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"Ellen White Was Wrong About Who Changed the Sabbath"

Charge B: "Adventists Have Refuted Their Prophet"

Continuing with Dirk Anderson:

Bates had a difficult task on his hands to try and convince people that the Mark of the Beast was no longer allegiance to the teachings of Rome as a whole, but only one teaching-Sunday-worship. . . . Bates turned to the young prophetess Ellen White who saw the following in vision:

I saw that God had not changed the Sabbath, for He never changes. But the pope had changed it from the seventh to the first day of the week; for he was to change times and laws. (Early Writings, p. 32) . . .

Unfortunately for Ellen White, the theory that the Pope changed the day of worship was later refuted by one of their own scholars, Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi in his ground-breaking book, From Sabbath to Sunday. In the 1970's, Bacchiocchi was the first and only non-Catholic to ever be allowed to study at the Catholic Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. . . . his research showed that the change from Sabbath to Sunday worship occurred far earlier in history than had been previously admitted by Adventists. In fact, the change happened long before the papacy was established in power. These findings cast considerable doubt on whether Sunday worship could be considered allegiance to the papacy since the practice was well established throughout Christianity centuries before the first Pope arose.

On February 8, 1997, Dr. Bacchiocchi, wrote in an E-mail message to the "Free Catholic Mailing List" catholic@american.edu:

I differ from Ellen White, for example, on the origin of Sunday. She teaches that in the first centuries all Christians observed the Sabbath and it was largely through the efforts of Constantine that Sundaykeeping was adopted by many Christians in the fourth century. My research shows otherwise. If you read my essay HOW DID SUNDAYKEEPING BEGIN? which summarizes my dissertation, you will notice that I place the origin of Sundaykeeping by the time of the Emperor Hadrian, in A.D. 135.
Emperor Hadrian, A.D. 135 was nearly half a millennium removed from the first pope who began serving in A.D. 606.—bold in the original.

Thus Dirk maintains that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday long before Constantine's time, that the first pope didn't come along until 606 AD, and that therefore Ellen White's attributing of the change to the popes and Constantine is wrong.

Initial Observation

Most folks of any and all persuasions would disagree with Dirk's assertion that the first pope began serving in 606 AD.


We aren't quite sure that Adventists have really refuted their prophet on this point. While Dirk and Bacchiocchi seem to be talking about conducting worship services on Sunday, Ellen White is talking about resting on Sunday as if it were the Sabbath of the the fourth commandment. Thus, to compare the statements of Bacchiocchi and Dirk with those of Ellen White is like comparing apples to oranges.

That Bacchiocchi must have been referring to Sunday worship rather than Sunday rest can be seen from the following quotes from his book, From Sabbath to Sunday. Notice how Bacchiocchi agrees with Rordorf's position, which he cites:

4. W. Rordorf, Sunday. The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church, 1968 (hereafter cited as Sunday), p. 296, holds that "right down to the fourth century the idea of rest played absolutely no part in the Christian Sunday." Since in Rordorf's opinion Sunday rest was not an original or indispensable component of Sunday worship but an imperial imposition (p. 168), . . . .—p. 12.

In fact, the complete application of the Sabbath commandment of a bodily rest to Sunday was not accomplished before the fifth and sixth centuries.—p. 314.

What we and Dirk must find in order to refute Ellen White's position is evidence that Sunday was considered a day of rest prior to at the very least Constantine's time. Has anyone found such evidence? If not, then Ellen White's position has not yet been refuted as to when the change she was referring to occurred.

There are basically three different possible attitudes regarding the Sabbath of the fourth commandment:

  1. Saturday, the seventh day of the week, is the Sabbath for today.
  2. There is no Sabbath for today.
  3. Sunday, the first day of the week, is the Sabbath for today.

Only option three constitutes the type of change Ellen White, Joseph Bates, Peter Chamberlen, and Thomas Tillam believed occurred. Does Dirk or anyone else have any evidence whatsoever that Sunday was considered a Christian day of rest instead of Saturday prior to at least Constantine's time?

If such evidence exists, it wouldn't only be Ellen White that would be proven wrong. Consider the following:

It was Constantine the Great who first made a law for the proper observance of Sunday; . . . Before him, and even in his time, they observed the Jewish Sabbath, as well as Sunday; both to satisfy the law of Moses, and to imitate the apostles who used to meet together on the first day. By Constantine's law, promulgated in 321, it was decreed that for the future the Sunday should be kept as a day of rest in all cities and towns; but he allowed the country people to follow their work.—"Sunday," Encyclopedia Britannica, 1842 ed.; as quoted in J. N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath, p. 342.

The first day of the week, which was the ordinary and stated time for the public assemblies of the Christians, was in consequence of a peculiar law enacted by Constantine, observed with greater solemnity than it had formerly been.—Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, c. iv, part ii, ch. iv, sect. 5; as quoted in J. N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath, p. 343.

These two authorities when put together seem to deny that Christians rested on Sunday prior to Constantine's Sunday law. As Andrews summarizes the situation, "This law gave to the Sunday festival, for the first time, something of a Sabbatic character."—p. 356.

Of course, encyclopedias and historians aren't always right. Thus we should endeavor to find some indication that Christians did indeed rest on Sunday instead of the Sabbath prior to 321 AD. But, having perused early Christian writings quite extensively, we honestly have no idea where to look. We are unable to find any such evidence.

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