Sabbath and “Old Age”
by Jack Hoehn
Perhaps the greatest fear Adventist Young Earth Creationists have with revising the chronology of Creation and age of the earth, is what it might do to our Sabbath. After all Exodus 20 with the Sabbath commandment is what we believe was written in stone.
I don’t find it helpful to argue if Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 is the most authentic version of the 10 Words God spoke. Moses was inspired by those 10 Words1 and gave them to his people and us. Perhaps Moses after thinking about those Words for 40 years found another reason for Sabbath to share with his people in the Deuteronomy recounting? Perhaps when God rewrote them on the beautiful Lapis Lazuli2 tablets Moses made, God expanded His reasons for Sabbath?
In any case the Sabbath comes with two Mosaic foundations, Creation and Redemption. I fully agree that the Exodus 20 reason, the 6 Day creation sequence, is the first one. But you can also Sabbath to remember deliverance from slavery. Israel’s escape from Egypt took 7 weeks to get from the Red Sea to meet God at Sinai, so perhaps resting every 7th day commemorates the 7 weeks of their Redemption, as well as the 7 Creation Days?
What I don’t understand, however, is why the 7 day week with its Sabbath, has to be an “exact duplicate” of the creation week? Why can’t I accept the Sabbath as a Memorial of creation, even if it is not a Clone of the creation week?
July 4 is American Independence Day, and celebrates independence from rule of the English King. That day is an annual memorial of a process that took years.
Your birthday is a yearly memorial of a process that took 9 months (or longer if you count your parent’s courtship and marriage before you were conceived!) You were born on a day, but your birthday is a yearly celebration of a process much longer than 24 hours.
I am not asking you to accept that Creation took longer than 144 hours. I just want to know, if for argument’s sake, say each creation “day” took a month? or a year? or a thousand years3? or a day in Heaven, not on earth? etc. etc. etc. How does that destroy the validity of the weekly Sabbath?
I admit some may think this damages the Bible (more about this later) but first answer the question, does this destroy the Sabbath if we read Exodus 20:11 like this?
Is Sabbath less precious if creation is longer and more complex than I thought before? No. Am I free from Divine obligation to keep it holy, if the proper chronology of Creation is Old Earth Creation instead of Young Earth Creation? I don’t think so. In other words each of us will still keep showing up for Sabbath-school and church every Sabbath won’t we?
I understand this feeling. I’ve felt it myself. But frankly the feeling was not Christ-like and I’ve had to repent of it. In its place I now have an earnest desire to know the truth of nature and the truth of scripture, and to interpret each of them in a way that will do honor to the God who reveals himself in both.
Here are a few books that may help explore what “six days” means both in Exodus 20:11 and in Genesis 1.
John C. Lennox, Seven Days that Divide the World, Zondervan, 2011. – A Christian Oxford don in the C.S. Lewis tradition ends his short and readable book on understanding the Bible creation days with this wonderful sentence, “It is high time for a Sabbath!”
David Snoke, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, Baker Books, 2006 – A Christian physicist and astronomer gives both things you will agree with and things you may disagree with, but he is giving Biblical evidence supporting Old Age Creationism.
Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days, NavPress Publishing, 2004 – Astronomer and president of Reasons to Believe, directly addresses how creation-days can be understood in a fashion both true to the Bible and the facts of science4.
Brian Bull & Fritz Guy, God Sky and Land, Adventist Forum, 2011. A Seventh-day Adventist effort to understand the literal meaning of Genesis 1 for Moses’ audience, not what we read into it with our 19th or 21st century science.
Here in brief is what I have learned that lets me begin to synthesize the overwhelming evidence for an old earth and a long chronology of Creation with my Bible:
2.) I accept Ellen White and her son’s direct instruction to not consider her writings the final word on questions of history, chronology, science, or doctrine6. She clearly was God’s advocate, but not his oracle. Her use of 19th century understandings of the mechanism of volcanoes, the origin of dinosaurs, or the age of the earth to defend the Bible from godless evolution don’t mean we are stuck with her tools today. We need to fight the same battle for the Truth, but use today’s science to do so.
3.) That all who believe in God as the Creator are my allies, even if we disagree on our ideas as to how and when he created. Claiming that my doctrine of creation is the only acceptable one is as foolish as maintaining that only vegetarians will go to heaven. (I speak as a life-long vegetarian!)
4.) Honest scientists are my allies, as I seek from science what God did, and from the Bible why he did it.
5.) Ellen White’s Great Controversy theme offers me a window to view the creation week as part of the extended conflict between Christ and Satan.
6.) John 1 presents creation as a conflict between light and darkness. It is Biblical to see each successive Creation Day as a new conflict between Lucifer and Christ, where each day starting in darkness ends with God seeing, “It was (now) good” five times and “It was very good” the sixth time!
7.) Sabbath for me is no longer a day to think briefly of a magical week 6,000 years ago. Sabbath is now 52 days a year to think deeply of the height, the depth, the breadth of a God who creates billions of galaxies. A God who fills those galaxies with billions of stars for 13.7 billion years to prepare for a place called earth.
I love living on that earth where I can watch the changes in a creation ordained in the manifold wisdom of God to demonstrate the difference between good and evil seen in nature and explained in scripture.
1 In Exodus 34:28 the “10 commandments” are literally “10 Words”. As translated by Darby, “And he wrote on the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words.”
3 2 Peter 3:8
4 Hugh Ross’s organization at Reasons.org is a prime resource for many resources synthesizing the Bible with science in an Old Earth Creationism model. He professes some things (like inerrancy of scripture) that Adventists disagree with, but this makes his adherence to scripture truth even keener than he needs to be, so it strengthens his arguments.
5 Yom=the hours of a day with light as opposed to night; or 24 hours of one complete rotation of earth; or an indefinite period of time in past or future, as “the Day of the Lord”. There is no Hebrew word for Era, Age, Reign so they used yom.
6 https://www.whiteestate.org/books/mol/Chapt33.html#W. C. White’s 1911 Statement