Scrooge v. Ghost of Christmas Present on the Sabbath

I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol today. The following is Scrooge’s interaction with the Ghost of Christmas Present on the issue of the Sabbath day–or at least that’s what it looks like to me:

In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker’s oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.

“Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?” asked Scrooge.


“There is. My own.”


“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?” asked Scrooge.

“To any kindly given. To a poor one most.”

“Why to a poor one most?” asked Scrooge.

“Because it needs it most.”

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, after a moment’s thought, “I wonder you, of all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment.”

“I!” cried the Spirit.


“You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,” said Scrooge. “Wouldn’t you?”
“I!” cried the Spirit.


“You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day,” said Scrooge. “And it comes to the same thing.”


“I seek!” exclaimed the Spirit.

“Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least in that of your family,” said Scrooge.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

It’s interesting that elements of Great Britain in those days regarded Sunday as the seventh day of the week. I didn’t know that treating Sunday as the Sabbath went that far, for I assumed Christians who did so thought Sunday was the new Sabbath because Jesus rose on the first day of the week.

Also, the interaction between Scrooge and the spirit is interesting. Scrooge is either playing devil’s advocate, or he’s letting his moral sense come out in this situation. In the course of the book/movies, Scrooge is a lot more moral when the spirits show him visions than he usually is in his day-to-day life. A third possibility is that he doesn’t like blue laws because he wants to work and make money on Sundays, so he brings up others who might benefit from a policy that would help him out.

The spirit’s reaction is good and bad. It’s bad because the spirit does what many Christians like to do when challenged: don’t answer the question, but change the subject to the moral flaws of others. But the spirit also makes a good point. Are we going to blame poverty on the Sabbath, of all things? Poverty is caused (at least in part) by all sorts of human evils, so to blame God for it just because he wants to institute one day in seven of rest is kind of a stretch.

Also, is Scrooge assuming that the Ghost of Christmas Present speaks for God? It appears so. That’s not a surprise, since Dickens was a devout Christian.

UPDATE: I found here that Dickens was a critic of blue laws. In light of this, the spirit is saying, “Don’t blame me and other spirits for those blue laws. Those are the ideas of man!”

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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2 Responses to Scrooge v. Ghost of Christmas Present on the Sabbath

  1. author@ptgbook.org says:

    I think that in some segments of society (I am not 100% sure), there are moves to begin to promote the idea of Sunday being the seventh day of the week and Monday the first day. I do not know where I heard this, but I heard there are some plans for this in Europe. Whether true or not, I do not know. I know I have seen calendars printed showing Monday as the first day of the week. Many people tend to think this way because Monday is the first workday of the week.

    Many people think that the early New Testament church changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week because they think that the New Testament teaches that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, but as I point out in my blog, the New Testament teaches that Jesus rose on the Sabbath, the seven-day of the week, what we would call Saturday afternoon. The Friday burial/Sunday morning resurrection tradition is a myth.

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  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the information, Author. As you can probably see from my links, I have an Armstrongite background, so I probably know your arguments for why Jesus rose on the Sabbath. If you have anything that differs from the Armstrongite spiel, please feel free to share it.

    But, basically, I’m not sure how to interpret when Jesus rose. I mean, the Bible’s all over the map on this. “After three days.” “On the third day.” “Three days and three nights.” And I don’t think that the “third day” necessarily means the Sabbath, on account of Luke 24:20-21: “and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.”

    Remember that this was a Sunday, since the tomb was already empty. Even Armstrongites would say this was a Sunday, since they claim Jesus rose on the Sabbath, but people discovered the empty tomb on the first day of the week. Yet, Luke 24 calls Sunday the “third day” since Jesus’ crucifixion.

    What day did Jesus die? John says it was on the Passover. But Luke seems to say it was a Friday. Jesus was buried, the women rested on the Sabbath, BUT on the first day of the week they came early to anoint the body. They wanted to anoint it as soon as possible, so it makes sense that (in Luke) Jesus died and was buried on Friday, the women couldn’t anoint him because of the weekly Sabbath, so they came back on Sunday morning to do it.

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