A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Ryan M. McGraw
“Sabbath” often has negative connotations for Christians today. Particularly, the Sabbath often brings terms like “Judaism” or “legalism” to mind. Yet Guy Waters stresses rightly that “worship” should be the first thing that the Sabbath presses upon our attention. As the old Latin saying goes, abusus no tollit usum, or, abusing a thing does not take away the use of a thing. Showing the place of the Sabbath in the Bible “from cover to cover” (12), Waters illustrates how and why the Sabbath always has, and still does, direct the church to devote an entire day to worship, commemorating creation and redemption, as God’s people look forward to glory. Like the author’s other works, this book is solid, readable, persuasive, practical, and memorable, making it an outstanding starting point for anyone interested in the Bible’s teaching on the Sabbath.
The book’s six chapters move through creation, law, prophets, Christ, new creation, and Christian practices. Since this series represents biblical rather than systematic theology, the chapters expectedly and appropriately follow the historical order of Scripture itself, from creation, to Moses, to Christ’s life, to the post-resurrection church, and today. The difference between systematic and biblical theological methods is somewhat like the difference between telling someone the summary and conclusion of a story versus letting the story unfold on its own terms. Both have their value in their own places. Yet perhaps the method behind biblical theology is the most suitable one for understanding the Bible’s teaching on the Sabbath. Water’s book is so clear and powerful precisely because he draws readers into the Bible’s storyline, seeing the place of the Sabbath in the story along the way. This process makes conclusions about the Sabbath as a day devoted to God’s worship, celebrating creation and redemption, natural and compelling. At the end of such a story, readers come to expect that, of course, the church did, and we should, celebrate creation and redemption best and most fully in Christ on the first day of the week. None of Water’s conclusions are forced, and all of them flow from clear and natural readings of biblical narratives.
A couple of examples help illustrate the effectiveness of the author’s approach to treating the Sabbath. In chapter four, he usefully reminds readers that Jesus still lived under the Mosaic covenant, his resurrection properly marking “the beginning of the new covenant” (74). This contextual point is vital because it illustrates why Jesus did not abrogate the Sabbath by his teaching and example. Doing so was not his task during his earthly ministry, since he came to fulfill the law rather than to destroy it (Matt. 5:17). Waters ably demonstrates in this setting that Jesus and the Pharisees did not merely have different interpretations of the law, but “two altogether radically different conceptions of God’s law” (90). Instead of being tempted to dismiss the Sabbath as Mosaic and irrelevant to Christians today, Waters shows clearly how seamlessly Jesus’ teaching and practices surrounding the Sabbath fit God’s original designs for the day.
Another example of the benefits of Waters’ narrative approach is when leads us to listen to the biblical narrative in chapter five in order to see the intentional change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week, pivoting on Christ’s resurrection (e.g., 106). He shows readers how to listen to biblical texts on their own terms as he leads us through the story of the gospels, Acts, and the epistles, showing clearly that the NT stress on Christ’s presence and proclamation on the first day of the week was intentional. By the time later texts in the NT assume divinely instituted and regular worship, Waters has shown how and why they did so in light of the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection appearances on the first day of the week. Doing so makes his arguments for the change of the Sabbath to the first day of the week persuasive, if not inevitable. Even his answers to objections from texts seeming to contradict the continuation of the Sabbath under the new covenant remain powerful, though extremely brief (125-126), because the biblical story has already answered most relevant questions. In short, the biblical theological format of this little book makes it interesting, engaging, and effective all at once.
If any point of deficiency marks this excellent book, then it is a minor one related to the final chapter on application. Pressing the most important point home, Waters set the right positive tone for Sabbath keeping as worship, fellowship, and spiritual refreshment (140). However, though he rightly steers readers clear of coming up with exhaustive lists of “do’s and don’ts” related to the Sabbath, many practical questions will remain, such as, “Is working now and then on the Sabbath ok? What about going to restaurants? How can I help my children enjoy the Sabbath?” and others like these. Without falling into the error of delineating everything that can and can’t do on the Lord’s Day, believers still need enough concrete examples to help them understand the meaning of underlying principles more fully. Regardless of such omissions, we cannot adequately stress the importance of Water’s tone, in which he presses Sabbath keeping as a great means of looking to Christ as Creator and Redeemer, as we use the Lord’s Day to help us anticipate the Day of the Lord.
This excellent little book is a great place to start if you want to find out what the Bible says about the Sabbath. In fact, it will help you start looking forward to the Sabbath, thanking the Lord that he has moved it from the last to the first day of the week. Perhaps an abstract idea of law may repel us, but a day devoted to the resurrection Christ should attract us. God designed the Sabbath not only to secure rest in the present world, but to foster hope in the age to come. May the Lord use this book to help you learn to enjoy it.
Ryan M. McGraw
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Buy the books
THE SABBATH AS REST AND HOPE FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD, by Guy Prentiss Waters