I finished The Decalogue in Jewish and Christian Tradition, which was edited by Henning Graf Reventlow and Yair Hoffman. In this post, I will mention things that the book says about Christian interaction with the Sabbath commandment.
1. William Greelings’ essay in the book is entitled “The Decalogue in Augustine’s Theology”. According to Greelings, Augustine believed that human beings had within themselves a consciousness of morality (the Golden Rule) since the time of Adam, and the “Decalogue was given to the Jews so that they might receive a more intense consciousness of God’s demands” (Greelings’ words on page 113). Regarding the Sabbath, Greelings says on page 108 that Augustine thought that “the commandment of the Sabbath is no longer valid for Christians and can only be understood in a spiritual sense.” For Augustine, the Sabbath for Christians concerns spiritual rest, not enjoying “worldly idleness” (from Greelings quotation of Augustine) every seventh day of the week.
Did Augustine believe that the Decalogue was for the Jews alone, or for all people? Well, Augustine does appear to maintain that the Decalogue contains moral principles that are obligatory for everyone, and that the Sabbath symbolizes a spiritual rest of which Jews and Gentiles can partake. But, according to Augustine, were Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ required by God to keep the Sabbath, or did God intend for that rule to be for Israel alone? I do not know for sure, but my hunch is that Augustine would say the latter.
2. Christofer Frey has an essay in the book entitled “Natural Law and Commandments: Conditions for the Reception of the Decalogue Since the Reformation”. Like Augustine, Aquinas holds that the Decalogue is, on some level, an expression of the moral principles that were within Adam. The problem was that people between the time of Adam and Sinai neglected these principles, and so God repeated them to Israel. But Aquinas maintains that God also added elements of the divine law by special revelation, and this is where the Sabbath comes in. If I’m understanding Frey correctly, Aquinas did not deem the Sabbath to be part of natural law, but rather special revelation—-something that God needed to reveal for people to know about it. And yet, Frey seems to contend that Aquinas believed there was some natural principle behind the Sabbath commandment: honoring a holy day or a feast day. Thus, for Aquinas, the Sabbath has significance for Christians (though I doubt that he thought that Christians should honor the seventh day).
3. Henning Graf Reventlow’s essay in this book is entitled “The Ten Commandments in Luther’s Catechism”. Reventlow discusses the Sabbath on pages 142-143. According to Reventlow, the early Christians did not regard Sunday as the Sabbath. They regarded the Sabbath as something that Gentile Christians were not required to observe, and, while they observed the first day of the week to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection, they did not associate the first day of the week with the Sabbath commandment in the Decalogue. The first ruler to do that was Constantine in the fourth century, who used the Sabbath command to declare Sunday as a day of rest (which later was extended to slaves) and Christian worship services. According to Reventlow, Germanic kings followed this practice, as well.
Regarding Martin Luther, Reventlow states that Luther believed that the external observance of the Sabbath was only for the Jews and was obsolete for Christians. At the same time, as I read Reventlow, Luther held that certain principles of the Sabbath were applicable to believers. Luther saw value in a time of rest so that people and animals could be rejuvenated. And, while Luther thought that a worship service in which the word of God was proclaimed could take place every day, he recognized that most people could not hold themselves to that, and so it’s good to have one day of the week to hear God’s word in corporate worship. Luther, in a sense, applies to Sunday some Sabbath principles.