BACCHIOCCHI/RATZLAFF SABBATH DEBATE: Part 19|
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A PERSONAL NOTE: Several of our subscribers to the SABBATH UPDATES list have
alerted me to the fact that in all the Sabbath Discussion of the past
three months, very little has been said about the practical aspects of
Sabbathkeeping. This is a legitimate concern that I would like to
address in this installment.
For the sake of clarity and brevity, the discussion about
Sabbathkeeping today is in the format of question and answer. Most of
the material contained in this essay is taken from chapter 10 of my
book THE SABBATH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. Half of this book is devoted to
answer the most frequently asked questions about the Sabbath. This
feature has made this publication very popular because people can find
answers to specific questions. At the height of the crisis in the
Worldwide Church of God (WWCG), over 10,000 people requested copies of
THE SABBATH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, hoping to find answers to the attacks
levelled against the Sabbath in the literature produced by the WWCG
The questions about Sabbathkeeping that I am addressing are the ones I
have often faced in my itenerant ministry around the world. Feel free
to share with me your comments and perhaps alert me to other important
questions that I should address.
In the last installment (Sabbath Discussion 18) I suggested the
possibility of reviewing the newly released symposium WOMEN IN
MINISTRY, written mostly by seminary professors who support the
ordination of women to the headship role of pastors. It came as a
surprise to me to receive over 200 messages, urging me to review the
book. Many have told me that there is confusion in their church on
this issue. Some claim that women ordination is a cultural issue, while
other believe that there is a Biblical principle involved. After
reading the many messages received, it has become clear that there is
an urgent need to clarify what the Bible teaches regarding the
important role that God has called women to perform, not only in the
home, but also in the church.
For the next two months it will be impossible for me to take time to
review WOMEN IN MINISTRY, since I am working 15 hours a day to finish
my new book THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE: A BIBLICAL ANALYSIS OF RECENT
SABBATH/SUNDAY DEVELOPMENTS. After the completion of this project, I
plan to devote some time to an analysis of significant chapters of
WOMEN IN MINISTRY. For the sake of fairness, we will provide an
opportunity to respond to the author of each chapter reviewed. Some
chapters, like those dealing with ordination in the writings of Ellen
White and in the early history of the Adventists church, will be
reviewed by experts in the field. This means that several other
professors will be participating in the review of the book.
On my part I will ensure that the discussion is conducted in a
respectful way, addressing the issues, examining the Biblical data,
without defaming anyone who holds an opposing view. For me it is a sign
of Christian maturity to be able to disagree without becoming
disagreable. It is my hope that this service to you, subscribers of
this END TIME ISSUES list, will contribute to enrich your understanding
of what God has revealed on this fundamental aspect of human life,
namely, the role of men and women in the home and in the church.
Four people have advised me to stay out of the women ordination
controversy because in their view this would undermine the credibility
of my Sabbath research. Frankly, I find the argument irrational to say
the least, because my credibility as a scholar is determined, not by
whether or not I review critically WOMEN IN MINISTRY, but by the
soundness of my review. I would like to believe that most people on
our list have enough common sense to evaluate the weaknesses or
strengths of a review.
Thank you again for providing me this opportunity to share with you my
Biblical research on END TIME ISSUES. If you find these essays
helpful, let your friends know that they also can receive these Bible
studies free of charge simply by asking to be added to our list which
has grown to over 5000 names in few weeks. Please note my two new
email addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org, SBacchiocchi@csi.com. I
have signed up with another internet provider because I was having
problems sending essays with over 5000 email addresses attached.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
Professor of Theology and Church History, Andrews University
WWW HOMEPAGE: http://www.biblicalperspectives.com
QUESTIONS ABOUT SABBATHKEEPING TODAY
- Which activities are appropriate or inappropriate on the Sabbath?
Should the Sabbath be viewed and observed primarily as a time of
- Some people believe that the best way to keep the Sabbath is to
be a "mummy" for 24 hours. It is hard for me to believe that God is
especially pleased when He sees His children on the Sabbath in a
motionless position. What pleases God is not the action or inaction
per se but the intention behind the action. The Savior spent the
Sabbath not in restful relaxation but in active service. Thus the
Sabbath should be viewed as the day of special activities rather than
No Standard Formula. No standard formula can be given to determine
which activities are appropriate or inappropriate on the Sabbath. The
reasons are at least two. First, the physical needs of people vary
according to age and profession. A teenager bubbling over with energy
has different Sabbath needs than a middle-aged bricklayer or a farmer
who has spent much of his/her physical energy during the week.
Second, any attempt to classify or specify "legitimate" Sabbath
activities engenders legalistic attitudes which stifle the spirit of
freedom and creativity of the Sabbath. Thus, rather than prescribing a
standard formula, I will submit three simple guidelines that can help
in determining suitable Sabbath recreational activities.
God-Centered. Sabbath activities should be first of all God-centered
rather than self-centered. They should be a means not of doing our own
pleasure but of taking "delight in the Lord" (Is 58:13-14). This means
that any recreational activity on the Sabbath should be viewed not as
an end in itself, but as a means to express delight in the Lord.
It is possible to plan for a Sabbath afternoon hike to see who can
endure the longest or to play a Bible game to see who can score the
most points. When activities such as these are performed for the sake
of competition rather than of communion, for the sake of scoring rather
than of fellowshipping, then they do not fulfill the intent of the
Sabbath which is to teach us how to honor God not by competing but by
communing with one another. The challenge then is not only to choose
appropriate Sabbath activities, but also to engage in them in a way
that will contribute to honoring the Lord, to celebrate His creative
and redemptive love.
Freedom and Joy. A second guideline is that Sabbath activities should
ensure the freedom and joy of everybody. The Sabbath should be a time
to celebrate the redemptive freedom offered by the Savior. Sometimes
the same activity can be an experience of freedom and joy for some and
of restraint and pressure for others.
A Sabbath afternoon picnic with friends, for example, can be a joyful
and free celebration of the goodness of God's creation and recreation
in Christ, if adequate preparations have been made before the beginning
of the Sabbath. On the contrary, if some persons have to spend many
hours during the Sabbath preparing the food for the friends who are to
come, then that picnic becomes inappropriate for the Sabbath, since it
deprives some persons of the freedom and joy of the Sabbath.
On the basis of this principle any activity which deprives a person of
the freedom and joy of the Sabbath, is inappropriate because it
militates against the intended function of the commandment, which is to
ensure freedom and joy for all.
Recreative. A third guideline is that Sabbath activities should
contribute to our mental, emotional, and physical renewal, restoration,
and not exhaustion or dissipation. The renewal experienced on the
Sabbath foreshadows in a sense the fuller restoration to be experienced
at Christ's Second Coming.
It is important to remember that all our Sabbath recreational
activities have a spiritual quality because they represent the
restoration realized and yet to be realized by God in the life of His
people. Thus any Sabbath activity which leaves a person exhausted and
with a "hangover" on the following day fails to conform to God's
intended use of the Sabbath, which is to renew us physically, mentally,
and spiritually, in order to be better equipped to meet the demands of
our week-days' work.
Sports which require intense physical exertion may be good at other
times but they are out of harmony with the Sabbath celebration. First,
because they destroy the spirit of worship and celebration which
characterizes the Sabbath. It is impossible to cultivate the awareness
of God's presence on the Sabbath while intent on scoring points and
beating the other team. Second, because they exhaust rather than renew
the person. Third, because the spirit of competition fostered by
sports undermines the spirit of fellowship and communion of the
No single criterion is per se adequate for determining suitable
Sabbath activities. The combination of the three guidelines suggested
above, namely, God-centered activities, freedom and joy for all, and
recreative nature, should offer a safe guidance in selecting and in
engaging in appropriate Sabbath activities.
- How can a pastor "rest unto the Lord" on the Sabbath when his workload
is greater on the Sabbath than on weekdays?
- There is no question that for the pastor who ministers to his
congregation, the Sabbath may be the most exhausting day of the week.
Thus in a sense pastors do not generally observe the "rest" aspect of
the Sabbath commandment. Jesus recognized this fact when He said that
"on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath" (Matt
On the Sabbath the workload of the priests was intensified, as
additional sacrifices were prescribed for that day (Num 28:9-10; Lev
24:8-9) Yet, though the priests worked more on the Sabbath, Christ
said that they were "guiltless" (Matt 12:5). The reason is not because
they took a day off at another time during the week. No such provision
is contemplated in the Old Testament. Rather, the reason is to be
found in the special redemptive role and ministry performed by the
priests on the Sabbath.
Redemptive Work. The intensification of the ministry of the priests
at the temple on the Sabbath (four lambs were sacrificed instead of
two-Num 28:8-9), pointed to the special provision of forgiveness and
salvation which God offered through the priests to the people on that
day. Thus, through the Sabbath ministry of the priests the people
could experience the rest of God's forgiveness and salvation.
Like the priests of old, pastors today are called upon on the Sabbath
to intensify their redemptive ministry on behalf of God's people.
While this may deprive them of the physical relaxation provided by the
Sabbath, it will refresh their souls with the restful satisfaction that
comes from ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of others.
Rest of Service. It is important to remember that the Savior spent
the Sabbath not relaxing in splendid isolation, but actively involved
in offering a living, loving service to human needs. The teaching and
the example of the Savior suggests that resting unto the Lord on the
Sabbath is accomplished not only by resting physically but also by
acting redemptively on behalf of others.
The Sabbath is linked both to creation (Ex 20:11) and redemption (Deut
5:15; Heb 4:9). By interrupting our secular activities we remember the
Creator-God and by acting mercifully toward others we imitate the
Redeemer-God who works redemptively on the Sabbath on behalf of His
creatures (John 5:17). The pastor is in a special sense called to work
redemptively on the Sabbath. This work may deprive him of physical
rest (which he can have on other days), but will enrich and renew him
with the restful satisfaction of having served God's people.
- Is it proper to conduct church business activities on the Sabbath,
such as church board meetings, community services meetings, Sabbath
School workshops, church school committees, etc.?
- All church activities that are of a business nature should be
avoided on the Sabbath, because they detract from the spirit of worship
and celebration of God's creative and redemptive love. Holding church
business meetings on weekdays serves to remind us not only of the
sacredness of the Sabbath, but also of the fact that we serve the
church during all the seven days of the week.
Emergency Meetings. At times it may be necessary for the elders or
church officers to meet on the Sabbath to deal with emergency problems
arising from sickness or accidents. To postpone such meetings could
mean to fail to provide urgent assistance. Christ condemned
emphatically the neglect of human needs on the Sabbath (Matt 12:11-12;
Ordinary Meetings. Most church business meetings held on the Sabbath
do not fall under the category of "emergency meetings." Meetings held
on the Sabbath to discuss such matters as church finances, appointment
of church officers, ingathering planning, fund raising for special
projects, periodical campaigns, etc., detract from the spirit and
ideals of the Sabbath and should be avoided during its sacred hours.
Such meetings are part of the ordinary administration of the church and
should be scheduled for other days.
There is a tendency to fill the Sabbath with too many meetings and
activities so that little time is left for needed reflection and
meditation. In planning for our Sabbath celebration, let us plan for a
time of meditation which can restore the equilibrium between the
physical and spiritual components of our being. Church meetings and
activities can deprive us of the needed climate of freedom and
tranquility to experience the Sabbath renewal.
- Should weddings be celebrated on the Sabbath? Since marriage is a
sacred institution, is it not appropriate to perform its ceremony on
- Both the Sabbath and marriage are sacred institutions which
have come down to us from Eden. Thus in itself it would not be out of
harmony with the spirit of Sabbathkeeping to celebrate a wedding on the
Wedding ceremonies, however, involve considerable work in preparing
for the services and in holding the receptions. The ultimate result is
that a secular atmosphere can easily develop which disrupts the spirit
of the Sabbath celebration. Thus, to preserve the quiet worshipful
spirit of the Sabbath, the holding of weddings on the Sabbath should be
- Should funeral services be conducted on the Sabbath?
- In some countries climatic conditions and limited mortuary
services may dictate the holding of funerals without delay on any day
including the Sabbath. In these cases all the possible arrangements
ought to be made in advance to reduce the labor and commotion on the
As a general rule, however, it is advisable to avoid conducting
funerals on the Sabbath, since these disrupt the spirit of rest, joy,
and celebration of the Sabbath. It is noteworthy that in Bible times,
even mourning was interrupted on the Sabbath in order to experience the
Sabbath joy and delight, which were seen as a foretaste of the
blessedness of the world to come.
As Christians we are called upon to comfort the bereaved on the
Sabbath by sharing with them the hope of the resurrection and of the
new world, of which the Sabbath is a symbol. Funeral services,
however, should be avoided on the Sabbath because they require
considerable work in preparing both for the service and for the
subsequent interment. In accordance with the example of the women who
followed Jesus, it is well on the Sabbath to interrupt all funeral
preparations and to rest according to the commandment (Luke 23:55-56).
- Should ingathering be done on the Sabbath?
- Although the solicitation of funds for humanitarian projects at
home and abroad is a worthy endeavor which can bring many spiritual
benefits both to the solicitor and to the donor, it is preferable for
several reasons to engage in ingathering solicitation outside the
First, the solicitation of money from house to house, even though for
a good cause, tends to generate a commercial atmosphere which is
contrary to the spirit of the Sabbath.
Second, a person intent to reach the $25 or $50 ingathering goal on
the Sabbath may lose sight of the goal of the Sabbath itself, which is
to offer us the opportunity to reach not financial goals, but closer
communion with God and fellow believers.
Third, it is difficult to keep one's mind on spiritual realities on
the Sabbath, while involved in collecting and handling money. In our
society money has become associated with business and purchasing power.
Thus it is difficult for anyone soliciting funds on the Sabbath not to
think of the business aspect of money.
Fourth, ingathering solicitation on the Sabbath may also give rise to
misconceptions in the minds of donors who may learn about the
Seventh-day Adventist Church for the first time through an ingathering
contact. They may think that Adventists spend their Sabbath raising
money for their church, when they should perceive our Sabbathkeeping as
the time when we celebrate God's creative and redemptive love by
seeking to give rather than to receive. These are some of the reasons
why in my view it is preferable not to engage in ingathering
solicitation on the Sabbath.
- How should the Sabbath be observed in Seventh-day Adventist medical
- Sickness and pain know no distinction between holy and secular
days. Thus the needs of the sick and the suffering must be met without
regard to days. The example of Christ is significant in this regard
since He used the Sabbath to heal the sick, restoring them to physical
and spiritual wholeness. Seventh-day Adventist medical institutions in
their policies and practices ought to reflect Christ's example of
Sabbathkeeping in providing a willing and compassionate medical service
on the Sabbath.
It is the responsibility of each institution to develop and implement
policies that reflect the principles of Sabbathkeeping found in the
Scriptures and exemplified by Christ. The following suggestions
represent in my view an application of the Biblical principles of
High Quality of Medical Care. Needed medical care should be given on
the Sabbath willingly, cheerfully, and at the same high level of
quality as on the week days. Patients should not feel neglected on the
Sabbath because physicians or nurses are so busy observing their
Sabbath that they can give only limited attention to their needs. On
the contrary, the celebration of God's creative and redemptive love on
the Sabbath ought to motivate medical personnel to show added personal
interest and concern toward their patients.
Reduced Rates. In the light of the example of Christ who healed
people on the Sabbath not for financial gain but out of love and in
view of the fact that no personal gain or profit is to be sought for
services rendered on the Sabbath, reduced rates could be charged on the
Sabbath for medical services. Such rates should reflect the actual
cost of rendering any needed medical service.
It is customary for non-SDA physicians and medical institutions to
charge a higher weekend fee for services rendered on Saturday and
Sunday. Such a practice ought not to be avoided by SDA medical
personnel and administrators who believe that the Sabbath is a day not
for greater gain, but for greater missionary service.
A reduced Sabbath rate which covers the basic operating costs would
serve as a most powerful testimony to patients and to the community at
large that Sabbathkeeping is truly an occasion for Adventists to follow
the example of Christ in offering an unselfish, loving service to human
needs. Whenever possible voluntary service on the Sabbath should be
Essential Services. All the ordinary activities which are not
immediately related to patient care should be discontinued on the
Sabbath. Usually this means the closing down of certain facilities and
departments and the postponement of elective diagnostic and therapeutic
services. Emergency service should not be interrupted but rendered
willingly and cheerfully.
Payment of Bills. The rendering and payment of bills should be
avoided on the Sabbath. Administrative and business offices that do
routine business should be closed on the Sabbath. If it is necessary
to admit or discharge a patient on the Sabbath, it is advisable to make
financial arrangements either before or after the Sabbath.
Relaxed Atmosphere. The suspension of all routine work on the Sabbath
should provide a relaxed atmosphere where the medical staff can more
freely and fully interact with the patients, counseling them and
sharing with them their Christian love and concern. Patients in a
Seventh-day Adventist hospital should perceive the Sabbath as the day
when the environment, the personnel, and the services are more
delightful. Such a positive perception can have a lasting impact upon
the patients and eventually lead some to seek for a continued blessing
of the Sabbath celebration in their personal lives.
Rotating Sabbath Work. Adventist medical institutions should exercise
great care in scheduling all personnel so that the same workers will
not have to be on duty every Sabbath. On the other hand no worker
should expect to be always off duty on the Sabbath. Supervisors should
be as fair as possible in preparing the work schedules so that Sabbath
services can be rendered on a rotating basis by all. The keeping of
the Sabbath should never be made a burden to a few workers but a
privilege for all.
- Should a Sabbathkeeper employed by a secular or religious
organization which provides essential social services, agree to work
routinely on the Sabbath?
- Indispensable humanitarian services are not negated but
contemplated by the Biblical view of the Sabbath. Christ stated
unequivocally that "The sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27), that is,
to ensure human wellbeing. The Sabbath encompasses not only the
cessation from secular work to honor God more freely and fully (Ex
20:8-10; 31:15-16; Is 58:13-14), but also the rendering of needed
services to show concern toward fellow beings (Deut 5:12-15; Matt
12:12; Luke 13:12).
A Distinction in Essential Services. A distinction must be made
between essential services rendered on the Sabbath in a Seventh-day
Adventist institution and those rendered in a non-SDA institution. In
an Adventists fire station, for example, no routine maintenance work
will be done on the Sabbath and the staff will be reduced to a minimum
indispensable. This means that a person working in such a fire
station, when called upon to work on the Sabbath, will be expected to
perform only those services which are essential to guarantee readiness
in case of emergency.
The situation is altogether different in a normal fire station where
the firemen on duty are expected to perform routine maintenance of the
fire trucks and of the station. This does not mean that a
Sabbathkeeper should not accept employment in such organizations as
police and fire stations, hospitals, schools, or social agencies which
provide essential services. In seeking or holding employment in such
organizations, however, a Sabbathkeeper should consider following
guidelines such as these:
Request Sabbath Exemption. A Sabbathkeeper who accepts employment in
institutions which provide essential social services should make known
at the outset to the employers his or her Sabbathkeeping principles and
courteously request exemption from Sabbath duties. In exchange for
these Sabbath privileges, great willingness should be shown to work at
any other time and to sacrifice, if necessary, even vacation time. In
most cases exemption from Sabbath duties is granted without major
difficulties, especially because there are other workers who desire to
be free on Sunday.
Explain Type of Essential Work. When because of factors such as
shortage of personnel, it becomes impossible to obtain regular
exemption from work on the Sabbath, Sabbathkeepers should courteously
explain to their supervisors the type of essential work they are
willing to perform on the Sabbath, in harmony with their religious
Rotating Schedule. Sabbathkeepers who are frequently called upon to
perform essential services on the Sabbath should courteously request
their employers to be scheduled for work on a rotating basis in order
to be allowed as often as possible to enter into a fuller celebration
of the Sabbath.
True to Principle. Where the above conditions cannot be met, a
Sabbathkeeper should be willing to remain true to principle, even if
this involves suffering the loss of a job or of other benefits.
Emergency Situations. When emergency situations arise which threaten
life or property, the principles taught by Christ dictate that one be
willing to work on the Sabbath and do all in one's power to save life
(Matt 12:11-12; Luke 13:15-16).
- What should a Sabbathkeeper do when he or she is denied the privilege
to observe the Sabbath by military, educational, political, industrial,
or other institutions?
- Stand for Principle. When in spite of the best efforts a
Sabbathkeeper has put forth to clarify his or her religious
convictions, the employing organization persists in denying Sabbath
privileges, the believer should choose to stand by faith for the
principle of Sabbathkeeping, even if such an action may result in the
loss of the job.
Intervention by Church Official. A competent church official should
be asked to contact the employing organization, to clarify to its
management why their employee cannot work on the Sabbath. Great
willingness should be shown, however, to work at any other time and to
sacrifice, if necessary, even vacation time to compensate the company
for any possible loss caused by exempting the worker from the Sabbath
Church Support. The local church should offer spiritual, emotional,
and, if needed, financial support to a member experiencing Sabbath
problems. Such support will serve to strengthen the commitment to the
Lord not only of the individual member facing Sabbath problems but of
the church as a whole.
- Should a Sabbathkeeper purchase goods or services on the Sabbath from
persons or places which are doing business anyhow on the Sabbath?
- The Fourth Commandment enjoins us to grant freedom to all on
the Sabbath, including the stranger. Any attempt to enjoy the freedom
and joy of the Sabbath at the expense of others represents a denial of
the values of the Sabbath.
The fact that certain persons or businesses do not observe the Sabbath
is not a valid justification for purchasing their goods or services on
the Sabbath. By such an action a Sabbathkeeper would be sanctioning
the business transacted by others on the Sabbath. Moreover he would
himself be transgressing the Sabbath by purchasing goods or services-an
activity which is clearly condemned by the Scriptures (Jer 17:21-23;
Promotes Secularism. Purchasing goods or services on the Sabbath,
such as eating out in restaurants, will turn the mind of the believer
away from the sacredness of the Sabbath to the secularism and
materialism of the world. With proper planning, adequate provisions can
be made in advance for foreseeable Sabbath needs.
Emergency Situations. In spite of one's best plans and intentions, a
situation may arise when a person may need on the Sabbath, for example,
to buy food or hire a taxi. In such emergency situations, God
understands the intentions of the heart. Care should be taken to avoid
the recurrence of such situations and to maintain at all times the
awareness of the sacredness of the Sabbath.
- Should a Sabbathkeeper attend professional meetings on the Sabbath,
especially if they are in the field of Religion?
- The attendance of professional meetings on the Sabbath,
including those of theological societies, can hardly be seen as a
legitimate substitute for joining church members in the regular church
services. The very name "professional meetings" suggests that the aim
of such gatherings is to develop professional skills and thus they must
be seen as part of the work performed during the six days.
Attending meetings of theological societies on the Sabbath is no
better than attending any other type of professional meeting. The
technical issues which are generally addressed in such meetings are
designed not to enhance the Sabbath worship experience but to sharpen
one's knowledge and professional competency.
The principle of making the Sabbath experience distinct from the
gainful occupation of the six days will lead Sabbathkeeping Religion
teachers to join fellow believers at church rather than fellow
professionals at "work."
- What should be the time for beginning and ending the Sabbath in the
Arctic regions where the sun sets very early, or very late, or not at
all during part of the summer?
- Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have endeavored to follow
the principle of sunset reckoning even in the Arctic regions by
broadening the meaning of "sunset" to include, for example, the end of
twilight, the diminishing of light, the moment when the sun is closest
to the horizon.
Sunset Reckoning not Dictated by Commandment. Personally I respect
this conviction, but I have difficulty in accepting it as the only
valid Biblical option, for at least three reasons.
In the first place, the sunset reckoning is not dictated by the Fourth
Commandment, where no instruction is given regarding the time to begin
and end the observance of the Sabbath. The absence of such an
instruction may be indicative of divine wisdom in formulating a
principle adaptable to different geographical locations.
Completion of Six Days of Work. Second, the application of the sunset
reckoning in the Arctic regions when, for example, the sun sets by
noon, makes it impossible to observe the first part of the Fourth
Commandment which enjoins: "Six days you shall labor, and do all your
work" (Ex 20:9).
To stop any gainful employment on Friday sometime before noon in order
to be ready to begin the observance of the Sabbath at noon-sunset,
means to reduce the working time of the sixth day, which in Biblical
thought consists of approximately 12 hours from sunrise to sunset (John
11:9; Matt 20:1-8), to only the first two or three hours of the
Moreover, to resume work on Saturday after the noon-sunset means to
fulfill the working time of the sixth day, half during the "daytime" of
the sixth day and half during the "daytime" of the seventh day. Such a
practice can hardly reflect the intent of the Fourth Commandment, which
explicitly enjoins completing one's work in six days and then resting
unto the Lord on the seventh day.
Daytime Defined by the Clock. A third reason why the sunset reckoning
is not suitable in or near the Arctic regions to determine the
beginning and end of the Sabbath is simply because in these areas the
daytime is defined by the clock and not by the sun.
While in Bible lands the time between sunrise and sunset ranges
constantly between 12 and 14 hours during the course of the year, in
the Arctic regions the range can be from less than 3 hours in December
to more than 18 hours in July. What this means is that while in Bible
lands sunrise and sunset provide a logical and balanced division
between daytime and nighttime, or working time and resting time, in the
Arctic regions this division must be defined, not by sunrise and
sunset, but rather by the clock.
Equatorial Sunset Time. In light of the foregoing discussion, the
most suitable method of Sabbath reckoning in the Arctic regions is, in
my view, according to the equatorial sunset time, that is from 6 p.m.
to 6 p.m.
Integrity of Sixth Day of Work. My reasons for favoring the
equatorial sunset time for the Arctic regions are essentially three.
First, the observance of the Sabbath in the Arctic regions from 6 p.m.
to 6 p.m. would preserve the integrity of the working time of the sixth
day which is presupposed in the first part of the Fourth Commandment:
"Six days you shall labor, and do all your work" (Ex 20:9).
To respect the integrity of the working time of the sixth day,
however, does not imply that one ought to be engaged in gainful
employment until the very end of the day. On the contrary, Friday was
rightly called "Day of Preparation" because part of the work done on
that day was in preparation for the Sabbath.
Compatible with Palestinian Sunset Time. A second reason for favoring
the equatorial sunset time for the Arctic regions is the fact that it
is quite compatible with the sunset time of the Bible lands.
A comparison between the sunset tables at the latitude of Palestine
with those at the equator reveals that on the average there is less
than one hour of difference between the two during the course of the
year. Thus the equatorial sunset time comes very close to that of
Bible lands while providing at the same time a consistent method of day
Compatible with Working Schedule. A third reason is suggested by the
fact that equatorial sunset time is compatible with the working
schedule of most people living in the Arctic regions.
Compatibility with the equatorial or Palestinian sunset time per se is
not a determining factor because nowhere does the Bible or even common
sense suggest that the sunset time of Palestine or of the equator must
be the normative time for determining the end of the day and the
beginning of a new day in all the regions of the earth. What makes
this compatibility recommendable, however, is the fact that the sunset
time of Palestine, like the one of the equator, does respect the
working schedule of most people living in such northern countries as
Alaska, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
In these northern countries, as in most industrialized nations, the
working day of most people terminates between 5 and 6 p.m. This hour
of the day is rightly known as the "rush hour" because it is the hour
when most people are rushing home at the end of their working day.
The equatorial sunset time, then, by being compatible with the
termination of the working day of most people living in the Arctic
regions, offers a rational method for observing the Sabbath from 6 p.m.
to 6 p.m.
My intent in proposing the equatorial sunset time for the Arctic
regions is not to make an already difficult situation worse, but rather
to contribute to the resolution of the complex problem of Sabbath
reckoning in these northern regions.
If differing views should persist on the time for beginning and ending
the Sabbath in the Arctic regions, it is my hope that the spirit of
mutual respect, compassion, and charity will prevail. May we never
forget the Sabbathkeeping expresses obedience to God and, as Ellen
White perceptively writes, "The Lord accepts all the obedience of every
creature He has made, according to the circumstances of time in the
sun-rising and sun-setting world" (Letter 167, March 23, 1900).
- Does not the international date line create uncertainty about which
day should be observed as the seventh day?
- The international date line creates uncertainty primarily for
travelers who have either to add or to drop a day from their calendar
when crossing such a line in the Pacific Ocean.
It may be helpful to explain that the date line is a north-south line
which runs through the Pacific Ocean, approximately along the 180th
meridian. Meridians are lines which extend from the North to the South
pole and which divide the globe into 360 equally spaced lines. At the
line of the 180th meridian the date changes, so that east of it is one
day earlier and west of it is one day later.
Need for Date Line. The date line is necessary because the earth is
divided into 24 one-hour time zones (of 15 degrees longitude each)
which make up a full day upon the earth. Since the earth rotates
eastward, when people travel westward or eastward, they must of
necessity either drop a day from or add a day to their reckoning of
In October 1884 the commercial nations of the world agreed to make the
meridian going through the astronomical observatory at Greenwich,
England, as the prime meridian from which all other meridians were to
be numbered. As a result of this decision, the international date
line, which is the 180th meridian, runs from north to south through the
Pacific Ocean. In some places the date line bulges eastward and in
other places westward to enable certain land areas and islands to have
the same day.
Though the date line was established on the basis of geographical,
political, economic, and social considerations, the decision must be
accepted as appropriate, since it has produced order out of that which
would otherwise have been confusion.
Date Line Israel. Some Sabbathkeepers argue that the international
date line should be located at the eastern border of Israel where there
is the time zone line. Their reasoning is that since the Sabbath was
first given to the Jews, then Jerusalem must be the place where the
seventh day must begin and end (Is 2:3; Mic 4:2).
This reasoning, in my view, is faulty. First, because the Sabbath was
given by God not exclusively to the Jews but inclusively to mankind
(Mark 2:27). Second, because nowhere does the Scripture suggests that
the reckoning of the day should begin and end at Jerusalem. Third,
because the Jews themselves never dropped or added a day when forced to
emigrate east or west of Jerusalem.
Lastly, because if the date line had been set at the 35th meridian
crossing Israel, utter confusion would have prevailed in all the
northern and southern countries crossed by this line (Russia, Turkey,
Lebanon, and all the eastern African countries). Millions of people
would have had to constantly add or drop a day whenever crossing the
date line. This problem is largely avoided by the present date line,
which, because of its location mostly in the open waters of the Pacific
Ocean, affects only very few inhabited areas.
Providential Decision. In the absence of any Biblical injunction, it
is perfectly right for human judgment to determine the location of the
date line. The fact that the decision to place the line at the 180th
meridian in the Pacific Ocean has produced order and has met the
satisfaction of all the world, must be seen as an indication of
providential guidance on the matter.
The Scriptures teach that political powers are instituted by God (Rom
13:1) and when they exercise their powers legitimately to ensure law
and social order, they are fulfilling a divine mandate. In the case of
the date line, the decision of the international community must be
accepted as divinely sanctioned, because it detracts no honor from God,
it exalts no individual, political, or religious organization, and it
benefits all people.
Adoption of Local Calendar. The travelers who reach the islands of
the Pacific from the East or from the West, should adopt the day of the
people who inhabit the islands, as it is customary to adopt the time of
the day of any place one goes.
It is important to remember that in a round, rotating earth the
seventh-day cannot possibly be observed at the same time everywhere.
When the Sabbath is beginning in Los Angeles, California (Friday
evening), it is already ending in Sydney, Australia (Saturday
The principle of Sabbathkeeping consists not in observing the seventh
day at the same time everywhere around the globe, but rather in
observing the seventh day when it arrives in the part of the earth
where one lives. This principle applies both to the hour for beginning
the Sabbath and to the day for observing it. Obedience to the Fourth
Commandment demands that we observe the seventh day as it comes to us
in the place where we live.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
Professor of Theology and Church History, Andrews University
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