Thank you for the chance to share some of my thoughts regarding “biblical rest”. Hopefully you didn’t leave guilt-ridden about how bad you are at taking time off of work. Our conversation went a completely different direction. I think I asked you to rethink everything you thought you already knew about “biblical rest.”
I’ve included Chapter 1 (written and audio versions) of my book “Rethinking Rest: Why Our Approach to Sabbath Isn’t Working.”
Please reach out to me via email or text with any follow-up thoughts or questions.
Gregory D. Hall
Who is Greg Hall? I’m a husband to Lisa, my high-school sweetheart, and father to two fine young men. I host the Rethinking Scripture Podcast (and RethinkingScripture.com). I’ve been a college athlete, public school teacher, real estate broker, triathlete, small-business owner, pastor, tour-leader to Israel, and university professor. This medley of life-experiences has meshed nicely with my biblical training producing a unique perspective on some of life’s most important themes. I teach whenever I can, enjoy swimming laps, and don’t spend enough time at the Oregon coast.
Here are some Rethinking Rest questions I answered for a recent interview.
- Question: I see that the author John H. Walton has written the forward for your book. I understand there’s a story about how that came about. Can you tell us what happened?
Answer: Walton is very well-known in academic circles. In one of his books, he discusses what it could mean when it says that God rested at the end of the creation account. For my book, I took some of his ideas and applied them to the idea of sabbath rest. I had never communicated with Dr. Walton before, but I found a way to contact him and randomly reached out. I wanted to know if anyone else that had applied his concepts the way I was attempting to. It was in the middle of the pandemic, and surprisingly he responded via email. I suspect he had a little extra time on his hands because he asked for a copy of the manuscript, read it, and offered to work with me on some edits. He tells me this is not normally something he offers. I’m super excited that he agreed to be involved. It’s a real honor. My wife and I went to hear him speak last summer and got to spend some face to face time with him.
- Question: In the opening line of the book you suggest that “rest… isn’t working”. I suppose you’re not just defining what rest is. So, what else isn’t working about rest?
Answer: So, I’ll start with myself. I grew up in the church and it seems like there are so many different opinions about what rest is… and what it should look like. In my experience it seems like most of the conversations I hear are disagreements about what the sabbath is – talking about the 4th commandment. We get into arguments about what day the sabbath is, and what types of things we should… or shouldn’t be doing on such a day. We rarely get past a simple definition of the terms. And I feel these arguments have cause a general apathy about the topic. Most people I know have completely abandoned the topic. That’s why I say, “Whatever rest is supposed to look like… it’s not working”.
- Question: You’ve described your book as a “biblical theology of rest”. So how is this different than other books that we’ve seen that talk about how to observe the sabbath?
Answer: In preparation for writing, I read several books about sabbath rest. Most of them focus in on the 4th commandment and assume that’s the crown-jewel of the topic. But the 4th commandment is only a small sub-section of biblical rest. There is a full-blown theology of rest presented (literally) from the first chapter in Genesis all the way to the last chapter in Revelation. So, my book is completely different than most on the topic, because I attempt to present the whole theology of rest that the Bible offers. In the process, I show how the 4th commandment fits into the bigger picture. I also spend some time discussing what Jesus had to say on the topic.
- Question: You discuss God’s rest on the 7th day of the creation from a different perspective. Can you explain how we can understand God’s rest differently than maybe we’ve thought about it before?
Answer: There are several aspects about the 7th day of the creation account that are misunderstood. First, if resting is supposed to be understood as “taking a day off for purposes of refreshment” … why would an all-powerful God need to tak a day off? The best answer we have is that He’s modeling for the rest of us what we should be doing. That answer always seemed a bit off. It just didn’t make sense. This is where John Walton’s work contributed to the discussion. He does a lot of work with extra-biblical sources. There are Ancient Near Eastern creation stories where pagan gods set up the cosmos at the end of which they build a temple they “rest”. In that context, resting is equated with ruling. That’s the ancient understanding of rest. So it could be that the 7th day of the biblical account of creation describes the beginning of God’s active rule… not a day of inactivity.
- Question: How do you think the 4th commandment (the one about observing the sabbath day) fits into the discussion about rest?
Answer: I think the mistake most of us make… is when we view the ten commandments as separate from the rest of the Old Testament law. We do this a lot in the modern church because we are asking different questions than the original audience. To the original recipients, the sabbath day commandment was small part of a bigger theology of rest. There were other sabbath days they observed that were attached to the yearly festivals. There was a sabbatical year in the law. Then there was the crazy year of Jubilee that was really the culminating picture of sabbath rest. And… this law was intended to be observed in a land that is often referred to as a “land of rest”. So whenever we talk about the 4th commandment… I think, even today, we need to examine it within this larger context.
- Question: The book has a section that discusses how humanity bears God’s image. So, how does “being made in the image of God” connect to the idea of biblical rest?
Answer: It’s interesting when you look at the “image bearing” statements in Genesis 1. Those statements are followed with a job description. That’s where humanity is given the responsibilities to rule and subdue and to be fruitful and multiply. There are a lot of different things we could talk about when think about how we bear God’s image… but in the original context… that image bearing is directly tied to the work that we do. In other words, when we do what we were meant to do, in the way God would have us do it we are bearing God’s image. We are showing people what God is like.
- Question: In chapter 3, you talk a little about Greek philosophy. Why did you decide to discuss secular philosophy in a book about biblical rest?
Answer: Yeah… I talk about Plato a little in the book. Specifically, I talk about his analogy of the Cave. It’s a story that describes the world we live in as a type of shadow world… and he describes an unseen world “the world of the forms” where everything is perfect. I bring this up because Plato lived between the testaments. After the Old… but several hundred years before the story of Jesus starts. Scholars have recognized how much influence Plato and those who followed him has influenced Christian thought. A couple of New Testament authors, Paul and the author of Hebrews both refer to the OT law as a shadow. Many people think they may be describing the Jewish law in terms that the larger Hellenistic world would have understood. Sabbath is mentioned as one of those shadows. If that’s how we are to understand those references, then it would suggest that the true sabbath is something other than what we see in the law. There’s something else we should be looking for.
- Question: How can we understand Jesus’ ministry with regards to rest?
Answer: Wow… that’s a big question. There are so many times Jesus interacts with the sabbath. It’s clear that Jesus is challenging the sabbath norms of His day. But one gets the sense that it’s bigger than just making some changes to their norms. Jesus upends the whole concept. He does that with other commandments too. He challenges us to rethink what murder and adultery are. Why wouldn’t He do the same with sabbath rest? It’s one of Jesus’ statements that stands out to me, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Jesus offer of rest is directly associated with his yoke. But a yoke is an instrument of work. So, it seems that we find rest when we are working under His direction. Work is an instrument of our rest.
- Question: You talk about how different Bible passages are co-dependent. In normal life codependency usually isn’t good. So, what does that mean for Bible passages?
Answer: When a biblical author uses another part of the Bible to teach its usually called a cross-reference. It’s when they link to another passage and expect us, as readers, to understand that connection. My wife’s a counselor, so co-dependency is a part of the vocabulary around our house. In human relationships, co-dependency is bad… but sometimes biblical authors make their writing co-dependently linked to another passage. And that’s a good thing. When we don’t recognize the co-dependency, we are more likely to misinterpret the author’s meaning. This is what happens Hebrews 3-4, the biggest passage about rest in the whole of the New Testament. The author of Hebrews creates co-dependent relationships with several OT passages. If we are to understand what Hebrews is saying… we must understand those other passages first.
- Question: In chapter 7 you talk about “testing the waters” of rest. Can you describe what it would look like for someone to do that?
Answer: The idea of “testing the waters” is included because I swim every week for exercise. And I absolutely hate getting into cold water. So, I’ve developed a process that takes several minutes… at the end of which I fully enter the pool. I think we can use a similar process when it comes to finding the work that brings us to a place of rest. Sometimes we should dip just one foot into a new situation to see how it feels. That might lead pulling it right out and looking for something else… or we might be surprised how comfortable it feels. If Jesus is really expecting us to hitch ourselves to His yoke… He’s likely to want us to try out things that we wouldn’t normally choose on our own. That’s why we should be willing to test the waters of rest.