Did Ignatius of Antioch really teach the Sabbath was replaced by what some erroneously call the ‘Lord’s Day’

History of Early Christianity


Since Jesus and the Apostles kept the Sabbaths and the Holy Days, why do most who profess Christ not observe them? Many claim that Ignatius of Antioch had a writing that showed that the Sabbath was done away by the early second century. This misinformation is all over the internet. Actually, because the Living Church of God continued to knowingly publish and distribute incorrect information about this, I concluded that was strong proof that it was not doing the work of God in truth (it also compounded it with another inaccurate publication on church history after I left).

As it turns out, the Catholics of Rome consider October 17th as the day to honor Ignatius of Antioch. And based upon intentional mistranslations of one of his writings (and many renowned Protestant scholars have participated in this), many falsely claim that he showed that the Sabbath was done away.

Yet, that is not true.

Here is what the Greek shows Igantius wrote in verse 9.1:

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

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

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

But is that translation correct or giving an improper understanding?

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

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

8.1 Be not seduced by strange doctrines nor by antiquated fables, which are profitless.

8.2 For if even unto this day we live according to the manner of Judaic concepts, we admit that we have not received grace: for the godly prophets lived after {the manner of} Christ Jesus. For this cause also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to the end that they which are disobedient might be fully persuaded that there is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word that proceeded from silence, who in all things was well-pleasing unto Him that sent Him.

9.1 If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer keeping sabbaths contrariwise according to the Lord’s way of life, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny – a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher –

9.2 if this be so, how shall we be able to live apart from Him? Seeing that even the prophets, being His disciples, were expecting Him as their teacher through the Spirit. And for this cause He whom they rightly awaited, when He came, raised them from the dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome declares:

“On Isaiah 9:1-4

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

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

Thus, instead of proving Sunday and disproving the Sabbath, Ignatius (and indirectly even Jerome) seems to be warning against incorrectly observing the Sabbath as certain Pharisaical Jews insisted, with their antiquated fables.

Without going into all the reasons that prove he Ignatius was mistranslated here (which I do in more detail in the article Another Look at the Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath), let’s look at some of Ignatius’ other writings.

Notice something that he wrote in his Letter to the Magnesians:

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

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

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

Part of the way the Sabbath day is kept holy is by meeting together for church services (referred to as “an holy convocation” in Leviticus 23:1-3). There is no direct statement anywhere in the Bible requiring a weekly convocation on Sunday. In his Letter to the Romans, Ignatius observed that true Christians kept the commandments:

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

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

Notice that Ignatius is once again complaining about Judaic customs that are not from the Bible. How do we know that the practices that Ignatius is referring to are not from the Bible? Because Ignatius is clearly saying to avoid snares from “the prince of the world”. The prince Ignatius is referring to is Satan (see Ephesians 2:2), and since the Sabbath did not come from Satan, as it came from God (see Genesis 2:1-3), Ignatius would not refer to something that God made as wicked. Furthermore, notice that Ignatius mentioned keeping “every one of His commandments”, thus this is not simply an admonition to love, but to keep all the commandments. In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius wrote about false Christians:

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

Since he writes that some of the false Christians do not have “the law of Moses” it is reasonable to conclude that Ignatius believed that he did have the “law of Moses,” in regards to the ten commandments, including the Sabbath commandment. It may be of at least passing interest to note that Ignatius referred to the church as the “church of God” four times in his writings (see Letter to the Philadelphians 0:0, 10:1; Letter to the Trallians 2:2; Letter to the Smyrnaeans 0:0).

Ignatius did not do away with the seventh-day Sabbath nor write that it had been somehow done away.

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.
The Christian Sabbath. This is a series of articles from the Catholic Mirror essentially proving that the biblical Sabbath was Saturday, that the Lord’s day in Revelation 1 is not a reference to Sunday, that the Church of Rome implemented Sunday, and that nearly all Protestants followed Rome. Here is a link to a related sermon: Catholic teachings on the Sabbath, Sunday, and Protestantism.
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.
The Ten Commandments: The Decalogue, Christianity, and the Beast This is a free draft/unedited pdf book explaining the what the Ten Commandments are, where they came from, how early professors of Christ viewed them, and how various ones, including the Beast of Revelation, will oppose them. A related sermon is titled: The Ten Commandments and the Beast of Revelation.
Is There “An Annual Worship Calendar” In the Bible? This paper provides a biblical and historical critique of several articles, including one by the Tkach WCG which states that this should be a local decision. What do the Holy Days mean? Also you can click here for the calendar of Holy Days.
Did Early Christians Observe the Fall Holy Days?
Did they? Did Jesus? Should you?
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?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
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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