Calvin on the Sabbath (Richard Gaffin)

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Gaffin, Richard.  Calvin on the Sabbath: The Controversy of applying the Fourth Commandment. Mentor Publishing, 1998.

This book tangentially deals with what we call modern Sabbatarian controversies.  Gaffin isn’t so much concerned with whether we can go to our kid’s soccer game on Sunday as he is with whether Calvin was consistent in seeing the Lord’s Day as a creation ordinance, typical ordinance, or elements of both.  Therefore, Gaffin (or Gaffin’s Calvin) will not help either the latitudinarian nor the Midrashim who wants to make up lists of what we are or are not allowed to do on the Sabbath. If Gaffin has an agenda, it’s hard to see. This book is just scholarship.

I am going to lay out several theses on what Calvin taught on the Sabbath.  This isn’t Gaffin’s method, but it’s easier to make sense of:

(1) When tied with the creational element, the Sabbath has an eschatological thrust where we fully rest from sin (32).

(2) Resting from our labors on the Sabbath allows for the public worship of God (37).  This raises another question, though: is Sunday rooted in mere convenience or in God’s law?  There really isn’t an easy answer to this.

(3) Calvin doesn’t really contradict himself between the Institutes and the Commentaries.  The differences can be accounted for by different opponents.

(4) WIth Christ the Sabbath ceased to function as a type.  The spiritual rest is now a full reality (48).

(5) The Sabbath is still binding in the sense of our servants need rest and we need to worship unencumbered.  

(6) It’s not immediately clear how to harmonize (4) and (5).  What in the typical Sabbath did Christ fulfill and bring to an end?  I think Calvin’s answer is, “Rest from sin.” Certainly, as Christ’s death points to that.  But we aren’t fully resting from sin in this mortal coil. Further, although we should rest from our labors as a type of resting from sin on the Sabbath, we should be resting from sin on each day, anyway.

Mind you, I am not disagreeing with Calvin, but I think this point needs to be developed.

Gaffin ends with a survey of Reformation teaching on the Lord’s Day.  This is a useful guide to Calvin’s teaching on the Lord’s Day. I appreciated how Gaffin (or Gaffin’s Calvin) drew notice to the keeping of the Lord’s Day as a sanctifying experience.

John Walton: Lost World of Genesis

Transferring from my old blog. I plan to finish Walton’s commentary on Genesis today, and I want this review on this blog for when I write the other review.

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Like the other “Lost World” books, this is written in proposition format, which makes the arguments easy to follow.  Walton is very clear, even on points where I disagree. There are some flaws in this work, but it is a valuable text.

Proposition 1: Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology

This shouldn’t be a controversial claim.  The earth might be 6,000 years old, but there isn’t any underlying science that matches with Genesis 1.  Ancient man wouldn’t have been as interested in Answers in Genesis as he would have in the following questions (19):

* How does God interact with the world?
* Is there such a thing as a natural world?

* Is the cosmos best seen as a machine, a set of material objects, a kingdom, a company?

Proposition 2: Ancient Cosmology is Function Oriented

What does it mean to exist?  A company’s existence is different from a chair’s (23). Walton contrasts a “material ontology” (e.g.,what constitutes a physical chair) with a “functional ontology” (e.g., what makes a business a business)?  There is something to this, to be sure.

Walton says we have focused too much on the material ontology of creation and not its functional ontology (25).  For the ancient man something exists “by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system” (26). Of course, Walton is quick to point out that ancient man would have seen the material constituents of an object (or a universe).

Proposition 3: Create concerns functions

He argues that bara means to assign functions, rather than material constituents.  He then lists about forty usages in the OT where most of the time it is giving a function to something (41).

Proposition 4: The beginning state in Genesis 1 is Nonfunctional

There is some payoff to his claim: if we read Gen. 1:1ff, we aren’t exactly dealing with a mathematical nothingness prior to the Big Bang singularity.  The tohu is simply an unproductive void, rather than a zero-state void (48).  Walton then lists 20 occurences where Tohu means unproductive, rather than non-existent.

Propositions 5: Days 1 to 3 in Genesis 1 Establish Functions

God calls the light “day” instead of just “light.”  Why? Because he is giving a function to it. Further, reading the text functionally allows us to solve a potential problem in Day 2: the sky isn’t really solid (56).  Rather, God is showing us that by a “firmament” in the sky, he is able to order the cosmic geography and keep the “cosmic waters,” always connoting danger, at bay. The firmament establishes cosmic order (57).

Isn’t it strange that God doesn’t actually make anything on Day 3? He does assign functions, however.  Walton: “On Day 1 God created the basis for time; day two the basis for weather; and day three the basis for food” (59).

Days 4 to 6 in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries

Reading the text this way solves the problem of why God created light before he created the sun.  Here is where Walton’s “functional” argument is the strongest: the very point for why God created the sun/stars was to serve as signs for humans.

Proposition 7: Divine Rest is in a Temple

Walton’s functionalism fits very well with the Sabbath.  He notes, “In the ancient world rest is what results when a crisis has been resolved or when stablitiy has been achieved” (73).  This makes sense. When the Bible says “King so-and-so had rest,” it didn’t mean no one in the kingdom did anything; only that he had peace and normal operations were able to function.

God’s resting place is his temple (Ps. 132:7-8; 13-14).

Proposition 8: The Cosmos is a Temple

Standard GK Beale stuff.

Proposition 9: The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration

Proposition 10: The Seven Days do not concern material origins

This propositions summarizes the first half of the book.  The argument follows:

  1. a) Bara is functional.
  2. b) the context is functional (Gen. 1:2 starts with a nonfunctional world)
  3. c) the cultural context is functional.
  4. d) the theology is functional (cosmic Temple)
  5. e) of the seven days, three have no statement of creation of any material component (1, 3, and 7).
  6. f) Day 2 could be material, but then we are left believing in a material firmament in the sky.
  7. g) Days 4 and 6 have material components, but they are dealt with only on the functional level.


  1. He overloads the evidence favoring theistic evolution.  He never engages in analysis with the strongest analysis from Intelligent Design theorists.
  1. He never notes the contrast that when ancient paganism saw creation as giving a function to an already existing object, and not creating ex nihilo, it is because in paganism (like today’s Neo-Atheism), matter is eternal and only needs some Demiurge (like the god of Freemasonry) to form it.
  1. He criticizes Intelligent Design for being “God of the gaps.”  Precisely what, then, is theistic evolution? Find a gap in the fossil record?  No problem. God providentially furthered evolution along. Anyway, guys like Stephen Meyer aren’t saying, “Must be a God after all.”  What they are saying is that information, especially complex information, points to an Intelligence.
  1. He rebuts Behe’s argument of “irreducible complexity” by noting the eye’s structural blind spot.  Stephen C. Meyer, however, blows that out of the water: ““There’s an important physiological reason as to why the retina has to be inverted in the eye,” he said. “Within the overall design of the system, it’s a tradeoff that allows the eye to process the vast amount of oxygen it needs in vertebrates. Yes, this creates a slight blind spot, but that’s not a problem because people have two eyes and the two blind spots don’t overlap. Actually,the eye is an incredible design” (quoted in Strobel, Case for a Creator, 87).
  1. His stuff on naturalism isn’t wrong per se, and there is a difference between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism, but he often ends up just using the term naturalism.  He is also rather naive on the courts’ past rulings. Yes, it is true that science pretends not to make any judgment on God, but that is precisely what science then makes statements on what God does and doesn’t do in the physical realm.

5a. Further, Walton isn’t clear on what recent rulings constitute valid science: anything falsifiable, empirical, and validated by the scientific method.  Yet Walton never mentions this nor mentions the huge defeaters to this line of thinking: e.g., evolution isn’t testable by the scientific method, sometimes models for science determine the evidence, sometimes the evidence the models.

  1. Walton is to be commended for rejecting Neo-Darwinism, but guess which model controls the system right now?  That’s right, N-D. N-D posits, to use Dawkins’ euphonic phrase, a “Blind Watchmaker.” If Walton’s interesting reading is to gain any credence, he must break the back of N-D.