Noted Sabbath Scholar Samuele Bacchiocchi Dies Retired Andrews Theology Professor Had Global Influence
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
amuele Bacchiocchi, a retired theology professor at Andrews University and one of the world’s leading proponents of the seventh-day Sabbath, died December 20, the Sabbath, following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 70 years of age and resided in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
“Sam was best-known for his scholarship on the seventh-day Sabbath. He was a prolific writer, a tireless preacher, and appreciated as an energetic and passionate teacher. I’m going to miss my long-time friend and colleague,” said Keith Mattingly, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who worked alongside Bacchiocchi in the Andrews University Department of Religion and Biblical Languages.
Bacchiocchi, who spent 26 years teaching at the Seventh-day Adventist-owned university and more than 30 years lecturing worldwide about the Sabbath and its significance, was the first Protestant to attend and graduate from the doctoral program at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. It was at the “Gregoriana,” as it is known in Italian, that his studies in church history led to the publication of From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity, the English version of his doctoral thesis. The doctoral dissertation received a grade that merited his graduation “summa cum laude,” and Bacchiocchi received a gold medal for academic achievement donated by Pope Paul VI. Both were high honors, particularly for a non-Roman Catholic student at the Jesuit-run university.
The book has been in print for more than 30 years and is widely recognized as a seminal text on the subject, even by those who disagree with his conclusions. For example, Cambridge University scholar R.J. Bauckham, in “From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation” (D.A. Carson, ed.; Wipf & Stock, 2000), said that while “a number of scholars have in the past argued that Christian Sunday observance originated in the second century[,] the most recent and fullest version of this thesis is that of S[amuele] Bacchiocchi.”
In the 1970s, Bacchiocchi was featured on “It Is Written,” a weekly television program sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in which his thesis was noted. This led to numerous invitations to speak, and for the following two decades, Bacchiocci would spend many weekends on the road traveling to Adventist churches and other settings to present messages about the Sabbath, its biblical roots and continuing significance. His influence spread in the age of the Internet, reaching out to members of the Worldwide Church of God, a distant off-shoot of the nineteenth century Millerite movement, which had abandoned its own Sabbatarian tradition in the 1990s.
Samuele Bacchiocchi was born on January 29, 1938, in Rome: “I was born in a godly Catholic family that lived close to the Vatican wall,” he wrote in an issue of his monthly newsletter, “Endtime Issues.”
He added, “My parents attended Sunday Mass regularly and recited the rosary faithfully every night. This continued until my father was introduced for the first time to the study of the Bible by a fellow carpenter who belonged to the Waldensian Church.”
Eventually, the Bacchiocchis were convinced that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance and at first worshipped privately on the seventh day at home, until connecting with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Samuele Bacchiocchi earned a bachelor’s degree at Adventist-owned Newbold College near London, and then earned a master’s in theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.
From there, he and his wife Anna went to Ethiopia. For five years, Bacchiocchi served as a Bible and history teacher at an Adventist school there. He then went on to graduate studies at the Grigoriana, after which he was invited to join the Andrews faculty.
Bacchiocchi wrote or edited 17 different books, many of which expanded on his Sabbath theme. His seminar schedule was somewhat curtailed during his illness, although, his family said in a statement, his life was that of “a man who sacrificed practically all of his time and energy to help others understand the Bible more fully, even up to end as he gave his last seminar in England the Sabbath before being taken to the emergency room.”
The family statement noted, “We believe that it is fitting that God chose the Sabbath day, the day that he loved most and spent his life preaching and writing about, to be the day that he entered into his final earthly rest.”
“Dr. Bacchiocchi’s reputation as a theological and biblical scholar is widely respected within Adventist circles and beyond. His family continues to have a significant impact on our campus and in our community. He will be very much missed by his colleagues and friends in the Andrews University community,” said Heather Knight, provost of Andrews University.
A funeral is planned for December 27 at Pioneer Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs. The family is receiving condolences via e-mail at the addresses of his children Loretta Bacchiocchi, at firstname.lastname@example.org, Gianluca Bacchiocchi at email@example.com, or Daniel Bacchiocchi at firstname.lastname@example.org.