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The Ellen White Research Project: Exposing the Subtle Attack on the Bible's Authority
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"Ellen White Was Wrong About Who Changed the Sabbath"

Further Analysis

"Had Been Kept by All Christians"

According to Dirk Anderson, Bacchiocchi claimed that Ellen White "teaches that in the first centuries all Christians observed the Sabbath." We did a little digging and found out where she said that:

In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians. . . . That the attention of the people might be called to the Sunday, it was made a festival in honor of the resurrection of Christ. Religious services were held upon it; yet it was regarded as a day of recreation, the Sabbath being still sacredly observed.

In the early part of the fourth century the emperor Constantine issued a decree making Sunday a public festival throughout the Roman Empire. . . . The day of the sun was reverenced by his pagan subjects and was honored by Christians; . . . But while many God-fearing Christians were gradually led to regard Sunday as possessing a degree of sacredness, they still held the true Sabbath as the holy of the Lord and observed it in obedience to the fourth commandment.

The archdeceiver had not completed his work. . . . Through half-converted pagans, ambitious prelates, and world-loving churchmen he accomplished his purpose. Vast councils were held from time to time . . . . In nearly every council the Sabbath which God had instituted was pressed down a little lower, while the Sunday was correspondingly exalted. Thus the pagan festival came finally to be honored as a divine institution, while the Bible Sabbath was pronounced a relic of Judaism, and its observers were declared to be accursed.—Great Controversy, pp. 52, 53, bold added.

This is really quite interesting. In the very quotation Bacchiocchi alludes to, Ellen White admits that many Christians were holding worship services on Sunday prior to the time of Constantine. Thus she admits to be true the very point that Dirk and allegedly Bacchiocchi are contending for. Yet Ellen White did not feel that this constituted the change of the Sabbath since Christians at that time were still keeping the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath.

Of course she has to be correct on this one. If Christians were still keeping Saturday as the Sabbath, they were not yet keeping Sunday as the Sabbath, and thus the Sabbath of the fourth commandment had not yet been changed to Sunday.

Take a look if you wish at the quotes from the Apostolic Constitutions, written around 300 AD, that we cite on our page about www.bible.ca. Those quotes command Christians to keep the Sabbath. If Christian leaders in 300 AD felt that Christians should keep the Sabbath, then certainly by 300 AD Sunday had not yet replaced Saturday as the Sabbath day of rest. Thus, Adventists have yet to "refute their prophet."

Was She Wrong in Saying "All Christians"?

Ellen White did say, "In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians." Was she right or wrong?

First we should determine whether she meant "all" in an absolute sense or in a general sense. For example, we might say that all Christians in the first centuries kept the seventh commandment that says, Thou shalt not commit adultery, even though everyone knows that there were some exceptions. Some Christians stumbled and succumbed to temptation, while others, of whom Peter spoke about, lived a life of blatant immorality and apostasy (2 Pet. 2:14). Still, we would not be wrong in saying in a general way that all Christians kept the seventh commandment back then.

This seems like the most charitable and logical way to take Ellen White's statement that "all" Christians in the first centuries kept the Sabbath. Certainly she would not have been so naive as to think that every last Christian everywhere in the world for more than a century never ever violated the fourth commandment.

The Testimony of Socrates and Sozomen

That generally all Christians did indeed keep the Sabbath in the first centuries is evident from the Apostolic Constitutions, and from two additional sources that Bacchiocchi cites in his book, From Sabbath to Sunday, on page 179. The first of these two was written sometime after 439 AD, while the second was written sometime between 443 and 450 AD. Thus these two references demonstrate the attitude of Christians in the mid-fifth century, and give us an inkling of what their attitude might have been in the first two centuries:

For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebais, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings they partake of the mysteries.—The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, bk. 5, ch. 22.

. . . it so happened that all the senators came to the church to visit him on the sabbath day . . . .—Ibid., bk. 7, ch. 48.

The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria. There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings, and, although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries.—The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, bk. 7, ch. 19.

If Christians in the mid-fifth century had not yet substituted Sunday for Saturday as the weekly day of rest and worship, we can be fairly certain that they had not yet done so prior to Constantine's time.

Notice that while Socrates and Sozomen testify that those of Rome and Alexandria no longer met for worship or partook of the Lord's supper on the Sabbath, they stop short of saying that those Christians no longer rested on the Sabbath. Thus we cannot tell from these quotes whether the Christians of Rome and Alexandria were no longer keeping the Sabbath.

Socrates on Colossians 2:16

Quite interestingly, in the same chapter as the first quote above, Socrates also quotes the following from Colossians 2:16: "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of any holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath-days; which are a shadow of things to come." While many Christians today assume that Paul thus taught that we can break the fourth commandment, Socrates, according to what he goes on to say, probably did not.

The whole question of Colossians 2:16 revolves around whether Paul is talking about keeping or breaking the weekly Sabbath or about the seven annual ceremonial sabbaths of Leviticus 23. The seven ceremonial sabbaths fell on different days of the week each year, not just Saturday or Sunday. There were three in the spring and four in the fall. The first of the three in the spring fell on Nisan 15, which would be roughly sometime in our April. The Passover lamb was slain on Nisan 14, and was eaten on Nisan 15. On the 15th the Jews were commanded to rest from all their labors (Lev. 23:6, 7).

Socrates applies Colossians 2:16 to the Easter or Paschal controversies of his era, which consisted of debates over what day Christ's death and resurrection had to be remembered on. He felt that no one should be condemned over when they decided to keep Easter. In the process of explaining the situation, he appears to call Nisan 15 a "sabbath," thus suggesting that he believed the sabbath days of Colossians 2:16 were the ceremonial sabbaths, not the weekly sabbath.

In Asia Minor most people kept the fourteenth day of the moon, disregarding the sabbath: . . . . others in the East kept that feast on the sabbath indeed, but differed as regards the month. The former thought the Jews should be followed, though they were not exact: the latter kept Easter after the equinox, refusing to celebrate with the Jews; 'for,' said they, 'it ought to be celebrated when the sun is in Aries, in the month called Xanthicus by the Antiochians, and April by the Romans.' In this practice, they averred, they conformed not to the modern Jews, who are mistaken in almost everything, but to the ancients, and to Josephus according to what he has written in the third book of his Jewish Antiquities.—bk. 5, ch. 22.

That probably needs some explanation. Socrates is referring to two groups of Christians in Asia Minor. The first group ate the Lord's Supper on Nisan 14, which isn't exactly ("not exact") like the Jews, since the Jews ate the Passover on Nisan 15. Thus this first group was "disregarding the [ceremonial] sabbath" of Nisan 15.

In contrast, the second group ate the Lord's Supper on the sabbath of Nisan 15, but they started Nisan a month later than both the first group and the Jews did. Why? Because the Jews of that era were commencing Nisan a month earlier than they used to, and that sometimes put Easter before the equinox. The second group thought it was wrong to do that.

Though Socrates applies the "sabbath days" of Colossians 2:16 to Nisan 15, he gives no hint that he thought Colossians 2:16 sanctioned the breaking of the fourth commandment. We may thus infer that Socrates, and much of Christendom at that time, had a high regard for the Sabbath, for if he had been anything like the anti-sabbatarians of today, he would not have interpreted Colossians 2:16 in the way that he did.

Justin Martyr an Exception

Of course, there were exceptions to this general attitude. Justin Martyr, who wrote sometime around 140 AD, was against the keeping of a Sabbath of any sort, be it Saturday or Sunday. Yet even he admits in chapter 47 of his Dialogue with Trypho that not all Christians held such a view. Given all the evidence we can find, it would appear that Justin's view was held by relatively few Christians of the second century, and that generally all Christians of that time period still kept the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.

The Testimony of Tertullian

Tertullian wrote the following sometime between 207 and 220 AD. He attacks the heretic Marcion for wanting to keep a different day as the Sabbath than the seventh day of the week.

Thus Christ did not at all rescind the Sabbath: He kept the law thereof, . . . in each case intimating by facts, "I came not to destroy, the law, but to fulfill it" . . . . imparting to the Sabbath-day itself, which from the beginning had been consecrated by the benediction of the Father, an additional sanctity by His own beneficent action. For He furnished to this day divine safeguards, — a course which His adversary would have pursued for some other days, to avoid honoring the Creator's Sabbath, and restoring to the Sabbath the works which were proper for it.—Against Marcion, bk. 4, ch. 12.

Obviously, Tertullian was unaware that Sunday had replaced Saturday as the Sabbath.

The Testimony of Origen

Origen viewed Scripture in a more allegorical fashion than is best. He was from Alexandria, one of only two localities that, according to Sozomen as cited above, had ceased to meet for worship on the Sabbath by about 450 AD. Origen died in 254 AD.

Did Origen of Alexandria feel that the Sabbath had been replaced by Sunday as the new day of rest for Christians?

But what is the feast of the Sabbath except that of which the apostle speaks, "There remaineth therefore a Sabbatism," that is, the observance of the Sabbath by the people of God? Leaving the Jewish observances of the Sabbath, let us see how the Sabbath ought to be observed by a Christian. On the Sabbath day all worldly labors ought to be abstained from. If, therefore, you cease from all secular works, and execute nothing worldly, but give yourselves up to spiritual exercises, repairing to church, attending to sacred reading and instruction, thinking of celestial things, solicitous for the future, placing the Judgment to come before your eyes, not looking to things present and visible, but to those which are future and invisible, this is the observance of the Christian Sabbath."—Homily on Numbers 23, Origen's Opera, Tome 2, p. 358; as quoted in J. N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath, p. 323.

Thus Origen did not think that Sunday had replaced the Sabbath as the new day of rest for Christians. Whether the Alexandrians of 450 AD felt the same, even though they no longer met for services on the Sabbath, we do not know.

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