Case by Casebolt: The Millennial Sabbath Theory

Written by: 
November 19, 2022

“Case by Casebolt” is a recurring series examining the prophetic interpretations that Ellen White appropriated from William Miller.

In this column’s first installment, I provided evidence from the 2,520-day-year prophetic period, the seven times of the gentiles. In this column’s second installment, I provided evidence from Miller’s interpretation of Hosea 6:1–3. The case of the Muslim world in Revelation 9 was the third installment. The case of Luke 13:32-33 is the fourth installment in a series of about a dozen cases substantiating that both Miller’s method and results were mistaken.  Miller's Jubilee prophetic period proof is the fifth case.  I thought it appropriate to dedicate my sixth case to the six-thousand-year prophetic period promulgated by Miller.

As this series has repeatedly emphasized, Ellen White was convinced that Miller had special divine guidance that resulted in an explosion in Millerite understanding of "the last days." As a result, Miller was able to discover fifteen mathematical proofs that the end would come in 1843.  In 1843, Miller stated his thesis in one sentence:  "Time proved in Fifteen Different Ways." "These several [15] ways of prophetic chronology prove the end in 1843."[1]  He had so many proofs that he had difficulty in persuading his editors to include any more than four or five at any one time.  All fifteen of them would not fit in the 1843 Millerite chart.

"I saw that God sent his angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, and led him to search the prophecies.  Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people."[2]

However, Miller's actual textual interpretations do not evidence a high quality "understanding" of "prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people." Evidence from six cases is accumulating to support this inductive conclusion.

The Millennial Sabbath or 6000-year prophetic period

Miller's 6000-year prophetic period involved a chronological and textual basis from the entire Bible.

For centuries there had been Jewish and Christian speculation that the weekly cycle of seven days was somehow symbolic of an interval of six earthly millennia followed by a seventh utopian millennium of rest and peace.  Miller argued that the Old Testament literal sabbath was a symbolic cosmic sign.  The "Christian church observing no literal sabbath must regard the sabbath a prophetic sign, a symbol of the coming millennium."  "In the period 1840-1842 the theory of 6000 years was the most frequently discussed way of timing the second Advent."[3]  In short, whereas Seventh-Day Adventist historiography of the Millerite movement tends to myopically focus on Daniel 8–9 as the key, if not sole, prophetic period, the 6000-year argument, often called the Millennial Sabbath theory, outshone it in the 1840–1842 period, at least. 

Here again, it is evident that Miller was intent on forcing history to exactly fit his biblical pretexts rather than letting history and Scripture speak for themselves.  Assuming a 6000-year history of life on earth presumed a preference for the Masoretic, or Hebrew, version of the text.  The Samaritan and Septuagint versions indicated a "prophetic period" that was too long.  But even if one assumed that the genealogies of Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 were historically complete and the Hebrew version was preferable to the Septuagint, there were problems.  Archbishop James Ussher's chronology had reigned for a century and a half, and his conclusions were seen as settled fact.  Yet Miller had to lengthen Ussher's chronology by 153 years to get it to fit his preconceived presumptions.  According to Ussher, creation occurred in 4004 BC, but Miller insisted it occurred in 4157 BC.  This provided Ellen White with math even a child of twelve to sixteen could easily understand: 6000 – 4157 = 1843 for the end of the world.[4]  However, one only must pour over complex and tedious chronological arguments of the 1840s to realize that Miller's Millennial Sabbath hypothesis was not so simple.

Finally, what is the evidence, either scripturally or geologically, that God fit history into a neat, precise, and short (although Miller's longest) prophetic period of exactly 6000-years?  Particularly now that 2022 + 4004 = 6026, to say the least.

I would like to add a postscript responding to a frequent reaction in the forum discussion that has accompanied each case.  Several readers contend that if Ellen White does not name a specific one of Miller's 15 proofs, this indicates that she did not support it.  There are two reasons why I do not find this persuasive.  In the first instance, there are cases when a given proof is printed on the 1843 Millerite chart which Ellen White claimed that God endorsed, saying that the figures [plural] were just as God wanted them.  For instance, Ellen White did not explicitly say: "I and God endorse the 2520-year prophetic period."  Yet it is clearly included in her endorsement of the 1843 chart in which it appears.  In the second instance, Ellen White speaks of multiple "prophetic periods" being simultaneously fulfilled in 1843/44 several times in chapter 23 of her Spiritual Gifts, volume 1.  It is clear from her recounting of her participation in the distribution of Millerite pamphlets and other literature that she was familiar with Miller's arguments.  According to her, belief in the "definite time" of 1843/44 was a "saving message."  To claim that she had to have mentioned by name every single one of Miller's 15 proofs is to require too much evidence.  She summed them all up in her expression "prophetic periods."  Indeed, one major lesson this series is attempting to teach is to point out that Seventh-Day Adventists in focusing solely on only one "prophetic period," the 2300-years, have lost all historic memory of the other fourteen "prophetic periods" which were not fulfilled.  Just like the 2300-year period, they all were predicted to end with the Second Coming and the First Resurrection but did not.  Most importantly, they cannot be reinterpreted like Daniel 8 was with the procedure of saying that the exact date is correct and only the event, an invisible heavenly movement, needs to replace the original "cleansing" of the earth with fire.

The Millerites' argument, which Ellen Harmon accepted, was that Miller's 15 proofs were such overwhelmingly obvious Evidence that only dishonest, insincere, antichristian scoffers could doubt such irresistible Evidence.  Ellen considered that to be saved Miller's audience had to accept that 1843(then 1844) was a "saving message."  This is also why she believed that the door had been shut on October 22, 1844.  Doubters in October 22, 1844 had lost their chance to be saved by this "saving message."

Notes and References:

[1] Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism (Sigtuna, Sweden: Datem Publishing, 1990), 91–94.

[2] Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Review & Herald, 1858), 1:128.

[3] Kai Arasola, The End of Historicism, 107–109, 93.

[4] See Miller, Evidence (1842), 186-88 for his chronological calculations of the entire history of the world since creation.

Donald E. Casebolt studied in the MDiv program at Andrews University, studied Semitic languages and Protestant theology at Karl Eberhard Universitat Tubingen, Germany, and spent two years in a doctoral program at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. He published Child of the Apocalypse: Ellen G. White in 2021. A second bookFather Miller’s Daughter, was published by Wipf & Stock in 2022. He is a retired nurse practitioner.

Title image: William Miller and prophecy chart (public domain)

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