I finished The Decalogue in Jewish and Christian Tradition, which was edited by Henning Graf Reventlow and Yair Hoffman. In this post, I will mention things that the book says about Christian interaction with the Sabbath commandment.
1. William Greelings'
essay in the book is entitled "The Decalogue in Augustine's Theology".
According to Greelings, Augustine believed that human beings had within
themselves a consciousness of morality (the Golden Rule) since the time
of Adam, and the "Decalogue was given to the Jews so that they might
receive a more intense consciousness of God's demands" (Greelings' words
on page 113). Regarding the Sabbath, Greelings says on page 108 that
Augustine thought that "the commandment of the Sabbath is no longer
valid for Christians and can only be understood in a spiritual sense."
For Augustine, the Sabbath for Christians concerns spiritual rest, not
enjoying "worldly idleness" (from Greelings quotation of Augustine)
every seventh day of the week.
Did Augustine believe that the Decalogue was for the Jews alone, or for all people?
Well, Augustine does appear to maintain that the Decalogue contains
moral principles that are obligatory for everyone, and that the Sabbath
symbolizes a spiritual rest of which Jews and Gentiles can partake.
But, according to Augustine, were Gentiles prior to the coming of
Christ required by God to keep the Sabbath, or did God intend for that
rule to be for Israel alone? I do not know for sure, but my hunch is
that Augustine would say the latter.
2. Christofer Frey has an
essay in the book entitled "Natural Law and Commandments: Conditions for
the Reception of the Decalogue Since the Reformation". Like
Augustine, Aquinas holds that the Decalogue is, on some level, an
expression of the moral principles that were within Adam. The problem
was that people between the time of Adam and Sinai neglected these
principles, and so God repeated them to Israel. But Aquinas
maintains that God also added elements of the divine law by special
revelation, and this is where the Sabbath comes in. If I'm
understanding Frey correctly, Aquinas did not deem the Sabbath to be
part of natural law, but rather special revelation----something that God
needed to reveal for people to know about it. And yet, Frey
seems to contend that Aquinas believed there was some natural principle
behind the Sabbath commandment: honoring a holy day or a feast day.
Thus, for Aquinas, the Sabbath has significance for Christians (though I
doubt that he thought that Christians should honor the seventh day).
Henning Graf Reventlow's essay in this book is entitled "The Ten
Commandments in Luther's Catechism". Reventlow discusses the Sabbath on
pages 142-143. According to Reventlow, the early Christians
did not regard Sunday as the Sabbath. They regarded the Sabbath as
something that Gentile Christians were not required to observe, and,
while they observed the first day of the week to commemorate Jesus'
resurrection, they did not associate the first day of the week with the
Sabbath commandment in the Decalogue. The first ruler to do that was
Constantine in the fourth century, who used the Sabbath command
to declare Sunday as a day of rest (which later was extended to slaves)
and Christian worship services. According to Reventlow, Germanic kings
followed this practice, as well.
Regarding Martin Luther,
Reventlow states that Luther believed that the external observance of
the Sabbath was only for the Jews and was obsolete for Christians. At
the same time, as I read Reventlow, Luther held that certain principles
of the Sabbath were applicable to believers. Luther saw value in a time
of rest so that people and animals could be rejuvenated. And, while
Luther thought that a worship service in which the word of God was
proclaimed could take place every day, he recognized that most people
could not hold themselves to that, and so it's good to have one day of
the week to hear God's word in corporate worship. Luther, in a sense,
applies to Sunday some Sabbath principles.
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