The Sabbath Sentinel: Sabbath–Post New Testament

COGwriter

Did early Christians keep Saturday or Sunday? While there are various opinions about this, some of those opinions are not based upon biblical or historical fact.

The Bible Sabbath Association, which is not a Church of God group (though it has members that are in the COGs, as well as members who are not), has published a series of articles from me on this subject.

The following is in the latest edition (January-February 2018) of its The Sabbath Sentinel magazine which helps give additional historical information:

Sabbath–Post New Testament

By Bob Thiel, Ph.D.

This is the fifth part of a five-part series explaining why certain early documents that are claimed against the seventh-day Sabbath are misunderstood and not actually against it.

In my previous articles, I explained that the Greek word Κυριακήν did not mean Sunday and many have misinterpreted writings from the Didache and Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Magnesians as endorsing Sunday. Thus, the earliest claimed post-New Testament documents cited as “proof” that the seventh-day Sabbath was done away truly did not do so.

Is there other proof?

Yes.

If Jesus and/or His apostles did away with the Sabbath as many claim, then it would be reasonable to conclude that the later faithful disciples would not keep it. Yet, other records and writings demonstrate that the faithful did continue to keep the seventh-day 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 (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book III, Chapter V, Verses 2,3.& Book IV, Chapter 5, Verses 2-4,  pp. 45, 71).

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 (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.)

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

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).

Ignatius and Polycarp

The faithful Gentile Christians were also keeping the Sabbath outside of Jerusalem. In the early second century, Pastor/Bishop Ignatius of Antioch wrote:

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

And according to the later testimonies of Irenaeus, Polycrates, and Tertullian, the leader of the Sabbath-keeping Smyrnaeans [The Martrydom of Polycarp. Verse 8.1. In: Holmes, p. 233], Polycarp, did just that in Asia Minor.

Polycarp also taught that Christians should keep the commandments [Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians. In: Holmes, pp. 206-221].

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

(Note: While some claim Polycarp also kept Sunday, that appears to be a later edition to the text [Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015, p. 31].)

According to the The Martyrdom of Polycarp by the Smyrnaeans [The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole’s 1885 translation] and other sources [Sozomen. THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF SOZOMEN. Book VII, Chapter XIX.], 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 [Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, verse 13.2. In: Holmes, p. 219], it is logical to conclude that Ignatius was faithful to the same teachings and practices that Polycarp did.

Theophilus

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 (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).

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.

Conclusion

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

As explained in early parts of this article, 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 Martyr [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]. Yet he held so many heretical positions [e.g. see Justin Martyr. The First Apology and Letter to Trypho], 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 and Antioch did continue to keep the Sabbath for centuries after Jesus died. Faithful Christians still keep the Sabbath to this day.

This is the fifth or sixth article (there was one related to the Holy Days that was not part of this series) I have had published in The Sabbath Sentinel (here is a link to the first: The Sabbath Sentinel: The Didache and the Sabbath).

The published article is basically an extract from my article Another Look at the Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath. Because of the restrictions in article length for The Sabbath Sentinel, I submitted just a few pages which they published.

It is my hope and prayer that those who read the submitted articles will see that early church history supports Saturday, and not Sunday, as the Christian day of rest. This article should be able to reach people we have not been able to reach in other ways. It is also my hope and prayer that those who read the articles will see that we in the Continuing Church of God have a true and proper grasp of early church history.

The series of articles expected to be published in The Sabbath Sentinel should also help non-Sabbath keepers realize that the historical evidence points to early, faithful, Christians resting on Saturday and not Sunday.

Some items of possibly related interest may include the following:

Another Look at the Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath Did Ignatius write against the Sabbath and for Sunday? What about the Didache? What does the actual Greek reveal?
The Sabbath in the Early Church and Abroad Was the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath observed by the apostolic and post-apostolic Church? Here is a related sermon video The Christian Sabbath and How and Why to Keep It.
The Christian Sabbath. This is a series of articles from the Catholic Mirror essentially proving that the biblical Sabbath was Saturday, that the Lord’s day in Revelation 1 is not a reference to Sunday, that the Church of Rome implemented Sunday, and that nearly all Protestants followed Rome.
Early Sabbath Keeping in North America When did Europeans first keep the Sabbath in North America? Did the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower keep Saturday or Sunday?
How to Observe the Sabbath How should you keep the Sabbath? This is an old article by Raymond Cole, with updated information for the 21st century.
The Dramatic Story of Chinese Sabbathkeepers This reformatted Good News article from 1955 discusses Sabbath-keeping in China in the 1800s.
Is God Unreasonable? Some have suggested that if God requires Sabbath-keeping He is unreasonable. Is that true? Here is a link to a related article in Mandarin Chinese 一个不合理的神?
Should You Observe God’s Holy Days or Demonic Holidays? This is a free pdf booklet explaining what the Bible and history shows about God’s Holy Days and popular holidays. A related sermon is Which Spring Days should Christians observe?
Is Revelation 1:10 talking about Sunday or the Day of the Lord?
Most Protestant scholars say Sunday is the Lord’s Day, but is that what the Bible teaches?
Sunday and Christianity Was Sunday observed by the apostolic and true post-apostolic Christians? Who clearly endorsed Sunday? What relevance is the first or the “eighth” day? A related sermon is also available: Sunday: First and Eighth Day?
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.
Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings Are traditions on equal par with scripture? Many believe that is what Peter, John, and Paul taught. But did they?
Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter Polycarp was the successor of the Apostle John and a major leader in Asia Minor. Do you know much about what he taught? A YouTube video or related interesy may be: Polycarp of Smyrna: Why Christians should know more about him.
Theophilus of Antioch This is one of the second century leaders of some Christians in Antioch and is considered a Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch.
The Ten Commandments: The Decalogue, Christianity, and the Beast This is a free draft/unedited pdf book explaining the what the Ten Commandments are, where they came from, how early professors of Christ viewed them, and how various ones, including the Beast of Revelation, will oppose them. A related sermon is titled: The Ten Commandments and the Beast of Revelation.



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