Ellen G White, who the SDA Church believes was divinely inspired and corrects inaccurate interpretations of scripture, claimed in her book, The Great Controversy, that in the first centuries the true [seventh-day] Sabbath had been kept by all Christians. She also claimed that the words in this book are “barricaded by a thus saith the LORD.”
Because of this, the Adventist Church has had to rewrite Church history to say something other than what the record actually shows. If anything disagrees with this fundamental premise, it is dismissed as forgery, from a pagan, etc.
One shining example of this revisionism is the Waldensians—who the Adventist Church claims, by way of Ellen White’s The Great Controversy, were bearers of the seventh-day Sabbath torch from the time of the apostles. This is verifiably not true, as the Waldensians are still around today and bear the identity they always have which is Presbyterian Calvinism. They affirm the 1559 French Huguenot Confession.
The Adventist Church has done this same thing with the early church. Since we don’t have a large, extant amount of writings from this time, the Adventist Church’s dismissal of what we do have puts them into a position of having to believe and teach that the true Christian church has always been a small minority after it went apostate upon the death of the apostles.
One doesn’t have to believe these documents are infallible or on the level of scripture to recognize that this is the historical record, whether the Adventist Church likes it or not. Here is a sampling of the early church’s comments regarding the Sabbath:
The Didache (~90 AD)
But every Lord’s day, do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord (Matthew 5:23-24).The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, Chap. 14:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 7, page 381
Didache simply means “teaching” and is the short name of a Christian manual. The full title is The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Every Lord’s day (which the early church understood to be Sunday, citing Revelation 1:10) they gathered together for eucharist—which means thanksgiving. In this they confessed their sins and partook of the Lord’s Supper.
Adventist’s have tried to argue the Didache is referring to the Jewish seventh-day Sabbath which shows a lack of understanding both culturally and contextually.
The Epistle of Barnabas (~100 AD)
Moreover God says to the Jews, ‘Your new moons and Sabbaths cannot endure.’ You see how he says, ‘The present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but the Sabbath which I have made in which, when I have rested from all things, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world.’ Wherefore we Christians keep the eighth day for joy, on which also Jesus arose from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven.Epistle of Barnabas, 15.6-8; 100 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pg. 14
Historically, this demonstrates that Ellen White is not correct. It shows that as early as the first century Christians believed:
- In keeping “the eighth day” which is a motif derived from scripture of “the day after the Sabbath”
- That this day is the day Christ rose from the grave (Sunday)
- Sunday as a Sabbath
- God had rejected the seventh-day Sabbath
Seventh-day Adventists, like most seventh-day Sabbatarians, are quick to assert that this is due to anti-semitism that took over in the church. But the universal understanding had to do, theologically, with the eighth day found in the Old Testament that pointed to a New Day and a New Creation—Jesus Christ being the firstfruits of that creation (Leviticus 23:10-11, 39). The rejection of this was seen as a rejection of Jesus the Messiah, the substance of the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16-7), that the Jews rejected. It wasn’t a hatred for Jews, but a love for Jesus.
Ignatius of Antioch (~107 AD)
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 and by His death (which some deny), through which mystery we received faith, and on account of which we suffer in order that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher, how shall we be able to live apart from him for whom even the prophets were looking as their teacher since they were his disciples in the spirit?…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. It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end. For where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism…These things I address to you, my beloved, not that I know any of you to be in such a state; but, as less than any of you, I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that you may rather attain to a full assurance in Christ…Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, Ch 9. Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, pg. 62-63
Ignatius, disciple of John the Apostle, clearly did not believe the seventh-day Sabbath was a Christian institution, but Jewish. The Christian institution was the “Lord’s day” of Revelation 1:10 and was a memorial of the New Creation that Jesus redeemed, not the Old Creation that fell, like the seventh-day was a memorial of.
Ignatius was a Bishop which means he taught in the early Church. This shows that early Christians believed:
- The Jewish Sabbath has been replaced by the Lord’s Day
- It is sin to continue to celebrate Saturday as the Sabbath in preference to Sunday, since Sunday alone is the Lord’s Day
- Jews (“those who were brought up in the ancient order of things”) who convert to Christianity must observe the Lord’s Day, not the Jewish Sabbath
- Every Christian is obligated to “keep” the Lord’s Day
- Sunday is the chief day of the week
Pliny the Younger (~110 AD)
…they [Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to (do) any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of good food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.Pliny Letters II, translated by William Melmoth [London: William Heinemann, MCMXV], p. 403
Pliny was not a Christian but was commenting on Christian practice and behavior when writing to the pagan leader Trajan. He notes that:
- Christians meet “on a fixed day”
- This day is measured not by Jewish pattern of evening to evening (i.e., Saturday Sabbath), but from morning worship to evening worship
This is indirect evidence of a Christian Sunday gathering from an actual pagan.
Justin Martyr (~150 AD)
Dialogue with Trypho the Jew
…those who have persecuted and do persecute Christ, if they do not repent, shall not inherit anything on the holy mountain. But the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts. Assuredly they shall receive the holy inheritance of God.Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , Vol. 1, page 207
But if we do not admit this, we shall be liable to fall into foolish opinion, as if it were not 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 of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham.Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , Vol. 1, page 206
There is no other thing for which you blame us, my friends, is there than this? That we do not live according to the Law, nor, are we circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers, nor do we observe the Sabbath as you do.Dialogue with Trypho 10:1
Early Christian apologist in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew demonstrates:
- Keeping Sunday as a holy day is binding
We would disagree with Justin’s exegesis to support why the church has rejected the Jewish Sabbath, but despite that, it is clear that he believed the seventh day Sabbath of the Jews was no longer binding. And in the third paragraph we see that the Jew Trypho acknowledges that Christians do not keep the seventh day Sabbath.
He also writes:
The commandment of circumcision, requiring them always to circumcise the children on the eighth day, was a type of the true circumcision by which we are circumcised from error and evil through the resurrection from the dead on the first day of the week of Jesus Christ our Lord. For the first day of the week, although it is the first of all days, yet according to the number of the days in a cycle is called the eighth (while still remaining the first).Dialogue with Trypho 41:4
This demonstrates that the early Christians:
- Used Old Testament “eighth day” language to speak of the first day of the week
- Believed Sunday is the “first of all days”
If, as Ellen White stated, the early church kept a Saturday Sabbath, there is no way that Justin would call Sunday the first of all days. That implies that it is more holy than and supersedes all other days of the week.
But Sunday is the day on which we hold our common assembly, because it is the first day of the week and Jesus our saviour on the same day rose from the dead.First apology of Justin, Ch. 68
This demonstrates that public worship was being held on Sunday.
We are always together with one another. And for all the things with which we are supplied we bless the Maker of all through his Son Jesus Christ and through his Holy Spirit. And on the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a city or a rural district. (There follows an account of a Christian worship service, which is quoted in VII.2.) We all make our assembly in common on the day of the Sun, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturn’s day, and on the day after (which is the day of the Sun) he appeared to his apostles and taught his disciples these things.Apology, 1, 67:1-3, 7; First Apology, 145 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pg. 186
The consistent understanding presented from Justin is that early Christians believed that:
- Worship service was held on Sunday
- Christ taught his apostles to worship on Sunday after His resurrection
Clement Of Alexandria (~190 AD)
For it is the highest achievement for one who has had trial of it, afterwards to abstain. For what great thing is it, if a man restrains himself in what he knows not? He, in fulfilment of the precept, according to the Gospel, keeps the Lord’s day, when he abandons an evil disposition, and assumes that of the Gnostic, glorifying the Lord’s resurrection in himself.The Stromata, Book VII, Chapter XII
This shows that the early eastern Christians believed:
- The Gospel way of keeping the fourth commandment is on the Lord’s Day
- The Lord’s Day is the day Christ rose from the dead (Sunday)
Bardesanes (~200 AD)
Wherever we are, we are all called after the one name of Christ Christians. On one day, the first of the week, we assemble ourselves together.Bardesanes, On Fate, 5
This shows that the early eastern Christians:
- Assembled on the first day of the week
- Believed the first day is the only day mandated for assembly (“on one day”)
Tertullian (~200 AD)
We solemnize the day after Saturday in contradistinction to those [the Jews] who call this day their Sabbath.Tertullian’s Apology, Ch. 16
This shows that the early eastern Christians believed:
- Sunday was compared with the Jewish Sabbath
- Sunday is set apart as a solemn day, whereas Jews solemnize Saturday.
An Answer to the Jews
It follows, accordingly, that, in so far as the abolition of carnal circumcision and of the old law is demonstrated as having been consummated at its specific times, so also the observance of the [seventh day] Sabbath is demonstrated to have been temporary.An Answer to the Jews 4:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 3, page 155
This shows the early church believed that Saturday Sabbath days were temporary and abolished.
To the Nations
Others…suppose that the sun is the god of the Christians, because it is well-known that we regard Sunday as a day of joy.To the Nations 1: 133
This demonstrates that the early church:
- Did not confuse Sunday worship with worship of a sun-god(s)
- Believed Sunday is that day of joy
Origen (~220 AD)
On Sunday none of the actions of the world should be done. If then, you abstain from all the works of this world and keep yourselves free for spiritual things, go to church, listen to the readings and divine homilies, meditate on heavenly things.Homil. 23 in Numeros 4, PG 12:749
This shows that the early eastern Christians believed that Sunday is observed by abstaining from all work and devoting the whole day to worship, readings and private devotions. Which also demonstrates that when the Adventist Church claims that Constantine gave Sunday it’s Sabbatical character, they are wrong. The first day was understood to be the Christian Sabbath long before Constantine was even born.
Commentary on John 2:28
Hence it is not possible that the [day of] rest after the sabbath should have come into existence from the seventh [day] of our God. On the contrary, it is our Savior who, after the pattern of his own rest, caused us to be made in the likeness of his death, and hence also of his resurrection.Commentary on John 2:28
This shows the consistent early understanding was that:
- Sunday was a rest day
- Sunday was authorized as a rest day by Christ Himself
Didascalia Apostolorum (~225 AD)
The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation, because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven.Didascalia 2
This shows the early Christians understood the tie between the resurrection and Christ’s new habit of corporately meeting with His people, after the resurrection, exclusively on Sunday. They believed:
- Public worship is commanded on first day of the week
- This obligation arises from apostolic appointment and by Christ’s meeting on the first day of the week
Cyprian (~250 AD)
The eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s Day.Epistle 58, Section 4
This again shows that Adventist pioneer J.N. Andrews “history” is historical revisionism when he claims that Pope Sylvester I gave the “imposing title of Lord’s day” to Sunday in the 3rd century in his book The History of the Sabbath. It also further demonstrates that the early church had the understanding that:
- The first day was called the “eighth day”
- This day is the Lord’s Day (Sunday)
Victorinus (~300 AD)
The sixth day is called parasceve, that is to say, the preparation of the kingdom…On this day also, on account of the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, we make either a station to God or a fast. On the seventh day he rested from all his works, and blessed it, and sanctified it. On the former day we are accustomed to fast rigorously, that on the Lord’s day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks. And let the parasceve become a rigorous fast, lest we should appear to observe any sabbath with the Jews…which sabbath he [Christ] in his body abolished.Gaius Marius Victorinus, The Creation of the World
Victorinus’s statement shows that Christian’s consistently understood the Lord’s Day to be Sunday, not the Jewish Saturday Sabbath, the Lord’s Supper was done that day, and that Christ abolished the Jewish Sabbath. Saturday’s were seen as a rigorous fast day, not a day of corporate worship.
Eusebius of Caesarea (~300 AD)
Ecclesiastical History, Book 1
They did not, therefore, regard circumcision, nor observe the Sabbath neither do we;…because such things as these do not belong to Christians.Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Ch. 4
Eusebius, the church’s earliest historian, tells us that those of his day and before did not observe the Jewish sabbath because it did not belong to Christians.
Church History III
[The Ebionites] were accustomed to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish customs but on the Lord’s days to celebrate the same practices as we in remembrance of the resurrection of the Savior.Church History III, Book XXVII
The Ebionites were a heretical Jewish sect and Eusebius’s comments show us that they were an exception, but also observed Sunday for worship. It also shows us the reasoning was because of the resurrection and New Creation, not the Papacy.
Proof of the Gospel
[T]he day of his [Christ’s] light…was the day of his resurrection from the dead, which they say, as being the one and only truly holy day and the Lord’s day, is better than any number of days as we ordinarily understand them, and better than the days set apart by the Mosaic Law for feasts, new moons, and sabbaths, which the Apostle [Paul] teaches are the shadow of days and not days in reality.Proof of the Gospel 4:16:186
This further evidences that Christians in the 4th century as well as prior saw the tie of the resurrection being tied to the New Creation and the Christian day of worship. It also demonstrates the consistent belief of Christians that:
- Sunday is the only true holy day to be observed by Christians
- It is the Lord’s day
- It is better than any other day
- The Jewish days all passed away with their fulfillment in Christ
Commentary on Psalm 92
The Word [Christ], by the New Covenant, translated and transferred the feast of the Sabbath to the morning light, and gave to us the image of the true rest, the day of salvation, the Lord’s Day, the first of the light, on which the Savior of the world, after all His labors among men, obtained the victory over death, and passed the portals of heaven, having achieved a work superior to the six days’ creation on this day, and received the divine Sabbath and blessed rest, when the Father said to Him, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make all of your enemies your footstool.’ On that day, which is the first of light and of the true Sun, we also assemble, after an interval of six days, and celebrate holy and spiritual Sabbaths.Commentary on Psalm 92
Eusebius’s consistent belief and teaching was that the Christian church universally worships on the first day as a Sabbath for the same reasons Christians that came before him did, which is that scripture teaches it. He picked up on precisely what Hebrews 4:1-11 is saying as well.
Athanasius (~345 AD)
The sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second [New Creation], in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation.On Sabbath and Circumcision 3
Yet again we see that Christian’s believed:
- The Lord’s Day is to new creation what the Sabbath was to old creation
- We must honor the Lord’s day in the same way as the Jews honored the seventh day Sabbath in the Old Testament
- The Lord’s Day is a memorial of the new creation
Cyril of Jerusalem (~350 AD)
Fall not away either into the sect of the Samaritans or into Judaism, for Jesus Christ has henceforth ransomed you. Stand aloof from all observance of sabbaths and from calling any indifferent meats common or unclean.Catechetical Lectures 4:37
Cyril, a bishop in the church, warned to stand against the Jewish seventh-day sabbath.
Council of Laodicea (~360 AD)
Christians should not Judaize and should not be idle on the sabbath, but should work on that day; they should, however, particularly reverence the Lord’s day and, if possible, not work on it, because they were Christians.Canon 29
The Council of Laodicea is one of the Adventist Church’s favorite boogeyman councils. They often point here to say the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday. The fundamental error is not understanding what this council was. It was strictly regional in the eastern region of the church. It was not universal and it only had roughly 30 clerics present—none from the western branch of the church. It did not change anything, but was a local council that laid out what was already normative.
Furthermore, it demonstrates the belief amongst Christians on this was:
- We must not be idle on Saturday
- We must reverence the Lord’s day
- If possible, we must avoid working on the Lord’s day
John Chrysostom (~387 AD)
Homilies on Galatians 2:17
You have put on Christ, you have become a member of the Lord and been enrolled in the heavenly city, and you still grovel in the Law [of Moses]? How is it possible for you to obtain the kingdom? Listen to Paul’s words, that the observance of the Law overthrows the gospel, and learn, if you will, how this comes to pass, and tremble, and shun this pitfall. Why do you keep the sabbath and fast with the Jews?Homilies on Galatians 2:17
Very clearly, bishop in the east, John Chrysostom, believed and taught that to observe the Jewish seventh day Sabbath was to overthrow the Gospel.
Homilies on Philippians 10
The rite of circumcision was venerable in the Jews’ account, forasmuch as the Law itself gave way thereto, and the sabbath was less esteemed than circumcision. For that circumcision might be performed, the sabbath was broken; but that the sabbath might be kept, circumcision was never broken; and mark, I pray, the dispensation of God. This is found to be even more solemn that the sabbath, as not being omitted at certain times. When then it [circumcision] is done away, much more is the sabbath.Homilies on Philippians 10
Again, his belief was that the seventh day Sabbath was done away with in the New Covenant just like circumcision was.
What the historical record shows is that a large portion of early Christians in both the East and the West consistently believed:
- Sunday was the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10)
- The “eighth day” motif in the Old Testament typified the New Sabbath on a New Day
- Corporate worship, including the Lord’s Supper, took place on Sunday
- The Seventh day Sabbath was exclusively Jewish
- Sunday is to be viewed as the Christian Sabbath, dedicated to worship, prayer and private devotion
- Work on Sunday should be abstained from if possible
- It was not to be confused with worship of the sun-god(s)
- Jesus, by means of only corporately gathering with the Apostles on the first day, after the resurrection, instituted this change in habit and the apostles continued it
It had absolutely zero to do with the Roman Catholic papacy or Emperor Constantine.
The Adventist Church, by Ellen White’s inspired standard, has to reject all of these giants of the Christian faith as being heretics, pagans, etc., or they have to try and twist their words to mean something they don’t. The historical record clearly demonstrates that the Christian church has met on the first day from the very beginning and the understanding has always been the same—it is rooted in the New Creation, the day Jesus resurrected, which accomplished the mighty work of redemption, and inaugurated the New Creation by virtue of Jesus entering His rest after completing that work (Hebrews 4:1-11).
The Christian Sabbath is the ancient Sabbath baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost, regenerated, spiritualized, and glorified. It is the connecting link of creation and redemption, of paradise lost, and paradise regained, and a pledge and preparation for the saints’ everlasting rest in heaven.Dr. Philip Schaff—Church Historian, History of the Christian Church, Book 3, pg. 323