Last time we looked at an article written by Richard Barcellos showing from Scripture that the Sabbath has been abrogated and has ceased. However, due to his allegiance to the Reformed Confessions of Faith, Barcellos must affirm that the Sabbath has not ceased. So after having correctly examining Hosea and Colossians (and concluding that the Sabbath has ceased) Barcellos must try to find Biblical warrant for the continuance of the Sabbath. He believes he finds it in Isaiah 56.
Let's look at his argument from the same article that we looked into last time. Remember, his first point was "“The Old Testament prophesies the abrogation and cessation of the Sabbath under the New Covenant." In other words, there is now no more Sabbath. It has come to an end. But now, as he continues his article, he's going to say that the Old Testament also prophesies the continuation of the Sabbath. According to Barcellos, it prophesies both the end of the Sabbath and the continuation of the Sabbath. Does that sound like contradiction? It is! But let's see how he tries to reason it through. Let's examine his second point.
2. The Old Testament prophesies the perpetuity and continuation of the Sabbath under the New Covenant.
Just as there is evidence from the OT that the Sabbath will be abolished under the New Covenant, so there is evidence that it will continue. At first glance this appears contradictory. But on further investigation, it is not contradictory and, in fact, fits the evidence provided thus far for the creation basis of the Sabbath and its unique place in the Decalogue in its function as moral law. Two passages deserve our attention at this point, Is. 56:1-8 and Jer. 31:33. Isaiah‘s prophecy of the Sabbath under the New Covenant is explicit and Jeremiah‘s is implicit.
So after having affirmed, "the Sabbath has ceased" he now moves to his second point "the Sabbath continues." He recognizes that this "appears contradictory" but let's allow him to explain what he means and why he thinks that the abrogated Sabbath is not abrogated.
He begins by examining Isaiah 56:1-8
Thus says the LORD: ―Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, "The LORD has utterly separated me from His people; nor let the eunuch say, "Here I am, a dry tree. For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants--everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant--even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, ―Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.
Barcellos begins by putting forth the argument that Isaiah is speaking in reference to the days of the New Covenant. I agree, and furthermore I've never heard an argument to the contrary. Isaiah is speaking of the days of the New Covenant is as clear a fact as I can imagine. The text obviously mentions the keeping of a Sabbath, so maybe it stands to reason that there IS a Sabbath for the New Covenant. Let's see how Barcellos interprets this text.
The New Testament sees Isaiah‘s prophecy as fulfilled under the New Covenant. However, the privileges, responsibilities, and the people of God foretold there (Is. 56) are transformed to fit the conditions brought in by the New Covenant. The people of God are transformed due to the New Covenant; the house of God is transformed due to the New Covenant; the burnt offerings, sacrifices, and altar are transformed due to the New Covenant; and the Sabbath is transformed due to the New Covenant (i.e., from the seventh to the first day). Isaiah, as with other OT prophets, accommodates his prophecy to the language of the Old Covenant people, but its NT fulfillment specifies exactly what his prophesy looks like when being fulfilled.
So Barcellos argues that Isaiah is not speaking in reference to the Old Covenant elements specifically, but uses these elements of the Old Covenant to "accommodate his prophecy to the language of the Old Covenant People." Again, I agree. So when Isaiah uses the words "people" "house" "burnt offerings" "sacrifices" "altar" he is using Old Covenant language to describe new covenant realities. For example, when Barcellos states, "the house of God is transformed due to the New Covenant" he's referencing the change from Old Covenant temple made with sticks and stones into the New Covenant temple made out of human bricks. The New Testament makes this demonstrably clear; "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5) This is a clear pattern throughout the New Testament, the Old Testament earthly and physical elements are carried into the New Covenant as SPIRITUAL realities, just as Barcellos has put forth; Isaiah and all the prophets speak in a way that "accommodates the language of the Old Covenant people." The elements of the Old Covenant were simply human/earthly pictures of spiritual/heavenly realities. Barcellos is on the right track here. But Barcellos is going to get inconsistent in his interpretation very quickly.
According to Isaiah in this passage, the people of the New Covenant will be required to "keep my Sabbath" and "offer burnt offerings and sacrifices on my altar." As Barcellos has acknowledged, and I agree, the prophet is speaking of Old Covenant elements which are simply physical pictures of spiritual realities. And it's exactly at this point that Barcellos becomes inconsistent with his own hermeneutic. He wants to read "keep my Sabbaths" as a literal practice while interpreting "offer burnt offering and sacrifices" as figurative. It seems like he's picking and choosing here. What stops a man from deciding that he wants to consider the Sabbath language as figurative and the offering animal sacrifice as literal? This presents quite the problem for Barcellos. He has to offer an explanation that doesn't allow for literal interpretation of sacrifices offered on altars but demands literal understanding of keeping a Sabbath. He does this in his article by immediately changing his language to obscure the matter. He writes, "the NT sees Isaiah's prophecy as fulfilled under the New Covenant. However, the privileges, responsibilities, and the people of God foretold there are transformed to fit the conditions brought in by the New Covenant. The people of God are transformed due to the New Covenant; the house of God is transformed due to the New Covenant; the burnt offerings, sacrifices, and altar are transformed due to the New Covenant; and the Sabbath is transformed due to the New Covenant."
In the first part of his article he admitted that the prophets and the Apostle Paul have abrogated the Sabbath, but now he says that the Sabbath has been "transformed." I must ask, which is it? Is it abrogated? Or is it transformed? Why have you changed your language? If the Sabbath and the Sacrifices have only been transformed, then we need to continue keeping a Sabbath (but perhaps on a different day) and we need to keep offering blood sacrifices, but perhaps with different animals; whereas God had earlier required a bull, we can offer a dog; or whereas before it was overseen by the Levitical class, now these sacrifices can be overseen by a Gentile class of priest. This is what it means to be "transformed." If it's only transformed, then the practice remains with some change in the elements of the practice. Has God abrogated the sacrificial system and the priesthood of Aaron? Or has he simply transformed it? Has God abrogated the temple in Jerusalem, or has he transformed it, perhaps he destroyed it so he could do a re-build; maybe add some new paint or a new color curtain? No, certainly, these things have not been transformed, they have been brought to an end. They have been abrogated. Barcellos was fine using the word abrogated when speaking of the Jewish requirement of Sabbathing on the last day of the week, but now as he attempts to promote the continuance of a Sabbath, he no longer wants to use the word abrogated even though using the word transformed would mean that we should rebuild the physical temple in Jerusalem and begin animal sacrifice. If the practices are to continue but simply on a different day or in a different place, then we could simply argue that the Sacrifices were made on Saturday in the temple, but now are to be made on Sunday in the churches. That's what "transformed" means. It's simply a change IN the practice, not a complete abrogation OF the practice. So by saying that all these things are simply transformed and not abrogated, he must still practice them all. He doesn't realize it, but by resurrecting the Sabbath, he has resurrected the whole Old Covenant. But we know the truth. We know that all these things have been brought to and end, they have been abrogated.
I wonder why he should change his language from one paragraph to another? In the first part of his article he quoted the prophet who speaking for God says, "I will BRING TO AN END your Sabbath." The prophet never mentioned a transformation of the Sabbath. He speaks plainly. God will bring it to an end. The prophet's language is consistent with abrogation not transformation. Furthermore, the prophet doesn't just say that the Sabbath will come to an end, but he says that God will put an end to the New Moons, and the Festivals. If Barcellos wishes to be consistent, he's going to have to say that the New Moon celebrations have not really been brought to an end, the Festivals have not really been brought to an end which is why Isaiah continues to speak of "burnt offerings and sacrifices" in the New Covenant. When does Barcellos think those burnt offerings and Sacrifices were required? During the New Moon and Festivals of course. Again, if you resurrect the Sabbath you have to resurrect all of it. You can't have a hermeneutic which allows for the Sabbath to be resurrected and a different hermeneutic which calls for the abrogation of everything else mentioned in the very same passage. Well, you can, but the inconsistency proves that error is present. If he wishes to be consistent, then he must admit that the prophet declared that God would bring these things to an end. He was very sure of this in the first part of his article saying, "The Old Covenant and all its ceremonies are obsolete and have vanished away (Heb. 8:13
). Taking these passages and Col. 2:16
together, they clearly teach that when the Old Covenant goes, the triad of Col. 2:16
goes as well."
When Barcellos reads Isaiah, he knows and acknowledges that Isaiah is writing in a way that "accommodates his prophecy to the language of the Old Covenant people."
In other words, Barcellos recognizes that Isaiah is speaking figuratively. When Isaiah says, "burnt offerings" he doesn't mean literal burnt offerings will be given in the New Covenant. When he says that God will bring you to his mountain, he's not talking about literally being brought to Mount Sinai. When he says, "sacrifices" he doesn't mean literal sacrifices. We see the Apostle Paul showing that physical sacrifices were meant to be a figurative picture of "spiritual worship." In Romans 12 he writes, "
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice
, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship
." When Paul says, "Present you bodies as a living sacrifice" he's not suggesting that you build an altar and climb on. Likewise, when Isaiah says, "burnt offering" he doesn't mean literal burnt offerings. When he says, "I will bring them to my holy mountain" he doesn't mean a literal mountain that you can climb. As it is written in the new covenant, "you have not come to a mountain that can be touched" but instead we've come to the "heavenly Jerusalem." (Hebrews 12). These physical elements are simply human earthly representations of spiritual realities. The burnt offerings and sacrifices represent our "spiritual worship" the Holy Mountain represents our very real and close proximity to God, our very salvation, the "heavenly Jerusalem." And the Sabbath day represents the rest we find in Christ for his is our rest, the true rest. There are no more burnt offerings or Sacrifices in the New Covenant. Barcellos knows this. To believe and write that the Sacrifices, burnt offerings, mountains, and everything else in the passage is symbolic while the Sabbath is literal is to be obviously inconsistent. If Barcellos would have stopped at the prophet's proclamation that God has brought the Sabbath to an end, he would have not erred. But when one starts with the theological need to affirm errant Confessions from almost 400 years ago, he will not allow Scripture to speak plainly. So instead, Barcellos affirms the figurative language of Isaiah for every element in the passage except for the Sabbath. This he would have us believe is literal despite the fact that he had earlier proven to us that the Sabbath has been abrogated, just like the Sacrificial system and the need to ascend a literal mountain in Jerusalem for every Jewish festival. If we wish to read Isaiah rightly and consistently, we have to take it as figurative, just as Barcellos confirmed that Isaiah was writing in a way that would "accomodate his prophecy to the language of the Old Covenant People."
Finally, not only has Barcellos shown himself to be inconsistent in his hermeneutic, and put himself in a position of being unable to argue against continuance of animal Sacrifices, temples in Jerusalem, new moon ceremonies and festival celebrations, but he has also condemned his fellow Christians to hell. If he is correct about the Sabbath being transformed from Saturday to Sunday; if he is correct that it has not been abrogated completely, if he is correct that God abrogated the Sabbath and then later reinstated it; if he is correct that Isaiah tells us to observe a literal Sabbath, then we have to conclude that no one will be saved except Sabbath keepers. This is simply what Isaiah says. To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths... I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off." And again, "everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant--even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar."
In other words, whoever does not keep the Sabbath will NOT be brought to the holy mountain (will not be saved), and whoever does not keep the Sabbath will not be accepted. And whoever does not keep the Sabbath will not be given an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. In other words, in very plain language by Isaiah, the Sabbath breakers do not and will not belong to God. Thus we see that if my understanding is correct, if Sabbath observance was a physical representation of our rest in Christ, then all who are trusting in Christ are considered Sabbath keepers by Isaiah, and will be given an everlasting name and will be brought to God's holy mountain, and their worship will be accepted by God. And ALL who trust in Christ are saved. But if Barcellos is correct, then only those who observe a physical Sabbath day are saved.
So the question has to be asked? Is Isaiah speaking of a literal Sabbath and a figurative everything else? Or is he speaking of a figurative everything? If all of the Old Covenant elements and images are figurative, then there is no place that prophecies the continuation of a Sabbath and Barcellos must stop at his original conclusion, "The Old Testament prophesies the abrogation and cessation of the Sabbath under the New Covenant." Does he really want to open the door for the renewal of animal Sacrifice, and building of a temple? Does he really want to condemn all non-Sabbatarian Christians to hell? No Dr. Barcellos, you had it right the first time. The Sabbath has been abrogated. There's not a single passage of Scripture that re-institutes it.