The Extended-Sabbath Argument and Darwinism
People who are intimidated by the claims of modern “scientism” are ever looking for biblical loopholes by which they may force the Genesis record of the creation events into the mold of evolutionary chronology. Evolutionists begrudgingly concede that without a sufficient span of time, there is no chance that macro-evolution (the development of all living organisms from a single, original life-source) has occurred. Dr. Robert Jastrow, a prominent evolutionist, calls “time” the “key to Darwin’s explanation” (Until The Sun Dies, New York: Warner, 1977, p. 112).
The fact is, not even “time” could facilitate that effect without a sufficient mechanism by which the numerous complicated changes could be orchestrated – which mechanism does not exist. Time is merely quantitative; it is not qualitative.
One means of accommodating Genesis 1 to the Darwinian time-calendar is to contend that the “days” of the initial creation week are not literal days; rather, supposedly they represent eons of time. They are merely “metaphorical” days. One argument that is alleged to support this position has been constructed from material found in the book of Hebrews.
In Hebrews 4, the inspired writer takes note of the fact that God “rested” from his creation activity of the initial week. Then, capitalizing upon the concept of “rest,” the sacred writer reminds his Hebrew brethren that another “rest” awaits the people of God. Those who remain faithful are to “enter into that rest” (4:3), but those whose lives are characterized by “disobedience” will not enter (4:6). The writer encourages these saints, therefore, to “harden not” their hearts (they were in imminent danger of falling away from the faith — cf. 3:12); instead, they were to maintain their fidelity to God.
Then, as a promise of hope for those who maintain their loyalty to Christ, the writer of Hebrews declares: “There remains therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God” (4:9).
It is an unfortunate thing that some, wresting this “sabbath-rest” expression from its immediate context, have foisted upon it an unusual application that conforms to their personal theological agenda.
Seventh-day Adventists employ this flawed methodology in seeking justification for their dogma that the seventh-day Sabbath is a binding obligation for Christians today. Others – those who seek an alliance between Moses and Darwin – give it another twist. A recent writer has argued his case in the following fashion.
“God entered a ‘rest’ on the ‘seventh day’ that still ‘remains.’ The writer of Hebrews uses the ‘seventh day’ as a metaphor for an indeterminate period of time! Why, then, would we consider the previous six ‘days’ as anything other than metaphors as well? Especially when we know that the same Hebrew word for ‘day’ is used for all seven days. So far as time is concerned, the only difference is that each of the first six days had both a beginning and ending. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the seventh day provides us with a contextual model for the preceding six days – a model showing that the previous six days were not limited to a period of twenty-four hours” (Calvin Fields, Things You Never Heard, Phoenix: ACW Press, 2001, pp. 73-74).
There are several things that may be noted in refutation of the case argued above.
- To suggest that because a word is borrowed from an Old Testament context, and is used figuratively in the New Testament, implies that the original usage was likewise figurative, is a colossal interpretative blunder. Hundreds of literal items in various Old Testament contexts are employed in figurative senses in the New Testament. For example, Christians are designated as “living stones” in the temple of God, the church (1 Pet. 2:5). This does not suggest, however, that the original temple was constructed of figurative stones. In a symbolic sense, Christians are to offer their bodies as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1), but that does not indicate that the sacrifices of the Mosaic regime were not literal sacrifices. One simply may not force a derived use back upon an original meaning.
As noted above, the Adventists contend that since the “Sabbath” of the Old Testament was literal, and there “remains” a “Sabbath” for the people of God today, then the literal Sabbath must be binding still. That is an egregious error. It is a mistake of equal magnitude to contend that because the “Sabbath” of Hebrews 4;9 is figurative, that the “Sabbath” of Genesis 2 must be figurative as well.
- The term for “rest” (katapausis) merely means “to cease from labor.” In the context of the creation week, the word suggests that by the end of the sixth day, God had completed his work of fashioning the Universe. The seventh day marked the cessation of that originating activity. It is a woeful stretch to suggest that the original seventh day is continuing at this very moment. That the “Sabbath” of Hebrews 4:9 is not a continuation of the “Sabbath” of Genesis 2 is evident from the fact that the “rest” contemplated in Hebrews 4 had not yet been enjoyed by these Christians (cf. v. 11).
- The word “remains” in Hebrew 4:9 does not suggest that the “Sabbath” of the creation week had continued from the creation week, all the way down to the time when the book of Hebrews was written, and thus was a Sabbath of “undetermined time.” The term “remains” does not argue for chronological continuity. “Remains” translates the Greek term apoleipo, which signifies “to be reserved for future appearance or enactment” (F.W. Danker, et al., Greek-English Lexicon, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 115). The use of apoleipo clearly distinguishes the future “Sabbath” rest of the Hebrews’ context, from that which characterized the conclusion of the creation week.
- The author of the quotation cited above subtly misrepresented the Genesis 1 phraseology (and we prefer to think that such was not intentional). The Genesis text does not specifically state that each of the first six days “had both a beginning and ending,” though that certainly was the case. What it does affirm is that each of those days had a division of evening and morning, or night and day, that consisted of darkness and light. And that fact flies directly into the face of the “indeterminate-time” model.
The reality is, Moses, who wrote both Genesis and Exodus, clearly shows that the days of the creation week were of the same sort as the Sabbath – later enjoined upon the Israelite people (Ex. 20:11). And the author of the quotation cited above is compelled to acknowledge the force of this argument. He writes:
“Of course, it is easy to read the first chapter of Genesis, along with Exodus 20:11, and conclude that God created everything in six, twenty-four hour days” (p. 72).
Unfortunately, the gentleman detours around the most natural (easy) interpretation of the sacred text, and opts for the well-known and frequently-refuted “long-Sabbath” argument.
It is tragic indeed when Christian men allow the skeptical philosophies of the world to be the lens through which they view the Scriptures.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.