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Seventh-day Sabbath Survived!

Seventh-day Sabbath Survived!

There is no New Testament authority for establishing Sunday as a holy day for believers. There are only eight references to the first day of the week in the NT, and six of those are part of the resurrection narratives. None of the eight can be reasonably construed as establishing the first day of the week as a replacement for the Sabbath.

But whatever the reason, Sunday eventually became the prominent Christian day of worship, displacing the Sabbath from that role. But this change was a gradual one. The earliest clear evidence is found in two 2nd-century documents: the Epistle of Barnabas (from Alexandria, Egypt), and the writings of Justin Martyr (from Rome.)

But the issue was far from settled in the 2nd century.

For hundreds of years the Sabbath and Sunday (“the Lord’s day”) were both observed. The bishops at the council of Laodicea (mid-4th century) agreed on a change in the Sabbath church services: “The Gospels are to be read on the Sabbath, i.e. Saturday, with the other Scriptures.” (Canon 16)

(Remember, we’re talking about what happened roughly 300 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.)

“Christians must not Judaize [refrain from labor] by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.” (Canon 29)

This shows us that Sabbath observance survived for hundreds of years after the time of Christ. The institutional church, represented by the bishops, wanted to exalt Sunday [the Lord’s day] by dampening the popularity of the Sabbath and the Sabbath rest.

Their efforts were not completely successful, at least outside the church’s two great centers of influence – Rome and Alexandria. Another century and more went by before Socrates Scholasticus wrote:

“For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this.” (The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticas, Book V Chapter XXII)

The biblical day of sacred time continued to be observed. The Sabbath survived.

A Year with no Easter?

A Year with no Easter?

Most of the converts to the new faith were Jews by birth, culture, and religion. All the original Apostles were Jews. Even after the influx of Gentile converts, leadership of the church was overwhelmingly Jewish.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the calendar of the early church was the Jewish calendar. The seven-day week, which had not yet become dominant in the Roman world at large, provided the rhythm of religious life. (It was not until the 4th century, during the reign of Constantine, that the seven-day week was formally established in the Roman calendar.)

In the Jewish calendar, the first six days of the week were not named. Each day was designated by its number in relation to the Sabbath, except for when the sixth day was referred to as the “preparation day.” There were no Sundays or Mondays or Tuesdays, etc.

Our familiar ecclesiastical calendar did not exist back in the 1st Christian century. There was no Easter, no Lent, no Halloween, no Christmas. The annual holy days were the ones in the Jewish calendar: Passover, Pentecost, etc. Sabbath, the seventh day of the Jewish week, was the regular day of worship for both Jews and Christians.

There is no biblical or historical evidence of a “Sunday” Sabbath in that era.

New Testament manuscripts never mention Easter, but the translators of the King James Version used the word in Acts 12:4 for the Greek word, “pascha.” “Pascha” means “Passover.”

When Christians began to commemorate what we call “Easter” they were not focused on Christ’s resurrection. Instead, they observed the anniversary of His death – at Passover. Passover was the fourteenth day of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish religious calendar. It could fall on any day of the week.

During the first half of the 2nd century a strong anti-Sabbath movement developed within the church, particularly among Gentile Christians. This movement went hand in hand with a deepening anti-Jewish sentiment. Influential church leaders in Rome and Alexandria promoted Sunday as the new weekly day of worship. Annual celebration of the resurrection of Christ, fixed to the first day of the week, became more and more popular.

During the 2nd and 3rd centuries Christians were divided over the Passover/Easter schedule. Many church fathers, particularly in Asia Minor, persisted in the Passover observance on Nisan 14, regardless of which day of the week it fell on. They earned the nickname, “fourteeners” – “quartodecimans.” Others, particularly in Rome, wanted to cut the celebration free from the Jewish calendar.

The issue was officially settled at the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). Constantine, the emperor, revealed the strong anti-Jewish motivation behind the council’s decision: “It appears an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews…. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd.” (Eusebius, “Life of Constantine”)