Monday, February 20, 2012

Does Romans 14:5 have to do with Christian Sabbath observance?

I preached yesterday on Avoiding Doubtful Disputations, beginning an extended exposition of Romans 14:1—15:13 on the subject of Christian liberty and conscience.

I noted that Paul begins with a thematic statement (v. 1), followed by two examples: eating meat (vv. 2-4) and esteeming days (vv. 5-6). One question of interpretation is what Paul means by esteeming days. Does this refer to particular aspects of observance of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath? Or does it refer to the esteeming of other Jewish holy days, particularly by some Jewish Christians (cf. Gal 4:9-11; Col 2:16-17)?

In his exposition of Romans 14:5-6 titled “Holy Days or Holy People?” (Romans, Vol. 4, pp. 1739-45), James M. Boice rejects the Westminster Confession position on the fourth commandment, citing this passage to justify his stance. He notes that his position had brought him into conflict with others in his PCA denomination where, he says, “there are people who would like to get pastors like me excluded, because we think this is a nonessential matter on which the Westminster Confession of Faith simply has gone beyond what ought to be required of anyone” (p. 1741). Boice claims that his position is more in line with Calvin than the Puritans. He adds that “an emphasis on Sabbath-keeping leads easily to legalism” and concludes, “Even today, people who insist on a strict Sabbath tend to be legalistic in other matters also” (p. 1742). Nevertheless, he also admits that “observing the Lord’s Day freely can lead to libertinism” (p. 1743).

Sadly, Boice’s exposition of the passage is lacking in close exegesis of the verses. It is also noteworthy that in this section, Boice makes no reference to John Murray’s commentary, which in other sections he typically freely cites with approval. Boice clearly avoids Murray, because Murray’s careful exegesis upends Boice’s position.

Murray devotes an Appendix to the topic in his commentary titled “Romans 14:5 and the Weekly Sabbath” (Romans, Vol. 2, pp. 257-259). Here is Murray’s succinct conclusion:

“To place the Lord’s day and the weekly Sabbath in the same category [i.e., as the ceremonial holy days of the Levitical institution clearly abrogated in the NT] is not only beyond the warrant of exegetical requirements but brings us into conflict with principles that are embedded in the total witness of Scripture. An interpretation that involves such contradiction cannot be adopted. Thus the abiding sanctity of each recurring seventh day as the memorial of God’s rest in creation and of Christ’s exaltation in his resurrection is not to be regarded as in any way impaired by Romans 14:5” (p. 259).

My exposition agreed with Murray.


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