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Part of a series on
Seventh-day Adventism
James and Ellen White

Background and history
Christianity · Protestantism
Anabaptists · Restorationism
Pietism · Millerites
Great Disappointment
Fundamentalism · Evangelicalism

Ellen G. White
James White · Joseph Bates
J. N. Andrews · Uriah Smith
J. H. Kellogg · M. L. Andreasen
H. M. S. Richards · George Vandeman
F. D. Nichol · Le Roy Froom
Edward Heppenstall · Samuele Bacchiocchi
Desmond Ford · Richard Rice

Distinctive teachings
Sabbath · Conditional Immortality
Historicism · Premillennialism
Investigative judgment · Remnant
Three Angels' Messages
End times

Criticism of Ellen White

Other Adventists
Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement
Davidian SDA (Shepherd's Rod)
Advent Christian Church
Church of God General Conference
Branch Davidian

The Sabbath is an important part of the belief and practice of churches like the Seventh-day Adventists, and is perhaps the defining characteristic of that denomination. It was introduced to the Adventist pioneers in the mid-19th century by Rachel Oakes Preston, a Seventh Day Baptist. Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, in similar manner as in Judaism. They believe that keeping the seventh-day Sabbath is a moral obligation arising out of the Ten Commandments, which, in honoring God as Creator, was given at the end of Creation in the book of Genesis[1]. The significant element in this interpretation is that the forth commandment is the one which identifies God as the Creator, not the creature, therein showing His authority.



Seventh-day Adventists observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset[2]. During this time, Adventists avoid secular work and business, although medical, relief and humanitarian work is accepted. Though there are cultural variations, most Adventists will also avoid activities such as shopping, sport and certain forms of entertainment.

Adventists typically gather for their church services on Saturday morning. Some will also gather on Friday evening to welcome in the Sabbath hours (sometimes called "Vespers" or "opening Sabbath"), and some will similarly gather at the close of Sabbath, "closing Sabbath".

Theology of the Sabbath


Official teaching

One of the church's official 28 fundamental beliefs states,

20. Sabbath:
The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God's unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God's kingdom. The Sabbath is God's perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God's creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)[3]

Law and Sabbath

Traditionally, Seventh-day Adventists hold that the Ten Commandments (including the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath) are a part of the moral law of God, not abrogated by the teachings of Jesus Christ, which apply equally to Christians. This was a common Christian understanding [4] before the Sabbatarian controversy led Sunday-keepers to adopt a more radical antinomian position.

In the past Adventists have distinguished between "moral law" and "ceremonial law", arguing that moral law continues to bind Christians, while ceremonial law was abrogated by Jesus. Many scholars today question the distinction, arguing that it is arbitrary. The distinction was first questioned at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference Session.

At the 1952 Bible Conference, Edward Heppenstall’s presentations on the Two Covenants became the normative interpretation on the topic in the denomination to the present day. Heppenstall emphasized the importance of the heart in obeying the Ten Commandments (a position earlier stated by Ellen G. White, but did not become normative until this point). Early Adventists had emphasized legalism (i.e. “obey and live”) and during the early twentieth-century had wandered into a dispensationalist view of the covenants (old covenant belonged to the Old Testament). Heppenstall taught that the old and New Covenants are part of an everlasting covenant.

Adventists hold that Jesus had a high regard for the Sabbath, pointing to his teaching that the Son of Man is "Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28). Items like its implied position in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:1-13) also speak to a high regard for Sabbath.

Bible verses frequently used to attack the Adventist understanding include Colossians 2:10-16 and Galatians 4:8-11.

There has been a general scholarly shift regarding the law and Judaism amongst Christian academic writings since E. P. Sanders.

The Sabbath and Christian history

Traditionally, the Adventist church has taught that the change of the Sabbath to Sunday was part of a great apostasy instigated by the Roman Catholic Church. The edict of Constantine I (AD 321) enforcing Sunday worship was seen as a key step in the change. The recovery of the true biblical Sabbath only became possible after the Reformation, and would be a mark of the Remnant church.

In 1977 Samuele Bacchiocchi published From Sabbath to Sunday, documenting the historical transition from the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday in the early Christian church, and also the decline of standards of practice for the Sabbath. It had quite an impact in the academic community and was well received by many. Subsequent to his work, Adventists have emphasized that the move from Sabbath to Sunday was a gradual process, beginning early and still unfinished centuries after Christ, and have relatively downplayed the level of Constantine's impact.

There is also mention in much Adventist material of the alleged role played by sects such as the Waldenses, Albigenses and Leonists in retaining Sabbath observance in Europe throughout the last few millennia. There is also mention of groups such as the Ti Ping Revolution keeping it alive in China, and the Goa Inquisition attacking sabbatarian Saint Thomas Christians. The odds they worked against were fairly extreme, which led to many of the recollections of the time being somewhat incomplete and ambiguous.

The Sabbath in the end times

The pioneers of the church taught that the Seventh-day Sabbath will be a test, leading to the sealing of God's people during the end times. Ellen G. White interpreted Daniel 7:25, Revelation 13:15, Revelation 7, Ezekiel 20: 12, 20 and Exodus 31:13 this way. Where the subject of persecution appeared in prophecy, it was thought to be about the Sabbath commandment. Some early Adventists were jailed for working on Sunday, in violation of various local "Sunday laws" or blue laws which legislated Sundays as a day of rest. It was expected that a universal Sunday law would soon be enforced, as a sign of the end times.

These views are still common in the church today, although Adventist scholars are cautious about being so specific. Many scholars such as progressive Adventists reject these interpretations of the Sabbath, but typically retain what they see as the positive sides of the Sabbath such as rest, worship, etc.

Sunday-keeping churches found partcularly offensive the claim that observance of Sunday was "the mark of the beast"[5]. It should be emphasised, however, that Adventists have never taught that observing Sunday results in damnation and the teaching regarding the mark of the beast specifies that in the end time it will be clearly understood by all that God requires observance of the Sabbath and only then will observing Sunday be deliberate rejection of God's will and therefore the "mark of the beast".


While worshipping on Sunday ultimately became the predominant practice in Christian history, the keeping of a seventh-day Sabbath has also existed.

Adventist scholars have argued that Sabbath-keeping has existed in Africa throughout Christian history. The "Sabbath in Africa Study Group (SIA)" was founded by Charles E. Bradford in 1991.[6] (See also: Sabbath in Christianity#Africa)

The Sabbath was introduced to the Adventist movement of William Miller and his followers by the Seventh Day Baptists. The group of "sabbatarian Adventists" emerged from 1845 to 1849 from among the Adventist groups, later to become the Seventh-day Adventists. Joseph Bates was the foremost proponent of the Sabbath amongst this group.

A young Seventh Day Baptist layperson named Rachel Oakes Preston living in New Hampshire was responsible for introducing the Sabbath to the Millerite Adventists. Due to her influence Frederick Wheeler began keeping the seventh day as the Sabbath after personally studying the issue in March 1844 following a conversation with Preston, according to his later report. He is reputed to be the first ordained Adventist minister to preach in support of the Sabbath. Several members of the church in Washington, New Hampshire he occasionally ministered to also followed his decision, forming the first Sabbatarian Adventist church. These included William Farnsworth (biography) and his brother Cyrus. T. M. Preble soon accepted it either from Wheeler, Oakes, or someone else at the church. These events actually preceded the "Great Disappointment" which followed shortly after, when Jesus did not return as expected on October 22, 1844.

Preble was the first Millerite to promote the Sabbath in print form; through the February 28, 1845 issue of the Hope of Israel in Portland, Maine. In March he published his Sabbath views in tract form as A Tract, Showing that the Seventh Day Should be Observed as the Sabbath". This tract led to the conversion of J. N. Andrews and other Adventist families in Paris, Maine, as well as to Joseph Bates (in 1845). These men in turn convinced James and Ellen White, as well as Hiram Edson and hundreds of others.[7] Preble is known to have kept the seventh day Sabbath until mid-1847. He later repudiated the Sabbath and opposed the Seventh-day Adventists, authoring The First-Day Sabbath.

Bates proposed that a meeting should be organized between the believers in New Hampshire and Port Gibson. At this meeting, which occurred sometime in 1846 at Edson's farm, Edson and other Port Gibson believers readily accepted the Sabbath message and at the same time forged an alliance with Bates and two other folk from New Hampshire who later became very influential in the Adventist church, James and Ellen G. White. Between April, 1848, and December 1850 twenty-two "Sabbath conferences" were held in New York and New England. These meetings were often seen as opportunities for leaders such as James White, Joseph Bates, Stephen Pierce and Hiram Edson to discuss and reach conclusions about doctrinal issues.[8]

Also in 1846, a pamphlet written by Bates created widespread interest in the Sabbath. Shortly afterwards Bates, James White, Ellen Harmon (later White), Hiram Edson, Frederick Wheeler and S. W. Rhodes led the promotion of the Sabbath, partly through regular publications.[9]

While initially it was believed that the Sabbath started at 6pm, by 1855 it was generally accepted that the Sabbath begins at Friday sunset.

The Present Truth magazine was largely devoted to the Sabbath at first. J. N. Andrews was the first Adventist to write a book-length defense of the Sabbath, first published in 1861.

Two of Andrews' books include Testimony of the Fathers of the First Three Centuries Concerning the Sabbath and the First Day and History of the SabbathDjVu (HTML version). The most prominent early critic of the Adventist church was former Adventist D. M. Canright. Books he wrote include The Lord's Day From Neither Catholics nor Pagans: An Answer to Seventh-Day Adventism on this Subject, and Seventh-day Adventism Renounced which is largely about the Sabbath.

Theology and contemporary developments

See Sabbath in Christianity for the modern Sabbath debate

In 1946 Robert Leo Odom published The Lord's Day on a Round World which addresses objections raised about the timing of the seventh day on our spherical Earth.

In 1977 Samuele Bacchiocchi published the landmark work From Sabbath to Sunday about the historical decline of Sabbath observance and rise of Sunday in the early church, based on 5 years of research for his doctorate at the Pontifical Gregorian University. An excerpt was titled Anti-Judaism and the origin of Sunday. The book was well received by many scholars who gave many positive reviews.

Bacchiocchi published Divine Rest for Human Restlessness: A Theological Study of the Good News of the Sabbath for Today in 1980.

Robert Brinsmead, a disfellowshipped Adventist, decided against the Sabbath and published Sabbatarianism Re-examined[10] in 1981. This and other writings motivated Desmond Ford (who had himself recently been removed from church employment) to research the matter and subsequently write The Forgotten Day (1981) which argues in support of Sabbath observance.[11] See review "The Sabbath: Brinsmead’s Polemic" by Desmond Ford.

In 1982 a broad spectrum of prominent Adventist scholars contributed to The Sabbath in Scripture and History, edited by Kenneth Strand. In the same year, a number of evangelical scholars contributed to From Sabbath to Lord's Day, edited by Don Carson.

In 1985, Bacchiocchi published The Sabbath in the New Testament: Answers to Questions. In 1998 he published The Sabbath Under Crossfire: A Biblical analysis of Recent Sabbath/Sunday Developments (chapter 7), as a response to two events: the pastor letter Dies Domini by the pope, and a debate with Dale Ratzlaff.[12]

Former Adventist Dale Ratzlaff published the critical work Sabbath in Crisis in 1990 (see review by Ford, and the response by Ratzlaff), which was updated and expanded to Sabbath in Christ published in 2003. While most former Adventists give up Sabbath observance, Dirk Anderson, founding editor of and former Adventist, still worships on the Sabbath and is a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day).[13]

In Granite or Ingrained? by Skip MacCarty (publisher's page).

In the past Adventists focused on the competition between Saturday and Sunday as the day of worship. Many Adventists such as the moderators of SDAnet believe that this issue is less relevant today, but rather the debate between keeping a day at all versus the present trend of seeing all days as being the same.[14]

A seventh-day Sabbath is a minority position in Christendom today.

Influence on other groups

The Worldwide Church of God, descended from a 1934 schism in the Seventh-day Church of God, which was a Sabbatarian Adventist group. The Worldwide Church of God was founded as a seventh-day Sabbath-keeping church, but in 1995 renounced sabbatarianism and moved toward the Evangelical "mainstream." The church has claimed three main influences regarding the Sabbath. Former Seventh-day Adventist Robert Brinsmead's writings against the Sabbath were influential in this decision.[15] Another former Adventist Dale Ratzlaff also claims a role.[16] Its move from sabbatarianism, and other doctrines, caused more schism, with large groups splitting off to continue to observe the Sabbath as new church organizations. See the list of Sabbath keeping Churches of God. The largest breakaway group is the United Church of God which rejected the 1990s doctrinal changes, and which still keeps the Sabbath. In 2005 its flagship magazine had a circulation of 400,000. Samuele Bacchiocchi has also been involved with the church and its offshoots.

The primarily Chinese True Jesus Church supports a Saturday Sabbath, and has approximately 2 million believers worldwide. Initial founder Ling-Sheng Zhang accepted the Sabbath after studying Seventh-day Adventist theology, and co-founder Paul Wei was originally a Seventh-day Adventist. An American missionary named Berntsen, who was from a Sabbath-keeping Church of God, was also influential upon the founders.

See also


  1. ^ Genesis 2:2, 3
  2. ^ This obviously causes difficulties in places such as northern Scandinavia where the sun does not appear or does not set for several months. The tendency is to regard an arbitrary time such as as "sunset".
  3. ^ Fundamental Beliefs 20
  4. ^ As witness the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, the seventh of which states, "Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral."
  5. ^ Revelation 13:16, 17 The identification of the "mark" as Sunday observance is a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the passage.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Light Bearers to the Remnant
  8. ^ Neufield, D (1976). Sabbath Conferences. pp. 1255–1256.  
  9. ^ "Seventh-day Adventists" section (p. 270–273) in Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill and Craig D. Atwood, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 12th edn. Nashville: Abingdon Press
  10. ^ Sabbatarianism Re-examined by Robert Brinsmead. Verdict 4:4, June 1981
  11. ^ Ford, Desmond (July/August 1996). "Desmond Ford Asks: Is the Seventh-day Sabbath Christian?". Adventist Today 4 (4). ISSN 1079-5499. Retrieved 2007-05-14.  
  12. ^ Endtime Issues No. 2 by Samuele Bacchiocchi
  13. ^ My Story
  14. ^ Sabbath articles on SDAnet AtIssue
  15. ^ Where is Robert Brinsmead? by Larry Pahl; Adventist Today 7:3 (May/June 1999)
  16. ^ Archive | Adventist Today

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