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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 (Cont.)

Which Pope Changed the Sabbath to Sunday?

While Ellen White felt that Constantine's Sunday law was a step in that direction, she couldn't give him all the credit, since his Sunday law was, because of its wording, in honor of the Sun instead of the Son.

Thus the ultimate question is, which pope made the change? Ellen White said that the pope changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, and we must find out if such a claim can really be substantiated.

Come to think of it, though, it would appear that only someone like the pope could really make such a change. We're talking about one of the Ten Commandments given by God Himself, written with His own finger on tables of stone, a law that Scripture says nothing about being changed. If anyone other than the pope suddenly claimed that he had changed one of the Ten Commandments, the entire world would call him an absolute nut. Who would he think he is? Who gave him the authority to change a law of God? You'd have to be God to change God's law.

But the popes are different than everyone else. They claim that they take the place of Christ on the earth. The triple crown that they wear signifies that they rule as king over heaven, earth, and the lower regions ("Papa," Ferraris' Prompta Bibliotheca, col. 1826). Now if this claim really be true, then the popes and only the popes could legitimately change the Sabbath commandment, because of all the people on earth, they alone claim to hold the place of God on earth.

We turn first to Catholic sources, which sometimes give the credit of the change of the Sabbath to Sylvester I, the pope that lived during Constantine's reign.

Sylvester the pope first among the Romans . . . ordered that the rest (otium) of the Sabbath would better be transferred to the Lord's day, so that we should leave that day free of worldly works in order to praise God.—Rabanus Maurus, De Clericorum Institutione, bk. 2, ch. 46; found in Bible Student's Source Book, entry 1765.

We're inclined to think that while Sylvester may have gotten the ball rolling, it was other popes of later centuries that completed the change. This would explain why Socrates and Sozomen a century after Sylvester still didn't know anything about Sunday being the new Sabbath instead of Saturday. As Daniel Augsburger puts it:

Of special interest is that for the first time [i.e., in the 9th century] we begin to sense a clear consciousness of a substitution of Sunday for Sabbath—a change justified by the authority of tradition rather than scriptural command.—"The Sabbath and Lord's Day During the Middle Ages," in Kenneth Strand, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture and History, p. 202.

Be that as it may, it was Pope Sylvester that got the tradition going. As Ellen White put it:

In the early part of the fourth century the emperor Constantine issued a decree making Sunday a public festival throughout the Roman Empire. . . . He was urged to do this by the bishops of the church, who, inspired by ambition and thirst for power, perceived that if the same day was observed by both Christians and heathen, it would promote the nominal acceptance of Christianity by pagans and thus advance the power and glory of the church.—Great Controversy, p. 53.

She thus agrees with what Catholic writers have said on the matter. They attribute the change of the Sabbath to Sylvester I, bishop of Rome in the time of Constantine, and she connects bishops of that time period with the very first Sunday law, the one passed by Constantine. This harmonizes with Bacchiocchi's own research:

Mosna finds a "fundamental reason" in the fact that the Church "influenced Constantine's decision to make Sunday a day of rest for the whole empire, and this undoubtedly in order to give to the Lord's day a preeminent place above the other days."—From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 315.


  1. Critics of Ellen White charge that the idea that Sunday worship is a heresy was something new in the 1840's. We have discovered that that idea was at the very least two centuries old by that time.
  2. Critics claim that Ellen White was mistaken about giving any credit to Constantine for helping to change the Sabbath, since some Christians were already worshipping on Sunday by then. Yet we have failed to find any evidence that any Christians were resting on Sunday as if it were the Sabbath prior to Constantine's day. Thus the change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday had not yet occurred by that time.
  3. Ellen White alleges that all Christians kept the Sabbath in the first centuries. Taking this in a general sense, the extant literature does seem to support this conclusion.
  4. Catholic writers themselves like to credit Pope Sylvester I with making the change. This coincides with Ellen White's claim that certain bishops urged Constantine to pass the very first Sunday law.

Give Us Your Opinion

Was Ellen White correct about who changed the Sabbath?
I have a sneaking suspicion that Ellen White must be right about this one. I don't have a clue how to prove that anyone other than the popes did it. 85.5%
Yes, the popes did change the Sabbath, but they have every right to do that since they "hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty." 8.2%
Those Catholic writers are wrong when they say that Pope Sylvester I changed the Sabbath. Somewhere the Bible must say that Jesus changed it. 5.0%
You're wrong about only the pope being able to get away with making such a change. Anyone can change one of the Ten Commandments if they want to. 1.3%
Total Votes: 159

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