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God-Fearers: The Universal Shabbat Part 3

In light of the release of God-Fearers, I am doing a series of blogs that further explores the topics introduced in the book as well as answer some frequently asked questions.

290px-Shabbat_Candles.jpgA few months back I posted two blogs on the universal nature of Shabbat. I argued that, while Shabbat was given at Mount Sinai as a specific covenantal sign between the Jewish people and HaShem, there were aspects of the day that are more universal in scope. You can read part one here and part two here. Since then I have found two more interesting Jewish citations from the first century CE.

The main text that is cited when speaking of Shabbat as intended for all mankind is Genesis chapter 2:

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2‒3)

The first century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, comments on these verses by saying:

For that day is the festival, not of one city or one country, but of all the earth; a day which alone it is right to call the day of festival for all people, and the birthday of the world. (On Creation 89)

Philo, writing for a mostly Gentile Hellenistic audience, stressed that the Sabbath rest of creation is not just for the Jewish people but for all of the human race to enjoy. This gives clear evidence that in the first century, and at the time of the apostles, there was a strain of Jewish thought that viewed aspects of the Sabbath as universally binding.

What is fascinating to me is that some scholars find evidence of this view in the words of Yeshua as well. In an argument with some of the halachic authorities of his day about what is and isn’t permissible on Shabbat, our Master states:

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)       

The Greek words behind “made” (εγενετο) and “man” (ανθρωπον) both point back to the Septuagint’s translation of the creation account. By speaking of the creation of Shabbat and using “mankind” instead of “Israel” it seems clear that Yeshua is harkening back to the creation story and the Sabbath of Genesis 2. To me, it is pretty exciting to think that within the Gospels, the Master is referencing a universal Shabbat that was not just given to the Jewish people, but to all who fear HaShem and call upon his name.

About the Author: Toby Janicki is a teacher, writer, and project manager for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has written several books including God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel.

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