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Pope Francis endorses Bible’s day of rest—sort of

Posted on September 18, 2018
Pope Francis endorses Bible’s day of rest—sort of

For an estimated 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church, comprising slightly more than half of the world’s Christian population of 2.4 billion, the pronouncements of the bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, are authoritative.

When the pope says something, people inside the Catholic faith—and even those beyond its confines—take notice. And Francis, the first pope born in the Western Hemisphere, has been saying a lot since he was elected in 2013. His pronouncements about marriage, divorce, the environment, and more have been eagerly snapped up by the world’s media outlets.

So it’s little surprise that a September 5 pronouncement by Pope Francis about the proper use of leisure time, specifically the weekly “day of rest” commanded in Scripture, would also make headlines. “Pope: We must discern true from false rest,” read one headline. The official Vatican newspaper announced, “Time to reconcile oneself with life.”

Speaking before a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, he compared the world’s perception of rest with the rest of God’s design. “Today's society is thirsty for entertainment and holidays," he said. "The industry of distraction … flourishes and advertising paints an ideal world of a giant playground where everyone enjoys themselves.”

And the pontiff was direct in tracing the history of the biblically commanded day of rest, as reported by the AsiaNews website: “The words of the Decalogue seek and find the heart of the problem, throwing a different light on what rest is. The command has a peculiar element: It provides a motivation,” the pope said.

He added, “Rest in the name of the Lord has a precise motive: ‘Because in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea and what is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord has blessed the Sabbath and consecrated it’ (Exodus 20:11). This refers to the end of creation when God says: ‘God saw what He had done, and He saw that it was good’ (Genesis 1:31). And then begins the day of rest, which is God's joy for what He has created. It is the day of contemplation and blessing.”

After a couple of additional sentences praising and explaining the Sabbath day—words that would resonate with any seventh-day Sabbathkeeper—Francis made a sharp pivot away from the Bible verses he had just quoted: “For us Christians, the center of the Lord's Day, Sunday, is the Eucharist, which means 'thanksgiving.’ ”

That sudden change, from speaking about the seventh-day Sabbath to what Francis called “the Lord’s Day, Sunday” likely didn’t cause a ripple among his immediate audience. For nearly two thousand years, Christians the world over have been told that, somehow, the Bible Sabbath was “changed” and that Sunday, the acknowledged first day of the week, is the proper day of worship, rather than the seventh.

In Luke’s gospel, the fourth chapter, we read that Jesus “came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:16).

“As His custom was” suggests that Jesus was a regular keeper of the Bible Sabbath. As were His disciples, given that they were following their rabbi, or teacher, and they, too, were Jews. If a Jew in Jesus’ day knew nothing else, they knew when the Sabbath was and what to do on that day.

The Scripture, after all, is crystal clear. In Exodus 20, as Pope Francis himself quoted, we read “the seventh day is the Sabbath.” There’s zero ambiguity here. But the pope, like so many in modern Christianity, is happy to accept another day—the first day of the week—as a substitute for God's day of rest. It would be interesting to see someone in the media ask the pope about this. But given that most reporters aren’t theologically inclined, it’s not likely to happen.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t ask the question. Why was the Bible-designated Sabbath abandoned by so many Christians over the centuries? Does it really matter today? And is there a positive reason to follow the ancient commandment?

Our free Study Guide, “The Lost Day of History,” will answer these questions—and more. You’ll know what happened to the Sabbath, and why, and how to recapture the real joy of the true day of rest!

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