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Questions

I can always depend on spiritual nourishment and encouragement from the regular reception of the Standard Bearer. I have a couple of questions about the August edition.

Firstly, concerning the fourth commandment, how do you square the words of Paul in Romans 14:4– 7 with sabbath-keeping. Paul seems to say that, like eating of meats, Sabbath-keeping is a matter of conscience, not of biblical command.

Secondly, regarding the Lord’s Supper, your church does not seem to think that the eaten element matters much. When Christ instituted the supper, it was a Passover, and He is our Passover and He is our unleavened (sinless) bread of life, so, surely, the element that rightly portrays our Lord is matzos (unleavened wafers) that are striped and pierced and available in every delicatessen or big store?

Julian Kennedy (Dr.)

Bournemouth, UK


Sabbath-Keeping and the Law 

Your question concerning Romans 14:5, 6and its application to the New Testament church’s practice of keeping the first day of the week holy, setting it off from all other days, is a common one, and therefore worth considering. The passage reads, “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord, and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”

Briefly, the question can be answered along the following lines. It is for a passage such as Romans 14:5, 6 that the principle of interpreting scripture with scripture comes into play. Specifically, clearer passages, rather than doubtful passages, must determine Christian practice. The passage itself does not speak directly of what is known as the Lord’s Day, or, if you will, the importance of a Christian Sabbath. And there is no compelling reason to interpret this passage as dealing with that issue.

What the apostle is dealing with in Romans 14 is not a contention over the permanency of the moral law, the ten commandments, and hence of the fourth commandment and its reference to having a sabbath day, and keeping it holy, but the apostle is dealing again with the issue of the ceremonial (or Levitical) law, with its reference to various Jewish feast days. That the apostle has in mind the ‘holy days’ (feast days) of the Levitical law is supported by his reference to ‘eating,’ which had to do with the Jewish scruple over unclean food and diet, and is clearly Levitical. The apostles did not insist that Jewish Christians had to eat what they judged to be unclean food (pork, for instance). If they for conscience sake could not bring themselves to eat such, fine. They could serve the Lord with such a diet. But the apostles did forbid Jewish believers from imposing such a prohibition on their Gentile brothers, and then charging them with sin if they ate ‘unclean’ food. So with these holy days (or feast days). It was one thing if the Jewish believers wanted yet to observe them in some fashion (some of which required fasting from morning to evening), but it was another if they sought to require the same of the Gentiles in the church. Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind how he was going to treat such days; just do not try to impose the same on your brother as obedience to God.

Significantly, Paul himself, on occasion, for the sake of the Jews to whom he was bringing the gospel, would observe certain Jewish ceremonies and rites (Acts 21:20-27). But he did not require the rest of the Christian church to do so. What Paul did he did “unto the Lord,” that is, he had his own reasons before the Lord why he viewed such an observance as wise at certain times, namely, not to give offence to the Jews to whom he was bringing the word, and to refute certain unfounded accusations.

Further, that Paul does not have in mind in this passage the first day of the week (the new Christian Sabbath) should be plain. The apostles themselves distinguished the first day from the other six. They esteemed it above other days of the week. They called it “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10), the day on which their Lord arose from the dead. That the label “the Lord’s Day” had reference to the first day of the week is clear from the writings of the ancient church fathers. That the apostles themselves designated the first day of the week as “the Lord’s Day” makes it clear, then, that by the phrase “another esteemeth every day alike” the apostle Paul was not making an allowance for Christians to disregard the first day of the week, allowing them to view it (esteem it) no differently than every other day. Jewish feast days could be marked or disregarded without repercussions for faith and true godliness, but the same did not hold true when it came to the Lord’s Day.

That the fourth commandment has the same binding authority for the New Testament church as it did for the Old Testament church makes perfect sense when you consider the following. It is of no little significance that in Deuteronomy 5:15Moses tied in Israel’s keeping of the seventh day holy with their remembrance of the great redemptive event of the Old Testament whereby God saved His Israel from bondage and death, namely, the Passover and the Red Sea. (“Therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day.”) So the New Testament church is to keep a day for the remembrance of the great redemptive event of the New Testament whereby God saved His Israel from bondage and from death. And on what day did that great redemptive event culminate and take place? I believe the gospel record points us in compelling fashion to the first day of the week. “But now is Christ risen from the dead!” And, “Behold, I make all things new.” Just as the cross and the resurrection replace the Passover and exodus as the great redemptive event for God’s New Testament church, so the first day of the week replaces the seventh as the time to remember, worship, reflect, and rest. The point is, the law for the keeping of a Sabbath Day holy is not simply tied in with seven-day creation, but with remembering God’s redemptive work as well. And for the New Testament church, that has to do with what took place on the first day of the week long ago, namely, the power of Christ’s resurrection whereby He at once destroyed the power of bondage and death, and set His people free.

So the day we call Sunday is to be esteemed above other days—a matter of law, not mere preference and liberty.

Those interested in further analysis of the Romans 14 passage and its application are encouraged to read John Murray’s commentary on Romans, Appendix D, pages 257-9 (New International Commentary).

—Rev. Kenneth Koole


Matzos and the Lord’s Supper

I thank you, brother, for your brief remark concerning the element of bread in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It gives me occasion to expand a bit on this subject. I had considered treating this subject and decided against it because of the length of my treatment of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which will involve eight articles before I finish. Your remarks, however, compel me to call attention to this matter briefly. That will be for the benefit of all our readers.

As I point out in an article yet to be printed, while there is a relationship between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, they are not equivalent. There are, in fact, significant differences between the two.

For one thing, the institution of each is significantly different. That also affects the element in question.

The reason the Passover feast was prepared with unleavened bread is not that leaven symbolized sin. The lack of leaven was necessary rather to picture and to reenact the haste with which the feast had to be prepared and eaten in the flight out of Egypt. “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s passover” (Ex. 12:11).

So we read in Exodus 12, verses 34 and 39: “And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders…. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.”

The Lord’s Supper is different. Its symbolism is not one of eating with haste, but rather communing in covenant fellowship with the God of our salvation. We partake of the Lord’s Supper in rest and at peace, as partakers of the finished salvation wrought by God in our Lord Jesus Christ. We partake to be nourished by the bread of life.

Secondly, while it is true that leaven is used figuratively in I Corinthians 5, e.g., with reference to sin, and particularly malice and wickedness, that does not mean that leaven is always to be interpreted by that figurative reference.

The fact is, such an interpretation cannot hold up to the test of the rest of Scripture. Among the parables that Jesus spoke to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, we read in Luke 13:20– 21: “And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”

Even in the Old Testament there were offerings that God required of His people, which were to include leaven.Leviticus 23:17 is just one example: “Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven; they are the fruit fruits unto the LORD.”

So it is evident that leaven does not necessarily symbolize sin, and in fact usually does not symbolize sin. With reference to the element of the Passover feast there is no indication that the leaven has any significance other than the haste with which the Israelites had to leave Egypt.

The importance of bread in the Lord’s Supper, therefore, is its symbolism of Christ being the nourishment for our hungry souls. Christ Himself, by His broken body, nourishes our hungry souls unto life eternal. Thus bread is the important element, not leaven or the lack thereof.

Likely for those reasons, the church historically has used common leavened bread for the sacrament.

George Bethune, in his lectures on the Heidelberg Catechism first published in 1864, wrote the following concerning this question:

It is decided by learned men that the use of unleavened bread and wafers was unknown in the church, except among the heretical Ebionites, until the eleventh century at the earliest, the bread before that time being taken from the offerings of bread and wine brought by the communicants for the use of the poor, when of course the bread was leavened. Some of the early fathers (as Ambrose, De Sac. iv. 4) expressly say that the bread they used was common bread (panis usitatus). The only scripture bearing upon this point is that in 1 Cor. v. 7, 8: “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” There is no reason, however, to think that the apostle there is giving directions about the eucharist, but that he only uses a striking figure to signify the purity and humility and unanimity which the church should maintain. There was a commemorative reason for the use of unleavened bread in the Passover, which commemorated the haste of the Israelites in escaping from Egypt, but it has no significance under the New Testament; and it should be rejected as a part of the painful services required under the now obsolete yoke of bondage. Bread in our sacrament is an emblem of strength and confidence, which the absence of leaven would impair. But it is essential to the sacrament that bread, not wafers,—substantial, home-like, every-day bread,—should be employed and partaken of, in order to our more complete realization of our constant dependence on Christ for the support of our Christian life.*

May God give us grace to continue to maintain the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper in all its significance.

—Rev. Steven R. Key


* Bethune, George W., Guilt, Grace and Gratitude: Lectures on the Heidelberg Catechism (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 2001), v. 2, pp. 269-271