About That Great Sabbath Debate

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BFB140430 Sabbath

As expected, the debate between Jim Staley and Chris Rosebrough gave us two full hours of very lively and informative discussion on the question of whether Christians should keep the Sabbath.  The link to the archived debate is now available from Passion for Truth Ministries here:


First of all, I compliment Jim Staley and Chris Rosebrough for their courage and candor throughout the debate.  Both men prepared well and acquitted themselves as one would expect of brothers in Yeshua who disagree on a matter.  The debate did get heated in points, reflecting the passion both men hold for the question of the Sabbath, but it never degenerated into a name-calling shouting match, such as we have become accustomed to seeing in political debates and cable news opinion pieces.  That alone is reason to applaud the participants.  As moderator, Joseph Farah had little to do but state the rules, keep the time, and wrap up the discussion at the end.

As for the substance of the debate, Jim Staley seemed to be the clear winner.  His twenty minute opening statement covered an amazing amount of ground, from God’s institute of Sabbath at creation (Genesis 2:1-3), to His establishment of Sabbath regulation as a sign of the covenant with Israel (Exodus 20:8-11, 31:16-17), to the observances of Sabbath in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament).  His presentation was rooted soundly in Scripture, including Yeshua’s assertion that all the Law (Torah) and prophets remain in effect until heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17-19).  Staley reminded us of God’s instruction in Amos 3:7 that He does nothing without first informing His prophets, and then noted that there is no reference in Scripture to prophecy regarding a change to the Sabbath.  His only substantive reference to anything other than Scripture to prove his case was to the early Church Fathers who sanctioned the change from Seventh-Day Sabbath to Sunday worship, and the Emperor Constantine the Great who gave that change the official approval and authority of the Roman Empire.  Throughout, it was a highly passionate, intellectually stimulating, and deeply credible defense of the Sabbath from the irrefutable authority of God’s Word.

In contrast, Pastor Rosebrough based his arguments as much or more on linguistic interpretation and appeals to the Church Fathers than on exegesis from Scripture.  His core argument was that Torah does not apply to Christians because Yeshua did away with it at the cross, and therefore Sabbath observance is no longer a requirement for the Church.  That, of course, is the standard argument that has been in force for centuries, and Rosebrough was quick to use the usual New Testament references cited in support thereof, including Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”  He cited as well Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:5-6, two passages frequently used to indicate that there is no longer a special day set aside during the week for believers in Yeshua to esteem.[1]  To round out his Scriptural argument, Pastor Rosebrough cited a number of verses from Hebrews, including Hebrews 8:7 and 13, which seem to state that God has done away with previous covenants so that He may establish the New Covenant.[2]  Each of his citations were presented in a stand-alone fashion, meaning the verses by themselves were quoted without reference to context.  When placed in context, each of Rosebrough’s Scripture references actually supports Sabbath and Torah observance, as has been demonstrated in solid Biblical scholarship.

That was the extent of Pastor Rosebrough’s argument from Scripture passages.  His remaining Scripture references served as launching points for creative linguistic analysis.  The first was from Exodus:

Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.  (Exodus 31:16-17 NKJV)

His point concerned the Hebrew word olam (Strong’s H5769, עוֹלָם), translated as “perpetual” and “forever” in this passage.  Through an interesting linguistic argument, Rosebrough asserted that “forever” meant something other than “forever”; specifically, a set period of time, not all eternity.  While that may be so in some uses of olam, it does not make sense when God is discussing a sign of his eternal covenants with His people.

Rosebrough’s next reference was from Yeshua’s comment on Torah in Matthew 5:

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  (Matthew 5:18 NKJV)

In this case he argued that the word “till”, or “until”, translated from the Greek heos (Strongs G2193, ἔως), somehow did not mean “until” in this case.  His meaning was that the grammar construction indicated Yeshua did not mean the Law would remain in effect as long as heaven and earth remained, but only until the time set for it to expire.  Honestly, I am not sure I understood his argument completely, and it seems that he did not argue persuasively against the plain meaning of the text.

Finally, Pastor Rosebrough invoked the Church Fathers to support his point that the church had instituted Sunday worship in recognition of the day of Yeshua’s resurrection as early as the Second Century.  His point was that this church practice had come about long before Constantine gave it the weight of imperial approval, and that it was not the result of an intentional anti-Semitic “conspiracy” or similar effort to remove Jewish influences from the church.  Pastor Staley had opportunity during his first rebuttal to refute the argument, quoting blatant anti-Semitic passages by Justin Martyr and John Chrysostom, the same Church Fathers Rosebrough had alleged were not anti-Semitic.  Staley provided as well citations that Sabbath observance remained widespread until long after Constantine, indicating that there was at the very least controversy over Sabbath, not widespread acceptance of Sunday as Rosebrough asserted.

The only point with in which I take issue with Pastor Staley came in one of his rebuttals, when he indicated that neither Pentecost (Shavuot) nor the resurrection (First Fruits) occurred on the first day of the week (Sunday).  His reasoning originated in Leviticus 23, in the passage regarding the Feast of First Fruits and Feast of Weeks (Pentecost/Shavuot):

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them:  ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.  He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.  And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord.  Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin.  You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.  And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed.  Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord.  (Leviticus 23:9-16 NKJV, emphasis added)

The confusion concerns when the Feast of First Fruits begins.  Staley used the method of the Pharisees, which was to celebrate First Fruits on the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread rather than the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls during that feast.  In contrast, the Sadducees celebrated First Fruits on the day after the weekly Sabbath (Sunday), ensuring that the count of the seven Sabbaths until Shavuot would result in observance of Shavuot on a Sunday as well.  It can be a confusing topic, and rather than explain it in detail here I recommend reading Monte Judah’s article, “Counting the Omer”, published by Lion & Lamb Ministries in Yavoh:  He Is Coming, vol. 6, issue 5, May 2000.  Suffice it to say that I disagree with Pastor Staley on this point  It did not help his otherwise excellent defense of Sabbath observance.

Where Staley excelled was in sticking to the plain meaning of Scripture, as in this excerpt from the cross-examination section of the debate:

This 90-second exchange may indeed be the moment when Staley won the debate.  It is indeed true that God gave Torah to Israel, and that God instituted the New Covenant as well with Israel.  It is moreover true that all believers in Yeshua are grafted into Israel.  Thus, when Pastor Rosebrough agreed to each of these points, he voided his own arguments that the Law/Torah no longer applies to New Covenant believers (Christians).  And if Torah applies, then so also does Sabbath, one of the greatest commandments of Torah, and an enduring sign of our Lord’s covenant with His people.

In truth, I could not be completely objective while viewing the debate.  I decided my position on the Sabbath a long time ago, after years of wrestling with the issue prayerfully, testing everything with Scripture in council with my wife and other believers.  Consequently, while I have tried to present an evenhanded review, I ask for the readers’ pardon if undue bias creeps in.  Hopefully there has been enough useful material in these paragraphs to inspire you to watch the debate and make your own assessment of the issue.


[1] Refutations of these arguments against Torah are readily available from many ministries and teachers, including Outreach Israel Ministries, Lion and Lamb Ministries, El Shaddai Ministries, Alliance of Redeemed Israel, and Wildbranch Ministry, to name a few.  119 Ministries has an excellent series of teachings addressing for each point Pastor Rosebrough made.  They include:

[2] The book of Hebrews is at the heart of controversy regarding Christian observance of anything in the Law of God (also known as the Law of Moses, and as Torah).  For centuries the common Christian teaching is that Hebrews is about God doing things in an entirely different way.  That is a misunderstanding.  Hebrews addresses a prophesied change in the priesthood, not an annulment of God’s Law.  The word “covenant” does not appear in the original Greek in Hebrews 8:7 or 8:13.  That is why the word is in italics in most translations.  Young’s Literal Translation renders Hebrews 8:13 this way:

“in the saying `new,’ He hath made the first old, and what doth become obsolete and is old [is] nigh disappearing.” (Hebrews 8:13 YLT)

The “new” is the new priesthood, with Yeshua as the High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.  The author of Hebrews points out that prophecy from Psalm 110.  What is also new is the Aaronic priesthood, which according to Ezekiel 44 will be the sons of Zadok, who alone among the descendants of Aaron remained pure and did not lead the people into lawlessness.  Thus it is not the old covenants (and there have been many) that are disappearing, but the imperfections in the humans who are to keep the covenants.  The Temple worship and so much else which the Lord gave to humanity through Moses are shadows of the things to come, but a shadow does not disappear when the real object comes in the room.  Rather, it becomes diminished in the presence of the actual item.  That is why the prophets explain to us how the Temple, the sacrifices, Sabbath, and the Feasts will continue in the Millennial Kingdom, with King Yeshua officiating and teaching us about them. See for example (and there are many examples in Scripture), Isaiah 66:22-23:

“For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD, “So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:22-23 NKJV)

For further study on the better understanding of Hebrews, see Brad Scott’s short article, “Ivrim 7:12 – Doesn’t a change in the Priesthood mean no more Torah?”, and a more extensive article by 119 Ministries, “FAQ – Hebrews 7:12-18; 8:6-13 – New High Priesthood or Law Abolished?”.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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