Select Page
One Day Above Another?

One Day Above Another?

Was the Apostle Paul taking a stand against Sabbath observance when he wrote Romans 14:5? This verse is commonly used in anti-Sabbath arguments today. Let’s take a look.

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:5 NIV).

Check out the context. Notice how Paul introduces this section of his letter: “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over DISPUTABLE MATTERS” (Romans 14:1 NIV).

Paul may have been addressing an actual situation within some Christian congregations. Church members were arguing over DISPUTABLE MATTERS. They were criticizing each other over matters of personal opinion. He mentions two issues: diet and holy days.

He doesn’t take sides. He simply points out that “Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6 NIV).

So, what were those DAYS Paul referred to? The cultural and historical background suggests that they could have been annual Jewish holy days or days designated for fasting. It’s only natural that a Jewish convert to Christianity—having a tender conscience—would continue to honor those holy days. According to Paul, there is nothing wrong with that as long as it is characterized by sincere worship of the Lord.

What is clear is that Paul was not addressing weekly Sabbath observance. He was talking about DISPUTABLE MATTERS. There is no biblical or historical evidence that the Sabbath was a DISPUTABLE MATTER in Paul’s day.

DISPUTABLE MATTERS would include things that have not been addressed by divine revelation through angels, prophets, or apostles. These are things that people can decide for themselves—matters of personal preference or conviction.

This automatically eliminates from consideration all points of doctrine that are INDISPUTABLE – because they are based on divine injunction or on other authoritative teachings from the Word of God. So, observance of the Sabbath cannot be at issue in Romans 14. After all, the law of the Sabbath was written by the hand of God in the very heart of the Ten Commandments.

The Wesleyan Bible Commentary puts it this way: “Of course this whole discussion concerns matters on which God has not spoken clearly in His word. No such questions can be conscientiously raised concerning the fundamental moral issues that are clarified in the Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, or in any other plain statement of Scripture. When God has spoken there is no other legitimate side to the issue.”*

*Wilber T. Dayton, Romans and Galatians, Wesleyan Bible Commentary Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 86.

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”)

Moonlit Easter

Moonlit Easter

During the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD the Christian world was divided over the Easter question. Should the celebration be tied to Passover? That meant that it could come on any day of the week. Easter/Passover would be on the 14th of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar.

The idea of cutting Easter loose from the Jewish calendar gained popularity. Looking back at that era, we can understand why.

For one thing, a small group of Jewish functionaries controlled the calendar. That must have irked some Gentile Christians. Worse, the Jewish calendar was subject to the occasional insertion of “leap months” to keep the yearly cycle of religious festivals in synch with the seasons. (More about that some other time.)

Political and social conditions may have played a role in the Easter debate. The Bar Kochba revolt (132 to 135) backfired on Palestinian Jews, and Emperor Hadrian expelled them from Jerusalem. Jewish Christians were swept out with the rest. Bad PR for the Jews reflected on the Christians, who were seen by some Roman authorities as an offshoot Jewish sect. Add the fact that Christians faced persecution that came and went at the whim of emperors. The unpopularity of Jews motivated Christians to distance themselves from all things Jewish.

It was during this same period that Christians in some parts of the Roman Empire shifted their day of worship from the Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday. (Another fascinating chapter of history that is beyond the scope of this post.) There was strong support for the idea of assigning Easter to the new weekly holy day.

If the full moon coincided with Sunday, Easter would be delayed by one week. This last stipulation decreased the chance of Easter falling on the same day as Passover.

Why was it important that there was always a big moon at Easter? To provide light for night-walking pilgrims on their way to the holy shrines in Jerusalem.