Educate Truth? (Part Two)

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In part one of this two-part series, I took note of the fact that individuals coalescing around the “Educate Truth” banner have thus far neglected the most fundamental task--qualifying what they mean by “truth.” I noted that in Genesis, there are two distinct creation accounts that have two unique understandings of creation and of God. This suggests a need for more specificity when we talk about "the truth" of creation.

In this second part, I turn to the common concern that if one interpretation of Scripture proves untenable, then most (if not all) our other doctrines fall apart. Specifically, I address the idea that without a literal six-day creation, the basis for Sabbath keeping collapses.

Consider these comments from signers of the “Educate Truth” petition:

    "The literal 7- day week is a foundation of our beliefs." -Priscilla Turner

    "how can you explain the sabbath as a sign of creation and your loyalty to jesus if you teach the john paul 2nd rendition of creation." –Lawrence Ditoro

    "I firmly believe, if we remove the literal six-day creation from our beliefs, we automatically get rid of marriage, the Sabbath, sin on this earth because we have destroyed Adam and Eve as our first parents, the family structure, and should join the world in whatever myth works for us!" - Kenneth Ward

    "I would like to ALSO express my belief in a literal six-say creation as expressed in Ex. 20." -Christina Huffman

    "Discontinue the JESUIT AGENDA for our church!!" –anonymous

    "How can we stand for the Sabbath day if we are allowing un-Biblical teaching such as this to infiltrate our estabilishments of 'higher learning?'" -Melissa Martin

The presumed need for a six-day creation as the basis of Sabbath keeping is so strong that any perceived affront to that belief conjures up conspiratorial paranoia oftentimes (see JESUIT AGENDA). Put plainly, many Seventh-day Adventists feel as though without a literal six-day creation, the validity of the seventh-day Sabbath implodes.

This view treats our understandings of Scripture like a brick wall—firm, unmovable, inflexible, and brittle. Should one of our understandings be moved from its secure place, the structural integrity of the whole wall is compromised, and the whole thing is likely to fall down.

A second way of understanding our interpretations of scripture is like a tree that is alive, dynamic, in some ways very firm (if a little gnarled), but still covered with areas of new growth. If one of our interpretations in this model should prove untenable and be pruned, the organism itself continues to grow and thrive and may be even healthier in the end.

The question in front of us is which of these models is more helpful when considering our interpretations of Scripture. In this case--the question of whether or not Sabbath observance can survive apart from a literal six-day creation--Scripture itself offers tremendous assistance.

I have gone to Adventist schools all my life, schools that take seriously the mandate to “educate truth.” Even so, none of my teachers (before grad school) ever showed me or my peers that there are two iterations of the Sabbath commandment in Scripture, and that they differ substantively.

The first rendition is the one Adventists know and love. It is the one we learn in Sabbath School and get stickers for reciting.

    Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work. But the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work; thou nor thy son nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates (and here’s the kicker) For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that in them is and rested on the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Reciting it just now brought back a flood of memories from my countless childhood interactions with that text. I would guess that most people who have grown up Adventist have their own memories of the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. I would also guess that most Adventists have far fewer memories of their interactions with the second recitation of the fourth commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

    Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

In both versions of the Sabbath commandment, the command is the same: “Do not work, and see to it that nobody (including beasts of burden) within your borders works either.” But the rationale, the philosophical, theological and political underpinnings are very different.

In Exodus 20, the underlying rationale is God’s creative act (the creation). However, in Deuteronomy 5, the reason for Sabbath rest is God’s liberating act (the exodus). As an outgrowth, the text commands that slaves be allowed Sabbath rest, so that they may receive the same blessing as their masters (to whom the commandment is addressed) receive. The appeal to slavemasters is that they were once slaves whom God liberated from oppressive work. The text of Deuteronomy 5 shows no awareness of a six-day creation. It is steeped in, and seeks to extend the story of God’s liberation of forced laborers.

Clearly, even if an interpretation of a six-day creation as recent, literal, contiguous 24 hour periods were to be proven untenable, the Sabbath commandment remains standing, valid as ever. Of course although my Bible teachers didn’t point out the differences between the two Sabbath commandments, this is nothing new for Adventist scholars.

One of the best Adventist expositions on the varying rationales for Sabbath keeping is a chapter in Festival of the Sabbath (1985, Roy Branson, ed.) entitled “Jubilee of Freedom and Equality.” In it, Niels-Erik Andreasen, drawing from the Deuteronomy text, presents Sabbath as the antithesis of the world’s slave-like labor, even hinting that Sabbath may offer a rebuke to capitalism’s obsession with production, growth and output.

Some other Adventist volumes that address the two iterations of the Sabbath commandment include Samuele Bacchiocchi’s Divine Rest for Human Restlessness (1980), Charles Scriven’s Jubilee of the World: The Sabbath as a Day of Gladness (1978) and the 1997 Review & Herald book, God’s Answers to Your Questions.

It turns out that when letting Scripture be Scripture, the Sabbath commandment does not rise and fall with a literal six-day creation. Scripture is very aware of numerous rational rationales for Sabbath observance.

To say to Adventist teachers, “Educate truth!” is not enough. Truth, it turns out, is much more stratified, multidimensional, and even evasive, than our best propositions can account for. The biggest problem for Adventist education is not the teaching of evolution. It is an understanding of truth so narrow, rigid and flimsy that to move one brick from its place challenges the whole structure. On the other hand, to treat truth as something dynamic, alive and hearty means that even if some limbs were to fall away, we can remain confident that the organism continues to grow and thrive.





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