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Eugene W. Prewitt

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Sunday Laws, the End, and Jon Paulien

By Eugene Prewitt

Introduction

Recently I watched a series of three lectures by Jon Paulien on the topic of Sunday laws. These lectures were hosted and promoted by the Central California Conference and by its administration.

As I watched, I observed that the administrators said repeatedly that they did not want to argue about these points, but only to have a friendly academic discussion. So please read this reply, not as a mean-spirited polemic, but as a friendly discussion with academics.

What I intend to show herein is:

  1. That Jon Paulien’s eight principles of prophetic interpretation are not usefully reliable
  2. That the line of demarcation between conditional and unconditional prophecy is well-defined in scripture and does not fall were Paulien assigns it
  3. That Revelation 13 is most certainly unconditional prophecy and will be fulfilled as written
  4. That, contrary to Paulien, Ellen White’s visions regarding Sunday legislation did not change over time, even if they did become more detailed in nature.
  5. That Paulien is fulfilling a very significant prophecy about making “of none effect” the “Testimonies.”
  6. That Paulien’s idea that times have changed since the 1880’s (in such a way as to negate some of the specifics of Ellen White’s writings) is fallacious in significant ways.
  7. That the Bible teachings about the Seal of God and the Mark of the Beast are watertight and able to be used to make confident statements about the future.

In the spirit of a friendly discussion, I will forgo making editorial comments about how dangerous and destructive I view some of these errors to be. But I encourage the reader to be thinking about values and about repercussions. These are important, even in friendly conversations. Let’s start with conditional and unconditional prophecies.

Conditional and Unconditional Prophecies

In the story of Joseph explaining the dream to Pharaoh, Genesis gives us a principle of prophetic interpretation.

“And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.” Genesis 41:32

From this we gather simply that unconditional prophecies can be recognized by their repetitive nature. And as the pairs in Genesis of repeated dreams (sheaves/stars; bread/juice; cows/corn) were each given in diverse metaphors, we can easily identify Daniel and Revelation as unconditional prophecy.

To say this again, nothing that Pharaoh could do could avert the seven years of famine. And nothing Nebuchadnezzar could do could prevent the coming of Persia. The variety of metaphors in Daniel 2 and 7 that show this, also show that “the thing is established by God.”

A conditional prophecy, by contrast, is one that is based on a reward for commendable or reprehensible behavior.

“The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.” Jeremiah 18:7-8. (See also 9-10)

So, promises of reward and punishment are conditional. And in the case of Judas, we learn that some prophecies of an unconditional element (someone will betray Jesus) also include a conditional element (that that someone will be Judas).

This is a simple line that helps anyone identify conditional and unconditional prophecies. And as Revelation 7, 13-18 go over the same ground of prophecy with a variety of figures, we can be certain that like the rest of Daniel and Revelation, these are prophecies that are unconditional, “established by God.”

Principles of Prophetic Interpretation

Adventists have access to some of the most comprehensive and succinct rules of prophetic interpretation that have been penned. I am thinking of those of William Miller.  And even today I find persons making common errors in their interpretation of prophecy that, if they had read his rules, they might have avoided.

As an example, Miller explained that elements in prophecy should be understood literally unless good sense and/or context makes a literal understanding irrational. (Leopards don’t have four heads, therefore the leopard is a metaphor, and the other beasts sensibly likewise.)

Counter to this principle, many persons interpreting Daniel 11 recently have said “since the prophecy begins literally, it should be consistently literal all the way through.” But this is bogus in most obvious ways. The seals, for instance, begin metaphorically and end literally. And the trumpets similarly begin metaphorically and end literally. And the plagues start literally and become metaphorical in the sixth plague. In short, many lines of prophecies combine metaphorical and literal elements. Miller’s rule works great in real life application to these Bible prophecies.

But what about Paulien’s principles? As tools for the Bible student, do they help you understand the meaning of prophetic verses? I’ll leave you to answer that question. But let’s go over each of them briefly.

  1. God is consistent.

This is certainly true. And it is perhaps helpful to know that God can be trusted, and that, as Paulien says, and as Solomon also says, history repeats itself.

  • God is not predictable.

By this, Paulien means that God gives typical prophecies in a way that may not be fulfilled just as it is written, and consequently, not just as we expect.

To this I would say, “God gave Daniel and Revelation to us to be understood in our time. Every element that is already fulfilled has been fulfilled just as it is written. And as that is hundreds of elements and details, there is no reason to suppose that the future elements will be less reliably fulfilled as written.”

There is a truth that Paulien expresses under this heading: God’s ways are beyond our ability to understand, “inscrutable.” He may fulfill written prophecies in ways we do not expect. But they will, none-the-less, be fulfilled as written.  Our inability to understand God’s ways are not the result (as Paulien alleges) of God resisting being predicable. They are rather the result of our human weaknesses.

  • God is creative.

Let us give the professor this much: God certainly does set new precedents. He does “new” things. His part in the repetition of history may vary from time to time in creative ways, though not in principle.

It is here in the first lecture that he makes a distinction between the “believer” and the “scholar.” He says the believer has commitments that he brings to his studies while the scholar tests such commitments seeking for evidence to bolster or to overthrow them.

I, for one, wish scholars were more skeptical in their rigorous testing of their own scholarly ideas. And I wish believers were more skeptical of the scholars that teach them. But it is skepticism regarding what the prophets say that makes a man a fool, whether or not he professes to be scholarly.

  • God meets people where they are.

Again, take some time to read Miller’s principles of prophetic interpretation. They will enable you to approach Daniel and Revelation and to begin to make sense of the symbols. But Paulien’s “principles” do nothing of the sort.

What I understand him to be saying here is that God gives prophetic messages in a way that matches the experience and understanding of the prophet, avoiding phrases or elements that would be strange to the prophet.

And I reply, “While it is true that God uses a prophet’s own vocabulary and rhetorical skills, it most certainly is not true that prophets wrote more for their time than for ours. Peter says that the prophets were shown that ‘not to themselves but to us they were ministering.’ And this was what they learned when they could not ascertain the meaning of what they were shown. 1Peter 1:11-12. And Daniel was mystified by the symbols presented to him (Daniel 8).

That brings us to another point. Paulien alleges that God gave an idol vision to Nebuchadnezzar because he was an idolator and a vision of animals that God created to Daniel because he was a believer.  But the fact that the king later saw a giant tree and that Daniel saw unrealistic violent creatures doesn’t match this theory.

There is a better explanation for how God chooses the nature of symbols in a prophecy: the subject of the prophecy influences the symbols: So a vision about a butler involves grapes. And a vision about a baker involves bread. And a vision about feast and famine involves food. And a vision about the authority in Joseph’s family involves the lights given to rule the day and the night. A vision about human empires is given in the form of idols and ravenous beasts. And a vision about the sanctuary is given in sanctuary language. A vision about the churches in pictures with lamp stands. And a vision relating to the seal of God is given with seals on a book.

Now that is a principle of interpretation that might help you, but it is not from the video.

The fifth principle of Paulien is this:

  • God often spiritualizes history and fulfills it in a non-literal way

This is largely true. God uses history and makes it into symbols of later ages and with wider application. Thus we find Babylon and the “kings of the east” in Revelation. And as Paulien observes, we find almost the whole of Revelation couched in metaphors drawn from Old Testament history. Types, by their nature, are non-literal. And so this principle is Biblical as it is applied to the spiritualizing of history.

The business of applying it to prophecies such that literal prophecies should be expected to be fulfilled in non-literal ways, is more nuanced.

On one hand, the large and repeated history of Israel going into captivity; and then a remnant being gathered back to their homeland, is heavily spiritualized by scripture. And some prophecies predicting future literal captivities or returnings, were conditional prophecies. And a subset of these (like those about Gog, Magog, and the surrounding of Jerusalem) became prophecies that would never be fulfilled literally. But some elements of them are picked up as metaphors by Revelation.

For more on this, see my article on Revelation 20 at www.bibledoc.org

Where Paulien runs his theological ship aground is in applying this principle to symbolic prophecy as is found in Daniel and Revelation. But we will talk about that more under his seventh principle.

  • God uses the language of the prophet’s past and present.

This is, frankly, a faulty principle. It is true that God’s messages to prophets very often have allusions to previous prophetic revelations. The principle sinks when one expects the prophet’s view to be too narrow. Did Isaiah, as Paulien alleges, give a false-in-detail prophecy in Isaiah 11? And did Ellen White do the same in her prophecies of the National Sunday Law?

Let’s look briefly at Isaiah 11, Paulien’s showcase example.

The first half of this chapter is messianic and eschatological. It describes Jesus as coming from the family of Jesse and being filled with the Spirit (v.1-2) so that He will judge righteously (v. 3-4) and eventually “slay the wicked” with the “breath of his lips.” (v. 4-5). Then will come the new age in which the wolf will lie down with the lamb and children will play safely with venomous snakes “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (v. 6-10).

And as no child will be less than a thousand years old at the close of the millennium, and as the earth fills with such knowledge just prior to Christ’s coming, some have reasoned that verses 6-10 must include some metaphor (as wolves and lambs and snakes and children all figure widely into NT illustrations.)

Then verses 11-16 describe the gathering time. This metaphor of several Old Testament prophecies is the one picked up in Revelation when it introduces Babylon and the kings of the east. This interesting illustration of God gathering his faithful persons is introduced with “and I that day (when the knowledge of God covers the earth) there shall be a root of Jesse that shall stand as a banner” to gather his people the “second time.”

I hope that you can see that it would be poor thinking to take a prophecy filled with more-or-less obscure metaphors and to reason that a portion is simultaneously literal and erroneous.

The truth is that prophets choose their vocabulary, but God chooses their metaphors.

Paulien uses this passage as evidence that some prophecies are never fulfilled as they are given. But it shows rather that some prophecies are fulfilled metaphorically.

He could truly have shown other prophecies that were not fulfilled because of their conditional nature. But this would be no evidence in favor of his theory that certain prophecies are mistakenly worded with elements matching the time of the prophet rather than the time of the fulfillment.

To say this another way, Isaiah 11 provides no evidence that Ellen White’s materials on the National Sunday will not be literally fulfilled as written.

  • Fulfillments are always clearer after fulfillment.

This is true, of course. And Paulien makes a good case from John 14:29 that prophecies (at least some of them) are given to build our faith after we observe the fulfillment.

But it would be a mistake to take this principle as precluding God trying to warn us in detail about an upcoming crisis or time of testing. Please consider this point.

It can be seen readily in the story of Jesus that He did, indeed, try often to give them accurate detailed information about the trial they would face at his death. But they did not credit the information as being capable of being comprehended. “Who can understand these things?” was the language of their private conversations. We would not want to similarly view plain statements about our future as having a mystical character.

  • One should distinguish between apocalyptic and classical prophecies.

By these, Paulien means that classical prophecies are the ones that are least dependable for predicting future details. He believes that classic predictions are fulfilled differently than written because God (at times?) replaces the true places and details in the prediction with more familiar (yet incorrect) places and details.

And it is precisely his work of making Ellen White a “classical” prophet that makes him a fulfillment of one of her most ominous end-time prophecies:

“Satan is… constantly pressing in the spurious—to lead away from the truth. The very last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony of the Spirit of God. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Proverbs 29:18. Satan will work ingeniously, in different ways and through different agencies, to unsettle the confidence of God’s remnant people in the true testimony.” – 1SM 48.3

Reader, you do not want to be a victim of “ingeniously” laid plans to unsettle your confidence in the testimonies at the very time when God is working to settle us intellectually and spiritually so that we cannot be moved.

To bolster his argument, Paulien alleges a change, over time, in the writings of Ellen White regarding the Sunday Law. He produces several quotes that he uses as evidence that early on, she predicted a catholic-free Protestant Sunday law. Then, as time progressed, he says that this view was modified to include a Catholic resurgence and spiritualism. Finally, it was modified to speak of a Sabbath-forbidding law.

This whole idea is just untrue. One of her plainest statements about the participation of Catholics in the final persecution is also one of her earliest, written before any of her books were published.

     … Then I saw the mother of harlots, that the mother was not the daughters, but separate and distinct from them. She has had her day, and it is past, and her daughters, Protestant sects, were next to come on the stage and act out the same mind that the mother had when she persecuted the saints. I saw that as the mother has been declining in power the daughters have been growing, and soon they will exercise the power once manifested by the mother.

     I saw that the nominal churches and nominal Adventists, like Judas, would betray us to the Catholics, to obtain their influence to come against the saints. The saints will be an obscure people, but little known to the Catholics, but the church and nominal Adventists will know of our faith and customs, and will betray the saints and report them to the Catholics, as those who disregard the institution of the pope, that is they keep the Sabbath and disregard Sunday.

Then the Catholics bid the Protestants to go forward and issue a decree that all who will not observe the first day of the week instead of the seventh shall be slain, and the Catholics, whose numbers are large, will stand by the Protestants. The Catholics will give their power to the image of the beast and then Protestants will work as their mother worked before them to destroy the saints. But before their decrees bring forth or bear fruit, the saints will be delivered by the voice of God.—Ms 15.3-5, 1850

These same ideas were expressed 16 years later, “Our people have been regarded as too insignificant to be worthy of notice, but a change will come… The Christian world is now making movements which will necessarily bring the commandment-keeping people of God to notice… The law-making powers will be against God’s commandment-keeping people. Every soul will be tested.”—Lt 65.6, 1886

Ellen seemed to have both of the previous revelations in mind when she wrote in 1882 about Sunday laws. Notice that she did not write of the Sunday laws as a new understanding by Adventists, but as the truth we had been teaching for decades already. And notice also what this statement says about the future fulfillment of details, namely that not one element of the predictions will fail.

Many smiled and would not believe when we told them, twenty and thirty years ago, that the Sunday would be urged upon all the world, and a law be made to compel its observance, and force conscience. We see it being fulfilled. All that God has said of the future will surely come to pass; not one thing will fail of all that He has spoken. Protestantism is now reaching hands across the gulf to clasp hands with papacy, and a confederacy is being formed to trample out of sight the Sabbath of the fourth commandment; and the man of sin, who, at the instigation of Satan, instituted the spurious Sabbath, this child of the papacy, will be exalted to take the place of God. – Ms 27.4, 1882

And this telling statement, explaining natural disasters in a way that is anything but politically correct, was written the same year. And it presents the national Sunday law agitation that was happening in 1882 as being what Ellen White had seen in 1846, the very beginning of her prophetic role.

     Already the judgments of God are abroad in the land, as seen in storms, in floods, in tempests, in earthquakes, in peril by land and by sea. The great I AM is speaking to those who make void His law. When God’s wrath is poured out upon the earth, who will then be able to stand? Now is the time for God’s people to show themselves true to principle. When the religion of Christ is most held in contempt, when His law is most despised, then should our zeal be the warmest and our courage and firmness the most unflinching. To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason. The nation will be on the side of the great rebel leader.

     The test will surely come. Thirty-six years ago I was shown that what is now transpiring would take place, that the observance of an institution of the papacy would be enforced upon the people by a Sunday law, while the sanctified rest day of Jehovah would be trampled underfoot. – 5T 136.2-137.1, written 1882. (Thirty-six years earlier would be 1846.)

(One thing on dates: the large bulk of what Ellen White wrote was written in the last forty years of her life. Of the 24 bound volumes of letters and manuscripts, the first 32 years of her writing are found in just the first two volumes.  The next 32 years take twenty-one volumes. Consequently, one is likely to find ten times as much material on any topic from 1875 forward as from 1874 backwards. This preponderance of later writing should not be construed into a change in content. It can be better explained as an increase in detail.)

The book Great Controversy, as published in 1888 and then expanded in 1911, gives a more detailed picture, but not one that counters the earlier statements in any way. For the details, see GC 578-581. And notice this aspect, that the teachings of the Great Controversy are not presented as a new thing:

     Since the middle of the nineteenth century, students of prophecy in the United States have presented this testimony to the world. In the events now taking place is seen a rapid advance toward the fulfillment of the prediction.  – GC 579.1

Perhaps the element added by these pages is that the RCC is behind the stealthy secret movements for Sunday exaltation. While the clueless Protestant churches are complicit, they are not intelligently so.

     God’s word has given warning of the impending danger; let this be unheeded, and the Protestant world will learn what the purposes of Rome really are, only when it is too late to escape the snare. She is silently growing into power. Her doctrines are exerting their influence in legislative halls, in the churches, and in the hearts of men. – GC 581.2

And the book adds that the judgments of God already mentioned would be the pretext for serious persecutions, bolstered by the miracle working power of demons. (The latter element, of course, is directly predicted in Revelation 13 also). And the book adds that it will be public force pressuring corrupt officials (a grassroots movement) that will impel the Sunday laws eventually.

It will be declared that men are offending God by the violation of the Sunday sabbath; that this sin has brought calamities which will not cease until Sunday observance shall be strictly enforced; … – GC 590.1

Political corruption is destroying love of justice and regard for truth; and even in free America, rulers and legislators, in order to secure public favor, will yield to the popular demand for a law enforcing Sunday observance. Liberty of conscience, which has cost so great a sacrifice, will no longer be respected. – GC 592

Later Statements

Then, two decades after the Sunday-law excitement in congress had mostly died down, Ellen White was still urging the sale of the Great Controversy to warn the world of what was coming. CM 123.

Another statement written at about the same time offers even more information, namely that spiritualism and Catholicism will both put pressure on the USA to reverse the influence of the United States Constitution. As in the GC, this will happen just prior to the great miracle deceptive miracles. (And that will give way to “Jacob’s Time of Trouble.”)

When Protestantism shall stretch her hand across the gulf to grasp the hand of the Roman power, when she shall reach over the abyss to clasp hands with spiritualism, when, under the influence of this threefold union, our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government, and shall make provision for the propagation of papal falsehoods and delusions, then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan and that the end is near….The people of God will then be plunged into those scenes of affliction and distress which prophets have described as the time of Jacob’s trouble. –5T 451

Paulien speaks of the “now…” statements. From Ellen’s use of “now” he infers that those writings were time-sensitive such as to be currently outdated in their details. But he misses how the “now” in 1882 was just a fulfillment of what had been expected already for “many years.”

We have been looking many years for a Sunday law to be enacted in our land; and, now that the movement is right upon us, we ask: Will our people do their duty in the matter? Can we not assist in lifting the standard and in calling to the front those who have a regard for their religious rights and privileges? …. Shall we then dishonor God by keeping silent while His holy commandments are trodden underfoot? – 5T 716.4

By 1903 she had been shown another aspect of spiritualism, namely that “heathen deities” would exhibit their amazing power in major cities. That will be quite an experience! And yet, in no way does it counter the sixty years of revelations about the Sunday Law that had already been given. (Apparently some such showing of heathen deities had happened by 1903 already.)

As we near the close of time, there will be greater and still greater external parade of heathen power; heathen deities will manifest their signal power, and  will exhibit themselves before the cities of the world; and this delineation has already begun to be fulfilled. -TM 117.5

But the heathen deities are, of course, just fallen angels. And so this is not so different than what was revealed a decade earlier in 1893.

They declared that they had the truth, that miracles were among them, that angels from heaven talked with them and walked with them, that great power, and signs and wonders were performed among them, and this was the Temporal Millennium, which they had been expecting so long.—Maranatha, 209.

And the Great Controversy included the insights that demons will argue scripture with us and with others. So even non-scholars had better test their suppositions carefully. Thankfully some good angels will be in human form also.

Satan can quote Scripture now as in the days of Christ, and he will pervert its teachings to sustain his delusions. Those who would stand in this time of peril must understand for themselves the testimony of the Scriptures. Many will be confronted by the spirits of devils personating beloved relatives or friends and declaring the most dangerous heresies. –GC 559, 560.

Satanic agencies in human form will take part in this last great conflict to oppose the building up of the kingdom of God. And heavenly angels in human guise will be on the field of action. The two opposing parties will continue to exist till the closing up of the last great chapter in this world’s history.” – The Review and Herald, August 5,

Briefly, the Bible on the Sunday Law

In Revelation 13, we find the United States introduced as a lamb-like beast.[1] And before long this nation “exercises all the authority of the first beast,” using its influence to lead the world to “worship” the revived Roman Catholic Papacy. Revelation 13:11-12.

Miracles form the primary agent of deception here, as in the testimonies above. Revelation 13:13-14A.

Those miracles lead to America forming a parallel to the papacy, an “image to the beast.” America’s God-given authority is used wickedly to enforce the religious rules of this image. The enforcement culminates in a death decree against those who will not worship the RCC. But the earlier steps involve a severe boycott of those who will not “receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead.” Revelation 13:14b-17.

These facts, all gathered directly from Revelation 13, harmonize precisely with the testimonies above.

But we ask, “What is the Mark of the Beast”? And this is the same as asking, “What type of law will be made to enforce the Mark of the Beast?”

And to that question we can provide these observations form the Three Angels’ Messages.

  1. Those who receive the mark of the beast do not keep the commandments of God. (14:12)
  2. Those who receive the mark are punished with “no rest” (14:11)
  3. Those who worship the beast are not those who worship God as Creator (14:6-7,9-11)

To say these things more simply, those who receive the Mark of the Beast are those who do not keep the commandments, and especially not the fourth one.

Now remember that in chapter 13, the issue was worship laws. And the Sabbath is a worship commandment.

But there is more. The metaphor of a mark in the forehead or hand comes from Deuteronomy 6:5-8. There we find that the Ten Commandments should be in our hearts and in the hearts of our children. And this is illustrated by the metaphor of some mark in our forehead or hand.

And God says (Isaiah 8:16), “Bind up the testimony; seal the law upon my disciples.” Here we find that God’s faithful people are set aside by God’s law, and by making up (“bind up”) an apparent breach in it.

This is the New Covenant promise that God will put his Ten Commandments in our character. Hebrews 8:10.

The image metaphors in Revelation 13 are drawn from Daniel 3 where a law in made that requires God’s people to break the Second Commandment. And that story is similar to Daniel 6 where a law is made that requires praying persons to break the First Commandment.

Now the Sabbath has been made the sign of God’s work of writing the law into the mind. That is what is meant by it being a “sign” of God’s work of sanctification.” Ezekiel 20:12. This sign was established long ago to show who God’s faithful people are. Exodus 31:16-17.

So when we encounter the “Seal of God” in Revelation 7, we know that this metaphor of God’s law in the heart is closely related to the Sabbath. And when we find in Daniel 7:25 that the RCC attempts to change “times and laws,” we can put things together:

God’s sign of law keeping is Sabbath keeping. And so we are not surprised that the RCC would claim Sunday as a mark of its authority.

And thus we conclude that the worship laws of Revelation 13 will be laws that deny God’s Creation memorial for the beast’s counterfeit day, Sunday Laws. And this relieves us because we can’t imagine a feasible worship law requiring the breaking of any other one of the Ten Commandments. Why not? Because those who are on the wrong side will be persons who think they are serving Jesus despite their disregard of some one of God’s commandments. Mathew 7:20-23.

Summary

Jon Paulien has put forward a short series of principles of prophetic interpretation. He uses these to shows that the Sunday Law predictions of Ellen White cannot be expected to be fulfilled literally as written.

But the evidence points the other way. It is his principles that can not be expected to work well as written.

And there never has been a time when the writings of Ellen White regarding the Sunday seemed more relevant and inspired.

We would be wiser to learn what has been revealed than to comfort ourselves vainly that such things as we grew up hearings will never come to pass.

And we would be wiser to search the truth for ourselves rather than to imbibe it from erudite persons. “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the wise?” Indeed, God has done so.

–Eugene Prewitt

July 7, 2021


[1] For far more Bible evidence on these points, see www.bibledoc.org under Revelation 13 and 14.

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