What day of worship was practiced by early Christians? Was sabbath-keeping only a Jewish practice? Does history show that the Sabbath was kept by Gentile peoples throughout history?
This article will look to the Bible, the practices of Jesus and Paul, and early writings to answer these questions.
Which day does the New Testament emphasize - the seventh day Sabbath or the first day of the week, Sunday?
In the NKJV of the New Testament, the term Sabbath, seventh day, or Sabbaths is used a total of 63 times. The term first day of the week is used 8 times. Later in this article, all 8 references to the first day of the week will be discussed. There are too many on the Sabbath terms to list them in one brief article, plus there are an additional 161 references to them in the Old Testament (Note: Although there are references to a holy convocation on a "first day" in the Old Testament, this has to do with the annual Holy Days, and never a weekly Sunday worship service).
The New Testament does tell us which day Jesus kept.
Jesus kept the Sabbath and repeatedly taught on the Sabbath:
And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue (Mark 6:2, NKJV throughout except where indicated).
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read (Luke 4:16).
Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught (Luke 6:6).
Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10).
Then He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and was teaching them on the Sabbaths (Luke 4:31).
What was different about Jesus, as far as the Pharisees were concerned, was that Jesus emphasized that the Sabbath was not just for rest, it was a time to do good.
Here are a few statements from Jesus on that:
Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matt 12:12).
"I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?" (Luke 6:9).
"Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" (Luke 14:5).
If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:23-24).
Which day was the Lord's day?
Which day did Jesus teach He was Lord of?
Look at what Jesus said,
The verses in Mark and Matthew are also consistent with the Old Testament which show that the Sabbath was God's day:
And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28).
For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8).
So, if we look into the verses of the entire Bible, it is clear that the Bible supports the idea that the Lord’s Day would be the seventh day of the week, or Saturday, and never Sunday (more information is also in the article Is Revelation 1:10 talking about Sunday or the Day of the Lord?).
Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made (Genesis 2:3)
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Exodus 20:11).
If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable (Isaiah 58:13).
Some have alleged that the Sabbath was nailed to the stake (a related article of interest may be Were the Ten Commandments Nailed to the Cross?). But was this so?
Apparently not, for according to Luke as he recorded this after Jesus' death:
Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).
Some may argue that "they" did not know that the Sabbath commandment was done away that quickly--but certainly Luke would have known as he penned this account decades after Jesus died. If Luke, a long-time companion of the Apostle Paul, thought that the Sabbath was a former commandment, he would have clarified that if he thought it was necessary. But instead, God inspired him to write that there still was a Sabbath commandment after the crucifixion (which was apparently not even on a cross, see What is the Origin of the Cross as a 'Christian' Symbol?).
Was the Sabbath done away?
For if it was done away Jesus would not have prophesied that Christians were to pray that they did not have to flee before the great tribulation on the Sabbath day.
Notice Jesus' own words on that:
And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be (Matthew 24:20-21).
Jesus is clearly warning His future disciples to pray this.
Now some "theologians" have claimed that this passage in Matthew is intended for Jews, but is that reasonable? Jesus was speaking to His disciples, those that intended to follow Him and look for His return.
It makes no sense to conclude that He was speaking to Jews in the future, because those who reject Christ, such as modern Jews, would have no reason to wish to heed any such warning from Jesus.
Jesus spoke what He did because He knew that His true followers would always keep the seventh-day Sabbath.
4 "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)
The Apostle Paul taught:
16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
So, does the portion of scripture known as the New Testament enjoin keeping the Sabbath for Christians?
Notice that the New Testament Book of Hebrews teaches (note: one Protestant and two Catholic translations are shown):
3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: "And on the seventh day God rested from all his work." 5 And again in the passage above he says, "They shall never enter my rest." 6 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience...9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:3-6,9-11, NIV).
3 We, however, who have faith, are entering a place of rest, as in the text: And then in my anger I swore that they would never enter my place of rest. Now God's work was all finished at the beginning of the world; 4 as one text says, referring to the seventh day: And God rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing. 5 And, again, the passage above says: They will never reach my place of rest. 6 It remains the case, then, that there would be some people who would reach it, and since those who first heard the good news were prevented from entering by their refusal to believe…9 There must still be, therefore, a seventh-day rest reserved for God's people, 10 since to enter the place of rest is to rest after your work, as God did after his. 11 Let us, then, press forward to enter this place of rest, or some of you might copy this example of refusal to believe and be lost. (Hebrews 4:3-6,9-11, NJB)
3 For we, that have believed, shall enter into their rest; as he said: As I sware in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: and truly the works from the foundation of the world being perfected. 4 For he said in a certain place of the seventh day thus: And God rested the seventh day from all his works…9 Therefore there is left a sabbatisme for the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, the same also hath rested from his works, as God did from his. 11 Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest; lest any man fall into the same example of incredulity. (Hebrews 4:3-6,9-11, The Original and True Rheims New Testament of Anno Domini 1582)
Thus, the New Testament clearly shows that the command to keep the seventh day Sabbath is in the New Testament. It also shows that only those who will not observe it because of their disobedience argue otherwise. And that is why Paul observed it.
Even Origen understood some of this as he wrote:
But what is the feast of the Sabbath except that which the apostle speaks, "There remaineth therefore a Sabbatism," that is, the observance of the Sabbath, by the people of God...let us see how the Sabbath ought to be observed by a Christian. On the Sabbath-day all worldly labors ought to be abstained from...give yourselves up to spiritual exercises, repairing to church, attending to sacred reading and instruction...this is the observance of the Christian Sabbath (Translated from Origen's Opera 2, Paris, 1733, Andrews J.N. in History of the Sabbath, 3rd editon, 1887. Reprint Teach Services, Brushton (NY), 1998, pp. 324-325).
One reason that many today do not understand this is that certain translators have intentionally mistranslated the Greek term sabbatismos (ςαββατισμóς) found in Hebrews 4:9. The Protestant KJV and NKJV mistranslate it as does the CHANGED version of the Rheims New Testament, also known as the Challoner version (changes in the 18th century)--all three mistranslate the word as 'rest,' whereas there is a different Greek term (katapausin), translated as 'rest' in the New Testament. Sabbatismos clearly refers to a 'sabbath-rest' and honest scholars will all admit that. Because of the mistranslations, most today do not realize that the seventh-day Sabbath was specifically enjoined for Christians in the New Testament.
Decades ago, a Protestant told me that the reason he did not keep the seventh-day Sabbath was because it was not taught for Christians in the New Testament. I handed him a Bible and read him Hebrews 4. He then looked at the verses himself. After doing so, he said because his grandmother was a good Christian in his view, and because she did not keep it, he felt that he did not. He failed to truly rely on the Bible, but instead on false tradition (see also Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings). Sadly most who profess Christianity do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath and rely mainly on improper traditions, whether they realize it or not.
Although the Sabbath is refreshing rest, many ignore that and consider it a burden. Notice the following prophecy that seems to apply to those who do not keep the Sabbath:
11 For with stammering lips and another tongue
He will speak to this people,
12 To whom He said, "This is the rest with which
You may cause the weary to rest,"
And, "This is the refreshing";
Yet they would not hear. (Isaiah 28:11-12)
Will you hear?
What about the Apostle Paul? What did he keep? Did he give any hint in the New Testament about what day?
Both before and after becoming a Christian, the Apostle Paul kept the seventh-day Sabbath.
While some have argued about Paul, notice that the Bible shows that Paul did keep the Sabbath:
...the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. (Acts 13:42-44)
Notice also that teaching on the Sabbath was Paul's custom:
1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:1-4)
Also Acts 18:4 states:
And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.
Hence the New Testament is clear that Paul kept the Sabbath, regularly preached on the Sabbath, he spoke to Jews and Greeks on the Sabbath, and that he would have understood that there remains "a Sabbath-rest for the people of God."
Hopefully, that includes you.
Notice also that Paul wrote:
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Since it was Jesus' custom to keep the Sabbath and Paul's as well, true Christians should imitate Paul in this regard. There is never any indication in the Bible that Jesus somehow kept Sunday.
It should be noted that there is additional evidence that many Christians kept attending synagogue services, which were always on Saturday, for decades after the death of Paul. One way this can be demonstrated is that some Jews developed a test in the form of a curse contained within a prayer (called the Shemoneh Esreh) around 80-90 A.D. to detect presence of Christians. James Parkes noted:
The purpose of the malediction is to detect the presence of Minim, for if they were invited to pronounce the Eighteen Benedictions, they would inevitably omit that particular paragraph from them. The fact that the test was a statement made in the synagogue service shows that at the time of making it the Judeo-Christians still frequented the synagogue. There would be no point otherwise in trying to prevent them from leading prayers (Parkes JW. The conflict of the church and the synagogue: a study in the origins of antisemitism. Volume 1 of History of antisemitism. The Soncino press, 1934, p. 78).
So, not only Paul, but many after him (called the Minim above) attended synagogue services on the Sabbath. Part of the reason for that was not that they were trying to be Jews, but that they wished to observe Paul's admonition:
25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some (Hebrews 10:25).
And often, Jewish synagogues were the only local locations that Sabbath services were being held as there were not many professing to be Christians in the early days.
Now some have been misled by what seems to be an intentional mistranslation of one of Paul's writings, Colossians 2:16 to do away with the Sabbath--but when properly translated it endorses, and does not condemn Sabbath observances (this is explained in more detail in the article Is There "An Annual Worship Calendar" In the Bible?).
Notice what Isaiah 56:1-2 teaches:
1. Thus says the LORD:
"Keep justice, and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come,
And My righteousness to be revealed.
2 Blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who lays hold on it;
Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil."
Protestant commentators tend to believe that verse 1 is referring to Jesus coming. Notice one below:
I. God here tells us what his intentions are of mercy to us (v. 1): My salvation is near to come-the great salvation wrought out by Jesus Christ (for that was the salvation of which the prophets enquired and searched diligently, 1 Peter 1:10), typified by the salvation of the Jews from Sennacherib or out of Babylon. Observe,
1. The gospel salvation is the salvation of the Lord. It was contrived and brought about by him; he glories in it as his.
2. In that salvation God's righteousness is revealed, which is so much the beauty of the gospel that St. Paul makes this the ground of his glorying in it. (Rom 1:17), because therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith. The law revealed that righteousness of God by which all sinners stand condemned, but the gospel reveals that by which all believers stand acquitted (from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.).
But verse 2 is talking about the Sabbath.
Does this include foreigners, like Gentiles? Notice the next several verses in Isaiah:
Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to the LORD Speak, saying, "The LORD has utterly separated me from His people"; Nor let the eunuch say, "Here I am, a dry tree." For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off. "Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants-- Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant-- Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer (Isaiah 56:3-7).
And while we in the Continuing Church of God believe that this has a future application, it also shows that foreign converts are also blessed who keep the Sabbath.
Also, notice the following:
23 And it shall come to pass
That from one New Moon to another,
And from one Sabbath to another,
All flesh shall come to worship before Me," says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)
Most Sunday observers have pointed to John's statement about the day of the Lord, which they call the Lord's Day in Revelation 1:10, as proof that Sunday was the day for Christian worship. Suffice it to say that that is the only place in the Bible where that specific expression is used and it makes to reference to any day of the week (more information can be found in the article Is Revelation 1:10 Referring to the Lord's Day or the Day of the Lord?).
There is, however, one verse that shows a first day of the week convocation (other than Pentecost) in the New Testament. Acts 20:7 states,
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
While Acts 20:7 does mention the first day of the week, it does not mention the term ‘Lord’ much or the expression ‘Lord’s Day’. And it is talking about a Saturday night, and not a Sunday morning.
Essentially, after a Sabbath dinner, Paul preached to the Christians because he was going to travel on Sunday. Actually, the term ‘Lord’ (Κυριω in the Greek) is not even mentioned until verse 19 of Acts 20, which the context shows occurs several days later (either on Wednesday or Thursday—and no one has claimed that either of these is “the Lord’s Day”).
Of the seven remaining verses in the New Testament that mention the first day of the week, six of them are referring to the time after Jesus was resurrected. And they are Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1, John 20:1,19. None of them discuss any worship service.
The eighth place were the term "first day of the week" is mentioned in the New Testament is as follows:
On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come (1 Corinthians 16:2).
Essentially, Paul wants people to put together a collection for him, before he comes, so it won't be going on while he is there. Thus, this is not an authorization to take up a collection at a Sunday worship service, instead it is a time Paul felt would be more convenient for people (plus being the day after the Sabbath, they would have been more likely to remember to do it if they were told about it on the Sabbath).
That is it.
That is all the verses in the New Testament about the first day of the week, which we now call Sunday. It should be noted that Sunday occurred because of antisemitism and from Roman changes, as Jesus' resurrection was not on Sunday (this is all documented in the article What Happened in the Crucifixion Week?).
Notice what the late Catholic Cardinal James Gibbons wrote:
You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify. (Gibbons J., Cardinal. The faith of our fathers: being a plain exposition and vindication of the church founded by Our Lord Jesus Chris, 83rd reprint edition. P. J. Kenedy, 1917. Original from Pennsylvania State University, Digitized Oct 14, 2009, pp. 72-73)
The seventh-day Sabbath, and not Sunday, is the day of rest in the Bible, and even Catholic leaders know this.
For information more about how (and even why) to keep it, please check out the following: How to Observe the Sabbath?
It may be of interest to note that the first known reference to not observing the seventh day Sabbath by one associated with Christianity was by Marcion in Rome. Nearly all Protestant, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic researchers consider that Marcion was a major Gnostic heretic.
Should any rely on major heretics be the basis of the true Christian faith?
The first true and clear reference to Sunday worship was around 150 A.D. by Justin Martyr (over a century after Jesus' death and about 1/2 century after John died). Justin used the expression Ηλίου λεγομένη ἡμέρᾳ which literally means "Helios said (called) day" (Helios was a Greek sun god). Most of the Protestant, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic faiths, if they studied Justin, would conclude that Justin made many statements that are heretical and that he admitted he did not care to associate with Christians who he felt retained Jewish practices (for documented proof, please see the article Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate?).
Some have claimed that the Didache and Ignatius both enjoined Sunday, but this is not true. The original Greek simply does not support this conclusion. This is documented and discussed in the article The Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath.
Actually, it appears that Sunday became observed because of antisemitic persecution.
Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi noted that the change to Easter-Sunday and to a weekly Sunday was due to persecution (note: the new Gentile hierarchy he is referring to below are Greek bishops in Jerusalem, which took over after the rebellion was crushed):
The actual introduction of Easter-Sunday appears to have occurred earlier in Palestine after Emperor Hadrian ruthlessly crushed the Barkokeba revolt (A.D. 132-135)...
The fact that the Passover controversy arose when Emperor Hadrian adopted new repressive measures against Jewish religious practices suggests that such measures influenced the new Gentile hierarchy to change the date of Passover from Nisan 14 to the following Sunday (Easter-Sunday) in order to show separation and differentiation from the Jews and the Jewish Christians...
A whole body of Against the Jews literature was produced by leading Fathers who defamed the Jews as a people and emptied their religious beliefs and practices of any historical value. Two major causalities of the anti-Jewish campaign were Sabbath and Passover. The Sabbath was changed to Sunday and Passover was transferred to Easter-Sunday.
Scholars usually recognize the anti-Judaic motivation for the repudiation of the Jewish reckoning of Passover and adoption of Easter-Sunday instead. Joachim Jeremias attributes such a development to "the inclination to break away from Judaism." In a similar vein, J.B. Lightfoot explains that Rome and Alexandria adopted Easter-Sunday to avoid "even the semblance of Judaism" (Bacchiocchi S. God's Festival in Scripture and History. Biblical Perspectives. Befriend Springs (MI), 1995, pp. 101,102,103).
There is more information concerning this in the articles Sunday and Christianity and Passover and the Early Church.
The 17th century historian William Cave reported that the early Christians, both Jews and those in Asia Minor, kept the Sabbath. Notice his report:
...the Sabbath or Saturday (for so the word sabbatum is constantly used in the writings of the fathers, when speaking of it as it relates to Christians) was held by them in great veneration, and especially in the Eastern parts honoured with all the public solemnities of religion. For which we are to know, that the gospel in those parts mainly prevailing amongst the Jews, they being generally the first converts to the Christian faith, they still retained a mighty reverence for the Mosaic institutions, and especially for the sabbath, as that which had been appointed by God himself, (as the memorial of his rest from the week of creation,) settled by their great master Moses, and celebrated by their ancestors for so many ages, as the solemn day of their public worship, and were therefore very loth that it should be wholly antiquated and laid aside. For this reason it seemed good to the prudence of those times, (as in others of the Jewish rites, so in this,) to indulge the humour of that people, and to keep the sabbath as a day for religious offices. Hence they usually had most parts of the divine service performed upon that day; they met together for public prayers, for reading the scriptures, celebration of the sacraments, and such like duties. This is plain, not only from some passages in Ignatius and Clemens's Constitutions, but from writers of more unquestionable credit and authority. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, tells us, that they assembled on Saturdays, not that they were infected with Judaism, but only to worship Jesus Christ, the Lord of the sabbath (Cave William, D.D. Primitive Christianity: or the Religion of the Ancient Christians in the First Ages of the Gospel. 1840 edition revised by H. Cary. Oxford, London, pp. 84-85).
While I disagree that Jewish converts were allowed to keep the Sabbath to "humour" them as Dr. Cave wrote (since nearly all the original Christians were Jews, all the original Christians did keep the Sabbath--Sunday was a later development), he at least does realize that early Jewish converts and those in Asia Minor ("Eastern parts") kept the Saturday Sabbath.
Of course, the New Testament shows that Paul kept the Sabbath in Asia Minor:
Now when Paul and his party set sail 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 ... So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath (Acts 13:13-14, 42).
Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed (Acts 14:1).
It should be pointed out that Antioch in Pisidia is in the middle of Asia Minor and that Iconium is also in Asia Minor. Hence Gentiles were keeping the Sabbath in Asia Minor from an early time.
The Apostle John ended up being the leader of the Church in Asia Minor, specifically, Ephesus. John, and a claimed follower of his named Polycarp, kept the Saturday Sabbath. There is no direct, nor indirect, historical evidence that John and other true Christians ever observed Sunday.
According to an old, but probably modified in the 4th century document, Polycarp kept the Sabbath:
I will give the narration in order, thus coming down to the history of the blessed Polycarp...
And on the sabbath, when prayer had been made long time on bended knee, he, as was his custom, got up to read; and every eye was fixed upon him...
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, knowing that, when I was in the ministry of the presbyters, I applied so great diligence according to my power, and shall do this the more now when the greatest peril awaits me if I am negligent. For after the fear of the judgment, it were shameful to abate and relax anything having regard to men, and not rather to build up higher the zeal which has reached thus far. It pertaineth to you therefore to hold back from all unruliness, both men and women; and let no one imagine that I exact punishment from offenders not from conscientiousness but from human pride. For it has happened that some of those who were put into offices, when they ought all the more, as one might say, to strain every nerve in the race, just then relax their efforts, forgetting that, the greater honour a man appeareth to receive, the greater the loyalty which he ought to pay towards the Master, and to remember the words of the Lord how He himself said, On whom I conferred the more, from him let them demand the more abundantly in return; and the parable of those who had the talents committed to them, and the blessing pronounced upon the servant that watches, and the reproof of those who refused to come to the marriage feast, and the condemnation of him whose garment was not befitting the marriage festivity, and the entering in of the wise virgins, the saying 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.'
Thus speaking in this way from time to time, and being persistent in his teaching, he edified and saved both himself and his hearers. (Pionius, Life of Polycarp (1889) from J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, pp.488-506)
Thus, Polycarp regularly kept the Sabbath and preached on it.
Even the Protestant scholars Roberts and Donaldson admitted that John's practices could be considered supportive of the idea that the Sabbatarians were correct. They mentioned the following in a dispute about Passover which John kept,
...on the fourteenth day of the moon...The long survival of St. John among Jewish Christians led them to prolong this usage, no doubt, as sanctioned by his example...Those who in our own times have revived the observance of the Jewish Sabbath, show us how much may be said on their side, and elucidate the tenacity of the Easterns in resisting the abolition of the Mosaic ordinance as to the Paschal, although they agreed to keep it "not with the old leaven." (Introduction to Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus. By Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby).
Roberts and Donaldson immediately continued with,
Our author belonged to a family in which he was the eighth Christian bishop; and he presided over the church of Ephesus, in which the traditions of St. John were yet fresh in men's minds at the date of his birth. He had doubtless known Polycarp, and Irenaeus also. He seems to have presided over a synod of Asiatic bishops (A.D. 196) which came together to consider this matter of the Paschal feast. It is surely noteworthy that nobody doubted that it was kept by a Christian and Apostolic ordinance. So St. Paul argues from its Christian observance, in his rebuke of the Corinthians. They were keeping it "unleavened" ceremonially, and he urges a spiritual unleavening as more important. The Christian hallowing of Pentecost connects with the Paschal argument. The Christian Sabbath hinges on these points (Ibid).
The "author" they are referring to is Polycrates, who claimed to continue what most Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox would consider to be Jewish practices. The points they are referring to is that if the Passover should be kept on the exact day and John did that as Polycrates wrote, then the Sabbath should also be kept on the exact day, the seventh day.
The Catholic writer Lopes noted this about the Roman bishop who attempted to enforce a Sunday Passover (which Catholics now call Easter):
Polycrates wrote this to the Roman Bishop Victor,
14. VICTOR I, ST. (189-199) An African...Victor tended not to advise other churches but to impose Rome's ideas on them, thus arousing resentment at times in bishops not inclined to accept such impositions. This was the case of Polycratus, the Bishop of Ephesus, who felt offended at this interference. The question was again that of Easter. Victor reaffirmed the decisions of Soter and Eleutherius both with regard to the date, which had to be a Sunday, and with regard to several customs of Jewish origin which were still practiced in some Christian communities...Polycratus justified himself before the pope with a letter containing the phrase "...it is more important to obey God rather than men" (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 5).
We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead ? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ' We ought to obey God rather than man'...I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 25).
In other words, Polycrates is insisting that he and other leaders always kept such 'Jewish' practices as the Passover on the exact day (the 14th of Nisan) and the days of unleavened bread and that they learned this from Holy Scripture and from John. Those who did not do that, he implies, would be obeying men rather than God. And actually, Protestants and Orthodox like to cite this passage from Polycrates to show that many in the 2nd Century did not accept the authority of the Roman bishops.
But what do they do about keeping Passover or the days of unleavened bread?
Polycrates also mentioned Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp is considered to be a true saint by Catholics, Orthodox, and others. According to the letter The Martyrdom of Polycarp by the Smyrnaeans, "on the day of the preparation, at the hour of dinner, there came out pursuers and horsemen" and the Polycarp was killed "on the day of the great Sabbath" (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole's 1885 translation. © 2001 Peter Kirby) . The use of these two expressions ("day of the preparation" and "the day of the great Sabbath" show that those in Smyrna (a Gentile filled area) were still keeping the Sabbath around 156 A.D. (the approximate date of Polycarp's martyrdom) (otherwise other terms would have been more appropriate--non-Sabbath observers do not call the day before Saturday that "day of preparation", nor would they have any reason to do so).
Regarding the second century church in Asia Minor, the German historian W. Bauer wrote:
Asian Jewish Christianity received in turn the knowledge that henceforth the "church" would be open without hesitation to the Jewish influence mediated by Christians, coming not only from the apocalyptic traditions, but also from the synagogue with its practices concerning worship, which led to the appropriation of the Jewish passover observance. Even the observance of the sabbath by Christians appears to have found some favor in Asia (Bauer W. Kraft RA, Krodel G, editors. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 2nd edition. Sigler Press, Mifflintown (PA), 1996, pp.87-88).
Although true Christians do not consider the Gospel of Thomas to be scripture, the following passage from it shows that the sabbath was being observed in the 2nd Century, and that the observance of the Sabbath was considered to be of great importance:
...If you do not observe the sabbath as a sabbath you will not see the Father (Patterson S, Meyer M. The "Scholars' Translation" of the Gospel of Thomas. Verse 27. Scholars Version translation of the Gospel of Thomas taken from *The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version.* Copyright 1992, 1994 by Polebridge Press).
The simple reality is that since John and those truly in the Church were diligent to keep Passover on the 14th of Nisan (more information is in the article on Polycrates), as well as the Sabbath, and non-Jewish professors of Christ also did, it should be obvious that Sunday was not an original practice of the true church. (More information on church history can be found in the article Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Rome, Ephesus & Smyrna.)
Furthermore, even the word for the seventh-day of the week in Greek (the language of the New Testament as well as the language of ancient Asia Minor) is σαββατον, which would be transliterated as sabbaton in English. The modern Greek word for Saturday is essentially the same word--spelled in Greek with a captial letter at the beginning as Σάββατο; or as transliterated into English as Sabbato.
The Sabbath was not just kept by Christians in Asia Minor and many scholars know this.
Shlomo Pines gleaned the following from Muslim and Arabic sources in the second through basically fifth centuries A.D. This what the faithful said about the day of rest and other days according to what S. Pines concluded:
Christ also observed the Jewish day of fast and not the fifty days fast and other Christian fast-days. Neither did he establish Sunday as a day of rest, or abolish for even an hour the observance of Saturday. (Pines S. The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity according to a New Source. Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Volume II, No.13; 1966. Jerusalem, pp. 7).
Note: The 'Christians' mentioned above were not considered to be legitimate ones by the faithful at that time, the Muslim reporter is the one who refered to them as Christians. The true Christians tended to call the others names such as Byzantines according to Shlomo Pines.
J. F. Coltheart put the following citations together which shows that scholars do understand that early Christians and others did in fact keep the seventh-day sabbath:
"The primitive Christians had a great veneration for the Sabbath, and spent the day in devotion and sermons. And it is not to be doubted but they derived this practice from the Apostles themselves, as appears by several scriptures to that purpose." Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, p. 189. London: 1701, by Dr. T.H. Morer.
". . . The Sabbath was a strong tie which united them with the life of the whole people, and in keeping the Sabbath holy they followed not only the example but also the command of Jesus." Geschichte des Sonntags, pp. 13, 14.
2ND CENTURY CHRISTIANS
The Gentile Christians observed also the Sabbath. Gieseler’s Church History, Vol. 1, ch. 2, par. 30, p. 93.
"The primitive Christians did keep the Sabbath of the Jews . . . therefore the Christians, for a long time together, did keep their conventions upon the Sabbath, in which some portions of the law were read: and this continued till the time of the Laodicean council." The Whole Works of Jeremy Taylor, Vol. IX, p. 416 (R. Heber’s Edition, Vol. XII, p. 416)...
EGYPT (OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRUS – 200-250 A.D.)
"Except ye make the Sabbath a real Sabbath [sabbatize the Sabbath, Greek], ye shall not see the father." The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, pt. L, p. 3, Logion 2, verse 4-11 (London: Offices of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1898)...
"The seventh-day Sabbath was . . . solemnised by Christ, the Apostles, and the primitive Christians, till the Laodicean Council did in a manner quite abolish the observations of it." Dissertation on the Lord’s Day, pp. 33, 34, 44...
SPAIN – Council Elvira (A.D. 305)
Canon 26 of the Council of Elvira reveals that the Church of Spain at that time kept Saturday, the seventh day. "As to fasting every Sabbath: Resolved, that the error be corrected of fasting every Sabbath." This resolution of the council is in direct opposition to the policy the church at Rome had inaugurated, that of commanding Sabbath as a fast day in order to humiliate it and make it repugnant to the people...
PERSIA – A.D. 335-375
"They despise our sun god. Did not Zoroaster, the sainted founder of our divine beliefs, institute Sunday one thousand years ago in honour of the sun and supplant the Sabbath of the Old Testament. Yet these Christians have divine services on Saturday." O’Leary, The Syriac Church and Fathers, pp. 83, 84. (Coltheart JF. The Sabbath of God Through the Centuries. Leaves-of-Autumn Books, Inc. Payson, Arizona, 1954. http://www.giveshare.org/churchhistory/sabbaththrucenturies.html 6/24/06).
Sabbath-keeping in Asia Minor was publicly still going on to at least 364 A.D. or else the Eastern Church would not have convened a Council in Laodicea to excommunicate any who rested on the seventh day. Notice what the Council of Laodicea declared in English and Latin,
CANON XXIX. CHRISTIANS must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ (THE COMPLETE CANONS OF THE SYNOD OF LAODICEA IN PHRYGIA PACATIANA).
Quod non oportet Christianos Judaizere et otiare in Sabbato, sed operari in eodem die. Preferentes autem in veneratione Dominicum diem si vacare voluerint, ut Christiani hoc faciat ; quod si reperti fuerint Judaizare Anathema sin a Christo (Cited in Andrews, p. 362).
But although that Council tried to abolish the Sabbath, sabbath-keeping continued among the faithful. Around 404 A.D. Jerome noted,
...the believing Jews do well in observing the precepts of the law, i.e....keeping the Jewish Sabbath…there exists a sect among… the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of , the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe”—yet, Jerome considered them to be part of “a most pestilential heresy” (Jerome. Translated by J.G. Cunningham, M.A. From Jerome to Augustine (A.D. 404); LETTER 75 (AUGUSTINE) OR 112 (JEROME). Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series One, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. American Edition, 1887. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
But it was not just Jewish Christians keeping the Sabbath.
There were Semi-Arians in Armenia who also kept the seventh-day Sabbath in the late fourth century:
Eustathius was succeeded by Erius, a...semi-Arian...he urged a purer morality and a stricter observance of the Sabbath (Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, p. 20).
Also in the fourth century, but in Ethiopia, Frumentius reported:
"And we assemble on Saturday," he continues ; "not that we are infected with Judaism, but to worship Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath" (Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, pp. 41-42).
Even though Syria had apostasized by the mid-third century (see The Smyrna Church Era), those there understood that there were to keep the Sabbath, though they also kept Sunday (there is no evidence that Sunday was observed there in the second century).
Notice what the so-called Apostolic Constituitions, written in Syria around 250 A.D. states:
XXIII...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 - Didascalia Apostolorum Book VII, Section II. As cited in Andrews J.N. in History of the Sabbath, 3rd editon, 1887. Reprint Teach Services, Brushton (NY), 1998, p. 329 and Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. 7, Sec. 2, Ch. 23, trans. in ANF, Vol. 7, 1885. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), printing 1999, p. 469)...
XXXIII...Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbath-day and the Lord's day let them have leisure to go to church for instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is on account of the creation, and the Lord's day of the resurrection (Apostolic Constitutions - Didascalia Apostolorum Book VIII, Section IV).
XXXVI. O Lord Almighty Thou hast created the world by Christ, and hast appointed the Sabbath in memory thereof, because that on that day Thou hast made us rest from our works, for the meditation upon Thy laws...Thou didst give them the law or decalogue, which was pronounced by Thy voice and written with Thy hand. Thou didst enjoin the observation of the Sabbath, not affording them an occasion of idleness, but an opportunity of piety, for their knowledge of Thy power, and the prohibition of evils; having limited them as within an holy circuit for the sake of doctrine, for the rejoicing upon the seventh period...On this account He permitted men every Sabbath to rest, that so no one might be willing to send one word out of his mouth in anger on the day of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is the ceasing of the creation, the completion of the world, the inquiry after laws, and the grateful praise to God for the blessings He has bestowed upon men (Apostolic Constitutions - Didascalia Apostolorum Book VII, Section II).
About a century ago, it the following was reported about those who professed Christ during these early times:
OF THE OBSERVATION OF THE SABBATH, OR SATURDAY, AS A WEEKLY FESTIVAL...
Christians were very careful in the observationof Saturday,or the seventh day, which was the ancient Jewish sabbath... In the Eastern church it was ever observed as a festival...From hence it is plain, that all the Oriental churches, and the greatest part of the world, observed the sabbath as a festival. And the Greek writers are unanimous in their testimony. The author of the Constitutions, who describes the customs chiefly of the Oriental church, frequently speaks of it...Athanasius likewise tells us, that they held religious assemblies on the sabbath, not because they were infected with Judaism, but to worship Jesus the Lord of the sabbath. Epiphanius says the same, That it was a day of public assembly in many churches, meaning the Oriental churches, where it was kept a festival (Bingham J. Origines Ecclesiasticæ: The Antiquities of the Christian Church. With Two Sermons and Two Letters on the Nature and Necessity of Absolution. H. G. Bohn, 1856. Original from Harvard University Digitized Oct 19, 2006, pp. 1137-1138).
Sozomen reported in the mid-5th Century,
The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria (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).
Speaking of Rome, perhaps I should mention that as late as the third century, some type of Sabbath-observance still occurred as the following from the Catholic theologian Hippolytus attests, as well as Sunday:
20:7 Those who are to receive baptism shall fast on the Preparation of the Sabbath b. On the
Sabbath c, those who are to receive baptism shall all gather together in one place...
22:1 On the first day of the week the bishop, if possible, shall deliver the oblation to all the people with his own hand, while the deacons break the bread.
(Hippolytus. The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. From the work of Bernard Botte (La Tradition Apostolique. Sources Chretiennes, 11 bis. Paris, Editions du Cerf, 1984) and of Gregory Dix (The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr. London: Alban Press, 1992) as translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html viewed 08/06/09)
In the fourth century, Sabbath-keeping was still going on in Jerusalem:
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, or as some believe, his successor John II…the saint…adds “…Keep away from all sabbathical observances, and do not call some foods clean and unclean because they are all indifferent”. (Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, p. 89).
However, the truly faithful in Jerusalem still ignored the anti-Sabbatarian Greco-Roman leaders.
Also in the fifth century, the historian Socrates noted:
For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this. The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebais, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general (Socrates Scholasticus. Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapter XXII. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 2. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Apparently, however, Sabbath-observance came back to Rome as the Catholic pope they call "Gregory the Great" wrote the following:
Gregory, servant of the servants of God, to his most beloved sons the Roman citizens.
It has come to my ears that certain men of perverse spirit have sown among you some things that are wrong and opposed to the holy faith, so as to forbid any work being done on the Sabbath day. What else can I call these but preachers of Antichrist (Gregory I. Registrum Epistolarum, Book XIII, Letter 1).
Hence, even within the area of Rome, some people were keeping the Sabbath in the late sixth/early seventh century.
The British Isles and China
Sabbath-keeping also had a long history in the British Isles. Some claim that the Apostle Paul brought in there--while that is hard to prove, Sabbath-keeping was clearly occuring in the Celtic regions until at least 886:
1. EARLY CIVILIZATION OF THE BRITISH ISLES...
Gildas the earliest British writer of history, born A. D. 520, says of the introduction of Christianity into the islands: "Meanwhile these islands, stiff with cold and frost, and in a distant region of the world, remote from the visible sun, received the beams of light, that is, the holy precepts of Christ - who is the true Sun, and who shows tothe whole world his splendor, nor only from the temporal firmament, but from the height of heaven, which surpasses everything temporal - at the latter part, as we know, of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, by whom his religion was propagated without impediment." Comparing this with the previous passage, the events mentioned appear to be limited by the 'meanwhile' to a period between the defeat of Boadicea, A.D. 61, on the one hand, and on the other to events not far distant - such as the defeat of Caractacus, A.D. 51. Therefore the testimony of Gildas is to the effect that the gospel was preached in Britain before the year 61. (Yeowell, p. 22.)
TESTIMONY OF THE FATHERS.
Irenaeus, A.D. 178, says that the church in his time was spread throughout the World; and especially mentions the churches in Germany, Spain, Gaul, and Britain. He adds: "There is no difference of faith or tradition in any of these countries."...
The credit of introducing Christianity into this region has been claimed not only for Paul, but also for Peter, Philip, John, Simon Zelotes, and Joseph of Arimathea...
Venantius Fortunatus, A.D. 560, says: "St. Paul passed over the ocean to the Island of Britain, and to Thule, the extremity of the earth." (Ireland)
...In the biography of Augustine who came from Rome A.D. 596, to convert the heathen Saxons, we are told that he found the people of Britain in the most grievous and intolerable heresies, "being given to Judaizing, but ignorant of the holy sacraments and festivals of the church." That is to say, they kept the Bible Sabbath and were ignorant of the Roman "Sunday-festival." (Mrs. Tamar Davis : "History of Sabbatarian Churches," p. 108. Phila 1851.) ...
John Price, in "The Ancient British Church," (pp 90, 94. Note), says: "The original difference (about Easter) was that the Western church, followed herein by the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch and Alexandria, observed Good Friday either on the 14th of the month Nisan, if it fell on Friday, or, if not, on the next Friday; and Easter on the following Sunday. The Eastern church did not do that way." and then he adds, "There is, however, an unfair insinuation that the British Christians were Judaic in their observance of Easter day, in a letter of Pope elect, John (A.D. 634), to the Scoti; and in Aldhelm's Epistle to Geruntius." This "insinuation," far from being unfair, is rather the more a true statement of the Sabbath observance of the Celtic church, which even celebrated its Easter or resurrection festival on the day which the Scriptures point out as the one on which the Saviour rose from the grave, (which was "late on the Sabbath." Matt. 28:1-4) (Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America" Volume 1, 1910 pp 21-39).
The Celtic Church which occupied Ireland, Scotland, and Britain, had the Syriac (Byzantine) scriptures instead of the Latin vulgate of Rome. The Celtic Church, with the Waldenses and the Eastern empire, kept the seventh-day Sabbath...
“Adomnan’s use of sabbatum for Saturday, the seventh day of the week, is clear indication from ‘Columba’s mouth’ that ‘Sabbath was not Sunday.’ Sunday, the first day of the week is ‘Lord’s day.’ Adomnan’s attitude to Sunday is important, because he wrote at a time when there was controversy over the question whether the ritual of the Biblical Sabbath was to be transferred to the Christians’ Lord’s-day.’ — A.O. and M.O. Anderson (editors) Adomnan’s Life of Columba, Thomas Nelson’s Medieval Texts, 1961, pages 25-26.
“The Old Testament required seventh-day Sabbath observance and, reason Adomnan’s editors, since the New Testament nowhere repealed the fourth commandment, the seventh-day was observed by all early Christians. The evidence they adduce suggests that no actual confusion between Sunday and ‘the Sabbath’ occurred until the early sixth century, and then in the writings of the rather obscure Caesarius of Arles. (Ibid., page 26.)...
The Roman ‘movement’ to supersede the Celtic Sabbath with Sunday ‘culminated in the production of an (apocryphal) ‘Letter of Jesus’, or ‘Letter of Lord’s day’, alleged to have been found on the altar of Peter in Rome; and is said in the annals to have been brought to Ireland by a pilgrim (c. 886). Upon this basis laws were promulgated, imposing heavy penalties for those that violated on Sunday certain regulations derived from Jewish prohibitions for Sabbath. . . . There is in fact no historical evidence that Ninian, or Patrick, or Columba, or any of their contemporaries in Ireland, kept Sunday as a Sabbath.’ (Ibid., page 28.) (Celtic Sabbath-Keeping Study No. 264, from Cherith Chronicle, April-June 1998, pp. 46-47. http://www.giveshare.org/BibleStudy/264.celtic-sabbath-keeping.html 6/24/06).
People in the British Isles, including Ireland, may be shocked to learn this, but the Sabbath was kept in them by many until an English woman married Malcom III king of the Scots, and later forced Sunday upon her husband's subjects.
Noted theologian James Moffat reported:
It seems to have been customary in the Celtic churches of early times, in Ireland as well as Scotland, to keep Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as a day of rest from labor, and Sunday, commemorative of the Lord's resurrection, as one of rejoicing, with exercises of public worship. In that case they obeyed the fourth commandment literally upon the seventh day of the week…
The queen insisted upon the single and strict observance of the Lord's Day. People and clergy alike submitted, but without entirely giving up their reverence for Saturday, which subsequently sank into a half-holy day preparatory for Sunday (Moffat , James Clement. The Church in Scotland: A History of Its Antecedents, it Conflicts, and Its Advocates, from the Earliest Recorded Times to the First Assembly of the Reformed Church. Published by Presbyterian Board of Education, 1882. Original from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Digitized Mar 13, 2008, p. 140).
The queen mentioned above was Margaret who died in 1093. Margaret (who was technically "the Queen consort of Malcolm III") was canonized a Roman Catholic saint in the year 1250 by Pope Innocent IV. Thus, once again political power was used to try to stop people from following the biblical practices of early Christianity.
Thomas Bampfield…contended that the seventh day had been kept in England in unbroken succession until the thirteenth century (Ball B. Seventh Day Men: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism in England and Wales, 1600-1800, 2nd edition. James Clark & Co., 2009, p. 21).
It should be noted that because of practices of a few of the Lollards in the British Isles, some Sabbath-keeping would have apparently occurred from the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries (Ball, pp. 30-31 ), so it would havce been unbroken for even more centuries that Thomas Bampfield contended about
Notice a that in 1719 England, John Ozell, a non-Sabbath-keeper wrote the following about some of the Sabbath-keepers:
…People, who…go by the name Sabbatarian make Profession of expecting a Reign of a Thousand Years…These Sabbatarians are so call’d, because they will not remove the Day of Rest from Saturday to Sunday…They administer Baptism only to adult People…The major part of them will not eat Pork, nor blood…their outward conduct is pious and Christian-like (Ozell J. M. Mission Observations in His Travels over England. 1719. As cited in Ball, p. 9).
There even was Sabbath-keeping in China probably beginning no later than 635, as well as beyond:
"It was in the year 1625; the Jesuits had infiltrated the fabric of the Chinese cultured classes, when a sensational discovery was made. A large monument stone inscribed with nineteen hundred Chinese characters, and fifty Syrian words, was unearthed just outside the walls of Chang-An, the ancient capital of the Tang Dynasty. The news of this discovery caused a bustle of excitement in the ancient metropolitan city, and thousands were anxious to know what information about their cultural heritage was hidden in the writing.
The Jesuits, who were regarded as the teachers and scholars, were immediately summoned to decipher the inscriptions. To the astonishment of these haughty priests, there before their eyes, was a description of the prestigious position, and vast extent of the seventh-day Sabbath-keeping Christian Church of the East of a millennia before!
The ancient Chinese characters were inscribed in 781 AD, at the command of Emperor Tae-Tsung, to honor the arrival of an Assyrian missionary and his companions to the capitol in the year 635 AD from Ta Tsin, or Judea. The stone revealed beliefs and practices of the primitive Christian church, which were unrelated and out of harmony with the Roman Catholic beliefs. ...
1837...The Taipings also learned from the Bible that they should observe the Sabbath. It is amazing that although Monday is called Day One and Saturday is called Day Six by the Chinese, yet the Taipings were able to recognize Saturday as the correct Seventh Day Sabbath...The Taiping Christians were asked why they observed the seventh day Sabbath, replied that it was, first, because the Bible taught it, and second, because their ancestors observed it as a day of worship." - A Critical History of the Sabbath and Sunday...Due to their resolute stand for biblical truths the Taipings were confronted by opposition on every side. The Manchurian dynasty regarded them as rebels and fought against them. In abolishing idols, the Taipings naturally destroyed the images of Mary and the saints as well as those of the Buddhists. The Jesuits became angry at them. They persuaded the French forces in China to support the ruling Manchus to crush them. (Wong P. THE SEVENTH DAY SABBATH MOVEMENT IN CHINA. Sabbath Sentinel. September-October 2000 http://www.giveshare.org/churchhistory/sabbathchina.html 6/24/06).
The Albigneses in France were condemned by various councils. And one, the Council of Albi (sometimes spelled Alby) in 1254 apparently stated:
They savour of Judaism...they observe the Jewish sabbath, but say that the holy Dominical day is no better than any other day; let them be accursed (Quoted in Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, p. 64).
Others in France were also later subject to the inquisitors. Notice the following account:
On the 14th of September, 1492, about thirty persons were committed to the inquisitional dungeons of Toulouse upon a charge of Judaism...Of there was Anthony Ferrar, who had been a pastor or teacher in the Sabbatarian church of that city. After remaining in prision ten days, he received a visit from an Italian monk named Gregory...
Greg.--But Anthony, you must be a liar and a deceiver, for I have been credibly informed that yourself, and all of your friends, were of the cursed race of Israel.
An.--It is false, we were honest Frenchmen, and Christians, followers of Jesus...
An.--We say that the ten commandments are still binding.
Greg.--Yes, and instead of observing the festivals of the Holy Church, and honouring the holy day of the Lord, on which he rose from the dead, you were accustomed to meet for worship upon the old Sabbath, or Saturday.
An.--We did, indeed, rest and attend divine worship upon the seventh day, even as God commanded (Quoted in Davis, Tamar. A General History of the Sabbatarian Churches. 1851; Reprinted 1995 by Commonwealth Publishing, Salt Lake City, pp. 87-88).
In German-speaking Europe, there were separate groups among those called Anabaptists that were Sabbath-keepers in the 16th and 17th centuries:
During the years 1526 to 1535, then, eight Anabaptist groups may be identified as existing in Moravia...Sabbatarians...
A recent investigation has shown that a few congregations made up of the followers of Marbeck, the Sabbatarians and of Cornelians also continued to exist after 1550...
Even as late as the early seventeenth century Austerlitz was known for its religious confusion. According to one report, there were twelve sects in the town, four of which seemed to have been Anabaptist: Sabbatarians, fratest flebiles (ejulantes), Cornelians and Anabaptists (Clasen CP. Anabaptist Sects in the Sixteenth Century: A Research Report. Mennonite Quarterly Review, VOl. XLVI, July 1972, pp. 256-279).
From Africa, Ethiopia claims a very long history of Sabbath-keeping.
Notice some of the statements by Ethiopian Emperor Galawdewos (A.D. 1540-1559):
We do celebrate the Sabbath, because God, after He had finished the Creation of the World, rested thereon...and that especially, since Christ came not to dissolve the law but to fulfill it. It is therefore not in the imitation of the Jews, but in obedience to Christ, and His holy apostles, that we observe that day (Quoted in Bradford C.E. Sabbath Roots, The African Connection. L. Brown and Sons, Barre (VT), 1999, p. 26).
Interestingly, even to this day, the Orthodox consider Saturday and Sunday festive days, different from other ones:
In the tradition of our Church, Saturday like Sunday is considered a festal day. Even during the Great Lent the rules of fasting are relaxed on Saturdays and Sundays (Calivas A. The Great and Holy Saturday. Copyright: 2002-2003 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America).
And the Roman Catholics realize that the seventh day is the Sabbath:
The sabbath...The sacred text says that "on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done"...and that God "rested on this day and sanctified and blessed it"(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 345. Imprimi Potest + Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, New York, 1994, p. 100).
Russia is a large, primarily Gentile nations. Sabbath-keeping was reported in Russia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Notice this nineteenth century report:
The ancient Russian name for this people was Strigolniks. Dr. Murdock says of them:--
"...The earliest of the schismatics first appeared in Novogorod, early in the fifteenth century, under the name of Strigolniks. "A Jew named Horie preached a mixture of Judaism and Christianity; and proselyted two priests, Denis and Alexie, who gained a vast amount of followers. This sect was so numerous that a national council was called, towards the close of the fifteenth century, to oppose it. Soon afterwards one Karp, an excommunicated deacon, joined the Strigolniks, and accused the higher clergy of selling the office of the priesthood, and of so far corrupting the church, that the Holy Ghost was withdrawn from it. He was a very successful propagtor for this sect."
...What was the origin of these Russian Sabbath-keepers? Certainly it was not from the Reformation of the sixteenth century; for they were in existence for at least one century prior to that event. We have seen that the Waldenses, during the Dark Ages, were dispersed through many of the counties of Europe. And also, were the people called Cathari, if indeed, the two were not one people. In particular, we note the fact that they were scattered through Poland, Lithuania, Sclavonia, Bulgaria, Livonia, Albania, and Sarmartia. These countries are now part of the Russian empire. Sabbath-keepers were numerous in Russia before the time of Luther (Andrews, p. 469).
"There is a sect of Greek Christians in Siberia who keep the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday)..."(Semi-Weekly Tribune, May 4, 1869. Cited in Andrews, p. 505)
What the Adventist scholar failed to mention, however, is that those who kept the Sabbath and were called Judaizers did not believe in the invented doctrine of the trinity (see also Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning):
Judaizers...in Russia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries...denied the Trinity (Fanning S. Mystics of the Christian Tradition. Routeldge, New York. 2001, reprinted 2006, p. 255).
Sadly there was persecution of Sabbath-keepers in Russia back then:
"The accused [Sabbath-keepers] were summoned; they openly acknowledged the new faith, and defended the same. The most eminent of them, the secretary of state, Kuritzyn, Ivan Maximow, Kassian, archimandrite of the Fury Monastery of Novgorod, were condemned to death, and burned publicly in cages, at Moscow; Dec. 17,1503." Geschichte der Juden" (Leipsig, 1873), pp.117-122
However, I believe that knowledge and observance of the Sabbath was in Russia long before that.
One reason is the Russian language, like many others, essentially uses a term for Sabbath to mean what we in English term Saturday:
105 Languages: In over 100 languages the name for the day that we call “Saturday” is "the Sabbath." For example, “Saturday” in the Spanish language is "Sabado," which means “the Sabbath.” In Italian, it is "Sabbato," which also means “the Sabbath.” In Russian it is, "Subbota." In Polish, "Sobota,” etc. Interestingly enough, in Ghana the day for Sunday, literally translated, means “White man changed this day!” (Wohlberg S. Can We Know What Day is the Sabbath? White Horse Media).
Some believed that Monday is the first day of the week. I showed them from the Spanish, Swahili and Tagalog that Saturday in all those languages can be identified with the word “Sabbath.” In Spanish the word for Saturday is “Sabado.” In Swahili the word for seven is “sabad” (though Saturday is called “Jumamosi” or “Moses’ Day”) and in Tagalog the word is the same as in Spanish, “Sabado” (King, R. United Kingdom Update. Weekly Update, LCG, August 16, 2007)
суббота is how the word Saturday was translated by two online dictionaries for me--but this is using Russian characters. Subbota would be the spelling using Latin characters.
There simply is no serious reason to use a term that means Sabbath for Saturday unless there was knowledge of the Sabbath in Russia.
Notice the following:
The reign of Vasily (1505-1533) was characterized by cruelty and a return to ignorance. His son and successor Ivan IV (1531-1584) turned out to be a bloody ruler who terrorized all Russia, earning from history the infamous title, Ivan the Terrible. Even during his reign, there were people in Russia who were true to the teachings of the Bible, especially the Sabbath. The “One Hundred Head” Church Council, called in 1551 during the reign of Ivan IV, adopted a resolution which until today has not been annulled by the Russian Orthodox Church. This regulation states that the people, besides worshiping on Sunday, could also worship on Saturday in the confines of the Russian Orthodox Church—a statement which was recognized by the church council as authorized by the Apostles Peter and Paul (D. E. Kozhachnikov, ed., Stoglav [Source: One-Hundred-Head Council] (St. Petersburg: Tipografiia Imperatorskoi Akademy Nauk, 1863), pp. 270, 271. As cited by Zhigankov, Oleg. Ahead of their time? The 15th century Reformation in Russia. College and University Dialogue Journal).
Notice that the practices of Peter and Paul are mentioned. They kept the Sabbath. But one still may wonder how the Orthodox Church could possibly condone Saturday. Well, because Saturday had been observed by those in Asia Minor for centuries, and even after the area mainly became part of the Greco-Orthodox confederation of Catholics, in Constantinople (the primary see, "first among equals" in its words of the Orthodox Churches, please see Orthodox Church of Constantinople for documentation) the Sabbath was kept.
And since the Russian Orthodox had historical ties with Constantinople, apparently it was felt that Sabbath observance would still be tolerable.
It has been reported that:
The first Sabbath-keeper in America was Stephen Mumford...came as a missionary from London...in 1664, and brought the opinion with him that the whole of the ten commandments, as they were delivered from Mount Sinai, were moral and immutable; and that it was the anti-Christian power which thought to change times and laws, that changed the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week (Andrews, pp. 498-499).
Although it is not commonly taught, some of the Puritans kept the Sabbath.
In a book by Dr. Samuel Kohn, chief Rabbi of Budapest, Hungary, in the late 1800s provided this information:
Already around the year 1530 Sabbatarians emerged in Bohemia...Sabbatarians (Subbotniki), or Judaizers also arose soon thereafter in Silesia, Poland and Russia; in the latter, where they were frequently confused with the Jews in the second half of this century, remain until today. We meet similar sects around 1545 among the Quakers in England. Several leaders and preacher of the Puritans, imbued with the Old Testament spirit, likewise raised the issue of reinstating the day of rest from Sunday to Saturday (Kohn S. Translated by T. McElwain and B. Rook. Sabbatarians in Transylvania. Christian Churches of God, Wooden (Australia), 1998, p.10-11).
Here is another report which also reports that once in America, there were Sabbatarians among the Puritans (as well as the position against Christmas, which is also a Church of God position):
Strange as it may seem, in the early history of America there was an attempt at suppression of Christmas spirit. The stern Puritans at Plymouth, imbued with the rigorous fervor of the Old Testament, abhorred the celebration of the orthodox holidays. Their worship was on the Sabbath (Saturday), rather than Sunday, and Christmas in particular they considered a pagan celebration. Later immigrants attempted to observe Christmas as a time of joy, but were suppressed. Governor Bradford, Elder Brewster, Miles Standish and other leaders were firm against the yuletide spirit as we know it today (Sprague H. Letter from the editor. St. Joseph, Mo., Daily Gazette, December 1934 as cited in Dugger AN, Dodd CO. A History of True Religion, 3rd ed. Jerusalem, 1972 (Church of God, 7th Day). 1990 reprint, p. 265).
In addition, those Puritans even had the native Americans observe the Sabbath as well:
... adopt the Puritan pace and mode of work, which meant long days of agricultural labor. Insisting upon the gendered division of labor favored by the English, the missionaries urged the Indian men to forsake hunting and fishing in favor of farming. The Indian women were supposed to withdraw ... had to rest and worship on the seventh day, the Sabbath. Praying towns did not appeal to those Indians who belonged to the largest and most autonomous bands, principally the Narragansett (Taylor A. American Colonies : The Settling of North America; The Penguin History of the United States, Volume1, Hist of the USA. (Paperback) Penguin, New York; Reprint edition, July 30, 2002).
That some of the Puritans kept the seventh-day Sabbath should not be a surprise as the Church of God includes in its ancestory (see articles The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 and The Pergamos Church Era), people who were called the Cathari (from the Greek word, katharoi, meaning pure).
The Sabbath was taught in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (sometimes then called Hayti) in 1847 (Andrews, p.503). There are numerous Sabbath-keepers now in the Caribbean. There are Church of God congregations in the nations of Haiti, Martinique, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago and other other islands as well.
There are Church of God Sabbath-keeping congregations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and in the Pacific Islands..
While everyone realizes that the Sabbath was kept by the children of Israel after Moses received the ten commandments on Mount Sinai, some have questioned whether or not the Sabbath was observed prior to this time.
The Bible does demonstrate that the Sabbath was in effect prior to Mount Sinai. Instead of listing the verses here, I would simply suggest reading the article Were the Ten Commandments in Effect Before Mount Sinai? as it mainly contains biblical verses supporting the concept that all of the ten commandments were in effect prior to Mount Sinai.
But what about outside the Bible?
Remember, it was Jesus who taught that "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). He did not state that it was only made for a portion of humankind, like the Jews.
Does history indicate that others knew about the seventh-day?
According to a book by Chinese researchers, the seventh day cycle was known to the Chinese from the earliest times:
The week is not an institution based on natural phenomena, such as the day when the earth turns on its axis, the month with its lunar relationship, nor the year marking the earth's excursion about the sun. The week dates exclusively to the original days of creation, a period of time observed by the Chinese in spite of their thousands of years of isolation from the rest of the world and its customs.
An old Chinese saying, the returning seventh day...points up the fact that from very early times the Chinese have recognized the recurring seven day cycle which marks the week...
Even today, the seventh day of the first lunar month of the Chinese year is known as "the birthday of mankind"...Just as it was not the day of man's creation which was to be celebrated, but rather the following day of rest, so the Chinese celebrate the seventh day as a lingering memorial of God's creative work and the creation of mankind (Kang C.H., Nelson E.R. The Discovery of Genesis: How the Truths of Genesis Were Found Hidden in the Chinese Language. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1979, p. 55).
Some have claimed that Ethiopia has more people who keep some version of the seventh-day Sabbath than any other country on earth. Notice how long they claim to have been observing it:
W. W. Oliphant, an African church leader in the early years of the twentieth century says that the "Sabbath in Ethiopia [has] been kept from the days of Nimrod, about 2140 B.C. (read Gen. 10:8, 10), that is 700 years before the birth of Moses. . . . Africans or Ethiopians had been Sabbath observers from the days of Nimrod, the son of Cush" (Quoted in Bradford C.E. Sabbath Roots, The African Connection. L. Brown and Sons, Barre (VT), 1999, p. 26).
Noah's son Ham had a son named Cush. Hence, it is claimed that some of the descendants of Noah kept the Sabbath.
Nimrod founded Babel (Genesis 10:9-10). It should be noted that historians do believe that the ancient Babylonians taught that God ceased from His works on the Sabbath--however, they (the ancient Babylonians) twisted the reason and said that it was the seventh day that God ceased His destruction of humans through ceasing a six-day flood causing rain. Perhaps it should also be mentioned that since the Queen of Sheba in the Bible is claimed to have been from Ethiopia, if Sabbath-keeping originated in that country prior to the time of Christ, it is possible that she brought back that knowledge after meeting with Solomon (1 Kings 10:2-13) or since she knew about Solomon prior to her visit with him (1 Kings 10:1), that others (perhaps from Israel or Ethiopia) had brought the knowledge of the Sabbath to that part of Africa prior. Jesus mentioned that He was greater than Solomon and if she listened to Solomon, all should preferentially listen to Him (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31)--and Jesus Himself kept the Sabbath.
In the second century, even the semi-Gnostic Clement of Alexandria reported that ancient Greeks and Hebrews knew that the seventh-day was supposed to be sacred:
But the seventh day is recognised as sacred, not by the Hebrews only, but also by the Greeks; according to which the whole world of all animals and plants revolve. Hesiod says of it:—
" The first, and fourth, and seventh day were held sacred. "
" And on the seventh the sun's resplendent orb. "
" And on the seventh then came the sacred day. "
" The seventh was sacred. "
" It was the seventh day, and all things were accomplished. "
" And on the seventh morn we leave the stream of Acheron. "
Callimachus the poet also writes:—
" It was the seventh morn, and they had all things done. "
" Among good days is the seventh day, and the seventh race. "
" The seventh is among the prime, and the seventh is perfect. "
" Now all the seven were made in starry heaven,
In circles shining as the years appear. " (Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, Book V, Chapter 14).
Be that as it may, it appears that various cultures were familiar with the idea of a seventh-day Sabbath prior to the giving of the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.
This makes total sense as God set-apart the Sabbath the day after creating humans. And the Chinese, those who became known as Babylonians, and all other humans lived fairly close together until the confounding of languages in Genesis 11:9. Thus, the idea that they would have known about the Sabbath, especially since Noah would have been expected to know about it, it certainly logical from a biblical perspective.
The Bible, Jesus, Paul, and the early church leaders all knew to keep the seventh day Sabbath. The New Testament specifically enjoins keeping the seventh-day Sabbath for God's people (Hebrews 4:9).
Sunday is nowhere enjoined as the Christian Sabbath. Please be like the Bereans of old who "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). The apostles told religious leaders of their day, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). We are not to rely on false traditions that contravene scripture (see also Tradition and Scripture: From the Bible and Church Writings).
Keeping the Sabbath was the practice/custom of the early faithful Christians, whether they were Jews or Greeks.
There have long been Sabbath-keepers who professed Christ in many lands--and most of those were NOT Jewish. Even the word for Saturday in over 100 languages (including Greek, the language of the New Testament) use a version of the word Sabbath for the seventh day of the week.
The Christian Sabbath was introduced to, and observed, in many lands all over the world (for how, see also How to Observe the Sabbath?).
The Bible shows that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath Day. The New Testament clearly shows that the seventh day Sabbath is still to be kept by those who are the people of God. Do you follow the Bible and the examples of the apostles?Back to Early Christianity page
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Some items of related interest may include:
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?
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. There is also an added section with more reasons why Christians should keep the Sabbath.
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？
Holy Day Calendar This is a listing of the biblical holy days through 2024, with their Roman calendar dates. They are really hard to observe if you do not know when they occur :) In the Spanish/Español/Castellano language: Calendario de los Días Santos. In Mandarin Chinese: 何日是神的圣日？ 这里是一份神的圣日日历从2013年至2024年。.
Thiel B. Ph.D. Sabbath and the Early Church. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007/2008/2009/2010/2011/2012/2014 0308