Some thoughts on the Sabbath
1. The Sabbath – in the light of God’s covenants.
In my previous article, I expressed the conviction that the Ten Commandments written on the stone tablets were the summary and testimony of the Old Covenant which God made with the Jewish people, and which was in force from Moses to Jesus. Further to this, here is something more on the covenants.
Canright claims, “No other subject perplexes Adventists so much as the covenants. They dread to meet it. They have tried various ways to explain it away, but they are not satisfactory even to themselves. I have been there and know.” 1
I obtained the following short summary from the Web-site of former Adventist pastor J. Mark Martin: 2 “God has always dealt with his people with covenants. Beginning with Adam and continuing until the present day, God's covenants with his people have had specific characteristics. All covenants have a three-pronged structure. They include a promise by God, a condition, and a sign.”
The covenant people accepted the promise and took it seriously, kept the conditions, and insisted on the presence of the sign under all circumstances. But the sign is not the promise itself, nor is it always part of the conditions.
Genesis 3: 15
All covenants are structured:
Genesis 9: 8-17
· Promise – never to destroy the earth by flood
· Condition – unconditional
· Sign – rainbow
Genesis 15-17 (everlasting)
· Promise – father of multitudes
· Condition – faith
· Sign – circumcision
· Promise – a great land
· Condition – obedience to the law
· Sign – the Sabbath”
In connection with the sign: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Say to the Israelites, “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.”’” (Ex. 31: 12-13).
“The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever.” (Ex. 31: 16-17).
“Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so that they would know that I the LORD made them holy.” (Ezekiel 20: 10-12).
The Sabbath is therefore the sign of the covenant which God made with the Jews after he brought them out of Egypt. As this is the sign of the covenant, it is understandable why it is the only ceremonial precept which is included in the Ten Commandments. I dealt with this covenant in my previous article, and so just briefly:
- The law (including the Ten Commandments) was the Mosaic covenant (Ex. 34: 28; Deut. 4: 13).
- The Ten Commandments were not given before Sinai (Deut. 5: 2-3).
- The Old Covenant had a beginning and an end (Gal. 3: 19).
And the New Covenant follows, “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt.” (Jer. 31: 31-32). The New Covenant, is therefore not like the old one. It has the same structure, however:
· Promise – eternal life (John 3: 16)
· Condition – faith (Romans 3: 21-28)
· Sign – the Lord’s Supper (2 Cor. 11: 25; Luke 22: 20; Mk. 14: 24)
As we are now partakers of this “new covenant,” insisting on the signs of the previous covenants is irrelevant, i.e. circumcision (letter to the Galatians, e.g. 5: 6) and the Sabbath (Col. 2: 16-17).
Let Dudley Canright finish this section, “Elder Uriah Smith says, ‘If the Ten Commandments constituted the old covenant, then they are forever gone.’ The abolition of the Sinaitic covenant carries with it the abolition of the Jewish Sabbath so completely that no authoritative trace of it can be found this side of the grave of our risen Lord.” 1
2. The Sabbath – as memorial day and type.
The story of creation is written in Genesis 1-2. The LORD created the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested on the seventh day. In my opinion, this is the origin of the seven day week, as it cannot be attributed to any astronomical phenomenon, as can, e.g. the day, the month and the year.
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen. 2: 2-3).
In the first listing of the Ten Commandments, we read, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20: 11).
It could be said, therefore, that one significance of the Sabbath day, is that it is the memorial day of creation. It is not clear, however, that this is the reason it must be observed. The reasons given for this are rather that the Jews were liberated from Egyptian bondage (Deut. 5: 15), and that this is the sign of the covenant (Ex. 31: 12).
I do not believe that the Sabbath was kept before the time of Moses. My reasons are as follows:
1. God gave no command to Adam in connection with the Sabbath day. The institution of the family (Gen 2: 21-24) and the mandate to govern the earth (Gen 1: 28) date from creation, as well as the command that they must not eat of the fruit of a certain tree. (Gen. 2: 16-17). That is all.
2. Genesis 2: 3 may perhaps be understood from the fact that Moses wrote the account of creation. Looking back to the completed creation, he also looks forward to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. When did God rest? On the seventh day of creation. When did he bless this day? When he gave the law on Mount Sinai. The idea that God blessed the Sabbath day in the garden of Eden is therefore only speculation! It is interesting that something similar happens in connection with God’s name. In Exodus 6: 2-3, it is written, “God also said to Moses, ‘I am YHWH. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai, but by my name YHWH I did not make myself known to them.’” This name, however, appears for the first time in Genesis 2: 4, “When YHWH Elohim made the earth and the heavens…” With regard to Abraham, “When Abram was ninety nine years old, YHWH appeared to him and said, ‘I am El Shaddai…’” (Gen. 17: 1). Even if Abraham and the patriarchs did not know this name, Moses uses it throughout the book of Genesis.
3. Before Moses, it is not written anywhere that anyone kept the Sabbath. In fact, the word “Sabbath” does not occur in a single verse.
4. God made the covenant with the Jews at Mount Sinai, but not with their ancestors (Deut. 5: 3). The Sabbath belongs to this covenant. (Deut 5: 12-14).
5. According to Nehemiah, God made known the Sabbath to Moses on Mount Sinai. (Neh. 9: 14).
6. The Early Church Fathers are of the opinion that the Sabbath was not kept before Moses, e.g.: Justin Martyr: “…the same God who existed in the times of Enoch and all the rest, who neither were circumcised after the flesh, nor observed Sabbaths, nor any other rites, seeing that Moses enjoined such observances…,” “For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or the observance of Sabbaths, or feasts and sacrifices before Moses, no more need is there of them now…” 3 “As, then, circumcision began with Abraham, and the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts with Moses…” 4 Tertullian: “God originated Adam uncircumcised and unobservant of the Sabbath.” 5
To return to creation. The Sabbath is the memorial day of creation. There is a thought found in the writings of the Early Church Fathers, that at the same time as the work of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant, a new creation came into being. This concept is certainly Biblical, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5: 17); “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal. 6: 15).
When this happened, we moved on from the seven-day system reminding us of the original creation, and into the eighth day, which symbolises the new creation. A quotation on this from the epistle of Barnabas: “‘Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure.’ [Isaiah 1:13] You perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me but that which I had made in giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning on the eighth day, that is the beginning of another world. Wherefore also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, a day also in which Jesus rose from the dead.” 6
We see, therefore, that at the beginning of the second century, the Christians no longer keep the seventh day, but the eighth, which is the symbol of the new creation, and it is also the first – the Lord’s Day – on which Jesus was raised.
“‘Now, sirs,’ I said, ‘it is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import which the seventh day did not possess, and which was promulgated by God through these rites.’” 7
“The Lord’s Day is both the first and the eighth day.” 8
Unfortunately, I could not find anything further on this subject. Just an interesting church tradition, that in ancient churches, the baptismal tank or the baptistery were octagonal, as a sign of this eighth-day new creation. I realise that this is just a tradition, and it is not in the Bible, but I like the idea, I do not consider it unbiblical, and furthermore, it is very early.
Let us consider the deliverance from Egypt, as a prefiguring of the plan of redemption. The order of events is important. If Adam kept the Sabbath, then the type is spoilt. Some of these thoughts I pinched, i.e. borrowed, from Jack Gent. 9
· The Jews were in captivity in Egypt (Ex. 1-12). We were in captivity to sin (Romans 6: 6, 15-17).
· God led the people out in such a way, that first of all he provided the Passover lamb, whose blood protected them (Ex. 12). This is a picture of Christ’s death on the cross (1 Cor. 5: 7).
· Then, they set out from Egypt (Ex. 12). If we repent, God separates, i.e. “sanctifies” us from the world (1 Cor. 6: 11).
· They crossed the Red Sea (Ex. 14). After repentance, we are baptised (1 Cor. 10: 1-2).
· They sang a song of thanksgiving (Ex. 15). They rejoiced as they had been delivered! We also do this!
· The LORD provided manna from heaven (Ex. 16). This is a picture of how we feed on Christ: “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread, will live for ever.” (John 6).
· Then, and only then, is the Sabbath instituted: “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD.” (see Ex. 16: 22-30). In the Bible, the word “Sabbath” occurs here for the first time.
God delivered the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. This was God’s work, the people did not deserve it, and did not earn it. It order to remember this, they were given the Sabbath (Deut 5: 12-15).
In the same way as this whole series of events, the Sabbath can be regarded as a type, in the following way. The Jews were not allowed to perform any work on the Sabbath. And in Christ, the redeemed believers rest from their works. We receive salvation as a free gift from God, by grace, through faith (Eph. 2: 9-11), and we must not try to add to this by any kind of works (Gal. 5: 4, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”)
Jesus said to the Jews, who rested every Sabbath: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28). This is the same rest from works which is spoken of in the letter to the Hebrews, chapters 3-4: “Now we who have believed, enter that rest.” (Heb. 4: 3), “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest (Greek: σαββατισμος) for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” (Heb. 4: 9-10).
Justin Martyr, therefore, is his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, makes so bold as to state, “The new law requires you to keep perpetual Sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you.” 10
After the historical books, the word “Sabbath” only occurs twice in the New Testament. In one verse, it means week (“on the first day of every week” – 1 Cor 16: 2). The other is as follows, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2: 16-17). After considering the above, it is quite understandable why Paul says that the Sabbath day is a shadow, and the reality is Christ.
A brief diversion: - Sabbatarians (both Saturday ones and Sunday ones) try to deny the simple meaning of this verse, as it does not do their point of view much good. They claim that the word “Sabbath,” as it is in the plural, refers to the festivals and not to the weekly Sabbath, which is still in force. The following points may to stated in answer to this:
1. It is not written that the weekly Sabbath is still in force (either here, or elsewhere), although it should be if this were the case, as otherwise the verse is ambiguous.
2. The festivals have already been mentioned on the list, so it is improbable that the festivals are meant.
3. Even if this refers to the festival Sabbaths, it does not exclude the weekly Sabbath.
4. In all other New Testament occurrences, the word “ σαββατον” means weekly Sabbath or week (e.g. Lk 24: 1), and not festival.
5. This is not the only place in the Bible where this list is found. It is a list which is widespread and well known in the Old Testament, and which sets out the weekly, monthly and yearly ceremonies, either in increasing or decreasing order. For example: “It will be the duty of the prince to provide the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbaths – at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel.” (Ez. 45: 17). “I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days – all her appointed feasts.” (Hos. 2:11). “and whenever burnt offerings were presented to the LORD on Sabbaths and at New Moon festivals and at appointed feasts…” (1 Chron. 23: 31). Sometimes, the daily sacrifice is also included, e.g. “and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on Sabbaths and New Moons and at the appointed feasts of the LORD our God” (2 Chron. 2: 4). The Apostle Paul also refers to this list elsewhere, but does not exactly praise the Galatians for wanting to keep these feasts: “But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Gal. 4: 9-11).
6. In New Testament Greek, the word for Sabbath often occurs in the plural with a singular meaning. This is probably due to the fact that the Greek plural σαββατα is similar to the Aramaic singular shabbata. An example of this is found in Luke 4: 16, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.” Here, it is clear that this event occurred on a particular Sabbath day, but the word is in the plural in the Greek.
7. In both listings of the Ten Commandments, in the expressions belonging to the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20: 8), and “Observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5: 12), the word for Sabbath is in the singular in the Hebrew, but in the plural in the LXX Greek translation.
For all these reasons, Colossians 2: 16 cannot really be referring to anything else other than the weekly Sabbath.
If this is recognised, the other suggestion offered is that Colossians 2: 16 refers to Pharisaic legalism, but not to the correct observance of the Sabbath day. We have already seen that the Sabbath day itself can be a shadow of Christ, but I do not see how legalism can be considered as such. This suggestion is not convincing.
Just to summarise this section. The Sabbath day really has a very rich significance. It is the memorial day of creation, and thus also looks forward to the new creation. It is the memorial day of the deliverance from Egyptian captivity, and a type of the rest we find in Christ.
As a consequence of this, keeping the Sabbath day is not compulsory for the Christian, but it is not forbidden either: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14: 5).
After Christ, the Early Church very soon established a new memorial day. By the beginning of the second century, they no longer keep the Sabbath, apart from those who belong to the Ebionite sect. Sunday was not a day of rest, and so was not considered to be the Christian Sabbath, which is the rest we obtain in Christ. The significance of Sunday is threefold:
1. It is the first day of the week, on which Jesus rose from the dead (Mark 16: 9, cf. Lev. 23: 9-11). It is therefore called the Lord’s day. The expression originates from Revelation 1: 10 - ή κυριακη ήμερα. In modern Greek, the word for Sunday is still κυριακη (pronounced: kiriakee).
2. It is the birthday of the church – the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came (Acts 2: 1, cf. Lev. 23: 15-16).
3. It is the eighth day of the week, the memorial of the new creation.
More of this in the next section.
3. Is Sunday the Pope’s day?
Here are a few free quotations from the book “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day,” by H. M. Riggle. 11 “By constantly crying in the ears of the people: ‘Sunday is a heathen day; and all who observe it keep “the venerable day of the sun”’; ‘The bishop of Rome is authority for Sunday observance’; ‘Constantine changed the Sabbath’; ‘The observance of the first day of the week began with the pope of Rome,’ etc., etc., Adventists frighten a few ignorant souls into this belief; and the result is, they cease to observe the great memorial day of the gospel, and go back under the “yoke of bondage.” But the whole is wrong from the ground up. Not a word of truth is there in any of the assertions quoted. The facts of history utterly refute them.”
“Mrs. White writes in her book, ‘Great Controversy’ that the observance of days was changed by Constantine and the bishop of Rome. She says that in the first centuries the seventh day had been kept by all Christians. And her own word is the only proof she offers. Look at the impudence of this prophetess!”
It seems Riggle does not like this idea. What about those facts of history? Constantine lived in the 4th century, and if he changed the Sabbath, and if Christians observed the seventh day until that time, then there ought to be some trace of this in the writings of second and third century authors. Let us look at some details of these, which I found in the books by Canright, Riddle and Martin:
· Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch, who died in AD 108, wrote, “Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish Law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace… If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him... Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness; for ‘he that does not work, let him not eat.’...let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days (of the week).” 12
· The Epistle of Barnabas (120): “‘Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure’ You perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me but that which I had made in giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning on the eighth day, that is the beginning of another world. Wherefore also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, a day also in which Jesus rose from the dead.” 6
· Justin Martyr’s Apology (140): “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or in the country gather together in one place and memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits… 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 in matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.” 13
· Ireneaus, Bishop of Lyons (about 178): “The mystery of the Lord’s resurrection may not be celebrated on any other day than the Lord’s Day.”
· Bardesanes, Edessa (180): “Wherever we be, all of us are called by the one name of the Messiah, namely Christians, and upon one day, which is the first day of the week, we assemble ourselves together…” 14
· Tertullian in Africa (200): “We solemnise the day after Saturday in contradiction to those who call this day their Sabbath.” 15 “Others, with greater regard to good manners, it must be confessed, suppose that the sun is the god of the Christian, because it is a well-known fact that we pray towards the east, or because we make Sunday a day of festivity.” 16
· Apostolic Constitutions (2nd century): “On the day of the resurrection of the Lord - that is, the Lord’s Day - assemble yourself together without fail, giving thanks to God and praising Him for those mercies God has bestowed upon you through Christ.” 17
· Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200-258): “The Lord’s Day is both the first and the eighth day.”
· Anatolius, Bishop of Laodicea (270): “Our regard for the Lord’s resurrection which took place on the Lord’s Day will lead us to celebrate it.” 18
· Peter, Bishop of Alexandria (306): “But the Lord’s Day we celebrate as a day of joy, because on it, he rose again.” 19
From the above, we see that in the first three centuries:
1. Christians honour the Lord’s Day, and on it hold their assemblies.
2. This is not the Sabbath, with which it is never confused. Several write specifically that believers do not keep the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day. If the two were the same, the statement would be meaningless.
3. This day is not considered a Christian Sabbath, as it is not a day of rest.
4. On this day, Christ rose from the dead.
5. It is the first day of the week.
6. It is also the eighth day of the week.
With regard to celebration of the Lord’s Day, they argue neither for nor against it, but simply state this to be the case. They do argue against Sabbath keeping, however, but only in their disputes with the Jews.
So based on the above the following can be concluded: after the beginning of the 2nd century, this was in no way a matter of dispute among Christians (It is possible that the Ebionites had died out by this time, or they were considered so much a sect that their teachings were not taken seriously. As well as the Sabbath, this group also kept the Jewish food laws, and taught that Jesus was merely a man, the son of Mary and Joseph).
According to all known sources, therefore, by the beginning of the second century, Christians no longer keep the Sabbath, but celebrate Sunday. However, the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy did not yet exist, and Constantine did not begin his reign for another two hundred years.
Another thing is that neither the Greek nor the Roman pagans had a day of rest. They had no custom even resembling the Jewish Sabbath, which they preferred to make fun of as a waste time (e.g. Tacitus, Seneca). Furthermore, every day was named in honour of some pagan god – as Monday for the moon, Saturday for Saturn, Sunday for the sun, etc.. So if Sunday is a pagan day, then so is Saturday! However, as we have seen, the Christians celebrated Sunday as the day of the Lord’s resurrection, not as the festival of the sun. I just want to emphasise, that even if Constantine was a sun worshipper, and even if he remained so after his apparent conversion, the day of the sun would not have been a rest day for him.
And what did Constantine and the Pope do? I quote Riddle once more, “Constantine’s Sunday law was made in AD 321, long years before there was a Pope recognised as controlling Christendom. Elder Waggoner, a leading Adventist, finally admits that ‘it is safe to affirm that there was nothing done in the time of Constantine, either by himself or any other that has the least appearance of changing the Sabbath.’ Amen!” “When Constantine was converted, or became favourable to the Christian religion, he simply issued an edict throughout his empire for people to observe the Christian’s day. That is all there is to it. Constantine had nothing to do with the establishment of the Lord’s Day in the church.” 11
As he admits that Constantine did not change the Sabbath, Waggoner claims that the Pope changed it at the Council of Laodicea in 364. The 29th canon of this council reads as follows, “Christians ought not to Judaize and to rest in the Sabbath, but to work in that day; but preferring the Lord’s Day, should rest, if possible, as Christians. Wherefore if they shall be found to Judaize, let them be accursed from Christ.” Does this constitute the Pope changing the Sabbath? There are several problems with this point of view:
1. We have already seen that Christians were no longer keeping the Sabbath by the beginning of the second century.
2. At this council, Christians are not commanded to rest on Sundays; they should only rest ‘if possible.’
3. In 324, forty years before the Council of Laodicea, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, wrote his famous history of Christianity. In this, he says, ‘And all things whatsoever it was the duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s Day as more honourable than the Jewish Sabbath.’
4. The papacy had not come into being by 364.
5. Laodicea is not in Rome, it is in Asia Minor.
6. Laodicea is a Greek, not a Roman city.
7. The bishop of Rome was not present at this council.
8. The bishop of Rome did not send a representative to the council, in fact the Roman church were not aware that it was being held.
9. The bishop of Rome at that time was Liberius, who was degraded from office and banished. He begged the Greek bishops to help him. He had no authority over the Greek church.
10. The Council of Laodicea was a rather insignificant local council – it was not one of the great ecumenical councils. There were only 32 bishops from Asia present, and not one from the western church.
11. This council simply issued an edict on a long-established practice, the Lord’s Day, with respect to their own local area.
12. Anatolius was a bishop of Laodicea, who wrote the following in 270, almost one hundred years before this synod was held: “Our regard for the Lord’s resurrection which took place on the Lord’s Day will lead us to celebrate it.”
13. If the Sabbath really was changed at the Council of Laodicea, as the Adventists claim, then it was not changed by the Roman church but the Greek church, over which the bishop of Rome had no authority, before the establishment of the papacy, at a small local council, at which neither the bishop of Rome nor his representative were present.
The papacy as such began to be established around two hundred years after this time.
It was the Puritans in about the 17th century who first began to regard Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. The Puritans were Protestants of the Reformed tradition, not Catholics. Based on the Ten Commandments, they considered they ought to keep the Sabbath, but they thought that for Christians, this would be Sunday. This concept is still very much alive, for instance, in the Welsh Nonconformist chapels. I just state this as a historical fact, but I do not agree with this view. As I have explained, the Christian Sabbath is the rest we find in Christ.
Therefore, if anything resembling changing the Sabbath happened at all, this occurred in two stages, and neither the papacy nor the Catholic Church had anything to do with either of them:
1. By the beginning of the second century, Christians no longer keep the Jewish Sabbath, but celebrate Sunday.
2. From the 17th century onwards, certain Protestants regard Sunday as the Christian Sabbath.
Based on the above, it is my opinion that Sunday is not the Pope’s day.
4. The seal of God and the mark of the beast.
Uriah Smith, a 19th century Adventist teacher, claims, “Sunday‑keeping must be the mark of the beast.” 20 “The seal of God is his holy Sabbath.” 21
According to Riddle, “So, to sum up the whole, all who keep the Sabbath are “sealed” for eternal glory, while all who observe the Lord’s Day are “beast‑worshipers,” “idolaters,” “marked,” and doomed to the lake of fire. Surely such absurdity should awaken even those who have been ensnared into that dark yoke of legal bondage.” 11
I don’t wish to dwell on this subject. I just list a few reasons why I find this concept totally unbelievable:
1. Many of the symbols in the book of Revelation are also found elsewhere in the Bible (mainly in the Old Testament). Comparing such verses can provide an aid to interpretation. It is not written anywhere that the Sabbath day, or any other day, is a seal or mark. God put a mark on Cain (Genesis 4: 15), but we do not know what this was. In Ezekiel 9, the righteous receive a mark on their foreheads to protect them from harm. This resembles the things written in Revelation 7 and 14, but once more, we do not know what this was. In the New Testament, it is written that Abraham received circumcision as the seal of his faith (Rom. 4: 11), and that the Lord seals his own with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1: 22; Eph. 1: 13; 4: 30). The claim that the Sabbath is the seal cannot be supported from the Bible.
2. I cannot imagine that if someone keeps the Sabbath he will receive the seal, regardless of how he behaves otherwise. On this basis, the Pharisees would receive it. Robert Brinsmead, an Australian former-Adventist theologian comments, “Being a Sabbatarian is no proof of allegiance to God. The ancient Jews nailed the Son of God to the cross and then hurried home to keep their Sabbath.” 22
3. If the seal is the Holy Spirit, who fills the believer’s life, and the fruit appears in his character (Gal. 5: 22-23), and he thinks and lives according to God’s ways, then this will provide protection in the last days – I can believe that.
4. Many who are considered by the Adventists to be true men of God examined and refuted the validity of Sabbath-keeping for Christians, e.g. Huss, Luther, Wesley, Bunyan, Milton.
5. In order for the mark of the beast to be Sunday, the beast must represent the papacy. This is based on a particular interpretation of Revelation, known as the “continuous historical” interpretation. This theory was popular from the Reformation till the 19th century, but most modern theologians have rejected it. In his commentary on Revelation, G. E. Ladd dismisses this interpretation in a single paragraph. He claims, “This method views the Revelation as a symbolic prophecy of the entire history of the church down to the return of Christ and the end of the age. The numerous symbols of the book designate various historical movements and events in the western world and the Christian church. Obviously, such an interpretation could lead to confusion, for there are no fixed guidelines as to what historical events are meant. One of the most prevailing features of this interpretation has been the view that the beast is the Roman papacy and the false prophet the Roman church. This view has little to commend it…” 23 G. R. Beasley-Murray writes, “The Reformers generally adopted the ‘historicist’ view. They identified the persecuting power with papal Rome. Rigidly interpreted, however, this view seems to be contrary to the analogy of all other prophecy in the Bible.” 24 Naturally, this is only the opinion of theologians.
6. If we assume that the beast is the papacy, the problem still remains, that the Pope had nothing to do with the establishment of Sunday-keeping. (See above). 25
7. The New Testament teaches that the observation of days is a matter in connection with which we must not pass judgement on one another (Rom. 14: 1-6; Col. 2: 16-17). According to the passage in Romans, this question must not be allowed to cause division in the body of Christ (14: 1).
8. I have made enquiries among my Christian friends, most of whom are Pentecostals and Charismatics, and I have not really come across the conviction that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. I do not remember hearing this taught in the twenty years since my conversion. I am acquainted with certain churches which hold their services on Saturdays for practical and not theological reasons. Is it possible that soon no-one apart from the Adventists will care which day they hold their services?
9. I only know the situation in Britain, but during the last ten years, many laws regarding Sunday have been repealed. For instance, working and trading are now allowed, whereas earlier this was not the case. Maybe they have noticed there are also e.g. Jews and Muslims in the community, and we must be “politically correct.” Sunday is no longer a special day for non-religious people. There are certain Christian organisations which would like to reinstate Sunday as a special day, but they have declared they do not wish to impose this on anyone who would prefer to honour a different day for reasons of conscience. I mention this, as it does not conform to the Adventist eschatological view.
So, just to summarise:
Keeping the Sabbath is part of the Mosaic covenant. It is the sign of this covenant. This covenant came to an end in Christ.
The keeping of holy days is not part of the New Covenant. The keeping of days has nothing to do with the seal or the mark found in the book of Revelation.
The Christian Sabbath is not a day, but the rest we find in Christ.
Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath, but is the memorial day of Christ’s resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the new creation.
1. D. M. Canright, Seventh Day Adventism Renounced, 1914
2. J. Mark Martin, 7th Day Adventism – what you should know, http://www.sdaoutreach.org/
3. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, chapter 23., around 140 AD.
4. ibid., chapter 43.
6. Epistle of Barnabas, around 120 AD.
7. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, chapter 24.
8. Cyprian, early 3rd c..
9. Jack Gent, God’s Rest, http://www.ex-sda.com/ (Another ex-Adventist).
10. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, chapter 12.
11. H. M. Riggle, The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, 1928, 150 o.
12. Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 62-63. Antioch was the city where the first Gentile church was established, so Ignatius stood very close to the source of apostolic tradition.
13. Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 67.
14. Bardesanes, Book of the Laws of Countries.
15. Tertullian, Apology, chapter 16.
16. Tertullian, The Anti-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, p. 123.
17. Apostolic constitutions, book 2, section 7.
18. Anatolius, chapter 10.
19. Peter, 15th canon.
20. U. Smith, The Marvel of Nations, p. 183.
21. U. Smith, Thoughts on Revelation, p. 452.
22. Robert D. Brinsmead, Sabbatarianism Re-examined, chap. 11.
23. G. E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, Eerdmans, 1972, p. 11.
24. G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Revelation, The New Bible Commentary Revised, IVP, 1970, p. 1279.
25. With regard to the beast, the Adventists claim that the pope or the papacy is the beast, because his title is Vicarius Filii Dei, and using Roman numerals this equals 666. Let’s see:
V = 5 F = 0 D = 500
I = 1 I = 1 E = 0
C = 100 L = 50 I = 1
A = 0 I = 1
R = 0 I = 1
I = 1
U = 5
S = 0
= 112 + 53 + 501 = 666 - it sure does!
Just a comment:
a) According to the Bible, 666 is the name of a man, not his title (Rev: 13: 17-18).
b) According to Roman Catholics, the title of the Pope is Vicarius Christi, not Vicarius Filii Dei.
c) I don’t think the Adventists should shout too loudly about this, because:
E = 0 G = 0 W = 5+5
L = 50 O = 0 H = 0
L = 50 U = 5 I = 1
E = 0 L = 50 T = 0
N = 0 D = 500 E = 0
= 100 + 555 + 11 = 666
Of course, this may have no significance whatsoever…
R. D. Brinsmead, Sabbatarianism Re-examined, 1981
D. M. Canright, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, 1914.
W. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, Bethany House, 1997.
H. M. Riggle, The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, 1928.