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.
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."
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."
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.