"Ellen White Was Wrong About Who Changed the Sabbath"
"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:
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.