avid Klinghoffer and I have never met, but we’ve exchanged a number of e-mails over the years and I respect his work. He’s an Orthodox Jew whose book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus (Doubleday, 2005) gave me, a Jewish believer in Jesus, quite a bit to think about. As once mentioned in these pages, his arguments didn’t move me away from Christian faith, although they were rather thought provoking.1
A senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Klinghoffer is back again with another volume, Shattered Tablets: Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril (Doubleday, 2007). In this volume he argues for a general understanding of and respect for the Decalogue by non-Jews, Jews, and even atheists. Ignoring the spiritual and moral principles of the law leads to a lawlessness in society, he argues.
He’s not calling for state-sponsored legalism—that’s important to note—but rather for a return to a basic respect for right and wrong as seen via the commandments. Correctly noting that the first four commandments (which describe our relationship to God) are a predicate for the final six (on how we deal with each other on this earth), Klinghoffer argues for civility in society. If a nation observes even the spirit of the commandments, he asserts, we’d all be better for it.
So far, so good: I try to observe the commandments, and when I slip, I ask the Lord for forgiveness. That’s the Bible way, as I understand it under the B’rit Hadasha
, Hebrew for the New Covenant.
But unlike many in the Christian world today, I don’t then make the jump and say that the first day of the week is to be observed as the Bible Sabbath. To me, having read the story in Genesis 2, especially verse 3, it’s clear: “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (NIV). The sovereign Lord of the universe created a day of rest, and blessed it, for the entire creation. Now, I’ll grant you, it was only Adam and Eve—there were no Jews (or Gentiles) at that moment. But the Sabbath was a gift for all humankind, as represented by our first ancestors.
In Isaiah 66:23 the future life in the millennial kingdom is revealed, including a weekly worship cycle. The New American Standard version renders it like this: “‘And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the Lord.”2
From these verses, and many others, it’s clear to me, and perhaps to you, that God intends the Sabbath for everyone. Jesus never said we should observe another day, nor did any apostle that I’m aware of. That the day was changed is beyond dispute; as Seventh-day Adventists, we believe the change was pressed upon the nascent movement of Christ’s followers.
Ironically, Klinghoffer—who in his earlier book excoriated the Christian church for not following the Bible Sabbath, but rather abandoning it—does an astonishing about-face and says non-Jews don’t need to keep the seventh day holy in
the manner that Orthodox Jews keep it today, that they’d be committing a sin if they even tried. He bases this on ancient teachings, codified in the Talmud, the centuries-old Jewish rabbinic text. Although the Talmud is an important, amplifying commentary on Scripture, it is neither the final authority nor does its viewpoint stand above that of the Bible itself. There’s just no biblical prohibition against anyone keeping the Sabbath as the ancient Israelites did, nor as observant Jews do today.
By taking the “it’s not for the Gentiles” approach regarding the Bible Sabbath, Klinghoffer may be holding fast to Jewish orthodoxy, but he is, understandably, ignoring what I believe is a key fact of the gospel message, one amplified by Paul and the early apostles: What was a “closed” system of salvation for the Israelites is now open to all, including the benefits and blessings of a day of rest given as a gift by a loving God to His creation.
When Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made for humankind” (Mark 2:27, NRSV),3 I believe He had more than one point to convey. The Sabbath isn’t meant to be a burden, but it also is a gift. It’s a gift for everyone, regardless of race, color, or creed.
1“Why This Jew Accepted Jesus,” Mark A. Kellner, Adventist Review, Nov. 23, 2006, pp. 28-30.
2Scripture quotation taken from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
3Bible text is taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Mark A. Kellner is news editor of the Adventist Review.