This study is a historical approach to the doctrine of the Sabbath in Mormonism. As such it is concerned with the first day Sabbath which has been observed with rare exception since the founding of Mormonism. The study also investigates the interest which has existed throughout the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the seventh day Sabbath. It is found that the Latter-day Saints' interest in the seventh day Sabbath has had significant influence in their development of a Sabbath theology, and in finding defenses for their observance of the first day of the week, Sunday, as the Sabbath.
The approach this investigation takes is to view the history of Mormonism as being comprised of basically three large periods of time. These are: 1) the early period of the Church between its formation in 1830 and the death of Joseph Smith in 1844; 2) the Pioneer Era of the Church extending from 1844 to roughly the beginning of the twentieth century; 3) the Modern Era of Mormonism which has been comprised of the Church's activities during the twentieth century. The Church's teachings about its first day Sabbath, its feelings about the seventh day Sabbath, and its defenses against the seventh day Sabbath are viewed as related to each of these major time periods.
Throughout the study the vast majority of references are from works recognized as standard historical and doctrinal material of the Mormon Church. Only in areas--such as "Sunday Closing Laws and Mormonism"-- where added material is needed for a complete understanding of the topic are numerous references drawn from sources not particularly related to the Mormon Church.
Salient to this study is the considerable detail given in presenting the historical setting or Mormon way of thinking out of which certain ideas of the Sabbath were able to develop. Because of the unique aspects of the Mormon religion and way of life, this is necessary in any study of that Church, its history, and its beliefs.
The history of the Sabbath in Mormonism begins with the apparent fact that in early Mormonism the first day of the week was taken as the Sabbath. This was not one of the questions causing concern in religious thought of the day. Though Joseph Smith wrote his one "revelation" which is used to this day as proof of the Mormon first day Sabbath doctrine, there is no indication that he wrote this revelation to prove which day was the Sabbath. He merely was exhorting the Saints to a better worship on the day they were observing.
That a few early Mormons were concerned about the day of the Sabbath is apparent. Prominent among these were Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and James Jesse Strang. James J. Strang was a man as unique to American and Mormon history as Joseph Smith. His fascination with the seventh day Sabbath was no less unique.
There are four books which are considered to be part of Mormon canon. These are the Book of Mormon, the Bible (King James Version), Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. On investigation it is found that all four of these scriptural works of the Mormon Church teach the sanctity of the seventh day Sabbath. Only one small section of Doctrine and Covenants is presented as proof that God's Sabbath is to be the first day of the week.
The Pioneer Era of the Church was full of turmoil for the Saints. The Sabbath was, of course, Sunday. But beginning in this era axe lound increasing prohibitions on Sunday activities--an attitude which led eventually into an interest among Mormons in Sunday legislation as a way to increase Sunday sacredness.
Two chapters are devoted to the contributions to the Mormon Sabbath defense and doctrine made by a Methodist minister, Samuel Walter Gamble. This man's virulently written attacks on the Seventh-day Adventist Church produced arguments against the seventh day Sabbath which have been rejected by scholars of all religious convictions. However, these arguments are found to continue in Mormonism as significant arguments against the Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment.
The Sabbath in Latter-day Saintism in the Modern Era is characterized by three main areas of concern. First, continued exhortation is given to observe Sunday, along with extending the list of "thou shalt not's." Secondly, additional arguments are produced against the seventh day Sabbath. Thirdly, the Mormon Church has been active for nearly three-quarters of a century in promoting strong Sunday legislation in Utah as a method of maintaining Sunday sacredness.
It is to be concluded that the Sabbath in Mormonism--both the Church's first day Sabbath and the seventh day Sabbath it has contested --has had as colorful a history as most events, persons, or things among this movement. The Sabbath, however, appears as another area of Mormon concern where allegiance to the Church as a way of life has had to take precedence to proof in substantiating correctness of doctrine. This has apparently satisfied many Mormons who have investigated their Sabbath teaching through the years.One Latter-day Saint have found considerable difficulty in establishing satisfactory proof for the first day Sabbath teaching they have known. To these the Sabbath has become another method by which the claims of the Mormon Church can and should be tested.
A. Graham Maxwell
Jack W. Provonsha
Stanley R. Peterson
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Mormon Church -- Doctrines -- History; Sabbath
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Thomsen, Russel J., "The History of the Sabbath in Mormonism" (1968). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 912.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives