No church has written more on the question of the Sabbath Day
observance than the Seventh Day Adventist church, and probably no
individual man has written more on the Sabbath question than
Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi. Here I present what Dr.Sam (as he likes
to be called) has written on the "time" question of the Sabbath
observance where the sun is no aid - Keith Hunt
SABBATH TIME TO OBSERVE AND
HOW IN TIME ZONES WHEN THE
SUN DOES NOT SET
From the writings of Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi Ph.D. retired
professor of the Seventh Day Adventist church.
What is the time for beginning and ending the Sabbath today?
This is not merely an academic question for scholars to debate,
but a practical one relevant to many Christians who believe in
the validity and value of the principle of seventh-day
Sabbathkeeping for today. The problem of when to begin and to end
the observance of the Sabbath is particularly acute in those
parts of the earth where it is difficult, if not impossible, to
observe the Sabbath according to the sunset reckoning, because in
these places the sun rises or sets very early or very late or not
at all during certain periods of the year.
The question of when to begin and end the observance of the
Sabbath was examined at great length by the early Adventist
believers. The aim of this chapter is first to summarize briefly
the positions they adopted, since these do provide a valuable
historical perspective to discuss Sabbath reckoning today.
Second, this chapter attempts to suggest a guideline for
Sabbath reckoning in those parts of the earth where the sunset
reckoning is difficult and sometimes impossible to follow. The
suggested guideline will be developed out of the implications of
the Fourth Commandment as well as out of the conclusions drawn in
the previous chapter.
The Reckoning of the Sabbath Today
1. FROM 6 P.M. TO 6 P.M.
Seventh Day Baptists.
Seventh-day Sabbathkeeping was introduced in America by the
Seventh Day Baptists, who organized their first church in Rhode
Island in 1671. In the eighteenth century the German Seventh Day
Baptists in the Ephrata community of Pennsylvania observed their
Sabbath from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Julius Friedrich Sachse, a historian of German sectarian
groups in Pennsylvania, notes that "the Sabbath was ushered in
with the first hour of [after] the sixth day (Friday, 6 p.m.) and
closed at the end of the twelfth hour of the seventh day
(Saturday, 5•59 p.m.) to conform to the very letter of the law in
the New Testament." This method of Sabbathkeeping from 6 p.m. to
6 p.m. was apparently advocated by other Seventh Day Baptist
groups, as indicated by the discussion of this issue in The
"Sabbath Recorder," a periodical of the Seventh Day Baptists.
Seventh-day Sabbathkeeping was first introduced to Adventist
believers in Washington, New Hampshire, early in 1844 by Rachel
Preston Oakes, a Seventh Day Baptist. T.M.Preble was the first
Adventist minister to accept and teach the Sabbath. In an article
which he wrote in 1845, Preble seems to suggest that the Sabbath
must be observed from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m.
During the first 10 years of their history Adventists
generally observed the Sabbath from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m.
Saturday, although some kept it from sunrise to sunrise. The main
promoter of the 6 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sabbath reckoning was Joseph
Bates, an ex-sea captain and a self-sacrificing crusader for
truth who became a pioneer of the early Advent believers and an
apostle for the Sabbath. In August 1846 Bates published a 48-page
pamphlet entitled "The Seventh-day Sabbath, a Perpetual Sign,"
which proved to be a mighty instrument in propagating the message
of the Sabbath.
The reasoning Bates gives in this pamphlet for beginning and
ending the Sabbath at 6 p.m. is that one "cannot regulate the day
and night to have what the Savior calls twelve hours in the day
[John 11:9] without establishing the time from the centre of the
earth, the equator, where at the beginning of the sacred year,
the sun rises and sets at 6 o'clock." Bates continues reasoning
that since in the Arctic and Antarctic areas there are times when
the sun never sets or never rises, then "the inhabitants of the
earth have no other right time to commence their twenty-four hour
day, than beginning at 6 o'clock in the evening."
There is no evidence that Bates was influenced by German
Seventh Bay Baptists in forming his position on the six o'clock
beginning time for the Sabbath. "Rather, he came to these
conclusions," rightly notes Carl Coffman, "as a result of his
knowledge of a seaman's computation of equatorial time."
In the spring of 1851 Bates defended his 6 p.m. to 6 p.m.
position in an article entitled "Time to Begin the Sabbath,"
where he appeals to two main Bible texts, namely, Leviticus 23:32
and Matthew 20:1-16.9 From the first he derived the principle of
keeping the Sabbath "from even unto even," and from the second he
established the time of "even," namely, 6 p.m.
The fact that in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard
(Matt 20:1-16) the master paid his laborers at "even" (v.8),
which was the 12th hour of the day, led Bates to the conclusion
that the 12 hours of the day were reckoned from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thus 6 p.m. is the "even" which marks the beginning and end of
To defend this view Rates argued that the Sabbath should be
reckoned according to equatorial time, that is, according to the
length of the day and night at the equator. At the equator
sunrise and sunset occur consistently throughout the year
plus/minus 10 minutes at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. respectively
Bates maintained that the Sabbath should be observed according to
the "equatorial day" in all parts of the world. What he meant is
that the Sabbath is to be observed longitudinally from 6 p.m. to
6 p.m. as it comes to each part of the earth in due time as the
earth revolves on its axis.
The majority of the early Adventist believers adopted Bates'
position, especially because he was greatly respected on account
of his consistent Christian life and his zeal in proclaiming the
distinctive Adventist beliefs. Writing in 1868 James White
acknowledges that Bates' "decided stand upon the question, and
respect for his years, and his godly life, might have been among
the reasons why this point was not sooner investigated as
thoroughly as some other points." Among those who accepted Bates'
position were James and Ellen White.
Diversity in Sabbath Reckoning.
For several years most Adventist believers observed the
Sabbath according to equatorial time, that is, from 6 p.m. to 6
p.m. Many, however, were not satisfied with this method. Thus
some observed the Sabbath from sunset to sunset while others from
sunrise to sunrise. In reviewing the entire matter several years
later (1868) James White wrote: "the six o'clock time was called
in question by a portion of believers as early as 1847, some
maintaining that the Sabbath commenced at sunrise while others
claimed Bible evidence in favor of sunset."
The existing diversity in the time of Sabbathkeeping was of
great concern to Adventist leaders, who feared that unless this
question could be clearly settled on Biblical grounds, the
continuing divergence might splinter the Advent believers.
This concern led James white to urge first D.P.Hall and later
J.N.Andrews to investigate this subject and ascertain what the
Bible actually taught regarding Sabbath reckoning. Hall failed to
produce an article but Andrews submitted the results of his
investigation in the form of a paper which later appeared in
article form in the December 4, 1855 issue of the "Review and
2. PROM SUNSET TO SUNSET
In his paper Andrews argues convincingly that the New
Testament defines "evening" not necessarily as 6 p.m. but rather
as "sunset." He appeals especially to texts such as Mark 1:32
where it explicitly says: "That evening, at sundown, they brought
to him all who were sick or possessed with demons" (cf. Luke
4:40; Matt 8:16). Here the evening which marks the end of the
Sabbath is clearly linked to sunset. Andrews gave additional
references from the Old Testament where "even" is equated with
the setting of the sun.
Regarding the parable of the laborers in the vineyard,
Andrews argues that it does not necessarily prove that the 12th
hour of the day coincided exactly with 6 p.m. He establishes this
point by showing that the 12 hours of the day were not 12
sixty-minute periods like ours, but rather 12 equal parts of the
daylight time, which would vary somewhat according to season.
This conclusion is explicitly supported by John 11:9 where Jesus
says: "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in
the day, he does not stumble because he sees the light of this
Support for Andrews' reasoning is found in the Talmud, where
there is a discussion of the extent of reasonable error in the
estimate of the hour of the day and it is noted that "in the
sixth hour the sun stands in the meridian." Thus Andrews rightly
concluded that the Jewish hour was not an exact time unit but the
12th part of the time between sunrise and sunset at any time of
the year. Consequently the parable of the laborers in the
vineyard offers no valid justification for a 6 p.m. to a 6 p.m.
method of beginning and ending the Sabbath.
Two Major Reasons.
Andrews presented two major reasons for ruling out the 6
p.m. to 6 p.m. method of Sabbathkeeping. First, such a method is
dependent upon clocks or watches, which did not exist in Bible
times. This would mean that in those days God's people would have
been at a loss to know when to begin and end the Sabbath. Second,
"the Bible, by several plain statements, establishes the fact
that evening is at sunset."
The conclusions reached by Andrews are based on a sound
analysis of the Biblical data. At the same time it should be
noted that the difference between the position of Andrews and
that of Bates is relative as far as Palestine is concerned,
because in that country the difference between the earliest
sunset in December (about 6 p.m.) and the latest sunset in July
(about 8:00 p.m.) is about two hours. The problem arises,
however, in those parts of the earth furthest away from the
equator where sunset time varies during the course of the year as
much as ten or more hours.
1855 Sabbath Conference.
Andrews' paper was presented and discussed at a conference
held in Battle Creek on Sabbath, November 17, 1855. The
convincing and comprehensive analysis of Andrews was accepted by
all, with the exception of a small minority. Two days later on
November 19, 1855, Ellen White had a vision which confirmed the
(The subject of Ellen White and her "visions" is another subject
that takes another study, hence we will not enter that debate
here, as to her visions and the right or wrong of them - Keith
Following the Sabbath conference of 1855, the sunset
reckoning became widely accepted practically by all Adventist
believers. Writing in the Review in 1864, Uriah Smith, the
editor, says: "Harmony now reigns where there might have been
discord and division." The only major problem that arose after
the official acceptance of the sunset reckoning in 1855 was the
application of this method in those regions of the earth where
the sun sets very early, or very late, or, as in the Arctic and
Antarctic, not at all for a period of time. The solutions adopted
for these regions will be briefly summarized below.
3. SABBATH RECKONING IN THE ARCTIC
The observance of the Sabbath according to the sunset
reckoning in the Arctic regions becomes practically impossible
during part of the summer when the sun never descends below the
horizon and during part of the winter when the sun never rises
above the horizon. In these areas the common difficulties
resulting from observing the seventh-day Sabbath, in a society
where most working schedules are built around Sunday as the day
of rest, are compounded by the problem of knowing when to begin
and close the Sabbath during those weeks when the sun does not
rise or does not set.
The problem of observing the Sabbath in the Arctic region
exists not only during the time when the sun does not set or rise
above the horizon, but also during the time just before the sun's
disappearance for a certain period in winter and immediately
following its reappearance. At this time of the year the sun sets
by noon time; thus half of the Sabbath falls within the civil
time of Friday. What this means is that according to the sunset
reckoning, for several weeks every year half of the Sabbath falls
during the civil time of Friday and half during that of Saturday.
Under these conditions the observance of the Sabbath according to
the sunset reckoning becomes a real problem, because it requires
the interruption of work on Friday by noon and the resumption of
work on Saturday after the noon hour. This is not an imaginary
problem but a real one which Seventh-day Sabbathkeepers face, for
example, in the northern part of Norway and to a lesser degree
in all Scandinavian countries and Alaska. No easy solution can be
offered on how to observe the Sabbath according to the sunset
reckoning when the above conditions prevail.
Several recommendstions have been offered by the General
Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to believers living in the
Arctic regions. The preferred recommended practice is that
"during the winter period when there are no sunsets, the Sabbath
be begun and ended at the same time it was begun and ended when
the last sunset occurred:"
Other acceptable alternatives are "(a) that during the
winter when there are no sunsets, the end of the twilight, or in
other words the beginning of darkness, as indicated by
astronomical tables, be looked upon as the beginning of the
Sabbath, or (b) that it be kept according to astronomical
computations for the moment when the sun is closest to the
horizon, or at its zenith, on Friday until it returns to this
point on Saturday, or (c) that the Sabbath be begun and ended
during the winter period when there are no sunsets north of the
Arctic Circle at the same time as indicated on sunset calendars
just south of the Arctic Circle."
These recommendations were endorsed by a study committee
appointed by the Northern European Division of Seventh-day
Adventists to study the "borderlines of the Sabbath." However,
this study group, which met at Skoodsborg, Denmark, from February
28 to March 1, 1980, came up with a broader interpretation of the
term "evening." They concluded that "the biblical material may
offer a basis for a flexible definition of 'evening' in areas
where the diminishing of light rather than the setting of the am
is the observable natural phenomenon. Such definition of
'evening' would nevertheless remain in close touch with the
Summing up the historical position of the Seventh-day
Adventist Church on the time for beginning and ending the
Sabbath, we can say that the sunset reckoning has been accepted
as the normative Biblical method since 1855. This method has also
been the basis for formulating recommendations for those regions
where the sun does not set or rise for a certain period of the
4. SABBATH RECKONING TODAY
The foregoing brief historical survey has served to
establish two major facts: (1) Seventhday Adventists have since
1855 regarded the sunset reckoning as the normative Biblical
method for beginning and ending the Sabbath. (2) The difficulty
of following the sunset reckoning in the Arctic regions, where
the sun for a certain period of time does not set or rise above
the horizon, has been met by broadening the meaning of "sunset"
to include, for example, "the end of the twilight," "the
diminishing of light - the moment when the sun is closest to the
A Note of Commendation.
Recognition must be given to the early Adventist pioneers,
especially to J.N.Andrews, for establishing from the Scripture
the sunset to sunset method for beginning and ending the Sabbath.
Commendation must also be given to Adventist leaders living in
and near the Arctic regions, for observing the Sabbath as closely
as possible to the sunset reckoning, even if it means facing the
problem of having to obtain exemption from work not only for
Saturday but also for much of the civil time of Friday.
The following considerations are not intended to downplay
the noble effort which has been made to establish from the
Scripture the sunset to sunset method of Sabbathkeeping and to
implement such a method even in the midst of the most adverse
circumstances. Anyone who is willing to pay the price for what he
or she believes to be the will of God deserves our commendation
and not condemnation.
My intent is rather to ascertain on the basis of the
Biblical material if a more satisfactory guideline can be
proposed to determine the beginning and end of the Sabbath in
those regions of the earth where the sunset at certain times of
the year does not provide a rational division between the day and
the night. It is my fervent hope that the guideline to be
proposed will contribute to the solution and not to the
complication of an already complex problem.
The Sabbath Commandment.
Any attempt to ascertain the Biblical teaching on the time
for beginning and ending the Sabbath, ought to start from a study
of the Fourth Commandment itself as found in Exodus 20:8-11.
After all, the manner and the time of Sabbathkeeping ought to be
reflective of the principles enunciated in the commandment
It may be surprising to some to note that no specific
instructions are given in the Fourth Commandment on the manner
and time of Sabbathkeeping. The only injunction given is to
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" by doing all one's
work in six days and by resting the seventh day to the Lord your
Regarding the manner, the commandment does not offer, for
example, any injunction to attend religious services on the
Sabbath. Why? The reason may be found in the divine awareness of
the plight of those believers who through the centuries have been
prevented by sickness or circumstances from participating in a
corporate religious service.
Similarly the absence of any instruction in the Fourth
Commandment regarding the time to begin and end the observance of
the Sabbath may reflect divine awareness of the predicament of
those believers who would be called to live in regions of the
earth where sometimes it would be impossible to observe the
Sabbath from sunset to sunset.
If the Fourth Commandment had spelled out that the
seventh-day Sabbath is to be observed everywhere on earth from
sunset to sunset, then those believers who live in those northern
regions, where at least for a time there is no sunset, would have
felt guilty for beginning and ending the Sabbath according to a
The absence, then, in the Fourth Commandment of specific
instructions on the exact manner and time of Sabbathkeeping is
indicative of divine wisdom in formulating a principle whose
application could be adapted to different cultures and
geographical locations. It is important thus to note at the
outset that the method of observing the Sabbath from sunset to
sunset is dictated not by the Fourth Commandment itself, but by
the method of sunset reckoning which became normative in Jewish
Validity of Sunset Reckoning.
Several reasons have contributed to make the sunset
reckoning normative for the observance of the annual feasts in
general and of the weekly Sabbath in particular. A first reason
is suggested by the legislation regarding the Day of Atonement,
which, as noted in the previous chapter, implies that the
beginning of the fast was anticipated from the morning of the
10th day, starting the evening of the 9th day (Lev 23:27-32),
presumably to help people better to prepare themselves for the
solemn services that began the following morning of the 10th.
Similarly the beginning of the observance of the Sabbath on
Friday evening at sunset could have been dictated by the
necessity to help believers to be better prepared and predisposed
to enter into the daylight celebration of the Sabbath.
End of Working Day.
A second reason is suggested by the fact that for all
practical purposes in Bible times sunset marked the end of the
working day. This fact is clearly illustrated in the parable of
the laborers in the vineyard where the owner in the "evening"
calls the laborers to pay them their wages (Matt 20:8). Being the
end of a working day, the "evening" represented in a sense the
end of the day itself and thus the beginning of a new day.
A third reason, which is closely related to the second, is
implied in the injunction: "Six days you shall labor, and do all
your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God"
(Ex 20:9-10). The implication here is that the observance of the
seventh day begins at the completion of the sixth day of work.
Since in Bible times the sixth day of work, as just noted, ended
in the "evening" (Matt 20:8), the same "evening" could naturally
function as the beginning of the rest and sanctification of the
Ideal Psychological and Social Time.
A last reason is suggested by the psychological and social
function of sunset. Psychologically the setting of the sun marks
the end of our working day and the beginning of the new cycle of
rest and work of another day. Thus sunset offers an ideal
psychological beginning for the celebration of the Sabbath as the
day of rest, worship, and service unto the Lord.
Socially, the setting of the sun has the effect of bringing
the family members back together. The work of the day scatters
the family in different directions, but the setting of the sun
brings the family members back together for the evening supper
and fellowship. Thus sunset offers an ideal sociological moment,
when the family members are together again at the end of a
working day, to begin together the celebration of the Sabbath
It is no wonder that in the course of Jewish history a very
rich and meaningful ritual was developed to mark the arrival and
the departure of the Sabbath at sunset. After all, the Sabbath
was a family celebration, which in Bible times included all
dependent workers (Ex 20:10). Thus, sunset time by rallying the
family members together, provided an ideal moment for beginning
and ending the Sabbath.
Normative Method of Sabbathkeeping.
It is also no wonder that while we have found in the
previous chapter indications of the existence in Bible times also
of a sunrise method of day reckoning, no explicit indications
were found suggesting that such a method was ever used for
reckoning the beginning and end of the Sabbath.
All the passages in the Old and New Testament which refer to
the time element of Sabbathkeeping clearly suggest a sunset
reckoning. Luke, for example, explicitly designates the late ...
afternoon when Jesus' body was taken down from the cross as "the
day of preparation, and the sabbath was beginning" (Luke 23:54).
Similarly Mark explains that the people waited until the "evening
at sunset" (Mark 1:32; cf. Luke 4:40) to bring to Christ the sick
and demon-possessed. Passages such as these clearly indicate that
the Sabbath was observed by the Jelish people in general from
sunset to sunset.
In the light of the foregoing considerations we conclude
that the sunset reckoning for beginning and ending the Sabbath -
though it is not dictated directly by the Fourth Commandment -
became the normative method in Jewish history.
Sunset Reckoning Valid Today.
In my view the sunset reckoning is still valid and valuable
today, wherever the sunset does provide, as in Palestine, a
logical termination of the working day and a balanced division
between the daytime and the nighttime. My conviction rests on the
fact that the above-mentioned reasons which made the sunset
reckoning normative for Sabbathkeeping in Bible times, are
reasons still valid and relevant today.
As in Bible times, so today the beginning of the Sabbath on
Friday evening at sunset enables believers to be better prepared
to enter into the daylight celebration of the Sabbath. As in
Bible times, so in most countries today sunset marks the end of
the sixth working day and the beginning of the rest and
sanctification of the seventh day.
As in Bible times, so in most countries today, sunset can
bring the family members together at the end of the sixth working
day to begin together the celebration of the Sabbath day. The
sunset reckoning, then, is still a valid and valuable method for
beginning and ending Sabbath wherever sunset provides a balanced
division between daytime and nighttime as in Bible lands.
5. EQUATORIAL SUNSET TIME FOR THE ARCTIC
The use of the sunset reckoning becomes problematic
especially in Arctic regions of the earth where at certain times
of the year the sun sets as early as noon, or as late as midnight
or not at all. The crucial question is: should the beginning and
the end of the Sabbath be determined in these regions on the
basis of the sunset reckoning?
Broader Meaning of Sunset.
Historically, as noted earlier, 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 the twilight, the diminishing of
light, the moment when the sun is closest to the horizon. Past
attempts to extrapolate from the sunset reckoning some broader
criteria to determine the beginning and end of the Sabbath for
the Arctic regions are indicative of the conviction that the
sunset reckoning is the Biblical normative method to determine
the beginning and end of the Sabbath everywhere, irrespective of
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
In the first place, the sunset reckoning is not dictated by
the Fourth Commandment where, as noted earlier, no instruction is
given regarding the time to begin and end the observance of the
Sabbath. We concluded that the absence of such an instruction may
be indicative of divine wisdom in formulating a principle
adaptable to different geographical locations.
The Fourth Commandment establishes the principle of keeping
the Sabbath holy by working six days and resting on the seventh
day unto the Lord. The application of this principle is dependent
upon what constitutes the end of the working day in any given
geographical area of the world.
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"
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 morning.
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. By the same token to begin the celebration of
the Sabbath on Friday at noon-sunset and to end it on Saturday at
the noon-sunset, means to observe the Sabbath half during the
"daytime" of Friday and half during the "daytime" of Saturday.
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
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.
To insist on using the sunset reckoning in the Arctic
regions for determining the end of the sixth day and thus the
beginning of the seventh day means to disrupt the balance
established by God between the daytime for work and the night-
time for rest. If, as Christ said, there are "twelve hours in the
days (John 11:9), then in those places where the sunset reckoning
would reduce the daytime to 6 hours or less, the end of the
daytime and the beginning of the Sabbath must of necessity be
determined not by the sun but by the clock.
Coexistence of Two Day Reckonings.
A last reason for favoring a different method from the
sunset reckoning in or near the Arctic regions is the apparent
coexistence of two methods of day reckoning in Bible times:
sunrise to sunrise and sunset to sunset. In the previous chapter
we established that these two methods apparently coexisted side
If this conclusion is correct, and in my view the evidences
favor it, then the Bible provides a justification for adopting a
different method of day reckoning in those Arctic regions where
the sunset reckoning is difficult and even impossible to use for
What method should then be used in the Arctic regions for
determining the beginning and the end of the Sabbath?
Equatorial Sunset Tim.
In the 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. This method, as noted earlier in this chapter, was
first introduced by Joseph Bates and was used by the early
Adventist believers during the first 10 years of their history.
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).
An important point often ignored is that the Fourth
Commandment ordains not only to rest on the seventh day unto the
Lord, but also to work on six days to endeavor to complete one's
work by the end of the sixth day. In fact, it is the fulfillment
of the latter which makes the former possible. The sunset
reckoning in Arctic regions, by shortening the working time of
the sixth day at certain periods of the year to half a day or
less, undermines the integrity of the working time of the sixth
day, and thus makes it more difficult to complete one's work in
preparation for the Sabbath.
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
Emperor Caesar Augustus himself acknowledged the right of
the Jews to be released from civil obligations earlier on Friday
by legislating that Jews "be not obliged to go before any judge
on the day of preparation after the ninth hour," that is, after
about 3 p.m. The obvious reason for this legislation was to
enable the Jews to have adequate time to prepare themselves for
the arrival of 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 reckoning.
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,
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. Furthermore, we have seen that this
method is compatible with the Palestinian sunset time, besides
preserving the integrity of the sixth day of work (Ex 20:9),
which is presupposed by the Fourth Commandment.
Three major conclusions can be drawn from the investigation
conducted in this chapter. First, the absence of any specific
instruction in the Fourth Commandment regarding the time for
beginning and ending the Sabbath suggests that divine wisdom has
chosen to leave the determination of the time factor open to
accomodate differing geographical situations.
Second, the reasons which made the sunset reckoning
normative in Bible times for beginning and ending the Sabbath,
are reasons which are still valid and valuable today. This is
true wherever sunset respects to a large degree the integrity of
the sixth working day by providing a balanced division between
daytime and nighttime as in Bible lands.
Lastly, in the Arctic regions where the sun sets very early,
very late or not at all, it is recommendable in my view to
observe the Sabbath from 6 p.m. to 6 p.m., according to the
equatorial sunset time. This method, we have seen, preserves the
integrity of the sixth working day, is compatible with the sunset
time of Bible lands, and respects the working schedule of most
people living in the Arctic regions.
The intent of this last recommendation is not to make an
already difficult situation worse by suggesting a different
method of reckoning the Sabbath. Rather, it is my fervent hope
that this study with its resulting recommendation, will
contribute to the resolution of the complex problem of Sabbath
reckoning in the Arctic regions and not to its intensification.
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 that 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
I would agree with Dr.Sam that in the overall of the principles
of Sabbath observance, the 6 pm to 6 pm would be the best
reasonable solution to those people in parts of the earth where
the sun can be of little guidance in determining the hours of a
full day to observe the Sabbath.
It is to be noted that in ancient Israel there was a system of
"judges" who were to guide and rule on matters that were not
written in the laws of the Old Covenant under Moses. See
Deuternomomy 17:8-13. The Bible is not a text-book on everything
that can be a part of this life in the physical flesh. Judgments
are needed from time to time, such as the question of Sabbath
observance in the far North countries. The example of ancient
Israel having judges must also be applied in the Church of God.
The study by Dr.Sam above illustrates the need for judges in the
church - Keith Hunt.
Entered on this Website January 2008