|Chapter 19: THE SABBATH
Seventh-day Adventists Believe...
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.--Fundamental Beliefs, l9.
With God, Adam and Eve explored their paradise home. The
scenery was breathtaking, beyond description. As the sun
slowly set on that Friday, the sixth day of Creation, and
the stars began to appear, "God saw everything that He had
made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). Thus God
finished His creation of "the heavens and the earth, and all
the host of them" (Gen. 2:1).
But as beautiful as was the world He had just completed,
the greatest gift God could give to the newly created couple
was the privilege of a personal relationship with Him. So He
gave them the Sabbath, a day of special blessing,
fellowship, and communion with their Creator.
The Sabbath Throughout the Bible
The Sabbath is central to our worship of God. The
memorial of Creation, it reveals the reason why God is to be
worshiped: He is the Creator, and we are His creatures. "The
Sabbath, therefore, lies at the very foundation of divine
worship, for it teaches this great truth in the most
impressive manner, and no other institution does this. The
true ground of divine worship, not of that on the seventh
day merely, but of all worship, is found in the distinction
between the Creator and His creatures. This great fact can
never become obsolete, and must never be forgotten."(*1) It
was to keep this truth forever before the human race that
God instituted the Sabbath.
The Sabbath at Creation
The Sabbath comes to us from a sinless world. It is God's
special gift, enabling the human race to experience the
reality of heaven on earth. Three distinct divine acts
established the Sabbath:
1. God rested on the Sabbath.
On the seventh day God "rested and was refreshed"
(Ex. 31:17), yet He did not rest because He needed it (Isa.
40:28). The verb "rested," shabath, means literally "to
cease" from labor or activity (cf. Gen. 8:22). "God's rest
was the result of neither exhaustion nor fatigue, but a
cessation from previous occupation."(*2)
God rested because He expected humans to rest; He set an
example for human beings to follow (Ex. 20-11).
If God finished the Creation on the sixth day (Gen. 2:1),
what does Scripture mean when it says that He "ended His
work" on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2)? God had finished the
creation of the heavens and the earth in those six days, but
He had yet to make the Sabbath. It was by resting on the
Sabbath that He made it. The Sabbath was His finishing
touch, ending His work.
2. God blessed the Sabbath.
God not only made the Sabbath, He blessed it. "The
blessing on the seventh day implied that it was thereby
declared to be a special object of divine favor and a day
that would bring blessing to His creatures."(*3)
3. God sanctified the Sabbath.
To sanctify something means to make it sacred or holy, or
to set it apart as holy and for holy use; to consecrate it.
People, places (such as a sanctuary, temple, or church), and
time (holy days) can be sanctified. The fact that God
sanctified the seventh day means that this day is holy, that
He set it apart for the lofty purpose of enriching the
God blessed and sanctified the seventh-day Sabbath
because He rested on this day from all His works. He blessed
and sanctified it for humanity, not for Himself. It is His
personal presence that brings to the Sabbath God's blessing
The Sabbath at Sinai
The events following the Israelites' departure from Egypt
show that they had largely lost sight of the Sabbath. The
rigorous requirements of slavery seem to have made Sabbath
observance very difficult. Soon after they gained their
freedom, God strongly reminded them, through the miracle of
the manna and the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, of
their obligation to observe the seventh-day Sabbath.
1. The Sabbath and the manna.
One month before He proclaimed the law from Sinai, God
promised the people protection against disease if they would
diligently give attention to "His commandments and keep all
His statutes" (Ex. 15:26; cf. Gen. 26:5). Soon after making
this promise God reminded the Israelites of the sacredness
of the Sabbath. Through the miracle of the manna He taught
them in concrete terms how important He considered their
resting on the seventh day.
Each weekday God gave to the Israelites enough manna to
meet their needs for that day. They were not to save any
till the next day, for it would spoil if they did (Ex. 16:4,
16-19). On the sixth day they were to gather twice as much
as usual so that they would have enough for their needs on
both that day and the Sabbath. Teaching that the sixth day
was to be a day of preparation and also how the Sabbath was
to be kept, God said, "`Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a
holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and
boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep
it until morning'" (Ex. 16:23, NIV). Only on the seventh day
could the manna be kept without spoiling (Ex. 16:24). In
language similar to that of the fourth commandment, Moses
said, "`Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh
day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none'" (Ex. 16:26).
For the forty years, or more than 2,000 successive weekly
Sabbaths, that the Israelites were in the wilderness, the
miracle of the manna reminded them of this pattern of six
days of work and the seventh day of rest.
2. The Sabbath and the law.
God placed the Sabbath command in the center of the
Decalogue. It reads as follows:
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you
shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the
Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work:
you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant,
nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who
is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the
heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and
rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the
Sabbath day and hallowed it" (Ex. 20:8:11).
All of the commandments of the Decalogue are vital, and
none are to be neglected (James 2:10), yet God distinguished
the Sabbath command from all others. Regarding it, He
commanded, "Remember," alerting humanity to the danger of
forgetting its importance.
The words with which the commandment begins--"Remember
the Sabbath day, to keep it holy"--show that the Sabbath was
not first instituted at Sinai. Those words indicate that it
was originated earlier--in fact, at Creation, as the rest of
the commandment reveals. God intended that we observe the
Sabbath as His memorial of Creation. It defines the time for
rest and worship, directing us to contemplate God and His
As the memorial of Creation, Sabbath observance is an
antidote for idolatry. By reminding us that God created
heaven and earth, it distinguishes Him from all false gods.
Keeping the Sabbath, then, becomes the sign of our
allegiance to the true God--a sign that we acknowledge His
Sovereignty as Creator and King.
The Sabbath commandment functions as the seal of God's
law.(*4) Generally, seals contain three elements: the name
of the owner of the seal, his title, and jurisdiction.
Official seals are used to validate documents of great
import. The document takes on the authority of the official
whose seal is placed upon it. The seal implies that the
official himself approved of the legislation and that all
the power of his office stands behind it.
Among the Ten Commandments, it is the Sabbath command
that contains the vital elements of a seal. It is the only
one of the ten that identifies the true God by giving His
name: "the Lord your God;" His title: the One who made--the
Creator; and His territory: "the heavens and the earth" (Ex.
20:10,11). Since only the fourth commandment shows by whose
authority the Ten Commandments were given, it therefore
"contains the seal of God," attached to His law as evidence
of its authenticity and binding force.(*5)
Indeed, God made the Sabbath as "a reminder or sign of
His power and authority in a world unspotted by sin and
rebellion. It was to be an institution of perpetual personal
obligation enjoined by the admonition `remember the sabbath
day, to keep it holy' (Ex. 20:8)."(*6)
This commandment divides the week into two parts. God
gave humanity six days in which to "labor and do all your
work," but the seventh day "you shall do no work"
(Ex. 20:9,10). "`Six days,' says the command, are work days,
but `the seventh day' is a rest day. That `the seventh day'
is uniquely God's rest day is made evident in the opening
words of the command: `Remember the sabbath [rest] day, to
keep it holy.'"(*7)
Although human beings require physical rest to refresh
their bodies, God bases His command that we rest on the
Sabbath on His example. Since He rested from His activities
of the world's first week, so we are to rest.
3. The Sabbath and the covenant.
As God's law was central to the covenant (Ex. 34:27), so
the Sabbath, located in the heart of that law, is prominent
in His covenant. God declared the Sabbath a "sign
between...[you] and Me, that...[you] may know that I am the
Lord who sanctifies...[you]" (Eze. 20:12; cf. Eze. 20:20;
Ex. 31:17). Therefore, He said, Sabbathkeeping is a
"perpetual covenant" (Ex. 31:16). "Just as the covenant is
based on God's love for His people (Deut. 7:7,8), so the
Sabbath, as the sign of that covenant, is a sign of divine
4. The annual sabbaths.
In addition to the weekly Sabbaths (Lev. 23:3), there
were seven annual, ceremonial sabbaths scattered through
Israel's religious calendar. These yearly sabbaths were not
directly related to the seventh-day Sabbath or the weekly
cycle. These sabbaths, "beside the Sabbaths of the Lord"
(Lev. 23:38), were the first and last days of the Feast of
Unleavened Bread, the Day of Pentecost, the Feast of
Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the first and last days
of the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Lev. 23:7,8,21,24,25,27,28,
Because the reckoning of these sabbaths depended on the
beginning of the sacred year, which was based on the lunar
calendar, they could fall on any day of the week. When they
coincided with the weekly Sabbath, they were called "high
days" (cf. John 19:31). "While the weekly Sabbath was
ordained at the close of Creation week for all mankind, the
annual sabbaths were an integral part of the Jewish system
of rites and ceremonies instituted at Mount Sinai,...which
pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah, and the
observance of which terminated with His death on the cross."
The Sabbath and Christ
Scripture reveals that, as truly as the Father, Christ
was the Creator (see 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:1,2; John 1:3). So
He was the One who set the seventh day apart as a day of
rest for humanity.
In time Christ associated the Sabbath with His redemptive
as well as His creative work. As the great "I AM" (John
8:58; Ex. 3:14) He incorporated the Sabbath in the Decalogue
as a forceful reminder of this weekly worship appointment
with the Creator. And He added another reason for the
observance of the Sabbath: The redemption of His people
(Deut. 5:14,15). So the Sabbath marks those who have
accepted Jesus as Creator and Saviour.
Christ's twofold role as Creator and Redeemer makes it
obvious why He claimed that as the Son of Man, He "is also
Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28). With such authority, He
could have disposed of the Sabbath if He had wanted to, but
He did not. On the contrary He applied it to all human
beings, saying, "The Sabbath was made for man" (verse 27).
Throughout His earthly ministry Christ exemplified for us
faithful Sabbathkeeping. It was "His custom" to worship on
the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). His participation in Sabbath
services reveals that He endorsed it as a day of worship.
So concerned was Christ for the sacredness of the Sabbath
that when He spoke about the persecution to take place after
His ascension, He counseled His disciples regarding it.
"Pray," He said, "that your flight may not be in winter or
on the Sabbath" (Matt. 24:20). This clearly implied, as
Jonathan Edwards noted, "that even then Christians were
bound to a strict observation of the Sabbath."(*10)
When Christ finished His work of Creation--His first
great act in world history--He rested on the seventh day.
This rest signified completion and accomplishment. He did
much the same at the end of His earthly ministry, when He
completed His second great act in history. On Friday
afternoon, the sixth day of the week, Christ finished His
redemptive mission on earth. His last words were "`It is
finished!'" (John 19:30). Scripture emphasizes that when He
died, "it was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to
begin" (Luke 23:54, NIV). Following His death, He rested in
a tomb, thus symbolizing that He had accomplished the
redemption of the human race.(*11)
So the Sabbath testifies to Christ's works of Creation
and redemption. Through observing it His followers rejoice
with Him over His accomplishments for humanity.(*12)
The Sabbath and the Apostles
The disciples greatly respected the Sabbath. This was
evident at the time of Christ's death. When the Sabbath
arrived, they interrupted their burial preparations and
"rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment," with
plans to continue this work on Sunday, "the first day of the
week" (Luke 23:56; 24:1).
As had Christ, the apostles worshiped on the seventh-day
Sabbath. In his evangelistic travels Paul attended the
synagogue on the Sabbath, and preached Christ (Acts 13:14;
17:1,2; 18:4). Even the Gentiles invited him to preach the
word of God on the Sabbath (Acts 13:42,44). In localities
where there was no synagogue, he searched for the place
customary for Sabbath worship (Acts 16:13). As Christ's
participation in Sabbath services indicated His acceptance
of the seventh day as the special day for worship, so did
This apostle's faithful observance of the weekly Sabbath
stood in sharp contrast to his attitude towards the annual
ceremonial sabbaths. He made it clear that Christians were
under no obligation to keep these yearly rest days because
Christ had nailed the ceremonial laws to the cross (see
Chapter 18 of this book). Said he, "Therefore let no one
judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a
new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come,
but the substance is of Christ" (Col. 2:16,17). Since "the
context [of this passage] deals with ritual matters, the
sabbaths here referred to are the ceremonial sabbaths of the
Jewish annual festivals `which are a shadow,' or type, of
which the fulfillments were to come in Christ."(*13)
Likewise, in Galatians Paul remonstrated against the
observing of the requirements of the ceremonial law. He
said, "You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years!
I am afraid I have labored over you in vain"
(Gal. 4:10,11, RSV).
Many are under the impression that John was referring to
Sunday when he stated he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's
day" (Rev. 1:10). In the Bible, however, the only day
referred to as the Lord's special possession is the Sabbath.
Christ stated, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord
your God" (Ex. 20:10); later calling it "My holy day" (Isa.
58:13). And Christ called Himself "Lord of the Sabbath"
(Mark 2:28). Since, in the Scripture, the only day the Lord
calls His own is the seventh-day Sabbath, it seems logical
to conclude that it was the Sabbath to which John was
referring. Certainly there is no Biblical precedent to
indicate he would apply that term to the first day of the
week, or Sunday.(*14)
Nowhere does the Bible command us to observe any weekly
day other than the Sabbath. It declares no other weekly day
blessed or holy. Nor does the New Testament indicate that
God has changed the Sabbath to any other day of the week.
On the contrary, Scripture reveals that God intended that
His people should observe the Sabbath throughout eternity:
"`As the new heavens and the new earth which I will make
will remain before me,' says the Lord, `so shall your
descendants and your name remain....From one New Moon to
another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall
come to worship before Me,' says the Lord" (Isa. 66:22,23).
The Meaning of the Sabbath
The Sabbath has broad significance and is filled with
deep and rich spirituality.
1. A perpetual memorial of Creation.
As we have seen, the fundamental significance the Ten
Commandments attach to the Sabbath is that it memorializes
the creation of the world (Ex. 20:11,12). The command to
observe the seventh day as the Sabbath is "linked
inseparably to the act of Creation, the institution of the
Sabbath and the command to observe it being a direct
consequence of the act of Creation. Furthermore, the entire
human family owes its existence to the divine act of
Creation thus memorialized; accordingly, the obligation to
comply with the Sabbath command as a memorial of the
creative power of God devolves upon the entire human
race."(*15) Strong calls the Sabbath "a perpetual obligation
as God's appointed memorial of his creating activity."(*16)
Those who observed it as a memorial of Creation would be
doing so as a grateful acknowledgment "that God was their
Creator and their rightful Sovereign; that they were the
works of His hands, and the subjects of His authority. Thus
the institution was wholly commemorative, and given to all
mankind. There was nothing in it shadowy, or of restricted
application to any people."(*17) And as long as we worship
God because He is our Creator, so long will the Sabbath
function as the sign and memorial of Creation.
2. A symbol of redemption.
When God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, the
Sabbath, which was already the memorial of Creation, became
a memorial of deliverance as well (Deut. 5:15). "The Lord
intended that the weekly Sabbath rest, if properly observed,
would constantly release man from the bondage of an Egypt
not limited to any country or century but which includes
every land and every age. Man today needs escape from the
bondage that comes from greediness, from gain and power,
from social inequality, and from sin and selfishness."(*18)
It is when we view the cross that the Sabbath rest stands
out as a special symbol of redemption. "It is the memorial
of the exodus from the bondage of sin under the leadership
of Emmanuel. The greatest burden we carry is the guilt of
our disobedience. The Sabbath rest, by pointing back to
Christ's rest in the tomb, the rest of victory over sin,
offers to the Christian a tangible opportunity to accept and
experience Christ's forgiveness, peace, and rest."(*19)
3. A sign of sanctification.
The Sabbath is a sign of God's transforming power, a sign
of holiness or sanctification. The Lord declared, "Surely My
Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you
throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the
Lord who sanctifies you" (Ex. 31:13; cf. Eze. 20:20). The
Sabbath, therefore, also is a sign of God as the Sanctifier.
As people are sanctified by Christ's blood (Heb. 13:12), the
Sabbath is also a sign of the believer's acceptance of His
blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Just as God has set the Sabbath aside for a holy purpose,
so He has set His people apart for a holy purpose--to be His
special witnesses. Their communion with Him on that day
leads to holiness; they learn to depend not on their own
resources but on the God who sanctifies them.
"The power that created all things is the power that
re-creates the soul in His own likeness. To those who keep
holy the Sabbath day it is the sign of sanctification. True
sanctification is harmony with God, oneness with Him in
character. It is received through obedience to those
principles that are the transcript of His character. And the
Sabbath is the sign of obedience. He who from the heart
obeys the fourth commandment will obey the whole law. He is
sanctified through obedience."(*20)
4. A sign of loyalty.
As Adam and Eve's loyalty was tested by the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil placed in the midst of the garden
of Eden, so every human being's loyalty to God will be
tested by the Sabbath command placed in the midst of the
Scripture reveals that before the Second Advent the whole
world will be divided into two classes: those who are loyal
and "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus,"
and those who worship "the beast and his image" (Rev.
14:12,9). At that time God's truth will be magnified before
the world and it will be clear to all that the obedient
observance of the seventh-day Sabbath of Scripture gives
evidence of loyalty to the Creator.
5. A time of fellowship.
God created the animals to be humanity's companions
(Gen. 1:24,25). And for a higher level of companionship God
gave the man and woman to each other (Gen. 2:18-25). But in
the Sabbath God gave humanity a gift offering the highest
form of companionship--companionship with Him. Human beings
were not made just to associate with the animals, nor even
with other humans. They were made for God.
It is on the Sabbath that we can especially experience
God's presence among us. Without the Sabbath all would be
labor and sweat without end. Every day would be alike,
devoted to secular pursuits. The arrival of the Sabbath,
however, brings hope, joy, meaning, and courage. It provides
time to commune with God through worship, prayer, song, the
study of and meditation on the Word, and through sharing the
gospel with others. The Sabbath is our opportunity to
experience God's presence.
6. A sign of righteousness by faith.
Christians recognize that through the guidance of an
enlightened conscience non-Christians who honestly search
for truth can be led by the Holy Spirit to an understanding
of the general principles of God's law (Rom. 2:14-16). This
explains why the nine commandments other than the fourth
have been, to a degree, practiced outside of Christianity.
But that is not the case with the Sabbath commandment.
Many people can see the reason for a weekly day of rest,
but they often have a difficult time understanding why work
that, when done on any other day of the week would be right
and commendable, is a sin when done on the seventh day.
Nature does not offer any ground for keeping the seventh
day. Planets move in their respective orbits, vegetation
grows, rain and sunshine alternate, and beasts carry on as
if every day were the same. Why, then, should humans keep
the seventh-day Sabbath? "To the Christian there is only one
reason, and no other; but that reason is enough: God has
It is only on the basis of God's special revelation that
people understand the reasonableness of observing the
seventh day. Those who keep the seventh day, then, do so out
of faith and implicit trust in Christ, who has enjoined its
observance. By observing the Sabbath, believers reveal a
willingness to accept God's will for their lives instead of
depending on their own judgment.
In keeping the seventh day, believers are not trying to
make themselves righteous. Rather, they observe the Sabbath
as the result of their relationship with Christ the Creator
and Redeemer.(*22) Sabbathkeeping is the product of His
righteousness in justification and sanctification,
signifying, that they have been delivered from the bondage
of sin and have received His perfect righteousness.
"An apple tree does not become an apple tree by bearing
apples. It first has to be an apple tree. Then the apples
come as a natural fruitage. So the true Christian does not
keep the Sabbath or the other nine precepts to make himself
righteous. Rather, this is the natural fruitage of the
righteousness Christ shares with him. He who keeps the
Sabbath in this way is not a legalist, for the outward
keeping of the seventh day betokens the believer's inner
experience in justification and sanctification. Hence, the
true Sabbathkeeper does not refrain from forbidden actions
on the Sabbath in order to win God's favor but because he
loves God and wants to make the Sabbath count for the most
for closer fellowship with [Him]."(*23)
Sabbathkeeping reveals that we have ceased depending on
our own works, that we realize that only Christ the Creator
can save us. Indeed, "the spirit of true Sabbathkeeping
reveals a supreme love for Jesus Christ, the Creator and
Saviour, who is making us into new persons. It makes the
keeping of the right day in the right way a sign of
righteousness by faith."(*24)
7. A symbol of resting in Christ.
The Sabbath, a memorial of God's delivering Israel from
Egypt to the rest of the earthly Canaan, distinguished the
redeemed of that time from the surrounding nations. In a
similar way the Sabbath is a sign of the deliverance from
sin to God's rest, setting the redeemed apart from the
All who enter into the rest to which God invites them
"have ceased from...[their] works as God did from His" (Heb.
4:10). "This rest is a spiritual rest, a rest from our `own
works,' a ceasing from sin. It is into this rest that God
calls His people, and it is of this rest that both the
Sabbath and Canaan are symbols."(*25)
When God completed His work of Creation and rested on the
seventh day, He provided Adam and Eve, in the Sabbath, an
opportunity to rest in Him. Though they failed, God's
original purpose of offering that rest to humanity remains
unchanged. After the Fall the Sabbath continued as a
reminder of that rest. "The observance of the seventh-day
Sabbath thus testifies not only to faith in God as the
Creator of all things, but also to faith in His power to
transform the life and qualify men and women for entering
that eternal `rest' He originally intended for the
inhabitants of this earth."(*26)
God had promised this spiritual rest to literal Israel.
Despite their failure to enter it, God's invitation still
stands: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people
of God" (Heb. 4:9, NIV). All who desire to enter that rest
"must first enter, by faith, into His spiritual `rest,' the
rest of the soul from sin and from its own efforts at
The New Testament appeals for the Christian not to wait
to experience this rest of grace and faith, for "today" is
the opportune time to enter it (Heb. 4:7; 3:13). All who
have entered this rest--the saving grace received by faith
in Jesus Christ--have ceased every effort to achieve
righteousness by their own works. In this way, observing the
seventh-day Sabbath is a symbol of the believer's entering
into the gospel rest.
Attempts to Change the Day of Worship
Since the Sabbath plays a vital role in the worship of
God as Creator and Redeemer, it should not be surprising
that Satan has waged an all-out war to over-throw this
Nowhere does the Bible authorize a change from the day of
worship God made in Eden and restated on Sinai. Other
Christians, Sundaykeepers themselves, have recognized this.
Catholic Cardinal James Gibbons once wrote, "You may read
the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find
a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The
Scriptures enforce the religious observance of
A.T. Lincoln, a Protestant, admitted that "it cannot be
argued that the New Testament itself provides warrant for
the belief that since the Resurrection God appointed the
first day to be observed as the Sabbath."(*29) He
acknowledged: "To become a seventh-day Sabbatarian is the
only consistent course of action for any one who holds that
the whole Decalogue is binding as moral law."(*30)
If there is no Biblical evidence that Christ or His
disciples changed the day of worship from the seventh day,
then how did so many Christians come to accept Sunday in its
The Rise of Sunday Observance
The change from Sabbath to Sunday worship came gradually.
There is no evidence of Christian weekly Sunday worship
before the second century, but the evidence indicates that
by the middle of that century some Christians were
voluntarily observing Sunday as a day of worship, not a day
The church of Rome, largely made up of Gentile believers
(Rom. 11:13), led in the trend toward Sunday worship. In
Rome, the capital of the empire, strong anti-Jewish
sentiments arose, becoming even stronger as time passed.
Reacting to these sentiments, the Christians in that city
attempted to distinguish themselves from the Jews. They
dropped some practices held in common with the Jews and
initiated a trend away from the veneration of the Sabbath,
moving toward the exclusive observance of Sunday.(*32)
From the second to the fifth centuries, while Sunday was
rising in influence, Christians continued to observe the
seventh-day Sabbath nearly everywhere throughout the Roman
Empire. The fifth-century historian Socrates wrote: "Almost
all the 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."(*33)
In the fourth and fifth centuries many Christians
worshiped on both Sabbath and Sunday. Sozomen, another
historian of that period, wrote, "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."(*34)
These references demonstrate Rome's leading role in
disregarding Sabbath observance.
Why did those who were turning from worship on the
seventh day choose Sunday and not another day of the week? A
major reason was that Christ was resurrected on Sunday; in
fact, it was alleged that He had authorized worship on that
day. "But, strange as it may seem, not one writer of the
second and third centuries ever cited a single Bible verse
as authority for the observance of Sunday in the place of
the Sabbath. Neither Barnabas, nor Ignatius, nor Justin, nor
Irenaeus, nor Tertullian, nor Clement of Rome, nor Clement
of Alexandria, nor Origen, nor Cyprian, nor Victorinus, nor
any other author who lived near to the time when Jesus lived
knew of any such instruction from Jesus or from any part of
The popularity and influence that the sun worship of the
pagan Romans accorded Sunday undoubtedly contributed to its
growing acceptance as a day of worship. Sun worship played
an important role throughout the ancient world. It was "one
of the oldest components of the Roman religion." Because of
Eastern sun cults, "from the early part of the second
century A.D., the cult of Sol Invictus was dominant in Rome
and in other parts of the Empire."(*36)
This popular religion made its impact on the early church
through the new converts. "Christian converts from paganism
were constantly attracted toward the veneration of the Sun.
This is indicated not only by the frequent condemnation of
this practice by the [Church] Fathers but also by
significant reflexes of Sun worship in the Christian
The fourth century saw the introduction of Sunday laws.
First Sunday laws of a civil nature were issued, then came
Sunday laws of a religious character. The emperor
Constantine decreed the first civil Sunday law on March 7,
A.D. 321. In view of Sunday's popularity among the pagan sun
worshipers and the esteem with which many Christians
regarded it, Constantine hoped that, by making Sunday a
holiday, he could ensure the support of these two
constituencies for his government.(*38)
Constantine's Sunday law reflected his background as sun
worshiper. It read: "On the venerable Day of the Sun
[venerabili die Solis] let the magistrates and people
residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In
the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may
freely and lawfully continue their pursuits."(39)
Several decades later the church followed his example.
The Council of Laodicea (c. A.D. 364), which was not a
universal council but a Roman Catholic one, issued the first
ecclesiastical Sunday law. In canon 29 the church stipulated
that Christians should honor Sunday and "if possible, do no
work on that day," while it denounced the practice of
resting on the Sabbath, instructing that Christians should
not "be idle on Saturday [Greek sabbaton, "the Sabbath"],
but shall work on that day."(*40)
In A.D. 538, the year marked as the beginning of the
1260-year prophecy (see chapter 12 of this book), the Roman
Catholic Third Council of Orleans issued a law even more
severe than that of Constantine. Canon 28 of that council
says that on Sunday even "agricultural labor ought to be
laid aside, in order that the people may not be prevented
from attending church."(*41)
The Change Prophesied
The Bible reveals that the observance of Sunday as a
Christian institution had its origin in "the mystery of
lawlessness" (2 Thess. 2:7), which was already at work in
Paul's day (see chapter 12 of this book). Through the
prophecy of Daniel 7 God revealed His foreknowledge of the
change of the day of worship.
Daniel's vision depicts an attack on God's people and on
His law. The attacking power, represented by a little horn
(and by a beast in Revelation 13:1-10), brings about the
great apostasy within the Christian church (see chapter 12
of this book). Arising from the fourth beast and becoming a
major persecuting power after the fall of Rome (see chapter
18), the little horn attempts to "change the times and law"
(Dan. 7:25). This apostate power is very successful at
deceiving most of the world, but at the end the judgment
will decide against it (Dan. 7:11,22,26). During the final
tribulation God will intervene on behalf of His people and
deliver them (Dan. 12:1-3).
This prophecy fits only one power within Christianity.
There is but one religious organization that claims to
possess the prerogatives of modifying divine laws. Note
what, throughout history, Roman Catholic authorities have
About A.D. 1400 Petrus de Ancharano asserted that "the
pope can modify divine law, since his power is not of man,
but of God, and he acts in the place of God upon earth, with
the fullest power of binding and loosing his sheep."(*42)
The impact of this astonishing assertion was demonstrated
during the Reformation. Luther claimed that the Holy
Scripture and not the tradition of the church was his guide
in life. His slogan was sola scriptura--"The Bible and the
Bible only." John Eck, one of the foremost defenders of the
Roman Catholic faith, attacked Luther on this point by
claiming that the authority of the church was above the
Bible. He challenged Luther on the observance of Sunday in
place of the Bible Sabbath. Said Eck, "Scripture teaches:
`Remember to hallow the Sabbath day; six days shall you
labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the
Sabbath day of the Lord your God,' etc. Yet, the church has
changed the Sabbath into Sunday on its own authority, on
which you [Luther] have no Scripture."(*43)
At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), convened by the pope
to counter Protestanitism, Gaspare de Fosso, archbishop of
Reggio, brought the issue up again. "The authority of the
church," he said, "then, is illustrated most clearly by the
Scriptures; for while on the one hand she [the church]
recommends them, declares them to be divine, [and] offers
them to us to be read,...on the other hand, the legal
precepts in the Scriptures taught by the Lord have ceased by
virtue of the same authority [the church]. The Sabbath, the
most glorious day in the law, has been changed into the
Lord's day.... These and other similar matters have not
ceased by virtue of Christ's teaching (for He says He has
come to fulfill the law, not to destroy it), but they have
been changed by the authority of the church."(*44)
Does that church still maintain this position? The 1977
edition of The Convert's Catechism of Catholic Doctrine
contains this series of questions and answers:
"Q. Which is the Sabbath day?
"A. Saturday is the Sabbath day.
"Q. Why do we observe Sunday instead of Saturday?
"A. We observe Sunday instead of Saturday because the
Catholic Church transferred the solemnity from Saturday to
In his best-seller, The Faith of Millions (1974), the
Roman Catholic scholar John A. O'Brien came to this
compelling conclusion: "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 inconsistent." The custom of Sunday
observance, he said, "rests upon the authority of the
Catholic Church and not upon an explicit text in 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."(*46)
The claims to these prerogatives fulfill prophecy and
contribute to the identification of the little-horn power.
The Restoration of the Sabbath
In Isaiah 56 and 58 God calls Israel to a Sabbath reform.
Revealing the glories of the future gathering of the
Gentiles into His fold (Isa. 56:8), He associates the
success of this mission of salvation with keeping the
Sabbath holy (Isa. 56:1,2,6,7).
He carefully outlines the specific work of His people.
Though their mission is worldwide, it is especially directed
to a class of people who profess to be believers but who
have in reality departed from His precepts (Isa. 58:1,2). He
expresses their mission to those professed believers in
these terms: "`You shall raise up the foundations of many
generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the
Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In. If you turn
away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on
My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of
the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own
ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own
words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord'"
The mission of spiritual Israel parallels that of ancient
Israel. God's law was breached when the little-horn power
changed the Sabbath. Just as the downtrodden Sabbath was to
be restored in Israel, so in modern times the divine
institution of the Sabbath is to be restored and the breach
in the wall of God's law repaired.(*47)
It is the proclamation of the message of Revelation
14:6-12 in connection with the everlasting gospel that
accomplishes this work of restoring and magnifying the law.
And it is the proclaiming of this message that is the
mission of God's church at the time of the Second Advent
(see chapter 12 of this book). This message is to arouse the
world, inviting everyone to prepare for the judgment.
The wording of the summons to worship the Creator, "Him
who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water"
(Rev. 14:7), is a direct reference to the fourth commandment
of God's eternal law. Its inclusion in this final warning
confirms God's special concern to have His widely forgotten
Sabbath restored before the Second Advent.
The delivering of this message will precipitate a
conflict that will involve the whole world. The central
issue will be obedience to God's law and the observance of
the Sabbath. In the face of this conflict everyone must
decide whether to keep God's commandments or those of men.
This message will produce a people who keep the commandments
of God and the faith of Jesus. Those who reject it will
eventually receive the mark of the beast (Rev. 14:9,12; see
chapter 12 of this book).
To successfully accomplish this mission of magnifying
God's law and honoring His neglected Sabbath, God's people
must set a consistent, loving example of Sabbathkeeping.
The Observance of the Sabbath
To "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex 20:8),
we must think of the Sabbath throughout the week and make
the preparations necessary to observe it in a manner
pleasing to God. We should be careful not to so exhaust our
energies during the week that we cannot engage in His
service on the Sabbath.
Because the Sabbath is a day of special communion with God
in which we are invited to joyously celebrate His gracious
activities in Creation and redemption, it is important that
we avoid anything that tends to diminish its sacred
atmosphere. The Bible specifies that on the Sabbath we
should cease our secular work (Ex. 20:10), avoiding all work
done to earn a living and all business transactions (Neh.
13:15-22). We are to honor God, "not doing your own ways,
nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words"
(Isa. 58:13). Devoting this day to pleasing ourselves, to
being involved in secular interests, conversations, and
thoughts or to be engaging in sports would detract from
communion with our Creator and violate the sacredness of the
Sabbath.(*48) Our concern for the Sabbath command should
extend to all who are under our jurisdiction--our children,
those who work for us, and even our visitors and animals
(Ex. 20:10), so that they also may enjoy the blessings of
The Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday evening and ends at
sunset Saturday evening (see Gen. 1:5; cf. Mark 1:32).(*49)
Scripture calls the day before the Sabbath (Friday)--the
preparation day--(Mark 15:42)--a day to prepare for the
Sabbath so that nothing will spoil its sacredness. On this
day those who make the family's meals should prepare food
for the Sabbath so that during its sacred hours they also
can rest from their labors (see Ex. 16:23; Num. 11:8).
When the holy hours of the Sabbath approach, it is well
for family members or groups of believers to gather together
just before the setting of the sun on Friday evening to
sing, pray, and read God's Word, thus inviting the Spirit of
Christ as a welcome guest. Similarly they should mark its
close by uniting in worship toward the close of the Sabbath
on Saturday evening, requesting God's presence and guidance
through the ensuing week.
The Lord calls upon His people to make the Sabbath a day
of delight (Isa. 58:13). How can they do this? Only as they
follow the example of Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, can
they ever hope to experience the real joy, and satisfaction
that God has for them on this day.
Christ regularly worshiped on the Sabbath, took part in
the services, and gave religious instruction (Mark 1:21;
3:1-4; Luke 4:16-27; 13:10). But He did more than just
worship. He fellowshipped with others (Mark 1:29-31; Luke
14:1), spent time outdoors (Mark 2:23), and went about doing
holy deeds of mercy. Wherever He could, He healed the sick
and afflicted (Mark 1:21-31; 3:1-5; Luke 13:10-17; 14:2-4;
John 5:1-15; 9:1-14).
When criticized for His work of alleviating suffering,
Jesus replied, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath"
(Matt. 12:12). His healing activities neither broke the
Sabbath nor abolished it. But they did terminate the
burdensome regulations that had distorted the meaning of the
Sabbath as God's instrument of spiritual refreshment and
delight.(*50) God intended the Sabbath for humanity's
spiritual enrichment. Activities that enhance communication
with God are proper; those which distract from that purpose
and turn the Sabbath into a holiday are improper.
The Lord of the Sabbath invites all to follow His
example. Those who accept His call experience the Sabbath as
a delight and a spiritual feast--a foretaste of heaven. They
discover that "the Sabbath is designed by God to prevent
spiritual discouragement. Week by week the seventh day
comforts our conscience, assuring us that despite our
unfinished characters we stand complete in Christ. His
accomplishment at Calvary counts as our atonement. We enter
1. John N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath, 2nd end., enl.
(Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Assn.,
1873), 3rd ed., enl., p. 575.
2. SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 1, p. 220.
4. J.L. Shuler, God's Everlasting Sign (Nashville: Southern
Pub. Assn., 1972), pp. 114-116; M.L. Andreason, The Sabbath
(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1942), p. 248;
Wallenkampf, "The Baptism, Seal, and Fullness of the Holy
Spirit" (unpublished manuscript), p. 48; White, Patriarchs
and Prophets, p. 307; White, Great Controversy, pp. 613,
5. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 307.
6. Wallenkampf, "Baptism, Seal, and the Fullness of the
Holy Spirit," p. 48.
7. SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 1, p. 605.
8. "Sabbath," SDA Encyclopedia, rev. ed., p. 1239.
9. "Sabbath, Annual," ibid., p. 1265.
10.Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards (New
York: Leavitt && Allen, 1852 repr. of the Worcester ed.),
vol. 4, p. 622. The Puritans considered Sunday to be the
11.Interestingly, it was on a "high day" that Jesus rested
in the tomb-for that Sabbath was both the seventh day of the
week and the first sabbath of the Week of Unleavened Bread.
What a day to culminate redemption! The "it is good" of
Creation merges with the "it is finished" of redemption as
the Author and Finisher once again rests in completion.
12.Samuele Bacchiocchi, Rest for Modern Man (Nashville:
Southern Pub. Assn., 1976), pp. 8,9.
13."Sabbath," SDA Encyclopedia, rev. ed., p. 1244. See
also SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 7, pp. 205,206;
cf. White, "The Australia Camp Meeting," Review and Herald,
Jan. 7, 1896, p. 2.
14.See SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 7, pp. 735,736.
Cf. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific
Press, 1911), p. 581.
15."Sabbath," SDA Encyclopedia, p. 1237.
16.A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 408.
17.White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 48.
18.Bacchiocchi, Rest for Modern Man, p. 15.
19.Ibid., p. 19.
20.White, Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 350.
21.Andreasen, Sabbath, p. 25.
22.Legalism can be defined as "attempts to earn salvation
by individual effort. It is conforming to the law and
certain observances as a means of justification before God.
This is wrong, because `by the deeds of the law there shall
no flesh be justified in his sight' (Romans 3:20)" (Shuler,
God's Everlasting Sign, p. 90). Shuler continues, "Those who
denounce Sabbath observance as legalism need to consider
this: If a born-again Christian refrains from worshiping
false gods and maintains reverence as commanded by the first
and third precepts, is he opposed to salvation by grace? Are
purity, honesty, and truthfulness, as advocated by the
seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments opposed to free
grace? The answer is No to both questions. Even so, the
keeping of the seventh day by a renewed soul is not
legalism, nor is it contrary to salvation only by grace. In
fact, the Sabbath commandment is the only precept in the law
that stands as a sign of deliverance from sin and
sanctification by grace alone" (ibid.).
23.Ibid., p. 89.
24.Ibid., p. 94.
25.Andreasen, Sabbath, p. 105.
26.SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 7, p. 420.
28.James Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, 47th rev. enl.
ed. (Baltimore: John Murphy && Co.,1895), pp. 111, 112. R.W.
Dale, a Congregationalist, said, "It is quite clear that
however rigidly or devoutly we may spend Sunday, we are not
keeping the Sabbath....The Sabbath was founded on a specific
divine command. We can plead no such command for the
obligation to observe Sunday" (R.W. Dale, The Ten
Commandments, 4th ed. [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884],
29.Andrew T. Lincoln, "From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A
Biblical and Theological Perspective," in From Sabbath to
Lord's Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological
Investigation, ed., D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1982), p. 386.
30.Ibid., p. 392.
31.See Justin Martyr, First Apology, in Ante-Nicene Fathers
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), vol. 1, p. 186;
Maxwell, God Cares (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1981),
vol. 1, p. 130.
32.See, e.g., Bacchiocchi, "The Rise of Sunday Observance
in Early Christianity," in The Sabbath in Scripture and
History, ed. Kenneth A. Strand (Washington, D.C.: Review and
Herald, 1982), p. 137; Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday
(Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University Press, 1977), pp.
33.Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, book 5, chap. 22,
trans. in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series (Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), vol. 2, p. 132.
34.Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, book 7, chap. 19,
trans. in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series,
vol. 2, p. 390.
35.Maxwell, God Cares, vol. 1, p. 131.
36.Gaston H. Halsberghe, The Cult of Sol Invictus (Leiden:
E.J. Brill, 1972), pp. 26, 44. See also Bacchiocchi, "Rise
of Sunday Observance," p. 139.
37.Bacchiocchi, "Rise of Sunday Observance," p. 140. See
also Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 252,253.
38.See e.g., Maxwell, God Cares, vol. 1, p. 129; H.G.
Heggtveit, Illustreret Kirkehistorie (Christiania [Oslo]:
Cammermeyers Boghandel, 1891-1895), p. 202, as trans. in SDA
Bible Students' Source Book, rev. ed., p. 1000.
39.Codex Justinianus, book 3, title 12,3, trans. in Schaff,
History of the Christian Church 5th ed. (New York: Charles
Scribner, 1902), vol. 3, p. 380, note 1.
40.Council of Laodicea, Canon 29, in Charles J. Hefele, A
History of the Councils of the Church From the Original
Documents, trans. and ed. by Henry N. Oxenham (Edinburgh: T
and T Clark, 1876), vol. 2, p. 316. See also SDA Bible
Students' Source Book, rev. ed., p. 885.
41.Giovanni Domenico Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum, vol.
9, col. 919, as quoted by Maxwell, God Cares, vol. 1, p.
129. Cited in part in Andrews, History of the Sabbath and
First Day of the Week, p. 374.
42.Lucius Ferraris "Papa," art. 2, Prompta Bibliotheca
(Venetiis [Venice]: Caspa Storti, 1772), vol. 6, p. 29, as
trans. in SDA Bible Students' Source Book, rev. ed., p. 680.
43.John Eck, Enchiridion of Commonplaces Against Luther and
Other Enemies of the Church, trans. Ford L. Battles, 3rd ed.
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), p. 13.
44.Gaspare [Ricciulli] de Fosso, Address in the 17th
Session of the Council of Trent, Jan. 18, 1562, in Mansi,
Sacrorum Conciliorum, vol. 33, cols. 529,530, as trans. in
SDA Bible Students' Source Book, rev. ed., p. 887.
45.Peter Geiermann, The Convert's Catechism of Catholic
Doctrine (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1977),
46.John A. O'Brien, The Faith of Millions, rev. ed.
(Huntinton, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Inc., 1974), pp. 400,401.
47.Cf. White, Great Controversy, pp. 451-453.
48.White, Selected Messages, book 3, p. 258.
49.In Scripture, as the Creation story makes clear, days
were marked from sunset to sunset. See also Lev. 23:32.
50.Does Christ's example mandate that Christian hospitals
should stay open for seven days without providing any
Sabbath rest for their staff? Realizing the needs of
hospital personnel, White said, "The Saviour has shown us by
His example that it is right to relieve suffering on this
day; but physicians and nurses should do no unnecessary
work. Ordinary treatment, and operations that can wait,
should be deferred till the next day. Let the patients know
that physicians must have one day for rest" (Medical
Ministry [Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1963], p. 214).
The fees for these medical services on the Sabbath are to
be put aside for charity work. White wrote, "It may be
necessary to devote even the hours of the holy Sabbath to
the relief of suffering humanity. But the fee for such
labor should be put into the treasury of the Lord, to be
used for the worthy poor, who need medical skill but cannot
afford to pay for it" (ibid., p. 216).
51.George E. Vandeman, When God Made Rest (Boise, ID:
Pacific Press, 1987), p. 21.