In nature and in the Bible the God of creation and truth has tendered strong evidence of the high moral and physical significance of the Sabbath principle, and of His commitment to blessing all creation with the gift of Sabbath rest.

Psalm 92

In 1988 Israeli biblical scholar Jacob Bazak published an article on Psalm 92.1 After a scholarly presentation of my own on that psalm I discovered that Bazak, whom I had liberally cited, had been in attendance. Bazak invited my wife, Jo Ann, and me to visit him the next time we came to Israel. He treated us wonderfully when we did. We discovered that he was not only an eminent scholar but also a justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. I invited him to lecture at Andrews University if he was ever in the United States again, and he did. When he left, he told us he was returning to Israel as a “missionary for the Adventists of the Seventh-day”!

I owe to Jacob Bazak my first awareness of the “sabbatic stamp” placed by God upon the psalm for the Sabbath, Psalm 92. He pointed out numerous literary aspects of Psalm 92 highlighting the number 7, showing why the psalm is labeled “for the Sabbath day.”

For example, the psalm uses the covenant name “Lord” (YHWH) just seven times; it contains seven different epithets for the wicked,2 and the same number of positive qualities of the righteous.3 Bazak also points out that the midpoint and climax of the psalm (verse 8) is flanked by seven poetic verses on either side.4

The psalm’s overall structure features five stanzas (or strophes), each with six lines, except for the climactic middle stanza, which contains seven. As Franz Delitzsch puts it: “The middle of the psalm bears the stamp of the sabbatic number.”5 Psalm 92 integrates theological themes  [Sabbath] and structural form [seven-ness] so well that the ancient Hebrews entitled it “a psalm,” a “song for the Sabbath day.”

Sabbatic Stamps in the Pentateuch

Psalm 92 is hardly unique to the Bible in its sabbatic stamp. The Bible’s first five books frequently display it. In Genesis 2:1-3 Moses describes God’s establishment of the Sabbath in Eden. He marks the passage with the sabbatic stamp by giving seven words to each of its three statements on God’s formation of the Sabbath. This passage is the first of many sabbatic-stamped passages and elements in the Bible.

For example, the Pentateuch contains seven distinctive Sabbath commands on everything from creation, through redemption, to the whys and wherefores of proper worship. The seven commands are: (1) creation (Ex. 20:8-11); (2) redemption (Deut. 5:12-15); (3) humanitarian concerns (Ex. 23:12, repeated in Deut. 5:13, 14); (4) sanctification and celebration (Ex. 31:13-16); (5) freedom from all work (Ex. 35:2, 3); (6) family and faith community ties (Lev. 19:3); and (7) public worship (Lev. 23:3).

Each of these commands contains its own inner sabbatic stamp. A focus on one of these, the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20, may serve to illustrate accurately and compellingly the depth of purpose and the height of creative genius that God’s sacred Word possesses and displays, specifically in relation to the sabbatic stamp.

The Sabbath Commandment—Exodus 20:8-11

In the Ten Commandments God Himself spoke and wrote His words in stone. The fourth commandment, the one about the Sabbath, is stamped with sabbatic markers—elements of seven-ness—in such quantity and significance that it is difficult to know where to begin. As good a place as any may be the total number of words in the commandment. A variety of approaches exists for counting words in the text of the Hebrew Bible. But whichever counting rule we follow leads to a total that is a multiple of seven, e.g., (1) one approach yields 56 words; (2) another yields 35 words.6 Counting according to the rhythmic flow of the commandment shows up 42 accented words. I state again: the range of approaches to counting words in the Hebrew text of the fourth commandment consistently yields a total that is a multiple of the number 7.

The list of individuals and household groups who receive the Sabbath blessing of rest is also designed to focus on the number 7: rather than listing children and slaves, the commandment identifies recipients with a particularity that not only shows God’s care for each but also focuses the number seven as an essential element of the commandment about the seventh day. Thus the list comprises (1) parent, (2) son, (3) daughter, (4) male slave, (5) female slave, (6) animals, and (7) visiting uncircumcised alien.

Transformation from death to eternal life happens in “the twinkling of an eye.”

On the plains of Moab, Moses’ farewell speech to Israel includes a repetition of the fourth commandment that varies from the Exodus wording while displaying its own seven-ness: verses 12-14 contain 35 accented Hebrew words, orfive multiples of seven; then verse 15, ending with the paragraph divider, contains 21 accented words, or three multiples of seven.The entire commandment, paragraph divider included, thus contains 56 accented words oreight multiples of seven. Overall the seven Sabbath commandments of the Torah feature varied multiples of seven, seven of them in all, including 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (7 x 2) and 8. Other seven-based features of the Sabbath in the Pentateuch include the seven verbs used for Sabbath rest,7 each with its own nuanced contribution to that blessed experience; and Isaiah’s climactic declaration on Sabbathkeeping (Isa. 58:13, 14), in which verse 13 has 21 accented words [7 x 3] and verse 14 has another 14 of its own [7 x 2].

Seven-ness in Nature

The New Testament warrants its own exploration, with the Gospel writers recording no more or less than seven Sabbath miracles of Jesus.8 But a move from the written word to the messages of the natural world may enhance our regard for the significance of seventh-day Sabbath rest God has inscribed across the reaches of the cosmos He has given us to develop, rule, and learn from.

Nature’s most stable chemical structure is the six-membered ring structure (with the hollow seventh part implied in the middle).9 In the animal and vegetable kingdoms seven-day (circaseptan) rhythms have been identified in many physiological functions of animals,10 including rats, face flies, and various plants and other life-forms.11 In relation to the seventh-day Sabbath, a larger question on seven-ness in nature looms, as follows: does the scientific evidence in nature point toward Saturday, the week’s seventh day, as the day of rest?

The Pineal Project

Since 2011 Kenneth Greenaway’s “Pineal Project” research has focused on the pineal gland, a pea-sized endocrine gland in the middle of the brain that synthesizes and releases the hormone melatonin as night falls. Greenaway has found evidence suggesting that the pineal gland, at least in some animals, not only has a circaseptan (seven-day) rhythm, but that this rhythm highlights a specific day of the week, Saturday. In the case of rats, for example, Vollrath (et al.) found that the pineal gland releases its calming and mood-enhancing melatonin maximally on Saturdays.12

Greenaway notes that the moods enhanced maximally on Saturday—those conducive to rest, tranquillity, and enhanced worship experience—are connected with the seventh-day Sabbath in Scripture. He further cites research done on plants and animals at the University of Minnesota on the biological week and broader time structures. This research has repeatedly found that seven-day rhythms can be amplified and resynchronized by a single stimulus, i.e., in response to a one-time event.13

Greenaway postulates, based upon this research, that God’s one-time stimulus of blessing and sanctifying the seventh day at Creation may have evoked a literal physiological, endocrinological, and immunological response in the pineal gland with increased melatonin output on that initial seventh day, something that may conceivably be amplified at each subsequent seventh day.14

SabbathKeeping Animals

Insects and four-footed beasts have also given evidence in a variety of contexts, of the seventh-day Sabbath stamp.

Seventh-day Beavers: Larren Cole spent 16 years observing and documenting the habits of a beaver colony in the Modoc National Forest, visiting the colony almost daily, morning and evening, for several years, then sporadically for many more. Cole discovered that these beavers, active on the other days of the week, remained in their lodge every Friday evening and Saturday. In all his years of filming his documentary, he was never able to find the beavers working on Saturday.

Sabbathkeeping Bees:Cole also repeats the account of colonies of bees swarming past his land in southern California every day of the week but Saturday, on their way to the surrounding orange groves. Sang Lee, a frequent visitor to Brazil, has similarly testified about colonies of bees in Brazil, busy Sunday to Friday, but resting in their hives every Saturday.

Seventh-day Ox:Nickolai Panchuk, a Sabbathkeeper in a Communist labor camp, was finally promised Sabbaths free after years of abuse if he could bring enough water for the camp’s needs by Friday sunset. Every week for his next five years in that Soviet prison the ox that dragged the water containers plodded slowly all week through Thursday. On Fridays the animal raced back and forth so fast, to and from the spring, that Nickolai could hardly keep up. The warden acknowledged, “That preacher made a Sabbathkeeper of the ox.”

Modern Manna Miracle

The miracle began on March 19, 1939, on the Adventist Mission Station, Namba, Angola. Drought had inspired a prayer meeting at which church members claimed God’s promise to supply their needs as He did for ancient Israel. After the prayer the director’s 5-year-old daughter went outside and soon returned excitedly with her hands full of white stuff that she was eating. Her mother and others went outside and found the ground covered with the white stuff, which, like the biblical manna, looked like coriander seeds and tasted sweet, like wafers made with honey. It fell only on the 40 acres of the mission property, and in sufficient quantity to feed and nourish the Adventists of that area until the next harvest.15 Laboratory analysis found that “the sample can provide a good source of nutrients for human diet, which meets the expectations for a sample of manna.”16

Summary

Observed examples of the sabbatic stamp in nature encourage us to wonder how many more there may be. Their full purpose may remain beyond the determination of science, but not beyond the inspiration for worship of the God of “great and marvelous” works (Rev. 15:3) who sacrificed His all to deliver us from our works of frustrated strivings to the peace of perfect Sabbath rest in Him (see Heb. 4:1-10).


  1. Jacob Bazak, “Numerical Devices in Biblical Poetry,” Vetus Testamentum 38 (1988): 333-337.
  2. “Wicked” and “workers of iniquity”—twice each; “enemies”—three times. See verses 7-11. Bible exts in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  3. The righteous “flourish like a palm tree,” “grow like a cedar in Lebanon,” are “[trans]planted in the house of the Lord,” “flourish in the courts of our God,” “bear fruit in old age,” are “fresh [full of sap]”, and “flourishing [green, luxuriant].” See verses 12-15.
  4. Bazak, p. 335.
  5. C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. J. Martin et al. (Edinburgh: 1857-1878; reprint, 10 vols. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), vol. 3, p. 67.
  6. (1) counting each vocable separately and including the Hebrew paragraph divider; (2) counting construct chains [genitive phrases] as one; counting vocables joined by makef [hyphen] as single words, excluding paragraph markers.
  7. shabbat (Gen. 2:2), nuach (Ex. 20:11), naphash (Ex. 31:17), ‘asah (Ex. 31:16), kallah (Gen. 2:2), berek (Gen. 2:3), qadash (Gen. 2:3).
  8. See Luke 4:31-37—casting out unclean spirit; verses 38, 39—healing Peter’s mother-in-law; Luke 6:6-11—man with withered hand; Luke 13:10-17—woman bent over with spirit of infirmity; Luke 14:1-6—man with dropsy; John 5:1-15—man at Pool of Bethesda; John 9:1-34—man blind from birth.
  9. Personal interview with research chemist Ryan Hayes at Andrews University, May 13, 2017.
  10. Kenneth G. Greenaway, “Understanding the Biblical Concept of Time and Spiritual Rest” (unpublished paper, January 2015), pp. 9, 10. Cf. S. Hans-Georg et al. “Evidence for a Circaseptan and Circasemiseptan Growth Response to Light-Dark Cycle Shifts in Nucleated and Enucleated Acetabularia Cells, Respectively,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA Cell Biology 83 (1986): 8619-8623.
  11. Greenaway, p. 10.  Cf. F. Halberg, “Quo Vadis Basic and Clinical Chronobiology: Promise for Health Maintenance,” American Journal of Anatomy 168 (1983): 543-594.
  12. L. Vollrath et al. “Mammalian Pineal Gland: 7-Day Rhythmic Activity?” Experientia 31, no. 4 (1975): 458-460.
  13. G. Cornelissen and F. Halberg, “The Biological Week and Broader Time Structures (Chronomes): In Memory of Gunther Hildebrandt,” Perceptual and Motor Skills 90 (2000): 579-586.
  14. Greenaway, p. 14.
  15. Lora E. Clement, “Let’s Talk It Over,” The Youth’s Instructor,Dec. 10, 1946), p. 2; E. L. Cardey, “Manna Falls in Africa!” Signs of the Times, Mar. 4, 1947, pp. 5, 12. A friend, Alberto Timm, gave me samples he collected from the mission property, where he says it still falls in small amounts every Wednesday and Friday.
  16. A colleague of mine, Gerson Pires de Araujo, reported to me this finding of the Laboratory of Mass Spectrometry, Institute of Chemistry, University of Campinas [UNICAMP], Campinas, Brazil, June 2011.

Richard Davidson is J. N. Andrews professor of Old Testament interpretation at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

In what is likely the earliest book of the Bible, the patriarch Job asked the penetrating question: “How can a mortal be just before God?” (Job 9:2, NRSV).1 Down through the centuries this question of our standing before God, how one is justified by Him, has been viewed as the most crucial question faced by Christians, foundational to all other questions.

Martin Luther asserted, “If we lose the doctrine of justification, we lose simply everything.”2 He believed that justification is “the article with and by which the church stands, without which it falls.”3 In the preface to his 95 theses, drawn up in 1517, Luther boldly declared that “the article of justification is the master and prince, the lord, the ruler, and the judge over all kinds of doctrines; it preserves and governs all church doctrine and raises up our conscience before God. Without this article the world is utter death and darkness.”4

Similarly, John Calvin considered the doctrine of justification to be “the main hinge upon which religion turns. . . . For unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and what the judgment which he passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which piety toward God can be reared.”5

In the wake of the 1888 General Conference session, Ellen White likewise affirmed the importance of the subject of justification by faith: “The light given me of God places this important subject [justification by faith] above any question in my mind.”6 At the same time she warned that this subject is liable to be confused and is the object of Satan’s attack: “The danger has been presented to me again and again of entertaining, as a people, false ideas of justification by faith. I have been shown for years that Satan would work in a special manner to confuse the mind on this point.”7

Luther had earlier given a similar warning: “Whoever falls from the doctrine of justification is ignorant of God and is an idolater. . . . For once this doctrine is undermined, nothing more remains but sheer error, hypocrisy, wickedness, and idolatry, regardless of how great the sanctity that appears on the outside.”8

Based on Scripture

The Protestant Reformation occurred largely in protest against the Roman Catholic understanding of justification, which Protestant theologians considered a gross distortion of biblical teaching.

Building upon the writings of Paul, especially Romans and Galatians, and their roots in the Old Testament, Luther presented justifying righteousness as the “alien righteousness” of Christ. This was in opposition to Augustinian understanding, in which justifying righteousness, although completely through the grace of God, was something inherent in humans. For Augustine, justification was God making sinners righteous by a conversion of their wills; for Luther justification was God’s act of declaring sinners righteous based solely upon the righteousness of Christ credited to their account.

Luther affirmed that justified Christians were simul justus et peccator, “at the same time righteous and sinner.” R. C. Sproul explains that Luther’s famous dictum “goes to the heart of the issue regarding forensic justification.” For Luther, in justification sinners are counted just forensically by virtue of Christ’s righteousness while they remain, in and of themselves, yet sinners.

Even though those justified “necessarily, inevitably, and immediately” are indwelt by the Spirit and begin the process of sanctification, “the grounds of that person’s justification remain solely and exclusively the imputed righteousness of Christ. By His righteousness and His righteousness alone that sinners are declared to be just.”9

For Luther, justification was not for the onlooking eyes of humanity, but coram Deo, “before the face of God,” or as his theological colleague Philip Melancthon put it: “before the heavenly divine tribunal.” Grace was not a holy substance that came down from God and became inherent in human beings; it was an attitude of divine favor. Melancthon further worked out Luther’s concepts using more precise language of imputation. Justification was presented as the divine act of declaring sinners righteous, based upon the extrinsic, imputed righteousness of Christ.10

Calvin’s doctrine of justification was deeply indebted to concepts developed by Luther and Melancthon. Calvin eloquently emphasized the forensic nature of justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ as he summarized the doctrine in his Institutes:

“A man . . . [is] justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous. Thus we simply interpret justification as the acceptance with which God receives us into His favor as if we were righteous. And we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.”11

To justify, therefore, is nothing less than to acquit from the charge of guilt, as if innocence were proved. Hence, when God justifies us through the intercession of Christ, He acquits us, not on proof of our own innocence, but by an imputation of righteousness, so that although not righteous in ourselves, we are deemed righteous in Christ.12

Building on the Foundation

For Calvin, justification and sanctification occur simultaneously and are inseparable, but must be distinguished. He compared justification and sanctification to the twofold attributes of the sun: “If the brightness of the sun cannot be separated from its heat, are we therefore to say that the earth is warmed by light and illumined by heat?” Even though there is a “mutual and undivided connection” between heat and light, “yet reason itself prohibits us from transferring the peculiar properties of the one to the other.”13

While the Magisterial Reformers (especially Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Philip Melancthon in the sixteenth century) emphasized different aspects of the doctrine, and experienced their own personal growth in understanding its meaning,14 by 1540 there was general consensus regarding its essential contours.

We Seventh-day Adventists, as heirs of the Reformation, must clearly understand the truth about justification by faith.

Alister McGrath summarizes three main points of the consensus, in contrast to Roman Catholic theology: (1) justification is the “forensic declaration that the Christian is righteous, rather than the process by which he or she is made righteous”; (2) justification is “the external act by which God declares the believer to be righteous,” while sanctification or regeneration is “the internal process of renewal by the Holy Spirit”; and (3) justifying righteousness is “the alien righteousness of Christ, imputed to the believer and external to him, not a righteousness that is inherent within him, located within him, or in any way belonging to him.”15

This basic understanding of justification was accepted by later Reformers, such as Jacobus Arminius,16 and became embodied in the major Protestant creeds in their treatment of justification.17

Ellen White affirmed that “the great doctrine of justification by faith” was “clearly taught by Luther,” but laments that within 100 years after Luther’s time this doctrine “had been almost wholly lost sight of; and the Romish principle of trusting to good works for salvation, had taken its place.”18 She documented how John and Charles Wesley in the eighteenth century recovered this doctrine and faithfully proclaimed it. 19

Resistance

At the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the Roman Catholic Church, in its Decree on Justification (1547), not only systematically rejected the distinctive tenets of justification by faith alone as espoused by the Reformers, but anathematized (cursed and declared heretical) anyone who believed or taught such beliefs.20

Within the past few decades, a number of evangelicals have engaged in dialogue with Roman Catholics on this subject. In a surprising turn of events, many evangelicals are now returning to Rome, reaching consensus with Roman Catholic scholars and proclaiming that the Reformation was a misunderstanding that should never have happened.

Various joint declarations between Protestants and Catholics regarding the doctrine of justification have been released.21 But a close look at these developments reveals that the Catholics have not changed their views on this doctrine since Trent. Rather, many Protestants have capitulated and no longer see any need for ecclesiastical division between Catholics and Protestants.22

We Seventh-day Adventists, as heirs of the Reformation, must clearly understand the truth about justification by faith in view of its central importance in our lives and in view of Satan’s special work to undermine and to confuse minds on this foundational biblical teaching. Ellen White carefully underscored the crucial difference between justification and sanctification, in harmony with our Reformation heritage: “The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted.”23

She also stressed the centrality of this doctrine for the Advent message in these last days: “Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity.’ ”24


  1. Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
  2. Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, vol. 26, of Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1963), p. 26.
  3. Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, ed. Ewald M. Plass (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), vol. 2, p. 704, n. 5. “Although Luther did not coin this famous formula himself, it is widely acknowledged that it nicely captures his sentiments concerning justification” (Paul Rhodes Eddy, James K. Beilby and Steven E. Enderlein, “Justification in Historical Perspective,” in Justification: Five Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy [Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2011], p. 24).
  4. Luther, What Luther Says, vol. 2, p. 703.
  5. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559 ed.), trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), III.xi.1.
  6. Ellen G. White, Faith and Works (Nashville:Southern Pub. Assn., 1979), p. 20.
  7. Ibid., p. 18.
  8. Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, pp. 395, 396.
  9. R. C. Sproul, “The Forensic Nature of Justification,” in Justification by Faith Alone: Affirming the Doctrine by Which the Church and the Individual Stands or Falls, ed. John Kistler,rev. and updated ed. (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2003), pp. 33, 34.
  10. The mature Melancthon also grasped the concept of the human free will in which salvation was truly available to all human beings, unlike Calvin and Luther, who held on to a doctrine of predestination. See Gregory B. Graybill, Evangelical Free Will: Philip Melanchthon’s Journey on the Origins of Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  11. Calvin, Institutes, III.xi.2.
  12. Ibid., III.xi.3.
  13. Ibid., III.xi.6.
  14. For more details and substantiation, see, e.g., Bruce L. McCormack, ed., Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (Grand Rapids: Baker; Edinburgh, Scotland: Rutherford House, 2006).
  15. Alister McGrath, Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), p. 61.
  16. See Jacbus Arminius, “Disputation 19: On the Justification of Man Before God,” in Works, vol. 1 (accessed at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/arminius/works1.v.xx.html): “I am not conscious to myself, of having taught or entertained any other sentiments concerning the justification of man before God, than those which are held unanimously by the Reformed and Protestant Churches, and which are in complete agreement with their expressed opinions.” Arminius, however, as did the mature Melancthon, widened justification to include all who chose to accept it (and not just the elect, as for Luther and Calvin).
  17. See John H. Leith, ed., Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine From the Bible to the Present (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1963).
  18. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 253.
  19. Ibid., pp. 253-259.
  20. See H. J. Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (London: Herder, 1941).
  21. For a collection of the main documents in the recent Protestant-Catholic rapprochement over the doctrine of justification, and a sympathetic assessment, see, e.g., Anthony N. S. Lane, Justification in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment (London: T & T Clark, 2002).
  22. See Thomas Schreiner, Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught . . . and Why It Still Matters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), pp. 209-230; and Klaas Runia, “Justification and Roman Catholicism,” in Right With God: Justification in the Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), pp. 197-215.
  23. Ellen G. White, in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 4, 1895.
  24. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958, 1980), book 1, p. 372.

Richard M. Davidson is the J. N. Andrews professor of Old Testament interpretation at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.