Chapter 3: Gospel Texts on Sabbath-Keeping
In chapter 3, Wells combs the Gospels for teaching related to the Sabbath. He makes this assertion: “There is not one syllable of positive teaching by the Lord Jesus peculiar to the Sabbath in any Gospel passage” (42). What he means by “positive teaching” is “teaching that tells Christians or Jews what they must do, or not do on any Sabbath” (42). What he means by “peculiar to the Sabbath” is “teaching that is true for the Sabbath that is not also true for every other day of the year” (42). In Wells’ thinking, this would mean that if the Gospels do not contain teaching that either commands or forbids specific activities on the Sabbath or commands or forbids things that apply on any other day, then it was never Jesus’ intention “to command anyone to keep a Sabbath” (47). Do you feel the pressure of these twin pillars? If there is no “positive teaching…peculiar to the Sabbath,” Jesus was not commanding Sabbath observance. I find these constricting hermeneutical hedges both interesting and wrong-headed. It is as if Wells sets up for us in advance what kind of teaching on the Sabbath must be present in order to justify any kind of Sabbath observance for Christians or Jews from the lips of our Lord. Wells knows, as does any casual reader of the Gospels, that the Sabbath command was something already in place at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry. Jesus simply assumes its validity. Wells also knows, as does any casual reader of the Gospels, that Christ sought to correct the faulty understanding and practice of some first century Jews concerning the Sabbath. The Sabbath was already an ancient institution, predating Jesus and his contemporaries but had been abused. Requiring Jesus to present us with “positive teaching…peculiar to the Sabbath” seems to exclude any other type of teaching that might lead us to the conclusion that the Sabbath transcends the old covenant and has ethical tentacles that reach into the new covenant.
Let’s assume Wells’ position for a minute. Jesus’ teaching was not for the purpose of identifying what Christians or Jews can or can’t do on the Sabbath or Lord’s Day (45). Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath did not command or forbid anything either commanded or forbidden on any other day. Does that prove that there is no Sabbath or Lord’s Day for the Christian to obey? Assuming the validity of Wells’ equation, all it would prove is what it asserts – nothing more and nothing less. Again, Jesus was correcting the faulty teaching of his day on the Sabbath that added to and took from the word of God – commanding and forbidding things God did not. Jesus advocated a return to Sabbath-keeping as it had been revealed by God. Also, Jesus did say, “So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12). This sure seems like “positive teaching” to me.
 Italics are Wells’.
Dr. Richard Barcellos is associate professor of New Testament Studies. He received a B.S. from California State University, Fresno, an M.Div. from The Master’s Seminary, and a Th.M. and Ph.D. from Whitefield Theological Seminary. Dr. Barcellos is pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA. He is author of Trinity & Creation, The Covenant of Works, and Getting the Garden Right. He has contributed articles to various journals and is a member of ETS.