Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Cognitive Dissonance, the Oxygen of Sabbatarian Belief Everywhere

A while back I examined a sermon preached by Reformed Baptist leader Dr. James Renihan and highlighted his shocking claim that Christians don't have to keep the Sabbath. Today we will see that his good friend and defender of everything Reformed Baptist, Richard Barcellos agrees with Renihan. According to Barcellos, the Sabbath has been abrogated and has ceased. The clear evidence of this, which Renihan exegeted 
and which Barcellos cites, is Colossians 2:16-17.



Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (ESV)



Clearly, Paul says that no one is to pass judgment on whether or not a Christian keep a particular holiday or observance since these things were temporarily given to point us to the Christ. The phrase "festival, new moon, or Sabbath" clues us in to the fact that Paul is abolishing the whole Jewish system. Festivals were yearly, new moons were monthly, and the Sabbath was weekly. In other words, Paul is saying, "let no man pass judgment on you... in regard to any holiday whether it be yearly, monthly, or weekly." In fact, this triad of observances, is commonly used throughout the Old Testament and is used as shorthand for the whole Jewish system of observances. One of those Jewish observance was the weekly Sabbath and here Paul tells Christians not to allow anyone to pass judgment on you in regards to this weekly Sabbath. 



Many valiant and athletic attempts of exegetical gymnastics have been made in an effort to explain this text away. Some have tried to argue that the word "Sabbath" here refers to the monthly Sabbaths. Others have tried to claim that "Sabbaths" refers to special Jewish ceremonies. Many have tried to contort the word "Sabbath" away from its simple and true meaning, the weekly observance. But no matter how hard the contortionists try, they just can't make their explanation fit the text. And since they can't make it fit, our friendly Reformed Baptists have finally given up and conceded that Paul is speaking of the weekly Sabbath in this text. So to their credit, Barcellos and Renihan contend, that the Apostle Paul has put an end to the weekly Sabbath.


In an article from his "Reformed Baptist Theological Review" Barcellos approaches the text of Colossians 2 by examining it in light of Old Testament prophecy. The article begins:


The Old Testament prophesies the abrogation and cessation of the Sabbath under the New Covenant.

The OT clearly prophesies the abrogation and cessation of ancient Israel‘s Sabbaths. It does so in Hos. 2:11, which says, ―I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, her Sabbaths--all her appointed feasts." We will make several observations that bear this out. First, Hosea‘s prophecy is dealing with the days of the New Covenant. The phrase ―in that day" (vv. 16, 18, 21) is used prophetically of New Covenant days in Is. 22:20. Revelation 3:7 quotes Is. 22:22 and     

                                                applies it to Christ.”



What Barcellos is saying is that the prophets of old foretold that when the New Covenant comes, the Sabbath would come to an end. His chosen title for his first paragraph sums it up nicely, “The Old Testament prophesies the abrogation and cessation of the Sabbath under the New Covenant.” I agree completely. The Old Testament does prophesy the abrogation and cessation of the Sabbath under the New Covenant. 

He continues,


Second, Hos. 2:11 clearly prophesies the abrogation of Old Covenant Israel‘s Sabbaths, along with ―all her appointed feasts." Hosea uses a triad of terms (―feast days, New Moons, Sabbaths") that is used many places in the OT (1 Chron. 23:31; 2 Chron. 2:4; 31:3; Neh. 10:33; and Is. 1:13-14). Clearly, he is speaking of the abrogation of Old Covenant ceremonial laws. When the Old Covenant goes, Israel‘s feast days, New Moons, Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts go with it.

Again, I have to agree with Barcellos. Hosea knew that when the New Covenant was inaugurated, that the requirement to keep a Sabbath would pass away. But Barcellos is not content to let Hosea be the lone voice, after all, even Scripture calls for two or three witnesses. So he turns his attention to the New Testament and Colossians 2:16-17.


         Third, the NT confirms this understanding of Hos. 2:11. It uses this triad of terms in Col. 2:16, which says, ―So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths." In the context, Paul is combating those who were attempting to impose Old Covenant ceremonial law on New Covenant Christians. So Col. 2:16 is clear NT language that sees Hosea‘s prophecy as fulfilled. It is of interest to note that Paul uses the plural for Sabbath in Col. 2:16 (σάββατον). It is not too hard to assume that Paul had the OT triad in mind and Hosea‘s prophecy while penning these words. The NT announces the abrogation of the Old Covenant in many places. For instance, 2 Cor. 3:7-18; Gal. 3-4; Eph. 2:14-16; and Heb. 8-10 (cf. esp. 8:6-7, 13; 9:9-10, 15; 10:1, 15-18) are clear that the Old Covenant has been abrogated. 



So there you have it. The Sabbath has been abrogated. There is a good probability that Paul was thinking of Hosea's prophecy of abrogation when he penned the words of Colossians 2 declaring that the abrogation had taken place. The new covenant has brought an end to festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths  (yearly, monthly and weekly). The prophets spoke of it, the Apostle Paul confirms it, and Barcellos affirms its end. He has effectively shown that observing the weekly Sabbath has ceased.





The point has been proven and we should stop here. However, for Barcellos, it cannot be the end of the matter. Barcellos is a Reformed Baptist, and as a Reformed Baptist he is beholden to other scriptures, namely the1689 London Baptist Confession. He has to make the Scripture of the Bible affirm the scripture of the 1689. Therefore, after having proven that the Sabbath day has been abrogated, he has to resurrect this part of the Old Covenant and call Sunday a “new Sabbath day" for the New Covenant. No longer is the Sabbath on Saturday he argues, but it has now moved to Sunday. So in a way, he hasn't been honest. Even though he rightly sees that the Bible is calling for the abrogation and cessation of Sabbath observance, he himself believes that it doesn't. He doesn't actually believe that the Sabbath has ceased, instead he believes that it has been transferred to the first day of the week instead of the seventh day. Here we see some cognitive dissonance in his theology. He declares that it has ceased but will later declare that it didn't cease, it simply moved next door. 

In the next installment I will examine the Hermeneutical contortions that Barcellos performs in order to make the Scriptures match the Reformed confessions by trying to prove that a Sabbath day remains in force. He not only has to overcome Hosea's prophecy and Paul's words of abrogation, but he has to overcome his own proper exegesis of those passages. Tune in next time to see his attempt to justify his belief that this abrogated Sabbath still abides as moral imperative upon the lives of Christians everywhere.