A Critique Of Seventh Day Adventist Teaching On The Sabbath

The seventh day adventist (SDA) movement, which bases its distinguishing doctrine around the teachings of Ellen G. White  (1827 – 1915) asserts that the proper day on which Christians should assemble to worship is Saturday, not Sunday as evangelicals commonly maintain. SDAs will even often go so far as to say that assembling on Sunday instead of Saturday only became a practice adopted by the church in the fourth century A.D. when the emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman empire.

Is the SDA movement correct on this point? It is this question that will be the focus of this article.

When Did the Early Church Assemble to Worship?

One misconception that needs to be addressed is the notion that the Sabbath day was given for worship. It wasn’t; rather, it was a day on which people would cease from their work in order to rest. There was, then, no official day that was ordained for the purpose of worship. It was expected that worship would be the daily practice of the pious Jew.

One only needs to delve into the rich literature that is preserved from the early church fathers to find out what day the church assembled to conduct worship. Indeed, Justin Martyr (100 – 165 AD), in his first apology (chapter LXVII), says,

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things […] But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Here, we have one early Christian report asserting that the Christians met together on the Sunday, not the Saturday, because it was on Sunday that the Lord rose from the dead.

We have, however, an even earlier writer who was in a key position to know the teachings of the apostles themselves, himself being a disciple of the apostle John. Ignatius (35 or 50 – from 98 to 117 AD), the third bishop of Antioch, in his epistle to the Magnesians (9), writes,

We have seen how former adherents of the ancient customs have since attained to a new hope; so that they have given up keeping the sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord’s day instead (the Day when life first dawned for us, thanks to Him and His death. That death, though some deny it, is the very mystery which has moved us to become believers, and endure tribulation to prove ourselves pupils of Jesus Christ, our sole Teacher).

Ignatius, like Justin, asserts that the early church met not on Saturday, but the “Lord’s day”, which is clearly intended to refer to the first day of the week, since the reason given is that it is “the Day when life first dawned for us”, which I would take to be the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The “Lord’s day” is also alluded to by Ignatius’s mentor, the Apostle John, in Revelation 1:10. The important point is that the text does not refer to the Sabbath Day (Saturday), since the Christians reportedly had “given up keeping the sabbath” and now instead had arranged “their lives by the Lord’s day instead”.

Both Ignatius and Justin wrote in the second century, Ignatius very early into the second century. That is a long time before Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman empire in the fourth century. The epistle of Barnabas (which was composed sometime between the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 and the Bar Kochba Revolt of A.D. 132), moreover, says (15),

And we too rejoice in celebrating the eighth day; because that was when Jesus rose from the dead, and showed Himself again, and ascended into heaven.

Tertullian of Carthage (160 – 225 AD), in his Apology (chapter XVI), notes that,

Others, again, certainly with more information and greater verisimilitude, believe that the sun is our god. We shall be counted Persians perhaps, though we do not worship the orb of day painted on a piece of linen cloth, having himself everywhere in his own disk. The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer. But you, many of you, also under pretense sometimes of worshiping the heavenly bodies, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise. In the same way, if we devote Sunday to rejoicing, from a far different reason than Sun worship, we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury, though they too go far away from Jewish ways, of which indeed they are ignorant.

Origen (184/185 – 253/254 AD) further writes (Homil. 23 in Numeros 4, PG 12:749),

On Sunday none of the actions of the world should be done. If then, you abstain from all the works of this world and keep yourselves free for spiritual things, go to church, listen to the readings and divine homilies, meditate on heavenly things.

I could go on in this vein for some time. There are many references in early Christian literature to the fact that the church assembled for worship on Sunday. I am not aware of any sources to the contrary, which would indicate that church assembly took place on Saturday.

The book of Acts, likewise, in 20:7, asserts that the early church convened on “the first day of the week” to break bread. The SDA interprets this in view of the Jewish evening-to-evening demarcation of days rather than the Roman midnight-to-midnight demarcation. Given this demarcation, it is argued, this could refer to Saturday evening. But Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD), the Roman governor of Bithynia, writing around 110 to the Emperor Trajan, mentions that Christians “were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god.” He goes on to note that, following this meeting, “it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of good food — but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.” It seems likely that Sunday is the “fixed day” that Pliny has in mind, rather than Saturday, since he mentions the pre-dawn assembly first and then mentions that the second meeting took place later in the same “certain fixed day”. Since Pliny was a Roman, one would expect him, if he were referring to the Saturday sabbath, to mention the later meeting first and then the pre-dawn meeting that occurred after the “certain fixed day”.

Here’s the bottom line: If one chooses to assemble and worship on Saturdays instead of Sundays, I fail to see any Biblical reason to think they are doing anything for which God will condemn them. But it is a mistake for one to assert that such is the proper day for the assembly of God’s people (i.e. that those who assemble on Sunday are in error), or the way that the early church did it.

Are Gentile Christians Expected to Keep the Sabbath?

It is striking that the letter written to the gentiles following the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 does not mention Sabbath observance. Indeed, the one time in which the gentiles are addressed concerning the Sabbath, they are told “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of…a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16). The reason given in Colossians is that “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ,” a theme also taken up in Hebrews 4. Along similar lines, Paul writes in Romans 14:5-9:

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Adventists will sometimes argue that Jesus and his disciples kept the Sabbath day, and indeed they did. But they, being Jews, also observed the passover meal. Few gentile believers today keep the passover, which was an annual celebration given specifically to the Jews.

Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho (chapter XXVI), wrote that,

[T]he Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who have descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts.

Tertullian of Carthage also regarded the observance of the Sabbath “to have been temporary” (An Answer to the Jews, chapter IV).

It may therefore be concluded that, although Christians are free to observe and keep the Sabbath, it is by no means compulsory for the Christian, for the Sabbaths merely foreshadowed the reality that is found in Christ. The person who does not observe the Sabbath should not judge the person who does. And the person who observes the Sabbath should not judge the person who does not.

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8 replies
  1. moose says:

    speaking of the “sabbath” day, god commanded moses to stone a man to death for committing the horrendous offense of picking up sticks on the “sabbath” day. numbers 15: 32-36

    is that man in hell now?

    what an amazing god

    Reply
  2. Brittney says:

    I am quite shocked about this article from a man with great intelligence to lead people away from the Sabbath which God created from the beginning starting in Genesis. A day created as memorial of God; a day He gives us to rest and spend with Him and His body. I am not Seventh Day but was starting your Curriculum “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist” and wanted to know you more since we will be studying your book for 32 weeks. I will be doing my research more closely on your statements in your book since it is quite easy for you use statements of untruth in this article. Your ending paragraph is quite a statement since yourself have judged yourself; in several of the videos that my family have watched.

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  3. Sandy says:

    The Sabbath was created as a memorial of creation, instituted as one of the two great institutions: marraige and the sabbath. To say that it was not made to come apart and worship God as the creator and just merely a day for people to rest is to take away the sanctification from the day and then you’ll be walking in the way of Cain. Choosing what seems right in your own eyes.
    There are many things in the Bible God calls us to do that do not make sense to the carnal mind. Just remember, if God calls it Holy and sanctified, HE set it apart for holy use. Just like that day to us seems like any other day… Nadab and Abihu (under the influence of wine) did not see a difference between their fire and the fire God reigned from heaven and they paid the punishment with their lives. We should not place things God calls holy as common either (that’s being under the influence of spiritual wine of Babylon which is false doctrine).
    He said “Remember” in the holy Decalogue because it was previously stated (before Jews existed). Please take time to study this great truth. This is apart of the seal of God, keeping the commandments (not taking the mark of the beast) in Rev 14:6-12. http://www.Sabbathtruth.net may be a good place to start after praying for discernment.

    Reply
  4. Brian Goode says:

    That’s a lie that God didn’t establish a day of worship. Leviticus 23:2-3 He commanded a holy convocation for Israel. So this is biblically incorrect to say God didn’t command a day of worship. It’s his stamp that he is creator and the angels rejoiced. ( worshipped on Sabbath).

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  5. Leo Gallegos says:

    You are missing the whole point Frank Turek do the historical research on how and why the Sabbath was changed. And ask yourself the question who’s authority do I recognize? Gods authority or mans authority and his traditions. Daniel 7:25 prophesied about the little horn antichrist power would think to change times and laws. It was prophesied that this would happen and it did. The Bible says we should obey God rather then man Acts 5:29 http://www.sabbathtruth.org. Here is a satatment taken from a catholic catakism. Question: which day is the Sabbath Day The Catholic Mirror of September 23, 1894, puts it this way: “The Catholic Church for over one thousand years before the existence of a Protestant by virtue of her divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday.”

    To point up the claims we’re talking about, I want to read from two Catechisms. First, from the Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine by Reverend Peter Giermann. “Question: Which is the Sabbath day? Answer: Saturday is the Sabbath day. Question: Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday? Answer: We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the Catholic Church in the Council of Laodicea transferred the solemnity from Saturday to Sunday.”

    Second, from Reverend Steven Keenan’s Doctrinal Catechism we read this: “Question: Have you any other way of proving that the Church has power to institute festivals of precept? Answer: Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her; she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh day; a change for which there is no Scriptural authority.”

    Then from Cardinal Gibbons’ book, The Question Box, p.179, “If the Bible is the only guide for the Christian, then the Seventh-day Adventist is right in observing Saturday with the Jew. Is it not strange that those who make the Bible their only teacher should inconsistently follow in this matter the tradition of the Catholic Church?”

    One more statement taken from the book, The Faith of Millions, p. 473. “But since Saturday, not Sunday, is specified in the Bible, isn’t it curious that non-Catholics who profess to take their religion directly from the Bible and not from the Church, observe Sunday instead of Saturday? Yes, of course, it is inconsistency but this change was made about fifteen centuries before Protestantism was born, and by that time the custom was universally observed. They have continued the custom even though it rests upon the authority of the Catholic Church and not upon an explicit text from the Bible. That observance remains as a reminder of the Mother Church from which the non-Catholic sects broke away like a boy running away from home but still carrying in his pocket a picture of his mother or a lock of her hair.”

    That is a most interesting statement, is it not, friends? And it is a very true statement. There is some inconsistency somewhere along the line, because we have examined the statements of history, and you can check them for yourself in any library. I’m not reading anything one-sided here at all. I’ve tried to give you an unbiased picture. Although we have seen the claims made by the Catholic Church in their publications, we are not reading them to cast any reflection upon anyone, by any means. We are simply bringing you a recital of what has been written and what claims have been made.

    – From the Joe Crews Radio Sermon Library

    Related Articles
    Was God’s law and the Sabbath changed?
    Is Sunday Really Sacred?
    Catholic Church Admits They Made the Change

    Reply
  6. Esibelle says:

    God bless you for your work which aims at advancing the gospel. May the good Lord continue to give you success in Jesus name! Amen!!!

    I will be grateful if you can address the following concerns of mine.

    If it is a misconception that the sabbath day was not given for worship and that no official day was ordained for the purpose of worship for a Jew, why did God command in Leviticus 23: 3 that

    ” You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the Lord’s Sabbath Day, and it must be observed wherever you live (NLT).” ?

    Why did Jesus also went for worship on Sabbath? Luke 4:16
    “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”

    Does the fact that the early church was not worshipping on Sabbaths but decided to worship on Sundays mean God doesn’t require us to remember the sabbath day, the seventh day to keep it holy? A commandment that was in the very heart of the decalogue?

    Justin Martyr (100 -165 AD)
    Justin explained why there were worshipping on Sundays
    1. God began the creation of the world on that day
    2. Jesus rose from the dead on that day.
    This however, doesn’t say that the Sabbath day must not be kept. God specifically asked that the seventh day sabbath is kept as a memorial of his creation and redemption work (Exo 20:8-11,Deut 5:15).
    “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God….For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it”. Exodus 20: 8- 11
    The reason why God commanded in the Decalogue for the sabbath to be kept is because He created the world in six days and rested on the sabbath. Now if we decide we don’t want to keep the sabbath because the early Christians did not keep it, are we not refusing to keep God’s creation memorial?

    There is no text in the whole of scripture which suggests that the special blessing and holiness God conferred on the the seventh day sabbath has been revoked because Christ rose on Sunday. The blessing and holiness of the seventh-day sabbath will remain on the day forever I believe.

    Origen (184/185 – 253/254 AD) further writes (Homil. 23 in Numeros 4, PG 12:749),”On Sunday none of the actions of the world should be done. If then, you abstain from all the works of this world and keep yourselves free for spiritual things, go to church, listen to the readings and divine homilies, meditate on heavenly things.”

    Origen commanded the early church to do this. There is no text in the New testament where the apostles commanded this from the early Christians. Jesus nor the disciples never commanded Sunday to be kept as holy as the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday). God rather commanded this.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the early church met on Sundays for worship. But does that nullify the fact that the seventh day sabbath that God commanded us to keep holy must not be kept holy as well? I don’t think there is a problem if you decide to keep Sunday as a day of worship. But i believe in addition to that we must honour God and keep his day, the only one he clearly spelt out that we should keep…in the very heart of his commandment.

    Quotation from the writer of the article:
    “It may therefore be concluded that, although Christians are free to observe and keep the Sabbath, it is by no means compulsory for the Christian, for the Sabbaths merely foreshadowed the reality that is found in Christ. The person who does not observe the Sabbath should not judge the person who does. And the person who observes the Sabbath should not judge the person who does not.”

    “for the Sabbaths merely foreshadowed the reality that is found in Christ”.

    The seventh-day sabbath is not foreshadowing the reality that is found in Christ because it existed before the fall, before the need for Christ. Since it is in the heart of the ten commandments, are we saying that the remaining nine commandments are also foreshadowing Christ?. Do we mean that “thou shall not kill, steal, commit adultery etc are foreshadowing the reality that is found in Jesus? Therefore now that Jesus has come, we are free to break all these commandments or at least replace them with alternatives?

    I will be very grateful if you can clarify these points for me as I am an honest seeker of truth.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Alejandro says:

    I will like to encourage you to read Hebrew 4 : 9 it says “there remain a sabbath rest for the people of God”. now I am not a SDA, I go to south florida church of christ, my church is also known as one miami church. People there don’t agree with me on the Sabbath day , I am a sabbath keeper, I keep the day because it is one of God’s Ten Commandments. I keep it because Jesus kept the day. A Christian is a follower of Christ , I do not follow churches or other Christian. Why would the 4th Commandment say to remember the sabbath day. I have debated with other Christian on this. Now, I am not saved by keeping the Sabbath. I keep the sabbath because I am saved.
    But Frank Turek may God continue to bless you and never stop working for God .

    Reply

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