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Sabbath and Seventh-day Adventism


Sabbath and Seventh-day Adventism

The seventh-day Sabbath, observed from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, is an important part of the beliefs and practices of seventh-day churches. These churches emphasize biblical references such as the ancient Hebrew practice of beginning a day at sundown, and the scriptural account of creation in Genesis wherein an "evening and morning" established a day, predating the giving of the Ten Commandments (thus the command to "remember" the sabbath). Seventh-day Sabbatarianism was the practice of all or most of the early Christian church through the 4th century.[1][2] The seventh day of the week is recognized in many languages and calendars as Sabbath, and is still observed as such in modern Judaism.

Christian seventh-day Sabbatarians seek to reestablish the practice of the early apostolic Christians who kept the sabbath. They usually believe that all humanity is obliged to keep the Ten Commandments, including the sabbath, and that keeping all the commandments is a moral responsibility that honors, and shows love towards God as creator, sustainer, and redeemer. The majority of Christians do not observe the sabbath on the seventh day, believing it to be superseded, and instead they honor Sunday, the first day of the week, as the Lord's Day and the day of Christ's resurrection, and (in some traditions) as the Christian Sabbath.[3]

The sabbath is one of the defining characteristics of seventh-day denominations, including Seventh Day Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, the Seventh-Day Evangelist Church, the Church of God (7th Day) headquartered in Salem, West Virginia and the Church of God (Seventh Day) conferences, and the United Church of God, among many others.

Biblical Sabbath

Main articles: Biblical Sabbath and Shabbat

The sabbath was first described in the biblical account of the seventh day of Exodus 20:8-11).


Early church

According to R. J. Bauckham, the post-apostolic church contained diverse practices regarding the sabbath.[4]

Early Christian observance of both spiritual seventh-day sabbath and Lord's Day assembly is evidenced in Ignatius's letter to the Magnesians ca. 110.[4][5] The Pseudo-Ignatian additions amplified this point by combining weekly observance of spiritual seventh-day sabbath with the Lord's assembly.[6] If Pseudo-Ignatius dates as early as 140, its admonition must be considered important evidence on 2nd-century sabbath and Lord's Day observance.[7] According to classical sources, widespread seventh-day sabbath rest by gentile Christians was also the prevailing mode in the 3rd and 4th centuries.[1][2]

On March 7, 321, the Roman emperor Constantine issued a decree making Sunday a day of rest from labor, stating:[8]
All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon the venerable day of the sun. Country people, however, may freely attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other days are better adapted for planting the grain in the furrows or the vines in trenches. So that the advantage given by heavenly providence may not for the occasion of a short time perish.

Ellen G. White states that ecumenical councils generally each pressed the sabbath down slightly lower and exalted Sunday correspondingly, and that the bishops eventually urged Constantine to syncretize the worship day to promote the nominal acceptance of Christianity by pagans. But "while many God-fearing Christians were gradually led to regard Sunday as possessing a degree of sacredness, they still held [seventh-day] Sabbath."[9] Bauckham also states some church authorities continued to oppose this as a judaizing tendency.[4]

In the 4th century, Socrates Scholasticus (Church History, Book V) stated:[1]
For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebaïs, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings they partake of the mysteries.
In the 5th century, Sozomen (Ecclesiastical History, Book VII), referencing Socrates Scholasticus, added to his description:[2]
Assemblies are not held in all churches on the same time or manner. The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria. There are several cities and villages in Egypt where, contrary to the usage established elsewhere, the people meet together on Sabbath evenings, and, although they have dined previously, partake of the mysteries.

Thus both early church historians, Socrates and Sozomen, cite the seventh day as the Christian day of rest and corporate worship, with the exception of the Christians in Rome and Alexandria.[10]

Middle ages

The "Sabbath in Africa Study Group" (SIA), founded by Charles E. Bradford in 1991,[11] holds that the sabbath has existed in Africa since the beginning of recorded history.[12][13] Taddesse Tamrat has argued that this practice predates Saint Ewostatewos's advocacy of observing both Saturday and Sunday as days of sabbath, which led to his eventual exile from Ethiopia around 1337.[14] Emperor Zara Yaqob convened a synod at Tegulet in 1450 to discuss the sabbath question.[15][16][17]

In Bohemia, as much as one quarter of the population kept seventh-day the sabbath in 1310. This practice continued until at least the 16th century, when Erasmus wrote about the practice.[18]

The Unitarian Church condemned Sabbatarianism as innovation (forbidden by the Transylvanian law on religious toleration) in 1618. The last Sabbatarian congregation in Transylvania disappeared in the 19th century and the remaining Sabbatarians, who were known as "Somrei Sabat" (the Hungarian transliteration of the Hebrew words for "Sabbath observers") joined the existing Jewish communities, into which they were eventually absorbed. Sabbatarianism also expanded into Russia, where its adherents were called Subbotniks, and, from there, the movement expanded into other countries. Some of the Russian Subbotniks maintained a Christian identity doctrinally, while others formally converted to Judaism and assimilated within the Jewish communities of Russia. Some of the latter, however, who had become Jewish, although they and their descendants practiced Judaism and had not practiced Christianity for nearly two centuries, still retained a distinct identity as ethnic Russian converts to Judaism until later.

A small number of the anti-Trinitarian Socinian churches of Eastern Europe and the Netherlands adopted the seventh day as the day of worship and rest.


Sects such as the Waldenses, Albigenses, and Leonists appear to have retained sabbath observance in Europe during the Middle Ages. A report of an inquisition, before which were brought some Waldenses of Moravia in the middle of the 15th century, declares that among the Waldenses "not a few indeed celebrate the Sabbath with the Jews."[19] The Taiping Rebellion kept the sabbath in China. The Goa Inquisition attacked Sabbatarian Saint Thomas Christians.

At the time of the Protestant Reformation some Anabaptists, such as Oswald Glait, argued that the seventh day should be observed as the sabbath and that Sunday sabbath was an invention of the Pope.[20]

Seventh-day Sabbatarianism was revived in 17th-century England. Early advocates included the Elizabethan Seventh-Day Men, the Traskites (after John Traske, 1586–1636), and Thomas Brabourne. The majority of seventh-day Sabbatarians were part of the Seventh Day Baptist church and experienced harsh opposition from Anglican authorities and Puritans. The first Seventh Day Baptist church in the United States was established in Rhode Island in 1671.[20]

Modern churches

Seventh Day Baptists

Seventh Day Baptists are Christian Baptists who observe seventh-day Sabbath. The Seventh Day Baptist World Federation today represents over 50,000 Baptists in 22 countries.

It is the oldest modern Sabbatarian denomination. The first recorded Seventh Day Baptist meeting was held at The Mill Yard Church in London in 1651[21] under the leadership of Peter Chamberlen.

Seventh-day Adventism

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest modern seventh-day Sabbatarian denomination, with 17,214,683 members as of June 30, 2011,[22] and holds the sabbath as one of the Pillars of Adventism. Seventh-day Adventism grew out of the Millerite movement in the 1840s, and its founders were converted to Sabbatarianism under the influence of Rachel Oakes Preston, a young Seventh Day Baptist laywoman living in New Hampshire.

Seventh-day Adventists observe the sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.[23] In places where the sun does not appear or does not set for several months, such as northern Scandinavia, the tendency is to regard an arbitrary time such as 6 p.m. as "sunset". During the sabbath, Adventists avoid secular work and business, although medical relief and humanitarian work is accepted. Though there are cultural variations, most Adventists also avoid activities such as shopping, sport, and certain forms of entertainment. Adventists typically gather for church services on Saturday morning. Some also gather on Friday evening to welcome in the sabbath hours (sometimes called "vespers" or "opening Sabbath"), and some similarly gather at "closing Sabbath".

Traditionally, Seventh-day Adventists hold that the Ten Commandments (including the fourth commandment concerning the sabbath) are part of the moral law of God, not abrogated by the teachings of Jesus Christ, which apply equally to Christians.[24] This was a common Christian understanding[25] before the Sabbatarian controversy led Sunday-keepers to adopt a more radical antinomian position. Adventists have traditionally distinguished between "moral law" and "ceremonial law", arguing that moral law continues to bind Christians, while events predicted by the ceremonial law were fulfilled by Christ's death on the cross.


"Sabbatarian Adventists" emerged between 1845 and 1849 from within the Adventist movement of William Miller, later to become the Seventh-day Adventists. Frederick Wheeler[26] began keeping the seventh day as the sabbath after personally studying the issue in March 1844 following a conversation with Rachel Preston, according to his later report.[27] 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, to which he occasionally ministered, also followed his decision, forming the first Sabbatarian Adventist church.[28] These included William Farnsworth[29] and his brother Cyrus.[30] T. M. Preble soon accepted it from either Wheeler, Oakes, or someone else at the church. These events preceded the Great Disappointment, which followed shortly after, when Jesus did not return as Millerites 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 Adventist 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, Instead of the First Day; "According to the Commandment".[31] This tract led to the conversion of John Nevins Andrews and other Adventist families in Paris, Maine, as well as the 1845 conversion of Joseph Bates, who became the foremost proponent of the sabbath among this group. These men in turn convinced James Springer White, Ellen Harmon (later White), and Hiram Edson of New Hampshire.[32] Preble is known to have kept seventh-day sabbath until mid-1847. He later repudiated the sabbath and opposed the Seventh-day Adventists, authoring The First-Day Sabbath.

Bates proposed an 1846 meeting among the believers in New Hampshire and Port Gibson, which took place at Edson's farm, where Edson and other Port Gibson believers readily accepted the sabbath message and forged an alliance with Bates, White, and Harmon. Between April 1848 and December 1850, 22 sabbath conferences in New York and New England allowed White, Bates, Edson, and Stephen Pierce to reach conclusions about doctrinal issues.[33]

Also in 1846, a pamphlet written by Bates created widespread interest in the sabbath. Bates, White, Harmon, Edson, Wheeler, and S. W. Rhodes led the promotion of the sabbath, partly through regular publications.[34] Present Truth magazine was largely devoted to the sabbath at first.[35] 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[36] and History of the Sabbath.[37]


The pioneers of the church have traditionally taught that the seventh-day sabbath will be a test, leading to the sealing of God's people during the end times, though there is little consensus about how this will play out. The church has traditionally taught that there will be an international Exodus 31:13. Where the subject of persecution appeared in prophecy, it was thought to be about the sabbath. Some early Adventists were jailed for working on Sunday, in violation of various local blue laws that legislated Sunday as a day of rest. It was expected that a universal Sunday law would soon be enforced, as a sign of the end times.


Seventh-day Sabbatarianism was a key feature of the former Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong, and its various descendent movements. Armstrong, who began the Radio Church of God, was in 1931 ordained by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), an Adventist group, and began serving a congregation in Eugene, Oregon. The broadcast was essentially a condensed church service on the air, with hymnsinging featured along with Armstrong's message, and was the launching point for what would become the Worldwide Church of God.

Other groups

The True Jesus Church supports the seventh-day 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.

Other minor Sabbatarian churches include:

  • Seventh-day Remnant home-churches[38]
  • Church of God (7th Day), headquartered in Salem, West Virginia.
  • Church of God (Seventh Day)
  • Logos Apostolic Church of God, in the UK, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Sudan[39]
  • Sabbath Rest Advent Church

See also

Seventh-day Adventist Church portal
Christianity portal


Further reading

External links

  • Sabbath articles from the Biblical Research Institute
  • "Sabbath and the New Covenant" by Roy Gane
  • Jon Paulien
  • General Conference Session of 1990
  • Sabbath articles in the ASDAL guide)
  • Sabbath Truth
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