Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Nuanced Understanding of the Sabbath

A Review of The Lord of the Sabbath: The Riches of God’s Rest
By Keith Weber (Leominster, UK: Day One Publcations, 2007)

By Benjamin Shaw
Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

This is a short work (158 pages of text, plus a little over six pages of endnotes and bibliography). However, it is a thoroughly packed work, so the reader should not expect a quick read. As might be guessed from the title, it deals with the issue of the Christian Sabbath. Unlike many other works on the topic, it is not filled with direct references to or quotations of earlier works on the topic. Instead, it is an exegetical work that focuses on a number of important Bible passages relevant to the Sabbath.

Of the ten chapters, the first five deal with specific Old Testament passages that define the Sabbath and its place not only in the context of the people of Israel, but in the wider context of the development of theology in the Old Testament. The remaining five chapters deal with specific New Testament texts that focus on the relation of the Sabbath to the Christian believer.

In the book, Weber omits two things that might be expected in such a work. First, he gives no list of what must not (or what must) be done on the Sabbath. Second, he has adopted a deliberately irenic tone toward those with whom he disagrees. These are both significant strengths of the work. He adds to these the strict focus on answering the question, “What does the Bible say on the matter?” The result is a book that presents a compelling case without antagonzing those who would be inclined to be skeptical of Weber’s conclusions.

Chapters that I found especially helpful are those on the significance of the law in the Old Testament (ch 3); a discussion of the Sabbath psalm, Psalm 92 (ch 4); Jesus’ statement about being Lord of the Sabbath (ch 6), and his discussion of Hebrews 4 (ch 8).

Weber avoids extensive discussion of Hebrew and Greek, though it is clear that he has done his preparation in the original languages. He consistently remembers that he is not writing for the biblical specialist, nor for the systematic theologian, but for the common English-speaking reader of the Bible. He carefully leads the reader around possible pitfalls and into a carefully nuanced understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath.

In all, a book I highly recommend.