"For, lo, wherever we are, we are called after the one name of Christ
-- namely, Christians. On one day, the first day of the week, we assemble
ourselves together, and on the days of the readings we abstain from sustenance."
(Bardesanes, A Treasury of Early Christianity, edited by Anne Fremantle,
"Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfullness, the day
also on which Jesus rose again from the dead." (Epistle of Barnabas,
This is the Lord's day:
"If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of
things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the
Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also
our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death — whom some deny,
by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we
may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master — how shall
we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves
in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom
they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead." (Ignatius,
Letter to the Magnesians, Chapter 9).
"On the Lord's own day gather together and break bread and give thanks,
having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure."
The explanation offered by these later, fallible authors for the Christian
practice of Sunday worship is consistent with the pattern described, but
not explained, within the pages of Scripture. The practice itself is apostolic.
This explanation continues to be offered going forward:
respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of
the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage; but
when Christ came, it was fulfilled in truth. For because the eighth day, that
is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should
rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the
eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day,
went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth
came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us." (Cyprian, Letter 58:4, p. 732
Jesus Christ spent Saturday in the tomb. Does the church worship a dead
Christ, or a living one? "If the creation of the material universe should be
kept in perpetual remembrance, how much more the new creation
secured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If men
wish the knowledge of that event to die out, let them neglect to
keep holy the first day of the week; if they desire that event to be
everywhere known and remembered, let them consecrate that day to the
worship of the risen Savior." (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology,
Kindle location 31039). It is clear enough what happened and why; what
believer would choose to rescind it?
This understanding of the Lord's Day as the memorial of the
resurrection continued on into the Middle Ages: "What you call
Sunday we call the Lord's day, and on it we do not worship the sun,
but the Lord's resurrection." (Augustine, Reply to Faustus the
Manichaean, Book XVIII, Chapter 5, Kindle location 180646).
The Old Testament Sabbath was two things: it was a day of rest, and also
a "holy convocation:"
"Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of
solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the
Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings." (Leviticus 23:3).
Philo Judaeus, a first century Alexandrian Jew, makes the
interesting observation that the seventh day, as a day of rest, was
observed widely in the first century, not only by Israel but by the world at large:
"And, in short, it is very nearly an universal rule, from the rising of
the sun to its extreme west, that every country, and nation, and city,
is alienated from the laws and customs of foreign nations and states, and
that they think that they are adding to the estimation in which they hold
their own laws by despising those in use among other nations. But this
is not the case with our laws which Moses has given to us; for they lead
after them and influence all nations, barbarians, and Greeks, the inhabitants
of continents and islands, the eastern nations and the western, Europe
and Asia; in short, the whole habitable world from one extremity to the
"For what man is there who does not honor that sacred seventh day, granting
in consequence a relief and relaxation from labor, for himself and for
all those who are near to him, and that not to free men only, but also
to slaves, and even to beasts of burden; for the holiday extends even to
every description of animal, and to every beast whatever which performs
service to man, like slaves obeying their natural master, and it affects
even every species of plant and tree; for there is no shoot, and no branch,
and no leaf even which it is allowed to cut or to pluck on that day, nor
any fruit which it is lawful to gather; but everything is at liberty and
in safety on that day, and enjoys, as it were, perfect freedom, no one
ever touching them, in obedience to a universal proclamation." (Philo Judaeus, On the Life of Moses, Book II, Chapter IV).
As indicated above, the "holy convocation" of the Christians
is Sunday, the first or eighth day of the week. This is not the same day
the Jews observed. Philo mentions seventh-day synagogue meetings
devoted to instruction in Moses' law:
"Moreover, in accordance with the honor due to the
Creator of the universe, the prophet hallowed the sacred seventh
day, beholding with eyes of more acute sight than those of mortals
its pre-eminent beauty, which had already been deeply impressed on
the heaven and the whole universal world, and had been borne about
as an image by nature itself in her own bosom. . .and then, in the third place, he by further inquiry discovered that
it was the birthday of the world, which the heaven keeps as a
festival, and the earth and all the things in and on the earth keep
as a festival, rejoicing and delighting in the all-harmonious number
of seven, and in the sabbath day.
"For this reason the all-great Moses thought fit that all who were enrolled
in his sacred polity should follow the laws of nature and meet in a solemn
assembly, passing the time in cheerful joy and relaxation, abstaining from
all works, and from all arts which have a tendency to the production of
anything; and from all business which is connected with the seeking of
the means of living, and that they should keep a complete truce, abstaining
from all laborious and fatiguing thought and care, and devoting their leisure,
not as some persons scoffingly assert, to sports, or exhibitions of actors
and dancers, for the sake of which those who run madly after theatrical
amusements suffer disasters and even encounter miserable deaths, and for
the sake of these the most dominant and influential of the outward senses,
sight and hearing, make the soul, which should be the heavenly nature,
the slave of these senses. But, giving up their time wholly to the study
of philosophy, not of that sort of philosophy which word-catchers and sophists,
seek to reduce to a system, selling doctrines and reasonings as they would
any other vendible thing in the market." (Philo Judaeus, On the Life of Moses, Book III,
The logic of Sunday Sabbatarianism
declares that, as goes the "holy convocation," so goes the day
of "solemn rest." But the logic for Sunday as a day of rest is
lacking; God did not rest the first day of creation, nor is the eighth
day on which the Lord rose from the grave a day of inactivity. Some in
the early church observed both, Saturday as a day of rest and Sunday as a day of "holy convocation:"
"But keep the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day festival; because the former
is the memorial of the creation, and the latter of the resurrection."
(Apostolic Constitutions, Book 7, Section 2, XXIII.)
There is, however, a natural synergy between the holy convocation and the day of rest; it is not
surprising they should converge.
There were also, from the earliest times, some who held every day equal;
Paul mentions them:
"One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day
alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the
day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the
Lord he does not observe it. " (Romans 14:5-6).
"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival
or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the
substance is of Christ. " (Colossians 2:16-17).
In time anti-semites within the church, in gross violation of Paul's command
not to judge another believer in these matters, forbade resting on the
Saturday Sabbath. But what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander;
those who prefer this day of rest, and also prefer to shift the "holy
convocation" of the Christians to this day, should not judge others
When the Lord said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for
the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), He implies that the Sabbath rest is a beneficial
institution, designed by God for man's good. Man's constitution has not
changed in the intervening period. Yet no claim of righteousness can attach
to any such observance, because Paul said, "You observe days and months
and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you
in vain." (Galatians 4:10-11).
Some people object: Jesus cannot have been crucified on Friday and risen
on Sunday, because this would not be three days. But by the Jewish
count, where a part of the day counts as a whole day, three days
need not be 72 hours:
your mother alive?' asked he. 'Is then
Aibu alive?' he replied. [Thereupon] he
[R. Hiyya] said to his servant, 'Take
off my shoes and carry my [bathing]
things after me to the baths.' From this
three [laws] may be inferred: [i] A
mourner is forbidden to wear shoes; [ii]
on a delayed report [of death] it [sc.
mourning] is observed for one day only;
and [iii] part of the day is as the
whole of it.”
Talmud, Pesachim 4a).
The 72-hour count for three days assumes that the start point and end point of a 'day' are variable.
One can start the count at any point: 2 a.m. for instance, provided only the count ends at 2 a.m.
of the next day, comprising 24 hours. But the Jewish count assumes that the start point and end point
of a day are fixed, not variable. Because God began his day-count in Genesis with 'evening,' the
enumeration of days must begin at that point, and partial days cannot be lumped together to make a whole;
'evening' and 'morning' make the whole, and a "part of the day is as the whole of it." Therefore, though the interval from Friday to Sunday does not make 72 hours,
it is three days.
Others object: the Christians adopted the first day of the week
as their day of assembly because they wanted to worship the Sun,
whose day it was on the Roman pagan calendar. The week is not a
natural time cycle based on any recurring astronomical event; it is not
native to paganism nor universally observed. If the Roman list of
consecrated days is to be determinative, we must avoid
meeting on 'Saturn's day,' inasmuch as Saturn was a dour,
Others object: Sunday worship was borrowed from Mithraism. But
Mithraism only appears in the latter part of the first century A.D.;
it is younger than Christianity, not older. The relationship of this
Roman military cult to any earlier religion, such as Zoroastrianism,
is like the relationship 'Kwanzaa' holds to Africa. This new
religion became very popular in the second and third centuries.
Early evidence about Mithraism is scant, though speculation abounds.
Similarities between this military cult and Christianity are vastly
overstated (Mithras was born from a rock, not a virgin), and if and
when real, might well be borrowings by the younger from the elder
religion. Something must first exist before it can be borrowed.
Others object: Paul and his companions preached at Jewish synagogues on the sabbath:
"Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia:
and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.
But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the
synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down...Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand
said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience." (Acts 13:13-16).
Gentile god-fearers attached to the synagogue were also present on these occasions. But this
is an evangelistic outreach, not a Christian communion service.
It is objected: Constantine ordained Sunday-keeping, therefore it
is pagan not Christian:
"Accordingly he enjoined on all the
subjects of the Roman empire to observe the Lord’s day, as a day of rest,
and also to honor the day which precedes the Sabbath; in memory, I
suppose, of what the Savior of mankind is recorded to have achieved on
that day. And since his desire was to teach his whole army zealously to
honor the Savior’s day (which derives its name from light, and from the
sun), he freely granted to those among them who were partakers of the
divine faith, leisure for attendance on the services of the Church of God, in
order that they might be able, without impediment, to perform their
religious worship." (Life of Constantine, Eusebius, Book Four, Chapter 18).
Constantine's religious affiliation is a moving target. With
family ties to solar monotheism, he ended life as a baptized
Christian. For whose convenience was this provision enacted? Who wanted to
observe Sunday: solarists, Christians, or both? If Sunday worship is
established in the Book of Acts, then this enactment is a
concession to his Christian subjects. There is nothing in it prohibiting
either Jews or Christians who preferred seventh-day worship from observing Saturday
as a day of rest or a holy convocation.
While it would have been better to avoid this excessive
entanglement of church and state, it is an unfortunate reality that
most people are not self-employed and thus not at liberty to grant
themselves time off. State-mandated days off were not Constantine's
innovation; the old Roman pagan calendar marked each day as a day the law-courts were open
for business, or a market-day, or a rest day. This complex system, described in Ovid's 'Fasti,'
did not employ the Jewish seven-day week. It was religiously
motivated, on such complex pagan considerations that the priests sometimes
resorted to posting tablets around the forum explaining on which days
various people were to keep the feasts. How the Roman state could be
justified in continuing to impose pagan rest days on an increasingly
non-pagan population is left unexplained by Constantine's
The coin shown above, with emperor Constantine on one side and Sol Invictus holding a globe on the other,
is the kind of thing that fosters suspicion of Constantine's
motives. But when the fortunes of battle had thrust this man into
the government of the empire, pagans still comprised the majority of
the populace. Does anyone think he should have stamped out paganism,
disenfranchising most of his citizenry? Only a furious despot like
Pol Pot would have tried; it would have been wrong.