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The Ellen White Research Project: Exposing the Subtle Attack on the Bible's Authority
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Pope Sixtus V
from a print in the British Museum.
"Ellen White Was Wrong About Who Changed the Sabbath"

This accusation comes to us from the web sites of both Dirk Anderson and www.bible.ca. Since their charges cover quite a bit of ground, we'll break down their points into several sections:

  1. First we'll look at the alleged source of Ellen White's ideas.
  2. Next we'll look at whether Adventists have refuted their own prophet, as www.bible.ca puts it.
  3. Then we'll examine Ellen White's claim that "all Christians" in the first centuries kept the Sabbath.
  4. Lastly, we'll look directly at her contention that the popes changed the Sabbath to Sunday.

At the same time we'll try to avoid getting bogged down with the question of which day Christians should worship on, and just examine the facts surrounding this criticism of Ellen G. White.

Charge A: "Little-known" Joseph Bates & the "Heretofore Unrecognized Heresy"

We'll quote from Dirk Anderson for this first part. While Dirk later discusses where he felt that Ellen White got things wrong, he first makes the case that Ellen White's ideas originated with an obscure sea captain in the 1840's named Joseph Bates:

The Protestant Bible scholars, like Huss, Jerome, Luther and Zwingli, were all men of great learning, church leaders who were received by princes and kings. They had all distinguished themselves in the universities, they were fluent in the original Biblical languages, and they were recognized by both friend and foe for their scholarly achievements. Contrast these great leaders with Joseph Bates. He was a little-known sea captain. He had no knowledge of the original Biblical languages. . . . He declared that a single heretofore unrecognized heresy, Sunday-worship, was the dreaded Mark of the Beast.—bold in the original.


Perhaps it is true that Joseph Bates knew less Greek and Hebrew than Dirk knows. We don't really know for sure. But we do know that Dirk is wrong when he credits Joseph Bates with pointing out this "single heretofore unrecognized heresy."

Bates got the idea that Sunday worship was contrary to Scripture from former Baptist preacher Thomas M. Preble in 1846. Preble apparently got that idea in 1844 from a Methodist minister named Frederick Wheeler. And Wheeler picked up the idea that same year from a Seventh Day Baptist named Rachel Oakes. How long have Seventh Day Baptists been around? They arrived in America from England by 1665, and organized their first church here in 1671.

Unlike Bates, Seventh Day Baptists weren't all nobody sea captains, if we stoop to making such characterizations. For example, Dr. Peter Chamberlen (1601-1683) served as the English court physician for King James I and Queen Anne, King Charles I and Queen Mary, and King Charles II and Queen Katherine. His tombstone goes on to say that he also served foreign princes, "having travelled most partes of Europe, & speaking most of the Languages."

Other examples of distinguished Seventh Day Baptists would include father and son Richard and Samuel Ward, both of whom served as governors of Rhode Island. Samuel also was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774-1776, and would likely have signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th if he had not died the previous March. Samuel's other accomplishments include being a trustee of Brown University from 1764-1776, as well as one of its founders, and serving as chief justice of Rhode Island in 1761 and 1762.

Dr. Chamberlen's views are particularly interesting. By 1677 he had written Archbishop Sheldon about "the Little Triple Crowned Horn's Change of Times and Lawes," mentioning at the same time, "Escape the Mark of the Beast: & Return to the Keeping of the Lawes of God."—Leroy Froom, Prophetic Faith, vol. 4, p. 913.

Chamberlen was not the only Seventh Day Baptist to sound such an alarm. In seeking to refute the views of these Seventh Day Baptists, Edmund Warren wrote in 1659:

[Thomas Tillam] would fain perswade silly people, That Antichrist Changed the Sabbath, and goes about to prove it from Dan. 7. where we read of a little horn that thought to change Times and Laws; and with this little horn he makes a loud noise up and down his Book.—Ibid., p. 916.

Joseph Bates wasn't born until 1792, well after Richard and Samuel Ward, Dr. Chamberlen, and Thomas Tillam had long been dead. Even without investigating the various sabbath-keeping groups that preceded these American and English Seventh Day Baptists, we know for certain that what Joseph Bates taught about the popes' change of the Sabbath to Sunday was not "heretofore unrecognized."

But notice Thomas Tillam's use of Daniel 7:25. Like almost all other Protestants of his day, Tillam identified the little horn of Daniel 7 as being the Roman papal power. Verse 25 says:

And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. (Dan. 7:25)

Since the only one of the Ten Commandments that has to do with time is the Sabbath commandment, and since the only one of the Ten that the popes thought they had changed was that very one, Tillam's position of the 1650's does seem logical. After all, the Lutherans more than a century before him in 1530 had already noted:

They refer to the Sabbath-day as having been changed into the Lord's Day, contrary to the Decalog, as it seems. Neither is there any example whereof they make more than concerning the changing of the Sabbath-day. Great, say they, is the power of the Church, since it has dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments!—The Augsburg Confession, art. 28.

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