I take a
literalist position on the creation account not because I like
"literalism," nor because literalism is the only logical-rational
defense against irrationalism, liberalism, and cultism; nor do
I hold it for some unreasoning "fundamentalist" prejudice
against secular science. I take a literalist position on creation
because upon investigation of the exegetical argument, I found
that this view was consistent with the rest of SCRIPTURE, without
apologies to science. And the literalist position is also consistent
with the Westminster Confession of Faith which states clearly
and concisely, ". . . in the space of six days. . ."
(Chap. IV, para. 1).
and the Law
However, I wasn't always a literalist on Genesis 1. The textual
stumbling block to my previous belief in the "day-age"theory
came from within the 10 Commandments, "For in six days the
LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,
and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath
day, and hallowed it"(Ex. 20:11). It could not be
ignored in understanding Genesis 1. When that hurdle was cleared
by the blast from Moses' interpretation, I accepted the literal
understanding of the creation account. Only then does the Genesis
account square with the Exodus text and gives me understanding
of what the Sabbath means for my life, my family, and the life
of my congregation.
of the literalness of the creation account is no slight matter,
especially for the life and work of the church. Without the literal,
six-day creation, there is no theology to justify the keeping
of either the Old Covenant Sabbath or the New Covenant Sabbath,
i.e., the Lord's Day. That's the very point of Moses' literal
explanation reminding us to keep the Sabbath day.
with this literal application for the local church, a brief argument
for the perpetuity of the Sabbath command is important. First,
the text of Deuteronomy 41 calls this moral law "his
covenant,"implying a singular covenant written in 10 "words"2again
reinforcing solidarity of the fourth word/commandment along with
the other "words" of the covenant. The fourth word cannot
be extrapolated without doing damage to this covenant structure
itself. Some have suggested that the fourth word is a ceremonial
law in the midst of the moral law. Michael Horton argues that
this commandment "belongs" in the ceremonial part of
the law "rather than the moral part." But where one
would rather relocate this law is irrelevant to the fact that
it is NOT in the midst of ceremonies but in the heart of the moral
lawwithin the depths of the 10 words of this singular covenant.
Sabbath is commanded and hallowed by God as part and parcel of
the six previous days of the creation account; it can no more
be removed than any other day of the week can be dropped from
the creation. It is a "creation ordinance" made for
man (i.e., mankindnot Jewish man or Christian man).4
There is nothing inherently ceremonial in God's blessing this
day; its peculiar ordination as his day of rest transcends the
peculiarities of both old and new covenants.
the light of Mark 2:28 Jesus asserts his Messianic Lordship over
the Sabbath day. His reference to the "Son of Man's"5
lordship extends his Messianic rule over this creation ordinance
for purposes of redemptive rulership, not extinction of that day.
There's nothing implied in Christ's Lordship to expunge the fourth
word from the midst of the moral law.
assertion of his messianic Lordship, he introduces us to the New
Covenant theocratic kingdom which was about to be inaugurated
by his "first day of the week"resurrection. As Messianic
Lord, he is not bound to the old ceremonies, nor to the specific
"end-of-the-week"mode; but instead makes that commandment
serve his new theocratic purposes: resurrection on the First Day
of the weekand all for the new theocratic kingdom and church
called a new creation.
It is the
day of the church, the day in which we do the highest and most
sacred recreation: listen to God's word preached. It is the day
when the church can insist that all God's people unite for worship
and even threaten wrath to those in the covenant community who
forsake the assembly of themselves. It is the day most intense
in self-sacrifice for the sake of covenant worship. We gather
not first for our good, but for God's glory, and then for the
welfare of our neighbor. We do not have the right to allow for
another day of restto accommodate busy work and vacation
self-discipline to keep the literal regular ratio of six days
to one day. It is a spiritual discipline at heart with practical
implications of time management. How can the work of the family,
the job, the school, the vacation, etc., be accomplished within
the interval of six literal days
split up by
the Sabbath resting? Does my boss have a right to ask of me seven
literal days for his work while the work of worship and fellowship
The proper application of church discipline rests on the literalness
of understanding the creation account. If the Lord's Day or the
Christian Sabbath (as the Westminster Confession of Faith calls
it) is left up to the exigencies of the moment or to individual
interpretation, why meet on Sunday? If that were the case, the
church could well meet on any day as the holy day of the Lord;
in fact, each individual Christian could designate his own holy
day, his own personal day of obligation to worshipno organized
day of worship could be insisted on. Hence the Christian would
not "feel" obliged to gather on Sunday, the First Day
of the Weekindividualism even as to the day of worship would
reign. Sadly, this greatly characterizes the state of the church
of the worship must be regulated if there is to be unity in the
church. Who knows when to worship unless it be determined by God?
How would anything get done in and for service if each member
had his own private conviction about his day of rest? The preacher
likes Monday; the Sunday school teachers want Wednesday; the janitor
organizes for Sunday; and the ladies missionary society suggests
any other day, etc.how do you regulate the organization
of the local covenant community. What becomes of the unity of
the Body? What becomes of submitting yourselves one to another?
What becomes of the "first day" expression if not referring
to a literal, 24-hour normal or natural day? Without the literal
six-day creation, the first day merely becomes a pragmatic convention;
it could have been the second day of the week or the thirteenth
day of the month. The "first day" could refer to anything;
so what if the resurrection was on the first day? If not a natural
24-hour day, it would lose all time reference.
the literal, six-day creation doctrine, takes the guts out of
the literalness of the First Day of the Week, too. Thus the phrase
"the first day of the week" becomes merely a convenient
expressionmerely a colloquialism with no special significance
to the "new creation" or "new life" which
Christ brought about on the First Day of the Week.
Commandment clearly explains the world as created in six days,
and that it was God's example of work/rest which became our example:
a mandatory, perpetual warrant which carries over into eternity
itselfthe final Rest. Not all the commandments carry such
ultimate blessing as the fourth. The Fifth Commandment, "Honor
your father and your mother,"is simply commanded, though
God does not himself keep it. That commandment finds its end in
Shepherd's book, Theses Sabbatia, he calls these "days"
of creation"six natural days to labor. . . not artificial,
but a natural day, consisting of 24 hours . . . ."7
Such literal understanding of the days implies that even as six
days are six, full, 24-hours days, so the Lord's Day
is also a
full, 24-hour day, not merely the daylight hours, nor a day limited
to the set times of worship service, after which I can do as I
please for my own pleasure. We have failed to realize it is the
Lord's Day, not the Lord's Moment, or the Lord's Hour!
of the creation account emphasizes that there is a day set aside
for works of piety and mercy and for rest from all the other days
of labor. Its time and form are decided by God. What is a day
of rest if one will not be a day of rest for everyone else? What
becomes of a day of rest of one if others do not participate in
it as well? True resting becomes such only when everyone else
is also morally called to rest on that same day.
of the six-day creation account also means consecutive days, not
merely pictures or "frames"of six "days"in
which one may rearrange the days as he sees fit. Every six days
there is a rhythm of rest and work; if not literal, it could be
rest to any ratio of work and resttwo days of rest with
five days of labor or six consecutive days of rest with 40 some-odd
days of work, nonstop! God could have constructed it that way
and we'd have to live that way, but he didn't. He gave us the
regular, clock-like ratio of so much work to just so much rest.
distributed days of work and rest create an equalized society.
Everyone is commanded to rest equally so. When Israel was told
to gather twice as much manna on the sixth day because there would
be none on the seventh day, they'd better know that each day could
be equally counted on and that it wasn't figurative or "framed"days.
There would be no food on "that"literal next day. Each
covenant household gathered for six regular natural days and on
that Sabbath day there was no gathering warranted. With the severe
penalty for gathering on that day, the pious Israelite had better
know how long a day was figurative! Day-age? Or 24-hour natural
day? Or he'd be dead!
In the Old
Covenant, God appointed for his people all kinds of Sabbath days,
weeks, months, and years. If you didn't know from God what a literal
Sabbath individual day was like, you couldn't know weeks, months,
or yearly Sabbaths either! The weekly Sabbaths, as well as yearly
Sabbaths, were based on the ordinary, regular, literal-day Sabbath.
You knew when you would get your inheritance returned but only
by way of literal understanding. Your debt would be forgiven in
the seventh year, a Sabbath year, which was predicated on the
literalness of that original day of rest in Paradise, as explained
by Moses in Exodus 20:11.
Paul required that the churches lay up in store on the first day
of the week; so that he would not have to waste time and effort
gathering funds while preaching from church to church. To know
what the first day of the week was, demanded a literal distinction
of time in order to meets the demands of the apostle:
the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store,
as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I
come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters,
them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.
(1 Cor. 16:2ff)
mean rest. The Lord's Day at the local church can be the busiest
day of the week; but if carefully arranged need not be so, especially
with love-feasts, agape-meals, pot-lucks, etc., congesting the
day. Carefully planned luncheons, simple and uncomplicated, can
be the order of the Sunday lunch. Preparation must not intrude
into prayer or worship time for members. Preparation for meals
should be done at home and possibly the night before. Utilizing
modern labor-saving devices can save on the excessive labor. Excessive
ministry by the faithful few cripples their ability to rest; spread
the work: baby sitting, transporting, vacuuming, light-bulb changing,
etc. Remember, the most important exercise of the Lord's Day is
submitting to his service by the hearing of the word.
to Hebrews 4:9, "there remains a Sabbath-rest for the people
of God"to which we look forward. Each literal Lord's Day
reminds us of that future age of eternal rest. The literal Sabbath
coming out of six literal days promises a literal and eternal
Rest for us in Christ in the future.
he declared unto you his covenant which he commanded you to perform,
even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone"(Dt.
2. Literally it is not "10 commandments"but 10 "words"of
this singular covenantone covenant with 10 words. The number
10 having the significance of completeness or wholeness.
3. Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom, ".
. . I wish to make the case for my conviction that the fourth
commandment belongs in what we call the 'ceremonial' rather than
the 'moral' part of the law . . . [The 4th commandment] is no
longer binding on Christians,"124-5.
4. Mk. 2:27-28
5. Dan. 7:13-14 where "son of man"takes on new prophetic
6. Heb. 10:25
7. Theses Sabbatia, 218.
A. McIlhenny, a graduate of Reformed Episcopal Seminary
and Westminster Theological Serminary in CA (D. Min.
'87), has pastored the First Orthodox Presbyterian Church
in San Francisco since 1973; he is currently also pastoring
the Hayward Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel in Hayward,
CA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
thanks goes out to Chalcedon
for permission to reprint this article on our site.