Reading INTO Mark 2:27 – the most common Adventist error on defending the Sabbath

An Adventist friend, a good friend but a theological “adversary” posted on Facebook today:

“If the Sabbath was given only during the time of Moses and according to Jesus “the Sabbath was MADE for MAN” (Mark 2:27) therefore MEN came to exist only during the time of MOSES!” “As long as MAN exists, the SABBATH should also exists because the SABBATH was MADE for MAN.”

A common Adventist argumentation, this interpretation rises and falls on the “correct” interpretation of the context of Mark 2:27. In 2005, I posted a reply on this subject. This, however, shares a more detailed explanation on the context of Mark 2:27 and how this verse has been erroneously used by Adventists to prove a point that wasn’t there.

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In Mark 2:27-28 the Pharisees had made the 7th day Sabbath exceedingly important. They had made the Sabbath the important thing to them man’s needs were only secondary at best. Jesus wanted to make the point to the religious leaders and the people that the Sabbath was not more important than man. The Sabbath was for the benefit of the people and not the other way around. Jesus in saying that he was Lord of the Sabbath was pointing out that he possessed the ultimate authority over the Sabbath. I like the way the Jerusalem Bible puts it, “…so the Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath.” In other words, the Pharisees do not have the authority to condemn Jesus over what they considered a Sabbath violation for he is master and Lord of the Sabbath.

This dispute with the Pharisees arose not over the question of who was supposed to keep the Sabbath, but rather over how the Sabbath was to be kept and who had the authority to determine how the law was to be applied. The SDA belief that here Jesus is teaching that all mankind must keep the 7th day Sabbath is not found in the text. Jesus and the Pharisees knew that the Sabbath was only for the Jews. Neither Jesus nor the Pharisees were concerned with the question of who must keep the Sabbath. Such a concern is limited to the SDA church and other sabbatarians. Let us note that in the text it does not say “all mankind” but just “man”.  Compare this fact with other universal text found in the New Testament and you will see a marked difference. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). “I will pour out a portion of my spirit on all mankind” (Acts 2:17). “…for he wants all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). “The grace of God has appeared, offering salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11). These universal texts  contain the word “all” that is missing from Mark 2:27. The reason for this is that Mark 2:27 is not a universal text. It refers to the Jews only. This interpretation is in complete harmony with the rest of Scripture (see Exodus 16:22-23; 20:8-11; 31:16-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Nehemiah 9:13-14; Ezekiel 20:12, 20).

To sum up we have a text that is not at all concerned with who was to keep the 7th day Sabbath. The concern was with who had the authority to interpret how the Sabbath was to be kept by those under the Law. The text gives no indication that it is a universal text as it simply says, “man” not “all mankind” as in universal texts. In addition we must remember that Jesus was certainly well aware that the Bible says that the 7th day Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel not between God and the world. Therefore, Mark 2:27-28 in no way is saying that the Sabbath is a requirement for all mankind to observe forever.

Jesus actually taught that human needs come before the legal requirements of the Law. This whole dispute with the Pharisees arose when they saw Jesus allowing his disciples to harvest grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. “Have you not read what David did when he was in need and he and his men were hungry?” (Mark 2:25). Jesus’ point was that David “gave it to his men” (v. 26) thus he broke the legal requirement of the Law for a human need. And a greater one than David is here. “That is why the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (v. 28). The idea that all people must observe the Sabbath based on this text is a classic example of reading into a text something that is completely foreign to it.

Sabbath: Saturday, Sunday, or not?

About 10 years ago, I dealt with the issue of Saturday sabbatarianism as I journey out of Seventh-day Adventism. I studied, research, debated, spoken about in symposiums, cried, poured my heart out into this subject. I’ve spoken through emails with theologians and pastors like Dale Ratzlaff, Clay Peck and read their respective books. I read the works of famous sabbatarians and former sabbatarians in the area of theology like Dr. Desmond Ford and Robert Brinsmead. I prayed, journeyed and decided.

Ten years fast forward, I moved on and outgrown that issue. And, instead of joining holy huddles, debating about all these non-essential topics and becoming spiritual obese, I decided I need to flex my spiritual muscles and honor and give glory to Jesus by following his important instruction before he left – to make disciples.

These days, however, I’m attracted again to talk about that theological issue, this time with the other end of the pendulum – the Sunday Sabbatarians. Sunday sabbatarianism, for those who might ask, is a belief that Sabbath observance was transferred from Saturday to Sunday. I don’t really want to dive into it as my energy’s best placed in other things. But since this topic is dear to my heart, let me deal with it anyway.

I know the arguments used by Sunday sabbatarians, but I’ve not talked with anyone before – until now. One thing I realized, refuting Sunday sabbatarianism is far EASIER than refuting Saturday sabbatarianism. Here’s why:

1. The Bible NEVER said that the Sabbath was transferred from Saturday to any day, much more to Sunday. Never. How easy can that be?

2. Now, for a Sunday sabbatarian to justify his belief, he has to use two twisted approach:

a) Make a lot of assumptions. For instance, they would assume that “sabbatismos”, a unique kind of sabbath mentioned in Hebrews 4 is a DAY. Nowhere do we see that though. Not in the context around the verses nor the context of Hebrews as a book. Hebrews talks about how everything in the Old Covenant was fulfilled and pointed to Jesus.

b) They will appeal to tradition. They would argue that since the early church worshiped on Sundays, therefore, it must be the new Sabbath. Wrong. First of all, the early church did not claim that Sunday is the new sabbath ACCORDING to the Bible. Some church fathers claim that Sunday is the “sabbath” for Christians just so to differentiate it from the Jewish sabbath. But this claim is not based on clear instructions from the Bible. Secondly, I respect Christian traditions, but I don’t use it to go above what the Bible did or did not say. Otherwise, I’ll just be a Roman Catholic and make traditions part of my irrefutable belief system.

Old Covenant sabbath?

Together with Adventists, a Sunday sabbatarian actually agrees that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant practices. What they missed though is the opportunity to be true to that statement. What a Sunday sabbatarian will do is insist on adopting an old covenant practice of observing a sabbath DAY but then also insist that it has been changed to Sunday to be “new covenant-friendly”. In this regard, the Seventh-day Adventist is even more consistent than a Sunday sabbatarian. At least, the Seventh-day Adventist holds on to true Biblical sabbath and tries to explain that it remains as the Christian sabbath. The Sunday sabbatarian, however, not only adopted an old covenant practice, it even tries to add something to the Bible!

The verdict

For Christians, is Saturday the sabbath day? No. The Jewish sabbath at its very essence is the very center of Jewish laws, identifying the Jews as a people. It has its very special purpose. (see. Exo. 20 and Deut. 5). The old covenant, to which the ten commandments are part of, fulfilled it’s requirement in Jesus.

Is the sabbath then transferred to Sunday for Christians to observe? No. Nowhere in the Bible do we see such important doctrine. You will have to twist the scriptures and hide under intellectual arrogance to prove that such a doctrine exist.

What, or who, then is the Sabbath? Jesus. He is our rest (Matt. 11:28). He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the fulfillment of the law. He is to be worshiped everyday through our life (Rom. 12). He is “sabbatismos”, the new sabbath mentioned in Hebrews 4. Jesus is our Sabbath, everyday.

The question for both camps is not actually what day is the Sabbath day for Christians. The real question is what has changed from the Old Covenant to the New that makes the sabbath in its real essence and intent become more than just a day.

Physical rest and weekly meetings

I still believe that the principle of a sabbath day of rest is a good practice. In fact, Saturday is STILL my physical sabbath rest. On that day of the week, I got to sleep in until 10 am and be with the family for the whole day. Sunday is NOT my physical sabbath day as this is one of the busiest day of my week. And honestly, Sundays are not the days where I feel closest to God. Yes, I got to serve him and corporately worship Him on Sundays, but I’m more technical on Sundays than any other days. However, everyday, that 30 minutes in a day when I’m quiet in the presence of God, is my heaven on earth. Those moments when I got to be quiet and listen to him, worship him with his words and sometimes with a song or two. Those time of the day when I got to exercise my trust and dependence on him. When I got to worship him through the way I let him live in me and I living out his life.

While I hold that sabbath is everyday, Christians should choose a day, most of which chose Sunday, Christians in the middle east choose Friday, to be their corporate time to meet together and worship God as this is what the Bible instructed us to do.