SATURDAY SABBATH OBSERVANCE
Seventh Day Adventists insist upon Saturday as the day when the sabbath must be observed. They claim that other denominations that worship on Sunday are worshipping on the wrong day. The official teaching of the SDA movement even states that those who worship on Sunday have strayed from the true faith, are actually worshipping Satan and that Sunday-worship is the mark of the beast (Ellen G. White, “The Great Controversy”, 1950, p.605).
Ellen White, their great prophet whose teachings are still regarded as authoritative, claimed that the Sunday sabbath was formally instituted by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, and that during the centuries prior to this, the early church universally observed the sabbath on Saturday. In her book, ‘The Great Controversy’, she wrote:
“In the first centuries the true Sabbath had been kept by all Christians. They were jealous for the honour of God, and believing that His law is immutable, they zealously guarded the sacredness of its precepts.” (The Great Controversy, pp.52-53)
Leaving aside the distinction between Sunday worship and Sunday sabbath-keeping as a day of enforced rest (which will be discussed later in this paper) Ellen White’s claim is demonstrably FALSE in regard to Sunday worship. There are at least 10 quotes from ancient church writers from the first three centuries who say that the practice of ALL Christians EVERYWHERE was to meet for worship on Sunday. Here are just a few examples:
Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, 150 AD, wrote:
“On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings [the Greek word here is Eucharist], according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.”
Notice his use of the word “all”. This is not an exceptional practice being discussed here, but the regular practice of ALL Christians who met together to worship God on a Sunday.
Even more significantly, Ignatius of Antioch, writing in about 106 AD, stated that Christians who were once Jews “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.” Here, Ignatius is pointing out the fact that by the year 106 AD, one of the things that set Christians apart from Jews was their observance of Sunday as their day of worship, and not Saturday. Of even greater significance is his statement that Christians had, by this time, ceased to observe the sabbath – referring to the formalised day of rest with its prohibitions and limitations. Once again, the grammar and language of this text clearly points to this being a universal practice by that point in history.
An even earlier example is the Didache, dated by latest scholarship as sometime during the mid to late first century (see J.R. Harmer & J.B. Lightfoot, ‘The Apostolic Fathers in English’, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 2006). This document gives the universal instructions to Christians everywhere:
“But every Lord’s Day [Sunday] gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving [Eucharist] after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”
Thus, if the latest scholarship from Harmer, Lightfoot and others regarding the dating of the Didache is correct (and their evidence seems conclusive), we can say that Sunday worship was the norm by the latter half of the first century. There is no hint in the Didache document that Sunday worship was a new or emerging or even an aberrant practice among a minority. No! Sunday worship was clearly the norm among all Christian communities by that time.
Ellen White’s claim that Christians universally observed the Saturday sabbath until Constantine changed the day to a Sunday is demonstrably false. Furthermore, Ellen White contradicts herself on this matter. In her book, The Great Controversy, she writes that it was Constantine who changed the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, yet in ‘Early Writings of Ellen Gould White’, we read her contradictory claim that it was the Pope who changed it:
“The Pope has changed the day of rest from the seventh to the first day …” (Early Writings, p.65).
So, who was it who supposedly change the sabbath day? Constantine or the Pope? The answer is neither! Not only does Ellen White contradict herself, she is wrong on BOTH counts, because the Christian church was universally practicing Sunday worship from the first century and, according to Ignatius, had also ceased to observe the sabbath regulations entirely.
At this point, many Seventh Day Adventists tend to ‘split hairs’ by conceding that Sunday worship may have been practiced by the early Church prior to Constantine, yet it was Constantine who made Sunday the official day of sabbath rest. According to this view, until Constantine’s edict in 321 AD, all Christians had still observed Saturday as the sabbath but worshipped God on Sunday. But this represents a serious misinterpretation of the historical facts. Some historical background is helpful here.
Prior to Constantine’s edict, Christians were still being persecuted throughout the Roman world. This was a vestige of the persecution that had begun under Nero in the first century and which still persisted. Their places of worship were being desecrated and destroyed and their personal property confiscated. The Christian church cried out to the newly converted Emperor Constantine to defend them. In response, on March 7, 321 AD, Constantine issued an edict whose aim was to put an end to the persecution. The edict did four things:
(1) Outlawed the persecution of Christians.
(2) Gave Christians the right to reclaim property that had been confiscated and take recompense for property that had been destroyed.
(3) Gave Christianity status as an officially approved religion.
(4) Made Sunday an official weekly public holiday throughout the empire, compelling everyone except farmers to rest from their labours.
It is this fourth element that is most relevant to our discussion. This edict did not change the sabbath day for Christians! It merely forced the rest of the world to join them in their celebration on that day. It made life much easier for Christians who, until then, had been trying to juggle their Sunday worship with their work commitments to their secular employers or masters. Constantine wasn’t ordering the church to change its sabbath day – he was ordering the rest of the world to respect their day of worship!
Ellen White’s assertion that, prior to Constantine’s edict, the Christian church had universally observed Saturday as their sabbath and Sunday as their day of worship is completely without historical evidence. Indeed, the historical evidence directly contradicts this assertion. Ignatius of Antioch, and elder of the Christian church who was appointed to that position by the Apostle John, writing in 106 to 110 AD, stated:
“Those who have been brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e., converted Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath but living in observance of the Lord’s day.”
Please note the clear statement there. By the end of the first century, Ignatius states that new converts to Christianity no longer observed the Sabbath but lived in observance of the Lord’s day.
I refer you to the document, “Quotes About The Sabbath” on the website “Christian-history.org”, which lists a large number of quotes from church leaders from the first few centuries affirming the almost universal Christian practice of Sunday worship in the first few centuries. Some of these quotes from early church fathers also contain strong warnings against slipping back into legalistic observance of sabbath laws as a means of being justified in God’s sight. It is abundantly clear from these quotes that the church of the first few centuries had ceased to observe the Saturday sabbath. The ongoing assertion by the SDA movement that Saturday sabbath observance was almost universal or at least widely practiced by the churches of the first few centuries is completely groundless. Such claims are either naive in the extreme or deliberately misleading, choosing to ignore the clear and abundant testimony of the leaders of the early church.
Furthermore, there is evidence within the New Testament itself of a change from Saturday to Sunday worship. Of course, the first Christians were converted Jews who lived in Jewish communities where Saturday sabbath observance was the norm. For a brief initial period, until they were ostracised by the Jews and excommunicated, many of these new converts continued to attend synagogue on the sabbath along with their fellow Jews. Similarly, the new converts in Jerusalem met in the temple courts to hear the Apostles preach (Acts 2:46; 3:1-3; 5:21). But this soon came to an end, as the Jewish community rejected their message and began to persecute them. Even so, Paul and his fellow missionaries continued to make the sabbath synagogue services their first port of call whenever they began evangelising a new town, as that was the best place for engaging with Jews in order to preach the gospel (Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 17:1-2; 17:10; 18:4).
But this does NOT infer that the early Christian churches dutifully and universally observed Saturday as a day of sabbath rest and as an essential element of their Christian worship. Converted Jews living in Jewish towns may well have continued to enjoy Saturday as a day of rest along with the rest of their community – because the whole town effectively shut down on that day! – but there is NO SINGLE BIBLE REFERENCE that indicates that the New Testament Christians saw Saturday sabbath-keeping as a continuing requirement for their new-found faith.
Three factors soon led the early church to see itself as distinct from Judaism and to develop distinctive, divergent worship practices:
(1) The influx of Gentile converts who had no allegiance to Jewish observances (Acts 6:1-5; 13:1-3; Gal 4:3-10).
(2) Increasing hostility from Judaism which quickly escalated into the new Christian movement being excommunicated from sabbath temple worship and from attendance at synagogues (Acts 8).
(3) A desire to honour the resurrection of Jesus by meeting to worship on the first day of the week. Accordingly, the first day of the week was referred to as “the Lord’s Day” (EG: Rev 1:10).
The term, “the Lord’s Day” (‘Κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ’) occurs several times in the New Testament, although those with little or no understanding of Koine Greek claim that it only occurs once – in Revelation 1:10 where John declares, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”. The Greek practice of the elision of the adjective’s noun means that the shortened form occurs in places such as 1 Corinthians 11:20, “the Lord’s Supper”, which, when the elision is properly understood, is technically rendered ‘the Lord’s Day supper’.
Some Seventh Day Adventists claim that the reference to “the Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10 refers to the Saturday sabbath, but this does not concur with the subsequent writings of the early church Fathers, who all clearly used the term to refer to Sunday, the first day of the week (Ignatius, Iranaeus, Dionysius, Tertullian, Clement and Cyprian). For example, Iranaeus writes:
“The mystery of the Lord’s resurrection may not be celebrated on any other day than the Lord’s Day” (Eusebius, Church History, Book 4, Ch. 24)
Apart from this nomenclature, there are two New Testament references to the New Testament church meeting on the first day of the week:
Acts 20:7 “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread …”
1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of the week, each one of you should put aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”
Both these references infer a sense of normalcy regarding the practice of Christians meeting together on the first day of the week. These two verses indicate that they gathered together on a Sunday to ‘break bread’ (celebrate the Lord’s Supper) and to take up a collection. In regard to the 1 Corinthians 16:2 reference, above, if Paul was merely urging systematic giving privately, outside of corporate gatherings, he would not have specified the day of the week. His reference to the day of the week indicates that it was a formal collection at a Christian gathering. This accords with 2 Corinthians 9:12, where these collections in corporate gatherings are referred to as a “ministry of service”.
Thus, as Christianity emerged from its initial identification as a sect of Judaism – a process which was exacerbated and accelerated by the increasing hostility from Jews and the subsequent ostracisation of Christians from Jewish worship – the first day of the week became the distinctive day of worship for the new movement.
It is also important to note that the early Christian church did NOT replace a Saturday sabbath with a Sunday sabbath. In fact, the early church soon came to reject the notion of a single day as a special sabbath and embraced the concept of a ‘perpetual sabbath’ – the idea that every day is now to be a day dedicated to serving and honouring God. Thus, Justin Martyr wrote:
“The new law requires you to keep perpetual Sabbath, and you [Jews], because you are idle for one day, suppose you are godly, not understanding why this command was given to you. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew 12, c. A.D. 150).
Similarly, Iranaeus wrote:
“But the ‘Sabbath’ now means that we should continue day by day in God’s service. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV:16:1, c. A.D. 185)
This concept of the perpetual sabbath is found in the New Testament. In Hebrews 4, the writer contrasts the 7th day Sabbath (v. 4) with a more complete rest that we must now enter into (vv. 8-9). The writer then tells us that we are to “labour to enter into that rest.”
Similarly, the Apostle Paul indicated that adherence to the old covenant sabbath laws was no longer mandatory for Christians (Rom 14:5-6) and commanded people not to pass judgment on others regarding their attitude to the sabbath or to any other religious festivals (Col 2:16).
Does It Matter?
Seventh Day Adventists claim that adherence to the Saturday sabbath is an essential part of faithfulness to God’s commands. In particular, they interpret the 4th commandment which exhorts people to keep the sabbath day holy, to mean that sabbath rest and corporate worship can only be practiced on the seventh day (Saturday) and on no other. According to them, to worship God on the first day of the week is to break this commandment.
THE OBSOLESCENCE OF THE OLD COVENANT
Here we reach the crux of the problem: The Seventh Day Adventist rigid adherence to the observance of the sabbath day is predicated upon the mistaken belief that the Old Covenant laws are still current. Yet the New Testament clearly tells us that this is not so:
“By calling this covenant “new” he has made the first one obsolete” (Heb 8:13).
The writer to the Hebrews is here appealing to the first century common understanding of covenantal obsolescence. If a “new” covenant exists, in any sphere of life, the old is automatically obsolete. Covenants were very common in the ancient world. The word ‘covenant’ was simply the ancient version of our word, ‘contract’. People made covenants all the time. For example, farmers who rented land to agist their flocks made an annual covenant with the land owner which specified the contractual obligations of both parties, including the annual rent to be paid and any penalties for late payment. At the beginning of each new year, a new covenant was negotiated with new conditions and penalties, and the old covenant (usually inscribed on clay tablets) was destroyed. New covenants were often sealed with the shedding of an animal’s blood – the more serious the covenant, the more valuable the animal that was sacrificed. Hence, we find Jesus instituting the new covenant with the shedding of his own blood:
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20)
The important point for our consideration here is the fact that covenants in the ancient world were regularly being superseded by newer, updated covenants. And in every case, the old covenant was automatically rendered completely obsolete. Nothing of the old covenant remained in force; only what was written in the new covenant was binding. A new covenant may have closely resembled the older predecessor, with only a few minor changes, but this did not mean that parts of the old covenant were still in force. Whatever had been written in the old covenant was completely obsolete; only what was written in the new covenant was binding. The new covenant totally replaced the previous one even though it may have some similar or identical elements.
This understanding of ancient covenants is crucial for our understanding of the biblical old covenant. It is completely obsolete. All of it! All the rituals, all the ceremonies, all the blessings, all the curses, all the laws. They are no longer in operation for those who follow Christ. Every commandment in the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments, are part of the old covenant which is now “obsolete”. The fact that the new covenant contains some laws that were in the old covenant, (for example, nine of the ten commandments are repeated in modified, often enhanced, form in the new covenant), does not mean that parts of the old covenant are still current. The old covenant is obsolete, and the new covenant totally replaces the previous one.
It is significant that the New Covenant, as prescribed in the teachings of the New Testament, does not contain a commandment regarding sabbath day observance. While the principle of having a weekly day of rest (and worship) is no doubt a very sensible one, it is no longer a legalistic requirement as an essential component of one’s worship of God. Indeed, the old covenantal observance of the sabbath day was merely “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). I will discuss this concept in detail shortly, but at this point it is important to note the New Testament’s clear denunciation of those who persist in trying to enforce old covenantal laws and regulations upon Christians. In fact, this was the issue that was occurring in the church in Rome and which prompted Paul to write his letter to the Romans.
A group of Judaisers – Jewish Christians who insisted on legalistic adherence to all the old covenant laws of Judaism – had infiltrated the church in Rome and had begun to promulgate their false teaching. They argued that it was the Jewish sabbath day, Saturday, that should be celebrated, not Sunday, and that Christians should strictly observe all the rules and regulations pertaining to that day. They also insisted that Christians should abide by all the old covenant food laws and celebrate all the Jewish religious festivals, as prescribed in the old covenant. It is this precise issue that Paul was specifically addressing in Romans chapter 14 when he wrote:
“6 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards on day as special, does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God … 13 Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another …”
Here, Paul gives permission for people to observe the old covenant sabbath (and other old covenant observances) if they choose to do so, but states that they must not insist upon such observances as essential or binding under the new covenant. In particular, he forbids “passing judgment on one another” on these matters – an injunction that Seventh Day Adventists clearly ignore!
THE SHADOW AND THE REALITY
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul writes:
“Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
Seventh Day Adventists try to dodge Colossians 2:16-17 by claiming that the sabbaths referred to there were the special ‘high sabbaths’ associated with annual festivals, not the weekly sabbaths. But high sabbaths are included in the phrase “religious festivals” as they formed part of those festivals. The seperate reference to “sabbaths” is a clear reference to weekly sabbaths. Furthermore, the phrase “a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day” describes the descending hierarchy of annual, monthly and weekly observances. These three types of observances are mentioned together six times in the Old Testament, and in each instance it is the weekly sabbath that is being referred to [eg: 1 Chronicles 23:31]. Paul would have known this and he deliberately used this phrase in Colossians 2:16 to refer to these three types of observances. Furthermore, in Colossians chapter 2 Paul is addressing the well documented “Colossian Heresy” – a group of Judaisers who had infiltrated the church and who were trying to convince Christians to adhere once more to the strict observance of the Jewish sabbath and other Old Testament festivals and rituals as an essential means of being justified by God. The question of whether Christians should still observe the weekly sabbath was a central point of the hot debate within the church at Colossae at that time. It is in direct response to this issue that Paul writes Colossians 2:16-17. If that passage isn’t referring to weekly sabbaths (as SDAs claim), there would be no point in Paul writing it, as it would be irrelevant to the debate raging within the church! The clear meaning of Colossians 2:16-17 is that the Old Testament weekly sabbath day observance was merely a “shadow” of what was to come “in Christ” and is no longer to be enforced or meticulously observed. Like many of the Old Testament rituals and laws, sabbath day observance has now been widened and extended so that every day is a day to worship and serve God.
It is this understanding that lies behind Paul’s strong prohibition in verse 16 against judging people because of their divergent views of the sabbath. Having been freed from the legalism of Judaism, Christians are not to pass judgment on one another regarding adherence to Old Testament Jewish laws and rituals that are not repeated in the New Testament, including regulations concerning the Sabbath day. Yet this is precisely what SDAs do! Their official teaching condemns other denominations for not worshipping on a Saturday. Significantly, SDAs do not make a similar insistence regarding other Jewish festivals such as Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth), and the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot). The Adventist movement explain this inconsistency by asserting that it is only the 10 commandments which are still in force for Christians.
The SDA denunciation of all other Christians who choose to worship God on the day of Christ’s resurrection is deeply concerning. The fact that most denominations choose to worship on the first day of the week warrants, in the SDA view, the denunciation of those denominations and the classification of their adherents as now belonging to the kingdom of Satan. It is an extremely legalistic and judgmental view.
The question must be asked, therefore, ‘Is God so pedantically particular about the exact day of the week when Christians must gather together in worship?” The answer that Paul gives in Romans 14:6 and Colossians 2:16-17 is a clear “No.”
From a theological perspective, it can also be argued that the two expressions of the sabbath day (Saturday and Sunday) are typological of the two Covenants. The old covenant sabbath is based upon the seven days of creation, where God rested on the seventh day. The new covenant declares that through the resurrection of Christ from the dead, those who are in Christ are now a “new creation” and have entered a perpetual “sabbath rest” (Hebrews 4). The celebration of the sabbath on the first day of the week, when Jesus rose from the dead, is an appropriate symbol of this new covenant.
For a further, more comprehensive treatment of this topic, including the detailed tracing of the commencement of Sunday worship in the New Testament church, see this helpful paper, “Old Testament Laws: The Origins of Sunday Worship in the Early Church” on the “Grace Communion International” website: https://archive.gci.org/articles/the-origins-of-sunday-worship-in-the-early-church/
FALSE PROPHECIES AND FASLE TEACHINGS
From its inception, the SDA movement has been plagued by false prophecies. William Miller, the founder of the movement, predicted that Christ would return sometime between March 1843 and March 1844. In response, his followers began selling their possessions and giving their money away, in anticipation of their imminent rapture. When that prophecy failed, Miller and his followers predicted a new, very specific date for Christ’s second coming: October 22, 1844. Of course, that prophecy also proved to be false. Around this time, Ellen White began to rise to prominence as a prophet within the developing movement. There is a hotly contested accusation of a failed prophecy by her, predicting the return of Christ in 1845. Her prophecy was reported in two publications – in Miles Grant’s periodical, The World’s Crisis, July 1, 1874, and his pamphlet, The True Sabbath: Which Day Shall We Keep? An Examination of Mrs. Ellen White’s Visions (1874; 2nd ed. 1877). In the aftermath of this failed prediction, Ellen White published disclaimers, stating that she had never made such a prophecy. Yet the articles that had published details of her prophecy referred to the prophecy being discussed in “all the churches” and even quoting subsequent conversations with Ellen White and her explanations as to why her prophecy had not come to pass.
In 1851, Ellen White published another veiled prophecy, hinting that the world would end within a few months of that same year:
“Some of us have had time to get the truth and to advance step by step, and every step we have taken has given us strength to take the next. But now time is almost finished, and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months. They will also have much to unlearn and much to learn again. Those who would not receive the mark of the beast and his image when the decree goes forth, must have now to say, Nay, we will not regard the institution of the beast.” (Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p.67). (“Early Writings “, Ellen G White, p.67). (See also the paper, “Ellen G. White Fact Sheet”, on the website “Evangelical Outreach.org).
Arguably, Ellen White’s most alarming false teaching is her denial of the full and complete atonement accomplished by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In her work, “The Great Controversy”, she claims that William Miller’s prediction of October 22, 1844, was the right date but the wrong interpretation (The Great Controversy, pp.362-373). Citing an earlier supposed vision given to a Millerite by the name of Hiram Edson, she claimed that instead of Christ returning to Earth to end the world on that date, Jesus had entered the inner sanctuary of heaven and began a process of “investigative judgment”. She taught that until that date in 1844, Christ had been in the first compartment of the heavenly sanctuary, but on that date he entered the second compartment or inner sanctuary. From that date until his future second coming, Christ is now investigating the lives of all who have initially received his forgiveness, to determine whether their subsequent obedience is sufficient for them to deserve salvation. This ongoing investigative judgment by Christ is supposedly to separate true Christians from those who falsely claim to be Christians.
This doctrine is deeply concerning on two fronts:
(1) The teaching is without scriptural justification. Since Ellen White’s proclamation of this ‘revelation’, supposedly given to her in a vision, SDA theologians have attempted to find echoes of it in scripture. The most commonly cited are Daniel 7:9-10, 1 Peter 4:17, Revelation 20:12 and Hebrews 6:19-20.Daniel 7:9-10 is a clear depiction of the nations standing before Christ’s judgement seat on the public day of judgment, at the end of history. It is not a secret, private investigation by Christ, locked away in an inner sanctuary in heaven!
# 1 Peter 4:17 states, “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God.” In interpretating any Bible passage, the key is context. In this case, the context of this whole chapter, and indeed the whole of Peter’s first letter, is the terrible suffering that Christians were undergoing at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles. They were being arrested, their property confiscated and, in many cases, they were subjected to torture and death. In the face of this persecution, Peter writes to encourage the believers to trust in God’s sovereignty, and even to regard their suffering as God’s means of winnowing out the true believers from the false. In this sense, the “judgment” being spoken of here, is a judgment of refinement, to purify the faithful (see 1 Peter 1:6-7). Importantly, this was a judgment that was already contemporary to the first century Christians, and not a reference to some obscure “investigative judgment” after 1844!
# Revelation 20:12 refers to the book of life, which will be opened at the end of history, when Jesus will judge all mankind. In fact, the vision that is described in this passage specifically states that all those who had died were brought to life and were standing in the presence of the Judge. This is NOT a reference to a secret “investigative judgment”, but to the judgment of all mankind at the public second coming of Christ!
# Hebrews 6:19-20 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” SDAs contend that this is a reference to Jesus entering the inner sanctuary of heaven in 1844 to undertake his “investigative judgment”, but there are several major problems with this interpretation. Firstly, according to the SDA movement, the supposed “investigative judgment” of Jesus began in 1844, yet this passage indicates that the entry of Jesus into the inner sanctuary had already occurred in the first century. Secondly, the context of this passage, and indeed of the whole book of Hebrews, is one of portraying Christ as our High Priest. His entering the inner sanctuary is a reference to the high priest’s annual entry into the holy of holies in the temple, to represent mankind to God and to intercede for the sins of the people. A direct parallel is thus drawn between the High Priest’s intercessory role, and Christ’s role as our ultimate high priest. Jesus Christ did not enter the inner sanctuary for investigative judgment, but to intercede for us and mediate between mankind and God. This is reinforced in the next chapter, when the writer states “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Heb 7:25). There is not even a hint of investigative judgment in this passage! This passage in Hebrews clearly refers to Christ’s heavenly intercessory role which he entered into immediately upon his ascension into heaven and continues to the present day.
(2) The teaching is directly contradicted by many clear biblical statements. Here are a few examples:
# “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)
# “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us” (Colossians 2:13-14)
# “He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22). Yet the SDAs maintain that Christ himself is now scouring the record of our lives, looking to condemn those whose lives are not deemed to be worthy.
# “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3). Yet, SDAs maintain he has now left that position to go into an inner sanctuary.
# “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25). Yet SDAs believe Jesus is no longer interceding for us, as he is locked away in the inner sanctuary now, undertaking his exhaustive investigation of our lives.
# “For it is by grace you are saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Yet, this false SDA teaching declares that faith in Christ is just the beginning. We must now pass a further judgment as Christ examines the worthiness of our lives.
# “Christ dies once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18)
# “Therefore, since we have been justifiedthrough faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2). Note the confidence and assurance that this verse says that Christians can have. This is an assurance that the teaching of the SDA movement does not allow.
Significantly, not all Seventh Day Adventists subscribe to the teaching about Christ’s “investigative judgment”. In the light of its numerous contradictions with the clear teaching of the Bible, belief in the doctrine appears to be waning in recent years.
I will mention very briefly, here, some of the other bizarre and false teachings of Ellen White, all of which are at variance with the scriptures. For a more comprehensive discussion of these, see the paper, “Ellen G. White Fact Sheet”, on the website “Evangelical Outreach.org”. But here is just a sample:
# Ellen White taught that angels have to show golden pass cards to go in and out of heaven (mentioned twice in “Early Writings”, pages 37 and 39).
# She stated that she had been given a vision of the heavenly city and she had seen its temple (“Early Writings”, pp. 21-22, and 32-33). But in John’s vison of the heavenly city, recorded in Revelation 21, the Bible specifically states that the heavenly city has no temple (Rev 21:20).
# She taught that the sins of all forgiven Christians will be placed upon Satan for him to bear and be punished for (“Early Writings”, pp. 294, 295). Yet the Bible clearly says that our sins were placed upon JESUS and that HE took the punishment for them on the cross! (1 Peter 2:24).
# She taught that Satan will be “blotted out from existence”, meaning completely annihilated, at the end of history (“Early Writings”, pp.294-295). But the Bible says that Satan will be “tormented day and night forever” (Rev 20:10).
# She taught that Christ’s death and resurrection was only the beginning of his atonement, which he then had to “ascend to complete in heaven” (“The Great Controversy”, p.489). Further, she writes of “the opening of the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844 as Christ entered there to perform the closing work of the atonement” (The Great Controversy, p.433). But this completely contradicts the Bible’s teaching that the atonement of Christ for the sins of mankind was finished and complete on the cross. As he died, Christ said “It is finished” (τετέλεσται – tetelestai) the Greek word for “paid in full”, a word that was commonly used in commerce to denote the full and final payment for good or services or the final payment of a loan or debt. Jesus’ use of this word as he breathed his last is very significant. Our sins have been completely paid for! There is nothing more to pay or do! This is why the curtain of the temple, at the entrance to the holy of holies, was torn in two from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death, signifying that the way to God was now completely and finally open because the sins of mankind had been fully atoned for!
# She taught that the Sabbath commandment – the 4th commandment – is the greatest of all commandments (Early Writings, p.65). But Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself (Matt 22:36-40).
Despite her many clear and obvious contradictions of biblical truth and her obviously false prophecies, Ellen White’s supposed visions and revelations continue to be the backbone of Seventh Day Adventist beliefs. The official Seventh Day Adventist website declares Ellen White to be “the Lord’s messenger, her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth.”
There is no doubt that Ellen G. White was a false prophet and a teacher of false doctrine. Her early prophecies failed the most basic test of prophecy – they simply didn’t come true! This should have been a warning to her followers, but strangely her errors were glossed over. Ellen White’s subsequent visions and teachings were at times bizarre and often contradictory to the clear teaching of scripture.
The fact that she is still highly regarded today within SDA circles, and her teaching faithfully and enthusiastically regurgitated, is testament to the gullibility of some people. While some contemporary adherents of the Seventh Day Adventist movement recognise some of the more obvious failings of White’s teachings and attempt to distance themselves from her more extreme pronouncements, her teaching largely remains at the centre of ongoing Seventh Day Adventist official doctrine.
The two teachings of greatest concern for evangelicals are the observance of the Saturday sabbath as the delineator between true faith and apostacy, and the teaching that Christ’s atonement on the cross was NOT finished and complete, requiring further atoning work and an ongoing “investigative judgment” in the inner sanctuary of heaven. While there has been some recent movement amongst evangelicals to embrace Seventh Day Adventism as a denominational variant within Christianity, these two serious false teachings must surely place them in the category of a cult. And while there may be many well-intentioned, sincere Christians within the SDA movement – Christians who love the Lord and are sincerely seeking to worship and follow him – the official teaching of the movement does not adhere to orthodox, biblical Christian teaching and is dangerously misleading.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, social commentator and apologist. He is the author of 16 books, including the highly acclaimed “7 Reasons to Believe” and his latest, “Reconnecting with God”. He is a senior writer for “My Christian Daily”, an international Christian magazine. Kevin also serves as the Ministry Consultant for the Bathurst Diocese of the Anglican Church in Australia. You can connect with Kevin on Facebook, his website SmartFaith.net, his fiction website kevinsimington.com and his YouTube channel Kevin Simington.