The Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath

By COGwriter

Some people, on the internet and elsewhere, have pointed to some basically 19th century translations of certain ancient documents in an attempt to support their contention that Sunday was observed early on by the original Christians.

The Didache is an ancient letter that may have been written near the time of the Apostle John's death. Many consider it to contain the earliest indirect reference to Sunday worship by Christians.

Ignatius was an early leader in Antioch who apparently knew some of the apostles, as well as Polycarp the Bishop (or Pastor) in Smyrna (a part of Asia Minor).  One of Ignatius' writings, called his Letter to the Magnesians, is often cited as proof that Sunday was observed by early Christians. But is that what he really he was teaching?

The late French Cardinal Jean-Guenole-Marie Danielou is amongst those that have claimed that Sunday observance by Christians is supported by the Didache and Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians [1].

But, do either of these documents support the observance of Sunday?

This article will discuss some of these writings and will include some of the original Greek to demonstrate what the early writings actually teach.

Early Writings

Before getting to those writings, there are two that perhaps should be mentioned first.

The first is the alleged Epistle of Barnabas. This anonymous document is sometimes cited as proof for Sunday worship, but scholars do not believe that Barnabas wrote it [2]. It is not a truly "Christian" writing. It essentially claims God wanted the ‘eighth day’ instead of the seventh-day Sabbath in the Book of Isaiah (even though terms for eight or eighth are never mentioned in Isaiah).  Like some other heretical writings, it relies heavily on allegory to interpret the Bible.

There is also a quote allegedly from Ignatius’ Letter to the Trallians. However this "quote" is from verse 9 in the ‘longer version’ of that letter, which scholars discount as not authentic--it was lengthened much later by someone else—the shorter version, whose authenticity is widely accepted, says nothing about “the Lord’s Day” [3].

The Didache

The Didache has been cited as the earliest non-scriptural "proof" of Sunday worship by those who profess Christ [4], although it does not ever use the word Sunday nor the expression 'first day of the week.'

However, verse 14.1 is often cited as proof of Sunday observance by promoters of Sunday observance.

The Greek expression in verse 14.1 in the Didache, is:

Κατὰ κυριακν δε κυριου [5].

The Greek term κυριακν is often transliterated as kuriaki/kyriake.

Here is something from a Catholic priest and scholar on the meaning of κυριακν:

... the Greek kyriake, meaning “belonging to the Lord (kyrios),” from which the English word “church” is derived. [6]

Basically kuriaki means the Lord's way.

I believe I have translated verse 14.1 in the Didache, properly below (with two options):

According to the Lord's way, even the Lord's.


According to the Lordly {way}, even the Lord's.

However, it has normally been incorrectly translated by many Protestant scholars. Here are two examples:

"On the Lord's day of the Lord," by Kirsopp Lake [7].

"But every Lord's day," by Hall and Napier [8].

There are at least two reasons that the above by Lake, as well as Hall & Napier, can be shown to be mistranslated.

The first is that the translators should have realized that the Greek term for "day" (ἡμέρᾳ) is missing in verse 14.1 [9] and is not required by the context.

The second is how each of them began the translation of this particular verse. The beginning in both translations is in error and is inconsistent with the translators other translations in this letter.

The Greek word translated in verse 14.1 as "On the" by Kirsopp Lake and "But every" by Hall and Napier (Κατὰ) truly does mean "According to" as I have translated it. Κατα should not be translated as "On the" or "But every."

The Greek word Κατὰ is translated as "according to" by Kirsopp Lake five times (1.5, 11.3, 12.4, 13.5, and 13.7 [10]) and "with respect" one time (4.10). The other times Lake used the term "on" (verses 1.4, 7.3, 8.1a, 8.1b, 11.12, 16.8 [11]), it was NOT a translation from the Greek term Κατὰ.

Also the one time the Didache uses "on" with a day (which is in the translations of both Lake and Hall/Napier), it does not use Κατὰ, but it does include the Greek term for day (verse 8.1b) [12].

It may be of interest to note that in the KJV New Testament, Κατα is translated as "according to" approximately 110 times, and the only time (Acts 8:36) it is inaccurately translated as "on" it is not translated as "on" in the NKJV or NIV.

Hall and Napier translated Κατὰ as "according to" the six other times it is translated that SAME letter (see verses 1.5, 4.10, 11.3, 12.4, 13.5, and 13.7 [13]) and never translated it as "But every." The one other time Hall and Napier used the term "But every" (verse 13.1) while translating the Didache it is not translated from the term Κατὰ [14]. Also, it may be of interest to note that the KJV never translated Κατὰ as "but every."

Hence it appears that several translators intentionally exercised bias when translating verse 14.1.

The context of this portion of the Didache suggests that it may be referring to the Christian Passover (compare with I Corinthians 22:23-29) or some other gathering (compare with Acts 2:42), but only a forced and inaccurate translation would suggest Sunday (which is what many Sunday advocates suggest). The belief that this refers to Passover is centuries old as F. Coneybeare reported it was a belief of the Paulini:

But the Paulini also keep the feast of the Pascha on the same day (as the Jews), whatever be the day of the full moon, they call it Kuriaki, as the Jews call it Sabbath, even though it be not a Sabbath. [15]

Since the Protestant translating scholars of the Didache did not observe an annual Christian Passover and tended to be Sunday observers, this may explain why they did not translate it literally.

Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians

The other major claim in favor of early Sunday worship is from Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians.

Here is what the Greek states:

Εί ούν οί έν παλαιοîς πράγμασιν άναστραφέντες είς καινότητα έλπίδος ήλθον, μηκέτι σαββατίζοντες, άλλά κατά κυριακήν ζώντες, έν ή καί ή ζωή ήμών άνέτειλεν δι’ αύτού καί τού θανάτου αύτού, <öν> τινες άρνούνται, δι’ ού μυστηρίου έλάβομεν τò πιστεύειν, καί διά τούτο ύπομένομεν, ïνα εύρεθώμεν μαθηταί 'Iησού Χριστού τού μόνου διδασκάλου ήμών· [16]

Here is a fairly typical 19th Century translation of verse 9.1, by Dr. J.B. Lightfoot:

If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny -- a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher [17].

But is that correct?

It should be noted that the word for 'day' is not in the Greek text.

Interestingly, like Lake and Hall/Napier, Dr. Lightfoot also failed to translate Κατα, which is in the text [18] as "according to." Yet, Lightfoot did translate Κατα as "according to" in three other places in this letter (verses 3.1,10.1, 13.2 [19]). He also failed to do so in his translation of the Didache, where he began verse 14.1 with "And on" [20]--an apparently intentional and improper translation as discussed above (Lightfoot translated κατά as "according to" five other times in the Didache [21]).

It is sad that these translators, all born in the 19th century, all decided to selectively change the meaning of a word.


Well, in order to support Sunday worship.

Yet, noted scholar Guy Fritz concluded that the text in Ignatius is too ambiguous to be used to support Sunday worship:

"in the study of the ‘Lord’s day’ in the early church … {it} cannot at the present time properly be introduced as evidence indicating its [Sunday] observance" [22].

The 19th century theologian John Kitto understood that neither the context nor the Greek required adding the word day.  Thus he translated a highly relevant part of it correctly as follows:

…living according to our Lord's life...[23].

John Kitto also made the following comments about the passage from Ignatius:

Now many commentators assume (on what ground does not appear), that alter κυριακήν [Lord’s] the word ἡμέραν [day] is to be understood… The defect of the sentence is the want of a substantive to which άvroύ can refer. This defect, so far from being- remedied, is rendered still more glaring by the introduction of ἡμέραν…the passage does not refer at all to the Lord’s day…it cannot be regarded as affording any positive evidence to the early use of the term ‘Lord’s day’ (for which it is often cited), since the word ἡμέραν [day] is purely conjectual [24].

Yet, almost all anti-Sabbath websites I have visited have ignored the scholars that understand the truth about Ignatius’ writings as they cite the mistranslations as “proof” of early Sunday observance—even though the actual Greek text does no such thing.

While in Greece, I was able to verify that the word in koine Greek translated as “Lord’s Day” in both the Didache and the Letter to the Magnesians, κυριακν, could not be translated as "Lord's Day" as the Greek word for day is not present in the texts nor required by the contexts for either.

In Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians, like in the Didache, κυριακν would be better translated as “Lord’s way” or combined with the Greek word that follows it , ζωντες [25] , “Lord’s way of life” or “Lord’s living.” This is also consistent with what Paul wrote:

When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4, NKJV throughout unless otherwise noted).

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

It was the custom of Jesus (e.g. Luke 4:16) and Paul to regularly keep the Sabbath (Acts 17:2). The Sabbath was part of the Lord's way of life, and Paul imitated Christ that way. Understanding Jesus' life is critical to understanding Ignatius.

Furthermore, to better understand Ignatius' letter, we should look at more of the context and not just verse 9.1. out-of-context, as some Sunday advocates have.

A more literal (though not grammatical) translation of the relevant portion from Ignatius’ letter appears to be,

8.1 Be not seduced by strange doctrines nor by antiquated fables, which are profitless.
8.2  For if even unto this day we live according to the manner of Judaic concepts, we admit that we have not received grace: for the godly prophets lived after Christ Jesus. For this cause also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to the end that they which are disobedient might be fully persuaded that there is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word that proceeded from silence, who in all things was well-pleasing unto Him that sent Him.
9.1 If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer keeping sabbaths contrariwise according to the Lord's way of life, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny – a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher –
9.2 if this be so, how shall we be able to live apart from Him? Seeing that even the prophets, being His disciples, were expecting Him as their teacher through the Spirit. And for this cause He whom they rightly awaited, when He came, raised them from the dead. 

According to a scholar of koine Greek who I consulted with (a non-Sabbathkeeper), the first portion of 9.1 would grammatically be better translated as:

“If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer {Judaically} keeping sabbaths but according to the Lord's way of life…” [26]

This is because she insisted that the term ‘but’ (or ‘contrariwise’ as translated earlier above) had to refer to the "Lord’s way" instead of the Sabbath. 

There are at least two reasons for this. The first is that the godly prophets had been keeping the seventh day Sabbath. And the second is since the portion of the Greek term translated as the first part of “no longer” is a ‘qualified negative’ [27] the context supports that the ‘Judaic concepts’ (verse 8.2) are part of the qualification.  It may be of interest to note that the terms first, day, or Sun are not in the above passages.

She confirmed with me that this section is certainly speaking about the same ancient prophets throughout, hence since they actually kept the Sabbath (and not Sunday), she felt that the idea of Judaically would have had to been in Ignatius’ mind. And that this type of reference was required in English to properly understand what Ignatius was writing (and I also had this confirmed by others with a working knowledge of koine Greek).

This assessment is also consistent with later testimony from Jerome who mentioned that the Sabbath-keeping Christians he ran into did not adhere to the Jewish traditions--in other words, although they kept the Sabbath, the Nazarenes did not keep the Sabbath Judaically:

Jerome declares:

"On Isaiah 9:1-4

"The Nazarenes, whose opinion I have set forth above, try to explain this passage in the following way: When Christ came and his preaching shone out, the land of Zebulon and Naphtali [the region of Galilee] first of all were freed from the errors of the Scribes and Pharisees and he shook off their shoulders the very heavy yoke of the JEWISH TRADITIONS. Later, however, the preaching became more dominant, that means the preaching was multiplied, through the gospel of the apostle Paul who was the last of all the apostles. And the gospel of Christ shone to the most distant tribes and the way of the whole sea. Finally the whole world, which earlier walked or sat in darkness and was imprisoned in the bonds of idolatry and death, has seen the clear light of the gospel" (p.64).

In this passage, we find that the Nazarene Christians -- like Yeshua the Messiah, Peter, James, John and especially Paul -- rejected Jewish traditionalism, invention, and additions to the Torah or Old Testament. They referred to them as the "very heavy yoke of the Jewish traditions." [28].

Thus, instead of proving Sunday and disproving the Sabbath, Ignatius (and indirectly even Jerome) seems to be warning against incorrectly observing the Sabbath as certain Pharisaical Jews insisted, with their antiquated fables. Or in other words, Ignatius was condemning the observance of traditions of men over the Bible.   (Ignatius also held views on the godhead that appear to differ from mainstream "Christianity," please see the article Binitarian View).

Alfred Edersheim, a 19th century scholar, observed:

“In not less that twenty-four chapters {of the Mishna}, matters are seriously discussed {regarding Sabbath observance} as of vital religious importance, which one would scarcely imagine a sane intellect would serious entertain.” [29]

Note that these are mainly restrictions that are not found in the Bible (I have read many of these restrictions in the Mishna and they do seem to be absurd).  Jesus also taught that Pharisaical Jews had improper concepts about the Sabbath (e.g. Luke 13:10-17).

Dr. Noel Rude, a self-described “grammar-freak” and linguist, felt that perhaps the following would be even more grammatically correct for the first part of verse 9.1:

"If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer (Judaically) keeping sabbaths but living according to the lordly way..."[30]

And that seems to be consistent with how I feel this verse should be translated.

Ignatius was teaching that the godly prophets, who lived in ancient times, lived in accordance to the ways of Jesus Christ, and not after improper Judaic concepts. 

There is no doubt that the ancient prophets (such as Isaiah) kept the Sabbath on the day now known as Saturday.  Around 167 BC, which is after the Old Testament was written, the Pharisees rose up. One of the way they were distinguished from the Sadducees is that the Pharisees placed great value on what they termed the 'oral law'--or as we might call it now, Jewish tradition--in order to attain type of 'holiness' [31]. In other words, the party of the Pharisees relied on traditions outside of the Bible--which is something Jesus condemned them for (Matthew 15:3-9).

The Bible records that the Old Testament prophets knew how to keep the Sabbath (and not Barnabas’ eighth day) properly, as a delight for them to be in the LORD (e.g. Isaiah 58:13-14).Since the ancient prophets did that, Ignatius may be saying that Christians need to keep the Sabbath in accordance with Jesus’ example of doing good on the Sabbath and not be unduly focused on non-biblical restrictions—for, Ignatius says, we are to not live apart from Jesus.  Jesus, of course kept the Sabbath, as part of His way of life.

It is also possible that mainly what Ignatius was doing was the same type of thing that Paul warned about in Colossians 2:16—he was telling Christians to let the “body of Christ” and not others (like those advocating  extra-biblical Jewish practices) tell them how to keep the Sabbath.  He may have simply written this section to help differentiate Christians from Jews in the eyes of both the Christians and the Gentile governments that they tended to be under (distancing Christians from Jews would have been physically advantageous for many Christians at that time).  But regardless of the intended point, Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians does not advocate doing away with the biblical Sabbath, nor does it show that the Sabbath was being replaced by Sunday prior to the time of the Smyrna church era's prominence.

It may also be of interest to note how the less-accepted “longer” version of Ignatius’ letter was translated in the Ante-Nicene Fathers as follows:

Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner...[32]

The text here seems less ambigious, hence a more accurate transation is essentially forced.

Furthermore, the above version adds:

But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body, admiring the workmanship of God, and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space, nor finding delight in dancing and plaudits which have no sense in them. [33]

Ignatius was not teaching that the Sabbath was done away and replaced by Sunday.  The above version seems to be more consistent with the meaning than how most others have translated the more “accepted” version.

It should be understood that Ignatius' other writings show that he did not try to do away with the sabbath commandment. Notice what else he wrote in his Letter to the Magnesians:

It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not stedfastly gathered together according to the commandment. [34]

The commandment that involves meeting together is the fourth commandment. It is the commandment that says to:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).

Part of the way the Sabbath day is kept holy is by meeting together for church services (referred to as "an holy convocation" in Leviticus 23:1-3). There is no direct statement anywhere in the Bible requiring a weekly convocation on Sunday.

While some Sabbatarians, and others, have questioned the authenticity of Ignatius writing the subject letter, any who have truly looked into this matter can affirm that the word ‘day,’ as in the expression “Lord’s day,” is missing from the Greek there and in the Didache [35] --I have both documents in Greek and can also do so.

Ignatius' Other Writings

In his Letter to the Romans, Ignatius observed that true Christians kept the commandments:

I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments [36].

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumcised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men. Flee therefore the wicked devices and snares of the prince of this world, lest at any time being conquered by his artifices, ye grow weak in your love [37].

Notice that Ignatius is once again complaining about Judaic customs that are not from the Bible. How do we know that the practices that Ignatius is referring to are not from the Bible? Because Ignatius is clearly saying to avoid snares from "the prince of the world." The prince Ignatius is referring to is Satan (see Ephesians 2:2), and since the Sabbath did not come from Satan, as it came from God (see Genesis 2:1-3), Ignatius would not refer to something that God made as wicked.

Furthermore, notice that Ignatius mentioned about keeping "every one of His commandments", thus this is not simply an admonition to love, but to keep all the commandments.

In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius wrote about false Christians:

But I guard you beforehand from those beasts in the shape of men, whom you must not only not receive, but, if it be possible, not even meet with; only you must pray to God for them, if by any means they may be brought to repentance, which, however, will be very difficult. Yet Jesus Christ, who is our true life, has the power of [effecting] this. But if these things were done by our Lord only in appearance, then am I also only in appearance bound. And why have I also surrendered myself to death, to fire, to the sword, to the wild beasts? But, [in fact,] he who is near to the sword is near to God; he that is among the wild beasts is in company with God; provided only he be so in the name of Jesus Christ. I undergo all these things that I may suffer together with Him, He who became a perfect man inwardly strengthening me. Some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us [38].

Since he writes that some of the false Christians do not have "the law of Moses" it is reasonable to conclude that Ignatius believed that he did have the "law of Moses," in regards to the ten commandments, including the Sabbath commandment.

(It may be of at least of passing interest to note that Ignatius referred to the church as the "church of God" four times in his writings, Letter to the Philadelphians 0:0, 10:1; Letter to the Trallians 2:2; Letter to the Smyrnaeans 0:0.)

I would also add that it is not proper to teach that Ignatius associated the 'cross' "with the power of the Holy Spirit" as the late Cardinal Danielou said he did [39] and many mistranslators have. Ignatius used the word staros/stake, not the word cross, in his writing in his letter to the Ephesians, Chapter IX. More on the 'cross' can be found in the article What is the Origin of the Cross as a 'Christian' Symbol?

Other Confirmation

The idea that those that professed Christ had a more positive, and less ceremonial attitude toward the Sabbath than did most of the Jews can also be found in an anonymous document titled the Epistle to Diognetus (probably written in the late second century). Specifically, in the following portion where the writer claims that the Jews:

4:3 And again to lie against God, as if He forbad us to do any good thing on the sabbath day, is not this profane? [40]

This is simply additional evidence that the way of sabbath emphasis of those who professed Christ was different from that held by many of the Jews then (an article of related interest may be The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad). True Christians understood Jesus' teachings that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath (e.g. Matthew 12:12).

Greece and the Lord's Day?

Year ago, I wondered before going to Greece, why native Greeks did not realize that Κυριακήν did not literally mean "Lord’s Day" as that meaning is not inherent in the word.  So while in Greece, I decided to ask by speaking with several knowledgeable Greeks. Their statements made me conclude that because of pressures of tradition from compromised religious authorities, the meaning of this term had been changed over time--so much so that modern Greeks do not seem to think about its original meaning.

Now the modern Greek word for Sunday is Κυριακή [41].  Hence the Greeks consider that the word is simply now means Sunday, and thus they ignore its literal meaning. However, even in modern Greek, Κυρια (the base of the other words) still literally means Master or Lord—it has nothing to do with the Sun or a day—nor is the idea of "Sunday" supported by the context in Ignatius (more information can be found in the article Lord's Day or Day of the Lord?). 

Jesus taught that "in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).


Though where it first began in "Christian" circles is not entirely clear, the first clear reference to those professing Christ meeting on Sunday was from Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. [42].

The actual Greek expression Justin used was:

τῇ τοῦ ῾Ηλίου λεγομένη ἡμέρᾳ. 

His statement is often translated as, “on the day called Sunday” [43].

Notice that Justin's comment in the Greek language demonstrates that the term Κυριακήν was not then the common Greek word for Sunday.

The terms he used specifically used were ἡμέρᾳ which means day, Ηλίου is considered to mean Sun (although it is actually the term for the sun god Helios), and λεγομένη currently means said. Thus Justin literally stated "on the day said {of} Helios" or perhaps more literally "on the Helios named day". Justin probably used this expression to suggest to the Roman Emperor that Justin's version of Christianity was not totally different from the worship of gods that the emperor was familiar with (and this is true).

But why Sunday? Justin actually claims that God chose the eighth day for meeting because of the fact that circumcision was performed on the eighth day:

Now, sirs," I said, "it is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import, which the seventh day did not possess, and which was promulgated by God through these rites...there is now another covenant, and another law has gone forth from Zion. Jesus Christ circumcises all who will--as was declared above--with knives of stone; that they may be a righteous nation, a people keeping faith, holding to the truth, and maintaining peace [44].

The average person who worships on Sunday probably does not wish to believe that this is what Sunday is based on, but this eighth day logic (which came from early Gnostics) is what the first Sunday references base its superiority on (including, as mentioned, the alleged Epistle of Barnabas).

Furthermore, it may be of interest to realize that Justin held many positions that those who worship on Sunday would hold to be heretical. Justin also stated that there were Christians in his day who kept the law of Moses (who he did not wish to associate with) and those who did not keep the Sabbath (those he kept Sunday with).

Notice that while in Ephesus, Justin Martyr wrote, in response to a Jew named Trypho:

But if, Trypho, some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them [45].

Thus, Justin admits that there were two groups in Ephesus, one that kept all the law and the other that did not. He also admits that he did not approve of those who kept the law.

Ignatius was associated with Polycarp, a church leader in Asia Minor, as well as with those in Ephesus, yet Ignatius and Polycarp endorsed what Justin is referring to as the law of Moses.

Furthermore, Justin Martyr records this accusation from Trypho:

But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or Sabbaths…you do not obey His commandments [46].    

While the Apostle Paul told Ephesians were told to live differently than the other Gentiles in whose nation they co-existed with (Ephesians 4:17), those with Justin Martyr could not be distinguished, as they did not keep the Sabbath or the law as the true Christians in Asia Minor did. (More of Justin's positions are documented in the article Justin Martyr: Saint or Heretic and Apostate?)

Early, Faithful, Christians Kept the Sabbath

It is well know that from the first century until about 135 A.D. the first fifteen bishops/pastors of Jerusalem all kept the seventh-day Sabbath and were all circumcised Jews [47].

Although they have their own biases, even the historians Philip Schaff and Johann Gieseler correctly noted:

The Jewish Christians, at least in Palestine, conformed as closely as possible to the venerable forms of the cultus of their fathers, which in truth were divinely ordained, and were an expressive type of the Christian worship. So far as we know, they scrupulously observed the Sabbath, the annual Jewish feasts, the hours of daily prayer, and the whole Mosaic ritual [48].

While the Jewish Christians of Palestine retained the entire Mosaic law, and consequently the Jewish festivals, the Gentile Christians observed also the Sabbath and the passover (1 Cor. v. 6-8), with reference to the last scenes of Jesus' life, but without Jewish superstition (Gal. iv. 10 ; Col. ii. 16) [49].

It is known that early Jewish Christians did keep the Sabbath and biblical holy days. And as prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 56:1-7), so did the faithful Gentile Christians (and the Isaiah prophecy still has future application).


It may be of interest to note that Ignatius wrote: Polycarp, bishop of the Smyrnaeans…So approving am I of your godly mind, which is as it were, grounded upon an unmovable rock, that my praise exceeds all bounds…Do not let those who appear to be trustworthy yet who teach strange doctrines baffle you.  Stand firm, like an anvil…Grace will be…always…with Polycarp [50]. 

And according to the later testimonies of Irenaeus, Polycrates, and Tertullian, the leader of the Sabbath-keeping Smyrnaeans [51], Polycarp, did just that (more information is available in the article Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome).

Polycarp also taught that Christians should keep the commandments [52].

And on the following sabbath he said; 'Hear ye my exhortation, beloved children of God. I adjured you when the bishops were present, and now again I exhort you all to walk decorously and worthily in the way of the Lord...Watch ye, and again Be ye ready, Let not your hearts be weighed down, the new commandment concerning love one towards another, His advent suddenly manifest as of rapid lightning, the great judgment by fire, the eternal life, His immortal kingdom. And all things whatsoever being taught of God ye know, when ye search the inspired Scriptures, engrave with the pen of the Holy Spirit on your hearts, that the commandments may abide in you indelible.' [53]

According to the The Martyrdom of Polycarp by the Smyrnaeans [54] and other sources [55], Christians in Polycarp's area kept the Sabbath after he died.

And since Polycarp referred to Ignatius as 'blessed' and endorsed Ignatius' letters in his Letter to the Philippians [56], it is logical to conclude that Ignatius was faithful to the same teachings and practices that Polycarp did (much more information about Polycarp can be found in the article Polycarp of Smyrna).

(Note: While some claim Polycarp also kept Sunday, that appears to be a later edition to the text [57].)

According to the The Martyrdom of Polycarp by the Smyrnaeans [58] and other sources [59], Christians in Polycarp's area kept the Sabbath after he died.

And since Polycarp referred to Ignatius as 'blessed' and endorsed Ignatius' letters in his Letter to the Philippians [60], it is logical to conclude that Ignatius was faithful to the same teachings and practices that Polycarp did.


In the late second century, Pastor/Bishop Theophilus of Antioch wrote:

And on the sixth day God finished His works which He made, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it He rested from all His works which God began to create...Moreover, [they spoke] concerning the seventh day, which all men acknowledge; but the most know not that what among the Hebrews is called the "Sabbath," is translated into Greek the "Seventh" (έβδομάς), a name which is adopted by every nation, although they know not the reason of the appellation...God having thus completed the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and all that are in them, on the sixth day, rested on the seventh day from all His works which He made [61].

More more information on Theophilus and the Sabbath, check out the article on Theophilus of Antioch.

The early faithful Gentile Christians kept the Sabbath. Until the early third century, there was harmony between the faithful Christians in Antioch and Asia Minor.


Early Jewish and Gentile Christians kept the seventh day Sabbath. The faithful did not believe that the Sabbath was done away.

Neither the Didache or Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians actually mention the term Sunday or directly refer to the first day of the week.

The Didache is not an endorsement of early Sunday observance.

Ignatius, himself, would have had to be a supporter of the seventh day Sabbath and would not have written against it. Nor, if properly translated, do Ignatius' letters ever truly write against the seventh day sabbath--instead they endorse the concept that Christians are to keep the Sabbath in accordance with the commandments and the Lord's way of living, but not according to the ways endorsed by unbiblical Jewish tradition.

There is no evidence whatsoever that any who professed Christ regularly worshiped on Sunday when Ignatius was alive. The simple fact is that Ignatius' writings do not support the idea that the early New Testament Church observed Sunday.

The Greek expression he used in Magnesians (κυριακήν ζωντες) simply did not mean Sunday when Ignatius wrote his letters. And there is no other contemporaneous reference that any professing Christian at the time of Ignatius observed Sunday. Available evidence (including the Bible, i.e. Acts 13:42-44; Hebrews 4:9) clearly supports the idea that early Christians kept the seventh day Sabbath.

The first clear reference to Sunday worship, even according to Roman Catholic sources, was from Justin [62, 63]. Yet he held so many heretical positions, it makes no sense to this author that any could truly consider him to be a true Christian.

On the other hand, Polycarp and those faithful Christians who remained in Asia Minor did continue to keep the Sabbath for centuries after Jesus died.

Information on the true Christian church and its history can be found in the free online booklets Where is the True Christian Church Today? and Continuing History of the Church of God.

More information on Lord's Day references can be found in the article Is Revelation 1:10 Discussing the Lord's Day or the Day of the Lord?

[1] Danielou, Cardinal Jean-Guenole-Marie. The Theology of Jewish Christianity. Translated by John A. Baker. The Westminister Press, 1964, p. 343
[2]Holmes M.
The Apostolic Fathers--Greek Text and English Translations, 3rd printing 2004. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI) p. 271

[3] Ignatius.  Letter to the Trallians. Verse 9. In: Holmes M. pp. 164-165

[4] Slater T. Sunday. Transcribed by Scott Anthony Hibbs. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

[5] The Didache.  Verse 14.1.   In: Holmes, pp. 250-269

[6] Pixner B. Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion. Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1990: 16-35,60

[7] The Didache. In Apostolic Fathers. Kirsopp Lake, 1912 (Loeb Classical Library) © 2001 Peter Kirby

[8] The Didache. Translated by Isaac Hall and John Napier. Revised by K. Knight. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight. Note: The Greek is from Holmes, above.

[9] The Didache.  Verse 14.1.   In: Holmes, p. 266

[10] The Didache, Verse 14.1. Lake.

[11] Ibid

[12] The Didache.  Verse 8.1.   In: Holmes, p. 258

[13] The Didache. Hall Napier.

[14] Ibid
[15] Conybeare F.C. The Key of Truth: A Manual of the Paulician Church of Armenia. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1898, p. clii

[16] Holmes, p. 154

[17] Ignatius. Letter to the Magnesians, Verse 9.1. Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation. © 2001 Peter Kirby

[18] Ignatius.  Letter to the Magnesians. In: Holmes M. pp. 150-159

[19] Ibid

[20] The Didache. Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation. © 2001 Peter Kirby

[21] Ibid
[22] Guy F.  Lord’s Day in the Letter of Ignatius to the Magnesians.  AUSS 2, 1964: 17 Cited in Bacchiocchi S. Anti-Judaism and the Origin of Sunday, p. 93

[23] Kitto J.  The cyclopaedia of Biblical literature, Volume 2.  American Book Exchange, 1881.  Original from Harvard University, Digitized. Jan 31, 2008 p. 270
[24] Ibid

[25] Ignatius.  Letter to the Magnesians. Verse 8. In: Holmes M. The Apostolic Fathers--Greek Text and English Translations, 3rd printing 2004, p. 154

[26] Condos, Theony.  Meeting with Dr. Thiel regarding Ignatius’ Letter to the Magnesians.  Santa Barbara, California.  July 31, 2005 (in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, Dr. Condos also served as the parish president for Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church)

[27] Strong J.  Words 3371 & 3361 in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, Abington, Nashville, 1890 , p.48

[28] The Mysterious Relationship of The Early Nazarene Christians and Rabbinic Judaism. 02/24/16
[29] Edersheim A. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume 2. Longmans, Green, and Company, 1883, p. 775

[30] Rude N. Emails to COGwriter, 2/23/11 and 03/03/2011

[31] Hoogsteen T. The Tradition of the Elders: The Way of the Oral Law. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014, pp. 2-4

[32] Ignatius (Pseudo). The Epistle to the Magnesians (longer recension). Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1999 printing, p.62

[33] Ibid

[34] Ignatius. Letter to the Magnesians, Chapter III. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight

[35] Lewis A.H.  A Critical History of the Sabbath and the Sunday in the Christian Church.  American Sabbath Tract Association, Plainfield (NJ), 1903, pp. 8-10

[36] Ignatius. Letter to the Romans, Chapter I. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight

[37] Ignatius. Letter to the Philadelphians. Chapter VI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight

[38] Ignatius. Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapters IV-V. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight

[39] Danielou, Cardinal Jean-Guenole-Marie. The Theology of Jewish Christianity. Translated by John A. Baker. The Westminister Press, 1964, p. 278

[40] The Epistle To Diognetus. Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. In Apostolic Fathers. Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation, Online version © 2001 Peter Kirby

[41] Stavropoulos DN.  Oxford English-Greek Learner’s Dictionary, 14th ed.  Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 487

[42]Slater T. Sunday

[43] Justin Martyr.  The First Apology.  Chapter LXVII. Text edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson and first published in Edinburgh, 1867. Additional introductionary material and notes provided for the American edition by A. Cleveland Coxe 1886. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint 2001

[44] Justin. Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter XXIV.

[45] Justin.  Dialogue with Trypho. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight

[46] Justin Martyr.  Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 10. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc.

[47] Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book III, Chapter V, Verses 2,3.& Book IV, Chapter 5, Verses 2-4,  pp. 45, 71

[48] Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Chapter 9. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998

[49] Gieseler, Johann Karl Ludwig. A text-book of church history, Volume I, Chapter II. New York : Harper & brothers. Date 1857-80

[50] Ignatius.  Letter to Polycarp.   In: Holmes, pp. 194-201

[51] The Martrydom of Polycarp. Verse 8.1. In: Holmes, p. 233
[52] Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians. In: Holmes, pp. 206-221

[53] Life of Polycarp, Chapter 24. (1889) from J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, pp. 488-506

[54] The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole's 1885 translation. © 2001 Peter Kirby

[55] Sozomen. THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF SOZOMEN. Comprising a History of the Church, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 425. Book VII, Chapter XIX. Translated from the Greek. Revised by Chester D. Hartranft, Hartford Theological Seminary UNDER THE EDITORIAL SUPERVISION OF PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D., LL.D., AND HENRY WACE, D.D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Principal of King's College, London. T&T CLARK, EDINBURGH, circa 1846

[56] Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, verse 13.2. In: Holmes, p. 219

[57] Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015, p. 31

[58] The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole's 1885 translation


[60] Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, verse 13.2. In: Holmes, p. 219

[61] Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 2, Chapters XI, XII, XIX. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885, pp. 99,102

[62] Slater T. Sunday. Transcribed by Scott Anthony Hibbs. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
[63] Justin Martyr.  The First Apology.  Chapter LXVII

Thiel B. Ph.D. Ignatius and the Sabbath. (c) 2005/2006/2007/2008/2010/2011/2012/2014/2015/2016/2017/2018 0104


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