The Case for the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance

Is the Sabbath a creation ordinance, or was it merely part of the Mosaic covenant? Learn why the Sabbath is still relevant for Christians today.
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Quick Summary

From Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:10-11, and Exodus 16:23, we learn that the Sabbath command is a creation ordinance that began on the seventh day of creation. This is confirmed by the Sabbath command in Exodus 16:23, which occurred before Mount Sinai and the Ten commandments, as well as by Exodus 20:10-11, which explains that the Sabbath command originates from the seventh day of creation.

What are creation ordinances?

Here is how J. Ligon Duncan defines creation ordinances:

Creation ordinances are mandates, or commands or principles that God gave to us in our original, our prefallen, our unfallen state. They are designed to promote God's glory and to practically express what it means for us to be made in God's image.

Creation ordinances are universal commands to all mankind that God gave in the garden of Eden.

The Issue

The issue we want to deal with here is whether the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, or, in other words, whether the Sabbath is a perpetual, universal moral command, or if was merely part of the temporary Mosaic law, which has now been abolished.

Many argue that 1) since the Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, and 2) since the Ten Commandments were part of the Mosaic covenant, and 3) since the Mosaic law has been abolish by the law of Christ, that means the Sabbath is no longer a moral law that humans need to obey.

While we disagree with premise #3 in that we believe that Christ did not abolish the Mosaic law, but rather fulfilled it, that topic will not be addressed in this post.

Instead, this post will deal solely with the fourth commandment, the Sabbath commandment, and whether it is a creation ordinance.

The Sabbath is a creation ordinance

The Sabbath is a creation ordinance because it was instituted during the creation week in Genesis 2:1-2.

Genesis 2:2-3 - God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested

Genesis 2:2-3 - 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

In Genesis 2:2-3, we learn that on the seventh day, God finished His work of creation and that He rested on this day. Because of this, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.

Although the Sabbath is not explicitly mentioned here, the fact that God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because He rested on this day establishes a weekly pattern for man, who is made in God's image.

Some would argue that just because God blessed the seventh day and made it holy does not mean He instituted the weekly Sabbath command on this day. To answer this, let's take a look at two passages in Exodus.

Exodus 20:10-11 - The weekly Sabbath command is grounded in the creation pattern

10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

In Exodus 20:10-11, we learn that the weekly Sabbath command is not only based upon the pattern of creation, in which God rested on the seventh day, but also that it existed before Exodus 20.

Verse 11 tells us that on the seventh day of creation, God not only rested, but also that on that day, "Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbatch day and made it holy." This is exactly the same pattern that we see in Genesis 2:3, which says that on the seventh day, "So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy."

The clear conclusion from this is that on the seventh day of creation, God rested and instituted the Sabbath day to follow God's pattern of six days of work and one day of rest. On the seventh day of creation, God blessed the Sabbath day, the seventh day, and made it holy.

Exodus 16:23 - The Sabbath was commanded before the Mosaic law was given

In Exodus 16:23, we learn that the Sabbath command was not a command that started with the Mosaic law given at Mount Sinai, but rather existed before the Mosaic law was given.

he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’”

The key takeaway from Exodus 16:23 is that the Ten Commandments have not been given yet, and Moun Sinai has not happened yet. Because of this, we know that the Sabbath command precedes and is outside of the Mosaic law and Mosaic covenant given at Mount Sinai.

The Sabbath command did not start at Mount Sinai (and neither did the other nine commandments), but rather, it was simply reaffirmed, since the Ten Commandments are not a temporary moral law, but rather God's perpetual, universal moral law.

Because the Ten Commandments are based on God's holiness and character, they are not temporary, but rather existed from the beginning and endure forever.

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