The Sabbath is alien territory to most American Christians certainly and probably to most Christians throughout the world. Most modern Christians (and perhaps most Christians throughout history) have thought of the Sabbath as a uniquely Jewish institution. In most Christian theology, the Sabbath is considered to be a part of the Mosaic administration, essentially ceremonial in its aspect, and hence fulfilled in Christ. Thus it is irrelevant for Christians. Most would point to passages such as Romans 14:5-6 and Colossians 2:16-17 as proof of their position. According to this view, Christians meet for worship on Sunday in part because there needs to be a consistent day for meeting, and in part because Sunday, being the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is an appropriate day for those meetings for public worship.
As a result, the care and concern expressed regarding the Sabbath and Sabbath-keeping, as the Sabbath is dealt with in the Talmud, seem very strange to the Christian reader. It perhaps seems even stranger to the Christian reader to learn that the very first tractate in the Talmud is that devoted to the Sabbath. What is perhaps even more alien to most Christian readers is that the tractate spends no time defending the idea of the perpetuity of the Sabbath, it deals rather, in a fair amount of detail with what acts constitute a violation of the Sabbath.
In a certain sense, the Christian should recognize that for Judaism, the Sabbath remains in force because Judaism is still, more or less, under the Mosaic administration. Obviously that looks at the issue from a distinctly Christian viewpoint, but even modern Jews understand that rabbinic Judaism is understood to be a continuation or extension of the Law of Moses.
There is, however, discussion in the Talmud regarding the origin and meaning of the Sabbath, which we will address later. In order to assist most Christian readers to have some greater appreciation for the Talmud’s mindset with regard to the Sabbath, it may be helpful to set out briefly the rationale behind a Christian sabbatarianism. This view can be summarized as follows. First, the Sabbath goes back to creation (Genesis 2:1-3). Though the word “Sabbath” is not used there, the idea is clearly present. Second, the knowledge and observation of the Sabbath preceded the giving of the Law of Moses (see Exodus 16:22-30). Third, the Sabbath serves to remind God’s people that he is their creator (Exodus 20:8-11) and their redeemer (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Fourth, since the Sabbath originated before the Law of Moses, when the Law of Moses is fulfilled in Christ, the Sabbath still retains its purposes, and cannot properly be discontinued. Fifth, the Sabbath also retains (or perhaps adds) another significance in the period following the advent of Jesus Christ, that of looking forward to the eschatological day (see Hebrews 4:9). If the Sabbath then, remains in force for the Christian, the question is raised about how it is to be properly observed. This should serve to enable the Christian reader to at least get into the mindset of the rabbis as they dealt with these issues.
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