The Sabbath Sentinel: The Didache and the Sabbath


Old manuscript mentioning the Didache

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), published a version of the following in the latest edition (March-April 2016) of its The Sabbath Sentinel magazine:

The Didache and the Sabbath

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

Many 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. But do they?

The Didache, also known as the Teaching of the Twelve, 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.

The late French Cardinal Jean-Guenole-Marie Danielou is amongst those who have claimed that it supports Sunday observance by early Christians [1].

But, does this document support the observance of Sunday?

To determine that, we will include some of the original Greek to demonstrate what the early writings actually teach.

Early Writings

Before getting to those the Didache, there are two other writings 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 Sunday or “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 κυριακὴν δε κυριου [5].

The Greek word κυριακὴν above is transliterated as kuriaki/kyriake.

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

… 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. or

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. Κατὰ 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) in the same document. 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, Κατὰ 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 1 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. F. Coneybeare reported it was a belief of the Paulini c. 7th century:

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. Instead they used terms that have, sadly, misled multitudes.

Irrespective of why, the reality is that the Didache did not do away with the seventh-day Sabbath and replace it with Sunday.

References

[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

Bob Thiel, Ph.D.

Dr. Thiel has been interested in the Church of God for over 40 years.  He was baptized by a Worldwide Church of God minister in 1977.  He writes extensively.  He is currently the Overseeing Pastor of the Continuing Church of God, one of the top ten groups (in terms of membership) whose leaders were once part of the old Worldwide Church of God.  Hundreds of thousands know him as “COGwriter” as he writes over 1000 news posts and articles per year at www.cogwriter.com.

This is the first article I have had published in The Sabbath Sentinel.

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. However, they asked for more, so the next issue should also have a short article from me, essentially continuing where the March-April article left off.

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:

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.
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.
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?
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? Are mistranslations of these early writings relied on for false doctrinal positions?



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