MacArthur and the Sabbath


I have a great respect for Pastor John MacArthur and am thankful for what God has done through him and his ministry over many decades. While I have several and significant theological disagreements with Dr. MacArthur, it’s hard not to admire the ministry of a man who has preached through every verse of the New Testament with the depth he has. Nevertheless, I am often surprised by what I read from Dr. MacArthur because his faithfulness to the truth does not always translate into sound theology. I’m no fool to think I am a better theologian than a man some 40 years my senior and many, many decades beyond me in studying the Scriptures, and yet we all have our blind spots…

Today I read what has to be the most textually unsupported statement I have ever read from Dr. MacArthur, even taking into account the contents of his now (in)famous sermon about why I should be a dispensationalist. I have heard and read a lot of reasons why people seek to reject the perpetuity of the 4th Commandment, but calling it ceremonial law has got to be the worst argument I’ve discovered thus far. Likewise, Dr. MacArthur comes nowhere near dealing with relevant texts that are chronologically prior to Sinai that covenant theology uses to support the Sabbath as a creation ordinance – he simply waves it all off in a single sentence.

“Although God rested from His creation on the seventh day in Genesis, He didn’t command man to do that until the law of Moses. And seventh-day rest was one of the Ten Commandments. It was ceremonial, rather than moral and thus it is not repeated in the New Testament because it wasn’t a part of the moral law. But it was just a general gift from God to Israel and I think it’s a very wise thing in general, beyond even the nation of Israel, although God didn’t require it before and doesn’t require it in the New Testament. Take a day off, enjoy.”

The burden of proof is on those who reject the 4th commandment as a perpetual, moral command from God to show from the text how it is not a creation ordinance and why it is not binding on New Testament Christians. Richard Barcellos has done a good job explaining how the application of the 4th commandment may look different, but is yet to be observed in the Christian life. Also noteworthy is the language regarding the Sabbath in the vast majority of the historic, reformed confessions of the church.

While Dr. MacArthur is certainly free to disagree on this issue, my hope  is that he would at least provide some biblical basis for doing so.

(By: Nick Kennicott)

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