National Sunday Law: Fact or Fiction? 2nd Edition
Is the Seal of God the Sabbath?
By Dirk Anderson, 2022
In 1847, Joseph Bates, in his book Seventh Day Sabbath, first proposed that Sabbath-keeping was the Seal of God and Sunday-keeping was the Mark of the Beast. Seventh-day Adventist historian George Knight writes in the SDA corporation's magazine, Adventist Review:
Bates set forth what would become the Sabbatarian understanding of the mark of the beast. Building upon Revelation 12:17 with its idea that God would have a last-day remnant that would 'keep the commandments of God,' he noted that 'there will yet be a mighty struggle about the restoring and keeping [of] the seventh day Sabbath, that will test every living soul that enters the gates of the city' (SDS , 60). God's people would be 'persecuted for keeping the commandments' by those who had the mark of the beast. 'Is it not clear,' Bates asked in examining Revelation 14:9-12, 'that the first day of the week for the Sabbath or holy day is a mark of the beast[?]' Thus at the end of time only two groups would live on earth—those having the mark of the beast and those keeping God's commandments, including the seventh-day Sabbath (ibid. 59).1
In 1849, Bates published a book entitled, A Seal of the Living God, in which he expounds his theories:
Now all advent believers that have, and do, participate in the advent messages as given in Rev. 14:6-13, will love and keep this covenant with God, and especially His Holy Sabbath, in this covenant; this is a part of the 144,000 now to be sealed.
James and Ellen White soon adopted Bates' teaching and Mrs. White began having visions supporting Bates' idea. It is apparent that Bates, the Whites and other "shut door" Adventists believed the sealing process had already commenced because Mrs. White wrote an article in January of 1849, entitled, "To Those who are receiving the seal of the living God." In that article she writes:
Now is the time for the law of God to be in our minds (foreheads), and written in our hearts. ... Time has continued on a few years longer than they expected, therefore they think it may continue a few years more, and in this way their minds are being led from present truth, out after the world. In these things I saw great danger; for if the mind is filled with other things, present truth is shut out, and there is no place in our foreheads for the seal of the living God. This seal is the Sabbath.3
To Ellen White, the Sabbath is what marked the difference between those loyal to God and those disloyal to Him. She writes:
The Sabbath is the great test question. It is the line of demarkation between the loyal and true and the disloyal and transgressor. ... It is the seal of the living God.4
A Unique Adventist Teaching
The idea that the Sabbath was the "line of demarkation" between the loyal and disloyal represents a radical departure from traditional Protestant teachings of the 1800s. Protestants of that day taught the Mark of the Beast was allegiance to the papacy. Allegiance to the papacy included allegiance to the many errors and superstitions of the papacy, such as:
More could be listed. As can be seen, there are numerous characteristics indicating allegiance to the errors of the papacy. Joseph Bates, in his book A Seal of the Living God, made little mention of all of the profound differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. Instead, he focused upon the one issue that was of utmost importance to him: Sabbath-keeping. In Bates' mind, the Mark of the Beast was not Mary worship. It was not belief in Purgatory. It was not belief in the confessional or transubstantiation. The Mark of the Beast was Sunday worship.
Why did Bates choose Sunday worship over all of the other identifying marks of Catholicism? In chapter 1 the raging animosity between Bates and the mainstream Protestant churches was explained. By identifying Sunday as the Mark of the Beast, Bates found a clever way to lump the hated Protestants churches into the same basket as the Catholics. With one master stroke he was able to consign to hell all those Protestant churches that had so infuriated him and his associates for rejecting Miller's time-setting movement. In one bold move Bates managed to redefine nearly three hundred years of Protestant teachings from Luther and other great reformers that identified the Mark of the Beast as allegiance to the heretical teachings of Rome listed above.
Stop for a moment and compare Joseph Bates with the great Protestant reformers. The Protestant Bible scholars, like Huss, Jerome, Luther and Zwingli, were all men of great faith and intellect. They were pre-eminent church leaders who were received by princes and kings. They had all distinguished themselves in the universities. They were fluent in the original biblical languages. They were recognized by both friend and foe alike for their brilliance and scholarly achievements. Contrast these great leaders with Joseph Bates. He was a retired sea captain. He had no university education nor any formal training in biblical interpretation. He had no knowledge of the original biblical languages. He made reckless and fanatical predictions based on his flawed understanding of Bible prophecy. These predictions failed to come to pass, and he was humiliated. (Many of Joseph Bates' absurd and outlandish prophetic teachings were discussed in chapter 1). Despite all this, Bates placed himself in the position to overrule three hundred years of highly educated and highly esteemed Protestant biblical scholars. In one masterful sweep he brushed aside the Protestant Reformers and shoved their churches into Babylon. He declared that a single heretofore unrecognized heresy, Sunday-worship, was the dreaded Mark of the Beast.6 Amazingly, a handful of believers actually took Bates' word over the word of esteemed and proven Protestant reformers. Bates' idea would later become the core of Seventh-day Adventist prophetic teaching.
While Bates' theory appeared to find acceptance with those already predisposed to thinking of the Protestant churches as Babylon, it never really caught on with others. It was hard for some to understand how the Christian denominations could be lost, and yet these were the organizations sending out missionaries all over the world spreading the gospel; meanwhile, the "shut door" Adventists were claiming the gospel message had ended in 1844, and spent their time bickering amongst themselves over the Sabbath and differing interpretations of prophecy. Bates had a difficult task on his hands to try and convince people that the Mark of the Beast was no longer allegiance to the teachings of Rome as a whole, but only one teaching: Sunday-worship. Fortunately for him, he found an ally who could provide the inspiration that was so obviously lacking from the Bible. Bates turned to the young prophetess Ellen White who, in 1847, saw the following in vision:
I saw that God had not changed the Sabbath, for He never changes. But the pope had changed it from the seventh to the first day of the week; for he was to change times and laws.7
Thus, with a little help from the prophetess, "shut door" Adventists tied the change of the day of worship to the papacy, thus identifying Sunday worship as the single most important distinguishing feature of false Christianity.
Unfortunately for believers in the veracity of Ellen White's visions, the theory that the pope changed the day of worship was later refuted by SDA scholar, Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi. In his ground-breaking book, From Sabbath to Sunday, Dr. Bacchiocchi provides irrefutable evidence that the change in Sabbath-keeping from Sabbath to Sunday actually occurred far earlier than previously supposed. In the 1970s, Bacchiocchi was the first and only non-Catholic to ever be allowed to study at the Catholic Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. While there he was given access to the Church's archives and was able to find priceless research material for his book. While it probably was not the purpose of his book to exonerate the pope, his research showed that the change from Sabbath to Sunday worship occurred far earlier in history than had been previously admitted by the Seventh-day Adventist Corporation. In fact, the change happened long before the papacy was even established in power. These findings cast considerable doubt on whether Sunday worship could be considered allegiance to the papacy since the practice was well established throughout Christianity centuries before the first pope arose.
In 1997, Bacchiocchi, wrote:
I differ from Ellen White, for example, on the origin of Sunday. She teaches that in the first centuries all Christians observed the Sabbath and it was largely through the efforts of Constantine that Sundaykeeping was adopted by many Christians in the fourth century. My research shows otherwise. If you read my essay HOW DID SUNDAYKEEPING BEGIN? which summarizes my dissertation, you will notice that I place the origin of Sundaykeeping by the time of the Emperor Hadrian, in A.D. 135.8
Emperor Hadrian, A.D. 135, was nearly half a millennium earlier than the first pope who began serving in A.D. 606.9 While most Seventh-day Adventists accepted Bacchiocchi's findings, some ultra-conservatives derided him as a Jesuit sent secretly by the Catholics to infiltrate and destroy the SDA sect. However, his vocal critics were never able to produce any evidence to refute his teachings or prove he ever had any connections with the Jesuits.
The True Meaning of "Seal of God"
Having established the Mark of the Beast as being Sunday worship, it only made sense to Bates that Sabbath worship should be the Seal of God. Bates found his evidence in the Old Testament where the Sabbath was a sign of the Old Covenant between God and the Hebrews.10 However, Bates ignored the evidence given in the New Testament showing that the sign or seal of the New Covenant is the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of a seal is to prevent the contents of the object being sealed from being changed. A law that was sealed by the king's ring could never be changed. Notice, the seal is not the law itself, but something that prevents the law from being changed. When Daniel was thrown in the Lion's Den, the entrance was "sealed," indicating the king's edict could not be undone. Likewise, the tomb of Christ was "sealed" by Pilate to prevent anyone from stealing the body and claiming Christ was alive, thus thwarting Pilate's death decree.11
The Book of Revelation does not provide many details about what the seal of God is, nor does it explain a whole lot about those who are sealed. Revelation does provide a few details:
That is it. There is absolutely nothing said about the 144,000 keeping the Sabbath. If Sabbath-keeping is indeed the most important and prominent sign that separates true Christians from false ones, if it is indeed the "Seal of God," then why would not John have at least mentioned it in his list of characteristics?
Revelation does not describe in precise detail what the seal is or how it is administered, so it can be assumed that it was a well-known concept in the early church. As a matter of fact, the word "seal" appears many times in the New Testament. In reviewing these verses, one is able to arrive at a solid understanding of how the church of the apostle John's day understood the meaning and significance of the "seal."
The Apostle John wrote of Jesus:
....him hath God the Father sealed. (John 6:27)
Just as ancient kings sealed objects to make them unchangeable, the King of the Universe sealed Jesus Christ so that evil could not destroy, change, or alter who He was. How was Jesus sealed? John wrote of Jesus....
...for God gives the Spirit without limit. (John 3:34, NIV)
Paul clarifies this understanding by repeatedly writing about the Holy Spirit's presence being the seal of Christianity:
2Cr 1:22 - Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
Ephesians 4:30 makes it abundantly clear that God seals believers to keep them until the "day of redemption." The Holy Spirit is given to believers so that evil cannot destroy, alter, or change them.
Not once in the New Testament is the Sabbath ever referred to as a sign or a seal for Christians. Just as the Lord's Supper celebration replaced the Jewish Passover celebration, so has the Holy Spirit replaced the Sabbath as the "sign" or evidence that a person is one of God's people.
Consider this carefully. What is the best way to tell whether or not a person is a true Christian? Is it by what day they go to church on? Even Seventh-day Adventists will tell you that going to church on Saturday does not make someone a Christian. There are some people who go to church on Saturday while they deny their Christian faith by their actions. Their hearts are filled with perversion, hatred, adultery, and idolatry. So, what is the best way to tell if a person is a true Christian? By their spirit! If they have the Holy Spirit in their hearts, they will manifest the fruits of the Spirit in their lives: "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith" (Gal. 5:22-23). These fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit will be evident to all. Just as a person can tell that a tree is an apple tree by observing apples hanging on the tree, so can people observe true Christians by the fruits of the Spirit manifesting in their lives. Therefore, the fruits of the Spirit are the evidence or true sign of a believer. The Sabbath is not the sign of a true Christian. It never has been. It never will be. The New Testament evidence testifies that the Holy Spirit is the "seal" with which the Father seals His faithful children, not the Sabbath. "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9).
1. George Knight, "What is Adventist in Adventism - An excerpt from the book A Search for Identity," online edition of the Adventist Review, http://www.adventistreview.org/2001-1524/story5.html, extracted on Jan. 8, 2008.
2. Joseph Bates, A Seal of the Living God, pp. 61, 62.
3. Ellen White, Present Truth, Jan. 31, 1849.
4. Ellen White, Selected Messages Book 3, p. 423.
5. Ellen White, Review & Herald, April 23, 1901.
6. In the official doctrinal statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, entitled Questions on Doctrines (Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., 1957), the SDA Church implies that the development of Sunday-keeping as the "Mark of the Beast" is a unique doctrine devised by Adventists: "None of these [Protestant] expositors, of the centuries past, applied the mark of the beast specifically to the Sabbath issue, but they did connect it with the Papacy. ... Adventist heralds of Sabbath reform came to make a further logical application of the mark of the beast—holding it to be, in essence, the attempted change of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment of the Decalogue by the Papacy, its endeavor to impose this change on Christendom, and the acceptance of the Papacy's substitute by individuals." (p. 181) Although Seventh-day Adventists would no doubt like to take credit for having an original doctrine, SDA historian Leroy Froom, in his book Prophetic Faith (pp. 913-916), indicates that some Seventh Day Baptists linked Sunday-keeping with the Mark of the Beast as far back as the 17th century. Since Bates associated with Seventh Day Baptists [SDB] and adopted their Sabbath teachings it is possible he acquired the doctrine of Sunday-keeping being the Mark of the Beast from them. However, it is uncertain how prominent these authors were--even within their own denomination--and it is unknown if Joseph Bates possessed their writings or was even aware of them. Today, the SDB Church officially rejects any notion that Sunday-keeping is the Mark of the Beast: "Seventh Day Baptists do not associate Sunday observance with (or identify it with) 'the mark of the Beast' mentioned in Rev. 13:15-17, 16:2, 19:20 (NIV)." ("A Comparison of Seventh Day Baptists with Seventh-day Adventists", http://www.seattlesdb.org/sda_Compare.htm, extracted Dec. 31, 2021).
7. Ellen White, A Word to the Little Flock (1847), p. 18.
8. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph.D., February 8, 1997, in an email message posted to the "Free Catholic Mailing List" firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. The title, pope, which is derived from the Latin papa (father), was used in the second, third, and fourth centuries AD to refer to various leading bishops. At that time, it did not signify the universal leader of the Christian church, as the title pope is understood today. According to Catholics, the first pope was Peter, and there has been a line of popes succeeding after him. According to Christianity Through the Centuries (Earle Cairns, 1981), the "first medieval pope" was Gregory (590-604) who consolidated power within the church in Rome and asserted the spiritual supremacy of the bishop of Rome. However, he disclaimed the title pope. Hence, the first pope would be his successor, Sabinian, who followed after him in 606 AD. In reality, the bishop of Rome was not universally recognized as the leader of the Christian church until at least the seventh--and some historians say the eighth--century AD.
10. See for example, Exodus 31:13,17 and Ezekiel 20:12,20.
11. Esther 8:8; Daniel 6:17; Matt. 27:66.
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