Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/An Answer to the Jews/Of the Observance of the Sabbath
Chapter IV.—Of the Observance of the Sabbath.
It follows, accordingly, that, in so far as the abolition of carnal circumcision and of the old law is demonstrated as having been consummated at its specific times, so also the observance of the Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary.
For the Jews say, that from the beginning God sanctified the seventh day, by resting on it from all His works which He made; and that thence it was, likewise, that Moses said to the People: “Remember the day of the sabbaths, to sanctify it: every servile work ye shall not do therein, except what pertaineth unto life.” Whence we (Christians) understand that we still more ought to observe a sabbath from all “servile work” always, and not only every seventh day, but through all time. And through this arises the question for us, what sabbath God willed us to keep? For the Scriptures point to a sabbath eternal and a sabbath temporal. For Isaiah the prophet says, “Your sabbaths my soul hateth;” and in another place he says, “My sabbaths ye have profaned.” Whence we discern that the temporal sabbath is human, and the eternal sabbath is accounted divine; concerning which He predicts through Isaiah: “And there shall be,” He says, “month after month, and day after day, and sabbath after sabbath; and all flesh shall come to adore in Jerusalem, saith the Lord;” which we understand to have been fulfilled in the times of Christ, when “all flesh”—that is, every nation—“came to adore in Jerusalem” God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, as was predicted through the prophet: “Behold, proselytes through me shall go unto Thee.” Thus, therefore, before this temporal sabbath, there was withal an eternal sabbath foreshown and foretold; just as before the carnal circumcision there was withal a spiritual circumcision foreshown. In short, let them teach us, as we have already premised, that Adam observed the sabbath; or that Abel, when offering to God a holy victim, pleased Him by a religious reverence for the sabbath; or that Enoch, when translated, had been a keeper of the sabbath; or that Noah the ark-builder observed, on account of the deluge, an immense sabbath; or that Abraham, in observance of the sabbath, offered Isaac his son; or that Melchizedek in his priesthood received the law of the sabbath.
But the Jews are sure to say, that ever since this precept was given through Moses, the observance has been binding. Manifest accordingly it is, that the precept was not eternal nor spiritual, but temporary, which would one day cease. In short, so true is it that it is not in the exemption from work of the sabbath—that is, of the seventh day—that the celebration of this solemnity is to consist, that Joshua the son of Nun, at the time that he was reducing the city Jericho by war, stated that he had received from God a precept to order the People that priests should carry the ark of the testament of God seven days, making the circuit of the city; and thus, when the seventh day’s circuit had been performed, the walls of the city would spontaneously fall. Which was so done; and when the space of the seventh day was finished, just as was predicted, down fell the walls of the city. Whence it is manifestly shown, that in the number of the seven days there intervened a sabbath-day. For seven days, whencesoever they may have commenced, must necessarily include within them a sabbath-day; on which day not only must the priests have worked, but the city must have been made a prey by the edge of the sword by all the people of Israel. Nor is it doubtful that they “wrought servile work,” when, in obedience to God’s precept, they drave the preys of war. For in the times of the Maccabees, too, they did bravely in fighting on the sabbaths, and routed their foreign foes, and recalled the law of their fathers to the primitive style of life by fighting on the sabbaths. Nor should I think it was any other law which they thus vindicated, than the one in which they remembered the existence of the prescript touching “the day of the sabbaths.”
Whence it is manifest that the force of such precepts was temporary, and respected the necessity of present circumstances; and that it was not with a view to its observance in perpetuity that God formerly gave them such a law.
- Comp. Gal. v. 1; iv. 8, 9.
- See Ex. xx. 8–11 and xii. 16 (especially in the LXX.).
- Isa. i. 13.
- This is not said by Isaiah; it is found in substance in Ezek. xxii. 8.
- Isa. lxvi. 23 in LXX.
- I am not acquainted with any such passage. Oehler refers to Isa. xlix. in his margin, but gives no verse, and omits to notice this passage of the present treatise in his index.
- Or, “temporal.”
- Josh. vi. 1–20.
- See 1 Macc. ii. 41, etc.
- See Ex. xx. 8; Deut. v. 12, 15: in LXX.