Principle or Tradition: Bathing on the Sabbath

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I remember one time I was visiting an acquaintance, and she was talking to a friend, anxious for a solution. It was Friday, she was menstruating and knew that the next day would be a heavy one… She was worried about what she would do if she needed to wash. Her sympathetic friend was racking her brain to find a solution and, in a process of eliminating possibilities, said: “Oh, and you couldn’t possibly shower because tomorrow is Sabbath”. If you are a Brazilian member of the Reform Movement, I guarantee you have heard this dilemma at least once in your life.

It so happens that here in Brazil, and in some other countries, bathing on the Sabbath is frowned upon as if it were a breaking of the fourth commandment, the commandment which reminds us of the sanctity of the seventh day of the week and how it should be kept. The commandment referred to tells us that six days a week are for us, “but the seventh day of each week belongs to me, your God. No one is to work on that day—not you, your children, your servants, your animals, or the foreigners who live in your towns,” Exodus 20:10. Therefore, we rest.

For decades, some sincere brethren who were wholeheartedly seeking to honor the Creator down to the smallest detail misinterpreted a text by Sister White and instituted this issue. Pastors of that time and some to this day continue to support this position based on a text that supposedly prohibits bathing on Sabbaths. Several brethren, some extremely respectful of ecclesiastical authorities, and others who, unfortunately, just found it easier to do so, adopted the word of pastors as a maxim and did not bother to do their own research. And that is where this view on bathing on the Sabbath came from.

It is interesting to remember that the apostle Paul, the great speaker and instrument of God, praised extensively the behavior of the Berean Christians who heard his words and made a point of comparing them to the Scriptures. Well now, if the Bereans were praised for verifying the veracity of the apostle’s sermon, should we not insist on comparing the words of our pastors with that of the great Shepherd? Of course! It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean instances where we hear an uncomfortable message and twist what we read to make it more convenient. The Bereans compared Scripture with open hearts and guided by the Holy Spirit. Adopting their example and setting aside several thoughts, I set out to research this topic.

I went directly to the source, that is, to the Ellen G. White’s writings website and typed the word “bath”. To my surprise, thirty references appeared. I read them one by one, and you know what? Of those thirty texts, only two were related to the Sabbath. The rest described the benefits of bathing (did you know that baths, even cold ones, produce calm and relaxation? And did you know that bathing helps with digestion? I loved reading about this!) or referred to baths in natural treatments. And the only two texts that mentioned the Sabbath did not explicitly say that you cannot bathe on Sabbaths, but that you should do so on Friday, as you can read below:

“On Friday let the preparation for the Sabbath be completed. See that all the clothing is in readiness and that all the cooking is done. Let the boots be blacked and the baths be taken. It is possible to do this. If you make it a rule you can do it.”¹

One very important thing that I learned at Missionary School is that when we want to correctly understand the message of a text, it is necessary to contextualize it, and in this case, it is vitally important that we see the texts in their breadth! So let’s analyze.

To begin with, this text was written in the 18th century when showers didn’t exist and a thorough washing meant a bath. “Bath” refers to what we often see in movies when the character fills the bathtub, adds bubbles, and soaks there for a long time.

This already helps us understand that she was not referring to a quick shower, but to what is almost a spa treatment, on Sabbath. The word “shower” and the concept of showering weren’t even used in reference to washing oneself in her time since showers only became accessible to most people in 1930, decades after Ellen White died.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s make it clear that taking a bath was no easy task. To begin with, only those who were wealthy and had servants to do the job bathed often. If not, it only happened once every two weeks or so. Although, I have come across reports stating that when winter came, a moist towelette took care of personal hygiene. But when one did bathe, it was necessary to move the tub (a full bathtub or smaller almost bucket-like tub) to the kitchen, which is where the fireplace was. Remember that the tub was made of wood, so imagine what a bothersome and heavy thing it was to move around. Then, it was necessary to go to the well and bring in as many buckets of water as needed to fill the tub. Of course, all this water needed to be heated, and only after all this work could the person finally bathe. Not to mention that it was sometimes necessary to reheat the water. I don’t know about you, but just imagining all this carrying and moving I’m already tired!

On top of that, people were not used to doing this often. God even had to inspire Ellen White to write to encourage her brothers and sisters to take at least two baths a week! Can you imagine?

Now, within this entire context, tell me: what was the need to leave this whole process for the Sabbath? None. If the person didn’t find it necessary to bathe all week, why the need to leave it for Sabbath? Completely unnecessary.

But it turns out that centuries have passed and things have changed. Now we have indoor plumbing and heated water, so if we need to take a shower, it certainly doesn’t take much trouble to turn on the faucet. So yes, you can take a shower on Sabbath.

But…

This isn’t an excuse to make it a habit and part of your Sabbath routine. Also, the shower I am referring to is not the one in which you shave, exfoliate, hydrate, wash your hair, etc. No.

I mean a shower that’s necessary to wash away body odor. Unfortunately, I have had the displeasure of spending Sabbaths with individuals who, despite being wonderful people, were clouded by foul body odor… If we’re being honest, it overshadows any pleasant personality and beauty! Boys and girls, men and women, the fact is that it’s not hard work to wake up 10 minutes early to take a quick shower to get clean and fresh before visiting our Father’s house, especially if where you live is hot. A quick shower then becomes essential.

I know that in some places, bathing on Sabbath morning is simply scandalous, and if word gets out that you did so, you will be judged for it. But be patient with those who judge you as they don’t do it out of malice but because of obedience to erroneous interpretations. Be kind and don’t disrupt them, and if you want, show them this article, so they can understand this topic better. In the meantime, enjoy every drop of your shower that reaches you with the turn of a knob.

¹ WHITE, Ellen G., Counsels for the Church, p.268.

15 thoughts on “Principle or Tradition: Bathing on the Sabbath”

  1. Renata Chapman

    This was a real blessing Evelyn, I really have wondered about this myself even though I didn’t grow up in Brazil, I have been there many times and have been faced with similar dilemmas as girl described above, its great to know that we need to always use the Holy Spirit’s guidance when seeking answers to our questions. ????

    1. Evelyn Gessner

      I am so glad that I could be helpful to you! Btw, are there any other questions bothering you?

      1. Hey, i am so grateful that today i have found some meaningful discussion regarding the issue of bathing on the Sabbath. Am from Africa, and it’s hot especially October and i have struggling with this topic. Am glad you tackled it very well.

  2. Do you mean that ellen g w was not aware of daniel 12 that says knowledge will increase and that She necer thought of us In her writing?
    Do you mean sabbath if for those with showers and those without them shouldn’t they bath?

    1. Evelyn Gessner

      Hello Charles, glad to see you’ve read the article.

      While reading Ellen G. Whites books, I’ve noticed not only hers, but also God’s care toward us in letting us know what truly happened in the past, what is going on in our actuality and what will happen.

      Now, about the bathing question, I have to say that the article is an explanation as to why we may shower in the Sabbath, not a condemnation to those who don’t.

      Hope to have clarified your doubts!

    1. Jesus said they carried water to feed t here animals on sabbath and his disciples ate ears of corn I somehow think in my own opinion it would be ok to self care especialy if you have a illness that affects the skin

  3. Oh goodness, The Pharisees in Jn 5 & Jn 9 all had issues with bathing on the Sabbath.. Jesus seemed to love to ruffle the religious folks perceptions.. lol… take a bath!! Don’t be all stinky on the sabbath please. Good point about 18th century protocols for bathing.. take a bath. Here’s the deal… If it’s sin to you take take a bath on the sabbath, then don’t do it.. but don’t judge others by thier customs.. that’s called LIBERTY. I am not an babptized “Adventist”, but studied under some traditional Adventists.. Anytime we elevate EGW over scripture.. we’re in trouble. We never see her call herself a prophet, so.. let’s be cautious to not follow suit. I love ALL of her writings as she was truly inspired by God. Go team Jesus.

    Great article BTW friend!

    1. Evelyn Gessner

      Thank you, glad you enjoyed it! And yes, we always have to be careful about how we present Ellen White’s writings, God’s Word first always.

  4. Gabriel Akachi Mokobia

    We’re talking of taking or not taking Sabbath bath here, while some Seventh-day Adventist tertiary institutions across the world are busy cooking sumptuous meals for their students during Sabbath hours. We have seen where the womenfolk are allowed to perform ordinances meant only for their male counterparts within the Church and all eyes deliberately turned the other way. Only God knows if we have started welcoming same sex couples amongst us these days. Our problem as a Church this end time has to do with serious clashing of the Conservatives with the Contemporaries. And if nothing is done quickly to stem the trends, we may soon be headed for a greater delusion collectively, God forbid. Let’s keep praying for the Church, please.

    1. Hi Gabriel, absolutely, prayer is necessary.

      Are you familiar with the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement? It was established in 1925, post World Wars, and adheres to the original principles of Adventism. That’s why here we’re talking about baths on the Sabbath, as the others are not current issues in our church. Nevertheless, prayer for the church is essential. May God keep us close!

  5. Obiene Good luck Jonah

    I find this really helpful at a time when I have been contemplating on what E. G white meant when she wrote of “no bath on Sabbath “.
    The light shine on this issue will I share among my friends to clear off their mind these erroneous interpretation of her writing, particularly on this subject matter.
    You just freed me from taking the wrong step which might have been triggered from been extreme in upholding to the erroneous interpretation of “n bath on Sabbath” as a maxim

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