And He was saying to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
From time to time I have had discussions with a sabbatarian scholar who takes me to task for doing an “inductive” study of the Sabbath. The right way to study the Sabbath, he says, is to start with Mark 2:27 and, using this text to “prove” the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, proceed by using “systematic theology” to fit all other biblical evidence into this paradigm.
Because Mark 2:27 has been the strongest key text for sabbatarians, I want to do an in-depth study of this verse. First, we will identify the two things drawn from this passage which sabbatarians use to conclude that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. The first is the Greek word “made” (ἐγένετο). This word within the context of the verse, the argument goes—refers to the “making” of the Sabbath—a reference which should lead one back to Genesis 2 where God blessed and sanctified the seventh day. The second argument comes from the fact that in Greek, the word “man” has the definite article with it and really says, “The Sabbath was made for ‘the man’” (τὸν ἄνθρωπον). This usage may be translated as “mankind”. These two constituent parts of Mark 2:27—the word “made” and the definite article “the” before “man” in the Greek text—form the sabbatarians’ strongest argument for making Sabbath a “creation ordinance” and for using Mark 2:27 as their central passage for “proving” that Sabbath is a continuing mandate for Christians.
Answering the sabbatarians
Let us now consider four points. First, we will study the different meanings or possible translations of the Greek word “ἐγένετο” (“made”) from its lexical or basic word definitions. Second, we will consider how Mark uses the word ἐγένετο throughout his gospel to determine its meaning in other contexts. Third, we will consider the meaning of Mark 2:27 from its immediate context within the gospel of Mark and from the wider context including the other two synoptic gospels. Fourth, we will consider the preponderance of evidence regarding the Sabbath as gathered from the rest of the New Testament, especially the epistles which were written to young gentile churches. Lastly, we will summarize our findings.
Our goal in this study is to determine whether the Sabbath is a creation ordinance that should be observed by all mankind, or whether the Sabbath is a ritual law first given at the time of Moses as a special sign between God and Israel and intended only for Israel. Space does not allow for a complete study as the material bearing upon this subject is monumental, but more extensive resources are available.1
The lexical or dictionary meaning of ἐγένετο2
“γίνομαι (root word for ἐγένετο) is capable of many translations in various contexts, of which these are typical:
1. be born or produced Mt 21:19; J 8:58; Ro 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:37; with emphasis on the fragility of human life Gal 4:4. Arise, come about, occur, come Mt 8:26; Mk 4:37; Lk 4:42; 23:19, 44; J 6:17; Ac 6:1; 11:19; 27:27; 1 Ti 6:4; Rv 8:5, 7.
2. be made or created, be done Mt 6:10; 11:20f; Lk 14:22; J 1:3; Ac 19:26; 1 Cor 9:15; Hb 11:3; be established Mk 2:27.
3. happen, take place Mt 1:22; 18:31; Lk 1:38; 8:34; J 10:22; Ac 7:40; 28:9. Expressions like γέγονε ἐμοί τι something has come to me = I have or have received something Mt 18:12; Mk 4:11; Lk 14:12; 1 Cor. 4:5. μὴ γένοιτο by no means, far from it, God forbid lit. ‘may it not be’ Lk 20:16; Ro 3:4, 6, 31; Gal 2:17. καὶ ἐγένετο and ἐγένετο δέ, with or without καί following, is usually felt to be superfluous and is left untranslated; older versions rendered it, it came to pass Mt 7:28; 9:10; Lk 2:1, 6, 46; 8:1, 22.
4. become Mt 5:45; 24:32; Mk 1:17; 6:14; Lk 6:16; J 1:12, 14; 1 Cor 13:11; Gal 3:13; Col 1:23; Hb 5:5. Come, go Mk 1:11; Lk 1:44; Ac 13:32; 20:16; 21:35; Gal 3:14.
5. be largely = εἰμί: Mt 10:16; Mk 4:19; Lk 6:36; 17:26, 28; J 15:8; Ac 22:17; Gal 4:4; 1 Th 2:8; Hb 11:6. With dat. of a person belong Ro 7:3f. Appear Mk 1:4; J 1:6. [genesis] [pg 39]
First preliminary conclusion
The lexicographical usage of ἐγένετο, as noted in No. 2 above, is “be established”. While it is true that most translations use “made” in Mark 2:27, the word does not lead to the idea of “created”, nor is it pointing to the seventh day in Genesis 2. Consider the following:
In Mark 2:27, the Greek verb made is “ἐγένετο” which has the lexical form of ginomai. Most typically, ἐγένετο in 2:27 is translated as if in the passive voice construction such that the word is rendered “made”. But there is a problem here. “The deponent very ἐγένετο (egeneto),” Streifling explains, “has usually been taken as if in the passive voice sentence construction rendering it ‘made’. However, since the construction is not passive, the verb takes the active function ‘become’, similar to John 1:14, ‘the Lord became (ἐγένετο) flesh and made his dwelling among us.’”3 As a result, Mark 2:27 is more literally translated as, “The Sabbath became for man, not man for the Sabbath.”4
Therefore, we can say at this point that an equally valid translation of Mark 2:27 would be that the Sabbath “was established” or “became” for man. True, “was made” makes easier reading, and that is why most translations render it this way. This rendering, however, does not indicate when it became, was established, or was made.
ἐγένετο as used in Mark
Following is a list of all the usages of ἐγένετο in the Gospel of Mark. Note the multitude of ways ἐγένετο is used and how they all express the ideas of “established”, “became” or “made” but not “created”.
And a voice came (ἐγένετο) out of the heavens: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased” (Mk. 1:11).
And it came about (ἐγένετο) that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain (Mk. 2:23).
And it came about (ἐγένετο) that as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up (Mk. 4:4).
And as soon as He was (ἐγένετο) alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables (Mk. 4:10).
For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been (ἐγένετο) secret, but that it would come to light (Mk. 4:22).
And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became (ἐγένετο) perfectly calm (Mk. 4:39).
And those who had seen it described to them how it had happened (ἐγένετο) to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine (Mk. 5:16).
And King Herod heard of it, for His name had become (ἐγένετο) well known; and people were saying, “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him” (Mk. 6:14).
and His garments became (ἐγένετο) radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them (Mk. 9:3).
Then a cloud formed (ἐγένετο), overshadowing them, and a voice came (ἐγένετο) out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Mk. 9:7, ἐγένετο is used twice in this sentence).
After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became (ἐγένετο) so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” (Mk. 9:26).
When evening came (ἐγένετο), they would go out of the city (Mk. 11:19).
…This came about (ἐγένετο) from the LORD, and it is marvelous in our eyes? (Mk. 12:11).
When the sixth hour came, darkness fell (ἐγένετο) over the whole land until the ninth hour (Mk. 15:33).
Second preliminary conclusion
The verses above are all the places Mark uses the word “ἐγένετο”. None of these contexts would allow for rendering (ἐγένετο) as “made”, but several of them could be rendered “became” or “established”. All we can really conclude at this time is that “made” in the sense of “created” is not necessarily the meaning in Mark 2:27. Thus, Mark 2:27 is not a central passage to support the idea that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance that crowned creation week.
The context and parallel accounts in the Synoptics
The incident recorded in Mark 2 is a very important Sabbath encounter, one recorded by all the synoptic gospels. Matthew adds some additional details not found in Mark and also has some contextual material that must be studied in connection with it. We will first examine the reference from Mark and then consider the additional material found in Matthew. Luke adds no additional insights except in Luke’s account the Pharisees direct their question to the disciples and perhaps even to Jesus, “Why do you (plural) do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”5 In Mark and Matthew Jesus is asked, “Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
The Mark account comes immediately after Jesus’ discussion about putting new wine into old wineskins. Most interpret this section to refer to the contrast between Judaism and Christianity or the old and new covenants. In essence, Jesus was saying by this illustration that the fullness of the new covenant gospel could not be put into the rigid forms of Judaism. The gospel of Christ must be placed in a new “wineskin”,⎯the church.
And it came about that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to Him, “See here, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and became hungry, he and his companions: How he entered into the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he gave it also to those who were with him?” And He was saying to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:23−28).
Matthew’s account of this Sabbath occurrence follows immediately after Christ made this proclamation:
Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light (Mt. 11:28−30).
In the Matthew account we also find that Christ’s defense of His disciples’ activities has two additional arguments not listed in Mark.
Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent (Mt. 12:5−7).
First, let us look carefully at what the disciples were doing and why the Pharisees considered them to be breaking the Sabbath. It is very easy for us to denounce the Pharisees for their narrow interpretation of Sabbath law. Yet to rightly understand this incident and what Jesus was teaching we must see it from their perspective. In this case the Pharisees understood the Sabbath law to require “complete rest” (Ex. 31:15) and refraining from all work (Ex. 20:10). The Pharisees recognized that these laws applied even to plowing and harvest time (Ex. 34:21). They were familiar with the instruction which said that on the Sabbath they were “to remain every man in his place” (Ex. 16:29). Further, they knew the Scripture which taught that food was to be gathered and prepared on the day before the Sabbath so no gathering or cooking would interfere with the Sabbath day rest (Ex. 16:23−26).
Looking through the eyes of the Pharisees we can see why they considered Christ’s disciples to be breaking the Sabbath on at least three counts. (1) They were “harvesting and threshing” the grain in their hands, which was work and therefore a violation of the Sabbath. (2) They were not completely resting, but “rest” was required on the Sabbath. (3) They had failed to “remember the Sabbath” in that they apparently had not prepared their food the day before.
Whether or not the disciples actually broke the letter of the biblical Sabbath law is not the most important point. Rather, it is the way Jesus responded to the accusations as He took authority over Sabbath law and defended His disciples by giving four powerful arguments to show that His disciples did not come under condemnation for their questionable Sabbath activities. Consider each of the arguments Christ put forward to show why His disciples were free from condemnation. It is vitally important that we observe that every one of Christ’s illustrations dealt with ritual, and not moral laws.
Argument one is:
Have you never read what David did when he was in need and became hungry, he and his companions: how he entered into the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he gave it also to those were with him? (Mk. 2:25,26).
In 1 Samuel 21:1−6 we are told that David was fleeing from King Saul, who was seeking to kill him. He came to the priest, and in answer to the priest’s question as to why David was alone he answered,
The king has commissioned me with a matter, and has said to me, “Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you with which I have commissioned you and I have directed the young men to a certain place.”
This was actually a lie. Nevertheless the priest believed it and gave David “consecrated bread” which he later shared with his men. It is important to note that David was not reprimanded by God for the violation of this ritual law regarding eating the sacred bread, as he was when he violated a moral law by taking another man’s wife.6
There are two possible conclusions which may be drawn from this illustration, both of which are valid. First, human need takes precedence over ritual law. Second, David was exempted from this ritual law because of who he was: the anointed of God, the coming King of Israel. It was all right for his men to eat this bread because they were associated with the coming King of Israel, who was above the letter of ritual law by virtue of his kingly office. In other words, God’s anointing is a higher authority than the demands of ritual law.
Correspondingly, Jesus was arguing that His disciples were innocent, not so much because they were hungry and desperately in need of food, but because they were involved with Him in His work, which took precedence over ritual, Sabbath law. Jesus was the anointed of God, the coming King of Israel; therefore, they were free from condemnation by virtue of their association with Christ. This situation offers a preview of the coming redemption of the new covenant gospel: believers are complete in Him.7
The second argument Christ placed before the Pharisees to justify His disciples’ questionable Sabbath activity is this:
Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? (Mt. 12:5).
The priests were instructed in the law to do certain things on the Sabbath which would fall into the category of work and would normally be considered Sabbath breaking. These activities were probably the making and deploying of fresh showbread (Lev. 24:5−9) and the sacrificing of certain Sabbath offerings (Num. 28:9,10). However, because these activities were commanded in the old covenant law, the priests were innocent. Most pastors can relate to this argument. The day of worship is often, if not always, the hardest and most tiring day of their week.
Now notice how Christ applies this argument to the situation at hand. “But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here” (Mt. 12:6). Jesus used this phrase several other times in this chapter, and it becomes evident what He means.
The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here (Mt. 12:41).
The Queen of the South shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it; because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here (Mt. 12:42).
That “something greater” is Jesus Himself, the Messiah, and the kingdom He brings. It was God’s presence which made the tabernacle service important enough to allow the priests to violate the letter of ritual Sabbath law and yet be innocent. The presence of Jesus tabernacling (Jn. 1:14) in the temple of His body (Mt. 26:61) took precedence over ritual Sabbath law. Therefore, just as the priests could violate the letter of Sabbath law to fulfill the more important services of the temple, so the disciples of Jesus could violate the letter of ritual Sabbath law because they were engaged in the more important service of One who is greater than the temple and the Sabbath.
The third argument of Jesus is:
But if you had known what this means, “I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the innocent (Mt. 12:7).
This is a quotation from Hosea 6:6. It reads:
For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Notice again that both “sacrifice” and “burnt offerings” are ritual laws. This text cuts to the very heart and meaning of covenant law. It shows that God is more concerned with the attitude of the heart than He is with ritual, even rituals which pointed forward to Christ’s death on the cross. In this argument, Jesus proves the disciples are innocent because of their heartfelt loyalty and close association with Him, even though they may have broken the letter of Sabbath law.
Here again is the irony of the old covenant Sabbath laws as observed by the Pharisees. On one hand the Pharisees, who were keeping the very letter of the Sabbath laws, had no compassion or loyalty to the God of the covenant. On the other hand the disciples, who appear to have broken the letter of the old covenant Sabbath law, were loyally following their Lord!
The fourth argument of Jesus is:
The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27,28).
Here Jesus is saying that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of man and not man for the benefit of the Sabbath. Because of this, Jesus, as the Son of Man, controls the Sabbath and is not to be controlled by it.8 The term, the Son of Man, which Jesus used in reference to Himself, comes from Daniel 7:13, where it is used in connection with the dawning of the eschatological (end time) reign of God. Thus, in defense of Jesus’ disciples’ questionable Sabbath activities, Jesus announces His own authority as the Son of Man who is bringing the eschatological reign of God.
The thrust of Jesus’ argument is not in defining appropriate Sabbath behavior or in a correct interpretation of old covenant Sabbath law; rather it is in showing how old covenant law, including Sabbath law, points to Him. In this respect it seems obvious that the Sabbath is a ritual law. Even Jewish scholars recognize the Sabbath as a ritual and not moral law.9 Thus, like the other ritual laws, the importance of the shadow falls away in the presence of the Messiah, the reality to which the ritual laws pointed (Col. 2:16-17).
In this incident Jesus is taking authority over Sabbath law. His presence allows greater freedom regarding Sabbath observance just as the priests were not bound by all the Sabbath laws in their temple services where God was present. And Jesus is greater than the temple. His office as the anointed coming King of Israel gave Him and those associated with Him freedom to infringe upon ritual Sabbath law. As the Son of Man, who has the mission of bringing in the eschatological reign of God, He is above the control of ritual Sabbath law.
We can safely conclude even more than this. When we consider that in both Mark and Luke this incident immediately follows the discussion about putting new wine in new wineskins, we get overtones of coming changes. Remembering also that in Matthew this incident (Mt. 12:1,2) is connected to the three verses of the preceding chapter (Mt. 11:28−30) by the use of the phrase “at this time” (Mt. 12:1), leads us to conclude that the Sabbath itself may be associated with the eschatological rest of God.
At the same time, there is evidence for the fact that the Sabbath itself is associated with the theme of restoration and the messianic age. Within such a framework the fact that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath becomes the more significant, for the very concept of Sabbath begins to undergo transformation. That Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath is not only a messianic claim of grand proportions, but it raises the possibility of a future change or reinterpretation of the Sabbath, in precisely the same way that His professed superiority over the Temple raises certain possibilities about ritual law. No details of that nature are spelled out here, but the verse arouses expectations.10
Third preliminary conclusion
The way this incident contextually unfolds in Mark with its parallel accounts in the other synoptics indicates that the Sabbath is a ritual law and Jesus as Lord over Sabbath is not to be controlled by it. It shows that Jesus is the reality prefigured in old covenant rituals. More than that, Jesus is showing that a violation of ritual law which was designed to point to Him now has little significance. The shadow loses much of its value in the presence of the Reality to which the shadow pointed.
The Preponderance of evidence
If the seventh-day Sabbath is a creation ordinance and was/is required for all mankind to observe, there should be sufficient evidence outside of Mark 2:27 to support this claim. It should be present in the Old Testament accounts prior to Moses, and it should also be present in the epistles written to young gentile churches after the cross.
What do we actually find? Following are summaries of biblical evidence. (See Sabbath in Christ for supporting references for these points.)
• God’s moral principles were embedded in the conscience of the patriarchs so they knew right from wrong, but there is no record that anyone knew about or kept the Sabbath or any day of worship before the time of Moses. This conclusion is confirmed by scholars of Scripture, Jewish scholars, and scholars of antiquity.
• The Old Testament prophets confront the gentile nations for worshiping idols, blaspheming the name of God, ruthless killing, injustice, immorality, and pride, but never for breaking the Sabbath.
• The gentile nations were under the laws given to Noah but not under the Torah.
• Acts 15 clearly states that circumcision was not required for gentile Christians. Therefore, Sabbath was not required, because Sabbath was only for those who had been circumcised.
• Paul states forthrightly, “For when gentiles who do not have the Law…” (Rom. 2:14).
• Paul states the law was added (was not there before) 430 years after Abraham…until the seed should come (Gal. 3:19).
• Paul states that law was our tutor until Christ; now we are no longer under a tutor or the law (Gal. 3:24).
• Paul states, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom 7:6).
• There is no command to keep the Sabbath in the New Testament.
• All the Sabbath meetings in the book of Acts are in Jewish settings.
• Jesus violated several ritual laws, including the Sabbath (See Jn. 5:16-18).
• Jesus met with His disciples after the resurrection for a period of 40 days, but never on a Sabbath. Every recorded meeting when a day is mentioned was on the first day of the week.
• There is no instruction on how to keep the Sabbath in letters to young gentile Christian churches. At that time there was disagreement even in Judaism on how to keep the Sabbath. One would expect that if the Sabbath was required of gentile Christians, the first thing converts would have asked is, “How do I keep the Sabbath?” However, there is only silence.
• Sabbath-breaking is never mentioned in any lists of New Testament sins, and there are a number of lengthy lists.
• In the new covenant the one-time entrance sign is baptism, and the Lord’s Supper—not the Sabbath—is the repeatable sign Christians are to “remember”.
• Even the Jews acknowledge that the Sabbath is a ritual law.
• When Jesus was confronted with his questionable Sabbath activities, He defended them every time by referring to Sabbath as a ritual, not a moral law.
• Circumcision was considered more important than Sabbath.
• When the epistles mention the Sabbath, the references are either in a negative or unimportant context.
• The Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) was written very early. It contains a long list of items Christians should do and a long list of items Christians should not do. The Sabbath is not mentioned in either list. However, it does say that Christians should gather together every “Lord’s day”, a term used in the early church for Sunday.
Fourth preliminary conclusion
The wider context of Sabbath teaching—or the lack of it—in the New Testament and especially in the letters written to young gentile Christian churches does not support the conclusion that the Sabbath is a requirement for all mankind. Rather, in the new covenant Sabbath observance is not required or even expected.
• The lexical or dictionary meaning of ἐγένετο may be translated as “made”, but the underlying concept is be “established”, “became”, or “came to be”, and there is no necessary link to Genesis 2. There is no evidence in Mark 2:27 of when the Sabbath was established.
• In the gospel of Mark, ἐγένετο, is translated in many ways, but in no other context in Mark is it rendered as “made”.
• Considering the context of Mark 2:27 and its parallel passages in the synoptics, there is much evidence supporting the conclusion that the Sabbath is a ritual law, not a moral law, and as such it points to Christ.
• The preponderance of evidence supports the conclusion that the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance and was never given to the gentiles either before the time of Moses or after the cross. There is no evidence that the Sabbath was required or even expected in young gentile Christian churches.
• Knowing the importance of a dedicated time for worship and Christian teachings, the early church, starting with Paul’s teaching, met on the first day of the week.
• All the pieces come together if we only change our paradigm of truth from Ellen White and Adventist theology to the Apostle Paul who was personally chosen by the risen Christ and personally given the gospel by a direct revelation from Christ.11
It seems to me that those who teach that Mark 2:27 proves that the Sabbath was made at creation for all mankind to observe, and then insert this conclusion into the rest of Scripture are building a “systematic theology” on sand. †
Copyright 2015 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 10, 2015. Contact email: email@example.com
Dale Ratzlaff is the founder of Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., and owns LAM Publications, LLC. He served as an Adventist pastor for 13 years, seven at Monterey Bay Academy where he taught Bible. He and his wife Carolyn left the Adventist church in 1981 when he realized he could no longer teach the investigative judgment in clear conscience. He has authored several books on Adventism that are available through his website, LifeAssuranceMinistries.com. The Ratzlaffs reside in Camp Verde, Arizona.
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VOLUME 16, ISSUE 3