B: Bible Study Groups: Sabbath/Sunday in the Decalogue, Community Building, and Social Justice Concerns

This offering is subdivided into two separate series.

   I. To study connections among the Ten Commandments (Decalogue) and the central significance of Sabbath/Sunday observance (Commandment 3 or 4 in various traditions), click here.

   II.  To follow Sunday themes with a focus on Bible Study techniques, including the use of a Concordance, how to do word studies, and the comparison and contrast of concepts, click here.

 I. Bible Study on Sabbath/Sunday in the Decalogue: Community Building and Social Justice Concerns

A Study of Hebrew Scriptures, with a focus on the Decalogue

For those escaping from Egypt, whose religious and social structures had broken down and been disrupted, the Ten Commandments (Decalogue) included all that was essential to heal a fractured society. They remain a restorative gift, to the Israelites as they sought to restructure their cultural ties, and to any group of individuals seeking a common life.

A fear of lack, the worry that our resources are insufficient to sustain us may lead to a sense of insecurity if heeded. Such insecurities may threaten the shared life of peace a group needs, but the Commandments are not simply orders to be followed. Their constancy reminds us that God’s covenant with humanity is irrevocable.

In his book, Fear Not, Rev. Dr. Ray Helmick recalls God’s promise to Joshua, “Fear not, for I am with you.” God’s abundant gifts answer all our needs. God will always be present for us: the promise to Joshua is, by extension, a promise to all who call on God for help. And so the value of the Sabbath in the teachings of Jesus remains unbroken from its context in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible.

An understanding of the Sabbath as a “covenant renewal” for the well-being of civil society thus finds grounding in Jesus’ teachings as well as in Jewish practice. German theologian Karl Barth’s argument adds theological rationale to this central role of Sabbath/Sunday in theological ethics. He holds that:

“…the Sabbath commandment explains all the other commandments, or all the other forms of the one commandment. It is thus to be placed at the head.” (Barth, 1954, Church Dogmatics, III.4, p. 53).

By extension, under the principle of Sabbath/Sunday observance we find a host of concerns for social justice.

There are two citations of the Decalogue in Hebrew Scriptures, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The texts for these vary somewhat:

  • Exodus 20:8-11: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male slave, or your female slave, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
  • Deuteronomy 5:12-15: Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male slave or your female slave, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male slave and your female slave may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Different confessional traditions also number the elements of the Decalogue differently. Historic writers, including the Jewish compilers of the Septuagint, early Christian theologians like Augustine, and those who followed them, either called the Sabbath injunction the “third,” or the “fourth” commandment. A chart here explains these differences more clearly.

Structure and Organizational Options for This Bible Study

This Bible Study overall focuses on Barth’s sense of the internal coherence in all of the commandments found in the Decalogue, with the Sabbath commandment at its chiastic center. The six lesson plans are open enough to let leaders innovate, filling out the work with illustrations useful to their own community on the significance of Sabbath/Sunday and the social behaviors they highlight.

The topics listed arose in part from LDA conferences already offered or in process. They may be used over shorter or longer periods of time, for groups meeting weekly, monthly, or in some other pattern. More readings and discussion questions are available.

Each handout page gives the leader as well as the participants information to base their work on. If everything is covered, go more deeply into one of the earlier questions or discussion points. If some are not discussed, use them in a later class, or let them go.

This program is descriptive, not prescriptive. The Study Topics are given below for you to print individually; a file of all six plus the overview follows them:

A. The Encouragement of Maturity and Civility in Light of the Sabbath Commandment: Developing a Respectful Society

B. The Preservation of Human Life in Light of the Sabbath Commandment: Fostering a Culture of Life

C. The Formation of Integrity in Light of the Sabbath Commandment: Encouraging Fidelity to Ones Commitments

D. Respecting Others’ Possessions in Light of the Sabbath Commandment: Becoming Satisfied and Secure With What We Have

E. Truth and Wisdom in Light of the Sabbath Commandment: Reaching Towards Trust and Trustworthiness

F. Tenth Commandment in Light of the Sabbath Commandment: Celebrating Abundance

Printable Overview

All pages plus overview

II. Topical Bible Studies (drawn from eSunday Magazine)

These Bible Study sequences were developed in conjunction with particular themes for each of the LDA’s semiannual publications of eSunday Magazine (see tab here: https://ldausa.org/about/sunday-magazine/ ) The first gives an overview for class planning and suggests ways to use articles in the magazine for opening group conversations. The second takes a book (reviewed in that issue) and shows how to build class discussions around it. The next two take terms covered or explored in those issues of the Magazine, and presses them out further, with extensive Scripture references for further study. The next two take this one step further, comparing and contrasting terms used in particular articles with the larger ideas in the magazine overall—still linking them to Scripture passages and citations as well.

1. Fall 2016: “A Lesson Plan for Topics in Adult Faith Education/Scripture Study.”

2. Spring 2017: “Using a Book (here, Gonzalez’ A History of Sunday) for Adult Faith Education/Scripture Study.”

3. Fall 2017: “A Bible Study on the Terms ‘Jubilee’ and ‘Access’ in Sabbath/Sunday Worship.”

4. Spring 2018: A Bible Study of the Terms ‘Joy’ and ‘Sabbath’.”

5. Fall 2018: “Scripture References to Sabbath/Sunday Worship in Transition”

6. Spring 2019: (upcoming) “Scripture Study on Music and the Arts in Worship”

Each page offers four study topics, which can be used as weekly offerings, or can be subdivided into monthly subtopics for adult Bible Study classes.

In Lessons 1 and 2, basic setup and structures are addressed. In 3 and 4, separate questions and topics are considered in each individual session. In Lessons 5 and 6, greater familiarity with Scripture Study is presumed, as well as comfort in the use of concordances, various historical periods’ translations, and ones own denominational commentaries.

These classes, as they grow potentially more complex and interesting, also require more advance preparation. This will encourage greater growth in thinking about and wrestling with Bible topics on the issues under consideration.

Developed by: Lenore Tucker, DLa Rue