who had been present at the miracle of loaves and fishes arrived in Capernaum by boat, seeking Jesus. They questioned Him about when and how He had arrived. But instead of answering their questions, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”…”

(this article is an excerpt from the July-August 2016 edition of the Sabbath Sentinel)

To read the rest of this article, which starts on page 8, click this link: https://biblesabbath.org/media/July-August_2016.pdf

July 3, 321 AD – Constantine’s Second Sunday Law

July 3, 321 AD – Constantine’s Second Sunday Law

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

On July 3, 321 AD, Constantine issued his second Sunday law. It gave people freedom from most kinds of legal business. However, proceedings to free slaves was allowed.  The copy of this law, which is found in Codex Theodosianus 2.8.1, is as follows:

“Emperor Constantine Augustus to Helpidius. “Just as it appears to Us most unseemly that the Day of the Sun, which is celebrated on account of its own veneration, should be occupied with legal altercations and with noxious controversies of the litigation of contending parties, so it is pleasant and fitting that those acts which are especially desired shall be accomplished on that day. 1. Therefore all men shall have the right to emancipate and to manumit on this festive day*, and the legal formalities thereof are not forbidden” (Pharr, 44).
*The Latin translated as festive day is “die festo.”

In the past, I and others who study this subject have tended to view Constantine’s Sunday laws from the perspective of Church history (to read Constantine’s first Sunday law, CLICK HERE). Upon further review, I have found no Christian meaning in these laws. We also cannot assume that there would be any such meaning intended. He venerated the sun in several ways (which we will discuss later). Moreover, the Roman Church did not have a developed theology about Sunday rest in 321 AD. The first Roman Church Council to discuss Sunday rest does not occur until about 364 (Laodicea). How then should we view these Sunday laws?

At the time these laws were issued, Constantine was Western Roman Emperor. He also held the title pontifex maximus, which carried with it certain responsibilities that impact this subject matter.

The Romans had established religious traditions that spanned many centuries prior to his reign. For instance, the early Roman religion employed a college of priests called pontiffs; the head of it was titled pontifex maximus. Their duties included regulation of the sacred calendar of festivals and announce when they occurred in the year (especially the pontifex maximus).

In the 40s BC, Julius Caesar wielded the title of the pontifex maximus (in addition to having the political titles of Consul and Dictator). Using his religious authority, he made major changes to the calendar. The Empire was established not long afterwards, and Emperors followed his example of taking on the position of pontifex maximus. They held the title until sometime in the 370s/380s AD. Though they did not always follow the pontifical regulations with precision, they often used it properly to change the length of festivals or institute new ones.

Since Constantine held the title pontifex maximus, it means that he would be responsible for making certain decisions to govern the ancient religious traditions of the Roman people. One clear instance of this occurred on December 17, 320. He issued a law which permitted and defined the behavior of the pagan haruspices; it was received on the day after his first Sunday law (March 8, 321; CT: 16.10.1). Tacitus, writing a couple of centuries earlier, mentioned that pontiffs were involved with overseeing the haruspices (Annals, 11.15).

While the pontifical authority is important, religious tradition was also a serious concern to the Romans. Cicero, who lived from approximately 106 to 43 BC, was a major contributor to Roman thought as a statesman and lawyer. In his work On Law, he described special characteristics of the ancient Roman celebrations.

“Next, our provision for holidays and festivals* ordains rest from lawsuits and controversies for free men, and from labour and toil for slaves. Whoever plans the official year ought to arrange that these festivals shall come at the completion of the various labours of the farm…” (idem, 2.12[29]).
*The latin reads: “feriarum festorumque dierum.”

The principles described by Cicero continued to be applied to Roman festivals during the Imperial period. This included the Saturnalia (Dec 17-24) and the Kalends of January (Jan 1-3). To read more about how these Roman religious concepts were applied to these festivals, see the Chapter Appendix at the end of this article.

Constantine’s 321 Sunday laws matched the anticipated patterns for festivals described by Cicero and other Roman authors. The issues of work and agricultural toils were addressed in the first law (March 7). While farmers were not granted rest on the day, their position was discussed to be consistent with other festivals. Many annual festivals related in some way to the harvest cycle. It was logical not to allow farmers off on Sunday since there is not a weekly crop. In the second law, most legal proceedings were suspended and freedom for slaves were addressed (July 3). The Latin word festo was employed in this law.

Another factor to be considered with this topic is the prevalence of sun worship. In the century leading up to Constantine’s reign, the Empire experienced the elevation of sun worship in the entity of Sol Invictus. At times, Sol was the highest object of worship. Aurelian (early 270s) honored Sol with the title ‘lord of the Empire.’ He instituted annual games to the sun that were still celebrated in Constantine’s time (and decades afterwards). By the time Constantine became Western Emperor (312), reverence for Sol Invictus was an imperial heritage (albeit nuanced). He honored Sol on monuments and coins. To learn more about Constantine’s veneration for the sun, CLICK HERE.

When we review the information presented thus far in the article, Constantine’s Sunday laws become better understood.  The Christian influence is absent. Instead, Constantine simultaneously merged two Roman ideals; one was older and the other newer.

He utilized the old title pontifex maximus to establish a festival on Sunday. Between the two laws, he discussed the necessary subjects according to ancient custom: labor, agricultural, and courts. At the same time, the focus of the law was the sun or Sol, which was a more recent development. This continued the newer custom.

There are two other examples that exemplify his use of pontifex. In an inscription found in the Balkans region, we learn that Constantine adjusted the ancient Roman nundinae or market day so that it would occur every dies solis instead of every eighth day (Orellius, p 140). This was hardly a move to support any sort of Sabbath-rest on the day. This finding reinforces his pontifical merger of the old and new systems. Later in his life, he utilized pontifical authority to order a temple to be built and a priesthood established for the worship of his family lineage. This continued the Imperial cult which started with Octavian Augustus (Roman Civilization, Selected Readings, pp 579-580).

Constantine’s Sun-day laws were qualitatively different than other Roman celebrations in that they established and regulated a weekly festival. The name Sun-day was a common name for this day of the week among pagans who adhered to the astrological planetary week. Neither of the 321 laws labeled Sunday the first day of the week or the Lord’s day, which would be expected if Roman Church influence were present. Also, there was no mention of congregational gatherings. Dies solis was the second day of the week in the planetary weekly cycle (more on this subject in a future work).

We will briefly discuss how this analysis influences our view of contemporary Christian writers. Starting with Eusebius, Christian writers (especially from the Pro-Roman Church perspective) tried to attach Christian meaning to the 321 Sunday laws. This started with his work the Life of Constantine, which was composed about sixteen years later (idem, 4.18). In it, Eusebius misrepresents the content of the Sunday laws and adds Christian meaning. In his earlier work, Church History, he did not reference them at all. Keep in mind that he was the first Christian-affiliated writer to propose the idea of transferring the Biblical Sabbath to Sunday about 330 AD (Commentary on Psalms 92; Odom, 291-292).

While many Christians who study this subject assume Constantine was influenced by Christians like Eusebius, it was the opposite. Eusebius likely derived his views on Sunday rest at least in part from the 321 Sunday laws rather than the other way around. In other words, he used these laws as an opportunity to further his transference agenda. Nearly 16 years later, He added details to the description of these laws that would fit his viewpoint.

The Emperor never ascribed Christian meaning to these laws. He did not even try to make Sunday an imitation day of the Biblical Sabbath because key elements, such as requiring rest for all people, are absent. The necessary elements from Roman tradition were addressed. Furthermore, Constantine upheld protections for Biblical Sabbath observance (which we have discussed in a prior article – CLICK HERE to read how Constantine protected Sabbath observance). This means he was not involved in the ‘Sabbath transference’ theology of Eusebius.

Eusebius established a precedent which would be followed by future Christian historians (see Sozomen, Church History, 1.8). And so the tone was set for centuries to come. People ascribed meaning to these laws that cannot be derived from the language used in them or the example of the person who enacted them.

After this analysis we are left with the conclusion that Constantine was not inspired by the Bible or any Christian leader to enact Sunday laws. He exercised the authority of the pontifex maximus to establish Sunday as the weekly festival. In doing so, he considered ancient traditions regarding festo. Additionally, he incorporated the newly popularized adoration of Sol. Though the issue of Sunday rest was not settled in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries later, Christian authors used his laws to their advantage to push for Sunday observance as a replacement for the Biblical Sabbath.

By viewing the laws from the viewpoint of Roman history, I think a paradigm is established to interpret them with more historical accuracy.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

Article Appendix
Constantine’s Sunday law mirrors other ancient Roman celebrations such as Saturnalia and the Kalends of January.

Lucian of Samosata, who lived (125-180 AD), wrote about the celebration of Saturnalia (it started December 17). At times, this celebration was held for just a few days. In later years in was extended for up to seven days. Saturn was the main deity remembered during this time, but others were also extolled. Lucian commented on the freedom from work and business were granted to the people during it. 

“To begin with, it only lasts a week; that over, I am a private person, just a man in the street. Secondly, during my week the serious is barred; no business allowed. Drinking and being drunk, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of tremulous hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water – such are the functions over which I preside… therefore the merry noise on every side, the son and the games; therefore the slave and the free as one…All business, be it public or private is forbidden during the feast days…all men shall be equal, slave and free, rich and poor, one with another…” ((Saturnalia, sections 2, 7; Chronosolon, sections 13-14).

Marcobius wrote about the issue of legal proceedings. It seems that at times lawsuits were barred just on a few days during this seven-day extravaganza (Saturnalia, 1.10.4-5).

Libianus, who lived from 314 to 394 AD, described the widespread celebration of the Kalends of January. Paganism was still strong in the Roman world of that time. This celebration was held from January 1 through 3. He wrote:

“The festival of the Kalends, is celebrated everywhere as far as the limits of the Roman Empire extend … A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides … The highroads and footpaths are covered with whole processions of laden men and beasts … As the thousand flowers which burst forth everywhere are the adornment of Spring, so are the thousand presents poured out on all sides, the decorations of the Kalends feast. It may justly be said that it is the fairest time of the year…. The Kalends festival banishes all that is connected with toil, and allows men to give themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment. From the minds of young people it removes two kinds of dread: the dread of the schoolmaster and the dread of the stern pedagogue. The slave also it allows, as far as possible, to breathe the air of freedom…” (quoted from Miles, 168–9).

Works Cited

Catholic Encyclopedia 1911: Constantine the Great; Eusebius of Caesarea

Cicero, On Law, 2.12(29). Translated by Clinton Walker Keyes. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1928. pp 406-407.

Eusebius. The Life of Constantine, 4:18. McGiffert, Rev. Arthur Cushman. Schaff and Wace, ed. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. Second Series. Vol. 1: Eusebius. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1904. p 544.

Lewis, Naphtali and Reinhold, Meyer. Roman Civilization: Selected Readings. Vol 2: The Empire. 3rd ed. New York: Columbia Press. 1990. pp 579-580.

Libanius. Oration 9. Miles, C. 1912. Christmas in ritual and tradition, Christian and Pagan. London: T. Fisher Unwin, pp 168–169.

Lucian of Samasota. Saturnalia, sections 2, 7; Chronosolon, sections 13-14. Translated by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Vol. 4. Oxford, 1905, pp 108-116.

Macrobius. Saturnalia, 1.10.4-5. Translated and edited by Robert A Kaster. Books 1-2. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2011, pp 105-106.

Odom, Robert L. Sabbath and Sunday in Early Christianity. Review Herald Publishing Association. Washington, DC: 1977. pp 291-292.

Pharr, Clyde, Trans. The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions. Princeton University, 1952. p 44.

Tacitus. The Annals, 11.15. Latin: Holbrooke, Geo. O, ed. London: Macmillan & Co. 1882. p 257. English: The Annals of Tacitus. Translated by George Gilbert Ramsay. London: John Murray, 1909. p 19.

Orellius, Johann Caspar. Inscriptionum Latinarum Selectarum Amplissima Collecto. Romanae Antiquitatis. vol 1. 1828. no 508, p 140.

Martin Luther and the Sabbath

Martin Luther and the Sabbath

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

As we come upon the day commonly called “Reformation Day”, we are reminded to consider the life of Martin Luther. He defied abuses within the largest religious institution in Europe and won; he risked his life to do so. Many people are not aware that Martin Luther was also confronted with the issue of the Sabbath. In fact, at the same time Luther’s reformation movement began there was also a movement to return to the seventh-day Sabbath.

In 1483, Martin Luther was born into a poor family of peasants. His father entered him into formal learning at a young age. He eventually went to school for law, obtaining a bachelor and master’s degree. Not long after this, he decided to become a monk in the Roman Catholic Church.

Upon his entrance into the Erfurt convent, he began to study rigorously. The great question to which he devoted these early years was how he could save his own soul. He fasted, whipped himself, and subjected himself to other forms of penance. In Roman Catholic theology, penance is part of receiving God’s forgiveness and coming back into His grace. In Luther’s eyes, God was a judge who watched every moment and waited to strike you down for the slightest transgression. This was his idea of God’s relationship with man.

In the early Christianity, certain sins were publicly confessed and the remorse of the confessor was accepted as genuine repentance (see I Cor. 5:1-5, 11-13, 2 Cor. 2:1-8; 2 Thess. 3:14-15, Titus 3:9-11). Later, private confession was adopted in the Roman Church. The believer confessed in private to a clergy member, who would then pronounce penance for the believer. In Catholic theology, penance involves performance of certain actions for the person to be able to receive God’s grace. The penance might last a short time or even several years and involve fasting, whipping, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or other actions. Perhaps as early as the sixth century, the Roman Church allowed a person to pay so much money as an offering to commute a penance. These were later named indulgences and by the 1500s they were very common.

After some years of study, the idea of indulgences outraged Luther. He nailed the 95 Thesis to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenburg on October 31st 1517 (some sources say Nov. 1). Community letters and other important announcements were routinely nailed to this door, so this behavior was not out of the ordinary. WHAT Luther nailed to that door was out of the ordinary!

In the 95 Thesis, he stated that there was no need for indulgences and that forgiveness comes from God alone. This bold pronunciation had a chain reaction. The sale of indulgences decreased; there was also a corresponding decrease of revenue for the Roman Church. This catapulted Luther’s beliefs to the forefront of German politics, a nation ripe for religious change. The nation was truly divided over the issue. Some of the princes of Germany were very loyal to the papacy, whereas others were weary of Rome and desired change.

In the midst of this attempt to reform the Roman Church, Luther was confronted regarding the Sabbath question. Luther had a close friend named Andreas Karlstadt; they disagreed with each other in two key areas. Karlstadt believed Luther should accept 1) condemning of idols and images as the second commandment decrees and 2) the Sabbath. We have two quotes from him below:

“God laid out before us all commandments and prohibitions to make us aware of our inner image and likeness, and to understand how God created us in his image to become as God is, i.e., holy, tranquil, good, just, wise, strong, truthful, kind, merciful, etc. All commandments of God demand of us to be godlike; in fact, they have been given us so that we might be conformed to God” (Karlstadt, Regarding The Sabbath and other Statutory Holy Days, Section 2).

“If servants have worked for six days, they are to have the seventh day off God says without distinction, ‘Remember to celebrate the seventh day.’ He does not say that we must keep Sunday or Saturday as the seventh day. It is no secret that human beings instituted Sunday. As for Saturday, the matter is still being debated” (ibid, Section 10).

In the first statement, Karlstadt discussed the commandments of God and their importance in conforming us in God’s image. In the second statement, he wrote about the importance of keeping the Sabbath, though he is undecided about the specific day. Karlstadt admitted that human beings instituted Sunday – not God. He was unsure about Saturday being the Sabbath, but he did believe the fourth commandment needed further study in the reformation.

Luther’s response to Karlstadt was less than favorable!

1525 – Martin Luther

“Thus it is not true that there is no ceremonial or judicial law in the Ten Commandments. Such laws are in the decalogue, depend on it, and belong there. And to indicate this God himself has expressly introduced two ceremonial laws, namely, concerning images and the sabbath….Yes, if Karlstadt were to write more about the sabbath, even Sunday would have to give way, and the sabbath, that is, Saturday, would be celebrated. He would truly make us Jews in all things, so that we also would have to be circumcised, etc.” (Luther, Against the Heavenly Prophets).

“Therefore also, whoever destroys images, or observes the sabbath (that is, whoever teaches that it must be kept), he also must let himself be circumcised and keep the whole Mosaic law” (ibid).

“It is not necessary to observe the sabbath or Sunday because of Moses’ commandment. Nature also shows and teaches that one must now and then rest a day, so that man and beast may be refreshed. This natural reason Moses also recognized in his sabbath law, for he places the sabbath under man, as also Christ does (Matt, 12 [:lff.] and Mark 3 [:]). For where it is kept for the sake of rest alone, it is clear that he who does not need rest may break the sabbath and rest on some other day, as nature allows. The sabbath is also to be kept for the purpose of preaching and hearing the Word of God” (ibid).

Luther considered the prohibition of images/idols and the Sabbath to be part of the ceremonial law, but considered the rest of the Ten Commandments to be God’s Law and morally binding. His statements are not always consistent and at times are confusing. Some of his statements clearly mocked Karlstadt’s point of view that the Sabbath still retained some importance. For some reason Luther attributed the Sabbath to Moses. This is not Scriptural as the Sabbath is never called the Sabbath of Moses or Jews. The seventh day is called the Sabbath of the Lord our God (Ex 20:8-11).

Luther’s rejection of Catholic dogma led to several public debates between the two sides. Often, the doctors of the Roman Catholic Church took advantage of Luther’s inconsistencies. One of the doctors who opposed Luther was named Johann Eck. Many people have heard of Luther’s 95 Thesis against the Roman Church, but very few know about the 404 Thesis that the Catholic Church sent to Luther. Johann Eck compiled the theses to point out errors with Luther’s theology from the Roman perspective. He wrote the following:

“There are some who think that the Sabbath ought still to be observed, since we have Scripture for this, and not for the Lord’s Day” (section 179. 404 Thesis of Johann Eck).

“Therefore it thus is clear that the Church is older than Scripture, and Scripture would not be authentic without the Church’s authority. . . . Scripture teaches: ‘Remember to hallow the Sabbath day; six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath day of the Lord your God.’ etc. Yet the Church has changed the Sabbath into Sunday on its own authority, on which you have no Scripture” (Eck, p 12).

One of Luther’s main theological precepts was sola scriptura, meaning Scripture alone. However, sola scriptura was inconsistently applied when it came to the Sabbath. While his opponents took advantage of this, they also acknowledged that Sunday observance was an invention of human authority.

1532-1538

Between 1532 and 1538, Martin Luther began teaching against a group of Christians that arose from relative obscurity in the 1520s. These Sabbatarians were very prominent in Bohemia and Moravia. In this time, the Roman Church made lists of groups considered heretical. The group ‘Sabbatarians’ are found in these lists and were usually enumerated just after Lutherans and Calvinists (Hasel, pp 101-106).

In 1532 and 1535, Luther denounced the Sabbatarian groups. In his lectures on Genesis he stated: “In our time there arose in Moravia a foolish kind of people, the Sabbatarians, who maintain that the Sabbath must be observed after the fashion of the Jews. Perhaps they will insist on circumcision too, for a like reason” (Luther’s Works, vol. 47, p 60).

In 1538, Luther dedicated an entire letter to denigrating them called “Against the Sabbatarians: Letter to a Good Friend.” It was a letter written to Count Graf Wolfgang Schlick zu Falkenau, who wrote about the Sabbath keeping tendencies in the region. I will summarize it below.

Most of the work is directed against Jewish people; he denigrates them. He claimed that their exile from Jerusalem and the troubles they faced since 70 AD came because of their sins (ibid, pp 67, 98). Due to this, he continued, they live under God’s wrath and that their punishment would last an indefinite time (ibid, pp 72, 75). He stated that they were punished worse than any heathen people (ibid, p 67). He concluded the letter by saying that they are forsaken by God and even compares them to the devil (ibid, pp 96-97).

He finally transitions in the letter to make the distinction between the Law of Moses and the Law of God, with the Law of God being the Ten Commandments (ibid, p 88). While he accepted that the first commandment applied to both Christians and Jewish people, he viewed the Sabbath differently (ibid, p 92). The Sabbath, which he called the third commandment, is “a commandment that applies to the whole world; but the form in which Moses frames it and adapts it to his people was imposed only on Jews…” (ibid, p 91).

He then allegorized the meaning of this commandment by saying “For the true meaning of the third commandment is that we on that day should teach and hear the word of God, thereby sanctifying both the day and ourselves…Wherever God’s word is preached it follows naturally that one must necessarily celebrate at the same hour or time and be quiet…But the sanctifying—that is, the teaching and preaching of God’s word, which is the true, genuine, and sole meaning of this commandment – has been from the beginning and pertains to all the world forever. Therefore the seventh day does not concern us Gentiles, nor did it concern the Jews beyond the advent of the Messiah, although by the very nature of things one must, as already said, rest, celebrate and keep the Sabbath on whatever day or at whatever hour God’s word is preached…” (ibid, pp 92-93).

On his interpretation of Isaiah 66:23, which is a future promise of Sabbath keeping, he said “For the sanctifying of the word of God will enjoy full scope daily and abundantly, and every day will be a Sabbath” (ibid, p 93). He said the Jews “shamefully distort and pervert the prophets.” Again, the anti-Jewish sentiment is obvious. He also went on to explain how parts of the fourth, ninth, and tenth commandments no longer apply (ibid, pp 94-95).

As stated earlier, Luther had a confusing and contradicting view of the Sabbath and the Ten Commandments. He allegorized the Sabbath as either being a time whenever the Word of God was preached/taught or eventually being every day. This is similar to early allegorical teachers from the late second and early third century (such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, which we have reviewed in previous articles – CLICK HERE to read about them).

Towards the end of his life, Luther’s disdain for the Jewish people increased. In 1543, he released his highly anti-Semitic work “On the Jews and their Lies.” In it, he condemned the Jewish people to damnation. He considered whether or not their synagogues should be burned down; he proposed that they be ignored and banished from the land altogether. The rhetoric contained in this document is quite sickening.

His hatred for Jewish people led him to also hate the Sabbath. Following the same line of reasoning from anti-Semitic teachers in the second century, Luther resorted to labeling the Sabbath as ‘Jewish’ and allegorized it away.

Despite Luther’s rejection of the Sabbath, the Sabbatarian Anabaptists still had a strong presence. Other German leaders at this same time in history, such as Desiderius Erasmus, also commented on Sabbath keepers in Germany (CLICK HERE to read his comments). Oswald Glait and Andreas Fischer were two contemporary leaders that spread the knowledge of the Sabbath. Using a consistent application of sola scriptura to the Ten Commandments, they convinced many Lutherans in Moravia to honor the Seventh Day Sabbath. At this time, the Sabbath keeping movement was vigorous and was prevalent enough to garner the attention of political and religious leaders.

Let us remember that two reformations happened simultaneously in the 1500s. One preached obedience to all Ten Commandments; the other did not.

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

Works Cited

Eck, Johann. Enchiridion, ed. & trans. F. L. Battles (Pittsburgh, 1976), p. 12.

Eck, Johann. 404 Thesis. Taken from the book of Concord. Accessed online: http://bookofconcord.org/eck404-theses.php

Hasel, Gerhard F. “Sabbatarian Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century: Part 1.” Andrews University Seminary Studies (AUSS) 5.2 (1967): 101-106.

Karlstadt, Adreas. Regarding The Sabbath and other Statutory Holy Days, Sections 2, 10.

Luther, Martin. A Letter To A Good Friend: Against the Sabbtarians. Luther’s Works, Volume 47, The Christian in Society IV, Franklin Sherman, ed. And Helmut T. Lehmann, gen ed. Fortress Press: PA, 1971. pp 60-95.

Luther, Martin. Against the Heavenly Prophets.