The Sabbath

The Sabbath is Changed to Sunday

It took many decades, even centuries, for the post-apostolic church to change the Sabbath to Sunday. The substitution did not come about because of the Apostles teaching. Rather it was the result of religious, political, and social forces that existed in the Roman Empire during the first three centuries after Christ. Church leaders of that period compromised the teachings of the Word of God because of pressures from the pagan Roman world.

In brief summary, this is what happened: At certain times the leaders in the Roman world were very anti-Jewish. As a result, Christians found it expedient to adopt an anti-Jewish attitude. Church leaders, particularly at Rome (the seat of the Empire), moved as far away as possible from anything that was considered Jewish-especially the Sabbath. They substituted Sunday, a day that was much more acceptable in the pagan Roman world at that time.

Roman Attitudes

The anti-Jewish attitude of the Romans during the first and second centuries A.D. is quite evident in their writings. Listed below are the names of five Roman writers and passages that indicate the attitude of each toward the Jews. The quotations are taken from the outstanding work From Sabbath to Sunday by Samuele Bacchiocchi (The Pontifical Gregorian University Press, Rome, 1977); page numbers are given in parentheses.

Seneca (ca. 4 B.C. to 65 A.D.)

This fervent stoic railed against the customs of this accursed race [the Jews] ... and especially their Sabbathkeeping: 'By introducing one day of rest in every seven, they lose in idleness almost a seventh of their life...' (p. 173).

Persius (ca. 34 to 62 A.D.)

... presents the Jewish customs as the first example of superstitious beliefs. The Jewish Sabbath, particularly, is adduced as his first proof that superstition enslaves man (p. 174).

Martial (ca. 40-104 A.D.)

... the circumcised Jews and their sabbath are a synonym of degradation (p. 175).

Plutarch (ca. 46-119 A.D.)

... labelled the Jews as a superstitious nation and singled out their Sabbath-keeping (which he regarded as a time of drunkenness) as one of the many barbarian customs adopted by the Greeks (p. 175).

Tacitus (ca. 55-120 A.D.)

... surpassed all his predecessors in bitterness. The Jews, according to this historian, descend from lepers expelled from Egypt ... Their indolence on the Sabbath commemorates the day they left Egypt. 'All their customs,' Tacitus writes, 'are perverse and disgusting...' (p. 176).

In view of these attitudes among the Romans, it is no wonder that Josephus, the Jewish historian of the First Century, wrote so extensively in defence of his people even though he sympathised with the Romans.

Political Repression of Jews

Given their anti-Jewish attitudes, it is not surprising that the Romans should take repressive political and economic measures against the Jews from time to time.

Emperor Claudius, about 54 A.D., expelled the Jews from Rome, including Jewish Christians Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18.2). At that time, Christian Jews were not differentiated from Jews in general. They suffered equally under Claudius.

During the 60's A.D., anti-Jewish sentiment culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. Emperor Vespasian abolished the high priesthood and the Sanhedrin and prohibited worship at the Temple site.

Around 135 A.D. Emperor Hadrian made it a crime to practice the Jewish religion. It became illegal to rest on the Sabbath!

What would you do if the practice of your faith became illegal? Obey God rather than men? Or compromise for the sake of expedience?

Many Christians, especially Jewish Christians, continued to observe the Sabbath as they had been taught by the apostles. However, as the political pressures increased, other Christians began to compromise. They did what was practical, adopting a position of accommodation with the Roman Empire and differentiation from the Jews. They yielded to the forces of the world around them instead of being faithful to the will of God.

Anti-Jewish Attitude Adopted by Christians

The Apostles were Jews; and even though they criticised Jewish leaders for their failure to accept the Gospel, they continued to hold the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God; they continued to regard the Jewish people with love and compassion. However, Gentile church leaders in post-apostolic Rome were of a different mind. They adopted the same anti-Jewish attitudes of their Roman contemporaries. The quotations given below are taken from Bacchiocchi's book. Page numbers are given in parentheses.

Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.; church teacher at Rome)

He [God] imposed it [Sabbath] on the Jews as a 'mark to single them out for punishment they so well deserved for their infidelities' (p. 186).

Marcion (ca. 144 A.D.)

... ordered his followers 'to fast on Saturday justifying it in this way: Because it is the rest of the God of the Jews ... we fast in that day in order not to accomplish on that day what was ordained by the God of the Jews' (p. 187).

Victorinus (ca. 304 A.D.; Bishop of Pettau)

[Christians were] to avoid 'appearing to observe the Sabbath with the Jews, of which the Lord of the Sabbath Himself, the Christ, says by His prophets that His soul hateth' (p. 196).

It is quite evident that the church fathers adopted the anti-Jewish bias of the Romans. They actually reinterpreted the Old Testament to justify their position-trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and anything that appeared Jewish, particularly the Sabbath.

Political Church Emerges

As the Sabbath was gradually denigrated, Sunday was promoted as a practical substitute. This day was venerated by many pagans, particularly at Rome. It was a logical choice and would make the Christians seem distinct from the Jews and more like the Romans.

Of course, church leaders needed a rationale to justify their adoption of Sunday; but there was little in the Bible that could be construed to support the first day of the week. The best reasons they could come up with were that light was created on the first day of the week and that Jesus was alive from the dead on the first day. Not very strong arguments! However, the real reasons were purely and simply political and social!

The various bishops at Rome, because they were at the seat of the Empire and more in tune with the attitudes of the Roman world, gained in power and prominence in the church. They put pressure on other bishops to accept Sunday; in time they succeeded.

The evidence is that for several centuries Christians in Asia continued to keep the Sabbath, or to keep both Saturday and Sunday. A few even in Rome continued to do so for some time. But the die was cast. The power of the bishops at Rome was growing rapidly. Christians there were gaining the approval of the Emperors. And once this new religion gained official recognition and sanction under Constantine, it was all over for those who sought to remain faithful to the teachings of the Word of God. A politicised church had emerged with the power of the state behind it.

Confessions by Modern Church Leaders

Modern Roman Catholic leaders have been quite frank in admitting that there is no Biblical authority, but only church authority, for Sunday. Notice just two quotations:

But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and you will not find a single line authorising the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify (James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 89).

Some of the truths that have been handed down to us by tradition and are not recorded in the Sacred Scriptures, are the following: that ... Sunday should be kept holy instead of the Sabbath; that infants should be baptised ... (Butler's Holy Family Series of Catholic Catechisms, John Murphy Co., Boston).

Many other quotations from Roman Catholic sources are available in the leaflet "Roman Catholic Confessions About Sunday," The Bible Sabbath Association, Fairview, OK 73737.

Protestants have traditionally rejected the authority of the Catholic church, relying instead on the Bible. Many have cried, "The Bible and the Bible only." Hence they have been forced to comb the Scriptures thoroughly to find support for their first-day sabbath. Their search is quite fruitless. And some have written frankly about the lack of Biblical authority for Sunday.

Because it was requisite to appoint a certain day ... it appears that the Church did for that purpose appoint the Lord's day (Augsburg Confession, part 2, art. 7).

The festival of Sunday ... was always only a human ordinance and it was far from the intentions of the apostles to establish a divine command in this respect; far from them, and from the early apostolic church, to transfer the laws of the Sabbath to Sunday (The History of the Christian Religion and Church, Dr. Augustus Neander).

Many similar quotations are available from The Bible Sabbath Association.

The substance of these and many other frank admissions is that there is only traditional authority-not Biblical authority for the adoption of Sunday as a day of rest and worship. And the fact is that down through the centuries, many Christians, albeit a small percentage of all those who claim to be Christians, have continued to observe the day set aside by God at Creation. There have been and are now Christians who rest from their work on the Sabbath according to the will of God-who enjoy the freedom provided by the day sanctified by God, who celebrate His creation, His rest, and His redemption by resting on the day He set aside at Creation.

The Choice is Yours!

You have a choice. You can follow the traditions of the church, reasoning, perhaps that it doesn't really matter or that others are responsible. You can ignore the Fourth Commandment and miss out on the blessings that flow to those who experience the regular rejuvenation of the Sabbath rest.

Or you can study the Word of God and determine to follow it as your guide for living. You can follow the example of Jesus and the apostles in embracing this day of rest, of freedom, and of fellowship with God.

The choice is yours. May God guide you in seeking to follow His will.